The Birth Of The Saviour -- Luke 2:1-20
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of die house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling-clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them”- Luke 2:1-20.
The incarnation of our Lord is not merely a doctrinal tenet about which theologians of different schools may hold various views; it is a glorious reality, a wondrous fact, apart from which there could be no salvation for sinful men. “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). The miraculous birth of our Saviour is one of the foundation stones of our Christian faith. It is the companion truth to that of His expiatory sacrifice on the cross. Because of this, it will generally be found that he who denies the one denies the other. Too much importance cannot therefore be attached to the historic fact that Jesus was born of a virgin mother and that the “Child… born” was the “Son… given” (Isaiah 9:6). He who deigned to enter human conditions by the birth in Bethlehem is the One “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). To deny this is to repudiate the truth of the gospel, apart from which there is no hope for a lost world.
This passage connects very definitely with a prophecy which was given some 700 years before the events took place, which is found in the fifth chapter of the book of Micah. Micah was contemporary with Isaiah, and both prophets predicted the coming of the days of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. In the fifth chapter of Micah, second verse, we read, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall come forth unto Me, Him that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” It is rather interesting to note the next verse. You might expect the prophet to declare that immediately all Israel would recognize as their Messiah and find redemption through, Him; but we read “Therefore will He give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.”
How little chance there seemed, to almost the very last, of any possibility of the fulfilment of Micah 5:2. It was given, as I have already said, 700 years before the Lord Jesus Christ was born. The Holy Spirit definitely indicated the place where he must be born-Bethlehem, a city of Judaea. It was David’s city. It was not a very large city, but it is the most beautiful city, to my mind, in all Palestine. For over a thousand years since the days of the first crusade Bethlehem has been a Christian city, at least in name. It has not been given over to Mohammedanism, but has been a recognized Christian community. The prophet said that the Messiah must be born there, and he declared that this mysterious Child was to be One “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” The psalmist says, “From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.”
This child, then, would be both God and Man-God and Man united in one Person, never again to be separated. This is the mystery of the incarnation.
Such was Micah’s declaration, but it seemed until a very, very short time before the actual event took place, that the prophecy could not be literally fulfilled. Almost up to the very last Mary was dwelling in the city of Nazareth, in the northern part of the land. In those days when one could only travel on foot, or on the back of an ass or a camel, it took a long time to get from Nazareth to Jerusalem. It is very different today. We made the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem in about eight hours, and we stopped over at a number of places en route, but that was by automobile. It was not possible to travel that quickly in those days. There was Mary at her home in Nazareth, expecting almost daily the birth of the wonderful Babe, the secret of whose conception she alone thoroughly understood, and yet the prophecy said, “He must be born in Bethlehem.” I wonder if Mary ever thought of the words of Micah. I wonder if Joseph was concerned. Did Joseph know that the child must come into the world at Bethlehem? At any rate, they seemed to make no preparation for it. Then we are told it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. He was the ruler of the ancient world. He had his throne in the city of Rome. And here was the prophecy which said that the Messiah must be born in Bethlehem, and there was Mary waiting in Nazareth. So God put it in the heart of the emperor, that everybody must go to his own city, the city where he was born, in order to be enrolled for the taxing. This was God’s way of bringing Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem on time, in order that His Word might not fail. We are told this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was Governor of Syria. The critics, those who try to find fault with the Bible and question its inspiration, used to point to this second verse and say, “Now you have positive proof that the Gospel of Luke could not have been divinely inspired because you have an inaccuracy. Cyrenius ruled over Syria something like 6 A.D., really ten years after the actual birth of Christ, because He was born four years before the change of the calendar from B.C. to A.D.” These objectors said Cyrenius was Governor of Syria, which included Palestine, a number of years, on from A.D. 6. This taxing could not have taken place in his time if it took place at the time when Christ was reputed to have been born. God has been answering the critics in a very wonderful way in our day. The spade of the archaeologist has been turning up a great many remarkable things that have demonstrated the truth of the Bible. One of the leading archaeologists of the day wrote recently, “I am acquainted with practically all the results of archaeological discovery for the last hundred years, and I have not discovered any that cast doubt on the Scripture, but hundreds of things have proved its statements to be absolutely accurate.”
