Lesson 6: The Birth of Jesus
Luke 2: 1-21
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A Blending of The Four Gospel Records. Welcome to lesson # 6. We have Luke (ch. 1) behind us. We would like in this lesson to cover the birth of Jesus. Matthew said in (1:18): "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise" Matthew gave a very brief historical sketch of those things leading up to and including Jesus’ birth. But, Luke gives us a few more details. Let's begin by reading the first seven verses of Luke ch.2. Are you ready? "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. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, (because he was of the 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." Now, verse by verse; let's re-do it. See the words, "in those days" (v.1)? That has reference to the time surrounding the birth and beginning of John the Baptist back in Luke ch. 1. The Roman empire decreed at that time that the whole world should be taxed, i.e., every subject (or citizen) of the Roman empire would pay taxes. This may imply that some were exempt before that time, you see. Taxes have been around a long time and taxes have always been important. Notice also in this verse, the Roman empire is spoken of as the whole world. That was not true in the sense that you and I used that term; but, it gives you their perspective, which is very important to understanding the text. The Roman empire was the center of world influence. The emperor of Rome at that time was Augustus Caesar (also known as Octavian). He came on the throne in 27 B.C. and remained the emperor for about 40 years. Now, the real significance of v.1 is that it helps date this occasion in a relative sense, by tying it to the Roman taxing decree. Notice that the decree said, "that all the world should be taxed." Some historians believe this was a census (or population count) in preparation for the taxing rather than an actual taxing as the KJV implies. Most other translations use either the word "census" or the word "registration," in place of the word taxing. But, there was a definite word association between census and taxing; as the census records were likely used for taxing purposes. The parenthesis that consumes v.2, probably implies that this census-taxing procedure was done more than once and v.2 helps identify this particular taxing registration. As a matter of thoroughness, the decree apparently required all subjects to register in person and in their own ancestral hometown. This accords well with Jewish genealogical records kept during the Mosaic age.
In v.4 we are re-introduced to Joseph, the man espoused to the virgin named Mary, (Luke 1:27). Joseph went up from Nazareth of Galilee to Bethlehem of Judea. The route he traveled was almost straight south; but he went UP; because the elevation of Bethlehem is higher than that of Nazareth. And if you were walking or riding a donkey, that would be important. Joseph was a descendant of David (v.4 points out). Why is that so significant? This point was made in Luke 1:27, Luke 1:33, and in Matt. 1:20. And now the point is made again. You see, this is the connection to the O.T. and O.T. prophecy. These writers never missed an opportunity, to make that point. As we said before, when you understand that point; faith is the inevitable result. Now, Joseph was living in Nazareth of Galilee, but his ancestral home-town was Bethlehem of Judah. These towns were about 75 miles apart and Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David, who was one of the most famous kings the Jews or the Israelites had known. But you need to remember here that David lived about 1000 years before Joseph. And that ancestral lineage was meticulously recorded. Why? They understood (through the O.T. prophets) that Christ would come as a descendant of David. Luke and Matthew both give us lists that genealogically connect David with Joseph and Mary. But, we won't get into those lists, just now. Remember, we're trying to follow Luke's gospel as our main artery in this study.
Now, don't lose sight of the point here, the taxing decree of Augustus Caesar explains the reason for their trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem at such an inconvenient time. Apparently, this head-count required a personal appearance of both Joseph and Mary. V.5 says: Mary was "great with child." which obviously has reference to the stage of her pregnancy. Then v.6 & 7 tells us of Jesus' birth. This is the only account of these details in the whole Bible, other than the bits and pieces that can be derived from O.T. prophecy. Luke ch. 2 is probably the best known passage in the Bible. Jesus' birth is widely known, accepted, and observed. Very few think of Him (or accept Him) as the king that He IS (far greater than David). But, the world at large seems to know that Jesus was born in a barn, was dressed and laid in a feed trough (called a "manger" here in v.7) because there was no room for them in the inn. Now you might notice, there's no Christ Mass in this verse. There's not even a MASS let alone a Christ Mass (NOT in this verse or any other verse). That's a paganistic perversion of this material. The world today wants to think of Jesus as a little innocent baby. They use this, as an occasion to give each other gifts and party a little. What would you think, if someone used the occasion of your birthday to party and give each other gifts but had no respect for you? And as has already been pointed out, we don't even know Jesus' birthday. But, those who play up Jesus' birthday and emphasize the BABY Jesus; they usually don't want to think of Jesus as the Christ, a king sitting on the right hand of God, having power, and authority, and demanding obedience. Most like that little innocent baby concept. But, they don't want to accept the king concept. Now, keep an eye on this and let's see which the N.T. develops. Getting back to that inn where Jesus was born, H. Leo Boles said this (and I quote): The inn "as used here implies that there was but one in the small city of Bethlehem; it was very much unlike our modern hotel. It was probably little more than a large enclosure where the travelers might sleep, stable his beasts, and deposit his goods, furnishing his own bed and food. Such inns were common in the East. Sometimes there were separate stables for cattle in the rear under a shed running along behind the walls; some supposed that it was in one of these rear stables that Joseph and Mary were compelled to lodge on this eventful night. It was perfectly natural, after finding no lodging place within the inn, to have found it in one of the stables..." (unquote).
