From:  Busy Person’s Guide to Luke 1 to 12                                   Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019

 

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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

 

Quickly Understanding Luke

 

(Volume 1:  Chapters 1 to 8)

 

 

by

Roland H. Worth, Jr.

 

 

Copyright © 2019 by author

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction to the

“Busy Person’s Guide” Series

 

            When the great scholar Jerome was producing what came to be known as the “Vulgate”--the authoritative Latin text for the Roman Catholic Church--the equally renowned Augustine was upset and annoyed:  Why do we need another Bible translation? he insisted to his fellow scholar.  Quietly Jerome hit at Augustine’s own weak point:  Why do we need another commentary?  (The production of which was a hallmark of Augustine’s labor.)  Augustine reconsidered and backed off from the criticism as being, perhaps, a bit hasty.

            Augustine’s question remains relevant to our age, however.  You could invest all of your surplus income--assuming you are part of the prosperous but overworked middle class--and still not afford to buy all those that are available.  Much less find the time to read them.  So why another commentary and why this one in particular?

            Historically commentaries have been written more often than not for either the well educated or the self-designated religious “elite” who are so absorbed in the text that they want to learn as much as they can about it and prefer exhaustive analysis.  There is a definite place for such commentaries and I am not above writing such myself.

            Yet in the past and even more so today, there is also the need for a very different type of exposition:  concise and to the point.  Even the most devout has only 24 hours a day.  The hasty pace of keeping one’s family’s financial head above water takes up an inordinate amount of that time.  Family obligations and one’s religious interests eat yet further into what is available.  In this pressure cooker environment, the time to merely set down and think has become extraordinarily precious.

            Hence these Quickly Understanding commentaries have been produced to allow the Biblically interested but time limited reader to get the most out of their restricted study time.  First, read a section of the text itself.  For your convenience we divide the commentary into such sections; the headings are not intended to be merely descriptive of what is in that section, but, often, interpretive as well—to make plain one or more points that are underlying the discussion.

            These are presented in the able New English Translation.  They officially permit—rather than unofficially permit or “overlook” the usage--so long as it is done absolutely without any financial charge.  (Or read it in your own preferred translation:  the commentary will work with just about any except the most paraphrasistic ones.)  All individual verse translations we provide, however, are from the New King James Version--an able update of the KJV and utilizing the same underlying Greek text.

            Individual verses then follows.  In a limited number of cases multiple verses are studied together.  A typical cause of this happening is the way certain verses end at awkward places and in the middle of a thought.

            Instead of having to wade through highly technical long paragraphs and even multi-pages you find simple and direct language.  A matter of a few paragraphs instead of a few pages.  Not everything you could find of value of course but, hopefully, a “nugget” or two of something useful in every verse analyzed.

            Sometimes it will be the core thought or message of the verse.  Sometimes it will be a key moral principle the text intends to convey.  In all cases it will be summed up in significantly different words than the text or with supplemental interpretive phrases to “flesh out” the meaning or intention. 

            Every verse is unique.  Some make us wonder why people acted the way they did and we briefly probe the possibilities.   In other cases we wonder why they so misunderstood what was going on and we suggest reasons that could have motivated them.  Other passages present an implicit challenge to the then listener and here we make it explicit so we can face the same challenge as the original audience.  To understand yet other readings, a piece of historical background is needed and we have tried to provide that as well.

            We have avoided fanciful and far-fetched interpretation.  We have assumed that Jesus intended to give guidelines for life in the here and now.  Realistic.  Reachable.  Reasonable.  And we have interpreted the text with those assumptions as our foundation.  I have no problem introducing inferences but we have tried to limit this to the more probable ones unless we include cautionary language as well.  After all, inferences can range from necessary to probable to possible to conjectural to fanciful to outright delusional.  It is a tool to be used with caution, common sense, and prudence.

            For those who wish to grasp the essence of the still living message, this book should prove invaluable assistance.

            We have avoided those areas that require elaborate and sustained discussion.  Issues of authorship, date, and canonicity are all useful and of value.  But here we are interested in the contents of the book.  We begin with the assumption that virtually every one shares:  this purports to be a first century book by someone claiming to know a great deal about the life of Jesus.  Based upon what he has preserved for us, what can we learn about Jesus’ life?  What can we learn about His teaching?  Most importantly, what can we learn that will help us better understand the text or morally improve our own lives?  Hence the sometimes obscure scholarly arguments relating to the book’s background are best left for a different context.   

 

The original version of Matthew, Luke, and John  appear to have been done in 2006 and was revised in 2017-2018, during which the translations were added as well as extra commentary added to enhance what was already present.  In this time frame Mark was added to complete the four gospels.

            Frankly, I had forgotten that these volumes were anywhere near completed in first draft form.  They were among a number of various projects I had set aside over the decades that were either partially or nearly fully researched and “ready to go”—except I had nowhere for them to “go to.”  Now that I have my own web site there is a place. 

And it is my hope and prayer that these and my other works will live on in the electronic realm for many years to come.  After all the purpose of any serious Biblical study should be to deepen one’s own understanding of the sacred text—and, where possible, to assist others in their efforts to do so as well.

                                                Roland H. Worth, Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

                       

Luke Undertook the Research Behind His Gospel to Verify the Accuracy of What Really Happened during Jesus’ Lifetime (Luke 1:1-4):  1 Now many have undertaken to compile an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, like the accounts passed on to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning.  So it seemed good to me as well, because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know for certain the things you were taught.  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:1       Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us.  Just because it was an age before printing, we easily forget that many were literate and the exchange of letters quite possible on at least an occasional basis.  Hence “many” had taken the opportunity to share with others what they knew about Jesus in either a letter form or perhaps short chronicles of selected events and incidents.  They wanted to share the events they had heard from reliable first hand sources with other contemporaries--relatives, friends, kin.  No claim is made that any of these encompassed the entire life of the Lord.  (That possibility hinges on the dating we ascribe to the four gospels.)   

 

            1:2       just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us.  The “second generation” of disciples, i.e., those who came a decade or so after these he now mentions, were duplicating the actions of the earlier one that had actually seen the events.  They had responsibly relayed what they themselves knew was true and the newest “generation” of converts shared the word even further.  Unless we take “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” to refer to the same group of people (and this was certainly true of the apostles), in the bulk of other cases “eyewitnesses” would refer to those who had actually seen the events as contrasted with the “ministers of the word” who took about the report of them (Barnabas, Apollos, and such like).  Both groups had felt an inherent moral obligation to teach and share it with others.

            Sidebar:  Acts 16:10 has Luke referring to how “we” left for Macedonia with Paul and “we” were present at the conversion of Lydia in Philippi (16:12-14).  Since this was roughly 50 A.D., this “second generation” (as we call it for convenience) refers to those arising within less than twenty years of the death of the Lord.  The faith has now laid down roots and its recent adherents want to learn even more. 

 

            1:3       it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus.  The fact that another account was deemed desirable argues that what had already been done was either too fragmentary (rather than comprehensive) or that an account written specifically for the benefit of a Greek rather than Jewish audience was deemed as called for.  It was intended not as a discussion of some one event but as a thorough history of the period in more or less chronological order (“orderly account” = “in consecutive order,” NASB) by someone who had had the opportunity to come to a thorough “understanding” of all the events from the very beginning. 

            He was writing for an individual named Theophilus.  The description of him as “excellent” suggests that he was a man of some standing and importance.  In that day and age that almost inevitably translated into someone wealthy and it may well be that he had subsidized the time and expenses Luke incurred in writing the two books of Luke and Acts.  Who more appropriate to get “the first copy?”

 

            1:4       that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.  The purpose of the book was to provide Theophilus with a historically reliable and detailed account of the things which he had already been taught about Jesus.  Hence he was not one totally unfamiliar with the story, but he was one who wanted to have his knowledge deepened with a wider array of information.  He wanted Luke to investigate in detail and provide what radio journalist Paul Harvey repeatedly called “the rest of the story”--providing us with interesting and useful facts of which we were unaware.

 

 

An Angel Tells the Elderly Priest Zechariah That He Will Father a Child Who Will Prepare the Way for the Messiah (Luke 1:5-18):  During the reign of Herod king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and he had a wife named Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron.  They were both righteous in the sight of God, following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.  But they did not have a child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both very old.

Now while Zechariah was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the holy place of the Lord and burn incense.  10 Now the whole crowd of people were praying outside at the hour of the incense offering.  11 An angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to him.

