The Kingdom and Its Laws
St. Matthew IV. 12 to end, and V. to v. 27.
I have written a very full Lesson. Teach what you can of it. Don't waste a moment. Don't preach. Keep up interest by lively questioning. It is a most important Lesson, and worth a whole week's trouble to get in touch with it. Especially teach the idea of the Kingdom. St. Matthew's is especially "the Gospel of the Kingdom."
Indicate that iv. 12, is beginning of our Lord's public ministry; but before it occurred the events in John i. to iii. 24, for then (iii. 24) "John was not yet cast into prison." Therefore show from those events that Jesus and some of the disciples called (Matthew iv. 18) were already acquaintances.
§ 1. The Kingdom of God
Tell me the titles of the last two Lessons? What were they about? Who was the King? In order to be a king one must have what? A kingdom. Now I want you to be clear about that kingdom, the great ideal ever present to our Lord's mind. What was John the Baptist's first text when preparing the way for our Lord? (ch. iii. 2.) And what our Lord's first text? (iv. 17.) So the very first thing He taught was about a kingdom. Now, what was the very last thing He taught? (Acts i. 3.) And if you look through Concordance, you will find the expression "Kingdom of God," or "Kingdom of Heaven," about a hundred times: e.g., Mark i. 15; Luke iv. 43; viii. 10; ix. 2; etc. He was always talking about it in some form. It was the central point of all His teaching, the vision that filled up His enthusiastic outlook into the future.
You know how every human teacher who is capable of excitement and enthusiasm about his work has some special pet subject—temperance, or missions, or hospitals, or child-rescue, or the housing of the poor, etc.—about which he is always wanting to rouse people. Every conversation, every speech of his, somehow leads into it, till people say at last, "Well, that man has temperance, or missions, etc., on the brain. He can't talk of anything else." So we may reverently say of our Lord, His central subject, His great enthusiasm, was the founding on earth of what he called THE KINGDOM OF GOD. For that He lived, and taught, and suffered, and died. For that He enlisted His followers, and told them to enlist others. For that everything was done.
Now, what did He mean by the Kingdom of God? Heaven, you say—a happy place to go to when we die. Did He mean that? No, He did not. At least that was only part—the far-off and final part—of His plan. Whatever He meant, it was clearly something that first of all concerned this earth; that had to begin, and grow, and spread for a blessing on earth. How do we know? Remember parables about it? What was it like? Little mustard seed growing to be a great tree—little bit of leaven spreading in a large quantity of meal—little corn of wheat springing gradually up—the blade, the ear, the full corn in the ear. Would that mean heaven? Evidently He meant some living, growing thing, spreading gradually on earth, for earth's blessing and good. He put this beyond all question in the prayer of the kingdom which He taught His followers to use. What? "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done"—where? ON EARTH! "on earth, as it is in heaven." Not a prayer for the far future, or for a land beyond the sky, but that now, and here, in school, and home, and office, and shop, the Kingdom of God should come. (Read what is said about "colony of Heaven," in Introduction.)
§ 2. The Ideal of the Kingdom
Let me reverently try to picture what I think was in His mind when He thought with glad hope and enthusiasm about the success of His plan. Try and make the picture in your minds as I go on. He sees before Him a sweet, fair vision—a band of boys and girls, and men and women, of true, noble, generous, Christ-like hearts; the sort of people that you can't help loving and admiring; the sort of people that make life so happy and lovely for all around them. Do you know any person like that? It is a small band at first—small, like a grain of mustard seed—only about twenty or thirty, but growing, growing, as the ages go on, till it overspreads the face of the earth. He sees in the vision how everything bad and miserable vanishes before them—all greediness, and lying, and bullying, and spite, and drunkenness, and impurity; all selfishness and cruelty; all poverty, and misery, and pain. They are such brave, generous boys; such tender, unselfish girls; such noble, self-sacrificing men and women, in some degree like the Lord Himself. They care for nothing but what is good and true. They fear nothing but grieving their King. Their chief thought is the service of the Kingdom—making all life around them happy, and holy, and beautiful. Would not it be lovely to see a great, growing band like that, increasing every day? Would not they make this a happy, holy, beautiful world? Would not they watch over the sick, help the drunkard, and comfort the sorrowful? Do you think the mean, sneaking sort of boys would dare to be mean and sneaking? Would not the spiteful, and untruthful, and selfish girls be utterly ashamed of themselves? Would not many people want to join the ranks of this Kingdom of God, if they saw it so grand, so beautiful, so lovable, spreading over the earth? Well, that is, I think, the vision of our Lord. That is what He meant by the Kingdom of God. Which should begin where? On earth; and go on whither? To Heaven. How do people join the Kingdom? Baptism. Are you a member? What, then, is your duty as a member? (Be earnest over this. Don't be content till you have tried your best to rouse each child to Christ's beautiful ideal for him.)
§ 3. The Founding of the Kingdom
How did He begin to found His Kingdom? By getting soldiers, and cannons, and swords to fight, as earthly kings do? No. His Kingdom not like that. You know now what He wanted done in the world; how would you begin if you wanted it done? He began by preaching about it (vv. 17 and 23), then by gathering together a few earnest, unselfish men and women, and boys and girls, and inspiring them with His own eagerness and enthusiasm for serving others.
