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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Luke 2

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. II.

Augustus taxeth all the Roman empire. The nativity of Christ. An angel relateth it to the shepherds: many angels sing praises to God for it. Christ is circumcised. Mary purified. Simeon and Anna prophesy of Christ; who increaseth in wisdom, questioneth in the temple with the doctor, and is obedient to his parents.

Year of the World 4004.


Verse 1

Luke 2:1. And it came to pass, &c.— At that time an edict was published by Caesar Augustus, that all the provinces of the Roman empire should be registered or enrolled,—as in the margin of our English version. Heylin. This was the enrolment of the census, first practised by Servius Tullus, the sixth king of Rome, who ordained, that the Roman people, at certain seasons, should upon oath give an account of their names, qualities, employments, wives, children, servants, estates, and places of abode. By this institution, Servius designed to put those who had the administration of public affairs in a condition to understand the strength of every particular part of the community; that is, what men and money might be raised from it; and, according to those assessments or estimates, men and money were levied afterwards, as occasion required.

Our version extends this enrolment to all the world; that is, agreeable to Dr. Heylin's explanation, to all the province's of the Roman empire; but it seems most probable, according to Dr. Lardner's ingenious observations, that the word ' Οικουμενη is to be taken in a more limited sense,—as it is plainly, chap. Luke 21:26 and in other places,—for the land of Israel only. The Evangelist observes, that the emperor's edict extended to the whole land, to shew that Galilee, Joseph's country, was comprehended in it. That this was an enrolment of the inhabitants of Palestine only is probable, because no historian whatever says that Augustus made a general enrolment of the empire: whereas, if any such had happened, they would scarcely have failed to gratify their readers with an account of the numbers of the persons, &c. that being a particular which every one must have been curious to know. But their silence concerning a particular enrolment of the land of Israel only, is not surprising, as there must have beensurveys of provinces, which the Greek and Roman historians now extant had no occasion to notice. There is frequent mention of the census at our Lord's nativity, in the most early apologies of the fathers; and as some of these apologies were addressed to the Roman emperors themselves, such appeals to a public fact imply that it was a thing well known; and would be, if need were, a sufficient confirmation of this fact. At this time Augustus was much incensed against Herod, and probably ordered this census as a token of his displeasure, and as an intimation that he intended soon to lay the Jews under a tax: Herod, perhaps, regaining the emperor's favour, prevailed with him to suspend his intention; and this possibly, together with the disgracefulness of the thing, may have been one reason why the census was passed over in silence by Nicholas of Damascus, one of Herod's servants and flatterers, in the history that he wroteof his affairs. It might likewise be the reason why Josephus, who copied from Nicholas, omitted the mention of it, or at best represented it simply by the taking of an oath, rather than by the offensive name of a census, (see Antiq. lib. 17. 100: 2 sect. 6.) supposing it to have been at this enrolment that the oath which Josephus speaks of was imposed, which the whole Jewish nation, except six thousand Pharisees, took, to be faithful to Caesar and the interests of the king. Now, that this oath was imposed at the time of the enrolment, appears probable, because the events which followed it are the same which happened aftertheenrolment.The Pharisees who refused to swear, from the imagination that the law, Deuteronomy 17:15 forbad them, were fined; but the wife of Pheroras paid the fine for them; and they in return predicted that God had determined to put an end to Herod's government, and that the kingdom should be transferred to her family; proceeding farther to characterize the new king by the expression, that "all things should be in his power," a characteristic of the Messiah. The disturbances which happened in Jerusalem after this, and the slaughter made in Herod's family, were all on account of the birth of this new king. The persons who predicted the birth of this king were the Pharisees, according to Josephus: in the Gospel they are called the chief priests and scribes, who, from the ancient prophesies, informed Herod that his rival king was to be born in Bethlehem. Indeed the whole affair is but slightly handled by Josephus; but it must be remembered, that Josephus, being a Jew, would consult the reputation of his country; and being also an enemy to Christianity, it cannot be supposed that he would relate at large such particulars as had any strong tendency to support it. The reader desirous of entering more fully into this subject, will meet with ample satisfaction in B. 2. 100: 1 of Lardner's Credibility; where the point is discussed with equal learning and accuracy. It maybe proper just to add, that this affair of the taxing is mentioned by St. Luke, not so much to mark the time of Christ's birth, as to prove two things; first, that he was born in Bethlehem; secondly, that his parents were at that time known to be branches of the royal family of David. The importance of ascertaining these points arose hence, that they were fixed by the prophets as express characters of the Messiah; Hath not the scripture said that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? John 7:42. By the particular destination of Providence, therefore, while Joseph and Mary were attending the enrolment at Bethlehem, Mary brought forth her Son.


Verse 2

Luke 2:2. And this taxing, &c.— Dr. Lardner translates this verse, This was the first enrolment of Cyrenius, governor of Syria; which is also favoured by the Vulgate. Dr. Lardner supposes, that Cyrenius came, in the latter end of Herod's reign, to tax Judea by order of Augustus; and that it is called Cyrenius's first enrolment to distinguish it from that which he made after Archelaus was banished; and on the supposition of two enrolments made by Cyrenius, the distinction was proper, the latter being the most remarkable, as it gave rise to the sedition of Judas the Galilean. Dr. Lardner supposes further, that St. Luke gives Cyrenius the title of an office which he did not bear till afterwards—the governor of Syria; as we say Cato the censor, to distinguish him from others of the same name,—even in a period of his life before he obtained that office. The interpretation which Valerius, Prideaux, Bishop Chandler, and others have espoused, deserves likewise to be mentioned. It is as follows: Now this enrolment was first performed, or took effect, when Cyrenius was governor of Syria: so the word εγενετο is used in various passages. See ch. Luke 1:20. Matthew 5:18. The enrolment was made in Herod's time, but the taxation according to the enrolment not till Cyrenius was governor of Syria. Perizonius, Bos, Heylin, and others render the passage. This taxation was made before Cyrenius was governor of Syria. They suppose that πρωτη is used by St. Paul for προτερα; which sense it has sometimes. See ch. Luke 17:25. John 1:15; John 15:18. Some one or other of these interpretations must be espoused; the first appears to be most natural and judicious; for, as St. Luke affirms that Jesus was conceived in the days of Herod king of Judea, ch. Luke 1:5; Luke 1:26 by consequence, according to St. Luke himself, the enrolment under which he was born must have happened in Herod's reign, or soon after; whereas the taxation under Cyrenius did not happen till after Archelaus was banished: but Archelaus, according to Josephus, reigned ten years; it is evident therefore that St. Luke cannot be supposed to connect Cyrenius's government of Syria with the birth of Jesus, which he has fixed to the end of Herod's reign.


Verse 3

Luke 2:3. And all went to be taxed When the census was made in any country under the dominion of the Romans, the inhabitants were obligedto attend in the cities to which they belonged. See Livy, lib. 42. 100: 10. The reason was, that without a precaution of this kind, the census would have been excessively tedious, and people who were abroad might have been omitted, or set down among the inhabitants of other cities, where they would not have been found afterwards; or they might have been enrolled twice, which would have bred confusion in the registers. Herod, who, it is probable, executed the census in his own dominions by the appointment of Augustus, seems to have made a small alteration in the mode of it; for instead of ordering the people to appear, as usual, in the cities where they resided, or to whose jurisdictions the places of their abode belonged, he ordered them to appear according to their families; perhaps, because it was the ordinary way of classing the Jewish people, or because he desired to know the number and strength of the dependants of the great families in his dominions. But on whatever account the alteration was made, it appears to have been owing to a providential interposition; for otherwise Christ might not have been born at Bethlehem, his mother and reputed father having long resided at Nazareth, and having no other cause for changing their situation when Mary was so near her time, unless on some such necessity. We may just observe further, that this obedience of the Jews to the decree of Caesar, is a plain proof that they were now dependant on the Romans, and that the sceptre was departing from Judah. See Lightfoot's Harmony, and compare Genesis 49:10 and Numbers 24.


