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The Birth Of Christ
A SERMON INTENDED FOR READING ON LORD'S DAY, DECEMBER 23, 1891.
DELIVERED BY C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE NEW PARK STREET CHAPEL, SOUTHWARK, ON LORD'S-DAY MORNING, DECEMBER 24, 1854.
The kingdom of Judah was in a condition of imminent peril. Two monarchs had leagued themselves against her, two nations had risen up for her destruction. Syria and Israel had come up against the walls of Jerusalem with full intent to raze them to the ground and utterly destroy the monarchy of Judah. Ahaz the king, in great trouble, exerted all his ingenuity to defend the city and, among the other contrivances which his wisdom taught him, he thought it fit to cut off the waters of the upper pool, so that the besiegers might be in distress for lack of water. He goes out in the morning, no doubt attended by his courtiers, makes his way to the conduit of the upper pool, intending to see after the stopping of the stream of water, but lo, he meets with something which sets aside his plans and renders them needless! Isaiah steps forward and tells him not to be afraid for the smoke of those two firebrands, for God should utterly destroy both the nations that had risen up against Judah. Ahaz need not fear the present invasion, for both he and his kingdom would be saved. The king looked at Isaiah with an eye of incredulity, as much as to say, "If the Lord were to send chariots from Heaven, could such a thing as this be? Should He animate the dust and quicken every stone in Jerusalem to resist my foes, could this be done?"
The Lord, seeing the littleness of the king's faith, tells him to ask for a sign. "Ask it," He says, "either in the depth, or in the height above. Let the sun go backward ten degrees, or let the moon stop in her midnight marches. Let the stars move from one side to the other in the sky in grand procession! Ask any sign you please in the Heaven above, or, if you wish, choose the earth beneath, let the depths give forth the sign, let some mighty waterspout lose its way across the pathless ocean and travel through the air to Jerusalem's very gates! Let the heavens shower a golden rain instead of the watery fluid which usually they distill. Ask that the fleece may be wet upon the dry floor, or dry in the midst of dew. Whatever you please to request, the Lord will grant it to you for the confirmation of your faith." Instead of accepting this offer with all gratitude, as Ahaz should have done, he, with a pretended humility, declares that he will not ask, neither will he tempt the Lord his God! Whereupon Isaiah, waxing indignant, tells him that since he will not, in obedience to God's command, ask for a sign, behold, the Lord, Himself, will give him one—not simply a sign, but this sign, the sign and wonder of the world, the mark of God's mightiest mystery and of His most consummate wisdom, for, "a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel."
It has been said that the passage I have taken for my text is one of the most difficult in all the Word of God. It may be so—I certainly did not think it was until I saw what the commentators had to say about it and I rose up from reading them perfectly confused! One said one thing and another denied what the other had said. And if there was anything that I liked, it was so self-evident that it had been copied from one to the other and handed through the whole of them!
One set of commentators tells us that this passage refers entirely to some person who was to be born within a few months after this prophecy, "for," they say, "it says here, 'Before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that you abhor shall be forsaken of both her kings.'" "Now," say they, "this was an immediate delivery which Ahaz required and there was a promise of a speedy rescue, that, before a few years had elapsed, before the child should be able to know right from wrong, Syria and Israel should both lose their kings." Well, that seems a strange frittering away of a wonderful passage, full of meaning, and I cannot see how they can substantiate their view when we find
the Evangelist Matthew quoting this very passage in reference to the birth of Christ, and saying, "Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the Prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with Child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel."
It strikes me that this Immanuel, who was to be born, could not be a mere simple man and nothing else, for if you turn to the next chapter of Isaiah, at the 8th verse, you will find it said, "He [king of Assyria] shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of Your land, O Immanuel." Here is a government ascribed to Immanuel which could not be His if we were to suppose that the Immanuel here spoken of was either Shear-Jashub, or Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, or any other of the sons of Isaiah! I therefore reject that view of the matter. It is, to my mind, far below the height of this great argument—it does not speak or allow us to speak one half of the wondrous depth which couches beneath this mighty passage!
