The Gospel of Matthew has 28 chapters. My sermon series often cover a chapter at a time in the longer books, but 28 weeks for one series is longer than I like to go. It would be more appropriate to cover the details of the book in a Bible class over a couple of quarters. So I’m following an outline proposed (not necessarily originally) by Craig L. Blomberg in his book Jesus and the Gospels.
It has been observed for a long time that Matthew has 5 lengthy discourses or monologues (sometimes referred to as sermons) of Jesus placed throughout the book. Each of these discourses can be paired with an accompanying section of narrative to present a common theme. It’s like the discourse provides the theory and the narrative provides the application. In the coming weeks I’ll be spending one week on each of these discourses and narratives.
Here’s my summary of the basic outline of the pairs of discourses and narratives:
1. Matthew 5-9: The Authority of Jesus
- Jesus’ authoritative teaching (Matt. 5-7)
- Ten miracles demonstrating Jesus authority over illness, death, demons, and nature. (Matt. 8-9)
2. Matthew 10-12: Opposition to the Kingdom
- Jesus warns of future opposition and persecution. Key verses: 10:24-25. (Matt. 10)
- Opposition to Jesus’ ministry increases, culminating in the plotting of his death. (Matt. 11-12)
3. Matthew 13-16:20: Decision Time (NOTE: This division seems to be the one with the most disagreement. Blomberg places it after 16:20, but Wilkins believes the narrative relating to chap 13 continues all the way through to the next discourse in chap 19.)
- A collection of parables describing life in the kingdom and defining those within and without the Kingdom. Key verse: Matt. 13:10-13. (Matt. 13)
- Jesus ministry increasingly broadens moves from the Jews and his hometown to include Gentiles and Gentile territory.
4. Matthew 16:21-chap 18: The (Suffering) Messiah Revealed (NOTE: For the last two pairings, the narrative precedes the discourse)
- Jesus’ glory is revealed, and he predicts his death. (Matt. 16:21-17)
- Jesus teaches that His church must also embody humility and forgiveness. (Matt. 18)
5. Matthew 19-25: Kingdom Culmination
- Jesus travels to Jerusalem, and to his death, while preparing his disciples for his absence and return. (Matt. 19-22)
- Jesus prophesies regarding the destruction of Jerusalem and his ultimate return. (Matt. 23-25)
Another commentary I’ve been using (Wilkins – NIV Application Commentary) summarises the 5 discourses in terms of discipleship, making Matthew a “manual on discipleship” (p200).
- Matt. 5-7: What it means to be, kingdom-life disciples.
- Matt. 10: What it means to be, mission-driven disciples.
- Matt. 13: What it means to be, clandestine-kingdom disciples (the kingdom is spiritual not political)
- Matt. 18: What it means to be, community-based disciples.
- Matt. 24-25: What it means to be expectant-sojourner disciples (Note the shorter sermon compared to the outline above.)
Certainly Matthew 26-28 must not be dismissed as an epilogue; this section is too much the point toward which the gospel moves for that to be true. It seems best to take 26:6-28:20 as constituting an exceptional sixth narrative section, with the corresponding teaching section being laid on the shoulders of the disciples (28:18-20). (p76)
I find this outline very useful in preaching through Matthew in a somewhat abbreviated manner. I think it helps us to grasp some of the important themes in the Gospel. While I believe that Matthew was carefully written with a purposeful structure, I don’t want to suggest that the above outlines are definitely what the author worked with. They’re our best effort to outline the book and interpret his intent. However, many events and even shorter teaching passages don’t necessarily fit the bigger theme allocated to their chapter. These events and teachings have value in and of themselves regardless of whether they fit within our overarching theme.
As a final note, I want to point out that we can identify the 5 sermons not just because of the length of Jesus’ teaching but because immediately after each we find a phrase something like “When Jesus had finished saying these things…“. (Matt. 7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; and 26:1). This repetition seems to be a transition tool used by Matthew.
I hope you find this outline a useful tool to help you grasp the central message and theme of the Gospel of Matthew. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think and if I need to clarify anything.