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feared God were filled with awe at this extraordinary child, and anxiously waited to see for what purpose he had been sent into the world.
His father, Zacharias, was then “ filled with the Holy Ghost," or the Holy Spirit inspired him to prophecy about the coming of Christ. And John grew up, but loved retirement, and went into desert and lonely places, no doubt God holding sweet communion with his spirit, or talking as it were with his holy mind; and so he remained till he came to proclaim Christ's coming, “preaching in the wilderness of Judea,” as we have already seen in Matthew.
The Birth and Early Days of Jesus Christ.
About the same time that John the Baptist was born, Jesus was born also : John was born not more than six months before Christ. At this time Cæsar Augustus, who was the second Emperor of Rome, reigned over that empire, which had become so large from its conquests that it was called “all the world.” Judea, you know, was then tributary to it, or paid taxes to the Roman Government. But a particular sort of tax was now determined on by the Emperor, which is called a poll-tax, or tax upon the head of every person ; and to make sure of all the subjects in the empire, they were obliged to attend in person at an appointed place, and be enrolled, or entered in a book.
It is a remarkable fact, that the Emperor had resolved on this tax twentyseven years before ; but disturbances in the empire distracted his attention, and it was only now, when all the world were at peace, that he had time to attend to it. See here how Providence overrules all things. Had he been able to
purpose into effect before, then the mother of Jesus would not have been there with her husband Joseph, and Jesus would not have been born in Bethlehem, but at Nazareth, where he was afterwards brought up. But if he had been born at Nazareth instead of Bethlehem, then the prophecy respecting him would not have been fulfilled, as recorded in the fifth chapter of Micah, and the second verse, and the fact that he was the true Messiah would have so far been doubtful. But here the ambitious views of a Roman Emperor to fill his coffers with money, were made to bring about the fulfilment of God's promise to his Church, by bringing the
parents of Jesus to Bethlehem, the place prophesied of, where he was born.
At this time one Cyrenius was governor of Syria, which was annexed to Judea, and he had the management of the tax. And every one went to his own city where he was born, or the place where his inheritance lay; and as Joseph's family sprung from David's city, and, indeed, from David himself, though he was now a poor man,-he had to go up to Bethlehem.
The city was so crowded that there was no room for the infant Saviour and his mother in the place called by us the Inn, though rather a sort of lodging-place only. He was, therefore, born and lodged in a place for the accommodation of cattle.
Now there were some shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem, who were lying out watching their flocks at night, to preserve them from beasts of prey, when an angel appeared to them, surrounded with a bright glory, and told them not to be afraid, for he came not to hurt them, but to tell them the glad news, that the long expected Saviour was born. And a multitude of other happy spirits joined the first messenger, and sang in the sweetest strains" Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men "—that is, glory be to God in the highest heavens, and let all the happy spirits there praise him, for peace is now to dwell upon carth in Christ, the great peacemaker between God and guilty men, and every kind of blessing will proceed from him.
And when the angels departed, the shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw Jesus, as the messenger had exactly described him," wrapped in swaddling clothes,” or bound closely up, as was the custom in England about a hundred years ago, instead of infants having their limbs free, as they are now, --and he was “ lying in a manger.” And they told every one they knew what wonderful things they had seen, and praised God for his great merey in sending a Saviour into the world. Let us praise him too.
After this, Jesus was circumcised, a Jewish ceremony, by which he was, a member of the Church of God, and of the Jewish nation. Then he was redeemed, another custom of the Jews; for when God slew all the first-born of the Egyptians, he protected the Israelites, who, according to his command, given through Moses, had sprinkled the lintels and posts of their doors with the blood of the passover Lamb; and from that time he kept up the remembrance of this mercy, by demanding the first-born to be consecrated to him ; " for,” said he, by Moses, “all the first-born of the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote every first
born in the land of Egypt, I sanctified them for myself.” Instead of giving them up, however, to the service of the tabernacle, which was consecrating them entirely to God, as the Levites were,—" the first born of man might be redeemed for five shekels," or about twelve shillings and sixpence of our money, which went to the service of the sanctuary. As no mention is, however, made here of the performance of this custom, it is supposed by some, that “in case of poverty, the priest was allowed to take less, or perhaps nothing." Our Lord's mother also presented her offering, a further custom usual on such an occasion. Had she been able she ought to have presented a lamb for a burnt-offering, and a dove for a sin-offering; but as she was poor, and not able to purchase a lamb, she took two turtle doves; for so the Lord had ordered by Moses, “If she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for a burnt-offering, and the other for a sin-offering : and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.” This custom was to teach the Jews, and us also, that we ought to thank God for all our mercies, and that when we do so, we should express our unworthiness of them by confessing our sins-we must present the sin-offering together with the burnt-offering.
