Luke 2The conclusion of the former chapter acquainted us with the birth of John the Baptist; the beginning of ths chapter relates the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and the remarkable circumstances which did attend it.
And here we have observable, 1. The place where he was born, not at Nazareth, but at Bethlehem, according to the prediction of the prophet Micah, Mic 5:2. "And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah, for out of thee shall come a Governor that shall rule my people Israel."
We may suppose, that the blessed virgin little thought of changing her place, but to have been delivered of her holy burden at Nazareth, where it was conceived. Her house at Nazareth was honoured by the presence of the angel; yea, by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost: that house therefore, we may suppose, was most satisfactory to the virgin's desire. But he that made choice of the womb where his son should be conceived, it was fit he should also choose the place where his son should be born. And this place, many hundred years before the nativity, was foretold should be Bethlehem.
Observe, 2. How remarkable the providence of God was in bringing the virgin up from Nazareth the Bethlehem, that Christ, as it was prophesied of him, might be born there. Augustus, the Roman emperor, to whom the nation of the Jews was now become tributary, puts forth a decree, that all the Roman empire should have their names and families enrolled, in order to their being taxed. This edict required, that every family should repair to that city to which they did belong, to be enrolled and taxed there.
Accordingly, Joseph and Mary, being of the house and lineage of David, have recourse to Bethlehem, the city of David, where, according to the prophecy, the Messias was to be born.
Here note, how the wisdom of God overrules the actions of men, for higher or nobler ends than what they aimed at. The emperor's aim was by this edict to fill his coffers. God's end was to fulfil his prophecies.
Observe, 3. How readily Joseph and Mary yielded obedience to the edict and decree of this heathen emperor. It was no less than four days journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem: how just an excuse might the virgin have pleaded for her absence! What woman ever undertook so hazardous a journey, that was so near her delivery? And Joseph, no doubt, was sufficiently unwilling to draw her forth into so manifest a hazard.
But as the emperor's command was peremptory, so their obedience was exemplary. We must not plead difficulty for withdrawing our obedience to supreme commands. How did our blessed Saviour, even in the womb of his mother, yield homage to civil rulers and governors!
The first lesson which Christ's example taught the world, was loyalty and obedience to the supreme magistrate.
Observe, 4. After many weary steps, the holy virgin comes to Bethlehem, where every house is taken up by reason of the great confluence of people that came to be taxed; and there is no room for Christ but in a stable: the stable is our Lord's palace, the manger is his cradle.
Oh, how can we be abased low enough for him that thus neglected himself for us! What an early indication was this, that our Lord's kingdom was not of this world!
Yet some observe a mystery in all this: an inn is domus publici juris, not a private house, but open and free for all passengers, and a stable is the commonest place in the inn; to mind us, that he who was born there, would be a common Saviour to high and low, noble and base, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile; called therefore so often the Son of man; the design of his birth being the benefit of mankind.
Here we have the promulgation and first publishing of our Saviour's birth to the world: The angel said unto the shepherds, I bring you glad tidings, a Saviour is born.
Where observe, 1. The messenger employed by God to publish the joyful news of a Saviour's birth; the holy angels, heavenly messengers employed about a heavenly work: it is worth our notice, how serviceable the angels were to Christ upon all occasions, when he was here upon earth; an angel declares his conception; a host of angels publish his birth; in his temptation, an angel strengthens him; in his agony, an angel comforts him; at his resurrection, an angel rolls away the stone from the door of the sepulchre; at his ascension, the angels attend him up to heaven; and at his second coming to judge the world, he shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. And great reason there is, that the angels should be thus officious in their attendances upon Christ, who is a head of confirmation to them, as he was a head of redemption to fallen man.
Observe, 2. The persons to whom this joyful message of a Saviour's birth is first brought, and they are the shepherds; The angel said unto the shepherds, Fear not.
1. Because Christ, the great shepherd of his church, was come into the world.
2. Because he was of old promised unto shepherds, the old patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who by their occupation were shepherds.
