"The Unquarrelling Conqueror"
(Delivered Sunday, June 25, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
We come today to a passage in Matthew's Gospel that would be easy to pass by. At first glance, it might leave you wondering why it was included. But on closer examination, it proves to be one of the most important passages in this Gospel narrative. In fact, I believe it expresses the very heart of Matthew's Gospel. It reveals truths about the character of Lord Jesus Christ, and of the mission that He fulfilled, that are both vital and remarkable.
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The setting for these words is very important to take into account. They come in a central place in Matthew's telling of the Gospel story; and particularly at the time when opposition to our Savior's message and ministry was mounting.
Jesus had just healed a man on the Sabbath in the synagogue (vv. 9-13). Prior to that point, He had been approached by the Pharisees because He and His disciples had walked through a grain field, and had rubbed heads of grain together in their hands and ate—thus, in the view of the Pharisees, breaking the Sabbath. At that time, Jesus told the Pharisees that He Himself was the Lord of the Sabbath. He presented Himself as the one who had authority even over the Sabbath day. And now, He has proven His authority by the fact that He has healed a man on the Sabbath in the very synagogue of the Pharisees.
And so, in verse 14, we read, “Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.” The fact that He had healed a man and ended the man's suffering meant nothing to them. The only thing that mattered to them was the fact that Jesus did so on the Sabbath day—and thereby violating their rules about the keeping of God's day of rest. (I stress that they were “their” rules—not God's.)
So; the opposition against Jesus was growing in earnest. It was taking a deadly turn. The Pharisees and religious leaders had set into motion plans to destroy Him—plans that would eventually lead to His crucifixion. And it's then that we find this very unusual—seemingly unimportant insertion into the story:
The importance of this passage is in that it tells us the character of our Savior's ministry which is being described by Matthew throughout his Gospel. It helps us understand why Jesus—for much of His earthly ministry—kept distant from the Jewish leaders who opposed Him. In Matthew's story, Jesus doesn't go to Jerusalem until chapter 21—and even then, it was in order to submit Himself to death on the cross. Even though a great and powerful multitude of people followed Jesus, He nevertheless didn't come to fight and do battle with the religious leaders of the day. He did not come to do battle with those who opposed Him. Instead, He came to teach the truths about His Father's kingdom to those who would hear Him, and then die on the cross so that sinners may become citizens of that kingdom.
But this passage also proves something else about Jesus. In it, Matthew reminds us that—long before Jesus came—God told the people of Israel what kind of a Messiah He would be. And here, Matthew gives proof that Jesus came and fulfilled the kind of ministry that God said He would—and did so in the very manner that the Scriptures promised.
Matthew—who wrote His Gospel primarily to Jewish readers—was proving that even though the Jewish people rejected Jesus, He truly was the Messiah that the Scriptures promised He would be. His manner toward those who opposed Him revealed His true nature as the Messiah sent from God, and sets the tone for what Matthew then goes on to tell us in the rest of His Gospel.
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Look, first, at what this passage tells us of . . .
1. HIS MANNER TOWARD THOSE WHO OPPOSED HIM (vv. 14-16).
The manner of our Savior toward His opponents, as it is found throughout the Gospel accounts, is a fascinating thing to think about. We read in John's Gospel that, when He was arrested in the garden, He asked the Roman soldiers who they were seeking; and when they said, “Jesus of Nazareth,” He said, “I am He”—and they drew back and fell to the ground (John 18:4-6). They then, of course, got up and arrested Him; but what a subtle display of His power that was! He surely could have spoke the word, and left those who came to arrest Him all flat on the ground to stay there—or worse! But He didn't.
Or consider how, when Simon Peter—seeking to defend the Lord—drew out a sword and attacked the servant of the high priest. Jesus stopped Peter; and said “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:52-53). We read in the scriptures of the Old Testament that just one angel alone was able to kill 185,000 soldiers of the Assyrian army (2 Kings 19:35)! What could twelve legions of angels do?
If it had been the Savior's will, He could have called for a large army of indescribably mighty angels to come pouring out of heaven to His aid. And we can be sure that they were all standing at attention—swords drawn, and eagerly poised to come rushing to earth at His command. But He did not issue any such command. Instead, the almighty King of heavenly glory refrained from calling for His angelic army; and instead meekly allowed Himself to be taken captive. He even rebuked Peter for trying to prevent His arrest; and asked him, “How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” (v. 54).
