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The Birth of Jesus and the Adoration of the Shepherds.
The reason for the journey to Bethlehem:
v. 1. And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
v. 2. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
The Enrolment Of Quirinius
Many and various are the objections which have been made to Luke's approximate date of the birth of Christ. He is supposed to have confused the census of 8 B. C. with that of 6-7 A. D. , and imagined that Christ was born in the days of a census held about ten or eleven years after the death of Herod; or, when Herod was king, and yet when a Roman viceroy was organizing the new province of Palestine. "It has been maintained by many scholars in modern times that the census is either a fiction or a blunder; that the circumstances connected with it, which Luke relates, are contrary to history; and, in short, that the story is unhistorical and impossible, not in one way merely, but in several. It is affirmed that Quirinius never governed Syria during the life of Herod, for Herod died in 4 B. C. , and Quirinius was governor of Syria later than 3 B. C. , and probably in 2 or 1 B. C. " All the objections to Luke's account have been briefly summarized as follows: "1. Apart from the gospel, history knows nothing of a general imperial census in the time of Augustus. 2. There could have been no Roman census in Palestine during the time of Herod the Great, a rex socius 3. Such a census at such a time could not have been carried out by Quirinius, for he was not governor in Syria then, nor till ten years later, when he did make a census which gave rise to a revolt under Judas of Galilee. 4. Under a Roman census it would not have been necessary for Joseph to go to Bethlehem, or for Mary to accompany him."
It would not be absolutely necessary to pay attention to these objections, for the historical account inspired by God will stand against all statements of secular historians. Nevertheless, it is a matter of importance, in this case, to find that the archeological investigations of the last decades have vindicated the account of Luke and are tending more and more to confound the critics of the Bible. Documents have been found which show that enrolments in the Roman Empire were made every fourteen years, that this system was very probably inaugurated by Augustus, that the people went to their own towns for enrolment, that this was made on the basis of kinship. Archeology "has proved that the census was a periodic occurrence once in fourteen years, that this system was in operation as early as 20 A. D. , and that it was customary for people to go to their ancestral abodes for enrolment. It has made it probable that the census system was established by Augustus, and that Quirinius was governor of Syria twice. So far as the new material goes, it confirms the narrative of Luke. " The latest inscriptional evidence shows that Quirinius was a legate in Syria for census purposes in B. C. 8-6. If, as now seems fairly certain, Augustus began this system of a periodic census once in every fourteen years, and if this is what Luke refers to, we are able for the first time to reconcile all previous 'contradictions' concerning the date of our Lord's birth which must now be placed somewhere between 9 B. C. and 6 B. C. The exact year cannot be named, as such general enrolments would necessarily be prolonged, especially in the outskirts of the empire. " The objection that a census could not have been made in Palestine, since Herod the Great was a rex sociu s, is absolutely untenable. Herod was king only by the special grace of Augustus and the Roman senate, and well he knew it. Even if other kings had been excused in such a case, which is not at all plausible, Herod would have been very careful about voicing any objections to a decree of Augustus.
There is no need, therefore, of trying to construe the words of Luke in any but their actual sense. He knew what he was writing, and the Holy Ghost, who supervised every word, had the time fixed in just that way. It is a matter of satisfaction, however, that the science of archeology is aiding in silencing the objections of critics and convincing the gainsayers.
v. 3. And all went to "be taxed, every one into his own city.
v. 4. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem;
(because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
v. 5. to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child.
All the statements of the evangelist are made with such obvious care and accuracy that there is no reason to doubt his record, aside from the fact that the inspiration makes the text correct. It happened, came about, in those days, the days of Herod the Great, king of Judea. There went out an order from the Emperor Augustus, who reigned from 30 B. C. to 14 A. D. , that the entire world, the whole Roman Empire under his jurisdiction, which practically comprised the entire known world, should be entered into lists, all the people that belonged to the empire were to be registered, probably for the purpose of taxation, or for general statistical objects. Censuses of this kind were often taken in those days, in individual countries and provinces as often as once a year. The census here referred to was an unusual one, since it extended over the entire empire, over kingdoms as well as provinces. The time is fixed still more exactly by the statement that this enrollment was made, was actually executed, as a first one of its kind, when Cyrenius or Quirinius was governor of Syria, a Roman province, to which Judea belonged after the death of Archelaus. When the order was posted or proclaimed in Palestine that all people should be registered in the manner prescribed in the decree of Caesar, the inhabitants prepared to carry out the command. They went, everyone to his own city, to the city from which his forefathers hailed. Among those that made ready for the registration was also Joseph, of the city of Nazareth in Galilee.
