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Sermon Bible Commentary

Matthew 2

 

 

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Verse 1-2

Matthew 2:1-2

I. We have, as it were, three classes gathered about us in this narrative, and the central figure of them all is Christ Himself. As we think of this story in connection with our Master, the first thought that strikes us is that we have here a distinct fulfilment of prophecy. It had been prophesied that to Him should the gathering of the people be. The Gentile and the Jew were found by His cradle; in Him all national distinctions are, as it were, wiped out; there is to be neither Barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free. Round His cradle are not only the representatives of various lands, but they are brought to do homage to Him as a Child. Out of the childlike King there would arise a childlike character of all His followers.

II. Turn next from the spiritual to the temporal king. When the news of the new-born Christ was brought to Herod, "he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." He feared for the stability of his throne. His heart was centred in the kingdom which he ruled, the possessions that were brought under his control. The man whose mind is fixed upon possessions as such is troubled at the thought of a righteous ruler. The man whose thoughts are fixed upon the abundance of things that he possesses, necessarily quakes when he thinks of Him whose return must strike every one of them into the abyss away from Himself.

III. Look at the character of the wise men. They were great men. But their greatness is magnified by the greatness of their faith and their moral courage. Faith is, after all, a kind of heaven-born insight. These men saw the star. There were thousands about them who looked upon the same star, and saw no meaning in it. It led them through the long desert to kneel before the Satisfier of their hopes. So it is with Christ's children in this world. They see by an insight of faith what other men do not see. There is a light that others do not see, there is a hand that others cannot perceive, there is a voice that others cannot hear, that calls them to go forward.

Bishop Boyd Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 36.


References: Matthew 2:1, Matthew 2:2.—C. A. Fowler, Parochial Sermons, p. 31; J. R. Bailey, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 361; J. C. Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 97; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 20. Matthew 2:1-2, Matthew 2:9, Matthew 2:10.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1698; J. W. Burgon, Ninety-one Short Sermons, Nos. 14, 15. Matthew 2:1-3.—A. Whyte, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 28. Matthew 2:1-12.—W. Poole Balfern, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 401; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 21; vol. iii., p. 17; S. Cox, Expository Essays and Discourses, p. 264; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 52; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 14.


Verse 2

Matthew 2:2

I. "Where is He?" Such was the cry of the old world before Christ came. Men had lost sight of God; even the Jews, the chosen people, had corrupted themselves with idols, till the God of their fathers had become to them as a dream. Many a one, besides the men of Athens, had erected an altar to the unknown God. From the wise man seeking after the truth, from the captive groaning in his dungeon, from the sad watcher by the dying bed, the cry went up, "Where is He? Where is God, that we might believe on Him?"

II. The answer came at Epiphany. Among the wild Bethlehem hills was born One who was a light to lighten the Gentiles, who was come to give the knowledge of salvation to His people, to set the captive free, to make the poor, crushed slave a man indeed, to wipe away the tears of the sorrowful, to heal the sick, and to raise from the dead those who lay in trespasses and sins.

III. Surely this is what the Epiphany teaches us, that the true life of every one of us is revealed in the life of Jesus Christ; that to be humble, to be gentle, to be obedient, to go about doing good, and to perform God's will in our daily work, is to be like Him whom the wise men worshipped long ages ago in Bethlehem. "Where is He?" Not only in heaven, pleading, as our great High Priest, the unfailing merits of His sacrifice, but here on earth, with His faithful Church.

H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. i., p. 52; see also Waterside Mission Sermons, vol. i., No. 5.


The Epiphany, like the other manifestations of our Lord, partly veils and partly discloses His glory.

I. As in those other instances, also, the disclosure is made to persons of a certain character, and to those only. It is not hard to see what sort of mind these wise men were in; how earnest, not only in obtaining what heavenly knowledge they could, but in obeying what they knew. They lived in a country, and most likely belonged to a profession, in which the observation of the stars was a great part of their daily business. And as the shepherds, when the angel was sent to them, were watching over their flocks by night, i.e., in the honest exercise of their daily calling, so this star was ordered to meet the eyes of these men, so learned in the signs of the heavens. It seems in both cases to signify that God loves to visit, with His heavenly and spiritual blessings, those whom He sees diligent and conscientious in their daily duty.

II. Are we not, so far all of us, like the wise men, in that, when children, we too have a sort of star in the East to guide us towards the cradle of our Lord? We are carried to church, we are taught to pray, we learn more or less of Scripture words and histories; God gives us notice, in various ways, of that wonderful Child who was born at Bethlehem to be King of the Jews. Now these notices and feelings, if they are indeed sent by the Most High, will guide us, more or less directly, to Jerusalem, that is, to the Holy Church of God, the city set on a hill, that cannot be hid.

