The opening verse of this chapter shows how God may use the great
ones of the earth, all unconsciously to themselves, for the
accomplishing of His designs. The case here is the more remarkable
inasmuch as the decree of Augustus was not carried out immediately but
delayed until Cyrenius was governor of Syria. Prophecy however had
indicated Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah, and the decree of
the Emperor came just at the right time to send Joseph and Mary to
Bethlehem, though subsequently the proceedings were stayed for a time.
It was owing to this disturbed state of affairs, no doubt, that the inn
was full, and the fact that the infant Christ was born in a stable was
a testimony to the poverty of Joseph and Mary for then as now
inconveniences can always be obviated by money. It was symbolic however
of the outside place as regards the world and its glory which Christ
was to have from the outset.
Verses 8-20, are occupied with the episode in connection with the
shepherds. This has become so well known in connection with hymns and
carols that we are in danger perhaps of missing its full significance.
Shepherds as a class, were not held in much esteem in those days, and
these were the men who took night duty, unskilled in comparison with
the men who cared for the sheep by day. To these exceedingly humble and
unknown men the angels appeared. Heaven's secret concerning the arrival
of the Saviour was disclosed to such nobodies as these!
The thing becomes even more remarkable when we compare this chapter
with Matthew 2. There the scene is cast amongst the great ones in
Jerusalem-Herod the king, his courtiers, chief priests and scribes-and
they are completely ignorant of this marvellous event for months
afterwards, and then they only hear of it through the wise men of the
east arriving, men who were complete outsiders as regards the nation of
Israel. The explanation is given to us in the words of the Psalmist,
"The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him" (25: 14). God
respects no man's person, but He has respect to humility and integrity
of heart before Himself; so He passed by the grandees in Jerusalem, and
sent a deputation of angelic beings to wait on a small group of
despised night watchmen that they might be initiated into the secret of
Heaven's ways. These shepherds were a few of the godly remnant waiting
for the Messiah, as their subsequent words and actions show us.
First came the message of the angel, and then the praise of the
angels. The great joy of the message centred in the fact that it was as
Saviour that He had come. They had had the Lawgiver and the prophets,
but now had arrived the Saviour, and He was so great an One as Christ
the Lord. This good news was for "all the people,"-not "all people" as
our A.V. has it. For the moment a wider circle than all Israel is not
in view. The sign of this marvellous event was one that never could
have been anticipated. Men might have expected to see a mighty warrior
wrapped in garments of glory and seated on a throne. The sign was a
Babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. But then the
sign indicated the whole manner and spirit of His approach to men at
The praise of the angels is compressed into fourteen words, recorded
in verse 14-though few in number, words of deep meaning. They put on
record the ultimate results that were to flow from the advent of the
Babe. God is to be glorified in the highest seats of His power, the
very place where the slightest slur cast upon His name would be most
keenly perceived and felt. On earth, where since the fall warfare and
strife had been incessant, peace is to be established. God is to find
His good pleasure in men. "Good pleasure in men," is the rendering of
the New Translation. From the moment that sin came in there was no
pleasure for God in Adam or in his race: but now had appeared One who
is of another order of humanity than Adam, owing to the Virgin birth,
which has been so plainly stated in the first chapter. In Him the good
pleasure of God rests in supreme measure, as also it will rest in men
who are in Him as the fruit of His work. Wonderful results indeed!
