Joseph goes home to Bethlehem
- 2:1 About the time Mary got pregnant, Caesar Augustus ordered a census. He wanted to count everyone in the Roman world.
- 2:2 This was the first census the Romans took after Quirinius became Syria’s governor.1
- 2:3 Folks went to their hometown to register.
- 2:4 Joseph did, too. He left Nazareth, a city in the region called Galilee. He went south to Bethlehem.2 That’s where he came from—the hometown of his famous relative, King David.
- 2:5 Joseph went there to register. He took his fiancée, Mary, who was pregnant.
- 2:6 They got to Bethlehem just in time for her to give birth.3
- 2:7 Mary had her first child. A boy. She wrapped him tightly, swaddling him in cloth. Then she laid him in a feeding trough—a manger—for his bed. She had no choice. There were no guest vacancies4 in the town.
Shepherds, get a birth announcement
- 2:8 Near the village, shepherds had set up camp and were keeping an eye on their sheep at night.
- 2:9 All of a sudden an angel showed up, right there in front of them. Heaven’s glory lit the camp like a spotlight, terrifying the shepherds.
- 2:10 “Don’t be afraid,” the angel told them. “I’ve got great news—joy to the world for people everywhere.
- 2:11 Born today, in David’s hometown, is your Savior. He’s the Messiah,5 your Lord.
- 2:12 Here’s how you can know it’s him. You’ll find a baby wrapped in cloth, lying in a manger.”6
- 2:13 Suddenly, all heaven broke loose. The lone angel wasn’t alone anymore. He brought company. Angels everywhere—a skyful—happy and saying wonderful things about God:
“Praise God from here to high heaven.
Peace has come to earth for everyone who loves God and wants nothing more than to please him.”7
- 2:15 When the angels left, the shepherds couldn’t stop talking. “What are we doing still standing here? We need to get our feet moving right now to Bethlehem so we can see for ourselves what the Lord told us.”
- 2:16 They did not walk, they ran until they found Mary and Joseph. There he was, the baby, lying in a manger.
- 2:17 When they saw this with their own eyes, they were all mouth. They couldn't stop talking about what God’s angels had told them about this child.
- 2:18 The people who heard what the shepherds said were amazed beyond amazing.
- 2:19 Mary scooped up every word like a treasure and stored them in her memory. Quietly, she pondered all of this in her heart.
- 2:20 The shepherds went back to their flock. They didn’t go quietly. Still talking. Still laughing. Still thanking God for everything he let them hear and see on that remarkable day.
Dedicating Jesus to God
- 2:21 On Day Eight of his life, the baby was circumcised and given the name Jesus. That’s what the angel told Mary to name him even before he was conceived.
- 2:22 When Mary and Joseph finished the waiting period for purification from childbirth,8 as taught in the laws of Moses, they took their boy to Jerusalem to dedicate him to the Lord.
- 2:23 They did this because the Law requires it: “Dedicate every oldest son in every family to me.”9
- 2:24 They gave the sacrifice the law ordered: “two doves or two pigeons—your choice.”10
Simeon's chilling prediction
- 2:25 A man named Simeon lived in Jerusalem. He was a good and God-loving man waiting eagerly for joy to come to Israel. The Holy Spirit was with him,
- 2:26 and had convinced him that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before Simeon died.
- 2:27 One day the Spirit nudged Simeon to go to the Temple. That was the day Jesus’ parents took him to the Temple. They did this because they needed to carry out one of the customs required by Jewish law.
- 2:28 Simeon held the boy and thanked God for him.
“Master, you are sending me off in peace, as you said you would.
With my own eyes I have seen your salvation.
You prepared this right in front of everyone.
Your salvation is a revealing light for people who aren’t Jews.
It’s dignity and honor for those who are—for your people called Israel.”
- 2:33 Jesus’ father and mother were astonished at the words they were hearing about their boy.
- 2:34 Simeon blessed both parents. Then he said to Mary, “This child has a mission that will make or break many in Israel. He is a sign rejected.
