Luke 2

< Luke 1 | Chapter 3 >

A Key Verse

Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.

Luke 2:52

What’s Happening?

Chapter Two is most famous as the Christmas Story, but it’s not just the story of Jesus’ birth! By the time Chapter Three will start, Jesus will be thirty. Joseph and Mary are portrayed here as terribly poor and pushed around. Luke reminds us that they lived in a tiny town under the rule of the might Roman Emperor. They had to travel so he could tax them. They could not stay in the inn, so Mary was forced to give birth in an animal’s barn and Jesus slept in a feeding trough. If Luke wanted to impress us with the splendor and glory of Jesus, he wouldn’t tell the story like this! Sure, angels announced Jesus’ birth, but they did it to shepherds, who were considered among the lowest of society.

Fast forward to twelve-year-old Jesus, Luke’s sole glimpse of Jesus’ growing up is a moment when he is in the temple, just as he is old enough to go, and instead of learning from the teacher, they are learning from him! In this chapter, Luke wants us to know two seemingly opposite things about Jesus: that he was born in the lowest of earthly circumstances, but that his birth was sung by the angels in heaven and his pre-teen wisdom already amazed the religious teachers at the holy temple.

This Chapter’s Mini-Message

Nativity by Hiroshi, 20th-century Japan


The Birth of Jesus

2:1 Caeser Augustus was the ruler of the mighty Roman Empire. Luke was written long before our current system of naming years was in place, so the first reason to mention the Emperor was to give a sense of the timing, as if we called 2012 “the fourth year of the presidency of Barack Obama.” Another reason because Luke often teaches by using opposites. Jesus is a new kind of king, different than expectations. So Luke may be emphasizing the hugeness and power of the great Roman Empire and its ruler, and contrasting that greatness the little stable and the baby born in a manger.

Bible scholar and Anglican bishop N.T. Wright said, “The point Luke is making is clear. The birth of this little boy is the beginning of a confrontation between the kingdom of God—in all its apparent weakness, insignificance, and vulnerability—and the kingdoms of this world” (Luke for Everyone, p. 23)

2:4 Nazareth and Bethlehem Luke clearly knows Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth” (see 2:39). So why was he born in Bethlehem? Luke says it is because of a “census” or “enrollment” on the tax lists. Nazareth is about 70 miles from Bethlehem, quite a distance to walk! Bethlehem is important, though, because as “the City of David,” it was promised in Micah 5:1-2 to be the birthplace of a ruler. Harvard Professor François Bovon says this is too convenient and that the birth in Bethlehem “is not historically verifiable” (Hermeneia: Luke 1, p. 84) Anglican bishop N.T. Wright points out that we cannot dismiss Luke too quickly, because the Book of Luke itself is historical evidence, but still admits that Jesus of Nazareth being born in Bethlehem is a “puzzle historians may never work out” (Luke for Everyone, p. 22)

2:7 manger Unlike popular Christmas decorations of the manger being a freestanding wooden stable, the birth place of Jesus was probably even humbler still. Ancient guest houses often had an animal area on the ground level while people lodged upstairs. It was also common that animal shelters would be caves or just slightly sheltered outcroppings of rock, and that the word for “manger” may refer only to the feeding trough that baby Jesus used as his crib. (Darrell L. Block, Luke, Volume 1, p. 208)

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria.Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Modern Shepherds Outside of Bethlehem, 20th century
© US Library of Congress

Angels Visit the Shepherds

2:8 shepherds Shepherds were socioeconomically near the bottom of society and were not highly regarded in the wider Roman empire. However, within Israelite history, great leaders like “Abraham, Moses, and David were all shepherds at some point in their lives” (Darrell L. Block, Luke, Volume 1, p. 213). Shepherds may also be symbolic of all of Israel. François Bovon said, “Israel understood themselves as a nation of shepherds” (Hermeneia: Luke 1, p. 86).

2:11 savior; Christ the Lord The chapter began with mentioning the reign of Caesar Augustus, the Roman ruler who called himself his people’s “savior” and even the “son of god.” The angels here offer a different message: the savior is not the powerful emperor. “Christ” is the Greek form of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” a title meaning “anointed one” or “one especially called for a duty.” After centuries of foreign rulers, the Jewish people were hoping for a Messiah and the shepherds would immediately understood. The real savior, the angels, announce is just a baby in a manger!

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.”13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.”16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. 18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

Teens from a Texas high school sing “Go Tell it on the Mountain,”
an African-American spiritual about the
angels announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds

Jesus’ circumcision, naming, and temple presentation

2:21 circumcised & Law from Moses Like John the Baptist, Luke tells us that Jesus was circumcised as a baby according to Jewish law. The Law of Moses refers to the first first five books of the Bible and the rules for life found in them. These details remind us that Jesus was a tradition-following Jew.

21 When eight days had passed, Jesus’ parents circumcised him and gave him the name Jesus. This was the name given to him by the angel before he was conceived. 22 When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (23 It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”) 24 They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

Simeon and Anna Praise the Infant Jesus, Arent de Gelder, 18th-century Dutch

Simeon’s response to Jesus

25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,

29 “Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30 because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory for your people Israel.”

33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”

Anna’s response to Jesus

2:36 prophet A prophet is someone who is especially called to speak for God. Only four women in the Old Testament are honored with this title, and Anna is the only woman so honored in the New Testament. But with Anna we see a pattern in the book of Luke, from Elizabeth, to Mary, now to Anna, and that will continue, of honoring women’s roles in leadership and ministry.

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years.37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Jesus as a child in Nazareth

39 When Mary and Joseph had completed everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee. 40 The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.

Christ Among the Doctors, Giotto di Bondone, 13th century Italy

Jesus in the temple at Passover

2:41 Passover was an annual festival celebrating the Israelites’ freedom from Egypt. (The story is in Exodus 12.)
2:46 teachers This brief story of the 12-year-old Jesus is the only story of Jesus’ childhood or teenage years! It is also the last time we see Joseph, which likely means Joseph died before Jesus’ public ministry. Here Jesus has reversed roles: the boy is amazing the religious experts with his wisdom, and when Mary is upset with him for going missing (notice that Jesus actually was right where his parents left him!) he does not accept any blame and shows “a budding self-awareness” about his own identity (N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone, p. 29).
2:52 matured Luke presents Jesus as the Son of God, but also as a baby and a boy who had to grow up and mature like everyone else!

41 Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival42 When he was 12 years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to their custom. 43 After the festival was over, they were returning home, but the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t know it. 44 Supposing that he was among their band of travelers, they journeyed on for a full day while looking for him among their family and friends. 45 When they didn’t find Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple. He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and putting questions to them. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed by his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were shocked.

His mother said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried. We’ve been looking for you!”

49 Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he said to them.

51 Jesus went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. His mother cherished every word in her heart. 52 Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.

Things to Think About
  • So much of this chapter is about turning expectations upside down.  The savior and Christ isn’t the powerful emperor, it’s the baby in the manger.  When you think of God, what do you picture?  Does seeing God as a baby in a poor country challenge you?  What does it teach you about God?
  • Jesus had to learn and mature like everyone else.  What do you think he did as a child and teenager to “mature in wisdom and years”?
A Prayer

God of maturing, God of wisdom, help me follow Jesus’ example of growing wise as I grow, Amen.

< Chapter 1 | Chapter 3 >

Talk About this Chapter on Facebook