Welcome to Day 2! Prayers are being said for you, as you open God’s word and read along.
Today’s chapter from Luke should be familiar to most because of our celebration of Christmas. Many songs get their inspiration from this passage along with art and entertainment, such as Linus (Charlie Brown’s Christmas) quoting from this chapter.
Included below is commentary, additional thoughts and explanation for each section. Each colored verse (Example: 2:1-4) can be clicked on to allow you to see that verse. You will find Life Application (at least two) for each section.
Jesus is Born in Bethlehem / 2:1-7
Luke is the only Gospel writer who related the events he recorded to world history. His account was addressed to a predominantly Greek audience that would have been interested in and familiar with the political situation of those times.
2:1-4 The Romans ruled Palestine; Augustus (which means “holy” or “revered” a title used exclusively for the gods) was the first Roman emperor and one of the greatest of all Roman rulers. He ended the civil war in the land and brought peace and prosperity throughout the empire. He reigned from 27 b.c. to a.d. 14.
A Roman census (registration) was taken for tax and military purposes. The Jews didn’t have to serve in the Roman army, but they could not avoid paying taxes. Augustus’s decree went out in God’s perfect timing and according to God’s perfect plan to bring his Son into the world. No one had a choice about participating in the census. Thus all returned to their own towns to register. Joseph went to Bethlehem, a journey of about seventy or eighty miles. Bethlehem was where King David grew up (1 Samuel 16; 17:12; 20:6).
- LIFE APPLICATION- WHO’S IN CHARGE?
The Romans ruled the civilized world at this time. By contrast, Joseph controlled very little. Against his better judgment and political convictions he complied with the Roman order and traveled with Mary to Bethlehem. Often people feel like Joseph, caught by forces larger than they are. The Romans were in control insofar as human authority can get its way by exerting human power. But the Romans did not recognize their limitations. In reality, God controls the world. In all times and places, he works his will. God did not write Roman law, but used it for his purpose. God did not soften Joseph’s bumpy road, but strengthened him. God is in charge of your life too. He will guide you and provide all you need. Like Joseph, live each day by faith, trusting that God is in charge.
God controls all history. By the decree of Emperor Augustus, Jesus was born in the very town prophesied for his birth (Micah 5:2), even though his parents did not live there. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because Joseph was a descendant of King David. In fact, both Joseph and Mary were descendants of David. Old Testament prophets predicted that the Messiah would be born in David’s royal line (see, for example, Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 33:15; Ezekiel 37:24; Hosea 3:5).
2:5 Luke does not explain why Mary made this difficult trip with Joseph. Perhaps they understood the final outcome of God’s plan and traveled to Bethlehem where the promised child was to be born (Micah 5:2).
- LIFE APPLICATION-COMFORT ZONES
- The government forced Joseph to make a long trip just to pay his taxes. His fiancée, who had to go with him, was going to have a baby any moment. But when they arrived in Bethlehem, they couldn’t even find a place to stay. Doing God’s will often takes people out of their comfort zones. Jesus’ life began in poverty. Later, Jesus would stress to his disciples what it meant to have no place to lay one’s head (9:58). Those who do God’s will are not guaranteed comfortable lives. But they are promised that everything, even their discomfort, has meaning in God’s plan.
2:6-7 In simple, direct language, Luke presented the Christmas story: no trees or lights, just a manger and animals and a too-crowded inn. It isn’t surprising that there was no room for them in the village inn considering the number of travelers flocking to various cities during the time of this census.
At some time during their visit in Bethlehem, the promised child was born. Mary wrapped the baby in strips of cloth, which were bands of cloth that were used to keep a baby warm and give it a sense of security. These cloths were believed to protect its internal organs. This custom of wrapping infants is still practiced in many Mideastern countries. Then Mary laid him in a manger, an animal’s feeding trough. She may have filled the manger with hay to make a soft bed. This mention of the manger is the basis for the traditional belief that Jesus was born in a stable. Stables were often caves with feeding troughs (mangers) carved into the rock walls. Despite popular Christmas card pictures, the surroundings were dark and dirty. Everything pointed to obscurity, poverty, and even rejection. Luke showed the King of kings born into poor and humble circumstances—born as a human, born to serve.
