Harmony of the Gospels (Volume XVI)
15. And it happened, after that the angels departed from them
into heaven, that the shepherds then talked among themselves, Let us pass
even to Bethlehem, and let us see what has happened, which the Lord hath
revealed to us. 16. And they came hastening, and found Mary and Joseph, and
the babe laid in the manger. 17. And when they had seen it, they published
concerning the word which had been told them about this child. 18. And all
who heard wondered about those things which had been told them by the shepherds.
19. Now Mary kept all these words, laying them up in her heart.
20. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things
which they had heard and seen, as it had been told to them. 21. And after
that eight days were fulfilled, that the child might be circumcised, his
name was called JESUS: which had been called by the angel before he was conceived
in the womb.
15. After that the angels departed. Here is described
to us the obedience of the shepherds. The Lord had made them the witnesses
of his Son to the whole world. What he had spoken to them by his angels was
efficacious, and was not suffered to pass away. They were not plainly and
expressly commanded to come to Bethlehem; but, being sufficiently aware that
such was the design of God, they hasten to see Christ. In the same manner,
we know that Christ is held out to us, in order that our hearts may approach
him by faith; and our delay in coming admits of no excuse. But again,
Luke informs us, that the shepherds resolved to set out, immediately after
the angels had departed. This conveys an important lesson. Instead of allowing
the word of God, as many do, to pass away with the sound, we must take care
that it strike its roots deep in us, and manifest its power, as soon as the
sound has died away upon our ears. It deserves our attention, also, that
the shepherds exhort one another: for it is not enough that each of us is
attentive to his own duty, if we do not give mutual exhortations. Their obedience
is still farther commended by the statement of Luke, that they hastened,
(ver. 16;) for we are required to show the readiness of faith.
Which the Lord hath revealed to us. They had only heard it
from the angel; but they intentionally and correctly say, that the Lord
had revealed it to them; for they consider the messenger of God to possess
the same authority as if the Lord himself had addressed them. For this reason,
the Lord directs our attention to himself; that we may not fix our view on
men, and undervalue the authority of his Word. We see also that they reckon
themselves under obligation, not to neglect the treasure which the Lord had
pointed out to them; for they conclude that, immediately after receiving
this intelligence, they must go to Bethlehem to see it. In the same manner,
every one of us, according to the measure of his faith and understanding,
ought to be prepared to follow wheresoever God calls.
16. And found Mary. This was a revolting sight, and
was sufficient of itself to produce an aversion to Christ. For what could
be more improbable than to believe that he was the King of the whole people,
who was deemed unworthy to be ranked with the lowest of the multitude? or
to expect the restoration of the kingdom and salvation from him, whose poverty
and want were such, that he was thrown into a stable? Yet Luke writes, that
none of these things prevented the shepherds from admiring and praising God.
The glory of God was so fully before their eyes, and reverence for his Word
was so deeply impressed upon their minds, that the elevation of their faith
easily rose above all that appeared mean or despicable in Christ.3 And the
only reason why our faith is either retarded or driven from the proper course,
by some very trifling obstacles, is, that we do not look steadfastly enough
on God, and are easily "tossed to and fro," (Ephesians 4:14.) If this one
thought were entirely to occupy our minds, that we have a certain and faithful
testimony from heaven, it would be a sufficiently strong and firm support
against every kind of temptations, and will sufficiently protect us against
every little offense that might have been taken.
17. They published concerning the word. It is mentioned
by Luke, in commendation of the faith of the shepherds, that they honestly
delivered to others what they had received from the Lord; and it was advantageous
to all of us that they should attest this, and should be a sort of secondary
angels in confirming our faith. Luke shows also that, in publishing what
they had heard, they were not without success.4 Nor can it be doubted, that
the Lord gave efficacy to what they said, that it might not be ridiculed
or despised; for the low rank of the men diminished their credit, and the
occurrence itself might be regarded as fabulous. But the Lord, who gave them
this employment, does not allow it to be fruitless.
That the Lord should adopt such a method of proceeding as this,--should employ
inconsiderable men in publishing his Word, may not be quite so agreeable
to the human mind. But it tends to humble the pride of the flesh, and to
try the obedience of faith; and therefore God approves of it. Still, though
all are astonished, no one moves a step to come to Christ: from which we
may infer, that the impression made upon them by hearing of the power of
God, was unaccompanied by any devout affection of the heart. The design of
publishing this report was not so much for their salvation, as to render
the ignorance of the whole people inexcusable.
