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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 1

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Verses 1-25

Jesus the Saviour ( for Christmas Day )

Matthew 1:21

Christmas comes to us with both light and shade. There is the glorious light of the Christ, the long-looked-for Messiah, the Morning Star of prophecy, the Dayspring from on high. But the very fact that Jesus comes as Saviour also speaks to us of sin. There was need for Him to come, and that is the shadow athwart the glory of this day. It is true we need not look so much at the shading as at the glorious colours of the picture, 'the glory as of the only-begotten'. His name is Jesus, Saviour.

Consider two points. I. What we mean by sin.

II. In what sense it can be said that Christ our Lord is a Saviour from sin.

I. What is Sin? It has a twofold meaning, (1) inherent conniption, and (2) actual transgression.

1. From the full penalty, consequences, and inbeing of sin we are not delivered whilst in the body of our humiliation. But we are saved in anticipation, and all that baptism signifies is secured for us in Christ Jesus. As regards the second meaning, St. John tells us, 'Sin is the transgression of the law'. Look at it in various aspects.


a. Sin is trespass breaking bounds. 'Forgive us our trespasses.'

b. Sin is shortcoming. Not full-measure not coming up to standard. The former aspect (1) is doing the things we ought not to have done; the latter (2) leaving undone what we ought to have done.

c. Sin is iniquity, inequitableness not plumb not straight, not equal. Failure of equilibrium, lack of balance implied.

d. Sin is defilement, uncleanness, disease, leprosy. 'There is no health in us.'

But dropping these metaphors, we must look upon sin as actual rebellion against God, 'I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me'. 'All day long have I stretched out My hands to a wicked and rebellious people. Sin is trespass upon God's rights, shortcoming in regard to His standard, iniquity opposed to His law of equity, defilement against His purity. 'Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned,' said David when confessing a sin which was a deep wrong done towards his neighbour. Yet the sin was only against God..

II. How does Christ Save? And Whom? He saves 'His people' from their sins. The people of Israel first then all the world, 'To the Jew first,' etc.

a. From their sins. Their special sins. The sin of each, the easily besetting ('well-circumstanced') sin. Experience and history prove that the Christ Whose coming is Today celebrated can save the greatest of sinners from their sins the drunkard from drink, the debauchee from uncleanness, the Sabbath-breaker from robbing God, and the thief from robbing man. He can also save the worldling from his worldliness, the proud from his pride, the unbelieving from his doubts. He saves from the sins themselves, not from the penalty merely.

b. He saves from, the love of sin. Sin is not only to be avoided but to be abhorred. Like Lot's wife, some bewail the idols they are called upon to leave, but such have not realized the meaning of Christ's salvation.

c. 'He it is' who thus saves (R.V.). Not self in any form, not any other, not formal services or rites, although these may have their uses if they are transparencies to reveal the Christ and not thick curtains to hide Him. The personality of the Christ is the central Christmas doctrine, Immanuel, God with us. He is the Rock the Light, the Life, His salvation the tree of life. As represented by Noel Paton's great picture 'Lux in Tenebris,' death itself through Him bursts into Light.

d. The name of the child Jesus works miracles of grace. Illustration: Norfolk Island beautiful in itself, healthy, charming. Made a convict settlement for worst class of criminals, became a hell on earth, and the establishment had to be broken up. Succeeded by another body of men, brought up in a secluded island of their own in the love and fear of God, they made it a paradise.

The name of Jesus, as it is our joy and inspiration in life, will be our solace and strength in the hour of death.

Jesus Saviour

Matthew 1:21

I. The Saviour from Sins. I ask your careful attention to this expressed purpose and intention of Christ. I may call it His regnant and supreme purpose to save His people from their sins. He teaches men that He may save from sin; heals and serves men; asks for their obedience and love; suffers Himself to be put to death on the cross, that He may save from sin.

The greatest thing a man can do in this world is not making a fortune or a reputation, or carrying out some great work of genius at which the world may wonder. It is not even feeding the hungry or clothing the naked, though these may be parts of it. It is to master sin in himself and others.