- 2:35 He is a double-edged broadsword that will stab deep into your soul, too. He will reveal many people for who they really are and for what they really think.”
Anna, words of a widowed prophet
- 2:36 Anna, daughter of Phanuel, was a prophet from the northern tribe of Asher. She was quite old, well up there in years. Her husband died seven years after they got married.
- 2:37 She lived the rest of her life as a widow, until age 84.11 She spent every day and evening at the Temple, praying and fasting.
- 2:38 She came to the Temple right at the time Simeon was talking to Mary and Joseph. She started thanking God and talking about the child to everyone in the crowd waiting for God to save Jerusalem like he promised.
Jesus, the first dozen years
- 2:39 When Mary and Joseph finished the worship rituals required by Jewish law, they went back home to the town of Nazareth in the territory of Galilee.
- 2:40 The boy grew stronger physically and wiser spiritually. It was clear that God was looking out for him.
Jesus goes to rabbi school
- 2:41 Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem every spring for the Passover Festival.
- 2:42 When he was 12 years old, they went up again to celebrate the Festival.
- 2:43 They stayed for the entire Festival and then left for home. But the boy, Jesus, stayed in Jerusalem. His parents had no idea they left him behind.
- 2:44 They thought he was traveling in the caravan. But at the end of the day they couldn’t find him. They searched the caravan, asking friends and relatives if they had seen him.
- 2:45 When they couldn’t find him anywhere, they headed back to Jerusalem to look for him there.
- 2:46 It took them three days, but they finally found him in the Temple. There he was, sitting among a group of teachers. He was listening and asking questions.
- 2:47 Everyone in the group who heard him was astonished. His insightful questions and his depth of understanding seemed beyond the pay grade of a 12-year-old.
- 2:48 When his parents finally caught up with him, they too were astonished – but it was because they couldn’t believe he did this to them. “Young man,” his mother said to him, “why did you treat us like this? Look at me. Your father and I have been worried sick trying to find you.”
- 2:49 Jesus said, “Why did you have to search for me? I had to be here at my Father’s.12 Didn’t you know that?”
- 2:50 They had no idea what he was talking about.
- 2:51 He traveled down with them out of Jerusalem and on up to Nazareth. He obeyed his parents. His mother filed everything she had seen and heard into her memory, as a cherished treasure.
- 2:52 Jesus grew older and wiser. People were pleased with the way he was turning out, and so was God.
Roman records report that in AD 6, perhaps a decade after Jesus was born, Rome appointed Quirinius as governor of Syria and ordered him to take a census of his district, which included what are now Israel and Palestinian Territories. Rome wanted this body count of Jews so they could estimate future tax money the empire could expect from them. There’s nothing on record yet about Quirinius conducting a census earlier, when Jesus was born. One theory is that Quirinius served two terms since this was “the first census,” implying another one came later.
This was about a four-day walk along the shortest caravan routes through the hilly, central part of the country, roughly 75 miles (120 km).
Just in time to add one more name to the census register: Jesus.
The Greek word for the place of lodging, which is sometimes translated “inn,” is katalyma. Many Bible experts today say this doesn’t necessarily refer to a hotel-like business. A Greek word for that, used in the story of the Good Samaritan is pandocheton (Luke 10:34).
“Messiah” in the original Greek language of the New Testament is Christos, from which we get the word Christ. It means “Anointed One,” as in “anointed by God.”
A feeding trough for livestock.
Literally, “to those favored,” a religion tech phrase at the time referring to people God has blessed—those who respect God’s Son. The phrase is possibly a reference to a line in Mary’s song, Luke 1:50.
After childbirth, women were considered ritually unclean – and not permitted to worship in the Temple – for 33 days after delivering a boy or 66 days after delivering a girl (Leviticus 12:4-5).
It’s not clear if the writer intended to say Anna lived 84 years in all. It could be that he intended to say she lived 84 years as a widow in addition to the years before that, which would have made her more than 100 years old.
