NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Part IV (Con’t)
An early church writer named Epiphanius. who was acclaimed as the author of a Latin text titled “Interpretation of the Gospels,” points out that in the text where Jesus refers to the people gladly receiving His message like “children,” is not referring to them in terms of age but in reference to their understanding of what is right and wrong.1 It shows how much more open-mindedness there was among ordinary people than the highly educated scribes and Pharisees. Today, for some reason, pastors and ministers get excited when they talk about some sophisticated, refined person turning to the Gospel and receiving the Word as true and a revelation of God, but respond to the news of an average individual converting as being ho-hum. Jesus focused on those whose hearts and minds were open regardless of their status in society, whether they be like Nicodemus or the woman at the well in Samaria and so should we.
The disciples probably did not fully comprehend how blessed and favored they were to have the very Son of God as their teacher. But our Lord expresses joy that not everyone could look inside God’s mind and interpret everything they saw based on their limited understanding. “Yes, Father, I am so grateful that it was Your idea to do so.’” Here our Lord does something similar to what He did at Lazarus’ grave, where after instructing those around Him as to why He came, He looked up to heaven and prayed before calling Lazarus from the tomb.2
Daniel also faced those who did not understand the God he served, and he too said: “He knows hidden secrets that are hard to understand. Light lives with Him, so He knows what is in the dark and secret places. God of my ancestors, I thank you and praise you. You gave me wisdom and power. You told us what we asked for.”3 Isaiah had another way of describing these know-it-alls: “Look at those people! They say good is bad and bad is good. They think light is dark and dark is light. They think sour is sweet and sweet is sour. They think they are so smart. They think they are very intelligent.”4
But Jesus was also thankful that His Father was gracious enough to give insight to His disciples, whom He likened to little children when it came to understanding spiritual things. But most of all, our Lord was so grateful that His Father decided to do this on His own, not because His Son had to beg Him for it. This shows the generous and gracious mind of our Father in Heaven. I’m sure that for every blessing that He has given us as a result of our asking, the blessings He has bestowed on us without asking are probably a dozen-to-one more.
This reliance on God to always do the right thing was intrinsic in the Jewish mind, and reflected in their prayers. For instance, we read in one prayer: “I know that Your decrees, though hard to bear, are meant for good and not evil.”5 And it was important that God approve of what they said or did. In another prayer it goes: “Help us as we spend this month in reverence to You and in the love of our fellowman, and do so in order that our way may be pleasing in Your sight.”6 So when the followers heard Jesus express Himself this way, they understood that this was a legitimate part of how dedicated people prayed.
One early church scholar puts it this way: “Jesus does not say why it was so pleasing to Him but only gives thanks to the Father, because it was so pleasing to Him. So also we should never discuss God’s designs, what He did in His works or why He did so. But in whatever way God so wished to arrange His own creation, let our thanksgiving be sufficient as evidence in regard to the very nature of God. God does nothing without reason and justice. He did not created us that we should examine Him but for His own honor. God does not want us to be a judge of His actions but a servant of His commands. It is characteristic of a good master to foresee everything that concerns the benefit of the servant. Moreover, it is characteristic of a good servant to work faithfully and not to discuss the master’s intentions.”7
So it is when we examine, study and attempt to explain why God wrote what He did in His Word. It is not our lot to look at all the reasons why God did what He did, unless He Himself gives the explanation. He sees from eternity past to eternity future and we see only yesterday and wonder about tomorrow. Rather, we should accept what He did as something being done by the best, and something no human could ever duplicate in the same fashion. So we should marvel at God’s deeds, not mumble about them.
Verse 27: My Father has shared everything with me. No one has a deeper understanding of the Son—only the Father can fathom the Son. And no one has a deep understanding of the Father—only the Son can fathom the Father. And the only people who will really get to know the Father are those the Son chooses to tell.
