During our year-long exploration of the Gospel of Matthew, I have often thought of a memorable dialogue in C.S. Lewis’ classic literary work, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the imaginative land of Narnia, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver prepare Susan for the upcoming meeting with Aslan, the Christ figure. Lewis writes,
“Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” … “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “…Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
These words, written by C.S. Lewis in the 20th century, describing Jesus, could have also been penned by the Gospel writer Matthew in the first century.
For twenty-eight chapters, a central thread of Jesus’ kingship has been woven tightly into the fabric of Matthew’s inspired eyewitness account of Jesus’ 30-year sojourn on a sin-ravaged earth. From the opening chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, we have seen how Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnational fulfilment of the Messianic Davidic King foretold in the Old Testament. He is Immanuel, God with us, who has come to rescue us from sin and death. Jesus is not safe, but He is good, for He brings to us forgiveness of sin and a new creation life: a radically changed life and a reordering of our heart loves, lived out in faithful vocational stewardship in the context of a radically new community called the local church.
The Gospel writer Matthew presents a compelling case for Jesus as King, both in His sinless humanity, as well as His Trinitarian deity. Jesus’ kingship was manifested through His supernatural power, healing of the sick, calming of the storm, and the ultimate miracle of His bodily resurrection from the dead. More than any other Gospel writer, Matthew displays Jesus’ kingship through the brilliance of His teaching on the truly good life and how it is experienced in His easy yoke of apprenticeship. Here we encountered the paradoxical topography of the kingdom Jesus is ushering into our lives and our world. When we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we lose our life, but in losing our life, we find it. When we put on Jesus’ yoke, we find true freedom not slavery.
Matthew points us to Jesus’ transforming path of discipleship in the Great Invitation. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30) Jesus’ yoke fits us. In Jesus’ yoke, we learn to live our lives like Jesus would if He were us. In Jesus’ yoke, we embrace both His precepts and practices as we experience transformation and the life we truly long to live. Matthew also reminds us that it is Jesus’ yoke of apprenticeship that makes it possible for us to live into the Great Commandment, to love God rightly, and to love our neighbor rightly. It is in Jesus’ yoke that we, His church, can fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of all the nations.
Throughout our journey in the Gospel of Matthew, we have seen Jesus heading step by step to the cross in faithful obedience to His Heavenly Father. On His way to the cross, where He became an atoning sacrifice for us, King Jesus revealed that His plan for redeeming a lost world centers around His church. In Matthew’s Gospel, we are reminded that the local church as God designed it is the hope of the world. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18)
Matthew builds to a grand crescendo with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In each successive movement toward the cross of Calvary, he reminds us that Jesus’ impending death is not a tragic accident, but a triumphant plan orchestrated by a sovereign Trinitarian God. Carrying our sin on His shoulders, Jesus, the sin-bearing Son of God, was cursed and abandoned by God the Father so that we would never have to be cursed or abandoned by God. The Apostle Paul writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV) Jesus’ bodily resurrection is vindication of what was accomplished at the cross: the forgiveness of our sin and our reconciliation with God.
The resurrection of Jesus affirms the goodness of the everyday material world we live in and work in. The resurrected body of Jesus that cooked breakfast and ate with His disciples demonstrates that there is significant continuity between the present world and the new creation world to come. The empty tomb declares all of life matters; the school work we do, the customers we serve, the companies we run, the things we fix – they all matter. The resurrection is the hope that our deep longings for significance will be fully satisfied. It fulfills our longing for a love that never fails, a life that never ends, and work that truly matters.
Matthew ends his Gospel account of King Jesus similarly to how he began his writing. The risen Jesus is Immanuel, the God who is with us and will never leave us. Because of who King Jesus is and what He has done, there is nothing more important than following Him wholeheartedly in all of life. Jesus is not safe, but He is the King. He is worthy of our greatest thought, our most wholehearted devotion, our best sacrifice.