By Pastor Kevin Jensen
As we move through the four Gospels, our focus is now on St. Matthew. This Gospel gives us an amazing account of the resurrection of Jesus, which can help to ignite the fire God has placed on our hearts!
When I was a college-aged counselor, Matthew’s Gospel was the one we read at the end of our Christ Hike at a Lutheran Bible camp in the Black Hills. As we recalled the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, this Gospel provided a wonderful ending to every Christ Hike.
Matthew’s Gospel says: “And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men” (NRSV 28:2-4).
Did you notice the contrast of how “the guards shook and became like dead men” while Jesus appeared alive to the women who came to the tomb to anoint his body?
Here’s what happened: “So they (the women) left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, (after the angel’s resurrection announcement) and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him” (28:8-9).
So what are we to make of this contrast between death and life? Perhaps part of the answer lies in how well Matthew tells the story and brings out the excitement portrayed at the resurrection of our risen and living Lord.
And that leads to an interesting contrast with the Gospel of St. Mark. If Matthew offers a wonderful spiritual version of the Gospel, Mark offers a very human portrayal of Jesus.
In both Gospels, Jesus is a divine being who exhibits power over disease, nature, and unclean spirits. But in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is also shown to be a man subject to human weakness and frailty.
As Dr. Mark Allan Powell puts it in his article, “Themes in Mark: Deeper Understandings,” in the January 2018 magazine Living Lutheran: “He (Jesus) gets hungry (11:12), he doesn’t know everything (13:32), and he is unable to work miracles for those who have no faith (6:5). He exhibits a full range of human emotions, including pity (1:41), anger (3:5), sadness (3:5), wonder (6:6), compassion (6:34), indignation (10:14), love (10:21) and anguish (14:34).” Powell, a retired but still active New Testament professor, goes on to say that in Mark, “Jesus is presented as a preacher of the gospel and the content of his preaching can be summarized in one sentence: ‘The kingdom of God has come near’(1:14-15).”
In Matthew’s writings, that theme is more in the background. Powell says, “when Jesus talks about the kingdom of God or eternal life, he is often referring to something we experience here and now—not later in heaven” (“The Kingdom of God.” Gather, Winter 2022). So that leaves me wondering, what will the future life with Jesus be like for those who believe? I think a key passage occurs in Matthew 20 when the mother of James and John says to Jesus: “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”(20:20-22).
What the mother of James and John was missing is that none of us are able on our own to drink the cup of suffering that Jesus drank on our behalf. Understanding a phrase from St. John, the fourth Gospel, can help. Powell writes: “Jesus uses the expression “eternal life” to talk about what he calls the ‘kingdom of God’ in the other Gospels. The phrase does not just refer to life that is eternally long, but also (indeed, especially) to life that is eternally deep—life that is endless in value and meaning.” (“The Kingdom of God.” Gather, Winter 2022).
Can pondering an eternally deep life help ignite the fire in the passions God has placed on our hearts?
A few years ago when I volunteered at our local high school track meet, I was asked to oversee the long jump pit. I liked working there because when it was over, I could go over to the track and watch our daughter run. At one meet I was also asked to help at the triple jump because the flight cards were written in cursive and my partner got frustrated trying to read them saying, “Nobody writes in cursive anymore!” Since I am older, and grew up with cursive, I was able to read them. And here’s what I like about cursive writing—it is flowing, graceful, and interconnected.
That’s how the Holy Spirit is in our lives. Through the Spirit, God's ongoing presence is always with us! Matthew’s gospel is like that. The writer was a master at connecting the stories in a flowing and graceful way! My hope is that you will see this connection in your own life.
Originally published in Gritty Faith Volume 15. Written by Pastor Kevin Jensen.