12 And Zechariah, visibly shaken when he saw the angel, was seized with fear. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son; you will name him John. 

14 ”Joy and gladness will come to you, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.  16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  17 And he will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this?  For I am an old man, and my wife is old as well.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:5       There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah.  His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.  Luke begins this narrative with the parents of John the Baptist.  This is “the very first” of the gospel narrative (to use the wording of verse 3) for John was to begin his own ministry before Jesus did and John’s work prepared for that of the Lord Himself.  Although the ministry itself would be a quite natural beginning point--and Mark utilizes it as such at the beginning of his account--Luke goes even further back to that prophet's birth.

 

            1:6       And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.  Both Zacharias and Elizabeth were thoroughly dedicated to doing God's will.  Theirs was not a cavalier, casual veneer but a mind frame that was careful to observe “all” the regulations of the Divine Law.  They both thought in terms of the maximum they could do to serve God rather than the least they “could get away with.” As the result of such full commitment, they were counted “righteous before God” and “blameless.”  Not absolutely perfect, of course, but as outstanding examples of contemporary piety. 

 

            1:7       But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.  As with other families they wanted children.  Unlike most couples, the decades had gone by and there still had been none.  The husband knew the odds were terribly bad at this late stage of life--“both well advanced in years”--but he still hadn't given up the hope for he still regularly prayed for one (verse 13).  Why give up on an honorable dream even when the odds are long against it?

 

            1:8       So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division.  In order for priests to know when they were serve in the Temple, the priesthood was divided into a number of “divisions” with an appointed time period for each to serve.  Hence when it came time for Zacharias’ division to do their duty he naturally showed up in Jerusalem to do whatever was necessary.

 

            1:9       according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.  There were so many priests and so few opportunities to perform the duty, the daily burning of incense was determined by the casting of lots.  This way no one could claim that any one in authority was playing favorites.  The estimated number of priests in the first century runs as high as roughly 20,000.  Hence the odds against an individual offering incense once was mathematically tiny; twice was impossible.

 

            1:10     And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.  The prayer was not engaged in by only a few; it was the norm for when the incense was being offered:  “the whole multitude” was praying.  The Old Testament had established the conceptual link between offering incense and prayer (Psalms 141:2), one that the New Testament continues (Revelation 5:8).

            Sidebar:  The Mosaical Code never mentions prayer in connection with the place of worship except in the context of giving one’s tithe (Deuteronomy 26:12-15).  So important was this role, though, that the prophet Isaiah quotes God describing the Temple as “My house of prayer” and speaks of how “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (56:7)--not just physical Israel. 

 

            1:11     Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.  Culturally the right side was considered the more praiseworthy and prestigious one:  think of the judgment day scene in Matthew 25:33 where the redeemed are on the right hand side and the depiction of Jesus as ruling at God's right hand (Luke 22:69; Acts 2:33).

 

            1:12     And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.  Zacharias took this as a bad sign.  The assumption here is that if an angel took the trouble to appear to you, there was a great chance it was not going to be good news.  After all, angels did not casually drop in to chat about the weather! 

 

            1:13     But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  The angel urged Zacharias to suppress his fear since he had good news for him.  One demand was immediately made, however:  he must name the child John rather than after himself, which would have been the normal course.  Why this name was chosen is not stated.  No obvious verbally symbolic significance is attributed to it.  (Although it has been suggested that this is one of the short forms for the name Jehochanan, “the grace of Jehovah.”)  In a sense it was a “testing” of Zacharias:  though he was getting his lifetime wish, the pleasure of having the son “carry on” his own name would not be granted.  

 

            1:14     And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.  This birth would bring happiness to both the parents and “many” others as well.  Long term, through John the Baptist’s adult ministry.  Short term, through their many friends and acquaintances who shared with them their happiness at the unexpected event.

 

            1:15     For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.  He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.  More challenging for Zacharias than the name he was to give the child (verse 13) was the fact that he was not to be raised in the “normal” manner of the age.  The society took for granted at least the moderate drinking of wine and anything else that could be called “strong drink” (increasingly suspected to be a description of beer).  In contrast, John was to be raised to totally avoid both.  Though he was to avoid human made “spirits” he would be blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit even before he was born.

 

            1:16     And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.  As an adult he was to function as a moral reformer--not interested merely in changing outward behavior but in changing the heart that determines that behavior as well.  In doing this, he would enjoy considerable success as “many” would embrace the message and the goal. 

 

            1:17     He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  In playing his role of reformer he would act as a kind of modern day Elijah.  His message would cause the disobedient to consider the true “wisdom of the just” in how they obeyed God.  He would also heal the breach between the generations (turning “the hearts of the fathers to the children”).  By such things he would prepare the people for the Lord.  He would remove the behavioral obstacles that would obstruct that being done.

            Sidebar:  In describing the mission of John, the closing words of Malachi are invoked (4:5-6).  Not mentioned here is the accompanying language about how if the people did not embrace this effort, national disaster would occur.

 

            1:18     And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this?  For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”  This is a strange reaction.  After spending so many years praying for a child (verse 13) it would seem odd if not psychologically impossible for him to suddenly doubt that it could happen.  Prolonged prayer was based on the very opposite assumption!  Either he is having a panicked reaction at the prospect of it becoming a reality at last--raising a child in old age is not going to be easy once he stops to think about it--or else he is panicked at how he could possibly father a child that would be this great (verses 15-17).  To raise one’s own child is the culmination of a multi-decade dream; to raise a child who is effectively going to function as God’s prophet vastly raises the responsibility far beyond that level.

            Sidebar:  The problem of why he should suddenly doubt is resolved by many by arguing that the prayer of verse 13 actually refers to the coming of the Messiah.  He now learns that his family is going to play a role in that event--providing the prophetic voice that prepares His way.  Hence, at his advanced age, he panics since he has long stopped anticipating ever having offspring.

 

 

Zechariah Punished with Lack of Speaking Ability for His Doubts (Luke 1:19-23):  19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.  20 And now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will be silent, unable to speak, until the day these things take place.” 

21 Now the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they began to wonder why he was delayed in the holy place.  22 When he came out, he was not able to speak to them. They realized that he had seen a vision in the holy place, because he was making signs to them and remained unable to speak.  23 When his time of service was over, he went to his home.     --New English Translation (for comparison)               

 

 

            1:19     And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.   We read of this angel in the Old Testament (Daniel 8:16; 9:21) and he will reappear as the messenger giving word of the coming birth of Jesus in verse 26 of this chapter.  By his position “in the presence of God” he had access to what God was doing and having been especially commissioned to “speak to you,” the reliability of the angel’s promise is doubly assured:  He was in a position to know for a certain.  There was no need to doubt in spite of Zacharias’ age.

 

            1:20     But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”  His inability to accept that his long term wish was about to come true was about to have serious consequences.  It would not keep him from his normal daily affairs, but it would be a constant reminder of the supernatural power of the messenger who had brought him word.

 

            1:21     And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple.  This exchange delayed Zacharias from leaving the temple and this concerned those who were waiting outside.  He was in a place of special sacredness and it was simply not a place where one lingered longer than it took to accomplish the assigned task.  Furthermore, since prayers were ongoing in the outside court, the priest’s reappearance would be regarded as the time for this particular period of prayers to come to an end.  Although prayer was considered a virtuous act, there was also a sense of “timing,” a point when it would “naturally” come to an end as the priest offered a dismissal blessing on the crowd.  For the wording that would likely be used see Numbers 6:22-27.

           

            1:22     But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.  For these words to make sense, there had to have been an attempted interchange of words between the waiting priests (and perhaps crowd) and Zacharias, who manifested an obvious inability to speak.  Since he was alive, it was hardly likely that God had cursed him.  What reasonable alternative was there when the sole witness was unable to speak than that he had “seen a vision in the temple?” 

 

            1:23     So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house.  Being unable to speak did not hinder his being able to perform his other priestly duties and he continued in these until the time that his division of the priesthood finished their prescribed service--from one Sabbath to the beginning of the next one (cf. 2 Kings 11:9).