- LIFE APPLICATION-MANGER SCENE
- Although our first picture of Jesus is as a baby in a manger, it must not be our last. The Christ child in the manger has been made into a beautiful Christmas scene, but we cannot leave him there. This tiny, helpless baby lived an amazing life, died for sinners, ascended to heaven, and will come back to this earth as King of kings. Christ will rule the world and judge all people according to their decisions about him. Do you still picture Jesus as a baby in a manger—or is he your Lord? Don’t underestimate Jesus. Let him grow up in your life.
Shepherds Visit Jesus / 2:8-20
The angel Gabriel had announced the coming births of John and Jesus (1:5-20, 26-38); here a host of angels announced the “good news” of Jesus’ birth to ordinary shepherds. The angels also gave the shepherds a sign. They would find their Savior in “a manger”—not only a sign of Jesus’ identity but also his humble circumstances.
2:8 From the dirty manger, Luke moved to the fields outside the village. It was night. Shepherds were there, guarding their flocks of sheep. Among the occupations, shepherding had a lowly place. Luke gave this story about the shepherds for a reason. Jesus would come, not to the proud and powerful, but to the outcasts, the humble, those considered “last” on the social lists. To these men God brought the first news of his Son’s arrival.
- LIFE APPLICATION-JUST AS YOU ARE
- The greatest event in history had just occurred! The Messiah had been born! For ages the Jews had waited for this, and when it finally happened, the announcement came to humble shepherds. The good news about Jesus is that he comes to all types of people, including the plain, the ordinary, and the outcasts of society. He comes to anyone with a heart humble enough to accept him. Whoever you are, whatever you do, you can have Jesus in your life. Don’t think that you need extraordinary qualifications—Jesus accepts you as you are.
2:9-10 As these shepherds were living in the fields under the sky, suddenly a bright light broke through the darkness. An angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. “Glory” refers to the majesty and splendor accompanying God’s presence (see also Exodus 16:7; 24:17; Psalm 63:2; Isaiah 40:5).
The stunning display of God’s glory and the appearance of the angel naturally frightened these shepherds. The angel encouraged the shepherds, saying he had come with good news of great joy for all people. This news comprised everything for which the Jews had been hoping and waiting—the Savior had come. Some of the Jews were waiting for a savior to deliver them from Roman rule; others hoped that the Christ (Messiah) would deliver them from physical ailments. But Jesus, while healing their illnesses and establishing a spiritual Kingdom, delivered them from sin.
2:11 The angel explained the substance of the “good news” that he brought: A child had just been born in Bethlehem
The child is the Savior. For the Greeks and Romans, the word “savior” could be applied to their gods as well as to great military or political leaders. Julius Caesar was called a “savior.” The basic meaning of the word was readily understood by the Jews as well as Gentiles.
The title Messiah is Greek for “anointed one.” To be anointed meant to be set apart for some special purpose. Moses anointed Aaron and his sons as the first priests of Israel (Exodus 28:41); the prophet Samuel anointed both Saul and David as kings of Israel (1 Samuel 10:1; 16:3). The title was applied to that future one whom God would raise up. The Jews were awaiting this special deliverer, one who would be the anointed one of God, the Messiah, the Christ.
The word Lord refers here to deity. That this tiny baby was the “Lord” means that God had arrived in human form. Thus the angel gave no doubt as to the identity of this child. He was the one for whom all Israel had been waiting.
2:12 The angel apparently expected the shepherds to immediately go looking for this child, so he told them what to look for. The baby would be wrapped snugly in strips of cloth and lying in a manger. Not only would this sign help the shepherds find the right baby, it would also attest to the truth of the angel’s words to the last detail. While there might be other newborn babies in Bethlehem wrapped in strips of cloth, there would be only one “lying in a manger.”
The shepherds were not told to look in a palace or in a wealthy home—indeed, they would not have gotten past the gates if they had. But they could go to the poor stable, receive acceptance from a poor couple, and discover the miracle baby.
