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The Birth of Jesus Christ

2:1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes.


In the days running up to the birth of Jesus, Caesar Augustus decreed that the entire Roman Empire should be registered, as part of his reform of Roman taxation. Caesar Augustus (Gaius Octavius) was

the adopted son of his great uncle Julius Caesar, who after defeating Julius’ assassins overcame his former allies (including Mark Anthony) to establish himself as the first emperor of Rome, ruling from 29 BC to 14 AD. Every province would, of course, organise its own census; and so the decree sets in course a chain of events in a lowly village in Galilee which led to prophecies about Jesus’ birth being fulfilled. Luke  apparently wants us to see how God was in charge of all these events, even influencing heathen kings to do his bidding. Luke ironically shows God is using the supreme ruler of Rome to make preparation for the birth of the supreme ruler of all things.  


2:2-3 This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone went to his own town to be registered.


Most historians agree that Quirinius conducted a census upon becoming legate of Syria in roughly 6AD. This census was a memorable one, for according to Josephus, the census was seen as being against Jewish law and gave rise to an anti-Roman revolt led by Judas of Galilee; but it does not correspond with Matthew’s account of Jesus being born during the reign of Herod the Great. However, the verse suggests that there was a census before  the one made by Quirinius. That would place it during the reign of Herod the Great (as Matthew suggests), and that might also explain why the custom of returning to tribal homes was followed, to make the census look more Jewish than Roman. Our best estimates place the birth of Jesus around 4 BC.  


2:4-5 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David. He went to be registered with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him, and who was expecting a child.


So Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem the home of his ancestors for he was a descendant of King David. He took Mary to whom he was engaged to be married; it was not usually a requirement for a man’s wife to accompany him during a census, but perhaps because he wanted to care for Mary himself, especially since only he and Mary knew the true identity of the child.  


2:6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.


Thus it was while they were in Bethlehem Mary gave birth to Jesus. Luke is careful to point this out because it was well known among the Jews that Bethlehem was the place where the Messiah should be born (Micah 5:2). Luke describes Jesus as Mary’s firstborn Son; for perhaps he knows of the four other brothers and several sisters named by Matthew (Matt. 13:55-56). Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes (strips of cloth) according to the Hebrew custom. Some commentators see in this an allusion to Jesus death:


2:7  “wrapped him    in bands of cloth  and laid him in a manger”  23:53  “wrapped [Jesus body]   in a linen cloth   and laid it in a… tomb”

Joel Green has some interesting information on the phrase ‘there was no room for them in the inn’. Peasant homes would have been open for travellers to share, and in these homes animals and people shared one roof with the animals in a lower level. The verse implies that the only room for Mary and Joseph then was among the animals in the lower part of such a house and the only thing available to serve as a cot was the animals’ feeding trough (manger).


The Birth of the Saviour made Known

2:8-9 Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified.


Since the days of King David, Bethlehem was known as a sheep farming area (2 Sam. 17:15). On the night that Jesus was born, shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem were visited by an angel.   From him the glory of the Lord filled the night sky around them, and they were terrified.


2:10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people.


The angel reassured them that he had not come to harm them but brought a message of good news from God which would bring great joy to all people.


2:11 Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.


Here was awesome news! The Jews had been living under the oppression of an occupying power whose emperor called himself the saviour and lord of the world. Many Jews longed for Messiah to come and liberate them from this ungodly rule and restore Israel to God. In Bethlehem that night, this Messiah (Christ) was born, and from now on he was to be the Saviour and Lord of the world.  


2:12 This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.


This great ruler would be recognised not by his worldly grandeur, but by the lowly way in which he was born; they would find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.


2:13-14 Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!"


Suddenly a multitude of the heavenly host appeared with the angel praising God “to honour the new-born Prince of Peace” (Clarke). This is their anthem of praise. The glory of God was manifested in His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, for through Him and by Him would God fulfil his eternal purpose to reconcile the world to Himself. The peace on earth is the peace of reconciliation that will be brought about by Christ’s death and resurrection (Eph. 2:13-15). The correct rendering is “goodwill towards all men”, for “God so loved the world that He gave His Son” (John 3:16).


2:15 When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us."


After the angels had gone the shepherds consulted among themselves and decided to go to Bethlehem and see the child whose birth God had made known to them.


2:16 So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger.


