Homily Five – Gospel of Matthew

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:22-23

1. I hear many people say “While I am here and enjoying the privilege of hearing the word preached I am in awe. But as soon as I leave I go back to life as usual and that fire I felt in Church goes out”. What can we do to prevent this? Lets look at what is going on when this happens. Why would such a great change affect us so quickly? I say it is from the unwise use of our time and from the company of evil people. We should not (right after having had Communion*) plunge right into activities that are unseemly. But instead we ought go right home, take up our Bible and call our family together to discuss what we have heard. Only then should we go about the business of every day life. [*It is worth noting that Communion was held every week and was considered the apex of the Church Service. There was a reverence and holiness ascribed to the act of partaking in the blood and body of Christ that suffused the entire service.]

Think of it this way, if you go to the spa to relax and recuperate from your stressful day, you wouldn’t leave the spa and right off go and do some stressful thing would you? The same principle applies to Communion. Any yet that is exactly what we do more often than not, throwing away any good derived from having been at Church and participated in Communion. While that renewal is still fresh on our soul and in our bodies we allow the external influences of the world to wash over us and sweep it all away.

So in order to prevent this, after leaving from having taken Communion you should consider only one thing to be most important, that is, contemplating and holding onto the things that you have heard at Church. [ I think it’s interesting to note, that at this time in history the only Christian teaching you were likely to encounter WOULD be in the Church. We are so used to having printed bible studies, daily (even hourly) radio programs, music and several bibles at arms reach that it’s hard to think of a time when these things were not readily available. I think that is part of the reason for this emphasis in the message.] After spending five or six full days busy with the business of our daily lives it would be utterly foolish to not spend even one day (or even a few hours of that day) devoted to things spiritual in nature. Don’t even your own children do this? Studying throughout the day whatever lessons they have been given? So let us do the same, since otherwise it would be profitless and a waste of time to be here. Like pouring water every day into a container that is filled with holes. We show more earnest attention to gaining wealth than trying to remember and apply the teaching we receive. Anyone who has gained a small amount of money carefully deposits it somewhere safe in order to protect it. But we have been given revelations more precious than gold or jewels and do not store them within our souls for safe keeping, but thoughtlessly at random allow them to slip out of our minds. Who will pity us after all of this? Plotting against our own interests and throwing ourselves deep into poverty! In order that this will not come to be, let us make an immovable law for ourselves, our wives and our children, that once a week we will devote this day to hearing the Word of God and on the contemplation of the things we have heard. This will allow us to sharpen our senses and approach learning what is being taught with renewed vigor. And it will seem (after time) that the effort is reduced and the profit much greater when we are able to keep in mind what was recently taught. This will also greatly help you to understand what is being said now when you accurately remember the line of thought which is being woven together for you. [Certainly, John would be able to claim “weaving of thoughts” when you see how he bridges old and new testaments. So many times while reading these things I’ve wondered what in the world he was talking about something for only to have it tie together perfectly at the end. Oration was a well respected tradition in Greek and Roman cultures and it’s clear how John earned the moniker “Chrysostom” which means Golden Tonged in Greek] Since it is not possible to lay all this out in one single day, you must bear all this in mind and remember what has been laid out for you bit by bit, like links in a chain. So wrap yourself in that chain of thought so that the body of the Scriptures may appear whole.

So, remember what I have already told you and we will move on to today’s message.

2. And what is today’s subject? “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet” Writing with awe and wonder Matthew speaks with all his might by saying “Now all this took place”. Matthew wrote with awe because when he looked he saw the unfathomable depths of Gods love towards us, that something no human had ever thought to expect had come to pass, the laws of nature being broken, reconciliation between man and God, that He who is above all came down to those lower than all, that Christ “broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” Ephesians 2:14, that He removed the impediments before us and much more than this. In one sentence he emphasizes the miracle of all this by saying “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet”. It is though he is saying “Don’t think that these are merely inventions, they were show in example an prophecies from ancient times”. The very same thing Paul works to prove latter in all his writings.