2:13-14 After the angel gave the great news of God’s arrival on earth, suddenly all heaven broke into praise, for the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven. John’s vision of heaven recorded in Revelation reveals that there are innumerable angels in heaven (Revelation 5:11). One of the angels’ key roles is to offer continuous praise to God. The arrival of God’s Son on earth caused all of heaven to join in an anthem of praise to God. Glory to God focuses the praise on the One who set these events in motion, the One who controls all events on earth. He is in the highest heaven and is sending peace on earth to all whom he favors. The peace referred to is the peace that only the Messiah can bring—not peace after war or conflict, but peace between sinful humanity and the holy God. Those whom God favors are those to whom he will graciously reveal his truth.
2:15-16 After their anthem of praise, the angels returned to heaven (see also 24:51; Acts 1:11), and the shepherds wanted to go and see this wonderful thing that has happened. They hurried into the village of Bethlehem to find the baby.
2:17-18 The shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said—thus becoming the first witnesses of the gospel message. They told about the child and all that the angels had said about him, and all who heard . . . were astonished. Most likely, the “everyone” and “all” refer to the people at the inn. Everyone was astonished at the shepherds’ story.
- LIFE APPLICATION-TELLING ALL YOU KNOW
- These shepherds told everyone who would listen all that they had heard and seen. Often people who try to tell all that they know are politely avoided. It can be boring to listen to someone who never stops to take a breath. But in the shepherds’ case, people listened, because:
- Shepherds were not supposed to know much, and these shepherds had startling information.
- The message was revolutionary, breathtaking, and transformative. It changed listeners’ lives.
- The shepherds spoke from the heart, and their words connected to the deepest needs of others.
When you tell about Jesus, start with what you know best: your life experience. Tell the story of God in your life. You don’t need to embellish, but don’t hold back either. Your words will change many, and God will use you to change the world.
2:19 Surely the shepherds told Mary and Joseph what the angels had said. Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart. “Treasured” means deep reflection, keeping in mind or safely storing up; that she thought about them often refers to mulling over, seeking to understand and interpret. Mary had a lot to think about as she gazed into the face of her tiny child. Gabriel had told her that the little boy would reign forever (1:31-33); the shepherds reported the angel’s words—he is the Savior, Christ the Lord (2:11). As Mary held this tiny baby, she must have wondered at all that God was doing, and who her son would grow up to become.
2:20 The shepherds had to get back to their fields and flocks before their sheep wandered off into the night. As they did so, they were glorifying and praising God. They knew that they had received a special message and had been privileged to be the first to see the promised child.
Mary and Joseph Bring Jesus to the Temple / 2:21-40
Just as the story of John the Baptist’s birth began in the Temple (1:5-25), so the story of Jesus’ birth culminates in the Temple. In obedience to the dictates of Jewish law, Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to God (see Exodus 13:2-16), and they offered a sacrifice for the ritual purification of Mary (see Leviticus 12:2-6).
2:21 Every Jewish boy was circumcised and named on the eighth day after birth (Leviticus 12:3; Luke 1:59-60). Circumcision symbolized the Jews’ separation from Gentiles and their unique relationship with God (Genesis 17:9-14). So eight days later, Mary and Joseph took the child to be circumcised. They named him Jesus, just as the angel had told Mary (1:31). They did not go to Jerusalem for this ceremony; instead, a local priest most likely performed it.
2:22-24 For forty days after the birth of a son and eighty days after the birth of a daughter, the mother was ceremonially unclean and could not enter the Temple. The purification offering was given at the end of her time of separation. Mary and Joseph were to bring an offering—a lamb for a burnt offering and a dove or pigeon for a sin offering. The priest would sacrifice these animals and declare the woman to be clean. If a lamb was too expensive, the law said that the parents could sacrifice “either a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons.”
