Focus on Matthew: A Study Guide for Groups and Individuals

Focus on Matthew: A Study Guide for Groups and Individuals

by Carol Cheney Donahoe


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Focus on Matthew is part of the Focus Bible Study Series which contains studies of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The Focus Bible Study Series is the perfect guide for in-depth scripture study. Each book in the series includes informative commentary, thought-provoking study questions and experiential group activities that encourage a deeper understanding of scripture. The journal format has lots of space for writing and encourages personal reflection and spiritual growth.

The Focus Bible Study Series is ideal for individual or group study and reflection, adult classes, small-faith communities, retreats and midweek Bible study groups.

Each book features:

  • Thought-provoking study questions with space for written responses
  • A wealth of ideas to promote prayer and journal meditations that build faith and understanding of the scriptures
  • Numerous suggestions for activities that promote experiential learning and meaningful discussion to encourage spiritual growth.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781889108698
Publisher: Church Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/01/1996
Series: Focus , #1
Edition description: REVISED
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 7.50(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Dirk deVries is a former youth pastor, Christian education director, curriculum developer, writer, and editor. A photographer, he leads workshops involving spirituality and photography, and his photos are featured on book covers, curricular resources, and calendars and sold through He is also author of the blog The 60-Second Sabbath and attends St. John's Episcopal Cathedral in Denver. He and his husband Tim are the proud parents of two cats, Romeo and Willy.

Read an Excerpt


a study guide for groups & individuals

By Carol Cheney Donahoe

Church Publishing Incorporated

Copyright © 2001 Morehouse Education Resources
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60674-179-5


Matthew 1–4 The Coming of the Messiah

Our first study in Matthew covers several major events: Jesus' birth, his baptism, his temptation and the beginning of his ministry. Though we may wish for more biographical details, Matthew's intent is to present the Messiah; he thus devotes most of the book to Jesus' ministry and message. Read the first four chapters of Matthew, watching for hints of important themes:

• Jesus as Messiah

• the fulfillment of God's purpose in history

• Jesus as the Messiah to both Jews and non-Jews

• Jesus in conflict with religious leaders

• Jesus and the message of the kingdom

Find The Facts

Who is the main character? How is he introduced? Where is he born? How does he get to Nazareth? What is the first recorded event of his adult life? What happens to Jesus in the wilderness? When and where does he begin to preach? Who are the first disciples? What are the major aspects of Jesus' ministry?


1. Make a simple outline of the important segments of the first four chapters of Matthew. Give titles to the various sections.

2. What is important about the birth of Jesus according to Matthew? What seems most significant about the visit of the wise men from the East?

3. What role does John the Baptist play? Describe his personality. Why do you think he became so popular with the people?

4. What events prepare Jesus for his ministry? In what way does each event add to Jesus' understanding of his calling?

Matthew 1:1-25

Before launching into the main body of his work, the story of Jesus' public ministry and teaching, Matthew sets the scene by describing the background and birth of Jesus. Matthew establishes Jesus' credentials by identifying Jesus both theologically and genealogically in the first verse. He introduces Jesus as the Christ (Heb. Messiah) and traces his family tree back through David, the king from whose line the Messiah was expected, to Abraham, the traditional father of the nation of Israel (GEN. 12:2-3).

Matthew's inclusion of this genealogy tells us at the outset that he sees Jesus as the fulfillment of God's promises as recorded in the Old Testament.

The modern mind can have some difficulties when faced with the failure of the names to agree with the Old Testament or with the genealogy of Jesus as recorded by Luke (LK. 3:23-38), but historical accuracy is not the point. Common practice allowed the telescoping of genealogies to achieve a desired effect. Luke's genealogy is traditionally considered to reflect Mary's ancestry, not Joseph's. Matthew includes the genealogical information as testimony to his faith that all of history, beginning with the patriarch Abraham, has culminated in the fulfillment of God's purpose in the person of Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah. The status of Jesus as the legal son of Joseph, a descendant of David, is more important to Matthew than the virgin birth. Neither the conception nor the birth are recounted here, only their consequences.

Matthew declares that the birth of Jesus is no ordinary affair and he again stresses the connection to Old Testament prophecy (1:18-25; IS7:14). God is now with us.

