The Gospels

(Volume 5 of the Numerical Bible: The Fifth Pentateuch of the Bible)

F. W. Grant.


Scope and Divisions of Luke.

Luke's Gospel gives us "the face of a Man," which naturally connects, therefore, with the numerical place of the Gospel, the number of "manifestation." In no other of the Synoptics are we brought so near God, or is God so unveiled to us, as witness the fifteenth chapter. This connects necessarily with the peace-offering character of Christ's work, the fruit of atonement as seen in the previous Gospels. The shadow is gone from off the face of God.

The "face of a man" goes beyond this, however: for manhood is that which the Son of God has assumed to Himself, not simply to accomplish our redemption, but as for ever the Head of humanity in new creation. All the blessed results are indeed not yet unfolded but the Person is here who owns and acts towards His people in all the human sympathy and affection of such relationship. His manhood is emphasized in all the reality of weakness and dependence, His birth and childhood, growing in wisdom as in stature, frequent in prayer amid all, perfect in obedience, a unique spectacle on earth, so that God's "good pleasure in men," of which the angels unjealously speak, is justified and necessitated. Here God and man meet; with blessing for man which fills heart and life with answering praise.

Even from the Cross, as we contemplate it here, the supreme agony is departed. There is no cry of abandonment; "My God!" is exchanged for "Father." He prays for His murderers; He gives peace to the dying sinner at His side. Salvation is an accomplished thing throughout the book grace, peace, remission of sins, are proclaimed everywhere in it.

There are three divisions only: —
1. (Luke 1 ― 4:13): The unique obedient Man.
2. (Luke 4:14 ― 18:34): A Saviour and His salvation.
3. (Luke 18:35 — 24.): Restoration, its hindrances and accomplishment, and the peace-offering work by which man is brought nigh.


Division. 1. (Luke 1 — 4:13.)

The Unique Obedient Man.

The Person of the Lord is that which is set before us in the first division: the truth, but also the uniqueness of His manhood, born of a virgin mother by the power of the Spirit of God; unique also in the perfection of that obedience, "tempted in all things as we are, apart from sin." It is evident that this is put before us — the reality of what He is — as neither of the previous Gospels develops it. Matthew dwells rather upon His dignity as the Ruler of the people of God. Mark declares Him to be the Son of God, but passes on then immediately to His service, speaking neither of His birth nor human parentage save incidentally at an after-time. John dwells upon His deity, the Word made flesh, the Only-begotten of the Father, where He has no brethren. All in it speaks of contrast rather than human kinship, though Man He truly is. But Luke presents the First-born; which of necessity implies brethren, — the One born of the Spirit, as we are new-born of the Spirit: an immense difference, surely, but which yet gives the connection declared by the apostle (Heb. 2:11), that "both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause," he adds, "He is not ashamed to call them brethren."

The link is not between the Lord as Man and men in general. It was not true as some say, that in becoming Man He became flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. It is we, His people, who are flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone (Eph. 5:30). For this also death had to come in: for "except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone" (John 12:24); and it was in the deep sleep fallen upon Adam, the image of such death-sleep, that Eve was taken out of his side (Gen. 2:21-23).

Thus it is the Sanctifier and the sanctified that are all of one; and yet here also, as already said, there is a difference that is of immense importance. Truly Man as Christ was, and even the Son of man; the power of the Spirit preserved that pure humanity which He took in the virgin's womb from the slightest taint or consequence of evil. Naturally, He was only "that Holy Thing," a "Second Man," unfallen; and more, by virtue of His divine nature, never separable from His humanity, "of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:47) — a heavenly Man.

We must remember, however, that for the doctrine of all this we must go beyond Luke, and indeed, gather from Scripture generally. As we do so, the gospel of the Manhood will more and more reveal to us the Person about whom these texts and truths gather in a constantly increasing radiance of glory. For Scripture has its central theme in Him, even as "all things were created by Him and for Him." His word is as His work, in all parts testifying to Himself.

Luke shows us the perfect Man; welcoming the searching eyes of a hostile world to prove Him; challenging those who gladly would, to find Him aught but the unblemished One; while God commits Himself to Him absolutely as the One in whom He has found His perfect satisfaction and delight. Yet He is not only in the flesh, but "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3). He is in wilderness circumstances, "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;" never sheltering Himself, by the power of the divinity that was in Him, from the common lot of men; never pleading the exemption due to His perfection; from any trial known to man: nay, upon a path which led ever downwards to the lowest humiliation, to death and the place of the Cross. All this was made the means of the fullest possible display of an obedience to God which had no limit, — of a love which Godward was the spring of such obedience, to men an unreserved devotedness; "the good Shepherd," laying down His life for the sheep.

These sheep are wanderers, and He must seek them, if they are to be His own. They must be won out of the ways of sin, made to know His voice, the work of His love done in them. Thus He is the Sanctifier; thus they are sanctified. And this work is shown in Luke as in neither of the former Gospels, though it could not, of course, be omitted in any. But with "Luke, the beloved physician," the remedy for the sin-sick souls must needs have a great place; and so will any acquaintance with the blessed book before us realize it to have in it abundantly the revelation of God's method with all spiritual diseases: the voice of recall and recovery to God sounds everywhere through it.