 

 

After a Delay, Elizabeth Indeed Becomes Pregnant and Rejoices Over It (Luke 1:24-25):  24 After some time his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and for five months she kept herself in seclusion. She said, 25 This is what the Lord has done for me at the time when he has been gracious to me, to take away my disgrace among people.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:24     Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying,              “After those days” assumes a modest delay and Elizabeth did, indeed, become pregnant.  During the first five months she kept to herself so no one could see the evidence.  The “why” is pure guess work.  But the biology of pregnancy can easily play emotional games with a woman and when you have a first pregnancy at an advanced age, these factors had to have been even more pressing:  You don’t want to “risk” what you have by physical labor that otherwise would have been routine.  The Lord may promise, but you don’t want to take advantage of His generosity either.      

 

            1:25     “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”  Not having had a child could open one to sarcasm and mockery (1 Samuel 1:4-7) and she had apparently had to endure such.  Some of it doubtless came from within herself as well:  after all a key function of marriage is to provide a next generation.  Hence having children was considered a great blessing from God (Leviticus 26:9; Psalms 113:9; Psalms 128:1-4).  When Rachel finally had a child she cried out, “God has taken away my reproach  (Genesis 30:23), words that Elizabeth echoes.  Today western society almost exalts childlessness.  That course is destructive of one of our fundamental purposes for being alive.  Society can survive this for a while--but for how long?          

 

 

The “Engaged” but Unmarried Mary Informed by an Angel That—Virgin or Not—She Is About to Become Pregnant (Luke 1:26-38):  26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.  28 The angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled by his words and began to wonder about the meaning of this greeting. 

30 So the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God!  31 Listen: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.  33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.”  34 Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?”  35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.

36 And look, your relative Elizabeth has also become pregnant with a son in her old age—although she was called barren, she is now in her sixth month!  37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”  38 So Mary said, “Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word.”  Then the angel departed from her.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:26     Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth.  By this point the pregnancy was well on the way.  This data tells us (assuming a birth in the ninth month as is normal) that within the same three month span both the Messiah's Prophet was born and the Messiah was conceived.  Since both she and Joseph dwelled in Nazareth immediately after their marriage (Luke 2:4), it was almost certainly the hometown of both.  Interestingly Luke provides no word of reassurance to Joseph--marrying an already pregnant woman surely required it!--and we have to go to Matthew 1:18-21 to find it.  Similarly Matthew only mentions her knowledge of the supernatural origin of the pregnancy (1:18) but provides nothing of the comfort she received from the angel here in Luke.  

 

            1:27     to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  The nearest modern equivalent to “betrothal” would be our concept of “engagement,” but with a vastly stronger element of inevitability and uncancelability to it.  This was not a mere pledging to each other, but involved a formal ceremony typically conducted a year before the marriage service.  In fact, in the interim the two were regarded as bound together as if in marriage but without any sexual relationship permitted.  Hence the reference to the fact that she was still “a virgin.”

 

            1:28     And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”  Gabriel’s opening words were ones of praise stressing the great honor she was being given by being chosen to give birth to the long awaited Messiah.  The praise is surely given first before knowledge of the manner in which she was being blessed, because she needed strong encouragement and reassurance for what would appear to others as morally compromising:  Virgins simply don’t get pregnant.  Unless a miracle has happened.  And even then would most folk believe it?  Factor in His role as king on David’s throne (verse 32), people would think she was delusional at the best.  She would inevitably be faced with ridicule if she told the truth so silence was likely her only refuge.  Hence she needed this praise and encouragement though she doesn’t yet know why. . . . 

 

            1:29     But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.          Like Zacharias (verses 11-12), the appearance of an angel was taken as a sign of concern rather than of jubilation.  She doubtless recognized that she was morally sound but was “troubled”--“greatly troubled” or “deeply troubled” are common renderings--at the intensity of the words of praise:  How in the world could she be that special and “good?”  What could the words actually mean?

 

            1:30     Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  He deals directly with her fear by emphasizing that there is absolutely nothing to be alarmed about.  Indeed, she is about to be blessed with a unique form of Divine “favor” that no one else would or could enjoy.  Again the positive emphasis may come from not only the fact that she deserves praise, but also from recognition that her pregnancy is inevitably going to be viewed as a blot on her reputation. 

 

            1:31     And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.  To be blessed with a child was to fulfill the dream of every contemporary young woman and the expectation of every husband.  Indeed, if no one had any children there would be no next generation and the human species would die by a kind of self-genocide. 

            As in the case of John, a name is provided:  Jesus”--the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua.  If you did a short list of the most favored names of that age “Jesus” would inevitably be on it.

            But why should there be such praise for a woman doing what was only natural in marriage.  First, because of Jesus' greatness (verses 32-33) and second because it is to be a unique non-sexual pregnancy.  If you stop and think about it, that had to be a little scary as well.  No woman had ever walked this path before.

 

            1:32     He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.  Here two different and powerful ideas are linked together--both extremely radical.  In its mildest form “He will be called the Son of the Highest” only means that He is a morally upstanding and righteous Jew.  An honorable man.  But the structure of the sentence has Him being “great” and because of that He will have this label. 

            That refers to the fact that He will be far more than just a morally exemplary man:  He will be Deity itself.  As Paul told the elders of Ephesus:  They were “shepherd[ing] the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).  Or as Jesus Himself said:  “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30); “Most assuredly I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am” (John 8:58).

             The second reason He will be called “great” is because He will have the long promised “throne of His father David.”  In other words, He will be the long promised Monarch and Messiah.  But it won't be as a temporal leader exercising the threat of brute force but one who rules through convincing the heart and mind to yield voluntary allegiance.  After the resurrection Jesus could already claim such rulership right and authority:  All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18) and out of this grew His commission to take the redemptive gospel through the entire human world.      

 

            1:33     And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”  Temporal kingdoms come and go; but this would be a one-in-human-history kingdom:  Once created it would never end.  This was fully in line with Old Testament prediction.  Daniel 2:44:  “In the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed. . . .”  Hebrews 1:8 (quoting Psalms 45:6):  “But to the Son He says, ‘Your throne O God is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.’ ”  

 

            1:34     Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”  That was fine and good--not to mention astounding to learn that your son will play such a role at some point in the future.  But there is a “tiny, little problem” in the meantime.  In the here and now she is still unmarried and still a virgin . . . so how could this possibly occur?  It isn’t so much doubt as quite understandable perplexity.  

 

            1:35     And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.  The Holy Spirit, utilizing Divine “power” would “overshadow” her and create the pregnancy.  As the result of this Divine power/human free source being utilized, the child would have even more reason to be called “the Son of God.”  (Note the “therefore” between the means of the child’s creation and the fact that Jesus would be called this.)

 

            1:36     Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.  What we don't know is whether Mary was aware of this previously.  Whether she was or not, this would be reassuring since nothing short of a miracle could possibly have assured her pregnancy at such an advanced age.  What Divine power had done once, it could do even more dramatically in her own case.  In other words, there was precedent for the Spirit's intervention.  There was evidence for the success of that supernatural power.

 

            1:37     For with God nothing will be impossible.”  Here we find the root reason why both pregnancies were startling and so hard to believe:  They were impossible.  But when God’s power is brought to bear, nothing can any longer be dismissed as an impossibility.  He rolls over the mere “fact” of “impossibility” like a car tire does over an empty soft drink container.  It is destroyed. 

 

            1:38     Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord!  Let it be to me according to your word.”  And the angel departed from her.  Mary stressed that she was but a “maidservant of the Lord”--a servant and not the mistress of the house.  It was not her responsibility or duty to decide what was done or not done.  Hence she immediately added:  Let God do as He has promised.         

 

 

The Pregnant Elizabeth and Mary Meet Together to Encourage Each Other and to Rejoice in Their Unexpected Pregnancies (Luke 1:39-45):  39 In those days Mary got up and went hurriedly into the hill country, to a town of Judah, 40 and entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.  41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 

42 She exclaimed with a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb!  43 And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me?  44 For the instant the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  45 And blessed is she who believed that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

           

 

            1:39-40      Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.  The one person who had a chance of understanding her situation and her predicament was that woman who was similarly blessed with a pregnancy under “impossible” conditions.  So Mary quite naturally went into the Judean city where she lived.  Furthermore she was a relative (verse 36) and, being in the final third of pregnancy, would find it useful to have a much younger female relative on the premises to help her with her needs. 

            The fact that Mary went “with haste” argues that it was done quickly and promptly, as a matter of urgent importance.  The fact that in verse 35 the pregnancy was still future--note the “Holy Spirit will come upon you”--her promptly leaving for Elizabeth meant that the entire first months of the pregnancy will be occurring when she is in the presence of a respected elderly lady.  This will provide at least some measure of protection against charges of sexual misconduct on her own part.

