Introduction: Welcome to Expound our verse-by-verse study of God's Word. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God by explaining the Word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
Skip Heitzig: Thank you, Father, that you've included us in your plan, and you so loved the world, and we who are part of it in this current generation are so grateful for the hope that we have in the world in which we live. The reason we can sing these kinds of songs that we have just sang with such faith and anticipation is because of the hope that you have birthed in us. And as we speak and read about the birth of your Son, who came into this world sent from heaven, God in human flesh, who took upon himself the additional nature, besides the nature of God, also the nature of a human. We're humbled by his humble beginnings. So as we read a familiar story, I pray you'd help us, in Jesus' name, amen.
In the Southern Hemisphere they have something called "Christmas in July." And let me explain what that is: Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere below the equator, Christmas is in the summer. And so to get a Christmas feel they will sometimes have what they call Christmas in July to give it a wintery kind of a feel to have Christmas parties in July. They still celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but you know, when it's 85 degrees and palm trees are swaying, it's just sort of hard to get into the Christmas spirit, so they call it Christmas in July. And that little practice has come to the United States several years ago in marketing where they'll have certain sales at stores and they'll call it Christmas in July. We're celebrating tonight Christmas in July. It is July and we're reading the Christmas story.
And I think it's most appropriate because we really don't know when Jesus was born. If we were to follow the earliest date of the birth of Jesus, the earliest on record was not December 25th; the earliest date in history that we have was May 20th. So because we don't know exactly when the date of Jesus' birth was, and it was Clement of Alexandria who said May 20th, and that's the earliest that we have in writing. And there have been other dates in March and others. December 25th came much later. We just don't know. We're celebrating here in July, tonight, Christmas as we read the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2. "And it came to pass," verse 1, "in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered." Some translations will say "taxed," but it is "registered."
That is the best translation. It was a census that was taken. He wanted to show supremacy in that Greco-Roman world of which he was the emperor. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. There were two reasons why a registration or a census would have been given. Number one, for military purposes, to find out how many fighting men were available. If you know anything about the Roman fighting forces, the Roman legions, they would conscript fighters from all over the world, all the places they conquered. They would take the best young men and conscript them and train them in their armies. So as to find out how many fighting men they had a census or a registration was taken, number one.
Number two, it's all about the money. It was a taxation to get more revenue because the Roman government provided the world with perks. We've told you about a couple of those perks in the past. I'll just remind you of them here. There was something called the Pax Romana, the Roman peace. It was a worldwide peace brought by the Roman army. It was an enforced peace. Roman soldiers effectively were stationed on roads and in cities across the world that they conquered ensuring a relative calm, a relative peace, but it was a peace brought on by Roman force. You dare not say or do anything out of line, because they kept you in line. That's the Pax Romana. Second, somebody had to pay for the roads. You can still to this day walk on Roman roads. I don't think our roads---I don't think Osuna will last that long. [laughter]
I mean, we're just repaving the parking lot out here and that's an enormous cost. And you can imagine the kind of roads that Rome built. And, by the way, they altogether at their peak built about 50,000 miles worth of road. I just want that to sink in. These guys were incredible builders tying parts of the world together with their road system, and many of those roads you can see to this day and you can walk on them. It says that it was Caesar Augustus who called the world to be registered. We know his real name was Gaius Octavius or Octavian Caesar. He was given the term "Augustus" which means majestic one or honored one; by the Roman senate because they were so impressed with his abilities; he was a formidable leader and so it was the Roman senate that conferred the leader Augustus majestic one, honored one. It could even be looked at Caesar from the gods or of the gods. In fact, did you know that on a couple of inscriptions found they called him the savior of the world? I just think that adds to the intrigue of the story when you have someone who was given the title the majestic one or honored one; he is the ruler of the known world and he has been regarded as the savior of the world; that birth of Jesus Christ is set up during that period. So we know who this guy was, and we have him well attested in history.
Where we run into a problem in our text is with the next name. And I'm not the one to shy away from these problems. I want to you know about them. I'd rather you hear about them and have them explained here than misexplained at some college campus by a professor who wants to twist your dependability on Scripture and give you false information. But there was a problem in the text. It says in verse 2, "The census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria." The problem that we have, is that with the records that we have; historical records; we know that this guy Quirinius was governing Syria around 6 to 7 or 6 to 9 AD. And Josephus, remember that name, heard that name, the Jewish historian; says that a controversial census was taken of which Quirinius the govern of Syria oversaw but it dates to around 6 to 9 AD; which is too late for our story; it's several years too late; it's ten years after the death of Herod and this is during the reign of Herod. So how do we fix that problem? Let me give you two suggestions. Now I told you Sunday about "apparent" contradictions. There are no contradictions, as I see them, in the Bible. There are only "apparent" contradictions. So as time has gone on and as archaeology has gone on, in the seventeen hundreds they discovered in a city not too far from Rome somebody who was the governor of Syria.
