Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
J. Paterson Smyth

Lesson I

The Coming of the King

St. Matthew I. 18 to end, and II.

Take care to begin solemnly with the thought of Christ's Godhead and pre-existence. Divide the Lesson, for clearness, into four sections, as indicated. Show the class in Bible that section i. 18‑25, is about the Miraculous Birth; the next (ii. 1‑12) about visit of Wise Men; and so on.

§ 1. The Preparation

The most interesting and wonderful story in the world. But to keep up its interest and its wonder, two things are necessary. (1) We must exert our imaginations to picture vividly the scenes, and try to live in them, as it were, so as to escape the deadness which comes from knowing the story already. But also (2) we must take care in our vivid picturing not to become too familiar, not to think of "the Boy Jesus" as lightly as we should think of a boy in the next street. Must remind ourselves of His being God, and of solemn meaning of the Miraculous Birth—God becoming manifest in the flesh.

If writing your life, what first? Birth. Yes, that is beginning of you. Is that so of our Lord? (John xvii. 5.) Millions of ages before the world was—so far back that brain reels at the thought—still He was there. He was God. Was He at Creation? John i. 1‑3. And at the sad Fall which we thought of recently? Was He sorry? Then began His promises that He would come and help up the poor world again. First promise? Genesis iii. 15. Explain. Then tell me any of the promises to Abraham which we had lately? (Genesis xii. 2, 3; xxii. 15‑18; xxviii. 14; etc.); to David? (Psalms ii. 6; xlv. 3, 4; lxii.); to Isaiah? (ix. 6, 7; xxxii. 1); to other prophets? (Jeremiah xxiii. 5, 6; Micah v. 2‑5; Daniel ii. 44; Zechariah ix. 9; etc.) Only time just to remind of them. So for thousands of years the world went on, and still He did not come. But the world was waiting. And God was preparing all the time, watching the world, getting all things ready. At last "fulness of time come" (Galatians iv. 4), when our story to-day begins. All the separate little nations welded into one great Roman empire, with its one language; with its splendid roads reaching everywhere from Rome; with the people getting worse and more in need of the Christ. Everything ready for founding of His Kingdom. And people seemed to feel that the King must be coming. Everywhere amongst the Jews an excited expectancy. (See Luke ii. 25, 26, 38; Acts xxvi. 7; etc.) And even some of the learned heathen, too, looking forward in a puzzled way to the coming of some great One. Then opens St. Matthew's story in ch. i. 18‑25, told to emphasize that Christ was not of human birth.

§ 2. The Miraculous Coming

Simple, beautiful story. A betrothed couple in country village of Nazareth. Ever see village carpenter's shop? Where? Describe? Like that, a village workshop in the Nazareth street, and a strong, broad-shouldered carpenter working at his bench with saw and hammer and chisel, making tables and chairs, and ploughs and cattle-yokes for the country-people. Working hard and joyfully to prepare a new home. Why? Engaged to be married soon. To whom? Living in other end of village with her mother, working in the house, making bread, and spinning, and drawing water from the well with other village girls in the evenings. Don't you think she was very beautiful? At any rate, surely beautiful in soul, gentle and modest, loving and religious.

And Joseph the carpenter loved her dearly. I think he was older than she was, and he was very tender to her, and liked to watch her passing, and liked to think of the little home he was making for her. And it must have been pleasant to her to meet him, and to hear him talk of all his brave hopes and plans for their future. I think, too, they cared so much for religion, that they often talked of God's promise of the Messiah. And I can imagine the girl going home after her talks, and kneeling down at her bedside to pray for God's blessing on her lover's life and her own. Little she dreamed how wonderful would be the answer.

Then came a day that she could never forget.

One day, just before St. Matthew's story begins—perhaps at prayer—suddenly a wonderful visitor. Who? (Luke i. 26.) What did he announce? Think of the awe, and astonishment, and trembling joy. She to be the mother of the Messiah that all the nation hoped for. Fancy her excitement! Wanting to tell someone. Whom did she tell? (Luke i. 39.) Perhaps angel did not wish her to tell Joseph, and that she had to carry her secret in her own wondering heart, only talking of it to God in her prayers. By-and-by God revealed it to Joseph. How? Very joyful and comforting, but surely very solemn too. Messiah coming. Emmanuel—God with us. And this stupendous miracle should be through his affianced wife. He was to take her home, and live in reverent awe with her, and be God's guardian for the little Child when born. What was he to call Him? Why? (v. 21.) Yes. Not merely save from pain, or unhappiness, or hell-fire—that, too—but, most important of all, "from their sins." With God that is more important than all the rest. Therefore, how can one know whether he is being saved by Lord Jesus? If he sees that he is getting help to conquer meanness, and selfishness, and badness of every kind, and to grow noble, and strong, and unselfish, and lovable—then he sees he is being saved. That is God's meaning of salvation. Will He do that for anybody who comes? That was what He came for. "Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out."

You remember St. Luke's story of the birth-day of our Lord (Luke ii.). Angels again. It seems heaven so overflowing with joyful excitement that the angels could not keep still. Joy for what? God's generous love to poor men and women who had sinned. Do angels care? (Luke xv. 10.) I suppose these angels had seen the Creation, and grieved over Fall; and then watched and waited all these centuries, never growing older. Now the joy of telling of God's generous goodness to the shepherds watching in the fields.