And as it is the greatest, so also it is the most difficult. It is such a complicated business. Sins of the past reach forward to the present, and those of the present to the future.

II. There is another element in the case, the saddest and strangest of all, which is that people do not want to be saved from their sins. You know that the very last thing that people want to hear about is their sins. It was precisely this difficulty that met our Lord. Men wanted everything else but this, and were willing to take everything else save this from His hands. And it is perfectly clear to any candid and careful reader of the New Testament that it was this very purpose of our Lord, persisted in, that led to His death. We all want to be saved from the disagreeable consequences of sins; but as for the sins themselves we will defend them and excuse them and do anything rather than acknowledge and hate them, and turn from them.

III. And there are people who doubt the possibility of being saved from, their sins. There is a refreshing dogmatism about the prophecy, 'He shall save His people'. His own people who follow Him. It is the thing that He can do. He is not called Saviour as a mere courtesy title, but because He saves from the dominion of the lusts of the flesh and of the mind, from the grip and fascination of evil. He is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him. It will not be done by our struggles, but by the union of our lives with Him.

C. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. 1907, p. 406.

Matthew 1:21

The cardinal question is that of sin. The question of immanence or of dualism is secondary. The Trinity, life to come, paradise and hell, may cease to be dogmas and spiritual realities, the form and the letter may vanish away the question of humanity remains: What is it that saves?


Why a Young Man Should Be a Christian (Because Christ Saves His People from Their Sins)

Matthew 1:21

Let us open this sermon with a quotation. 'The cardinal question,' says Amiel, 'is sin.' The question of humanity remains. What is it which saves? How can man be led to be truly man? 'The cardinal question,' I repeat the words, 'is sin,' and the writer who lays down this truth with such solemnity, who was he? He was not a clergyman and I am not sure that he would have called himself a Christian. Certainly he was not a member of the Christian Church, and did not hold the Christian creed. He was a man of letters and a profound thinker, who corresponded at Geneva to what Green of Balliol was in Oxford. He stood on the bank, and looked upon the stream; he thought at large and was free from all bonds. He had no traditions, he kept no conventions, he lived at equal distance from the rant of shallow unbelief and the cant of unreal religion; and this man, with one of the calmest, most penetrating minds of last century, said, 'The cardinal question is sin'. Contrast this profound statement of Amiel with Renan's light-hearted reply: 'Sin. I believe that I have abolished it.'

Which of the two, both very brilliant and very attractive men, came nearer to fact? Wherever it came from, or whatever it is, there is something called sin, working in our life and damaging our souls; and it is a big, hard, masterful, undeniable fact.

I. Well, over against that fact which we have all discovered, let us put another fact which we may also all verify. There have been a number of religious teachers of the first order in the world who not only have had multitudes of disciples, but have founded schools. Confucius, for instance, whose influence for good in China is felt to this day; Buddha, who set so fine an example of sacrifice; Mohammed, who has raised savage tribes several degrees in civilization; and Socrates, who taught men the eternal glory of the mind. But only one Teacher faced the fact of sin, and dealt with it in a thoroughgoing fashion. Jesus had many tasks. He proposed to teach men about His Father, to show them their duty in the world, to lift them above the bondage of the senses, and to give them the hope of immortality. But He also proposed to deliver them from their sins, and He set himself, by His life and death, by His word and Spirit, to save men from their worst and most degrading enemy.

II. You may place yourself with confidence in our Master's hands for two reasons. 1. The first is that He is too wise a Physician to use the old-fashioned treatment, which was to expel the evil by violent medicines. Before Christ began, if I may so say, to practise in this sad hospital of humanity, the only way of curing a man was to forbid and to threaten.. No doubt there is a function for such means. It is well that a man should be reminded of the consequences of sin; that, whatsoever he soweth, that shall he also reap; that, if he ruins his constitution in his youth, he will have a bad time in his manhood. It is well also to have the commandments written on the memory and on the conscience, to have them before one's eyes, and to use them as a light for the path. But forbidding has not prevented men sinning, and threatening has not delivered them from their sins. Moses is the great practitioner in this system, and we have cause to be grateful to him, but no one has ever yet confounded a lawgiver and a Saviour.

