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What the temptation did for Jesus.—The benefit derived by Jesus from thus fighting out the battle against those temptations which assailed Him, immediately after baptism, was that the consciousness of His Messianic vocation, which had so suddenly come to Him, He now obtained as an abiding personal possession. Henceforth He was no longer subject to a ferment of inner perplexity and doubt; whilst, in the prosecution of His Messianic calling, He was at every step beset by external conflict and hindrances connected with Jewish worldly ideas of the Messiahship, on the part of His disciples, and His enemies. Having dealt in no short perfunctory way with this early temptation, but having, after weeks of inner conflict, reached calm and thorough victory, He could now undertake His public teaching and ministry with unshaken conviction of His Messiahship, and with a marvellous clearness and consistency of view in regard to the kingdom of God (Wendt).
THE TEMPTATION OF JESUS—GENERAL REMARKS
There is only one way of understanding the narrative, viz. as the history of a real occurrence, of an actual temptation of our Lord by the devil as a person. Such a history it is clearly the intention of the Evangelist to give; and the only difficulty which this interpretation has, peculiar to itself, is that it presupposes two things, which are also presupposed throughout the rest of Scripture: the possibility of the supernatural, and the personality of the tempter. If either of these is denied, the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith must necessarily fall with them. To deny the supernatural is to deny what is asserted in every page of the Gospels; and to deny the personality of the tempter is virtually to assert that the temptation was suggested from within, not from without, an assertion incompatible with the perfect sinlessness of Christ, and with all the edifice of Christian truth, of which that sinlessness is the foundation (Mansel).
The account can have come from no other than Jesus Himself.—The words of the Evangelist describe an actual scene—not a dream. The devil really came to Jesus, but in what form is not stated. These were not isolated temptations in the life of Jesus (cf. Luke 22:28), but they are typical temptations. They cover the same ground as “the lust of the flesh,” etc. (1 John 2:16) in which St. John sums up the evil of the world (Carr).
The temptation remains equally real, whether we conceive that the tempter appeared in bodily form and actually carried the body of our Lord from place to place, or whether we suppose that, during it all, Christ sat silent and apparently alone in the wilderness (Maclaren).
The possibility of temptation in the experience of a sinless being.—May not an appeal be made to our own experience? Do we not all know what it is to be “tempted without sin,” without sin, that is, in reference to the particular thing to which we are tempted? Are there not desires in our nature, not only thoroughly innocent, but a necessary part of our humanity, which, nevertheless, give occasion to temptation? But on its being recognised that to follow the impulse, however natural, would lead to wrong-doing, the temptation is instantly repelled and integrity perfectly preserved. In such case there is temptation, conflict, victory, all without sin. Surely then what is possible to us on occasion, was also possible to our Lord on all occasions, all through His pure and spotless life. His taking our nature, indeed, involved not only the possibility, but the necessity of temptation (J. Monro Gibson).
Matthew 4:1. Then.—After the baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus. “Straightway” (Mark 1:12, R.V.). “The consciousness of His Messiahship … then required to be confirmed through an inner conflict” (Wendt). Wilderness.—Locality not known. Tradition has fixed on a high ridge called Quarantania (from the forty days) in the neighbourhood of Jericho. “An almost perpendicular wall of rock twelve or fifteen hundred feet above the plain” (Robinson). Tempted.—To tempt is, literally, to stretch out, to try the strength of. But generally used in a bad sense, meaning to entice, solicit, or provoke to sin. The devil, διάβολος =a slanderer, a traducer. “The devil” is always used in the Bible to signify an evil spirit, never to personify the evil in man or in the world (Abbott).
Matthew 4:2. Forty days and forty nights.—“Forty,” a sacred and representative number. Used in Scripture in connection with the facts of temptation or retribution (Farrar). Does not follow thence that it is not to be taken exactly (Olshausen). May, however, be used in a general way for a long time. The fast, moreover, may not have been an absolute abstinence from food, though this would be less of an impossibility in the East than under the conditions of western life, food, and habits (Tuck). The fast was naturally sustained. It was a time of profound and absorbed meditation on His mission, and all it involved; our Lord was, as we should say, “carried away,” so as to be wholly indifferent to material things (ibid).
Matthew 4:4; Matthew 4:7; Matthew 4:10. It is written.—The words of all the three answers to the tempter come from two chapters of Deuteronomy, one of which supplied one of the passages (Matthew 6:4-9) for the phylacteries or frontlets worn by devout Jews. The fact is every way suggestive. A prominence was thus given to that portion of the book, which made it an essential part of the education of every Israelite. The words which our Lord now uses had, we must believe, been familiar to Him from His childhood, and He had read their meaning rightly (Plumptre).
Matthew 4:5. Then.—The order of the second and third temptations is inverted in the narrative as given by St. Luke; but the latter does not, like St. Matthew, use words implying chronological sequence. St. Matthew’s appears to be the true chronological order:
1. From the use of the word then in Matthew 4:5; Matthew 11:2. From the nature of the temptations rising in degree to the last (Mansel). A pinnacle.—The (R.V.). A certain well-known projection. Whether this refer to the highest summit of the temple, which bristled with golden spikes (Jos., B. J., V. Matthew 4:6); or whether it refer to another peak, on Herod’s royal portico, overhanging the ravine of Kedron, at the valley of Hinnom, an immense tower built on the very edge of this precipice, from the top of which dizzy height, Josephus says one could not look to the bottom (Ant., XV. xi. 5)—is not certain, but the latter is probably meant (Brown).
Matthew 4:7. Tempt.—To tempt God is to put Him to the proof—to demand evidence of His power and of His will to fulfil His promises, instead of waiting patiently and trusting in Him (Mansel).
Matthew 4:8. An exceeding high mountain.—This some regard as proof that all that passed in the temptation was in the region of which the spirit, and not the senses, takes cognisance. No “specular mountain” (Milton) in the whole earth commands a survey of “all the kingdoms of the world,” etc. (Plumptre). It is enough that the thought and the temptation of earthly despotism and glory were present to the mind of Jesus (Carr). World.—See John 12:31; John 14:30; Ephesians 6:12 (R. V.).
Matthew 4:10. Worship.—Deuteronomy 6:13. A free and easy translation of the original Hebrew, but true to the spirit (Morison).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 4:1-11
Open War.—After Jesus has been set apart for, He here sets forth for, His work. In doing so He finds at once that it is a work of conflict and strife. And that of strife, too, in all respects of the most serious kind. With the great adversary! In the wilderness! By God’s own appointment! And in such a way as to touch, also, the very springs of His life! (Matthew 4:1). Is it to be much wondered at, that, in preparing for it, He seems to forget everything else; even, it would appear, for nearly six weeks of fasting, His own bodily wants (Matthew 4:2, “afterward,” and cf. 1 Kings 19:8; also, in a measure, Acts 10:9-16; 2 Corinthians 12:3). From the first we see that to Him the work before Him was more than His “necessary food!” (cf. John 4:32). The actual encounter in this primary conflict consists of three principal parts. There is:—
I. A temptation to doubt.—Great is the craft, in every way, with which this first “assault” is both conceived and “delivered.” It is suited exactly to the Saviour’s condition. To one just beginning to be conscious of the pangs of extreme hunger (Matthew 4:2), how great a temptation is any prospect of food! It is suited exactly to the Saviour’s character. There is no offering here of what would be sought after by the self-indulgent and sinful; nothing costly; nothing stimulating; nothing far-fetched. All that is spoken of is such “loaves” as were similar in appearance to the rounded “stones” of the desert (Matthew 4:3, R.V., marg.). More than this would have rather repelled than tempted the nature attacked. It is suited exactly, once more, to the Saviour’s claims and position. Only a little before He had been proclaimed as God’s Son in a peculiar degree (Matthew 3:17). If He really was such, why should He be allowed to suffer as He was doing? The Son of God without bread? Why should He allow it Himself? Why not “command these stones” to supply Him with “bread”? The answer to this subtlety—to all this subtlety—is equally simple and perfect. It comes, in effect, to this: “Although in truth the Son of God, I am here as a man; and ‘man’ has been appointed and also been taught to live in entire dependence on God” (Matthew 4:4). In other words, “This ‘temptation to doubt’ is to Me the more ground for belief.”