Verse 4-5

Luke 2:4-5. And Joseph also went up Herod's order for the taxation being, as we observed on the last verse, that every one should repair to the city of his people to be enrolled, Joseph and Mary, the descendants of David, went from Nazareth, the place of their abode, to Bethlehem, the city where David and his ancestors were born: 1 Samuel 20:6; 1 Samuel 20:29. Accordingly Boaz, David's great-grandfather, calls it the city of his people; Ruth 3:11. See on Matthew 2:1. Joseph is said to be of the house and lineage of David, which Dr. Doddridge renders, of the family and household of David; supposing with Grotius, that it refers to the divisions of the tribes into families and households. Compare Numbers 1:18; Numbers 1:54. In this sense of the words, after having told us that Joseph was of the house of David, it would have been very unnecessary to add, he was also of his family; but it was not improper to say, that he was of his family and household. It may seem strange that Mary, in her condition, should have undertaken so long a journey: perhaps the order of the census required that the wife as well as the husband should be present; or, the persons to be taxed being classed in the roll according to their lineage, Mary might judge it proper on this occasion to claim her descent from David, in order to her being publicly acknowledged as one of his posterity; and the rather as she knew herself to be miraculously with child of the Messiah. However, all this was done by the divine direction; for, questionless, whatever the emperor's commands were, such a case as Mary's must have been admitted as a full excuse for her not complying with it.


Verse 7

Luke 2:7. And she brought forth her first-born son The words might be rendered literally, she brought forth her son the first-born. The word first-born is sometimes used to signify that which is of superior excellence; and if it be applied to Christ in that sense, it will denote his superiority to all the sons of Adam, as well as to Adam himself. Dr. Doddridge observes, that the blessed virgin was so miraculously strengthened by God in her hour of extremity, as to be able to perform herself the necessary offices for her new-born infant. The vast concourse of people coming from all parts to be registered in the city belonging to their respective families, must inevitably have exposed those who came latest to the inconveniences mentioned in the text. The probability of this circumstance will appear greater, when we consider, that it is no uncommon thing, in the east and other countries, for travellers to lie in the same apartment with their camels, horses, &c. Even in Europe, particularly in Germany, many inns may be met with, where the stable is the first room you come into, and there the veturini or carriers usually lodge with their beasts. Tradition informs us, that the stable in which the holy family was lodged was, according to frequent usage in that country, hollowed out of a rock; and consequently the coldness of it, at least by night, must have greatly added to its other inconveniences. It is asserted by the best civilians and historians, that at such public enrolments as that referred to in this chapter, it was customaryto register children of all ages, as well as their parents. This circumstance must have afforded the greatest proof to ascertain the place of Christ's birth; for it was customary to suspend the tables on which the enrolment was taken, in some public place; and we find Justin, Tertullian, and Chrysostom appealing to the tables extant in their days, as really containing the name of Jesus. Upon this humiliating circumstance of our Saviour's birth in a stable, we may observe, how much the blessed Jesus, through the whole course of his life, despised the thingsmost esteemed by men; for though he was the Son of God, when he became man he chose to be born of parents in the meanest condition of life; though he was heir of all things, he chose to be born in an inn; nay, in the stable of an inn, where, instead of a cradle he was laid in a manger. The angels reported the good news of his birth; not to the rabbies and great men, but to shepherds, who, being plain honest people, were unquestionably good witnesses of what they heard and saw. When he grew up, he probably wrought with his father as a carpenter; and afterwards, while he executed the duties of his ministry, he was so poor, that he had not a place where to lay his head, but lived on the bounty of his friends. Thus, by going before men in the thorny path of poverty and affliction, he has taught them to be contented with their lot in life, however mean and humble.


Verse 8

Luke 2:8. Keeping watch, &c.— Literally, Watching the watches of the night; which intimates their taking it by turns to watch, according to the usual divisions of the night; and as it is not probable that they exposed their flocks to the coldness of winter-nights in that climate, where, as Dr. Shaw has shewn, they were very unwholesome,—(see his Travels, p. 379.) it may be strongly argued from this circumstance, that those who have fixed upon December for the birth of Christ, have been mistaken in the time of it. But see more on this head in the note on Luke 2:1


Verse 9

Luke 2:9. Came upon them Stood over them, — επεστη αυτοις, hovered in the air over their heads, surrounded with a glorious effulgence; like that Shechinah, which, during the tabernacle, and the temple of Solomon, was the symbol of the divine presence.


Verse 10

Luke 2:10. Which shall be to all people This plainly refers to the promise made to the patriarch, that in his seed all nations should be blessed. And as the Jews interpreted this prophesy of the Messiah, the angel's address could not but be an intimation that this prophesy was now fulfilled; and certainly this declaration of the angel's must for ever remain an invincible barrier against their opinion, who believe a partial redemption. The joy which the birth of Christ should occasion among them, according to the angel, is universal joy,—to all people; but how could it be so to those, who from all eternity were reprobated, and consequently rendered incapable of any of the blessings and benefits of the gospel?


Verse 11

Luke 2:11. For unto you is born, &c.— Because one of the Bodleian manuscripts reads this ημιν, to us, Mr. Fleming has conjectured, that the angel who spoke was a glorified human spirit, perhaps that of Adam, all of whose happy descendants might, he thinks, make up the chorus, Luke 2:13. But considering the great assent of copies to the present reading, this conjecture leans upon a very slender support. Grotius imagines (which is more probable) that this angel was Gabriel. Almost all the Greek fathers, after the fourth Century, taught that this day, upon which our Saviour was born, was the sixth of January; but the Latins fixed his birth to the twenty-fifth of December. However, the principles upon which both the one and the other proceeded, clearlyprove their opinion to be without foundation. They imagined that Zacharias, John the Baptist's father, enjoyed the dignity of high-priest, and that he was burning incense on the day of expiation, when the angel appeared to him in the temple; and as the national expiation was always made on the tenth of Tisri, answering to the twenty-fifth of September,they fixed Elisabeth's pregnancy to that day, and supposed that Gabriel appeared to Mary precisely six months after; so that reckoning nine months forward, they brought the birth of Christ exactly to the twenty-fifth of December. The Greek fathers, though they proceeded upon the very same principles, were not so exact in their calculations, making the birth to happen some days later; but the uncertainty, or to express it better, the fallacy of those principles, has induced Scaliger, Calvisius, and most learned men since that time, to maintain, in opposition to the ancient doctors of both churches, that our Lord was born in September. The writers above mentioned support their opinion by the following calculation: when Judas Maccabeus restored the temple worship on the twentieth of the month Casleu, answering to the beginning or middle of our December, the course of Joarib, or first course of priests, (according to 1 Chronicles 24:7.) began the service, the rest succeeding in their turns. By making computations accordingto these suppositions, it is found, that the course ofAbia, to which Zacharias belonged, served in the months of July or August, at which time the conception of the Baptist happened. And as Mary had her vision in the sixth month of Elisabeth's pregnancy, that is to say, about the beginning of January, she conceived so as to bring forth our Lord in the September following. To this agrees the circumstance of the shepherds lying out in the fields the night of the nativity, which might happen in the month of September, but not probably in January. So likewise the taxation at Christ's birth, which might be executed more convenientlyin autumn than the depth of winter, especially as the people were obliged to repair to the cities of their ancestors, which were often at a great distance from the places of their abode.