Subdivision 1. (Luke 1.)

Divine promise fulfilling in sovereign grace.

In the first subdivision we find the events immediately preceding and in relation with the birth of Christ. In them, in the midst of the ruin in which Israel is found (and Israel is but what man is: there is no exceptional betterness that can be claimed for any), God is seen working in pursuance of long-declared purposes, and in sovereign grace. The names of two of those who come before us in the first place in this account are highly significant in this respect. The first is Zacharias, "Jab has remembered"; his wife's name is Elisabeth, the same as Elisheba, "God has sworn." And in his song of praise Zacharias puts these things together. "Blessed be the Lord" — or Jehovah (of which Jah is a contracted form) — "for He has wrought redemption … to remember His holy covenant: the oath that He sware to our father Abraham." Thus is He declared, then; to be acting here.

Thus the spring of all blessing is in God Himself, who from the beginning has pledged Himself in His grace to men, that they might know and so have confidence in it. Thus the New Testament begins for us, with its roots in the Old, new indeed in the fulness of its blessing. He comes who is to bring in the blessing, into whose hands all that concerns human interests and the glory of God can be entrusted without fear. Yet it is Man that is to undertake for man: the Seed of the woman is to bruise the serpent's head; Man is to glorify God where man has dishonored Him; and goodness is to triumph, not by other might but by its own.

1. The introduction to the Gospel is remarkable as showing the unity of thought that runs through the book, even in parts where naturally we should not expect it. Luke's is the Gospel of the Manhood; and "the face of a man" greets us in the opening lines. The human purpose is accomplished in a thoroughly human way, and without the claim of anything more than human. Others have taken in hand to put forth narratives of the events which have been fulfilled among men of late, and which have been handed down to them by eye-witnesses who were also specially accredited as ministers of the Word. The attempts themselves show the desirability of giving permanent form to what as tradition was liable so soon to change and to perversion. The writer had given special attention to this subject, and had traced out all things accurately from the first. He writes therefore to his brother-Christian Theophilus, that he might have certainty about the things in which as a Christian he had been instructed.

He claims no commission from the Lord to write his Gospel. He sees a want existing which he is competent to supply, and he supplies it. He does not even speak or think apparently of writing for the Church as a whole, or what would meet the general need. It is for Theophilus. He says nothing of inspiration. Divine love in him sets him to do what he can to establish in the faith one in whom he is interested; and in result he has written what the whole Church has owned to be of God for all.

It is a beautiful example of how naturally the Spirit of God works, or may work, in what we term inspiration. The instrument He uses is not like a mere pen in the hand of another. He is a man acting freely — for "where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty" — as if from his own heart and mind alone. He uses all the means he has got, and uses them diligently. You are quite prepared to find in his work the character of the writer: why should not He who has prepared the instrument, use it according to the quality of that which He has prepared? Why should He set aside the mind which He has furnished, any more than the affections of the heart which He has endowed? Why, too, should He who fed the multitudes from the loaves and fishes already provided, set aside what the zeal and diligence of the disciple had "accurately traced out"? It was that before-made provision which the Lord blessed and which common men after their own fashion distributed; and who shall tell us just what it was, wondrous as was the change, that the blessing of the Lord had added to it?

The Author of nature is not jealous of nature: He is Lord of it. Amid laws that He has imposed on it, He moves freely, working His own will, so that we are apt to ask, Where is He? when we should ask, Where is He not? And, even when the greatness of the work accomplished demonstrates that here is the Almighty Worker, we look at the ease and simplicity of the accomplishment, and wonder how can it be He?

This is the lesson of Luke's introduction; so suited as an introduction to the One who comes to us with the face of a Man, and speaks to us with a human tongue. As is He, so is His word: in which also the human element misread has been made to banish or diminish the divine; to put God into the distance, instead of bringing Him completely nigh.

Luke says nothing explicitly of inspiration; but he knows the power of what he has to communicate to give certainty as to the Christian verities: a certainty which clearly neither tradition for more than a first generation or so could give, nor an inaccurate, however well-intentioned, account of them. This is the ground of his own writing: he has traced out "accurately" all things from the first. How short a time it was that this tradition had existed! Luke was himself the companion of Paul the apostle; yet already it was needful to take measures for giving a settled form to it, and trace out things accurately. We can see that he has not claimed as much as he has really done: for he has given us one part of a fourfold history of Christ, furnishing together what we need to know of Him in all His various value for the soul. He has pictured for us among these the Man, Christ Jesus, distinct from all other views, yet absolutely accordant; pursuing the line of truth entrusted to him with a simplicity of purpose which moulds every part of his Gospel; while the fulness of divine grace in it speaks and will ever speak as from the full heart of God to men.

One thing we must add to this, which naturally connects with it, that we have in Luke the first and only Gentile writer, that we are aware of, in the Bible; and that he writes to Theophilus, evidently another Gentile; by the title of "most noble" applied to him, as to Festus by the apostle (Acts 26:25), still or recently in some similar position of honor. Thus the gospel was going out among the heathen while Israel had turned the back upon it. Here was grace indeed in its fullest expression; and it is characteristic of what is presented to us here.