2. This is the second reason why you may trust Jesus as your Saviour, because He uses the one perfect treatment, which is not to forbid anything, but to command good things, not to threaten any one with punishment, but to promise to every one blessing. Consider this difference between Moses and Christ Christ did not say to men: 'You must not kill'; 'you must not steal'; 'you must not lie'; 'you must not live uncleanly'. One may say roundly, He never forbade His disciples to do anything. He took the Ten Commandments and rewrote them, and handed them back. This is how they read when they come from Jesus' hands, 'Love God and love your neighbour'. But is there nothing which I am forbidden to do against God? Nothing. Do anything you please towards God, provided first you love Him. Is there nothing against my neighbour forbidden? Nothing. Do anything you please to your neighbour if first you love him. Christ gave His commandments, and they are contained in the Sermon on the Mount; but they are not called commandments, they are called beatitudes. He undertook to save men from being sinners by making them in a true and manly sense saints; by possessing them with good thoughts, pure feelings, kindly intentions, high endeavours. He proposed to keep them so busy with goodness that they would have neither time nor tendency to sin; to keep them in so high a state of health that, though like other men they were subject to infection, the microbes settling upon them could find no home. This is the positive system of treatment, and this is the way in which Jesus conducts His spiritual practice, and does His saving work.

John Watson, Respectable Sins, p. 168.

References. I. 21. J. Monro Gibson, A Strong City, p. 103. W. J. Butler, Sermons for Working Men, The Oxford Sermon Library, vol. ii. p. 26. George Macdonald, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xli. 1892, p. 385. Lyman Abbott, ibid. vol. lvi. 1899, p. 186. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 290. J. Farquhar, The Schools and Schoolmasters of Christ, p. 2. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew i.-viii. p. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1434.

Ahaz's Rejection of God's Mercies, and What It Pictures to Us

Matthew 1:22-23

I. In His immense pity, the God of love not only promised His people this wonderful sign of Christ's coming in the flesh, which they were to look on to in faith, but He confirmed it also, as to other times, by something which was shortly to happen before their eyes. In the course of ten years, a shorter time than would be required for a young child to grow up so as to know right from wrong, 'to refuse the evil and choose the good,' the land which Ahaz abhorred, which he was so grievously wronging and ill-using, as if he could not do it too much harm, that land should be forsaken of both her kings. And so indeed it came to pass, for the King of Syria and the King of Israel both of them fell by the sword, and the land had rest.

II. Great was this indulgence and merciful care of God for His people at this time; and, like all His tender mercies, it was to be taken by them and by us as a pledge and sample of infinitely more to come, even of all that is meant by the blessed name Emmanuel. That name means, not only that He is present with us and in us as our Preserver and Watcher, to keep us in the life and being in which He at first created us. He is now 'God in us,' because He is really Incarnate, very man, man indeed; perfect God and perfect man. He became our Second Adam, the Fountain of life and grace to all who are grafted into Him. He would have a soul and body like ours that He might fulfil His love by dying for us, dying the death which we had deserved Excepting only that there was not in Him the least spot or taint, or slightest beginning of sin, He was made Himself like unto us in all things, all the infirmities of the body, all the anxieties and feelings of the soul.

And so He became our Intercessor, offering up our prayers and other unworthy services, and pleading for us continually, in such a feeling of our infirmities as none but He can have. For as God He knoweth them all, and as man He is touched with all.

J. Keble, The Contemporary Pulpit (2nd Series), vol. Iv. 1890, p. 363.

Matthew 1:22-23

'Christmas Day,' says Alexander Smith in Dreamthorp, 'holds time together. Isaiah, standing on the peaks of prophecy, looked across ruined empires and the desolation of many centuries, and saw on the horizon the new star arise, and was glad.'