Observe, 3. The time when these shepherds had the honour of this revelation; it was not when they were asleep on their beds of idleness and sloth, but when they were lying abroad, and watching their flocks.
The blessings of heaven usually meet us in the way of an honest and industrious diligence; whereas the idle are fit for nothing but temptation to work upon. If these shepherds had been snoring in their beds, they had no more seen angels, nor yet heard the news of a Saviour, than their neighbours.
Observe, 4. The nature and quality of the message which the angel brought; it was a message of joy, a message of great joy, a message of great joy unto all people.
For here was born a Son, that Son a Prince, that Prince a Saviour, that Saviour not a particular Saviour of the Jews only, but an universal Saviour, whose salvation is to the ends of the earth. Well might the angel call it a message, or glad tidings of great joy unto all people!
Observe, 5. The ground and occasion of this joy, the foundation of all this good news, which was proclaimed in the ears of a lost world; and that was, the birth of a Saviour; Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Hence learn, 1. That the incarnation and birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his manifestation in our flesh and nature, was and is matter of exceeding joy and rejoicing unto all people.
2. That the great end and design of our Lord's incarnation and coming into the world, was to be the Saviour of lost sinners; "Unto you is born a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."
Although the birth of our blessed Saviour was published by one angel, yet is it celebrated by a host of angels; a whole choir of angels chaunt forth the praises of Almighty God, upon this great and joyful occasion.
Here observe, 1. The singers.
2. The song itself.
The singers of this heavenly anthem are the holy angels; called a host, partly for their number, and partly for their order.
Where learn, 1. The goodness and sweet disposition of these blessed spirits, in whose bosom that cankered passion of envy has no place; if it had, there was never such an occasion to stir it up as now: but heaven admits of no such passion; envy is a native of hell, 'tis the smoke of the bottomless pit, the character and temper of the apostate spirits; these grieve at the happiness of man, as much as the angels rejoice.
O ye blessed angels! what did these tidings concern you, that ruined mankind should be taken again into favour; whereas those of your own host, which fell likewise, remained still in that gulph of perdition, into which their sin had plunged them, without either hope of mercy, or possiblitly of recover! The less we repine at the good, and the more we rejoice at the happiness of others, the more like we are to the holy angels; yea, the more we resemble God himself.
Learn, 2. Did the angels thus joy and rejoice for us? Then what joy ought we to express for ourselves? Had we the tongue of angels, we could not sufficiently chaunt forth the praises of our Redeemer. Eternity itself would be too short to spend in the rapturous contemplation of redeeming mercy.
Observe, 3. The anthem or song itself, which begins with a doxology, Glory be to God in the highest; that is, let God in the highest heavens be glorified by the angels that dwell on high. The angelical choir excite themselves, and all the host of angels, to give glory to God for these wonderful tidings; as if they had said, "Let the power, the wisdom, the goodness and mercy of God, be acknowledged and revered by all the host of heaven for ever and ever."
Next to the doxology, follows a gratulation: glory be to God in the highest, for there is peace on earth: and good will towards men. The birth of Christ has brought a peace of reconcilitaion betwixt God and man upon earth; and also a piece of amity and concord betwixt man and man, and is therefore to be celebrated with acclamations of joy.
Several particulars are here observable: as, 1. That the shepherds no sooner heard the news of a Saviour, but they ran to Bethlehem to seek him; and though it was at midnight, yet they delayed not to go. Those that left their beds to attend their flocks, now leave their flocks to inquire after their Saviour.
Learn thence, that a gracious soul no sooner hears where Christ is, but instantly makes out after him, and judges no earthly comfort too dear to be left and forsaken for him. These shepherds shew, that they preferred their Saviour before their sheep.
Observe, 2. These shepherds having found Christ themselves, do make him known to others, When they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying, which was told them concerning this child. Luke 2:17
Learn, that such as have found Christ to their comfort, and tasted that the Lord is gracious to themselves, cannot but recommend him to the love and admiration of others.
Observe, 3. What effect this relation had upon the generality of people that heart it; it wrought in them amazement and astonishment, but not faith: The people wondered, but believed not. 'Tis not the hearing of Christ with the hearing of the ear, nor the seeing of Christ with the sight of the outward eye; neither the hearing of his doctine, nor the sight of his miracles, will work divine faith in the soul, without the concuring operation of the Holy Spirit; the one may make us marvel, but the other makes us believe. All that heard it wondered at these things.
Lastly, note, the effect which these things had upon Mary, quite different from what they had upon the common people; they wondered, she pondered; the things that affected their heads, influenced her heart: She kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
Two things are here observable, 1. Our Saviour's circumcision, and the name given him at his circumcision. There was no impurity in the Son of God, and yet he is circumcised, and baptized also, though he had neither filth nor foreskin, which wanted either the circumcising knife or the baptismal water, yet he condescends to be both circumcised and baptized; thereby showing, that as he was made of a woman, so he would be made under the law, which he punctually observed to a tittle.
And accordingly, he was not only circumcised, but circumcised the eighth day, as the ceremonial law required: and thus our Lord fulfilled all righteousness. Matt 3:15
Observe 2. The name given at our Saviour's circumcision: His name was called Jesus; that is, a Saviour; he being to save his people from their sins. Matt 1:21 The great end of Christ's coming into the world was to save persons from the punishment and power of their sins. Had he not saved us from our sins, we must have died in our sins, and died for our sins, and that eternally. Never let us then sit down desponding, either under the guilt, or under the power of our sins; and conclude, that they are either so great that they cannot be forgiven, or so strong that they can never be overcome.
A twofold act of obedience doth the Holy Virgin here perform to two ceremonial laws, the one concerning the purification of women after child-birth, the other concerning the presenting the male-child before the Lord.
The law concerning the purification of women we have recorded. Lev 12:1-8 Where the time mentioned for the woman's purification is set down; namely, after a male-child forty days; after a female, four score days:after which time she was to bring a lamb of a year oldfor a burnt-offering, in case she was a person of ability; or a pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons, in case of extreme poverty.
Now as to the Virgin's purification, observe, 1. That no sooner was she able and allowed to walk, but she travels to the temple.
Where note, that she visited God's house at Jerusalem, before her own house at Nazareth.
Learn thence, that such women whom God has blessed with safety of deliverance, if they make not their first visit to the temple of God to offer up their praises and thanksgivings there, they are strangers to the Virgin's piety and devotion.
Observe, 2. Another act of Mary's obedience to the ceremonial law: she presented her child at Jerusalem to the Lord.
But how durst the blessed Virgin carry her holy babe to Jerusalem into Herod's mouth? It was but a little before that Herod sought the young child's life to destroy it; yet the Virgin sticks not, in obedience to the commands of God, to carry him to Jerusalem.
Learn hence, that no apprehension of dangers, either imminent or approaching, either at hand or afar off, ought to hinder us from performing our duty to Almighty God. We ought not to neglect a certain duty, to escape an uncertain danger.
Observe farther, as the obedience, so the humility, of the Holy Virgin, in submitting to the law for purifying of uncleanness: for thus she might have pleaded, "What need have I of purging, who did not conceive in sin? Other births are from men, but mine is from the Holy Ghost, who is purity itself. Other women's children are under the law, mine is above the law." But, like the mother of him whom it beloved to fulfil all righteousness, she dutifully fulfils the law of God without quarreling or disputing.
Observe, lastly, as the exemplary humility, so the great poverty, of the Holy Virgin; she has not a lamb, but comes with her two doves to God. Her offering declares her penury. The best are sometimes the poorest, seldom the wealthiest: Yet none are so poor, but God expects an offering from them: he looks for some what from every one, not from every one alike.