2. (1) The history opens with what is highly significant. Zacharias is a priest, of the course of Abiah, in the days of Herod the king, and his wife is of the daughters of Aaron, and her name is Elisabeth. All is outwardly in order, though the days are evil days in Israel, as the name of Herod stamps them sufficiently. Yet the priests serve in their courses in the temple, according to what David had established, Zacharias being of the course of Abiah, "my Father is Jah," significantly, the eighth course. Not only this, they are both righteous before God, blamelessly walking in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. They are advanced in years, however, and without children: Elisabeth ("God's oath") is barren.

The whole is a picture of Israel, the priestly nation, not at its worst but at its best, as seen in a remnant, such as God's grace always maintained there, but which, under law dispensationally, could not inherit the promises. Nevertheless Jah could remember His oath, but only through the Kinsman Redeemer now to arise, and of whom the Gospel of Luke speaks.

(2) Zacharias comes, then; in the order of his course into the temple, his lot being to burn incense when he went in. The lot is the expression of the sovereign will of God, which in man's extremity has ever been his resource. Incense is the fragrance of Christ to God: not perhaps of atonement, but rather of Christ personally. And this is what is in view here. By and by it will be seen that atonement must be by His blood, and types and prophecies had long since declared this; yet in fact, historically when He did come the necessity of His death was kept much in the back-ground. Even the Baptist's pointing to the Lamb of God would seem from his after questions not to have been to himself so clear as we should naturally imagine it must have been. In general, at least, the reserve at first seems to be unquestionable: the incense came before the blood; as on the day of atonement it did also.

Zacharias, then; at the incense-altar sees the angel of the Lord. He stands at the right side of the altar — the right hand of power: for the power of that of which the altar speaks is with him: his visit is, as we see immediately, the expression of the sweet savor of Christ to God.

(3) Yet fear falls upon Zacharias: alas, this cannot surprise us; we are but too well accustomed to such misinterpretations of divine goodness on the part of His own. God means us good, and we charge Him with evil. Through lack of being perfected in the lesson of His love, the fear which has torment takes possession of us. How often has He to say to us, "Fear not," when He is about to give us perhaps the very blessing we have long sought.

So is it at least with Zacharias: the angel has to tell him that his prayer is heard, and a son is to be born to him; a rejoicing not to himself only but to many: for he comes, filled with the Spirit, to turn many to God in Israel, going before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to make ready for the Lord a people.

4 But Zacharias, though fearing God, is but too much after the pattern of his generation; and seeking a sign to satisfy him of what an angel has been sent from God to declare, gets the sign in his own person; being made dumb until the fulfilment of the angel's words. Thus also the priestly office has failed in Israel, her oracle is silent, her witness is that of judgment upon herself. The multitudes gaze upon her, only to behold her dumb: till by and by her season is fulfilled, and "God's oath" is no longer barren.

5 In the consciousness that God is taking away her reproach Elisabeth hides herself. It is in this way that grace works. If God is with one, and this is known aright, it will not exalt but humble. Nothing, indeed, will duly humble but His presence: in the light of this who can exalt oneself?

3. (1) The angel Gabriel* is sent from God in the sixth month (of Elisabeth's pregnancy) with a more important message. Heaven, after the long silence of centuries, is once again communicative, and in Luke in a more familiar way than Matthew, where it is Joseph who receives the messages, but in a dream. Here we have open face to face speech, and the most important not in the temple, but in a private dwelling. God is coming near in His grace; and always the nearer He comes the more fully He reveals Himself.

{* Gabriel means the "might of the Mighty One."}

Not only is the angel's mission now not to the temple nor to Jerusalem, it is to Galilee of the Gentiles, and to Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man named Joseph, of the fallen house of David: the virgin's name is Mary, or Miriam ("exalted"). All is in ruin here, when God comes in to revive and raise to higher glory.

By the favor of God she is to have a Son; who will be called the Son of the Most High, and, through her the Son of David, shall receive His father's throne, but with unending empire. Then; in answer to Mary's question, it is declared that the Holy Spirit should come upon her, and power of the Highest overshadow her, so that the Holy Thing born should be called the Son of God. This is not, then; the truth of incarnation declared, though, of course, in perfect accordance with it; it is that of a Man born by divine intervention, without human father, — Son of God, but as Man. And this is Luke's theme: it is the Gospel of the Manhood.

Son of man, He is yet a Second Man; a Man without taint of the fall: a new Adam we cannot speak of as yet; for to this two things are needed, which are not as yet brought out: His full, proper Deity, and His atonement. We have had both, of course, in the previous Gospels: we shall find them all, I think, for the first time connected in the Gospel of John.

Mary yields herself to the Lord's will.; and the angel departs from her.

(2) Before departing, however, he has referred her to Elisabeth, as a sign of the power of God at work, to which nothing is impossible, and Mary, who has asked for no sign to be given her, yet "drinks of the brook in the way," and goes "with haste," as one feeling the weight of what had been communicated to her, to seek refreshment in the company of her kinswoman, linked with her as she is in faith, and now by this new work of God which is beginning to accomplish the long looked for blessing. She enters the house of Zacharias and salutes Elisabeth.

