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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Pulpit commentary, St.Luke, chapter 2, via Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz


Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA, DD.

Bishop Rosenkranz, MSCS

Vers. 1–20.—The Redeemer’s birth.
Ver. 1—There went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed; more accurately, that there should be a registration, etc.; that is, with a view to the assessment of a tax. On the historical note of St. Luke in this passage much discussion has arisen, not, however, of much real practical interest to the ordinary devout reader. We will glance very briefly at the main criticism of this and the following verse. Respecting this general registration it is alleged (1) no historian of the time mentions such a decree of Augustus. (2) Supposing Augustus had issued such an edict, Herod, in his kingdom of Judæa, would not have been included in it, for Judæa was not formally annexed to the Roman province of Syria before the death of Archelaus, Herod’s son; for some years after this time Herod occupied the position of a rex socius. In answer to (1), we possess scarcely any minute records of this particular time; and there are besides distinct traces in contemporary histories of such a general registration. In answer to (2), in the event of such an imperial registration being made, it was most unlikely that Herod would have claimed exemption for his only nominally independent states. It must be remembered that Herod was an attached dependent of the emperor, and in such a matter would never have opposed the imperial will of his great patron.
Ver. 2.—(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) Hostile criticism makes a still more direct attack upon the historical statement made by St. Luke here. Quirinius, it is well known, was governor (legatus or præses) of Syria ten years later, and during his office a census or registration—with a view to taxation—which led to a popular disturbance, was made in his province. These critics say that St. Luke mentions, as taking place before the birth of Jesus, an event which really happened ten years after. Much historical investigation has been made with a view to explain this difficulty. It has been now satisfactorily demonstrated that, strangely enough, this Quirinius—who ten years later was certainly governor (legatus) of Syria—at the time of the birth of the Saviour held high office in Syria, either as præses (governor) or quæstor (imperial commissioner). The Greek word rendered by the English “governor” would have been used for either of these important offices. On the whole question of these alleged historical inaccuracies of St. Luke, it may be observed: (1) Strangely enough, none of the early opponents of Christianity, such as Celsus or Porphyry, impugn the accuracy of our evangelist here. Surely, if there had been so marked an error on the threshold of his Gospel, these distinguished adversaries of our faith, living comparatively soon after the events in question, would have been the first to hit so conspicuous a blot in the story they hated so well. And (2) nothing is more improbable than that St. Luke, a man of education, and writing, too, evidently for people of thought and culture, would have ventured on a definite historical statement of this kind, which would, if wrong, have been so easily exposed, had he not previously thoroughly satisfied himself as to its complete accuracy. Generally, the above conclusions are now adopted, lately, amongst others, by Godet, Farrar, Plumptre, and Bishop Ellicott (in his Hulsean Lectures). Godet has an especially long and exhaustive note on this subject. The conclusions are mainly drawn from the researches of such scholars as Zumpt and Mommsen. Cyrenius; Latin, Quirinus. He is mentioned by the historians Tacitus and Suetonius. He appears to have been originally of humble birth, and, like so many of the soldiers of fortune of the empire, rose through his own merits to his great position. He was a gallant and true soldier, but withal self-seeking and harsh. For his Cilician victories the senate decreed him a triumph. He received the distinguished honour of a public funeral, A.D. 21 (Tac., ‘Ann.,’ ii. 30; iii. 22, 48; Suet., ‘Tib.,’ 49).
Ver. 4.—The city of David, which is called Bethlehem. After all the long ages which had passed, still the chief title to honour of the little upland village was that there the greatly loved king had been born. Bethlehem (“house of bread”) was built on the site of the old Ephrath—the Ephrath where Rachel died. Of the house and lineage of David. The position in life of Joseph the royally descended, simply a village carpenter, the equally humble state of Mary, also one of the great king’s posterity, need excite no surprise when the vicissitudes of that royal house, and of the people over whom they ruled, are remembered. The old kingdom of David had been dismembered, conquered, and devastated. The people had been led away into a captivity from which few, comparatively speaking, ever returned. All that the house of David had preserved were its bare family records. Hillel, the famous scribe, who was once a hired porter, claimed to belong to the old princely house.
Ver. 5.—With Mary his espoused wife The older authorities here omit “wife.” Translate, with Mary who was betrothed to him.
Ver. 6.—The days were accomplished that she should be delivered. The universal tradition of the Christian Church places the nativity in winter. The date “December 25” was generally received by the Fathers of the Greek and Latin Churches from the fourth century downwards.
Ver. 7.—Her firstborn Son. This expression has no real bearing on the question respecting the relationship of the so-called brethren of Jesus to Mary. The writer of this commentary, without hesitation, accepts the general tradition of the Catholic Church as expressed by the great majority of her teachers in all ages. This tradition pronounces these brethren to have been (1) either his half-brethren, sons of Joseph by a former marriage; or (2) his cousins. In the passage in Hebrews (1:6), “when he bringeth in the First Begotten into the world,” “First Begotten” signifies “Only Begotten.” (On the whole question, see Bishop Lightfoot’s exhaustive essay on the “Brethren of the Lord” in his ‘Commentary on the Galatians.’) There was no room for them in the inn. “The inn of Bethlehem, what in modern Eastern travel is known as a khan< or caravanserai, as distinct from a hostelry. (the ‘inn’ of ch. 10:34). Such an inn or khan offered to the traveller simply the shelter of its walls and roofs. This khan of Bethlehem had a memorable history of its own, being named in Jer. 41:17 as the ‘inn of Chimham,’ the place of rendez vous from which travellers started on their journey to Egypt. It was so called after the son of Barzillai, whom David seems to have treated as an adopted son (2 Sam. 19:37, 38), and was probably built by him in his patron’s city as a testimony of his gratitude” (Dean Plumptre). The stable was not unfrequently a limestone cave, and there is a very ancient tradition that there was a cave of this description attached to the “inn,” or caravanserai, of Bethlehem. This “inn” would, no doubt, be a large one, owing to its being in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and would often be crowded with the poorer class of pilgrims who went up to the temple at the seasons of the greater feasts. Bethlehem is only six miles from Jerusalem.
Vers. 8–20.—The Bethlehem shepherds see the angels.
Ver. 8.—In the same country; that is, in the upland pastures immediately in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem. Shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Why were shepherds chosen as the first on earth to hear the strange glorious news of the birth of the Saviour of the world? It seems as though this very humble order was selected as a practical illustration of that which in the future history of Christianity was to be so often exemplified—“the exaltation of the humble and meek.” Mary would learn from this, the first visit of adorers to her Babe, that the words of her song (the Magnificat) would in very truth be realized. The subsequent visit of the learned and wealthy travellers from the East (Matt. 2:1–12) would tell her that the words of the Isaiah prophecy were all literally, in their due order, to be fulfilled, some of them even in the unconscious childhood of her Son (see Isa. 60:3, 6; Ps. 72:10). Now, among the Jews at that period shepherds were held in low estimation among the people. In the Talmud (treatise ‘Sanhedrin’) we read they were not to be allowed in the courts as witnesses. In the treatise “Avodah-Zarah’ no help must be given to the heathen or to shepherds. The Mishna (Talmud) tells us that the sheep intended for the daily sacrifices in the temple were fed in the Bethlehem pastures. This semisacred occupation no doubt influenced these poor toilers, and specially fitted them to be the recipients of the glad tidings. They would hear much of the loved Law in the solemn ritual of the great temple. They would know, too, that there was a rumour widely current in those days that the long looked-for Messiah was soon to appear, and that their own Bethlehem was to witness his appearing.
Ver. 9.—The angel of the Lord came upon them; better, an angel. The Greek word rendered “came upon them”—a very favourite word with St. Luke—suggests a sudden appearance. The glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. The white shining cloud of intolerable brightness, known among the Jews as the Shechinah, the visible token of the presence of the Eternal, in the bush, in the pillar of fire and cloud which guided the desert-wanderings, in the tabernacle and the temple. It shone round the Redeemer on the Mount of Transfiguration. It robed him when, risen, he appeared to the Pharisee Saul outside Damascus. The occasional presence of this visible glory was exceedingly precious to the chosen people. The terror felt by the shepherds was the natural awe ever felt by man when brought into visible communion with the dwellers in the so-called spirit-world.
Ver. 11.—A Saviour. Another favourite word with SS. Paul and Luke. The terms “Saviour” and “salvation” occur in their writings more than forty times. In the other New Testament books we seldom find either of these expressions.
Ver. 12.—Lying in a manger. This was to be the sign. On that night there would, perhaps, be other children born in the Bethlehem village; certainly the shepherds would find no other newly born infant cradled in a manger.
Ver. 13.—With the angel a multitude of the heavenly host. “The troop of angels issues forth from the depths of that invisible world which surrounds us on every side” (Godet). One of the glorious titles by which the eternal King was known among the chosen people was “Lord of sabaoth,” equivalent to “Lord of hosts.” In several passages of the Scriptures is the enormous multitude of these heavenly beings noticed; for instance, Ps. 68:17, where the Hebrew is much more expressive than the English rendering; Dan. 7:10, “Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him” (see, too, the Targum of Palestine on Deut. 33, “And with him ten thousand times ten thousand holy angels;” and “The crown of the Law is his [Moses’], because he brought it from the heavens above, when there was revealed to him the glory of the Lord’s Shechinah, with two thousand myriads of angels, and forty and two thousand chariots of fire,” etc.).
Ver. 14.—On earth peace. At that juncture, strange to say, the Roman empire was at peace with all the world, and, as was ever the case in these brief rare moments of profound peace, the gates of the temple of Janus at Rome were closed, there being, as they supposed, no need for the presence of the god to guide and lead their conquering armies. Not a few have supposed that the angel choir in these words hymned this earthly peace. So Milton in his ‘Ode to the Nativity’—

“No war or battle’s sound
Was heard the world around;
The idle spear and shield were high uphung:
The hooked chariot stood
Unstained with hostile blood,
The trumpet spake not to the armèd throng;
And kings sat still with awful eye
As if they surely knew their souvran Lord was by.”

But the angels sang of something more real and enduring than this temporary lull. The gates of Janus were only too quickly thrown open again. Some seventy years later, within sight of the spot where the shepherds beheld the multitude of the heavenly host, the awful conflagration which accompanied the sack of the holy city and temple could have been plainly seen, and the shrieks and cries of the countless victims of the closing scenes of one of the most terrible wars which disfigure the red pages of history could almost have been heard. Good will toward men. A bare majority of the old authorities read here, “On earth peace among men of good will;” in other words, among men who are the objects of God’s good will and kindness. But the Greek text, from which our Authorized Version was made, has the support of so many of the older manuscripts and ancient versions, that it is among scholars an open question whether or not the text followed in the Authorized Version should not in this place be adhered to.
Ver. 17.—And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child. Thus these men, at the bottom of the social scale in Israel, were chosen as the first preachers of the new-born King. Gradually the strange story got noised abroad in the city. The vision of Zacharias, the story of Mary, the two strange births, the marvellous experience of the shepherds. Following upon all this was the arrival of the Magi, and their inquiries after a new-born Messiah, whom they had been directed by no earthly voices to seek after in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. It was then that the jealous fears of Herod were in good earnest aroused, and the result was that he gave immediate directions for the massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem, of which St. Matthew writes.
Ver. 19.—But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. Such a note as this could only have been made by Mary herself. She knew her Child was in some mysterious sense the Son of God. A glorious being not of earth had told her that her Boy would be the Saviour of Israel. The visit of the rough shepherds to her in the crowded caravanserai, and their strange but quiet and circumstantial story of the angel’s visit to them, was only another link in the wondrous chain of events which was day by day influencing her young pure life. She could not as yet grasp it all, perhaps she never did in its mighty gracious fulness; but, as at the first, when Gabriel the angel spoke to her, so at each new phase of her life, she bowed herself in quiet trustful faith, and waited and thought, writing down, we dare to believe, the record of all that was passing, and this record, we think, she showed to Luke or Paul.
Vers. 21–40.—Circumcision and presentation of the Child Jesus.
Ver. 21.—For the circumcising of the Child. These ancient rites—circumcision and purification—enjoined in the Mosaic Law were intended as perpetual witnesses to the deadly taint of imperfection and sin inherited by every child of man. In the cases of Mary and her Child these rites were not necessary; but the mother devoutly submitted herself and her Babe to the ancient customs, willingly obedient to that Divine Law under which she was born and hitherto had lived.