III. The wise men were ready to follow wherever God's providence might lead them, however slight and even doubtful the notices of His will might be. So ought it to be enough for us to know the next step in our journey, the next thing God would have us to do, with something like tolerable certainty. One step before them is as much as sinners in a troublous world should expect to see.

IV. The wise men did not mind the trouble of their journey to find the Lord. This surely may reprove our indolence and want of faith, who are so seldom willing to leave our homes, and go ever so little way thence, where we are sure the young Child is to be found; but rather put up with idle excuses, the more profane because they make a show of respect, of God being in one place as much as in another, and of our being able to serve Him at home as acceptably as in church.

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. vi., p. 15.


I. The success of the wise men in their search for the Saviour should teach us that they who are really anxious to find Him will never miss Him for lack of proper guidance.

II. The example of the wise men should make us ashamed of allowing difficulties, or even dangers, to hinder us in our search for the Saviour.

III. God graciously adapts His guidance to the necessities of His creatures.

IV. We also have seen His star—the glorious star of the Epiphany. Have we, like the Eastern sages, come to the Saviour to worship Him? Do we seek for Him where He is ever to be found—in the services and ordinances of His house?

J. N. Norton, Every Sunday, p. 52.


References: Matthew 2:2.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 967; T. R. Stevenson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 408; G. T. Coster, Ibid., vol. xviii., p. 392; J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, pp. 279, 289; W. Meller, Village Homilies, p. 30. S. Baring-Gould, The Birth of Jesus, p. 76; Ibid., One Hundred Sermon Sketches, p. 123. Matthew 2:4-6.—H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1634. Matthew 2:6.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 354. Matthew 2:8.—W. Norris, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 305; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 24; J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, p. 306. Matthew 2:9.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xviii., p. 15; R. W. Evans, Parochial Sermons, vol. i., p. 227.


Verse 11

Matthew 2:11

I. In proportion to the obscurity which hangs about this story as a fact is its clearness and usefulness when considered as a symbol. To Christ and before His throne in heaven vain it were to offer the gifts of the Eastern magi, gold, frankincense, and myrrh; but as they brought of the best and richest things which God had made to grow or to exist in their, by nature, unyielding and barren earth, so we also should bring and should offer the best and noblest powers which God has implanted in our otherwise dull minds and helpless bodies. So that, whatever we have of precious gifts, whether of body or mind—for the question is here rather of natural gifts than of spiritual graces—these all should be offered to the service of Christ, as the only sacrifice of gratitude which it is in our power to render.

II. We can resolve beforehand to do all to the glory of God; but when the actual work comes, and interests us deeply for itself, and for its immediate earthly objects, then it is hard—nay, without much habit, impossible—that the spirit of worship and sacrifice should be at hand, together with the spirit of energy; and that we should, distinctly and consciously, hallow all our active thoughts and doings by devoting them to the service of Christ. It is hard, and without habit, impossible; and yet without it, who can be saved? For if the most lively portion of our life be not sanctified, if our best be offered to idols, and only our vacant hours and thoughts, or some little portion of them, be offered to God, what is it but to offer Him the lame and the blind and the worthless, in the spirit of a slave, who gives no more than what he is afraid to refuse? In all our different callings, Christ, in His goodness, allows us to glorify Him, and to benefit our brethren; in all we may offer to Him our gold, our frankincense, and our myrrh; whatever accomplishments of body or mind, whatever faculties, whatever affections He has given us most abundantly.

T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 140.


Those who know the habits of the Eastern mind will conclude, as a matter of course, that the gifts of the Magi were designed to be symbolic, and this symbolism is happily neither doubtful nor far to seek.

I. For gold is undoubtedly the offering to a king, the offering of the outer life and visible product of all human action. Gold is, in one word, concentrated power over the material and visible world, the world of nature and the world of human action. Now to the material and visible world very much of our life is necessarily given. The real question, therefore, is, how shall we use the gold of life? and what shall we do with it? We do not need to be taught that, except as a means of some further good, it is in itself worthless and unsatisfying. The Epiphany lesson says very plainly, "Offer the gold of life to God, in the Lord Jesus Christ."

II. So far for the outer life. But there is an inner life in the soul of each of us which the gold of the outer life may serve to influence, but which it can never satisfy. And what is to be done with this inner life? The gift of frankincense is the offering due to God only; it signifies the adoration of the soul within, and we offer it to God, in the Lord Jesus Christ.

III. Of the significance of the gift of myrrh there can be no question. Used to embalm dead bodies, myrrh is the symbol of suffering and of death. What is the significance of the gift as it applies to us? Surely it throws light on the one dark and terrible mystery of our human life. We cannot explain away the mystery of evil after the fashion of the shallow optimism of days gone by, and still less with the despairing pessimism of our day. We shall still hold the belief that it subserves the purposes of a righteous God, and that the myrrh that signifies it is the last and best offering to God. In the Lord Jesus Christ the Gospel consecrates suffering and death as a sacrifice, and it takes away the mysterious power of evil as the final and transcendent manifestation of the love of God.

