Countless volumes have been written on the life of Jesus over the last 2,000 years. Starting with the Gospels to studies of today. There is, perhaps, no person of whom more has been written yet probably 99% of what is written covers only the final three years of his life. We are told very little about the childhood of Jesus. In fact, it is only here in Luke 2 and in Matthew 2 that we find any description of the childhood of Jesus.
Here in Luke 2, we begin with a story that is so familiar we can recite it. Actually, most of us probably do as we listen to Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas special. This is the account of the birth of Jesus. Yet what is fascinating to me is that many times as we have read and heard this account, how much we get wrong or how much we have unknowingly added to it.
“Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:4 – 7(NASB) Look at this and tell me; Where is the donkey that Mary road? The passage makes no mention of a donkey, yet every picture we see shows Joseph leading a donkey while Mary rides. How far along was Mary in her pregnancy? The passage says that “while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.” Yet once again, we have an image of them arriving just in time to deliver the child that night. Where is the Innkeeper? It says that there was no room in the inn, but there is no innkeeper who turned them away, but once again, we have vilified this non-existent innkeeper as being uncaring. What is interesting is when we realize that the word for inn is actually better understood to mean guest room. It is the same word used later to describe the room in which the last supper took place.
This is a reminder for us. There is an old expression, “familiarity breeds contempt.” The saying means that the more comfortable we become with something, the less reverence and respect we have for it. In this case, we have become so familiar with the story that we have allowed these misconceptions to creep in without returning to the source. It is crucial that we regularly spend time in the scriptures and do not simply rely on our fallible memories of what they say.
Another thing that strikes me is how we so often end this passage with verse 15 “ When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” We remember that the shepherds went to see Jesus, but we forget that after seeing him that they take it a step further. Verse 17 tells us that “When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.” The shepherds did not merely keep this information to themselves. Instead, they began to tell everyone what they had been told. It makes me rethink the word of the “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The second line says, “how still we see thee lie.” But imagine being one of the shepherds. Imagine seeing what you have seen. How quite could they have really been as they spread the news? No, it is quite possible there was a lot of energy in the streets that night.
Luke then tells us of Jesus’ dedication at the temple. Here we are introduced to two individuals for the only time. These two elderly individuals, Simeon and Anna, have each independent of one another, faithfully served God awaiting the fulfillment of prophecy through the arrival of the Messiah. Simeon declares in verses 30 – 32, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” Simeon knew that God had been faithful and allowed him to see the Messiah. I make special note that Simeon did not see the Messiah as a gift only for Israel, but for the gentiles a well. Anna, for her part, was a prophetess, and God spoke through her to proclaim Jesus to those who were present.
Luke then skips ahead 12 years to present another visit to the temple by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This time Jesus stays behind at the temple when his parents leave. Since they were traveling as part of a large caravan, it took a while for them to realize they had left Jesus behind. When they return, they do not find a lost and forgotten child, but instead, they find in listening to and questioning the teachers of the law at the temple. For the first time, we hear Jesus speak, and what he says is quite telling. He says, “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house (or about my Father’s business)?” Jesus was far from a lost child but rather was seeking to honor his heavenly father in what he was doing.
As I read this passage, a few things stand out to me. First, we find a particular expression repeated twice in this passage in verse 19, following the shepherd visit, we read, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” And then again in verse 51, after they find him with the teacher in the temple, we read, “and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” This reminds us of the words found in verse 1:29 “But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was.” For all Mary had been told and for all she had seen, it was still so hard for her to comprehend what it all really meant. She knew what the angel and had said, and she had heard the words of Simeon and Anna, yet still there remains that disconnect of comprehending. I think this is where we often fall short as well. But we too often make the mistake of saying, “I am just going to believe it, even if it does not make sense” rather than doing as Mary did and pondering things in our hearts.
The second thing I take from this passage is once again a reminder that God is faithful to his promises. Not only had the promised Messiah come, but we have a clear example of God being faithful to his promises in the person of Simeon. In verse 26, we read that “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” And so we see a clear and tangible example of God’s faithfulness to his promises.
The third, and perhaps most important, is the understanding of the humanity of Jesus. We speak of the incarnation, of God becoming flesh. We can describe Jesus as fully God and fully man, but too often we downplay the humanity of Jesus and focus on his being God. Yes, he is fully God, but thankfully he was fully human as well, facing all that we face. If he were not, then he could not be a sufficient sacrifice for our sins. Luke, a physician by trade, emphasizes the humanity of Jesus not only in the description of his birth, but also in verse 40, “The Child continued to grow and become strong, [r]increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” and again in verse 52 “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke points us to the truth that Jesus grew just as we all do; mentally, physically, and spiritually. If I were to sum up the most essential point of chapter 2, this would be it. That Jesus truly became human.