This is the first sermon given by St. John Chrystosom on the book of Matthew. I have tried to render the rather outdated language of the english translation (done in the 1800’s) into something a modern reader can easily understand while keeping the meaning of the text intact.
A quick breakdown of the contents of this message:
- The need for the written word
- The giving of the law vs the new covenant
- The writing of the Gospels
- The truth of the Gospel vs worldly philosophy
- Problems and inconsisencies
- The keys to understanding
There are some real pearls in this sermon that is really just a set up for the rest of his series on Matthew. The honor and reverence shown to the scripture is obvious yet nowhere is it raised to the unhealthy level you see in modern evangelical circles. He starts out saying what a shame it is that we have to rely on the written word, rather than relying on the Holy Spirit for direction. He openly discusses the humanity of the authors and the mistakes that they may have introduced. Yet he defends its testamony and holds it up as a guide to our ultimate goal, Christ our King.
If you have read Cold case Christianty you might be suprised to see the same defense of the Gospels given (only 1700 years earlier than the book by J. Warner Wallace). I know I was 😀
Also towards the end if you think that he’s harsh towards his congregatoin JUST WAIT. Dude has some serious fire to throw their way. Its also worth noting that for the first thousand years of the Church (and for the most part to this day in the eastern Church) they stood through the whole service. No wonder he had people milling about or looking uncomfortable.
Homily One – A commentary on Matthew
It would certainly be a benefit to us if we did not require the help of the written word (i.e. the Bible), instead living a life so pure, that the grace of the Spirit would be written on our souls as if they were books themselves. But since we are so far removed from this condition let us consider at any rate, the second best option.
That the first option is better God has clearly shown in his Word and by His actions. Since Noah, Abraham and his decedents, Job and Moses he instructed not by written word, but by direct interaction, having found their minds pure. But after the entire nation of Israel had fallen into the very pit of wickedness, that is when His word was written down for their future instruction.
And you can see this is the case, not only of the saints in the Old Testament, but also of those in the New. None of the apostles were given a written word but instead He promised that He would give them the grace of the Holy Spirit who “shall bring all things to your remembrance.” And so that you will learn that this was far better, hear what he said by the Prophet: “I will make a new covenant with you, putting my laws into their mind, and in their heart I will write them,” and “they shall be all taught of God.” And Paul too, pointing out the same superiority said they had received a law “not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart”.
But over time they too ran ashore as a shipwreck, some with regard to doctrine, others in their life and manners once again necessitating that these teachings be put in the form of written word.
Now reflect on how terrible it is for us, who should be living a pure life as to not NEED the written word, yielding up our hearts as blank books to the Holy Spirit, who have lost that honor and need the written word. Yet still we fail daily to even take advantage of this easier option. Because if it is a charge against us standing in need of the written word and to not avail ourselves of the grace and gift of the Holy Spirit; imagine what greater charge we are liable for by not choosing to profit ourselves by this ready assistance. We treat what is written with neglect, as if it was not given to us for a purpose, treating it like some random book and bring down on ourselves a greater punishment.
But to save ourselves from such an event, let us pay great attention to what is written and discern how the old Law was given and in contrast the New Covenant.
So how was the Law given to the Hebrews and when and where? After the destruction of the Egyptians, in the wilderness, on Mt Sinai, with smoke and fire rising up out of the mountain, the sounds of trumpets, thunder and lightning. Moses entered up into the depths of the clouds that had descended on the mountain to receive the Law. But nothing like this happened with the reception of the new covenant. In the beginning of the day, in a house, while all were sitting together, with great quietness it all took place. The people of the past, being more unreasonable and hard to lead, had need of great signs, to be removed to the wilderness at a mountain covered in smoke, with the sounds of trumpets and the like. But those who were of a higher character, submissive to God, who had risen above the crass material imaginations of the past, the new Covenant was given. It was the lifting of punishment, the remission of sins, righteousness, sanctification, redemption, adoption, an inheritance of heaven and a relationship with the Son of God, which He came declaring to all, even to His enemies, to the perverse, to those sitting in darkness. What could ever come close to these good tidings? God on Earth, man in Heaven, all mingling together, angels joining the choirs of men, men fellowshiping with the angels and with the other powers above. One might see the long war brought to an end and reconciliation made between God and our nature, the devil brought to shame, demons fleeing, death destroyed, Paradise opened, the curse blotted out, sin put out of the way, error driven off, truth returned, the word of Godliness everywhere sown and and flourishing in its growth, the government of those above planted here on earth, the power of heaven in secure communion with us and hope abundant touching all things to come.