After the time, the angel mentions the place of the Saviour's nativity,—in the city of David; informing us, that thus it pleased God, that He who is described as of the house and lineage of David, and of whom David himself was but a type, should have his birth in the same city where David had, to make the parallel more complete and exact. But there is yet something further in the case; for this city of David was Bethlehem, whence we find his father called Jesse the Bethlehemite; and from hence it was that the prophet Micah foretold that the ruler in Israel should come forth, ch. Luke 5:2. Now since Hebrew names are usually significant, and imposed to some special end or purpose, we may observe that the name of this city signifies the house or place of bread; and what place fitter for his birth and reception, who was and is the living bread which came down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die? After the place, the angel makes out the great characteristics of the Saviour,—who is Christ the Lord,—the Messiah, or Anointed. The natural properties of things, though separated from common to religious use, continue the same. They are hallowed by such separation; they are applied to greater objects, and employed in the highest service; but are not altered in themselves. The frankincense, the salt, the oil are the same, whether in the temple or the cottage, and are subservient to like purposes. The properties of oil are such, as have recommended it to various offices, civil and religious. It not only preserves itself, but also gives a lustre to other bodies; is a proper vehicle for odoriferous perfumes, is soft and bright, and makes the face to shine, which was of old esteemed a symbol of joy and magnificence; to which may be added, that as it feeds and maintains life in the lamp, so it served to denote the influences of the Spirit. Hence the king, the prophet, the priest, consecrated persons and thing, were anointed, to give them a lustre, and to denote and publish the separation of them from common men, and common use. Hence the offerings of a sweet savour were with oil and frankincense; but the sin-offering was without them. Leviticus 5:11. Oil was poured on the head of Aaron with such profusion, as to run down upon his beard, and the skirts of his garments. His sons were anointed with oil; the altar and all its vessels, the tabernacle, the laver, and its foot were anointed. We have also, in sacred and prophane history, many examples of anointing with oil. See Luke 10:34. Homer's Iliad, Τ . 38. Σ. 350. It has been already said, that kings, priests, and prophets were anointed. The word anointed was often used for prince or king. Cyrus is called the Lord's anointed: Saul was anointed captain before he was king: Zerubbabel, with his crown of gold, and Joshua the high-priest, with his crown of silver, are the two anointed ones in Zechariah 4:14. See also Isaiah 61:1. So usual was the phrase of the anointed for kings, that in the parable of the trees, Judges 9:9 they are said to go forth to anoint a king. Hence it follows, that the expected king of the Jews, their greatest prince, prophet, legislator, priest,—each of which offices alone would have entitled him to the name of Messiah, or Anointed,—should eminently be called by the Jews the Messiah, or Christ. It is not without particular emphasis, that the angel has added to this character that he is the Lord. The title of Anointed, or anointed of the Lord, is, as we have shewn, given to kings and God's vicegerents upon earth; but the character of Christ the Lord is more exalted and sublime, and belongs only to Him, whom the prophet calls Jehovah our righteousness; and the apostle, the Lord from heaven; and who, being co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, is God of gods, or Lord of lords. He was the Lord, the Jehovah, who appeared so often under the first dispensation; to Abraham, in the plains of Mamre; to Isaac, in Gerar; to Jacob, in Beth-el; to Moses, in the wilderness. He is the Leader of the host of Israel; the Word of God, by whom he made the world, by whom he conversedwith the first and best of mankind; whom he sent as a Saviour to redeem his people from their servitude in Egypt, their captivity in Babylon, and at last, in the flesh, to redeem the world from the pollution of sin, and the dominion of death.


Verse 14

Luke 2:14. Glory to God in the highest, &c.— This verse is very differently understood, and the original is certainly capable of different senses. Some choose to render it, Glory to God in the highest, that is to say, in heaven,—and on earth; peace, yea, favour towards men. Others have given as the sense of it, that the good will or favour which is now shewn to men, is the glory to God in the highest, and is the peace and happiness of those who dwell on earth: which is indeed an important sense, and what the original will well enough bear; but thus to change the doxology into a kind of proverb or aphorism, seems to destroy much of its beauty. "I rather think," says Dr. Doddridge, "that they are all to be considered as the words of a rejoicing acclamation, and that they strongly represent the piety and benevolence of these heavenly spirits, and their affectionate good wishes for the prosperity of the Messiah's kingdom." See Luke 19:38. As if they had said, "Glory be to God in the highest heavens; and let all the angelic host resound his praises in the most exalted strains; for, with the Redeemer's birth, peace, and all kinds of happiness, come down to dwell upon earth; yea, the overflowings of divine benevolence and favour are now exercised towards sinful men; who, through this Saviour, become the objects of his complacential delight." We may observe, that the shouts of a multitude are generally broken into shortsentences, and are commonly elliptic; which is the only cause of the ambiguity here. Dr. Macknight gives a somewhat different turn to the passage, explainingit thus: "Glory to God in the highest heavens, or among the highest order of beings: let the praises of God (so the word glory signifies, be eternally celebrated by the highest orders of beings, notwithstanding they are not the immediate objects of his infinite goodness on earth: let all manner of happiness (so peace signifies in the Hebrew language) from henceforth prevail among men for ever, &c. And as they departed, they shouted in the sweetest, most sonorous, and seraphic strains, BENEVOLENCE expressing the highest admiration of the goodness of God, which now began to shine with a brighter lustre than ever, on the arrival of his Son to save the world."


Verse 15

Luke 2:15. As the angels As soon as, &c.


Verse 19

Luke 2:19. But Mary, &c.— But Mary observed all those sayings, perceiving their meaning in her own mind. Elsner. Mary was greatly affected with, and thought upon the shepherd's words; the sense of which she was enabled to enter into, by what had been revealed to herself. She said nothing, however; being more disposed to think than to speak; which was an excellent instance of modesty and humility in so great a conjuncture.


Verse 20

Luke 2:20. For all the things, &c.— Besides what they had heard from the angel and seen at Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary would, no doubt, upon such an occasion, give them an account of those particulars, which the sacred historian has related above, respecting the conception of this divine Infant; and this interview must have greatly confirmed and comforted the minds of all concerned.


Verse 21

Luke 2:21. When eight days were accomplished Among the Jews it was reckoned dishonourableto keep company with persons uncircumcised: Acts 11:3 wherefore, to render Jesus acceptable to the Jews, to fit him for conversing familiarly with them, and to qualify him for discharging the other duties of his ministry, it was in some sense necessary that he should be circumcised. Besides, as the Messiah was to be the descendant of Abraham, whose posterity was distinguished from the rest of mankind by this rite, he received the seal of circumcision, to shew that he was rightly descended from that patriarch. And further it was necessary that Jesus should be circumcised, because thereby he was subjected to the law of Moses, and put into a condition to fulfil all righteousness.


Verse 22

Luke 2:22. And when the days of her purification As Jesus was circumcised, though perfectly free from sin; so his mother submitted to thepurifications prescribed by the law, notwithstanding she was free from the pollutions common in other births. It was evident, indeed, that she was a mother,—but her miraculous conception was not generally known. Because the law required that the child should be presented in the temple at the end of forty days fromhis birth, and that the usual offering should be made, our Lord's parents would therefore find it more convenient to go up with him from Bethlehem, where he was born, at the distance of sixty miles only, than after Mary's recovery to carry him first to Nazareth, which was a great way from Jerusalem: so that we may suppose reasonably enough, that they continued in Bethlehem all the days of the purification; and that from Bethlehem they went straightway to Jerusalem.


Verse 23

Luke 2:23. Every male, &c.— God having acquired a peculiar right to the first-born of Israel, by preserving them amid the destruction brought on the first-born of the Egyptians, though he had accepted of the tribe of Levi as an equivalent, yet would have the memory of it preserved by the little acknowledgement of five shekels, or about 12s. 6d. of our money (see Numbers 18:15-16.) and in case of an omission herein, it might reasonably have been expected that the child should be cut off by some judgment. The first-born, therefore, were redeemed, by paying this money, in such a sense as all the people were, when, at the time that they were numbered, each of them paid half a shekel, as a ransom for their souls, that there might be no plague among them. See Exodus 30:12-16.


Verse 24

Luke 2:24. A pair of turtle doves, &c.— This was the offering appointed for the poorer sort, Leviticus 12:6-8. It is evident, therefore, that although Joseph and Mary were both of the seed royal, they were in very mean circumstances. The Evangelist mentions the presentation of the child to the Lord, before the offering of the sacrifice for the mother's purification; but in fact this preceded the presentation, because, till it was performed, the mother could not enter the temple; accordingly St. Luke himself introduces both the parents presenting Jesus, Luke 2:27.


