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The birth of Christ. His Circumcision. Simeon's Prophecy of Christ, and the declaration of Anna concerning him. Jesus teaching in the Temple, at the age of twelve years.
(1) And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (2) (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) (3) And all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city. (4) And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) (5) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. (6) And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. (7) And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
The Evangelist hath thought proper to note the reign of Cesar Augustus, and also to distinguish a striking circumstance of the very period when the taxing the persons, (not their property,) first began: both which were important, to mark the era of the birth of Christ. First, in confirmation of Daniel's prophecy, which declared, that in the days of the fourth great monarchy, the God of heaven should set up a kingdom which should never be destroyed. And, secondly, Micah declared the town of Bethlehem was the place where Christ should be born. See Daniel 2:44-45 ; Micah 5:2 . Now the Roman kingdom, under which Christ after the flesh was born, was the fourth from the Babylonish captivity, that is the time of Daniel's prophecy. And but for the enrolling the names of the subjects of this empire, humanly speaking, nothing could have brought Mary, a poor young woman, betrothed to a poor carpenter, working for his daily bread, from Galilee to Bethlehem, for this purpose. So the Lord over-ruled these events; and so the Evangelist therefore hath recorded them. And as this taxing implied, the complete government the Roman empire had obtained over Judea: the dying Jacob's prophecy was now fulfilled, and Christ was come. Genesis 49:10 . The poverty of Christ's birth, corresponded to the object of his becoming incarnate. Cast out into a stable, formed a striking testimony, in correspondence with all that followed, that as he put himself in the state and circumstances of his Church, which he came to redeem, it was proper he should represent us here also, as in all other points: for we, by reason of sin, were cast out, as the prophet described, in the day we were born, and left to perish, but for the Lord passing by, and bidding us live. Ezekiel 16:4-6 .
(8) And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (9) And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. (10) And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (11) For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (12) And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. (13) And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, (14) Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
When we consider the humble appearance in which Christ was born, how blessed is it to see the glorious attestation, which was given at the same time, of the greatness of his person. Angels, (and it should seem a multitude, though one only came forward to the Jewish shepherds, to be the speaker,) came from heaven to proclaim the wonders of his birth, and the end of it in salvation. I beg the Reader to remark the burden of their message: Glory to God; peace and good will to men. Yes! the whole glory is God's; because it is all founded in God; carried on in God; compleated in God; and man is but the receiver of the mercies. Oh! that this was well understood by men! What an end would it put to all the pharisaical righteousness, and pride of men!
(15) And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. (16) And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. (17) And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. (18) And all they that heard it, wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (19) But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. (20) And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
It doth not appear that those shepherds, though struck with astonishment, both at the vision of angels and in their visit to Bethlehem, at what they had seen and heard, were savingly converted to the faith. They are said to have returned praising God, and spreading the report abroad. But we hear no more of them. Mary is said to have pondered these things in her heart. Sweet view of grace; which is silent and retired, waiting on the Lord!
(21) And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (22) And when the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (23) (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) (24) And to offer a sacrifice, according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons.
It is blessed, yea, very blessed, to behold Christ being put into our law-room and place, thus entering upon his work in redeeming his people. As such, circumcision was the first rite in the Church, for admission into the covenant. See Genesis 17:10-14 . Christ therefore, by virtue of this rite, became a debtor to the whole law to fulfil it. This proved him to be under the law, and a son of Abraham, according to the flesh. And his presentation in the temple, became a further testimony. And with Christ the rite ceased forever. For as Christ, by virtue of it, became a debtor to the whole law, and fulfilled it in his own person, so he virtually freed his Church from the rite forever. Hence the Apostle saith, Behold I Paul, say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Galatians 5:1-6 . See Leviticus 12:3-6 ; Exodus 13:2 ; Numbers 3:13 .
(25) And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon: and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. (26) And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. (27) And he came by the spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, (28) Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, (29) Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: (30) For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, (31) Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; (32) A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. (33) And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. (34) And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (35) (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Concerning this man, the Holy Ghost hath given blessed testimony. And the revelation made to him, doth not seem to have been of an ordinary kind, as is the case with all that are regenerated and sanctified: but in a way of prophecy, so as to comfort therefrom others. And the Lord that gave him such strong assurances, that he should not die till he had seen Christ, must have led him to the temple at the very time Christ was there; and also taught him, that this was Christ. Reader! think how blessed it is to be taught of God. See that promise. Isaiah 54:12 with John 6:45 . And what a beautiful hymn of praise and faith, and holy joy! How strong the faith of Old Testament saints. They had no fears of death, when once they had seen Christ. God's covenant love, and Christ's salvation, were the same to them, living or dying. The astonishment excited in the minds of Joseph and Mary, was not, I apprehend, as if what Simeon had said, was altogether unheard of or not considered by them before; but rather, their wonder was continually kept up, in the expectation of the marvellous things which was predicted to be wrought by Christ.