He has deemed this history a good tiding, for all other things are certainly meaningless. For example, greatness of power or wealth, kingdoms and honors and whatever else men tend to think are good. But the words set down by the fishermen can be legitimately and properly called good tidings: not only are they certain and immovable blessings, beyond what we would dream of yet well within our grasp and ability to use them.
We have received these gifts from Him, not by labor or sweat or suffering and fatigue, but by simply because God loves us.
Some will say, “how is it that if there were so many disciples that only two of the Apostles wrote their story and two from among their followers wrote the others?”. (One of the authors was a disciple of Paul and another of Peter, and Matthew and John. These four wrote the Gospels). My answer is that they avoided personal glory at all costs and only did what was necessary.
“Wouldn’t just one version of the Gospel be enough to tell us everything?” Of course one would have sufficed. But with four separate authors, written in different places and without collaboration, all communicated a coherent testimony as if they were one. This is a great demonstration of the truth of their message.
“But that is not the case!” it may be said, “in many places their stories do not agree”. Not at all, in fact it is evidence to their validity. If they had all agreed exactly, down to the words, our enemies would have come to think that they had all gotten together and agreed on their story because such a perfect agreement does not come about naturally. So even the small differences which seem to exist (all in unimportant areas) deliver them from all suspicion of collusion and is a clear testament to the character of the authors.
In any of these differences (mostly in regard to times or locations) that have been written there is nothing that endangers the truth of what has been said. As much as God will enable us, we will strive to point out these differences as we proceed. Keep in mind what has already been said and you will see that in the most important places, which are key to our life and underpin our doctrine, that none of these vital concepts disagree, not even a little bit.
And what are these key points? They are as follows, That God became man, that he performed miracles, that He was crucified, that He was buried, that He rose again, that He ascended, that He will judge, that He has given commandments leading to salvation, that He has brought us a law that is not contrary to the Old Testament, that He is a Son, that He is the only-begotten, that He is a true Son and is of the same substance with the Father, and many more like this. In all these points we find that the four Gospels are in full agreement.
And if among the miracles written not all are written by all, but one author mentions a story and another author mentions a different story, do not let this trouble you. If all four authors had mentioned every story it would have been overkill. Also if all four had written different stories then the proof of their agreement would be gone. Each author has included their common recollections along with things that were personal and important to them as individuals, leaving a work that we are able to verify as true.
Luke also tells us the reason he wrote his Gospel: “so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been told”, that is, to have a persistent reminder so that you will be certain of the truth.
As for John however, he has remained silent about his motivation, yet as the traditional story handed down from the beginning of the church, even from the Church Fathers he most certainly did write with a purpose. For as the three prior Gospels focused on the account of the dispensation, the doctrine of the Godhead was nearly ignored. John, moved by Christ finally sat down and composed his Gospel. This is clear from both history itself and from reading his work. He does not simply begin like the other three from the start of a simple narrative, but from a higher level, with the end clearly in sight from the beginning. All throughout his Gospel you can see the elevated thought and speech that clearly denotes his lofty goal.
Matthew it is said wrote his Gospel in response to the believers among the Jews who begged him to leave something in writing of the things he had spoken to them and so he did. Mark also (who was in Egypt) is said to have responded to his disciples in the same way.
This is why, when writing his Gospel for the Jews, Matthew strives to emphasize that Christ was descended from Abraham and David. Yet Luke who wrote his Gospel for a more general audience goes all the way back to Adam (showing that he was of common decent to all mankind). One begins with his genealogy because it was greatly soothing to the Jew that Christ was the offspring of their forefathers; the other author begins his story where you would (at the beginning) and then proceeds to a genealogy.