Ver. 22.—When the days of her purification according to the Law of Moses were accomplished. This period lasted forty days from the birth. The forty days, according to the date of the nativity accepted universally by the Catholic Church, would bring the Feast of the Purification to February 2.
Ver. 24.—A pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons. The proper offering was a lamb for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or dove for a sin offering; but for the poor an alternative was allowed—instead of the more costly present of a lamb, a second pigeon or dove might be brought. The deep poverty of Mary and Joseph is shown in this offering. They would never have put the sanctuary off with the humbler had the richer gift been in their power.
Vers. 25–35.—The episode of Simeon and his inspired hymn.
Ver. 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. Many expositors have believed that this Simeon was identical with Simeon (Shimeon) the son of the famous Hillel, and the father of Gamaliel. This Simeon became president of the Sanhedrin in A.D. 13. Strangely enough, the Mishna, which preserves a record of the sayings and works of the great rabbis, passes by this Simeon. The curious silence of the Mishna here was, perhaps, owing to the hatred which this famous teacher incurred because of his belief in Jesus of Nazareth. Such an identification, although interesting, is, however, very precarious, the name Simeon being so very common among the people. Waiting for the consolation of Israel. There was a general feeling among the more earnest Jews at this time that the advent of Messiah would not be long delayed. Joseph of Arimathæa is especially mentioned as one who “waited for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43). Dr. Farrar refers to the common Jewish prayer-formula then in use: “May I see the consolation of Israel!” A prayer for the advent of Messiah was in daily use.
Ver. 26.—That he should not see death. The idea of the aged Simeon comes from a notice in the apocryphal ‘Gospel of the Nativity,’ which speaks of him as a hundred and thirteen years old. These legendary “Gospels” are totally devoid of all authority; here and there possibly a true “memory” not preserved in any of the “four” may exist, but in general they are extravagant and improbable. The Arabic ‘Gospel of the Infancy’ here speaks of Simeon seeing the Babe shining like a pillar of light in his mother’s arms. There is an old and striking legend which speaks of this devout Jew being long puzzled and disturbed by the Messianic prophecy (Isa. 7:14), “A virgin shall conceive;” at length he received a supernatural intimation that he should not see death until he had seen the fulfilment of the strange prophecy, the meaning of which he had so long failed to see.
Ver. 27.—And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus. This was evidently the usual expression which the Nazareth family adopted when they spoke of the Child Jesus (see, again, in ver. 48 of this chapter; and also in ver. 33, where the older authorities read “his father” instead of “and Joseph”). The true story, which they both knew so well, was not for the rough Galilæan peasant, still less for the hostile Herodian. The mother knew the truth, Joseph too, and the house of Zacharias the priest, and probably not a few besides among their devout friends and kinsfolk. The Nazareth family, resting quietly in their simple faith, left the rest to God, who, in his own season, would reveal the secret of the nativity.
Ver. 29.—Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. The beautiful little hymn of Simeon was no doubt preserved by the Virgin Mary and given to St. Luke. The Nunc dimittis has been used constantly in the liturgies of Christian Churches for fourteen centuries. The thought which runs through the hymn has been well put by Godet: “Simeon represents himself under the image of a sentinel, whom his master has placed in an elevated position, and charged to look for the appearance of a star, and then to announce it to the world. He sees this long-desired star; he proclaims its rising, and asks to be relieved of the post on the watch-tower he has occupied so long. In the same way, at the opening of Æschylus’s ‘Agamemnon,’ when the sentinel, set to watch for the appearing of the fire that is to announce the taking of Troy, beholds at last the signal so impatiently expected, he sings at once both the victory of Greece and his own release.”
Vers. 31, 32.—Before the face of all people; a Light to lighten the Gentiles; more accurately rendered, all peoples. Men like Isaiah, who lived several centuries before the nativity, with their glorious far-reaching prophecies, such as Isa. 52:10, were far in advance of the narrow, selfish Jewish schools of the age of Jesus Christ. It was, perhaps, the hardest lesson the apostles and first teachers of the faith had to master—this full, free admission of the vast Gentile world into the kingdom of their God. Simeon, in his song, however, distinctly repeats the broad, generous sayings of the older prophets.
Ver. 33.—And Joseph and his mother marvelled. It was not so much that Simeon foretold new things respecting the Child Jesus that they marvelled; their surprise was rather that a stranger, evidently of position and learning, should possess so deep an insight into the lofty destinies of an unknown Infant, brought by evidently poor parents into the temple court. Was their secret then known to others whom they suspected not?
Ver. 34.—And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this Child. It is noticeable that, while Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph, he refrains from blessing the Child, of whom, however, he pointedly speaks. It was not for one like Simeon to speak words of blessing over “the Son of the Highest.” The words which follow are expressly stated to have been addressed only to Mary. Simeon knew that she was related—but not Joseph—to the Babe in his arms; he saw, too, that her heart, not Joseph’s, would be pierced with the sword of many sorrows for that Child’s sake. Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against. For nearly three centuries, of course with varying intensity, the name of Jesus of Nazareth and his followers was a name of shame, hateful and despised. Not only among the Roman idolaters was “the Name” spoken against with intense bitterness (see the expressions used by men like Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny), but also among his own nation, the Jews, was Jesus known as “the Deceiver,” “that Man,” “the Hung.” These were common expressions used in the great rabbinical schools which flourished in the early days of Christianity.
Ver. 35.—Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also. Christian art has well caught the spirit of her life who was, in spite of her untold suffering, “blessed among women,” in depicting her so often and so touchingly as the mother of sorrows (Mater Dolorosa). The childhood in the Nazareth home, and the early manhood in the Nazareth carpentry, were no doubt her happiest days, though, in those quiet years, expectation, fears, dread, curiously interwoven, must have ever torn that mother’s heart. The days of the public ministry for Mary must have been sad, and her heart full of anxious forebodings, as she watched the growing jealousies, the hatred, and the unbelief on the part of the leading men of her people. Then came the cross. We know she stood by it all the while. And, after the cross and the Resurrection, silence. Verily the words of Simeon were awfully fulfilled. Bleek, quoted by Godet, makes an interesting suggestion on the subject of the sword piercing Mary’s heart: “Thou shalt feel in thine own heart their contradiction in regard to thy Son, when thou thyself shalt be seized with doubt in regard to his mission.”
Vers. 36–38.—Greeting of Anna the prophetess.
Ver. 36.—There was one Anna, a prophetess. The name of this holy woman is the same as that of the mother of Samuel. It is not necessary to assume that this Anna had the gift of foretelling future events. She was, at all events, a preacher. These saintly, gifted women, though never numerous, were not unknown in the story of the chosen people. We read of the doings—in some cases the very words are preserved—of Miriam, Hannah, Deborah, Huldah, and others. Of the tribe of Aser. It is true that at this period the ten tribes had been long lost, the “Jews” being made up of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin; but yet certain families preserved their genealogies, tracing their descent to one or other of the lost divisions of the people. Thus Anna belonged to Asher.
Ver. 37.—Which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. Probably, in virtue of her reputation as a prophetess, some small chamber in the temple was assigned to her. This seems to have been the case with Huldah (2 Chron. 34:22). It has also been suggested that she lovingly performed some work in or about the sacred building. Farrar suggests such as trimming the lamps (as is the rabbinic notion about Deborah), derived from the word lapidoth, splendour. Such sacred functions were regarded among all nations as a high honour. The great city of Ephesus boasted her name of νεωκόρος, temple-sweeper, as her proudest title to honour.
Ver. 39.—And when they had performed all things according to the Law of the Lord. Another note, which tells us of the rigid obedience which Mary and Joseph paid to the Law of Israel, under which they lived. Marcion, the famous Gnostic heretic (second century), who adopted this Gospel of St. Luke, to the exclusion of the other three, as the authoritative Gospel for his sect (the Marcionites), omitted, however, all these passages of St. Luke’s narrative in which the old Mosaic Law was spoken of with reverence. They returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. To complete the story of our Lord’s early life, we must insert from St. Matthew, before this return to Nazareth, the visit of the Magi, and the flight to and return from Egypt. It is probable—even if the Gospel of St. Matthew, as we have it, was not then written—that these details, the visit of the Magi and the flight into Egypt, were facts already well known to those whom this Gospel was especially designed to instruct.
Ver. 40.—And the Child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom. and the grace of God was upon him. Another of this evangelist’s solemn pauses in his narrative. In this short statement the story of twelve quiet years is told. From these few words St. Luke evidently understands the humanity of Jesus as a reality. The statement that “he waxed strong, filled with wisdom” (the words, “in spirit,” do not occur in the older authorities), tells us that, in the teaching of SS. Paul and Luke, the Boy learnt as others learnt, subject to the ordinary growth and development of human knowledge; thus condemning, as it were, by anticipation, the strange heresy of Apollinarius, who taught that the Divine Word (the Logos) took, in our Lord’s humanity, the place of the human mind or intellect. And the grace of God was upon him. The legendary apocryphal Gospels are rich in stories of the Child Jesus’ doings during these many years. But the silence of the holy four, whose testimony has been received now since the last years of the first century by the whole Church, is our authority for assuming that no work of power was done, and probably that no word of teaching was spoken until the public ministry commenced, when the Messiah had reached his thirtieth year. “Take notice here,” wrote Bonaventura, quoted by Farrar,“that his doing nothing wonderful was itself a kind of wonder.… As there was power in his actions, so is there power in his silence, in his inactivity, in his retirement.”
Vers. 41–52.—The Child Jesus at Jerusalem.
Ver. 41.—Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. The Law required the attendance of all men at the three great Feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Deut. 16:16). The dispersion and subsequent residence of so many Jews in distant lands had much broken up the regular observance of these directions. Still, many devout Jews were constantly present at these feasts. This Mosaic ordinance was only binding upon men, but R. Hillel recommended women always to be present at the Passover. The constant yearly presence of Joseph the carpenter and Mary at this feast is another indication of the rigid obedience of the holy family of Nazareth to the ritual of the Law of Moses.
Ver. 42.—And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. When a Jewish boy was three years old he was given the tasselled garment directed by the Law (Numb. 15:38–41; Deut. 22:12). At five he usually began to learn portions of the Law, under his mother’s direction; these were passages written on scrolls, such as the shema or creed of Deut. 6:4, the Hallel Psalms (Ps. 114, 118, 136). When the boy was thirteen years old he wore, for the first time, the phylacteries, which the Jew always put on at the recital of the daily prayer. In the well-known and most ancient ‘Maxims of the Fathers’ (‘Pirke Avoth’), we read that, at the age of ten, a boy was to commence the study of the Mishna (the Mishna was a compilation of traditional interpretations of the Law); at eighteen he was to be instructed in the Gemara (the Gemara was a vast collection of interpretations of the Mishna. The Mishna and Gemara together make up the Talmud. The Mishna may roughly be termed the text, the Gemara the commentary, of the Talmud).
Ver. 43.—And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the Child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem. The feast lasted seven days. Now, a boy in the East, twelve years old, is usually far more advanced than is ever the case in our Northern nations, where development is much slower. We may well suppose that the Boy was left much to himself during these days of the feast. It requires no stress of imagination to picture him absorbed in the temple and all that was to be seen and learned there. It was, doubtless, his first visit since infancy to the glorious house. Slowly, surely, had he been growing up into the consciousness of what he was and whence he came: may we not in all reverence assume that his self-recognition first really burst forth from the depths of his childhood’s unconsciousness in that solemn week spent in the storied temple courts? When Joseph and Mary and their friends, as was usual after the seven days, commenced their return journey, the Boy, instead of joining this homeward-bound company of pilgrims, went as usual to the temple and the great teachers there, wholly absorbed in the new light which was breaking in upon him. There they found him. Strange that they should have for so long searched in other places. Had they only called to mind the sacred secret of the Child, surely they would have gone at once to the temple; was it not, after all, his earthly home, that holy house of his Father in Jerusalem?