II. A temptation to presumption.—One avenue of evil is closed. The act of closing it opens another. How great, here also, the subtlety shown! How skilfully the previous reply of the Saviour is turned into a fresh means of attack! “Dost Thou depend upon God? Then depend on Him to the full. See, here is His house! Here its loftiest point! Are not His angels about Thee? Are they not charged to preserve Thee? To preserve Thee in all Thy ways? To preserve even Thy feet from coming in contact with the idle stones in Thy path? Show Thy faith then in this promise—Thy faith in their care—Thy faith in Thy rights—by casting Thyself down from this height” (Matthew 4:5-6). One ray of truth, as before, clears away all this mist of deceit. God’s promises must be fulfilled in the way that God wills. It is forbidden to man—it is forbidden to any man—thus to put His truth to the test. For to do so would be, in effect, to cast doubt on that truth. This is “written” of old. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matthew 4:7; Deuteronomy 6:16).
III. A temptation to treason.—The subtlety of this temptation seems to lie partly in the fact that it makes use of the two previous repulses for a further means of attack. Twice assaulted as the Son of God, the Saviour has answered as man. He shall now be tempted as man. Partly in the fact that it makes its appeal to that which has so often proved the ruin of the great ones of the earth. How often has ambition conquered those who have conquered nearly all else! Seeing, therefore, the marked greatness of Jesus, and convinced of it all the more—in all probability—from the very defeats under which he is smarting, the evil one now seems to have made up his mind to attack Christ on that side. He takes Him, accordingly, to the summit of an “exceeding high mountain,” and shows Him a sudden and far-reaching prospect of “all the kingdoms of the earth.” If He will only do homage to him, as their present possessor, all shall be His (Matthew 4:8-9). What a prospect! What easy conditions! Was there ever before so dazzling a prize to be had on such terms? Not for a moment, however, is it so regarded by the Man assaulted thereby. The other temptations had come in disguise as it were. This, on the contrary, is a naked incentive to treason. Unlike the other temptations, therefore, it meets at once with a direct and naked rebuke. “Get thee hence, thou adversary; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve”. (Matthew 4:10).
1. The issue of this great conflict is very instructive.—On the one hand, the evil one goes. On the other hand, a company of “angels” come in his place (Matthew 4:11). Why not before? Because they are not to share in Christ’s work. Why now? Because they sympathise with it. How often they are found to show this in the great crises of that work! His birth (supra chaps. 1 and 2). His agony in the garden (Luke 22:43). His resurrection (Matthew 28:2, etc.). His coming again (Matthew 25:31). Observe now, however, that they come to sustain Him in—not to take Him away from—that work. The devil has only “departed from Him for a season” (Luke 4:13). Other and greater conflicts have yet to come. Something as with Elijah in 1 Kings 19:5-8, these angels have come to prepare Him therefor.
2. The retrospect of this conflict is equally instructive.—See how momentous a thing in every way is the ministry of this Jesus. The Spirit of God directs it from the first. The whole humanity of Christ is absorbed in it from the first. The mightiest powers from below, with the subtlest of temptations and most resplendent of bribes, are set in action against it. The elect angels also—so far as they can—come to give it their aid. Everywhere it is watched—this blind earth alone excepted—with the deepest concern.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 4:1-11. The victory of the King.—Every word of the first verses of this narrative is full of meaning. “Then” marks the immediate connection, not only in time but in causation, between the baptism and the temptation. “Of the Spirit”—then God does lead His Son into temptation. For us all, as for Christ, it is true that, though God does not tempt as wishing us to fall, He does so order our lives that they carry us into places where the metal of our religion is tried. “To be tempted”—then a pure, sinless, human nature is capable of temptation, and the King has to begin his career by a battle. “Of the devil”—then there is a dark kingdom of evil, and a personal head of it, the prince of darkness. He knows his rival, and yet he knows Him but partially. To a sinless nature no temptation can arise from within, but must be presented from without.
I. The first assault and repulse in the desert.—Ere Jesus enters on His work, the need which every soul appointed to high and hard tasks has felt, namely, the need for seclusion and communion with God in solitude, was felt by Him. So deep and rapt was the communion that, for forty days, spirit so mastered flesh that the need and desire for food were suspended. But when He touched earth again the pinch of hunger began.
1. The sphere of the temptation.—The physical nature. Hunger, in itself neutral, may, like all physical cravings, lead to sin. Satan had tried the same bait before on the first Adam. At the beginning of His course Jesus is tempted by the innocent desire to secure physical support; at its close He is tempted by the innocent desire to avoid physical pain. He overcomes both.
2. The act suggested.—Seems not only innocent, but in accordance with His dignity. The need is real, the remedy possible and easy; the result desirable as preserving valuable life and putting an end to an anomaly, and the objections apparently nil.
3. The true nature of the act as dragged to light in Christ’s answer.—The bearing of the words quoted on Christ’s hunger is twofold.
(1) He will not use His miraculous power to provide food, for that would be to distrust God, and so to cast off His filial dependence.
(2) He will not separate Himself from His brethren, and provide for Himself by a way not open to them, for that would really be to reverse the very purpose of His incarnation and to defeat His whole work.
II. The second assault and repulse on the temple.—If Jesus was, in bodily reality, standing on the summit of the temple, the tempter, profoundly disbelieving the promise, may have thought that the leap would end his anxieties by the death of his rival. But, at any rate, he sought to lead His faith into wrong paths, and to incite to what was really sinful self-will under the guise of absolute trust. Our Lord’s answer strips off the disguise from the action which seemed so trustful. To cast Himself into dangers needlessly, and then to trust God (whom He had not consulted about going into them) to get Him out, was to “tempt” God. True faith is ever accompanied with true docility. He had come to do His Father’s will. The lessons for us are weighty. Faith may be perverted.
III. The final assault and repulse on the mountain.—Satan has no more to say about “the Son of God.” He has been foiled in both his assaults on Christ in that character. If He stood firm in filial trust and in filial submission, there was no more to be done. So the tempter tries new weapons, and seeks to pervert the desire for that dominion over the world which was a consequence of the Sonship. He has not been able to touch Him as Son; can he not spoil Him as King? They are rivals; can they not strike up a treaty? The hopeless folly of the proposal is typical of the absurdities which lie in all sin. Satan’s boast, like all his wiles, is a little truth and a great lie. His servants do often manage to climb into thrones and other high places. But the father of lies did not say that if he gives a kingdom to one of his servants he takes it from another. He did not say that his gifts are shams, and fade away when the daylight comes. He did not say that he and his are, after all, tools in God’s hands. The temptation was not only to fling away the ideal of His kingdom, but to reverse the means for its establishment. Neither temptation could originate within Christ’s heart, but both beset Him all His life. Christ’s last words are not only His final refusal of all the baits, but the ringing proclamation of war to the death, and that a war which will end in victory. The last temptation teaches us both the nature of Christ’s kingdom and the means of its establishment.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Christ tempted. (To young men.)—Christ here beginning the work of His life. His years in Nazareth were not wasted. He consecrated labour; made working man’s condition honourable.
I. Tempted through His body’s appetite.
1. Nothing wrong about hunger.—In itself nothing wrong in working a miracle to supply it. But to do it at the devil’s bidding was another matter. “If Thou be the Son of God,” q.d., “Does this look like it?” Reflection on God’s love and providential care.
2. Must only suggest to you an ordinary temptation of young men inseparable from their youth and vigorous constitution. Timothy cautioned by Paul: “Flee youthful lusts.” Eating and drinking right per se, but may lead into grosser sins. This other passion right, but leads into grosser and more debasing sins than any other. Remember, only to be satisfied, like Christ’s hunger, in accordance with the will of God; never at the devil’s bidding.
3. If to be of any use for God, keep tight hand on all body’s appetites, all natural cravings.
II. Satan would have Christ needlessly thrust Himself into danger, presuming on safety.—“Cast Thyself down; angels will see Thee safe.” So with young men.You will be safe on that race ground or in that music-hall.Your strength of character is safeguard enough. Or with young Christian men.You may dance.You can go to the theatre and come away unharmed.You are a Christian! You can take the good and leave the evil. No man is safe in self-sought danger. There is danger! Look at the company! Look at the entertainment, generally unworthy a sensible young man, always uncongenial to a godly man! How many young men there ruined by the experiment proposed to you! See who await you at your exit! As well may you expect to rub against a sweep or a miller or a tarred fence and show nothing, as to go to the actual theatre or racecourse and not be the worse. No man may then claim God’s protection. Keep out of danger. Err on safe side. “Descend amongst the crowd in the temple courts and they will more easily believe Thee, Son of God,” q.d., “Go into danger to do good.”
