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Luke 2, Matthew 2 Listen
Introduction to the chronology of Luke 2 and Matthew 2
Matthew and Luke both cover the birth of Jesus, but from different perspectives. Luke reports on the shepherds, Matthew on the wise men. Luke reports on the circumcision of Jesus, Matthew on Herod's threat and the family's trip into Egypt. Luke gives us a glimpse of Jesus at twelve years old; Matthew concludes the early childhood account with their return from Egypt.
The chronology of these events is as follows:
1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
Nazareth of Galilee was inland from the Mediterranean Sea about 20 miles in Northern Israel. While Bethlehem is south of Nazareth, you'd have to go over some pretty tough terrain to get there that way. It would have been necessary to go west, south and then back east in order to make the trip - about 82 miles on foot (see map on right). So, how many miles a day do you go with an expectant wife - 10 or maybe 12? It was a multi-day journey. It is not certain why Mary went with him (of course it was the providence of God). It may have been the fact that she was in her third trimester, and he just needed to get her into an anonymous environment since they were still not married according verse 5. People in the hometown would have been well aware of that, but strangers in Bethlehem would not have known.
So...what about an end-of-December birth? Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25. While there is nothing in scripture to pin point the exact date, a December birth is quite unlikely. There was no annual celebration of Christ's birthday in the first three centuries of church history. It became an issue in the fourth and fifth centuries. The choosing of December 25 for this celebration is not based upon historical facts as one might assume. It was finally declared to be so by the Roman Catholic Church in the fifth century. The Roman Catholic writer Mario Righetti admits, "to facilitate the acceptance of the faith by the pagan masses, the Church of Rome found it convenient to institute the 25th of December as the feast of the birth of Christ to divert them from the pagan feast, celebrated on the same day in honor of the 'Invincible Sun' Mithras, the conqueror of darkness" (Manual of Liturgical History, 1955, Vol. 2, p. 67). If you didn't digest that, let's simplify it to say this: The pagans in Rome already celebrated the "sun god" on December 25. To the Roman Catholic Church it seemed like a good idea to offer an alternative celebration on the same day of the year and call it Christ's birthday.
So...if not December 25, when was Christ born? Good question. First of all, it doesn't seem likely that a Roman census/tax would have been executed in the dead of winter, since most people traveled by foot. It would be more likely that a spring or fall time frame would have been selected. Furthermore, the shepherds were watching their flocks in the field at night rather than having brought them home to shelter for the winter (Luke 2:8). However, a spring census throughout the Roman empire would certainly interfere with the harvest season and be harmful to the Roman economy, so a fall census/taxation is the most likely scenario.
Then there's the prophetic aspect of the birth of Jesus. Jesus was crucified on the day of the celebration of Passover. Since the exodus from Egypt, the Passover was celebrated on the 14th day of the first month which falls each year in latter March or April on the Gregorian calendar. The first new moon after spring was regarded as the first month of the new year. The new agricultural year is marked by the Feast of Trumpets which falls on the first day of the seventh month on the Jewish calendar. That day is designated as the first new moon that falls 6 1/2 months after the celebration of the Passover, placing it around September/October. Therefore, many feel that, for prophetic purposes, the birth of the Messiah would have occurred at the beginning of the Jewish agricultural year. That fact, added to the weather and economic factors already mentioned, makes a September/October birth of Jesus the most likely scenario.
After everything has been said on the subject, let's all just take full advantage of the fact that there is an intense focus on Jesus Christ on December 25th around the world each year. Don't get hung up on the fact that Jesus probably wasn't really born during that season.
The shepherds make a trip to Bethlehem (Luke 2:8-20)
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
An angel makes an appearance to some shepherds about the birth of the Messiah. Joseph and Mary have stayed on in Bethlehem after the birth of the baby. That's where the shepherds find them. Since they planned to dedicate Jesus at the temple, heading back to Nazareth would not have made sense. Bethlehem was only about 8 miles from the temple in Jerusalem. In verse 11 the angel makes a very significant declaration about Jesus to the shepherds, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." He is proclaimed to be the Savior, the Messiah ("Christ" - Greek: "christos" means "Messiah"), and Lord (the special name for the God of the Jews), and he's only a few days old.
21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;
23 (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)
24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.
25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,
28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
33 And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.
34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;
35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;
37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
Every male child was circumcised on the eighth day; so was Jesus (verse 21). It is not stated here that the circumcision took place at the temple. Verse 22 does take place at the temple on the occasion of Mary's purification 33 days later according to Leviticus 12:8 (see notes), "And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean." It should be noted that people of financial means sacrificed a lamb, but obviously Joseph and Mary were not people of financial means. They likely would have stayed around Jerusalem for these two trips to the temple over the first six weeks after the birth of Jesus. Verse 23 is the essence of Exodus 13:12 (see notes), "That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD’S."
