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THE BIRTH OF THE LORD JESUS
God in His sovereign wisdom and power at this time ordered the events of man's government to accomplish His own will. Caesar Augustus decreed that all the world (the Roman Empire) should be enrolled for the purpose of census taking. It is noted in a parenthesis that this census was actually taken when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, which was at least six years later. Of course it was not known that it would be this long delayed, but this was the means God took to have Joseph and Mary at Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Christ. Because Joseph (as Mary) was of the line of David, Bethlehem was the place of his enrollment. Prophecy concerning Christ must be fulfilled in every detail.
He whose goings forth had been "from eternity" is now born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), the eternal God, yet now in manhood "born of a woman." Marvelous miracle of grace! He who is Creator has yet been an infant, dependent upon His mother's care and ministrations! How this can be we are not expected to understand, but it does demand our simple, honest faith and draws forth the deep adoration of every renewed heart. How contrary are God's thoughts to those of men! Jesus is born in lowliest circumstances, of the poor of the land, not in courts of royal glory and with no official announcement and fanfare to welcome the advent of the great King of kings. More than this, because there was no room in the hotel, He was laid in a manger. Today there is still no room for Him in the ordinary social structure of the world: if His name is mentioned, it is not with the desire for His presence. But the obscurity of His birth is wonderful to the heart of a believer.
ANNOUNCEMENT TO SHEPHERDS
Nor does the angel choose distinguished rulers as those to whom he makes his marvelous announcement, but rather shepherds who in the night kept watch over their flock. This beautifully manifests the grace of God. For He is the Shepherd of Israel who never slumbers nor sleeps, watching alone while the world is unaware. The shining of the glory of the Lord frightened the shepherds, but they must be impressed with the wonder of the revelation given them. Their fears were quieted by the word of the angel and his good tidings of great joy, directed not only to the shepherds and not only to Israel, but to "all people."
So it is those in the place of lowliness who are told, "There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord" (v.11). Wondrous grace! He is called "Savior" first, before His official title is used. The sign of His being wrapped in swaddling cloths (not sewn clothing, but cloth wrapped around Him) and lying in a manger, was intended to bring the shepherds to see Him, as was the case.
When the message was given, then the angel was joined by a multitude of others lifting their voices in praise to God, but adding also, "on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" Sadly, peace on earth did not immediately follow this announcement, but man is to blame for this. From the heart of God peace has been offered toward men in the person of His Son, but they have refused His Son, and peace cannot be known by the world until it receives the Prince of Peace. Such peace is absolutely certain, but in the future.
This announcement of His birth is a matter of great importance (Hebrews 1:5), for nothing is to be left open to the least question as to its truth. Many others have claimed to be Christ, but none of them have been so presented at the time of their birth. A wicked promoter of this kind of thing would never announce a child as Christ at the time of his birth, for how could he expect the child to turn out in the pattern he desired?
Coming with haste, the shepherds found precisely what the angel had told them They did not keep it to themselves, but reported what they had witnessed throughout the region. It is evident there would be no reason whatever for their reporting such things if the report were not true. Therefore the people who heard it were not skeptical, but wondered what all this meant.
Mary, on the other hand, quietly remembered and pondered over the significance of the many details that had to do with this unique child. The shepherds had no doubt told her of the angel's message to them, and this, besides many other things later experienced, would awaken the keenest wondering interest in her heart. As they returned to their work, the shepherds were filled with praise to God, their eyes having confirmed what they had heard with their ears.
HIS CIRCUMCISION AND PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE
The ordinances of the law are seen to be carefully observed, and at His circumcision on the eighth day the child is named Jesus, the name decided by God before His conception. This too was announced to Joseph when Mary was pregnant with her firstborn (Matthew 1:18-21).
After 33 days (the length of time for a woman's purification after a man-child was born -- Leviticus 12:4), they brought Him to Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord. The law required a sacrifice with every such presentation, and though the Lord was sinless, this was done according to law. Circumcision symbolizes death, and the presentation of children to the Lord in Israel required this symbol of death. In Christianity baptism would answer to this (Colossians 2:11-12), and if a believer desires to present a child to the Lord, God has made the provision of baptism for such a presentation.