III. “Just once worship me, the world shall be Thine!”—q.d. “All will be Thine, but at what a price! Here is a short and easy road to Thy kingdom.” To young men: “Will get on if only you give up these scruples and bow with the rest. Need only do it once. Just one simple act. Need not really in heart give up anything important.” “Only once” ruined our race; has ruined many a young man since. “Only once” carries the principle: “Cannot get on, to stand so stiffly by Sabbath and religious notions.” Then don’t get on. Be a beggar all your days, but a godly beggar. Be an “unsuccessful man” all your life; see others weighted with fewer scruples get before you in the race and grasp the prizes; but keep your God. Let their carriage wheels bespatter you as, for principle’s sake, you trudge painfully along; yet you are infinitely the gainers! Have none of the devil’s “short cuts” to advantage or prosperity.—H. J. Foster.
Christ’s temptation and the pastoral office.—I. That our ministry may be in harmony with the spirit of Christ, and so exert saving power, its first requisite is experience of our own personal liability to temptation.—This is a quite different experience from a merely general knowledge of our sinfulness. Nor does this liability to temptation lie merely, as people say, on the weak side which every man has. Christ had no weak side. It was His Sonship, His very might and strength, upon which His temptation fastened. And so it is on the strong side of every good Christian man that his chief danger lies, in that which is best and most vigorous in his nature, in his peculiar endowment and excellence, in the very thing which men are to regard as a good gift of God. Hence arises liability to temptation in the three forms of it seen in the temptation of Christ.
1. The temptation (Matthew 4:3) to turn natural or spiritual blessings selfishly to account for our own enjoyment and honour.
2. The temptation (Matthew 4:6) to stand out and shine before the crowd as a specially gifted man of God, or to attain quick and magnificent results.
3. The temptation (Matthew 4:9) to pay homage to the spirit of the age, and to make terms with powers and tendencies which are in the ascendant.
II. Victory is found in a spirit of which the positive elements are—
1. A self-renouncing love of God, which seeks life and strength, not in its own resources, but in the cleaving of the inner nature to the word of God.
2. A humble faith which has more desire to cleave to the definite commands of God than to usurp Divine and glorious promises.
3. Undaunted hope, which does not allow itself to be dazzled by the worldly splendour that strikes the eye, and by the power that rules in the world.—J. T. Beck, D.D.
The Saviour’s temptation.—I. The temptation of our Lord was the result of Divine appointment.—“Jesus was led up of the Spirit.” What the Divine purpose was we may gather from the manner in which His temptation, is in the Epistle to the Hebrews, connected with the exercise of His priestly functions.
1. It was meant to promote that perfection which was necessary to qualify Him for interposing effectually on our behalf both as victim and as priest.
2. The temptation also enabled Him to sympathise with us in our trials, and to help us when engaged in spiritual conflicts like His own. Through these combined effects of His temptation it is that we can “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may
(1) obtain mercy, and
(2) find grace to help us in every time of need.”
II. The scene of the temptation.—It is in the crowd and bustle of life, especially of wealth and fashion, that inducements to evil most abound. The solitude of the desert is freer from temptation, and, moreover, it is more favourable to its resistance, because of the opportunity it gives for quiet reflection and prayer. Therefore we cannot think of our Saviour being tempted in the wilderness without being impressed with the fact that there is no place in this world altogether free from temptation.
III. The time of the temptation is still more significant.—The voice has just testified, This is My beloved Son. What can the devil have to do with Him then? But it was when Moses was on his way down from the Mount, from holding close converse with God, that he gave way to anger and broke the tables of stone. It was just after the victory in Carmel that Elijah was found under the juniper tree. “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona,” was closely followed by “Get thee hence, Satan.” It is always on the eve of a specially bright and joyous experience that Satan needs most vigilant attention. Our foe is most malignant when our spiritual elevation is at its highest.—W. Landels, D.D.
Matthew 4:3. Reflections on Christ’s first temptation.—
1. No wonder men find themselves daily solicited by Satan unto sin; for Satan’s style from his continual practice is the tempter. It is his trade to tempt.
2. It is possible that such as God loves may be troubled by Satan.
3. It is no wonder to find Satan calling in question the adoption or regeneration of any of God’s children, for he dare call in question the sonship of the Son of God, notwithstanding that within a few days before this, the Father and the Holy Spirit from heaven had borne witness to it.
4. Satan fits his temptations into men’s present case and condition.
5. In tempting, Satan pretends to be careful of helping the tempted party to a better condition. Here he seems desirous both to have bread provided for Christ in His need and also to see Him made manifest as the Son of God by such a miracle.
6. Satan’s temptations are more than one; a number linked together.—David Dickson.
Matthew 4:5-7. Our Lord’s second temptation.—
I. Our Lord was carried from the wilderness to the holy city.—Understand by this how all our circumstances in the world may be changed, and yet the tempter be with us still. Hundreds of men have gone out into the desert thinking that in that way they should escape temptation, but it has found them out. The spirit of evil has shown them that they do not escape from him by escaping from men. Then they have run back into the holy city; they have thought that they were exposed to danger because they were away from the ordinances of God. But there, too, they have found there was no security; it has only been a change from “Command these stones to be made bread,” into “Cast thyself down from hence.”
II. Consider what was the particular temptation of our Lord when He was brought into the holy city.—I have no doubt that when our Lord was reflecting on the iniquities of the holy city the devil suggested to Him the thought, “What avails it to be a Jew, to be a citizen of God’s city, a member of the holy nation, when holiness and purity and unity have utterly deserted it? If Thou be the Son of God set an example of throwing away these vain privileges.” Precisely this temptation is presented to all of us this day.
III. Understand next from this history of our Lord’s second temptation that we are not to plead love to our brethren as any excuse for going out of God’s way or doing work which He has not set us to do.—Our Lord was urged to cast Himself down from the temple that He might convince the Jews of their unbelief. He who urged Him to it wished Him in that very thing to commit an act of unbelief. Thousands of such acts have been committed by men who thought that they were honouring God and helping their brethren. They were doing neither. To be working together with God is our highest honour. When we are not doing this we cannot be working any good to ourselves or to any other man.—F. D. Maurice, M.A.
The perversion of holy things.—The holiest things may be perverted to become the most vile temptation.
1. A stay in the holy city.
2. The prospect from the pinnacle of the temple.
3. The promise contained in an inspired psalm.—J. P. Lange, D.D.
Matthew 4:8-9. The third temptation.—
I. The root of the third temptation lay in the thought that the kingdoms of the world were the devil’s kingdoms, and that it was he who could dispose of them.—If our Lord had believed this, if He had acknowledged this claim, He would have been falling down and worshipping the evil spirit, He would have been confessing him to be the Lord. But for all that He beheld the horrible vision of human misery and human crime; for all that He found men actually doing homage to the spirit of evil, actually serving him with their thoughts and words and deeds; in spite of all this, He believed and knew that these kingdoms were not the devil’s kingdoms, but God’s kingdoms. He knew that men’s sins began in this, consisted in this, that they thought and believed the devil to be their king, when God was their King.
II. It is hard to believe this, when there are so many things that seem to contradict it.—But believe it we must if we would be honest men. Holy men have been betrayed into sins which make one weep and blush when one reads the history of Christ’s church, because they have thought that falsehood and evil were the lords of the world, and that if they were to overcome the world they must do it by entering into some bargain or compromise with these masters of it. The devil was saying to them, “These are mine, and I give them to whomsoever I will.” They believed him. He asked this token of homage from them, and they paid it. The mischiefs that have followed from every such faithless act have been more than I can tell you, and though they are no warrant to us in condemning others, they are most terrible warnings to ourselves.—F. D. Maurice, M.A.
Matthew 4:11. Christ’s victory.—Let us endeavour to gather up the general instruction to be gained from the history of the temptation.
I. Christ has, by His example under temptation, taught us how to resist it.
II. His example shows us the proper use of God’s word.
III. The greatest lesson for the disciple of Jesus to learn from the temptation of his Master is one of encouragement.—When One is set before us as our ever-present Helper, who Himself has passed through the struggle; when we know that we are not alone in the bitterness of our spirits, and that in the darkest place in our course we shall find His footsteps; what a different matter does each Christian’s appointed conflict become—how full of sympathy, how full of promise, how full of Christ!—H. Alford, D.D.