In addition to the purification offering, another ceremony took place. A firstborn son was presented to God one month after birth (Exodus 13:2, 11-16; Numbers 18:15-16). The ceremony included buying back—”redeeming”—the child from God through an offering. Through this, the parents would acknowledge that the child belonged to God, who alone has the power to give life. Luke explained for his Gentile audience that this command came from the law of Moses (see Exodus 13:2, 12, 15; Numbers 18:15). So Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
2:25-26 Luke introduced another person who would be divinely told of the Messiah’s arrival and who would confirm the baby’s identity. Simeon was spiritually in tune with God: righteous, devout, expecting the Messiah to come. He had all his life held on to God’s promise of a coming deliverer, so through the Holy Spirit, God promised that Simeon would not die before seeing the Lord’s Messiah.
- LIFE APPLICATION-SIMEON’S HOPE
- Simeon was old and had much to ponder. No doubt he had disappointments in his life to worry over, much to bemoan, lots to regret. Rather than dwelling on life’s rough ride, Simeon, even in old age, looked to God’s future with brightness and hope. Simeon’s secret was in his worship and expectation for God. Worship and praise were natural to him; they were the center of his life.
- Nothing is so bleak as a day without tomorrow. With God, however, every day has hope and good cheer. Neither old age nor grim circumstances should keep you from God’s comfort, sufficient for your needs today. Take Simeon’s example and look ahead to God’s great plan for you and the world.
2:27-32 When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple to present him to the Lord (2:22), Simeon was there—having been led by the Spirit to be at the Temple on that particular day. God was ordaining this meeting, in keeping with his promise to Simeon (2:26).
Mary and Joseph arrived in the Temple to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required. This obedience to the Old Testament law is mentioned several times in Luke. It points out Jesus’ credentials as one who obeyed the law, even from birth, because his parents did exactly as they were commanded. At the Temple, Mary and Joseph met an old man who took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God. The Spirit led Simeon to recognize this baby as the Savior.
Simeon’s song is often called the “Nunc Dimittis,” the first words of its Latin translation. Simeon praised God that he had done what he promised. Luke, writing to Gentiles, pointed out that from the very beginning God’s plan was to offer salvation to all people—Gentiles as well as to Jews.
- LIFE APPLICATION-JESUS THE LIGHT
- Simeon referred to Jesus as “a light for revelation.” Few metaphors capture Jesus’ mission as well. Light makes the stillness come alive; light settles fear; light reveals mystery; light enables relationships. Jesus is God in the flesh, eternal light breaking into a spiritually dark world.
- Jesus is your light. He is not a distant sun, remote and driven by physics’ laws. Jesus is the light of your life—your courage, your enabler. Start each day by turning on the light—a moment of meditation on God’s Word, a prayer of dedication to live for God all day.
2:33-35 Joseph and Mary were amazed that this stranger in the Temple recognized their small son as the Savior. Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph and then prophesied that Jesus would have a paradoxical effect on Israel. He would bring light and salvation, but his coming could also cause division. There would not be overwhelming acceptance of the promised Messiah—in fact, many would not recognize him and would reject him altogether. With Jesus, there would be no neutral ground: people would either joyfully accept him or totally reject him. Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her soul. As Jesus’ mother, Mary would be grieved by the widespread rejection he would face; she would experience great pain when he died. Although she could not have known it and Simeon had only a hint of it, Mary would be the only person on earth who would witness both his birth and his death.
- LIFE APPLICATION-OLDER AND WISER
- Although Simeon and Anna were very old, they had never lost their hope that they would see the Messiah. Led by the Holy Spirit, they were among the first to bear witness to Jesus. In the Jewish culture, elders were respected; thus, because of Simeon’s and Anna’s age, their prophecies carried extra weight. Contemporary society values youthfulness over wisdom, and potential contributions by the elderly are often ignored. Christians should reverse those values wherever they can. Encourage older people to share their wisdom and experience. Listen carefully when they speak. Offer them your friendship and help them find ways to continue to serve God.
