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The second lesson for a disciple of Jesus Christ is in the second section of Matthew’s ‘Story’ (Matthew 1:18-25).

“What’s the first lesson?” you ask.

It’s in the first section – the genealogy (1:1-17). That’s short-hand for God’s ‘Story’ up to the birth of Jesus Christ. To live in that ‘Story’ you must learn that ‘Story’. That's why we've produced the Historical Backbone of the Bible. You can gain free access to this popular course by clicking here and subscribing.

In this post we'll look at the second lesson for a disciple – which is huge.

Two errors

In the previous post we learned that we should be doing “the same kind of things” as the first disciples. 

What does that mean? How do we do “the same kind of things” as those disciples? After all, things are different in their ‘then and there’ from our ‘here and now’.

For instance, we don’t live under the Roman Empire; don’t walk on the surface of the Sea of Galilee; and aren’t called to feed 5,000+ with five loaves and two fish.

This disconnect between then and now can lead to two errors:

1.       Dismissing substantial amounts of the first disciples’ experiences as irrelevant.

2.       Twisting interpretations to conform with our modern understandings and practices.

These errors may explain why Christian living and discipleship training programs reflect much of modern American culture. 

How can we avoid these errors? How can we read Matthew in a way that speaks authentically into our modern ‘here and now’?

Reading Matthew thickly

Peter Ellis writes in Matthew: his mind and his message:

Reading Matthew, one gets the feeling the author put together his gospel with the precision of a Swiss watch.

We need to discern the precision and intricacy of Matthew better. We need to read more thickly.

Matthew may be read in no fewer than four dimensions which I refer to as J.P.E.G.

J” is the non-negotiable core ‘Story’ of Jesus.

P” is the purpose that identifies six segments marked off by the phrase “when Jesus had finished …” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).

E” refers to the multitude of explicit quotations from the Old Testament (OT).

G” recognizes the genealogy of 1:1-17 as a roadmap for Matthew.

There is not space to expand J.P.E.G. here, but I will be offering a free booklet in the next weeks explaining and illustrating it more fully. It will be delivered to all subscribers. If you are not a subscriber, click here to get your copy. 

J.P.E.G. benefits

Reading Matthew in the four dimensions of J.P.E.G. results in an accurate and transformational understanding of the ‘Story’. You don’t have to guess at how the disciples’ activities ‘then and there’ become your activities ‘here and now’.

Recognizing these dimensions helps protect the reader from the dangers of judging Matthew irrelevant, or twisting its message.

A careful reading produces four ‘lines’ that intersect and define an area of biblically-valid possibilities.

Let’s consider one section of Matthew.

Joseph’s conundrum

Take a moment to read Matthew 1:18-25.

How does this section answer questions raised about the conception of Jesus in 1:16 (J)? What OT text is quoted, and how does it speak into Joseph’s situation (E)? Where are we on the road map of the genealogy (G)?

As for the “P,” this is a little more involved, so I’ll give it to you: it is about the internal development of the disciple’s character. Joseph is the ‘disciple’ in this section.

Here is Joseph’s conundrum:

  • Mary is Joseph’s espoused wife. This is like our ‘engagement’ and presumes no sexual activity.
  • Mary is pregnant.
  • It wasn’t Joseph, so how did she get pregnant?
  • Culture demanded that Joseph divorce Mary for her (alleged) impurity.
  • If Joseph maintains his relationship with Mary, he assumes the place of shame as an ‘unrighteous’ man who engaged in pre-marital sexual activity.
  • God instructs Joseph: “take Mary home as your wife” (1:20).

In a private encounter, Joseph learns the truth of the situation. This child’s conception is a unique divine event.

The question is:

Does Joseph do what God instructs, thereby enduring shame in his Culture; or does he comply with what Culture expects, thereby denying his God?

Joseph, what will you do?

Matthew speaks to the issue

J” explains the conception apart from Joseph, and without any impurity on Mary's part (1:20).

P” speaks to the development of Joseph’s character before God.

E” enfolds a special conception in Isaiah 7:14 (and its context) into Matthew 1:22-23 (and its context).

G” points to the supernatural conception of Isaac as somehow parallel to this situation. In fact, a confirming allusion to Genesis 17:19 is embedded in Matthew 1:21.

These four dimensions speak into Joseph’s conundrum. These four lines’ intersect at this point:

God acts sovereignly, despite what human culture, reason, religion, and power may say to the contrary. 

From the beginning, disciples of Jesus Christ are faced with this same conundrum:

Will they obey the God who acts sovereignly, even when that obedience conflicts with the Culture in which they live?

Disciple, what will you do?

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