Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
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 (Micah 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 (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:4); and Augustus orders a census and "keeps books" in subservience to Divine purposes and fulfillment of Divine promises.
II. HOW LITTLE WELCOME DID THE WORLD GIVE ITS NEW-BORN SAVIOR. 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 hearers? 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 Shechinah-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 Savior'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 Savior in apparent weakness but in real power. Such is the gospel. It is a message about a personal Savior, who, in spite of all appearances, is "the Mighty God, the Father of Eternity, and the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 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 Chronicles 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 Savior. "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 Savior 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 Savior, 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 Savior. 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 honor 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 Savior 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 o£ 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.
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 Savior. 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 Savior; 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 Savior 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
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 ]and 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 Corinthians 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 favor 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 Judges 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 Savior 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 Savior, a Divine Redeemer, One who should save the souls of men from that which is the one curse of our humanity - sin.
2. The fulfillment 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 Savior 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.
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 (Luke 1:11, 26; Luke 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 Peter 1:12). They reverently admire the wisdom of God in his dealings with his human children (Ephesians 3:10). They rejoice over the smallest accession to the kingdom of God (Luke 15:10). They expend their powers in the accomplishment of God's will concerning us (text, and Hebrews 1:14). Our Savior is One in whom they also have profound interest, though they need not his redemption, and their worship of him is a large clement in their celestial joy (Ephesians 1:10; Revelation 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 (vet. 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 ]aid 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 today. 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.
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 honored, 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.
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 Savior of mankind. Into the Jewish covenant, consequently, there has entered by this circumcision a Savior, One destined, like his namesake Joshua, to lead the Lord's people out of all bondage into glorious liberty. 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 it' she was "immaculate," as some represent her. In addition there would be paid for Jesus the redemption 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, 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 Corinthians 6:19, 20). This Jesus alone realized in fullness, 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 thoughts 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 Savior. The Child Jesus was the Divine Savior 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 fulfill 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 Savior must be our spiritual or carnal state.
IV. THE TESTIMONY OF ANNA. (Vers. 36-38.) Anna was another respired 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 Savior 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 favor 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 Savior 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.
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 honor, 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 honored 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 coining 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 con- straining 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 labor before the harvest is gathered in. Others may enter into our labors. But if it should be so, there is a way in which we may belong.
III. THOSE WHO CANNOT FAIL TO BE SATISFIED IS SPIRIT. For we may be of those who realize that it is in God's hand to fix the bounds of our present labor, 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 labor 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.
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 12:4-7); 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 severely 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 today 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 honor 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 (Luke 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 (Luke 9:23; John 17:14; 2 Timothy 3:12). Our Lord invites us to regard this inevitable accompaniment of spiritual integrity as an honor and a blessing rather than a stigma and a curse (Matthew 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 offense (see Luke 20:18; 1 Corinthians 1:23).
IV. A STEPPING-STONE. Not only for the fall, but for the "rising again," was that Infant "set." By planting their feet on that safe, strong rock, the humiliated and even the degraded rise to honor 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.
I. THAT THERE IS ROOM IN THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST FOR THE SERVICE OF WOMAN-HOOD. It was well that the aged Simeon should bear his testimony to the birth of the Savior; it was also well that this aged and honorable 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 Luke 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 succor, 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 labor will not be persuaded to retire from the field, but labor 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.
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 (Deuteronomy 14:1, 2; Hosea 11:1; Jeremiah 31:9, 20; Psalm 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 traveled hitherto. And as 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 his parents. Having put God first, all these things were added unto him (Matthew from Matthew 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 favor 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 favor will rest as well as man's favor upon all who follow in the footsteps of his Divine Son in this beautiful subjection. There is no truth more important at the present time than this of realizing our development in due subjection. - R.M.E.
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 (Psalm 108:1). - C.
I. THE GROWTH OF JESUS CHRIST.
1. The fullness 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 favor 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 favor 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 offense 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.