I have jotted down an item which I took from one of the records. “It has been thought that Luke confused this census with that under Cyrenius, at 6 to 7 A.D., when he became Governor the second time. Luke refers to that also in Acts 5:37 as ‘the days of the taxing.’” But we know that Cyrenius had been Governor of Syria before that, under the reign of Augustus, from B.C. 12 on to B.C. 3. It was during this period that the census was taken, to which Luke refers here in his Gospel. Men are too short-sighted and know too little, to find fault with the Bible. Just give us the opportunity to get more facts, and the Bible will always prove triumphant in every controversy. God had so ordered things that this enrollment had to take place, and that meant that Joseph and Mary must go to Bethlehem.
We read in verse Luke 2:4, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David).” So it was that while there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. Thus you will see God had set the whole world in motion-millions of people going to their own cities to be enrolled for the taxation, in order that one prophecy in the Old Testament might be fulfilled on time, and that Christ might be born in Bethlehem of Judaea. They were not looking for Him down there. There was no welcome. Though Joseph was of the lineage of David and though Mary was a daughter of the house of David, there was no blare of trumpets when they arrived. There was no reservation for them in the local inn. We read there was “no room for them in the inn.” I suppose hundreds of people were crowding into Bethlehem. The wealthy would make reservations ahead and preempt the good places to stay. I can imagine Joseph and Mary coming, tired and worn after that long journey, and saying to the innkeeper, “Have you a comfortable place?” The innkeeper would say, “You didn’t make any reservations. All the rooms have been taken.” You can imagine there would not be much attention paid to this poor carpenter. Yet God had made provision. There was one place, if there was no room for His Son to be born in the inn, there was a place in a stable among the cattle. So we read, “She brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling-clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” Do not think of the stable in which He was born as what we would call a stable today. It would not be a wooden barn but a cave cut in the limestone. When they show this place to people in Bethlehem today they say, “This is the cave in which Christ was born.” We could see where the sheep and goats and oxen had been kept; and passing through a kind of a catacomb-like lane, we got into another cave where Jerome spent so many years while he translated the Bible into the Latin from the Greek. According to his own record, he said that his cave was right close by the one where Jesus Himself had been born. They will show you the cave today. It was in some such cave-stable that our blessed Lord was born. They took the little One and they wrapped Him in swaddling-clothes, and for a cradle they put Him in a manger from which the cattle were accustomed to get their food.
Think of God’s blessed Son: become Man for our redemption! Born in a stable! and cradled in a manger! We find all heaven was stirred. In these early chapters of Luke you get one song after another. You have the song of Elisabeth, the song of Zacharias, and the song of Mary, and here you get the song of the angel. I know we do not actually get the word “song” here. It does not actually say the angel sang. But I am sure that the ordinary speech of the angels would be sweeter and more melodious than any song that anybody could sing on earth. All heaven was moved. We are told, “There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night, and lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.” They had heard of angels appearing in time past. But 400 years had gone by since the last of the prophets, and there was no authentic record of angels being seen on earth until Gabriel appeared to Zacharias in the temple. Now all heaven was illuminated and a majestic being was actually visible to mortals. They were sore afraid; but the angel said unto them, “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.” What a message-FEAR NOT! Gabriel twice before had used these same words, and this may have been Gabriel again. “Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings.” That is what the gospel is. The word means “good tidings.” Our English word “gospel” is just a slightly changed form of the old Anglo-Saxon Gudspel, which means “good tidings.” So the angel came to preach the gospel, and that word rings all through the Word of God. The gospel was preached to Abraham, and to the people of Israel. The gospel was preached all through the time or ministry of John the Baptist, and the gospel is being proclaimed today in the power of the Holy Ghost, sent down from Heaven. It is God’s message about His blessed Son. There is only one gospel. Paul says, “Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel, let him be accursed.” This was an angel from heaven. If there be any who preach any other gospel than that which we have preached, let them be accursed. It is God’s good news about His blessed Son. It takes on different forms at different times. It was the gospel of the Kingdom, specifically, when our blessed Lord and the early apostles gave it forth.