Tell me the first of His new members (vv. 18‑22.) Were they strangers to Him? (John i. 40, etc.) He had already made friends with them; they knew Him, and were in sympathy with Him, and were probably expecting this call some day to start at making the new Kingdom to bless the world. Very few. How was it like leaven, and corn, and grain of mustard seed? But more and more disciples came as they heard Him, and saw the wonderful miracles. Tell me some of the miracles? At last time came for a solemn founding of the new Kingdom. St. Luke tells more fully than St. Matthew—what? (Luke vi. 12‑26.) Climbed up the mountain one evening, and there all night long, alone under the starry sky, kept praying to His Father, and thinking of His glorious plan for the world. All night long alone, and then in the early morning, with the earnest light in His eyes, and great solemn purpose in His heart, He came down to a level place on the mountain-side. Crowds waiting, disciples waiting quietly, solemnly, as He came. Then He told the whole band of disciples that He was about to choose twelve Apostles out of them to be the chief helpers in the new Kingdom. Imagine the breathless waiting to see whom He would choose. Imagine school captain of football team choosing players for a big match. Only this match was to be against the devil, and all the misery and sin of life. One by one he called the names, each wondering who would be called next. Peter! Andrew! John! James! etc. One by one they rose and came. How solemnly the crowd would watch. One of the greatest days in the history of the world.
§ 4. The Laws of the Kingdom
Now the Kingdom of God begun. And then solemnly the King begins to tell its laws. Remember similar scene in Old Testament. There God awful in lightnings and thunders. Here God in form of man, sitting as comrade beside them. Note the kindly form of the laws: all blessings. Note, too, that they are, not a command to do something, but a description of character, which should be the character of the members of His new Kingdom. Note also that it is not each precept alone, but all together, that form that character. Therefore we must think of them connectedly. Now listen to the Laws of the Kingdom for the Apostles and disciples, and you and me, and all Christians.
1. POOR IN SPIRIT, i.e., feeling oneself poor, in want, needing help from God, deserving nothing. Remember any examples? (Luke xviii. 13; Romans vii. 24.) Who will feel that most? Those who are trying hardest to be good. They must feel their spiritual poverty, and our Lord says that is a blessed thing. So with you. If you feel like that, it is much better than to feel proud and self-reliant about your Christian fight.
2. THEY THAT MOURN.—Does it mean mere mourning of any kind for more money, and more fun, and more holidays from school, etc.? No. Though every sorrow brought to Christ will be comforted in some way, yet here we must take it in connection with the "poor in spirit." It means that for the man who feels that need and demerit, it is a blessed thing to think about it and mourn for it. Every true boy or girl who really sees the difference between what he should be and what he is, must surely mourn for it. That is blessed, says the Lord. What is His promise? That is the one sort of mourning of which we may be quite sure "he shall be comforted." But it is possible to hide it from ourselves, and not think or mourn about it. Too busy with lessons, and work, and play, etc. That is a pity. "He who lacks time to mourn lacks time to mend. Eternity mourns that."
3. THE MEEK.—This is the hardest part to teach boys. Boys don't like meekness. They sneer at a meek, chicken-hearted boy, always cowardly and cringing. Does our Lord mean that? Is it wrong to be angry with a sneaking wrong-doer? Is it wrong to thrash a big bully for ill-treating a little chap? Certainly not. That is Christ's will for you, if you can't stop him otherwise. Think of His own awful anger if one injured one of the "little ones" (St. Matthew xxiii. 1, etc.). But then, what about "meek"? It is the feeling that follows on the feelings in (1) and (2). He who knows himself, and how little he deserves, will not be always standing on his dignity, and making the most of himself, and flaring up at every fancied insult to himself. Meekness means absence of self- assertion. Stand up for weaker ones, and fight for them if necessary, but not for yourself. Our Lord dislikes your continually standing up for yourself. Did he ever do it? "Blessed are the meek" means "blessed are they who do not assert themselves and stand up for themselves."
4. HUNGER AND THIRST AFTER RIGHTEOUSNESS.—Same character still. He who feels his want of good, and mourns it, will be the first to hunger and thirst, etc., i.e. to eagerly, earnestly desire to be a noble, righteous boy. What is the promise? Grand promise? I think you all would wish to be good fellows, and please God. But a lazy wish won't do. Eager desire—e.g., cycle race, football match—eager, passionate desire to win. As sure as you eagerly desire, says Christ, so surely shall you have it. Pray, "God make me hunger and thirst more, that I may be filled."
5. MERCIFUL.—Same character still. He who has (1), (2), (3), (4), must also be merciful, forgiving, helping the weak, the needy, the unworthy. The world is full of people who will need your forgiveness and kindliness as you go through. The world is full of evil to helpless classes. Child-life in cities, slum people living whole families in one room, poor old people beyond their work, etc.
6. PURE IN HEART.—Means more than common meaning of purity of life. Means "the will set straight towards God." But speak, too, in senior classes, of common meaning. Impurity, above all sins, shuts out vision of God. See this thought in Idylls of the King, where the quest of the Holy Grail was not for Arthur or Lancelot, or even Percivale; only for young Galahad of the white, pure soul.
7. PEACEMAKERS.—Boys and girls often the opposite. Instead of telling your friend the nasty thing some one has said of her, wait till you hear something nice said, and tell her that instead. What is the promise? Will you try to earn it this week? He who is really Christ's servant must always do it. It has a bigger meaning, too, which you will understand better when you grow older. "Not only curers of quarrels," says Mr. Ruskin, "but peace-creators— givers of calm, which they must first attain before they can give it." Some of us older people know some of Christ's servants whose very presence seems to make us restful and peaceful in our worries. Sometimes one's mother or dear old friend—a woman oftener than a man.
8. PERSECUTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS' SAKE.—Does not seem very blessed, does it? Yet it is wonderful the peace of conscience, the solemn, secret happiness, that Christ gives to the boy or girl willing to suffer for right. It is hard to be jeered at for saying one's prayers or for rebuking filthy talk, etc. Poor coward would not face his comrades' sneers for these. But Christ's brave young soldiers of the Kingdom will do it fearlessly; and Christ is looking, and saying, "Blessed is he who suffers for the Right."