But the harmony between them we can establish, both by the whole world, who has received these Gospels in their entirety and by the very enemies of the truth who have not. Many sects have sprung up since the Gospels were first written, holding options opposed to the Gospels. Some have taken these Gospels in their whole as they should, yet other others pick and choose what they will believe, ignoring the parts that contradict their novel interpretations. It is clear when they do this, their own selections betray them and makes it clear. For example, if you were to take one part of an animal (it’s rib for example), even in that one little part you will find everything that makes up the whole creature, nerves, blood, veins, bone, etc. It is the same with the Scriptures, every part is connected with a clear theme appearing. If the Scriptures were discordant this would not be the case. Jesus said “for every kingdom divided against itself shall not stand”, and most certainly the Scriptures have stood the test of time.
Now, where each author was living at the time they wrote their Gospel it is not right for us to affirm with any certainty. But that they are harmonized throughout their entirety and not opposed to each other we will endeavor to prove.
There is a question that I would like to explore, why were these differing accounts believed? How did they come to survive and spread, being admired and celebrated everywhere in the world? There were many witnesses of what was being written and also many enemies. They did not write all this in one corner of the world and bury it, but wrote and sent it everywhere, by land and sea they witnessed to everyone. All of their writings were read in the presence of enemies (even as they are now) and none of what was said offended anyone. This is natural because it was by divine power that made it to prosper with all men.
If this was not true, how could the tax collector, the fishermen and the unlearned have attained to such artistry? There are things that have never before been imagined, not even in a dream that are published (with certainty) and made convincing by these simple men. Not only are these few convinced, but even after they have passed away people are swayed by their words. Not just a few, or twenty or a hundred, not a thousand or ten thousand, but to whole cities, nations and peoples, to the Greeks and barbarians, both inhabited lands and desert. All of this written concerning things far beyond our human nature and things of this world. Their discourse is concerning the things of heaven, a principle of life unlike what comes naturally to us. A way of life for the wealthy and poor, free and slave, life and death our world and it’s government, all changed by it’s power.
This is unlike the writings of Plato, who composed that ridiculous Republic, or Zeno or anyone else who has devised such a government or framed laws to live by. It seems plain to me, considering all these worldly works, that some evil spirit, some cruel demon at war with our race, an enemy of modesty and good order, seeking to overturn all things has made its voice to be heard in their soul. Take for example when they gave up their women to anyone, stripping virgins naked in the gymnasium, bringing them into the gaze of men. Or when they establish secret marriages, mingling all things together and confusing decency, overturning the limits of nature, what else can be said about them? That these sayings are all inventions of devils and contrary to nature even nature herself would testify. They invent these sayings not being persecuted, not in danger, not fighting at all, but in all security and freedom. But these doctrines of the fishermen, chased as they were, scourged and in jeopardy, the learned and unlearned, both bond and free, kings and citizen, have received and written happily.
You cannot argue that it was because these things were simple or meaningless, that they were happily accepted by all manor of man. Rather, these doctrines are far higher than anything else. For the doctrine of chastity, voluntary poverty, fasting and all else they taught are higher than what any human imagination could create.
But these doctrines do not only exterminate lust, they forbid not only the act itself, but mearly an unchaste look. Insulting language, disorderly laughter and dress, lifestyle and noise, they carry on their instruction even to the smallest of things. They have filled the whole world with the seeds of chastity, growing up even to God, touching the things of heaven. They persuade men to be wise with knowledge that no one in the past has ever been able to conceive in their mind. How could they? The ones who made for gods images of beasts, of monsters that crawl on the earth and of other things even more grotesque.
And even so, these doctrines were both accepted and believed, flourishing every day and increasing; but the others have passed away and perish, having disappeared like a spiders web in the wind.
This is quite natural, for what could be more ridiculous than that “republic” which I have mentioned, where the author has spent countless lines in order to show his version of justice and spent all his energy to produce something so indistinct? This work, even if there was anything profitable in it, is essentially useless for guiding a mans life. If the farmer and the smith, the builder and the sailor and everyone who subsists by the labor of his hands is to leave his trade and honest toil and spend so many years in order to learn what justice is, he will be destroyed by hunger and perish because of this “justice”. Nothing will have been learn that is of use and his life will come to an end by a cruel death.
