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  • Writer's picturesonnyholmes


Matthew's Gospel reflects a Jewish orientation. His purpose seems clearly to convince readers, especially those of Jewish origin, that Jesus was their prophesied Messiah. Surely the nations, those beyond the close boundaries of first century Judaism were envisioned as the Spirit guided Matthew's record of Jesus's life. Still, any serious study of Matthew affirms that his purpose was to prove Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of all Jewish messianic prophesy. The many OT references attest as much.

Which gives me pause when i consider, perhaps for the millionth time, the Great Commission Jesus gave his followers before ascending to the right hand of the Father. Matthew wrote it this way---

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the

Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I

have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20, ESV

In my adult Christian life, especially the thirty-five years I spent as a Southern Baptist pastor, those words were probably studied, taught, preached, and studied again more than any other verses in the New Testament. It is the Great Commission, what most evangelicals would agree as the mission of the local church. Recently, teaching these critical verses in New Testament Survey and Survey of Christian Education and Administration at Charleston Southern University something new jumped off the page at me. That's the things about Scripture, it is always living and active, ready to flash some truth across the screen in our head. This new gem may have been the result of my shifting to a brand new ESV Bible after retirement so I wouldn't be stifled by all of the old notes in my worn NIV and HCSB versions. New clean pages all around. What was noted was how the ESV translated the Greek term terein as "observe" rather than the "obey" of the NIV that I had used for so many years. Making disciples then, means teaching new believers to be observant Christians.

This was something of a new concept for me too, the idea of being observant. So, I had lunch with a Jewish friend one day so he could explain the differences between being orthodox, observant, and reformed in the Jewish belief system. He wasn't a rabbi and offered to connect me with one if that was necessary. So, his was a simple, layman's view. He indicted that orthodox Judaism took a literal view of the Jewish law and sought to keep the law at every level possible to mere humans. Further, observant Jews, like himself and his family, honored and revered the Jewish law, kept the dietary elements of the prescribed law, and kept the holy days and calendar of ancient Judaism. He indicated the reformed Judaism was more liberal in interpreting the law and generally kept dietary laws and the Sabbath. That may be an oversimplification.

But, it made me think of the contemporary Christian landscape in America---the legalists, the convictionals, and the nominals. Here we are--- the super fundamentalist legalists as the smallest faction, those with strong biblical convictions being the shrinking middle group, and believers in name only being the exploding percentage of the population. It's just had me asking when we stopped teaching believers to be observant?

You don't have to read all of the Gospels to understand Jesus's contempt for those who strained at gnats or pointed out the speck in other peoples eyes. That strict legalism was something short of the Kingdom he pictured in his earthly lessons. People with no foundation were often portrayed as foolish builders constructing their life on shifting sand. But, the seed that feel on good soil produced an abundant crop. This soil heard the word, understood it, and was productive for the sake of the Kingdom. Maybe there's something to producing observant believers after all!


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