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Luke 2:1. All the world.—I.e. the Roman world (orbis terrarum). Taxed.—Rather, “enrolled,” something like a modern census, but with a view to taxation.
Luke 2:2. This was the first enrolment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria (R.V.).—As Quirinius was governor of Syria in A.D. 6, ten years later than this, and then carried out a census, some have supposed that St. Luke made a mistake in referring to him here. This can scarcely be, as St. Luke himself mentions this second “taxing” in Acts 5:37. The most satisfactory explanation of the matter seems to be that Quirinius was twice governor of Syria, in B.C. 4 as well as in A.D.
6. This seems to be a well-established fact, though there is no other authority than the Evangelist’s for the “taxing” or “enrolment” during his first term of office.
Luke 2:3. Every one into his own city.—As Judæa was a semi-independent kingdom, the registration ordered by the Roman emperor was carried into effect in accordance with Jewish customs. The Roman custom was to enroll persons at the place of residence.
Luke 2:5. His espoused wife.—Rather, “who was betrothed to him” (R.V.). “It is uncertain whether her presence was obligatory or voluntary; but it is obvious that, after so trying a time, and after what she had suffered (Matthew 1:19), she would cling to the presence and protection of her husband” (Farrar).
Luke 2:7. First-born.—No inference can be safely drawn from this as to Mary’s having other children afterwards. The first-born had a peculiar position assigned to him in the law (Exodus 13:2; Exodus 22:29). Inn.—A mere caravanserai, affording little else than shelter. The stable may have been an adjoining cave, as reported by Justin Martyr and the apocryphal gospels.
Luke 2:8. Keeping watch, etc.—This affords no ground for concluding that the nativity cannot have taken place in winter. After the rainy season, at the end of December, shepherds in Palestine are still accustomed to lead out their flocks. The traditional date (December 25th) is of late origin. Christmas was not celebrated in the Church till after A.D. 350, and seems to have been substituted for a heathen festival. Their flock.—Dr. Edersheim has shown that sheep needed for the daily sacrifices in the Temple were fed near Bethlehem.
Luke 2:9. The angel of the Lord.—Rather, “an angel of the Lord” (R.V.). Came upon them.—“Stood by them” (R.V.). Glory of the Lord.—“By it we are to understand that extreme splendour in which the Deity is represented as appearing to men, and sometimes called the Shechinah—an appearance frequently attended, as in this case, by a company of angels” (Bloomfield). Sore afraid.—Lit. “feared a great fear.”
Luke 2:10. To all people.—Rather, “to all the people” (R.V.), i.e. to Israel. The wider import of the advent is foreseen by Simeon (Luke 2:32).
Luke 2:11. A Saviour.—The name Jesus is not given, but the title Saviour is equivalent to it. Christ the Lord.—Christ is the Greek word corresponding to the Hebrew word Messiah, and both mean the Anointed One. The Lord is the uniform name used in the LXX. as a substitute for the ineffable name Jehovah. It is twice used in Luke 2:9 of God.
Luke 2:12. The babe.—Rather, “a babe” (R.V.).
Luke 2:13. Heavenly host.—The army of angels which is represented as surrounding the throne of God (cf. 1 Kings 22:19; Psalms 103:20-21; Psalms 148:2). From this the title of Lord of hosts (Sabaoth) is taken.
Luke 2:14. In the highest.—In the highest places, i.e. heaven (Job 16:19; Psalms 148:1). Good-will toward men.—Rather, “among men.” By the insertion of a single letter the nominative case of the word translated “good-will” is changed to the genitive, and the rendering would be, “among men of [God’s] good-will,” i.e. in whom He is well pleased. This is the reading of the four most ancient MSS. and of the Vulgate (hominibus bonæ voluntatis), and is followed by the R.V. It yields, however, a somewhat awkward and unintelligible sense. The great mass of ancient authorities is in favour of the rendering in our A.V., which is more in accordance with the spirit of the passage than the other.
Luke 2:16. Found.—Lit. “discovered,” after search. Mary and Joseph.—Her name naturally comes first, in view of the peculiar nature of her motherhood. A manger.—Rather, “the manger” (R.V.), that spoken of by the angel.
Luke 2:19. Pondered.—I.e. revolved, put together the various circumstances. She had evidently not a full understanding of the matter.
The order of events: The flight into Egypt was from Bethlehem, and must have occurred after the presentation in the Temple. The forty days of purification (Luke 2:22) are too short for the journey into Egypt and a return to Jerusalem. The adoration of the Magi must have occurred immediately after the presentation. That it could not have occurred before it is rendered certain from the facts that the revelation of danger to the child Jesus would render a visit to Jerusalem unsafe, and the gifts offered by the Magi would have provided means for a richer sacrifice than that described in Luke 2:24. The return to Bethlehem after the presentation may indicate that the holy family would have taken up their abode there instead of returning to Nazareth, but for the danger to which they were exposed by the jealousy of Herod. Bethlehem was only six miles from Jerusalem.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 2:1-20
The Voluntary Self-humiliation of Jesus.—This history, it has been said, begins with great majesty, as it tells of the Emperor Augustus, at whose feet lay the whole known world, and to whose command obedience was rendered in every country, and city, and village. It descends to tell of the humble circumstances in which a child was born in one of the obscurest villages in one of his provinces; but it rises again into majesty as it describes the appearance of angels to celebrate the true glory and greatness of this child. But we may see in the passage a detailed account of that great act of self-renunciation of which the apostle speaks: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet … He became poor.” The Evangelist first records the lowly circumstances that attended His advent to earth, and reveals the true majesty that clothed Him even then.
I. There is nothing to distinguish Him to outward appearing from multitudes of other of His fellow-subjects in the kingdom of Herod, or the empire of Caesar Augustus. His parents are enrolled with their neighbours in the register at Bethlehem; for though they are of royal descent, their claim to exceptional rank has fallen into abeyance. It is now a mere genealogical curiosity, and the fact that the carpenter of Nazareth can trace up his lineage to David is not likely to trouble the peace of the most jealous of tyrants. It is as the son of an artisan that the name of Jesus would be enrolled.
II. Poverty and hardship mark His nativity.—Not even a house to shelter her can His mother find when the time comes for His birth. The inn was full: no friendly roof afforded the comfort and hospitality of which she stood in need, and it was a stable that first covered His head, and a manger that formed His first cradle.
III. He passed through the stage of helpless and unconscious infancy—being in all things made like His brethren. No preternatural glory shone about Him: it is by His wearing the first childish swathings, hastily extemporised perhaps by His virgin mother, and by the rude fashion of His resting-place, that the shepherds are to discover Him. Yet even while He lies on His hard bed in poorest guise there are not wanting signs of His great and unapproachable majesty. 1 Heaven opens, and angels descend to proclaim and celebrate His birth; the glorious light that breaks in upon the darkness of earth, the multitude of celestial beings, and the song of praise, bear witness to the greatness and significance of the event that has just taken place in Bethlehem.
2. In no uncertain terms the angel speaks of Jesus as the possessor of a mightier throne than that of Caesar. He is Lord of angels and of men. He is the Anointed One, whose power, and authority, and dignity are typified and faintly shadowed forth in kingly, priestly, and prophetic offices.
3. He not only deserves but receives homage and worship from men. The shepherds hasten to find the new-born babe, that they may kneel at His feet; and in them He receives the first-fruits of that loyal service which one day will be fully rendered to Him by all created beings.
It is by the eye of faith that the majesty of Christ is discerned; it is the loving heart that believes the heavenly message. If, therefore, we would follow the example of the angels and of the shepherds, and receive Christ in His true character as our God and Saviour, we must have a faith and love like theirs.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 2:1-20
Luke 2:1. “A decree from Cæsar Augustus.”—The providence of God is discovered to us in the Bible, overruling the actions of mankind, and adapting them to ends and purposes of which their authors were little conscious. Thus the present “taxing,” whether dictated by the ambition, or the curiosity, or the avarice of the Roman emperor, is shown to have furnished an occasion for drawing this holy pair from their remote home in Nazareth of Galilee to Bethlehem of Judæa—the village which the finger of Providence had long before pointed out as destined to be the place of Messiah’s birth; so entirely was Augustus ministering to the Divine pleasure, while in the exercise of imperial power he followed the dictates of his own unfettered will.—Burgon.
Cæsar’s Unconscious Obedience to God.—The unconscious obedience of Cæsar Augustus to the Divine will illustrates the statement in Proverbs 21:1 : “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will.”
“The whole world.”—The whole habitable world is related to Jesus, who was willing to be enrolled in the same catalogue with them, and not with Jews alone.—Wordsworth.
A Testimony to Christ’s Greatness.—The whole world was moved to bring about the fulfilment of the prophecy: this a testimony to the pre-eminent greatness of Jesus.
“Should be taxed.”—Though Judæa was still under the rule of a king of her own, he was subject to Cæsar, and even this semblance of independence was now passing away. This “first enrolment” was but preparatory to the subsequent transformation of Judæa into a Roman province. “The sceptre was just departing from Judah” (Genesis 49:10) when Christ was born.
Luke 2:4. “Joseph also went up … to Bethlehem.”—It had been foretold that there Christ was to be born. Yet the fulfilment of the prophecy was not brought about by any human contrivance or plan. Joseph and Mary went up to Bethlehem in obedience to the emperor’s decree; and, so far as the fulfilment of the prophecy was concerned, were led like the blind by a Divine hand.
Luke 2:7. “She brought forth her firstborn son.”—As by a woman death had been conveyed to all mankind, so was now a woman made the blessed instrument whereby He who is our life came into the world.—Burgon.
“Swaddling clothes and … a manger.”—No man will have cause to complain of his coarse robe, if he remembers the swaddling clothes of this Holy Child; nor to be disquieted at his hard bed, when he considers Jesus laid in a manger. The lowly circumstances connected with the birth of Jesus served two purposes:
1. They concealed the great event from the eyes of the thoughtless, sinful world.
2. They revealed the Divine condescension—the Son of God, who, though rich, for our sakes became poor (2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:5-8). The humility of His birth was characteristic of His whole spirit and life. “For our sakes He was born a stranger in an open stable; He lived without a place of His own wherein to lay His head, subsisting by the charity of good people; and He died naked on a cross in the close embraces of holy poverty” (a saying of St. Francis of Assisi). His example rebukes the worldly spirit which prizes outward pomp, and wealth, and rank, and despises things that are unpretentious and lowly—which is captivated by the transitory and blind to the eternal.
Christ in the Manger.—In the manger, where lay the food for cattle, there now lies the bread of angels, the sacred body, which nourishes us for eternal life.—Bede.
“No room for them in the inn.”—“He came unto His own, and they that were His own received Him not” (John 1:11). The silent entrance of the Son of God into the world is very striking. “The unfathomable depths of the Divine counsels were moved; the fountains of the great deep were broken up; the healing of the nations was issuing forth; but nothing was seen on the surface of human society but this slight rippling of the water.”
The Purpose of Christ’s Humiliation.—We see what sort of beginning the Son of God had, and in what cradle He was placed. Such was His condition from His birth, because He had taken upon Him our flesh, that He might “empty Himself” (Philippians 2:7) on our account. When He was thrown into a stable and placed in a manger, and a lodging refused Him among men, it was that heaven might be opened to us, not as a temporary lodging, but as our eternal country and inheritance, and that angels might receive us into their abode.—Calvin.
Luke 2:8-20. “The herald angels sing.”
I. The angel is the first evangelist.—Mark how steadily his words climb up from the cradle to the throne. The full joy and tremendous wonder of the first word are not felt till we read the last. It was much that there was born a Saviour, a Messiah; but the last word “Lord” crowns the wonder and the blessing, while it lays the only possible foundation for the other two names.
II. The message is for men.—“To you” first, to Israel; but its proffer stretches far wider, and includes all mankind. The angel speaks as one who has no share in the blessing. There is no envy, but there is the consciousness of non-participation. Yet the blessed life and death which are our salvation are their instruction in depths of Divine love, which could not else be disclosed to them who never fell.
III. The confirming sign.—This might rather have seemed fitted to contradict the glad tidings. It is a strange mark by which to identify one born to such lofty tasks and dignities, that He is, like all other infants, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and, unlike the child of the poorest, lies in a manger. Humiliation is the sign of majesty, the depth of lowliness, a witness of the height of glory. The cradle that was too poor for a child of man is fitting for the Son of God.
IV. The angelic chorus.—The one angel voice has barely time to tell its message, when, as if unable longer to be silent, “suddenly” the “multitude of the heavenly host pours out its praise.” I adhere to the old reading which divides the angel chorus into three clauses, of which the first and second may be regarded as the double result of that birth, while the third describes its deepest nature. The incarnation and work of Christ are the highest revelation of God. The wondrous birth brings harmony to earth.—Maclaren.
The First Gospel Preaching.
I. The message is good news.—Christianity is not a mere re-enactment of the moral law, but news of salvation to those who have broken that law.
II. Of great joy.—Neither conviction of sin, nor admonition of punishment, is the gospel, for these are not messages of great joy; they are the groundwork of preparation for the gospel. Nothing is gospel that is not joy-producing in those receiving it.
III. To all people.—To all ages, all nations, all classes, in society. Primarily, to the Jewish people, but the larger meaning is implied in this and in the preceding chapter.
IV. The cause of this joy.—The advent of a “Saviour” to save His people from their sins. “Christ” the anointed High Priest of God; “the Lord,” the very incarnation of Jehovah Himself.