Bishop Barry, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 17.


Whatever more there may be—and there is much more—in the visit of the wise men to the manger-cradle at Bethlehem, there is at least the lesson of consecration. These wise men prostrated themselves before this little Child. They did not keep their wisdom to themselves. They had no greater joy than in emptying themselves of their treasures, and bestowing them in humblest adoration upon Him. To every man there comes the old choice of the Greek mythical hero—the choice between virtue and pleasure, between good and evil, between duty and frivolity, between consecration to Christ and subjugation by some other master. Think of a few of the ways in which this call for a choice is answered.

I. There is the answer—which is no answer—of simple indifference. A young man comes to the university, and never dreams—cannot be brought to get so far as even to dream—of the importance of this part of his career. He lives as if he had no gifts, no treasures. He simply wastes them; not necessarily, like the prodigal, in riotous living. With this form of no-consecration we cannot argue. We can but appeal to whatever of conscience or of nobleness may be yet alive, "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light."

II. Another form of no-consecration is simple self-culture. It recognizes that we are endowed with a complex nature, every part of which is capable of being developed. We have powers of mind which can bring us into conscious contact with every form of greatness and beauty. And this development, this contact, are in themselves enjoyment of an exalted kind. Self-culture, even on a humble scale, will never disappoint. But this is short of consecration; and the Christian conscience tells us that it is far inferior to it. Consecration implies not only self-culture but self-surrender, and more than this, the joy of self-surrender. There may be consecration to a great cause, like justice or freedom. There may be consecration to an idea which we almost personify, and even deify, like truth or beauty. But it is to a person—to some one greater, purer, better than ourselves—that consecration is at once most passionately and most perseveringly rendered. And never does consecration of self take a nobler form than when a young man prostrates himself before the feet of his Saviour, and offers to Him, in their prime, the fulness of all his powers.

H. M. Butler, Cambridge Review, Jan. 20th, 1886.

References: Matthew 2:11.—M. Dix, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, p. 54. Matthew 2:13.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 49; D. Davies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 25; G. Huntington, Sermons for Holy Seasons, vol. ii., p. 57. Matthew 2:13-15.—W. Poole Balfern, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 6; W. G. Elmslie, Expositor, 1st series, vol. vi., p. 401. Matthew 2:13-18.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 35. Matthew 2:14, Matthew 2:15.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1675.


Verse 15

Matthew 2:15

I. These words, spoken by the prophet Hosea, were not accommodated to Christ, but were most truly fulfilled in Him. They had thus a double fulfilment, the second more glorious than the first. Nor should we err if we ascribed to them one fulfilment more. That which was on two occasions literally fulfilled, "Out of Egypt have I called My Son," is evermore finding its spiritual fulfilment in the Church of the Redeemed. It collectively is God's Son, even as one by one the true members who compose it are His sons; and they, too, have been called out of Egypt, and are living members of His Church, in so far as they have not been disobedient to that heavenly calling.

II. If we have been called out of Egypt by the voice of God to be His children, what are some of the duties which flow out from our high vocation as in this light regarded? (1) And, first, surely this is one—to leave Egypt altogether behind us, to have no going back to it even in thought, much less drawing back to it in deed. The temptation is common to all, to cast after a while a longing, lingering look on that which has been foregone and renounced, yea, even to loathe, as light food, the heavenly manna, and to yearn for some coarser fare, some of the sinful dainties of the world, in its stead. Let us watch against this temptation. Our course is onward; our salvation is before us, not behind, above us, and not beneath; behind and beneath are slavery and darkness, despair and death; before us and above us is the light of life, with Him who is Himself that light for our guardian and our guide. (2) Again, let us remember that if we have been called out of Egypt it is not that we may enter the promised land at once; that there is a time and span between, in which our God will prove us, and humble us, and show us what is in our hearts; and that this, being a proving time, is also a sifting time; a separating of the true members of the Church from the false. Fretfulness, irritation of spirit, discontent at God's dealings with us, not, it may be, manifested without, but nourished and entertained within, is a sin against which it behoves us, partakers of a heavenly calling, travellers to a heavenly country, to be very much on our guard. It needs to be watched against the more because it may be nourished within, and seen there of God, while it is concealed from every human eye.

R. C. Trench., Sermons in Westminster Abbey, p. 91.


References: Matthew 2:16.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 22; S. Baring-Gould, The Birth of Jesus, p. 89. Matthew 2:16-23.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. i., p. 50. Matthew 2:18.—J. N. Norton, Old Paths, p. 46; J. Keble, Sermons for Saints' Days, p. 88. Matthew 2:23.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii., No. 1632; Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 358; H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2648. Matt 2—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 381.



 


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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Matthew 2:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/matthew-2.html.

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