Since Christ ascended to heaven, the message has been sent down to earth, that a Saviour is seated at God’s right hand. This tells of a finished work. It is called the “glorious gospel,” because it leads to the glory, and the “everlasting gospel,” for it is the gospel for all ages. The gospel will be the joy of our hearts for all eternity. It is all summed up in those wonderful words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
There are good tidings of great joy for all people, not just for the elect, not just for a limited number, but for all people. All men everywhere are invited to put their trust in the Saviour whom God has sent into the world. We have the definite announcement of the Lord’s birth as given by the angel, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord… And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger.”
Then we read that “suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’.” It seems strange-doesn’t it?-to hear those words ringing down through the ages, when you think of the awful condition which prevails in the earth today. Look where you will; there is no peace. Look at the lands abroad; there is war. Look out over our own land; it is strife between Capital and Labor-between different groups. There is misery and wretchedness everywhere-unrest on every hand; and yet the angel said, “Peace, goodwill toward men.” Ah, but that peace was dependent upon receiving the Saviour whom God had sent into the world. Alas, men rejected Him. They refused Him, and that is why the world remains in its unhappy condition.
According to Micah, the Messiah is coming back again, when the rest of Israel shall return to their God.
The shepherds did not stop to question, but we read, “It came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” I like the simplicity of their faith. They did not say, “Let us go and see if this thing has come to pass.” They said, “Let us go and see this thing which has come to pass.” They were persuaded even before they saw. They hastened and came and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in the manger; and when they had seen it they made known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. The first evangelists of the new age were these simple shepherds who went out saying, “He has come,” and “We have seen Him. He was born in Bethlehem. We saw Him there lying in a manger.” They went forth proclaiming the advent of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, and all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
Think of the virgin mother-what it must have meant to her! There she lay in the palace of straw! There-on the floor of the stable-there was the little Babe in the manger where she could just reach it with her delicately-shaped fingers; and all the time she was thinking what a wonderful message had come to her some months before, and now was the fulfilment. What does it all mean? Little could she see the wonderful results that would be manifested down through the ages, but she knew that God had come in, in grace, and visited His people. We read that “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart, and the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”
How our hearts rejoice in this story. We have read it over and over again, but it is always new; is it not? The sweetest story ever told-the coming to earth of our Lord Jesus Christ. No room for Him in the inn. Is there room in your heart? Have you made room for Him? Have you received Him? Have you trusted Him? If you never made room for Him before, won’t you say now,
“Come in, my Lord, come in,
And make my heart Thy home,
Come in and cleanse my soul from sin,
And dwell with me alone.”
He wants to come in, and He will come in if you will open the door.
The Presentation In The Temple -- Luke 2:21-38
“And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the Child, His name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought Him to Jerusalem, to present Him to the Lord; (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons. And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon: and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him after the custom of the law, then took he Him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel. And Jeseph, and His mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of Him. And Simeon blessed them and said unto Mary, His mother, Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against: (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also;) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto die Lord, and spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem”- Luke 2:21-38.