Ver. 46.—And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple. According to the common way of reckoning among the Hebrews, this expression, “after three days,” probably means “on the third day.” One day was consumed in the usual short pilgrim-journey. His absence at first would excite no attention; on the second, as they missed him still, they sought him in the various pilgrim-companies; and on the day following they found him in the temple courts, with the doctors of the Law. Sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. In the temple enclosure, says the Talmud, there were three synagogues—one at the gate of the court of the Gentiles, another at the entrance of the court of the Israelites, a third in the south-east part of the inner court: it was in these that the rabbis expounded the Law. Among the famous doctors, or rabbis, then living and teaching in Jerusalem, were the famous Hillel, then very aged, verging, we are told, on his hundredth year; his almost equally illustrious rival, Shammai; Gamaliel, the master of Saul of Tarsus; Jonathan, the compiler of the Chaldee Paraphrase of the sacred books; Simeon, the son and successor of Hillel; Nicodemus, who, some years afterwards, came to Jesus by night, and, when the end was come, reverently assisted in laying the King’s Son with all honour in his tomb in Joseph of Arimathæa’s garden. We may, with great probability, assume that amongst those “doctors” whom the Boy questioned at that Passover Feast, some if not all of these well-known men were sitting. The apocryphal Gospels, as usual, profess to give us details where the true story is reverently silent. The ‘Gospel of Thomas’ (second century), for instance, tells us that Jesus, when on the road to Nazareth, returned of his own accord to Jerusalem, and amazed the rabbis of the temple by his solution of the hardest and most difficult questions of the Law and the prophets. In an Arabic Gospel of somewhat later date than that of Thomas, we find the Boy even teaching the astronomers the secrets of their own difficult study. Probably Stier’s simple words approach the nearest to the truth here, when he suggests that his questions were “the pure questions of innocence and of truth, which keenly and deeply penetrated into the confused errors of the rabbinical teaching.”
Ver. 48.—Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. Mary’s words have in them something of reproach. Joseph, it is noticeable, stands evidently apart; but the mother, strangely as it would seem at first, associates him in “thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” Had she, then, forgotten the past? Who but Mary could have repeated this sacred memory of her mistake, and of the Boy’s far-reaching answer? What forger could have imagined such a verse?
Ver. 49.—How is it that ye sought me? To the gently veiled reproach of Mary, Jesus replies, apparently with wonderment, with another question. It had come upon him so quietly and yet with such irresistible force that the temple of God was his real earthly home, that he marvelled at his mother’s slowness of comprehension. Why should she have been surprised at his still lingering in the sacred courts? Did she not know who he was, and whence he came? Then he added, Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? There was an expression of Mary’s which evidently distressed the Child Jesus. Godet even thinks that he discerns a kind of shudder in his quick reply to Mary’s “thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” “In my Father’s house, where my Father’s work is being done, there ought I to be busied. Didn’t you know this?” But the twelve silent uneventful years of life at Nazareth, the poor home, the village carpentry, the natural development of the sacred Child, had gradually obscured for Mary and Joseph the memories of the infancy. They had not forgotten them, but time and circumstances had covered them with a veil. Now they were very gently reminded by the Boy’s own quiet words of what had happened twelve years before. Scholars hesitate whether or not to adopt the rendering of the old Syriac Version, “in my Father’s house,” instead of the broader and vaguer “about my Father’s business,” as the Greek will allow either translation. It seems to us the best to retain the old rendering we love so well, “about my Father’s business.” The whole spirit of Jesus’ after-teaching leads us irresistibly to this interpretation of the Master’s first recorded saying.
Ver. 51.—And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth. The question of Mary, and the quiet grave answer of the Child Jesus, were all that seems to have taken place. It served, no doubt, to bring back to Mary’s mind what had long passed, and the memory of which for her was beginning somewhat to fade. This was, no doubt, one of the uses of the temple scene, but it had other and deeper purposes to serve. It was then, perhaps, as we have already reverently surmised, in the gradual development and growth of the Redeemer, that consciousness who he really was first dawned upon “the Child Jesus.” And was subject unto them. This recital of the temple scene, the meeting with the great rabbis there, the few words of surprise addressed by the Boy to Mary and Joseph when they sought him “sorrowing”—“as if it were possible,” to use Stier’s expression, for “him to be in wrong or in danger”—this recital alone breaks the deep silence which shrouds the first thirty years of “the Life.” For some eighteen years after that visit to Jerusalem Jesus appears to have lived and toiled as a carpenter at Nazareth, with Joseph and Mary while they both lived, with Mary and his half-sisters and brothers when Joseph was dead. Justin Martyr, living a century and a half later, speaks of the ploughs and yokes the Master’s own hands had fashioned during that long quiet pause in his life. Why, it is often asked, were not these years spent in Jerusalem and in the temple neighbourbood, in the centre of busy life and active Jewish thought? Godet suggests an answer which, if not exhaustive, is at least satisfactory: “If the spiritual atmosphere of Nazareth was heavy, it was at least calm; and the labours of the workshop, in the retirement of this peaceful valley, under the eye of the Father, was a more favourable sphere for the development of Jesus than the ritualism of the temple and the rabbinical discussions of Jerusalem.” Joseph is never again mentioned in the gospel story; the probability is that he died some time in that period of eighteen years. But his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. As twelve years before, Mary—pondering in her heart—had treasured up the rough adoration of the shepherds and their strange story of what the angels said to them about her Child (ver. 19), as doubtless she had done too when the Magi laid their costly gifts before the Babe at Bethlehem, and when Simeon and Anna in the temple spoke their prophetic utterances over the Infant; so now the mother, in quiet humble faith, stored up again her Son’s sayings in her heart, waiting with brave and constant patience for the hour when her God should grant her to see face to face the mysterious things she had hitherto seen only “in a glass darkly.”
Ver. 52.—And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. Another of these little word-paintings of St. Luke in which the work and progress of long years is depicted. The purpose of this brief statement is clear. The evangelist would teach us that, with Jesus, bodily development proceeded in the same orderly fashion as it does with other men, while wisdom—deepening with the years—passed into his soul as it passes into the souls of other men, by the ordinary channels of instruction, study, and thought. On the last words, “in favour with God and man,” Dean Plumptre very beautifully writes, “The Boy grew into youth, and the young Man into manhood, and his purity and lowliness and unselfish sympathy drew even then the hearts of all men. In that highest instance, as in all lower analogies, men admired holiness till it became aggressive, and then it roused them to an antagonism bitter in proportion to their previous admiration.” The Greek word in this verse translated “increased” would be more literally rendered “kept advancing.” The word is used for pioneers hewing down trees and brushwood which obstruct the path of an advancing army. The word in the original, Englished by “stature” some scholars translate by “age;” either rendering is permissible, but the word used in the English Version is better fitted for the context of the passage.

Vers. 1–7.—The birthplace and the birth. Two travellers, coming up from Galilee, approach the city of David. The knowledge they possessed of the event in which the glories of David’s house were to culminate must have invested every feature with a peculiar sacredness of interest. Note Dean Stanley’s description of Bethlehem, on the crest of a ridge of black hills terraced with vineyards. As beheld by Joseph and Mary, what a stream of patriotic memories, mixed with the inspirations which spring from the sense of ancestry, must have flowed over their souls! There is the scene of the notable gleaning of the gentle Moabitess who had accompanied Naomi from those mighty hills which rear their pinnacles in the distance behind. There, Jesse with his seven stalwart sons had lived. In those fields and gorges the youngest of the seven had learned to sling his stones and sing his psalms—had been prepared for the future which lay before him. From that city had come the mightiest of David’s warriors—Joab and Abishai and others. Lo! there, too, by the gate is the famous well of Bethlehem, of which David had longed to drink, but, faint as he was, would not, because the drawing of its water had been at the cost of life, strength, and blood. Manifold is the appeal to the heart of the pilgrims, who, lowly as their condition is, are scions of Israel’s royal house. They are nearing the place of which prophecy had said (Micah 5:2), “Out of thee shall One come forth unto me that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” They know that the fulfilment is at hand. Whither shall they go? High time that one should be at rest. Shall they go to the inn-the khan or caravanserai? (See Farrar’s sketch of that strange shelter for man and beast.) But the inn is full. There is no place in it for such as they. The necessity is urgent. And their refuge—so a tradition mentioned by Justin Martyr says—is a grotto or cave in the limestone rock on which the village stands, used as a stable for horses and a pen for cattle. The horses’ manger is the cradle for the King of kings. Born there and thus, the precise date of the birth is not apparently determinable.
Vers. 8–20.—The shepherds and the herald angels. From limestone cavern, we are taken by the evangelists to the long grassy slopes which stretch to the east of the Jewish city. Hidden in some nook of these slopes rest pious shepherds. Shepherds have always been a meditative class of men, accustomed to the sweet silences of nature, and, apart from the bustle and stir of cities, invited to quiet communion with their own hearts. It would seem that these shepherds were men of the spirit of Simeon. They quickly understand the message borne to them. Calmly and promptly, they respond at once, as if it were the intimation of that for which they had been waiting. “Let us go and see.” There they lie, “nursed in devout and lonely thought,“unaware of the myriad myriads of the shining that hover over them. It is the moment of a pause, of a hush through nature. Lo! the angel of the Lord comes on them; in an instant a presence, a glory, is around them; and first into their hearts is poured the gospel for all the ages. of this gospel, note: (1) Its substance. (Ver. 11.) “Born to you this day “—God’s gift to men, to sinners, especially to those who believe. “A Saviour, which is Christ”—the Anointed One—he of whom the prophets spoke, and whom David, the shepherd of Israel, prefigured; the Sent, not by but from God, the depths of the Divine Personality; the Son from the bosom of the Father. “Christ, the Lord”—the Jehovah, to whom ever knee shall bow; the Ruler who shall restore the lost, and unite the scattered, and fulfil the kingdom which is righteousness and peace and joy. (2) The character of this gospel. (Ver. 10.) “Good tidings of great joy;” the most blessed message ever proclaimed—one of unspeakable blessedness; a joy to which no bound can be set, which no geographical limit can measure, which no thought of class, or race, or sect can embitter; joy to all the world’s peoples. (3) The sign of the gospel. (Ver. 12.) “A Babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and lying in a manger.” The Babe is the sign of the kingdom, is the token of the King.“Except ye become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). And now suddenly as the sign is given,“a blaze of song spreads o’er the expanse of heaven,” and

“Like circles widening round
Upon a clear blue river,
Orb after orb, the wondrous sound
Is echoed on for ever:
‘Glory to God on high, on earth be peace,
And love towards men of love-salvation and release.’ ”

The announcement of the birth is made to shepherds. Why were they selected for this great honour? Points of fitness may be traced. Was not the first blood of sacrifice (Abel’s) that of a keeper of sheep? Was not the chosen type and earthly root of the Christ a shepherd taken trom the sheepfolds? Is not one of the favourite symbols of the world’s Saviour the good shepherd? Is not the Saviour’s work that of him who leaves the ninety and nine and goes after the sheep which is lost? Of all earthly things, are not the pastoral life and spirit the nearest correspondents to the life and spirit of the incarnate Son of God? And as to the gospel that was preached, is there not a truth in the quaint language of an old writer, “It fell not out amiss that shepherds they were; the news fitted them well. It well agreed to tell shepherds of the yearning of a strange Lamb, such a Lamb as might take away the sin of the world. Such a Lamb as they might send to the Ruler of the world for a present.” Any way, it is not to supercilious Pharisee, not to Sadducee cold and dry as dust, not to Essene ascetic and separatist, not to Herodian worldly and crafty, not to the mighty or the noble that the first tidings of the great joy are brought. The first preacher is the heavenly angel, and the first congregation some lowly, simple men, who are doing their duty in the place which God has appointed to them. Thence comes the lesson to us. Heaven is always near the dutiful. They who watch faithfully what has been given to their charge, not seeking “some great thing to do,” not hurried and restless in their work, but caring for the things, many or few, over which God has placed them, are close to that gate of the celestial kingdom through which there peals the music, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” Two points in this portion of the narrative may be touched upon. (1) The conduct of the shepherds when the tidings of the birth are borne to them. On the withdrawal of the heavenly vision, they say (ver. 15), “Let us now go even to Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass.” The flocks are somehow disposed of. This is a matter to be at once attended to. A word of God, a voice of the Holy Spirit in the heart, a command or duty pertaining to the heavenly life, claims precedence over all other claims. “Seek first the kingdom of God.” Prompt obedience is the way of blessing. “They came with haste.” Yes; “the King’s business requireth haste.” Never delay. St. Paul acted in the spirit of the shepherds when, God having been pleased to reveal his Son in him, “immediately he conferred not with flesh and blood” (Gal. 1:16). (2) The conduct of Mary. The shepherds eagerly told their wonderful tale. And all the people who heard, wondered. “But Mary (ver. 19) kept all these sayings and pondered them in her heart.” The wonder of the people soon passed away; it was but “as the morning cloud and the early dew.” Religious feelings are conserved and deepened through reflection and prayer. Blessed secret-the keeping and pondering in the heart!