Verse 25

Luke 2:25. The consolation of Israel This is a phrase frequently used both by the ancient and modern Jews for a description of the Messiah. The day of consolation is a common phrase among them to signify the days of the Messiah; nor is there any thing more usual with them than to swear by their desire of seeing this consolation. The Messiah was very fitly called the consolation of Israel, because in all ages the prophets had been sent with express promises of his coming, to comfort the people of God under their afflictions. See Isaiah 49:13; Isaiah 52:9; Isaiah 62:12. Jeremiah 31:13. Zechariah 1:17; Zechariah 1:21.


Verse 29

Luke 2:29. Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart, &c.— The word rendered depart, or dimiss, is generally used to express death; and joined to the word peace, signifies a happy and contented death. There may, perhaps, be an allusion here to the custom of saying, especially to an inferior when parting, Go in peace. See Ch. Luke 7:50. This good old man, having attained theutmost pitch of felicity, in the gratification of that which had always been his highest wish, and having no farther use for life, desired immediate death; yet he would not depart of himself; knowing that no man can lawfully desert his station, till dismissed by the sovereign Master who placed him there.


Verses 30-32

Luke 2:30-32. Mine eyes have seen, &c.— Simeon, being well acquainted with the prophetic writings, knew from them that the Messiah was to be the Author of a great salvation, which, because it was planned by God, this pious man very properly refers to God;—thy salvation. He knew likewise that this salvation was not designed for the Jews only, but for all mankind; therefore he says, Luke 2:31 that it was prepared by God, to set before the face of all people, as the glorious object of their faith and hope: withal, because in the prophesies the Messiah is introduced teaching and ruling the Gentiles, he calls him after Isaiah, A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel; whom he greatly honoured by condescending to arise among them.


Verse 34-35

Luke 2:34-35. Behold, this child is set for the fall, &c.— In this prediction Simeon was directed to use a metaphor, corresponding to that found in Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 28:16 which passages St. Paul has joined in one citation, and applied to the Messiah, Romans 9:33. Beheld I lay in Zion a stumbling-stone, and a rock of offence; and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. In allusion to this metaphor, Simeon, holding up the child in his arms, cried, Behold, He is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel. This is the stumbling-stone and rock of offence, which God hath long ago foretold he will lay in Sion, and by whom many in Israel shall fall;for they shall reject him on account of the meanness of his birth and fortune: at the same time, this is a stone set for the rising again of many in Israel; because, those who are fallen may raise themselves up by leaning upon it; that is, receiving in faith and obeying him and his religion; or as the apostle has expressed it, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. Simeon adds, for a sign which shall be spoken against; — εις σημειον αντιλεγομενον ; that is "for a mark to be shot at,"—the butt of the malice of wicked men. The phrase finely intimates the deliberate and hellish artifice with which the character and person of Christ were assaulted, while he endured the contradiction of sinners against himself. In these words, which he addressed to Mary, he foretold the reception which her Son was to meet with from his countrymen, he added, Luke 2:35. Yea, a sword,—[ ρομφαια, a javelin, a dart; properly a Thracian javelin] shall pierce through thine own soul also. This seems to be a beautiful allusion to the preceding figure; as if it had been told the holy mother, that the darts levelled at her Son, should be reflected from his breast to her's in such a manner, as to wound her very heart. Whether it be rendered sword or dart, it must undoubtedly refer to the part which the blessed virgin took in all the reproaches and persecutions which Jesus met with: but never was it so signally fulfilled, as when she stood by the cross, and saw him at once most scornfully insulted, and cruelly murdered. See John 19:25. It is added, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed: that is to say, "All these things are ordered, by the Providence of God, that the dispositions of men, whether good or bad, may be made to appear."


Verse 36-37

Luke 2:36-37. And there was one Anna While these things were transacting, there came into the temple an aged woman named Anna, whose mortification to the world partly appeared by her having lived a widow ever since her husband's death; which happened while she was very young, for she had been a widow fourscore and four years;—as did her piety likewise towards God, by the constancy with which she waited on the temple, both night and day. The meaning is not, that Anna abode continually in the temple, for none lived there except the priests and Levites; but, she attended constantly at the morning and evening sacrifices, (see ch. Luke 18:1.) and was often in the exercise of private prayer and fasting; spending the greatest part of her time in the temple, as we find the apostles doing, Acts 2:46. Perhaps she might sometimes attend those anthems, which the priests sung in the temple during the night-watching, Psalms 134:1-2 to which David may also allude, Psalms 119:62. Some, instead of departed not, read absented not,—stayed not away.


Verse 38

Luke 2:38. Gave thanks likewise The version of 1729 renders it, she expressed her thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Jesus; and it must be acknowledged, that there are in Luke 2:22; Luke 2:27 instances, in which the relative pronoun refers to a remote, and not immediately preceding substantive: but it is so evident, that Christ is so often called the Lord by St. Luke, as well as by the other sacred writers, that there can be no necessityfor giving the passage such a turn. If it be objected, that the infant Jesus, as an infant, did not seem capable at that time of returning her gratitude, we answer, that Anna might properly be said to make her acknowledgements to the Lord, if she addressed herself to the child; as Simeon had done, confessing him to be the Messiah. The original phrase ανθωμολογειτο, may have reference to Simeon's speech, and might be intended to intimate that this of Anna was a kind of response or counterpart to his; and it is not improbable that she, like Simeon, might also address some lofty hymn of praise to the God of Israelon this great occasion: at least this may be inferred from the words, "She spoke of him to all those of her acquaintance in Jerusalem, who were waiting, like herself, for the promised redemption of Israel by the Messiah;" of whose speedy appearance there was an earnest expectation raised among the pious and devout, as the appointed period of his coming now evidently approached. For the sceptre appeared to be departing from Judah, though it was not actually gone; Daniel's weeks were plainly near their period; and the revival of the spirit of prophesy, joined with the memorable occurrences relating to the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus, could notbut encourage and quicken the expectation of pious persons at this time. See Dr. Doddridge and Bishop Chandler. An old copy mentioned by Dr. Mill, reads the last clause of this verse thus; to all who looked for the redemption of Israel. The example of these aged saints ought to impress and animate those, whose hoary heads, like theirs, are a crown of glory, being found in the way of righteousness. Their venerable lips, so soon to be silent in the grave, should now be employed in the praises of their Redeemer, that they, by the grace of God, may have thepleasuretosee,throughtheirpious attempts, the rising generation improved in true religion, and that they may quit the world with the greater tranquillity in the view of leaving those behind them, to whom Christ will be as precious as he hath been to them, and who will be waiting for God's salvation, while they are gone to enjo


Verse 40

Luke 2:40. And the grace of God was upon him See the note on Luke 2:52.


Verse 42

Luke 2:42. And when he was twelve years old To shew how eminent Jesus was for his wisdom even in his childhood, the evangelist gives us the remarkable instance here recorded. When he was twelve years of age his parents carried him up to the passover, with a view to instil an early regard for religion and its precepts into his tender mind. See Exodus 34:23. Deuteronomy 16:16. It is generally allowed by learned men, that twelve was the age when young people, according to the Jewish maxims, came under the yoke of the law. See Lightfoot's Hor. Heb. on the place, and Wotton's Miscel. vol. 1: p. 320.


Verse 44

Luke 2:44. Supposing him to have been in the company Several families then travelled together, as they do at present on such occasions, in companies, or caravans, as they are called in the East. In these companies it was not unusual for persons to leave their own families, and mix with others, for the sake of conversation in the day-time; but at night they always joined their own families again. The parents of Jesus therefore supposing him to have been among their relations, were not solicitous about him in the day; but not finding him at night, they became anxious on account of his absence; and thus having spent one day on their journey, they reached Jerusalem on the second, and spent the third in searching after him there. See on Luke 2:49. Grotius, and Shaw's Travels, Preface, p. 9.


