Birth of Christ.
1. Cæsar Augustus—the first of the
all the world—so the vast Roman Empire
taxed—enrolled, or register
2. first … when Cyrenius,
&c.—a very perplexing verse, inasmuch as Cyrenius, or
Quirinus, appears not to have been governor of Syria for about ten
years after the birth of Christ, and the "taxing" under his
administration was what led to the insurrection mentioned in Ac 5:37. That there was a taxing, however,
of the whole Roman Empire under Augustus, is now admitted by all; and
candid critics, even of skeptical tendency, are ready to allow that
there is not likely to be any real inaccuracy in the statement of our
Evangelist. Many superior scholars would render the words thus, "This
registration was previous to Cyrenius being governor of
Syria"—as the word "first" is rendered in Joh 1:15;
15:18. In this case, of
course, the difficulty vanishes. But it is perhaps better to suppose,
with others, that the registration may have been ordered with a view to
the taxation, about the time of our Lord's birth, though the taxing
itself—an obnoxious measure in Palestine—was not carried
out till the time of Quirinus.
3. went … to his own city—the city
of his extraction, according to the Jewish custom, not of his
abode, which was the usual Roman method.
4, 5. Not only does Joseph, who was of the
royal line, go to Bethlehem (1Sa 16:1), but Mary too—not from choice
surely in her condition, but, probably, for personal enrollment, as
herself an heiress.
5. espoused wife—now, without doubt,
taken home to him, as related in Mt 1:18; 25:6.
6. while they were there, the days were
accomplished that she should be delivered—Mary had up to this
time been living at the wrong place for Messiah's birth. A little
longer stay at Nazareth, and the prophecy would have failed. But lo!
with no intention certainly on her part, much less of Cæsar
Augustus, to fulfil the prophecy, she is brought from Nazareth to
Bethlehem, and at that nick of time her period arrives, and her Babe is
118:23). "Every creature
walks blindfold; only He that dwells in light knows whether they go"
7. first-born—So Mt 1:25; yet the law, in speaking of the
first-born, regardeth not whether any were born after or no, but
only that none were born before [Lightfoot].
wrapt him … laid him—The mother
herself did so. Had she then none to help her? It would seem so (2Co 8:9).
a manger—the manger, the bench to
which the horses' heads were tied, on which their food could rest
[Webster and Wilkinson].
no room in the inn—a square erection,
open inside, where travellers put up, and whose rear parts were used as
stables. The ancient tradition, that our Lord was born in a grotto or
cave, is quite consistent with this, the country being rocky. In Mary's
condition the journey would be a slow one, and ere they arrived, the
inn would be fully occupied—affecting anticipation of the
reception He was throughout to meet with (Joh 1:11).
Wrapt in His swaddling—bands,
And in His manger laid,
The hope and glory of all lands
come to the world's aid.
No peaceful home upon His cradle
Guests rudely went and came where slept the royal
But some "guests went and came" not "rudely," but reverently.
God sent visitors of His own to pay court to the new-born King.
Angelic Annunciation to the
Shepherds—Their Visit to the
8. abiding in the fields—staying there,
probably in huts or tents.
watch … by night—or, night
watches, taking their turn of watching. From about passover time in
April until autumn, the flocks pastured constantly in the open fields,
the shepherds lodging there all that time. (From this it seems plain
that the period of the year usually assigned to our Lord's birth is too
late). Were these shepherds chosen to have the first sight of the
blessed Babe without any respect of their own state of mind? That, at
least, is not God's way. "No doubt, like Simeon (Lu 2:25), they were among the waiters for the
Consolation of Israel" [Olshausen]; and,
if the simplicity of their rustic minds, their quiet occupation, the
stillness of the midnight hours, and the amplitude of the deep blue
vault above them for the heavenly music which was to fill their ear,
pointed them out as fit recipients for the first tidings of an Infant
Saviour, the congenial meditations and conversations by which, we may
suppose, they would beguile the tedious hours would perfect their
preparation for the unexpected visit. Thus was Nathanael engaged, all
alone but not unseen, under the fig tree, in unconscious preparation
for his first interview with Jesus. (See on Joh
1:48). So was the rapt seer on his lonely rock "in the spirit on
the Lord's Day," little thinking that this was his preparation for
hearing behind him the trumpet voice of the Son of man (Re 1:10, &c.). But if the shepherds in His
immediate neighborhood had the first, the sages from afar had
the next sight of the new-born King. Even so still, simplicity
first, science next, finds its way to Christ, whom
In quiet ever and in shade
Shepherds and Sage may find—
They, who have bowed untaught to Nature's sway,
And they, who follow Truth along her star-pav'd way.