The angel then proceeds to bring up the prophet Isaiah when speaking to Joseph in his dream. This way he will be reminded of the words of the prophet (which he would have been studying since he was a boy) which prophecy the things that were told to him. The angel does not mention any of this to Mary, being a woman she would not have been educated in such things. But Joseph by custom would have been educated in the history and writings of the prophets so the angel reasons with him using these. But before mentioning the prophets the angel called Mary his wife, and only afterwards does he bring up her virginity. Joseph certainly would have been to shaken to accept the fact of her viginity unless he heard it from the prophecy of Isaiah as well. The teachings of the prophets was nothing new to Joseph, but a familar subject of long meditation. So the angel, in order to make his message easy for Joseph to accept, brings in the writings of Isaiah. And he does not stop there but reveals that this is a message from God. Telling Joseph that it was not the words of Isaiah, but the words of the God of all things. This is why he did not say “this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” but said “this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord”. The pen may have belonged to Isaiah but the message was spoken from above.

3. Now look at the contents of this message, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel”.

So how is it (someone may ask) that His name was not Immanuel, but is called Jesus Christ? The angel did not say “YOU shall call” but said “THEY shall call”, meaning the peoples of history to come and as a name for the events to come. The prophet used this name as a label for the event of his coming, which is a custom in Scripture.

So to say “they shall call Him Immanuel” means nothing more than that they will see God among men. Christ has certainly always been among us, but never so concretely or visible.

But if the Jews argue with this interpretation of prophecy we will ask them when was a child named “swift is the booty, speedy is the prey”? They will have no answer! But why would Isaiah have said “call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz”[*]? Because, when that child was born there was a victory and the spoils divided, so these events that happened were given as a name for that child. And the city that “was to be called the city of righteousness” is to this day still called Jerusalem. However, from that day, the city underwent a change for the better, so the name applies. When any event happened that brought glory to God, the Scriptures speak the truth of that event by ascribing it a name. [ * OK so this one tripped me up at first. Turns out that Maher-shalal-hash-baz is translated as “swift is the booty, speedy is the prey”. SO in both places it’s referring to the same “name”. This is from Isaiah chapter 8, which is the chapter AFTER the prophecy of the Messiah, so it wasn’t at random that John chose this bizarre example. Side Note: It is interesting to me that he goes into depth to point out that Christ’s appearance is an event worth naming like this. The very fact that God had come among men was a HUGE deal in early christian theology (something I think is somewhat muted in modern protestant teaching). It was just as much his birth as a human that saved us as it was his death. Christ didn’t come to save us from an angry God, he came to bridge the divide that sin created, separating us from our Creator. Only by coming to OUR level could that gap be closed allowing Creator and creation to come close to one another again.]

4. But if that does trip them up, they will likely find another argument, namely, the virginity of Mary and the translation of that scripture. They will object that the word “virgin” is used but that it SHOULD be rendered “young woman”. First off I will say, that the Seventy translators of the Septuagint were uniquely qualified to render their translation. [*] This objection is made by people who have rejected Christianity and continued in their own traditions. To me this makes it reasonable to assume they would have some animosity towards this prophecy being true. Whereas the Seventy who originally translated this from Hebrew into Greek did it more than 100 years before Christs birth. The fact that Seventy separate translators translated the same word a century before the event in question clears them of any suspicion and makes their translation trustworthy. [ * The Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament commissioned 100-300 years before Christs birth. By the time of Christ it was heavily used because most of the Jews (living as an occupied nation) would have read (if they could) and spoken Greek. According to Jewish tradition there were 70 translators who did the work, these are the seventy John is referring here to. ]

But even if we ignored the argument about translation, we would still be correct in attesting to Mary’s virginity. Often in Scripture you will see the words for “youth” used for “virginity” in relation to women and men as well. For example “Young men and maidens together, old men and children” Psalms 148:12 RSV and again talking about a women under attack, “though the betrothed young woman cried for help” Deuteronomy 22:27 , both referring to a virgin.

