The Birth and Childhood of Jesus
- The Birth of Jesus (2:1-7)
- The Angelic Appearance to Shepherds, Their Praise (2:8-20)
- His Circumcision and Naming (2:21)
- His Presentation to the Lord in Jerusalem (2:22-40)
- Trip to Jerusalem at Twelve Years Old, About His Father’s Business (2:41-52)
The Birth of Jesus (2:1-7)
1 But it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census should be made of all the habitable world. 2 The census itself first took place when Cyrenius had the government of Syria. vv.1-2 The actual taxation took place a number of years later as history shows, but the point is that God moved the Gentile powers to do something that got Joseph and Mary to make the trip to Judea.
3 And all went to be inscribed in the census roll, each to his own city: 4 and Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city Nazareth to Judaea, to David’s city, the which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 to be inscribed in the census roll with Mary who was betrothed to him as his wife, she being great with child.
6 And it came to pass, while they were there, the days of her giving birth to her child were fulfilled, 7 and she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him up in swaddling-clothes and laid him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. vv.6-7 The Birth of Christ.
Swaddling clothes. The term “swaddling-clothes” refers to the practice of tightly wrapping a newborn so their arms and legs cannot move. It is a fitting picture of dependence. As the perfect Son of man, we see the Lord Jesus as fully dependent on God, from the cradle to the grave. When He came into this world, the Savior was wrapped in swaddling clothes. All through His life the Lord was “straightened” by his devotion (Luke 12:50). On the cross, the highest expression of His dependence was seen in that He did not save Himself, but allowed those soldiers to nail His blessed hands and feet in place. Then, when the suffering was over and the work completed, His body was taken down and lovingly wrapped in linen cloth. From the beginning to the end, the entire pathway of the Lord Jesus was characterized by dependence!
The Angelic Appearance to Shepherds, Their Praise (2:8-20)
8 And there were shepherds in that country abiding without, and keeping watch by night over their flock. 9 And lo, an angel of the Lord was there by them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they feared with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, Fear not, for behold, I announce to you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people; 11 for to-day a Saviour has been born to you in David’s city, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this is the sign to you: ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good pleasure in men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels departed from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, Let us make our way then now as far as Bethlehem, and let us see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us. 16 And they came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger; 17 and having seen it they made known about the country the thing which had been said to them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things said to them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things in her mind, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all things which they had heard and seen, as it had been said to them.
His Circumcision and Naming (2:21)
21 And when eight days were fulfilled for circumcising him, his name was called Jesus, which was the name given by the angel before he had been conceived in the womb.
His Presentation to the Lord in Jerusalem (2:22-40)
His Parents’ Offering (vv.22-24)
22 And when the days were fulfilled for their purifying according to the law of Moses, they brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord: “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord” [Exodus 13:2]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord: “A pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons” [Leviticus 12:8]. vv.22-24 It is wonderful to see the carefulness of Joseph and Mary to fulfill the commands of scripture. They presented the child as their firstborn to the Lord. It is the privilege of every Christian parent to do the same! The offering in v.24 is not specific to the firstborn, and was to be offered after every childbirth. The type of offerings that are mentioned would be those offered by poor families. What grace! See 2 Cor. 8:9. And yet, though it shows the family’s poverty, there were still two birds: “one for a burnt-offering, and the other for a sin-offering” picturing both aspects of the work of the cross.
Simeon’s Blessing (vv.25-35)
25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was just and pious, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. v.25 The consolation of Israel would be the healing and blessing of that nation when the Messiah returns, but it is connected with His person. It is the same word as ‘comforter’, translated from the Greek word ‘paraclete’ (Isa. 40:1).
26 And it was divinely communicated to him by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death before he should see the Lord’s Christ. v.26 He wanted to be where the Messiah would come (Mal. 3:1). God values those who are looking for the coming of Christ.
27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and as the parents brought in the child Jesus that they might do for him according to the custom of the law, 28 “he” received him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, vv.27-28 Later Jesus would take the children up in His arms, but here Jesus it taken up into Simeon’s arms. The Lord was not greeted by a lot of fanfare in the temple. But there were those of faith that greeted Him!