Verse 46

Luke 2:46. They found him in the temple On the morrow after their arrival, the parents of Jesus, to their great joy, found him in one of the chambers of the temple, sitting among the doctors, who at certain seasons, and particularly at the great festivals, taught there publicly; a custom hinted at in Jeremiah 26:5-10. See also John 18:20. There were no less than three Sanhedrim, or assemblies of the doctors, who had apartments in the temple, two of these consisted of twenty-three persons each, one of which sat at "the east gate of the mountain of the house," the other "at the gate Nicanor," or, "the east gate of the court of Israel;" as the great Sanhedrim, consisting of seventy-one, did in the room named Gazith, near the great altar. The doctors sat on seats in the form of a crescent, but the disciples on the ground, till after the death of Gamaliel. Into which of these courts our Lord came; is quite uncertain: however, it was customary in these assemblies to propose doubts concerning the meaning of the precepts of the law, and the traditions of the elders, which was generally done by way of question. The wordhearing, is used in the rabbinical writingsto imply such skill in the traditions of the elders, as to be capable of proposing any questions concerning them, and likewise of giving answers to such as were proposed. It is certainly a great injury to the character of our blessed Redeemer, to represent this history, whether in pictures or words, as if Christ went up into the seats of the doctors, and there disputed with them. Not one word is said of his disputing by the evangelist; but only of his asking some questions, and answering others. It was a very usual thing in these assemblies, and indeed the very end of them; for they were principally designed for the catechetical examination and instruction of young people. All was conducted, no doubt, with the utmost modesty and decorum; and if Jesus were with others at the feet of these teachers, where, as we observed, learners generally sat, he might be said to be in the midst of them, as they sat on benches of a semicircular form, raised above their auditors and disciples. See Lightfoot, Drusius, and Doddridge.


Verse 47-48

Luke 2:47-48. And all that heard him were astonished The words rendered astonished in this verse, and amazed in the next, are much more forcible than our translation of them. They import, that they were in a transport of astonishment, and were struck with admiration. As our Lord himself has told us, that on this occasion he was employed in his Father's business, it is probable that in these his answers and objections, he modestlyinsinuated corrections of the errors wherewith the Jewish teachers had now greatly disfigured religion. If we recollect that the school learning of the Jews was at this time at its highest pitch, and that our Lord, at the age of twelve years, was superior to the greatest doctors whom the Jews could boast of, there will appear very just grounds for the admiration here mentioned. His parents were particularly and beyond measure surprised, to find him engaged in such an employment; and hismother in particular, not able to express the emotion she was in, chid him with a tender vehemence for leaving them without their knowledge, and putting them to so much pain. The word rendered sorrowing, οδυνωμενοι, is expressive of the most racking anguish, and is often applied to the distress and pain of a woman in travail; it has therefore been rendered, with great concern,—with inexpressible anxiety and distress.


Verse 49

Luke 2:49. Wist ye not, &c.— Some render this, Know ye not that I must be in my Father's house? With this translation the Syriac version agrees: and it is certain that the Greek will well bear this translation, and that the reply appears with peculiar propriety, if it be supposed to signify, that though they thought him lost, yet he was at home; he was in his Father's house. He calls the temple his Father's house, John 2:16 and thus gives a tacit hint, that in staying behind at Jerusalem, he had not left his true Father. It is to be remembered, that this is the first visit Christ had ever made to the temple since he was a child in arms; it is no wonder, therefore, that the delight he found here inclined him to prolong it. How happy those children, who, like the Holy Jesus, love the house and ordinances of God, and thirst for the instructions of his good word!


Verse 50

Luke 2:50. They understood not the saying They did not fully comprehend the meaning of this expression. The phrase implies, that there was something more in Christ's words than at first appeared.


Verse 51

Luke 2:51. But his mother And his mother.


Verse 52

Luke 2:52. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature The word signifies either age or stature; but the latter seems evidently to be here meant. Erasmus remarks, (nearlyin these words) that all the endowments of the Man Christ Jesus were owing to the divine beneficence, and that his Deity communicated itself in a gradual manner to that human nature which it had assumed. Some perhaps may wish to know the history of our Lord's childhood and private life; what early proofs he gave of his having the divine nature united to the human; what proficiency he made in knowledge, and the methods by which he advanced therein; in what way he employed himself when he arrived at man's estate; what notions his acquaintance formed of him; the manner of his conversation with them, and other things of a like nature,—which the Holy Spirit has not thought fit to explain. The following particulars only are left upon record:—that he had not the advantage of a liberal education, (John 7:15.) receiving no instructions, probably, but what his parents gave him according to the law; (Deuteronomy 4:9-10; Deuteronomy 6:7.) yet that at the age of twelve years, when carried up to Jerusalem, he distinguished himself among the doctors by such a degree of wisdom and penetration, as far exceeded his years:—that he very early understood the design on which he was come into the world;—Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?—That as he grew in years, he became remarkable for his wisdom and stature, advancing gradually in the former as well as in the latter; and that by the comeliness of his person, the sweetness of his disposition, and the uncommon vigour of his faculties, he engaged the affections of all who had the happiness to be acquainted with him:—that, as his mind was filled with wisdom, and always serene, being perfectly free from those turbulent passions which distract other men, his countenance no doubt must have been composed and agreeable, such as did betoken the strength of his understanding, and the goodness of his heart. This may be implied by the expression, the grace of God was upon him, Luke 2:40 unless it be thought an explication of the preceding clause, He waxed strong in spirit, and was filled with wisdom, Raphelius, Not. Polyb. p. 186 makes it probable, that the grace of God, in that passage, is the highest Hebrew superlative, being an expression of the same form with, the mountains of God, that is to say, exceeding high mountains,—and so is equivalent to the description which Stephen gave of Moses's beauty, Acts 7:20. He was αστιεος τω Θεω, fair to God,—exceeding fair. Besides, we find the word χαρις, grace, used in a similar sense by St. Luke 4:22 and all—wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth, επι τοις λογοι ; της χαριτος, at the harmony and beauty of his diction, as well as the importance of his subject. However singular this observation concerning our Lord's form may appear, yet a nearer view of it will conciliate our approbation: for if his stature was so remarkable in his youth, that it twice deserved the notice of the evangelist, ver.40, 52 his comeliness might be so likewise. Nor is any thing which the prophets have said of him, as forinstance, Isaiah 52:14 inconsistent with this conjecture: for the meanness of the Messiah's condition, and the disposition of the Jews towards him, are described in that prophesy, rather than the form of his person. Just as Psalms 45:3 describes the triumphs of his religion, rather than the majesty and glory of his outward form. The evangelist tells us farther, that Jesus was possessed of an uncommon and prevailing eloquence, insomuch that his hearers were often amazed at the beauty of his discourses; (ch. Luke 4:22.)—and some of them made to cry out, Never man spake like this man, John 7:46.—That he remained subject to hisparents, and lived with them in humble obscurity,till he entered on his public ministry, which commenced about the thirtieth year of his age; the excellency of his divine nature having been for the most part vailed during the whole course of his private life:—and, that probably as soon as his strength permitted, he wrought with his father at his occupation as a carpenter, (Mark 6:3.) leaving us an admirable example both of his filial duty, and prudent industry. These are all the particulars which the Holy Spirit has thought fit to communicate to us concerning our Lord's life.

Inferences drawn from Christ's sitting among the doctors.—Even the spring shews us what we may hope for from the tree in summer. In his younger years, therefore, would our Saviour give us a taste of his future excellence; lest, if his perfection should have shewed itself without warning to the world, it might have been entertained with more wonder than belief; If after this early demonstration of his divine graces, the incredulous Jews would nevertheless say, Whence hath this man his wisdom and his mighty works? Let us ask what would they have said, had he suddenly leaped forth into the clear light of the world?—The sun would dazzle all eyes, were it to break forth at its first rising into its full strength: now, it has both the day-star to go before it to bid men look for the glorious day, and also the lively colours of the day to publish its approach. The eye is comforted, not hurt, by its appearance.

