Gateway to the Classics: St. Matthew by J. Paterson Smyth
St. Matthew by  J. Paterson Smyth

Lesson II

How the King Was Crowned, and Went Forth to Battle

St. Matthew III. and IV. to v. 12.

§ 1. Childhood and Youth

Remind briefly of last Sunday's story. How old was the Lord Jesus then? How old in to-day's story? (Luke iii. 23.) Notice briefly what happened meantime. How the little Child grew up, child-like, natural, like the others, only more brave and unselfish and lovable. How He played with the other village children in the market-place. When He was a grown man, He thinks of one of the old games—a sort of "weddings and funerals" game (Matthew xi. 16, 17). How He was obedient and helpful at home (Luke ii. 51). How He went to village school, and sat on the floor with all the others, and learned whole pages of the Bible by heart. That was the usual lesson-book. Interesting scene in Longfellow's Golden Legend,  the Rabbi ben-Israel's school:—

"Come hither, Judas Iscariot,

Say if thy lesson thou hast got

·   ·   ·

Now little Jesus, the carpenter's Son,

Let us see how Thy task is done," etc.

How at twelve years old He went up to Passover (Luke ii. 42), probably met His cousin John, and sat with him at Passover feast, where the youngest child—perhaps Himself—had to say the words, "What mean ye by this service?" and the oldest man arose to explain "It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover," etc. (Exodus xii. 27). Don't you think great thoughts would begin to stir in the Child as He wondered about that Passover, which for all these centuries had pointed to Himself—as He saw the Holy City and the white-robed priests and choir-boys, and bowed low in the grand cathedral worship of the Temple? How He came back and was bound to Joseph's trade; and when Joseph died, He had to support His widowed mother, and became known as "Jesus the carpenter," to whom the country-people came to buy chairs and boxes and cattle-yokes, as they did to Joseph before. I like to think of His having to work, and buy, and sell, like ordinary men, making all work and trade holy. But all the while the great thoughts were deepening—the Divine passion for helping others and sacrificing Himself. How troubled and perplexed He would be about the sick and cripples, and especially the wicked—cruel, selfish boys, and girls, and men!

And the clergy and teachers not much good. Not teaching love and self-sacrifice, but mumbling old, tedious rules, and fighting over little theological differences, and "not touching with one of their fingers" the people's burdens of body, and heart, and brain. I can fancy all the pain in His heart, and the furrows on His face, as He got older. I can fancy the lonely boy stealing out at night into the hills to unburden His heart, and pray for God's blessing on the poor world, and how Mary would wonder as she saw Him come in with the strange, earnest light in his eyes.

But He had to restrain Himself till his time was come that He should go forth to help for all eternity the world's troubles, by founding His "Kingdom of God" for the blessing of men.

§ 2. The Herald of the King

Now we come to story of to-day. Jesus is thirty years old, and all the country is ringing with the rumour about his cousin John. The Nazareth people coming to the workshop can talk of nothing else. "A great prophet."  "Elijah come back."  "All the people crowding to him," etc. For hundreds of years no prophet. No wonder they ask: "Is God coming back as of old?"  "Is Messiah coming?"  "Why this prophet now?" Could you answer them? (Luke i. 76.) What prophecy did John quote? (Matthew iii. 3.) He was to prepare the way for Christ—the voice crying before the King, like the Eastern herald that ran before the royal procession, calling out, "The King! the King!"

Our Lord must have felt now that He can stay no longer. His time is come. Patiently for thirty years He had waited. Now the Divine longing must have its way. He must go out to lift up the poor world. So one day, in His simple dress, He suddenly appears in the crowd listening to John at Jordan. Describe scene before Him. What was John like? The crowd? Listening, do you think? Ah! they had to listen there. Whenever a great soul like that, full of enthusiasm for his message, thinking not of advancement or praise, or fine clothes, giving up everything in his eager excitement to rouse men to righteousness—people can't help listening. What else were they doing? (v. 6.) How our Lord's heart must have been throbbing as He watched the preacher! Very gentle preacher, was he? Some of the great rulers and teachers came. Did he speak more gently to them because they were great people? (v. 7.) Did he turn them off? No. But insists on what? (v. 8.) Yes; righteousness, reality. No talk about their feelings or religious notions, nor their belonging to Jewish Church. No, said John, the righteous life is the one supreme thing. Be real, be earnest, be true. Bring forth good fruit, or else what? Don't you think John was an awkward sort of preacher for hypocrites, and humbugs, and sentimental talkers about religion?

John's two great subjects? (vv. 2, 3.) (1) Repent; (2) The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Meaning of Kingdom of Heaven we shall see in next Lesson. But a kingdom at any rate must have a king. Whom? So the whole of John's sermon led up to proclaiming the King. How? (vv. 11, 12.) And the mighty prophet-preacher, so stern and high in his tone to the great people of earth, bows lowly and humble as he thinks about the coming King, "the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose" (Luke iii. 16). And show how humbly he compares his own gifts and power of helping people with those of Christ (v. 11).