           

            1:41     And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Whether it was coincidence or miraculously induced--the text does not tell us which--the timing could hardly have been more appropriate!  The baby reacted to the voice of Mary and the Holy Spirit, as it did on Pentecost, comes upon Elizabeth and provides her with the perfect words to speak to reassure Mary--for what is happening to her is even greater than the awesome event occurring to Elizabeth.

 

            1:42     Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  When the angel had spoken to Mary (1:28) it had spoken highly of her and spoken of the regal future of her child (1:31-33).  It would be hard to have a better commentary on these words than Elizabeth's simple “blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Human redemption would be made possible through His life and sacrificial death.    

 

            1:43  But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  The relationship of Mary’s own future son would be that of “Lord” to all others--including Elizabeth.  Could Elizabeth possibly have a better reason to feel honored than by their presence?  Yet she still doesn't know the reason for it.  If anything the “lesser” (Elizabeth and John) would come to the “greater” (Mary and her child) but God thought it best for it to be the opposite and practical concerns of age would surely have hindered any other course.  She surely hasn't thought it through this far as the words are coming out of her mouth:  So she is simply left with the sense of awe as to “why” she has been granted this signal honor.            

 

            1:44     For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.  Hardly likely in any “literal” sense (for it would imply conscious knowledge on the unborn infant’s part), yet what mother has not either spoken in such terms of “reading the motives” or been tempted to do so?  The baby is reacting and the mother attributes it to what is happening around her.  Even though the child is not yet “here” it is still looked upon as a quite distinct little creature with feelings, emotions, and even good behavior and misbehavior.  (Just hear a pregnant mother complain about her child acting like a “brat” by kicking her!) 

 

            1:45     Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”  We know what Zacharias and Elizabeth knew about their own coming child; clearly they have also been informed of this other child’s importance as well.  What was important to Elizabeth--and the Holy Spirit speaking through her--was to reassure Mary that whatever the details of what had been spoken, it unquestionably would come true--both in regard to herself and her child.  Elizabeth has had six months to get used to the situation.  Mary has had only days.

 

 

Mary’s Hymn of Rejoicing at How God Has Both Blessed Her and the Entire People of Israel as Well (Luke 1:46-56):  46 And Mary said, “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 and my spirit has begun to rejoice in God my Savior, 48 because he has looked upon the humble state of his servant.  For from now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 because he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name; 50 from generation to generation he is merciful to those who fear him.

51 He has demonstrated power with his arm; he has scattered those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts.  52 He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of lowly position; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy,
55 as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  56 So Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.      --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:46     And Mary said:  “My soul magnifies the Lord.  Mary’s response is, oddly, not textually attributed to the Holy Spirit though there is nothing present that rules it out either.  On the other hand it so exemplifies Old Testament language and thinking that someone well schooled in its contents could easily utilize such language instinctively.  (1 Samuel 2:1-10 is often thought of as somewhat analogous to what we find here.)  First of all, Mary begins by giving honor to God.  If the word “magnifies” refers to herself, then it suggests the idea of prolonged and intense praise; not merely a moderate “thank you, Lord!” but something many times more passionate.  If it refers to the recipient of the praise, it carries the connotation of “praises the greatness of the Lord” (Christian Standard Bible, ISV).   

 

            1:47     And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.  Not just in external words was the joy expressed, but even by her inner “spirit.”  We would, perhaps, says “it was heart felt joy.”  As the Old Testament worded it “There is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none beside Me” (Isaiah 45:21).  “You are the God of my salvation” (Psalms 25:5; cf. 24:5).  All faithful Jews could feel this way and use such language, but even more so someone who was being uniquely blessed by Him. . . .  

 

            1:48     For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.  After all, she had been but one lower class woman out of a multitude, yet the Lord had chosen her of all of them for this honor.  If this were not sufficient cause for celebration--standing alone and on its own merits--the importance of what was happening would ultimately be recognized both by contemporaries and future generations as well.  She hadn't sought the honor, but she had been blessed by it.  How can she be anything but in awe of it?

 

            1:49     For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.  Being with child without sex is inherently not natural; it is simply not the way it occurs.  For this young maiden in a technologically primitive age to suddenly be this way could only happen due to supernatural power--exercised by someone “mighty” beyond human capacity.  Furthermore, it was not done as a kind of flippant exercise of power but by someone whose very nature was embodied in moral perfection--being completely and fully “holy.”

 

            1:50     And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.  In a sense God is concerned with the entire human species, but His special attention is on those who respect and attempt to fully obey Him (i.e., “fear Him”) and this was true not only in isolated single generations but in all that have ever been or will be (“from general to generation”--an ongoing, perpetual concern.)  For those who actually have this mind frame, this is an extremely comforting thought.  For those who prefer to substitute their own preferences, it is a dangerous thunderstorm in the sky awaiting the final judgment to unleash all its fury.

 

            1:51     He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.  He doesn't merely claim power; He has repeatedly exercised it on the arrogant and conceited who think they can get away with any scheme they can conjure up out of their hearts.  He's played havoc with them in the past and He's quite capable of doing it again--but only when He is ready.  He will do it on His own time schedule.  For a modern analogy:  Think of a vast investigation that has been going on into your shady and evil doings.  You know they have the facts, but you have no idea of when they will actually act to bring you to justice.  But you labor on daily hoping to find some way to avoid that fate.  But, ultimately . . . you don't.

 

            1:52     He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.  No matter where you are on the social and political totem pole, you are still subject to God's intervention--either against you or in your behalf.  He has acted to cast monarchs off their “thrones” (which usually meant death and at least exile).  But He has also stretched down and elevated the “lowly” unimportant members of life to joy and even a better worldly position.

 

            1:53     He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.  This is one of the ways societal roles can get reversed through the intervention of God:  those who have lacked the daily necessities are suddenly blessed with the temporal blessings they need.  In contrast, the conceited rich who are “always going to do well” discover they are bankrupt and in disgrace and have been publicly humiliated.

 

            1:54     He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy.  The Divine preference for Israel still existed:  God continued to helped the nation because He had done so in the past--all the way back to Abraham, as the next verse will show.  God had an established pattern of mercy.  The problem, repeatedly in Israelite history, was whether they were wise and humble enough to take advantage of His mercy.  

 

            1:55     As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”  Divine mercy (verse 54) was in conformity with the promises spoken to Abraham in the distant past (cf. Genesis 22:16-18), promises intended to be available “to his seed forever.”  Of course, the problem always was that though the masses happily remembered the Divine promises, they far too often were unwilling to live up to the moral and spiritual obligations that went with them.

 

            1:56     And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.  Since she was already six months pregnant, this means Mary left just before or just after the birth--surely the latter for why wait that late unless one was going to stay for the full duration?  (For the sake of the flow of the narrative, it’s better to briefly insert this here rather than leave the reader wondering, “how long did she stay with Elizabeth.)

 

 

The Birth of John, His Circumcision, and Naming (Luke 1:57-66):  57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son.  58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they wanted to name him Zechariah after his father.  60 But his mother replied, “No! He must be named John.”  61 They said to her, “But none of your relatives bears this name.” 

62 So they made signs to the baby’s father, inquiring what he wanted to name his son.  63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.”  And they were all amazed.

64 Immediately Zechariah’s mouth was opened and his tongue released, and he spoke, blessing God.  65 All their neighbors were filled with fear, and throughout the entire hill country of Judea all these things were talked about.  66 All who heard these things kept them in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?”  For the Lord’s hand was indeed with him.

--New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:57     Now Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son.  Hence three more months have passed and--surely to her great emotional relief!--the son of her old age has been safely born.

 

            1:58     When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her, they rejoiced with her.  The wording would normally carry the implication that not even her neighbors were aware of the pregnancy until it was over.  This seems inherently unlikely without mysteriously cutting off all contact with friends.  Hence it probably refers to the broader range of “neighbors” with whom she only occasionally or rarely came in contact with.  Not passing word to her own “relatives” earlier made prudential sense as well lest they think she was delusional.

            After all, the vision might easily be dismissed as just a pious dream rather than reality.  Even her apparent pregnancy might be one of those false pregnancies that occur in life.  (Perhaps the most famous being that of Queen Mary in 1555.)  But when the child was born, no one anywhere could doubt it was all for real--and that this child must be born for greatness.

