With the five patches of ‘red letters’ and its exploration of Jesus’ life, Matthew’s gospel is an apt manual for discipleship. In Partnering with the King, author John Hiigel takes us on a 31-day-tour of Matthew, exploring its implications for disciples. The book opens with an examination of the story about the feeding of the five thousand (Matt. 14:13:21). In that story, Jesus’ disciples were asked by Jesus to feed a crowd but had no resources to do so (or very little resources). Jesus takes whatever they had to give and he multiplies it and uses it, miraculously feeding the multitudes. This is what Hiigel calls ‘partnering with the King.’ Jesus holds the power because he is God and King, but we get to partner with him in bringing God’s kingdom to this earth. Just like the disciples, we are asked to do what seems impossible, but as we learn to faithfully obey Jesus multiplies what we offer a. The nd uses it for his glory. The feeding of the five thousand is a personally meaningful image for my life and ministry and provides a great organizing motif for this book.
After the feeding of the five thousand, the rest of the daily entries follow the book of Matthewin a largely chronological fashion. As Hiigel walks through the text several themes emerge. Jesus’ authority is seen in his miracles, healing, casting out of demons, and his teaching. His life is commended to us for our imitation, and we are challenged to put into practice his teaching. Ultimately his entries explore what it means for us to participate with Christ and ‘partner with him’ in bringing about his Kingdom in its fulness. Disciples see the the kingdom Theses daily entries can each be read in 10-15 minutes and are fairly meaty.
Hiigel teaches Biblical Studies at the University of Sioux Falls. Having received his Ph.D. from Fuller, he’s also served as a pastor for decades and as a musician in Los Angeles. His examination of Matthew blends together the world of scholarship, pastoral insights, and musicality. While music is not a major theme, he utilizes several examples of his ‘musician days’ to help explicate the text.
This is not a scholarly book and so it does not explore every critical issue or fill in all the background of the first century context. That doesn’t mean that Hiigel is not a good scholar or that this book does not rest on good scholarship. It just doesn’t explore every jot and tittle of the text. I was occasionally disappointed when Hiigel did not fully exegete my pet passage. On the other hand Hiigel stays on task, exploring Matthew for what it tells us about discipleship. What he shares here is challenging and engaging. For a devotional commentary on the book of Matthew, I think this is the best of its kind even if I happily recommend it, especially for personal study. I think that this is better than Tom Wright’s Matthew for Everybody and breaking it down into daily readings makes it a great way to soak in Matthew’s message for a month.
Personally I really appreciated that this book did not just tell us what Jesus said or what Jesus did but raised a challenge by asking,”in light of this passage, what should we do?” Hiigel wants people to be hearers of the Word who then do what it says. I found myself prayerfully reading over passages and underlining a lot. Listen to his words regarding the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25: 31-46:
We are meeting surrogates for Jesus at every turn. The grave danger is to be lulled to sleep by the ordinariness of life and miss the sacredness of the people around us and the reality of God’s unseen kingdom. Blessed is the servant whom Jesus finds doing what he commanded when he returns. Imagine hearing Jesus say in the end, “Well done good and faithful servant . . . Come, you are blessed of my Father, and receive the inheritance that has been prepared for you from the beginning of time! (239)”
As someone who too often is lulled to sleep by the ordinariness of life but really hungers to be used by God with my life and ministry, I found myself challenged anew in these pages. I give this book ★★★★★.
Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
In this review, I didn’t offer a detailed summary of most of what Hiigel says but am always happy to discuss particular passages from Matthew and what Hiigel says about them.