Matthew 2Observe here, 1. The place of our Lord's birth, Bethlehem; he was born, not at Athens, not at Rome, not at Jerusalem, not in any opulent or magnificent city, but in the meanest cities of Judah; thereby showing us, that his kingdom was not of this world, and that he little regarded pomp and outward greatness. O how can we be abased enough for Christ, that thus neglected himself for us!
Observe, 2. The time of our Lord's birth, In the days of Herod the king. This Herod being a foreigner, and made king by the Romans, which now reigned over the Jews, in him was fulfilled Jacob's prophecy, That the sceptre should not depart from Judah; Gen 49:10 that is, the Jews should have governors of their own nation, until Shiloh come; that is, until Christ the promised Messiah come in the flesh. So that considering the circumstance of time and place, where and when Christ was born, it was and is willful obstinacy in the Jews to deny that the Messiah is come in the flesh.
Observe, 3. That tribute of honour which was paid unto our Savior at his birth; the wise men of the east came and worshipped him, that is. the Chaldean, Arabian, or Persian astronomers, who, as the first-fruits of the Gentiles, seek after Christ, whilst the Jews, his own people, rejected him. O how will their coming so far as the east to seek Christ, rise up another day in judgement against us, if we refuse to be found by Christ,who came from heaven to seek us!
Observe here, 1. The enquiry that they make after Christ: they do not ask whether he was born, but where he was born; not doubting of the fact, but ignorant of the place.
Observe, 2. The ground of their enquiry: For we have seen his star, They had seen a star; but how did they know it was his star? Probably by divine revelation; they had a light within,, as well as a star without, or they had never seen Christ. It is likely the Holy Spirit's illumination accompanied the star's apparition. As God made known the birth of Christ to the Jews by an angel, so he manifested the same to the Gentiles by a new-created star.
Observe, 3. The end of their journey; We are come to worship him; that is, to pay all that honour and homage which is due to a great and mighty prince; all that adoration and worship which belongs to the promised Messiah, the redeemer of the world. All honour and homage, all glory and worship, is due to Christ from the sons of men, and will be given him by those that know him.
Observe here, That when Christ came into the world to save men, it cast the world into a consternation, and caused wonderful disturbances. Herod is first concerned, and next all Jerusalem with him; Herod for fear of losing his kingdom, Jerusalem for fear of new commotions. Thus Christ, who was the angel's song, the wise men's joy, Israel's consolation, becomes Herod's fear and Jerusalem's terror.
But why was Herod thus disturbed? It is true a king is born, but one whose kingdom is not of this world; it was Herod's false apprehension that was the cause of this perturbation.
Hence we see, that the greatest enmities and bitterest animosities have arisen from causeless fears and groundless jealousies.
Herod being in great perplexity, convened a council of the chief priests and scribes, and demands of them the place where Christ, the promised Messiah was to be born. They readily reply, out of the prophet Micah, Mic 5:2. that Bethlehem was the place; this was the city of David's birth, and of Christ's the son of David. Bethlehem signifies the house of bread, and was so called from its fertility and fruitfulness, and as some think with reference to Christ, the true bread of life, born there. Bethlehem was a mean and contemptible place in itself, but being honoured with Christ's presence, how great is it!
Learn thence, that the presence of Christ dignifies and exalts a place, how mean soever in itself. Bethlehem, though a little city in itself, yet is not the least among the cities of Judah, because Christ is born there.
Observe here, 1. How Herod clokes his intended cruelty with disguised hypocrisy: he had a murder in his heart, when he pretended to worship Christ with his mouth. There is no villainy so great, but will mask itself under a pretence ond shew of piety. Herod veils his intent to kill Christ, with a pretence to worship him.
Observe, 2. Herod calls him the young child, not the young king: that word was too big to come out of Herod's proud mouth; he could neither bear the thing, nor brook the title. A king it is true he is, but one that will never be thy rival: he has a kingdom, but it is not of this world.
Observe, 3. How craftily Herod lays his plot; he desires the wise men to enquire thoroughly, and to inform him privately. To be wise in doing mischief, is the worst wisdom in the world: it is not the wisdom from above, but from hell beneath.
Observe here, 1. How the star, which for some time disappeared now appears again, to their farther direction in finding Christ: teaching us, That God will not be wanting to such as are on the way to seek Christ, but will renew direction and encouragements to them, according as they stand in need: none ever sincerely sought Christ, but they certainly found him at the last.
Observe, 2. That the joy which arises in such a soul as has found Christ, is unutterable and unspeakable. The wise men here rejoiced with joy, with great joy, with exceeding great joy.
Observe, 3. The wise men having found this young King, they bring presents to him, according to the manner of the Eastern countries; namely, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which were the principal commodities of the east. But the best present we can make to Christ is ourselves; he seeks not ours, but us; and rather desires what we are than what we have. Yet the providence of God was wonderfully seen in these presents; for hereby provision was made for the sustenance of Joseph and Mary, and the child Jesus, in their exile or flight into Egypt, which they were shortly to undergo.
God having warned these wise men in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned home another way.
But did these wise men play the parts of honest men, in that they returned not again to Herod?
Answer, it appears not that they promised Herod to return, though he expected it; or if they did, it was in consideration that Herod should come and worship Christ, not to murder and destroy him.
But if they promised him never so positively, God Almighty gave them a dispensation from that promise, by commanding them to return home another way.
Herod kept his design against Christ close from the wise men, but he could not conceal his intentions from the infinitely wise God; he knew the purposes of his heart, and, by his providence, kept Christ out of his hand.
There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel, against the Lord.
