Is it not remarkable that, in comparing the two chapters (Matt. 2 and Luke 2) which give us an account of the earliest days on earth of our Lord, we find that the effect produced by the angelic announcement of His birth in Luke 2 was very small? It appears not to have affected the people of Jerusalem in the least.
The shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night, were the immediate recipients of that wonderful communication from heaven.
Having heard the message of the angel of the Lord—“Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord”—they heard also a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men,” and were so stirred in heart as to go at once to Bethlehem in order to see the thing which the Lord had made known to them. They saw, and made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. They published it generally.
Never had child been born under such auspices, nor introduced by such angelic acclamation, but their declaration was unnoticed. The wonderful saying which the shepherds made known abroad fell on ears dull and apathetic. The public effect was nil. No one appeared to care.
Shepherds! Who would listen to them! They were poor ignorant men, visionaries of some wild delusion. Had the Priests and the scribes carried the report there might have been some reason in hearing it. But shepherds—announcing a Saviour born that day, even Christ the Lord, and He too lying in a manger—impossible, incredible, and only to be ignored.
The story was so unlikely! A Saviour, the Christ, Jehovah, born and lying, forsooth! in the manger of some cattle-shed, swaddled there in circumstances of palpable poverty! Never! A palace would be too mean for such a one! The highest dignities that earth could proffer would be unworthy of the Christ, the Saviour; but that Saviour, the Lord, Jehovah, cradled in a feeding-trough staggers conception.
Yes, the mystery of the grace of the Incarnation has always done so. Nature and reason stand bewildered. The story is either true or false. It is either the greatest act of humiliation (save, indeed, the cross) or the wildest piece of imagination that ever entered, or could enter, the brain of man. Indeed, such an invention is utterly inconceivable.
Ten thousand thanks be to God, the Manger of Bethlehem, ennobled by the presence, in infant form, of Christ the Lord, stands out in all the certainty of a fact divinely attested, and accredited by faith!
But in spite of the common indifference, we find some Simeons, and Annas, and others, even in Jerusalem, who were in expectation of redemption. Anna spake of the Redeemer to all such, and Simeon took Him into his arms, and blessed God that he had now seen His salvation.
Thus we see that the hearts of a few (alas, that there should have been so few!) were prepared to welcome the Lord. But so ever. God has wrought by minorities all along the line and made them His vessels of testimony and triumph. Study these minorities; there are many of them. Consider Noah and his seven; Gideon and his three hundred; Daniel and his three; Paul almost alone. Such minorities saved (as we say) the situation. God uses vessels that lean on Him; and such was the remnant of whom we are speaking, be they poor and unlettered shepherds, or people but little known to the world around them. “The secret of the Lord,” we read, “is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant” (Ps. 25:14). So in this case.
But when, a year or more afterwards, there came wise men from the east (Matt. 2) to inquire in Jerusalem for the King Who had been born, guided as they were by a star which mysteriously, silently, but surely announced His birth, “Herod,” we read, “was troubled, and all Jerusalem with Him.”
The advent of a Saviour, proclaimed as it was by the hosts of heaven, created little or no interest, but that of a King—one born as such—in distinct rivalry to Herod and his superior, the Roman Emperor, caused trouble everywhere.
The messengers were but men—their guide a star; their nationality Gentile; and yet with credentials so meagre their testimony was universally accepted. They were reputed, Gentiles albeit, as wise men, astrologers—Magi—men who read the heavens and their portents. These, therefore, were witnesses far more reliable than illiterate shepherds would be; and so their message told. The city was troubled, from the King downwards. “Where is He,” they asked, who is born King of the Jews?” King, and only King, was their statement. Saviour and Lord they know not. The star signalized only a King—where is He?
Herod, fearful of his rival, appealed to the scribes for help. They turned to the Scriptures—that infallible guide, when truly understood, to eternal facts which are beyond the ray of a star, or the conception of man.
“Bethlehem,” said the scribes; “for thus it is written by the prophet, ‘And thou Bethlehem art not the least among the princes of Juda, for out of thee shall come a Governor that shall rule My people Israel’” (Micah 5:2). Thus did these scribes quote the prophet; they mentioned the “Governor,” but they saw fit to leave out the wonderful words which follow: “whose goings forth have been from everlasting,” (or, as it is in the margin “from the days of eternity”). They concealed the fact that this King was the Lord, Jehovah!
The wise men proceed to Bethlehem, being again led by the star, and coming to the house to which they are directed, they find the young child and Mary, His mother, and present to Him their treasures—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They fall down and worship Him.
But being warned of God as to the cruel intentions of Herod, they depart to their own country by another way. Their visit had caused disquietude and trouble in the city. Such was its effect. No King but Caesar was wanted there, least of all that King who had been born at Bethlehem, whose goings had been “from the days of eternity.” And so Herod, the mere creature of Caesar, wreaks vengeance on all the children of Bethlehem from two years old and under, hoping to destroy his rival “King.”
That King had, however, been carried to Egypt, and not only placed there beyond the power of Herod, but that another Scripture should have its fulfilment—otherwise impossible—viz., “Out of Egypt have I called my Son” (cf. Hosea 11:1). Ponder the words. The Son of God called out of Egypt suggests the beginning of a totally new history for Jew and Gentile, on the proven and utter breakdown of both before God. The Saviour—Christ the Lord, of Luke 2, is the blessed Son of Matthew 2. The Saviour is the King, and the Saviour-King is also Jehovah and Son of God. Wonderful harmonies, truly!