Teaching series from Luke

Jesus' Birth & Childhood

Luke 2:1-52

Teaching t20252


Two weeks ago, we began a series on the gospel of Luke.  Luke wrote this carefully-researched, eye-witness-based account of Jesus’ life so that readers like us could become informed followers of Jesus as humanity’s Savior (1:3,4).

Last week, we looked at the unusual events surrounding Jesus’ conception (e.g., Gabriel’s announcement; virgin conception; Elizabeth and Mary’s prophetic utterances) which signaled that this child was to be the long-awaited Messiah—the King who would defeat God’s enemies, deliver God’s people, and establish God’s kingdom on earth.

This week, we will look at Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth and childhood.  (This account is almost certainly based on Luke’s interview of Mary, because he not only records what happened to her, but also how she felt about these events [2:19,51]).  Luke records three scenes—Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, his consecration at the Temple in Jerusalem eight days later, and his visit to Jerusalem when he was twelve years old.  These scenes (like the ones in chapter 1) confirm that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.  But they also add an unexpected twist to what kind of Messiah Jesus will be.  Let’s look for both of these as we read each of these three scenes, and then we’ll consider how this is relevant to us.

SCENE #1: Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem

Scene #1 is Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (a small suburb of Jerusalem)—read 2:1-20.  On the one hand, the events surrounding Jesus’ birth make it clear that he is God’s glorious Messiah.  See especially 2:10-14.

Not only does an angel announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds as good news; he uses uniquely superlative titles to describe Jesus: “Savior, Christ the Lord.”  “Savior” means the deliverer of the whole human race.  “Christ” means God’s chosen King.  “The Lord” emphasizes his unique authority and implies his deity.  All of this echoes Isa.9:6,7 (read).  Theophilus would remember that when Caesar Augustus (2:1) was born, this was hailed as “good news” because he was “savior”—but the angel insists that Jesus, not Caesar, is the true Savior, Messiah and Lord!

A multitude of angels breaks out in superlative praise over Jesus’ birth, because through Jesus God will ultimately bring peace to the earth.

On the other hand, the manner in which Jesus is born couldn’t be more incongruent!  Such a unique and glorious person should be born in a palace, be waited upon by servants, and visited by royal dignitaries.  (We tend to miss how jarring this would be, because it has become the familiar Christmas story.)

Instead of being born in a palace, he is born in a filthy stable, wrapped in common cloth strips (possibly Mary’s underwear) and placed in a feeding trough—because no one made room for them.

Instead of being born with honor, he is born amid the scandal of apparent illegitimacy in a culture that took such matters very seriously.  This was a shadow over Jesus’ reputation for the rest of his life.

Instead of being visited by dignitaries, he is visited by shepherds, who were (at best) common blue-collar laborers and (at worst) regarded as low-life thieves who were disallowed from testifying in court.

It is important to remember that these events were not accidental—the same sovereign God who predicted Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and who sovereignly moved Rome to take a census to fulfill this prediction, also superintended the above three factors.  Why did God do this?  What would you think of a powerful ruler who arranged for a young single girl to get pregnant—and then arranged it so that she had to give birth in auto repair shop, wrap her child in mechanic’s rags, put him in an oil-drain pan, and then invited street people to visit him?  Why did God arrange for his Son to enter the world this way?  Luke will answer this soon enough, but let’s go on to the next scene, and look for the same two elements...

SCENE #2: Jesus’ consecration in Jerusalem

Scene #2 is eight days later, when all Jewish boys were required by the Law of Moses to be circumcised and consecrated to God—read 2:21-39.  Once again, unique things happen that confirm that Jesus is God’s glorious Messiah.

Simeon, a spiritually devout old man, had been told by God’s Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died.  The Spirit somehow guided him to Jesus, and then prophesied through him about Jesus’ glorious identity (2:30-32).  Jesus is the salvation of all humanity—both God’s revelation of himself to the non-Jewish world and the glorious fulfillment of Israel’s redemptive role (cf. Isa.9:2,3).

No wonder Joseph and Mary were amazed to hear this (2:33)!  How exciting it would be to receive yet another supernatural confirmation that your son will be the Messiah—the one that Israel has been waiting for all these centuries, the one to which all nations will submit.  What a wonderful, honored life Mary could look forward to! 

But then there is the rest of what Simeon says, which seems to contradict the first part of his prophecy (2:34,35). 

Jesus is indeed the glorious fulfillment of Israel’s promises, and many who receive him will be elevated, but he will also be rejected by many Israelites—including (evidently) many of their leaders.

It is indeed a tremendous honor to be the mother of the Messiah, but the rejection of her Son will be so horrible that it will tear Mary’s soul apart.

Why did God set it up this way?  Why did he send his Son as the rightful Ruler of humanity, knowing all along that many would oppose and reject him so utterly that his own mother’s heart would be broken?  The rest of Luke’s gospel will answer this question.  In the meantime, let’s move on the third scene...