References. I. 22, 23. H. P. Liddon, Christmastide in St. Paul's, p. 89; see also Expository Sermons on the New Testament, p. 1. W. C. E. Newbolt, Church Times, vol. xxxiii. 1895, p. 20.

The Interpreter

Matthew 1:23

I. We need the interpreter. We shall always need him. The great reader will always have his day, come and go who may. We want men who can turn foreign words, difficult languages, into our mother tongue; then how simple they are and how beautiful, and that which was a difficulty before becomes a gate opening upon a wide liberty. We need a man who can interpret to us the meaning of confused and confusing and bewildering events; some man with a key from heaven, some man with Divine insight, the vision that sees the poetry and the reality of things, and a man with a clear, simple, strong, penetrating voice who will tell us that all this confusion will one day be shaped into order, and all this uproar will fall into the cadences of a celestial and endless music.

II. In life there is a great place for the interpreter; in all life there is a sanctuary in which such a man can exercise his ghostly ministry. This house called Nature needs an interpreter. The grass is more than grass, herbage is more than herbage; it is beauty, it is fruit, it has a mission to man and beast, and nature needs a man who can understand her mutable appearances, her ever-changing voices, her silent but progressive and inevitable processions, so that she never halts long at one place, but is continually moving on to the old age of completion and the youth of a new beginning. We want some men who can read Nature to us religiously, who can find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, good in everything a wondrous parable interwrought with all that is visible and mutable and measurable.

III. The interpreter is the sent of God. Interpretation is not a universal gift. Nearly every man can go to the dictionary for the meaning of words, but the dictionary is always poorest when we want it most. The dictionary cannot explain any word right into the heart It can give you equivalent words, or words that grade into one another, or words that help one another to some higher definition than themselves; but interpretation is a Divine gift: it is genius, it is a Divine trust. Few men can read. All men within the compass of practical civilization can read words, but that is not reading in the true and deep sense. We must read the soul out of the words, and read the soul into our souls, and catch the higher meanings and be struck dumb with rapture and with ecstasy.

IV. When the interpreter abuses his gift he loses it. That is the law of God, that is the law of righteousness. When does the interpreter abuse his gift? When he becomes offensive in his interpretations, when he ceases to be philosophical and becomes fantastical, and wants to find meanings where there are none, and turn that which is inanimate into that which is only galvanically vital; then the man has begun to fritter away his gift, and God will soon see that he loses it altogether. When does the interpreter abuse his gift? When he turns it to self-seeking purposes, when he would make a livelihood by it, when he would keep the secret of God to himself and sell it to some Simon Magus; then God will see that His gift is soon lost, and lost for ever.

Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. l p. 40.

God with Us

Matthew 1:23

This glorious statement is made on the basis of a glorious prophecy which Isaiah uttered at an important era in Jewish history (Isaiah 7:14 ). But this glorious prophecy had a far more important and magnificent fulfilment in relation to the Incarnation.

The name of Jesus was exceedingly wonderful 'Emmanuel'. As St. Matthew uses it, it means a double nature that of God and that of Man.

I. Jesus is God with us in Human Form.

This is a mystery which no created mind can explain; yet it is no myth soever: it is a fact as sublime as it is mysterious. 'Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh.' And there was absolute necessity for this. Man is 'a religious animal,' and hence naturally craves for a God. In Emmanuel, however, there is all that man yearns for (Exodus 33:18 ; John 14:8-9 ). Thus the infinite Jehovah has subjected Himself to finite laws for this essential purpose; and he who believingly looks at Jesus as 'the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person,' will feel that he is put in possession of all that his heart can possibly desire. 'This is life eternal, to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou, hast sent.'