19. Now Mary kept. Mary's diligence in contemplating
the works of God is laid before us for two reasons; first, to inform us,
that this treasure was laid up in her heart, for the purpose of being published
to others at the proper time; and, secondly, to afford to all the godly an
example for imitation. For, if we are wise, it will be the chief employment,
and the great object of our life, to consider with attention those works
of God which build up our faith. Mary kept all these things. This
relates to her memory. Sumballein signifies to throw together,--to
collect the several events which agreed in proving the glory of Christ, so
that they might form one body. For Mary could not wisely estimate the collective
value of all those occurrences, except by comparing them with each other.
20. Glorifying and praising God. This is another circumstance
which is fitted to be generally useful in confirming our faith. The shepherds
knew with certainty that this was a work of God. Their zeal in glorifying
and praising God is an implied reproof of our indolence, or rather of
our ingratitude. If the cradle of Christ5 had such an effect upon them, as
to make them rise from the stable and the manger to heaven, how much more
powerful ought the death and resurrection of Christ to be in raising us to
God? For Christ did not only ascend from the earth, that he might draw all
things after him; but he sits at the right hand of the Father, that, during
our pilgrimage in the world, we may meditate with our whole heart on the
heavenly life. When Luke says, that the testimony of the angel served as
a rule to the shepherds in all that they did,6 he points out the nature of
true godliness. For our faith is properly aided by the works of God, when
it directs everything to this end, that the truth of God, which was revealed
in his word, may be brought out with greater clearness.
21. That the child might be circumcised. As to circumcision
in general, the reader may consult the Book of Genesis, (17:10.) At present,
it will be sufficient to state briefly what applies to the person of Christ.
God appointed that his Son should be circumcised, in order to subject him
to the law; for circumcision was a solemn rite, by which the Jews were initiated
into the observance of the law.7 Paul explains the design,8 when he
says, that Christ was
"made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law," (Galatians
4:4,5.) By undergoing circumcision, Christ acknowledged himself to
be the slave9 of the law, that he might procure our freedom. And in this
way not only was the bondage10 of the law abolished by him, but the shadow
of the ceremony was applied to his own body, that it might shortly afterwards
come to an end. For though the abrogation of it depends on the death and
resurrection of Christ, yet it was a sort of prelude to it, that the Son
of God submitted to be circumcised.
His name was called JESUS. This passage shows, that it was
a general custom among the Jews to give names to their children on the day
that they were circumcised, just as we now do at baptism. Two things are
here mentioned by the Evangelist. First, the name Jesus was not given
to the Son of God accidentally, or by the will of men, but was the name which
the angel had brought from heaven. Secondly, Joseph and Mary obeyed the command
of God. The agreement between our faith and the word of God lies in this,
that he speaks first, and we follow, so that our faith answers to his promises.
Above all, the order of preaching the word is held up by Luke for our commendation.
Salvation through the grace of Christ, he tells us, had been promised by
God through the angel, and was proclaimed by the voice of men.
1 "Les ruminant en son coeur;"--"ruminating on them
in her heart."
2 "Si nous sommes paresseux de le faire, toutes les excuses du monde ne nous
serviront de rien."--"If we are indolent in doing so, all the apologies in
the world will be of no service to us."
3 In the French copy he adds: "En sorte que cela ne les empesche point de
recognoistre la hautesse de sa maiste divine."--"So that it does not hinder
them from acknowledging the height of his divine majesty."
4 "Ils n'ont pas perdu leurs peines;"--"they did not lose their pains."
5 "Si les petits drapeaux esquels estoit enveloppe l'infant Jesus;"-- "if
the little rags in which the child Jesus was wrapped."
6 "Ad quam omnia exigerent."--"Une reigle, a laquelle ils ont rapporte tout
ce qu'ils voyoyent;"--"a rule by which they related all that they saw."
7 "Par lequel les Juifs protestoyent de se soumettre a l'observation de la
Loy;"--"by which the Jews solemnly declared that they would submit to the
observance of the Law."
8 "Finem." -- "La fin ou le but de ceste soumission de Jesus Christ;" --"the
end or design of this submission of Jesus Christ."
9 "Servum."--This might have been supposed to be equivalent to ministrum,
servant, had not the latter clause of the sentence expressly contrasted freedom
with the condition of a slave. But Calvin settles the point by rendering
it serf, slave; by which he evidently means "complete and degrading subjection."
Paul frequently speaks of the state of the Church under the law as bondage,
(Galatians 4:3,9,) and a yoke of bondage, (Galatians 5:1.)--Ed.
10 See passages referred to in the preceding note, in which the term bondage
is applied by an inspired writer to the ceremonial law--Ed.