V. The sign.—The proof of His divinity—the very humility of love; that He should be found cradled in a manger.—Abbott.
Luke 2:8. “Shepherds.”—This employment of tending sheep had been honoured in the earlier times of the Jewish people by its having been that in which Jacob, Moses, and David had been engaged; but now it was a calling that was looked upon by the Jews with contempt. The prophets had often made use of it in figurative descriptions of the work of the Messiah; and our Lord frequently spoke of Himself as having that relation to His people which a shepherd has to his flock.
The Spiritually-minded first hear of the Advent.—It was necessary that, as Christ had been born into the world, the fact should be communicated to men. He must be known in order that men might be drawn unto Him. But the annunciation of His advent was not made, in the first instance, to the rulers of the people or to the priests; for, as far as we can judge, both these classes of men were under the influence of worldly thoughts and ambitions, which blinded them to spiritual things. These shepherds, on the other hand, if we may judge from analogy, belonged to the class of those who were “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” The character of the others, to whom the special revelations recorded in these first two chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel were given—of Zacharias, Elisabeth, Simeon, and Anna—justifies our coming to this conclusion.
“Keeping watch over their flock.”—It was while they were engaged in their calling that they saw the heavenly vision—a privilege denied the hermit-like Essenes, who forsook secular employments, and gave themselves up to mystical contemplations, and to what they regarded as exclusively sacred exercises.
Luke 2:9. “The glory of the Lord.”—At every period in the humiliation of Christ some notable declaration of His Divine glory is given. In this place, it is by the angel’s message; in His circumcision, it is by the name Jesus; in His presentation in the Temple, it is by the testimony of Simeon; in His baptism, it is by the protest of John; and the same fact was manifested in many ways in the course of His passion.—Bengel.
“They were sore afraid.”—The cause of their fear was a sense of sinfulness and of alienation from God, and a dread of His righteous displeasure. This fear could only be dispelled by an authoritative declaration, such as that now given, of God’s compassion towards the sinful, and of His gift of a Saviour. These good tidings were the source of true joy; for until men have peace with God, through Christ, all joy is deceitful and short-lived.
Luke 2:10-11. The First Christmas Sermon.—We are justified in calling it a sermon because of the angel’s words: “I bring you good tidings”; or, “I preach the gospel” (εὐαγγελίζω).
I. The preacher.—“The angel.” So great was the message that no less a personage was worthy to bear it. The angels desire to look into the things that concern the salvation of men. God’s dealings with men reveal to them the depths of Divine wisdom and love. They are intimately associated with the history of Christ’s redeeming work. Angels told beforehand of His birth, and that of His forerunner; here they celebrate and announce His birth; they ministered to Him after His temptation in the wilderness; an angel strengthened Him during His agony in the garden; an angel rolled away the stone from His sepulchre; and angels announce to the disciples the fact that He had risen from the dead, and at His ascension angels prophesy of His second coming.
II. The audience.—“Said unto them,” i.e. to the shepherds. As the message the angel bore concerned all men, any men might have been selected to hear it first: any on whom he chanced to come would have been qualified to receive it—for he came to tell of the birth of a Saviour of whom all stand in need. But there was special appropriateness in these shepherds being the first to hear of it. For they were Jews, and therefore acquainted with the promises of deliverance and redemption which now were to be fulfilled in Christ: they followed a simple mode of life, and were evidently of a devout frame of mind, so that they were not likely to be biassed by the prejudices and misconceptions which prevented so many from recognising the Divine glory of Christ; and then, too, they were in the immediate neighbourhood of the place where this great event had occurred.
III. The message.—“Be not afraid,” etc.
1. The first words are to allay their fears—“Fear not”; it is not ill news he brings, but good news: they are to be made partakers of a “great joy”—a joy so great as to gladden the heart of every member of their nation and of the human race.
2. Then the glad tidings are fully unfolded. “To-day,” in the village hard by, One has been born who is “a Saviour”—for the sick, the sinful, the lost, and the perishing—who is “Christ,” anointed of God to fulfil all the offices of expiation, enlightenment, and rule, prefigured and signified by priests, prophets, and kings—and who is of Divine nature, “the Lord.” Others had in some special emergency and for a portion of their lives been deliverers or saviours of God’s people from temporal evils; but He is Saviour from the first, and all through His life, and the evils from which He delivers are the worst which assail and destroy the bodies and souls of men.
The duties that rest upon us are to hear the glad tidings as specially concerning us, and as being the best news that could be brought to our knowledge, and to receive the Saviour sent to us from heaven.
Luke 2:10-15. Luke’s Narrative of the Incarnation.—The leading ideas of the narrative of the Incarnation in Luke’s Gospel, the aspects from which he regarded it, and from which he wished the Church to regard it, are suggested in a summary form by this glorious passage.
I. The Incarnation is real.—The Saviour is no shadowy, unreal being. He is really born, a real babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, in a definite place, at a definite date in human history. It was a true human birth; it was a true human body. There was with equal truth a true human soul. The reality of the Incarnation, according to Luke, was twofold:
1. Physiological (Luke 1:35). It is natural that the physician-evangelist should note the successive stages in the early development of Him who was so wonderfully born. He is “conceived in the womb of Mary”; “the fruit of her womb”; “the Holy Thing to be born”; “the Babe”; “Her Son”; “the Child”; “the Boy”; the Man “about thirty years old.”
2. Historical. See Luke 1:3. In the present section the reality is emphasised by a date which was intended to fix its place in the domain of history (“the taxing under Cyrenius”). This is supplemented by other chronological marks which touch upon the records of several governments, and which, when compared with the statement of the Saviour’s age, materially aid in bringing us to the period of His birth.
II. The universality of the Incarnation.—The remedy is not merely for the Jewish race, or for a selected few, the special favourites of Heaven. It is for the whole diseased material of human nature; for all the sinful, the weary, the suffering; for the whole great army of the miserable and guilty in every land. Hence in Luke’s Gospel Jesus meets all who cross His path with impartial sympathy. Hence just before He leaves the earth He commands. His disciples to preach “repentance and remission of sins in His name among all the nations.”
III. The Incarnation is joy-bringing.
When the voice of her who had conceived “the Holy Thing which was to be born” reached Elisabeth, the Holy Ghost filled her with a sweet surprise, and “the Babe leaped in her womb for joy.” The angel of the Lord upon the first Christmas eve struck the key-note not only of the Incarnation prelude, but of the whole gospel. “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.” As it begins, so it ends. “And they worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”—Alexander.
Luke 2:10. “Good tidings of great joy … to all people.”—The word “joy” fills a larger place in Scripture than in ordinary Christian life. In Scripture we find joy not only as a promise, but as a precept, imperative, unconditional, oft-repeated: “Rejoice in the Lord alway.” Joy is the overflow of happiness. Before joy in the Christian sense there must be happiness.
I. The messenger of joy.—An angel. To a fallen being great joy can only come in the form of tidings from heaven. Earth is dark with sin and woe. Happiness is out of reach of the sinner, unless God shall say to him some entirely new thing. “Revelation” is the one hope for all that concerns happiness of the creature that has sinned. “Tidings” then—but what tidings? A new revelation of duty, or a new gospel?
II. The message of joy.—A birth. The gospel is a Divine incarnation; the removal not by us, but for us, through the death of the God-man, of human guilt. Believe this, and you have life. Christ born on purpose that He might die—this is the gospel.
III. The recipients of joy.—“All people.” Joy to the whole of each people. The Jewish people was only the sample of all peoples. “Whosoever will” is the gospel call. It is our bounden duty to present the gospel to the world as good tidings of great joy to all people. The gospel preached as joy for all people, so large and free that it has room for all, unites all, has a voice for all characters, and prevails already with all kinds—this is God’s gospel. Let this be the joy of each receptive heart.—Vaughan.
“To all the people” (R.V.).—While there is a seeming restriction, the word chosen, “to all the people,” would in due time bear its largest and most comprehensive application.—Pope.
“Good tidings.”—The words of the angel to the shepherds fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1), which Christ afterwards quoted as setting forth the greatest of the blessings He was to bestow: “The poor have good tidings [the gospel] preached to them” (Matthew 11:5).
“Great joy.”—These words show us that until men have peace with God, and are reconciled to Him through the grace of Christ, all the joy they experience is deceitful and of short duration. Ungodly men frequently indulge in frantic and intoxicating mirth; but if there be none to make peace between them and God, the hidden, stings of conscience must produce fearful torment. The beginning of solid joy is to perceive the fatherly love of God toward us, which alone gives tranquillity to our minds.—Calvin.
“To all people.”—The announcement is national in its character, for “the people” here referred to are the descendants of Abraham. Yet the message is sent to Israel in order that it may be communicated by them to all mankind. Both in Luke 2:14 (“good-will toward men”) and in Luke 2:32 (“a light to lighten the Gentiles”) the wider import of Christ’s birth is recognised. See how the circle widens:
1. Good tidings to the shepherds (“I bring you).
2. Joy for “all the people,” i.e. the Jewish people.
3. God’s mercy and love are for all mankind (“good-will toward men,” Luke 2:14).
Luke 2:11-12. “Christ the, Lord … the Babe.”—The angel of the Lord described Jesus Christ by most remarkable names—the Saviour, Christ the Lord, and the Babe! This marvellous combination of almightiness and helplessness has its counterpart in the whole doctrine and history of Christianity itself. Viewed in its merely human and literary aspect, what can be less pretentious than Christianity—expounded in the smallest of books, upheld by unlearned and ignorant men, without a temple, a priesthood, a ritual? On the other hand, viewed in its spiritual aspects, what can exceed in grace and glory the idea of subduing, regenerating, and glorifying the whole world?—Parker.
Luke 2:11. “Unto you.”—The words are emphatic, and perhaps may be taken as implying that the anticipation of a coming Saviour had been strong in these men’s minds.
“City of David.”—It is taken for granted that the shepherds were acquainted with those prophetic passages of Holy Scripture which
(1) declared that the coming Deliverer would spring from the house of David, and
(2) which pointed out Bethlehem as the place where He would be born.
“A Saviour.”—The name Jesus is not given here, but the title of the “Saviour “is equivalent to it.
Salvation.—It is a curious fact that “Saviour” and “salvation,” so common in St. Luke and St. Paul (in whose writings they occur forty-four times), are comparatively rare in the rest of the New Testament. “Saviour” only occurs in John 4:42; 1 John 4:14, and six times in 2 Peter and Jude; “salvation” only in John 4:22, and thirteen times in the rest of the New Testament.—Farrar.
Luke 2:12. “A sign.”—Rather, “the sign” (R.V.). A sign is not asked for by them, yet one is given them. God does not always call for the manifestation of a heroic faith, but is sometimes pleased, in His mercy, to strengthen faith when it is subjected to a test that might break it down. It put, indeed, no slight strain upon faith to be asked to believe that an infant, a few hours old, and born in poverty and obscurity, was Christ and Lord. The sign given served a twofold purpose:
(1) it enabled the shepherds to identify the child of whom the angel spake, and
(2) it confirmed their faith in the good tidings brought to them.
Luke 2:13. “Suddenly.”—As if eager to break in as soon as the last words of the wonderful tidings had dropped from their fellows’ lips.—Brown.
“A multitude.”—Among men the testimony of “two or three witnesses” (Matthew 18:16) is sufficient to remove all doubt. But here is a heavenly host with one consent and one voice bearing testimony to the Son of God.—Calvin.
“Praising God.”—It was the birthday of the new creation. A new corner-stone was being laid. Well, therefore, may the morning stars have sung together, and all the sons of God have shouted for joy.—Burgon.
Luke 2:14. “Glory to God in the highest.”—The song of the angels expresses the wonder and joy which God’s redeeming love towards mankind excites in their hearts (cf. 1 Peter 1:12). It consists of a twofold prayer:
(1) that praise may ascend from earth, and pass through the heavens to the throne of God exalted above them all;
(2) that all through the earth there may be that peace that comes from reconciliation with God: and it closes with a statement of the reason for this praise and of the ground of this peace—God’s good-will is now made manifest to men and dwells among them. “Glory [be] to God in the highest, and on earth [let there be] peace, [because of His] good-will toward men.”
The Worship of Angels.—The words of the angels present us with an example of the worship rendered to God in heaven, which consists, as we see, of praise and thanksgiving, without petitions or supplications. With it we may fitly compare the adoration rendered in heaven by redeemed souls (Revelation 5:9-10).
“Glory to God,” etc.—The hymn consists of three propositions, which may be taken either as expressions of desire or of actual fact: “Glory [be] to God”; or, “Glory [is] to God.” It seems more natural to take the first and second propositions as being of the nature of prayers, and the third as a statement of the fact upon which the devout aspirations which precede it are based. In the first—“Glory to God in the highest”—the angels who have come down upon the earth ask that, in the heavens above them up to the very throne of God, the blessed spirits of whom they are but a small company, should begin a song of praise in honour of the Divine perfections which shine forth in the wonderful gift bestowed upon men. The second—“on earth peace”—is the complement of the first. The angels ask that on this earth, troubled by sin and disturbed by strife, the Divine peace which they themselves enjoy may descend—a peace which should result from the reconciliation implied in this birth. And then the third—“good-will toward men”—affords justification of the two preceding prayers. This is the reason why praise should be rendered to God in heaven, and why peace should henceforth reign on earth. God has manifested in a signal manner His special good-will towards men.—Godet.
The Angels’ Song.—The whole life of our Saviour was a commentary on these words. His aim was to glorify His Father’s name, to establish peace between heaven and earth, and to manifest God’s good-will to men.
I. Glory to God.—This is the first thought in the angels’ minds, and should be our ruling motive in all our conduct. “Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus has taught us to utter prayers and aspirations for the hallowing of God’s name, the coming of His kingdom, and the doing of His will, before we offer petitions on our own behalf.