2:36-38 Another person who recognized this special baby arrived on the scene, as Simeon was giving his words of prophecy to Joseph and Mary. This was Anna, a prophet, indicating that she was close to God. Prophets did not necessarily predict the future. Their main role was to speak for God, proclaiming his truth. While the tribe of Asher does not stand out in Old Testament history (see Genesis 30:12-13; 35:26) and nothing is known of Phanuel, her father, apparently these details were important in establishing her credentials and her Jewishness. Anna had been a widow for most of her life; never remarrying but instead focusing her attention on worshiping God with fasting and prayer. That “she never left the Temple” means that she made her life occupation to be at worship whenever the doors of the Temple were open (see 24:53). Her lifestyle of worshiping, fasting, and praying indicates a woman of faith and strict devotion. While Luke did not record any exact words spoken by Anna, he wrote that she began praising God. As a second witness to the identity of this child, Anna praised God, as she perceived that this baby was the promised King to come and deliver Jerusalem (echoing Isaiah 52:9). Like Simeon, she, in her old age, was privileged to see the Messiah.
- LIFE APPLICATION- PRAISING GOD
- To praise God is to . . .
- Set aside all your problems and complaints in order to celebrate God’s generosity.
- Thank God for his marvelous provision for your daily needs
- Take time from business and leisure to focus on God’s magnificent power and love
- Rehearse the splendid surprise of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
- Reorient your heart around God’s message and priorities.
2:39 Luke again mentioned the fact that Joseph and Mary had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord (see 2:22-24). Jesus was the Son of God, but his earthly parents had fulfilled everything that God’s law required regarding the birth of firstborn sons.
They then returned home to Nazareth in Galilee, from where they had come to register for the census (2:4). Did Mary and Joseph return immediately to Nazareth, or did they remain in Bethlehem for a time (as implied in Matthew 2)? Apparently there is a gap of several years between verses 38 and 39—ample time for them to find a place to live in Bethlehem, flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath (Matthew 2:1-18), and return to Nazareth when it was safe to do so (after Herod had died, Matthew 2:19-23).
2:40 Jesus’ life gave the evidence of being filled with the Spirit. He grew physically, became strong spiritually, was filled with wisdom, and was the object of God’s favor. Wisdom and God’s favor indicated the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life. Jesus, like any child, developed from an infant to a toddler to a young child. He learned to crawl, sit up, walk, and finally to run. He learned to eat and talk. In many ways he was probably a typical child. Yet he was sinless in nature and certainly had uncanny wisdom for his years, as the next section reveals. For more on Jesus’ growth, see 2:52.
Jesus Speaks with the Religious Teachers / 2:41-52
In first-century Israel, the age of twelve was considered the time when a child was beginning to reach adulthood. This section of Luke contains an incident at this crucial juncture in Jesus’ childhood to give readers an indication of what Jesus’ life would center on: the teachings of God, his true Father.
2:41-42 According to God’s law, every male was required to go to Jerusalem three times a year for the great festivals (Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 16:16). In the spring, the Passover was celebrated, followed immediately by the week-long Festival of Unleavened Bread. Passover commemorated the night of the Jews’ escape from Egypt when God had killed the Egyptian firstborn but had passed over Israelite homes (see Exodus 12:21-36). Every year, along with other Jewish families, Jesus and his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Again there is attention to the law—Jesus grew up in a home where God’s laws were obeyed and annual festivals observed. So, the year when Jesus was twelve years old was no different, and the family set off for the festival as usual.
- LIFE APPLICATION REGULAR HABITS
- Jesus’ parents, like most devout Jews, went to Jerusalem each year. Jesus’ family had the right priorities. Families that establish regular habits of worship are less likely to have their spiritual life deflected by alternative attractions. Keep worship on top of your family’s agenda. Putting God first is a great example to children, who quickly learn what parents care about by observing how they plan and spend time.
2:43-44 Those who attended the festivals usually traveled in caravans for protection from robbers along the Palestine roads. It was customary for the women and children to travel at the front of the caravan, with the men bringing up the rear. A twelve-year-old boy conceivably could have been in either group, and both Mary and Joseph assumed Jesus was with the other one. Their caravan probably included a large number of people. So it was not until they were ready to strike camp that Mary and Joseph checked for Jesus among the other travelers, only to discover that he was not in the crowd but had stayed behind in Jerusalem.