Matthew 4:1-11. Temptation and sin.—If Satan be the father of our sins, our will is the mother, and sin is the cursed issue of both.—Bishop Hall.
Temptation and sin.—You can’t prevent the devil from shooting arrows of evil thoughts into your heart; but take care that you do not let such arrows stick fast and grow there. Do as an old man of past times has said: “I can’t prevent a bird from flying over my head, but I can prevent him from making a nest in my hair.”—Martin Luther.
Commonness of temptation.—The story of the temptation is peculiar, but it is not wholly unique. It is not without its parallel in human experience, not without its analogue in literature and history. The great heroes whom the world reveres have passed through similar experiences of test and trial. Thus, in the legends of the East, there is brought to us the story of the temptation of Buddha on that night when all the powers of evil gathered around about him to assail him by violence or to entice him by wiles.
Nor knoweth one,
Not even the wisest, how those fiends of hell
Battled that night to keep the truth from Buddh:
Sometimes with terrors of the tempest, blasts
Of demon-armies clouding all the wind
With thunder, and with blinding lightning flung
In jagged javelins of purple wrath
From splitting skies; sometimes with wiles and words
Fair-sounding, ’mid hushed leaves and softened airs
From shapes of witching beauty; wanton songs,
Whispers of love; sometimes with royal allures
Of proffered rule; sometimes with mocking doubts,
Making truth vain.
So, in the mythology of Greece, we have the story of the temptation of Hercules. Pleasure comes to him in wanton but bewitching form, and bids him follow her, and promises him the cup of pleasure and that he shall drink of it. She will strew his path with flowers all the way, and accompany him with song and dancing. Wisdom comes to him with sterner voice—with beauty, indeed, but with solemn and almost forbidding beauty—and calls him to combat and to battle that he may win manhood. So, in the later history of the church, is the strange, mystical—superstitious, if you will—story of the temptation of St. Anthony, with its wiles and its enticements, with its demons inviting to sin by smiles, and its demons tormenting with red-hot pincers. In human history we find the same or like record. We have like temptations in the lives of John Wesley, of Luther, of Xavier, of Loyola. Open the page of history where you will, and you can hardly find the story of any great, noble, prophetic soul that has not had its hour of battle with the powers of darkness, sometimes not turning out so well as with Buddha, or with Hercules, or with Jesus of Nazareth.—L. Abbott, D.D.
Temptation sometimes subtle.—A favourite amusement of the German students is duelling. The arrangements for a duel are made very secretly, lest they should come to the knowledge of the police. One morning I rose at five, went twelve miles by train, and then walked some distance to an old castle, to witness one of these duels. All the approaches to the place were watched. The fight took place in the old dining-hall of the ruin. The students who were to fight were two of the most famous duellists in Germany. They began, and fought about a dozen rounds. I observed that one of the two had only a single form of stroke—downwards upon the head; the other tried many different forms. The spectators wondered what the first could mean, as he had never been known to fight in that way before. Suddenly, at the thirteenth round, his eye flashed; and with a rapid movement he changed his stroke, and brought his sword upwards, cleaving the chin of his opponent, who fell senseless to the ground, with a wound that he would bear all his life. How did it happen? It was the sudden change of direction. Temptation veers about as suddenly and unexpectedly; and unless we watch we shall be taken off our guard.—Professor H. Drummond.
Matthew 4:9. Satan, a liar.—O, thou lying devil, how thou dost lie still! Thou that didst lie art the father of lies. Thou didst say to Napoleon the Great, “If thou wilt bow down before me and worship me, I will give thee the kingdoms of the earth and the glory thereof,” and thou didst give him St. Helena. And to Napoleon III., “Bow down to me and worship me, and I will give thee the kingdoms of the earth and the glory thereof,” and thou didst give him Chiselhurst. And to Aaron Burr, “Bow down to me, and I will give thee the Presidency and political power,” and thou didst give him exile and shame and disgrace.—L. Abbott, D.D.
Matthew 4:12. Cast into prison.—Delivered up (R.V.). Galilee = a circle or circuit originally confined to a “circle” of twenty cities given by Solomon to Hiram, 1 Kings 9:11 (cf. Joshua 20:7). From this small beginning the name spread to a larger district, just as the name of Asia spread from a district near the Mæander, first to the Roman Province, then to a quarter of the globe. The Jews were in a minority in those parts. The population mainly consisted of Phœnicians, Arabs, and Greeks (Carr).
Matthew 4:13. Capernaum.—A town on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee. The exact site disputed. The Palestine Exploration Society has come to the conclusion that the modern Tell Hûm is the spot.
Matthew 4:14. Fulfilled.—The Evangelist had manifestly the greatest delight in tracing the radii of Old Testament prophecy into the great personal centre of Divine revelation—the Saviour (Morison).
Matthew 4:15. Galilee of the Gentiles.—See on Matthew 4:12. The whole territory described constituted an area that might be regarded as radiating out from Capernaum, so far as facilities of intercourse were concerned (Morison). When St. Matthew looked back on the change that had come over Capernaum in the arrival of the Prophet of Nazareth—a change extending to his own life—these words seemed the only adequate description of it (Plumptre).
Matthew 4:17. At hand.—A kingdom is not constituted out of one member, and so long as the Messiah stood alone the kingdom of God did not exist. It would come into existence through the fact of the Messiah assembling a society of other members of the kingdom (Wendt).
Matthew 4:18. Sea of Galilee.—About thirteen miles long, and in its broadest part six miles wide. The Jews were accustomed to call every considerable sheet of water a sea.
Matthew 4:19. Follow Me.—John 1:35-43 refers to a summons some months before.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 4:12-22
An unobtrusive beginning.—We have just seen Jesus of Nazareth as a conqueror (Matthew 4:1-11). We are to see Him now as the light (Matthew 4:16). He is no longer in the wilderness, but in cities and towns. No longer exposed to the direct machinations of Satan, but ministering to mankind. In beginning to do this we are shown in this passage:
1. The kind of work He took up.
2. The kind of locality He fixed on.
3. The kind of helpers He chose.
I. The kind of work He engaged in.—In a general way it was that of “preaching” (Matthew 4:17). This, as we have seen, was the great work of His predecessor, the Baptist (Matthew 3:1). At this time, also, the message which Jesus delivered was almost identical with that with which John the Baptist began: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17). It would almost seem, indeed, as though He only intended, at first, to supply that great preacher’s place. It was only, at any rate, after that first preacher had been silenced, that this other began; only after “Jesus had heard (Matthew 4:12) that John was cast into prison,” and so could speak openly no longer, that His speaking began. (Cf. Bengel, Decrescente Joanne crevit Christus.) So far, therefore, there is nothing especially novel about His proceedings and work. He is merely taking up the office—He is merely repeating the message—of one who has disappeared from the scene.
II. The kind of locality He fixed on. This is marked by various features of a distinguishing kind. In the first place, it was very “out of the way” and provincial. “He departed”—He retired (?) “into Galilee” (Matthew 4:12, cf. Mark 14:70; Acts 2:7). This seems very noteworthy. After being almost worshipped by so great a preacher as John the Baptist (Matthew 3:14); after receiving the open attestation of heaven itself (Matthew 3:16-17); after overcoming the adversary in chief in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-10); who would have thought of this Prince of Israel settling down in “Galilee of the Gentiles”? (Matthew 4:15). We should rather have thought it the last place in that land—if not, indeed, the last upon earth—for His purpose. In the next place, the special city chosen was one exceedingly busy and populous. Not in the comparative leisure of Nazareth—not there where He would have about Him a certain number of relations and friends—but in the thronged streets of the important emporium and sea-side town of Capernaum does He begin. The Evangelist himself seems to speak of this with surprise—“Leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum” (Matthew 4:13). In the last place, the whole neighbourhood appears to have been singularly unenlightened and dark. Its inhabitants are described as a “people” sitting in “darkness” (Matthew 4:16). The “region” is described also as that of “the shadow of death” (ibid.). Never before had any source of light arisen out of its borders. Such, at any rate, was what the boasted enlightenment of Jerusalem was accustomed to say of it; and that, moreover, without thinking it possible that anyone could gainsay them (John 7:52).
