The Threshing Floor: a word from an early church leader

While studying for my message at Eastbrook from this past weekend, “The Voice of One Calling Out,” I came across these words by an anonymous church father from homily 3 of an incomplete work on Matthew that I found both illuminating and challenging. They are a commentary on the final words from John the Baptist’s message in Matthew 3:12: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

The threshing floor is the church, the barn is the kingdom of heaven, and the field is the world. Therefore, like the head of the household who sends out reapers to mow down the stalks in the field and bring them to the threshing floor that he may thresh and winnow them there and separate the wheat from the chaff, the Lord sends out his apostles and other teachers as reapers. He will cut down all the people in the world and gather them onto the threshing floor of the church, where we are to be threshed at one point and then winnowed.

As the grain of wheat enclosed in the chaff cannot escaped unless it has been threshed, so too it is hard for one to escape worldly encumbrances and carnal affairs while one is enclosed in the chaff, unless one has been shaken by some hardship. Note that once the full grain has been slightly shaken it sheds its chaff. If it is flimsy, it takes longer to escape. If it is empty, it never emerges but is ground in in its chaff and then thrown out with the chaff. In this way, all who take delight in carnal things will be like the grain and the chaff. But one who is faithful and has a good heart, once he experiences adversity, disregards those things that are carnal and hastens to God. If he has been somewhat unfaithful, however, only with great difficulty will he go back to God. As for him who is unfaithful and empty, though he may be sorry of his circumstances, like empty grain he will emerge from the chaff—he will never leave carnal things or worldly encumbrances behind, nor will he go over to God. Rather, he will be ground up with the things that are evil and thus be cast out with the unfaithful like the chaff.

[Anonymous, Incomplete work on Matthew, Homily 3, from Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 48.]

Don’t be Troubled by Dangers: an exhortation from John Chrysostom

Titian, Flight into Egypt; Oil on canvas; c. 1508.

While studying for my message at Eastbrook from this past weekend, “Refugee Messiah,” I came across these words by St. John Chrysostom from homily 8.2 on the Gospel of Matthew that were very encouraging in these days.

But why was the Christ child sent into Egypt? The text makes this clear: he was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” From that point onward we see that the hope of salvation would be proclaimed to the whole world. Babylon and Egypt represent the whole world. Even when they were engulfed in ungodliness, God signified that he intended to correct and amend both Babylon and Egypt. God wanted humanity to expect his bounteous gifts the world over. So he called from Babylon the wise men and sent to Egypt the holy family.

Besides what I have said, there is another lesson also to be learned, which tends powerfully toward true self-constraint in us. We are warned from the beginning to look out for temptations and plots. And we see this even when he came in swaddling clothes. Thus you see even at his birth a tyrant raging, a flight ensuing and a departure beyond the border. For it was because of no crime that his family was exiled into the land of Egypt.

Similarly, you yourself need not be troubled if you are suffering countless dangers. Do not expect to be celebrated or crowned promptly for your troubles. Instead you may keep in mind the long-suffering example of the mother of the Child, bearing all things nobly, knowing that such a fugitive life is consistent with the ordering of spiritual things. You are sharing the kind of labor Mary herself shared. So did the magi. They both were willing to retire secretly in the humiliating role of fugitive.

[John Chrysostom, Gospel of Matthew, Homily 8.2 from Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 31.]

The Simple Mystery of the Conception: a word from John Chrysostom

I came across this excerpt from a sermon by St. John Chrysostom that illuminated something Kelly and I could not address in our recent message on Mary at Eastbrook Church. Chrysostom was one of the most significant preachers in the history of the church and a powerful voice in the 4th and 5th centuries. This excerpt is taken from Homily 4 on the Gospel of Matthew.

Do not speculate beyond the text. Do not require of it something more than what it simply says. Do not ask, “But precisely how was it that the Spirit accomplished this in a virgin?” For even when nature is at work, it is impossible fully to explain the manner of the formation of the person. How then, when the Spirit is accomplishing miracles, shall we be able to express their precise causes? Lest you should weary the writer or disturb him by continually probing beyond what he says, he has indicated who it was that produced the miracle. He then withdraws from further comment. “I know nothing more,” he in effect says, “but that what was done was the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Shame on those who attempt to pry into the miracle of generation from on high! For this birth can by no means be explained, yet it has witnesses beyond number and has been proclaimed from ancient times as a real birth handled with human hands. What kind of extreme madness afflicts those who busy themselves by curiously prying into the unutterable generation? For neither Gabriel nor Matthew was able to say anything more, but only that the generation was from the Spirit. But how from the Spirit? In what manner? Neither Gabriel nor Matthew has explained, nor is it possible.

Do not imagine that you have untangled the mystery merely by hearing that this is the work of the Spirit. For we remain ignorant of many things, even while learning of them. So how could the infinite One reside in a womb? How could he that contains all be carried as yet unborn by a woman? How could the Virgin bear and continue to be a virgin? Explain to me how the Spirit designed the temple of his body.

[John Chrysostom, Gospel of Matthew, Homily 4.3 from Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 12-13.]

Bibliography for Family Tree series

When I conclude a sermon series, I usually share resources I utilized in my study and preparation for sermons. Here is the bibliography for our recent series, “Family Tree,” which is the first part of an extended walk through the Gospel of Matthew and focused on Matthew, chapters 1-2.

Bibliography for “Family Tree”

Darrell L. Bock. Luke 1:1-9:50. Baker Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994.

Jeannine K. Brown and Kyle Roberts. Matthew. The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018.

Raymond E. Brown. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1977.

John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew. NPNF, series 1, vol. 10. Edited by Philip Schaff. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004.

R. T. France. The Gospel of Matthew. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007.

D. S. Huffman. “Genealogy.” In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, 253-259. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Craig S. Keener. Matthew. IVPNTC. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997.

Scot McKnight. “Matthew, Gospel of.” In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, 526-541. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

C. J. Martin. “Mary’s Song.” In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, 525-526. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Manlio Simonetti, editor. Matthew 1-13. ACCS. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001.

Ben Witherington III. “Birth of Jesus.” In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, 60-74. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

N. T. Wright. The New Testament and the People of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 1. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992.

Joseph’s Inward Musing: a word from the ancient church

“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly….he…considered this” (Matthew 1:19-20)

When studying for my message on Joseph this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I stumbled upon this excerpt from a sermon by an anonymous church leader in the early church. The way that he speculates on the thinking of Joseph about Mary’s situation was enlightening. This excerpt is taken from an incomplete work on the Matthew, Homily 1.

Perhaps Joseph thought within himself: If I should conceal her sin, I would be acting against God’s law, and if I should publicize it to the sons of Israel, they would stone her. I fear that what is in her womb is of divine intervention. Didn’t Sarah conceive when she was ninety years of age and bring forth a child? If God caused that woman who was like dry wood to flower, what if the Godhead wanted to cause Mary to bear a child without the aid of a man?

Does the conception of a woman depend on a man? If the conception of a woman depends always on a man, doubtless when a man so desires, the woman will conceive. But in this case it is not when the man so desires that the woman conceives but when God so desires. Therefore, if a woman’s conception does not depend on a man but on God, what is so incredible if God should wish to give her offspring without a man?

What shall I do then? I will put her away secretly because it is better in an uncertain matter that a known prostitute should get off free than that an innocent person should die. It is indeed more just that an unjust person should escape justly than that a just person should die unjustly. If a guilty person should escape once, he can die another time. But if an innocent person should die once, he cannot be brought back.

Anonymous, Incomplete Works on Matthew, Homily 1, from Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 12-13.