Though the name isn't mentioned in the fragment that was found, maybe more fragments will be found. But that there was a governor of Syria under the reign of Gaius Octavius, this Caesar, Caesar Augustus, who reigned in Syria as governor for two separate terms; not one term, but a term, then off for a period, then on again. And many believe, a majority of scholars believe that that is referring to Quirinius. That's one way to look at it. The other way is in the text itself. I draw your attention to the word "first." It says, "The census first took place . . . ." The Greek word is prótos it can mean "first" or it can mean "before." It's often translated "before." So if I can mess with the syntax a little bit, what many scholars believe the verse actually reads is that the census took place during the period before Quirinius was governing Syria.
Either one of those explanations solved the problem. But I wanted to bring the problem up in case you hear about it elsewhere. It is well known and it is---all the bases are covered. Either one of those explanations will suffice. "So," verse 3, "[Everyone or] all went to be registered, everyone to his own city"---that is, the city of his origin. We don't believe that it was a Roman requirement that you had to go back to the city of your origin of your ancestors. The Romans didn't do that. They didn't care. They just wanted the money and they wanted to know how many soldiers they had to fight. So it was probably not a Roman stipulation to do that. It probably was a Roman requirement to be registered with the Jewish stipulation to go back to your hometown.
And here's why: not the Romans, but the Jews were very particular about which tribe you belong to, what family you belong to. And to keep all of those records intact in your hometown was very important to them, as attested to by many records in the Old Testament. So it was probably just a Roman requirement to go through the census and to take your money, but a Jewish requirement to go back to your hometown. Now Joseph and Mary are up in the Galilee. They're up in Nazareth. Because of their ancestry they have to go down to Bethlehem, because that is where their ancestor King David was from. That's the hometown of their origin, of their family. That's a ninety-mile walk. If you're on a tour bus, not a problem.
You that have been with us to Israel, you say, "Well, that's an easy, little ride. You just get on the tour bus, turn on the air condition, look out the window, and you're there." But I'm talking ninety miles as a pregnant woman and a young man. Most people in those days by foot---and that's how they traveled---traveled twenty miles per day, but a pregnant woman, let's say ten miles. So let's make that at least a week and a half trip, perhaps even two weeks. It would have been dangerous to travel almost full-term, and it would have been very, very difficult nonetheless. However, they went down there, not just because it was a Roman regulation along with a Jewish stipulation, it was a divine setup. They had to go to Bethlehem, didn't they? They had to. Why? Because of the prophecy given in Micah, chapter 5.
See, this is all God's arrangement. God is doing the arranging behind the scenes. In Micah chapter 5 verse 2---and the leaders in Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders knew of this text. In Micah chapter 5 verse 2 it says, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah," that's the district it's in, "though you are small among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the One who is to be the Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting." Joseph and Mary knew that text, and they also knew that the baby that was going to be born was the Messiah, because Gabriel told Mary, "The child that is going to be born shall be the Son of the Highest. You will name him Jesus for he will save his people from their sins." So they were informed of this. But they're going back according to the law, but according to the plan of God.
So here's what I want you to see in this: Caesar may be ruling, but God is overruling. And don't you ever forget that no matter who is in the White House, or on the throne, or mayor of your city, or governor of your state, or ruler of a province you moved to, or whoever sits in Buckingham Palace, if you ever live there. You may have rulers, but God is the over ruler. Nothing escapes his gaze. "Sovereign control" means exactly that; he is in control behind the scenes. I also find it interesting that we don't have a record of Mary and Joseph or any godly Jewish person or group of people protesting or picketing the taxation of Rome, though it was much worse than ours. But, rather, they complied, they went along with it, because they believed that the hand of God was behind it all. Interesting view of sovereignty.
Verse 4, "Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea." Notice the word "up." If you have a map in your Bible and you were to look at the map, you would notice that Nazareth is in the north, Judea is in the south. Bethlehem is down from looking at it at a map. So if we were to rewrite this, we wouldn't say he went from Nazareth "up" to Bethlehem, we would say he went from Nazareth "down" to Bethlehem. But if you were to look at the geography of the land topographically in terms of elevation, the elevation of Bethlehem is higher than that of Nazareth. So when you're walking, it makes more sense to say, "I'm going up," even though you're going south. Because you're not doing it by bus, you're not doing it by plane, you're doing it on foot, man.