A man named Simeon had been promised by God that he would live to see the Messiah. He blesses Jesus while making reference to Isaiah 49:6 (see notes), "And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." In doing so, he was proclaiming Jesus to be that prophesied Messiah. Mary can't be overly happy with the whole prophecy though, when in verse 34 he proclaims concerning Jesus, "...and for a sign which shall be spoken against;" A prophetess (an old lady named Anna), who had been fasting and praying, was at the temple and made a similar prophecy over Jesus. All in all, it was a great temple day.
1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.
17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,
18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.
21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:
23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, about 5 miles southwest of Jerusalem. The Herod of this chapter is Herod the Great. He died in 4 B.C.; as stated earlier, that's why the dating typically found in Bibles shows Jesus to have been born in 4 B.C. It was an oversight by a monk mathematician in the sixth century A.D. named Dionysius Exiguus who was charged with redoing the calendar by the Pope. Up until that time, the calendar counted the years from the founding of Rome. The Pope wanted a new calendar to count the years from the birth of Christ instead. However, in doing so, Dionysius Exiguus failed to take at least two events into account. The first was the death of Herod. It is obvious from this passage that Herod was alive at the birth of Christ. The second oversight was his failure to insert a year 0. His computations went from year 1 B.C. to the next year being 1 A.D.; he skipped a year. Some mathematician he was! These two obvious oversights by Dionysius Exiguus cause us to place the birth of Christ at somewhere before 4 B.C.; ironic huh?
Who were these wise men of verse 1? The Greek word used for "wise men" is a transliteration of the Hebrew word "mag." That was the word for soothsayer or magician. You will recall that this is the prestigious group of which Daniel became a member back in the Babylonian empire. He saved their necks when they couldn't help Nebuchadnezzar with the interpretation of his dream. I say that to point out that these "magi" were men who were regarded to have supernatural knowledge back home. I can't vouch for their overall wiseness, but they surely could follow a star.
Herod was in a panic. He brings in the experts on such matters - the scribes and chief priests. In verse 6 they point him to Micah 5:2 (see notes) and proclaim, it's Bethlehem! But wait! There's more! Micah, in that very same verse, proclaims that the child (Jesus) is to become the governor of the land. Herod must have thought, "Hey! That's my job!" Herod takes on a battle against God himself after that knowledge. In the face of overwhelming evidence from the magi and then the local temple experts that the Messiah had been born, he makes his lame attempt to put a stop to it by murdering all the babies under the age of two. We deduct from this that the wise men probably did not appear immediately after the birth of Christ. But go ahead and keep them in your Christmas manger scene; it's a nice look. Perhaps they did, and it took Herod two years to realize he had been double crossed by them (probably not). However, it does say that when they found "the young child," they entered into the "house" where he was. God told Joseph to head for Egypt for safety from Herod after that event, and they did. They did not return to Israel until Herod's death in verse 22. Joseph was still leery of moving back to Bethlehem so close to Jerusalem where Herod's boy was on the throne, so he moved about 75 miles north of Jerusalem to Nazareth, Mary and Joseph's hometown.
Some points of prophecy fulfillment are noted by Matthew here. First of all, Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1 (see notes) and declares the prophetic necessity of the trip to Egypt with baby Jesus as a fulfillment of Hosea's prophecy. Secondly, the slaying of the children, we are told by Matthew, was a fulfillment of "Jeremy" in Jeremiah 31:15 (see notes).
The childhood of Jesus (Luke 2:39-52)
39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.
40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.
41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.
42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.
43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.
44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.
45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.
46 And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
47 And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.
48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.
49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?
50 And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.
51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
There's not much written about the childhood of Jesus, but we do have this account. The family headed down to Jerusalem every year for the passover. It was a considerable journey of 75 miles or so. We see in verse 44 that they traveled in a company of fellow travelers to and fro. This incident takes place when Jesus is 12 years old. After they leave, Jesus stays behind in the temple to learn from the "doctors" (the Greek word "didaskalos" means "master teacher"). They didn't realize for a day or so that he was not with the company headed back to Nazareth. Have you ever forgotten your child? We inadvertently left our daughter, Julie, at church one time when she was four or so. I thought she was with my wife and Evelyn thought she was with me. It's an unsettling experience, and we see in the passage that it was unsettling for Mary and Joseph too, as they spent the next three days searching for Jesus. Mary catches a glimpse of reality when Jesus is found and proclaims his reason for staying back in Luke 2:49, "And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Fathers business?" Mary remembered these words.