III. The kind of helpers He chose.—These were distinguished, principally, by being undistinguished in almost every respect. On the one hand there was nothing in their origin to mark them out from the general obscurity of the place. They were denizens of the neighbourhood—sons of the soil—Galileans in speech—probably in aspect as well (see supra). Of none of those mentioned here (in Matthew 4:18; Matthew 4:21) as being called by the Saviour, are we told anything else. “Simon called Peter and Andrew his brother,” “James the son of Zebedee and John his brother,” were just such men as you might find anywhere among the men of those parts. Neither was there anything, on the other hand, in their social position, to confer distinction upon them. By and by they were to become, so the Saviour told them, “fishers of men.” But at the time of their calling they were fishers only in the ordinary sense of the term; master fishers, it is true, in a small way, as we gather elsewhere; but working fishermen yet, for all that, and men labouring with their hands in the necessary duties of “casting” and “mending” their “nets” (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:19).
In this account of the opening of the ministry of Jesus, we see:—
1. His singular meekness.—Choosing so obscure a sphere, engaging in so quiet a work, selecting such unknown friends. How He might have shone elsewhere we see from Luke 2:46. How completely He became identified with Galilee from Luke 23:6-7; John 7:41; John 7:52.
2. His singular mercy.—Just where the “darkness” was greatest—just where there were most souls in need of Him—just where that need was the greatest—did He carry His “light.” That is the place, those are the people, whom His heart of kindness prefers.
3. How both these things were foretold.—Long ago had prophecy spoken (Matthew 4:14-16; Isaiah 9:1-2) of this very land—this darkness—this light—this deliberate choice—this happy result. However strange, therefore, such a beginning may seem in our eyes, we see here that it was the kind of beginning which God had intended. Doubtless, therefore, it will lead in time to the kind of end He designs.
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 4:12. John imprisoned, Jesus departing.—
1. Faithful ministers must expect persecution.
2. All preachers of the gospel are not imprisoned at once, for when John is in prison, Christ is free.
3. Persecution of the ministers of the gospel is a forerunner of Christ’s departing from a land.—David Dickson.
Matthew 4:15-16. Darkness and light.—In this passage we have a description of the condition of the Galileans; but the description need not be restricted to them.
I. It applies to all that are living without God, and destitute of the knowledge of the gospel of Christ.—It applies to the past and present state of heathenism, and extends to all who have received no other light than that of nature to instruct them.
1.They are sitting in darkness; i.e. they are in utter ignorance of all those points with which it is most of all the concern of immortal beings to be acquainted. They know not whence, or for what end, they were originally created; how they may please God; what they have to expect beyond this present state of being; or where to apply for instruction respecting their most enduring interests.
2. They are not only in darkness, but in the region and shadow of death. Their hearts are as depraved, as their minds are unenlightened. They are destitute of any spark of spiritual life, and the gloom of present sinfulness and eternal misery hangs over them.
3. There are many who, it may be, think themselves comparatively in a state of great happiness, while they are themselves, if possible, still more melancholy instances of the potency of Satanic influence—they, who amidst all the advantages and external privileges of a gospel land, have despised and rejected the great salvation.
II. The gospel is here called “a great light.”—
1. Light upon our origin, condition and prospects.
2. If the gospel message be received it certifies assured peace and eternal glory to the receiver.—Henry Craik.
Matthew 4:16. Light in darkness.—Lord Byron and Mr. Hobhouse explored together a cavern in Greece. They lost themselves in its abysses, and the guide confessed in alarm that he knew not how to recover the outlet. They roamed in a state of despair from cave to cell. They climbed up narrow apertures, but found no way of escape. Their last torch was consuming, they were totally ignorant of their whereabouts, and all around was darkness. By chance they discerned through the gloom what proved to be a ray of light gleaming towards them. They hastened to follow it and arrived at the mouth of the cave. Blessed be darkness and despair if through them men discern the beams which shine from heaven and reveal salvation.—H. Batchelor.
The true light.—The Bible is like a lighthouse. It took fifteen hundred years to build it, stone upon stone. The lantern, the New Testament, is put in its place, and the cap, the epistles. There are four plate-glass sides to it, the Gospels; and inside there is one intense glow of light, and from that light there is a radiancy flashing all over the world. That one light is He who said: “I am the Light of the world.”—B. Waugh.
Matthew 4:17-25. The early welcome and the first ministers of the King.—This joyous burst of the new power, and this rush of popular enthusiasm, are meant to heighten the impression of the subsequent hostility of the people. The King welcomed at first, is crucified at last.
I. The King acting as His own herald (Matthew 4:17).
II. The King’s mandate summoning His servants.—Was this the same incident which St. Luke narrates as following the first miraculous draught of fishes? On the whole I incline to think it most natural to answer “no.” Accepting that view we may note how many stages Jesus led this group of His disciples through before they were fully recognised as Apostles. First, there was their attachment to Him as disciples, which in no degree interfered with their trade. Then, came this call to more close attendance on Him, which, however, was probably still somewhat intermittent. Then followed the call recorded by Luke, which finally tore them from their homes; and last of all, their appointment as Apostles. At each stage they “might have had opportunity to have returned.” Duty opens before the docile heart bit by bit. Christ’s call is authoritative in its brevity. Their prompt self-surrendering response is the witness of the power over their hearts which Jesus had won. “I will make you fishers of men.” That shows a kindly wish to make as little as may be of the change of occupation. Their old craft is to be theirs still, only in nobler form. The patience, the brave facing of the storm and the night, the observance of the indications which taught where to cast, the perseverance which toiled all night, though not a fin glistened in the net, would all find place in their new career. It was not as Apostles, but as simple disciples, that these four received this charge and ability. The same command and fitness are given to all Christians.
III. The triumphal progress of the King.—
1. Observe the reiterated use of “all,”—all Galilee, all manner of sickness and all manner of disease, all Syria, all that were sick. Matthew labours to convey the feeling of universal stir and wide-reaching, all-embracing welcome.
2. Observe, that the activity of Christ is confined to Galilee, but the fame of Him crosses the border into heathendom. The King stays on His own territory but He conquers beyond the frontier.
3. Note the contrast between John’s ministry and Christ’s, in that the former stayed in one spot, and the crowds had to go out to him, while the very genius of Christ’s mission expressed itself in that this Shepherd-king sought the sad and sick, and “went about in all Galilee.”
4. He first teaches and preaches the good news of the kingdom, before He heals. The eager receptiveness of the people, ignorant as it was, was greater then than ever afterwards. Therefore the flow of miraculous power was more unimpeded. But it may be questioned whether we generally have an adequate notion of the immense number of Christ’s miracles. Those recorded are but a small proportion of those done. These early ones were not only attestations of His claim to be the King, but illustrations of the nature of His kingdom. They were parables of His higher work on men’s souls, which He comes to cleanse from the oppression of demons, from the foamings of epilepsy, from impotence to good.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Matthew 4:17. Christ preaching.—
1. When Christ’s gospel is opposed, and His servants persecuted, He can let forth His light and power so much the more, and can supply the lack of instruments.
2. Christ’s doctrine and the doctrine of His faithful servants, is all one in substance. Both John the Baptist and Christ preached, “Repent, for,” etc.
3. When the gospel cometh it findeth men under the tyranny of Satan, for the offer to bring them into the kingdom of God importeth this.—David Dickson.
The kingdom of heaven.—For the interpretation of the idea it is. necessary to understand its more distinctive qualities, aspects, and relations.
1. It is present.—An already existing reality, none the less real that it was unseen, undiscovered by the very men who professed to be looking for it (Luke 6:20; Luke 17:20-21; Matthew 20:1).
2. It is expansive.—Has an extensive and intensive growth, can have its dominion extended and its authority more perfectly recognised and obeyed (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 13:3-8; Matthew 13:19-23).
3. It does its work silently and unseen.—Grows without noise, like the seed in the ground, which swells, bursts, and becomes a tree great enough to lodge the birds of the air (Matthew 13:31-33). And its intensive is as silent as its expansive action. It penetrates and transforms the man who enters it. Its entrance into him is his entrance into it, his being born again, his becoming as a little child, the new citizen of a new State (Matthew 18:1-3; Luke 18:17; John 3:3-5).
4. It creates and requires righteousness in all its subjects.—To seek it is to seek the righteousness of God (Matthew 6:33; Matthew 5:19-20).
5. It is the possession and reward of those who have certain spiritual qualities.—(Matthew 5:3; Matthew 5:10; Matthew 18:4.)