Since he was of the house and family of David, the great king of Israel, he made the journey over the hills up to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem. And he did not go alone. Sometime before, he had celebrated his marriage with Mary, a virgin of the same city of Nazareth, to whom he had been betrothed. She is here, with great exactness, called his betrothed wife, for though the wedding has been celebrated, the consummation of marriage has not taken place, Matthew 1:24-Lamentations :. Mary was about to become a mother, but the order of the emperor had to be carried out, and therefore they risked the journey to Bethlehem. Note: According to the prophecy of Haggai 2:6-Judges :, all the nations were to be shaken when the Desire of the world was to be born. And the decree of Augustus had to be formulated so that both Joseph and Mary were present in Bethlehem at this time, since the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, Micah 5:2. A fitting name for the birthplace of the Redeemer, Bethlehem, the house of bread, since the Bread of Life came to earth in that little city, John 6:35.
The birth of the Savior:
v. 6 And so it was that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
v. 7. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Himin swaddling-clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
The infinite simplicity of Luke's account of the great miracle of the. incarnation is worthy of special notice, since it serves to sustain the fact of the inspiration of the story. If he had written as an ordinary human author would, he would probably have been carried away by the indescribable glory of the miracle and declaimed in exulting rhapsodies of the event; which stands in the center of the history of the world. It happened, it came about, Luke merely states. And yet, the entire Old Testament stands behind these words; it represented the grand fulfillment of the wish and desire of thousands of believers of the ancient world, not only in Judea, but wherever the prophecies of old had become known. While they were there in Bethlehem, to which town God had directed their steps in such a singular way, it came about that the days of Mary, according to the course of nature, were fulfilled. The Son that had been promised "by the angel was born. Mary herself took the Wonder-child and gave Him the first care. By reason of her poverty and on account of the absence from home she was not provided with the necessary clothing. So she wrapped Him in such scraps of clothing as were available and made a bed for Him in a manger, out in the stable, to which they had retired, since there was no room for them in the inn, in the great enclosure which was used as a place for lodging in Oriental towns. According to many commentators, the place where Christ was born was one of the caves or grottoes at Bethlehem, some of which are used for such purposes to the present time. "Some also dispute as to the manner of the birth, that Mary brought Him forth during a prayer, in great joy, before she was aware of it, without all pain. Whose devotion I do not reject, since it may have been invented for the sake of the simple Christians. But we should adhere to the gospel, which states that she bore Him, and to the article of our faith, where we confess: He was born of Mary, the virgin. There is no fraud here, but, as the words say, a true birth. When they came to Bethlehem, the evangelist shows how they were the. lowliest and the most despised; they were obliged to yield to everyone, until they, shown into a stable, had a common inn, a common table, a common room, and a common bed with the beasts. In the meantime many an evil person occupied the place of honor in the inn, and permitted himself to be honored as a lord. There no one perceives or knows what God performs in the stable. Oh, what a dark night was over Bethlehem then, that the city knew nothing of the Light! How strongly God indicates that He does not regard what the world is, has, and does; and again, the world proves how thoroughly she does not understand nor realize what God is, has, and does. " Note also: The God-man, who here lies before us as the firstborn Son of Mary, is at the same time the absolute miracle and the most inestimable benefit; God and man, the old and new covenants, heaven and earth, meet in a poor manger. He that, either secretly or openly, denies this truth can never understand the significance of the Christmas festival perhaps never experience the true Christmas joy. Also: The lowly birth of the Savior of the world coincides exactly with the nature of His kingdom. The origin of the Kingdom was not of earth; one of its fundamental laws was to deny self and for love to serve others; its end, to become great through abasement, and to triumph by conflict: all this is here exhibited before our eyes.
The message to the shepherds:
v. 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
v. 9. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid.
v. 10. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
v. 11. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
v. 12. And this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger.
In that same country, in the neighborhood of the town of Bethlehem, there were shepherds. They were out in the fields, whether under the open sky or in booths, is immaterial. They may have constructed a rude shelter against the chilliness of the night air. They were watching the watches of the night, taking turns about in caring for the flock lest some of them stray away or be carried off by wild beasts. These flocks may well have belonged to the herds that were being driven up to Jerusalem by easy stages, to be used as sacrifices in the Temple, as one commentator has remarked. There was nothing unusual about the situation, nor were the shepherds in a superstitious state of mind. Note: The fact that the flocks were out in the open at night and not in the corral or fold does not disprove the traditional date of the Savior's birth, as it was definitely established in 354 by Bishop Liberius. It is by no means unusual for the meadows to be in the best condition at the end of December.