As we read these seven verses; we tend to draw our own mental picture of the occasion of Jesus' birth, the inn, the manger, the baby Jesus and the swaddling clothes. Instead of swaddling clothes; the New International Version says, "She wrapped him in strips of Cloth." But, don't lose sight of what I said before, this is all we know. Matthew disposes of this occasion in about one-half of a verse, like this: "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king..." (Matt. 2:1). And, it would seem that Matthew made that statement for the purpose of introducing the wise men who came at a later time, apparently, but we won't get into that here and now. Mark started his discussion of Jesus as an adult man about 30 years of age. The book of John likewise starts with Jesus as an adult about 30 years old; with the exception of that ONE STATEMENT about Jesus' eternal existence in John's prologue which we have already covered. Thus, we are dependent upon Matthew and Luke (Luke mainly) for what we know of Jesus' early life.Luke 2:8-20 gives us a little perspective and relates a little behind-the-scenes information. Let's read_ v.8-20. Are you ready? "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."
O.K., without glancing back at the text, tell me: What time of the day was it when the angel appeared to the shepherds? They were keeping watch at NIGHT. Now, try to get this in focus. That was (and is) hill country. Shepherds were abiding in the field. Shepherding must have been a rugged life. They were keeping watch... v. 8. Now use your imagination here. It must have been quiet and their eyes had adjusted to the darkness. Perhaps some sheep were lying down chewing their cud. You could hear those blades of grass snap as others fed in the semi -darkness. And then SURPRISE! (V.9). Suddenly, there's an angel! Just one! Gabriel? I don't know. There was a light shining about them. Now, wouldn't that get your attention? V.9 said, "they were sore afraid." Can you identify with that? Suddenly, they were terrified! Their expressions must have been starched on their faces, eyeballs and all. And then a soft voice said: "Fear not. . .behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy..." As they began to recover in thought, their heart must have been racing away. The world of the un-seen had just contacted planet Earth. Now, this is for real! Not that fantasy stuff you see on T.V. Look at v.10! Now who was this "good tidings of great joy" brought to? The shepherds yes; but not to the shepherds only. "Which shall be to all people." Are you a people? Then look a v.11, "unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." The shepherds were told where to find the Christ child. Very local, possibly only a short distance away. More details in v.12! And then "SUDDENLY" in v.13, the angel pushed the curtain back on that un-seen world. The greatest news since man was created... since God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. That angel must have thought, what a shame! Shepherds perhaps only a few 100 yards away, watching in silence and darkness, unaware of the greatest event in history. OH! If we could only see life, from life's other side. Just one glance! The angel decided to share. The glory of the Lord showed through, "...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." (v.11-12). Then the angel pushed that curtain back a little more, there was a multitude of angels, that said: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." And then, the curtain closed. The light disappeared. The shepherds were alone. How excited those Jewish lads must have been. Suddenly, their sheep were secondary. Let's go! Let's go to Bethlehem!... Let's see it! V.16 says "...they came with haste." V.17 says in essence, THEY TOLD EVERYBODY. Now, that wasn't much of a maternity ward, or birthing room, but can you imagine what this excited visit by a few shepherds must have done for Mary and Joseph there in that stable? "Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." (v.19). Mothers have the ability to do that, don't they? Then look at v.20, those shepherds must have tried to sing like the angels. Now, it doesn't say the angels sang. No place in scripture does it say or describe an angel as singing. But, I would be inclined to think the praise of the angels in v. 13-14 was a form of singing, though that is not specifically said. But when the shepherds returned (v. 20), they were glorifying and praising God. Why? "for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them." i.e., what the angels said was verified.
We don't know the day of the week, "the month or the year. But, undoubtedly Mary and Joseph got enrolled for tax purposes in the next day or two. That was their reason for coming. I hope they found a better place to stay the next night. Mary must have nursed the baby Jesus and tried to gain her strength back in the days that followed. Now, don't forget, this was Joseph AND Mary's ancestral home town. Surely, some of his relative lived not too far. Mary's cousin Elisabeth, who then had a baby about six months old, lived only some 10 or 12 miles further south in that hill country, some place. But, they apparently did NOT go directly back to Nazareth. Alright, v.21. You got it? "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." In Matt. 1:21, the angel of the Lord told Joseph: "thou shalt call his name Jesus." In Luke 1:31, Gabriel said to Mary "thou shalt... call his name Jesus." Thus, here in v.21, it simply says: "his name was called Jesus." and it gives the reason we have just discussed. Now, it's interesting that in my Bible (here) there is a heading before Luke 2:21 which says, THE PRESENTATION OF JESUS IN THE TEMPLE. But, remember: titles, headings and those little footnotes at the end of the page are NOT, I repeat: they are NOT part of the text. So, watch your diet! This is a good way for the publisher to feed you a little of his doctrine. So, don't swallow it! V.21 does not say, that Jesus was circumcised and officially named in Jerusalem, or at the temple. Now, he may have been, I don't know, I wasn't there. But, the point is, whoever put that heading here, didn't know either. What happened in v.22 down through v.38 here took place in Jerusalem, at the temple, that is specifically said. But, don't confuse the naming and circumcising of Jesus with that event. They were two different events. Between v.21 and v.22 there is a lapse of about 32 or 33 days, more than a month. I'll prove it to you. Now, I guess that'll have to wait until lesson # 7. But, we'll get there. V.21 here says specifically that Jesus was named and circumcised on the 8th day, i.e. when he was one week and one day old. Now, I want you to notice in Luke 1:59, that John the Baptist was named and circumcised on the 8th day of his life, also. That was according to the old law. But, it doesn't say he was circumcised in Jerusalem. Maybe this can be established by some other scripture, but, I can't come up with it. As a matter of fact it says, "THEY came to circumcise the child." (Luke 1:59) which rather implies it was not Jerusalem. The Jews did circumcise on the sabbath day, that is established in John 7:22. But, that has no relevance to this case. We'll take up here in lesson # 7. Have a good day.