Here the tender mercy of God meets her with a surprise. When Elisabeth hears the salutation of Mary, the very babe within her leaps for joy, and the Spirit fills her at once with divine intelligence. She cries out to her, "Blessed art thou among women," repeating the words of the angel* which had been matter of wonderment to her before. She adds, "And blessed is the fruit of thy womb," and then expressly addresses her as the mother of her Lord, at whose voice the babe had leaped in her womb for joy. Blessed, she declares her to be also, in the faith which had received the divine message; and there would be an accomplishment of that which had been spoken to her from the Lord, — from Jehovah.**

{*If the majority of the MSS. have here preserved the text; and one does not see why, upon such an occasion as the present, the repetition of the words should not have been intended as divine comfort and strength for Mary.

**Wherever "Lord" is without the article in the Greek, or bracketed in the text here, it stands for Jehovah in the Hebrew, which in the Greek Septuagint is always "Lord."}

(3) Thus, if the unbelief of Zacharias meets with rebuke, though tender rebuke, from God, the faith of Mary receives abundant encouragement. Her heart overflows as she realizes the grace that has made her answer to her name, and she pours out her soul in a song of praise which reflects much that of Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1-10). It is in fact largely an Old Testament strain, a psalm such as might well become a daughter of David; only with the new gladness of the promises to the fathers being just fulfilled, a covenant going back of Moses to Abraham and his Seed: a ground of blessing to all the families of the earth.

There are three parts; the first of which speaks of the power of God which has intervened in grace to deliver and bless with a blessing that shall resound through following generations. Soul and spirit unite in joy and praise; and the great things done proclaim the holiness of His Name; His mercy is to many generations of those that fear Him.

The second part shows, in view of what the world is, the complete reversal of things when God comes in. The pride of man is smitten down before Him; rulers are put down from their thrones, and the lowly exalted, the hungry are filled and the rich sent empty away.

The third part gives the blessed fact in which all this is realized. God has remembered His promises to the fathers, seemingly so long forgotten, — mercies only, for Israel's utter failure could allow no possible claim. All the more did they witness to what was in Him, and so could not fail. The help come to Israel was indeed but what enclosed a purpose of wider blessing which the promise to Abraham unconditionally declared.

For in fact the Christ of Israel is the Son of man; the Seed of the woman bruises the serpent's head; life, righteousness and sanctification are in Him who (crucified through weakness) is the wisdom of God and the power of God by grace through faith alike for all.

4. And now, Elisabeth's full time having come, she brings forth the promised son. Her neighbors and kindred come round her, hearing of the Lord's mercy, and rejoice with her. Upon the circumcising of the child on the eighth day the name was given, as then he came into covenant place and privilege; and the friends propose for the son of Zacharias his father's name. But the mother says, "Nay, but he shall be called John," and the father, when appealed to, confirms this. Immediately his mouth is opened and his tongue loosed; and he speaks out, blessing God. Thus too will Israel when she has learnt to call the offspring of her old age "the grace of Jehovah," find her tongue loosed, and bless God. And the hand of Jehovah will again be with the remnant that He has raised up.

5. The prophecy of Zacharias, filled with the Spirit, celebrates, as has been already said, Jehovah's remembrance of the covenant oath. The first part declares His faithfulness in this: He has become once more the God of Israel, as redemption witnesses. A horn of salvation; a Saviour, has been raised up in the house of David, a deliverance from all their enemies, that thus delivered they may serve Him without fear, in piety and righteousness.

The second part is more evangelic; and John appears in it as more than the austere messenger of repentance. He is the fore-runner of Jehovah Himself, to prepare His ways; to give the knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins. This is quite according to the character of the peace-offering Gospel; and it is striking to find it at the very beginning. God is manifested thus in the tenderness of His compassion, in which the day-spring from on high chases away the shades of night where men sit hopeless, and guides the feet into the way of peace.

Thus the unbelief which had clouded Zacharias, vision in the temple disappears, and the blessing of the people, which had been hindered by the chastening hand upon him, is restored and multiplied. Indeed it seems as if now Israel's full blessing were at hand: as it was really, if only they had heart for it. Who could imagine that their own refusal was to put away from them for now nearly two millennia what was then close at hand? Yet come it shall, for God has promised it; and its coming cannot surely be much longer delayed.

Subdivision 2. (Luke 2.)

A Saviour, and a testimony to Him.

As compared with Matthew — the only other Gospel which gives at all the circumstances of His birth or infancy — the account of the Lord's coming into the world is clearly in keeping with the Gospel of the Manhood. There is no incident that the two have in common; and each maintains its own character with the most perfect consistency. In the one the Gentile magi may come to do homage to a King of the Jews; in the other, to shepherds in the field heaven opens to announce a Saviour. The testimony of Simeon and Anna is also to a Saviour and salvation. His circumcision, and the offerings at His presentation to the Lord, alike show Him to us in the "likeness of sinful flesh"; while His growth and development testify to the verity of His Manhood. These things are in full accord with the truth presented in Luke, — each one being necessary to it.