While the shepherds, who belonged to the poor and lowly of the land, were thus engaged in the pursuit of their calling, a miracle of the Lord took place in Bethlehem, of which they were to receive the first news. Note: Not the great and mighty of the nation were chosen as the recipients of the wonderful tidings of the nativity of Christ, just as not proud Jerusalem, but little Bethlehem became the Lord's birthplace, but lowly shepherds of the plains. To these a supernatural revelation was suddenly given: an angel of the Lord came upon them, he stood over against or above them. It was an unexpected apparition out of the quietness of the solemn night, beneath the starry heavens. At the same time, the glory of the Lord lighted up the space about the shepherds, from the face and form of the angel himself, as a messenger from the splendor of the heavens. And they feared a great fear. They were thoroughly frightened. Sinful man cannot endure the light from the presence of the holy God. Besides, the suddenness of the angel's appearance caught them unawares; there was no gradual preparation of their senses for the culmination that burst upon them. But the message of the angel was reassuring with all the beauty and love of the Christmas spirit. They should not give way or remain under the domination of fear, for his is a message which is, in substance, the entire Gospel. He announces to them a great joy, in order that their hearts may be filled with that joy. And these wonderful tidings will not be confined to them alone, but are intended, and will be proclaimed, to all people. The expression is so general that it should not be applied to the people of Israel only, but properly to all nations of the world. And now the voice of the angel rises, in joyful ecstasy, to the climax of his announcement: For unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. The angel used terms with which the shepherds were familiar from their youth, in which they were wont to express their hopes for the salvation of Israel. Savior denotes such a person as perfectly frees us from all evil and danger, and is the author of perpetual salvation. And Christ or Messiah is He for whose coming the Jews looked with anxious desire, in and through whom the real believers in Israel expected the Kingdom which should last throughout eternity. Note: The true humanity and the true divinity of the newborn Babe is here clearly stated, even as the angel summarizes the prophecies of old, in calling Bethlehem the city of David. Furthermore: Christ was born a true man, to purify and sanctify our sinful conception and birth. "To help our poor, miserable birth, God has sent another birth, which had to be pure and unsullied, if it should cleanse our impure, sinful birth. That then is the birth of Christ the Lord, His only-begotten Son. And for that reason He did not want to let Him be born from sinful flesh and blood; but He should be born of a virgin. That is what the angel wishes to say with these words: 'Unto you is born. ' Which implies: All that He is and has is yours, and He is your Savior; not only that you regard Him thus, but that He can deliver you from sin, death, devil, and all misfortune; yea, as great as He is, He is born for you, and is yours with all that He has. " And, finally: Note the word "unto you. " "As though he would say: Until now you have been captives of the devil; he has plagued you with water, fire, pestilence, sword, and who can narrate all the misfortune? And when he has tortured soul and body, eternal death threatens afterward. Unto you, the angel says, unto you that were held captive under this harmful, evil, poisonous spirit, who is the prince and God of the world, the Savior is born. The words 'unto you' should surely make us happy. For to whom does he speak? To wood or stone? No, to men, and not to one or two only, but to all the people... We have need of Him, and for our sakes He has become man. Therefore it behooves us people that we accept Him with joy, as the angel here says: Unto you is born a Savior."
In order that the shepherds may not be misdirected or go astray in the overcrowded city, the angel gives them specific directions how they may find the Child and recognize Him at once. He would be found wrapped in swaddling-clothes and lying in the crib of a stable. Those directions were as explicit and exact as any that could be given, since there would be no other child in such poor and lowly circumstances as this one, the Savior of the world.