§ 3. The Wise Men from the East

Some other people watching hundreds of miles away in the East that night? Perhaps in Daniel's far-off land of Chaldea. "Wise Men," magi—astronomers, like Daniel. What did they see? We really know nothing further about this star; must have been some miraculous light low down, since no ordinary star could point out a house. All we know is that God in some way taught these wise astronomers about the coming Messiah, and then, since they were eager to find Him, guided them by this star. Perhaps they lived in Daniel's country, or Balaam's country, and knew their prophecies; or, perhaps, Jews living there told them of expected Messiah.

At any rate, they heard of Him, and were eager to find Him; and so God revealed, as He always does to eager souls, how to find Him. They were heathens, Gentiles—not Jews. Is it not nice to learn that God was teaching heathens and Gentiles, while the Jews thought He only cared for themselves? The Jews always thought that. In Old Testament they thought that God cared nothing about Canaanites or Ninevites, or any heathen. Yet you remember. God had Melchizedek amongst Canaanites; and Jethro, and Balaam, and Job, and Jonah were His teachers of religion to other heathen races. Christian people sometimes think like Jews; but it is wrong. God is Father of all—Christ is Brother of all; and "in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is acceptable unto Him." That is why God is so desirous that we should bring the light of Gospel to the poor heathen, whom He is watching over with as much care as He watches over us.

So they came. Away, away, over mountains and deserts, on their camels, with the rich, barbaric trappings, and bearing their costly gifts. Remember pictures of them on Christmas cards—three kings: Gaspar, Melchior, Balthazar. Cologne Cathedral claims to have their tombs and their skulls; but really nobody knows anything of them except what this chapter tells. At last, after long weeks or months, they arrive at Jerusalem. Imagine them, with their jingling trappings and foreign appearance, riding in and asking everyone they met—what? I suppose they expected to see banners, and rejoicing, and illuminations everywhere, and all men talking of the young king. Was it so? No; though they had the prophecies of Scripture, and professed to expect Him, no one seemed to care. Like many to-day. Imagine poor blacks coming eagerly to you, as you leave Sunday school to-day, asking you about the good news of Christ. Should you tell them with joy, or should you be puzzled or indifferent? Why so? Is not there good news about Christ? Do you know it? Are you glad? These Jerusalem Bible-readers stared, and wondered, and chattered, and crowded around the strangers till they must have grown quite discouraged about their quest. At last Herod, in his white palace, heard of it. Was he glad? Why? What did he do? What did the priests and scribes tell him? What prophet wrote it? Then Herod thought of a very clever, crooked trick. What? Wise men, not accustomed to meanness and scheming, did not see the trick; thought Herod a very good, kind king. What questions did he ask? Why? So he sent them away with kind words, and they promised what? What was his object? What an utter fool that old king was! What a fool everybody is who tries to oppose God! Could all the kings of the world put together do it? Like so many little children opposing an express train.

Tell me rest of the story of the Wise Men. Yes. God guided them, and rewarded all their faith and all their exertions; and they found the Lord Jesus, and worshipped Him. That is always result of earnest seeking. How did they show their devotion to Him? Yes. Gave Him the best and costliest things they had. They were the first Gentiles who found the Lord. We are the later Gentiles finding Him. How must we show our devotion? Same way. Offer what? The best we have—of money, of brains, of strength, of influence, etc. No real worship of Him except thus. All else is mockery. On what Church festival do we celebrate this visit of Wise Men?

§ 4. The Holy Innocents

How did Herod's trick succeed? (ii. 12.) Was he vexed? Yes, and frightened. Thought they must be plotting for the new king. But he thought of another way to destroy Christ? Yes. Fancy the officer getting such a brutal order—how he would hate the old tyrant who had already killed his own queen and three sons. Yet he obeyed; called out the soldiers, and sent them to Bethlehem.

Think of the little village children running to meet them, and looking at their gay dresses and beautiful horses. Surely some of the soldiers must have hated the terrible task. That night the whole village was in uproar—mothers shrieking and grappling with the murderers, and the poor little dead and dying boys lying in the streets. And little use it was to that cruel old wretch who ordered it to save his throne. For the Babe Jesus was safe, in spite of it all. Where? How? And in a few weeks Herod was dead himself, and summoned before his God. He thought himself wise and clever. Was he? Was it worth while doing all this wickedness? Is it ever worth while doing wickedness? What would have been the truest wisdom for Herod? To follow the little promptings of good that God sends to all men, even to him—to try to be unselfish and loving, and make others happy, and never mind about himself or his throne. That is always the truest wisdom. Always keep "never minding" about yourself, and following highest and most unselfish instincts. Then you are surely on God's side, and all will be well.

Think of the poor little boys—the first who ever died for Jesus' sake. They did not know; but surely God did not on that account let them lose by it. There is a beautiful picture of the Triumph of the Innocents, where these little children of Bethlehem, after their death, are pictured, wreathed and twined in beautiful flowers, crowding round the Child Jesus as he was carried away into Egypt; and Jesus is stretching out His little hands to them in glad, loving welcome. It is only a painter's fancy. But it teaches surely what is true of every child who dies for the Lord Jesus, like the poor black boys in Uganda a few years since, and of every child, too, who lives for Jesus, as you, I trust, are going to do.