II. Jesus is God with us in Divine Sympathy. And sympathy is that which man needs next to God Himself. This also is to be found in Jesus; indeed, this was one prime reason why He became Incarnate (Hebrews 2:16-18 ). His path in life was accordingly made as rough as ours; His foes were as many as ours; His temptations were as fierce as ours; and for three-and-thirty years His cup of sorrow was as full and bitter as ours. All this became Him (Hebrews 2:10-13 ). Wherefore He showed His Divine sympathy with all manner of human suffering; and in all instances He demonstrated that He was truly 'Emmanuel, God with us'.

III. Jesus is God with us in Redeeming Love. All men are sinners, and no man can redeem his own soul. God must provide Himself a lamb for a burnt-offering; and He did this by sending Jesus, and Jesus was willing to do His Father's will. What led the Divine Father and the Divine Son to unite in this greatest of all great works? Love love as amazing as it was undeserved!

IV. Jesus will be God with us in Heavenly Glory. His own words, spoken to His disciples during the last days of the Incarnation, overflow with consolation and hope: 'In My Father's house are many mansions'. And then there are those other golden words which He spoke in prayer to His Father: 'Father, I will that they also, whom Thou, hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world '. Whatever He is in person, and whatever in, bliss, His redeemed will share with Him.

References. I. 23. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 57. G. W. Herbert, Notes of Sermons, p. 12. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 15. J. F. Kitto, Religion in Common Life, p. 9. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1270. I. 24. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. viii. p. 285.

Jesus and Joshua

Matthew 1:25

He called His name Jesus Joshua the Lord our Saviour. Two men above all others in old time bore the name, and bearing it were permitted by God to present some traits of the Saviour of the world. One appears at the beginning and the other at the close of the Divine history of the earthly Canaan. We first read of Joshua, the son of Nun, the great captain; and then of Joshua, the son of Josedech, the great high priest.

I. 'And Moses called Oshea, the son of Nun, Jehoshua.' Such are the pregnant words with which the sacred historian closes the first notice of the future leader of Israel the Jesus of the Exodus. Faithful among the faithless, Joshua saw the terrible sons of Anak in the promised land without dismay; and when the people wept he said, Fear them not, the Lord is with us. In the strength of that faith he led their sons across Jordan. A noble repose closed a course of valiant action. The land rested from war; and the people said unto Joshua, The Lord our God will we serve, and His voice will we obey. The great captain won peace by conflict, and confirmed faith by deeds of might.

And is not all this an image of the work of Jesus, the Captain of our Salvation? He too is leading a great host, in which we all have been solemnly enrolled, to a heavenly country. Giant passions and ancient prejudices, foes without and weaknesses within, threaten our progress; but in all our trouble and terror, when we approach a task which we have no adequate forces to fulfil, when we face an enemy by whom we have been foiled before, He still says, Fear not: the Lord is with you. He has seen the land towards which we are struggling. In token that we should not shrink before our adversary or faint in the hour of battle, His name was called Jesus the Lord our Saviour.

II. This is one picture: Jesus the great Captain. But there is another: Jesus the great High Priest. I lifted up mine eyes again, and looked... and, behold, the angel showed me Joshua the High Priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. But this new Joshua, the Jesus of the Return, was no champion of a youthful nation marshalled for active strife. He was the representative and mediator of a nation burdened with long guilt and suffering.

This is the second picture: and so we also have Jesus, as a great High Priest at the right hand of God, ever ready to make intercession. At the outset of life we think, perhaps, that we need guidance only and mercy. With us as with the Jewish nation the fashion of our contest changes with advancing years. As we look backward we see the gathered sins of the past rising like a mountain to overwhelm us. We are alone, desolate, conscious of sin, strangers in our former homes. Alone and yet not alone, for Christ is with us; desolate, but not forsaken; conscious of sin, and yet children of a Redeemer; strangers on earth, and yet heirs of a glorious kingdom. For in token that we should not sink beneath the burden of past guilt or despair in the dark valley, His name was called Jesus the Lord our Saviour.

Bishop B. F. Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 59.

References. II. R. Stier, The Words of the Angels, p. 61. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2497.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/matthew-1.html. 1910.
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