There are really five parts in this section. First, we have the actual presentation of the Lord in the temple, to do for Him according to the law. As a Jewish child the ordinance of circumcision had been performed upon Him when He was eight days old. At that time His name was definitely called Jesus, as the angel declared should be the case before His birth. It is important to remember that this very name signifies not only His Saviourhood, but also His Deity, for it actually means “Jehovah the Saviour.” That was the name given to Him before He was born, and confirmed to Mary before He was presented in the Temple. How blessed to know Him as that! God Himself came down in grace, linked His Deity with our humanity, in order to perfect our redemption. We have something that is rather pathetic and deeply interesting to me, in the offering that Mary and Joseph brought. According to the law, after a child was born and a certain number of days had elapsed, a sacrifice was to be brought in recognition of the Lord’s goodness to the parents, and also in recognition of the fact that even little children, as sweet and comparatively innocent as they are, come of a sinful race and need a Saviour. According to the law, that sacrifice might be of various animals. It might be a lamb out of the flock, or a kid of the goats, or, the Word says, if they were not able to bring a lamb or a kid, they might bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons. Here we have a most significant thing. When Mary and Joseph came to offer this sacrifice in connection with the presentation of our blessed Lord Jesus, their wonderful adorable Babe, we read that they brought a pair of turtledoves. They could not bring the higher-priced offerings. They were numbered among the poor of Israel. That gives us some conception of the place our Saviour took in grace-He who was higher than the highest. He who created all things came into this world and took His place in a family so poor that they were not able to bring a lamb out of the flock, but they brought the offering of the very needy-two turtledoves.
Next we have the recognition of the Saviour by Simeon and the prophecy concerning Him. We are told that, “There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and the same man was just and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel.” There were, doubtless, many of the Jews at this time who recognized the fact that the great time-prophecy of Daniel 9 had almost run out and that very soon the promised Messiah, the King and Saviour of Israel, must appear in accordance with the Word of God; and so they waited for Him. I wonder how many of us are waiting for His second coming. The years have gone since He went away. He said, “If I go to prepare a place for you I will come again, and receive you unto Myself.” The Thessalonian believers “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven.” Are we numbered among those who are waiting for the Lord Jesus-waiting for Him to return again; waiting for Him to call His Church to be with Himself, and then to be manifested in glory for the full blessing of Israel and the nations? Just as this little remnant in Israel was waiting for Him to come the first time, so we should be waiting for Him to appear the second time, apart from the sin question, unto our complete and final salvation.
This man, Simeon, an aged man, was waiting for the consolation of the coming of the Messiah, and it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not taste of death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ; that is, until he had seen the Messiah that Jehovah had promised. As Mary and Joseph came into the Temple bringing the little child in their arms, Simeon entered also, and when the parents presented the Child Jesus, Simeon saw Him immediately and said, “That is the One,” and without a moment’s hesitation he went to Mary and took the child in his own arms and blessed God and said, “Now, Lord, let Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word, for mine eyes hath seen Thy salvation.” That for which he was waiting had now actually been fufilled. The Spirit made it clear to him, and he said, “This is what I have waited for. This is what I wanted, and I now have that for which I longed, and I am ready to go home. Let me now depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” Notice the last expression- God’s salvation is bound up in a Person. When he saw Christ he said, “I have seen Thy salvation.” If you would ever see God’s salvation you must see the Lord Jesus Christ. If, when you look by faith upon Him, when you behold Him as the One who was sent by the Father, who came to this world in grace, and gave Himself a ransom for our souls-when you can see Him you are beholding God’s salvation. So, if you would know God’s salvation you must receive Christ.
Then Simeon goes on to prophesy. He says, “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people, Israel.” You might have expected Simeon to reverse that expression, for it was prophesied in the Old Testament that the Messiah was coming first to bring blessing to Israel and then, through Israel, to the Gentile world. Simeon realizes and recognizes that there is a break in God’s way in dealing with men; so he puts the Gentiles first, and then Israel. The Spirit of God knew that when our Lord Jesus Christ came that first time in lowly grace, His own people would refuse Him. They would turn away from Him. They would not receive Him as their Messiah. So their hour of blessing was to be deferred. But he said, “He shall be a light to lighten the Gentiles,” and that explains why it is that, though Israel refuses to own our Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour, He has been manifested to untold millions of Gentiles who have recognized and trusted in Him. Has God lost His interest in Israel? No; for the present time blindness, in part, has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles comes in. When the work among the Gentiles is completed, then He is going to take up Israel again in a marvelous way. So Simeon says, “He is a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people, Israel.” What a day it will be when Israel returns to the Lord, and when they shall recognize in Him the One whom their fathers rejected-the Saviour that God had promised, whose finished work on the cross alone redeems!