The providence of God it is that makes difference in person's abilities, but his pleasure will make no difference in the acceptation; Where there is a willing mind, it shall be accepted according to what a person hath. 2Cor 8:12
No sooner was our Saviour brought into the temple and presented to the Lord by his holy parents, but in springs old Simeon, a pious and devout man who had a revelation from God that he should not die until he had with his bodily eyes seen the promised Messiah.
Accordingly, he takes up the child Jesus in his arms, but hugs him faster by his faith, than by his feeble arms, and with ravishment of heart praises God for the sight of his Saviour, whom he calls the Consolation of Israel; that is, the Messiah, whom the Israel of God had long looked and waited for, now took comfort and consolation in.
Note here, 1. How God always performs his promises to his children with wonderful advantages. Simeon had a revelation that he should not die until he had seen Christ; now he not only sees him, but feels him too; he not only has him in his eye, but holds him in his hands.
Though God stays long before he fulfils his promises, he certainly comes at last with a double reward for our expectation.
Note 2. That the coming of the Messiah in the fulness of time, and his appearing in our flesh and nature, was and is a matter of unspeakable consolation to the Israel of God. And now that he is come, let us live by faith in him, as the foundation of all comfort and consolation both in life and death.
Alas! what are all other consolations besides this, and without this? They are impotent and insufficient consolations, they are dying and perishing consolations; nay, they are sometimes afflictive and distressing consolations. The bitterness accompanying them, is sometimes more than the sweetness that is tasted in them; but in Christ, who is the consolation of Israel there is light without darkness, joy without sorrow, all consolation without any mixture of discomfort.
These words are a sweet canticle, or swan-like song, of old Simeon, a little before his dissolution. He had seen the Messiah before by faith, now by sight, and wishes to have his eyes closed, that he might see nothing after this desirable sight. It is said of some Turks, that after they have seen Mahomet's tomb, they put out their eyes, that they may never defile them after they have seen so glorious an object. Thus did old Simeon desire to see no more of this world, after he had seen Christ the Saviour of the world, but sues for his dismission; Lord, let thy servant depart.
Note here, 1. That a good man having served his generation, and God in his generation, faithfully, is weary of the world, and willing to be dismissed from it.
2. That the death of a good man is nothing else but a quiet and peaceable departure; it is a departure in peace to the God of peace.
3. That it is only a spiritual sight of Christ by faith that can welcome the approach of death, and render it an object desirable to the Christian's choice; he only that can say, My eyes have seen thy salvation, will be able to say, Lord, let thy servant depart.
Observe, farther, Holy Simeon having declared the faithfulness of God to himself in the gift of Christ, next he celebrates the mercy of God in bestowing this invaluable gift of a Saviour upon the whole world.
The world consists of Jews and Gentiles; Christ is a light to the one, and the glory of the other. A light to the blind and dark Gentiles, and the glory of the renowned church of the Jews; the Messiah being promised to them, born and bred up with them, living amongst them, preaching his doctrine to them, and working his miracles before them: and thus was Christ the glory of his people Israel.
Two things are here observed, Simeon's blessing, and Simeon's prediction; he blessed them: that is, the parents and the child Jesus: not authoritatively, but prophetically, declaring how God would bless them.
His prediction is twofold,
1. Concerning Christ.
2. Concerning his mother.
Concerning Christ, Simeon declares, that he should be for the rise of many in Israel:namely, all such as should embrace and obey his doctrine, and imitate and follow his example: and for the fall of others; that is, shall bring punishment and ruin upon all obdurate and impenitent sinners: and a sign to be spoken against: that is, he shall be as a mark for obstinate sinners to set themselves against.
Christ himself, when here in the world, was a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, to the men of the world, enduring the contradiction of sinners against himself, both the virulence of their tongues, and the violence of their hands.
Doubtless God's first design in sending his Son into the world was, that through him the world might be saved, Joh 3:16 But to such persons, whose minds had no relish for spiritual things, he became accidentally a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence.
Secondly, concerning the mother of Christ, Simeon declares that the sight of her son's bitter sufferings would, like a sword, pierce her heart; for though he might be born, yet should he not die, without the pains of his mother; as if the throes suffered by other women at the birth were reserved for her to endure at the death of her son. The sufferings of the holy Jesus on the cross, were as a sword or dagger at the heart of the Holy Virgin, and she suffered with him both as a tender mother, and as a sympathizing member of his body: yea, suffered martyrdom after him, saith Epiphanius.
Simeon is seconded by Anna, a prophetess; she also declares that the child Jesus was the promised and expected Messiah: and thus Christ was proclaimed in the temple by two heralds of different sexes.
Concerning this aged woman, Anna, it is said, that she departed not from the temple night nor day; not that she lived and lodged there, but by her never departing from, understand her daily repairing to, the temple.
That which is often done, is said in scripture to be always done. We are said to do a thing continually when we do it seasonably: thus we pray continually, when we pray as often as duty requires us to pray.
Learn hence, that such duties as a Christian performs out of conscience, he will perform with constancy and perseverance; nature will have her good moods, but grace is steady. The devotions of a pious soul like Anna's, are as constant, but more frequent, than the returns of day and night.
Here we see the truth and reality of Christ's human nature: he grew as we do, from infancy to childhood, from childhood to youth and manhood. To his divine nature no accession or addition could be made, for that which is infinite cannot increase. The Deity was infinite in Christ, so was not the humanity, but capable of additions: and accordingly as Christ grew up in the stature of his body, the faculties of his mind increased, through the grace and power of God's Spirit upon him.
Observe here, the persons making this yearly journey to Jerusalem; our Saviour's parents and himself.
1. Joseph, who is called Christ's father, not that he was his natural father, for Christ had no father upon earth: but Joseph was his reputed and supposed father, his nursing father, who by the appointment of God took a fatherly care of him.
2. Mary, the mother of Christ, went up to Jerusalem, with her husband and her son: God commanded only the males to go up to Jerusalem, the weaker sex were excused; but the Holy Virgin, well knowing the spiritual profit of that long journey, would not stay at home. Such as will go no farther than they are dragged in religious exercises, are strangers to the Virgin's piety and devotion.
But, 3. The child Jesus in his minority goes up with his parents to this holy solemnity, thereby no doubt intending our instruction, when we are young to give God an early possession of our souls, to consecrate the virgin operations of our minds to him, and in our youth to keep close to the worship and service of God, when we are so importunately courted by the world.
Observe farther, this holy family came not to look at the feast and be gone, but they duly staid out all the appointed time. Joseph's calling, and the Virgin's household business, could neither keep them at home, nor hasten them home before the public duties in the temple were despatched and ended.
All worldly business must give place to divine offices, and we must attend God's services to the end, except we will depart unblest.
Observe, lastly, the constant returns of their devotion: They went up to Jerusalem every year. No difficulties, no discouragements, could hinder their attendance. Though it is no certain evidence of the truth of grace to frequent the public assemblies, yet it is an infallible sign of the want of grace customarily to neglect them.
The service of the temple being ended, they return home to Nazareth. Religious duties are not to be attended to the prejudice and neglect of our particular callings. God calls us, as well from his house as to his house. They are much mistaken, who think God is pleased with nothing but devotion: he that says, Be fervent in spirit serving the Lord, says also, Be not slothful in business. Peity and industry must keep pace with one another; God is as well pleased with our return to Nazareth, as with our going up to Jerusalem.
Observe farther, though Joseph and Mary returned home, the child Jesus, unknown to them, stays behind. Their back was no sooner turned upon the temple, but his face was towards it; Christ had business in that place which his parents knew not of. They missing him, seek him in the company, concluding him with their kinsfolk and acquaintance.
From whence we may gather, that the parents of Christ knew him to be of a sweet and sociable, of a free and conversative, not of a sullen and morose, disposition. They did not suspect him to be wandering in the fields or deserts, but when they missed him, sought him among their kinsfolk: had he not wanted to converse formerly with them, he had not now been sought amongst them.