Matthew tells this story from the point of view of Joseph, a just and obedient man (1:19, 24). Though distressed by his betrothed's pregnancy, he plans to divorce her quietly without bringing charges that could lead to a death sentence. The name Jesus (1:21, 25), the Greek form of Joshua, was common; the name means Savior or "Yahweh saves." Note that Matthew, interested in making clear the identity of Jesus, includes this information and prepares the reader for the climax of the story.


5. Why is Matthew so careful to provide Jesus with impeccable credentials? What would the relationship to David and to Abraham have meant to Matthew's Jewish audience? What does viewing God as active and intentional in human history mean to us today?

6. In contrast to the account in Luke 1:26-38, which focuses on Mary, Matthew's account of the events leading up to Jesus' birth focuses on Joseph's reactions. In what ways can you identify with Joseph's dilemma? What do you think enabled him to respond with obedience in what must have been a somewhat disturbing situation? What helps you continue in faith when the facts seem contradictory?

7. What does it mean to "save his people from their sins"? Who are his people? In what sense do you think of Jesus as Savior?

Matthew 2:1-12

Chapter 2 continues with signs of Jesus' identity as the Messiah. The New Revised Standard Version translates the word magi as "wise men," but the term means something more like "astrologers." Magi believed that a star would announce the arrival of a great human being.

As the only gospel that tells the story of the visit of the magi, Matthew makes a special point by including the story. Over time, Jews had come to identify the star "out of Jacob" with the anticipated Messiah (NUM. 24:17). Again Matthew insists that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (MIC. 5:2). There seem to be two other major points:

• The birth of Jesus is a cosmic event (signified by the star).

• The birth is important not only for Jews but for all people. (See MT. 28:19.) Non-Jews, the magi, come to worship Jesus at the very beginning; today the Church celebrates this event as the feast of the Epiphany.

The birth also has political implications; Herod is troubled by the news (2:3). (Herod the Great ruled in Palestine until his death in 4 B.C.) We can imagine he was even more distressed when the chief scribes and priests found a prophecy to confirm the magi's story. Verse 2:6 quotes MICAH 5:2. The gifts of the magi (2:11) are royal gifts traditionally interpreted as gold for the King, incense for God, and myrrh for the One who is to die. Myrrh is the resin of an Arabian shrub and produces a pleasant aroma. The magi prove themselves to be wise indeed when they decide to return home by another way (2:12). Note that this is the second time that a dream is important in Matthew (1:20).


8. When you think today of the birth of Jesus, in what ways does it have cosmic implications? universal implications? political implications? How can you relate these to your own life?

9. As the star directed the magi, what directs you to Jesus? What gifts would you like to offer to Jesus? What do they symbolize?

Matthew 2:13-23

This section describes more events that Matthew interprets in the light of Old Testament prophecies. Note the repetition of the formula, "this was to fulfill ..." Verse 15 quotes from Hosea 11:1; verses 17-18 from Jeremiah 31:15; the reference in verse 23 is uncertain. Connecting these events in Jesus' life to the Old Testament presents Matthew's view that Jesus does not stand alone as an isolated phenomenon, but rather that Jesus is the completion of a story begun long ago.

Matthew consistently portrays Joseph as faithful and obedient. Three more times the angel of the Lord (an Old Testament phrase for God in visible form) appears to him in a dream (2:13, 19, 22) and gives a command that Joseph follows exactly. God continues to guide the course of events through obedient believers.

This section presents a stark contrast to the preceding material; the divine child, just presented with royal gifts, is forced to flee for his life. Scholars often point out parallels between the story of Israel and Matthew's story of Jesus. Joseph is instructed to go to Egypt, the traditional place of refuge (1 KG. 11:40). Besides foreshadowing the persecution and rejection that Jesus was to encounter as an adult, the story is reminiscent of Moses, Israel's great deliverer. Set adrift on the Nile as an infant in order to elude a king's persecution, Moses later escaped and returned to lead his people.


10. Why do you think Matthew is anxious to explain the events of Jesus' life in light of the Old Testament? Is this a useful way today for us to understand scripture? Why or why not?

11. Matthew reports that the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph through dreams. In what ways do we receive messages from God today? Who are the messengers? How can we identify them?