Then notice in the third place, the special word for Mary, the mother of our blessed Lord. Simeon said unto her, “Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against.” How this must have confirmed to the blessed mother of our Lord the words spoken by the angel before His birth. It was all so strange and mysterious, but when this aged Spirit-controlled servant of God definitely said to her, “This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel,” it would confirm what had already been revealed to her. What does he mean by the fall and rising again? You will remember, Jesus said He was the stone of salvation, but He said, “Whosoever shall fall upon this stone shall be broken.” Israel stumbled over the lowly Jesus. He was a stumbling-stone and a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel; so He was set for the fall of many in Israel; but, on the other hand, down through the centuries thousands upon thousands have turned to Him, as many did in the days immediately following His resurrection-three thousand at Pentecost, thousands more afterward, untold myriads down through the centuries since. Vast numbers from Israel have turned to God and found in the Lord Jesus their Saviour, and by-and-by the nation as a whole will be converted. So, this Child was set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign that should be spoken against. Oh, the bitter things, the blasphemous things that have been said concerning the Lord Jesus Christ! When people reject the Lord Jesus Christ there is no saying to what length they will go to bolster up their false beliefs.
Then Simeon turned directly to Mary and said to her, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” I wonder if these words did not come back to Mary as she stood by the cross and saw her blessed Son nailed to the tree, as she looked upon the thorn-crowned head, as she saw blood spurting from every wound, as she saw the hands that had been pressed upon her brow so many times nailed upon that cross, and those feet that had gone about, carrying their blessed Owner on errands of love and mercy, spiked to that tree. Her sorrows must have been deep indeed, and yet she knew that all was foreknown of God, and that it was her appointed destiny to bring into the world the Saviour who was thus to give His life a ransom for all.
The next thing we notice is that in Luke 2:36, God gives further confirmation. This time an aged woman appears on the scene, a prophetess, named Anna, the daughter of Phanuel. She had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity, we are told, and was a widow of about eighty-four years, so she must have been above a hundred years of age. She was one of the remnant in Israel, waiting for the coming of the Messiah. She departed not from the Temple, but served God with fastings and prayer night and day. She, coming in that instant, suddenly recognized the Babe as the Saviour, and she gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and she spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. This aged woman, becomes one of the first evangelists of the new age, saying, “I have seen the Saviour. He has come-the One who is to bring redemption.”
The closing part of our passage has to do with the Childhood of our blessed Lord. When they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord they returned into Galilee, into their own city, Nazareth, and the Child grew and waxed strong in spirit. It is a lovely picture of this Child growing up in the seclusion of the home and glorifying God, His Father, in all things. There was nothing abnormal about Him. He was not doing wonderful and remarkable things. If you want signs and wonders the “Apocryphal Gospels” will give you all kinds of things attributed to our blessed Lord. It is told how, when He was a little boy, He went to school and the teacher started to teach Him the alphabet. The teacher said, “Say Aleph” and He repeated it. Then the teacher told Him to say Beth. He replied, “No, I will not say Beth until you tell me what Aleph means.” The teacher lifted up his hand to strike Him and his hand became paralyzed. That is the kind of Jesus the Apocryphal Gospels tell us of.
There is nothing like that in God’s Holy Word. This is a beautiful, perfectly normal Child growing up in a lowly home where God is revered, and feeding upon the Word of God until the hour when He was to go forth on His great mission to redeem the world. Those hidden years were the suitable preparation for His future ministry.