II. Peace on earth.—Christ was the ambassador telling us that God was willing to pardon our sins, and to lay aside His just anger against them, and seeking to lead us by repentance and submission to a firm and lasting peace with Him. His object was to abolish all fear, and anxiety, and enmity: to give our disturbed consciences rest; to free us from the cares, and doubts, and perplexities which so often distract our thoughts; and to fill our hearts with love to God and to our brethren.
III. “Good-will to men.”—God’s good-pleasure toward us, and not any merits of our own, forms the ground on which we look for salvation. His pity for us in our helplessness moved Him to send His Son for our redemption. “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The thought of this great and undeserved love that has been shown to us should fill our hearts with humility, and gratitude, and faith.
The Angelic Doxology.—The angels themselves retire, no more to be seen until the second coming of the Lord—their Lord and ours. But their song of sympathy with man remains, to be studied and echoed in innumerable songs by those whom it most concerned. Their doxology is at once prophecy and hymn. Its strain makes heaven and earth one. In Christ, on the night beginning His new life in human nature, they behold accomplished redemption. “Glory” redounds to God in the accomplishment of His eternal counsel for the salvation of men; and that glory is declared by anticipation to be rendered on earth, as it is already rendered in heaven. As to man, the prophetic doxology of the angels speaks of “peace”—the peace of a reconciling gospel, proclaiming the Divine reconciliation to the world. We hear in the angels’ hymn the most perfect tribute to the finished work of “Christ the Lord.”—Pope.
Luke 2:15. “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem.”—The angels withdraw from the scene; the shepherds at once seek the infant Redeemer. That which to the heavenly visitants is a matter of interest is to men a matter of concern, for He is their Saviour.
The Hidden Beauties of Bethlehem.
I. The darkness that enfolds the wonderful Incarnation by night.—We would have expected the “Light of the world” to be born in the sunniest hour of the day—the day most full of light in that brilliant Eastern land. Yet it is far otherwise. Does He not love to be born in our souls, now, not in the noontide of sin and passion, but in sad and lonely hours, in dark seasons?
II. Notice next the stillness around Bethlehem.—The strange, awful peace reigning in this cavern nursery. The villagers are not thronging the streets in wonder. What a surprise to the shepherds to find the streets empty, and none crowding in before them at the stable door! They look in. Only a poor Jewish maiden, and an old man, bending over a little child. In this silence we learn one of the greatest secrets of our holy religion. Jesus can only come to the silent, waiting, prayerful soul.—Mellor.
Luke 2:16. The Manger Scene.
I. The scene as a whole.—It represents pre-eminently the disclosure of Divine love, God’s self-disclosure. God’s revelation of Himself all through the universe has here reached its culminating point.
II. Each particular figure in the group.—
1. Jesus in His helpless infancy. The lesson of humility, the lesson of obedience. Realise the sin of man’s claim—utterly false claim—to be independent of God. Jesus teaches that the true worth of human life is just in proportion as men learn to obey. Look at the infant Saviour, and learn this dignity of utter, boundless dependence upon God.
2. Mary bending over the cradle. What is the secret of this majestic pattern of womanhood and motherhood? It is the same thing under another form. Eve’s disobedience was a demand to be independent of God. Mary reverses the disobedience of Eve. “Be it unto me according to Thy word.” Mysterious and majestic was the claim which came upon her. In principle the same claim comes upon us. God needs us, has work for us to do. Our self-surrender, our correspondence with God, makes it possible for God to use us. Will we correspond? Will we take Mary’s words into our lips, “Be it unto me according to Thy word”?
3. Joseph is the third in the group. We do not think enough of his glory in that he yields himself with such quiet dignity to the strange claims of God upon him. He accepted the extraordinary claim which religion laid upon him. He constituted himself the foster-father, the protector, of Mary and her Divine Child. And there is asked of us all an ordinary thing, which does lay upon men something of the same sort as was laid upon Joseph—the requirement that we should be the protectors of religion, even though it costs us much.—Gore.
The Beginning of Christian Worship.—When the shepherds with Joseph and Mary knelt at the manger-cradle, they inaugurated Christian worship, and the communion of saints: by making known “the saying told them concerning this Child,” they became the first preachers of the gospel. They received no commission to spread the glad tidings; but doubtless they felt like Peter and John, “we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
Luke 2:17. “They made known abroad the saying.”—We see in the shepherds an example
(1) of faith in the message from heaven;
(2) of obedience to the command to seek the Saviour;
(3) of zeal in communicating to others the glad tidings concerning Jesus, and
(4) of attention to present duties; for after adoring their Saviour they return (Luke 2:20), with love to God in their hearts, and with praise to Him on their lips, to the duties of their daily life.
Luke 2:18-19. “Wondered … pondered.”—The impressions formed upon different hearts by witnessing these great events, or by hearing of them:
1. Mere wonder excited, which soon passed away.
2. A retention of them and meditation upon them.
Luke 2:19. The Grace of Meditation.—The text gives more than a mere feature of Mary’s character: it presents to us her main and distinctive quality.
I. She kept these things in her heart.—How marvellous the experience of that one year! The Annunciation, the Birth, the Angelic Choir, the Shepherd Visitors,—well can we understand how she, the blessed and honoured mother, kept all these sayings in her heart; lost not the remembrance by day or by night, but treasured it in her inmost soul as that which could not pass nor be forgotten.
II. She pondered them in her heart.—The word denotes putting together, combining and harmonising; that process which is a first condition of all true knowledge. Much, in her case, needed such harmonising. Who was she, to have such a destiny? Who was He of whom she had become the mother? The wonder is, not that she long pondered, but that she ever believed. The very possession of the earthly presence must have impeded rather than facilitated the realisation of the heavenly. Do we, however, follow Mary’s example? We have in its full compass, God’s revelation—our own individual history—our spiritual condition—our hopes for the future—abundant materials for meditation. But we must first realise such things before we can either keep them or ponder. One great temptation of our age is to neglect reflection. How different our restless modern life from the still, tranquil life of the villages of Palestine. We are in danger of dissipating even religious thoughts, and of drowning the very voice of conscience in the multitude of our professions and the variety of our doings. Let us then cultivate the peculiar grace which shone in the Lord’s mother. If we read little, let us keep it well: if we read much, let it be because we have time to ponder. Haste in Divine things is ever a sign of heartlessness. A moment spent in self-recollection is worth hours of sacred reading without it. The test of true religion lies, for every man, in this self-examination. Without this there cannot be a heart right with God, nor a mind resolutely set on things above. Where there is a want of this pondering, of this musing and meditating, on the things of God, there can be but a feeble hold upon spiritual realities. Mere familiarity with the sound of God’s revelation may lead as much to spiritual ignorance as to intellectual knowledge.
III. There are many ways of practising this grace of meditation.—Firm, resolute self-examination is one of these; and earnest, steady contemplation of God, and Christ, and the Holy Spirit as revealed to us in the Scriptures is another one of these; and praying over a verse or two of the Bible, on the strength of their being true, and in reference to their spiritual teaching, is another of these. So, too, a most impressive exercise is the act of Holy Communion. There we ponder His truth in His presence; there in an especial manner is the Master with His disciple, and the Revealer with His word.—Vaughan.
Luke 2:20. “Glorifying and praising God.”—The greatness of the work, and the goodness of God, as manifested by it, are respectively implied in these two words, “glorifying” and “praising.”—Godet.
Luke 2:21. The child.—The best MSS. read “Him.”
Luke 2:22. Her purification.—The true reading is, “their purification” (R.V.). The mother was ceremonially unclean by child-birth, the others of the household by daily contact. The law of purification is given in Leviticus 12:0. At the conclusion of forty days a lamb was to be offered as a burnt-offering, and a turtle-dove or young pigeon as a sin-offering. In case of poverty two turtle-doves or young pigeons were to be offered instead, one as a burnt-offering and the other as a sin-offering. To present Him.—As a first-born male. “The first-born male of every species was sacred to the Lord, in memory of the delivery of the first-born of the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 12:29-30; Exodus 13:2). But the first-born male child was to be redeemed for money (Exodus 13:11-15; Numbers 18:15-16), and the whole tribe of Levi was regarded as having been substituted for the first-born (Numbers 3:12-13)” (Speaker’s Commentary).
Luke 2:23. That openeth the womb.—Figurative for “first-born.”
Luke 2:24. A pair of turtle-doves, etc.—As no mention is made of the lamb, it has been reasonably inferred that the holy family were poor.
Luke 2:25. Simeon.—According to some the son of the famous Rabbi Hillel and the father of Gamaliel. This is scarcely possible, as the Simeon of the text seems to have been in extreme old age (Luke 2:26-29), while the other was president of the Sanhedrim some seventeen or eighteen years later. The name was at this time very common among the Jews. Just and devout.—Cf. Luke 1:6. The one epithet describes external conduct, the other the inward, spiritual character. The consolation of Israel.—A beautiful title of Christ or description of the blessings expected from His coming. Cf. Mark 15:43.
Luke 2:26. The Lord’s Christ.—I.e. the Anointed of Jehovah. Cf. Psalms 2:2.
Luke 2:27. By the Spirit.—I.e. under the influence of the Spirit.
Luke 2:29. Now lettest Thou.—Death seemed near and sure since he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
Luke 2:31. All people.—Rather, “all peoples” (R.V.), divided in Luke 2:32 into Gentiles (sitting in darkness, to whom Christ was to be a light) and Jews (whose glory He was to be).
Luke 2:32. To lighten the Gentiles.—Rather, “for revelation to the Gentiles” (R.V.).
Luke 2:34. Is set.—Lit. “lies”: perhaps the figure is akin to that of the stone lying on the path, which is to some a stone of stumbling, to others a stone of support. The fall and rising again.—Rather, “the fall and rising up” (R.V.), i.e. “for the fall of many who now stand, and for the rising of many who now lie prostrate, ‘that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’ The child was to be a touch-stone of character, of faith, and of love. God’s true but hidden servants would embrace Him; the hypocrites would reject Him” (Speaker’s Commentary). The prediction finds fulfilment in the fall of Pharisees and scribes, and the rising of publicans and sinners. A sign, etc.—That His life and teaching would provoke violent opposition—a prophecy only too abundantly fulfilled.
Luke 2:35. Yea, a sword.—Reference having been made to opposition excited by the life and teaching of Christ, it is natural to see here an allusion to the grief this would excite in the heart of His mother; the sword would pierce deepest at the cross. This idea pervades the Stabat Mater dolorosa. Any reference to Mary’s anguish for sin, or doubts concerning the Messiahship of her Son, seems out of place.
Luke 2:36. Anna.—The same name as Hannah. A prophetess.—Known as such previous to this time. Cf. cases of Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah in the Old Testament, the daughters of Philip in the New (Acts 21:9). Aser.—I.e. Asher. It is interesting to note the presence of one belonging to the ten tribes in the Holy Land at this epoch. Had lived, etc.—I.e. bad been married for seven years, and was now a widow of fourscore and four years of age.
Luke 2:37. Departed not.—Probably denotes assiduous attendance (cf. Acts 2:46): it may mean that her home was in the Temple, that as prophetess she lived in one of the chambers of the holy building. Fastings.—Only one fast appointed in the law, that on the great Day of Atonement. The Pharisees were in the habit of fasting twice in the week (Luke 18:12), on Mondays and Thursdays.
Luke 2:38. Looked for.—I.e. “expected.” The readings of the last clause in the verse vary: the R.V. gives it, “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Jerusalem regarded as the place where redemption would begin. The expectations of these devout souls would be checked by the flight into Egypt, the withdrawal to Nazareth, and the long years of silence before the prophecies concerning Christ began to find fulfilment in His public ministry.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 2:21-39
The Holy Spirit testifies to Christ.—The veil which concealed the glory of Christ had for a moment been drawn aside by the angels, and the shepherds had seen in Him their Lord and Saviour. But after this revelation the veil falls again, and He takes His place among men without anything to distinguish Him from them. He is treated as ordinary Jewish children were; He is circumcised on the eighth day, presented in the Temple on the fortieth day; the Virgin offers sacrifice for her purification, and makes the offering by which He, like other first-born children not of the tribe of Levi, was redeemed from service in the Temple. The only remarkable circumstance is that the name (not in itself an uncommon one) was that appointed by the angel before His conception. But when He appears in the Temple, the veil that conceals His glory is again drawn aside: at the very moment when He is subject to the ordinances of the law, witnesses are raised up and inspired by God to declare that He is the Desired One for whose coming Israel had long waited, and who was to be the Light of the world. Special interest attaches to those who on this occasion were the organs of the Holy Spirit to make this announcement to men. We notice:—
I. Both Simeon and Anna were persons of holy character.—They had that purity of heart which enables us to see God—to have understanding of Divine things.
II. Their faith and hope were strong.—They waited for the consolation of Israel as those who expected to see it, and God rewarded the confidence they placed in His promises.
III. They were not of official rank, yet they received revelations which were denied to priests and doctors of the law. This is in accordance with the Divine procedure in the case of many who were called to be prophets. The majority of the prophets were laymen, whose words had weight from the fact of their being immediately inspired of God, and not because the speakers had a claim to be heard apart from that which their message gave them. Nor can it be without significance that the one of these witnesses was a man and the other a woman, since under the new covenant inaugurated by Christ both sexes are on an equality before God which was before but imperfectly indicated.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 2:21-39
Luke 2:21. “The circumcising of the child.”—By circumcision Jesus entered into the covenant relationship with God in which the Jewish nation stood, and of which that rite was the seal. Henceforth there rested on Him the obligation to keep the law and commandments laid upon the children of Israel. The purification from sin which circumcision symbolised was an element in the rite which had no personal significance for Him. Yet His submission to circumcision, as afterwards to baptism, was necessary to His becoming “like His brethren.” “Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made [born, R.V.] of a woman, made [born, R.V.] under the law” (Galatians 4:4). “God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).