9. glory of the Lord—"the brightness or
glory which is represented as encompassing all heavenly visions" [Olshausen].
sore afraid—So it ever was (Da 10:7, 8; Lu 1:12; Re 1:17). Men have never felt easy with the
invisible world laid suddenly open to their gaze. It was never meant to
be permanent; a momentary purpose was all it was intended to serve.
10. to all people—"to the whole people,"
that is, of Israel; to be by them afterwards opened up to the whole
world. (See on Lu 2:14).
11. unto you is born—you shepherds,
Israel, mankind [Bengel]. Compare Isa 9:6, "Unto us a Child is born." It is
a birth—"The Word is made flesh" (Joh 1:14). When? "This day." Where? "In
the city of David"—in the right line and at the right
"spot"; where prophecy bade us look for Him, and faith accordingly
expected Him. How dear to us should be these historic moorings
of our faith! With the loss of them, all substantial Christianity is
lost. By means of them how many have been kept from making shipwreck,
and attained to a certain external admiration of Him, ere yet they have
fully "beheld His glory."
a Saviour—not One who shall be
a Saviour, but "born a Saviour."
Christ the Lord—"magnificent
appellation!" [Bengel]. "This is the
only place where these words come together; and I see no way of
understanding this "Lord" but as corresponding to the Hebrew
12. a sign—"the sign."
the babe—"a Babe."
a manger—"the manger." The sign was to
consist, it seems, solely in the overpowering contrast between
the things just said of Him and the lowly condition in which they would
find Him—Him whose goings forth have been from of old, from
everlasting, "ye shall find a Babe"; whom the heaven of heavens cannot
contain, "wrapt in swaddling bands"; the "Saviour, Christ the Lord,"
lying in a manger! Thus early were these amazing contrasts, which are
His chosen style, held forth. (See 2Co 8:9.)
13. suddenly—as if only waiting till
their fellow had done.
with the angel—who retires not, but is
joined by others, come to seal and to celebrate the tidings he has
heavenly host—or "army," an
army celebrating peace! [Bengel] "transferring the occupation of their
exalted station to this poor earth, which so seldom resounds with the
pure praise of God" [Olshausen]; to let
it be known how this event is regarded in heaven and should be
regarded on earth.
14. Glory, &c.—brief but
transporting hymn—not only in articulate human speech, for our
benefit, but in tunable measure, in the form of a Hebrew
parallelism of two complete clauses, and a third one only amplifying
the second, and so without a connecting "and." The "glory to
God," which the new-born "Saviour" was to bring, is the first note
of this sublime hymn: to this answers, in the second clause, the
"peace on earth," of which He was to be "the Prince" (Isa 9:6)—probably sung responsively
by the celestial choir; while quickly follows the glad echo of this
note, probably by a third detachment of the angelic
choristers—"good will to men." "They say not, glory to God
in heaven, where angels are, but, using a rare expression,
"in the highest [heavens]," whither angels aspire not," (Heb 1:3, 4) [Bengel]. "Peace" with God is the grand necessity of
a fallen world. To bring in this, and all other peace in its train, was
the prime errand of the Saviour to this earth, and, along with it,
Heaven's whole "good will to men"—the divine complacency on a new
footing—descends to rest upon men, as upon the Son Himself, in
whom God is "well-pleased." (Mt 3:17, the
same word as here.)
