Most preachers I know are desperate for good Christmas sermons. They’ve preached all the good ideas they had long ago, and many have exhausted the B-list as well.
I suppose that’s why I jumped at the chance to review a section of a new commentary on Matthew, specifically the sections that deal with the Christmas narrative in Matthew 1 and 2. The commentary is The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us
. It’s a series edited by Paul Louis Metzger; this volume is written by Matt Woodley, managing editor for PreachingToday.com.
This commentary is different. According to the foreword, it’s “a hybrid commentary where the best in biblical scholarship is coupled with theological reflection on the text that is accessible to that ‘boy that driveth the plough'” – the ordinary blue-collar worker, in other words. “Instead of proceeding verse by verse,” the editor writes, “the author of each Resonate volume draws insights from the featured book’s major themes, all the while attentive to the context in which these themes are developed.” This sounds good. Many commentaries are too technical for many readers; others are too simplistic. There is room for a commentary series that is substantive but not overwhelming. I was curious to find out if this commentary fits the bill.
The over aching theme of Matthew 1:1-4:11 is the identity and mission of Jesus, according to the commentary. So far, so good. But it gets better. Woodley picks up on the theme of Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel in the first chapters. Not only is this true, but it’s easily missed, even by many preachers. He writes:
This opening section also makes an exciting claim about Jesus’ mission —- Jesus has come to fulfill the story of God’s chosen people … On each step of his journey -— his birth, his flight to and return from Egypt, his childhood in Nazareth, his temptations in the wilderness—Jesus is walking back through Israel’s story. Of course Jesus is doing it right, while Israel (and all of us) failed.
As a result, Matthew proclaims that Jesus is the true Israel -— God’s true son —- and the one who rescues Israel.
Woodley does an admirable job explaining the importance of the opening geneology. “Don’t let Matthew’s dull-sounding introduction fool you. This is adventure-storytelling at its best,” he writes. He helps us break through the sentimentality that surrounds Christmas and see that significance of Jesus’ names. He knows how to write. For instance:
A nice God, a decent God, a semi-loving God, a predictably righteous God would send us some help, maybe an angel or a prophet or a sacred text —- at least some advice. We could respect and admire a God like that. But the Gospel of Jesus’ mercy goes far beyond conventional righteousness, decency and niceness. At Christmas God became a naked baby. You can’t get more vulnerable than that.
That’ll preach. So will this: he develops chapter 2 by focusing on three main characters. They are “the Magi, who represent the human quest toward God; Herod, who represents the human flight from God; and the child Jesus, who represents God’s vulnerable love for us.”
“For Matthew,” he concludes, “the real Christmas story isn’t a nice story with sentimental pictures; it’s a dangerous tale.” The world is full of sentimental retellings of the Christmas story, and this isn’t one of them.
There’s more, but I’m only supposed to be reviewing the first couple of chapters. But I can tell you that I looked ahead and saw some useful outlines of the text. Reading this commentary made me want to preach Matthew.
I’m not about to give up my technical commentaries. I don’t think there’s any substitute for reading and re-reading the text, and then trying to get it clear in your mind. I’m not sure that this commentary is going to be recommended in D.A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey
anytime soon. But I think I would read a commentary like this in the early stages of mapping out a sermon series based on Matthew. And I would definitely recommend it to a number of people in the church I pastor, people who genuinely love God’s Word and are looking for a commentary that won’t overwhelm them. This commentary highlights the main themes and make the text clear.
So I’m still looking for good sermon ideas for Christmas. But I take back what I said earlier: I haven’t preached all the good ideas. There’s much more. If this commentary helps people see Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s story, or the adventure in the opening genealogy, for starters, then it will have served a very useful purpose indeed.