The sacrifice in this case was to be two turtle doves or two young pigeons (v.24), though we are not told which of these Joseph and Mary brought. The two birds were allowed rather than a Lamb in cases of poverty (Leviticus 12:8), and Joseph and Mary were poor people.
SIMEON AND HIS PROPHECY
God had further witnesses prepared to give glory to His blessed Son. Simeon, an aged man whose godly, devoted character was well known, one who waited for the consolation of Israel (that is, the coming of the Messiah), was given a revelation by the Spirit of God that he should not die before he had seen God's Messiah (vs.25-26). At the proper time the Spirit of God led him to the temple so that he was there when Joseph and Mary came in with the Lord Jesus (v.27)
How blessed was his privilege of taking up in his arms this One who is God manifest in flesh! In deepest reality he felt this privilege, therefore blessed God and expressed his contentment now in dying because his eyes had seen God's salvation. He did not think of remaining to enjoy Messiah's presence on earth or the blessing of Israel because of it. His is the same faith as Abraham's, who rejoiced in seeing Christ's day (John 8:56), but well knew that he personally would "go to his fathers in peace" (Genesis 15:15).
But Simeon's prophecy is by no means confined to Israel. In fact, he speaks of "all people" first, then of light to the Gentiles, and last, "the glory of Your people Israel" (vs.30-32). How deeply the grace of God had effect upon this dear man's soul! He was above mere selfish considerations and delighted in that which glorifies the Lord Jesus. God's salvation is His own Son. Salvation therefore was there, though as yet neither Israel nor Gentiles nations are saved.
Joseph and Mary, marveling at such things being spoken of this young child were also given more serious thoughts to consider by this same man of God. It is Mary specifically who is told that, because of Christ, many in Israel would fall and rise again (v.34). This has surely been true of many individuals who stumbled at first, then were lifted up and saved by divine grace.
Yet, though at present individuals have fallen and risen again, Israel as a nation remains in a fallen state, and not until the end of the Great Tribulation will many rise again, though it will not be all, for two-thirds in all the land of Israel will be cut off and die in unbelief (Zechariah 13:8). Christ is certainly a sign spoken against by the guilty nation, and through Him the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed, that is, by presenting Christ to people, God brings out what their thoughts really are -- those of love for God or of hatred toward God (John 15:22-24). In a parenthesis (v.35) it is noted that a sword would pierce Mary's soul also, a reference to her seeing this blessed One crucified by wicked hands.
ANOTHER AGED WITNESS
Another very aged witness is brought in by God at that instant. Anna, her name meaning "She was gracious" is the daughter of Phanuel ("the face of God"), of the tribe of Asher ("happy"). How appropriate are these connections! She had been married to a husband for about 84 years (v.37): hence if she had been married at 16, her age at this time would be 107. Her consistent devotion to the Lord, with fastings and prayers night and day, had not wearied with age.
At that time she expressed her thanks to the Lord and spoke of Him to those present who looked for redemption in Jerusalem (v.38). Of course, this was no formal gathering, but a spontaneous case of speaking of the Lord -- not of teaching, but of prophesying, which is addressed more to hearts and consciences than to the intellect. She definitely spoke for God, led by the Spirit of God.
THE RETURN TO NAZARETH
After observing all that the law required at Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary returned home to Nazareth with the Babe. Verse 40 shows the reality of the Lord's manhood. He developed both physically and in strength of spirit, and was being filled with wisdom. Certainly His divine nature expressed itself in unique wisdom, but even His wisdom is looked at in this chapter from a human viewpoint since Luke's unique perspective is Christ as Man. Also the grace of God was upon Him. This is God's favor, perfectly deserved in His case, as it is not in ours.
Nothing is said in Luke of the wise men, the Magi, coming to see Him in "the house" (Matthew 2:11) not in the manger. Joseph and Mary must have taken Him back to Bethlehem after going first to Nazareth since His age at the time of the wise men's visit was well over a year, for Herod at this later date had all the children under two years killed in an effort to do away with the Messiah (Matthew 2:16). At that time Joseph and Mary went to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14), then later, after the death of Herod, returned to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23). The intervening time between the Lord's being taken to Egypt and returning later to Nazareth is not referred to at all in Luke, where nothing of the Lord's history is seen again until He was twelve years of age.
