Carving out space for a new commentary series on the Scriptures conjures the sentiment of the “preacher” in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” What would it take to counter the sense of vanity at the thought of such a project? Invite Matt Woodley to write a volume on The Gospel of Matthew.
IVP’s new Resonate Series contains just such a volume, The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us. The scholarship does not attempt the novel. Woodley, former pastor and now managing editor of PreachingToday.com, overlays the commonly understood structure of Matthew’s five sections that parallel the Torah connecting Jesus as the “new Moses” with earthy stories and vivid portrayals to animate the narrative.
Imagine likening the absurdity of John the Baptist announcing the coming Kingdom of God to Clem and Bertha, two “toothless recovering meth addicts.” Woodley attempts the startling. He dares strip away the modesty with which we have clothed the stories that make up the Gospel accounts of Jesus, God with Us, revealing the scandal they surely must have been in their day.
Repentance as theological theme is often out of favor with the modern mind. Yet, Woodley insists the movement toward God in repentance mirrors the move God makes toward people in the Incarnation. Rather than get mired in the ordo salutis of which comes first, Woodley transcends the debate and moves right to the reality. A real Jesus evidences God’s move toward people. Real repentance responds to that move with favor not dis-favor.
What of temptation? The chosen heading for the pericope that contains the temptation of Jesus is interestingly titled, Into the Soupy Fog. I dare say anyone given to reflect on their own temptations should easily see most of what we face comes in the form os subtleties creating a foggy experience. Woodley communicates well not just how this experience is “felt” but also the means Jesus employed to clear the air refusing to give space to the fog temptation creates.
How to portray the “big story” Jesus proclaims in word and deed post temptation is met with a description of the Kingdom of Heaven as a reference to the communal, global, and personal realities found in the Way of Jesus. For Woodley the personal is not an exclusive reference to a personal decision – even as it is – but, instead it points to the very personal places the Good News of Jesus penetrates. Again, Woodley does not shy away from calling attention to what we may consider the nitty-gritty and others may wonder if it is not tabloid fodder. Our vision of these very difficult places in which life is lived cannot be easily glossed but must be embraced even as Jesus, God with Us, demonstrates.
I have not had the time to read the entire volume. But, I have found the features of this volume highlighted in this short review to be consistent throughout as I skimmed the pages. For instance, Woodley includes quite the common story of a friend wary of institutional forms of Christianity as he opened the section titled, Planting Gardens in Junkyards (Matthew 24:36-25:30. Yesterday our church followed the RCL and the Matthew 25 passage (1-13). The consistency in style and substance found in the sections covering Matthew 3-4,considered for this review, was also present in this later section of the book.
The Resonate Series appears set to provide pastors, preachers, and Bible teachers with a resourceful volume that does not shy away from the scholarly material and the theological themes on its way to a very applicable volume. Were out teachers currently teaching through the Gospel of Matthew, I would recommend Matt Woodley’s volume as a “must have.”
This review is in response to a free copy of Matt Woodley’s volume, The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us from the Resonate Series. Learn more by visiting the Resonate Facebook Page.
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