Vers. 21–38.—The circumcision and presentation in the temple. I. THE CIRCUMCISION. With regard to the circumcision, observe: 1. The Son of God is not only “made of a woman,” he is “made under the Law.” He is entered into all the requirements and circumstances of the covenant “with Abraham and his seed.” The apostle tells us why—“to redeem them that were under the Law.” Christ took the bond under which Israel was bound, and became Israel’s Surety for it. Now it is ended. There is a new form of righteousness in which the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile is removed. The apostle adds (Gal. 4:6), “To redeem them that were under the Law, that we”—i.e. as many as have been baptized into Christ, Jew or Greek, bond or free—“might receive the adoption of sons.” This adoption is now the standing through grace. 2. The circumcision has its special place in the making of Jesus by God to us Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, Redemption. It is an evidence that the Son of God was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Circumcision supposed its subject to be a sinner. It supposed that a condemnation rested on him as such. The Lord Jesus, God’s beloved Son, therefore took the sinner’s place, and in the drops of blood shed on the eighth day after birth served himself, as it were, the heir to the condemnation of sin. Of this condemnation he spoke when he bowed his head on the cross and said, “It is finished!”; 3. The circumcision has its special meaning with regard to the spiritual history of believers. See in this connection Col. 2:10, “You Christians”—thus we may paraphrase the sentence—“have, through your union with Christ, the reality of circumcision. When you gave yourselves to Christ, a work was done in you which was equal to the sharp and painful renunciation—the putting off-of the body of flesh, of that mind of the flesh with its affections and lusts which is enmity against God. It was through the repentance wrought in you that you became partakers of the remission of sins. When you were buried with Christ in baptism, your old, unbelieving self was circumcised to the Lord. You found the new position, the new life, that is complete in Christ. (For the manifold suggestiveness of the circumcision of the infant Jesus, read Keble’s hymn in his ‘Christian Year.’)
II. THE PRESENTATION. The forty days of purification prescribed by the Law of Moses having been accomplished, Joseph and Mary bring the Babe to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord. As Mary’s Firstborn, he must be formally separated. And in the narrative of this separation we are reminded of the lowly condition of the parents. Not the lamb and the pigeon, but the two young pigeons allowed in cases of poverty, constitute the sacrifice, so low had he stooped whose place is the bosom of the Father. Look at the welcome prepared for Christ as he is borne in Mary’s loving arms into his Father’s temple. 1. Think first of the man by whom the welcome is expressed. He is called simply “a man in Jerusalem.” Not the priests. In connection with the infancy we trace three acts of adoration—that of the shepherds, that of Simeon and Anna, and that of the heathen Magi. In all there is no representation of the circles of authority; at least, there is no dwelling on the importance of those through whom the homage is shown. The tribute of the human heart is sufficient for the Son of man. Of this man we know nothing more than is told us by St. Luke. His name is Simeon. He is (ver. 25) “righteous and devout, one of those who looked for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit is upon him.” The character—all that is memorable—is summed up in the title he himself takes (ver. 29), “Thy servant.” For years he has been looking-a sharer in the expectation which had become earnest and eager among the pious. But he thinks and prays and hopes in a light that is peculiar to himself. Somehow—we are not told how-the intimation has been borne into his soul (ver. 26) that “he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Is not the picture of this “watcher for the morning” a beautiful one? Do we not seem to see him, weary of the word-wranglings, the fightings over pin-points of ceremonial, which abounded, piercing through the hypocrisies with which the religious world was honeycombed; amid confusions becoming worse confounded, breathing the prayer, “O thou Hope of Israel, come quickly”? Is not this man an example to us? Is not this present time the watch-night to Christ’s people? Are we watching as he watched—“not asleep in sin, but diligent in the Lord’s service, and rejoicing in his praises”? 2. Regard next the scene in which the welcome is given. The watcher is in the temple—there in the spirit of David’s psalm, “That I may dwell in the courts of the Lord, beholding the beauty of the Lord, and inquiring in his temple.” He is there led by the Spirit. When “two unnoted worshippers” enter, his eye fixes on the two; faster beats the heart, “It is he; that child is he-the Lord’s Christ.” An incident that is indelibly photographed in the heart of Christendom is that in which the venerable seer takes the Babe in his arms, and lifts his eyes to heaven “in prayers that struggle with his tears.” (1) Behold the sign of the Babe realized. To welcome the true child-nature, as Simeon welcomed Jesus; to see heaven in the Child, and open the soul to the impression, becoming child-like, and therefore Christ-like;—this is to receive the kingdom of heaven. (2) Note that in spiritual history there is a moment of discovery—the discerning of the hidden glory in Jesus. This moment is typified in the conjunction of the watcher and the watched for (ver. 27)—when the parents brought the Child Jesus, then he received him into his arms. We may not be able always to distinguish the very time and way; but there is the morning hour in the life, the awakenment to the claim of God on the soul, to the fact “I am a sinner, and I need the Lord’s Christ,” and the answering fact, “He is the Saviour, and he wants me.” Would that Simeon’s joy were realized in all who read, “Mine eyes have seen thy Salvation”! 3. Observe the song, the familiar “Nunc dimittis.” What sweetness, what beauty in this, the “swan-song” of the Christian Church as it has been called! (1) How tenderly the heart asks the supreme release! What more can be desired! The servant has seen the Master. And yet it is no prayer of longing initiated by the heart itself. Had it not been revealed to him that the hour of departure would follow the vision of the Lord? The human will touches the Divine. “Let me depart … according to thy word.” (2) How the song thrills with the sense of a love free and unversal as the light of God (vers. 31, 32)! So it is when the Lord’s Christ is really seen. The place of Christ is “a place of broad rivers and streams.” Christian love is necessarily a missionary love. The word which it sows into the innermost desire is, “Let there he light.” Christians may learn this, too, from Simeon—he, the Israelite, seeks the good of the Gentiles. The salvation in which he rejoices is one “for revelation to the Gentiles.” Should not we Gentiles reciprocate by embracing in our prayer and effort God’s people Israel?—seeking that the whole thought of the venerable watcher may be fulfilled—the Lord’s Christ, the Light for the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel. (3) A soul thus filled out of the fulness of God’s love is ready to depart. Death to it is only a departing, the dismissal of the servant from the scene of earthly toil, that he may enter more fully into the joy of the Lord. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” The aged servant has still another word. He has his blessing for the parents. 4. Mark the prediction addressed to Mary. (1) The more general announcement, which seems at variance with the exalted strain of the song; but in this variance it harmonizes with the words of prophecy (e.g. Isaiah’s forecasts), and interprets the experience of the ages. For “Christ is both a Corner-stone and a Stumbling-stone, and perhaps, in some sense, he is both the one and the other to us all.” (2) The more special announcement. Ah! how often the love which is the source of the purest joy is the occasion of the most poignant sorrow! Many a mother can understand the word of the seer to the mother, “A sword shall pierce through thine own soul.” Well when the wound is that only of a holy sorrow! Thus (3) the prophetic word is attached to the blessing, that, through the Lord’s Christ, “the thoughts of many hearts should be revealed.” It is true: the attitude of every heart to Christ is the revelation of that heart in the roots and springs of its thinking. 5. The sketch of Anna the prophetess is the concluding and consummating feature of the day. She, too, is an interesting person. A widow, after seven years of married life, and now “advanced in many days” (ver. 36), at least four score and four. Devout, almost an inmate of the temple, and recognized as a prophetess. She, too, has her thanksgiving, as she comes in “at that very hour.” But the notable circumstance in regard to her is that she is the first preacher of Christ in the city of the great King. “She speaks of him to all them that are looking for redemption.” She is the pioneer of the great host of women that publish the tidings (Ps. 68:11, Revised Version). In this host may many who read or hear be included!
Vers. 39–52.—The childhood and the waiting-time. Before the age of twelve, nothing is told. In modern biographies, all kinds of traits, incidents, forecasts of the man in the child, are mentioned. The Apocryphal Gospels fall in with this custom. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. The child-life of “the Lord’s Christ” is thoroughly simple. A bright-eyed boy, learning to read the Scriptures at his mother’s knee, running out and in to shop and cottage, and joining sometimes in the innocent pastimes of the hillside, taking at night his little quilt from the ledge surrounding the wall of the house, and laying himself down in peace and sleeping,—such, we may conceive, was the life of the holy Child. Thoughtful, wise, gentle, yet full of a nameless “grace and truth;” for (ver. 40) “he grew and waxed strong, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” The incident which alone breaks the silence is connected with his twelfth year, the completion of which was an important hour in Jewish history—the hour of transference from pupilage to a certain measure of responsibility. At that age Jesus, “a son of the Law,” is taken by Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem. The journey, the caravans of pilgrims, the incidents of the way, the three nights’ halting, and then the sight of Jerusalem with its temple shining in the sun,—we can imagine what all this must have been to the exquisitely sensitive soul of the Child! And the week’s stay in the capital—what bursting of thoughts! what tides of inspiration! Let us dwell on the first recorded word of Jesus—his reply to his mother (ver. 49), when she and Joseph found him among the doctors. Regard it as the word of sanctified boyhood—as the awakenment to the consciousness of (1) the supreme relation of the life; (2) the supreme interest of the life; (3) the supreme necessity of the life.
I. THE SUPREME RELATION. “My Father.” We may infer, from the fiftieth verse, that now for the first time this word had passed from his lips. “Thy father and I,” said Mary. Quietly but distinctly comes the intimation of the Fatherhood—an intimation in which we can trace the disengagement. “Nay, not he whom I have honoured, and honour, as earthly parent, but he to whom I am truly bound—he who is, who only is, my Father.” And a great, solemn hour it is when the feeling of personal, individual relation to the Eternal dawns on the consciousness. In earliest years the child-nature is enfolded in others. The first crisis of the life is when it begins to realize that it cannot merely be led; that it has a place and calling of its own; that it must think and will, instead of only reflecting the thought and volition of those who have shaped its path. Here there is a parting of the ways—one way being towards a self-will, which has “torment” in it for the youth as for others, and which, unless corrected and disciplined by sharp experience, will bear the soul into hurtful alliances, will prove “a hewing out of broken cisterns which hold no water;” the other way being that of Divine grace, the acceptance of a higher rule and guidance, the learning of the great name Duty in the greater, the supporting Name of God, the response of the heart to a love and righteousness which asks its yes, the witness of the eternal Spirit with the human that the Boy is the Son of God. Who will not anxiously endeavour so to direct the mind, in the period when it is most susceptible of all right influences, as that the transition from childhood to youth shall be marked by a new glance upward, a loving and earnest “My Father”!
II. Further, NOTE THE SUPREME INTEREST OF THE LIFE. It matters not whether we read “about my Father’s business” or “in my Father’s house;” the idea is the same—that the irresistible attraction of the Son is the affairs which connect him with the Father. At twelve years of age the business was “hearing and asking questions.” There is nothing forced or forward in the holy childhood. The “understanding and answers” are pronounced wonderful. But the Boy is only the “son of the Law;” he is not yet the Doctor. By-and-by he will be. Later on, he will be called to drink the bitter cup—to suffer and die. But everything in its right order. The life will evolve out of the principle that, in all, the Father’s will is to rule, the Father’s mind is to be read, the Fathers kingdom is to be promoted. Here, surely, there is a suggestion as to the idea which should dominate in the education of the young. At home and at school, all culture, all training, should be associated with a higher reference; the boy, the girl, should feel that the life is among the heavenly Father’s things. The sense of responsibility to him for the nature, and the opportunity of improving the nature, should be laid deep in the character. More than this, the generous instincts of youth should be supplied with a fitting aliment. Too often they run to seed because the intelligence was not enlisted in objects which formed a definite interest to the mind. Let young people be taken to their Father’s house; let Church services recognize their place and part; let them be invited to a share in the hopes and the activities of Christ’s cause. Plant them in the courts of the Lord, “in their Father’s things.”