Or think back to all the times when the Pharisees and Sadducees and religious leaders sought to trap Jesus in His words. He could have made such ridiculous fools out of them that they would have been the utter shame and mock of all the people around them. In fact, let's be perfectly honest: As the Son of God, it would have been in His power to simply speak the word and cause them to fall over dead. That would have ended all opposition then and there! But instead, our Savior answered their question in such a way as to not only reveal their folly, but also to allow them the freedom to walk away—either to repent or to plot against Him at a future date.
Clearly, Jesus didn't come into this world to fight people. He didn't come as the people of Israel expected the Messiah to come—that is, as a mighty, conquering warrior whose armor was shiny and whose sword was drawn. He didn't come to call a people to Himself that He would make into an aggressive conquering army that could overwhelm the nations by force. He very easily could have; but He didn't. Instead, He taught the truths of the kingdom in a meek and lowly manner; and eventually died on the cross as a suffering Savior.
But note well that, as a result of His quiet, consistent procession along the path of obedience that His Father called Him to, He brought about eternal victory for us all.
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Look at what we see in this passage. We're told that the Pharisees went out to plot against Him, “how they might destroy Him.” And Matthew tells us, “But when Jesus knew it . . .” Apparently, the news of this plot was brought to His attention. The Greek word that is used suggests that it was something He learned. It may have been that someone told Him about it along the way. And yet, we don't read that, in response, He spoke the word and sent the angels to slay His enemies. We don't read that He simply willed that their hearts stop beating, or their lungs to stop breathing, and that they all fall over dead. Instead, we're simply told that “He withdrew from there”.
We know that Jesus' withdraw was not as an effort to run and hide. We know that isn't the case, because we're next told that “great multitudes followed Him”. How could a man “hide” with a great multitude following Him? Rather, He was simply doing what He had told His disciples to do earlier: “And whoever will not receive nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet” (Matthew 10:14). To shake the dust off was, in effect, to say, “If you don't want or Lord or His message, then we will leave peacefully and completely. We will not even take your dust with us.” Or again, later on, He told them, “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another” (v. 23). And so here, He was simply modeling to His disciples what He taught them to do. He simply moved on.
Jesus didn't stay to fight with those who opposed Him; but instead peacefully, calmly departed from wherever it was that He was not welcomed. Now, that doesn't mean that He didn't also speak the truth to those who rejected Him. In the previous chapter, we're told that He told those who rejected His message, “Woe to you . . .” (Matthew 11:21-24). He was honest with those who rejected Him; and let them know that in rejecting Him, they were embracing eternal loss. But He allowed them to choose. He didn't force Himself on anyone. He didn't do battle with those who opposed Him. He simply left.
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And then, notice that we're told that “great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all.” That's fascinating, isn't it? The opposition He received from the Pharisees over the fact that He healed a man on the Sabbath resulted in even greater numbers following Him—and in Him healing a whole multitude of people! He left from those who didn't want Him; but He made sure to gather to Himself those who did.
But look at what else it says: “Yet He warned them [that is, those He healed] not to make Him known.” Though He healed the multitudes, He didn't want it to be made manifest that He did so. In fact, He strongly admonished them not to make Him known.
There might have been some practical reasons for this. He might have wanted to avoid having even greater multitudes come to Him—multitudes so great that He could no longer move about. Or, He might have wished to avoid any additional and unnecessary conflicts with the Pharisees. It may be that He wanted to prevent any distraction from His message—not wanting people to focus on the healings instead of on His teachings concerning the kingdom. It could be that He wanted to discourage any misguided 'messianic' expectations and enthusiasms that would distract from His intention to eventually go to the cross. It may even have been that He didn't want the ministry of the Holy Spirit—as revealed through the miracle of healings—to be dishonored by those who opposed Him; since, as we will see, the very next thing that happened in Matthew's Gospel was that the Pharisees dared to attribute His healing work to the power of the devil (vv. 22-24).
All of these things may have been possible. But the clearest reason—the reason that Matthew, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit gives to us—for why Jesus warned the people not to make Him known, is told to us in verse 17: “. . . that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet . . .” In other words, Jesus' great concern was that the Scripture might be fulfilled; which tells us that He did not come to fight or quarrel; but that He would come as a meek and humble “Servant”.