And so they would give you directions up and down based upon ground level. You follow? "So they went up to Judea, the city of David, which is called Bethlehem," two words in Hebrew: beth and lechem. Beth is the house or the place of; lechem is bread. If you want to---if you're in Israel and you say, "I want to eat bread," you say, "Ani rotzeh lechem," "I want bread." Bethlehem, the "house of bread." Why is it called that? Because all the wheat that was grown around there. It was the breadbasket, Judea, of the land. All the fields, they're still there to this day. Boaz had the fields outside of Bethlehem. Those were fields that Ruth gleaned in. Bethlehem, the "house of bread," and the Bread of Life comes from the place of bread, Bethlehem. It's fitting.
He went "to be registered with Mary," verse 5, "his betrothed wife, who was with child." Just remember from last week's study there were two portions of a Jewish wedding. There was a twelve-month preparation, the kiddushah. And then the second part, the wedding part was called---I made you say the word, remember? You said it. You said, "Chuppah." Remember that? Do you remember saying that word? Okay, say it again, chuppah. Okay, now when you say it, you kind of have to cover your mouth a little bit for the person in front of you, so you don't leave, you know---anyway. [laughter] "So it was, while there were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered."
"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." When I was a boy my dad---I've told you this---we used to go on family vacations. His idea of a family vacation was drive from point A to point B nonstop. That was from California to Minnesota, because my mom was born in Minnesota. So we would do these summer jaunts from the West Coast to Minnesota, and he wanted to plow straight through. But every now and then it was just too much even for him, certainly for us. We were out long before he was, but every now and then he would just get weary. And so we'd pull into a town to find a hotel and I'd hate it. I still remember seeing those signs in neon that said "No Vacancy."
You know, it's like, Bates Motel No Vacancy. [laughter] I hated those things, because you're so road weary. So when you read this as an American, that there was no room in the inn, many Americans have in their mind a little motel that has a "No Vacancy" sign. It's an inn, you know, it's like the Holiday Inn or the Ramada Inn. The inns in those days were anything but a holiday. And let me explain what they were. When it says, "the inn," "there was no room in the inn," a better translation would be a "caravansary," or a place where caravans would stop, camels and donkeys and horses, caravans of people with their animals and loads of their goods. They would have these caravan inns, caravansaries all the way throughout that part of the world.
There are ruins of many of them in those parts of the world; to this day you can see them. This kind of an inn was a courtyard open to the sky with rooms all around it, except at the opening. In those rooms the floor was raised up a foot or two. In that little floor called the lewan you could rent that empty room and you could spend the night there. Your animals were in the courtyard. So it's not a great place. It didn't smell that great. It's all the animals are in the center courtyard and you're sort of camped out in a little modest room around the edge. You get the picture. That's the inn. There was no room in the caravansary, which would force Joseph and Mary either out to the field in some cave, or, as some suspect, to the center part of the caravansary.
There's no room in the inn so they were forced out where the animals were kept in the courtyard. Now, I know that does not fit with the picture that you have of the nativity set in your home, or what you have seen in all the cards and all the Christmas movies, but those are the facts. Either they were out in a field somewhere in a cave or they were in that caravansary, but "no room in the inn," but only in that big expansive courtyard with the animals. It says that Jesus was laid in a manger. Now a manger was not a wooden crib. Again, it destroys your manger scene. You want to be accurate? Go get a little rock and carve a little dish on the top of it and you have a manager. If you ever go with us to Megiddo, and there's a picture of it on the screen, that is---those are two mangers side by side. Amazing, aren't they?
Hewn out of stone, that's where this animal food was kept, and that's where Jesus was laid, in a stone feeding trough or a manger. "No room in the inn." Jesus came to occupy their city; they're preoccupied with their census. Now, you've heard sermons on this. It says this is a preview of coming distractions. The world never has room for Jesus. It's sort of a bad omen. There's no room for him in the inn, there's still no room for Jesus in the lives of many people to this day. They have room for religion, they have room for their own---their own deal, but not room for Jesus. You'll also notice in verse 7 the words "swaddling cloths." A swaddling cloth is a band that is about four to five-inches wide, eighteen feet long. Salt would have been ground up into a power and placed in the fabric of that swaddling cloth.
And the child would have been wrapped in that very tightly so you could not move the limbs. It was an ancient practice, because they believed that the limbs of the infant wouldn't grow straight unless they were kept very, very tight. It was for the feeling of security, but also so their limbs would grow straight. And the first several days after birth they were often kept in this tightly wrapped bandage, this swaddling wrap, which was very similar to how Jesus was buried, in much the same fashion. He was laid in that manager, because there was no room in the inn. Now the camera shifts from the city of Bethlehem to the outskirts. "Now, there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night."