I find, moreover, that many of the commentators divide the 16th verse from the 14th and 15th verses, and they read the 14th and 15th verses exclusively of Christ, and the 16th verse of Shear-Jashub, the son of Isaiah. They say that there were two signs, one was the conception by the virgin of a Son, who was to be called Immanuel, who is none other than Christ, but the second sign was Shear-Jashub, the Prophet's son, of whom Isaiah said, "Before this child, whom I now lead before you—before this son of mine shall be able to know good and evil, so soon shall both nations that have now risen against you lose their kings." But I do not like that explanation because it seems to me to be pretty plain that the same child is spoken of in the one verse as in the others. "Before the Child"—the same Child—it does not say that Child in one verse and then this child in another verse, but before the Child, this one of whom I have spoken, the Immanuel, before He "shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that you abhor shall be forsaken of both her kings."
Then another view, which is the most popular of all, is to refer the passage, first of all, to some child that was then to be born, and afterwards, in the highest sense, to our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps that is the true sense of it— perhaps that is the best way of smoothing difficulties—but I think that if I had never read those books at all, but had simply come to the Bible, without knowing what any man had written upon it, I would have said, "There is Christ here as plainly as possible! Never could His name have been written more legibly than I see it here. 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.' It is an unheard of thing, it is a miraculous thing and, therefore, it must be a God-like thing! She 'shall call His name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.' And before that Child, the Prince Immanuel, shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that you abhor shall be forsaken of both her kings, and Judah shall smile upon their ruined palaces."
This morning, then, I shall take my text as relating to our Lord Jesus Christ, and we have three things, here, about Him. First, the birth. Secondly, the food. And, thirdly, the name of Christ.
I. Let us commence with THE BIRTH OF CHRIST—"Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son."
"Let us even now go unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass," said the shepherds. "Let us follow the star in the sky," said the Eastern Magi, and so say we this morning. Hard by the day when we, as a nation, celebrate the birthday of Christ, let us go and stand by the manger to behold the commencement of the Incarnation of Jesus! Let us recall the time when God first enveloped Himself in mortal form and tabernacled among the sons of men! Let us not blush to go to so humble a spot—let us stand by that village inn and let us see Jesus Christ, the God-Man, become an Infant of a span long!
And, first, we see here, in speaking of this birth of Christ, a miraculous conception. The text says expressly, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son." This expression is unparalleled even in Sacred Writ! Of no other woman could it be said beside the Virgin Mary, and of no other man could it be written that his mother was a virgin. The Greek word and the Hebrew are both very expressive of the true and real virginity of the mother, to show us that Jesus Christ was born of woman and not of man. We shall not enlarge upon the thought, but still, it is an important one, and ought not to be passed over without mentioning. Just as the woman, by her venturous spirit, stepped first into transgression—lest she should be despised and trampled on, God, in His wisdom devised that the woman, and the woman, alone, should be the author of the Body of the God-Man who should redeem mankind! Albeit that she, herself, first tasted the accursed fruit, and tempted her husband (it may be that Adam, out of love to her, tasted that fruit lest she should be degraded, lest she should not stand on an equality with him), God has ordained that so it should be, that His Son should be sent forth
"born of a woman," and the first promise was that the Seed of the woman, not the seed of the man, should bruise the serpent's head.
Moreover, there was a peculiar wisdom ordaining that Jesus Christ should be the Son of the woman, and not of the man, because, had He been born of the flesh, "that which is born of the flesh is flesh," and merely flesh—and He would, naturally, by carnal generation, have inherited all the frailties and the sins and the infirmities which man has from his birth. He would have been conceived in sin and shaped in iniquity, even as the rest of us. Therefore He was not born of man, but the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary and Christ stands as the one Man, save one other, who came forth pure from his Maker's hands, who could ever say, "I am pure." Yes, and He could say far more than that other Adam could say concerning his purity, for He maintained His integrity and never let it go! And from His birth down to His death He knew no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. Oh, marvelous sight! Let us stand and look at it. A Child of a virgin, what a mixture!