(36) And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; (37) And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. (38) And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
This woman was very aged indeed, according to the general age of people in those days. For supposing she had married as early as fifteen, and seven years in marriage, and eighty-four years a widow, she could not be less than one hundred and six years. And yet we find her constant abode was in the temple, in deep humility of soul. The Holy Ghost's testimony by her of Christ, is worthy regard.
(39) And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. (40) And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
I detain the Reader at those verses, in order to call, his attention to what is said of Christ concerning his growth in nature, and waxing strong in spirit. It forms a subject of interesting enquiry. I pray the Lord the Holy Ghost to guide the mind, both of Writer and Reader, into a proper apprehension of the mysterious subject.
Now let it be first considered, that Christ in his human nature was to stand in the precise state and place of that nature he came to redeem. It behoved him to be made like unto his brethren in all things. He came to redeem his people from the curse, being made a curse for them. Hence he is said to have been made in the likeness of sinful flesh. In the likeness of it only: not himself sinful, for he knew no sin; but was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens. Standing thus; though holy, in our nature, and the representative of all his people, the moment he entered our world, the consequences of the curse attached itself to him, and seized upon him. Hence, he took all the sinless infirmities of our nature; was born a child; became subject to misery and sorrow; to labor and travail; and as Adam's doom for sin was pronounced upon him, and all his children, Christ in putting away sin b y the sacrifice of himself, subjected himself to eat bread, in the sweat of his brow, until he was brought into the dust of death. Psalms 22:15 .
Hence, therefore, this explains at once, wherefore it became necessary for Christ to stand in the very state and place of the nature he came to redeem. It was as the representative and surety of his Church and People. The mere taking of our nature into union with the Godhead, without this, would not have answered the purpose. It would have been indeed a wonderful act of condescension in the Son of God so to have done: but then, had he came forth as the first earthly Adam came forth, in the perfection of his manhood at once, this would not have suited our case and circumstances; neither would it have answered for us in removing the curse. No! The Son of God, if he will be our surety, must put himself in our circumstances; must be born an infant; must gradually advance to manhood; must wax strong in spirit, and be filled with wisdom, and have the grace of God upon him. And these things blessedly prove to us, that it was a real and true body, the Son of God took into union with himself, in all points like ours, yet without sin: so that both in body and in soul he was manifested to be the same as we are.
From these premises let us go on further, and we shall discover, that agreeably to this assumption of our nature, for the purposes of redemption, Jesus became subject to all the sorrows of it, and to all the labors of it. His reputed father was a poor man, who worked for his daily bread. Jesus therefore did the same. Hence we hear him upbraided, Is not this the Carpenter's Son? Is not this the Carpenter? Matthew 13:55 ; Mark 6:3 . And so truly low in circumstances, that he could not, as the children of better condition among the Jews did, learn to read the Prophets, for the Holy Ghost from the mouth of his enemies hath given us this testimony, that he never learnt from human teaching. The Jews marvelled, saying, how knoweth this man letters having never learned? John 7:15 . And no doubt, though it is not recorded in so many words, but from the earliest period of his life, as soon as ability enabled him to work for his bread, to the time he entered on his ministry at the age of thirty years, his lot was cast among that class of labor which belongs to the greatest part of mankind. Reader! so far is this from lessening the dignity of our Lord's character, that without it he would not have filled in the whole of the office of our great Mediator. The curse pronounced on the fall, comprized in it three grand points. First, a nature of frailty and infirmity. Secondly, a toilsome life, midst thorns and briers. And, thirdly, death. When the Son of God undertook to be his Church's surety, and to redeem his Church, he engaged for all these, and all these he fulfilled. Oh! how precious to my soul is the consideration. He who knew no sin was made sin for me, that I (who know no righteousness in myself,) may be made the righteousness of God in him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 .
(41) Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. (42) And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem, after the custom of the feast. (43) And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. (44) But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. (45) And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. (46) And it came to pass, that after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. (47) And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. (48) And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. (49) And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? (50) And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.
As in the preceding verses we were introduced into an acquaintance with Christ's abased state, so here we are brought into a short, but blessed view of his exaltation and glory. The men of Israel were obliged to go up three times in a year before the Lord at Jerusalem, at the great feasts; but the women were not enjoined to this service. Deuteronomy 16:16 . However, we find Mary, on this occasion, accompanying her husband at the Passover. Nazareth was distant from Jerusalem about three days journey. It is refreshing to behold, how holy men of old delighted in attending the feasts at Jerusalem. And as they were figurative of Gospel mercies, especially the Pass over, there can be no doubt but that the Holy Ghost accompanied those services with a sweet savor of Christ. And the Lord Jesus, at twelve years of age, accompanying his mother and Joseph, becomes a blessed recommendation to the children of believing parents to have an early relish for divine things. Neither doth the conduct of Joseph and Mary, seeking for Jesus among their kinsfolk and acquaintance, bring with it a subject of less profitable instruction. Where should we seek Jesus, but among his people? Song of Solomon 1:7-8 .
But the most interesting part in what is here said, is the engagement in which Joseph and Mary found Jesus, after a three days' search in the midst of the doctors, and the answer the Lord made to Mary's question. How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? And though they understood not the saying, yet, Reader! You and I, under divine teaching, may. What business could the Lord Jesus then be upon, but the very business which brought him first from heaven, in the redemption of his Church and People? Here then was the opening of it. Here a breaking forth for the moment appeared of that zeal which for his Father's house had eaten him up. Psalms 69:9 . and which afterwards appeared in full glory. John 2:12 . to the end. A more decided proof could never be desired, in testimony of Christ's mission, than in such an instance. Jesus gently reproved both his mother and Joseph by his answer, in that, after all that had been told them, and especially his mother, they should not instantly have concluded where he was, and how engaged. Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? As if Jesus had said, in the temple, my Father's house, I enter upon that business for which I became incarnate; to fulfil the whole law; to satisfy divine justice; to bring in an everlasting righteousness; and by conquering sin, Satan, death, hell, and the grave; to save my people from their sins!
(51) And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. (52) And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
The Reader will have all suitable apprehensions of what is contained in these verses, if he keeps in view the recollection of the Godhead, and of the Manhood of Christ. In his human nature he was, as hath been before observed in this Chapter, a true and proper man, in all point's as we are, yet without sin. And had he not been so, he could not have been a true and proper surety. In this nature therefore, he was subject to Mary and Joseph, in all subordination. And in this nature, he increased in wisdom and stature, and in age also, (as it is rendered in the margin of our Bibles,) and in favor with God and man. For as the holiness and purity of his life became daily greater in accession, so of consequence it increased in favor both in the eye of God and man, as tending more and more to perfection. But in his divine nature there could be no increase, being in the essential properties of Jehovah, one with the Father over all God blessed forever. Amen. If men of no grace would read their Bibles with candour only, (for with more than this, untaught of God, they never can,) and recollect, that the faith once delivered to the saints, contemplates the person of Christ in his two-fold nature of God and Man united; they might from the same candour be led to suppose, that in all those passages, such as is contained in these two verses, it is the simple humanity of Christ only, which the Holy Ghost is treating of. But what becomes a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, to Infidels of every description and character, is to the faithful among the sweetest and most precious testimonies of his suitability and fitness as the Christ of God. Yes! thou dearest Lord! thy humble birth, thy laborious life, in eating bread by the sweat of thy brow, in fulfilling all righteousness, and in thy ignominious death, even the death of the cross, mark thee as the very Lamb slain from the foundation of the world! Hail! thou Lord of all, while servant of all! To thee shall every knee bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Reader! how little did the Roman Emperor Augustus, or his deputy Cyrenius, conceive, that the over-ruling power of God so arranged the taxation, that the chief object to which it should minister, should be to bring the Virgin Mary to Bethlehem, and mark the precise period of the birth of Christ! How unconscious were the Jewish shepherds, when keeping watch over their flocks by night, until the message from heaven informed them of the wonderful event of the arrival of the Savior! And oh! the astonishing mystery, when God, who hath recorded from all eternity the names of his redeemed in the book of life, brings them acquainted with the unspeakable mercy, and manifests himself to them otherwise than he doeth to the world. Reader! can You and I mark down our personal knowledge of these things, so as with Simeon or Anna declare, our eyes have seen Christ's salvation; and speak of the Lord Jesus to all them that look for redemption in Jerusalem?
Precious Lord Jesus! when I behold thy obscure birth, thy low circumstances and mean accommodation, a manger only to receive thee in thine entrance into this our world, and no room for thee in the inn; oh, what a lively representation was there in this, of all the future circumstances of thy life. Truly didst thou say, and the truth holds equally good in all ages; Blessed is he whosoever is not offended in thee! My soul! delight thou more and more in the sweet testimonies of thy Lord's humanity, while beholding him at the same time possessing all the proofs of Godhead. For by both only could Jesus be suited for thee as thy Surety, Husband, and Savior. Oh! the preciousness of that mystery, which without controversy is great, God was manifest in the flesh.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Luke 2". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29