I. CAUSE OF CHRIST'S AUTHORITY BEING CALLED IN QUESTION. The ostensible cause was the events of the preceding day; the real cause Satan's opposition to the work of Christ. On the day before he had displayed his zeal for the sanctity of God's house and the purity of its worship. He is now called to account because of the extraordinary efforts he bad made to put a stop to the public profanation of the house of God, and because of the no less extraordinary authority which he had exercised. Such appears to be the right reference of the ταῦτα in the question, though along with the purging of the temple may be included the miracles of healing that had been performed on the blind and lame who, as St. Matthew informs us, had resorted to him in the temple. Others, with less probability, refer the word to his teaching; for "he taught dally in the temple," as we read in St. Luke. All these, together with our Lord's triumphal entry, had sorely displeased and greatly discomfited the Jewish rulers, who now proceeded to call his authority in question. But the prime mover of this cavilling opposition was Satan. He was pursuing his usual tactics. Good is often done in an informal way, or by voluntary agencies, or by very humble instrumentalities; and Satan, when the fact of the good done is undeniable, stirs up men to impugn the authority or assail the commission of those Christian workers by whom the good is done, thus endeavoring to raise a false issue and stay its progress.
II. GREED OF GAIN VERSUS GODLINESS. The Church has its counterfeits as well as the world; there is no class altogether free from false disguises. Some, perhaps many, of those unholy traffickers who were desecrating the temple so that a second cleansing of it within the short period of three years had become a necessity, fancied they were doing God service and accommodating his worshippers; while their own sordid and selfish interests - their own love of gain and usurious greed - were their real and actuating motives. Was it strange that our Lord was roused to indignation, and resorted to the most active measures to expel from the sacred precincts those dealers in sheep and oxen, with their droves of cattle, those dove-sellers and money-changers, who, under the pretext of supplying the requisites for sacrifices to such as came from a distance, and the temple half-shekels to foreign Jews for their larger coins or coins with heathenish images and inscriptions, had their heart set on driving a profitable trade in this matter of the sacrifices, and their eye fixed on the κόλλυβος, or twelfth of a shekel, as the agio of exchange; while the noisy bargainings, unseemly wranglings, and general hubbub made the house of God resemble one of those caves where robbers quarrelled over their ill-got gains?
III. OUR LORD'S ANSWER TO THE QUESTION ABOUT AUTHORITY. The twofold question about our Lord's authority and its source was put by a deputation from the Sanhedrim - a deputation representative of the three chief sections of that body: namely, chief priests or heads of the twenty-four classes; scribes, the theologians or authorized interpreters of Scripture; and the elders or heads of the principal families. The question of this formidable deputation called forth a counter-question on the part of our Lord; nor was there any evasion in this. By asking them whether John's baptism was of heavenly or human origin, he effectually answered their question, and put them into a dilemma from which there was no escaping. If they admitted John's mission to have been from God, the matter was settled at once and decisively; for John had testified most positively and repeatedly to the Divine mission and consequent Divine authority of Jesus, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world;" and declaring that he would "baptize with the Holy Ghost." The alternative of John's mission being derived from a human source was what they dared not face, for it would bring them into collision with the crowd, and they were too cowardly for that.
IV. THE UNFAIRNESS OF THE QUESTION OF THE SANHEDRIM. Had they not had evidence of Jesus' authority in his exceptionally sinless life in the midst of all the temptations of a sinful world? Had they not evidence of his Divine authority in his teaching? - "for he taught as One having authority, and not as the scribes;" in "the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth"? - for the universal testimony was that "never man spake like this Man." Had they not proof in the miracles which he wrought - not prodigally, but properly and appropriately?
"But who so blind as those who will not see?
In the same country shepherds.Matthew 2:1.-12).
I. THE SHEPHERD COMES FIRST TO THE CRADLE OF CHRIST, BUT THE SAGE COMES TOO; THE JEW FIRST, BUT ALSO THE GENTILE. Here we have —
1. A prophecy that, as in His cradle the Lord Jesus received "in a figure" the homage of the entire world, so at last, in happy, glorious fact, He will receive the adoration of all kindreds and tribes, drawing all men unto Himself by virtue of His cross.
2. A consolation, viz., that even the poorest, the simplest, the least gifted and accomplished, find a welcome from Him, and may Lake rank among the very first in His kingdom.
3. A lesson — that whatever may be the distinctions which obtain among us elsewhere, we are all one in the service of Christ, and should use our several gifts for each other's good, — the shepherd singing his song to the sage, and the sage telling the story of his star to the wondering shepherd.