The law of the passover extended only to the males; I do not find the blessed virgin bound to this annual voyage; the weaker sex received indulgence from God; but she, knowing the spiritual profit of the journey, takes the voluntary pains of measuring that long way every year. Piety regards not, any more than God's gracious acceptation, the distinction of sexes. They who would go no farther than they are dragged in their religious exercises, are not at all of kin to her, whom all generations shall call blessed.

In all his examples the blessed Jesus meant our instruction; this pious act of his youth was intended to lead our first years into timely devotion, and set us on our way to Jerusalem. The first liquor seasons the vessel for a long time after. It is every way good for a man to bear God's yoke even from his infancy. He that sets out betimes in the morning, is more likely to dispatch his journey, than he who lingers till the day be spent.

This holy family came not to look at the feast only, and be gone; they duly staid out all the appointed days of unleavened bread: their worldly business, their secular concerns, could not either keep them from Jerusalem, or send them away immaturely. Worldly cares must give way to sacred; and unless we will depart unblessed, we must attend God's service till we may receive his dismission; and can indeed say with Simeon, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.

The feast ended, what should they do but return to Nazareth? God's services may not be so attended, as that we should neglect our particular callings. They are grievously mistaken, to their own hurt, and the dishonour of the Almighty, who think God cares for no other trade but devotion. Piety and diligence must keep due interchange with each other; nor does God less approve of our return to Nazareth, than of our going up to Jerusalem.

We cannot think that the blessed virgin, or the good and solicitous Joseph, could be so neglectful of their divine charge, as not to call him to them on their setting forth from Jerusalem; but their back was no sooner turned on the temple, than his face was towards it. He had business to do, and meat to eat in that place, when their services and their feasts were ended. He in whom the Godhead dwelt bodily, could do nothing without God: his true Father led him away from his supposed parent: sometimes the affairs of our ordinary vocation may not grudge to yield unto spiritual occasions.

The parents of Christ knew him well to be of a disposition not strange, nor sullen, but sweet and sociable. They supposed therefore that he had spent his time on the way in the company of their friends and neighbours; and when evening came, they go to seek him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. He had not been sought among them now, had he not been accustomed to converse with them heretofore. Neither as God, nor man, does he take pleasure in a stern, froward austerity, and wild retirement; but in a mild affability, and amiable conversation.

Gracious Saviour! who can miss, and not mourn for thee? Just is that sorrow, and seasonable are those tears, which are bestowed upon thy loss. Of what comfort are we capable, while we want thee? O let thyself loose, my soul, to the fulness of sorrow, when thou findest thyself bereaved of him, in whose presence is fulness of joy; and refuse to receive comfort from any thing but his return.

In vain is Christ sought among his kindred according to the flesh. So far, alas! are they still from giving us their aid to find the true Messiah, that they are but too apt to lead us from him. Back again, therefore, must Joseph and Mary be gone, to seek him in Jerusalem, whom their soul loved. At last, on the third day, they find him in the temple. He who could rise again the third day, and be found among the living, would now also the third day be found of his parents, after the sorrow of his absence.

But where wert thou, and how tended, O blessed Jesu, for the space of these three days? I know, if Jerusalem should have been as unkind and niggardly to thee as Bethlehem, thou couldst have commanded the heavens to harbour thee; and if men did not minister unto thee, thou couldst have commanded the service of angels:—but further I inquire not,—for further thou revealest not. This only I know, that hereby thou intendedst to teach thy parents that thou couldst live without them; and that not out of any indigency but out of a gracious dispensation alone, thou choosedst ordinarily to depend on their care.

In the mean time, thy divine wisdom could not but foreknow all those corroding thoughts wherewith the heart of thy mother must needs bleed:—yet wouldst thou leave her for the time to sorrow, and visit her who bore thee with this earthly affliction. None ever sought thee with a sincere desire, of whom thou wert not found; and where should we rather hope to find thee, than in the temple?—There is the habitation for the God of Israel; there is his resting-place for ever.—O all ye who are grieved with the want of your Saviour, see then where you must seek him: in vain shall you hope to find him in the streets, in the taverns, in the theatres: seek him in his holy temple; seek him with piety; seek him with faith; there shall ye assuredly meet and recover him.

While children of that age were playing in the streets, Christ was found sitting in the temple, to hear and converse with the doctors of the law. He who, as God, gave them all the wisdom they had, as the Son of man, hearkens to the wisdom that he had given them. He who sat in their hearts, as the author of all knowledge, sits in the midst of their schools a humble disciple, that, by learning from them, he might teach all the younger sort humility and due attendance on their instructors: he contents himself to hear with diligence, to ask with modesty, and to teach only by insinuation. Behold him, that could have taught the angels, listening, in his minority, to the voice of men. First, he hears, then he asks, (Luke 2:46.) after that he answers. How much more then does it concern us to be hearers, ere we offer to be teachers of others? He gathers that hears; he spreads that teaches. If we spend before we gather, no wonder if we soon prove bankrupts.

What wonder was it that these great rabbins all wondered at the understanding and answers of this infant tutor? Luke 2:47. Their eyes saw nothing but human weakness; their ears heard divine sublimity of matter. And why then did ye not remember, O ye Jewish teachers, that to us a child was born, that to us a son was given, whose name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace? Why did ye not now call to remembrance what the star,—the sages,—the angels,—the shepherds,—Zachary, Simeon, Anna had pre-admonished you? Fruitless is the wonder, that endeth not in faith. No light is sufficient where the eyes are held through prejudice or unbelief.

The doctors were not more amazed to hear so profound a childhood, than the parents of Christ were to see him among the doctors, Luke 2:48. And now, not Joseph,—he knew how little right he had to that divine offspring,—but Mary breaks forth into that loving expostulation, Son, why hast thou dealt so with us? Wherein she evidently meant to express rather grief than correction and reproach. Herein, only, the blessed virgin appears to have offended, in that her inconsideration did not recollect, that some higher respects than could be due to flesh and blood, must have called away the Son of God from her, who was the daughter of a man. How naturally are we all partial to ourselves! how prone to the regard of our own supposed rights! Questionless this gracious saint would by no means wilfully have preferred her own attendance to that of her God: through heedlessness, however, she offends. Her Son and Saviour is her monitor. How is it that ye sought me? Knew ye not that I must be about my Father's business?

Immediately before, the blessed virgin had said, thy Father and I had sought thee with heavy hearts. The Son of God stands not upon contradiction to his mother in this case; but leading her thoughts from his supposed father to his true, from earth to heaven, he answers, Knew ye not that I must be about my Father's business? It was honour enough for her to hear, that he had vouchsafed to take flesh of her. It was his eternal honour, that he was God of all, the everlasting Son of the heavenly Father. Good reason therefore was it, that the respects of flesh should give place to the God of spirits. How well contented was holy Mary with so just an answer! How does she now again in her humble heart renew her reply to the angel, Behold the servant of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word! We are not worthy to say we have a Father in heaven, if we cannot steal away from these earthly distractions, and employ ourselves in the service of God, in the all-important business of our heavenly and eternal Father.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The morning-star being arisen, the sun of righteousness cannot be far behind: in the fulness of time God sends forth his Son, born of a woman. We have,

1. The time of Christ's birth; in the reign of Augustus Caesar. When he had extended the Roman monarchy to the greater part of the known world, and was now in perfect peace throughout his vast empire, he orders a general enrolment to be made through the provinces, that every man, according to his ability, might pay a suitable tax: and this was done under the inspection of Cyrenius, the governor of Syria, with which Judea was joined as one province; so that it evidently appeared the sceptre was departed from Judah, by this badge of servitude, Genesis 49:10 the fourth monarchy was now risen to its glory. Daniel 2:44 and therefore in this time of peace was the proper and appointed period fixed by the ancient prophesies for the appearing of the Prince of Peace, the Messiah.