The angels' hymn of praise:
v. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
v. 14. Glory to God. in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
The message of the first angel had culminated in a song of praise and exultation. But his hymn was a mere preamble to the chorus that was sung there on the fields of Bethlehem and has since rolled out in a triumphant wave of melody over the whole world. For hardly had the messenger finished his announcement, when, with the same suddenness that had characterized his own coming, a heavenly choir appeared, a multitude of the heavenly host. Their joy over the miraculous birth of the Savior of the world was so great that even the heaven of heavens could not contain it all. They must needs come down and celebrate the event which is absolutely unique in the history of the world and sing faith into the hearts of men by their hymn of praise to God. Their glorious hymn, which has since been sung and reechoed by millions of believing Christians that accepted the Babe of Bethlehem as their Savior, may be divided into two or three parts or strophes, according to a slight difference in the reading of the Greek text. Glory to God in the highest, to Him whose abode, according to His eternal majesty and glory, is above all, in the highest places, as supreme over all creatures in the universe. All the glory and praise for the work of redemption belongs to Him alone, who is the Author and Finisher of salvation, who was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing to them their sins, 2 Corinthians 5:18-Psalms :. "Such fruit, the angels sing, will follow, and is now possible that God be properly honored on high. Not with external works; they cannot ascend up into heaven, but with the heart that lifts itself up from the earth to the height, to such a merciful God and Father with thanksgiving and cordial trust. " And on earth peace, brought by the coming of the Prince of Peace, Isaiah 9:5. The transgression of Adam and all his descendants had brought upon them the wrath of God; there was a state of continual enmity and warfare between God and man on account of sin. But in and with the Savior there is an end of the battle. He has restored the right, the proper relation between. God and man. "Just as the angels have sung that those who would know and receive this child Jesus, would give God the glory in all things, thus they sing here and wish, yea, they give us the comforting promise that the tyranny of the devil would now have an end, and the Christians among each other lead a fine, peaceable, quiet life, who also gladly help and counsel, anticipate strife and disunion, and live in all kindness with each other, that among them for the sake of this Child a peaceful government and pleasant manner would obtain, in which each one will do the best for the other. " And this peace will be toward the men of good will, it will assure all men of the good will of the heavenly Father in and with the Babe in the manger. "That is the third strophe, that we may have a happy, joyful, defiant courage against all suffering which may happen to us, that we may say to the devil: Thou canst not make it so evil that thou spoil my joy, which I have through this child. That is what good will means, a happy, quiet, joyful, courageous heart, that is not much concerned, no matter how things go, and says to the devil and the world: I cannot leave my joy for your sake, and I shall not feel concerned on account of your wrath; do as you please, Christ gives me more joy than you do sorrow. Such a heart the angels grant and wish us with their hymn. " Note: "This angelic song is the keynote of the famous Gloria in Excelsis, which was used as a morning hymn in the Greek Church as early as the second or third century, and thence passed into the Latin, Anglican, and other churches, as a truly catholic, classical, and undying form of devotion, sounding from age to age and from generation to generation. Sacred poetry was born with religion, and the poetry of the Church is the echo and response to the poetry and music of angels in heaven. But the worship of the Church Triumphant in heaven, like this song of the angels, will consist only of praise and thanksgiving, without any petitions and supplications, since all wants will then be supplied and all sin and misery swallowed up in perfect holiness and blessedness. Thus the glorious end of Christian poetry and worship is here anticipated in its beginning and first manifestation."
The visit and adoration of the shepherds:
v. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
v. 16. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
v. 17. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which "was told them concerning this Child.
v. 18. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
v. 19. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
v. 20. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. Luke's song of the nativity is not yet ended; he has a story of some Christmas Christians to tell, and its effect is enhanced by its great simplicity.
Hardly had the angels left the field to return back to heaven, when the shepherds began to speak to one another, repeating the words over and over, as people are apt to do when under the influence of great excitement. Come, let us go! they cry. They want to take a shortcut, they want to go the nearest way to Bethlehem; there is no time to lose. They wanted to see this matter, they wanted to behold with their own eyes this miracle. Not to verify the message of the angel; no, they were sure of the truth of his message. The thing is settled by the angelic proclamation: the thing, the miracle, has come to pass; the Lord has made it known unto us. They believed the word that had been preached to them, they trusted in the Gospel-message, the content of the angel's message was a fact to them. To trust, not in feelings nor in surmises, but in the sure Word of the Gospel, that is the essence of the faith required by God at all times. And they suited their actions to their words. They came hurrying and found everything just as the angel had told them. This was a confirmation of their faith which filled their hearts with joy. There was Mary, the mother, there was Joseph, the foster-father, and there was the Child, that miracle-Child, whose name is Wonderful, lying in the crib, the manger of the stable. And now the Christmas believers became Christmas missionaries. It is impossible for a Christian not to give evidence in words and deeds of the faith that lives in his heart when he has seen and found Jesus the Savior in the Gospel. They made the matter known concerning this fact that was told them, all that happened to them, the wonderful message they received, the confirmation of the angel's words in a most accurate way. The story made a great stir in Bethlehem the next day, it aroused much interest. All the people that heard about it wondered, marveling being the common, the first result of the Gospel-message. wherever the shepherds came and repeated their story, this was the effect. Only Mary is mentioned as an exception. Instead of wondering, she held fast the words, carefully guarding them as a sacred treasure and moving them back and forth in her heart. Mark well: All the people wondered, but Mary thought on all the wonderful things that happened to herself and to the shepherds. This distinction must be made to the present day. Many a person is struck by the beauty of the Gospel-story and expresses his views accordingly, but few there are that take the time to meditate upon the great facts of our salvation, to move them back and forth in their hearts, to examine them from all sides, to discover all the beauties of these priceless treasures. "It is His will that His Word not only hover on the tongue, like foam on the water and froth in the mouth which a person spits out; but that it be pressed into the heart and remain such a mark and spot as no one can wash off, just as though it had grown there and is a natural thing, which does not permit itself to be erased. Such a heart was that of the Virgin Mary, in which the words remained as though graven therein. " Meanwhile the shepherds continued their work of spreading the news concerning the wonder-Babe, and when they had accomplished all that their heart bade them do, they returned to their daily labor. They had been God's messengers, as all true Christians should be, they had been bearers of the glorious tidings of salvation. But they did not presume to be more than their station permitted. They praised and magnified God that they had been graciously permitted to hear the news concerning their salvation. What they had seen and heard in that night was engraven upon their hearts in letters of light from above. Thus it should be with all believers in Christ, the Savior, since they are blessed in the same measure as the shepherds. In their external behavior and bearing there does not seem to be much difference between them and the children of the world. They attend to the work of their calling and are not ashamed if the Lord has given them a lowly station in life. But in their heart there is glorious light and life. In the midst of the heat and toil of the day they rejoice in God, their Savior, who has delivered them from all the toil and trouble of this earthly life and opened the glories of heaven to them.
The Circumcision and Presentation of Christ. Luke 2:21-Matthew :
v. 21. And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
By His ancestry and birth, Jesus was a member of the Jewish race and of the Jewish Church. And Mary and Joseph observed all the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish law. On the eighth day of the Child's life, therefore, the sacrament of circumcision was administered to Him, whereby He was formally declared to be a member of the Jewish Church. Incidentally, according to the custom of the Jews, He was given a name by which He should be distinguished in the congregation of God's people. And in this instance there was no difference of opinion. As the angel had told Mary at the time of the annunciation, as he had told Joseph in a dream, Matthew 1:21, so it was now done. The child's name was Jesus. In Him there is salvation for all men. Note: Jesus here, in submitting to the ordinance of circumcision, was made under the Law, Galatians 4:4-Deuteronomy :. It was the beginning of His active obedience in behalf of all men. But it was the beginning also of His passive obedience, of His suffering. For here He paid the first drop of blood as the price of our souls, the full payment being completed when He committed His soul into the hands of His heavenly Father on the cross.
v. 22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord,
v. 23. (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord,)
v. 24. and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
Luke finds it necessary to explain the rites connected with the purification for the sake of his readers that were not familiar with Jewish laws. The mother was unclean, according to the ordinances of Moses, for seven days after the birth of a son, and must then remain separate for a matter of another thirty-three days. These forty days altogether denoted the days of the Levitical cleansing, or purification, Leviticus 12:1-Ruth :. At the close of this period the parents went up to Jerusalem with the Child to present Him to the Lord, for the firstborn of man and beast belonged to the Lord, Exodus 13:2, and had to be redeemed with a sacrifice. Since Mary and Joseph were poor, they could not afford to bring a lamb. Mary therefore brought the less expensive sacrifice, Leviticus 12:6-Ruth :. The manner in which Mary brought her sacrifice, the sin-offering and the offering of thanksgiving, is the following. She entered the Temple through the "gate of the firstborn," waited at the gate of Nicanor while the offering of incense was being made in the Holy Place. She then proceeded to the highest step of the stairway which led from the Court of the Women to the Court of Israel. Here a priest took the sacrifice from her hand and made the offering. She was then sprinkled with the blood to indicate the cleansing. Finally she paid five pieces of silver into the Temple treasury, placing the money (about 85 cents) into one of the trumpet-shaped treasure-boxes which stood in the Court of the Women. Note: The law really concerned only such women as became mothers after the visual course of nature. The Virgin and her Child might fitly have claimed exemption. But Christ humbled Himself so completely for the sake of us sinners, so completely did He want to become flesh of our flesh, that He submitted even to this humiliating rite of purification in the Temple.
The coming of Simeon:
v. 25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
v. 26. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost that he should not see death before he had seen the. Lord's Christ.
v. 27. And he came by the Spirit into the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him after the custom of the Law,
v. 28. then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
v. 29. Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word;
v. 30. for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,
v. 31. which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people,
v. 32. a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.
The incident here told by Luke is so important that he introduces it with "Behold!" It brought a further testimony for the Christ child and strengthened Mary in her faith. A man by the name of Simeon was in Jerusalem at that time. Nothing more is known of him than what the evangelist here relates, and yet he is known throughout Christendom. This man is described as just or righteous, which refers to the condition of his heart and mind, and devout or pious, which refers to the outward manifestation of the condition of his heart. He was one of the true Israelites. He practiced, as he professed, the religion of his forefathers. And he was well versed in the prophecies concerning the Messiah, he was expecting, eagerly waiting for, the solace, the comfort of Israel. He had the proper understanding of the work of the Redeemer, he looked for a spiritual kingdom to be revealed. And the Holy Ghost was upon him, resting upon him, influencing his whole life and conduct. He had received a revelation, a very strong and urging impulse from the Holy Spirit, amounting to a definite promise, that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. Note the parallelism and contrast presented: in either case he would see, but on the one hand death, the end of life, on the other the highest revelation of the eternal Life from above, the Messiah of the almighty and gracious God. Just at this hour the Spirit impelled him to go up to the Temple, and in the same way he recognized the Christ child on the arms of His mother, when the parents came to perform the sacrifice according to the law of Moses. Now the venerable old man did a thing which must have astonished both Mary and Joseph very much. Stepping up to them, he took the Babe in his arms and proceeded to sing a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God. Its beauty is such that it has retained its position in the Church from the earliest times. Now at last the hope long cherished by him would be fulfilled, for he is altogether content to die. The words must sound strange in the ears of an unbeliever. For he speaks of a deliverance, of a departure, which would be made in full peace and satisfaction, in rich contentment, and which he knows will bring him lasting rest and quietness, the peace brought by the Christ child. For his old eyes had seen the salvation of God, since the Child was the salvation of the world personified; in and through Him all the nations of the earth are blessed with full and complete redemption. This salvation in Jesus is prepared, is ready before the face of all nations; He brings a universal reconciliation, from which no one in the wide world is excluded. And the Gentiles are not only to be disinterested spectators of the miracle which shall be worked by this Child, but His salvation, He Himself, is the Light which is to illumine, to give the full brightness of the Gospel to the Gentiles, and which is to be the glory of His people Israel, Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; Isaiah 60:1-Leviticus :. This beautiful hymn emphasizes, in the strongest possible terms, the fact of universal grace, that no one is excepted from the glorious working of that grace, that no one is excluded from the salvation earned by the merits of Christ. And, at the same time, Simeon, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, teaches some of the effects of this universal grace and salvation upon those that accept Jesus as their Savior. All such believers will receive the illumination of the Gospel in mind and heart, will become partakers of the glory which pertains to the Messiah and His work. And they will learn to look upon temporal death as a deliverance, as a departure for better and more precious scenes, since they fall asleep in Jesus. "Whosoever has this Savior, the Savior of God, may have a peaceful, quiet heart. For though death be as terrible, the sin as mighty, the devil as evil and poisonous as he ever will, yet we have the Savior of God, that is, an almighty, eternal Savior; He is strong enough to move us out of death into life, out of sin into righteousness."
Simeon blesses Joseph and Mary:
v. 33 And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.
v. 34. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary, His mother, Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against,
v. 35 (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Whereas in the story of the shepherds only Mary is mentioned as having taken careful note of the words concerning her Son, both parents are here represented as marveling over the words of Simeon, which revealed the full significance of this Child for the world. Joseph, the foster-father, usually remains in the background. The words which Simeon here spoke filled them both with joyful wonder. They were gradually beginning to have an idea as to the meaning of all the prophecies concerning the Babe in their arms. Simeon now spoke a blessing upon them both and addressed himself to Mary in a significant prophecy. his Child is set up, is established, by the will of God, for a double purpose. In the first place, He serves for the fall and the rising again of many in Israel, the true Israel, the members of God's kingdom. The natural pride and self-righteousness of every man, which is characteristic of man's inherited depravity, must fall and be removed entirely, before the resurrection in the faith in Jesus the Savior can take place. In the second place, He serves for a sign which will be opposed, spoken against. Many people, in fact, the majority, refuse to be humbled on account of this Savior, even though the assurance of succeeding glory is held out to them in the faith in Him. They harden their hearts against Him and are thus condemned through their own fault, 2 Corinthians 2:15-Nehemiah :; 2 Corinthians 4:3-Numbers :. But in spite of all that He is a sign before the whole world, just as the serpent in the wilderness was a sign to all the people, even to those that refused to look at it until it was too late. In this manner, the thoughts of men's hearts are revealed. Many a leading Jew, whose reputation attested his perfect goodness, could not stand the test of this touchstone, Jesus the Christ, and rejected his own salvation. Incidentally, this state of affairs would prove a severe trial for Mary. Her mother's heart would feel the hatred directed against her Son most keenly. It would often be like a double-edged sword penetrating her soul, as when she was witness of the crucifixion with its attendant tortures.
The prophetess Anna:
v. 36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser; she was of great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;
v. 37. and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the Temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
v. 38. And she, coming in that instant, gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
v. 39. And when they had performed all things according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their, own city Nazareth.
v. 40. And the Child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
Simeon was not the only faithful soul in Jerusalem at that time. A prophetess, Anna, whose father and tribe are named, with Luke's attention to detail wherever it is available, joined the group. She was very far advanced in years. She had been married early in life, but had lived in holy wedlock only seven years, remaining a widow after the death of her husband and spending her time in serving the Lord. Though she was now eighty-four years old, she was one of the first to enter the Temple in the morning after the opening of the gates, and all day long she was a devout worshiper, passing the hours in fasting and praying, and thus showing herself to be a true minister or servant of the Lord. She 'likewise gave thanks, she took up the strain which had been begun by the aged Simeon, praising God for having sent His Savior into the world, which was in such dire need of redemption. And she thus did not merely serve her own devotion and edification, but she spread the good news abroad. She made it a practice to mention the fact of the Messiah's appearance to kindred spirits, as many as were still to be found in Jerusalem. For there were still some, if only a few, that were earnestly and prayerfully looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem, through the work of the Savior from sins.
But Joseph and Mary, after they had performed all that law and custom required of them, left the city. And Luke here omits all reference to the flight into Egypt and the sojourn in that country, continuing his narrative at the point where the parents of Jesus definitely settled in Nazareth. Here, in the little hill town of Galilee, the childhood and youth of Jesus was spent. Here He grew up and incidentally developed in physical strength. But what is far more important: He grew in knowledge, He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was with Him, obviously rested upon Him.
The Christ-Child in the Temple. Luke 2:41-1 Thessalonians :
The trip to Jerusalem:
v. 41 Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.
v. 42. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.
v. 43. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and His mother knew not of it.
v. 44. But they, supposing Him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.
v. 45. And when they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him.
We have here the one authentic story from the life of Christ in the interval between the flight into Egypt and the beginning of His ministry. In this narrative He is standing on the threshold between childhood and youth, He is just about to enter upon the critical age of life. Luke's reference to the regular attendance of both the mother and the foster-father of Jesus at the festival of the Passover throws an interesting light upon their habits. The Law required that the men appear before the Lord three times in the year, Easter being one of the festivals when such attendance was demanded, Exodus 23:17; Deuteronomy 16:16. The women were not included in the command of the Lord, but Mary did not lack companions of her own sex, many of them taking advantage of the festival period to accompany their husbands and older sons to the capital city. Note: The regularity of the attendance is emphasized by the evangelist; a fine example for many parents in our days. When the boy Jesus was twelve years old, the parents followed the rule laid down by the elders that the sons must be trained in the observance of all religious duties and must take part in the festivals with their elders. It was the age at which the Jewish boys entered the secondary school, the Beth-ha-Midrash, the foremost of which was located at Jerusalem and usually conducted in one of the Temple-halls. This was known as ha gadol. The journey to Jerusalem upon the occasion of the great festivals was in itself a festival, especially for the younger members of the family. The people of the more remote parts of Palestine formed large parties for traveling together, most of them going afoot. From time to time some of the older members would begin to chant some of the Psalms of Degrees, Psalms 120:1-Judges :; Psalms 121:1-Ruth :; Psalms 122:1-1 Samuel :; Psalms 123:1-Numbers :; Psalms 124:1-Ruth :; Psalms 125:1-Deuteronomy :; Psalms 126:1-Joshua :; Psalms 127:1-Deuteronomy :; Psalms 128:1-Joshua :; Psalms 129:1-Ruth :; Psalms 130:1-Ruth :; Psalms 131:1-Leviticus :; Psalms 132:1-Job :; Psalms 133:1-Leviticus :; Psalms 134:1-Leviticus :, or some other hymns. As they came nearer to the city, and the festival spirit took hold of them, they would pluck flowers and branches from trees and wave them in unison' with the cadence of their song. In this case, Jesus had been in the company of relatives and acquaintances from Nazareth and the surrounding country, and had spent the week of the festival as an interested participant. But when the festival closed and all the pilgrims returned home, the boy Jesus remained in Jerusalem without the knowledge of His parents. They believed Him to be with some of the members of their party and spent one whole day in leisurely inquiring for Him in the caravan. But when there was no trace of Him, the heart of the mother was filled with grave forebodings. They hurried back to Jerusalem. They searched the city for three days.
His Father's business:
v. 46 And it came to pass that after three days they found Him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions.
v. 47. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.
v. 48. And when they saw Him, they were amazed. And His mother said unto Him, Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.
v. 49. And He said unto them, How is it that ye sought Me? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?
v. 50. And they understood not the saying which He spake unto them.
The three days' search with its attendant anxiety may well have aroused the thought in Mary's heart that the prophecy of Simeon was even now being fulfilled. But at last Mary and Joseph found Jesus, after assiduously searching over the whole city, in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the learned teachers, in the hall where the school-classes of the children of the Law, the great high school, assembled for advanced instruction to learn to keep the commandments. There He was sitting, outwardly in the role of a pupil, but in reality in earnest conference, in which He assumed almost a teacher's functions. He was giving due attention to the explanations of the doctors, but He was also putting searching questions, to the amazement of all those that were present to hear Him. His understanding, His ability to penetrate a given matter, and the answers which He gave, were of a kind to provoke astonishment. Here was something of the rare insight and the ease of presentation which in later years delighted His audiences. But Mary and Joseph were disturbed on account of the apparent audacity of the boy, which seemed to them like forwardness. And Mary, still full of the excitement of the search and with her mother's heart yearning toward her Son, reproachfully asked why He had dealt with them thus, not realizing that the fault was not His, but theirs. Note: The tactful way in which Mary refers to Joseph is an indisputable proof of the wisdom with which she brought up her Child; a lesson for many modern parents. They had sought Him with anxious solicitude. But Jesus does not accept the reproof. Not reproachfully, but with all the sincerity and boldness of holy childhood, He asks her why they had sought in that manner. He gives them an inkling of the purpose of His life. They should know that He must be about His Father's business. This is the obligation of His life: the things of His Father He must be engaged in, be concerned about. The Temple was the place where the service of His Father was supposed to be most perfect, where the Word of grace was supposed to be taught. "Wherefore the Temple was also called His sanctuary and sacred dwelling, since there He, through His Word, showed His presence and permitted Himself to be heard. Thus Christ is about His Father's business when He speaks to us through His Word and through it brings us to the Father. " This answer of Jesus, with its implication of divine sonship, was beyond the understanding even of Mary, who had remembered all the sayings concerning her Son.
The return to Nazareth:
v. 51 And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them; but His mother kept all these sayings in her heart.
v. 52. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
A period of approximately eighteen years is covered in this simple statement of the evangelist. Although He had given His parents evidence of a greater and higher calling, He yet went with them as an obedient son. He was subject to them. In His complete fulfillment of the Law for our sakes He willingly subjected Himself to every commandment and rendered a perfect obedience, in order to atone, also in this respect, for the sins of the children. Note: Mary's method of keeping the words she could not understand, of mulling over them continually, of preserving them fresh in her memory, deserves a wide imitation. Meanwhile it is recorded that the growth of Jesus was normal, both mentally and physically. His state of humiliation was so perfect that not only His body was subject to the general rule of nature, but also His mind. He continued His studies eagerly and gladly, He stored up a large fund of knowledge. Note: There was no sowing of wild oats in the sinless Christ. But the best and most excellent growth was that in spiritual matters. He grew in the favor, in the good will of both God and men. He lived His life in full accordance with the precepts which He learned, He put His full trust in His heavenly Father and gave evidence of this in a life of love, the most perfect example for the young men and women of all times.
Summary. Jesus is born at Bethlehem, visited by the shepherds, given the name Jesus at His circumcision, presented to the Lord in the Temple, where Simeon sings his beautiful hymn, seconded by the prophetess Anna, and visits Jerusalem at the age of twelve years.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Luke 2". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent