Week 40

As the Old Testament comes to a close, our Coast-to-Coast journey has crossed the
continental divide. But before we open the story of Jesus with the Gospel of Matthew, we need to take a quick (ever so quick!) look at the history of what happened in Israel between the time Malachi finished writing and Jesus began His healing work. As we
have seen throughout the past couple of months, Israel is kicked around under the feet of the giant empires fighting for dominance around them. First it was Assyria.
Next it was Babylon. Third came Persia. As time rolled by, it was the Greeks’ turn. Under Greek control, life for Israel was rough. Tensions in Jerusalem were high between the
Jews who stayed loyal to the covenant with God and those who became collaborators with their Greek overlords. Finally, by the reign of the Greek ruler Antiochus IV, the
Jews revolted. Led by the Maccabees, a prominent and influential family, the struggle
for freedom grew. There were important victories, including the standoff at the temple, which is still celebrated in Hanukkah today. Each night candles are lit to commemorate God’s faithfulness and the peoples’ resistance. Those of you who have the Apocrypha can read this story in the books of Maccabees. The Apocrypha is a collection of
writings from this inter-testamental period which give us an important glimpse of the
history, struggles, prophecy, and writings of the time.
The Greeks won the war in the long run, but it wasn’t long before they were toppled by Rome who seemed to own the entire world. During the four hundred years between
the Old and New Testaments, God was not silent! And the religious and spiritual life of
the Jewish people was rich and vital. Just as the Christian Church has divided into
denominations, Judaism developed through several camps as well. The Pharisee
movement followed the purging work of Nehemiah. Their goal was to remain as true as possible to the Covenant and Law. While in Jesus’ day, they were criticized for
nit-picking strictness that lacked compassion; they were an important reform
movement that adamantly called Israel to the kind of obedience that would avoid a
second exile. The Sadducees were a wealthy, elite ruling class centered at the temple. They had some theological differences with the Pharisees, but we’ll get into those
later. The Essenes were a very strict apocalyptic group who felt that the rest of Israel
was beyond hope and withdrew from the larger society. They lived communally,
teaching a very spiritual heavenly message. All of these competing schools of
thought, coupled with the peoples’ dissatisfaction under Roman occupation, collided
at Jesus’ feet as he stands now on the world’s stage to declare the good news of God.
The most significant events in human history are now before us. God, who has ruled and spoken from afar, has decided to draw near as Jesus is born. We will be reading in the Gospel of Matthew this week, which is a significant place to start. Matthew is by far
the most Jewish of the four gospels. Pay close attention to Matthew’s detail! The entire story of the Old Testament and the history of Israel is about to be retold using Jesus as the key to understand it all. We will see Jesus born as the completion of Hebrew
prophecy. Jesus will teach his Sermon on the Mount like Moses on the mountain in
Deuteronomy. Hebrew imagery and symbolism abound as Jesus reinterprets the
covenant, the law, even the blood sacrifices! But Jesus is far more than just a teacher.
We will, in the days to come, begin to understand what this messiah (predicted by
Isaiah and the ancient prophets) is really all about. But be prepared for some surprises along the way!
I want to congratulate you for reading this far. Completing the Old Testament is a
monumental achievement and you should be proud. Even more importantly, through
this effort, you have given God’s Spirit ample opportunity to speak directly into your
soul. Keep it up! You will not regret the time you are about to spend. The greatest story ever told is about to get a whole lot better!
Keep reading and I’ll see you in the Bible!

WEEK 40 Reading Schedule:
Oct 1 Malachi God’s Coming Messenger Predicted
Oct 2 Matthew 1-4 Birth, Baptism, and Early Ministry of Jesus
Oct 3 Matthew 5-6 Sermon on the Mount
Oct 4 Matthew 7-8 Sermon on the Mount
Oct 5 Matthew 9-10 Healing Miracles, Calling Disciples
Oct 6 Matthew 11-12 Jesus, John the Baptist, and Pharisees
Oct 7 Matthew 13-14 Parables, Miracles, and Rejection of Jesus