2. The place where Jesus was born; at Bethlehem; whither his parents were obliged to go, on account of this enrolment, they being of the lineage of David, and therefore called to appear at the seat of their ancestors. Augustus only meant his own glory and advantage in this matter; but God had designs to serve by him which he knew not: it was thus evident that our Lord sprung from David, and the scripture was fulfilled which fixed his going forth from Bethlehem, Micah 5:2. By such mysterious ways does God work, accomplishing his own gracious purposes, and making those who least intend it, subservient to his own designs.

3. The wretched circumstances in which Christ came into the world. Though a first-born son, and of royal extraction, not to mention his divine honours, yet was he born in the stable of an inn, and his cradle a manger. Thus did the everlasting Father become an infant of days; he who bound up the deep in swaddling-bands, was himself swashed as a babe; he, whom the heaven, and the heaven of heavens cannot contain, was hid in a manger; He, who in uncreated glory on his eternal throne, was the object of adoration to all the angelic hosts, is thrust into a stable to dwell among the beasts of the earth: so low did he humble himself, when he became man for us men and for our salvation; and took the form of a servant as a prelude to his submitting to the death of a slave.

2ndly, Amid the deeper humiliation of Jesus, some bright displays of his uncreated glory still broke forth, that we might not stumble at the meanness of his appearing in the flesh, but be made to confess, Truly this is the Son of God. We have,

1. The appearance of an angelic minister to notify the birth of the Prince of Peace; not to the mighty monarchs of the earth, that they should come and pay their homage before the King of kings, and Lord of lords; but to poor shepherds, who were by night watching their flocks. They were employed in their honest calling, and were then favoured with this unexpected visit from above: God will put this honour upon industry. The angel stood over them in the air, and the earth shone with his brightness; a divine glory compassed him about and fear seized their minds at the presence of this celestial messenger. Visits from the unseen world to men, conscious how ill they have deserved at God's hand, may well alarm us, and make even gracious souls afraid.

2. The heavenly visitant soon quieted their troubled minds, saying, Fear not, no danger is near, no evil portended, but the very contrary; for behold (with wonder and delight attend my message) I bring you good tidings of great joy; the happiest news that ever reached the sinful sons of men, and which shall be to all people; not to the Jews only, but to the Gentiles also, alike interested in this message. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord, the long-expected Messiah, the Lord of life and glory, the Saviour to the uttermost, unto all those who come to God by him, who without him must have been for ever undone. And this shall be a sign unto you, whereby you may assuredly know him, and a strange sign indeed it was; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, the last place surely where they would ever have sought the Messiah, after such a glorious herald had proclaimed his birth and titles; but the most eminent distinction of God incarnate was his deep humiliation. Note; (1.) If there be a Saviour born, we must seek him for ourselves, that we may obtain an interest in him. (2.) None perish in their sins, but they who will not come to him that they may have life; for he is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by him, seeing that he is Christ the Lord.

3. Suddenly a multitude of the angelic host joined this celestial messenger, to celebrate the divine glory, and to congratulate the sons of men on this auspicious occasion. The morning-stars that sang together, and all those sons of God who shouted for joy to see the world's foundation laid, now join with greater transport to adore this more transcendent display of the divine benignity in the redemption of sinners by the incarnation of Jehovah. (1.) They ascribe to God glory in the highest; all his divine perfections are to the uttermost exalted; his infinite mercy, that moved him to pity sinners; his surpassing wisdom, that contrived, and his almighty power and grace, that accomplished the wondrous means of man's salvation; his adorable justice; his matchless love; his unchangeable faithfulness to his promises, all shine with peculiar lustre in the redemption which is by Jesus Christ. (2.) They congratulate the sinful sons of Adam on the peace sent down from heaven to earth:—Peace with God, as reconciled through his Son; peace in the believer's conscience now undisturbed with fears of guilt; peace between the discordant sons of men; and all these blessings purely flowing from God's good will; not for the sake of any merit in us, but to the praise of the glory of his grace. If angels sing, shall men be silent? How ought we to echo back the sound; for us, and not for them, is this salvation wrought; to us this mercy is extended; most bounden are we for ever to bless and praise the God of all grace for this inestimable gift, the Son of his love.

4. No sooner had these angelic ministers finished the heavenly song, and returned to their shining realms of bliss, than instantly the shepherds resolved to go and see this wondrous child, fully persuaded of the truth of what they had heard, and acknowledging the distinguishing mercy of God in having thus revealed it unto them: hasting therefore to Bethlehem, they found every circumstance as it had been told them, and the babe lying in the manger. Note; When God sends us on his errands, we should make no delay: all must be left to go where he calls.

5. Fully confirmed in the persuasion that this was the promised Saviour, they failed not to spread the glad tidings, relating all that they had seen and heard from the angel, or Mary, concerning this child. And as they were plain and undesigning men, concurred in the same report, were eye and ear witnesses of the facts which they asserted, it exceedingly amazed all those to whom they gave the account; they knew not how to question the truth, and yet—that the Messiah should be born in a stable; that his parents should be persons so obscure; that poor shepherds only should be favoured with the notice of his birth, and not the chief-priests and rulers of the nation; all these circumstances staggered them. Thus the report was the wonder of a day, and soon died away, and was forgotten; but Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart, comparing them with what had before passed; confirmed thereby in her faith and hope, and silently storing up every circumstance in her memory against some future occasion. Meantime the shepherds returned to their former occupation, blessing and praising God for what they had heard and seen, so exactly correspondent with all that the angels had told them; and waiting, no doubt, in hope for the day when this child should come to manhood, and publicly appear as Israel's Saviour.

3rdly, He who was made under the law for us, submitted not only to all the moral precepts, but to the ceremonial institutions.

1. He was circumcised the eighth day, binding himself thereby to the observance of the law; humbling himself to this painful rite, as born in the likeness of sinful flesh; owning himself of the seed of Abraham, and wearing this badge of the children of God, as under the instituted seal of the covenant devoted to him. At this time, as usual, his name was also given him, and he was called Jesus, having been so named of the angel before his conception, to signify his glorious character as a Saviour from sin, Satan, death, and hell.

2. He was, at the end of the time appointed for his mother's purification, or forty days, their purification as some copies read, Leviticus 12:4 presented in the temple as holy to the Lord, Exodus 13. God having reserved to himself the first-born of Israel, in commemoration of his sparing them when he slew the Egyptians; while his mother also brought an offering for herself, according to the prescription of the same law, a pair of turtle-doves, or young pigeons, which in case of poverty were accepted instead of a lamb and a dove, Leviticus 12:6-8 the one as a sin-offering of atonement, in testimony of her unworthiness of the mercy that she had received; the other as a burnt-offering, expressive of her thankfulness.

4thly, Amidst all the meanness and poverty of Jesus, very glorious were the testimonies borne to him from heaven and upon earth. We have,

1. The public declarations of Simeon; a man, it seems, of distinguished note in Jerusalem, who just then came, by divine direction, into the temple.

[1.] The account given concerning him is greatly to his honour. He was just towards men, and devout, eminently religious toward God, waiting in faith and patience for the consolation of Israel, the promised Messiah, whose coming in the flesh was to be the great joy of all believers, Gentiles as well as Jews; the time of whose appearing, fixed in the prophetic writings, was now at hand: and the Holy Ghost was upon him, not only as a Spirit of holiness, but as a Spirit of prophesy: And it was revealed unto him by the secret inspirations of the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ, whom his eyes should behold before they were closed in the dust. And accordingly, just at that instant, he came by the Spirit into the temple, under some divine warning of what was doing there: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, to present him to the Lord, and pay the price of redemption, then took he him up in his arms, in a transport of joy, as having found him whom he had so long and so earnestly expected; and blessed God, and broke forth into the following prophetic song of praise; Note; (1.) We must not be weary of waiting; though the Lord may for a while exercise our patience, all his promises are sure to persevering believers. (2.) Christ is the consolation of his Israel; he makes all those happy who by faith embrace him. (3.) They who have Jesus in their arms, in their hearts, can look death in the face with confidence.