Our lessons however are not like that, rather Christ has taught what is just, good, expedient, encompassing all virtue in general in plain and concise words. Christ told us “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets”, that is to say we should love God and love the people around us. Another time he tells us, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets”
These things are simple, even for the common man or a child, they are simple to comprehend and easy to learn. For the truth is like this and the results bear witness to this fact. This way everyone can know what they are supposed to do, not only in knowledge but by action also. Here you will see true wisdom abounding, choirs of angels shining forth in a human body and the common wealth of Heaven manifest here on earth. A common wealth the fishermen wrote for all of us, not with commands to be obeyed only from childhood, like the others, or a law that in order to be virtuous a man must reach a certain age, but addressing their discourse to every age of man. For the others lessons are like children’s toys, but ours are the true reality of this world.
As a home for this common wealth they have assigned Heaven and God they have brought in as the creator and as a lawgiver of the statutes for this land as was their duty. And the rewards in this common wealth are not leaves of bay nor olive (as in the games) or an allowance of meat in the public hall or statues of brass, these are cold and common things. Our reward is a life that has no end, to become the children of God, to join the angels choir and to stand by the royal throne, to always be with Christ. The popular occupants of this common wealth are tax collectors, fishermen and tent makers. Not people who have lived short lives (for all our lives are short) but all who are living forever. Thus even after their death they may possibly do the greatest good to the governed.
This republic is not at war with men but with the devils and those unseen powers. The captain of this land is no mere man, nor even an angel but God Himself. And the armor of these warriors suits the nature of the warfare for it is not formed of leather and steel but of truth, righteousness, faith and all true love of wisdom.
Since the republic we have been talking about is both the subject of these Gospels written let us carefully investigate Matthew who wrote plainly on this subject. All the things he had to say about this were not his own, but Christ’s, who made the laws of this land. Let us pay great attention so that we will be able to enroll in it’s citizenry and of shining forth among those who have already become citizens there and are awaiting those incorruptible crowns. To many this discourse may seem easy while the prophetic writings are difficult. But this is the view of men who do not understand the depth of the contents of this book. Consequently I ask you to follow diligently so that you can wade into the ocean of things written, with Christ for our guide at this our beginning.
So in order to make this easier to understand I would ask you to read ahead the portion of scripture that we will be studying. This will prepare the way for your understanding (as was the case of the eunuch by the roadside) and so will greatly facilitate our task.
From the beginning the questions are many and often. For instance right at the beginning of the Gospel, many issues can be raised one after the other. First how the genealogy of Joseph (who was NOT the father of Christ) is traced. Second how can it be shown that He is descended from David while the forefathers of Mary (who bore Him) are not known for the Virgin’s genealogy is not traced? Third, why is Joseph’s genealogy traced when he had nothing to do with the Birth, while the Virgin His very mother, does not have her decent shown?
Along with these things, it is also worth noticing that when tracing the genealogy through the men he has mentioned women also. While he determined to do this he did not mention all of the women, but passed over the more prominent such as Sara, Rebecca and many like them. He has highlighted only the ones that are famous for some bad thing, for example if any of them was a harlot or an adulteress or a mother by unlawful marriage or a stranger or barbarian. You can see he mentioned the wife of Uriah, and of Thamar and Rahab and Ruth. Among these women was one who was not a Hebrew, one who was a harlot, another defiled by her near kinsman (and not even by marriage but by illicit intercourse as she pretended to be a harlot). Concerning the wife of Uriah no one is ignorant because of the notoriety of the crime committed. And yet the evangelist has passed by all the rest (more reputable) and included these alone. If any women were to be mentioned certainly he should mention all of them, but if only some, then ones known for their virtue and not some evil deed.
So you can see how much care is required right away from the very beginning and this is just a listing of names which aught to be a simple thing.
Another thing worth mentioning is that he has committed three kings. And while they may have been known for being ungodly, he included the women (who certainly were not spotless) so why would he ignore royalty?
And another question, why after listing fourteen generations he has not maintained the number in the third section?