Some translations say “in my Father’s house” or “about my Father’s business.” But the original Greek language leaves the subject blank. It literally says “in the [fill in the blank] of my Father.” Bible translators have to guess how to fill in that blank – or if they should fill it in at all.
Some Bible experts say Luke got the history wrong when he said Jesus was born “after Quirinius became Syria’s governor” (2:2). As pointed out in the footnote, Roman records report that in AD 6, perhaps a decade after Jesus was born, Rome appointed Quirinius as governor of Syria and ordered him to take a census of his district, which included what are now Israel and Palestinian Territories. Rome wanted this body count of Jews so they could estimate future tax money the empire could expect from them. There’s nothing on record yet about Quirinius conducting a census earlier, when Jesus was born. One theory is that Quirinius served two terms since this was ‘the first census,’ implying another one came later.” What do you think about that?
If you’re going to take a census, why order people back to their ancestral hometown, which required Joseph to make a four-day journey each way to “Bethlehem” (2:4)? Why not count them right where they are? There is no indication in Roman history that the Romans ordered people back to the home of their ancestors. As pointed out in the footnote, what do you think of the theory that says in this case the Romans may have been accommodating Jewish tradition that places a lot of value on family heritage?
When Joseph made the long trip south, “He took his fiancée, Mary, who was pregnant” (2:5). She wasn’t just pregnant. She was ready to deliver. Why do you think Joseph took her with him? A few guesses:
- They were married, though they had not had sex, which may be why Luke described Mary as “his fiancée” (2:5) – more literally, “pledged to him.”
- Joseph didn’t want to miss the birth of his son.
- Joseph was the only one willing to look after Mary at this point.
- Joseph didn’t want Mary to be alone when she delivered Jesus.
Jesus was born to poor parents in what amounts to a barn. His first bed was “a feeding trough” (2:7). So what? How could his humble beginnings have affected his life and his ministry?
The first birth announcement on record went to shepherds working the night shift, “keeping an eye on their sheep” (2:8). If God has a flair for the dramatic and a taste for metaphor, what do you think the value was in an angelic announcement like this to shepherds whose status on the social ladder was lower than dirt?
An angel told the shepherds that the child born in Bethlehem “is your Savior. He’s the Messiah your Lord” (2:11). What kind of Savior do you think the shepherds thought the boy would be? In other words, how do you think they expected the Messiah to save them?
If the birth story of Jesus was this remarkable, why do you think Luke is the only one who writes about it? The other three Gospels skip these fascinating details. Matthew barely touches on the birth of Jesus. Mark and John don’t talk about the birth at all.
Twelve-year-old Jesus got separated from his parents for three days during the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. When his parents finally caught up with him and Mary started to scold him, he had an odd response: “Why did you have to search for me? I had to be here at my Father’s. Didn’t you know that?” (2:49). His parents didn’t know what he was talking about, and scholars today are left guessing. What guess would you toss into the mix?
LIFE APPLICATION. After the shepherds saw Jesus, “they could not stop talking about what God’s angels had told them about this child” (2:17). If you consider yourself a follower of Jesus, what do you think are some of the most important things you have to say about him?
LIFE APPLICATION. Mary and Joseph dedicated Jesus because he was their first child, and Jewish law required that the first child be dedicated to God: “Dedicate every oldest son in every family to me” (2:23). If you have ever dedicated a child to God or had your child baptized, how did it make you feel? And if your child grew up and moved out, did it hit you that though you had once symbolically entrusted your child to God’s care, with your child leaving and out of your reach, you now had to literally entrust God with your child’s care?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jews had been waiting for a Messiah to free them from the Romans who had taken over their country. Simeon was an old man holding on to life until he could see the Messiah with his own eyes. That done, Simeon told God “You are sending me off in peace, as you said you would” (2:29). What keeps dying people hanging on? What are some of the things they wait for, so they can die in peace?