The Boy Christ Among The Doctors -- Luke 2:41-52
“Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the Child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and His mother knew not of it. But they, supposing Him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. And when they saw Him, they were amazed: and His mother said unto Him, Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing. And He said unto them, How is it that ye sought Me? wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which He spake unto them. And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but His mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” - Luke 2:41-52.
It has not pleased God to give us very much information in regard to the early life of His beloved Son, as Man here on earth. Uninspired writers have tried to fill the gap by producing imaginary stories of the Childhood, and Youth, and Manhood of Jesus. There are weird myths stating that He went off to India as a young man and there sat at the feet of Hindu yogis, and learned the art of healing, and such like rubbish. We may be sure none of these things is true. Our Lord Jesus lived a normal life as a boy, growing up in a beautiful Jewish home where the Word of God was adored and loved.
As a young man He worked at the carpenter’s bench with His foster-father, Joseph, and inasmuch as Joseph disappears from the picture in a little time and never seems to appear again, we are forced to the conclusion that he must have died while our Lord was quite a young man. That would bring Him to the place where He would be the head of the family, and caring for His mother and His younger brothers and sisters, for the Scriptures speak of His brothers and sisters. God never seeks to gratify mere curiosity.
We would like to know more of those hidden years at Nazareth. We would like to know more of the early days of our blessed Lord. We just have enough to let us know that He was a subject Child, and that His heart was always open to the voice of God, His Father. Here we get a little light on the habits of the family that help us to understand just what kind of a group it was. His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of Passover. Long years before, God had commanded in the law that His people should go up to the place where He set His name from year to year, to keep the Passover feast, and it was His thought that every Passover might be a lesson to the children.
You remember that when the children asked, “What mean ye by these things?” they were told how their fathers had been slaves in the land of Egypt, and how God had delivered them and brought them out of the house of bondage. The parents were to explain the meaning of the Passover lamb, and though, perhaps, they realized it not, it was a picture of redemption.
One can think of our blessed Lord as a mere child taking the place of a little Jewish boy in that home, looking up into the eyes of His dear mother and saying, “What mean ye by these things?” Then as Joseph went on to explain, He would know far better than Joseph the real meaning of the Passover rites. He knew that He was the true Passover Lamb. He had come from heaven in order to give His life a ransom for many. He knew that the blood of the Passover lamb typified His own precious blood soon to be shed for the world’s redemption, and yet, perhaps all this knowledge did not come to Him as a child immediately, for we are told that Jesus increased in wisdom as He increased in stature and in favor with God and man. The mystery of His incarnation is beyond our keenest comprehension. As the Eternal Son of God we hear Him saying to the Father, “Lo, I came to do Thy will, O My God. Yea, Thy law is within My heart.” Voluntarily He left the throne of glory for the manger of Bethlehem. As God, of course, He knew all things, and yet as Man He chose to grow in wisdom as He grew in stature. It is a mystery. We cannot understand how He, who was the Eternal Wisdom, could yet learn from the Word of God. When we turn back to the prophet Isaiah we hear Him say, “He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth Mine ear to hear as the learned.” Our Lord Jesus, as a little child, grew and studied the Word of God. Later He fed on the Word of God. It was His constant delight and joy. All these different circumstances must have spoken to His heart as He knew He was the One who had come to fulfil every one of the types and shadows of the Law.
It is wonderful to contemplate that lovely family on its way to Jerusalem year after year, and that little Child Jesus toddling along beside, or His mother cuddling Him in her arms as she rode upon an ass.
Then, when He was twelve years old, the visit to Jerusalem had special significance for Him. When He was twelve they came up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. It was the rule in Israel, when a child reached the age of twelve, to bring him to the temple, and there he went through certain ceremonies something like that of confirmation in some of our churches. From that time on he was recognized as the son of the Law. A child was not supposed to be on his own responsibility until he reached the age of twelve. His parents were responsible for him until that time, but when he became twelve years of age he accepted his own responsibility, and it was now put up to him that he was to obey God and keep His Law and seek His favor. So our Lord Jesus at twelve years of age took His place as the son of the Law. He was a true Israelite and He came to fulfil everything in the Law of Moses according to the will of God.