1. How thorough is the humiliation into which He is come is shown by the circumstances of His birth. Caesar is lord of the world, and orders it as he will, for his own purposes. How different a world from that which He had made at the beginning; yet He is in it as under Caesar's rule, Joseph and Mary being brought out of Nazareth to Bethlehem to be enrolled as of David's line. Spite of all this, the power of the world is unconsciously working to fulfil a prophecy concerning One it knows not; and this being accomplished, the design drops through as if it had never been: "the census itself first took place when Cyrenius (or Quirinus) was governor of Syria" — some years afterward.

Thus the Lord of all is born a Man, among men His creatures, and laid in a manger, because there is no room for them in the inn. Sad sign; surely, of men's condition; when their Maker, come to be their Saviour, prophesied of in every particular as coming, heralded even now by angelic visitation; could come after all unnoticed and unknown!

2. As already said, in Luke the announcement is, not of a King of the Jews, but of a Saviour; and it is not to the great or wise, but "to the poor the gospel is preached." To shepherds keeping watch over their flocks, the news is brought of the Good Shepherd who goeth after that which is lost; and here it is not a star in the heavens that is the sign, but heaven itself opens, and the angels bring a direct face to face message, while the glory of the Lord shines round about. Good tidings of great joy there are for all the people: a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. And now there is a sign: what is it? Not a sign in heaven, but a little babe, and wrapped in swaddling clothes. Not in a king's palace, but lying in a manger!

How unlike are the thoughts of God to those of men! The Deliverer is a Son of man; nay, the Seed of the woman. Divine power has clothed itself in weakness to accomplish that for which mere power was not competent: for the battle here is not to the strong; an infant bound in swaddling-bands is no symbol of strength, nor a manger that of favoring circumstances, but the very opposite. Still, in such a conflict as is here impending, difficulties may be used to manifest the overcomer, as darkness to bring out the stars, And in a world ruled by God, there must after all be victory in goodness, which the stripping off of mere strength may make plain; nay, the accumulation of all that we conceive as power on the opposite side.

This little babe brings out the praise of angels, if the earth is silent and asleep. The hosts of heaven praise on man's behalf, and with a fuller praise than when, at creation first, "all the sons of God shouted for joy:" "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good pleasure in men."

Sin has dishonored God, and thus introduced conflict where all was harmony. Man; the image of God, set over all else on earth, has fallen lower than was possible for the beast, and after centuries of trial has only demonstrated the impossibility of self-recovery. The first man has had children in his own image, himself repeated in every one of them but too faithfully. But now, at last, there is a Second Man. At last God is glorified in the scene of His dishonor, nay, in a manner which has given heaven itself such a theme of praise as it has never known before. Here is for earth's wounds a healing power, for its conflict peace, if delayed yet assured; and for men more than justification of wisdom's old delight in them. The Second Man becomes the last Adam of a new humanity, the embrace of God for a renewed creation.

So the angels depart, and the shepherds go their way to Bethlehem, to find all as the angels had declared, and to make known to others what they have heard and seen. All who hear it wonder; Mary ponders it in her heart; the shepherds praise and glorify God.

3. After the testimony of angels we have now that of the Spirit of God when Jesus is presented to the Lord: a fitting occasion; and the witness that of One who from the beginning inspired the prophets to speak and write of Him. Besides Simeon and Anna, the types and shadows of the Old Testament find here their suited place, though the Antitype of necessity transcends them all.

(1) First, He is circumcised, and receives at that time the significant name given Him before His birth — that of Jesus. He is afterwards presented to the Lord as a first-born Son; or as the law expresses it, one opening the womb. While next we hear of a sacrifice presented on the part of His mother, as to which He declares in the burnt-offering psalm, "In the volume of the book it is written of Me" (Ps. 40:7). All this we must briefly look at.

His circumcision; as the apostle says of this, makes Him "debtor to do the whole law" (Gal. 5:3). "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son; come of a woman, come under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Gal. 4:4-5). He thus pledges Himself to full legal obedience, which on His part is to have no relaxation. To others He is to be the Source of a grace which for Himself He is never to know. And the law itself marks out for Him a special place, apart from all others.

At His circumcision it is that He receives the name of "Jesus" (Jehovah the Saviour) of which it was said, "Thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). He comes under the law as the Redeemer from under it.

As such we find Him directly under the law of the first-born; and presented to the Lord. Every first-born son is holy to the Lord, and thus God claims the whole family as His; thus He acknowledges the claim and presents them to Him. "We have already seen what family this is of which He is the First-born. It is not Mary's; though through His mother He may have brethren merely human. But the true family must be sons of God, though also human. It is in the very idea, a human family, as He is presented as One opening the womb. On the other hand, the whole human family it is not; while yet again all men are invited and urged to become members of it. Those who do so are thus "sons of God, by faith, in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26), as He is true Man, and Son of God as Man also.