"And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. And 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. For there is born to you this day in the city David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.' "You're going to see a baby in a feeding trough. "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!' "For those shepherds out there in the fields it's a very, very quiet existence, not much interface with townsfolk. Their business kept them isolated.
It may have started as a silent night, it certainly did not end that way. I know we love this song, "Silent night, holy night . . . ." but that was only before the angel showed up. It was anything but a silent night. It was a crazy night for these guys. First of all, when they see the angel, it says they're terrified. The angels---you know, angels, their first words out of their mouth is usually, "Don't panic!" Right? "Don't be afraid!" The reason they have to say that is because that is the general reaction of human beings. And seeing an angelic messenger, it's not like, "Hey, what's up?" because you don't see one every day. So when you see an angel, the reaction, the human reaction to a divine interaction is often fear. So to quell the fear comes that command: "Do not be afraid," "Do not fear."
I remember a few years ago I was flying into Amman, Jordan, it was in the wintertime. It was a few---maybe about a week or so before Christmas. And so I'm flying, and I can see Jerusalem off to one side, and I can see Bethlehem right out the window. It was a clear sky and I could see the town of Bethlehem and the Dead Sea right out of my window. And it just dawned on me as I'm flying over Bethlehem toward Amman, Jordan---what am I thinking? "I'm in angelic airspace, right about . . . now." [laughter] I mean, I'm just picturing the point of view of these angels coming to these shepherds. So it was quiet at first. I don't know what they are doing, maybe out there smoking their little hookah pipe up. [laughter] And it's just like, "Whoa!" [laughter] They haven't seen that kind of excitement.
You know, the last time they had an exciting time was when six goats ate Shlomo's rug, you know, and "Wow! It was awesome." And now they're seeing this. Now, angels, thirty-four books of the Bible speak about them: seventeen in the Old Testament, and seventeen in the New Testament. In short, angels are spiritual beings, heavenly beings---I'm speaking about the good ones now. The ones that did not fall, the two-thirds left after the fall. One-third went down with Satan. But angelic beings are heavenly emissaries for special projects. On the one hand, they guard and glorify the presence of God in heaven, but they also do God's bidding on the earth. Now I want to you notice something in the text. I can't prove this, but I want you to notice it, because it's an idea that I have and I believe it's accurate.
It says, "The angel said to them," and then look in verse 13, "Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and"---they're what? What does it say?---"they're saying: 'Glory to God in the highest.' " Usually when we read this, we imagine a tune set to "Glory in the highest, peace, and goodwill toward men!" We think of that as them singing it. Nothing in text says these angels were singing a note. They weren't singing. If you think they were singing, you couldn't prove it by pointing to the Scripture. Nothing in the Bible says they sang anything. In fact, let me take this a step further. We have no record of angels singing except for two places. You're waiting for me to tell you those two places, right? [laughter]
One, at the beginning of the creation before the fall, and the second is in the book of Revelation when Jesus takes the scroll and removes the curse. The first, as I mentioned, at the creation, is found in a cryptic passage, but it seems to refer to angels singing. It's in Job, chapter 38. Let me describe the chapter to you. If you know the book of Job, you know that Job is questioning God chapter after chapter with his suffering. And then his friends come by and they pose questions about God and about Job. Finally, you get to chapter 38, it's God's turn to speak, right? So God comes to Job and, basically, with strong language rebukes him. He says, "Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" In other words, "Who do you think you are? You don't even know what you're talking about."
And then he says, "Prepare yourself like a man; let me ask you a few questions. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Or when I laid out and measured out its foundations? Surely you know!" And he said, "When I put down the cornerstone of the world"---and then he said this---"when the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?" That, though cryptic, seems to indicate that when God created the world, the angels sang and rejoiced. Then the record is silent as to them singing a single note until you get to Revelation, chapter 5. That's when the Lamb, Christ, takes the scroll from the Father. And it says, "The four living creatures," those are four angels, angelic beings, "along with the twenty-four elders," human leaders, "fell down before the throne."
"And they sang a new song," and they said this, " 'You are worthy' "---I don't know how the tune goes. " 'You are worthy to take the scroll, and open its seals; for you have redeemed us by your blood out of every tribe, tongue, nation, and people.' " Then it says the choirs of heaven, all of the angels, ten thousand times ten thousand joined with those other angels that started the song. So we have angels singing before the curse and after the curse is removed. It's as if angels have been silenced while a curse remains on the earth, and they will sing again one day. In fact, they can't wait to sing, they can't wait to sing. Remember what we read in First Peter, that the things of salvation that we enjoy are things angels desire to look into.