After His heart-felt prayer, Jesus looks back at His disciples and explains. This was more than sharing a family recipe, this was the revelation of hidden truths; things that God had never announced before in such a manner. Jesus was trying to tell His disciples that His Father had wanted these things known, but decided to deliver them through His Son. This was not like the prophets to whom God spoke and then went out and told what had been revealed to them, this was the Father’s only Son who was with Him before the beginning of the world. Jews always believed that constant communion with God was a sure way to understand more of His secrets. It is amazing that they did not listen to His Son.
Early church father Jerome capsulizes it this way: “The Father entrusts. The Son receives.”8 To this we might add, “and the Son then gives.” And what is it that the Father confers and the Son passes on to us? It is personal access to the Father through the Son given to those who were formerly rebellious but now have come to know the Father by way of the Son. Is Jesus then the door to the Father? Yes, because we cannot get to the Father except through Him. In our modern times we can look at it this way: when you use your computer to go online to a specific application, you must have a password. Without that password you cannot get in. In the same way, “Jesus” is our password in order to get access to the Father. After all, that’s what Jesus said: “Ask the Father in my name.”9
But there was also an accompanying blessing in getting to understand God’s message, and that was the peace of mind and tranquility of the soul it brought to the believer through redeeming grace. To the Jews this was illustrated by the dove that Noah released from the ark after the rain stopped, who could find no rest of its feet and so it kept returning. But once it found something to stand on above the flood waters, it never returned. So it is that many have tried to find rest in God the Father but could not achieve the peace they sought until they met His Son, then they received peace that was almost too good to believe.10
So the soul searches for some blessed assurance so it can relax and find peace. One Jewish writer put it this way: “Originally man was on a high intellectual level with God. Subsequently, after the sin, he was comparable to a blind person. In spite of this drastic demotion, God took pity on them, accepting their repentance, and dressing them, relieving them of their nakedness and the anxiety it brought.”11 In other words, all that was lost in the Garden of Eden was restored in the Garden of Gethsemane when our Lord prayed, “Father, not my will but Your will be done.”12
Early church father, Chrysostom, says that to those who were not familiar with the relationship between the Father in heaven and His Son Jesus here on earth, may not see the connection. But in Chrysostom’s mind, “In this Jesus is quietly signifying His great privilege of knowing the Father and being of the same substance with Him, He being the only One who knows the Father so intimately. Note the timing and context in which Jesus said this. It was just after He had worked miracles and the disciples of John the Baptizer had received proof of His might by His works. He then thanks the Father that ‘that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes.‘”13
For another early church father, he feels that it is important that we understand what is being said here. He writes: “Jesus added this in order to show that His nature is indescribable and inconceivable, like the Father’s. For only the divine nature of the Trinity comprehends itself. Only the Father knows His own Son, the fruit of His own substance. Only the divine Son recognizes the One by whom He has been begotten. Only the Holy Spirit knows the deep things of God, the thought of the Father and the Son.”14 No wonder then why Jesus was so insistent that His disciples comprehend what He is saying so that once He is gone they can take comfort in having the Holy Spirit lead and guide them.
Now this brings up the question: why are there so many today trying to get to God without going through His Son? Why do they attempt to understand the deeper things of the Father without studying and assimilating the truths revealed by His Son? Why do they go to the Father for help and guidance, for healing and strength using some other name than the name of Jesus His Son? Once they understand this truth, it will also help them realize why their prayers and requests are not being answered.
1 Epiphanius the Latin: Interpretation of the Gospels, 26
2 See John 11:41-43
3 Daniel 2:22-23
4 Isaiah 5:20-21
5 The Union Prater-Book for Jewish Worship, Silent Prayers, The Central Conference of American Rabbis, Part I, Cincinnati 1895, Prayer in Times of Affliction, p. 12
6 Ibid., Morning Service for the Sabbath, Prayers for Special Occasion, Announcement of the New Moon, p. 98
7 Anonymous: Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily 28
8 Jerome: Commentary on Matthew, Vol. 2, Ch 11:27
9 See John 16:23
10 See John 14:27; Philippians 4:7
11 Tzror Hamor, op., cit., Genesis 3:20-21 Bereshith, p. 103
13 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 38:2
14 Cyril of Alexandria: Commentary fragment 148