2:45-47 When Mary and Joseph discovered that Jesus was not among the travelers, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him. The three days that elapsed probably refers to one day in travel away from the city, one day for them to return, then finding him on the third day. Certainly to their great relief, they found him in the Temple.
The Temple courts were famous throughout Judea as places of learning. At the time of the Passover, the greatest rabbis of the land would assemble to teach and to discuss great truths among themselves. The coming Messiah would no doubt have been a popular discussion topic, for everyone was expecting him. Jesus would have been eager to listen and to ask probing questions. It was not his youth, but the depth of his wisdom, that amazed these teachers.
2:48 Mary and Joseph knew the true identity of their son, yet that did not keep them from being typical concerned parents. Their son had been gone from them for three days, yet that seems not to have bothered him at all; he was absorbed in discussions at the Temple. Mary was worried, anxious, and overwhelmed by what had happened and her frustrating search for Jesus. Mary’s words indicate a hint of scolding, “Why have you done this to us?” She explained that they had been frantic ever since he turned up missing.
2:49-50 Jesus surely felt bad that he had caused his parents distress, but it made perfect sense to him that he would be in his Father’s house, that is, in the Temple. This is the first mention of Jesus’ awareness that he was God’s Son (he called God “my Father”). His relationship with his Father in heaven superseded his human family and even his human home. While he probably went to school and studied along with other boys in the synagogue in Nazareth, to be in the Temple with many learned teachers was a great opportunity for Jesus. He took full advantage of his time there, and it seems that he thought his parents would know where he would be.
Although Mary and Joseph knew he was God’s Son, they didn’t understand fully what his mission would involve. Besides, they had to rear him, along with his brothers and sister (Matthew 13:55-56), as a normal child. They knew Jesus was unique, but they did not know what was going on in his mind. They had to learn and observe the complex outworkings of Jesus’ special identity and calling even as he lived in their family.
2:51 Jesus returned to Nazareth . . . and was obedient. Jesus understood his identity with God, but also was not yet supposed to go about his earthly ministry (that did not happen until he was thirty years old). Jesus’ behavior was not disobedient, but precociously acting out his true identity which he would one day fulfill. In the meantime, Jesus lived a human life, obeying his parents, growing up, studying, and learning. As she had with the words of the shepherds at Jesus’ birth (2:19), Mary stored all these things in her heart. She did not completely understand her son, but she remembered these events, thought them over, and sought to find their meaning. One day, it all would be clear. One day her son would become her Savior, and she would understand.
- LIFE APPLICATION-BEING YOUNG
- If you are twelve years old, one of your hardest jobs in life is obeying the adults who run your home. They are called parents, and they always think they know best. It’s very tough for a twelve-year-old to keep from taking over the family and running it according to intelligent twelve-year-old standards. But when the temptation strikes, remember Jesus. . . . Even though he knew his real Father, he did not reject his earthly parents. He went back to Nazareth with them and lived under their authority for another eighteen years. God’s people do not despise human relationships or family responsibilities. If the Son of God obeyed his human parents, how much more should you honor your family members?
2:52 The Bible does not record any events of the next eighteen years of Jesus’ life, but Jesus undoubtedly was learning and maturing. As the oldest in a large family, he assisted Joseph in his carpentry work. Joseph may have died during this time, leaving Jesus to provide for the family. The normal routines of daily life gave Jesus a solid understanding of the Judean people.
The second chapter of Luke shows us that although Jesus was unique, he had a normal childhood and adolescence. In terms of development, he went through the same progression we do. He grew physically (in height) and mentally (in wisdom), he related to other people (loved . . . by all who knew him), and he was loved by God. A full human life is balanced. It was important to Jesus—and it should be important to all believers—to develop fully and harmoniously in each of these key areas: physical, mental, social, and spiritual.
Until tomorrow, Darrell
Sources: Life Application Bible Commentary, Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary, Teacher’s Commentary, Preaching the Word
For more about The Ridge Fellowship or Darrell Koop, go to www.ridgefellowship.com