6. It is without local or national character.—Can have subjects anywhere, has none for simply formal or hereditary reasons (Matthew 8:11; Matthew 21:31; Luke 13:29).
7. It is at once universal and individual.—Meant to be preached everywhere and to every one; to comprehend the race by pervading all its units (Matthew 24:14).
8. The universal is to be an everlasting kingdom.—To endure throughout all generations.—A. M. Fairbairn, D.D.
Beginning to preach.—This text invites us to look at two things:—
I. The Preacher.—“Jesus.” Who was He? Son of man, Son of God. As a preacher, Jesus supplied all the great conditions of supreme influence.
1. There was more human nature in Jesus Christ than was ever in any other man. Preachers must be intensely human if they would reach with good effect the hearts of men.
2. There was more intellectual ability and spiritual insight in Jesus Christ than ever distinguished any other preacher.
II. The subject of His preaching.—Repentance. Repent! This is one of the most solemnly suggestive words in all human language.
1. Repent—then men are in a wrong moral condition.
2. Repent—then there is a work which men must do themselves. One man can suffer, pay, work, even die for another—but never repent for another.
3. Repent—then until this special work is done everything else that is seemingly good is worthless. Inferences:
(1) If Jesus preached repentance, all true preachers will do the same.
(2) If Jesus urged men to repent, it is certain that repentance is vitally necessary for all mankind.
(3) If repentance is the first act needed, it is vicious and absurd to attempt to make religious progress without it. Repentance is not one complete and final act. It may be the exercise of a lifetime. We need to repent every day. Even after our prayers we may have to plead for forgiveness of the sin which has marred their purity. Repentance will not be concluded until death itself has been overthrown.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
The privilege of repentance.—
I. There are two different words used in the New Testament, both of which are translated into the English word repentance.—One of them conveys especially the notion of being sorry for having done wrong; the other conveys specially the notion of changing one’s mind as to things—seeing things in a different light, and then shaping one’s conduct accordingly—trying to mend one’s life. It is this second word which Christ used; which you can see is the fuller and larger word, including substantially the meaning of the first word too; taking in the being sorry for the wrong-doing and ashamed of it; coming to right views, beginning afresh, and trying to do better.
II. The religion Christ taught was the first which offered forgiveness without suffering, on the part of the penitent, or inflicted by the penitent.—All the suffering was borne, long ago, and once for all, that brought our salvation. And now, “if we confess our sins” (that is all), God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Christ’s preaching starts from a fact; the fact that there is something wrong; the fact that men are sinners. Now repentance is just the right and healthy feeling of the awakened soul that sees its own sin. Once a man is made to see he is a sinner, then, if his mind be in any way healthy and true, the state of feeling which arises in it is what we call repentance.
III. Is it not strange that repentance should be so commonly thought a painful duty?—It is a grand and inexpressible privilege. There is nothing degrading in it; the degradation is all in the state it takes us out of. It is degrading to stay in sin, not to get out of it. That Christ’s gospel invites us to repentance just means that man is not tied down to go on in his wrong and misery. It means that he has not got into that miserable lane in which there is no turning.—A. K. H. Boyd, D.D.
Matthew 4:18-22. Christ’s call.—
1. In the calling of these Apostles may be seen the care which our Lord hath to provide ministers for His church. 2. None should intrude himself into the office.
3. Such as Christ doth call He doth furnish for the calling and promiseth unto them good success.
4. Such as are called to the ministry must neither refuse pains nor peril to save souls, but must go about their work with as great desire to convert men, and as great prudence to bring them in as fishers go about their work.
5. When Christ doth call His chosen instruments, He calls them with power of persuasion (Matthew 4:20).
6. His calling of them by couples, and those also brethren, giveth us to understand that the work of the ministry requireth concurrence and affection among the ministers.
7. His calling of so mean men as fishers, showeth the freedom of His grace in choosing instruments; the power of His kingdom, subduing the world by such weak means; and the depth of His wisdom, in so providing for His own honour that the instrument shall not carry away the glory of the work.—David Dickson.
Matthew 4:18-20. Christ’s choice of workers.—
I. Whence the Master obtained His workers.—He goes to the lake of Galilee and finds them on the sea-shore—a most unlikely place, as some would judge. He knows the sort of men that He wants; He knows the material out of which He can make fishers of men, and it is that prompts Him.
1. He wanted men who were inured to hardship and seasoned for service.
2. He wanted men who were bold and daring.
3. I think that Christ chose these fishermen, also, because they were men who had done business in great waters, and had there seen God’s wonders in the deep. Surely an acquaintance with nature and with nature’s God, had been some sort of preparation for the higher and nobler employ to which He was able to call them.
4. The Lord Jesus, when He is selecting disciples, goes amongst men of humble calling, for labour is honourable.
5. It was from earnest toilers Christ found His workers—men who were already hard at work.
6. He finds His preachers, too, amongst those who are already His disciples; for this was not the first time that Christ had spoken to Peter and to Andrew.
II. The nobler employment to which Christ called these men.—I am not disparaging labour when I tell you that the highest form of labour is work for Christ—the winning of souls. Though Christ called these brethren to a nobler employ, they were to be fishermen still. “I will make you fishers of men.” You shall go on fishing, only you shall have a new sea. You are still to have nets, but they are to be of a different sort. Do you not think there is for every labour under the sun a spiritual parallel and analogy? I began my life as an engraver on wood, preparing pictures for the illustrated papers; and I remember my dear father writing to me, “I am content, dear son, that you shall engrave on wood until God calls you to engrave on hearts.”
III. How did Christ transform these men from fishermen into fishers of men?—
1.He called them.
2.He moulded them, and fashioned them, and trained them. How? By precept, but principally by example.
3.He sent His Spirit, still to help them in the blessed work of catching men.—Thomas Spurgeon.
Matthew 4:19. Everything more than it seems.—There is something very singular and altogether unusual in the readiness with which these men seem to leave their business and go after Jesus. From the first He must have exercised over them a strange fascination. Their accepting the call immortalised them.
I. The suggestion of the way in which every calling in life is intended by God to prepare a man for something higher than itself is manifestly here in these words, “Come ye after Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Here is a calling of the simplest kind—that of the fisherman. This Jesus of Nazareth sees in it more than these men who are pursuing it see. He sees in it an education for something higher than itself—an education for the highest of all conceivable callings. Every fisherman must have certain traits of character in order to succeed—among others, great adaptability and great patience, He must learn to wait as well as to labour. He must have a keen eye and no little of good judgment. Especially must he study the Labits of the fish, and adapt himself thereto. These elements of character are all needed in fishers of men. Taking all the utterances on this theme which are scattered up and down the New Testament, I think we may safely say that every good man doing good work is doing more than he thinks. Every man on earth is qualifying or disqualifying himself for other and higher work.
II. In order to translate the lower into the higher; in order to get the commonness and the “not-worth while” feeling out of our every-day life; in order that we may no longer be fishers of fish, but fishers of men one thing is needful: we must accept the invitation, “Come ye after Me, and I will make you”—what you are capable of being made. No one can teach us about life as Christ can. The one thing of all things we need to learn is how to live, i.e. how to use everything we find in ourselves to the best advantage.
III. The practical outcome of all this is that our every-day doings ought to become of most importance to us.—In the doing we are acquiring qualification or disqualification for something on a higher level.—Reuen Thomas, D.D.
Lessons from fisher-folk.—The disciples were fisher-folk. Jesus was himself a fisherman, “seeking and saving the lost.” Disciples had to become fisher-folk such as Jesus was.
I. Fisher-folk in many ways.—Single book. Many hooks on line. Wading out and throwing net. Big Seine net, etc.
II. Fisher-folk put skill into their ways.—So Christ’s fishermen must give His work skill, heart, and effort.
III. Fisher-folk are dependent on God’s blessing in their work.—Disciples toiled all night and took nothing; but when Jesus guided, they enclosed a shoal. If we work to catch others for Jesus, we must never forget our dependence on His help and blessing.—Weekly Pulpit.
The genius of Christianity.—What is the meaning for us of this precept “Follow Me?”