Our blessed Saviour when on earth, did not take pleasure in a wild retiredness, in a froward austerity, but in a mild affability, and amiable conversation; and herein also his example is very instructive to us.
Observe here, 1. The place where the child Jesus is found, In the temple: where could there be a more likely place to find the Son of God, than in the house of his Father? No wonder that his parents found him there; but that they went not first to seek him there.
Observe, 2. At twelve years old our Saviour disputes in the temple with the doctors of the law: never had those great rabbies heard the voice of such a tutor. Thus, in our Saviour's non-age, he gives us a proof of his proficiency; even as the spring shows us what we may hope for of the tree in summer.
Our Saviour discovered his accomplishments by degrees: had his perfections appeared all at once, they had rather dazzled, than delighted, the eyes of the beholders; even as the sun would confound all eyes, should it appear at its first rising in its full strength. Christ could now have taught all those great rabbies the deep mysteries of God; but being not yet called by his Father to be a public teacher, he contents himself to hear with diligence, and to ask with modesty.
Learn hence, that parts and abilities for the ministerial function are not sufficient to warrant our undertaking of it without a regular call. Christ himself would not run, no not on his heavenly Father's errand, before he was sent, much less should we.
Without doubt it was impossible to express the sorrow of the Holy Virgin's soul, when all the search of three days could bring them no tidings of their holy child. How did she blame her eyes for once looking off this object of her love, and spend both days and nights in a passionate bemoaning of her loss!
O blessed Saviour, who can miss thee, and not mourn for thee! Never any soul conceived thee by faith, but was apprehensive of thy worth, and sensible of thy want: what comforts are we capable of, while we want thee? And what relish can we taste in an earthly delight without thee?
Observe here, that Christ blames not his parents for their solicitous care of him, but shows them how able he was to live without any dependency upon them and their care; and also to let them understand, that higher respects had called him away; that as he had meat to eat, so he had work to do, which they knew not of. For, say he, Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? As if he had said, "Although I owe respect to you as my natural parents, yet my duty to my heavenly Father must be preferred. I am about his work, promoting his glory, and propagating his truth."
We have also a Father in heaven. O how good it is to steal away from our earthly distractions that we may employ ourselves immediately in his service! That when the world makes enquiry after us, we may say, as our Saviour did before us, Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?
The most material passage of our Saviour's life for the first twelve years is here recorded; namely, his disputing with the doctors in the temple: how he spent the next eighteen years, namely, till he was thirty, the Scriptures doth not mention. It is here said, that he lived with, and was subject to, his parents, obeying their commands, and, as it is believed, following their employment, working upon the trade of a carpenter, as was observed, Mr 6:3 Doubtless he did not live an idle life; and why should he that did not abhor the Virgin's womb, a stable, and a manger, be supposed to abhor the works of an honest vocation?
Observe farther, what a singular pattern is here for children to imitate and follow, in their subjection to their parents. If the greatest and highest of mortals think themselves above their parents' commands, our Saviour did not so; he paid homage to the womb that bare him, and to his supposed father that provided for him. Let a person be never so high above others, he is still below and inferior to his parents. Jesus dwelt with his parents, and was subject unto them.
Observe, lastly, a further evidence of our Saviour's humanity, with respect to his human nature, which consisted of body and soul: he did grow and improve, his body in stature, his soul in wisdom; and he became every day a more eminent and illustrious person in the eyes of all, being highly in favour both with God and man.
Vain then is the conclusion of the Socinians from this text, that Christ could not be God; because God cannot wax strong in spirit, or increase in wisdom, as Christ is here said to do; for God's perfections are infinite, and will admit of no increase. Whereas it it plain, that this increase here attributed to Christ in age and stature, respects his humanity: the wisdom and endowments of his human mind were capable of increase, though his divine perfections were absolutely perfect. So glad are these men of the least shadow of a text, that may cloud the divinity of the son of God.
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