There is the finite and the Infinite, there is the mortal and the Immortal, corruption and Incorruption, the manhood and the Godhead, time married to eternity! There is God linked with a creature, the Infinity of the august Maker come to tabernacle on this speck of earth—the vast unbounded One whom earth could not hold and the heavens cannot con-tain—lying in His mother's arms! He who fastened the pillars of the universe and riveted the nails of creation, hanging on a mortal breast, depending on a creature for nourishment! Oh, marvelous birth! Oh, miraculous conception! We stand and gaze and admire. Verily, angels may wish to look into a subject too dark for us to speak of! There we leave it, a virgin has conceived and borne a Son.
In this birth, moreover, having noticed the miraculous conception, we must notice, next, the humble parentage. It does not say, "A princess shall conceive and bear a Son," but a virgin. Her virginity was her highest honor—she had no other. True, she was of royal lineage—she could reckon David among her forefathers—and Solomon among those who stood in the tree of her genealogy. She was a woman not to be despised, albeit that I speak of humble parentage, for she was of the blood-royal of Judah. O Babe, in Your veins there runs the blood of kings! The blood of an ancient monarchy found its way from Your heart all through the courses of Your body! You were born, not of mean parents, if we look at their ancient ancestry, for You are the Son of him who ruled the mightiest monarchy in his day, even Solomon, and You are the descendant of one who devised in his heart to build a Temple for the mighty God of Jacob!
Nor was Christ's mother, in point of intellect, an inferior woman. I take it that she had great strength of mind, otherwise she could not have composed so sweet a piece of poetry as that which is called the Virgin's Song, beginning, "My soul does magnify the Lord." She is not a person to be despised. I would, this morning, especially utter my thoughts on one thing which I consider to be a fault among us Protestants. Because Roman Catholics pay too much respect to the Virgin Mary, and offer prayer to her, we are too apt to speak of her in a slighting manner. She ought not to be placed under the ban of contempt, for she could truly sing, "From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." I suppose Protestant generations are among the "all generations" who ought to call her blessed. Her name is Mary, and quaint George Herbert wrote an anagram upon it—
"How well her name an ARMY does present, In whom the Lord of Hosts did pitch His tent."
Though she was not a princess, yet her name, Mary, by interpretation, signifies a princess, and though she is not the queen of Heaven, yet she has a right to be reckoned among the queens of earth. And though she is not the lady of our Lord, she does walk among the renowned and mighty women of Scripture.
Yet Jesus Christ's birth was a humble one. Strange that the Lord of Glory was not born in a palace! Princes, Christ owes you nothing! Princes, Christ is not your debtor! You did not swaddle Him, He was not wrapped in purple, you had not prepared a golden cradle for Him to be rocked in! Queens, you did not dandle Him on your knees, He hung not at your breasts! And you mighty cities, which then were great and famous, your marble halls were not blessed with His little footsteps! He came out of a village, poor and despised, even Bethlehem! When there, He was not born in the governor's house, or in the mansion of the chief man, but in a manger! Tradition tells us that His manger was cut in solid rock— there was He laid and the oxen likely enough came to feed from the same manger, the hay and the fodder of which was His only bed. Oh, wondrous stoop of condescension, that our blessed Jesus should be girded with humility and stoop so low!
Ah, if He stooped, why should He bend to such a lowly birth? And if He bowed, why should He submit, not simply to become the Son of poor parents, but to be born in so miserable a place?
Let us take courage here. If Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a rock, why should He not come and live in our rocky hearts? If He was born in a stable, why should not the stable of our souls be made into a house for Him? If He was born in poverty, may not the poor in spirit expect that He will be their Friend? If He thus endured degradation at the first, will He count it any dishonor to come to the very poorest and humblest of His creatures and tabernacle in the souls of His children? Oh, no! We can gather a lesson of comfort from His humble parentage and we can rejoice that not a queen, or an empress, but that a humble woman became the mother of the Lord of Glory!