III. Once more, OBSERVE THE SUPREME NECESSITY OF THE SPIRIT OF THE LIFE IN THE BOY JESUS. “Why hast thou thus dealt with us?” asks his mother reproachfully. “How is it that ye sought me?” is the rejoinder; “wist ye not that I must be where and as you find me?” We note the surprise in the answer. It is the flashing forth of a something, a secret, in the childhood which the mother had not noticed, so simple, so obedient, had the Child been. To the Boy, so full of the glories and solemnities of the Father’s house, it seemed strange that they had not recognized whose he was—that they had not understood the obligation inlaid in the life itself. And when the constraint of God’s love is acknowledged, when the soul awakes to the vision of the Father and the Father’s business,—the spell of Christ’s “I must” is irresistible. We come on it again and again in the course of the ministry. It was the law of the spirit of the life. And the same law operates in every one who is of the truth. In that sweet bondage stands the soul’s perfect freedom: “I must work the works of him that sent.” “I must be about my Father’s business.” Then, in perfect naturalness, yet with marvellous boldness, comes forth the first self-revelation of the Lord. Joseph and Mary understood it not. How often is the young heart, aroused and astir in consequence of a higher call, misunderstood, misjudged! Mary did not comprehend, but she sympathized; she loved and prayed. Type of the true mother, “whose eyes are homes of silent prayer.” The sense of the higher sonship only enforces the obligations of the lower. In the higher love all other loves endure. “This is love,” says St. John, “that we walk after his commandments”—after “the first commandment with promise, Honour thy father and mother.” There is nothing lovelier in the human life of Christ than the renewed acceptance of the restraints of home. “He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them”—to them, with the narrow round of their daily care and concerns; and he with the great thoughts glowing in his breast, and the kingdom of his Father opening to his gaze. Mark: 1. What self-repression belonged to the time in Nazareth! We see the Son taking the place in the carpenter’s house a few years later than the visit to the temple; Joseph apparently is removed by death from the headship of the house. Is it beyond the probabilities of the case that he performed the part—always a touching one—of the eldest son and brother supporting the mother to whom he is subject, and guiding the younger members of the family? Nothing is left undone, and he who thus learned obedience to duty leaves an example which serves as a beacon-light both to youth and age. 2. How this time consecrates labour and poverty! He wrought at the common things; in them he could see his Father’s things, and do all as part of his Father’s business. The truth receives a new radiance that “work is the girdle of manliness.” Faber sings truly—

“Labour is sweet, for thou host toiled;
And care is light, for thou hast cared.
Let not our works with self be soiled,
Nor in unsimple ways ensnared.”

3. How emphatic is the lesson on the fruitfulness of silence suggested by this time! Between twelve years of age and thirty the Son of God was content to wait. The public life lasted for three years; he waited for thirty years. A great disproportion, we might say; but God’s ways are not our ways. All the while he was growing in wisdom. As his bodily strength was compacted and matured, so was his mental; for in all things he was made like to his brethren. He studied his Father’s Word and his Father’s works. Nature disclosed to him her hidden meanings and beauties; he thought, he prayed, he lived, by the Father. The results of the long silence were evidenced in the exquisite parables of later years, in the wisdom which none could resist, in the authority which separated his doctrine from that of the scribes. The accumulated capital was great; when he went for in the power of the Spirit he only drew the interest. Are we not, in these days, in too great haste both to be wise and to be rich? Do we not speak too soon as well as speak too much? Carlyle only apprehends the significance of Nazareth when he reminds us that in silence all great thought and work are done We need more than “flashes of silence.” Think, think of Jesus silent so long. Stier exclaims, “Oh what gracious words may have issued from his lips during those eighteen years which are not recorded! But the words which, by the Father’s ordination, he was to testify to the world were sealed up till his hour was come. Then, one after another, bursts forth each as it were a deeper stream from the long pent-up fountains of eternal wisdom and truth!”

Ver. 7.—Christ excluded. Little did the occupants of that inn at Bethlehem imagine who it was they were turning away when Joseph and Mary sought admission there. They did not realize, for they did not know, whom they were excluding. Practically they were declining to receive, not only the Messiah of their country, but the Saviour of the world. What they did in guiltless ignorance, men too often do in wilful and culpable rejection. Jesus Christ is sometimes excluded by men—
I. FROM THEIR THEORIES OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT. They have constructed such a perfect theory of government out of the operation of physical law, that there is no room at all for an interposing Saviour. The whole space of their kingdom of truth is occupied.
II. FROM THEIR ESTIMATE OF THEIR INTELLECTUAL NECESSITIES. They believe that, by applying their knowledge, their reasoning faculty, their intuitive powers, to nature and to mankind, they can reach all the conclusions there is any necessity to attain. All that is over and above this is redundant; there is no room in their sense of need for a Divine Teacher. Well did the Master say that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must become as a little child. The self-sufficiency of a complacent maturity thinks it has nothing to learn; it bars its doors; it sends the light of the world elsewhere; its little “inn” of knowledge and aspiration is occupied from floor to roof.
III. FROM THEIR ESTIMATE OF MAN’S SPIRITUAL WANTS. Very many are they who are not unwilling to welcome a Guide, but who have no room for a Saviour; for they have no sense of sin. They want to know which of the commandments they have broken. It does not occur to them that they have been owing to their great Creator, to their heavenly Father, to their Divine Friend, ten thousand talents of reverence, obedience, gratitude; and that they have been only offering to him a few poor pence, or that they have had nothing at all to pay. They are not conscious of a deep and wide gulf between their indebtedness and their discharge, and they go on their way not knowing that “the God in whose hand their breath is, and whose are all their ways, they have not glorified;” that they have sinned against the Lord, and need his abounding mercy. They, therefore, have no room for Christ, the Divine Propitiation, the great Reconciler of man to God.
IV. FROM THE HABIT OF THEIR LIFE. Of all those who exclude Jesus Christ, the most numerous and perhaps the guiltiest are they who, recognizing his claims and his powers, refuse to welcome him to their hearts. Their lives are so crowded with cares, with the business of the market or of the household; or they are so filled up with the pleasures and the prizes of this world; or they are so occupied with pursuits which, if intellectual, are unspiritual, that there is no room for that Divine One who comes to speak of sin and of mercy and of the life which is spiritual and eternal, who claims to be trusted and loved and served as the Saviour of the human soul and the Sovereign of the human life. So, while admitting his right to enter, they do not open the door. Alas! of what enlightening truth, of what blessed restfulness of heart, of what nobility of life, of what eternity of glory, do men bereave themselves by crowding out the Lord who loves them, by excluding the Redeemer from the home of their hearts!—C.
Vers. 8–11.—Welcome news from heaven. It is surely not without significance that this most gracious manifestation and announcement was made to these humble Hebrew shepherds “keeping watch over their flock by night.” It suggests two truths which are of frequent and perpetual illustration. 1. That God chooses for his instruments the humble rather than the high. Our human notions would have pointed to the most illustrious in the land for such a communication as this. But God chose the lowly shepherd, the man of no account in the estimate of the world. So did he act in the beginning of the gospel (see 1 Cor. 1:26–29). And so has he acted ever since, choosing often for the agents of his power and grace those whom man would have passed by as unworthy of his choice. 2. That God grants his Divine favour to those who are conscientiously serving him in their own proper sphere. Not to the idle dreamer, not to the man who will do nothing because he cannot do everything of which he thinks himself capable, but to him who does his best in the position in which God’s providence has placed him, will God come in gracious manifestation; and it is he whom he will select to render important service in his cause. But the main thoughts of this passage are these—
I. WELCOME TIDINGS FROM THE SPIRITUAL WORLD. “They were sore afraid.” “Fear not … I bring you good tidings,” Why have men always been So sore afraid in the presence of the supernatural? Why have they feared to receive communications from heaven? Something much more than a popular belief (see Judg. 13:22) is required to account for so universal a sentiment. It is surely that sinful men are profoundly conscious of ill desert, and fear that any message that comes from God, the Holy One, will be a message of condemnation and punishment. What would be the expectation with which a camp of rebellious subjects, who had taken up arms against their sovereign, would receive a messenger from the court of the king? Had that guilty age known that God was about to announce “a new departure” in his government of the world, what ample, what overwhelming reason would it have had to apprehend a message of Divine wrath and retribution! How welcome, then, the words, “Fear not … I bring you good tidings”! Of what depth of Divine patience, of what boundless breadths of Divine compassion, do these simple words assure us!
II. TIDINGS OF SURPASSING VALUE. Tidings “of great joy” The birth of the Babe in Bethlehem “that day”—what did it mean? It meant: 1. Deliverance from a deadly evil. To these shepherds, if they were patriotic children of Abraham, the promise of a Saviour would mean deliverance from the national degradation into which Israel had sunk—a spiritual as well as a political demoralization. To them, if they were earnest religious inquirers, it meant deliverance from the bondage and penalty of sin. This is the significance which the word has to us: in that day was born into the world a Saviour, a Divine Redeemer, One who should save the souls of men from that which is the one curse of our humanity—sin. 2. The fulfilment of a great hope. To those who then learnt that “the Christ” was born, it meant that the long-cherished hope of their nation was fulfilled, and that whatever the Messiah was to bring about was at length to be accomplished. A great national expectation has passed, with us, into a glorious hope for the human race—the hope that under Christ this poor sin-stricken world will rise from its ignorance, its superstition, its godlessness, its vice, and its crime, and walk in newness of life, in the love and the likeness of its heavenly Father. 3. Restoration to our true position. That Saviour is “Christ the Lord.” We who have sought to rule ourselves and to be the masters of our own lives, and who have suffered so much in so many ways by this guilty dethronement and usurpation, are now to find our true rest and joy by submitting ourselves to him who is “the Lord” of all hearts and lives; in his service is abiding peace and “great joy.”
III. TIDINGS OF GENERAL AND OF PARTICULAR APPLICATION. These glad tidings are for “all the people,” and they were for those startled and wondering shepherds. “To you is born.” As we hear the angel’s words, we know that they are for all the wide world, and, whoever we may be, for us.—C.
Vers. 13, 14.—The human and the heavenly world. The strange and elevating experience through which the shepherds of Bethlehem were passing prepared them for a scene which was fitted to awaken still greater surprise and spiritual excitement. For suddenly, all of them appearing together, a multitude of the heavenly host began to make angelic music; strains of sweetest song filled the air, and the words of that celestial chant, so exquisitely sweet, so full of comfort and of hope to our human race, were fixed in the shepherds’ mind; they found a place in the sacred record; they make melody in our ear to-day. The scene and the song suggest to us—
I. THE INTEREST WHICH THE ANGELIC TAKES IN THE HUMAN WORLD. It is a striking and significant fact that the advent of Jesus Christ to our world should be preluded and accompanied by the ministry of angels (ch. 1:11, 26; 2:9). It confirms the truth elsewhere indicated that the history of mankind is the subject of deep interest to the holy intelligences of heaven. They inquire with a pure and heavenly curiosity into the relations of God with man (1 Pet. 1:12). They reverently admire the wisdom of God in his dealings with his human children (Eph. 3:10). They rejoice over the smallest accession to the kingdom of God (ch. 15:10). They expend their powers in the accomplishment of God’s will concerning us (text, and Heb. 1:14). Our Saviour is One in whom they also have profound interest, though they need not his redemption and their worship of him is a large element in their celestial joy (Eph. 1:10; Rev. 5:11–13).
II. THE ADVENT OF CHRIST AN EPOCH IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Well might a multitude of the heavenly host chant those words of the text, “Glory to God in the highest;” well might they join in the high praises of the King of heaven. For when Jesus Christ came as he thus came, in lowliness of perfect humiliation (ver. 7), that the world into which he thus entered as a helpless babe might be redeemed and restored (ver. 10), two things were done. 1. The exceeding greatness of the Divine grace received its most wonderful illustration. Possibly—may we not say probably?—even the records of the kingdom of God contained no event illustrative of a more magnanimous pity and a more sacrificial love than this expression of “good will to men.” 2. The foundation was laid on which a Divine kingdom of truth and righteousness should be reared. On the rock of the Divine incarnation rests the whole grand edifice of the restoration of the human race to the love and the likeness of God. Then indeed, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the glory of God was most fittingly celebrated; for then was the glory of his grace manifested, and then was the glory that should be rendered him by our humanity assured.
III. THE COMING OF CHRIST TO OUR WORLD THE INCOMING OF ITS PEACE. “Peace on earth.” It has taken long for the work of Jesus Christ to bring about this result, even as things are to-day. And how much remains to be done! To some eyes it may seem as if only the elementary lesson had been learned. But if we look long enough and deep enough we shall see: 1. That the gospel of Jesus Christ has been, and is, offering to every burdened human heart a peace which is immeasurably profound and inestimably precious. 2. That the teaching and the Spirit of Jesus Christ are perfectly fitted to inculcate and to inspire peace, and even love, between man and man. 3. That under his benign government, and just so far as his will is consulted, man is leaving strife and discord below and behind him, and is moving on an upward path toward the sphere where peace and purity dwell together.—C.