[2.] His discourse on this occasion, was solemn and joyful. He said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, farewel life, welcome death! He is now content to be gone, since God has thus graciously fulfilled his promise to him; and cheerfully resigns his soul in confidence of exchanging a perishing world for an eternity of glory: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, that Messiah, who is come to be the author of eternal salvation to all the faithful; which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, and now manifested in the flesh to accomplish the glorious work; a light to lighten the Gentiles, who have long sat in darkness, ignorance, and idolatry, but now shall be made partakers of the light of truth and the grace of the gospel; and the glory of thy people Israel, among whom his personal ministry was employed; who were spectators of his miracles; from whom he descended after the flesh; by whom, as his apostles and evangelists, he first propagated the knowledge of his salvation; and, in him all the spiritual Israel are justified, and in him they glory. Isaiah 45:25. Note; (1.) A believing sight of Christ, and of the great things that he has prepared for the faithful, will not only enable us to overcome the terrors of death, but to triumph in its approach. (2.) We may not leave our post till the Lord grants us our dismission; our time is in his hand; while he has work for us to do, we must be content to be here, till he calls us to depart, and be with him; which is far better. (3.) Christ is the Sun of righteousness; there is nothing but darkness and death in the spiritual world, till he arises with healing in his wings.

[3.] Simeon concludes with his benediction on the parents of Jesus, and a prediction for their notice. They marvelled at these transcendently glorious testimonies which were borne to their infant Son; while Simeon congratulated them on their distinguished felicity, and prayed that the best of blessings might descend upon them. He blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, as more especially the parent of Jesus, and interested in what he was about to say; behold, with wonder, and with confidence in the truth which I declare, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; he will be to many native Jews a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, Isaiah 8:14-18 while by his power and grace others will be raised up to newness of life, even many who at first were offended at him; and he shall quicken all believers in Israel and throughout the world, and bring all those who perseveringly cleave to him unto eternal glory; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; his humiliation and sufferings will give a handle to his persecutors to blaspheme and revile him; yea, and so bitter will the enmity be against him, that it will extend to all his relations and friends, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, such anguish and pain you will endure from the view of his insults and sufferings, and from those which you may be called to endure for the profession of your faith in him; that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed, these times of persecution most effectually serving to discover the faithful disciples from the hypocrites and apostates. Note; (1.) The same gospel is to some the savour of death unto death, which to others is the savour of life unto life. (2.) They whom Jesus raises, must first be laid low in the dust of humiliation. (3.) Most of our comforts in this world have some crosses annexed to them.

2. Anna the prophetess confirms, just at the same instant, what Simeon had spoken concerning the glory of the child Jesus.

[1.] Her person and character are described. Her name was Anna, whom the Lord had endued with a spirit of prophesy. She was the daughter of Phanuel, a person probably of some note, and of the tribe of Asher; a very aged woman, having lived seven years with a husband, and ever since continued a widow of about eighty-four years, a great age, if comprehending the whole of her life; but if reckoned as her years of widow-hood, will carry her age at lowest to above a hundred years. Yet though so old, she constantly attended the stated worship of the temple morning and evening, and on all solemn occasions; and was much in fasting and prayer, a singular instance of piety and devotion.

[2.] Her testimony concerning Jesus is recorded. Just at the instant that Simeon was discoursing concerning him, she came in; and, with thanksgiving and praise to the Lord, confirmed what he had spoken concerning the child. And among all her religious acquaintance, who were expecting the Messiah's appearing, and looking for his redemption, she spake of the Son of Mary, as the person raised up of God for this great design. Note; (1.) They who are constant at the temple, and careful to keep up communion with God, will find many a blessed and happy visit from him, which they perhaps hardly expected. (2.) They who know Jesus themselves, are in duty bound to spread that knowledge far and wide, and to endeavour to bring others to an acquaintance with his salvation.

5thly, Our curiosity might have tempted us to wish for some more large and particular accounts of the infancy and childhood of Jesus; but as till his public appearance in the character of the Messiah we had no particular need of it, all that the Holy Ghost has been pleased to record of the first twenty-nine years of his life, is contained in a few verses; where some beams of his glory, even from his earliest days, are seen to break forth, as presages of his future greatness.

1. After he was presented in the temple, he for the most part, till twelve years of age, lived with his parents at Nazareth, whither they were directed to go after their return from Egypt, Matthew 2. There he grew up as other children do; and as his stature increased, and reason began to dawn, he displayed the most uncommon natural abilities; was endued with wisdom far beyond his years; and instead of that foolishness which is bound up in the heart of all other children, and immediately begins to discover itself with the first dawnings of sense, in him nothing was seen of folly or perverseness. The grace of God eminently governed his spirit and conduct from his tenderest years, and the favour of God towards him appeared most evident and singular.

2. At the age of twelve, he gave some amazing evidences of his extraordinary wisdom, and some intimations of the great work that he had in view.

[1.] At this time he went up to Jerusalem with his parents to the passover, where all the males from that age were commanded to appear to celebrate this solemnity. Note; it is highly incumbent on parents to acquaint their children betimes with their covenant-relation to God, and to endeavour to engage them early, with their own free choice, to surrender themselves up to him as his willing servants.

[2.] When they had stayed during the seven days of the feast, and then had set out on their return for Nazareth, the child Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem: probably when they went up to worship on the morning before they proceeded on their journey, he left them in the temple; and as the men and women travelled in different companies, each of his parents supposed that he had been with the other, or with some of their relations, great numbers of whom travelled together; till, at even, when they met, to their surprise they missed their son; and after a fruitless search among all their relatives and acquaintance, they turned back to Jerusalem in the morning to seek for him. (See the Annotations.) Note; Our relatives and acquaintance are too often unable to direct us to Jesus; we must go farther for our information.

[3.] At last they found him on the third day in the temple, in one of the chambers, probably where the Sanhedrim sat, or where the wise men instructed their catechumens; there Jesus was, among other young persons, hearing their discourses, answering their questions with the most amazing acuteness, and proposing others to them, which shewed uncommon wisdom and penetration; insomuch that they were all astonished at the sagacity of his replies, and the depth of his understanding, so exceedingly beyond his years, and such as made him appear worthy a place among the highest rabbis, instead of a seat at their feet as a catechumen.

[4.] Having found him, they were amazed to see him thus admired and esteemed by the doctors; and his mother began tenderly to expostulate with him on his stay, which had given them such anxiety and grief: but he gently rebuked her solicitude, who, after all that had passed, ought not to be surprised at finding him there. Where should he be so properly as in the courts of his Father's house? and what so fit an employment for him, as to be thus about his Father's business? but they understood not his meaning: his regal office, as the Messiah, the son of David, they believed; but of his prophetical character, and the nature of his spiritual kingdom, they seem not yet to have had clear ideas.

3. He returned to Nazareth, submitting to his parents in every instance of filial duty; and his mother stored up his sayings in her mind, expecting, that though she now but little understood them, hereafter they would be explained more fully. Till he was thirty years of age, he continued in this obscure abode, and under the government of his parents, probably working as a carpenter for their maintenance and his own: and as he advanced to manhood, his attainments in wisdom and understanding were amazing, his faculties most enlarged, and his soul filled with all those gifts and graces which the human nature, by its union with the Divine, was prepared to receive. Thus he grew highly in God's favour; and admired and esteemed by all who were acquainted with his singular excellencies. Note; (1.) Let children, when grown up, learn of Jesus subjection to their parents; that is a duty which we must ever pay. (2.) Though the truths of God, which we are taught, may not at first be understood by us, yet the knowledge of them will prove highly useful, when afterwards God gives the spiritual understanding. (3.) Those children are indeed their parents' glory and joy, whose wisdom and graces increase with their years, and exceed them.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Luke 2:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/luke-2.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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