When they arrived at the house they found it exactly as the angel had said, with Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger.


2:17-18 When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said.


When they had seen Jesus they witnessed to everybody the things which they had been told concerning Him. All who heard the shepherds story were amazed by it, for although they were expecting the Messiah to be born in Bethlehem they did not think that He would have parents of such low social status or be born in a peasant house.


2:19 But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean.


But Mary treasured all the things which she had learned about Jesus in her heart and meditated upon them.


2:20 So the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told.


The shepherds returned to the occupation of caring for sheep praising and glorifying God for His grace which had been revealed to them.


The Presentation of Christ

2:21 At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.


In obedience to the Law of Moses the child was circumcised when he was eight days old—a tradition which went back to Abraham (Genesis 17:12)—and the family follows what may have been the custom in those days to name the child at his circumcision. One again Luke is careful to emphasise Jesus’ status within the Jewish faith—before adding that he had in fact been given the name Jesus by the angel Gabriel before He was conceived.

It was unusual for children to be named by God before conception, and so a certain meaning must be attached to each occasion. The only occasion in the Old Testament was the naming of Ishmael and Isaac (Genesis 16:11; 17:19); names which express God’s covenant faithfulness for his people–He had both made Sarah laugh and also heard Hagar’s cry. Jesus provides an even greater expression of God’s covenant love, being sent to ‘save his people from their sins’ (Matt. 1:21).  

In the New Testament only John the Baptist was named in a way similar to Jesus in Luke 1:13; and perhaps this was to confirm his status as the forerunner of Christ. It is possible that Luke wants to underscore his earlier point that although Jesus became a Jew like any other, he was more than that – he was the son of God (Luke 1:31-32).


2:22-23 Now when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (just as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male will be set apart to the Lord." )


Still in keeping with Jewish custom, after Mary’s days of purification was completed according to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12:2-6) they brought Jesus up to the Temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (Exodus 13:2; 12-15). The redemption of the firstborn reminded Israel of the death of the firstborn in Egypt and how they had been saved through the blood of the Passover lamb to become God’s own people. It is appropriate that Jesus, being the firstborn of Mary, should be associated with these historic events as he was the one who would become the Passover sacrifice to redeem us from sin and death (1 Cor. 5:7). Notice too how the Jews of this period viewed the Temple as the house of God, the place in which God would meet with them (see 2 Chronicles 7:16); a fact which becomes important in Luke’s narration of the time when Jesus visited the Temple again aged twelve (Luke 2:42-52).  


2:24 And to offer a sacrifice according to what is specified in the law of the Lord, a pair of doves or two young pigeons.


They offered a sacrifice to the Lord of a pair of turtle doves or pigeons, one for a burnt offering the other for a sin offering; this verse more than any other reveals that Mary and Joseph were poor (Leviticus 12:6-8).


Simeon’s Prophecy

2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon who was righteous and devout, looking for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.


At that time an old man named Simeon living in Jerusalem; he was both righteous and devoutly religious and the Holy Spirit was upon him (in other words he was regarded as a prophet). There is a thought that among the Jews of this second Temple period, although they had returned from exile centuries earlier, they were still felt themselves to be in exile. The glory and blessing of a bygone age had not been restored to them. They were suffering under Roman occupation. Over time, the hope of the restoration of the blessings and purpose of God became linked with the prophecies concerning God’s coming servant, the Messiah. This explains why Simeon, in waiting for the restoration of Israel, was expecting a person--the Messiah—since the ideas were (quite rightly) linked.


2:26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.


The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Anointed One of God, the Messiah.


2:27-28 So Simeon, directed by the Spirit, came into the temple courts, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary according to the law, Simeon took him in his arms and blessed God, saying,


On the day that Jesus was brought by his parents to be presented to God in the Temple, the Holy Spirit moved Simeon to go there also. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that the child Jesus was the Messiah, and so taking Jesus up into his arms  he praised God and prophesied.


2:29-32 "Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permit your servant to depart in peace. 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.


Simeon was now ready to die, as his words indicate: ‘now let your servant depart in peace’. This may indicate that he saw the coming of Jesus as God’s keeping of his covenant promise and sufficient grounds for him to enter eternal blessing (an idea which, in keeping with Jewish thought of the time, was probably linked with future resurrection). He held in his arms the saviour of the world; the one to bring the salvation which God had promised to all people (Isa. 52:10); to the Gentile nations to whom he would bring the knowledge of God (light and revelation) as well as being the glory (boast) of the Jews, the fulfilment of God’s promise to them (see Isa.  42:6 and Isa. 49:6).