12. What do you think is significant about the several moves that Jesus' family makes during his infancy and early childhood? In your own life, what influence has your hometown had on your lifestyle and values?

Matthew 3:1-17

Time passes, perhaps twenty-five years, between the end of chapter 2 and the beginning of chapter 3. To set the scene for the beginning of the Messiah's adult ministry, Matthew introduces a colorful new character, John the Baptist. Dressed as a desert bedouin (3:4), John preaches a dramatic message of repentance (3:2) and heralds the coming of a mightier one (3:11). John the Baptist paves the way for the Christian message of salvation.

John preaches in the wilderness of Judea (3:1), the mountainous region west of the Dead Sea. Here people gathered to hear the strange new prophet. Many accept his message and are baptized. "Repent" (Gk. "change your mind," Heb. "turn back, change direction") calls the people to come back to the covenant between God and Israel (Ex. 19:3-6). If God's kingdom is "at hand," all God's past activities are coming to fruition. John's baptism is clearly understood as a cleansing, a washing away of sins, but the baptism of the One who is to come is different (3:11). With the advent of Jesus, baptism by water becomes a sign of baptism with the Holy Spirit, the receiving of God's unconditional love. In verses 7-12, John addresses the Pharisees and Sadducees (see Introduction) and accuses them of self-righteousness ill befitting religious leaders. This "brood of vipers" ultimately sees that Jesus is crucified.

Jesus' own baptism takes place after John overcomes an initial reluctance to baptize him. Jesus emerges from the water with a dramatic and powerful new sense of affirmation and self-understanding. Matthew describes a visible event as well: the Spirit of God descends like a dove (for rabbis, a symbol of Israel) and plainly identifies Jesus as the Messiah, "beloved" (meaning also "chosen one").


13. Repentance involves a change of direction. Of what do we need to repent in the Church today? What new directions would lead us into deeper understanding of Jesus the Messiah? In your own life, where do you need to change direction?

14. John the Baptist accuses the Jewish leaders of hypocrisy and says their actions do not bear fruit. How might his words have affected the Jewish leadership? the developing Christian Church? What are the dangers of smugness or self-righteousness for church leaders today? for any of us who close our minds and hearts to new ideas?

15. If baptism washes away sins, why do you think Jesus wants to be baptized? In what ways do you think it was "fitting" for Jesus to be baptized? What was the result of Jesus' baptism? In what ways did it equip him for ministry?

Matthew 4:1-11

Immediately after the powerful experience of his baptism, Jesus withdraws into the wilderness to be alone for forty days and forty nights, presumably to reflect on what it means to be the beloved Son of God.

The time Jesus spends in the wilderness parallels Israel's wandering in the wilderness (Num. 14:33-34). To Matthew's Jewish audience this would also recall the receiving of the Ten Commandments by Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:28) and the receiving of a revelation by Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kg. 19:8).

The devil (4:1), the tempter (4:3) and Satan (4:10) are names for the leader of evil forces actively hostile to God. Three temptations follow, each associated with power and each rejected by Jesus with a quotation from Deuteronomy. The first (4:3) may reflect the current belief that the messianic age would bring a miraculous abundance of material goods. Jesus, though hungry, rejects this simple solution to satisfying physical needs (DT. 8:3).

In 4:5, the devil suggests an even more dramatic way for Jesus to prove he is the Son of God. Cleverly, since Jesus refutes the first suggestion by quoting scripture, the devil in verse 6 quotes Psalm 91:11-12. Jesus also rejects this scheme for impressing people (4:7), again with a quote from scripture (DT. 6:I6). Undaunted, the devil offers political power (4:8). Once again Jesus rejects the easy route to power, certain now of his mission to proclaim a different sort of kingdom, a different sort of power.


16. What words in this passage link the three temptations to the voice from heaven at Jesus' baptism? On what resources does Jesus rely when rejecting power as a way to prove that he is the Son of God? On what resources do you rely when you need to resist a powerful temptation?

17. Why do you think Jesus felt a need to be alone after the experience of baptism? What questions might he have been asking himself? What questions do you have about the nature of your own ministry?

Matthew 4:12-25

The last half of chapter 4 records the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. When he returns from the wilderness he learns that John the Baptist has been arrested (4:12); this news reinforces the theme of unrest and danger that accompanies Jesus' career.