On this occasion something occurred that may have a very serious lesson for us. When the Passover feast was ended and the people were leaving the city and wending their way back to their various homes, the family to which our blessed Lord belonged and many of their friends and relatives passed through the gates of the city and took the road to the north. Joseph and His mother did not inquire whether the young lad Jesus was with them. They took that for granted. No word was told Him that they were going, and He was not under responsibility to leave with them. There was something else upon His heart and mind that God the Father had revealed definitely to Him. They took the northern route, and went on a whole day’s journey supposing Him to be in the company. Then, when they undertook to camp for the night, they sought Him everywhere and He wasn’t there.
Our friend, Gipsy Smith, has often preached a very great sermon on the subject, “The Lost Christ,” and pointed out how possible it is to take it for granted that Jesus is in the company, and yet to be without Him. It is never true that the Lord Jesus Christ leaves those whom He has saved by His grace. It is never true that, having taken anyone up in His loving-kindness, He later forsakes them, but it is sadly true that Christians may go on taking it for granted that they are in fellowship with Him when actually they have drifted away from Him in heart. They are not enjoying His presence, and they hardly realize their loss. I wonder if there are not some of us here today who have had that experience. It is so easy to go on in an outward form of religiousness and not really enjoy the presence of Christ. It is possible to sit at the table of the Lord and to be conducting services for the Lord, and yet not have the presence of the Lord with us, and it is possible to go on, day by day, thinking everything is all right when in reality things are very, very wrong because we are out of touch with Him. We are not enjoying communion with Him. So it was with this group, awakened at last to realize that in some way or other they had missed Him. They took the long road back to Jerusalem, no doubt inquiring of friends if they had seen Him. When they got to the city three days went by before, at last, they found Him in the Temple. One would have thought they would have gone there first. That was His Father’s house. There He had professed His allegiance to the Lord God, because the One in whose name it was dedicated was so precious to His youthful heart.
When the parents came they found Him sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. Now notice this: There is no evidence of undue precocity and He is not an impertinent child. He is not sitting in the midst of the doctors teaching them, nor leaving His place as a child to try to instruct these older people. He has all the marks of a humble child. He is listening to them, hearing what the elders have to say, and asking them questions. They too, evidently, ask Him questions. When they did He answered modestly and so wonderfully that they were amazed.
We read, “And it came to pass, that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” They did not know that this Child was “over all, God blessed for ever,” who had taken our humanity in order that He might fulfil all that was written of Him in the Law. They did not realize that the Messiah for whom they had long waited was there in their midst. They said, “We have never seen a child like this before. He seems to know God so intimately. He knows the Scriptures so well-not merely the letter of the Law, but the spiritual meaning of it.” So they looked one upon the other in amazement as they heard His questions and listened to His answers.
In this as in all else the Lord Jesus has left young people an example that they should follow. He left us an example of a Man who went around doing good. Consequently when He was reviled He reviled not again, and when He suffered He threatened not. We have an example as a Child, that children who have been brought to know their God and Father may follow in His steps. Young folk, let me impress upon you the importance of familiarizing yourselves with God’s blessed Word. What you learn of this blessed Book in childhood will abide with you through the years. Some of us have proven that. We took it as the man of our counsel in our early days when we read it over and over again, and how much it has meant to us throughout the years. In the desire to get an education and to become familiar with the events of the day do not so give yourselves to other books that you neglect the Word of God. Feed upon His Word. See that you get some of it every day for your own soul. Don’t be content to read a chapter at a time, but meditate when you read, and ask God to open it up to you by the Holy Spirit, and as you thus feast upon the Word you, too, will increase in wisdom, and in stature and in favor with God and man. You will be able, some day, to astonish those who do not know the secrets of the Lord, by your calmness, your restfulness of spirit in the midst of all the strife of earth, as you depend upon the living Word of God.