All this time Jesus was in the crowd, quietly awaiting His turn, standing in his simple country dress by the river. Now He comes down. Did He come confessing His sins, like the rest? Why not? What did John say? Do you think John knew Him to be the Christ? (John i. 33.) But he knew his cousin as the truest noblest heart on earth, in whom no man had ever seen meanness, or selfishness, or any sin. So felt unworthy to baptize Him. Now tell me of baptism, and the wonderful event, the crowning of the King from Heaven? Did the crowd see it? We don't know. Did John? (John i. 33.) Astonished, struck dumb with reverence and awe, he saw his young carpenter cousin claimed as God. Like as if, when Peter the Great was working in an English dockyard in disguise, the Court of Russia should suddenly appear and crown him amid his workmen-companions. That is why I call this "the Crowning of the King," as His great life-work began. Began with a battle.

§ 3. The Battle and Victory

Evening come. Crowd departed. John has retired to his cave in awe and wonder. And Jesus departed, too, alone. Where? Away, away out into wild desert country. Could not rest. Great thoughts and yearnings stirring in His soul. His whole life stirred to its foundation by this wondrous scene. The Spirit of God pressing powerfully on Him. He must be away, alone in communion with His Father. Away, away through the starry night, into the trackless desert, not thinking of danger, nor of the wild beasts, nor of hunger, nor of anything, but the great, wonderful thoughts that are filling His soul. And so rapt is He in His great future, and His communion with God, and His delight in the self-sacrifice for men, that He forgets even to eat—for how long? People in great mental excitement often forget hunger and pain for a time.

But when excitement over, there comes terrible reaction; feels weak, and tired, and despondent. Very hard time to resist temptation. This time, therefore, chosen by Satan for his most powerful attacks. Why attack Christ? If he can make Him sin, it will spoil His power. Whether Satan came as a great black angel of evil, or whether visible at all, we don't know. Do you remember story of his first coming to man? (Genesis iii.) Did he ever come to you? Visible? How? Perhaps like that to Jesus. We don't know. Perhaps St. Matthew did not know. Who must have given account of the Temptation? Why? Because no one else knew but He. And whether the tempter visible or not, Christ says he was the devil. Think of this when you feel him tempting you. A great, real, wicked devil. Don't say, "I feel bad desires and thoughts," but say, "I am tempted of the devil," like our Lord, and rise up and fight him bravely in the strength which our Lord will give you.

Remember, too, Jesus had to fight him as a man.  He had "emptied Himself." There would have been no need to show that as God He could triumph over Satan. But He had come down to our level as our brother, and would take no advantage that we could not have. Like an armoured knight of old, fighting in front of his peasant soldiers, but putting away his armour, and shield, and horse, and fighting just as they, to inspirit them.

What was the first temptation? Could He do it? Was it a sore temptation? What harm would it have been? Because He was our brother, must fight like His brothers, and trust in God. Never use for His own gain the Divine power. Would be like the knight, when in danger, saving himself by putting on his armour, which his poor brethren could not have. No, He would trust in God; and into his mind at once flashed a verse, which perhaps He had learned in the old rabbi's village school. What was it? "Man shall not," etc. Good thing in temptation to know one's Bible. Then Satan, seeing His trust, very cunningly tries to tempt him that way.

Second temptation? Yes. "Trust God to keep you if you throw yourself off temple." Why should not He? Because it is only in the path of duty we may trust God. If anything be your duty, do it, even at risk of life, and trust God. But not if go into needless danger, doing your own will, to win admiration or recognition from others. What text quoted.

Third temptation? I don't quite understand how this could be a temptation. What did Jesus care about earthly glory, and money, and power? Perhaps this was a stupid blunder of Satan. He was very cunning and subtle; but low, degraded souls cannot understand high and noble souls. Very cunning, tricky, self-seeking man, who could "buy and sell" the wisest around him, yet would be quite unable to understand an utterly noble, unselfish man, full of enthusiasm for God and self-sacrifice. And so would not know how to tempt such a one. Perhaps it was that. Or perhaps he thought Jesus so anxious to get the kingdoms to bless them, that He would be willing to "do evil that good might come." Would He? What was the third answer from Scripture?

Then what happened? (v. 11.) Battle over, victory won. Did it ever happen with you? Try to make it happen, and you will learn that the devil is a bully and a coward. Like a bully at school, squaring up to a small boy to frighten him; but if small boy hits back, the bully runs away. So Satan (James iv. 7). It is a great delight to drive him off, one feels so glad, and proud, and thankful. Especially remember that the devil leaves us.  He is not omnipresent, any more than omnipotent. Some think he is, and they lose heart in temptation, and say: "I may as well give in now as later, for this strain of temptation will be always pressing on me." It is not so. The time of your sharpest temptation is "his hour and the power of darkness." Remember that. Fight through it. And perhaps it will be days and days before a really fierce temptation comes again. Try it next time, and you will see how beautifully all our Lord's fight was for your encouragement and example. The devil will leave you, and in the comfort and peace you will feel as if angels were come to minister unto you.

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