29 Lord, now thou lettest thy bondman go, according to thy word, in peace;
30 for mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
31 which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples;
32 a light for revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.
vv.29-32 There was nothing more that Simeon wanted in life. He had what God had promised him; he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
33 And his father and mother wondered at the things which were said concerning him.
34 And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother, Lo, this child is set for the fall and rising up of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against; 35 (and even a sword shall go through thine own soul;) so that the thoughts may be revealed from many hearts. vv.34-35 Many would stumble at Him, many would despise Him, Mary would be bereaved of Him, and He would be the touchstone, exposing the motives of the heart. In a sense, the Lord’s Divine Father and human mother shared in the sorrow of the cross: she in her measure, He in fulness.
Anna’s Praise (vv.36-38)
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, who was far advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, 37 and herself a widow up to eighty-four years; who did not depart from the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers; 38 and she coming up the same hour gave praise to the Lord, and spoke of him to all those who waited for redemption in Jerusalem. vv.36-38 Anna. She was there no doubt in difficult circumstances, as she had been a widow for most of her life. Yet she remained in the temple, while the chief priests and scribes made merchandise of it. Her focus was on the Lord, and she was characterized by continual prayer. Anna was one whose whole life was occupied with serving God in a quiet way. She may have been old, but she was very active! She was rewarded with this wonderful experience, of coming into the temple at the end of Simeon’s prayer, and seeing the young Jesus with her own eyes! Immediately she gave thanks for the coming of Messiah, and went on to speak to others about Him; “all those who waited for redemption in Jerusalem”.
Return to Galilee and the Growth of the Child (vv.39-40)
39 And when they had completed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own city Nazareth. v.39 Their own city Nazareth. We see in this the humility of the Lord Jesus. He was not “brought up” in Jerusalem with the cultural and religious elites. Instead, He was raised in Nazareth, which was in Galilee where Jews were considered second class (“Galilee of the Gentiles”, Matt. 4:15), and in a city that was despised, as Nathanael later said, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). The fact that Christ came from Nazareth was thrown in His teeth on the cross, where it was written over His head, “This is Jesus of Nazareth”.
40 And the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and God’s grace was upon him. v.40 Growth and Development. But being raised in Nazareth did not stunt our Lord’s development. He grew physically and spiritually in spite of the stigma attached to Nazareth. There was a strength of spirit in the Lord Jesus even as a young child that was fitting to Him. He developed as a healthy child and was filled with wisdom that came from walking the fear of the Lord. God’s grace was upon Him, not because of who He was as the eternal Son dwelling in the bosom of the Father, but because of who He was as a perfect man, even as a child. In this chapter we have the gradual growth or development pf the Lord as the Perfect Man. We have Him as a “babe” (v.12), as a “child” (v.40), and as a “boy” (v.43). At every age and stage of development, Jesus was exactly what God was looking for from man. “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” (Psa. 1:3).
Trip to Jerusalem at Twelve Years Old, About His Father’s Business (2:41-52)
41 And his parents went yearly to Jerusalem at the feast of the passover. v.41 Yearly Journey to Jerusalem. We find that Mary and Joseph, called “His parents” even though Joseph was not His Father, were consistent in their conviction to go up to Jerusalem for the Passover, according to the law of Moses (Deut. 16:16). This accounts for why Mary and Joseph were down in the region of Jerusalem when the Lord was two years old in Matthew 2, when the Magi came to the house (not a stable), to worship and offer gifts. The trip was a yearly exercise, and the Lord Jesus went along with His mother and Joseph in it, and later when He left home, we see Jesus making the same journey. How wonderful when godly habits of parents are picked up by their believing children and made personal.
42 And when he was twelve years old, and they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast v.42 Twelve Years of Age. Why twelve years of age? That is an age between childhood and manhood, and age where the mind opens up, and special interests and hobbies are followed. What characterized the Lord at that pivotal age was interest in His Father’s business. Even a twelve-year-old can be about the Father’s business, and one thing it includes is an interest in the Word of God.