 

            1:59     So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias.  The eighth day was the required day to circumcise a child--a custom begun in the days of Abraham (Genesis 12:3) and required by the Mosaical Code at the time of the Exodus (Leviticus 12:3).  This was also the time of the formal naming of the child and those present had assumed that the name would be that of the father, Zacharias.  It was far from a universal requirement, but it was the most natural assumption to make.

            Sidebar:  Rabbinic thought made this time the obligatory one because at the time of his circumcision the names of both Abram and Sarai had been changed (Genesis 17:5, 15, 23-27).  As expediency there was nothing wrong with this, but to make it obligatory is a fine example of “interpretive overreach:  the name involved was not of a child--who previous had no name--but of a married couple in their old age.  Nor is there the slightest hint that the others circumcised that day had their names changed. 

 

            1:60     His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.”  From her protest it is clear that she had learned from her husband what the selected name was to be.  (Probably by the same means as the observers who learned it in verse 63.)  In its own way, it had to be a strange choice to her, but she had gotten pregnant when it was impossible, she had carried to term in spite of her age, the child had been born in good health.  Who was she to stand in the way of what the Lord wanted?  Hence her insistence.

 

            1:61     But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.”  Since her husband could not speak--and from what happens in the next verse we have to conclude he could not hear well if at all--they felt bound to intervene with a protest.  Custom was that the name be either that of the father or at least of one of the relatives.  There was lack of a precedent for a child being named “John” among them.

 

            1:62     So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.  Unable to convince her, they appealed to the father as to what the name should be.  As the father, the decision was ultimately his to make. 

 

            1:63     And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.”  So they all marveled.  Still unable to speak, he motioned for something to write on.  When they provided him a writing tablet, he wrote out the same name selected by his wife.  She hadn't come up with some odd name she personally preferred without having the concurrence of her husband.  It was the one both wanted.  His willingness to give such a name amazed the people--this simply was not the way things were normally done.

 

            1:64     Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.  As soon as he had endorsed the name, Zacharias’ speaking ability was restored--just as instantaneously as it had been taken away.  What more natural thing than to be “praising God?”  He had his voice back, but far more importantly he had the precious child that he was never going to have.  And the angelic promise that that child  would play an important role in the service of God. 

 

            1:65     Then fear came on all who dwelt around them; and all these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea.  This amazing transformation from muteness to the ability to speak normally was amazing in its own right.  Add to this the unusualness of such an older woman bearing a child.  It was too much for the people and “fear” came on them--concern over what it all added up to.  When God intervenes “He shakes things up:  In one sense that is awesome and praiseworthy--but drastic, uncharted, and previously unknown events create an automatic undercurrent of tension as well.  The instinct of trusting God wars with the knowledge that change means what you are used to may be altered and even uprooted.           

 

            1:66     And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?”  And the hand of the Lord was with him.  The circumstances passionately argued that this child was going to grow up into someone very special.  Unless we are to assume that Zacharias did not share with them what he had been told in the Temple--and is there anyone foolish enough to believe that?--the child’s role as moral reformer and preparer for the Messiah (1:16-17) vastly intensified their concerns as to how this would be accomplished in future years.  Especially as it is further described in verses 67-79. 

            We aren't told in what ways “the hand of the Lord” was with the growing child.  Luke is content with simply telling us that God's blessing was upon the child as he grew into manhood.  I suppose we could rightly say that this description is given to assure us that John grew up in the way he needed to mature in order to assume the work and responsibilities of forerunner of the Messiah.  In other words, he wasn't a hypocrite playing the role of a moral reformer; he really was one.

 

 

Zechariah’s Inspired Prophecy about How God Would Use John to Fulfill the Divine Promises Made to Abraham (Luke 1:67-80):  67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, 68 ”Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because he has come to help and has redeemed his people.  69 For he has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from long ago, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us.  72 He has done this to show mercy to our ancestors, and to remember his holy covenant— 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham.  This oath grants 74 that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, may serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him for as long as we live.

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High.  For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.  78 Because of our God’s tender mercy the dawn will break upon us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 

80 And the child kept growing and becoming strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he was revealed to Israel.     --New English Translation (for comparison)  

 

 

            1:67     Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying.  Just as Elizabeth had spoken by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit months earlier (verse 41), now Zacharias did as well.  His thoughts and words were shaped by the Spirit into the form that best expressed the joy of the occasion. 

 

            1:68     “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.  Utilizing typical Old Testament imagery and concepts, he first “blesses” (= praises) God for intervening on earth (“He has visited”) and for bringing redemption to His people.  He had done so previously through Moses and the prophets--liberation on a national basis by the Exodus from Egypt; liberation individually on a spiritual level as each one faithfully followed God’s will.  Through John also, He would call the people of Israel to be a righteous and upright nation dedicated to the service of their God.

 

            1:69     And has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.  The horn imagery is a strange one to our ears, but was one understood as synonymous for strength:  “He has exalted the horn of His people” (Psalms 148:14).  It is apparently adapted from the strength of animals that is embedded in the striking power of their horns.  Hence Joseph was blessed in these words:  “His glory is like a firstborn bull, and his horns like the horns of the wild ox; together with them he shall push the peoples to the ends of the earth; they are the ten thousands of Ephraim and they are the thousands of Manasseh” (Deuteronomy 33:17).  The imagery was also used of those successfully making war against the people of God in Daniel 7:21--again invoking the imagery of strength, though for an evil purpose.

            Here the power of that horn is going to produce “salvation” for the people who are David's descendants.  The listeners are probably thinking of political salvation from Rome, but what is actually in mind is spiritual salvation from sin and transgression.  

 

            1:70     As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began.  The prophets of old--back to the very first ones who ever existed--had spoken on such matters.  Some think this begins all the way back at the promise made to Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:17).  We usually think of Abraham as the patriarch to whom the promise of a redeemer was made and that is true.  But he was also a “prophet” as well (Genesis 20:7).

 

            1:71     That we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.  The prophets had spoken of salvation from the “enemies” who “hate us” and this seems an inevitable linkage:  Can one be an enemy and not hate?  The “enemies” were not merely Romans.  The people Zacharias is addressing are the poor and those not all that much above that level.  The well to do and prosperous often had just as hearty a contempt for them as the pagan.  They were the “dispensables” of society.  Although they might never rise above their modest economic status, their spiritual status would produce for them a deliverance from sin alien to their temporal “betters.” 

 

            1:72     To perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant. This salvation would be a carrying out of the promise of “mercy” that God had long spoken of.  First it was to the ancient patriarchs and later distant ancestors.  The record had been embedded in the Scriptures that God had inspired for many centuries.  The promise of redemption had not yet been fulfilled, but what God promises--and threatens for that matter!--He never forgets.  

 

            1:73     The oath which He swore to our father Abraham.  He was uniquely their ancestor--literally the father of the nation they were all part of:  All of them could trace their lineage back to him.  Hence a shared ancestor; a shared promise; a shared blessing--if they would heed God's demands.  Just as Abraham had to in order to receive Divine blessings.                     

  

            1:74     To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear.  The deliverance was not merely the humanitarian act of saving from enemies, it had a deeper purpose:  to allow everyone to serve God without having to fear retribution and the opposition of others.  This might not stop them from hurting us, but it would protect us from anything that could force a gap between us and God's love:  As Paul goes on at length in Romans 8:37-39, nothing “can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

            1:75     In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.  This service was to be accompanied by morality (= “holiness and righteousness”) and this was to be a lifestyle continued throughout one’s life.  There is a price to be paid for redemption, but it comes in the form of loyalty and obedience.  It is not purchased with currency for who could afford it if it were?  Even though it is free, the requirements that go with discipleship are too onerous for many to accept.  They voluntarily trade earthly limitations and death for non-dying joy where pain and injury exist no more. 

 

            1:76     “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.  As to the newborn, he would be regarded as God’s prophet--the teacher of His way and His moral standards.  He would be “called” that because that was what He was.  His role was “to prepare” the way for the Messiah's work--to make people take their religion and its moral demands seriously once again.  To turn from a self-centered and self-serving life to one of doing right and honoring God in both one's religious and moral behavior.

            Sidebar:  The role of “prepare[r of] His ways” is spoken of in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1.

 

            1:77     To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins.  However pleasant it would be to have temporal salvation from the Roman rulers, even that laudable goal did not provide a far greater and more important salvation--rescue and redemption from their sins.  The very fact that the sacrificial system was still functioning shows that that could never be fully adequate to accomplish what only the Redeemer could do:  “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). 