They scratch their little angelic heads wondering, "Man, the grace of God is marvelous with these people on the earth. Oh, how he loves them." I can't help but wonder if that is indeed true. If I'm piecing it together right and not imposing too much into the text, which I may be, but I don't think I am. If that is indeed the case, it must just frustrate angels to no end when we don't sing and it's time to worship. When our response during the song service is this, [frowning while folding arms] I think angels would want to slap us upside the head. [laughter] It's like, "Dude, we did that and we can't wait to do that, and you can do that because you're the only ones who have been redeemed. Sing like it. Let it out."
That just---it convicted me when I consider this, I consider that the angels did and will do, but they don't now, until the curse is removed. "So it was, when the angels had gone away," after their proclamation, after saying what they said, "after they 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.' And they came with haste [or in a hurry] and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a [feeding trough] a manger. And when they had seen him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart."
"Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them." I get a kick out of these shepherds. They are stoked beyond stoked. They're going, "Can you believe it? We're shepherds, man, the angels appeared to us---shepherds. Man, the things we have seen tonight and heard tonight." I'll tell you why: shepherds were considered the lowest rung on the social ladder. None was lower than the shepherds. They were excluded. They really did live their lives apart from the people. If you remember the book of Genesis accurately, the sons of Jacob---Genesis and Exodus. The sons of Jacob were not allowed to dwell among the Egyptians. And the text tells you why: because shepherds were an abomination to the Egyptians.
Now, when we come into Judaism, not the Egyptians, but now Judea, Jerusalem, Judaism, shepherds were needed and the motif of a shepherd is used by David. He was a shepherd. But in the New Testament era shepherds were considered ceremonially unclean. Can you figure out why? Because as a shepherd they had to work 24/7. They didn't have a break. They could not take a Sabbath. They could not comply with Sabbath regulations. They were always watching sheep and had to do that kind of a work every day, So they were considered by the elite in Jerusalem to be ceremonially unclean. They're the lowest rung of the ladder. And I just find it awesome that when God wants to send the greatest news ever, he does not go to the blue bloods in Rome or Athens or Jerusalem, but blue-collar workers in Bethlehem, low on the social rung.
"Let's get the news to them, the shepherds. Let's give them a fun night, something to talk about and tell their grandparents about." Something else that should be considered: it was considered in Jewish writings that the sheep that were raised for the slaughter of all of the sacrifices that took place in the temple---remember there was a sacrifice every day and every evening in the temple in Jerusalem---that those sheep were raised by the shepherds around Bethlehem. There's writing to that effect. So, effectively, these shepherds are going to go see the Lamb of God, which is going to effectively put them out of business, because he's going to do something that will be once for all time. You don't need to have lambs slain anymore. So the fulfillment of what they're doing will be seen when they get to Bethlehem.
Verse 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." Back in chapter 1, verse 31, Gabriel told Mary this is the name you're going to give him, Yeshua, Yehoshua, Joshua, same difference, Jesus, same name. It means God, Jehovah, Yahweh is salvation. "Now in the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, 'Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord'), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, 'A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.' "
There are two things that the text we just read speaks about in terms of the requirements of the law of Moses. Number one was circumcision. That was on the eighth day. And that was a law that actually predated the law of Moses. It wasn't just something that was in the Old Testament law of Moses. Way back in Genesis, chapter 17, God communicates to Abraham that on the eighth day, as an everlasting covenant, children in your lineage---that is, the Jewish nation---should comply, male children should be circumcised, a cutting away of the flesh, speaking of the covenant, a sign of the covenant. That's Genesis 17. Why the eighth day? Well, the easiest answer is, God said so. However, we do have the benefit of what medical science tells us.
The articles I have read by those doctors who attend to these things stated---I read another one today. I've read a few of these, but I read one where blood clotting is at its highest rate on the eighth day, that day one through seven the rate is slow. It speeds up on the eighth day, and it goes back to a slower rate on the ninth day forward. And that the eighth day was the perfect day physiologically to circumcise a male child. Now Moses didn't know what I just said. He wasn't reading a medical journal. God told Abraham before Moses, and then he reiterated it to Moses, something that we now know is medically the best day to circumcise a male child. Of course, now we have vitamin K that can be also administered to help with clotting. They didn't have that back then. The eighth day was perfect.