In Hebrews, in which He is distinctly called "the First-born" (Heb. 1:6), occurs the passage in which is affirmed at the same time His kinship with and His great diversity from, those whom, because they are all of one with Him, He is not ashamed to call His brethren (Heb. 2:11). Yet He is the Sanctifier, they are the sanctified; and forasmuch as they are partakers of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise took part in the same (ver. 14); for in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people (ver. 17, Gk.).

We see, then, what this relationship as First-born involves for Him. He is taking up a path peculiar to Himself. He is acknowledging the claim of God upon that family with which He is in true and abiding relationship, and who are in Him presented to God. But these are sinners: they are those who are to be "sanctified" by Him, — "sanctified," as the epistle itself explains it, "by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ" (Heb. 10:10), His priestly work is the offering of Himself (7:27). Immediately here, therefore, the shadow of this tells over His path: Mary, His mother, must bring her offering for purification (see Lev. 12, Notes). He is "in the likeness" — only in the likeness, but still that — "of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3). His connection with a human mother brings for Him that shadow which acquired its fullest character, as it found its explanation; in the darkness of the Cross. He touches here the margin of that which Be was to know in all its dread reality. For He was to be Himself the sacrifice to put away the shadow, and that how gloriously! shadow dispelling shadow evermore.

The sacrifice here is, as we know, the sacrifice of the poor. It is, at the same time, that which if it does not speak of fullest sacrifice, does surely of the Heavenly One; and the dove or pigeon is the only sacrificial bird required in the law.

(2) It is as thus presented to the Lord that the testimony of the Spirit is given as to Him. We find once again the people who fear God, and with whom the secret of the Lord is, not among the heads of the nation, but little known of men; though in communion with one another as those upon whom the Spirit of God is. Of Simeon we know nothing but his character as just and pious and waiting for the consolation of Israel. It was not merely for his own; even spiritual good: his heart longed for the blessing of the people of God, keenly feeling their condition and what alone could meet it, — Who alone could bring effectual comfort. To him it was given by the Spirit to know that he should not see death till he had seen the Christ, Jehovah's Anointed.

He comes, therefore, into the temple at the time Jesus is brought in, and taking Him into his arms, breaks out in praise. This praise, moreover, goes far beyond the consolation of Israel, while it includes this: for the bud of God's promise has a sweeter, richer unfolding than the promise itself implies. Simeon, no doubt, did not realize all that his words pointed to, and there were still developments to be in the day just dawning.

(a) He begins with what is personal to himself. God is acting in His sovereignty, and he can rejoice: for sovereignty with Him means sovereign goodness; He has fulfilled His word to him, and now he may depart in peace. What, indeed, could man have sought or imagined on God's part so blessed as He has done? Who could have thought of what the Babe in Simeon's arms meant for the heart that could take it in?

(b) Simeon knew, at last, that here was God's salvation. If not as yet wrought out, here was the Worker of it; and his faith did not fail as he contemplated the weakness of those infant hands to which it had been committed. Already his eyes had seen it: a salvation which as such, though it might come from Israel, could not be shut up in Israel; nay, God had prepared it before the face of all the peoples. Could it be less in God's desire than world-wide, with the same need on all sides calling for it?

(c) Israel and the Gentiles must be both in the purpose of God; and so much had the Old Testament already declared should be; but Simeon puts them in another order than the Old Testament. "A light," he says, "for the revelation of the nations:" to bring those that had been hidden; sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, into the light of divine blessing. And then "the glory of Thy people Israel." But this will be more fully declared as we go on.

(3) Simeon does not see the bright side only, nor imagine that even God's message of salvation will be at once welcomed because of the need men have of it. While Joseph and Mary wonder at the things that are spoken of Him, he turns to the mother with the warning of what divine light will reveal as to the hearts of men. The Child was appointed for the fall as well as the rising up of many in Israel, and as a sign — surely the most significant that could he — yet to he spoken against. Yea. a sword would pierce through her own soul also. For the presence of Christ as light would bring all to light.

(4) Anna completes the number of these witnesses. All else have failed with her; but she has been brought into the wilderness only that God may speak comfortably to her. She is a true child of Asher, the "happy," and of Phanuel, the "face of God;" her name Anna, "grace," identifying her with the principle of a life like hers, where fastings and prayers are but love's service, and her prophesying the outflow of intercourse with God. A blessed picture! Christ will surely be with such the thanksgiving of the heart, and the theme of the tongue. Already it was so with those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

4. The visit of the magi and the consequent flight into Egypt are omitted in this Gospel; on the other hand we have here the only notice of the Lord's youth. It naturally finds its place in the Gospel of the Manhood, being evidently intended to show the truly human development of this. The words are simple and natural, with no pretentiousness of knowledge and yet no plea of ignorance; no apology indeed of any kind; no attempt at explanation or reconciliation. We find in them a true, while yet a perfect Child; growing mentally, just as we have no doubt He grew in body; filled with wisdom, no room in Him for folly at any time: His heart turned constantly to God, and so the favor of God resting ever upon Him. Little do we realize how spiritual aim affects the mental capacity. These points are at the end of the chapter taken up once more and emphasized: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

Between these statements we have that story of His youth, which shows what His aim was, — the way in which already, at twelve years old, He was occupied with His Father's business. This was the age at which the Jewish child began to come up to Jerusalem at the festivals; and here for the first time it was, no doubt, that the schools of the greater Rabbis were open to Him. How great must have been the attraction to Him of the teaching and discussions of the spiritual leaders of Israel, with whom He was to be in relations so different at a later time! Thus He remains at Jerusalem, after the company with whom He had been had left it on the return to Galilee, and is found there by Joseph and His mother on the third day "in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing them and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers."