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Dear brother or sister; Jesus not only faithfully obeyed the Father's will, and kept true to the prophetic Scriptures concerning His earthly ministry; but He also set an example for you and me to follow. He did not come into this world to be a brawler and a fighter—although it would have been in His power to do so . . . and to win! He didn't come to make fools of His opponents—although He most certainly could have! He didn't come to shout and cry in the streets in a hostile way—although it would have been certain that He would have been heard like no one else would be heard! But the fact is that He came for none of those reasons.
Rather, He came to proclaim a message—that the kingdom of God was at hand; and then, to fulfill His ministry as an atoning sacrifice in such a way as to make it possible for sinners to enter into that kingdom. If His message wasn't welcomed, He didn't fight about it. He simply moved on from those who didn't want Him, and went instead to those who would receive Him—confident that His task was the decree of His sovereign Father, and that it would succeed.
And that's how we are to operate. In 2 Timothy 2:23-26, the apostle Paul wrote instructions to Pastor Timothy; and he told him to stand strong in the faith and to guard his own life of holiness and purity;
He told his ministry-colleague Titus to teach this to the people under his care:
Sometimes as Christians, we think that it's our duty to “fight the good fight of faith” by fighting people! And there's no doubt about it; we are called to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). But as Paul said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ . . .” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Our battles are not against people, but against ideas, and beliefs, and philosophies that have their origin in the lies of the devil. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” as Paul says elsewhere, “but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
We sometimes think that—when our faith is opposed viciously by the people of this world—we are to, as it were, 'fight fire with fire' in our efforts to advance the kingdom of Christ. If we are treated aggressively, then we think that we must be aggressive in return. But the apostle James warns us, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). We sometimes think that we are to combat the wisdom of this world by aggressively making fools of those who hold to it; but James tells us that “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). And I especially appreciate what James says next: “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (v. 18).
We are not to fight with people. We are, instead, to faithfully proclaim the truth of the gospel—and live lives of holiness that adorn that truth—and, when our message is rejected, we move on. And when we are persecuted for it, leave it to God to take care of it. This—I believe—is what the Book of Revelation means when it speaks of “the patience [or endurance] and the faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:10).
Jesus said, “[L]ove your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you . . .” (Matthew 5:44). That was the manner our Lord exhibited toward those who opposed Him. And when we are opposed because of Him, let it be our manner too.
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But Matthew makes it clear in this passage that there was something greater in view than just the manner of Jesus toward those who opposed Him. We also see . . .
2. HOW THIS FULFILLED PROPHETIC PROMISES ABOUT HIM (vv. 17-21).
Matthew goes on to quote from Isaiah 42:1-4. This, by the way, is the longest quote from a single Old Testament passage in all of the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew's quote is a little different from the way this passage reads in Isaiah. It may have been a loose quotation—influenced somewhat by the Greek translation of Matthew's day; or it may have been that the Holy Spirit led Matthew to quote it in such a way as to stress the prophetic significance of it. But it is given to us here—right at the very heart of the Gospel of Matthew—in order to show that this is who Jesus is, and that this is why it was that He came.
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We shouldn't ignore the first thing that this passage tells us. It tells us to “Behold”—to look carefully at Jesus and to consider Him. Let's take the time to do so.
First, consider what this tells us about the Lord Jesus Himself. For example, it tells us that He is the Servant of God—for God says, “Behold! My Servant”. That's the prophetic name that God gave to Jesus in the book of Isaiah—“My Servant” (Isaiah 52:13). It described the central motivation of Jesus' life. He Himself said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). He said, “. . . I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30). He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). He said that “. . . the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus was not selfishly ambitious. He didn't come to fulfill His own will. He came to do—fully and exclusively—the will of the Father who sent Him.
And then, notice that God called Him “My Servant whom I have chosen.” Jesus' identity as “the Christ” meant that He was the anointed one—the one God had chosen. Peter said that we come to Him “as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious . . .” (1 Peter 2:4). And did you know that even His enemies recognized this about Him? At the cross, the rulers mocked Him and said, “He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God” (Luke 23:35). There is salvation in no one else, as Peter said, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). There is no other, because He alone is the one whom God has “chosen”. How important, then, that we “behold” Him!
He is also the “beloved” of God. God the Father not has not only identified Him to us as the one He has chosen; but He has also declared Him to be the beloved of God “in whom My soul is well pleased”. His life was a pleasing aroma—a sweet savor to the Father. At His baptism, the Father declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; see also 2 Peter 1:17). Paul spoke of the Father's delight in the Son when he called Jesus, “the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13).