Observe here, 1. Our Lord's humiliation, by persecution in the very morning of his life; he was banished almost as soon as born. Flee into Egypt, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
Ungrateful Herod! Was this entertainment for a Savior? What! raise the country upon Christ, as if a destroyer, rather than a Savior, had landed upon thy coasts! Oh! barbarous injustice! to deny a subject the protection of those laws under which he was born: the child of a beggar might claim that as his birthright, which was here denied to the Son of God.
Lord! how great an humiliation was this, not only to become an infant, but in thine infancy to be hurried up and down, and driven out of thine own land as a vagabond!
Observe, 2. How our Lord himself in a time of persecution flies for safety, who was able a thousand ways to have preserved himself from the danger: teaching us that in times of difficulty and danger, 'tis neither unwarrantable nor unbecoming to preserve our lives by flight; surely 'tis no shame for us to fly, when our Captian doth both practise it and command it also. Christ by his own example hath sanctified that state of life unto us, and by his command has made it lawful for us.
Observe, 3. The place which Christ flies unto for safety, and that is Egypt: an unlikely place, considered in itself; who could expect liberty in that house of bondage? But any place is good, if God sends us thither, and Christ be in our company. His presence can make Egypt itself not only safe, but delightful also.
Observe, 4. How readily Joseph complies with the divine command: instantly he arose, and took the young child, and fled. Faith gave wings to his obedience, and instantly vanquished all his fears, and afforded a fuller supply than all the treasures of the Arabian princes.
Teaching us, That when our direction is clear, our compliance is speedy. We cannot be too forward and expeditious in the execution of divine commands.
Observe, 5. Though Joseph at the divine command of God flies presently from Herod's rage, yet he flies privately, by night, and prudently begins his journey when least notice should be taken of his motion:
Teaching us, That although we have never so many promises of safety and deliverance, yet we must not put God upon working miracles for our preservation, when it may be obtained in the use of means.
Observe here, How Herod, having played the fox before, acts the lion now; his secret policy not succeeding, he breaks out into open and inhuman cruelty.
Learn, That when fraud and subtilty fail the enemies of the church, then thay fall to open rage, and barbarous inhumanity. Thus here these holy innocents fall as a sacrifice of Herod's rage, and die for Christ, who came to die for them; and so were martyrs in deed, though not in will. Some affirm that Herod did not spare his own child, then at nurse in the coasts of Bethlehem; which made Augustus say he had rather be Herod's hog, than herod's child; because the Jews, did never ear swine's flesh. And Herod, in compliance with the Jews, abstained from it also.
Observe here, The loud and bitter cry which the mothers of Bethlehem make for the death of their innocent children which were barbarously slain by the sword if Herod; here was lamentation, weeping, and great mourning made by Rachel, that is, by the women inhabiting in and about Bethlehem, where Rachel's sepulchre was: for the land about Bethlehem was called Rachel, from her sepulchre, so famous in those parts. Rachel here is not the name of a person, but of a place.
Observe, 2. The cause and reason of this cry and bitter lamentation: the mothers weep, not because the children are, but because they are not; they did not, with some wicked parents repine because they had lost them: mothers have the sharpest throes both in their children's births and burials. As children in their births are their mothers' Benjamins; so in their burial they are their mothers' Benonis, sons of sorrow.
Observe, 1. Herod's death: like a bloody persecutor, he is sent unlamented to his grave. Historians say, that out of his body issued forth such impure streams of blood that the loathsomeness and pain made him attempt the killing of himself. God seldom suffers persecuters to pass in quiet to their graves; they rarely die the common death of all men, having no other balm at their funeral than their own blood.
Observe, 2. The happy consequence of Herod's death. Christ is now called home without danger: Herod being sent to his grave, the coast is clear for the return of the holy family. The death of persecutors is the delivery of the persecuted.
Observe, 3. An angel is dispatched to acquaint Joseph with Herod's death.
O! how cheerfully do those glorious spirits execute the commands of their sovereign Master! With what delight do they carry the message of God's kindness to their fellow-creatures!
Lord, what an argument is this of thy love unto us, that in this our pilgrimage state thou allowest us thine own royal guard to attend and preserve us!
Observe here, 1. The just fear that Joseph has upon his mind, that Herod's son would be as bloody a tyrant as his flagitious father. No wonder that the children of cruel persecutors are suspected to tread in their bloody parents' steps.
Observe, 2. How God's warrant and direction doth quiet Joseph's mind, resolve his doubts, and remove his fears, and make him readily comply with the command of God; Being warned of God he removes out of Egypt into Gallilee.
O how safe and satisfactory is it, in all our ways, to follow the call and comand of God! Joseph and Mary durst not move their feet, no not out of Egypt itself, till God gives them a warrant for their departure, and bids them go.
A threefold interpretation is given of these words, He shall be called a Nazarene.
Some read the words, 1. He shall be called a Nazarite. The Nazarites were a religious and separate rank of persons among the Jews, who abstained from wine, and came not near the dead, for fear of pollution. Christ was a holy person, but no Nazarite, in a strict sense; for he drank wine, and touched the dead.
2. Others read the words, He shall be called a Netzer, a branch, in allusion to Isa 11:1 where he is called a branch of the root of Jesse. Christ was that true branch of which the prophets had so often spoken.
3. Others will will have the word Nazarene refer to the city of Nazareth, where Christ was conceived, and lived most of his time, He shall be called a Nazarene, because he dwelt at Nazareth.
Hence his disciples were called the sect of the Nazarenes; that is, the followers of him that dwelt at Nazareth; and Christ himself is pleased to own the title, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. Acts 22:8
Learn from hence, The great humility of mind that was found in our Savior. He was born at Bethlehem, a little city; he lived at Nazareth, a poor, contemptible place: he aspired not after the grandeur of the world, but was meek and lowly in spirit.
May the same humble mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus!
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