So in brief, the book of Matthew is a fairly rapid run through of life life of Jesus from birth to death (and Resurrection). It includes some fairly lengthy speeches by Jesus, and some very well known ones such as the sermon on the mount.
One of the first things to surprise me was that in telling the story of Jesus' birth there was no reference to being born in a stable, in a manger or of the inn being full (all commonly well known as part of the nativity). I can only assume that this will be covered in greater detail in another New Testament book. It does, however detail such acts as Herod's murdering of all children under 2, a star guiding the three wise men (or kings) and virgin birth. Interestingly at one point when the wise men arrive, it says they go into a "house" and find Jesus. This is either a mistranslation or an inconsistency, which I will have to wait to find out.
The part in Matthew that really stood out to me more than anything else was something that gave me a minor epiphany regarding why people choose to be Christian. The section in reference is Matt 6:14-34. This is specifically the part of the sermon on the mount where Jesus talks about priorities in life, and is summed up by him saying "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his riotousness; and all these things shall be added unto you". This is to say that if you believe in God, and devote your life to Him, he knows, and will provide everything else you need (food, water, clothes etc). This I feel must be a major driving force for many Christians who do not wish to trouble themselves with the worries of every day life such as how much money they have (or don't have), where their next meal is coming from etc, because God will provide it. Strangely I feel that people in Africa would feel even more strongly about this principle, even though they are the ones being the most screwed by it.
Another important part of the sermon on the mount was Jesus retrospectively going back and slightly altering the 10 commandments to adhere more to what he wanted Christianity to be about, as a separation from Judaism. For example "Love they neighbour and hate thine enemy" was modified to remove the last part, resulting in such common phrases as turn the other cheek and love thine enemy. Other slight "moral" changes are added to "do not kill" and "do not commit adultery", specifically with the latter referring to the lust of another person while married would result in you being considered adulterous. This makes me think of a post I saw on wikipedia which went into the differences between Judaism and Christianity. Where Judaism is more concerned with what you DO, Christianity is far more concerned with what you THINK. I feel that this specific alteration on the part of Jesus sums this up nicely.
At times during the book I found Jesus a little frustrating due to the way he assumed authority over people, not just in a moral way (which, can be expected from the son of God), but in an intellectual way as well. There are many times that great thinkers challenge him and he gives a parable as an answer and is afterwards thought of as being a great thinker. The wonderful things about parables is that they can be read into in a number of ways, and actually rely on the intelligence of the interpreter, rather than the speaker, who may have meant something quite difference.
Much of Matthew is filled with parables of what heaven is and how to get in there, a well known one being "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven" and many others in Matt 13. Ultimately they all boil down to the same thing; give up everything you have here, worship God and you get into heaven (pretty much regardless of what you do otherwise). This doesn't seem far from the American brand of baptism where if you are "saved" you go to heaven regardless as God forgives everything.
Aside from my aforementioned epiphany I didn't take a whole lot of new knowledge from Matthew, aside from one more point of interest.
Throughout Matthew Jesus uses the line "O ye of little faith" (Then proceeds to intellectually insult the person who he is speaking to). When on the cross Jesus also appears to have a lapse of faith, twice crying out "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Perhaps the son of God did fear death after all, despite the "knowledge" that he was going to get resurrected and his endless cries of "hypocrite!" at people may have been better aimed at himself.
Next on the reccomended reading list is Mark.