15. Let us go, &c.—lovely simplicity
of devoutness and faith this! They are not taken up with the angels,
the glory that invested them, and the lofty strains with which they
filled the air. Nor do they say, Let us go and see if this be
true—they have no misgivings. But "Let us go and see this
thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known
unto us." Does not this confirm the view given on Lu 2:8 of the spirit of these humble men?
16. with haste—Compare Lu 1:39; Mt
28:8 ("did run"); Joh 4:28 ("left her water-pot," as they do
their flocks, in a transport).
found Mary, &c.—"mysteriously
guided by the Spirit to the right place through the obscurity of the
a manger—"the manger," as
17. made known abroad—before their
2:20), and thus were the
first evangelists [Bengel].
20. glorifying and praising God,
&c.—The latter word, used of the song of the angels (Lu 2:13), and in Lu 19:37, and
Lu 24:53, leads us to suppose
that theirs was a song too, probably some canticle from the
Psalter—meet vehicle for the swelling emotions of their simple
hearts at what "they had heard and seen."
Circumcision of Christ.
Here only recorded, and even here merely alluded to,
for the sake of the name then given to the holy Babe, "Jesus," or Saviour
1:21; Ac 13:23). Yet in this
naming of Him "Saviour," in the act of circumcising Him, which was a
symbolical and bloody removal of the body of sin, we have a tacit
intimation that they "had need"—as John said of His
Baptism—rather to be circumcised by Him "with the circumcision
made without hands, in the putting off of the body [of the sins] of the
flesh by the circumcision of Christ" (Col 2:11), and that He only "suffered it to be
so, because thus it became Him to fulfil all righteousness" (Mt 3:15). Still the circumcision of Christ
had a profound bearing on His own work—by few rightly
apprehended. For since "he that is circumcised is a debtor to do the
whole law" (Ga 5:3), Jesus
thus bore about with Him in His very flesh the seal of a voluntary
obligation to do the whole law—by Him only possible in the flesh
since the fall. And as He was "made under the law" for no ends of His
own, but only "to redeem them that were under the law, that we
might receive the adoption of sons" (Ga 4:4, 5), the obedience to which His
circumcision pledged Him was a redeeming obedience—that of
a "Saviour." And, finally, as "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse
of the law" by "being made a curse for us" (Ga 3:13), we must regard Him, in His
circumcision, as brought under a palpable pledge to be "obedient
unto death, even the death of the cross" (Php 2:8).
Lu 2:22-40. Purification of
the Virgin—Presentation of the
Babe in the Temple-Scene There with
Simeon and Anna.
22, 24. her purification—Though the most
and best copies read "their," it was the mother only who needed
purifying from the legal uncleanness of childbearing. "The days" of
this purification for a male child were forty in all (Le 12:2, 4), on the expiry of which the mother was
required to offer a lamb for a burnt offering, and a turtle dove or a
young pigeon for a sin offering. If she could not afford a lamb, the
mother had to bring another turtle dove or young pigeon; and, if even
this was beyond her means, then a portion of fine flour, but without
the usual fragrant accompaniments of oil and frankincense, as it
represented a sin offering (Le 12:6-8; 5:7-11). From the intermediate offering of "a
pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons," we gather that Joseph and
the Virgin were in poor circumstances (2Co 8:9), though not in abject poverty. Being a
first-born male, they "bring him to Jerusalem, to present him to the
Lord." All such had been claimed as "holy to the Lord," or set apart to
sacred uses, in memory of the deliverance of the first-born of Israel
from destruction in Egypt, through the sprinkling of blood (Ex 13:2). In lieu of these, however, one
whole tribe, that of Levi, was accepted, and set apart to occupations
exclusively sacred (Nu 3:11-38); and whereas there were two hundred
seventy-three fewer Levites than first-born of all Israel on the first
reckoning, each of these first-born was to be redeemed by the payment
of five shekels, yet not without being "presented (or brought)
unto the Lord," in token of His rightful claim to them and their
service (Nu 3:44-47; 18:15, 16). It was in obedience to this "law of
Moses," that the Virgin presented her babe unto the Lord, "in the east
gate of the court called Nicanor's Gate, where she herself would be
sprinkled by the priest with the blood of her sacrifice" [Lightfoot]. By that Babe, in due time, we were to be
redeemed, "not with corruptible things as silver and gold, but with the
precious blood of Christ" (1Pe 1:18, 19), and the consuming of the mother's
burnt offering, and the sprinkling of her with the blood of her sin
offering, were to find their abiding realization in the "living
sacrifice" of the Christian mother herself, in the fulness of a "heart
sprinkled from an evil conscience," by "the blood which cleanseth from
25. just—upright in his moral
devout—of a religious frame of
waiting for the consolation of
Israel—a beautiful title of the coming Messiah, here
the Holy Ghost was—supernaturally.
