Sunday, August 11, 2013

Matthew: The Gospel of Identity - Michael Card



Michael Card uses an economy of words to convey the essential in Matthew’s gospel of identity.

Matthew: The Gospel of Identity
Author: Michael Card
Publisher: IVP Books (www.ivpress.com)
Pages: 267

“Matthew’s Gospel is about identity, about discarding the old, incomplete identities that enslave us and receiving a radical new identity. It is not your Jewish or rabbinic self, or your tax-collecting self. You are not defined by the old orthodoxy, but by the new reality. All of the old, false, incomplete identities must go and be swallowed up in a new organizing principle. It is about surrendering whatever citizenship you define your identity by and becoming a citizen of the new kingdom, whose king is Jesus,” (22) writes Michael Card introducing his third of four commentaries on the gospels.

What Card has so meticulously done in his music, he brings to the printed page. He points out that Matthew contains five large blocks of Jesus’ sayings, which occasionally may seem unconnected. Through background information, careful analysis and a sanctified use of imagination Card helps readers not to lose sight of the story. It’s easy to miss the forest when you focus too much on individual trees. I’m grateful that Card vividly brings the text to life through engaging narrative.

In his concluding thoughts on Matthew chapter one, Card ties the pertinent elements of the beginning story to the theme, “As the first hearers of Matthew’s Gospel sat listening in the synagogue, once again the theme has been touched upon that the Gentiles have a stake in the ministry of Jesus from the very beginning. The magi, who had come so far risking their very lives, are the first to recognize the dignity of Jesus and to offer him worship. Though the priests and experts in the Law know the facts about where the Messiah would be born, they missed out on the reality of who he was. Matthew’s first hearers are being encouraged not to miss out on who Jesus is, even though they, as Jews, know all the facts as well” (36).

Card succeeds in this and his other commentaries in creating a series that is highly readable but also scholarly. His comments on John the Baptist, are but one example of his consistent clarity: “His (John’s) primary mission was to make the Israelites aware of their personal sin and to urge them to respond in repentance and baptism. That is how one prepares the way for the Lord.… He is clearly the fulfillment of Malachi’s closing promise that in the last days Elijah would come (Mal 4:5-6)” (39).  

Even in the foregoing one can see how he unpacks meaning with a minimum of application, which can be a plus. An overemphasis on application can come at the expense of meaning. The first priority is to understand what the text teaches. Application then follows. Card leaves room for readers to draw their own conclusions.

He gets at the heart of Matthew’s gospel, even if at times one might like him to go further. In Matthew 24, for example, he divides the text by two questions, “When will these things happen?” and “What is the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” In answer to the first question, “From verse 15 to 25, Jesus prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem, an event he will characterize primarily as something from which a person can flee” (211).  He broadly summarizes the passage noting, “With verse 29, everything changes. The image is no longer earthly—in fact, it becomes apocalyptic. Jesus opens his second answer with two quotes from Isaiah (Is 13:10; 34:4). The signs are cosmic; they involve the sun, moon and stars” (212). These summaries are apt, but if you want to know something about the reference to “one will be taken and one left,” you will need to turn to a reference that goes into more detail.
 
That goes beyond the scope of this book, which is to make Matthew’s themes and teachings accessible to a broad audience. This, in part, is written for those who never imagined reading a commentary. In their minds, such an undertaking might be like reading through a dictionary. Fear not! This volume is not a cure for insomnia. It won’t strike terror or generate loathing in those who see reading as little more than weariness.

This is excellent at providing context and contrasting the differences between the other gospels. It is a suitable companion for a more exhaustive commentary that one can use to more fully explore individual verses.

If you have been a fan of his music, this is your chance to become more of an admirer of Card’s way with words. For me, that’s what makes his music so special. The same gift is in operation here, and it blossoms as it does not have the same constraints as a three to four minute song. Card’s music has always led to the text. Now listeners have a ready source to learn more about it by availing themselves of this or one of his other fine written works. If you have not noticed, Card has become a prolific author.

Rich Mullins may be right about songs being remembered more than sermons, but writings can often more fully develop and expound on the riches that are found in Christ. Card’s books are a natural extension of his music, and hopefully, he will continue to encourage the body of Christ with both expressions.

As with the other commentaries, Card has recorded a CD that encompasses the content of this gospel. If I receive Matthew: The Penultimate Question from the publisher, I will review it separately. However, on the basis of the previous CD releases in this series, I can safely say that it will be worth having.


Look for John: The Gospel of Wisdom in 2014.
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