I. The principle that lies at the foundation of it is, that Christianity must be felt by its disciples as surpassing in worth all other things of life combined.—For a man’s strongest, deepest love, under all circumstances, rules his life. A man may be a religious hypocrite from all sorts of reasons; but he can be a Christian only when his love for Christianity surmounts every other love. This becomes still more clear and certain when we reflect that Christianity is a constant struggle—that nearly every principle held amongst men and every feeling of a selfish heart has to be subdued by it—that it has to engraft upon human life new habits, a fresh mode of transacting all our business and of dealing with our fellow men, in effecting which it must break through innumerable prejudices and trample down many low and sensual inclinations. It was on this principle, and not that Christ was ever unwilling to receive any disciple, that He sometimes put such severe tests to men. With the poor, the broken-hearted, the outcast, and the miserable, He never applied any test, asking only a loving faith in Himself. Having nothing else to love, already severed from outward delusions, the love that rested in Him was sure to triumph. But when men came to Him who had riches to care for, reputation to regard, and opposing inclinations to surmount, our Saviour applied very severe tests, such as would marvellously thin the ranks of the professing church in the present day.
II. The precept plainly implies the principle of progress.—No one can suppose that following Christ meant just walking about the country with Him. It meant discipleship, and that means a progressive introduction into Christ’s thoughts and purposes—into the spirit and intention of His life and work. I will proceed to specify more minutely the particulars of this discipleship or following of Christ.
1. A Christian at the outset may have few convictions and still fewer settled points of faith; all centres in devotion to Christ.
2. The disciple comes to Christ without any system of duties or virtues, save that one principle of love to God and man which is involved in loving Christ. Life is to be interpreted by Christ; and how Christian principle will guide a man’s steps is to be learnt only from the manner in which Christ acted.
3. It could not be expected of a young disciple that he would enter much into the grand designs of Christianity. But he grows up into the apprehension of these by discipleship.—S. Edger, B.A.
Every one has a place to fill in life.—That every one of us has his or her place to fill in life is beautifully illustrated by the great teacher Browning, in a little poem entitled, “The Boy and the Angel.” Theocrite was a poor boy, who worked diligently at his craft, and praised God as he did so. He dearly wished to become Pope, that he might praise God better, and God granted the wish. Theocrite sickened, and seemed to die. And he awoke to find himself a priest, and also in due time Pope. But God missed the praise which had gone up to Him from the boy-craftsman’s cell; and the angel Gabriel came down to earth and took Theocrite’s former place. And God was again not satisfied; for the angelic praise could not replace for Him the human. “The silencing of that one weak voice had stopped the chorus of creation.” So Theocrite returned to his old self, and the angel Gabriel became Pope instead of him. Such is the legend; and it has its lesson. The chorus of creation can never be perfect till each of us is in his place, singing his own part, which part none other can sing.—Reuen Thomas, D.D.
“Forsake all and follow Me.”—At first it may seem a hard requirement; but if we really think it so, it is from not attending sufficiently to the entire narrative. It was quite essential that they should evince a readiness to give up all for Christ, to the most literal and the fullest extent, since only by such abandonment of all other objects of interest could they be prepared for the new life Christ would breathe into them; but though the disciples were thus ready to sacrifice all the secular interests of life, such a sacrifice was not really made, for we find them again, through the whole history, at their old occupations. Not because they had grown less zealous in their devotion to the Master, but because the actual abandonment of their common pursuits was no part of their discipleship. Thus much we can see, that they were never too busy with their fishing or other secular pursuits to obey instantly the bidding of Christ. They had forsaken all in the highest sense, so as to be no longer enslaved by any pursuit; yet they might adhere to it, making it subservient to the claims of their higher calling.—S. Edger, B.A.
All for Christ.—The Rev. W. Hay Aitken tells us of a young lady who, though professedly a Christian, shrank from yielding herself fully to her Lord. When pleaded with, she said with outspoken honesty: “I don’t want to give myself right over to Christ, for if I were to do so, who knows what He might do with me? For aught I know, He might send me out to China!” Years passed, and then there came from her a deeply interesting letter, telling how her long conflict with God had come to an end, and what happiness and peace she now felt in the complete surrender of herself to her Lord; and, referring to her former conversation, she added: “And now I am my own no longer; I have made myself over to God without reserve, and He is sending me to China.”
Matthew 4:21-22. Christ’s call.—I. In Christ’s call there is a voice. In the days of His flesh He called men by His living voice. Christ still lives, and He calls us by His voice which speaks right to our hearts.
II. The voice of Christ brings a message.
III. That message brings an invitation.—One day a preacher visited a poor woman. He knocked, and again knocked, but got no answer from within. A few days afterwards he met the woman in the street, and said he was sorry that she was out when he called. She confessed that she had been in her house, but she was afraid that a creditor had come to demand payment of a debt. Christ’s knock, thus misunderstood, may frighten the heart. Some think that the religion of Christ is a sad and gloomy thing, and that it makes sad and gloomy people.
IV. Christ’s invitation is also a claim.—When He called Peter, Andrew, James, and John, He spoke in the gentlest tone of love, but He also spoke as one having authority. He had every right to call them, and they had no right to refuse. Christ commands when He invites. When Earl Cairns was a boy of ten, he heard a sermon in Belfast. Three of the preacher’s words startled him; they were, “God claims you.” These words kept ringing in his ears, and the thoughtful boy tried to understand them. “God claims me,” he said to himself, “and He has a right to claim me.” He resolved to yield to God’s claim. A living voice, a message, an invitation and a claim—add these four together, and you have the call of Christ.—Jas. Wells, M.A.
Matthew 4:21. Christ’s call, and our replies.—I. “No” was the reply of many in Christ’s day. There are many ways of saying “No.” Many to whom Christ appealed said “No” with politeness and regret; they had many excuses and apologies. Some said “No” to Him outright, bluntly and without phrases. What a strange power that is which we have of saying “No” to God and Jesus Christ! Each of us is like the young Hercules, the chief of the heroes and emblems of antiquity. As he was sitting at the cross-roads, two females came to him. The one, whose name was Pleasure, offered him a flowery path and every enjoyment; the other, whose name was Duty or Virtue, called him to a noble and unselfish life. He listened to the pleadings of both, and then made his choice, and his choice made him the hero he became. Mackay, the hero of Uganda, used to say, “Duty before pleasure, but duty is pleasure with me.”
II. “Yes and no,” was the reply of Judas, who betrayed his Master with a kiss. He said “yes” with his lips, but his lips lied; his heart and life told the truth.
III. “Yes, but not now,” is the reply of many whose hearts are touched by Christ’s appeals. Augustine, in his youth, often heard the call of Christ. He wished then to do two things—to enjoy heathen pleasures for awhile, and at last to become a Christian. He tried to halve the difference, and used to pray, “O Lord, save me, but not now.” Most keenly in his “Confessions” does he regret his foolish delays.
IV. “Yes,” is the only right reply. Perhaps the Apostles when called by Christ did not say one single syllable. Their whole after-life was just a saying “Yes” to Jesus. No one can say “Yes” for you. I have heard that the Red Indians who used to live near Niagara never heard the thunders of the waterfall, but they could hear the footfalls of a beast or an enemy a mile away. The will deafened the ear to one voice, and opened it to the other. They heard only what they wished to hear. In the very same way the ear of the soul can be trained to hear the voice of God amid earth’s stunning noises.—Jas. Wells, M.A.
Matthew 4:23. Synagogues.—Places of religious assembly and worship. After the Jews returned from the exile in Babylon, a new hunger for the law of God and the worship of God seems to have sprung up in their hearts, and as it was difficult for those who lived at any distance from Jerusalem to go up to the temple very often during the year, they planted synagogues in every town of any size—some towns having more than one—so that all might have the opportunity of hearing the Law of God read and expounded, and of joining in public prayer to Him. The services of the synagogue were always held on the Sabbath day, though sometimes more frequently, and it was our Lord’s custom, we are told, to attend these services in whatever town He might be staying at the time. It was also customary for the president or “chief ruler” of the synagogue to give an opportunity to any strangers who might be present and who might wish to speak a word of exhortation or consolation to the congregation, of doing so, and Jesus seems to have availed Himself very frequently of these opportunities to teach and to “preach the Gospel of the kingdom” (G. S. Barrett).
Matthew 4:25. Decapolis.—The district of the ten cities cast and south-east of Sea of Galilee. Colonised by veterans from the army of Alexander, hence its Greek name.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Matthew 4:23-25
Sudden fame.—We have noticed already that the ministry of the Saviour began like that of the Baptist. Like that, for example, at the outset, it was emphatically a ministry of preaching. Like that also, at the outset, a ministry of preaching very much the same truth (cf., as before, Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17). It was different, however, in being carried on not in the wilderness but in towns. And it speedily began, also, to differ in other respects not unconnected with this. Two of these are shown to us here. It was fuller of wonder. It was fuller of mercy as well.