Once again Jesus is on the move; he leaves Nazareth and goes into Galilee, a move Matthew interprets as fulfillment of another prophecy (vv. 15-16 quote IS. 9:1). John's arrest evidently signals Jesus to begin his own preaching (4:17). In verses 18-22 he calls the first of the disciples. For Peter, Andrew, James and John "repentance" means literally turning around or taking a new direction. They leave their fishing nets and follow Jesus.

Verses 23-25 serve as an introduction and summary for the next section of the book of MATTHEW. Chapters 5–9 will describe in detail Jesus' teaching, preaching and healing, a similar summary appearing in 9:35.


18. How do the primary activities of Jesus—teaching, preaching and healing—differ from the activities he rejects in 4:1-11? What are the primary activities of ministry today? In what ways are preaching, teaching and healing still good categories for ministry? How would you describe your own ministry as a baptized Christian?

19. What is involved in the response of Peter, Andrew, James and John to Jesus' call? In what ways do we respond to Jesus' call today? What are some characteristics of one who follows Jesus?

Group Activities

1. Many families today enjoy researching their ancestry and constructing a family tree. Often a family has a coat of arms that shows symbols depicting the history of its name.

Divide into groups of three or four. Distribute large sheets of paper and various colored markers. Ask each group to design a coat of arms for Jesus by selecting three or four symbols from Matthew's description of Jesus' background and birth.

Ask the small groups to share their artwork and explain their choices to the whole group.

2. Invite the group to brainstorm answers to this question:

• Who are the wise people of today (that is, those who are aware of "God with us" in the world)?

Record the group's ideas on newsprint, then discuss:

• What are the characteristics of these wise people? (for example, willing to risk, searching for truth, open to new signs or information, etc.)

• Where are they found?

• How do we recognize them?

3. Invite group members to participate in a roleplay of the calling of the disciples. Assign parts for Jesus, Peter, Andrew, James, John and Zebedee, giving participants a few minutes to get into character. Ask someone else to describe the setting. Suggest that the observers think about what is involved in the call to discipleship.

After the roleplay, ask the disciples:

• How did your part in the roleplay feel?

• What were some of your thoughts?

• Did you want to drop everything and go? Why or why not?

• Was it a hard or easy decision?

Ask Jesus:

• How did it feel to play your part?

• What were your expectations? Did you expect the disciples to follow you right away? Why or why not?

Ask Zebedee:

• How did it feel to play your part?

• What did you think about your sons taking off and leaving you? Why didn't you go, too?

Ask observers:

• What insights about the call to discipleship did you have while you watched the roleplay?

Journal Meditation

In many ways verse 1:23 is the heart of Matthew's gospel. Though the quotation (IS. 7:14) speaks of a birth in the time of King Ahaz, for Matthew salvation is just this: God with us. Jesus, Messiah and Savior (1:21), brings this to pass once and for all. Reflect quietly for a few minutes on the meaning of "Emmanuel" for you. Make a list or draw a picture of ways in which you understand God to be with you.

Stepstone To Prayer

God, help me to be aware that you are with me.


Excerpted from FOCUS ON MATTHEW by Carol Cheney Donahoe. Copyright © 2001 Morehouse Education Resources. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction to the Series, v,
Introduction to The Gospel of Matthew, ix,
Matthew 1–4 The Coming of the Messiah, 1,
Matthew 5–7 The Teaching of the Messiah, 17,
Matthew 8:1–11:1 Messianic Ministry and Mission, 35,
Matthew 11:2–12:50 Opposition and Response, 49,
Matthew 13:1–52 Seeing and Hearing the Messiah, 63,
Matthew 13:53–16:20 The Messiah Revealed, 74,
Matthew 16:21–18:35 Following the Messiah, 88,
Matthew 19–20 Journey to Jerusalem, 100,
Matthew 21–23 The Messiah's Authority, 113,
Matthew 24–25 The Vision of Things to Come, 127,
Matthew 26:1–27:26 The Last Supper, Arrest and Trial, 140,
Matthew 27:27–28:20 Crucifixion, Resurrection and Commission, 152,
Bibliography, 164,

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