Ver. 19.—The wisdom of devout meditation. Mary “kept” all those things which she had heard, treasured them in the secret chamber of her mind, dwelt upon them in her heart. Much she must have wondered what it could all mean and what would be the issue of it. Doubtless the hope that was in her purified her heart as so sacred a hope would do (1 John 3:3), and made her life a life of reverence and prayer. It was good for her to think much of the purpose God was about to accomplish through her instrumentality; she would be the better fitted for that holy motherhood by which she was to be so highly honoured, and by which she was to render so inestimable a service to her nation and her race. The fact that she did keep and dwell upon these solemn and sacred mysteries may remind us of—
I. THE THINGS THAT ARE MOST WORTH KEEPING. These are not moneys that may be kept in the bank, nor jewels that may be treasured in the cabinet, nor parchments that may be guarded in the strong box; they are none other than Divine thoughts which we can hold in our hearts. And of these there are Divine revelations. They may be of his holy purpose, such as Mary’s heart held; or they may be of his own character or disposition toward us his children, such as we may learn and hold; or they may be revelations of our own true selves, of our character and our necessities and our possibilities; or they may be of the way by which we can approach and resemble God. There are also Divine invitations—to return from our estrangement, to draw near to his throne, to accept his mercy, to walk by his side, to sit down at his table. There are Divine exhortations to duty, to service, to self-sacrifice. And there are Divine promises, of provision and protection and inspiration here, of blessedness and enlargement hereafter.
II. THAT WHICH CONSTITUTES THEIR SUPREME VALUE. 1. They pertain to God himself, and therefore connect us with the Highest. 2. They affect us, ourselves—our character, our inner life, our essential being. 3. They bring us into harmony with all things; for he that is right with God and true to himself is adjusted to all other beings, and is ready for all other things. 4. They render us fitted for life anywhere and in the distant future; so that death will be a mere incident in our history, not concluding our career, but only opening the gate into other and brighter spheres.
III. THE DANGER WE ARE IN OF LOSING THEM. There is a plausible philosophical theory that a thought once received into the mind cannot ever-be wholly lost; once there it remains there, though it may be in the far background, unperceived, unemployed. But, as a matter of practical life, we know too well, both from testimony and experience, that the best and highest thoughts may escape our view; they may be only too easily lost sight of and disregarded. Neglect, or an engrossing interest in lower or in more exciting subjects, will make them invisible, ineffective, useless. It is a most pitiable thing that in every generation there are multitudes of souls that once welcomed and cherished the loftiest conceptions and the noblest aspirations, to whom these thoughts and hopes are now nothing whatsoever; they are gone from their mind; they have not been wisely “kept,” but foolishly and culpably lost. Therefore—
IV. THE WISDOM OF A REVERENT MEDITATION. We do ourselves the truest service when, by pondering on them, we keep sound and whole within our hearts the great thoughts of God. The power of continuous meditation is one of the faculties of our human nature; but the rush and strain of modern life constitute a powerful temptation to let this faculty rust in disuse. But as we love ourselves truly and wisely we shall resist and overcome the temptation. All souls that would do their sacred duty to themselves must think well and much on the things they know. If they would truly and thoroughly understand that of which they speak, if they wish Divine truth to have its own purifying and transforming power over them, if they aspire to build up a strong and influential character, if they wish to be “no longer children,” but men in Christ Jesus, they must ponder in their hearts the doctrines they count in their creed, the language they take into their lips. It is the truth we dwell upon that we live upon.—C.
Vers. 25–30.—A satisfied human spirit. There are few more exquisite pictures even in Holy Writ than the one which is here drawn for us. An aged and venerable man, who has lived a long life of piety and virtue, and who has been cherishing an ever. brightening hope that before he dies he should look upon the face of his country’s Saviour, directed by the Spirit of God, recognizes in the infant Jesus that One for whose coming he has so long been hoping and praying. Taking him up into his arms with the light of intense gratitude in his eyes, and the emotion of deepest happiness in his voice, he exclaims, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, … for mine eyes have seen thy Salvation.” Life has now no ungranted good for him to await. The last and dearest wish of his heart has been fulfilled; willingly would he now close his eyes in the sleep of death; gladly would he now lie down to rest in the quiet of the grave.
I. THOSE WHO MUST BE UNSATISFIED IN SPIRIT. There is a vast multitude of men who seek for satisfaction in the things which are seen and temporal—in taking pleasure, in making money, in wielding power, in gaining honour, etc. But they do not find what they seek. It is as true in London as it was in Jerusalem, eighteen centuries after Christ as ten centuries before, that “the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing.” All the rivers of earthly good may run into the great sea of an immortal spirit, but that sea is not filled. Earthly good is the salt water that only makes more athirst the soul that drinks it. It is not the very wealthy, nor the very mighty, nor the very honoured man who is ready to say, “I am satisfied; let me depart in peace.”
II. THOSE WHO MAY BE SATISFIED IN SPIRIT. Simeon knew by special communication from God—“it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost”—that he should reach a certain point in the coming of the kingdom of God, that his heart’s deep desire for “the Consolation of Israel” should be granted him. And waiting for this, and attaining it, his soul was filled with joy and holy satisfaction. It is right for those who are taking a very earnest interest in the cause of Christ to long to be allowed to accomplish a certain work for him. Again and again has the parent thus striven and prayed and longed to see the conversion of all his (her) children, or the teacher of his (her) class; the minister of Christ to see the attainment of some pastoral design; the missionary to win some tribe from barbarism and idolatry; the translator to render the Word of God into the native tongue; the national reformer to pass his measure for emancipation, or temperance, or virtue, or education, or the protection of the lives and morals of women or children. And this deep desire of the heart has been a constraining power, which has nerved the hand and energized the life, which has brought forth the fruit of sacred zeal and unwearied toil. God has given to these souls the desire of their hearts, and they have gone to their grave filled with a holy, satisfying peace. So may it be with us. And yet it may not be so. We may be called upon to quit the field of active labour before the harvest is gathered in. Others may enter into our labours. But if it should be so, there is a way in which we may belong to—
III. THOSE WHO CANNOT FAIL TO BE SATISFIED IN SPIRIT. For we may be of those who realize that it is in God’s hand to fix the bounds of our present labour, and to determine the measure of the work we shall do on earth. We may work on diligently and devotedly as those who have much to do for God and man, yet clearly recognizing that God has for us a sphere in the spirit-world, and that he may at any hour remove us there, though we would fain finish what we have in hand below. If we have the spirit of Christ in our service, if we go whither we believe he sends us, and work on in the way which we believe to be according to his will, we may rest in the calm assurance that the hour of our cessation from holy labour is the hour of God’s appointment, and a peace as calm as that of Simeon may fill our soul as we leave a not unfinished work on earth to enter a nobler sphere in heaven.—C.
Vers. 34, 35.—The touchstone of truth. We do not suppose that Simeon saw the future course of the Saviour and of his gospel in clear outline; but, taught o£ God, he foresaw that that little Child he had been holding in his arms would be One who would prove a most powerful factor in his country’s history; and he saw that relationship to him would be a source of the greatest blessing, or of weightiest trouble, or of most serious condemnation. Thus guided by this venerable saint, we will regard the gospel of Christ as—
I. A TOUCHSTONE. Our Lord himself was a touchstone by which the men of his day were tried. He came not to judge the world, but to save the world, as he said (John 12:47); and yet it was also true that “for judgment he came into the world,”as he also said (John 9:39). His mission was not to try, but to redeem; yet it was a necessary incidental consequence of his coming that the character of the men who came in contact with him would be sevarely tested. When the Truth itself appeared and moved amongst men, then it became clear that those who were ignorantly supposed to be blind were the souls that were seeing God (“that they who see not might see”), and equally clear that those who claimed to know everything had eyes that were fastened against the light (“that they who see might be made blind”). As Jesus lived and wrought and spoke, the hearts Of men were revealed-those who were children of wisdom heard his voice (John 18:37), while those who loved darkness rather than light turned away from the revealing Truth. And to-day the gospel is the touchstone of human character. They who are earnest seekers after God, after wisdom, after righteousness, gladly sit at the feet of the great Teacher to learn of him; but they who live for pleasure, for gain, for the honour that cometh from man only, for this passing world, pass him by, indifferent or hostile. They who are prepared to come as little children to learn of the heavenly Father, receive his Word and enter his kingdom (ch. 18:16); while they who consider themselves able to solve the great problems of life and destiny keep their minds closed against the truth.
II. A SWORD OF SORROW. It was not only Mary’s heart that was pierced by reason of her affection for Jesus Christ, Loyalty to him proved to that generation, and has proved in every age since then, a sword that has wounded and slain. At many times and in many places it has meant violent persecution-stripes, imprisonment, death. In every land and in every age it has exposed men to hostility, to reproach, to temporal loss, to social disadvantage, to a lower station, to a struggling life, to a wounded spirit (ch. 9:23; John 17:14; 2 Tim. 3:12). Our Lord invites us to regard this inevitable accompaniment Of spiritual integrity as an honour and a blessing rather than a stigma and a curse (Matt. 5:10–12).
III. A STUMBLING-STONE. That “Child was set for the fall … of many.” The truth which Jesus spoke, the great work of salvation he wrought out, has proved to many, not only in Israel, but in every land where it has been made known, a rock of offence (see ch. 20:18; 1 Cor. 1:23).
IV. A STEPPING-STONE. Not only for the fall, but for the “rising asain,” was that Infant “set.” By planting their feet on that safe, strong rock, the humiliated and even the degraded rise to honour and esteem, the humble to hopefulness, the weak to strength, the blemished to beauty, the useless to helpfulness, the children of earth to spheres of blessedness and joy in the heavenly world.—C.
Vers. 36–38.—The testimony of womanhood. From this interesting episode, without which the beautiful story of the infant Saviour in the temple would hardly be complete, we learn—
I. THAT THERE IS ROOM IN THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST FOR THE SERVICE OF WOMANHOOD. It was well that the aged Simeon should bear his testimony to the birth of the Saviour; it was also well that this aged and honourable prophetess should “likewise give thanks.” Woman as well as man was to utter reverent joy on this supreme occasion. Woman, in the person of Anna, might well rejoice; for in the kingdom of Christ there is “neither male nor female;” all distinction of sex is unknown. Woman is as free to enter that kingdom as man; she may reach as high a position, by personal excellency, in it; she is as welcome to render holy service and fruitful testimony; is as certain to reap the reward of fidelity in the kingdom of heaven to which it leads. Women were the most faithful attendants on our Lord during his earthly ministry; they have been, since then, the most regular worshippers and the most devoted workers in his Church (see homily on ch. 8:2, 3).
II. THAT LONG LONELINESS MAY WELL BRING US INTO CLOSE COMMUNION WITH GOD. Anna had a very long widowhood (ver. 36), and in her loss of human fellowship she waited much on God. She “departed not from the temple, but served God … with prayers night and day.” When denied one another’s society, what can we do better than seek fellowship with our heavenly Father, with our Divine Friend? What, indeed, can we do so well? Communion with the Father of our spirits will bring healing to the wounded soul, will be companionship for the lonely hour, will promote sanctity and submissiveness of will, will remind us of those other children of his who need our sympathy and succour, and will send us forth blessing and blest On the errands of love.
III. THAT A VISION FROM GOD SHOULD RESULT IN PRAISE AND TESTIMONY. Anna “gave thanks unto the Lord, and spake of him [the infant Christ] to all,” etc. Inspired of God, she recognized the long looked-for Messiah, and immediately she broke into praise, and forthwith began to communicate the joyful fact to all whom she could reach. This is the true order and the right procedure. When God reveals himself or his truth to us, we must first go to him in gratitude and praise, and must lose no time in passing on to others what he has entrusted to us.
IV. THAT AGE HAS ITS OFFERING TO BRING, as well as youth and prime. It is pleasant to think of the aged Anna, some way past four score, bent and feeble with the weight of years, speaking to “all them that looked,” etc., and telling them that he whom they had waited for so long had come at last. A fair sight it is in the eyes of man, and surely in his also who estimates our service according to our ability (ch. 21:3), when those whose strength is well-nigh gone and who have earned their rest by long and faithful labour will not be persuaded to retire from the field, but labour on until the darkness of death arrests them.
V. THAT HOLY EXPECTATION WILL MEET WITH ITS FULFILMENT. There were many looking (“all of them,” etc.) for redemption (ver. 38); and as they waited for God and upon him, their hearts’ desires were granted. God may delay his answer for a while, even for a long while, but in due time it will come. The seeker will find; the worker will reap.—C.