We must make one more remark upon this birth of Christ before we pass on, and that remark shall be concerning a glorious birthday. With all the humility that surrounded the birth of Christ, there was yet very much that was glorious, very much that was honorable. No other man ever had such a birthday as Jesus Christ had! Of whom had Prophets and seers ever written as they wrote of Him? Whose name is engraved on so many tablets as His? Who had such a scroll of prophecy, all pointing to Him as Jesus Christ, the God-Man? Then remember, concerning His birth, when did God ever hang a fresh lamp in the sky to announce the birth of a Caesar? Caesars may come and they may die, but stars shall never prophesy their birth! When did angels ever stoop from Heaven and sing choral symphonies on the birth of a mighty man? No, all others are passed by, but look—in Heaven there is a great light shining and a song is heard—"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
Christ's birth is not despicable, even if we consider the visitors who came around His cradle. Shepherds came first and, as it has been quaintly remarked by an old Divine, the shepherds did not lose their way, but the wise men did! Shepherds came first, unguided and unfed, to Bethlehem. The wise men, directed by the star, came next. The representative men of the two bodies of mankind—the rich and the poor—knelt around the manger—and gold, and frankincense, and myrrh, and all manner of precious gifts were offered to the Child who was the Prince of the kings of the earth, who, in ancient times was ordained to sit upon the Throne of His father, David, and in the wondrous future to rule all nations with His rod of iron!
"Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son." Thus have we spoken of the birth of Christ.
II. The second thing that we have to speak of is THE FOOD OF CHRIST—"Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good."
Our translators were certainly very good scholars and God gave them much wisdom so that they craned up our language to the majesty of the original, but here they were guilty of very great inconsistency. I do not see how butter and honey can make a child choose good and refuse evil. If it is so, I am sure butter and honey ought to go up greatly in price, for good men are very much required! But it does not say, in the original, "Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good," but, "Butter and honey shall He eat, till He shall know how to refuse the evil, and choose the good," or, better still, "Butter and honey shall He eat, when He shall know how to refuse the evil, and choose the good."
We shall take that translation and just try to make clear the meaning couched in the words. They should teach us, first of all, Christ's proper Humanity. When He would convince His disciples that He was flesh, and not spirit, He took a piece of a broiled fish and of a honeycomb, and ate as others did. "Handle Me," He said, "and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see I have." Some heretics taught, even a little after the death of Christ, that His body was a mere shadow, that He was not an actual, real Man—but here we are told He ate butter and honey just as other men did. While other men were nourished with food, so was Jesus! He was very Man as certainly as He was verily and eternally God. "In all things it behooved 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 reconciliation for the sins of the people." Therefore we are told that He ate butter and honey to teach us that it was actually a real Man who, afterwards, died on Calvary.
The butter and honey teach us, again, that Christ was to be born in times of peace. Such products are not to be found in Judea in times of strife—the ravages of war sweep away all the fair fruits of industry—the unwatered pastures yield no grass and, therefore, there could be no butter. The bees may make their hive in the lion's carcass and there may be honey there, but when the land is disturbed, who shall go to gather the sweetness? How shall the babe eat butter when its mother flees away, even in the winter time, with the child clinging to her breast? In times of war, we have no choice of
food—then men eat whatever they can procure and the supply is often very scanty. Let us thank God that we live in the land of peace and let us see a mystery in this text, that Christ was born in times of peace.
The temple of Janus was shut before the Temple of Heaven was opened! Before the King of Peace came to the Temple of Jerusalem, the horrid mouth of war was stopped! Mars had sheathed his sword and all was still. Augustus Caesar was emperor of the world, none other ruled it and, therefore, wars had ceased—the earth was still, the leaves quivered not upon the trees of the field, the ocean of strife was undisturbed by a ripple, the hot winds of war blew not upon man to trouble him—all was peaceful and quiet! And then came the Prince of Peace, who, in later days, shall break the bow, cut the spear in sunder and burn the chariot in the fire.
There is another thought here. "Butter and honey shall He eat when He shall know how to refuse the evil, and choose the good." This is to teach us the precocity of Christ, by which I mean that even when He was a child, even when He lived upon butter and honey, which is the food of children, He knew the evil from the good. It is, usually, not until children leave off the food of their infancy that they can discern good from evil in the fullest sense. It requires years to ripen the faculties, to develop the judgment, to give full play to the man—in fact, to make him a man. But Christ, even while He was a Baby, even while He lived upon butter and honey, knew the evil from the good, refused the one, and chose the other. Oh, what a mighty intellect there was in that brain! While He was an Infant, surely there must have been spar-klings of genius from His eyes! The fire of intellect must have often lit up that brow! He was not an ordinary child—how would His mother talk about the wonderful things the little Prattler said! He played not as others did. He cared not to spend His time in idle amusements. His thoughts were lofty and wondrous. He understood mysteries and when He went up to the Temple in His early days, He was not found, like the other children, playing about the courts or the markets, but sitting among the doctors, both hearing and asking them questions! His was a master-mind—"Never man spoke like this Man." So, never child thought like this Child—He was an astonishing One, the wonder and the marvel of all children, the Prince of children—the God-Man even when He was a Child! I think this is taught us in the words, "Butter and honey shall He eat when He shall know how to refuse the evil, and choose the good."
