This morning we continue in a similar theme from last week. Since last time, Jesus has been traveling, healing both Jews and Gentiles, teaching, and generally ticking off the religious establishment. So you know, standard Jesus stuff. This morning we come back around to interactions specifically involving Jesus and Peter. Peter is an important guy in the stories of Jesus' life and ministry, not because he's better than anyone else, but because he's just like everyone else. He's just like us. We are supposed to see ourselves in Peter. He's enthusiastic in his desire to follow Jesus.
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For several weeks we have been focusing on the teachings of Jesus. And in a few weeks we're going to work through some of the parables of Jesus. But here for a couple weeks we're going to do some actual stories about Jesus himself and the things he did, not just what he said. By the time we get to chapter 14 this morning, we are halfway through the gospel of Matthew, and at this point, something really terrible happens. John the Baptist is killed by Herod. Jesus cousin and his friend, the one who baptized him, the one after whom Jesus originally modeled his message.
This week we are going to read the most radical thing that Jesus ever said. Jesus says a lot of great things. But this is world-changing, mess-with-your-head, everybody's-going-to-hate-this, radical. It's so good. And it's part of the pattern that we saw established last week. Jesus is revealing to his followers the principles behind the Old Testament laws. This Law was given to the ancient Hebrew people as they came out of slavery in Egypt, for their own well-being and as a testimony to the other people groups who lived around them.
We are going to spend two more weeks on the Sermon on the Mount before we keep moving through Matthew but then this summer we're going to come back to it. In Matthew's spiritual biography of Jesus, the sermon on the mount is Jesus' core ethical teaching, his manifesto on how his followers are to live in the world. If you've ever read it you know it's not easy. And so I begin by reminding us that the things that are really worth it are rarely easy. But they are possible. This sermon was not given to high-minded religious scholars anxious to debate the finer points of theology.
A few weeks ago we read the origin story of Jesus from Joseph's perspective and realized that Immanuel means "love with us." On Christmas Eve we mixed all our gospel stories together in one bowl, which is what we usually do. But really they are very different. From now until Easter, we are going to focus our discussions on the gospel according to Matthew. The genre of gospel is something unique in literature. It's not a novel, but it's also not a strict biography. The gospels are not concerned with the hard facts about the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
This morning, I am starting a new tradition of foregoing a sermon on the Sunday after Christmas in favor of a story. Although, really, we read a story every week when we read our Scripture. The genre of our sacred texts include poetry, origin story, philosophy, personal letters, spiritual biography, and others. It includes a little persuasive rhetoric, but much more narrative. And all together, the Bible is one big story. Stories reminds us that truth is more than hard facts. Many stories are true, even if they aren't factual.
This morning we turn a page in our reading from the Old Testament to the New Testament so I want to set the stage for you. (Much of this little intro comes verbatim from this book, which I love and would heartily recommend if you want an interesting and helpful way to frame the Scriptures.) We have spent the fall in the Old Testament, journeying with the ancient people of God through creation and crisis, their calling of "blessed to be a blessing," their cycles of following that calling then drifting and rebelling.
Before we hear our text this morning, I'd like to drop back for a minute and think again about what the Bible is and why we bother reading it together. This is the holy record of one particular people's experience of God in their individual and corporate lives, as they interpret and reinterpret God's presence and actions in their situations. Over the course of thousands of years, Christians have accepted it as an authority for our individual and corporate life.
This morning we have another reading from the prophets, this time the prophet Isaiah, first a story and then a prophecy. In order for it to make sense, let me give you a little background. After the kingdom split into north Israel and south Judah, things continue to degrade until 721 BC when Assyria invades the northern kingdom of Israel and destroys it. After that the southern kingdom of Judah pays tribute to Assyria so they don't get invaded. Eventually they get tired of that and make a pact with their old enemy Egypt and rebel against Assyria.
This morning we begin a six-week series on the book of Romans. Perhaps no book in the whole Bible has been as influential and as controversial as Romans. And the same goes for its author, the Apostle Paul. Most people either love him or hate him. Guess what? As always, black and white answers are too easy. First of all the apostle Paul was a human being just like all of us. He is not just one thing. He has strengths and he has flaws. His theology, especially his expectation of Christ's return, evolves throughout his writing. He was a deeply religious and observant Jewish man, and a flame-throwing reformer. He wrote at least seven books of the New Testament, and as many as six more were written in his name by people who learned from him. Romans is one of his latest letters and there's a few important things to keep in mind as we study it. The first one is that at this point, nobody had heard of Christianity, including Paul.