Ver. 49.—The dawn of sacred duty: a sermon to the young. “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” There comes a time in our history—usually in the days of later youth or early manhood—when all things begin to wear a more serious aspect to us; when “the powers of the world to come” arrest us; when we ask ourselves very grave questions; when we have to confront a now future. It is the dawn of sacred duty in the human soul.
I. AS IT PRESENTED ITSELF TO JESUS CHRIST. His parents thought that his absence from their company was due to thoughtlessness or to absent-mindedness; they supposed it was to be explained by the fact that their Son was still a boy. On the contrary, the one thing that accounted for it was that he was beginning to be a man; that the burden of manhood’s responsibilities was already resting on his shoulders; that the gravest solicitudes were already stirring in his soul. And the form which this sacred anxiety took was a holy and filial concern to be “about his Father’s business.” It had dawned upon his mind that his heavenly Father had sent him into the world to accomplish a special work, and that the hour had struck when he must address himself to this high and noble task. Therefore it behoved him to learn all that he could possibly acquire, to understand the things he had been taught, to receive from parents and teachers every truth he could discover and preserve. And the deep earnestness of his own spirit made it a matter of surprise that others, especially his elders and superiors, should not have perceived the same thing. “Wist ye not,” he said wonderingly, “that I must be about my Father’s business?”
II. AS IT APPEARS TO OUR MINDS NOW. There are various ways in which sacred duty may dawn on the human mind; the special form which this holy earnestness will take is affected by peculiarities of mental constitution, of parental training, of personal experience. It may be a deep sense of: 1. The value of the human soul, with its possibilities of nobility on the one hand and of degradation on the other. 2. The nearness and the greatness of the invisible and eternal world. 3. The seriousness of human life in view of the glorious and true success to which it sometimes attains, and also of the pitiable failure into which it sometimes sinks. 4. The strength and weight of filial and fraternal obligations. How much is due to the earthly father, and how wise it is to be guided by his ripe experience! how serious a thing it is to be setting an example to those who are younger! 5. The attractiveness of Jesus Christ—his purity and lovableness, his worthiness of the full affection and devotion of the human heart. 6. The claims of the heavenly Father, of him from whom we came, in whom we live, and by whom we are momently sustained; of him who has loved us with so patient and so ceaseless an affection. Must we not listen when he speaks, respond to his call, be found in his service, become the object of his Divine approval? When this solemn and sacred hour dawns upon the mind of the young, it is a time (1) for profound and prolonged consideration; (2) for earnest prayer; (3) for unreserved consecration; it will then prove to be a time for (4) true and lasting joy, (Ps. 108:1).—C.
Vers. 51, 52.—Growth, our Lord’s and our own. The growth of Jesus Christ and his subjection to his parents teach us some things respecting him, and they suggest some things for our own guidance.
I. THE GROWTH OF JESUS CHRIST. 1. The fulness of his condescension. We find this in his stooping so far as (1) to make it becoming that he should “be subject to” his parents, and (2) to make it possible that he should grow. How the Infinite One could so bereave himself of his infinitude as to be able to increase in wisdom, we cannot understand. But we cannot understand infinitude at all, and we act wisely when we do not draw hard-and-fast deductions from it. We stand on far firmer ground when we take the statement of the historian in its natural sense, and open our mind to the fact that Jesus Christ, “our Lord and our God,” did stoop so far that it was possible for him to increase in knowledge and in favour with God and with man. We do not question the reality of his growth in body; why should we doubt, or receive with any reserve, the affirmation that he grew also in mind? 2. The harmoniousness of his growth. He grew (1) in bodily stature, and, of course, in all bodily strength and skill; (2) in mental equipment—in technical knowledge, or in the “education” of his time, in appreciation of nature, in knowledge of mankind, in apprehension of Divine truth, in general intellectual enlargement; (3) in spiritual beauty and nobility—“in favour with God and man.” Not that he was at any time faulty or lacking in any excellency which it behoved him at that time to show, but that, as his faculties expanded and his opportunities of manifesting character were multiplied, he developed all that was admirable in the sight of man and of God. There is a far greater possibility of spiritual beauty and nobility in a young man with matured faculty and widening relationships than in the very little child, restricted, as he must be, in powers and in surroundings. So, as Jesus increased in years and grew in wisdom, there was in him an unfolding of moral and spiritual worth which attracted the eyes of men and which satisfied the Spirit of the Holy One himself.
II. OUR HUMAN GROWTH. 1. Unlike our Lord, there is no element of condescension implied in our growth. We did not stoop to infancy; our course had then its commencement; and in the youngest child, with all its helplessness, but with all its latent capacities, there is a great gift from the hand of God. Whatever it means, in its humiliations and in its practical illimitableness, it is so much more than we could claim. 2. As with our Lord, our growth should be harmonious. All the three elements in our compound nature should undergo simultaneous and proportionate development. This is at first a parental question, but subsequently it is one that affects every one capable of growth. (1) Training of the body; its nurture and culture, so that it shall be continually advancing in strength and skill and symmetry. (2) Discipline of the mind; its instruction and exercise, so that it will be ever increasing in knowledge and enlarging in faculty. (3) Culture of the character; its guidance and formation, so that there shall be (a) attractiveness in the sight of man, and (b) worthiness in the judgment of God. It is, indeed, true that we may not give pleasure to men in proportion as we grow in moral and spiritual worth, for, as with our Master, our purity and devotion may be an offence unto them. It is also to be remembered that we may gain God’s distinct approval long before we have reached the point of irreproachableness; for that which he delights to see in his children is an earnest effort after, and a constant growth towards, that which is true and pure and generous.—C.
Vers. 1–20.—The Saviour’s birth and the angel’s sermon. We now pass from the person of the forerunner to that of his greater Successor. The priest’s son was great, but the Virgin’s Son was greater. John was a great gift to the world, as every true reformer must be; but a Saviour is God’s supreme Gift to the children of men. Now, is this narrative before us we learn—
I. HOW THE WILL OF EVEN HEATHEN MONARCHS IS MADE TO FULFIL THE WILL OF GOD. The Divine will, expressed seven centuries before this time by Micah the prophet (5:2), was that Jesus should be born in Bethlehem. But until a short time before his birth appearances seemed to show that he must be born in Nazareth. When lo! Augustus, the heathen emperor at Rome, demands a census, and the Jewish families must enrol themselves at the tribal cities. This simple circumstance, whose purpose was the levy of men or the levy of money, brought Mary to Bethlehem in time to become, in the appointed place, the mother of the Lord. It surely shows the full command which God has over the wills even of those who are not his worshippers. He is the Sovereign of all men, whether they like it or know it or not. Cyrus was his shepherd, although he did not know God (Isa. 44:28; 45:4); and Augustus orders a census and “keeps books” in subservience to Divine purposes and fulfilment of Divine promises.
II. HOW LITTLE WELCOME DID THE WORLD GIVE ITS NEW-BORN SAVIOUR. The birth in Bethlehem was the most important birth which ever took place in our planet. Had the world appreciated the advent, it would have heralded it on every shore; but so little wisdom was there in the world that the precious Child had, so to speak, to steal into the world in a stable and among the cattle. It was humiliating to be born, even had palace halls received him; but how humiliating to be born in the common cattlepen, because there was no room for Mary in the inn! And yet, in thus making his advent, he identified himself not only with the poorest, but also made common cause with the beasts. They, too, have benefited through Christ being born—there is less cruelty to animals in Christian than in other lands; and the religion of love he came to embody and proclaim will yet do more to ameliorate the condition of the beasts. Meanwhile let us notice how sad it is if men have no hospitality to show to Jesus, but still exclude him from their hearts and homes!
III. THE FIRST GOSPEL SERMON WAS PREACHED BY AN ANGEL. The importance of the birth at Bethlehem, if unrecognized by man, is realized by angels. Heavenly hosts cannot be silent about it. They must begin the telling of the glad tidings. If we suppose that the shades of night threw their mantle over Mary when the Babe was born, then it would seem that interested angels looked for an immediate audience to hear the wondrous story. Where shall one be found? The inn is full of sleepers or revellers; they are not fit to hear the message of peace and joy. But outside Bethlehem in the fields are shepherds—humble men, doubtless, and despised as in all ages. Still, they are kind to the sheep—“saviours,” in some sense, of the dumb animals they tend and feed—and now in the night watches they are awake and watchful. Here, then, is the angel’s audience. Does it not instruct preachers to be content with very humble hearers, and it may be sometimes very few bearers? An audience may be most important, even though few and despised. But we must next notice the message of the angel. Coming with dazzling light, perhaps the Shechmah-glory encircling him, he first scared the poor shepherds. They were “sore afraid.” It was needful, therefore, that he should first put to flight their fears, and then proclaim the glad tidings of a Saviour’s birth, which gospel is intended for all people. The sign also which he gives is that the Babe shall be found in swaddling-clothes and lying in a manger. It is a message about a Saviour in apparent weakness but in real power. Such is the gospel. It is a message about a personal Saviour, who, in spite of all appearances, is “the Mighty God, the Father of Eternity, and the Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). We must “preach Christ” unto men if we know what it is to preach the gospel. Again, we must notice the angelic choir. The angel has arranged for a “service of praise” along with his preaching. There is the angel’s sermon and then the angels, song. The sermon is short, but its contents are of priceless value. The same may be said of the angels’ song. It speaks simply of “glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased” (Revised Version). It must have been a melodious service—such music as heavenly harmony secures; angelic choristers doing their best to interest and elevate a few poor shepherds. Another lesson, surely, to those who would “sing for Jesus.” The preaching of the gospel should be backed up by the singing of the gospel. Praise has its part to play as well as preaching and prayer. It was at the praise part of the dedication service in Solomon’s temple that the glory of the Lord appeared (2 Chron. 5:11–14.)
IV. THE AUDIENCE PUT THE PREACHING TO AN IMMEDIATE TEST. The shepherds, as soon as the angels passed away, went at once to Bethlehem. They were resolved to see for themselves. There was a risk in this, for the sheep might be endangered in their absence; but they resolve to run the risk if they can see the Saviour. “Never venture, never win.” Hence they came with haste to Mary, and gaze with rapture on her Child. They see and believe. They are ready to accept this “little Child” as the Saviour of the world. A little Child was leading them! Next we find them becoming his witnesses. They tell all who will listen to them what the angel said, and what they consequently had been led to Bethlehem to see. Having found a personal Saviour, they cannot but proclaim him to others. One who listened to their story and profited by it was Mary She pondered their sayings in her heart. The shepherds have become important witnesses for the incarnate Saviour. So should all be who have really seen him by the eye of faith. But yet again, the shepherds, like the angels, burst into praise. “They returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” This is the real end of gospel preaching when it leads the audience up to praise. Hence this is represented as the chief employment of the redeemed. Experience is only perfected when God is praised.
V. WE SEE HERE A HUMAN SUCCEEDING AN ANGELIC MINISTRY. It does seem strange that such a gospel should not be preached by angels. That they are anxious to do so appears from this narrative. We may be sure that they would esteem it highest honour to proclaim the message of salvation unto man. But after short visits and short sermons, the angels are withdrawn, and these poor shepherds spread the glad tidings, telling in a very humble way what they have seen and heard. It is God’s plan, and must be best. It is those who need and have found a Saviour who are best adapted to proclaim him to others. A human ministry is more homely and sympathetic and effectual than perhaps any angelic ministry could be. Besides, a human ministry is less cavilled at and objected to than an angelic would be. We thus learn at Bethlehem important lessons about preaching to humble audiences, and out of them manufacturing preachers. The angels were doubtless satisfied as they looked down upon the shepherds who had listened so eagerly to their story, and saw them becoming preachers in their turn. To multiply Christ’s witnesses is the great work of preachers whether angelic or human.—R. M. E.
Vers. 21–40.—The circumcision and presentation of Jesus. We pass now from the angel’s sermon and the shepherds’ faithful verification of it to the next notable events in the great life which embodies the gospel for mankind. And we have here—
I. THE CIRCUMCISION. (Ver. 21.) This was the admission of Jesus when only eight days old into the Old Testament Church. It was a painful, bloody process, and as such it was the beginning of that life of suffering upon which God’s Son had determined to enter in the interests of men. There are not the same details about this circumcision that there were about John’s. The outstanding fact was that he received the name Jesus, indicating that he was to be the Saviour of mankind. Into the Jewish covenant, consequently, there has entered by this circumcision a Saviour, One destined, like his namesake Joshus, to lead the Lord’s people out of all bondage into glorious lberty. This was a practical identification of him with the people of God, before he could, at least humanly, decide for himself. And there is nothing better for little children than to be thus early associated with the cause of God.
II. THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE. (Vers. 22–24.) The circumcision constituted Jesus a member of the old covenant, but his presentation in the temple was his formal dedication to the service of the Lord. The mother was directed, at the end of forty days from the child’s birth, to appear before the Lord with two offerings—one for a sin offering, the other for a burnt offering. In Mary’s case, because of her poverty, the offerings consisted of two doves or two young pigeons. The one sacrifice expressed a sense of sin, the other a sense of consecration, both beautiful in the mother of our Lord. The first was entirely out of place if she was “immaculate,” as some represent her. In addition there would be paid for Jesus the redamption price of five shekels, that he might be excused from temple service, and might dedicate himself to the Lord in another capacity. When we consider all his Messiahship meant, it was really a payment that he might have the privilege of serving the Father as the Fulfiller of the ritual, and thus as the Abolisher of the ritualism of the temple. It would have altogether confused matters if he had undertaken any service about the temple as the Levites and priests did. In a word, the Messiah could not well have come, like the Baptist, from the tribe of Levi; but it was better he should belong to one which was not bound to the altar. And here we must notice as a practical point that the claim made on the firstborn by the Lord as being his peculiar possession, is a claim which we should all recognize as just. We are not our own, but bought with a price, and so bound to glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). This Jesus alone realized in fulness, but we ought to try to realize it in increasing measure.
III. THE TESTIMONY OF SIMEON. (Vers. 25–35.) While Jesus was being presented, an aged believer called Simeon comes, Spirit-impelled, into the temple. His character is clearly sketched for us. He was (1) just and devout; (2) waiting hopefully for the advent of him who was to be Israel’s Consolation; (3) the subject of special revelation about seeing Messiah before death. And now he comes into the temple to recognize intuitively the Messiah in Mary’s little Child. The result is his appropriation of the Child for an instant, that he might fondle him in his breast. Then does he pour forth his swan-song, the “Nunc Dimittis,” which has been such a pathetic word in the experience of the Church. This prayer of Simeon suggests such thouhts as these: 1. A peaceful departure is not only possible, but most desirable. Manifestly Simeon could go to his last sleep as quietly as to his nightly rest. We may commit not only the folded hours of the night to God, but also the folded hours of eternity. 2. The preliminary of such a departure is the sight of the Saviour. The Child Jesus was the Divine Saviour provided for the aged Simeon, and in his tender care we may also rest. 3. The peculiar joy of salvation is that it is intended for all people, Gentile as well as Jew. After all the talk about selfishness, there is no system which embraces all the world as Christianity does. But after thus speaking gratefully to God, Simeon speaks sympathetically to the wondering Joseph and Mary. He gives them an old man’s benediction. They had a mighty charge and needed great grace to fulfil it. And then he speaks special words of warning as well as of encouragement to Mary about the Child. And here we notice: (1) That the fate of multitudes often hangs on the destiny of an individual. So was it with the Child Jesus. (2) His fate will be one of determined opposition even unto death. (3) It will involve Mary in desperate distress; but (4) by the tragedy many hearts shall be revealed. The crucifixion of Jesus is the touchstone by which our spiritual condition may be best determined. According as we are attached to or repelled by a crucified Saviour must be our spiritual or carnal state.
IV. THE TESTIMONY OF ANNA. (Vers. 36–38.) Anna was another inspired person waiting for the advent of Messiah. An aged widow, she seems never to have left the temple, and to have risen as near the ideal of ceaseless service as one in this life could. She also gave thanks to God as with eager eye she gazed upon her Redeemer in the Person of the holy Child. And to all who, like herself, were looking for redemption, she spoke of Jesus as the Redeemer promised and now given. There is not the same melancholy tone about Anna as about Simeon. She speaks about redemption, and will wait for it, while Simeon seems inclined to reach it as speedily as possible by death (cf. Godet, in loc.).
V. THE EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF JESUS. (Vers. 39, 40.) Its sphere was Nazareth; not the place human wisdom would have selected for a holy development. A sinless life there was the greatest of all miracles. And here we are told of: 1. His development in physical strength. “The Child grew.” If the Saviour had never been a child, but always full-grown like our first parent, he would not have commanded so much sympathy in the world. Little children take delight in the thought of him who was once like them a little child. 2. His development in spirit and in wisdom. The reference seems to be to energy of will and to intuitive insight, and the reflective form of the verbs seems to attribute the progress to his own effort. That is to say, his will grew in force while his soul grew in insight. As a Boy he lacked no decision of character, and his insight was remarkable for one of his years. 3. He became, consequently, the Object of Divine grace. This favour of the Father was his by right. He won his way to it, and it could not have been justly denied him. The human race was no longer in the Father’s sight utterly depraved. A redeeming feature had appeared in the person of the holy Child Jesus in Nazareth. God’s attitude towards the world was thereby altered, and justly so. There are persons who give a halo of holy attraction to the sphere in which they live. Nazareth became redeemed from universal suspicion because of one little Child who was living there. It is for us to rejoice in such a Saviour as we have in Jesus, One who passed through the stages which we individually experience, and was sinless in them all. Childhood attains new interest for us, and its innocency was once a perfect reality as the little feet of the Lord of life and glory trod the streets of Nazareth.—R. M. E.
Vers. 41–52.—The visit of Jesus to Jerusalem when a Boy. We now proceed to the solitary circumstance in the Child-life of Jesus which is given in the Gospels. He had been growing for twelve years in strength and in spirit, and the Lord loved him. The Child in Nazareth redeemed in God’s eyes all the world. It was the one absorbing interest in the Divine outlook upon our race. And now he is taken by his pious parents to the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. It is his second visit to the temple; this time he comes himself; the first time, as we have seen, he was presented. The following points deserve attention in this narrative.
I. THE PARENTAL CARE EXERCISED OVER JESUS. The pious pair, Joseph and Mary, went, as we are told, every year to Jerusalem to the Passover. And they had given the holy Child committed to their charge such advantages as Nazareth afforded. The home school especially, not to speak of synagogue services, to which he was doubtless regularly taken, evidenced their interest in the welfare of the Child. No sooner, therefore, has he reached the age of twelve, at which time little ones were deemed able to become “children of the Law,” than he is taken up by them to see the Passover at Jerusalem. Their pious, consistent life was an excellent preparation for the solemnities of the great feast. Jesus came face to face with the ceremonies after experiencing most tender home care. And the history before us affords ample evidence of the parental consideration. If it was not perfect parental care, this is only to allow that neither Joseph nor Mary was sinless. Indeed, one of the German preachers bases an admirable discourse on parental duty upon this history, finding in it six separate hints upon it. But let us pause a moment over the care with which they must have explained to him all the ritual. Doubtless he saw more in it than they did, but he must have received gratefully their help in the circumstances. To them the Passover spoke of a great deliverance afforded to their fathers; to him it spoke of a great sacrifice yet to come. His insight must have been a deeper thing than they could then appreciate. And now let us pass to the oversight of which the parents were guilty. Their care was great, but it was not absolutely perfect. In the bustle of preparation for the home-going, the parents started with the caravan under the impression that he must be in the company of the boys who were in considerable numbers attached to the procession. They should have made sure, and not left such a Child to the chances of travelling. We have no right to impute the separation of Jesus from his parents to any lack of dutifulness on his part, but solely to an oversight on theirs. What were all their bits of baggage and their acquaintances in comparison with the safe custody of “the holy Child”? And in consistency with this view, it has been suggested that underneath Mary’s apparent expostulation and reproof there is a latent confession of her fault, which she and Joseph tried to atone for in their diligent search for the missing Boy.
II. THE LONELY BOY TURNED INSTINCTIVELY TO THE TEMPLE. The seven days of the Passover Feast had been a rare feast to Jesus. The priests and ritual and all the varied life which thronged the temple court must have been a revelation to him. He brought the consciousness of a Jew instructed in the Law to bear upon the temple and its services. We must look into his mind through the Old Testament. We there find the idea of God’s Fatherhood in relation to his people several times referred to (Deut. 16:1, 2; Hos. 11:1; Jer. 31:9, 20; Ps. 103:13, etc.). To the little thoughtful Boy, therefore, the temple was regarded as the home of him who was a Father to all who trusted in him. And this general idea of fatherhood became specialized in his deep, reverential musings, and he could not but feel towards God as no Jew had ever felt before. Whether he had as a Child the further revelation yet made to him of his peculiar relation to God as the Only Begotten, or reached this in the progress of the years, is what we cannot be certain of. At all events, the temple was the Father’s house. To it the lonely Lad turned. He felt drawn to God irresistibly, now that his earthly guardians had gone away. “When father and mother forsake me,” he could say, “the Lord will take me up.” The orphan Child, so to speak, turned to the temple as to his real home.
III. HE BECAME A HOLY LEARNER THERE. Not only was the temple the scene of the sacrifices; it was also the place of learning for those interested in the Law. Schools were established within the sacred precincts where the scribes discoursed to such pupils as chose to sit at their feet. The method seems to have been by dialogue—the question and answer which once were so prized. Here the Boy believed he would get light about the will of the great Father who dwelt there, and who had given his people the Law. As a faithful Son, he wished to get all possible light about his Father’s business, and so he frequented the schools. He was a “model catechumen,” as a suggestive writer on this whole passage calls him. Although he must have seen through the shallowness of some of his teachers, and had doubtless deeper insight than any, he was content to sit at their feet and get all the good from them he could. It was an instance, surely, of great diligence in embracing every opportunity of improvement which came his way. He wanted to learn all he could while he had the chance. And most naturally did his answers and questions astonish the doctors. They had never had such an apt scholar before. His insight led them along lines they never had travelled hitherto. And for the Father’s business, it at least embraces such elements as these: 1. The understanding of the terms of access to his presence. The significance of the ritual which was celebrated in the temple, the meaning of sacrifice, of bloodshedding, of incense, and of approach by the appointed priests into the Divine presence,—all this belonged to the Father’s business. 2. The understanding of the meaning of his commandments. The Law as the expression of the Father’s will, and read consequently in the light of love. 3. How far the knowledge of the Father was to be extended. The kingdom of God in its universal range, as distinct from a narrow nationality,—this was part of the Father’s business. Hence the lingering of the holy Learner about the temple schools. His apt answers would procure him lodging and food during the season of separation from his parents. Having put God first, all these things were added unto him (Matt. 6:33).
IV. HIS RECOVERY BY THE ANXIOUS MOTHER. Joseph and Mary, on discovering at the end of the first day’s march the absence of the Child, set out for Jerusalem to find him. They doubtless inquire all the way back, and then they go hither and thither through the city, and at last think of the temple. There, in the midst of the doctors, he is found and recovered by Mary. Her words are apparent rebuke, but really confession upon her part of the oversight. She had never before had any reason for fault-finding; it comes all the more surprisingly upon her now. Jesus defends himself on the ground that he was looking after his Father’s business. In other words, he insists on putting God first, before Mary or Joseph. We get an insight into what godliness is. It means making God’s business supreme. God claims first place, and this is what the Boy Jesus gave him. The Revised Version translates the words, “Wist ye not that I must be in my Father’s house?” This would simply refer to their folly in not first seeking him there. The Authorized Version is as near the Greek, and of wider import. But Mary and Joseph did not understand his meaning. These are the first recorded words of Jesus; and how they harmonize with the last, when on the cross he said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”!
V. HIS OBEDIENCE AND DEVELOPMENT. He has got all the doctors can meanwhile give to him. It would not have been profitable for him to have remained longer in their schools, and to have merely witnessed their powers of disputation. He is to have collision with them soon enough. Besides, he will be safer out of their reach in the quiet of the northern home. And so he recognizes in his mother’s call the voice of his Father in heaven, and in the privacy of Nazareth his Father’s business. He has to wait as well as work. Hence without a murmur he goes away with them and is subject unto them. But this subjection and reverence did not hinder, but really helped, his development. “He increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man.” As a person under parental authority, he found his reward in wisdom, and became beloved of all around him as well as of the Lord above. It was a beautiful example to set us of being subject under God to parents and superiors. His growth in wisdom was also so considerate. He would take wisdom as others have to get it, gradually, and pass from the known to the knowledge of the unknown. And God’s favour will rest as well as man’s favour upon all who follow in the footsteps of his Divine Son in this beautiful subjection.50 There is no truth more important at the present time than this of realizing our development in due subjection.—R. M. E.
Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Hrsg.). (1909). St. Luke (Bd. 1, S. 37–63). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.


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