“Was called Jesus.”—Less stress is laid upon the fact of Jesus receiving circumcision than upon that of the significant name bestowed upon Him at the time. His Divine character and His freedom from taint of sin are implied in the title of Saviour: the name given Him by the special appointment of God distinguishes Him from all others born of woman, as One who would save the sinful, and therefore of necessity be Himself free from sin.
“Before He was conceived.”—The unique glory of Christ as one in whom the Father was well pleased is delicately implied in the name bestowed upon Him before He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin.
“When eight days were accomplished.”—Our celebration of December 25th as the day of Christ’s nativity makes the first day of the new year to correspond with the date of His circumcision and of His receiving the name Jesus. The putting away of the sinful nature, and the acceptance of obligation to obey the law of God, which are implied in circumcision, suggest appropriate thoughts for the beginning of the new year; and along with them the name of Jesus should suggest the absolution of our past offences, and the gift of spiritual strength for the time that is to come.
The Circumcision of our Lord.—As man our Lord underwent in infancy the rite which was enjoined by the Jewish law. As God He willed to undergo it. He might have ordered things otherwise. But He freely submitted to this, as to all the humiliations of His earthly life, and to death itself. Notice, in this submission—
I. Our Lord gave emphatic sanction to the principle that a feature of heathen practice or religion might be occasionally consecrated to serve the purpose of religious truth.—It is certain that from early times some heathen nations did practise circumcision. Abraham would not regard it as a new rite; for it was common, if not universal, in Egypt. With him, therefore, it was an old rite with a new meaning. The Holy Spirit lays under contribution for His high purposes various words, thoughts, arguments, customs, symbols, rites, associated before with false religions or with none; He invests them with a new and higher meaning, and thus enlists them in a holier service.
II. Our Lord became obedient to the whole Mosaic law.—“Made under the law.” This was the meaning of circumcision, so far as man was concerned; it was an undertaking to be true to everything in the covenant with God, of which it was the initial rite. Our lord voluntarily submitted to ordinances which He Himself had instituted, but to ordinances which had no purpose or meaning except as referring to Himself. He could not have done more had He been consciously ignorant or criminal. He could not have done less if He was to represent us, in His life of perfect obedience, as well as on His cross of shame. “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” What a lesson of obedience! When do many get into trouble with God? When they make their estimate of their wants, and not God’s declared will, the rule of conduct. Our Lord submitted, because the Father so ordered, and because we needed the bright example and moral strength of His submission.
III. Our Lord submitted to this rite in order to persuade us of the necessity of that spiritual circumcision which was prefigured by it.—Even the Old Testament teaches a moral and spiritual as well as a literal circumcision. Heart, lips, ears, must be circumcised. For us the literal rite is of no value: the real rite is spiritual. Its essence is the mortification of earthly desire. Desire no longer centres in God, but is mainly lavished upon objects of sense. Thus the soul is degraded; it becomes animalised. Hence the necessity for spiritual circumcision. The mortification of degraded desire is the most serious business of a true Christian life. “If thy right hand offend thee,” etc. Our Lord meant by these searching words the mortification of desire which no longer centres in God.—Liddon.
The Name of Jesus.
I. Why should this importance be attached to a name, even although it be the name of our Lord?—We think lightly of names. We contrast names with realities, words with things. Not so in the Bible. Names there are significant. The name of God is treated as if it were a living thing. Is this merely an orientalism? No. Is it not better to feel one language, as the Hebrews felt theirs, than to use the words of two or three as mere counters. A name is a power. Some names invigorate and illuminate; others darken and depress by reason of their associations. The choice of a child’s name is not to be left to chance. Every child possesses in his surname a social and moral inheritance; it is decided for him before his birth: but what of his Christian name, which you are to fix on him indelibly? Our Lord entering the world as a Jew, His human name was constructed on the Hebrew type. It belongs to a large class of personal titles in which the sacred name of God—Jehovah—is connected with some one of His works or attributes.
II. We might have expected that our Lord would have chosen a unique name, unshared by any of the sons of men.—But He willed it otherwise. In His name He had many forerunners, the greatest of whom is Joshua, the “saviour” of Israel, a man of “blood and iron.” This greater Joshua is a Saviour in a higher sense. Is He not the Author of all the self-restraint, the truthfulness, the courage, the purity, the disinterestedness, the sacrifice, which save society? Joshua (or Hoshea) was a name borne of old by intellectual deliverers. Jesus Christ it is who has saved the human race from ignorance of the truths which it most concerns man to know. Another Joshua was the high priest of the Restoration, an earthly anticipation of of our ascended King and Priest upon His throne. He is a Saviour who delivers us from sin’s guilt by His sufferings, and from sin’s power by His grace.—Ibid.
Luke 2:22. The Consecration of the Family to God.—The law of Moses prescribed
(1) the purification of the mother, and
(2) the presentation of the first-born son to the Lord. So close were the ties by which God and His people were bound together, every mother in the time of her newfound happiness was called to appear before God, to receive purification from the taints inseparably connected with the transmission of a sinful nature, and each first-born son was acknowledged as so specially His that he could only be redeemed from service in the Temple by payment of a fine in money. This consecration of the family to God was one of the noblest features of Judaism.
Luke 2:24. The Sacrifice of Purification.—Humble circumstances, but not abject poverty, are implied in the offering presented by Mary for the sacrifice of purification; for in the Mosaic law provision was made for those who might be too poor to afford the offering specified in the text. The considerate spirit in which that law was drawn up is manifested, not only in the scale of sacrifices to suit persons in different conditions of life, but also in the alternative of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” The turtle-doves being migratory birds might not be procurable at the time when they were needed in any particular place, and it might be difficult to catch old pigeons, so it was allowable to bring young pigeons taken from the nest.
An Appropriate Offering.—There is something in the birds themselves—the doves—characteristic of the love, purity, and meekness of Christ, anointed above His fellows with the gifts of the Divine Dove.—Wordsworth.
The Lamb of God brought into the Temple.—Mary cannot bring a lamb for an offering; she brings something better, even the true Lamb of God, into the Temple.—Van Oosterzee.
Luke 2:25-26. “A man, whose name was Simeon.”—His character is described in a few pregnant words. As regards his relation to the spirit of the law, he was “just.” In relation to God, he possessed that careful reverential spirit which is ever cautious not to offend. His heart was not wanting in that attitude of sweet expectation, that flower-like unfolding to the dews of promise, characteristic of true holiness under the older dispensation; he waited in hushed expectancy for the “consolation of Israel.” And that consolation implies a Consoler. Such influence of the Spirit was upon him as was yet vouchsafed under the first covenant. To this man God’s will stood revealed in a way which Luke describes with a sweet and subtle antithesis: “It was revealed unto him that he should not see death before he had seen the Anointed of the Lord.” Just as the Virgin and Child were coming up, Simeon “came in the Spirit into the Temple courts.” God directs the path of His faithful servants, that good may meet them on the way. We go here and there, and at times seem to ourselves as if we were floating half at random. But there is a guiding purpose. Then the Evangelist tells us with simple emphasis, “And he himself also received Him into his arms.” Now he feels that he may and must soon go home. So arises his sentinel-song.—Alexander.
“A man in Jerusalem,” etc.—The description given of Simeon may be resolved into seven distinct statements, proceeding from the general to the particular—seven concentric circles:
1. A man—his dignity consisting not merely in official standing, wealth, notoriety, or gifts, but in his manhood.
2. In Jerusalem—in the possession of special privileges as a Jew.
3. Just—upright in his outward life.
4. Devout—in spirit, as one who loved and obeyed God.
5. Animated by religious hopes—looking for the consolation of Israel.
6. An organ of the Holy Ghost—the Holy Ghost was upon him.
7. One who had received a special revelation and promise (Luke 2:26).
“Waiting for the consolation of Israel,’ or rather looking for it as something which was now close at hand, as he was assured by the infallible testimony of the Spirit that it was.
“It was revealed unto him.”—Not to the priests, or to a priest, for they as a class were at this time corrupt and unspiritual, as we see from their unsympathetic and even hostile attitude towards Christ during His public ministry. God therefore passes them by, and chooses unofficial persons, such as Simeon and Anna, to be the organs of the Holy Spirit.
Luke 2:25-32. Hope Realised.—The outward circumstances of the presentation in the Temple are devoid of anything to arrest attention or to appeal to a love of the marvellous. No miracles dazzle the senses of beholders. Nothing is seen but two parents of humble rank of life presenting their child to God and offering the sacrifice of the poor. Simeon, who greets them, is no official of high rank; his only claim to distinction is the beauty and elevation of his character—“just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.” It is this last-named circumstance which gives significance to his action and words. He is a type of those who under the old covenant had waited for and longed for the coming of the Saviour. We see in him the Church of the patriarchs and prophets, which takes the newborn Christ into its failing arms and presents Him to the Church of the future, and says, “As for me, my task is accomplished; here He is whom I have so ardently desired to behold; here He is who is Saviour and King.”
Simeon’s Hope and Faith.—
1. The first remarkable feature in the character of Simeon was the firmness of his hope. He looked forward to the future in the firm conviction inspired by the Holy Spirit that before he saw death he would see the Lord’s Christ. The attitude he maintained was not peculiar to him, though the special prophecy in which he trusted was given to him alone—it was that of the devout in Israel in all ages of their history. Their golden age was in the future, and not in the past. And we as Christians look forward to a brighter and happier time than the present, when the kingdom of Christ shall have fully come. Our Master is absent, and we look for His return.
2. The second remarkable feature is the greatness of his faith. What was it that his bodily eyes beheld? A child a few weeks old—the child of poor and obscure parents. What appeared to the eye of his spirit? The Saviour of the world, who was to raise up the fallen nation of Israel to more than its former glory, and give light and hope to the heathen world. And can our faith languish and die when we have before us Christ, not as a helpless child, but as the Redeemer who has made atonement for sin and has ascended to the right hand of God—when we have before us His Divine teaching and holy life, and all the influence which He has exercise 1 upon human society? His hopes realised, his faith assured, he has but one emotion—that of joy; his soul enters into a holy peace. Nothing now can move him to desire to linger longer upon earth; it only remains for him to leave the post he has occupied for so many years, from which he has eagerly looked for the rising of this star, and to enter into his rest.
Luke 2:27. “Came by the Spirit into the Temple.”—It might seem accidental, but was not so. A secret impulse urged him to go into the sacred precincts at that particular moment; it was one of the great crises of his life, when all depended upon obeying the Divine intimation pointing out his course, but not compelling him to take it. Do not many of our failures and disappointments in life result from ignoring or disobeying what we believe to be good impulses?
A True Priest.—The parents brought in the child Jesus, and Simeon received Him into his arms, as a true priest appointed of God, though not anointed of man.
Luke 2:28. “Then took he Him up in his arms.”—The aged and righteous Simeon—the good old man of the law—received into his arms the child Jesus presented in the Temple, and signified his desire to depart; and thus represents to us the law, now worn out with age, ready to embrace the gospel, and so to depart in peace.—Wordsworth.
Luke 2:29-32. Hope fulfilled.—As the swan is said to sing just before its death, so does this aged saint break forth into a psalm of thanksgiving as he beholds the Saviour, whom it had been predicted he should see before he should taste of death. With devout gratitude he takes farewell of life, now that he has received the object of his hopes. The anticipation of seeing the Lord’s Christ had made him cling to life; but now that the Holy Child is within his arms, he has nothing more to wish for, and is ready to depart. “Now let me die, since I have seen Thy face.”
The Sentinel—Simeon represents himself under the figure of a sentinel whom his master has stationed upon an elevated place to watch for the appearance of a certain star and to give notice to the world of its arrival. He sees the wished-for star, and announces that it has risen, and asks to be set free from the post he has occupied so long. It is thus that, in the opening of the Agamemnon of Æschylus, the sentinel stationed to watch for the signal-fire that would tell that Troy had fallen when he at last beholds the long-expected blaze, celebrates in verse both the victory of Greece and his own release.—Godet.
A Rebuke to our Unbelief.—The faith in a Saviour who had just appeared which sustained Simeon in the near prospect of death is a rebuke to our unbelief and fears in view of that great change. We know Jesus as the conqueror of death and sin.
Luke 2:29. Nunc Dimittis.—In this apparently unremarkable little group there is something really remarkable in each of these four living souls. We recognise in the words spoken the Nunc Dimittis of eighteen centuries of the Church’s worship. What is there in these pathetic and beautiful words, suggestive of thoughts which should be our life?
I. The speaker is an Old Testament saint.—Just and devout, yet waiting for the consolation of Israel by the actual coming of “the Coming One.” He had a revelation common to him with his nation; he had also a private revelation of his own.
II. The message.—
1. The thought comes to us—Blessed is the man who has the Lord for his God, the man whose life was in the hands of an Owner. Very real and very dear to the heart of Simeon was the relationship of servant and master. It was the chosen title of the apostles; it was the secret of their success, the rest and stay of their anxious and homeless life. Later saints have felt the same thing, and expressed it in the same way.
2. Simeon has still to see the Lord’s Christ. It is a parable for all time. There are many who say, “Be just, and it shall be counted to you for righteousness.” There are many who say, “Be just and devout, fear God and pray to Him alway, and assuredly you shall lack nothing of the fitness for glory.” Simeon had both these graces, and yet he must not die till he had seen Jesus. There are many who have all else—every grace of uprightness and devoutness, every characteristic of seriousness and earnestness, of piety and charity; only Christ they have not yet realised. It does not come home to them why “Believe in God” should not suffice for them without the added clause, “Believe also in Me.” We must not idly wait for that peradventure of illumination which Simeon’s case suggests. Upon us the true Light has already shined; it is ours to see it, and to walk-in it. We cannot say the Nunc Dimittis till we can say with it, “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.”