Mary and Joseph came to the temple and there they found Jesus, the Boy Jesus, sitting in the midst of the doctors, interested as they discussed together the things of the Scriptures, and when they saw Him they were amazed, and His mother said unto him, “Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.” You cannot blame her for the seeming reproach in her words. She had never known Him to be disobedient. He was perfect in all His ways. This was the first time perhaps that anything had occurred that had perplexed her in the bringing up of this Child, this Holy One. Mary speaks of Joseph as His father because he took a father’s place, but actually God was His only Father. “And He said unto them, How is it that ye sought Me? wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” “Did I ever say anything that would warrant your losing faith in Me? Could you not trust Me? Could you not count upon My doing the thing that was right?” I wonder if that was not to remind her of that great mystery of twelve years back, when she, a virgin, had become the mother of a Child who had no human father. She knew that He was the Son of God. She knew that His first allegiance was to God the Father. Why did she not understand? There is just a gentle reprimand here that might seem unkind if we did not understand who He was. It was He who was both God and Man in one glorious Person. We read in verse Luke 2:50, “And they understood not the saying which He spake unto them.” It was something utterly beyond their comprehension.
Then, we have the next part of His life, up to the time of the beginning of His public ministry, brought before us in just two verses. These two verses are all that God has been pleased to tell us of the hidden years before He came forth to proclaim His Messiahship. “And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.” There again, what an example He sets to Christian young people of all ages. Oh, how much insubjection there is today. God’s Word has said, “Children, obey your parents, for this is right.” It is the first commandment with a promise. Children are to honor their parents although sometimes the parents are not very deserving of honor, but the children at least should try to cover the failures of their parents and to give them what honor they can, but oh, how children today dishonor their parents! How much disrespect there is! How much disobedience there is! In the old days it was “Children, obey your parents.” Now it is largely, “Parents, obey your children.” I was in a home not long ago and the folks were getting ready to go out on a little trip. The mother was downstairs in the car, and the daughter was calling upstairs to the father. I think she felt she ought to apologize to me, and she said, “I hope you won’t misunderstand, but, you know, I have the most awful time training father to do as he is told.” That is just a picture of the times. Instead of children doing as they are told, they are seeking to force the parents to obey the children. But how different the example set here by our blessed Lord, this holy Youth growing up there in Nazareth. He was subject unto His parents. We are told His mother kept all these sayings in her heart. She was pondering day by day as she noticed the development of this wonderful Child, as she thought of the angel’s message of the miraculous birth and of some things that had transpired since. She was trying to peer into the future, wondering what was to be the destiny of this marvelous Being, of this One who was to be in her care.
The last verse gives us the end of what the Scriptures reveal concerning His early years: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” In all this He is an example to us. If we would grow in grace as we grow in years we need to feed on the Word of God and to spend much time in communion with our Heavenly Father by prayer and meditation. In Hebrews 5:11-14 the inspired writer bewails the sad fact that so many of God’s children make such slow progress in the spiritual life. After years of Christian profession they are still as babes in Christ, unable to appropriate and to digest the deeper spiritual truths of the Scriptures, but are such as need to be fed upon the milk of the Word. Paul speaks in a similar way to the Corinthian believers (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). One evidence of spiritual babyhood is the tendency to quarrel over trivial questions, and to follow after human leaders instead of being subject to the direction of the Holy Spirit. Babies are inclined to be quarrelsome and self-willed. Some Christians manifest the same childish characteristics. Those who go on with the Lord and grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ become increasingly like their Master. In this, as in all else that pertains to life and godliness, our blessed Lord as Man on earth was our example. While Jesus was the Incarnate Son, yet as a youth in the home at Nazareth “He increased in wisdom” as He grew in stature, and men marveled at the grace that was seen in His holy ways.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Luke 2". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter