Theme: The Significance of Self-Portraits
This week’s lessons show us the depth of the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, who continues to call, not those who believe they are righteous, but sinners into his kingdom.
Scripture: Matthew 9:9-13
There is a picture of the crucifixion by Rembrandt in which the artist has included himself in the crowd that is standing around the cross. When you look at that picture of the crucifixion and suddenly recognize that Rembrandt included a portrait of himself in the painting, it is shocking and surprising until that surprise is overcome by a sense of what it means. Because what Rembrandt was doing when he painted himself into the picture was testifying in terms of his own profession as an artist that Jesus died for him. It was his of saying he was a Christian.
I find something of the same nature in the Gospels in the sense that those who are responsible for the writing of them have also included themselves in the telling. We know that John, the evangelist, does that in the fourth Gospel, though he does it in such a subtle way that sometimes people question whether it’s happening. You know in John’s Gospel again and again there’s reference made to that “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Probably that is a reference to John himself, and people have looked at that and said, “Yes, but it couldn’t be. How could John possibly refer to himself in such an exalted way? How could you say I am the disciple whom Jesus loved?”
Well of course when they speak that way they fail to understand the sense in which John would have intended that. John would not have said by that, “Look, I am the kind of person whom Jesus should love.” He would have said, “Look, isn’t it a marvel that Jesus loved even this kind of person.” You see, that’s the nature of his testimony. And you know as you come to the end of the Gospel and you have that scene of Peter and the beloved disciple racing to the tomb, it is the beloved disciple who arrives there, looks in, and testifies that he saw the grave clothes and believed. You see, there is the author of that fourth Gospel wanting to say that what he is communicating to others he had also believed himself.
When we move back a Gospel and come to Luke we come to an author who, of course, was not around during the time of the events that are recorded in his Gospel. He was a Greek. He presumably was converted later during the journeys of the Apostle Paul. He appears in Acts first at the point in which the Apostle Paul crosses over from Asia into Macedonia. But nevertheless in certain ways Luke does bring himself into the narrative. His is the only Gospel that begins with what is almost a personal introduction, writing to Theophilus and saying that just as others had taken it upon themselves to set down in order what Jesus Christ had done during the days he was on the earth, so he, too, has written up an orderly account. Luke was doing that in order that Theophilus might know the certainty of these things Christians everywhere believed. And so in that way, though very indirect, Luke is undoubtedly testifying to his own faith in the gospel.
I don’t find anything quite like that in Mark. It is believed that Mark wrote his Gospel at the direction of Peter, and we certainly do find Peter’s testimony in the Gospel. We have it told how Jesus Christ called Peter, and we have what undoubtedly was an expression of the real heart of this great man, that account of Peter’s fall when Jesus said to him he would betray him and Peter denied it, saying, “Oh Lord, even if all of the others would do it I certainly will not do it.” But he did, and Peter faithfully records that, which is picked up in the other synoptic Gospels as well. In Matthew’s Gospel, probably as a result of Peter’s testimony, we have the account of his great confession of Jesus Christ as the Son of God in Matthew 16.
Well, I mention those self-portraits in order to introduce the verses in Matthew to which we come. We’re looking at encounters that the Lord Jesus Christ had with the people of his day, focusing on the way in which they were changed through the encounter. In this passage in Matthew 9, beginning at verse 9, we have the story of Jesus’ encounter with Matthew himself, the one who is the author of the Gospel.
It’s interesting that he puts it in. It is only a few verses. It seems that Matthew has included it in a humble way, especially when we contrast it with what is said in the other Gospels. Luke in particular mentions it and adds some details that Matthew doesn’t give. But, you see, this is Matthew’s testimony, and what he wants to say is that what was true for others was true also for him, and the gospel that he is commending to the people of his day is one in which he himself believed.
How do we see Luke and John including something of their self-portraits into the account of the person and work of Christ? What do we learn from this?
How does Matthew handle his own self-portrait? What does this reveal to us about Matthew and how he viewed all that Jesus had done for him?
Reflection: If someone were going to paint your spiritual portrait, how would they characterize your commitment to the Lord and your relationships with others?