God said it and there were other reasons why, perhaps, but God chose the eighth day. There's another regulation besides circumcision; that is, the offering. Mary and Joseph bring an offering after the child was born "to offer a sacrifice." It's mentioned in verse 24. You who have been with us as we studied Leviticus, this is where your study of the Old Testament pays off, because you knew about this. You remember back in Leviticus 12 when a child was born and a woman's purification was completed, that she was to bring either a male lamb of a year old and a pigeon or a turtledove; or if she couldn't afford a lamb, just two turtledoves or two pigeons. So the poor could just bring the birds. If you had a little more money and you could afford the lamb, you bring the lamb.
What this tells us is the kind of household that Jesus was born into. It was not wealthy. It was a very poor household. Here is the Lord of glory, here is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, here is the one who owns "a cattle on a thousand hills," he proclaimed through the psalmist, being born to a poor family of low status in the tribes of Israel. And I should hope that helps you and I understand that whole emptying process, that kenosis that the book of Philippians talks about. When he emptied himself, that's the extent that he went down to. Second Corinthians, chapter 8, says, "Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor." He was rich. He was the Lord of glory. He was the King of heaven. He was in the presence of those angels receiving their praise. And he emptied himself coming to this earth.
So she brought birds. She didn't bring a lamb. Well, she did bring her Lamb. She brought the Lamb. She brought the best in offering her purification. It was accompanied with the Lamb who would take away the sin of the world. "And behold," verse 25, "there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon." Love this guy, love this guy. "And this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.' " Three times in this passage the Holy Spirit is mentioned in relationship to this man. That's the first. "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit"---that's the second time---"that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. So he came by the Spirit"---third time---"into the temple.
"And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and he blessed God." Before we get to his saying, notice he was "waiting for the Consolation of Israel." That's the messianic hope. A Jewish prayer in that day was: "May I see the Consolation of Israel." Isaiah, chapter 40, "Comfort, oh comfort my people." Console or bring consolation to my people. Thus, the idea of "waiting for the Consolation of Israel" was simply a term that says "he's waiting for the Messiah to be born." It was a messianic hope. We believe---we---I believe that Simeon was an old man when he said this. Nothing is said of his age, but I deduce that from verse 26 where the Holy Spirit revealed to him "that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ."
And then in verse 29 he prays, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace." So my deduction, based upon the linguistics of these verses, is that he's been waiting a long time and he's an old guy right now. And maybe, I don't know, maybe he grew up praying like we do: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. But at some point the Lord told him, "You won't die before you wake. In fact, you won't die until you see the Messiah." That's a cool promise. So he had to change that prayer. [laughter] But I can just picture him in the temple in Jerusalem walking day by day, looking at people and couples bringing their babies and going, "Is that-is that the one? Oh, no, maybe that couple, maybe that baby. Maybe that's the one."
But whatever it was, on one particular day it was the Holy Spirit who so impressed upon his heart---"He's the One. That's the Lord's Messiah. That's the Christ. That's the Consolation of Israel." So Simeon walked up to Joseph and Mary and probably even took them off guard, no doubt, when he said, "Excuse me. You don't know me. My name is Simeon. I'm an old man." And God has given him a promise. "Could I just hold your baby for a moment?" Maybe trepidatiously they handed that little baby over to him. And he lifted that child a little higher, and he prayed, in verse 29, " 'Now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.' "
If I am correct that Simeon is an older man, then I can also guess that he was just a boy when Rome first conquered the city he lived in, Jerusalem. He no doubt was there when Pompey the Roman general took over and butchered many of the Jews and subjugated them to Roman rule. And, yet, he had hope that one day he would see the Lord's Deliverer, the Messiah promised, and that was the day. He says, "My eyes have seen your salvation." If you can read the Greek language and you check it out in a Greek translation, the word is "my eyes have seen your soterion," your soterion. That's the word for savior or salvation as a noun, soterion. If he was speaking the language of temple worship, which was Hebrew, he would have said, "For my eyes have seen your Yeshua," your salvation, the Lord is salvation.
Here's what I want you to see: he's looking at a baby, and as he looks at the baby he says, "My eyes have seen your salvation," which leads me to this principle: salvation isn't something you do, it's Someone you know. When you know Christ personally, and your sins have been forgiven by him, you don't do anything. He did it for you. When you know that One, and have a relationship with that One, that's salvation. Salvation isn't something you do, salvation is Someone you know. "My eyes have seen your salvation." He's holding that baby as he says that, this person, this gift. Peter will say in the book of the Acts, "There is no other name given under heaven among men by which we must be saved," except the name of Jesus. So that's why we preach Christ. That's why you are not saved unless you know Christ.