While the infant Jesus was in the temple, there came in a good old man named Simeon, who had been anxiously waiting for the coming of the Messiah ; and God having shown him by his Holy Spirit that the Saviour, whom his heart desired to see, had come, he took him up in his arms, and blessed God that he had lived to see him, and said, he could now depart in peace, since he had seen God's salvation. "One Anna, a prophetess," who was eighty-four years of age, also entered the temple, and " gave thanks unto the Lord, and spake of” Jesus “ unto all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem."
After these things Joseph and Mary, with the infant Saviour, “ returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.”
And the child Jesus was brought up at Nazareth, under the care of his parents, and he waxed, or grew,“ strong in spirit,” giving signs of a wonderful mind, and of great piety, for “the grace of God was upon him."
When Jesus was twelve years old, his parents went up to the temple, to the feast of the passover, in remembrance of the deliverance from Egypt, and he went with them. Not that he had not been before, but something now occurred which made the Evangelist Luke take notice of him at this age. For when the feast was over, and they returned with a number of
other families that had gone for the same purpose, Jesus remained behind. His parents did not miss him till the end of the day; for as he was amiable, and beloved by all who knew him, they supposed that he was among some of their friends and acquaintances on the road; but not hearing anything of him, they became uneasy, and went back the next day to Jerusalem, and it was not till the third day that they found him. But where was he? Not in bad company, for he never stood in the way of sinners ; nor was he at play, for he was of an age to learn, and he was improving his time, and getting knowledge from the doctors of the temple. The teachers of the law were used to instruct the young there, and they were allowed to ask any questions they pleased, for the purpose of learning. Jesus had, therefore, placed himself at their feet, and was "both hearing them and asking them questions.” “ And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers."
His parents wondered to find what he was about, and to see how much he was approved. And his mother gently chided him for having given them so much alarm for his safety; but he replied, "Wist ye not," or, know ye not, " that I was about my Father's business," or, " in my Father's house ?"
His mother remembered this and other sayings, and waited to see what more wonderful would happen as he should grow up to become a man.
So they returned to Nazareth, and there he lived obedient to his parents, and growing in favour "both with God and men;" his behaviour, says the pious Dr. Doddridge, “ being not only remarkably religious, but so benevolent and obliging as to gain the favour and affection of all that were about him."
You will observe that most of these interesting facts about the birth and early days of Jesus Christ, are not mentioned by the Evangelists Matthew and Mark, and are therefore given by Luke.
Christ persecuted at Nazareth.
LUKE III, IV.
We shall now glance at some other matters mentioned by this Evangelist which have not been before noticed, and run through many chapters.
Luke tells us the exact time when John the Baptist made his first public appearance. It was in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea ; and, as the dominions of Herod the Great had been divided after his death, Herod Antipas, one of his sons, was tetrarch of Galilee, or governor of that fourth of his dominions ;
and his brother Philip, tetrarch of another fourth part, which was the region of Ituræa and Trachonitis,-the name which was now given to the tract of land on the other side of Jordan, which had formerly belonged to the tribe of Manasseh,--and Lysanius was tetrarch of Abilene, a fair city of Syria, whose territories reached even to Lebanon and Damascus, and were peopled with great numbers of Jews. At that time, also, Annas and Caiaphas were high priests,--not that there were two real high priests, for the Jews had but one at a time, but one was high priest, and the other assisted him in his office, and so was high priest, as we call it, by courtesy, having the name often given to him without the right to it.
The third chapter contains a long list of names, like the first chapter of St. Matthew. They are, however, reversed in their order, and somewhat different, but both are designed to trace up the genealogy of Jesus Christ through its proper line—that is, to show who were his forefathers after the flesh. Matthew traces it forward from Abraham down to Joseph; and Luke traces it backwards from Mary, or Joseph as the husband of Mary, and so the son, by marriage of Heli, who was Mary's father. In looking through them you will see that Joseph and Mary were both of the house and lineage of David, and therefore Christ was the son of David, as he was called, and the true Messiah who was to spring up in his line.
John the Baptist having been thrown into prison by the wicked Herod, Jesus left his territories and went into Galilee.