Everything written before this also establishes our interpretation. Because the angel did not simply say “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son” but first said “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign” and THEN adds “a virgin will be with child” Isaiah 7:14. What kind of sign would this be if Mary was not a virgin and was pregnant by natural means? For something to be considered a sign an event (by definition) needs to be extraordinary or unnatural, how else would it be a sign?

5. “And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” Do you see how Joseph was humble and obeyed the Lords command? Here you see a soul truly awakened, incorruptible in any respect. At first, suspecting something was amiss and being in great pain he could not bear to keep Mary with him. But after, when he was free of any suspicion he could not bear to cast her out, but rather keeps her in his home and cares for her the rest of his life.

“and (he) took Mary as his wife” Matthew 1:24 Take note of how the author continually uses the word “wife”, not yet willing to disclose the mystery. So Joseph went ahead and married her (as the Lord had commanded) “but (he) kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son”. Matthew 1:25 Here the author uses the word “until”, not intending that you think she and Joseph were intimate with each other after the birth, but only to inform the reader that she was untouched before the birth. But why use the word “until”? Because it is a customary phrase often used in Scripture, and not necessarily always in instances that referred to some kind of limit. For example, in the story of Noah’s Ark it was written “The raven did not return until the earth was dried up” and even then it did not return. [*] When the Scripture speaks about God as well it says “From age until Age You are” which clearly means that He exists without end. Again when prophesying about the Gospel “In his days may the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace till the moon is no more”, again signifying a period without end. So here again, it uses the word “till” to make it clear of Mary’s condition up to the birth but leaves it to the reader to understand and infer what happens afterwards. Christ himself inspired the prophets to write what was necessary for us to know of Him, that He would be born of a virgin but no more. Joseph, being a righteous man, would not have sullied the honors bestowed on her, with the relations between a man and wife. If Joseph had indulged his right as a husband, and she bore children to him, why would Jesus himself have committed her to the care of one of his disciples, asking him to take Mary into his own home [**]?

[* Again here we run into a minor difference in translations, but the root words are all the same. The short explanation is this is a form of colloquialism or a phrase that was common in that time. The idea that this phrase can mean indefinite amounts of time is what John is trying to stress with these examples. ** Again he mentions Jesus committing Mary to the care of John. By Jewish law the oldest living male child would be responsible to care for their mother. If Jesus had any biological siblings one of them would have been required to care for their mother. One of the last acts before his death was to ensure his mother would be taken care of and not end up a beggar. These examples coupled with the explanation in the prior section form a cohesive argument for the Virginity of Mary and her place of honor in the early Church ]

If all this is true then you may ask why James and others called Jesus’s brothers? This was done for the same reason Joseph was passed off as Mary’s husband. In many ways things were concealed so that the circumstances of Christ’s birth could be kept hidden for awhile. This was so effective that John tells us “For not even His brothers were believing in Him”.

6. Despite all this, the people who at first did not believe in Him, came to believe and became admirable, even illustrious. When Paul and his companions came to Jerusalem, right away they went to meet with James who had been entrusted with the office of bishop. It is said that James was so sternly ascetic that at times it seemed as if his limbs were dead because he was down on the ground praying constantly. His forehead became so calloused that it looked like a camels knee from striking it against the ground continually during prayer. This is the man who instructed Paul himself by saying “Do you see brother, how many thousands there are that have come together”. His wisdom and zeal were a great testament to the power of Christ that had transformed him. For the ones who mocked Christ when he was alive, were so filled with reverence after His death that they were ready and willing to die for His sake. These things above all show the power of Christ’s resurrection. This is why so many of the glorious things were hidden until afterwards, that their proof would be indisputable. Think about the people among us who are admired in this life, when they are gone they are quickly forgotten. But how is it that the ones who did not take this Man seriously, when He was gone, proclaimed Him to be God if he was just an average man (or even a good man)? Why would they consent to be slain for His sake, unless they believed in His resurrection because of clear proof they were given?