You can be religious, you can be good, you can be well intentioned, but we make a point---and not everybody agrees with it, but it's from the Bible---you need to know Christ personally to be saved. Jesus never said, "My teachings are the way, the truth, the life"; he said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." He never said, "Follow my teachings and you'll get to heaven"; he said, "Follow me." He made it personal. He made it relational. In verse 32---please, don't pass this up---Simeon says that he is going to be "a light," this baby will be "a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles." Who are Gentiles? Yeah, some of you raise your hands like, "I am." So am I. Anybody who's not a Jew is a Gentile. That would probably mean most of us.
This is a Jewish temple. This is a Jewish ritual. Jesus was a Jewish Messiah. The Bible is a Jewish book. But salvation isn't just a Jewish thing. It's "to the Jew first and also to the Gentile," Paul said; to the whole world, "For God so loved the world." It doesn't say, "For God so loved just the Jewish people." He "loved the world." So Simeon is right. His theology is so pure that this promised Messiah to the Jewish nation is really going to be a light for the world. This baby is God's flashlight to show people the way out of darkness, if I could loosely translate it a bit. " 'A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.' And Joseph and his mother marveled at these things." Well, wouldn't you if a preacher dedicating your baby said all this about your baby?
"They marveled at these things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother, 'Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and the risings of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.' " Imagine how that sounded to this young couple as they bring their baby to be dedicated and the preacher says this. Basically he's saying, "Your baby, your baby, he's going to be the most loved and the most hated person ever. And I believe that is true concerning Jesus. He is loved and has been loved worldwide, and he is so hated by so many at the same time. His name still brings anger to people.
Try it sometime, just drop his name in a crowd, drop his name among your friends in a good way, not in a slurring kind of a way. They're doing that. And when they do that, say, "Excuse me, but that Jesus that you just mentioned, I love Jesus Christ." Just have fun with it. Watch the reaction. Get a kick out of it. Verse 35 there's a hint of the cross, notice it: "A sword will pierce through your own soul also, Mary, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." Her heart would break, would it not, as she stood under the cross and saw her Son dying? "Mary, you will suffer as though you have been stabbed with a knife in your own heart." And the last part of verse 35, I don't want to skip over that: " 'That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.' " Rejecting Jesus Christ reveals the truth about a person's condition. It reveals their own hearts.
"Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of great age"---you're going to find out about how old in just a minute. "She was of great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years." So she was married seven years and then lived after he died for eighty-four years. So I don't know when she got married, they got married pretty young back then, but she's around 103 to 105, still kicking. "Who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem."
"So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him. His parents went to Jerusalem every year for the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast." The childhood of Jesus is completely silent, except for this story, and Luke is the only one who gives it to us. And he gives us this story and then we wait another eighteen years in silence and Jesus shows up to initiate his ministry at age thirty. So the early part of Jesus' life is completely silent except for this story. Now he's a twelve-year-old boy. He's going up to Jerusalem for Passover.
A Jewish boy was bar mitzvahed at age thirteen, but could attend and usually did attend one of the major feasts in Jerusalem during his twelfth year, and would participate as part of his preparation for bar mitzvah. "Bar mitzvah," by the way, literally means son of the commandment: bar, son; mitzvah, command. So, a son of the commandment. You are a son of the law. You are responsible for your actions before God. You are seen as a Jewish adult with those responsibilities at age thirteen. You go, "Well, that's really way too young." Not if your parents are preparing you for that release, so that there is now a rite of passage. And you have all of your life to prepare for that and you understand, the parents and peers help you understand the kind of responsibly that will be placed on you.
It's a rite of passage. One of the things that I think is very sad about our own culture is we have no real rite of passage for young men and young women to say, "Now, you're at this stage of your life. Everybody knows it. You've been preparing and working toward it. Here it is." And if we think, "Well, that's just when you get a driver's license," that's very, very sad. [laughter] Verse 43, "When they had finished the days"---that is, the days of the feast. Passover was only one day, but that was followed by a seven-day feast, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, as you recall from our last study in the Old Testament. "When they had finished the days [plural], they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem."
"And Joseph and his mother did not know it; but supposing him to have been in the company, they went a day's journey, and sought him among their relatives and acquaintances." Now this bothers some people. "What's up with his parents?" they say. "They've traveled that far away from the city and they don't know that Jesus is with them? What a bad mother Mary is. What a bad, you know, caretaker Joseph was." Not so. They would travel in a company of friends and relatives from Nazareth and all the kids intermingled with all the adults. It was a caravan that went. So they just suspected that He playing with friends or relatives on their way back home; very, very common. There was a kind of trust in the company that you traveled with. So they didn't know it.