 

            1:78     Through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us.  The forgiveness of sins (verse 77) would be made possible “through” the mercy with which God was blessing the people.  They could never accomplish it on their own; it required Divine intervention.  The idea of a rising “sun” bringing redemption through its rising to the visibility of the people is an image rooted in Malachi 4:2:  “But to those who fear My name the Sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings. . . .” 

 

            1:79     To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  The “tender mercy of our God” (verse 78) would provide enlightenment to those who sat in spiritual darkness.  It would be a blueprint to guide their feet back into the “way of peace” with God.  The old ways did not have to persist; they could be replaced with something far better. 

 

            1:80     So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.  John’s youth is treated in this one brief sentence.  As to his physical and spiritual growth, he “became strong in spirit.”  At what point Zacharias and Elizabeth died we do not know.  If he was still young at that time, lingering word of his unexpected birth would have still been around.  That would assure that there would be volunteers willing to look after him if there were no direct relatives available. 

            Even so, such a period must not have been prolonged for the text leaves the strong impression that at some relatively young age he made his normal home in the little populated “desert” areas of the land.  Unless we are to make the needless assumption that his only spiritual knowledge came from direct revelation, we have to concede that this description is not meant to exclude his regularly coming into communities where he could learn at synagogues and have access to the actual text of Scripture.  His was to be an enlightened asceticism even for one who preferred a more isolated setting.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

           

The Roman Census Leads to Jesus Being Born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-7):  1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes.  This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 

Everyone went to his own town to be registered. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David.  He went to be registered with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him, and who was expecting a child. 

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.     --New English Translation (for comparison)   

 

 

            2:1       And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  In order to establish the basis of future taxation, Caesar Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.) ordered a registration of the empire’s citizens.  There is no reason to believe that this was done simultaneously throughout the empire:  the amount of manpower required and the degree of social disruption would have been too great.  For the same reason, one would expect that individual sections of particular countries were surveyed one after another rather than simultaneously.  In non-essentials, the emperor was willing to be quite flexible.  Hence there is every reason to believe that he would have adapted whatever form of counting that best fitted local customs.  In the case of the Palestinian region it would have been the one described here, a count based upon one’s ancestral home.

 

            2:2       This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.  Herod the Great was still alive for he tried to have the newborn murdered (Matthew 2:16-18)--which means that the census had to be carried out prior to his death in March/April of 4 B.C.  We only know of Quirinius holding the title of governor of Syria as of a decade later, 6 A.D.  However having the authority to conduct the census surely required the equivalent of such power.  Hence the identification provided?  Alternatively our current text may refer to this being the “first” of the censuses he was responsible for--the second only occurring when he actually had the title of “governor” as well rather than just census responsibilities.  Unlike the peaceful conditions implied for this census, that of c. 6 A.D. or a little later was something far different, providing the excuse/motivation for a major popular revolt (Acts 5:37).  Since Luke also wrote Acts, it is hard to imagine that the insurrectionary environment would not find echoes in the first two chapters of Luke if the census were the same.       

 

            2:3       So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.  If this were invented history, Luke--being a Roman--would hardly have thrown this in.  The normal method of Roman registration was in the town where you lived.  This minimized the societal disruption caused by large numbers of people moving about, but if this was the price to placate local “prejudices” the Romans were quite willing to be cooperative.        

 

            2:4       Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.  It was natural that a child who was to be the “son of David,” would have a father of that lineage; hence being census counted in Bethlehem was inevitable for David himself had been born there (1 Samuel 17:12).  Although the gospel of John does not describe the birth, he is the only one of the gospels that records the popular recognition that the Messiah would be born there (John 7:40-43).   

 

            2:5       to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.  The taxation count was based on the ancestral place of birth of the husband and to insure that his wife was listed in the survey, her name would be entered with his.  Joseph’s decision to be married to her was the result of an angelic appearance that is found in Matthew alone.  Yet something had to have been said to convince him to accept the burden of raising a child not actually his own.  Not to mention the stigma of those who thought the child was actually his but conceived before the marriage.  This is but one of varied examples where one gospel assumes the reality of facts that are only explained or stated at length somewhere else.  In other words, each leaves out facts not deemed essential to the particular account they are crafting.

 

            2:6       So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  Whether before or shortly after the act of registration we are not told.  No matter how legally binding the registration was, obviously their minds were concentrating on the imminent birth.  The earliest person to estimate the date of the birth was Clement of Alexandria (roughly 150-215 A.D.) and it was based upon the alleged time between Jesus’ birth and that of the death of Commodus.  This produces a result of either November, 3 B.C. or January, 2 B.C.--the difference being produced by whether you calculate the years based upon how the Romans would normally do or by the way Egyptians would (among whom Clement lived). 

 

            2:7       And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  This firstborn was wrapped in tight cloths and placed in a feeding trough--the first being the recognized custom of the time and the second produced by the necessities of the situation.  Because of the crowds in the city there had been no room for them in the inn itself and they had had to utilize the only space that was available.  No insult was intended and doubtless they were thankful to have found what they had.  And if they could be helped with small amenities, it is hard to believe that the inn owner--or wife thereof!--hesitated to provide whatever they could. 

 

 

Shepherds Hear Angels Rejoicing over the Child’s Birth and Go to Bethlehem to See the Newly Born Child (Luke 2:8-20):  Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. 

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people:  11 Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.  12 This will be a sign for you:  You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” 

13 Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us.”  16 So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger. 

17 When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said.  19 But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean. 

20 So the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told.     --New English Translation (for comparison)    

 

 

            2:8       Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.   Since lambs have “wandering legs” some shepherds needed to be awake and about even into the night to assure they did not wander off.  This data about where they were argues against a December date for the birth since the weather was normally too cold to keep the sheep in the open that late in the year.

 

            2:9       And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.  It’s into the night and suddenly a majestic creature stands before them and the entire area is brightly lit.  Not having the foggiest idea of what was going on, they naturally reacted with fear.  How else would you react? 

 

            2:10     Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  Again (as also happened in the first chapter) the angel’s first item of business is to dissipate the panic so they can pay attention to what he has to say.  It was no time to be afraid, he insisted; instead it was a time for celebration.

 

            2:11     For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  What other reaction than great joy would be appropriate when the long awaited Savior and Messiah (= Christ) had just been born?  It's no longer some “time in the future”--but now.  It's not somewhere distant, but close enough that they could travel to the place and see the awesome sight for themselves (verse 12).

 

            2:12     And this will be the sign to you:  You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”  They would not find the child in the most prestigious home in town, but in the least likely place:  Look for a baby in a manger.  There wasn’t likely to be but one family in such an unusual predicament in the city!  In fact, being a modest size place, it was extremely likely that it was the only child birth that night.

 

            2:13     And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:  Without warning a multitude of voices began to praise God from the heavens.  And why not?  Wasn't the message awesome enough to fully justify it?  “Multitude” implies not just a chorus and not just a large chorus--but a huge one.  And those following God in heaven are described in such terms in both the Old Testament (Daniel 7:10) and New Testament (Revelation 5:11-12).  

 

            2:14     “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”  The chorus spoke of the need to honor God.  After all, this was the fulfillment of ancient prophecy--long looked forward to and now transformed from future dream into current reality. 

            As found in the KJV/NKJV and others who work from the same underlying Greek text, you have two “earthside” benefits mentioned.  First comes the fact that through the birth of the Messiah spiritual “peace” is now available on earth and, secondly, through that birth “goodwill” is being extended to one and all since it is the means of God's ultimate redemption of the human race. 

            What is often considered a better underlying Greek text produces a translation that is quite common and along the lines of:  “peace among people with whom He is pleased” (New English Translation).  In other words the birth of the Messiah is the gift extended to those who are obedient--that God is at peace with them because He is pleased with them.  

 

            2:15     So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”  Having unquestionably gotten their attention, the shepherds decided to do the only thing that was logical:  The newborn was not that far away . . .  go into the city and witness for themselves what was happening.

 

            2:16     And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.  As they quickly carried out their decision (note the “with haste”), they discovered the parents and the child in just the circumstances that had been predicted.  Although Christmas pageants invariably have various animals present, we don't have the foggiest idea which were or whether the owners had been able to temporarily clear out the place so the child could be born without these additional distractions.