43 and had completed the days, as they returned, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, and his parents knew not of it; 44 but, supposing him to be in the company that journeyed together, they went a day’s journey, and sought him among their relations and acquaintances: 45 and not having found him they returned to Jerusalem seeking him. vv.43-45 Searching. They looked for Jesus first in their caravan among the relatives. There was a higher interest than family. Then three days searching in the city (v.46). Nothing among all the commerce and attractions of that place had held the young Jesus. It was His Father’s business, and they ought to have known.
Application. As an application of this, we too can go a while without the company of the Lord. Confession is needed, tracing the sin to its roots, returning to the point of departure. They went one day away, but it took them three days to find the Lord. The road back is longer.
46 And it came to pass, after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers and hearing them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. vv.46-47 In the Temple. He who knew everything took the place of a learner. In our day the youngest ones don’t know what it is to listen, and learn. “The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back” (Isa. 50:4-5). The questions of Jesus was not Him challenging the authority of the doctors of the law. He was asking honest, intelligent questions. They were astonished at His understanding, even in His intelligent questions. The teachers in turn asked Jesus questions, and were astonished at His answers! This is the right order, and very fitting, especially for a person of that age. The knowledge and wisdom that gave rise to these questions and answers was not the Lord – if we can so speak – reaching into the resources of Divine omniscience, but rather that which developed in Him as a perfect man (v.52).
48 And when they saw him they were amazed: and his mother said to him, Child, why hast thou dealt thus with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee distressed. 49 And he said to them, Why is it that ye have sought me? did ye not know that I ought to be occupied in my Father’s business? vv.48-49 Seeking Him. Mary and Joseph were amazed at what they saw and heard. But amazement was followed by a mother’s rebuke. In saying “child”, that would have hurt Him as least somewhat. His answer to Mary was not lashing out in retaliation. Without getting out of His place as a twelve-year-old boy, Jesus answers with a question that was a gentle correction of Mary, and yet upheld His Father’s glory. His rebuke was really for searching. They ought to have known that the only interest that would have pulled Him from their company was that which was for the Father’s glory. Neither family nor idle curiosity could do this. He says “My Father”, highlighting that His true Father was God. What wonderful words were these, the first recorded words of Jesus; “did ye not know that I ought to be occupied in my Father’s business?” His last recorded words before death were, “It is finished” (John 19:30), “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). His entire life is book-ended by that one, singular goal: to accomplish His Father’s business. “Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psa. 40:7-8).
50 And they understood not the thing that he said to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and he was in subjection to them. And his mother kept all these things in her heart. vv.50-51 Reaction and Return. Neither Mary nor Joseph understood the Lord’s reply in the moment. Joseph seems to have moved on from it, while Mary stored it up (sayings, plural”, there may have been many other similar instances) and cherished them in her heart. There was no resentment from the blessed Lord Jesus; “he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and he was in subjection to them”. Subjection is more than obedience; it implies a submission of will as well as actions.
52 And Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men. v.52 Increase. The Lord Jesus continued to grow, increasing in all these things. He increased in “wisdom” or intellectually, in “stature” or physically, in “favor with God” or spiritually, and in “favor with man” or socially! He was perfectly balanced in this growth. Thus we see His perfection in each stage, growth and development. He was perfect at every instant, and yet always growing and maturing. Sitting in the temple asking the doctors of the law questions would not have been appropriate for a young child, nor would it have been appropriate as a full grown man, but it was perfectly suitable to a boy of twelve years! Without this development He wouldn’t have been a perfect man. Yet, how can we reconcile this “development” with His being the eternal, infinite, Divine Son of God? We cannot reconcile both in our feeble minds, and yet both are true! Think of increasing in favor with God! Every act of submission and obedience to God through each phase of development was fresh cause for God’s pleasure in Him. Like the “fine flour” of the meal offering (Lev. 2), there were no imperfections in Him! The eighteen years from twelve to thirty are passed over, hidden from us. But the richness of those years was still there for God’s delight. And it will be part of the “hidden manna” (Rev. 2:17) that we will enjoy for eternity!