Also why Luke has made mention of other names, many of them the same (as Matthew’s list) but also many more are listed, while Matthew has both fewer listed with more differences though he also ended with Joseph (as did Luke). Additionally how is it that Elizabeth (who was of the Levetical tribe), was kinswoman to Mary?
So as not to overwhelm our memory by stringing too many things together let us stop here before moving forward. It is enough for now that we have been thoroughly roused by learning these questions alone. But if you truly desire to learn the answers also this will depend on you before we go on. If I see that you are alert and longing to learn I will strive to add the answers also. But if you are yawning and not paying attention I will leave these hidden in obedience to a divine law. Christ said “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces”
But who is it that tramples them under foot? He who does not account these things precious and venerable. And who (you might ask) is so wretched that he would not esteem these things precious and more venerable than all? The same one who would not spend as much time learning these things as spending time watching the harlots in the theaters of Satan. The multitudes spend their whole day there, and give up many of their families concerns for the sake of this reprehensible pastime. They perfectly remember everything they have heard even though it is to the injury of their own souls that they retain it. But here, where God is speaking to them, they can not stand to sit even a little while.
On this account let me warn you, we have nothing in common with Heaven, but our citizenship goes no further than mere words. And yet because of this God has threatened even hell, not so that he can throw us in, but to persuade us to flee from this grievous tyranny. And yet we do the opposite and run each day the way that leads to hell, while God is commanding us not only to hear but also to do what he has said. We do not obey even enough to sit and listen.
I ask you, how will be be able to do what is commanded and put our hand to these works, if we cannot even endure to stand awhile and hear the words that relate these commands to us, but are impatient and restless about the amount of time we are here listening even though it is an exceedingly short time?
And besides, in regards to trivial matters, if we see someone that has not attended one of these lesser functions, we call what they have done an insult. But do we consider that we are provoking God, if, while he is speaking to us of such venerable things we despise what is said and look to something else?
Why do we listen, when someone who has traveled over much country, tells us with detail the number of theaters and the status of the cities and their plans, of their harbors and markets but we ourselves do not know even how far we are from the city that is in Heaven. For certainly we would have worked to shorten the space if we knew the distance. That city is farther from us than the earth from the heavens if we are negligent. Yet if we are diligent and do our best even in an instant we will come to the gates of that city. For not by physical location, but by moral dispensation are these distances defined.
But you know the current affairs of this world and its history, you can list the rulers of the games and who won them, the leaders of armies, the heads of state and their successors, and all matters that are of no concern to you. But the details of that heavenly city you cannot know, not even in a dream. The laws of this city you will not endure to hear or try to obey them, even when others try to tell you about them. How then do you expect to obtain the blessings that are promised when you do not even pay attention to what is said?
But even if you have never tried before, at any rate, let us do this now. For certainly we are on the point of entering into a city of gold (if God permit), more precious than any earthly treasure.
So, let us mark out the foundations of this city, her gates consisting of sapphires and pearls; indeed in Matthew we have an excellent guide. For through this gate we will now enter in but much diligence is required of us. For if He should see anyone not being attentive He will cast him out of the city.
For this city is most kingly and glorious; not like our earthly cities, divided into markets and royal courts. For there all is the court of the King. Open the gates of your mind, open your ears and with great trembling (here, about to set foot on the threshold of this city) let us worship the King that rules.
For now we find the gates closed; but when we see them thrown open (for this is the solution to all of the difficulties we have mentioned) we will see the great splendor within. For in this city, leading you with the eyes of the Spirit, is one who offers to show you all, the Tax Collector. This tax collector will show where the King sits, who of his hosts stand by Him, where the angels and archangels are, what place is set apart for the new citizens of this city, what kind of path leads there, what they will recieve, who first were citizens there and who came after them and who will follow.
Let us enter in quietly, without noise or disturbance, but with a mystical silence.
It is like a theater, when a great silence has fallen to allow the letters of the king to be read, much more in this heavenly city must all be composed and stand with soul and ear erect. It is no earthly masters words being read but the Lord of the angels, which we are about to read.
If we compose ourselves this way, the grace of the Holy Spirit will lead us in great perfection and we will arrive at the royal throne and accomplish all good things by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost, now and always, even for ever and ever Amen.