Yet how little did those know Him who should have known Him best upon earth! "And when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother" — she who had learnt of Him from angels, lips, and had been pondering in her heart so much already — "said to Him, Child, why hast Thou dealt thus with us? behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee in distress." From the mere human side of things that was no wonder; but alas that we should be so much at the mere human side of things! "And He said unto them, Why is it that ye sought Me? did ye not know that I ought to be about My Father's business?" It is strange indeed that any should think that this was His own waking up to such a thought. For in this case how could He speak of it as a strange thing that they should not before have had this thought? On the contrary, it is plain they ought to have understood it from all that they had ever seen of Him. This absolute devotedness had been His "wisdom" ever, only manifested more as His child-life expanded into youth and manhood. Thus this visit to Jerusalem, and to what He afterwards used to call His Father's house, comes in between His earlier and His later life in Nazareth, giving the character of it all, while He filled too His place in that human family life, which was His Father's will for Him, subject to the authority of those who at best knew Him so little. Still His mother kept in her heart and thought upon what was still beyond her, God's favor towards Him more and more manifesting itself as the development went on of that which, for the present, drew out man's favor also. For as yet He had not come forth into that place of public ministry and appeal on God's part which would lead on to His rejection by those after whom in grace He had come, and for one brief, awful moment to the transcendent sorrow of the abandonment of the cross also. But thus were His words to be fulfilled, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me" (John 12:32).

Subdivision 3. (Luke 3 ― 4:13.)

Manifested and Sealed with the Spirit.

We have next, after eighteen years more of silence from that passover at Jerusalem, the manifestation of Christ in the midst of Israel. His forerunner, John; proclaims Him as at hand; then, after His baptism by John; He is borne witness to by the Father's voice from heaven; is openly sealed by the Spirit of God descending in bodily form, like a dove, upon Him; lastly, He is vindicated under trial, tempted by the devil in the wilderness. In all this, Luke follows in the track of the other Synoptic Gospels; although Mark omits the details of the temptation. We shall seek to compare the three accounts as we may be enabled.

1. The first part is introductory, the voice of the Old Testament in the New, John the Baptist coming in the way of righteousness, as the Lord characterizes him, and therefore with his baptism of repentance, since the legal requirement of righteousness only brands all men as under hopeless condemnation; and repentance is but the heart-acknowledgement of this, that grace may appear in its own sovereignty. Luke is fuller in detail here than either Matthew or Mark, though he has less of austerity in the Baptist's ways: neither his rough dress nor diet is mentioned. On the other hand the way of the Lord is more insisted on as to be prepared only by the bringing down of the mountains and the filling up of the valleys, — bringing all flesh to a common level before God, that the salvation of God may be seen by all. Thus baptism is to Jordan; the river of death, to which men's sins bring them, and not their goodness, but to find remission.

The very description of the time shows the condition of ruin in Israel — of the people under law. Even the show of a united kingdom in Israel is gone, Herod's being quartered — the sign of weakness being stamped upon it in the tetrarchies; and a fourth part, Judea itself, under a Roman governor. The high priesthood is divided between the two Sadducees, Arenas and Caiaphas. Judah is losing its tribal rod, and Shiloh must appear, to gather the peoples.

John's is truly a solitary voice in a barren land. It is characteristic of Luke that what is addressed in Matthew to Pharisees and Sadducees is here to the people at large. They can no longer plead the privileges of children of Abraham. The axe is at the root of the trees; while on the other hand, God is able to raise such out of the very stones. To those who ask of him what they are to do, he prescribes no asceticism, but practical righteousness and love; while yet no claim upon God is allowed on this account. As the Lord says at an after-time, no such claim is possible for a creature: "when ye have done all say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which it was our duty to do."

2. But John does not end with this. The people, full of expectation, are reasoning in their hearts whether this might be the Christ; and this brings him out to disclaim entirely any such pretension. He is not fit to loose the shoe-latchet of Him who comes after him. He would baptize, not with water merely, but with the Holy Spirit and fire. He would purge His threshing-floor, separating between the wheat and the chaff: the one preserved for the garner, the other to be burnt up with unquenchable fire (See notes on Matthew pp. 55, 56.)

Luke passes on with this to John's imprisonment at the hands of Herod, and the occasion of it; the fore-runner precedes also in his suffering and death the Prince of sufferers.

3. The Father's voice is now heard owning His beloved Son, upon whom the Spirit descends out of the opened heaven; in bodily form like a dove. He is thus now in full reality the Christ, the Anointed; the Spirit of God finding a congenial habitation in a "Second Man," the First-born of a new family, from whom, however, the stream of blessing flows back also through the ages, so that Adam shall once more, though not as of the old creation; be the "son of God."

