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New series from 9th February: Jesus’s verdict on Jerusalem (Matthew 21-25)

You may not have realised it (especially if you have not been here for the whole of the last 10 years!), but since 2010 we have been making our way through Matthew’s gospel, starting with The Sermon on the Mount (chs 5-7); in 2014 we considered The King forges his Kingdom (chs 8-9), and the following year The Mission Commission (ch 10); in 2016 we looked at chs 11-13 (Christ the Controversialist), and then in 2017 we moved on to chs 14-20 (The Kingdom is Coming); now, we have arrived at the last part of Jesus’s public ministry – the week or so of his life that stretched from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the point where the chief priests and elders of the people plotted his death, and Jesus himself was anointed at Bethany and shared the Last Supper with his disciples (ch 26). We will finish this series, appropriately, just before Easter.

In fact, if we include the account of Jesus’s death and resurrection, these seven days take up over a third of the whole gospel of Matthew. Now, as we know, after the birth narrative, Matthew has nothing to say about Jesus’s life until his baptism, which would be when he was about 30 years old; the next 3 years of his ministry are recorded over 18 chapters, as we have seen; and then the intensity increases again, as we have almost a blow-by-blow account of Jesus’s teaching and interaction with the Jewish leaders in the days leading up to Passover. The gospels are, among other things, works of literature, and we need to realise that this structure is deliberate – Matthew is employing a literary technique to tell us that we are coming to the climax of Jesus’s life, and that what he says during this time carries extra importance. It would be like a film-maker suddenly changing the recording speed of his movie to slow-motion, so that we can take on board every snippet of action at the vital moment in the film.

Jesus knows he has only a few days to live, and needs to make sure he has imparted all the teaching his Father commanded him to deliver before he is taken from this world. I expect, if you knew you had only a week left on this earth, you would want to speak to certain people, and to make sure certain things were understood by them before you were parted forever in this life. I expect you would also want the people to whom you spoke to take your words very seriously.  Jesus is no different in this respect – he has some urgent things to say, and it is vital that the people listen carefully; they will not get another chance. One of the key themes of Jesus’s teaching in these chapters is judgment – in particular, judgment on Jerusalem, the city which represents God’s people here on earth; and the judgment is imminent! It’s a subject that will apply at some point to all of us – so let us make every effort to be here to listen to these words in the coming weeks!

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