Then, note that the Father uniquely marked Jesus out to all by the fact that He placed the Holy Spirit upon Him. It says, “I will put My Spirit upon Him . . .” In Isaiah 11:1-2, we're given this promise about the Lord Jesus Christ: “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse [that is to say, He will come from the linage of King David—of whom Jesse was the father], and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:1-2). This too was made plain to everyone at Jesus' baptism. John the Baptist said,
Peter said that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him (Acts 10:38). And Jesus Himself even quoted Isaiah 61:1-3 and applied it to Himself; saying:
Now; all of these things of who Jesus is. It's important that we obey the command of God from this prophetic passage; and that we truly “behold” Jesus. One of the reasons God led Matthew to record His Gospel is so that we might do so.
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And next, note how this passage speaks of what Jesus would do. First, it says, “And He will declare justice to the Gentiles”. Jesus will be the one who proclaims righteous judgment and equity to the peoples of the world. He will not be like other earthly kings—who ruled in accordance with their own will for their own ends, and thus oppressed the people under them. Isaiah tells us, “He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).
And what a wonderful ruler He will be! We're told;
Then, notice how He would bring this about. We're told that, when this promised one comes, He will do this with great patience and unobtrusiveness. “He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.” His manner would not be contentious. He would not brawl, or enter into a yelling-match with His enemies. He would not stand on the rooftops and holler in an obnoxious way; or call out with a megaphone in the streets. He would not cause public disturbances and riots. Instead we will find Him to be gentle and tender. We're told that “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench”.
Some have understood these to be references to the Pharisees and to the religious system they advocated; and have understood them to mean that, when Jesus came, He would not aggressively destroy their system. The Pharisees were “bruised reeds”, barely able to stand up straight. They were to be obeyed because they sat “in Moses' seat” (Matthew 23:2-3); but they were not to be imitated because “they say and do not do” (v. 3). They were “blind leaders of the blind” (Matthew 15:14). But Jesus would not break them. The Judaism that they taught was a smoking wick, almost about to be extinguished completely. It had become encumbered with unbiblical rules and regulations; and taught “as doctrines the commandments of men” (v. 9). But Jesus would not snuff it out.
But others have understood these things to be references to Jesus' tenderness to people who turn to Him. Those who are broken and wounded in life, He would not break. Far from it! Rather, He would heal them and strengthen them. Those who are mere “smoking flax”—those whose spiritual light was about to be extinguished, He would not quench. Far from it! Rather, He would blow upon them and cause them to burn even brighter in Himself. I have to admit; I find both interpretations of these things to be attractive and plausible.
But however we understand these things, we should never consider His patience and tenderness to be ineffective! Jesus shows Himself to be the mighty Son of God by the fact that He will be patient and tender, “till He sends forth justice to victory”. And what a picture that is! Zechariah 9:9-10 tells us;
And what will be the result? “And in His name Gentiles will trust”. That would have been the furthest thing from the mind of any Jewish person who was looking for a conquering Messiah. But that's the plan of God through Christ.
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This is the marvel of the plan of God! It required that the promised Messiah come to His people; but that His own people reject Him. Then; having rejected Him and having crucified Him; and He having been raised from the dead in power and glory, now all peoples from all nations may trust Him!
Did you know that this was what Jesus Himself told the apostle Paul when He called him into the ministry of preaching the Gospel? Paul had been an aggressive Pharisee and defender of Judaism. He had sought to arrest Christians and bring them to their death. But Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus—knocking him off his horse with blindness. And Jesus said to Him;
No wonder Jesus behaved as He did! How glad we should be that He did so! By His patience and endurance, He has opened the way for all peoples—Jews and Gentiles—to come to Him. And let's always remember that, though He was meek and mild in His first coming, He will not be that way in His second. In Revelation 19:11-16, we read:
KING OF KINGS
AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:11-16).
Surely, then, He does send forth “justice to victory”! The first time, He comes meek and mild—not contending; not fighting—and yet, He gloriously wins in the end!
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So, I hope you can now appreciate what an important portion of Scripture this otherwise-obscure passage truly is. I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to say that it is the very heart of Matthew's Gospel! It presents our Savior to us as “the unquarrelling conqueror”!
Let's be sure that we trust Him; and in doing so, patiently win the victory in Him!
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