Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 31: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
15. And it happened, after that the angels departed from them into heaven, that the shepherds then talked among themselves, Let us pass even to Bethlehem, and let us see what has happened, which the Lord hath revealed to us. 16. And they came hastening, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe laid in the manger. 17. And when they had seen it, they published concerning the word which had been told them about this child. 18. And all who heard wondered about those things which had been told them by the shepherds. 19. Now Mary kept all these words, laying them up in her heart. 165 20. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things which they had heard and seen, as it had been told to them. 21. And after that eight days were fulfilled, that the child might be circumcised, his name was called JESUS: which had been called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
15. After that the angels departed Here is described to us the obedience of the shepherds. The Lord had made them the witnesses of his Son to the whole world. What he had spoken to them by his angels was efficacious, and was not suffered to pass away. They were not plainly and expressly commanded to come to Bethlehem; but, being sufficiently aware that such was the design of God, they hasten to see Christ. In the same manner, we know that Christ is held out to us, in order that our hearts may approach him by faith; and our delay in coming admits of no excuse. 166 But again, Luke informs us, that the shepherds resolved to set out, immediately after the angels had departed. This conveys an important lesson. Instead of allowing the word of God, as many do, to pass away with the sound, we must take care that it strike its roots deep in us, and manifest its power, as soon as the sound has died away upon our ears. It deserves our attention, also, that the shepherds exhort one another: for it is not enough that each of us is attentive to his own duty, if we do not give mutual exhortations. Their obedience is still farther commended by the statement of Luke, that they hastened, (ver. 16;) for we are required to show the readiness of faith.
Which the Lord hath revealed to us They had only heard it from the angel; but they intentionally and correctly say, that the Lord had revealed it to them; for they consider the messenger of God to possess the same authority as if the Lord himself had addressed them. For this reason, the Lord directs our attention to himself; that we may not fix our view on men, and undervalue the authority of his Word. We see also that they reckon themselves under obligation, not to neglect the treasure which the Lord had pointed out to them; for they conclude that, immediately after receiving this intelligence, they must go to Bethlehem to see it. In the same manner, every one of us, according to the measure of his faith and understanding, ought to be prepared to follow wheresoever God calls.
16. And found Mary This was a revolting sight, and was sufficient of itself to produce an aversion to Christ. For what could be more improbable than to believe that he was the King of the whole people, who was deemed unworthy to be ranked with the lowest of the multitude? or to expect the restoration of the kingdom and salvation from him, whose poverty and want were such, that he was thrown into a stable? Yet Luke writes, that none of these things prevented the shepherds from admiring and praising God. The glory of God was so fully before their eyes, and reverence for his Word was so deeply impressed upon their minds, that the elevation of their faith easily rose above all that appeared mean or despicable in Christ. 167 And the only reason why our faith is either retarded or driven from the proper course, by some very trifling obstacles, is, that we do not look steadfastly enough on God, and are easily “tossed to and fro,” (Eph 4:14.) If this one thought were entirely to occupy our minds, that we have a certain and faithful testimony from heaven, it would be a sufficiently strong and firm support against every kind of temptations, and will sufficiently protect us against every little offense that might have been taken.
17. They published concerning the word It is mentioned by Luke, in commendation of the faith of the shepherds, that they honestly delivered to others what they had received from the Lord; and it was advantageous to all of us that they should attest this, and should be a sort of secondary angels in confirming our faith. Luke shows also that, in publishing what they had heard, they were not without success. 168 Nor can it be doubted, that the Lord gave efficacy to what they said, that it might not be ridiculed or despised; for the low rank of the men diminished their credit, and the occurrence itself might be regarded as fabulous. But the Lord, who gave them this employment, does not allow it to be fruitless.
That the Lord should adopt such a method of proceeding as this, — should employ inconsiderable men in publishing his Word, may not be quite so agreeable to the human mind. But it tends to humble the pride of the flesh, and to try the obedience of faith; and therefore God approves of it. Still, though all are astonished, no one moves a step to come to Christ: from which we may infer, that the impression made upon them by hearing of the power of God, was unaccompanied by any devout affection of the heart. The design of publishing this report was not so much for their salvation, as to render the ignorance of the whole people inexcusable.
19. Now Mary kept Mary’s diligence in contemplating the works of God is laid before us for two reasons; first, to inform us, that this treasure was laid up in her heart, for the purpose of being published to others at the proper time; and, secondly, to afford to all the godly an example for imitation. For, if we are wise, it will be the chief employment, and the great object of our life, to consider with attention those works of God which build up our faith. Mary kept all these things This relates to her memory. Συμβάλλειν signifies to throw together, — to collect the several events which agreed in proving the glory of Christ, so that they might form one body. For Mary could not wisely estimate the collective value of all those occurrences, except by comparing them with each other.
20. Glorifying and praising God This is another circumstance which is fitted to be generally useful in confirming our faith. The shepherds knew with certainty that this was a work of God. Their zeal in glorifying and praising God is an implied reproof of our indolence, or rather of our ingratitude. If the cradle of Christ 169 had such an effect upon them, as to make them rise from the stable and the manger to heaven, how much more powerful ought the death and resurrection of Christ to be in raising us to God? For Christ did not only ascend from the earth, that he might draw all things after him; but he sits at the right hand of the Father, that, during our pilgrimage in the world, we may meditate with our whole heart on the heavenly life. When Luke says, that the testimony of the angel served as a rule to the shepherds in all that they did, 170 he points out the nature of true godliness. For our faith is properly aided by the works of God, when it directs everything to this end, that the truth of God, which was revealed in his word, may be brought out with greater clearness.
21. That the child might be circumcised As to circumcision in general, the reader may consult the Book of Genesis, (Ge 17:10.) At present, it will be sufficient to state briefly what applies to the person of Christ. God appointed that his Son should be circumcised, in order to subject him to the law; for circumcision was a solemn rite, by which the Jews
were initiated into the observance of the law. 171 Paul explains the design, 172 when he says, that Christ was
“made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,”
(Gal. 4:4, 5.)
By undergoing circumcision, Christ acknowledged himself to be the slave 173 of the law, that he might procure our freedom. And in this way not only was the bondage 174 of the law abolished by him, but the shadow of the ceremony was applied to his own body, that it might shortly afterwards come to an end. For though the abrogation of it depends on the death and resurrection of Christ, yet it was a sort of prelude to it, that the Son of God submitted to be circumcised.
His name was called JESUS. This passage shows, that it was a general custom among the Jews to give names to their children on the day that they were circumcised, just as we now do at baptism. Two things are here mentioned by the Evangelist. First, the name Jesus was not given to the Son of God accidentally, or by the will of men, but was the name which the angel had brought from heaven. Secondly, Joseph and Mary obeyed the command of God. The agreement between our faith and the word of God lies in this, that he speaks first, and we follow, so that our faith answers to his promises. Above all, the order of preaching the word is held up by Luke for our commendation. Salvation through the grace of Christ, he tells us, had been promised by God through the angel, and was proclaimed by the voice of men.
“Les ruminant en son coeur;” — “ruminating on them in her heart.”
“Si nous sommes paresseux de le faire, toutes les excuses du monde ne nous serviront de rien.” — “If we are indolent in doing so, all the apologies in the world will be of no service to us.”
In the French copy he adds: “En sorte que cela ne les empesche point de recognoistre la hautesse de sa maiste divine.” — “So that it does not hinder them from acknowledging the height of his divine majesty.”
“Ils n'ont pas perdu leurs peines;” — “they did not lose their pains.”
“Si les petits drapeaux esquels estoit enveloppe l'infant Jesus;”— “if the little rags in which the child Jesus was wrapped.”
“Ad quam omnia exigerent.” — “Une reigle, a laquelle ils ont rapporte tout ce qu'ils voyoyent;” — “a rule by which they related all that they saw.”
“Par lequel les Juifs protestoyent de se soumettre a l'observation de la Loy;” — “by which the Jews solemnly declared that they would submit to the observance of the Law.”
“Finem.” — “La fin ou le but de ceste soumission de Jesus Christ;” —”the end or design of this submission of Jesus Christ.”
“Servum.”—This might have been supposed to be equivalent to ministrum, servant, had not the latter clause of the sentence expressly contrasted freedom with the condition of a slave. But Calvin settles the point by rendering it serf, slave; by which he evidently means “complete and degrading subjection.” Paul frequently speaks of the state of the Church under the law as bondage, (Gal. 4:3, 9,) and a yoke of bondage, (Ga 5:1.) — Ed.
See passages referred to in the preceding note, in which the term bondage is applied by an inspired writer to the ceremonial law — Ed.