III. Another thought remains.—The Divine office of “dismissing.” “Thou art letting Thy servant depart.” What would these partings be, how sad, how hopeless, without a gospel—without the knowledge, such as we can only get from Jesus Christ, of a life out of sight, in which present and absent are one—of a real heaven, opened and set open to all who are travelling life’s journey in the faith of a Father, and Saviour, and Comforter who has us all in His holy keeping! With this gospel in our hearts, we can hear of each other’s deaths with no disconsolate sorrow, because in Him, living or dying, we are one. The dismissal Simeon spoke of was dismissal by death. He was ready for it now. He spoke of it as a release, a setting free, a desired change, a transition, all for good. When the great departing comes for each of us, we shall need all Simeon’s hope, and all the support of his dismissal. We know not any of us what that departure is. It is no lack of courage to confess that it is formidable in the prospect. Let us think of it now, earnestly endeavouring so to live that there may be no spectres and no voices to terrify the act of dying.—Vaughan.
Simeon’s View of Death.—It is not the removal of a reluctant, unwilling man from the scene of all his joys and all his interests; it is the releasing of a weary man at evening from the toil and heat of a long, fatiguing day; it is the desirable and peaceful dismissal of one who has done his work to a rest which toil has earned and which promise has sweetened. It is worth while so to live as that the Nunc Dimittis may express our own true thought when we die.—Ibid.
Luke 2:29-30. Christ and Old Age.—One of our Lord’s epiphanies; His epiphany to old age. A subject of pointed application to the young, for the young expect to be old. The present sowing of youth is for the reaping of age. What is a “good” old age? All old age is not good. There is an old age which mars as well as an old age which makes reputations.
I. Few men in the abstract desire old age.—Few men in their experience find it desirable. It needs practising for. A good old age comes to no man by accident. Rare, probably unexampled, is that natural and durable sweetness which could make the trials of protracted age light or enjoyable. It is bitter to feel yourself in the way, and to see no help for it; to be beyond the age of activity, of independence, of importance, of admiration; to be reminded daily that you are the survivor of a past generation; to know that the only prospect is a narrowing of action and interest, to make room for new energies and young self-sufficiencies: this is a severe trial, on the acceptance of which, for good or evil, will depend the real character and complexion of the individual old age. Well-principled and self-controlled patience is one condition of a good old age.
II. A foremost condition of a good old age is the preservation of a thorough harmony and unity with the young.—Old age is naturally impatient of the new. But still the old may succeed in being young in feeling; and where this is so they attract the young. The young delight in their experience, their mellowness, their sympathy. This special characteristic cannot be put on; it must be cultivated and lived into. Let each age be in harmony with the age below. Let the continuity never be broken. Lead by going before, help by feeling with, and old age will but complete and crown the work of the manhood and the activity.
III. There are, however, besides trials and risks, incomparable privileges in old age.—These should be faithfully treasured and “occupied.” An intelligent old age is a storehouse of precious memories, which no chronicles can rival nor libraries supersede. An old man should use his opportunities of testifying to a younger generation the living sights and sounds of his own. It is a debt due to history; it is a debt scarcely less to the verities of Christianity and Christ. And, besides, the influences of old age are incalculable. Let a man give himself to this work, and he may mould the young almost to his will. Let the old make the young feel that they are worth helping, listening to, answering. By a generous, manly interest in the coming generation who are what he was, by deep, true, noble sympathy with their difficulties, struggles, unavoidable ignorances, the old man may write himself unconsciously upon the young, and keep up the continuity of that work of God on earth which consists in the amelioration, emancipation, and transfiguration of His creatures. But such a work needs for its accomplishment the epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ to old age. Natural gifts and graces do not suffice for this apostleship of the aged. O miserable spectacle a Christless old age! Pity, yet despise not, the old man whose testimony, rightly read, is all on the side of materialism and infidelity. How different the evidence of him whose old age has been brightened with the epiphany of Jesus Christ! He, the “Ancient of Days,” is still, as ever, young with a perpetual youth: herein lies the virtue of His epiphany to the old. He tells of a world where they reckon not by years, where past and future are not, where the weakness of old age is made strong in the first sight of the Immortal. He draws nigh to the solitude, He comforts the isolation, He calms the irritation, He inspires the languor, He fills the void of old age. He makes its age venerable, its weakness dignified, its deathbed beautiful, its last departure blessed, and its funeral “a door opened in heaven.”—Ibid.
Luke 2:29-35. Nunc Dimittis.—Simeon is the reverend type of Old Testament piety, waiting for the consolation of Israel. His inspired words
(1) express the perfect homage of his individual soul;
(2) expand into a glowing prophecy of the gospel future;
(3) through a side glance of benediction on Mary utter the first disguised prediction of the Redeemer’s darker, as well as of His brighter, destiny as the Saviour and Judge of mankind.—Pope.
The Nunc Dimittis a pre-Christian Hymn.—Our Church uses the song of the blessed Virgin and the song of Simeon as daily psalms, and applies them to Christ. But those who had seen the incarnate Lord, and who had beheld Him risen and ascending, would have spoken far more strongly. Their songs would have been more like “Rock of Ages,” or “When I survey the wondrous cross.” They would not have been echoes of the harp of David, so much as of the harps of heaven. “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood.” Such silence as to the details of redemption could only belong to the thin border-line of a period which was neither quite Jewish nor quite Christian. A little less, and these songs would be purely Jewish; a little more, and they would be purely Christian.—Alexander.
Luke 2:29-30. Simeon.
I. Simeon himself.—
1. His character. He was just and devout, upright in his relations to men, pious towards God. And he lived in faith, “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Doubtless the blessed prophecies of Isaiah, “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God,” were dear to the old man’s heart. He was one of those who were “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” He lived in the faith of the Messiah who was to come, who was to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows, who was to make intercession for the transgressors, to justify many, who should see of the travail of His soul and should be satisfied.
2. His privileges.
(1) The promise. The Holy Ghost was upon him. That gracious Presence which is vouchsafed in a greater or less measure to all true believers rested on the faithful Simeon. Special revelations were granted to him: he was not to see death till he had seen the Lord’s Christ; he was to see in this earthly life the Messiah of whom the prophets had spoken, the Lord’s Anointed, who was to be, in the highest sense of the words, the Prophet, Priest, and King of His people—the Prophet like unto Moses, but greater far than Moses (Hebrews 3:3), of whom Moses spake; the great High Priest, who “is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them”; the King of kings and Lord of lords, whose kingdom shall have no end.
(2) The fulfilment of the promise. The time was come: the Spirit led the holy man to the Temple of the Lord; “he came by the Spirit into the Temple.” So we should now come to the church by the guidance of the Spirit, led thither by the Spirit, that there we may find the Lord, and worship Him in spirit and in truth,” praying in the Holy Ghost” (Jude 1:20). They who thus come in faith and prayer ever find the Lord. Simeon found Him now. It was not perhaps what he had looked for; it was but a little Babe lying in His mother’s arms. But Simeon doubted not; the Spirit taught him that that little Babe was indeed the Christ of God, who was come into this world to save sinners, to conquer back the world from the dominion of the wicked one. He took Him up in his arms; he blessed God, and poured forth his thankfulness in the words so familiar to us all.
II. The utterance of Simeon.—
1. His view of life. It is not a prayer. We may well pray for a happy, holy death; it is the greatest of earthly blessings, the crown of a holy life. But these words are not words of prayer: it is an utterance of recognition and assent. He says (to translate the words literally), “Master, now Thou art releasing Thy slave.” He recognises the fulfilment of the Divine promise: he has seen the Lord’s Christ. That sight means that the end is close at hand: he is about to die. He recognises the intimation of the Divine will; he receives the solemn announcement with cheerful acquiescence—he is ready to depart. “Master,” he says, “now Thou art releasing Thy servant.” Life, he means, is a time of service, work to be done for God. He calls God his Master; he speaks of himself as the slave of God. Indeed, Almighty God has permitted us to address Him by another name: He bids us call Him “Father,” “our Father in heaven.” We are not worthy to be called His children, but He is our Father still. He gave His blessed Son to die for us, that through His atoning blood we might be restored to the privileges of sonship; He gives us His Holy Spirit. “He hath sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” But while we thank Him for His gracious condescension, and claim His holy promises, we must not forget that He is our Master too. The word here translated “Lord” means properly Master—a Master in relation to slaves. God is our Master; we are the slaves of God. We are not our own; we are bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); our souls and bodies are God’s, not our own. We are His by creation: He made us. We are also His by redemption: He bought us to be His own, not with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18). And because we are His, we have work to do for Him. He teaches us that solemn lesson in the awful parable of the talents. He “giveth to all men liberally” (James 1:5); He worketh in us both to will and to do; therefore we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. All that we have comes from Him—life, health, worldly means, intellectual gifts. All these are talents intrusted to our keeping for a while. But spiritual gifts must be chiefly signified by the talents distributed among the servants; for spiritual gifts are the only coin current in the kingdom of heaven. Without the grace of the Spirit we are helpless, we can do nothing good; we cannot become “approved money-changers” (a saying attributed to our Lord by several of the Fathers), unless we have from God a portion of the heavenly treasure. All the servants in the household of the great Master receive their portion from Him; they have to use it to His glory and their own good, to work out their own salvation, to beware lest they receive the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1). Two servants were faithful. Outwardly there was a great difference between them. One was far more highly gifted than the other; his gains were far greater; he was a man of great energy, great resources—like St. Paul, who laboured more abundantly than all the rest (1 Corinthians 15:10). But the second servant also did his best, his very best according to his power; his gains were much less than those of his fellow-servant, but they were in the same proportion to his endowments; and he received the same reward. The Lord judgeth not according to the outward appearance; he looketh on the heart. He regards not the outward work, not the amount of work done, but the inward temper of heart and mind—the faithfulness, the love with which the work is done. He saith, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” to the humblest Christian who in faith and self-denial has done his little best. The slothful servant had done nothing for his Lord; he may have worked hard for himself, but he let his Lord’s money lie unused and uncared for; he neglected the precious means of grace; he lived as if he had no Master—as if he was his own master, as if his time was his own, to waste it or to use it as he pleased; therefore he was cast into the great outer darkness, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Simeon had been a good and faithful servant; he was just and devout; the Holy Ghost was upon him. Now his life-work was over; the Master was releasing him from his labours; he was ready, cheerful, and happy. We may well long to be like him, to share his faithfulness and his peace.
2. Simeon’s view of death. It was not to be dreaded: it was to be welcomed; it was a release from the labours of life. Simeon’s life, we may be sure, had not been miserable. Doubtless he had had his troubles, perhaps great troubles, for God’s holiest servants are sometimes most severely tried. But the Holy Ghost was upon him; and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.” The faithful servant has an inner source of joy even amid tears; he is, like St. Paul, “sorrowing, yet always rejoicing.” Nevertheless, death was a release. Sometimes death is very thoughtlessly described as “a happy release”: people think only of the cessation of bodily pain; they do not think of what comes after death. Simeon looked forward to the rest that remaineth for the people of God. To the faithful servant, who has striven to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling, death is a release; for life is full of work, bodily, intellectual, spiritual work, sometimes very hard and exhausting. And that spiritual work which is of all work the most momentously important is sometimes full of fear and trembling: our past sins affright the conscience, the old temptations which once seemed overcome reassert their power, Satan is strong, we are weak, we seem to have no strength, we are tempted to fear, sometimes in very agony of soul, lest we ourselves may be castaways at the last. Therefore, to the faithful, death is a true release: it sets them free from anxiety and fear, from toil and labour. “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. Yea, saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.”
III. The ground of Simeon’s confidence.—
1. The promise. He was to depart, according to God’s word, in peace. He is faithful that promised. He that hath begun the good work in His people will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). We might well despair if we were left to ourselves; but we have the blessed promises, and we must trust. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” We must trust, and not be afraid.
2. The earnest, the pledge of fulfilment. “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” Simeon had seen the Lord’s Christ, the Saviour Jesus, whose blessed name means the salvation of Jehovah. That was his hope; and that is the hope of the faithful Christian now. We see not the Holy Babe with our outward eyes; but we may see Him still with the eye of faith, we may embrace Him with the embrace of faith, and cling to Him with our whole heart as our only Saviour and Redeemer. We have His blessed promise: “The world seeth Me no more, but ye see Me”; “I am with you all the days, even to the end of the world.” We must pray, “Lord, increase our faith”; we must pray for a strong, living, earnest faith, that seeing Christ now by faith, and living in spiritual communion with Him, we may at last, through His grace and the power of His atoning blood, depart in peace, and rest with Him for ever.—Caffin.
Luke 2:30. “Salvation.”—To see Christ is to see salvation—to see Him, as Simeon saw Him, with the eye of faith. If Simeon had not seen Him thus, he would not have seen in Him God’s salvation; for everything to the outward eye was against His being so. “Every one,” our Lord says, “who seeth the Son, and believeth on Him hath everlasting life.” We who have not “seen” may yet believe. Is this our idea of salvation—Christ Himself? If it be, are we looking for Him? When we can see Christ by faith, then we shall be fit to die.—Vaughan.
Assurance of Salvation.—This is one chord of Simeon’s swan-song. Does it not remind us that—
I. The great aim of Jesus Christ is to bring salvation?—Not simply mental light, or national renewal, or even spiritual comfort, but salvation from sin as a ruling principle, as a terrific power, and as entailing an awful penalty.
