Herein I continue to work through Matthew to put together a rough character sketch of God as He is presented in this gospel narrative. Today we consider two more elements of God’s character:
This grand project of evangelism is all to unfold as a part of God’s greater plan for salvation, a plan that reveals His character as the Great Architect of the Universe. The author of Matthew pushes this vision of God over and over again, because God’s architecture extends beyond the physical realm of the universe and into the temporal and historical realms. Indeed, the author’s Jewish audience would have been highly interested in seeing and confirming God’s lordship over the affairs of history.
They are so preoccupied because at the time, they await God’s anointed, who has been foretold in Jewish literature and prophecy for centuries. And the author of Matthew obliges, peppering his narrative with references to prophecies that Jesus fulfills, signals to his Jewish readers that he is worth considering even with the diffuse Second-Temple-era understanding of what the messiah will be. The texts refer to the circumstances of the messiah’s birth (Mt. 2:6; 2:18), to his forerunner (Mt. 3:3), to his ministry (Mt. 8:17), and to his reception (Mt. 21:42).
Matthew’s treatment of these prophecies is not simply apologetic in nature. In addition to showing that Jesus is the Christ, they speak a broader truth about the character of God: He is the steady hand at the wheel of history, with mankind as participants in the drama. The God of Israel is not the deist first cause who allows history to run its course. Instead, he is intimately involved in sustaining the telos of the universe. The human story, as John Howard Yoder might say and as I am fond of remembering, is not written by coercive power or technology or class conflict, but rather by the pen of the Almighty. The institution of predictive prophecy reminds God’s people that life and history are not arbitrary, which is especially helpful in situations where the agents of God’s will are afraid or hesitant to take the stage at their cue. Jesus himself, for instance, wishes his fate were not sealed, but in an act of obedience to the Grand Architect of all history, he submits to the will of God (Mt. 26:39).
Provider in Abundance
If seeing God as the Grand Architect of the physical and temporal gives us a broad and somewhat theological sense of His lordship, we experience that lordship most concretely and directly in the narratives of His miraculous provision. We typically see God provide for his people in the forms of sustenance and healing.
Over and over, Jesus implores his followers not to worry about money or food and to trust in God above all things. This is a radically counter-cultural expectation (no matter what culture in what time period one lives) that heralds a reorientation of the human enterprise. Rather than remain captives of a mentality of scarce resources, Christ invites us — and, indeed, opens our eyes to the rest of the biblical tradition’s invitation — to participate in a new Jubilee economy of abundance. There is certainly a spiritual meaning to this; the parable of the workers in the vineyard explains God’s infinite and inexhaustible capacity for grace, His indefatigable generosity even to those who come to Him late in the game (Mt. 20). But God, as James K.A. Smith puts it, cares about our bellies, too. In Jesus feeding the five thousand, we get a taste of God’s real provision for His people (Mt. 14).
This provision also takes the form of the spiritual and physical health of God’s people. Healings are central to Jesus’ ministry, and from the very start he is curing people everywhere as testament to God’s the health and freedom God longs to give them (i.a. Mt. 4:23-25). Indeed, a quote Nick pointed out speaks to this: Jurgen Moltmann goes so far as to say that “[w]hen Jesus expels demons and heals the sick, he is driving out of creation the powers of destruction, and is healing and restoring created beings who are hurt and sick. The lordship of God to which the healings witness, restores creation to health. Jesus’ healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only truly ‘natural’ thing in a world that is unnatural, demonized and wounded. . . . Finally, with the resurrection of Christ, the new creation begins, pars pro toto, with the crucified one.” (The Way of Jesus Christ, 98-99). God longs to provide for us and for us to willingly ask and receive — and in doing so to restore the world to its natural state bit by bit (Mt. 7:9-11; 18:10-14). His acts of provision (of sustenance and of healing) are a foretaste of the banquet to come when the Kingdom arrives.