 

            2:17     Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.  Afterwards they spread the word of what they had seen and the startling angelic appearance they had witnessed.  Today we might accurately say, “they couldn't stop talking about it.”  And they had absolutely no reason to do so.  It would invariably be the greatest day of their entire lifetime--a day they could never forget.

 

            2:18     And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.  The people who heard the story “marveled” at it as well as the shepherds.  Impressed they were, but there is no indication that they actually did anything.  For that matter, Mary and Joseph wouldn’t be in Bethlehem any longer than absolutely necessary.  Being born in a manger, the family obviously weren’t local residents but would quickly be returning homeward.  Although the shepherds would be telling the story for weeks and months, few would be able to even attempt to do anything within the very narrow time frame available.  Though, it would be pleasant to think that it perhaps motivated some family of good will to try in the very first days.

 

            2:19     But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.  Mary heard the story too--doubtless from the shepherds themselves.  She “pondered” in her mind (“meditated upon them”--Holman).  It could hardly avoid reassuring her that the unprecedented nature of her pregnancy would ultimately work for much good.

 

            2:20     Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.  When the shepherds returned to their work, they did so giving praise and glory to God for what they had been given the opportunity to witness . . . this strange newborn that God so highly honored.  They weren't learned theologians, but they could grasp easily enough that a historic event had just occurred--one that God would ultimately explain in His own manner and in His own appointed way. 

 

 

At the Time for the Ceremonial Presentation of Their Child Jesus in the Temple, Simeon Prophesies of the Greatness of the Infant (Luke 2:21-35):  21 At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.  22 Now when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (just as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be set apart to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is specified in the law of the Lord, a pair of doves or two young pigeons. 

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon who was righteous and devout, looking for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 

27 So Simeon, directed by the Spirit, came into the temple courts, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary according to the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and blessed God, saying.  29 Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permit your servant to depart in peace.  30 For my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples:  32 a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” 

33 So the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him.  34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “Listen carefully:  This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected.  35 Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:21     And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.  On the prescribed eighth day after birth (per Genesis 17:12), the child was circumcised and given the name “Jesus.”  Just like in the case of John, the name had been chosen by the angel and, unlike John's case, we find no indication that there was anyone to protest the choice.

 

            2:22     Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.  With the days of her ceremonial purification complete (forty days in the case of a male, Leviticus 12:2-8], the new mother could now enter the temple in Jerusalem and, after offering a sacrifice, participate once again in normal everyday affairs.  It was at this point that the infant was also to be formally “present[ed] . . . to the Lord.”    

 

            2:23     (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord).  This was in fulfillment of the Torah’s command that every male child was to be considered “holy” to (= separated to the service of) God.

 

            2:24     and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.  The fact that these were the creatures offered by the family argues that they were from the lower socioeconomic strata of the day for this was the prescribed offering for poorer folk.

 

            2:25     And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  An elderly man by the name of Simeon had long been waiting for the coming of the Messiah, who would be “the Consolation of Israel”--bringing happiness and joy to those needing it, i.e., the entire nation.  The Messianic implications of the language should not be overlooked either.  This man had a reputation for special devoutness both in behavior (“just;” “upright,” Weymouth; “honorable,” GW) and in religious practice (“devout”).  The Holy Spirit “was upon him” as well:  For example, he was told at some point in the past that he would see the Messiah (verse 26); today he entered the Temple specifically in response to the Spirit’s direction (verse 27). 

 

            2:26     And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  Simeon did not have “the Holy Spirit upon him” in some vague, elusive, and uncertain sense that we have to deduce, but in that he received direct teaching and revelation:  the Spirit had assured him that he would not die before he saw the Messiah.  Specific and “targeted” teaching aimed at one vital and crucial event.  The “dream of the nation”--and with his own eyes he would see the dream become a physical reality.

 

            2:27     So he came by the Spirit into the temple.  And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law.  How often he was normally there, we have no data; in light of his piety it was clearly a common occurrence.  But to be absolutely sure that he would be on this day that would fulfill the promise to him [verse26], he was given special Spirit guidance.  The parents were there to offer the sacrifice required at the time of a newborn.  Simeon was there to see the infant form of the boy who would grow up to be the Messiah.

 

            2:28     he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said.  He must clearly have looked happy and joyful and, even knowing nothing about his background, it would be natural for the parents to allow their fellow worshipper to hold their newborn.  And he promptly gave thanks to God that his wishes had at last come true. . . .

 

            2:29     “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word.  He may not literally be near death, but he is of sufficient advanced years that he clearly sees it on the horizon--it could realistically come at any time.  Hence his pleasure at having lived long enough to see the Spirit's prediction come true.  Does he indicate he had doubted?  Far more likely is simple realism--that a growing age was inherently discouraging.  He still believed, but he honestly recognized from his bodily pains that aging argued against it.  Perhaps relevant here are the words of the worried father in Mark 9:24:  “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!”    

 

            2:30     For my eyes have seen Your salvation.  He had not seen the salvation itself (for that is intangible and invisible to human eyes), but he had seen the instrument God would use to produce that salvation.  The concepts of instrument and result easily merge and flow together.

 

            2:31     Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples.  Note the plural “peoples” rather than the singular.  The latter would point either to everyone present in the temple or to all Jews in general.  The plural implies a far wider audience is in mind, which the next verse will make clear.  Compare Isaiah 52:10:  “All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”

 

            2:32     A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”  This Jesus was destined to be of benefit not just to the Jewish community--though that would be an impressive good in and of itself.  He was to be a spiritual light bringing “revelation” of the way out of Gentile spiritual blindness as well.  As such He would manifest the monotheistic “glory” already embraced by the people of Israel.  Now it would be for everyone and not just for the Jews.  In this connection, think of the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 42:6-7:  “I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles, To open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house.”

 

            2:33     And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.  Both Joseph and Mary were amazed at these eloquent words:  They already knew the child was going to be something special, but this made what they had already been told even more emphatic.  There is such a thing as good news so incredible that our minds have trouble processing it--their child was even going to benefit the outsider Gentiles who were so (rightly) scorned.  Hence all the parents could do was “marvel” at what they were hearing. 

 

            2:34     Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against.  We don't know when Joseph died, but we do know that Mary was still alive at the time of crucifixion.  Quite possibly an earlier death is the reason that these words were targeted at Mary in particular:  This Jesus would cause the “fall and rising of many in Israel.”  In retrospect, people would see that those who were the religious power brokers of the land lost their status and those who had been scorned as reprobates were raised, through a changed life, to acceptance.  Those who lost status would resent it and those who gained it would be despised by those who lost it.  Such drastic changes would upset many and Jesus would be widely “spoken against” for bringing it about.

 

            2:35     (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  The turmoil and mental pain that Mary would have to go through would hurt her as much as if a sword had pierced through her soul.  The worst example was at the crucifixion, which she beheld--both seeing the agony and hearing the insults hurled at Him (John 19:26).  But even earlier when there was the effort to kill Him in their hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:29), she must have been horrified as well.  And do you really think all her neighbors were kind and considerate and completely avoided throwing a few insults at her as well?

            Jesus had to go through such sufferings so that the true nature of those who were vile and vicious would be publicly “revealed” to all who had eyes to see.  Their polite religious veneer would no longer hide what was their true inner nature.

 

 

The Widow-Prophetess Anna Who Lived in the Temple Also Spoke of the Importance of the Child (Luke 2:36-40):  36 There was also a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, having been married to her husband for seven years until his death.  37 She had lived as a widow since then for eighty-four years. She never left the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.  38 At that moment, she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. 

39 So when Joseph and Mary had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.

--New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:36     Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity.  Also in the temple was an elderly lady named Anna and, unlike Simeon, her age is emphasized rather than just implied:  she was “of a great age.”  Although her husband had died after only a modest number of years of marriage, at some point she was gifted with the prophetic ability.  How and when it was exercised--besides the current case--we have no idea. 

            It should be noted that she was identifiable as a descendent of “Asher”--one of the supposed “lost tribes of Israel,” which--contrary to religious mythology--were clearly not quite as permanently “lost” as many would have us believe!  Furthermore, the expression “twelve tribes” was still freely used (Acts 26:7; James 1:1), as if the Jewish community was quite satisfied that those tribal elements may have been diminished in size but were still around.

            Sidebar:  Some read the 84 years of the next verse as her current age and argue that the number includes both the periods of marriage and childhood.  If one opts to add together the 7 years of marriage to the 84, one must still factor in an unknown number years of childhood (15+ say).  In that case she would have been in the range of 106 years old.