upon him—Thus was the Spirit, after a
dreary absence of nearly four hundred years, returning to the Church,
to quicken expectation, and prepare for coming events.
26. revealed by the Holy Ghost—implying,
beyond all doubt, the personality of the Spirit.
should see not death till he had
seen—"sweet antithesis!" [Bengel]. How would the one sight gild the gloom of
the other! He was, probably, by this time, advanced in years.
27, 28. The Spirit guided him to the temple at
the very moment when the Virgin was about to present Him to the
28. took him up in his arms—immediately
recognizing in the child, with unhesitating certainty, the promised
Messiah, without needing Mary to inform him of what had happened to
her. [Olshausen]. The remarkable act of
taking the babe in his arms must not be overlooked. It was as if he
said, "This is all my salvation and all my desire" (2Sa 23:5).
29. Lord—"Master," a word rarely used in
the New Testament, and selected here with peculiar propriety, when the
aged saint, feeling that his last object in wishing to live had now
been attained, only awaited his Master's word of command to
now lettest, &c.—more clearly,
"now Thou art releasing Thy servant"; a patient yet reverential mode of
expressing a desire to depart.
30. seen thy salvation—Many saw this
child, nay, the full-grown "man, Christ Jesus," who never saw in Him
"God's Salvation." This estimate of an object of sight, an unconscious,
helpless babe, was pure faith. He "beheld His glory" (Joh 1:14). In another view it was prior
faith rewarded by present sight.
31, 32. all people—all the peoples,
mankind at large.
a light to the Gentiles—then in thick
glory of thy people Israel—already
Thine, and now, in the believing portion of it, to be so more
gloriously than ever. It will be observed that this "swan-like song,
bidding an eternal farewell to this terrestrial life" [Olshausen], takes a more comprehensive view of the
kingdom of Christ than that of Zacharias, though the kingdom they sing
of is one.
34, 35. set—appointed.
fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for
a sign spoken against—Perhaps the former of these phrases
expresses the two stages of temporary "fall of many in Israel" through
unbelief, during our Lord's earthly career, and the subsequent "rising
again" of the same persons after the effusion of the Spirit at
pentecost threw a new light to them on the whole subject; while the
latter clause describes the determined enemies of the Lord Jesus. Such
opposite views of Christ are taken from age to age.
35. Yea, &c.—"Blessed as thou art
among women, thou shalt have thine own deep share of the struggles and
sufferings which this Babe is to occasion"—pointing not only to
the continued obloquy and rejection of this Child of hers, those
agonies of His which she was to witness at the cross, and her desolate
condition thereafter, but to dreadful alternations of faith and
unbelief, of hope and fear regarding Him, which she would have to pass
that the thoughts, &c.—Men's views
and decisions regarding Christ are a mirror in which the very "thoughts
of their hearts" are seen.