I. Fuller of wonder.—Except in connection with his birth (Luke 1:13; Luke 1:63-64) we read of nothing miraculous in the personal history of the Baptist. A wonder in himself—a wonder in his fulfilment of prophecy (John 1:23)—a wonder in his likeness to Elijah (Luke 1:17) he does not appear to have been recommended to men by any wonder beside (John 10:41). Very different do we find it here with the Saviour, almost from the beginning of His course. A very blaze of miracle, rather, attends Him as soon as He steps out among men. These miracles, also, were such as to attract attention in every possible way. Their very singularity would do this, to begin. Evidently the Baptist was just the kind of man from whom men looked for such things (see again John 10:41; also Matthew 14:1-2). The mere fact, therefore, that what was so notably absent in him was present in One so like him in other respects, would make men look at it the more. The pathetic nature of these miracles, also, would do the same thing. What physical evil produces more misery—deeper misery and misery affecting more persons—than lack of bodily health? What prospect of good, therefore, arouses greater interest than the prospect of deliverance from such evil? Every household almost in every community is glad to hear tidings about it. Every hearer would be drawn to the spot where it was said to be found (cf. Matthew 14:35). The great variety, also, of the gifts of healing heard of in this instance would do this the more. “All manner of disease and sickness”—every one brought to Jesus for healing, whatever the character of his need, whether bodily or mental, whether natural or supernatural (Matthew 4:23-24)—found Him able to heal. And this effect, once more, would be heightened greatly by the great number of persons, and that from all parts, who were relieved in this way. Every fresh case, every new locality touched, would at once both widen and greatly deepen the impression produced. “All Syria,” in fact, as it says here (Matthew 4:24), would be full of His fame. The “Great Healer” would be in all men’s lips in all parts of the land.
II. Fuller of mercy.—The very nature of these miracles, as already noted, would be some testimony to this. They were, evidently, the outcome, in all cases, of much compassion of heart. John, in the wilderness, whatever his sympathy with suffering, did not see much of the sick. Naturally, that was not the place to which they either would or could come. Jesus, on the contrary, going about amongst men, saw much of the sick; and wherever He saw them, so we are told repeatedly (see inter alia Matthew 14:14; Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41), had compassion upon them. The same is implied here in the description given of those that He helped. They were persons “holden with divers diseases and torments” (Matthew 4:23). What called out His power about them was the misery of their case. What men came thereby to know about Him was the unfailing sympathy of His heart. See how this is exemplified in what is told us of some in Luke 17:12. Even men “afar off” could see the compassion that was visible in His looks. The words, also, which accompanied these miracles, told just the same tale. How emphatic is that description of them given in Matthew 4:23. He came “preaching the gospel”—the good news—“of the kingdom.” He came declaring the merciful side of the great message of God to mankind. He came setting it forth. He came proclaiming it—so the word means—as a “herald.” Just, in fact, as had been foretold of him in Isaiah 61:1 and elsewhere. And just, also, as we find recorded of Him in Luke 4:17-22. And all much, it is clear, as though to say by His language what He said by His acts; and to prove by both how He had come in order to save both men’s bodies and souls. Peace to the sinner. Health to the sick. These were the mercies which, from the very first, marked His mission to men.
Do we not, therefore, see here further, two notable secrets?
1. The secret of God’s miraculous dealings.—Miracles are exceptional signs for exceptional times. They are God’s way of drawing attention to some new mission, or new truth, or revival of old. See such cases as Exodus 3:4, etc.; Joshua 3:7; Judges 6:36-40, etc., and the many miracles by Elijah and Elisha in the dark days of Ahab and his sons. So also here, therefore, where we have a plenitude of miracles because a dignity of person and a fulness of mercy never heard of before.
2. The secret of preaching with power.—Other things may dazzle men; other things may convince them; nothing wins them like love. How perceptibly we can trace this truth in the last words of this chapter, “There followed Him great multitudes from” everywhere round! And what a proof this is, at the beginning of His ministry, of what Jesus declared near its end (John 12:32).
HOMILIES ON THE VERSES
Matthew 4:23-25. Christ preaching and healing.—
1. How solicitous should ministers be to seek out lost sheep within their bounds. Christ went about all Galilee.
2. The means of converting souls is the preaching of the gospel.
3. The special opportunity of preaching is when people are convened in the ordinary place appointed for religious exercises.
4. The gospel is a matter of highest concern. It is the gospel of the kingdom; of that incomparable kingdom of heaven, which, by the gospel, is revealed to men, and offered to them, by which they get right and title to the kingdom, yea, become heirs of the kingdom, and whereby they are governed and led on unto the full possession of the kingdom.
5. Although our Lord’s doctrine needed no confirmation, it being the truth of the ever-living God, yet our weak faith needeth confirmation. Therefore, Christ wrought miracles, and those profitable miracles, such as might lead men to seek the relief of the maladies of the soul.
6. The first report of Christ’s grace is very taking; the savour of His grace, as of precious ointment, did in the beginning of His preaching of the gospel affect the Gentiles and draw them to seek after Him.
8. When it pleaseth our Lord to let forth His power He can gather multitudes after Him.—David Dickson.
Christ and humanity.—
I. The lamentable condition of man.
II. The all-sufficiency of Christ.
III. The wisdom of taking human nature at its most accessible points—the wants of the body.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
Matthew 4:23. The Great Preacher.—I think, if we will look over the history of oratory, we shall be agreed that three elements enter into eloquence. I do not say that other elements do not also enter into eloquence, but that there must be at least these three—a great occasion, a great theme, and a great personality. Jesus of Nazareth had these.
I. A great occasion.—The world had reached its lowest ebb. There was no liberty in government. There were no equal rights among men. Half the population were slaves. All the labouring men of Greece and Rome were living in abject poverty. There were no schools for the education of any one except in rhetoric and the skill of the athlete. There was no literature any longer, there were no great teachers, no prophets even in Judaism. There was degradation, poverty, wretchedness everywhere. If here and there a single man managed to amass a little property, he dug a hole in the ground, and buried it to keep it from the tax-gatherer. And yet, in this hour of black, dark night, there was one little province in which the light of human hope still kept burning. There was one little people who still had an expectation of deliverance. From afar off in the past the hope had been brought to them that a Redeemer, a Deliverer, would come, through whom they themselves should become in turn the redeemer and deliverer of the nations.
II. A great theme.—To declare this would be to open up all His ministry, and yet in a few simple words it may be outlined. He came with this message first of all: “The time you have been looking for has come. The kingdom of God is at hand. The Deliverer is here. I am that Deliverer. I have come to give sight to the blind,” etc. It was a message of hope.
III. A great personality.—So great that when He rose in the synagogue in Nazareth all eyes were fastened upon Him before He began to speak; so great that when the mob gathered up stones to stone Him He passed through their midst unharmed, and they parted and let him go; so great that when in that synagogue they rose up to lead Him to the precipice and cast him down, He passed uninjured through them; so great that when the police, ordered by the authorities of Jerusalem to arrest Him, went for that purpose, they listened to His preaching and came away saying, “We could not touch Him, for never man spake as this Man.”—L. Abbott, D.D.
Christ’s example as a Healer.—
I. Christ was dispensing the gift of healing, marvellously, for an example to all who should believe on Him.—Healer of the diseases of the body, as He was healer of the diseases of the soul, Jesus Christ, anointed Saviour, this was His mission—to heal, to save. What was this but to teach us that the poor and needy in anywise are committed to the care and charge of every one who sees their hard case and has power to relieve it?
II. The duty of giving is one of the simplest duties of all life, and because it is so simple the Apostle has fenced it with the warning, “Be not deceived in this thing; God is not mocked.”—Bishop Claughton.
Matthew 4:23-25. The Great Physician.—When in London, I like to visit one of the great hospitals for the pleasure of seeing over its gates these generous words, “Royal Free Hospital; strangers, foreigners, etc., may freely partake of the benefits of this hospital.” When I see “et cetera,” I thank God and I am delighted that there is one institution in our land that welcomes the “et cetera.” It means “and the rest,” the anybody and everybody of mankind. Likewise this healing power of the cross of Jesus is for the “et cetera.” The saving power of the cross is for all sick people who want to be healed.—W. Birch.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Matthew 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29