SCENE #3: Jesus’ Passover visit to Jerusalem

Scene #3 is the only recorded event in Jesus’ life after his infancy and before his adulthood.   Jesus was twelve years old when he accompanied his parents to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Passover—read 2:41-52.  Once again, Luke recorded this event because it provides confirmation that Jesus is the unique Son of God.  This time, this confirmation comes not from angels or prophets, but from the lips of Jesus himself (2:49).

As surprised as Mary and Joseph were that Jesus would behind without asking their permission, Jesus was surprised that they were surprised.  They should have known that he needed to be “in my Father’s house.”  As God’s ultimate messenger to Israel, what more appropriate place for him to be than at the Temple among the spiritual teachers of Israel?

But it is the phrase “my Father” that is most breath-taking.  Jews never referred to God as their individual Father.  Not only did they already have human fathers; to call God one’s Father implied that you shared the very nature of God—which was blasphemy.  But here is Jesus, almost casually referring to God as his Father.  And he continued to do this (read Jn.5:18,19), which is the main reason why Jewish religious leaders wanted to kill him.

And yet while this scene confirms that Jesus is God’s divine Son who is not obligated to obey any human being, it concludes with the amazing statement that (except for this event) Jesus was obedient to his imperfect human parents (2:51)!

Imagine knowing that you were God’s unique Son and Messiah, and yet living under the authority of common earthly parents (doing chores; watching the younger children; etc.)!  Most scholars think that Joseph must have died during Jesus’ teen years, because he is not mentioned as alive during Jesus’ adult ministry.  So Jesus, as the eldest son, worked for years as a carpenter to support his family.  Imagine what it would be like to know your unique role, and yet labor in obscurity for over a decade during the most vital years of your life!  Why was this necessary?

What lessons does this chapter teach us?

Now it’s time to distill some important lessons from this chapter, and respond to these lessons in a personal way.

The first lesson is that Jesus is the unique, divine King of the whole human race.  Angels announced him as this when he was conceived and born, prophets proclaimed him as this when he was only eight days old, and he himself verbalized it when he was still a pre-teen.  The rest of Luke’s gospel will record this claim many, many more times. 

What will you do with this claim?  The politically-correct posture in our culture is religious pluralism—all religions are equally valid and no one religion is uniquely true.  And yet the whole Old Testament looks forward to one unique Messiah, who alone is God’s Savior and King for the whole human race.  And the New Testament records the eye-witness testimony that Jesus is this unique Messiah. 

What will you do with this?  The most popular response is to claim that none of these claims ever really happened—that Jesus was just a religiously pluralistic teacher, and that this was all made up much later by Christians once they were in power so they could dominate and marginalize others who believed differently.  Well, it is unfortunately true that when later Christians gained political power, they used that power to dominate and marginalize others.  But it is completely untrue that they invented this portrait of Jesus.  All four New Testament gospels were written in the first century and from eye-witness testimony.  And the people who wrote these gospels not only had no political power; they were persecuted and martyred for their testimony.  And they wrote these gospels to convince religiously pluralistic people that Jesus is the only Savior!

I think religious pluralism is extremely dishonest at this point.  It just disregards the entire Old Testament’s anticipation of the one Messiah, and all the evidence that Jesus claimed to be that one Messiah—and it dismissively “morphs” Jesus into a politically-correct religious pluralist.  I think this is fundamentally dishonest.  If you want to have any intellectual integrity about Jesus, you must let the Bible speak for itself—and then either reject Jesus as the liar or madman that he must have been, or be willing to bow to him as the One and only Messiah.

The second lesson is that you don’t need to be afraid of Jesus, because he came to rescue us at great personal cost.  This is what all of the incongruent elements of Lk.2 are about.  They are foreshadowing elements—they set the stage for the amazing surprise that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk.10:45; cf. Lk.22:25-27).

This is why Jesus was born in a dirty wooden manger because he was rejected from the inns.  His birth was a picture of his death, when he was utterly rejected and nailed to a dirty wooden cross.  And just as God orchestrated the details of Jesus’ humiliating birth, he also orchestrated the details of Jesus’ humiliating death—so that Jesus could pay the penalty of our sins, so that we could be forgiven through him.

This is why Simeon predicted that even though Jesus was God’s King, he would be rejected by the Jewish rulers, and that Mary’s heart would be broken by this.  Jesus knew this was coming, and he voluntarily endured because it was the only way that he could rescue us (including Mary) from our alienation from God. 

This is why Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph even though (as God’s unique Son) he was not really under their authority.  It was God’s will for him to submit himself to fallen human beings—not only to well-meaning but imperfect human parents, but even to wicked rulers who wrongly persecuted, arrested, scourged and crucified him.  Jesus saves us, not by destroying the bad people, but by submitting to their power and conquering evil by his love.

And this brings me to the third and final lesson of this chapter—God welcomes and involves everyone who receives Jesus

That’s why there’s such an incredible diversity of people who are blessed by him: men and women, young couples and old widows, rural and urban, pious religious teachers and low-life shepherds, etc. 

No matter what kind of person you are, you can come to Jesus and be saved by him, and you can play a unique role in sharing him with others.  This is the most significant privilege you can possibly have!  Are you taking advantage of it?