II. WE MAY LEARN FROM THE STORY THAT IT IS NOT SO MUCH IN THE NUMBER AND MAGNITUDE OF OUR GIFTS, AS IN THE USE WE MAKE OF THEM, THAT OUR TRUE WELFARE AND HAPPINESS CONSIST. The shepherds, ignorant men, condemned to a life of hard toil and scanty fare, tied and bound by the claims of their craft, with few opportunities for joining in the public worship of the Temple, or for listening to the instructions of the Rabbis. Yet, at the bidding of the angel, they leave their flocks, and hasten to Bethlehem to verify the good tidings. The wise men from the East had, in some sort, even fewer advantages and aids than the shepherds. No direct message from heaven was vouchsafed to them. They see a new sign in the sky. They believe that it foretells the advent of some great one upon the earth. How hard it must have been for them to leave the luxuries and honours, and, above all, the scientific pursuits of the Persian palace, in order to encounter the toils and perks of a long and hazardous journey, on the mere chance of finding their conclusion verified! What a noble faith in their scientific inductions, or in the inward leading of God, is implied in their encountering so great a risk or so slight a chance of being bettered by it!
III. If it be true that our place in Christ's service and regard depends on our fidelity in using our gifts rather than on the abundance of our gifts, IT IS ALSO TRUE THAT THE ONLY GENUINE FIDELITY IS THAT WHICH LEADS US FORWARD AND UPWARD. The sages and the shepherds were men who looked before as well as after, men who knew little and were aware of it, or men who knew much and yet accounted that much but little compared with what God had to teach. Let us be followers of them, ever looking for more truth while we walk by the truth we know. And, walking in the light we have, it will grow larger and purer; using the gifts we possess, more will be added unto us.
(S. Cox, D. D.)1. The time, the place, the tidings, the listeners, are all in unison. The shepherds were on historic ground. On those same slopes, on those same hill-sides, David of old had fed his father's flocks, and it was from those same fields that he went forth at God's command to exchange his shepherd's crook for the royal sceptre, and his lowly dress for the purple of a king. It was on these fields, rich with precious memories, that the shepherds lay. It was night, and the sky was cloudless. Hill and dale slept under the beauty of the clear moon, and the quiet flocks were gathered to the shelter of the fold. To such a scene came the first tidings of the world's peace. Not to man's busy haunts, where even in the hush of night the cry of sorrow is heard, and the trouble in man's heart goes on, but to those peaceful folds, sleeping in the bosom of the voiceless hills. The home of peace is not in the world's great centres, but among the shaggy woods and grassy vales and solemn hills. And when the angels came with their messages of peace to earth they came to such a scene as that. They did not choose the Temple in Jerusalem, and from its lofty pinnacle flash their glory on a slumbering city — that would have been at variance with the character of their message, and discordant with the unostentatious spirit of their King.
2. And that humble shepherds were the first to receive the glad tidings is as instructive as it is strange. The event itself was unparalleled, and the simple announcement of it was destined, like a stone cast into the still lake, to extend its influence in ever-widening circles; yet it was to men lowly and obscure, without worldly place or power of any kind, that the first proclamation was made. In the world's view it would have been deemed an utter waste to brighten the sky with angels, and pour down from the steeps of glory cataracts of tumultuous song, for a few poor shepherds. But no consideration speaks more real comfort to our hearts than this. It shows us plainly that there is no respect of persons with God; that in His eye the loftiest and the lowliest are as one.
3. But not only was the message of the angels given to shepherds, it was given to them while they were pursuing their work. Idle men do not receive visions. It is not in the working up of spiritual ecstasy, but in the sober and honest discharge of life's duties, that we are most likely to find God and be found of Him.
4. The shepherds were "sore afraid." But their fear soon gave place to action. When the angels had gone away, they said one to another, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see" — not if the thing is come to pass, but — "this thing which is come to pass." They did not arise and go because they doubted, but because they believed. Ah! it was a grand journey of faith — this of the shepherds from the sheep-folds to the manger, worthy to be inserted in the eleventh of Hebrews. What is our attitude towards the Divine announcements?
5. Having seen the Infant Saviour, they immediately made known their story, first to Mary, who kept all these things and pondered them in her heart, and then to the busy crowd of travellers bustling about the inn. No sooner had they found Christ for themselves, than they made it known abroad that they had found Him.
6. But we do not part company with them here. We are told in the twentieth verse that they "returned" — returned to their ordinary work, to their flocks and folds, to those vales and hills from which they had come, now for ever bright to them with something of the angels' glory, and there, in their own quiet life, they "fought the good fight, and kept the faith." God does not call every man to be an apostle. He wants preachers in private as well as in public. He wants the glad tidings to be told in sheep-folds, and in markets, and in shops, as much as in places set apart for the proclamation. And if for you the world has been transfigured, and common things have received the impress of heaven by the vision of God's salvation, then in the place where your daily lot is cast, in the sphere of your common duties and labours, stand forth a witness for righteousness and for God, preach the gospel of peace and salvation to the sin-stricken, sorrow-laden men and women all around you.
1. His message is good news. The gospel not a threat nor a law, but news of salvation.
2. To all the people — not merely to an elect few. To all classes — not merely to the intelligent and refined.
3. The cause of this joy proclaimed is the advent of Christ, i.e., the Messiah, the Anointed One, the great High Priest who makes atonement for the past sins of His people; a Saviour because He saves His people from their sins themselves.
4. The attestation of His Divinity (ver. 12). The evidence of His Divinity is His love — the fact that He is placed under all the limitations of humanity (see Philippians 2:5-8).