7. I tell you all these things, so that you will not only hear them but imitate James serious nature, his plain method of speech and his righteousness in all things. Do not let anyone despair if they have a sinful past but after Gods mercy let them set their hopes on nothing else but their own virtue. If these renowned men gained nothing based on their own lineage alongside Christ until they had proved their own virtue, what favor can we possibly receive when we point out our own kindred lineage unless we are extremely dutiful and have lived in virtue? The prophet said the same thing, “No man can by any means redeem his brother Or give to God a ransom for him”. Not even if it is Moses, Samuel or Jeremiah that you are descended from. For Example listen to what God said about those prophets, “As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you”. Why do you wonder why He would not listen to you? “Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would not be with this people”. Even if Ezekiel were the one entreating him the Lord would says even to him “even though Noah, Daniel and Job were in its midst, as I live, they could not deliver either their son or their daughter”. The Lord ignores the supplications of Abraham himself interceding for his people who were suffering with incurable disease because they would not change from their evil ways. He does not listen to Samuel when He tells him “Mourn not for Saul”. Even if it is for your own sister, if it is not fitting you will get the same answer as Moses “If her father had spit in her face” [ So this whole section seemed a bit odd to me and hard to understand. I think the point he is trying to make here is that we are all responsible for our own spiritual condition. He gives many examples of people in the old testament that tried to intercede for someone who was reprobate and unrepentant. We cannot rely on the prayers of anyone to affect change in ourselves, we have to take responsibility and seek Christ each one for themselves. The last quote is the strangest without any context. Miriam (Moses’s sister) complained about Moses (and God) and was punished for it. Even her high status did not grant her any special privileges. You can read the whole story in Numbers chapter 12. ]

So do not go around looking for people to save as if we can do it on our own. While it’s true that the prayers of the saints have great power, but it is contingent on our repentance and change of action. Even Moses, who rescued his own brother and six hundred thousand Hebrews from the wrath of God had no power to save his own sister. Her sin however, was not equal to the Hebrews infraction, what she had done was against Moses, but the other was against God himself. I will leave this for you to contemplate, while I move on to something even more challenging to explain.

Why should we try to puzzle out the story of his sister when Moses himself serves an even better example? Since Moses, who stood as an advocate for an entire nation, after countless toils, sufferings and paid detailed attention to his flock for forty years was not allowed to set foot in the promised land. What could the reason be for this? To grant this blessing to Moses would have brought harm and even become a stumbling block to the Hebrew people. If they were willing to forsake God and give that glory to Moses, looking to him as a god, after only having been delivered from Egypt what blasphemy might they they have indulged in if he had led them into the promised land? Also (I would add) this is why the location of his final resting place was unknown to them.

As for Samuel, he was unable to save Saul from divine wrath, but many times his efforts preserved the Israelites. Jeremiah did not prevail on behalf of his own people but others he saved from evil by his prophecies. Daniel saved his captors from slaughter but was unable to deliver his own people from their captivity.

In the Gospels as well we see an example of this with the debtor and also the prodigal son. The debtor who owed the ten thousand talents [*], even though he had saved himself by entreating the ruler for his own sake the first time, but failed the second time because of his hard hardheartedness. On the contrary the son who threw away his inheritance and had sunk so low found himself able to help himself immensely due to his humility. [*I always imagined a talent to be worth about a dollar (or some such exchange rate). I was very wrong. A talent in ancient Rome was a measure of gold roughly equal to about 73 pounds. Why you would need a unit that heavy for gold IDK but that is what it was. At today’s price of gold (about $2k an ounce) that is roughly twenty two billion dollars. This is not just a huge debt he owed, it was literally an impossible sum to repay. ]

So on one hand, if we are careless, we will not be able to obtain salvation, not even with the help of others. But on the other hand, if we are careful we will be able to stay the course to salvation on our own, not relying on others. God is certainly more willing to extend His grace to us directly than trying to bless us indirectly through others. We become better people and enjoy greater confidence towards Him when we endeavor ourselves to assuage his wrath. This is why He had pity on the Canaanitish woman, saved the harlot and the thief, when there was no one to mediate or advocate for them.