Perhaps it may seem somewhat playful, but, before I close speaking upon this part of the subject, I must say how sweet it is to my soul to believe that as Christ lived upon butter and honey, surely butter and honey drop from His lips. Sweet are His Words unto our souls, more to be desired than honey or the honeycomb! Well might He eat butter whose Words are smooth to the tried, whose utterances are like oil upon the waters of our sorrows! Well might He eat butter, who came to bind up the broken-hearted, and well did He live upon the fat of the land, who came to restore the earth to its old fertility and make all flesh soft with milk and honey, ah, honey in the heart—
"Where can such sweetness be As I have tasted in Your love, As I have found in Thee?"
Your Words, O Christ, are like honey! I, like a bee, have flown from flower to flower to gather sweets and concoct some precious essence that shall be fragrant to me, but I have found honey drop from Your lips, I have touched Your mouth with my finger and put the honey to my lips, and my eyes have been enlightened, sweet Jesus! Every Word of Yours is precious to my soul—no honey can compare with You—well did You eat butter and honey!
And perhaps I ought not to have forgotten to say that the effect of Christ's eating butter and honey was to show us that He would not, in His lifetime, differ from other men in His outward guise. Other Prophets, when they came, were dressed in rough garments and were austere and solemn in manner. Christ came not so—He came to be a Man among men, a feaster with those that feast, an eater of honey with eaters of honey. He differed from none and, therefore, He was called a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber. Why did Christ do so? Why did He so commit Himself, as men said, though it was verily a slander? It was because He would have His disciples not regard meats and drinks, but despise these things, and live as others do. It was because He would teach them that it is not that which goes into a man, but that which comes out, that defiles him! It is not what a man eats, with temperance, that does him injury—it is what a man says and thinks. It is not abstaining from meat, it is not the carnal ordinance of, "Touch not, taste not, handle not," that makes the fundamentals of our religion, albeit it may be good addenda thereunto. Butter and honey Christ ate, and butter and honey may His people eat! No, whatever God, in His Providence gives unto them, that is to be the food of the Child Christ.
III. Now we come to close with THE NAME OF CHRIST—"And shall call His name Immanuel."
I hoped, dear Friends, that I would have my voice this morning, that I might talk about my Master's name. I hoped to be allowed to drive along in my swift chariot, but, as the wheels are taken off, I must be content to go as I can. We sometimes creep when we cannot go and go when we cannot run, but oh, here is a sweet name to close up with—"She shall call His name Immanuel." Others in the olden time called their children by names which had meaning in them. They did not give them the names of eminent persons whom they would very likely grow up to hate, and wish they had never heard of! They had names full of meaning which recorded some circumstance of their birth. There was Cain—"I have gotten a man from the Lord," said his mother, and she called him Cain, that is, "Gotten," or, "Acquired." There was Seth—that is, "Appointed," for his mother said, "God has appointed me another seed instead of Abel." Noah means "Rest," or, "Comfort." Ishmael was so called by his mother because God had heard her. Isaac was called, "Laughter," because he brought laughter to Abraham's home. Jacob was called the supplanter, or the crafty one, because he would supplant his brother. We might point out many similar instances—perhaps this custom was a good one among the Hebrews, though the peculiar formation of our language might not allow us to do the same, except in a certain measure.
We see, therefore, that the Virgin Mary called her son, Immanuel, that there might be a meaning in His name, "God with us." My soul, ring these words again, "God with us." Oh, it is one of the bells of Heaven! Let us strike it yet again—"God with us." Oh, it is a stray note from the sonnets of Paradise! "God with us." Oh, it is the lisping of a seraph! "God with us." Oh, it is one of the notes of the singing of Jehovah when He rejoices over His Church with singing! "God with us." Tell it, tell it, tell it—this is the name of Him who is born today—
"Hark, the herald angels sing!"