5. Notice also the first approach of the Divine message always produces fear in the heart (ver. 9), and the message of the gospel to the affrighted heart is ever the same, "Fear not."
6. The convert becomes at once a preacher to others (ver. 17).
7. The shepherds publish. Mary ponders. Both the active and the meditative temperament have a place in the Church of Christ.
(Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
(J. H. Newman.)
(See Trench's Poems.)
(Amelia S. Barr.)
(Wm. Jones.)Several of the most gracious Divine manifestations, and most interesting discoveries, concerning the Messiah, were made under the Old Testament, to men who followed this occupation, as, e.g., to Abraham, Moses, David. In like manner, a singular honour was now preparing for the shepherds of Bethlehem, who, from the reception they gave the heavenly message, and the part they afterwards acted, appear to have been believing and holy men, whom Divine grace had taught and prepared to welcome a coming Saviour.
(James Foote, M. A.)Song of Solomon 1:7). They are taken into the warmth of caves or under other cover during the coldest part of winter; the lambs are born between January and the beginning of March, and need to be kept with the ewes in the field, that the mothers may get nutriment enough to support the poor weak creatures, which cannot be taken to and from the pasturage, but must remain on it. That many of them die is inevitable, in spite of the shepherd's utmost care, for snow and frost on the uplands, and heavy rain on the plains, are very fatal to them. Nor is their guardian less to be pitied. He cannot leave them day or night, and often has no shelter. At times, when on his weary watch, he may be able to gather branches enough to make a comparatively dry spot on which to stand in the wild weather, but this is not always the case. I have heard of the skin peeling completely from a poor man's feet from continued exposure. By night, as we have seen, he has often, in outlying places, to sleep on whatever brush he may gather; his sheepskin coat, or an old rug or coverlet, his only protection Perhaps it fared thus with the shepherds of Bethlehem, eighteen hundred years ago, when they were "abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night."
(C. Geikie, D. D.)
Sunday School Times.The business of these shepherds that night was staying out of doors to watch their sheep. It was while they were attending to their business that they had a visit from the angels. If they had been at home, or out at a party, or even in a prayer-meeting, when they ought to have been in that sheep-field on the Bethlehem hillside, they would have missed a sight of the angel of the Lord. If they had been playing on harps at a sacred concert, or ornamenting pottery for a synagogue fair, or even carrying an offering up to the temple at Jerusalem, when sheep-watching was their duty, they would not have heard that song of the angels, or seen the glory of the Lord round about them, or received first of all the good tidings for a lost race. The best place in all the world to be is at the post of duty. Nowhere else can such blessings, temporal or spiritual, be fairly looked for. If the Lord has a good gift or a glad message to one of His children, He sends it to the place where the child ought to be found. If the child is not there, he fails of getting what he might have had to rejoice over. Day or not — night and day, be where you belong. If your duty calls you to stay at home, stay there, and never suppose that you can have a bigger blessing anywhere else. If your duty calls you to be on a steamer, or a railway car, out in the streets or the fields, at a party or a prayer-meeting, in a store or a factory, at a concert or a church-service, in the home of a friend to give counsel or cheer, or in a dwelling of poverty to administer relief, be there, at whatever cost or risk is demanded, and understand that it is safest and best for you to be there only.
(Sunday School Times.)1 Peter 5:4); "the Great Shepherd" (Hebrews 13:20); "the Good Shepherd. that gave His life for His flock" (John 10:11). And so it was not unfit news for the persons to whom it came.
(Bp. Lancelot Andrewes.)
(G. D. Boardman.)
(Bishop Hacker.)The Good Shepherd that giveth His life for His sheep, would first be manifested to those good shepherds that watched over their sheep.
(Bishop Hacker.)Surely these shepherds had heavenly meditations in their minds, and were most religiously prepared, when His ambassador of heaven did approach unto them. And you, my beloved, I speak to one with another, if that innocency and harmlessness were in you that was in them, you would think many a time that a Divine beam did shine upon your soul, and that you had your conversation with angels.
1. The Lord did put on this glorious apparel, even a robe of light to express the Majesty of His Son, who was born to save the world.
2. This lightsome apparition about the shepherds, a type of the light and perspicuousness which is genuine and proper to the gospel.
3. The dark night was brightened with a shining cloud at our Saviour's nativity, to signify that He should be a light of consolation to them that sate in the dark night of persecution and misery. The most obscure things shall be made manifest unto His light, and the thoughts of all hearts shall be revealed unto Him.
4. No sooner was the world blest with the birth of this holy Child, God and Man, but the angels put on white apparel, the air grows clear and bright, darkness is dispelled; therefore let us cast off the works of darkness and walk as children of the light; the earth Should be more innocently walked on to and fro, because Christ hath trod upon it; our bodies kept clean in chastity, because He hath assumed our nature and blessed it.
5. A glimpse of some celestial light did sparkle at His birth to set our teeth on edge to enjoy Him who is Light of lights, very God of very God, and to dwell with Him in that city which hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it, for the Glory of God did enlighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. I conclude with St. Paul (Colossians 1:12).
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