To all this the shepherds gave the response of faith. They did not
say, "Let us go . . . and see if this thing is come to pass," but "see
this thing which is come to pass." They came with haste and saw the
Babe with their own eyes; then they bore testimony to others. They
could then say, "God has said it, and we have seen it."-the Divine
testimony backed by personal experience. Such testimony is bound to
have effect. Many wondered, and Mary herself kept these things,
pondering them in her heart; for evidently she did not herself yet
understand the full significance of it all. As for the shepherds, they
caught the spirit of the angels, glorifying and praising God. So there
was praise on earth as well as praise in heaven on this great occasion;
and we venture to think that the praise of these humble men below had
in it a note that was absent from the praise of the angels of His might
We are permitted to see in verses 21-24, that all things that the
law enjoined were carried out in the case of the holy Child, and when
presented to the Lord in the temple two aged saints, walking in the
fear of the Lord, were there to greet Him as guided by the Spirit of
God. We have just noted how the great men of Jerusalem were totally out
of touch with God and knew nothing about Him: there were those in touch
with God and they soon new, even though no angel appeared to them. The
Holy Ghost was upon Simeon, and by the Spirit he not only knew that he
should see Jehovah's Christ before he died but also he came into the
temple at the exact moment that the child Jesus was there. So too with
old Anna. Her visit was timed perfectly, so that she saw Him.
Reading verses 28-35, we can feel how affecting the scene must have
been. The old man addressed God and then addressed Mary. He was ready
to depart in peace having seen Jehovah's salvation in the holy Child.
He actually went one step further than the angel, for he recognized
that God's salvation had been prepared before the face of "all
peoples"-the word is in the plural this time. Not only was Jesus to be
the glory of Israel but also a light to lighten the Gentiles. It was
revealed to him that grace was going to flow beyond the narrow borders
It was revealed to him also that the Christ had come to be spoken
against. Dimly perhaps he saw it, but there it was-the shadow of the
cross when the sword should pierce through Mary's soul. This we learn
from his words to her.
We may wonder perhaps that Simeon, having been permitted to live
until he actually held the Saviour in his arms, should have been so
ready to "depart in peace." We might have anticipated that he would
have felt it a tantalizing thing to see the beginning of God's
intervention in this way, and yet have to depart before the climax was
reached. But evidently it was given to him as a prophet to foresee the
rejection of Christ, and therefore he did not expect the immediate
arrival of the glory, and was prepared to go.
He announced that the Child would put Israel to the test. Many who
were high and lifted up would fall, and many who were low and despised
would rise up; and as He would be spoken against and rejected, the
thoughts of many hearts would come to light, as they came into contact
with Him. In the presence of God all men are forced to come out in
their true character, so this feature about Christ was an involuntary
tribute to His deity. Moreover Mary herself should be pierced with
sorrow as with a sword: a word that was fulfilled when she stood by the
The very aged Anna completes this beautiful picture of the godly
remnant in Israel. She served God continually, and when she had seen
the Christ, she "spake of Him."
We may recapitulate at this point by summing up the features that
marked these pious folk. The shepherds illustrate the faith that
characterized them. They accepted at once the word that reached them
through the angel, then their own eyes verified it, then they glorified
and praised God.
Mary exemplified the thoughtful and meditative spirit, that waits upon God for understanding-verse 19.
Simeon was the man who was waiting for the Christ under the
instruction and power of the Spirit of God. He was satisfied with
Christ when he found Him, and prophesied concerning Him.
Anna was one who served God continually, and witnessed of the Christ, when she had found Him.
Lastly, there was great care exercised that every detail concerning
the Christ should be carried out as the law of the Lord had ordained.
Five times over it is stated that the law was observed-verses 22, 23,
24, 27, 39. This excellent feature, we presume must be credited to
Joseph, the husband of Mary-this careful obedience to the Word of God.
We are now waiting for His second advent. How good it would be if in our cases these excellent features were strongly marked.
Verse 40 covers the first twelve years of our Lord's life. It
conveys to us the fact that the ordinary development of mind and body,
which is proper to mankind, marked Him; a testimony to His true Manhood.
This is reinforced too by the further glimpse we are given of Him at
the age of twelve years. He was not teaching the learned men, but He
was hearing them and asking them questions in such a way as to astonish
them as they questioned Him. Here again we see Him fulfilling perfectly
that which is proper to a child of such an age, while displaying
features that were supernatural. His reply to His mother also showed
that He was conscious of His mission. Yet for many years to come He
took the subject place in regard to Joseph and Mary, and thus displayed
all human perfection proper to His years.