This is His name, "God with us"—God with us, by His Incarnation, for the august Creator of the world did walk upon this globe! He who made ten thousand orbs, each of them more mighty and more vast than this earth, became the Inhabitant of this tiny atom! He who was from everlasting to everlasting, came to this world of time and stood upon the narrow neck of land betwixt the two unbounded seas! "God with us." He has not lost that name—Jesus had that name on earth and He has it, now, in Heaven! He is now, "God with us."
Believer, He is God with you to protect you! You are not alone, because the Savior is with you! Put me in the desert, where vegetation grows not—I can still say, "God with us." Put me on the wild ocean and let my ship dance madly on the waves—I would still say, "Immanuel, God with us." Mount me on the sunbeam and let me fly beyond the western sea—still I would say, "God with us." Let my body dive down into the depths of the ocean and let me hide in its caverns—still I could, as a child of God say, "God with us." Yes, and in the grave, sleeping there in corruption—still I can see the footmarks of Jesus! He trod the path of all His people and His name is still, "God with us."
But if you would know this name most sweetly, you must know it by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Has God been with us this morning? What is the use of coming to Chapel if God is not there? We might as well be at home if we have no visits of Jesus Christ and, certainly, we may come, and come, and come as regularly as that door turns on its hinges unless it is, "God with us," by the influence of the Holy Spirit! Unless the Holy Spirit takes the things of Christ and applies them to our heart, it is not, "God with us." Otherwise, God is a consuming fire. It is "God with us" that I love—
"Till God in human flesh I see, My thoughts no comfort find."
Now ask yourselves, do you know what "God with us" means? Has it been God with you in your tribulations, by the Holy Spirit's comforting influence? Has it been God with you in searching the Scriptures? Has the Holy Spirit shone upon the Word? Has it been God with you in conviction, bringing you to Sinai? Has it been God with you in comforting you, by bringing you, again, to Calvary? Do you know the full meaning of that name, Immanuel, "God with us"? No— he who knows it best knows little of it! Alas, he who knows it not at all is ignorant, indeed—so ignorant that his ignorance is not bliss, but will be his damnation! Oh, may God teach you the meaning of that name, Immanuel, "God with
Now let us close. "Immanuel." It is wisdom's mystery, "God with us." Sages look at it and wonder. Angels desire to see it. The plumb-line of reason cannot reach half-way into its depths. The eagle wings of science cannot fly so high and the piercing eye of the vulture of research cannot see it! "God with us." It is Hell's terror! Satan trembles at the sound of it. His legions fly apace, the black-winged dragon of the Pit quails before it! Let Satan come to you suddenly and do you but whisper that word, "God with us"—back he falls—confounded and confused! Satan trembles when he hears that
name, "God with us." It is the laborer's strength—how could he preach the Gospel, how could he bend his knees in prayer, how could the missionary go into foreign lands, how could the martyr stand at the stake, how could the confessor acknowledge his Master, how could men labor if that one word were taken away? "God with us," is the sufferer's comfort, is the balm of his woe, is the alleviation of his misery, is the sleep which God gives to His beloved, is their rest after exertion and toil.
Ah, and to finish, "God with us" is eternity's sonnet, is Heaven's hallelujah, is the shout of the glorified, is the song of the redeemed, is the chorus of angels, is the everlasting oratorio of the great orchestra of the sky! "God with us"—
"Hail You Immanuel, all Divine,
In You Your Father's glories shine!
You brightest, sweetest, fairest One,
That eyes have seen or angels known." Now, a happy Christmas to you all and it will be a happy Christmas if you have God with you! I shall say nothing, today, against festivities on this great birthday of Christ. I hold that, perhaps, it is not right to have the birthday celebrated, but we will never be among those who think it as much a duty to celebrate it the wrong way as others the right! But we will, tomorrow, think of Christ's birthday. We shall be obliged to do it, I am sure, however sturdily we may hold to our rough Puritanism. And so, "let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Do not feast as if you wished to keep the festival of Bacchus! Do not live, tomorrow, as if you adored some heathen divinity. Feast, Christians, feast! You have a right to feast. Go to the house of feasting tomorrow! Celebrate your Savior's birth. Do not be ashamed to be glad—you have a right to be happy. Solomon says, "Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts your works. Let your garments be always white and let your head lack no ointment."—
"Religion never was designed To make our pleasures less."