36. Anna—or, Hannah.
a prophetess—another evidence that
"the last times" in which God was to "pour out His Spirit upon all
flesh" were at hand.
of the tribe of Aser—one of the ten
tribes, of whom many were not carried captive, and not a few reunited
themselves to Judah after the return from Babylon. The distinction of
tribes, though practically destroyed by the captivity, was well enough
known up to their final dispersion (Ro 11:1; Heb 7:14); nor is it now entirely lost.
lived, &c.—she had lived seven
years with her husband (Lu 2:36), and
been a widow eighty-four years; so that if she married at the earliest
marriageable age, twelve years, she could not at this time be less than
a hundred three years old.
37. departed not from the temple—was
found there at all stated hours of the day, and even during the night
services of the temple watchmen (Ps 134:1, 2), "serving God with fastings and
prayer." (See 1Ti 5:5,
suggested by this.)
38. coming in—"presenting herself." She
had been there already but now is found "standing by," as Simeon's
testimony to the blessed Babe died away, ready to take it up "in turn"
(as the word rendered "likewise" here means).
to all them, &c.—the sense is, "to
all them in Jerusalem that were looking for redemption"—saying in
effect, In that Babe are wrapt up all your expectations. If this was at
the hour of prayer, when numbers flocked to the temple, it would
account for her having such an audience as the words imply [Alford].
39. Nothing is more difficult than to fix the
precise order in which the visit of the Magi, with the flight into and
return from Egypt (Mt 2:13-23), are to be taken, in relation to the
circumcision and presentation of Christ in the temple, here recorded.
It is perhaps best to leave this in the obscurity in which we find it,
as the result of two independent, though if we knew all, easily
40. His mental development kept pace with His
bodily, and "the grace of God," the divine favor, rested manifestly and
increasingly upon Him. See Lu 2:52.
Lu 2:41-52. First Conscious
Visit to Jerusalem.
"Solitary flowered out of the wonderful enclosed
garden of the thirty years, plucked precisely there where the swollen
bud, at a distinctive crisis (at twelve years of age), bursts
into flower. To mark that is assuredly the design and the meaning of
this record" [Stier].
42. went up—"were wont to go." Though
males only were required to go up to Jerusalem at the three annual
festivals (Ex 23:14-17), devout women, when family duties
permitted, went also, as did Hannah (1Sa 1:7), and, as we here see, the mother of
when twelve years old—At this age
every Jewish boy was styled "a son of the law," being put under a
course of instruction and trained to fasting and attendance on public
worship, besides being set to learn a trade. At this age accordingly
our Lord is taken up for the first time to Jerusalem, at the passover
season, the chief of the three annual festivals. But oh, with what
thoughts and feelings must this Youth have gone up! Long ere He beheld
it, He had doubtless "loved the habitation of God's house and the place
where His honor dwelt" (Ps 26:8), a
love nourished, we may be sure, by that "word hid in His heart," with
which in afterlife He showed so perfect a familiarity. As the time for
His first visit approached, could one's ear have caught the breathings
of His young soul, he might have heard Him whispering, "As the hart
panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God.
The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of the
Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem!" (Ps
42:1; 87:2; 122:1, 2). On
catching the first view of "the city of their solemnities," and high
above all in it, "the place of God's rest," we hear Him saying to
Himself, "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount
Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King: Out of
Zion, the perfection of beauty, God doth shine" (Ps 48:2; 50:2). Of His feelings or actions
during all the eight days of the feast not a word is said. As a devout
child, in company with its parents, He would go through the services,
keeping His thoughts to Himself. But methinks I hear Him, after the
sublime services of that feast, saying to Himself, "He brought me to
the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. I sat down under
his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste"
43. as they returned—If the duties of
life must give place to worship, worship, in its turn, must give place
to them. Jerusalem is good, but Nazareth is good, too;
let him who neglects the one, on pretext of attending to the other,
ponder this scene.
tarried behind … Joseph and his mother
knew not—Accustomed to the discretion and obedience of the
lad [Olshausen], they might be thrown
off their guard.