 

            2:37     and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.  The temple had two established times for prayer:  at the third hour when the incense was offered (9 A.M.; as in Luke 1:9-10) and at the ninth hour (3 P.M.; as in Acts 3:1).  It would normally have been impossible for her to stay there overnight for it was closed to outsiders during that period.  For the same reason to have literally offered “prayers night and day” in that location.  Clearly her renown for piety had caused a special exception to be made to permit her to remain in some chamber overnight.  At her advanced age, she could clearly cause no harm.  The example of Huldah the prophetess (in 2 Chronicles 34:22) has been cited as alleged precedent.  Presumably she did some minor service for the temple in unofficial exchange for the modest roof over her head.

             

            2:38     And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.  At the very moment when Simeon was holding the child, she entered and, through prophetic ability, spoke of the salvation that was going to occur in Jerusalem.  This being said in connection with this child being singled out for attention, what else can that mean than that “redemption” would be made possible due to and through this child?

 

            2:39     So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.  Whatever the future held, there were established things to be accomplished in conformity with the Jewish law in the more immediate hour and day.  When the day’s proceedings were over, however, they did not tarry in the city but the family returned to their actual home which was Nazareth.  (In light of their limited economic resources, what other option did they have?  And remaining in the city would accomplish nothing toward what ultimately needed to be done.)

           

            2:40     And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.  The coming of the Magi, the plot to kill the child, the flight to Egypt (and two years residence there) are all omitted as Luke hurriedly moves the story into the narrative of Jesus as a near adult (in the temple at age twelve).  It is a quite logical jump since both sets of events occur in Jerusalem.  During the intervening twelve years--in Egypt and back home--the child grew in His inner nature (“spirit”), was blessed with insight (“wisdom”), and Divine favor was His constant companion. 

            The Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 11:2 is quite germane to this verse:  The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.”  “Wisdom” is here linked with the “understanding” necessary to use and apply it and the presence of both made it possible for Jesus to carry on the perceptive youthful conversation with the religious teachers described in the next section.   

 

 

At the Age of Twelve Jesus Reveals His Youthful Insight in Conversations with Teachers in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52):  41 Now Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem every year for the feast of the Passover.  42 When he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 

43 But when the feast was over, as they were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.  His parents did not know it, 44 but (because they assumed that he was in their group of travelers) they went a day’s journey.  Then they began to look for him among their relatives and acquaintances.  45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. 

46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  47 And all who heard Jesus were astonished at his understanding and his answers.  

48 When his parents saw him, they were overwhelmed. His mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.”  49 But he replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 

50 Yet his parents did not understand the remark he made to them.  51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.  But his mother kept all these things in her heart.   52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with people.     --New English Translation (for comparison)   

 

 

            2:41     His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.  There were three annual feasts that all adult males were expected to attend (Deuteronomy 16:16), but Passover was the preeminent one.  The fact that both parents made the yearly trip shows that Mary’s youthful piety continued as she grew older and that her husband felt she deserved a place at his side during each yearly celebration.

            Sidebar:  Followers of Hillel taught that Passover observance was desirable for both males and females.  This was in keeping with the original institution of the Passover including both genders; indeed it was stressed:  In the tenth day of this month they each must take a lamb for themselves according to their families—a lamb for each household” (Exodus 12:3).

 

            2:42     And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.  Later tradition put the official transition to religious adulthood and responsibility at age thirteen.  If this was current in the first century (and it may well have been), the events to be narrated occurred just prior to when the transition would have been officially acknowledged.  Either way, what happens now clearly demonstrates Jesus’ intense interest in spiritual matters is already well developed.  (The question of whether He had treated His family with the courtesy due them in regard to returning at the time they anticipated would have existed in either case since He had traveled with them.)

            Sidebar:  Nowhere in the Old Testament is “thirteen” mentioned as an age of transition though it is repeatedly mentioned in connection with reign lengths, the number of days, and the number of cities.  Chronological age as a transition point is mentioned at “twenty” both in regard to participation in the census (Exodus 30:11-16) and vow offerings (Leviticus 27:1-8).

 

            2:43     When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem.  And Joseph and His mother did not know it.  The family would have been part of one of the large traveling parties that were routinely utilized for both companionship and safety.  The account takes for granted that Jesus knew what day this was to occur on and could be trusted to be somewhere in the large caravan even if the parents did not actually see Him for many hours. 

 

            2:44     but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.  With a group of people they knew, Jesus was hardly likely to have a problem wherever He was.  But when the day’s journey was over they were naturally puzzled where He might be and sought Him out.  If He was not with them, then their kin and acquaintances were the logical places to find Him.

 

            2:45     So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.  At this point the disappearance became a matter of concern since they had no idea of what had happened.  There is a profound difference between trusting in the good judgment of your offspring and trusting them alone in a large city for all types of unpleasant things can happen even in as religiously centered a community as Jerusalem.

 

            2:46     Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.  On the first day they would have looked throughout the caravan they were traveling with.  On the second they would have completed that and started the return to Jerusalem, checking any additional groups of travelers they came across leaving the city.  By that evening they would have reached the city and on the following day searched out where He might be.  The Temple being the rationale for the city’s importance, that inevitably meant there would be gatherings of various groups of teachers inside the complex.  With His spiritual interests, searching here be high on their agenda.

            Because of his youth, it was quite appropriate that He was respectfully “listening” to the teachers, since they had taken years accumulating their learning.  But when they said certain things, the insight He had caused Him to probe their words by “asking them questions” about their teaching.       

 

            2:47     And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.  His questions demonstrated an impressive insight into Scripture and led to responses from the rabbis.  In turn, Jesus’ “answers” to their remarks impressed everyone as well.  For one so young He was showing unexpected insight . . . the insight necessary to ask the right questions . . . the insight to grasp potential weaknesses in what was being said.  In other words, Jesus was showing the aptitude to evolve into a highly skilled teacher when He reached adulthood.

 

            2:48     So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us?  Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”  Mary demanded of Her Son why He had acted so discourteously to the family.  He had disappeared without telling them where He was or what He was doing.  He had caused both of them great anxiety.  Families often have different modes of childrearing, of which spouse takes the initiative in case of a problem.  In their family it was clearly Mary since she does the speaking.

 

            2:49     And He said to them, Why did you seek Me?  Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”  Jesus was perplexed:  Where else would I be if I weren’t with you?  This was the place to look.  The only place.  Hence their parental concern had been much overdone.  He was bound to be in the one type of place where a child was least likely to ever get in trouble or be unsafe.

            There was an undercurrent that listeners would not have been aware of because of their ignorance of the Lord’s supernatural conception.  Listeners would have taken “My Father’s business” in the sense of “I’m doing the thing that Joseph would want Me to do.”  Addressing Mary in particular, it surely took the intended connotation of “I’m doing the thing my heavenly Father would want Me to do.” 

            Sidebar:  Although the underlying Greek can carry the sense of “My Father’s business” it can also carry that of “My Father’s house”--and this is now normally the translators’ preference.  In either rendering, it is hard to believe that Mary didn’t consider this a reference to His Divine origin.  

 

            2:50     But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.  Both clearly missed the point!  Some academics argue that this is a “Bible contradiction,” since she knew the child was spiritually unique.  But that was twelve years earlier; in contrast, this is now.  In the “real world,” present worries easily damper past knowledge.  Especially when what they had been told had nothing directly and clearly relevant to what is currently happening. 

            Furthermore the odds are overwhelming that they took the promise that God “will give Him the throne of David” (Luke 1:32-33) in the traditional messianic understanding of the day:  a “warrior king” was what He would one day become.  This heavy an “obsession” with the spiritual aspects of their religion was unquestionably admirable but far different from that.    

 

            2:51     Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart.  When they returned to Nazareth, Jesus resumed His normal role of doing whatever He was instructed.  As was proper since He still lived in their household, was still their son, and the circumstances were totally different.  This was normal daily living and not an unique time to hear spiritual teaching from some of the best minds of the time.

            His mother, however, put this along with earlier events as ones to ponder as to their significance.  Where was all this going to lead?  It had already lead in unexpected directions; what next?

 

            2:52     And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.  Jesus’ growth both intellectually and physically continued.  As did His popularity with those He knew.  Most importantly, His Heavenly Father was also impressed by how He was maturing.