Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Luke 2

Luke 2 (ESV): The Birth of Jesus Christ, The Shepherds and the Angels, Jesus Presented at the Temple, The Return to Nazareth, The Boy Jesus in the Temple


There are a number of sections included in this chapter, but it could also be called “Jesus’ Childhood.” It starts with his birth to Joseph and Mary. They are living in Nazareth in Galilee, but because of a census they have to travel to the City of David—also called Bethlehem—in Judea, because that’s where Joseph’s family is from—he’s from the house and lineage of David. While they’re there, Mary gives birth, but because they can’t find room at the inn, they have to go into a barn and deliver Jesus there. They wrap him in “swaddling cloths”—not clothes, cloths—and lay him in a manger, which is a trough for feeding animals.

Nearby there are some shepherds, watching over their flock that night. An angel appears to them, and, as usual when an angel appears, they’re afraid, but he tells them they don’t need to be.
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (verses 10–12 (ESV))
At this point the angel is joined by a multitude of angels, praising God. When they leave, the shepherds decide to go to Bethlehem, to see this thing that the Lord has told them about. They get there, and tell everyone what happened, and everyone who hears it marvels at what they’re told. (Mary, we are told in verse 19 (ESV), treasures up these things and ponders them in her heart.) Then, just like his cousin John (or would he be a second cousin, or something like that?), on the eighth day, he is circumcised and officially given the name Jesus.

According to the Mosaic Law, since Jesus is their first son, Joseph and Mary are supposed to offer a sacrifice to the Lord, so when the proper time comes, they go up to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifice, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (verse 24 (ESV)). When they get to the temple, they meet a man named Simeon, a man who is righteous and has the Holy Spirit. The Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would see the Christ before he dies, and when he sees Jesus, he knows exactly what he’s seeing:
And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
    that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

(verses 27–32 (ESV))
Once again, Joseph and Mary marvel at what they are being told about their son, but Simeon isn’t finished yet; he has another prophecy for them: “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’” (verses 34–35 (ESV)). At this time a prophetess, Anna, also approaches, and gives thanks to God and speaks of Him to all who are awaiting “the redemption of Jerusalem” (verse 38 (ESV)).

After all of this they return to Nazareth, where Jesus lives out his boyhood. The chapter ends with an interesting story from when Jesus was twelve: that year, when the family goes up to Jerusalem for Passover, they somehow manage to leave without Jesus on the way back. (When I say “the family,” the text makes it sound like it’s the larger family, not just Joseph and Mary and their kids; it’s sounding like a large crowd.) About a day out of the city, however, they realize that Jesus is not with them, and head back to Jerusalem to look for him. It takes them a few days, but they finally do find him: he’s in the temple, talking with the teachers, asking questions and discussing the answers with them. All of the people there are amazed at how much he understands, and the answers he’s giving. Mary, however, is more focused on how worried she’s been, looking for him for these past four days, and asks him why he has treated them this way, putting them in such distress as they searched for him. But Jesus doesn’t understand why they had to look in the first place—didn’t they understand that he would be in his Father’s house? They don’t understand what he means, but in any event, they leave Jerusalem and return to Nazareth, where he is submissive to them. Again, we are told that Mary treasures up these things in her heart.


Some of these events, especially around Jesus’ birth, are well known to anyone in North America. If I were to say “they laid him in a—” many people would immediately think “manger;” if I were to say the word “swaddling,” immediately most people would think “cloths” (or “clothes,” since it’s so commonly misread). If I were to say “keeping watch over their,” many would immediately be thinking “… flock at night.”

All of this is so familiar that we can forget how marvelous this all is: The God of all the Universe, the One who spoke it into being, has not only been born as a human being, but He is a poor human. Of course the angels are correct to be praising God at this point—it almost seems like they can’t help themselves, that what’s happening is so incredible they can’t contain themselves—and yet, a short ways away from the shepherds they’re talking to, the Christ is lying in an animals’ feeding trough. He is called king, and rightly so, but he definitely wasn’t born as a worldly king; he was born to a carpenter and his wife (or rather, his betrothed), so unimportant in the grand scheme of things that nobody in Bethlehem could even find them a sanitary place for Mary to give birth—surely the people of Bethlehem would have found them someplace to birth this boy if Joseph had been more important in the world’s eyes—and even the sacrifice they offered for Jesus emphasizes this: they couldn’t afford to sacrifice a lamb, so the Law allowed for a smaller sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons instead, which is what they offered. And this was all part of His plan. It’s part of how I myself have been saved from my sin. I’ll use the word again: it’s marvelous—we should be marveling at it, just as so many people did in this chapter.

In this passage, in Luke, Jesus is conceived in Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, has his sacrifice offered in Jerusalem, and then grows up in Nazareth. I’m not sure at what point in this timeline Jesus’ family flees to Egypt, mentioned in Matthew 2:13–15.

At first glance, it wouldn’t be hard to see Jesus as being a bit arrogant with his mother, when she scolds him for letting her get so worried and have to search him out. However, since Jesus is God, and inherently not sinful, we can be sure that he was not being bad, and neither was his answer to his mother sinful. It’s more understandable when you go back and re-read the rest of Chapter 2, leading up to this point: after all that Joseph and Mary had been told about Jesus, who he is and what he came to do, the temple should have been the first thing they thought of. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Jesus that they would have looked anywhere else.

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