44. sought him among their kinsfolk and
acquaintances—On these sacred journeys, whole villages and
districts travelled in groups together, partly for protection, partly
for company; and as the well-disposed would beguile the tediousness of
the way by good discourse, to which the child Jesus would be no silent
listener, they expect to find Him in such a group.
45, 46. After three sorrowing days, they find
Him still in Jerusalem, not gazing on its architecture, or surveying
its forms of busy life, but in the temple—not the "sanctuary" (as
1:9), to which only the
priests had access, but in some one of the enclosures around it, where
the rabbins, or "doctors," taught their scholars.
46. hearing … asking—The method of
question and answer was the customary form of rabbinical teaching;
teacher and learner becoming by turns questioner and answerer, as may
be seen from their extant works. This would give full scope for all
that "astonished them in His understanding and answers." Not that He
assumed the office of teaching—"His hour" for that "was
not yet come," and His equipment for that was not complete; for He had
yet to "increase in wisdom" as well as "stature" (Lu 2:52). In fact, the beauty of Christ's
example lies very much in His never at one stage of His life
anticipating the duties of another. All would be in the style and
manner of a learner, "opening His mouth and panting." "His soul
breaking for the longing that it had unto God's judgments at all times"
119:20), and now more than
ever before, when finding Himself for the first time in His Father's
house. Still there would be in His questions far more than in
their answers; and if we may take the frivolous interrogatories
with which they afterwards plied Him, about the woman that had seven
husbands and such like, as a specimen of their present drivelling
questions, perhaps we shall not greatly err, if we suppose that "the
questions" which He now "asked them" in return were just the germs of
those pregnant questions with which He astonished and silenced them in
after years: "What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is He? If David
call Him Lord, how is He then his Son?" "Which is the first and
great commandment?" "Who is my neighbour?"
49. about my Father's
business—literally, "in" or "at My Fathers," that is, either
"about My Father's affairs," or "in My Father's
courts"—where He dwells and is to be found—about
His hand, so to speak. This latter shade of meaning, which includes
the former, is perhaps the true one, Here He felt Himself at
home, breathing His own proper air. His words convey a gentle
rebuke of their obtuseness in requiring Him to explain this.
"Once here, thought ye I should so readily hasten away? Let ordinary
worshippers be content to keep the feast and be gone; but is this all
ye have learnt of Me?" Methinks we are here let into the holy privacies
of Nazareth; for what He says they should have known, He must
have given them ground to know. She tells Him of the sorrow with
which His father and she had sought Him. He speaks of no
Father but one, saying, in effect, My Father has not been
seeking Me; I have been with Him all this time; "the King hath brought
me into His chambers … His left hand is under my head, and His
right hand doth embrace me" (So 1:4; 2:6). How is it that ye do not understand?
50, 51. understood not—probably He had
never expressly said as much, and so confounded them, though it
was but the true interpretation of many things which they had seen and
heard from Him at home. (See on Joh 14:4.) But
lest it should be thought that now He threw off the filial yoke, and
became His own Master henceforth, and theirs too, it is purposely
added, "And He went down with them, and was subject unto
them." The marvel of this condescension lies in its coming after
such a scene, and such an assertion of His higher Sonship; and the
words are evidently meant to convey this. "From this time we have no
more mention of Joseph. The next we hear is of his "mother and
brethren" (Joh 2:12);
whence it is inferred, that between this time and the commencement of
our Lord's public life, Joseph died" [Alford], having now served the double end of being
the protector of our Lord's Virgin—mother, and affording Himself
the opportunity of presenting a matchless pattern of subjection to both
52. See on Lu 2:40.
stature—or better, perhaps, as in the
Margin, "age," which implies the other. This is all the record
we have of the next eighteen years of that wondrous life. What seasons
of tranquil meditation over the lively oracles, and holy fellowship
with His Father; what inlettings, on the one hand, of light, and love,
and power from on high, and outgoings of filial supplication, freedom,
love, and joy on the other, would these eighteen years contain! And
would they not seem "but a few days" if they were so passed, however
ardently He might long to be more directly "about His Father's