2:33 So the child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him.


Mary and Joseph were devout but simple people. Although they knew that Jesus was the ‘son of God’, his mission had not been fully explained to them; and so they were amazed at the fresh revelation in what Simeon had said.


2:34-35 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "Listen carefully: This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected. Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!


Simeon then blessed the family, and addressing Mary said that her child was destined to be a rock of offence, a stumbling stone to cause many in Israel to fall by their rejection of him as the Christ (see Rom. 9:32-33; 1 Peter 2:8), revealing where they truly stand with God (the thoughts of their hearts). On the other hand those who receive him will be raised up to become the sons of God (John 1:12-13). Finally, Simeon forewarns Mary of the heartbreak Jesus would cause her through his sufferings and death.


Anna Witnessing

2:36-37 There was also a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, having been married to her husband for seven years until his death. She had lived as a widow since then for eighty-four years. She never left the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.


While Simeon was still talking to them, a prophetess named Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, came up to them. She was eighty-four years of age and had become a widow only seven years after her marriage. It is unlikely that she lived in the temple but she was always there given herself to fasting, praying and worshipping God.


2:38 At that moment, she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Whether she heard Simeon’s prophecy or not we do not know, but she came and continued the prophecy, praising God and witnessing to those in the Temple who were also awaiting expectantly for the Messiah.


Jesus on His Father’s Business

2:39 So when Joseph and Mary had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.


The verse seems to suggest that after Mary and Joseph and completed all that needed to be done in accordance to the Law they immediately returned to Nazareth. However, Matthew recounts that they stayed on in Bethlehem until the visit of the Magi, after which they fled for a short time to Egypt from the edict of Herod. Only then could they safely return to Nazareth. See footnote.


2:40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.


It was as a child growing up in Nazareth that Jesus became healthy in body and strong in spirit. The grace (abundant favour and spiritual blessing) of God was upon Him.


2:41-42 Now Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem every year for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.


Every year Joseph and Mary went up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover (Exod. 23:14-17). When Jesus was twelve years old they took Him with them up as usual to Jerusalem. Note that there was no requirement for boys to attend at age twelve; Luke is simply relating that he was twelve at the time of this particular incident. The rabbis encouraged whole family attendance at Passover whenever possible as per Exodus 12:26-27.


2:43-45 But when the feast was over, as they were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but (because they assumed that he was in their group of travelers) they went a day's journey. Then they began to look for him among their relatives and acquaintances. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.


After the Passover was over Joseph and Mary began their journey home but unbeknown to them Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem. They thought that He was somewhere in the returning company with their relatives so they were not concerned for Him until the end of the day when he should have returned to them for the night. When they searched for him but could not find Him they returned to Jerusalem.


2:46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

After three days of anxious searching they found Jesus in the court of the temple sitting among the teachers of God’s law, listening to them and asking them questions.


2:47 And all who heard Jesus were astonished at his understanding and his answers.


Perhaps it was not so much to discover answers as the desire to discuss the works of God that led Jesus to ask questions. Certainly, all those who heard Him were amazed at His understanding of the law and the scriptures and the way that He answered the rabbis.


2:48 When his parents saw him, they were overwhelmed. His mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously."


When Joseph and Mary finally found him their anxious emotions came to the fore, and his mother blamed him for causing them great apprehension.


2:49-50 But he replied, "Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know that I must be in my Father's house?" Yet his parents did not understand the remark he made to them.


When we consider Jesus’s answer to Mary we must remember that she and Joseph knew who Jesus was, the Son of God. That is why he asked them ‘why did you seek for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my father’s house (or some translations “doing my Father’s work?”)’ But they were not able to understand the significance of what He said to them. He may have come down to earth from heaven, but his fellowship was still with the Father as it always had been, both in terms of seeking his presence and doing his work.


2:51-52 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. But his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with people.


So Jesus returned with them to Nazareth and behaved as an obedient son. Mary kept all these things in her heart. Jesus continued to increase in wisdom and understanding; as well as in age and size; and in favour with God and people.


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