Remember that your Master ate butter and honey. Go your way, rejoice tomorrow, but, in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem—let Him have a place in your hearts, give Him the glory, think of the virgin who conceived Him—but think, most of all, of the Man born, the Child given! I finish by again saying—
"A HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!"
EXPOSITION BY C. H. SPURGEON: Matthew 2:1-12.
Verse 1. Now when Jesus was born is Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, Our Lord was born in Bethlehem, an inconsiderable village of Judea. Its name, however, is significant—it means, "the house of bread." Truly Bethlehem has become, in a spiritual sense, the house of bread to all who feed on Christ. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem—
2. Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? There was another king, of whom we have just read—"Herod the king," but he was an Idumaean, an Edomite. He had no right to the throne. But here is born the true Heir to the throne of David, and the Magi from the East have come to ask for Him.
2, 3. For we have seen His star is the East, and are come to worship Him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Tidings of the arrival of these strangers in the Jewish capital, asking for the new-born King, would be sure to spread rapidly! The news soon reached the palace and Herod, one of the most suspicious and cruel of tyrants and, therefore, the most cowardly of men, "was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him."
4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. They could tell him if they wished to do so, for they were deeply versed in the Scriptures. The Scribes copied the Sacred Writings. The Pharisees had counted the very letters of the Word—they could tell which was the middle letter of the Old Testament. They were great at the letter, but, alas, they had missed the spirit! Men may know a great deal about the Bible and yet really know nothing of it. The husks of Scripture yield small profit—we need to come to the kernel, the real corn, the spiritual meaning of the Inspired Word.
5-7. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the Prophet, And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of you shall come a Governor who shall rule My people Israel. King Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. He half suspected that he would not see them again, so he determined to get all the information he possibly could out of them.
8. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, "Go and search diligently for the young Child; and when you have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also. It was like his deep, cunning spirit to try to find out where the Child was, that he might kill Him! He looked upon Him as a rival, as one who might rob him of his throne, so he would put Him to death if he could and, meanwhile, he would pretend that he wanted to worship Him.
9. When they had heard the king, they departed, and, lo, the star, which they saw in the East, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. It was probably not a star in the sense in which we use the word, that is a planet, or a fixed star, but a meteoric brightness which moved in the sky, and so guided the wise men. They do not appear to have seen its light after they set out on their journey—it directed them to the region of Judea so they came to the capital city, Jerusalem. When they departed from Herod, the star appeared, again, and guided them to the little town of Bethlehem, where they found the Christ. God may sometimes send us stars, bright lights of joy, to guide us on our way. He may also take them away, again, and then we must walk by faith. When they reappear, we will be glad to have them once more, as the wise men were.
10. 11. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they were come into the house. For it would seem that the mother and child had moved out of the stable into a house. The town was, perhaps, not now quite so crowded, and there was more room for Mary and her blessed baby—"When they were come into the house"—
11. They saw the young Child with Mary, His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. These were the products of their country, such as they would give to princes. Such treasures must have been of great use to Mary and Joseph to help them take care of the wondrous child who had been entrusted to their charge.
12. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. I remember a long sermon by a learned man, to show that we may sometimes break our promise, if, upon further consideration, we find we did wrong in making it, saying that these wise men, though they had promised to go and tell Herod all about the young Child, did not do so when warned of God by a dream. After reading his very ingenious dissertation, I turned to the text and there discovered that the wise men never made any promise of the kind—so that it was a sermon on a nonexistent text! They never agreed to return! Herod told them to do so, which is one thing, but they did not promise to do so—that would have been quite another thing. They broke no promise and, therefore, needed no excuse. They were in supernatural communication with God—He had guided them by a star and now He speaks to them in a dream and bids them go back to their own country another way. May we all be under like unerring guidance! Amen.
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