"But supposing him to have been in the company, they went a day's journey, and sought him among the relatives and acquaintances. They did not find him, but they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him." So it says, "After three days they found him in the temple." So it was a day's journey by foot, about ten to twenty miles out. That's a day. And then it's another day back. And probably they spent the better part of a day looking for him. So that's the three days. That's how you'd account for it. It's not like they walked three days out, but probably down toward the Dead Sea area, Jericho, and in that area they turn back. So, "They found him," verse 46, "in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were astonished at his understanding and his answers."
"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.' And he said to them"---now notice the contrast to what Mary said, "your father and I." Here's the contrasting words: "He said to them, 'Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?' " He's twelve years of age and he understands his divine calling from his Father in heaven. He understands who he is and what he was there for. "But they did not understand the statement with which he spoke to them. 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. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man."
And we will not hear about Jesus till eighteen years after this when we see him at the Jordan River with John the Baptist. That'll be in the next chapter, but the gap is eighteen years. When we see Jesus in that temple with these leaders, it was very common during Passover time for the Jewish Sanhedrin, these rulers of the Jewish nation, to be in the temple courts, in the public courts holding discussions, training sessions for young talmidim is the word; talmidim: students, disciples. And Jesus would have been there. They would have seen him and thought this is his preparation, in part, for his bar mitzvah. And Jesus was there listening to them and asking them questions and he was filled with wisdom. In Colossians, Paul the apostle says, "In Christ are hidden all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." And that's exemplified even from a young age.
Let's pray. Father, in this story we're struck by a couple of figures. We know the typical Christmas story and the Christmas figures that stand out, but there are two, at least, that stand out to me; and that is, this man Simeon and this old gal Anna the prophetess. That they just---they wouldn't stop, they wouldn't quit. They were living in hope. They were anticipating your salvation and they saw it when that baby was brought into the temple that day waiting for the "Consolation of Israel." And it could be, Father, that some have come and they're still waiting for their comfort, for their consolation. Their heart is stirred. It is restless. It is not at ease. It is not at rest. It's not at peace. And you've designed us that way.
You've designed us to be restless and peaceless until our sins with dealt with. And they cannot be dealt with by a religious organization or a self-help book or a pep talk by a counselor or a psychologist. They can only be dealt with at the cross of Christ who shed his blood to pay our debt. So I wouldn't pray for anyone who may have gathered tonight still waiting for their consolation, their comfort, that they would also find it in this person of Jesus. Salvation isn't something they do, it's Someone they know. I pray that some would come to know Jesus or maybe even come back to him. With our heads bowed, our eyes closed, and we're about to sing one song and you'll be dismissed. But I would be very remiss if you didn't have an opportunity to give your life to Christ.
Because every week I find people who come who haven't yet committed their lives to Christ or found forgiveness at the foot of the cross. It could be that I'm speaking to you and you've never done that personally. You may be a churchgoer, you may be a religious person, you may have grown up in a religious home, but you don't know Christ personally. You don't walk with him personally. He's not your Savior. He's not your Lord. You don't know what it's like to live with that abiding presence of God and to have peace of heart. You're still waiting for consolation. Or maybe you have wandered away from God and you need to come back home to him. If these descriptions are true of you and you want to make peace with God, as we're praying with our heads bowed, I want you to raise your hand up in the air.
Just raise it up for a moment, and keep it up, please, just so I can acknowledge you. God bless you, right on the aisle toward the middle. Anyone else? Would you raise your hand up and we'll pray for you as we close this service. If you're in the balcony, if you don't know the Lord, you want to know him tonight, would you raise your hand up? Who else? Father, I thank you for this one who is saying yes to your Son and is about to experience newness and fullness of life, in Jesus' name, amen. Would you stand to your feet. I'm going to ask the one that raised her hand as we sing this song, I'm going to ask you to get up from where you're standing and find that nearest aisle and walk here to the front. And I'll tell you why: I'm not doing this to embarrass you. I'm doing this to celebrate new life.
We're going to welcome you into the family of God and lead you in a prayer to receive Christ. [applause] So if you raised your hand, would you just please come, stand right up here as we sing this song. [worship music plays] Right on. [applause] Right on. Well, a few of you, excuse me, come on up. Forgive me, I must not have seen you. Anyone else care to join these three brave women who want to know God's peace? Those who have come forward, you gals, I'm going to lead you in a prayer. I'm going to ask you to pray this prayer right now out loud after me from your heart to your Lord. Say: Lord, I give you my life. Say: I know that I'm a sinner. Please forgive me. I believe in Jesus Christ that he died for me, that she shed his blood for my sin, and that he rose from the dead. I turn from my sin. I turn to you as my Savior and Lord, in Jesus' name, amen. [cheers and applause]
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