(1) The meaning of the Lord's baptism by John has been considered in Matthew. It was the pledge on His part to that other baptism unto death in which He met the need of those who as sinners took their place in death their due. In Luke alone it is noticed that He is praying; which we may thus connect with His prayer in Gethsemane, and with Heb. 5:7. Thereon heaven opens, as in fact that death opened it, and the Spirit descends on Him in bodily form like a dove. The dove being the bird of sacrifice, Christ and the Spirit of Christ are One as seen in it, the First-born — man as presented by Christ in this new family — being wholly according to His mind. Thus the Voice from heaven owns Him: Thou art My beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased."

So had the angels declared God's "good pleasure in men," as that which the Babe of Bethlehem bore witness to and justified. "Whom He foreknew He also fore-ordained to be conformed to the image of His Son; that He might be the First-born among many brethren."

(2) Thus a genealogy follows here traced backward, and not, as in Matthew, forward; and not to Abraham merely, as in Matthew, but to Adam. It is a genealogy, not of the King, (and so giving the legal title, the descent from David) but of the Son of man.

But what need of a genealogy in this case? If He be man; must He not be Son of man — of Adam? True; and so, as has been said, the stream runs backward. The Son of man is also the Second Man; and each link in the chain at least suggests a link of salvation. Thus the genealogy is not put in connection with His birth, but with that coming forward to be baptized of John in Jordan, which was His entrance upon His ministry of salvation; and He is then thirty years of age, the time of the commencement of Levite service.

Son of man as He is generically, Christ is no less Seed of the woman; and it is doubtless Mary's line that is given us here. Joseph is, as husband of Mary, the son of Heli. In the Gospel of the Manhood it is as naturally Mary who would be before us, as in the Gospel of the Kingship it would be Joseph; and the respective histories conform themselves to this.

4. (1) The temptation in the wilderness follows the public testimony of God to His Son. It is founded on it: — "If Thou be the Son of God"; and necessarily follows it. This is the divine order: for it would have been dishonor to both, if God had waited to see if His Son could stand all tests before approving Him. On the other hand that approval was a challenge to the accuser, the Spirit leading Christ in the wilderness forty days, while Satan was permitted to assail Him. Fasting and hungry with the famine of those days upon Him, the devil appeals to Him, if He be the Son of God, to put forth His power and make bread of the stones which are around Him. Thus He would take Himself out of the place of dependence by using a power which had not been given to man. But the true life of man is not that which is sustained by bread but by the word of God. Obedience, dependence, communion; are its characteristics and its strength. Against one walking in such a path all the suggestions of the enemy are unavailing.

2 The second and third temptations are in reverse order in Matthew and Luke. The historical order seems to be that which is found in Matthew, the second being marked by "then" as following the first; while the third is marked as the closing one by the Lord's "Get thee hence, Satan," which lays bare and dismisses the tempter. Indeed the proposal here in its very nature seems to close the whole matter. Yet there must, of course, be a reason for the change in order here, and that whether we are able or not to discover it; the limit of our knowledge is not that of the word of God which He has given us.

The first answer of the Lord to Satan has shown us man in the true life of dependent obedience for which he was created. Than such a life there could be nothing freer, nothing happier, nothing nobler. Living such a life, the world was his, and all was subjected to him as the image of his Maker. Aspiring to independency he lost it all, and became, by the lusts through which he governed him, Satan's poor drudge and bondsman. This is the empire of which the devil boasts now to the Lord; spreading it before Him in a moment, as if to dazzle Him with it. But all this authority and the glory of earth's kingdoms he whose it now was would give Him, if He would do homage for it.

The dragon has in this way, in the book of Revelation; the heads and horns of the last world-empire: he is the spirit of it, the "prince of this world" (Rev. 12:3). Later, he is giving authority to the beast, — "the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority" (Rev. 13:2). His terms have been always similar, and the children of the fallen first man have been constantly repeating their father's forfeiture of his birthright freedom.

But the Second Man is now come, the Seed of the woman, who is to bruise the serpent's head; and the conflict is already begun in victory. The prince of this world finds nothing in Him who is here not to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him. To such an one he can present no motive that has force. The strong man is bound.

(3) The temptation by the word of God itself comes last therefore: it is all that remains. He cannot be seduced from it; can it be so presented as that He should be seduced by it? We have already looked at this in Matthew, and seen how it necessarily involved the perversion of the Word, and this by the impatience for the fulfilment of it which would take it out of God's hand instead of leaving Him to fulfil it in His own way. This impatience is only distrust, and to act upon it is to tempt the Lord our God. We are seeking an easier path than His, as if His wisdom had failed, or His power were insufficient for the difficulties of the way. Whereas to "wait on the Lord" is to "spring up with wings as eagles;" it is to "run and not be weary," and to "walk and not faint" (Isa. 40:31).

The devil has now ended all the temptation; and departs, but only "for a season." He will return as "prince of this world" (John 14:30), with the men of this world behind him, to show the sad reality of that dominion over them which he has vaunted, and to gain an apparent victory which will be in the end his complete overthrow.