8. I do not say this to discourage you from supplicating the saints [*], but to discourage carelessness or pushing your concerns onto others while laying back and do nothing yourself. This is shown when Jesus said ” make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness” [*] (by which he meant alms-giving) so that the good word is your own. The marvelous thing about this is that He does not hold us to strict rule if we turn away from injustice. Essentially He says, “If you have gained wealth by exploiting others, then spend it to help people. If you have acquired material gain through unrighteousness then spread it to your brethren in righteousness”. But what kind of virtue is that, to give from such methods? God however, overflowing with love for us, condescends even to this method of doing good, promising us many good things as a result of doing it. But we are so selfish and unfeeling that we don’t even do this, to give out of our unjust gain. While we plunder our fellow man without end, if we give even a tiny bit, we think we have done our full duty. Have you not heard Paul say “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly”? So why are you so miserly? Is this a great effort or unreasonable cost? Certainly not I say, this effort results in a profitable and lasting merchandise. Because with merchandise there comes profit, and where things are sown, it’s fruit is reaped. When you find a rich and fertile field to farm and have to spend every penny you have, even borrowing from others to purchase it, you consider it a hardship. But when it is your reward Heaven that you are trying to cultivate, which is safe from spoilage or damage, and will certainly repay with an immense increase, you are slow and stubborn to work. You do not take time to consider that by being stingy you will suffer loss, and by being generous you will reap greater reward.

9. So if you do not want to lose out on your reward, give generously to all. Give, so that you may receive. Relinquish, so you will have something to save. If you want treasure to hoard, do not hoard your treasures. Cast it away and entrust it to God, then no will be able to steal or damage it. Do not spend your time and effort trying to get wealth or profit, because you don’t know what is truly profitable but give to the one who returns interest greater than what was given. Put your effort towards things that have no envy, accusation, evil design or fear. God has no need for your money, but for the sake of your own soul asks you to give. The God who feeds all men, suffers hunger so that you will not starve. He is poor, so that you will become rich. Lend your money to Heaven, where the return is not subject to death but is life itself. This investment foretells a kingdom to come, one of Heaven and the other of Hell. One brought about by covetousness, the other self denial; on is born of cruelty, the other of humanity. What will be our excuse for passing over the reward that is within our grasp to receive in due season? Instead we seek after the base and vile rewards of this world, insecure and perishable as they are, serving only as kindling for the furnace set up for us. Nothing, no nothing is lower than the rewards of this world, nothing is more cruel. A person who seeks after these things profits from others distress, demanding payment for his kindness, as if he is afraid to seem merciful. He thinks himself kind but is digging a pitfall for himself, humiliating others because of their poverty. The act of reaching out with his hand to help actually is pushing the other down, harming them instead of helping.

“what are you asking of us, that we should give what is rightfully ours to others and expect no repayment?” someone might ask. I will reply, not at all! I earnestly desire that you be repaid, but not with a small reward like money, but with something far greater. I desire that you are receive Heaven itself as your reward. Why then would you keep yourself in poverty, crawling along the earth demanding earthly rewards? This is the action of someone who does not know how to be rich. In return for a little money God is offering the good things that are in Heaven but like someone who wishes to remain impoverished you say to Him, “Do not give me Heaven, but instead the perishable wealth of this world”. Certainly someone who desires to build wealth will choose investments that are lasting and long term, rather than something that will deplete and vanish. He will choose more over less, incorruptible over corruptible. As for the one who seeks earthly things over Heaven, he will surely loose the earth as well, but the one who prefers Heaven to earth will enjoy both abundantly. So let us be the type to despise the things of earth and choose the good things to come. In this way we will obtain both, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ; to whom be glory and might for ever and ever. Amen

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