+ Dr. Tommy Givens introduces Matthew by emphasizing Jesus’ commitment to minister in local and everyday contexts.
Tommy Givens is associate professor of New Testament studies in Fuller’s School of Theology. In addition to New Testament studies and theological ethics, his research interests include Christian nonviolence, political theory, ecology, and scriptural reasoning for Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations.
“The calling of Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew invites us to invest our lives deeply in our own neighbors. . . to our own places. . . and to see all of the power of God’s kingdom to unfold there as opposed to imagining that it’s always far away.” – Tommy Givens
I’m Dr. Tommy Givens, and my area of expertise here at Fuller Theological Seminary is New Testament, primarily. I also do some teaching in Christian ethics.
Today, I want to talk to you about the gospel according to Matthew. The gospel of Matthew is structured, rather famously, as segments of narrative or story that are then followed by discourses of Jesus’ teaching. And when Jesus is giving an extended discourse in Matthew, it’s actually part of the story itself. So, the words that Jesus says, what he teaches, is of a piece with his life. It’s part of who he is, so that his actions and his words are in intimate relation to one another throughout the story.
One of the most important themes of the Gospel of Matthew, in my mind, that’s especially important for Christians of our time to notice and to consider, is that Jesus has come to his own people as they are gathered in their adopted and now occupied homeland—the land of Israel. And he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets by which they’ve been living and hoping for generations. And that means that Jesus refuses to give up on his community. He refuses to give up on what’s familiar even when that grows to be apparently stubborn at times, or difficult. And this, I think, should affect our vision of what it means to follow Jesus because we often romanticize that following Jesus or engaging in Christian mission will necessarily take us far away to something that strikes us as exotic, or move us to do something very dramatic and flashy. But that’s not what we find in Matthew.
Instead, we find Jesus working with what is mundane, what is familiar, what is near to him. And that is a crucial message to us today to see that the calling of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew, invites us to invest our lives deeply in our own neighbors, people that we cross paths with every day, to our own places, the places where we live that are familiar and to see all of the power of God’s kingdom unfold there, as opposed to imagining that it’s always far away at the other end of some rainbow.
The passage of Matthew that I’d like to read is a well-known one, but I think it captures who Jesus is according to this first gospel of the New Testament. Matthew chapter 5 verse 17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” Here, Jesus clarifies that there is nothing about what Moses taught in all of its detail that he means to set aside. But to be the embodiment of all that Moses commanded and all that the prophets hope for. And so for Jesus, the justice that is part of the kingdom coming from heaven requires a serious study and commitment to all that the law and the prophets say. So, to follow Jesus is not to set those aside but to be committed to their fulfillment in our life.
And so that’s the way that the story of Matthew reverberates through future generations and has come down to us. People learn Jesus’ ways, and they have taught them to others using this story. And that’s, of course, why we read the story—to learn Jesus’ ways and to be able to share them with others as we pursue the justice of this kingdom coming from heaven.