AMONG THE TEACHERS OF THE LAW
In verse 41 it is noted that Joseph and Mary made a practice of going to Jerusalem every year for the Passover Feast. Their poor circumstances did not hinder this important occasion. Nor was it a short, easy journey, but about a three or four day trip each way on foot or donkey. What a reproof to Christians who will make many excuses for not attending gatherings and conferences of the people of God!
One specific case is mentioned when the Lord reached the age of twelve years. At this age a child was given the privilege of being expected to begin to show an interest in the affairs of his own nation and its religion. The family traveled in a good sized company to Jerusalem for the feast, and when the days were completed they began their journey homeward. It seems they did not remain for the entire Passover week, but after fulfilling what ceremonies the law required within two or three days, they left Jerusalem, although the feast was still in progress. But the Lord Jesus remained behind (v.43). It may seem strange that Joseph and Mary had not made sure that a twelve year old child was with them, and that they did not miss Him until they had gone a day's journey. Evidently they had taken his presence for granted, for His dependability had surely been proven to them in every respect, and they supposed that He would be in the company (v.44). But they were certainly not enjoying His company. Because He is so faithful, let us not merely take His presence with us for granted, but rather cultivate the fellowship of His company. Their neglect cost them two days of travel besides three days of searching for Him. We too will find that lack of communion with the Lord will cost us something.
They found Him at last in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors of the law, both hearing them and asking them questions (v.46). He was making no display of His knowledge, but becomingly taking the proper place of a twelve year old, and willingly listening to the expositions of the doctors and inquiring of them. Evidently they asked Him questions too, for His answers and understanding astonished them. Here is illustrated the truth of Isaiah 7:15, "Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good." Butter is the cream of the milk in solidified form, typically the Word of God made good to the soul through exercise (churning). It is the Word itself. Honey is typical of the ministry of the Word, gathered and digested by the worker bees before being contributed for the good of all the hive -- therefore that which believers gather to share with others. What the learned doctors gave of the law that was truly of God was honey, and the Lord received this, though the butter was first, that is, God's Word itself made good to the soul in personal exercise. If the blessed Son of Man required this, how deeply indeed we require both the Word itself and the ministry of the Word, that we might discern the distinction between good and evil, and choose the good.
Joseph and Mary were amazed. Mary reproached Him for having been absent from them all this time. But He could not accept any reproof. He answered with two questions that were reproofs to them, though gentle. What was the reason they had sought Him? If they had been exercised as to the will of God, they would have been unerringly led to Him. Did they not realize that He would occupy Himself with His Father's interests? Mary had said, "Your father and I," but He set this aside with His words, "My Father's business." Had they expected He would care only for the company of other children at such a time and have no interest in the very center of Israel's interests, the temple? Most children at that age would have only slight interest in the temple and the learning of the doctors of the law, but did they not expect Him to have a vital interest in this? This ought to have been the first place they should seek Him, for it was His first opportunity to enquire of the learned men concerning matters of vital importance.
He went down with them to Nazareth and continued in subjection to them, just as is becoming for any child His age (v.51). Blessed humanity indeed! His mother kept all of His sayings in her heart, surely a good example for us!
Verse 52 records His perfectly normal development, both in wisdom and stature. For us to fully understand how this can be in regard to One who as God knows all things, is impossible. But the facts are recorded, not the explanation of the facts. The child's normal development proved Him to be truly Man in every proper sense, but not sinful man. Also He increased in favor with God and man. This favor (or grace) was because of a character that fully merited it. Each day of His life was a fresh occasion of delight to the heart of God the Father. Man too could not ignore it and appreciated it until He began to assert the claims of God over men, just as Saul loved David until he realized that David was actually by his character and by God's will entitled to be the king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:21; 1 Samuel 18:6-11).
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Luke 2". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25