II. This salvation can be clearly realised?—Not dreamed of, talked about, expected, hoped for only, but “seen”: its purpose, method, and result “seen.”
III. This salvation should be realised in its personal relation?—
1. As saving the individual—“mine eyes.”
2. As wrought by God—“Thy salvation.”
IV. This clear consciousness prepares for death?—He who can make these words his own can sing Nunc Dimittis.—Thomas.
Preparation for Death.—No one is ready to die in peace until he has seen Christ; but when he has seen Him, he needs no further preparation for dying. He may not have carried out one of his own ambitious plans in life, nor have achieved anything great or beautiful; but no matter, the one essential achievement in life is to see Jesus.—Miller.
Luke 2:29-35. Simeon’s Twofold Prophecy.—Simeon is not expressly said to have been an old man; but he probably was so. How striking is the picture of the aged, worn face bending over the unconscious Child, whom he clasped in his withered arms! His two short prophetic songs are singularly contrasted in tone—the one all sunny and hopeful, the other charged with sad forebodings.
I. The one tells what Christ is sent to be.—The joyful welcome of the new by the expiring old. Simeon lives in the forward-looking attitude proper to Old Testament saints. Is not the ideal for us the same? We too have to base our morality on religion, and to nourish both by hope, which burns the clearer the nearer we come to the end of earthly life. When he actually touched the long-promised Hope of Israel, an infant of six weeks old, no wonder be broke into praise. But the course of his thoughts is noteworthy. His first thought—and it is a glad thought to him—is, “Here is the order for my release.” Is there not a tone of relief and of hailing a long-wished blessing in the “now”—as if he had said, “At last, after weary waiting, it has come”? He speaks as a servant getting escape from toil. The words are not a prayer, though this is the application often made of them. He teaches us what death may be to us if we hold Christ in our hearts. It may be the crowning act of obedience. Death is to Simeon the sweet rest after the day of toil, and the satisfied close of long expectancy. Life can give nothing more than the sight of the Christ. The latter part of the song tells us what the eyes of faith see in the Child in whom the eyes of sense see only weakness. This feeble suckling is the God-appointed means of salvation for all the world. The precedence given to Messiah’s work among the Gentiles is very remarkable. Simeon rejoices over a “salvation prepared” for “all peoples.” No shadows darken the glad picture. The Divine ideal and purpose are painted in unshaded colours.
II. What men’s sin will make of God’s salvation.—Can it be that the salvation prepared by God is a salvation not accepted by men? Who could suppose that in the very Israel of which Messiah was meant to be “the glory” there would be found tongues to speak against Him and hearts to reject Him? But the wonder is true, and that Child is charged with the terrible power of being ruin as well as blessing. There is no more mournful nor mysterious thought than that of man’s power to turn the means of life into the occasion of death, and that power is never so strangely and mournfully displayed as in men’s relations to “this Child.” Christ may be either of two things. One or other of them He must be to all who come in contact with Him. They can never be quite the same as before. How do we fall by contact with Christ? By the increase of self-conscious opposition, by the hardening following rejection, by the deeper condemnation which necessarily dogs the greater light with its blacker shadow. How do we rise by Christ? In all ways and to all heights to which humanity can soar. From the depth of sin and condemnation to the height of likeness to Himself, and finally to the glory of participation in His throne. He is life to those who take Him for their all, and death to those who turn from Him. Simeon further forecasts the fate of the Child as a “sign that shall be spoken against.” A sign from heaven, yet spoken against, is a paradox which only too accurately forebodes the history of the gospel in all ages. How strange to the virgin mother, in all the wonder and joy of those blissful early days, must that prediction of the sorrows that were to pierce her heart have sounded! Mary’s grief at her Son’s rejection culminated when she stood by Calvary’s cross. Her heart was to be pierced, the thoughts of many hearts to be laid open. A man’s attitude to Jesus Christ is the revelation of his deepest self. It is the outcome of his inmost nature, and betrays his whole character. Christ is the test of what we are, and our reception or rejection of Him determines what we shall be.—Maclaren.
Luke 2:32. “A light to lighten the Gentiles.”—The Gentiles are represented as enveloped in darkness, the Jews as abased and down-trodden. Christ, therefore, appears in two aspects corresponding to the conditions in which the two great divisions of the human race are placed:
1. He gives light to those in darkness.
2. He gives the promised glory to the chosen people; they derive from Him an imperishable renown, for the great claim of the Jew to honour among men is that Christ was one of His blood.
“The Gentiles … Israel.”—There seems to be some significance in the Gentiles being named before the Jews, as though Simeon had some prophetic intimation of the fact that the Jews as a nation would reject Christ. His words might be taken to imply that the conversion of the Gentiles would precede and bring about that of God’s ancient people to faith in Jesus. This seems to be the tenor of the teaching in some parts of Scripture, e.g. in Romans 11:25-26.
Luke 2:33. “Marvelled.”—Doubtless the surprise was due to testimony thus coming from all quarters to the greatness of the destiny in store for the Holy Child: the angels, the shepherds, Elisabeth, and Zacharias had all hailed His advent; and now in the Temple aged saints of prophetic rank bear witness to Him. Already the wise men from the East are on their way, as representatives of the Gentile world, to do Him honour.
Luke 2:34. “And Simeon blessed them.”—It is noticeable that Simeon pronounces a benediction on Joseph and Mary, as distinguished from Jesus, of whom he proceeds to speak. On the principle that “the less is blessed of the better” (Hebrews 7:7), he would naturally abstain from even the appearance of superiority to the Child whom he held in his arms. He addresses Mary with special emphasis, as though acquainted with the fact of the miraculous conception.
“Sign which shall be spoken against.”—The allusion is evidently to Isaiah 8:14-15, where the Messiah is represented as a rock on which the believing find a refuge, but against which the rebellious dash themselves. In many parts of the Gospels we read of violent opposition excited by the teaching and actions of Christ, and He Himself frequently speaks of divisions and conflicts arising in consequence of the proclamation of the truth—e.g. Luke 12:49-53. He is appointed to try men’s hearts and tempers, whether they will humbly and carefully examine the truth, and receive it with joy, and bring forth its fruits in their lives; and according to the result of this moral probation, He will be for their weal or woe (John 3:19; 2 Corinthians 2:16). As Greg. Nyssen says, the fall will be to those who are scandalised by the lowliness of His humanity; the rising will be to those who acknowledge the truth of God’s promises in Him, and adore the glory of His divinity. Other passages in which this testing of human character is described are: 1 Corinthians 1:18 et seq., Luke 2:14; John 9:39; 1 Peter 2:7-8; Hebrews 4:12; John 12:48.
Luke 2:34. The Blessedness of the Virgin is proclaimed over and over again in the early chapter of this Gospel. The angel Gabriel salutes her as “blessed among women”; Elisabeth repeats the phrase; she says of herself, “All generations shall call me blessed”; and here the aged Simon bestows his benediction on her and on Joseph. Yet it is instructive to notice that this blessedness did not imply a life of unmixed happiness. Here, indeed, her future sorrows are spoken of in no uncertain manner: “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.” The prophecy was not long in finding fulfilment. The jealousy and malice of Herod expose the life of her Son to great danger, and she is obliged to find safety for Him in flight. The fatigues and anxieties of a journey into Egypt have to be encountered by her. Then some years after she undergoes the agony of losing Him for three days at the Passover feast in Jerusalem. Nor were her sorrows at an end when He reached the years of manhood. She had the grief of seeing that He was despised and rejected of men, hated even by His own townsmen, and in risk of being murdered by them. She saw Him weary with labours for the good of others, and yet treated with ingratitude, contempt, and contumely. And finally she was witness of His death at the hands of His enemies, after an unjust and shameful trial; she saw Him expire upon the cross after hours of pain and suffering. Scarcely any griefs could be more poignant than hers, and the name by which she is frequently described—Mater dolorosa—commemorates her pre-eminence in sorrow. One great lesson we may learn from her history is that immunity from suffering is not necessarily enjoyed by those who are truly blessed of God; and the thought is one that should console us in times of trial and suffering. Outward troubles may not be a sign of God’s displeasure with us: they may be a form of discipline to which in His wisdom and love He subjects us.
Luke 2:35. “Yea, a sword shall pierce.”—Undue elation on the part of the parents, and especially of the virgin mother, must have been repressed by the ominous tone of Simeon’s words, and still more by the special reference to the sorrow which was to pierce her heart like a sword. The full meaning of this latter prophecy she must have realised as she stood beside the cross. No lamentation of hers is recorded as having been uttered in the hour of her greatest grief; but her silence is that of ineffable anguish, and not of insensibility.
“The thoughts … revealed.”—In and by Christ’s sufferings it was shown what the temper and thoughts of men were. Then Judas despairs, Peter repents, Joseph of Arimathæa becomes courageous, Nicodemus comes by day, the centurion confesses, one thief blasphemes, the other prays; men faint, and women become strong.
Luke 2:36-38. Anna the Prophetess.—God’s book is a book for all. The aged are not forgotten. They need support and comfort. This history of Anna, with many a word besides, is proof that they are not passed over by God. In the life of Anna we have—
I. The grace of God sustaining a believer in the midst of affliction.—She had met with trials—widowed in her youth; but she had learned to look beyond the blow to the Hand that had inflicted it. She had found in Him the widow’s stay through long years of sad memories; her heart renewed many a time all its grief, but she ever found fresh comfort in God. So may every aged Christian in like trying experiences. Bereavements will come, even though long delayed. The effect of trial to Anna was doubtless most blessed. One great affliction at the beginning of life may bless the sufferer to the close of it.
II. The grace of God supporting a believer in privation.—Anna had to face the world’s struggles all alone. We know not if she had relatives to advise or aid, or outward means of sustenance to depend on. If so, God’s grace was as much manifested in providing and continuing these as it would have been in maintaining her without them. It is not only those who are ever on the verge of want who illustrate God’s care. So do those who have what is called a competency. They are as surely dependent on God. They are exhorted to trust not in uncertain riches, but in the living God. In this humble trust rich and poor meet together. Anna had been thus divinely helped. So is every aged Christian. Each is a living monument of God’s faithfulness, of God’s perpetual providence. A life of fourscore years bears manifold inscriptions of the grace of God. At this advanced age He writes on her briefly told history Jehovah-Jireh, “Let thy widows trust in Me.”
III. The grace of God strengthening a believer in duty.—“Anna … served God … night and day.” A long course, but not dreary or monotonous. The spectator sees only the outward form of service, not the inward life and love that animate it. The freshness and constancy of aged Christians in the performance of duty is one of the most delightful proofs of the unfailing power of gospel truth, and of the faithfulness of the renewing Spirit. Their activity, though it differ from that of youth, will continue. “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age.” None of God’s children becomes sated with prayer or praise, with the exercise of trust and hope. In a higher sense than that of Moses “their eye is not dim nor their natural force abated.”
IV. The grace of God consoling a believer in the decline of life.—There is much externally to make the last years of life cheerless and comfortless. The bodily powers decline. The old familiar faces disappear. The sense of solitude deepens. Still the setting sun has more glorious hues than at his dawning, and autumn has a beauty which spring knows nothing of. So God’s saints may have their brightest hours at the close of life, and “the day of death be better than the day of birth.” So it was with Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Paul, and John. As the world faded their eyes saw “the King in His beauty.”
V. The grace of God sealing a believer’s parting testimony.—This aged saint gives thanks for herself, and speaks of Christ to others. God makes her useful to the latest close, and dismisses her bearing testimony to His faithfulness and mercy in the gift of His Son. It is a happy thing to be willing to serve God to the end. Aged sufferers serve by waiting. Thus, certainly, “they also do His will.” To bear, to submit meekly, to praise God in fainting and decay—this is the prerogative of earth. Let none think the time of trial too long, when the time of triumph shall be eternal. The aged Christian should be concerned to make his closing days a testimony for his Lord.—Ker.
Luke 2:37. “A widow.”—Perhaps it was in allusion to her that St. Paul depicted the manner of life of one who was a widow indeed, and desolate—“she trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day” (1 Timothy 5:5).
Asceticism commended.—It is impossible to overlook the fact that the Evangelist speaks with emphatic approval of the ascetic mode of life followed by Anna—her abstinence from second marriage, her residence in the Temple, and her fastings and prayers night and day. Perhaps our recoil from the abuses of a monastic life has carried us too far in the opposite direction, and blinded us to the beauty and worth of a type of piety which may have its home in a cloister. It aims at a complete and single-hearted service of God, and it is lacking in the important element of religion which concerns service of man. In our philanthropical forms of religion we are specially in danger of losing sight of the service of God in serving our fellow-men.
Luke 2:38. A Small Congregation.—But one old man and one old woman recognised the Lord when He came to His Temple. Priests and wise men and the world knew Him not. They two alone witnessed the fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy (Luke 3:1); so it may be with other prophecies yet to be fulfilled.
Luke 2:39. “Returned into Galilee.”—The evangelists constantly speak of Galilee as a different country from Judæa. The fact that there were considerable differences between the two needs to be kept in mind, if we would understand many parts of the gospel history. The inhabitants of Galilee were despised by those of Judæa as rude, illiterate, lax in religious practices, and almost semi-heathen. The people of Judæa were more cultured, strict in religious observances, under the rule of custom, and priestridden. The ministry of Jesus was more successful in Galilee than in Judæa, and it is plainly indicated that the enthusiasm manifested on the day of His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem was largely owing to the pride of Galilæan pilgrims in the greatness of their fellow-countryman. Of the twelve apostles, eleven evidently were from Galilee, and only one—Judas Iscariot—from Judæa.
Respect for the Law.—It is significant that St. Luke, who in so many parts of his Gospel reflects the Pauline teaching, gives no indication of any contempt for the ceremonial laws of Judaism. It is only after his parents had “performed all things according to the law of the Lord” that they returned to Nazareth. The antagonism between adherents of the Old Testament economy and those of the New belongs to a later generation, and finds no justification in the inspired documents on which Christianity is based.
Luke 2:40. Waxed strong.—The words “in spirit” are added from Luke 1:80; omitted in R.V. Filled with wisdom.—Lit. “becoming full of wisdom.” The grace of God.—The favour of God. The first point noted is healthy physical growth, the second a proportionate increase of knowledge, and the third an enjoyment of God’s favour.
Luke 2:41.—The male Israelites were commanded to attend the three yearly feasts (Exodus 23:14-17); but the custom seems to have fallen into abeyance. The attendance of women was not enjoined; but the great Rabbi Hillel had recommended it.
Luke 2:42.—At the age of twelve a Jewish boy became “a son of the law,” and came under the obligation of obeying all its precepts, including attendance at the Passover. It was probable, if not certain, that this was the first time Jesus had been in Jerusalem at this feast.
Luke 2:43. The days.—The seven days of the feast (Exodus 12:15). Joseph and His mother.—“His parents” is the reading of the R.V.
Luke 2:44. The company.—The caravan, made up of those of the same district from which the pilgrims came.
Luke 2:46. After three days.—According to the Jewish idiom, this would be equivalent to “on the third day.” The days are easily accounted for: at the close of the first day Jesus was missed; the second day would be occupied with searching for Him on the way back to Jerusalem; on the third they found Him in the Temple. In the Temple.—I.e. in the part of it to which Mary could go (Luke 2:48), probably in one of the porches of the court of the women. The doctors.—Teachers of the law, Jewish Rabbis. Hearing them, and asking them questions.—The order of the words precludes the idea of Jesus sitting among them as a teacher. He was there rather as a learner, and, according to the custom of Jewish scholars, asking questions.
Luke 2:48. Thy father and I.—The use of this phrase is natural enough; but it is really inconsistent with the facts of the case. Jesus by implication draws attention to this fact in His reply. “He knew and felt that there was something in Him and in His previous history, which ought to be known to Mary and Joseph, that justified His being where He was, and forbade their anxiety about Him” (Popular Commentary, Schaff).
Luke 2:49. About My Father’s business.—Rather, “in My Father’s house” (R.V.). The phrase in the original might be translated in either way; but the latter rendering is so vivid and so happily suited to the circumstance of the case as to make it seem the more probable of the two.
Luke 2:51. Subject unto them.—Probably wrought at His reputed father’s trade (Mark 6:3). This is the last notice of Joseph: tradition speaks of him as advanced in age on his marriage with Mary. Probably he died at some time during the eighteen years which elapsed between this time and the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry.
Luke 2:52. Increased.—Rather, “advanced” (R.V.). Stature.—Or, “age.” The word, if taken in the latter sense, would include the former.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Luke 2:40-52
Growth in Strength, Wisdom, and Grace.—The fact that Jesus passed through various stages of development in bodily, mental, and spiritual life is one of great significance and importance, though we may find it impossible to reconcile it with our thoughts of Him as a Divine Being clothed with our nature. The assertion, however, that such was the case is made here, and in other parts of the New Testament we have testimonies of a similar kind. Thus in Hebrews 2:10 we read of His “being made perfect through sufferings,” and in Luke 5:8, “though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience.” Three stages of growth seem to be indicated in this brief record of His infancy and youth.
I. There is that of childish innocence.—No instances of supernatural knowledge or of miraculous deeds are recorded in connection with His early years. The idea is conveyed to our minds that He lived a simple, blameless life, unconscious of the high calling that lay before Him, subject to His parents in the same way that ordinary children are while they are too young to think and act for themselves, and that neither His parents nor fellow-townsmen saw anything in Him to prepare them for the claims He put forward when He grew to manhood and entered public life.
II. There is that in which He first began to realise and manifest a sense of personal responsibility to God.—This is indicated by His action in leaving His parents on the occasion of His first visit to Jerusalem to keep the Passover, and by His words in reply to their questions, in which He places His duty to God as an obligation superior even to that of ordinary filial obedience. He begins to distinguish between duties, and to give those which have paramount claims their due place. This stage is marked by the awakening of new and strange thoughts, and by His making inquiry concerning spiritual things from those who were qualified to teach them.
III. The third stage is that in which He finds the way in which to reconcile higher and lower obligations, so as to render perfect obedience to the law of God as it touches the duties we owe to Him and to our fellow-men.—He returns to Nazareth, and is subject to His parents; but His obedience to them is of a higher cast than that which He had formerly rendered. It is intelligent, voluntary acceptance and discharge of duty, such as can only come with maturity of age. In all these stages of growth Christ has afforded a perfect example for all to follow.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Luke 2:40-52
Luke 2:40. A Picture of an Ideal Life.—
1. Physical health—“grew and waxed strong.”
2. Intellectual and moral development—“filled with wisdom”; acquiring true ideas
(1) concerning God, and
(2) concerning men and the world.
3. Having intimate relations with God:
(1) the object of His favour, and
(2) serving Him and loving Him perfectly and constantly.
Various Stages of Physical Growth.—St. Luke mentions in order all the stages of life through which Jesus passed—an unborn infant (Luke 1:42), a babe (Luke 2:12), a boy (Luke 2:40), a youth (Luke 2:43), a man (Luke 24:19). He did not, like Adam, first appear of full stature; but sanctified every stage of life from infancy to manhood. Old age became Him not. Bengel
“Filled with wisdom.”—Lit. “becoming full of wisdom.” The peculiar phrase here used implies both growth from less to greater and perfection at every point in the process; just as, if we could imagine it, a vessel increasing in dimensions and always remaining equally full, yet containing far more at the end than at the beginning.
Luke 2:41. “Went to Jerusalem every year.”—A hint is given of the pious atmosphere of the home in which Jesus grew up by the mention of the careful attendance of His parents year by year at the Passover feast in Jerusalem. His mother, like Hannah in earlier times, accompanied her husband, though the law did not prescribe her presence on the occasion. The fact of the corrupt and degenerate condition of religion and of the priestly order did not lead them to the disuse of public worship; and their example is a rebuke to those who become separatists on the ground of being unable to find that ideal purity in the Church which they desire.
Luke 2:42. The First Pilgrim-journey of Jesus.—This was apparently the first time Jesus had attended the Passover feast or been in Jerusalem since He was presented as a babe in the Temple. No doubt He came up regularly to the feast every year after this. “Every one who can remember his own first journey from a village home to the capital of his country will understand the joy and excitement with which Jesus set out. He travelled over eighty miles of a country where nearly every mile teemed with historical and inspiring memories. He mingled with the constantly growing caravan of pilgrims who were filled with the religious enthusiasm of the great ecclesiastical event of the year. His destination was a city which was loved by every Jewish heart with a strength of affection that has never been given to any other capital—a city full of objects and memories fitted to touch the deepest springs of interest and emotion in His breast. He went to take part for the first time in an ancient solemnity, suggestive of countless patriotic and sacred memories. It was no wonder that when the day came to return home He was so excited with the new objects of interest that He failed to join His party at the appointed place and time” (Stalker).
“When He was twelve years old.”—The age of twelve is no doubt specified as marking a new epoch in the life of Jesus, and a new attitude towards the law of God; for now, as having arrived at years of discretion, He, like other Jewish children, took upon Him the moral responsibilities of an adult. This corresponds to the action of joining the Church with us, an occasion when, in many Christian communities, the rite of confirmation is administered.
Luke 2:43. The Child Jesus.—The silence of Scripture is as eloquent as its speech. Here, as so often, the veil is the picture. There is a profound lesson in the fact that only one of the four evangelists has anything to tell us of the still unfolding of that perfect life before Christ’s entrance on His public ministry. The contrast between the one paragraph given to His childhood and youth, and the fulness of the narrative of His works, and still more the minute particulars of His death, ought to teach us that the true centre of His worth to the world lies in His “ministering,” and the vital point of it all in His giving His “life a ransom for many.”—Maclaren.
The Education of Jesus.—That Jesus was a solitary child seems unnatural to suppose. Compulsory education was the law of the land. If the law was in force in Galilee, He must have attended the national synagogue school, and formed one of a circle of children around the minister of the synagogue; joining, too, in childish sports with His school-fellows, as well as in childish lessons.—Vallings.
The Boyhood of Jesus.—This is the one only passage that speaks of the boyhood of Jesus, and I think all lovers of the graphic and picturesque touches of Holy Scripture will rejoice to find in the Revised Version the plain and very human expression “the boy Jesus” (Luke 2:43). What a text that will furnish for the school-chapels of England, what a storehouse of exhortation and doctrine for the struggling and weary and heavy-laden (and there are many) among the young soldiers of Jesus Christ—that large part of the human family which has all life before it, with its boundless capacities of use and abuse, of happiness and misery, of good and evil!—Vaughan.
“Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem.”—His tarrying behind in Jerusalem was an act which was only to be justified by the higher relationship of which He afterwards spoke to His parents (Luke 2:49). His whole course of procedure on this occasion is an illustration of that wisdom which He possessed in ever-increasing measure, under the guidance of which He diverged from the course of conduct towards His parents to which He had hitherto adhered.
Luke 2:44. “Supposing Him to have been in the company.”—It is an indication of the confidence which His parents had in His discretion that they did not immediately seek Him when they discovered that He was absent. He evidently had been allowed a more than usual amount of liberty of action as a child by parents who had never known Him to transgress their commandments or be guilty of a sinful or foolish deed.
Luke 2:45-46. The Lord Jesus a Learner.—The only record of the interval between the Lord’s infancy and ripe manhood. No warrant for the gossiping stories of the early life and miracles of Jesus. An instructive incident, as showing how early the Lord began to display the inquiring and critical spirit which afterwards bore such precious fruits of knowledge and wisdom. The astonishment of the rabbis shows how different a student they found Him from such as were wont to sit at their feet. He asked no stock questions, and was to be put off with no stock answers. Not that He put Himself forward as a teacher under the guise of a learner. He questioned the doctors with a genuine desire to learn. Some of them were, as older men, in one sense wiser than Himself. It was possibly the acuteness with which He chose out and addressed Himself to such that chiefly raised the astonishment of the by standers.—Markby.
“In the midst of the doctors.”—The picture powerfully affects the imagination and stimulates the heart, of the sweet, serious Boy, with His fresh childface, touched with awe and eagerness, sitting at the feet of the grey-bearded rabbis, and bringing their so-called wisdom to the sharp test which so much learned lumber can ill endure—the questioning of a child’s heart. How sharp the contrast between the cumbrous doctrines of the teachers and the way of thinking of such a Child! His purpose was not to put the doctors to confusion; but no doubt these questions of the Boy would be the germ of those later questions of the Man which so often silenced the Pharisee and the Sadducee, and made their elaborate wisdom look like folly by the side of His deep and simple words.—Maclaren.
Luke 2:46. “After three days.”—Just as afterwards His friends and disciples lost Him for three days, and mourned for Him as for one dead, though their knowledge of Him should have prepared them to expect to see Him again. Even now a certain blame in like manner attaches to His parents for not knowing where at once to find Him. When He was left alone in Jerusalem, what other asylum could He seek but His Father’s house?
“Both hearing them.”—He who would teach must himself be a learner—must have the docile spirit. Those who have made it their object to study and expound the word of God are sure, whatever may be their faults and failings, to have something worth imparting. The example of Jesus on this occasion teaches that due honour is to be paid to those who in the name of the Church teach sacred truth.
“Sitting in the midst.”—This seems to imply a place of honour—as though these doctors willingly received Him into their order, though He professed Himself but a learner, because of the wisdom He manifested. It is, as noted (see critical remarks), quite evident that He did not do more than put questions and answer questions; but none the less even the teacher of most authority there must have instinctively felt that this was no common pupil. The idea of a child lecturing or teaching in a formal or authoritative way is a repellent one, and utterly contrary to the Divine order according to which all things are ruled.
Luke 2:47. “Astonished.”—He brought with Him a clear knowledge of God’s word, in which no doubt He had been versed from earliest years, and a mind and spirit undisturbed and unclouded by the errors and fantastical interpretations that prevailed in rabbinical schools. He might say with the psalmist: “I have more understanding than my teachers; for Thy testimonies are my study” (Psalms 119:99). “The Rabbins themselves said that the word of God out of the mouth of childhood is to be received as from the mouth of the Sanhedrim, of Moses, yea, of the blessed God Himself” (Stier). Cf. Psalms 8:2.
Luke 2:48. “Why hast thou thus dealt with us?”—The first reproof which Jesus had ever received from His mother; yet in it there is quite as much of astonishment at His conduct as of implied blame. The way is still left open for Him to justify His action and approve Himself free from fault.
“Sorrowing.”—No doubt often during those three days the ominous words of Simeon, spoken nearly twelve years before, had recurred to the Virgin’s mind (Luke 2:35): “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.”
A Parent’s Complaint.—The Lord’s mother was seriously disappointed with Him. We might indeed say she was vexed. But He defends Himself with warmth, as if injustice has been done Him. The incident is full of interest and importance, displaying Jesus as the type and ideal for opening youth.
I. There are stages, epochs, crises of growth in the spirit to be expected, appreciated, recognised.—The laws of our moral as well as of our physical nature are inexorable and benignant. We must neither lament, resent, ignore, nor resist them; but face, accept, and use them as they manifest themselves in opening years.
II. Occasionally there will be apparent suddenness in their manifestation.—Ripeness will seem to come all at once. The will has been maturing while the parent knew it not. It seems as if a mine had been sprung on him, and a sense of unfairness goes with it. This is natural, but unreasonable. Nature cannot wait for us till we are ready. When the blossom sets the fruit appears. There is no sin in this. It cannot be otherwise.
III. That surprise, disappointment, or pain results is no fault of the child.—Mary probably soon regretted her momentary heat. On the part of sons and daughters there is often abruptness, wilfulness, and audacity towards parents. This is the accident of the case, resulting from human infirmity. That the parent feels pain is inevitable. But love, good sense, and an instinct of justice soon heal the wound.
IV. For with patience and tolerance on the part of parents will come gratitude on the part of youth, and appreciation of our large-heartedness. Youth, with all its disdains, and caprices, and conceits, is still the world’s leverage, and the most lovable thing in it.
V. A real love of knowledge is a noble thing.—We are not to frown at it in the young, or be frightened, but encourage it, and judiciously direct it. The pursuit of knowledge has risks, but these are less dangerous than those which are concerned with the indulgence of the senses. Reason is a Divine gift, and is to be trained and cultivated for God.
VI. In the end our self-restraint and kindness, and faith in God’s holy will shall have their reward.—“Jesus went down to Nazareth, and was subject.” So it will be in the end between us and our children. We shall lose nothing by granting what belongs to them, but we shall gain more. They must be helped, not hindered, at this difficult stage in life’s journey. We, too, have been as they are. Let us not forget our own youth. Let us try to make friends with our children, and encourage them to confide in us.—Thorold.
Luke 2:49. Jesus in the Temple (for boys and girls).—The Boy in the Temple hallows the lessons of youth. The story that Luke tells should be full of interest and help to lads and maidens. Though only twelve, we should think of Him as we should among ourselves think of a youth of sixteen or seventeen. He was no longer a child. Those entering on the untried future of manhood or womanhood are standing just where Jesus stood. Learn then of Him. Follow in His footsteps. Find in His words—
I. His trust.—“Wist ye not?” It is a sad surprise to find that His mother had been in doubt as to where He was or what He was doing. He fully trusted in His mother’s understanding of the thoughts of her child. You who are beginning to live a life of your own must often be misunderstood. Do you show the same trust in the knowledge and sympathy of your parents? You, too, may be feeling, like our Lord, that there is an inner life into which even the nearest and dearest cannot enter. Do not, as He did not, on that account, by suspicion and discontent strain the bond of unity of thought and feeling until it snaps.
II. His task.—Even now He has an overmastering sense of duty. “I must be.” He began life with no thought of self-pleasing, but with the single aim to please His Father in heaven. He knew nothing of a divided heart or of a wavering will. As child, youth, man, there was wholehearted, steadfast surrender to God. Have you the single aim? Or is your desire only to be free—to do as you like? Do you wish to please yourself or God? Own His claim over you.
III. His thought.—“My Father’s house.” “My Father’s business.” He knew and felt God to be near in the place where He was, in the task that He did. He was doing God’s will in learning about the law. In the Temple-worship and teaching God was making Himself known to Him. He lived with and for God. Of Him He thought, Him He served as Father. Have you thus known God as near to you? Have you acknowledged Him in your humblest duty? When you pray to and praise Him you are in His house. In your lowly daily work, if you do it because you know it is God’s will for you, you are about His business.—Garvie.
“My Father’s business.”—The first recorded words of Jesus. His calm repose is in strong contrast to Mary’s not unnatural excitement. In one sentence, like a sudden beam of light shooting into some profound gulf, He shows the depths of His child-heart.
I. The consciousness of sonship.—There is an evident reference to Mary’s words, “Thy father and I.” She had carefully guarded from Him, hitherto, the mystery of His birth. His question is an appeal to her secret. There is no material given for deciding whether this consciousness was now felt or expressed for the first time. The words point to a distinct and unique con sciousness of sonship, apprehended in childish fashion. This is the first note to which the after-life is so true.
II. The consciousness of a Divine vocation.—Here is the first expression of that solemn “must” of which we hear the echoes all through His subsequent life. Sonship implies obedience; the sense of sonship implies filial submission. His childish recognition of this necessity grew in depth and solemnity with His growing years; but here we have it clearly discerned as the guiding star of the Child’s life. The parallel in youthful lines is when the sense of duty and responsibility becomes more active. It is a solemn time when young shoulders first begin to feel the burden of personal responsibility. Happy they who feel not only the pressure of a law, but the hand of a Lawgiver—who say not reluctantly but gladly, “I must”!
III. The subordination of all human ties to this solemn necessity.—The incident itself illustrates this. The call to the Father’s business was more imperative than the call to Mary’s side. It was the first breaking away from the seclusion and peace of Nazareth, the first time that His conduct had shown that anything was to Him more sacred, than a mother’s love or than a mother’s sorrow. The dawning on the soul of that consciousness of supreme duty does not extinguish the light of filial duty to parents, nor darken the brightness of any of the sweet charities of family and kindred. But it decisively puts them second, and opens the possibility, so dreadful to exacting human love, of apparent conflict between two duties, in which the lower may have to give place to the higher. It is a great moment in every life when the young soul discerns a law more imperative, because he has become aware of a love more tender than the commandment of a father or the law of a mother. The recognition of the will of a Father in heaven, to whose “business” all earthly ties must yield, lies at the foundation of every holy and noble life.—Maclaren.
“I must.”—It is interesting to observe that it is the sterner view of duty that seems to influence the child—“I must.” In other parts of Scripture we have indications that this was not His only view—that doing God’s will was a joy to Him. But, strange to say, at the early age of twelve, we find Him rather girding Himself for what is trying and irksome to human nature; bringing His young soul to face it, like one breasting a hill or buffeting the waves. The lesson is obvious. Nothing is more salutary or more promising than this early grappling with labour: no flinching, but the stern, steady “I must.”—Blaikie.
“My Father’s business.”—The “Father’s business” on which He entered at twelve was not preaching, and working miracles, and going about doing good in a public manner, but for the time remaining at home, a dutiful child, a glad, helpful youth, and an industrious, growing man.—Miller.
The First Words of Jesus.—These are the first recorded words of Jesus, and are instinct with the Spirit that guided and animated His whole life—that of devotion to His Father in heaven. The quiet repose, and serenity, and self-possession of this reply are highly characteristic of Him.
Christ’s Testimony to Himself.—It is distinctly noticeable that to the “thy father” of Mary He opposes “My Father,” and that by His artless wonder that they sought for Him anywhere but in the Temple He claimed that special relationship with God which had been announced to Mary and Joseph before His birth (Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:20). “Hitherto pious Jews and lowly shepherds, waiting for the salvation of Israel, have borne testimony to the infant Messiah: He now bears testimony to Himself” (Lange).
Jesus Lost and Found.—The loss and recovery of Jesus may be taken to symbolise experiences in our own spiritual life. “Certain it is that we also, if we would find Christ, must seek Him where He is ever to be found, in His holy Temple” (Burgon).
Luke 2:49-50 The Idea of our Life-work.
I. We have to pass through the period of necessary unconsciousness.—There was a period in our Lord’s life of pure sensation. So it is with ourselves, with even the most intellectual and most spiritual—a time when there is scarcely any thought of God or knowledge of duty.
II. Then comes a time when the light of life dawns upon the soul.—Before Jesus was “twelve years old” He had pondered the great thoughts with which the Scriptures deal. The loftiest truths ask early admission to the soul. The little child has ideas immeasurably above the reach of the cleverest and best-trained animal.
III. The hour arrives when the idea of our life-work is recognised by the soul.—In our Lord’s case this life-work was exceptional, unique. Even now He did not understand all that it meant. As He “increased in wisdom” He became more fully conscious of His mission, and the shadow of the cross deepened. Still, in the Temple He had a very definite idea that His Father had chosen Him to do some great work. In our case the life-work of following Christ is binding upon all—the particular career varies, in which this following is to be carried out. It may not be a distinctively religious calling.
IV. At this momentous crisis we have to decide alone.—His parents “understood not the saying.” We might have thought His mother would have been sympathetic and intelligent. So Jesus was alone in all the critical hours of His career. We may be thankful for parental encouragement and human sympathy in every crisis; but with or without these, aided, unaccompanied, or opposed, we must for ourselves be about “the Father’s business” when His summons falls on our ear.—Clarkson.
Luke 2:50. The Idea of Divine Sonship.—It is, therefore, evident that the special relationship with God of which He spoke had not been a fact communicated to Him by His parents; nor was the idea of Messiah’s being Son of God as well as Son of man taught by the doctors amongst whom He had been sitting. It was a truth which had just dawned upon Him and led Him to act as He did.
A Flower from an Enclosed Garden.—This incident is the only one recorded in the life of Jesus between His presentation in the Temple when forty days old, and His appearance on the bank of the Jordan at the age of thirty when He received baptism from John. “It is a solitary floweret out of the wonderful enclosed garden of the thirty years, plucked precisely there where the swollen bud, at a distinctive crisis, bursts into flower” (Stier).
Luke 2:51. “Went down with them.”—The statement as to His obedience to His parents is almost necessary to correct misapprehensions we might have formed from the above incident. He did not henceforth act habitually in a manner they would be forced to consider wayward, on impulses which they could not understand. He did not allow His feelings to prevail over His duties as a son and as a member of a household; if His affections attracted Him to the Temple, the voice of duty called Him back to Galilee, and to that voice He rendered implicit obedience. The veil that concealed His higher nature, after being for a moment lifted, was allowed to fall again, and His normal human life passed back into its former course.
“Subject unto them.”—There is something wonderful beyond measure in the thought of Him unto whom all things are subject submitting to earthly parents. No such honour was ever done to men or to angels as was now done to Joseph and Mary. The calm of home-life, the healthy occupation of manual labour, and the seclusion of Nazareth were a better preparation for Christ’s public ministry than the Temple with its ritualism and the schools of the Rabbis would have been.
The Lesson of Patience.—What a lesson of patient waiting for the wider sphere is here! Young people, conscious of power, or often only stung by restlessness, are apt to think home a very contracted field, and to despise its quiet monotony, and chafe at its imposition of petty obedience. Jesus Christ lived till He was thirty in a poor little village buried among the hills, worked as a carpenter, did what His mother bade Him, and was content till His “hour” came. Vanity, selfish ambition, proud independence, are always in a hurry to get away from the modest shelter of a mother’s house and make a mark in the world. The prodigal, who wants riotous living, is in a hurry too. But the true Son is the more a Son of Mary because He feels Himself the Son of God, and nourishes His pure spirit in sweet seclusion, which yet is not solitude, till the time comes for larger service in a wider sphere. The wider work is quietly postponed for the narrower tasks.
“Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart,
And yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.”
Willing Dependence.—You do not read of any ambition in Jesus Christ to be independent; you do not find Him remonstrating or murmuring against the restraints of home, and beginning to remind Himself or others that the time had come for self-management and self-concern. Shall not the son, the daughter, in a Christian home deem that good enough and great enough which a Saviour, who was also the Creator, thought happy enough and honourable enough for Him?—Vaughan.
The Silent Years of Christ’s Life.—In these quiet and simple words years of meek submission are condensed, as a thin film of imperishable stone represents the growth and leafage of a forest that waved green through geological cycles. For eighteen uneventful years the story of His life lies in these few words that we may learn how the spirit of a son makes every place the Father’s house and every meanest task the Father’s business.—Maclaren.
“Kept all these sayings in her heart.”—The Virgin did not merely keep these sayings in her memory; she kept them in her heart. This is the true way in which to store up spiritual knowledge. That which is committed to the tablets of the memory may fade away, and may not, of necessity, be much of an influence upon our feelings, and thoughts, and lives. But the things that are kept in the heart lose none of their freshness with the lapse of time, and are a perpetual stimulus to holy life and action. The things we store up in the heart are things we love; and in them we have a motive to service of God, which yields to none in strength—a ground of assurance that will overcome all our doubts and fears—a means for understanding God’s dealings with us more perfectly, and for recognising things that are hidden from natural vision and from intellectual research.
Luke 2:52. “In favour with God and man.”—Innocence grew into holiness, and did so in such an artless, natural mariner that it won the approval of men as well as the favour of God. The world did not as yet hate Him, for He did not, except by unconscious example, testify against it that its deeds are evil (cf. John 7:7).
The Growth in Wisdom of the Divine Boy.
I. His growth was real.—His human nature must have had the inexperience and ignorance of childhood, and must have passed, in a normal manner, to wider knowledge and clearer self-consciousness. There is nothing to startle in this. Growth does not imply imperfection. It only implies finiteness, and therefore development in time. The capacity of His human spirit increased, and therefore His wisdom increased.
II. His growth was uninterrupted, unstained, symmetrical, universal.—He alone fulfilled His own law of growth—“first the blade,” etc. The best of us grow by fits and starts, and in the wrong direction. In His growth there were no pauses, no sinful elements mingled, no powers unduly developed or deformed. His childhood had no failings, and all in it that could be retained abode with Him in His manhood.
III. His growth in wisdom was by the use of means.—Life taught Him. Scripture taught Him. Communion with His Father taught Him. The heavens and the earth taught Him. His own heart taught Him. But the result of all those, and whatsoever other forces shaped His human growth, was a human character which had so perfectly assimilated them all that no trace of any particular influence appears in it. So, in lower fashion, genius uses all the outward means available, but is their master, not their servant, and is not made by them, but only finds in them stimulus and an occasion for development of its, inborn power. Jesus is not the product of any or all of these outward means. He grew by their help, but was not shaped by them. A perfect man must be more than man. A sinless Jesus cannot be the son of Joseph and Mary.—Maclaren.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Luke 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany