Tag Archives: Joseph

[Life of Christ] The King Has Arrived: Early Life of Jesus (part 2)

The King Has Arrived: The Very Early Life of Jesus (Part 2)
(Luke 2:21-35)

Following the Law of Moses, the Law of the Lord (Luke 2:21-24)

When the eighth day had come, when the child was to be circumcised, His name was called Jesus, using the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

And when the days of her purification had ended, according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. (As it is written in the law of the Lord: “Every male child who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD.”) And they did this to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord: “A Pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

Entering into the Covenant with Abraham

Waaaaaay back in Genesis 17, God made a covenant with Abraham. The sign (or “token,” KJV) of this covenant was circumcision. Hopefully I don’t need to go into describing what circumcision is, because that could get uncomfortable for some people. Suffice it to say, biologically, this circumcision can only be done on males. And it was to be done when the male child was 8 days old.1

For Jesus to be a legitimate heir of Abraham (see Matthew’s genealogy), He had to enter into that covenant and be circumcised on the eighth day. Any of Abraham’s male descendants who was not circumcised according to the commandment was “cut off” from the people of God.2 So it should be no surprise to find Luke (a doctor) mention Jesus undergoing this surgical procedure.3

But Luke’s focus isn’t on the circumcision. That is only given as a time marker. The focus of verse 21 is that the Child was named Jesus that day. Jesus was given that name, not because Mary and Joseph thought it was cool, not that it was a family name (because it wasn’t—see Matthew 1 and Luke3), but because the angel had given them instructions on what to name Him.

In presenting this, Luke shows Mary and Joseph as faithful to the commands of God. They were told (individually) what to name this baby, they remembered the command, and they obeyed.

Following the Law of Moses

We now fast-forward approximately 33 days.4 And here again Luke portrays Mary and Joseph as faithful followers of the commands of God. First it was circumcision, then naming Jesus, now it is one of the 613 commandments of the Old Testament—the offering of a purification sacrifice 40 days after having a baby boy.5

The focus of this verse isn’t on the purification sacrifice (actually two sacrifices, but we will talk about that a bit later), but (like the previous verse) it is used as a time marker for something more important—presenting the firstborn male to God.

The last of the ten plagues was the smiting (killing) of the firstborn throughout Egypt. This is the punishment that finally got Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave. God sent “the destroyer” to kill all the firstborn, but would not permit this “destroyer” to harm the Israelite firstborn.6 But while He spared them, God also laid claim on them. They now belonged to Him (Numbers 3:13).7

From that point onward, all firstborn males of Israel were to be presented to God, and redeemed (bought back) with specific payment of five shekels of silver.8 One author (in 1886) said this was the equivalent of $2.50. If that is accurate, then the cost of redeeming Jesus in accordance to the Law of Moses is the equivalent of $47.46 in 2023.9

Luke explains this by quoting Exodus 13:2: “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD.” When He says, “holy,” He doesn’t mean “sinless.” All babies are sinless, whether firstborn or not, male or female, Jew or Gentile. What He means is that the firstborn males (and they must be true firstborn, not just the first son, but also the first child) belong to Him. They are to be set apart for Him. And because He has the claim on them, the parents must pay a redemption price—and out of love, that price is incredibly cheap. Cheap enough any family could afford it.

Then Luke focuses on the purification sacrifice, which is actually two different sacrifices. These had to be offered by every mother after their child was born (40 days later for a son, 80 days later for a daughter). It is very important we notice this fact: these sacrifices are explicitly for the mother. Check out what Leviticus 12:6-7 says.

And when the days of her purifying have been fulfilled, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, to the door of the congregation, to the priest, who shall offer it before the LORD and make an atonement for her. Then she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that has given birth to a male or a female.

Why mention this? Mary offered a sin offering. What does that mean? It means she had sinned. We aren’t told what any of her sins were, but we know she did sin. The official stance of the Roman Catholic Church is that Mary was immaculately conceived (their doctrine to try to side-step their doctrine of “original sin”), and that she did not sin at all—ever. But in offering a sin offering, she either did it honestly, meaning she had sin that needed dealing with—or she did it hypocritically, meaning she lied when she offered it. In either case, she was not sin-free.

Mary’s offering to the Lord was two turtledoves. This offering was only allowable if the family was too poor to afford a lamb (see Leviticus 12:8). Neither Mary nor Joseph were people of means. Jesus chose to be born to humble, poor parents. God chose some of the poorest Israelites to raise His Son.

Being poor does not mean you’re righteous. But poor people are poor are more likely to show a dependence on God than rich people are. Mary and Joseph are one such example.

Simeon the prophet (Luke 2:25-35).

Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon Him. And it was revealed to him  by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

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, then he took Him up in his arms, blessed God, and said, “Lord, now let 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 lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

And Joseph and His mother were amazed at the things which were spoken by him.

Simeon blessed them, and said to 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 (yes, and a sword will pierce your own soul also), so that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed.”

Okay, I can die now.

Apparently while Mary and Joseph are at the temple, getting ready to offer the purification sacrifices, a man came up to them. His name was Simeon (or Simon).10 It is almost 100% certain that he was named after Simeon, the second oldest son of Jacob.11 We assume he was an old man, though that isn’t explicitly stated.12

What we know for sure is his faithfulness and dedication to God. He was just (same thing said about Joseph in Matthew 1) or righteous. This means he treated people fairly and right. It means he followed God’s law. He was also devout. This means he took following God seriously. This same word is used of those gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost when Peter preached at the temple (Acts 2:5). When an inspired author calls you righteous and devout, that means God is calling you that. That’s high praise from the Creator of everything!

Simeon was waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” He knew God had promised to set up a Kingdom during the days of the “fourth kingdom” (the Roman Empire—Daniel 2:44). He knew about the promises made to Abraham, to David, and ultimately to all Israel about a coming Messiah who would make things right. And he lived in expectation of seeing it. He wanted to see it, believed it was coming. And God rewarded him.

The Holy Spirit was on him. Luke is very consistent in his use of phrases like this. Every single time he says “the Holy Spirit came upon…” or “the Holy Spirit fell on…” or “…was filled with the Holy Spirit,” he is talking about supernatural power—most often shown by prophesying, speaking in tongues, or speaking an inspired message (and sometimes all three). It is common for people to claim John the Baptizer was the first prophet for 400 years, but that isn’t accurate, because Simeon was one.13

The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that He would get to see the Lord’s Christ (anointed one) before he died. This was a promise that the plan hadn’t been forgotten, that God was acting on behalf of Israel and ultimately all mankind. Did Simeon share this message with others? I can’t imagine him keeping it to himself, even if he didn’t spell it out in “before I die” language.

The Holy Spirit led him to come to the temple that day, and he was waiting for Jesus to arrive. When Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus came in, Simeon grabbed Jesus, held Him, and praised God. Then he said, “Lord now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word.” In modern language, “Lord, I can die now, just like you said.”14 That must have been awkward for Mary and Joseph. Some strange man grabs your son and then says, “Okay, I can die now.” Of course, that isn’t where this incident ends, but at least for a moment, I have to think Mary and Joseph were maybe a tab bit concerned for a short moment.

Simeon continued his prayer by calling Jesus “Your salvation.” He understood Jesus was the one God had sent to bring salvation to Jew and Gentile who would follow Him. This salvation was “prepared before the face of all peoples.” This means it is universal. “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” The glory of something is its beauty, its glow. Often God’s glory is described as brightness. So ultimately, Simeon says of Jesus that He will be a shining light to lead ALL people—Jew and Gentile alike.

Jesus’ salvation mission isn’t going to be easy

Mary and Joseph stood there amazed at the words of Simeon’s prayer. They already knew at least part of this. But to have a total stranger come make this public proclamation of things you haven’t shared publicly with others (Jesus is the Savior, the Salvation of God)? That’s got to inspire amazement. And did Mary and Joseph realize He would also be Savior for Gentiles? We don’t know. But even if they did, it’s not hard to imagine that some other folks who may have heard this prayer and proclamation might not have been a fan of it (Gentiles?!? No way!!).

Simeon blessed them (Mary and Joseph). Scripture says that without exception, the lesser is blessed by the greater (Hebrews 7:7). This being the case, Simeon was (in whatever way) greater than Joseph and Mary. This kills the idea of Mariolatry (the worship, adoration, and exaltation of Mary done by the Roman Catholic Church). If Simeon is greater, and he a person with sin, then Mary must also have had sin (driving another stake into the heart of the doctrine that Mary never sinned).

He tells Mary Jesus is going to cause some people to fall and rise again. Some will fall because they refuse to believe Him (*cough* Pharisees *cough*). Others who had fallen would rise again (see the tax collectors and sinners who followed Him). And some would do both (Saul of Tarsus fell, but was raised again to new life through baptism). This message was designed to forewarn Mary that Jesus’ mission wasn’t going to be smooth and easy. There would be pushback. His mission wasn’t going to end in universal salvation of all mankind. It wasn’t even going to result in national salvation for Israel. Some would be lost—but the opportunity to rise again through baptism and then rise again in the resurrection was there for everyone.

Jesus would also be a sign which would be spoken against. He was frequently mocked and ridiculed—nowhere more viciously than when He was on the cross, going through the very act of saving mankind. They sarcastically told Him to save Himself, to come down off the cross. They mocked His message, denied His power, ridiculed His role as the King. Mary didn’t know what all was entailed by this prophecy from Simeon, but it was certainly a sobering message.

Then Simeon tells her, “Yes, a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Mary’s heart is going to break. She will be heartbroken as her Son is mocked and murdered. But she will also probably hurt when she finds out His mission means she doesn’t have access to Him like she used to.15 And perhaps some of the heart-brokenness will also come as people in her own hometown reject him (Matthew 13:54-58) and perhaps even besmirch her name as well (John 8:41). So while it would certainly not be easy for Jesus, it also would not be easy for Mary either.16

The final recorded message from Simeon is this: Jesus’ mission was to expose the thoughts of many hearts. Jesus exposed the lies and hypocrisies of the Pharisees on multiple occasions. Sometimes He even read their minds and told the crowd what they were thinking. How people reacted to Jesus exposed their true thoughts and intentions. Were they sincere followers of God? Then they would follow Jesus. Were they doing it for show, for pride, for power, for prestige? Then they would reject and fight against Jesus.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

What does this mean for us today?

Life isn’t fair. Life isn’t easy. If life were fair, Jesus would have had the easiest life. He would have had no enemies, because He always spoke the truth, always did the right thing, always served God, always showed love—even when it meant telling people hard truths.

If life wasn’t fair and wasn’t easy for Jesus, who was sinless—why do we think it ought to be fair and easy for us? All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). We aren’t promised an easy life. But we are promised an abundant life if we follow Jesus (John 10:10).

God wants ALL His laws to be followed. 613 laws in the Old Testament. 613! And some of them really seem redundant (read Leviticus) or minor sometimes. But in this short passage we see that faithful people don’t leave out any of the commands of God. Mary and Joseph (1) had Jesus circumcised on day 8, (2) named Him like they were both commanded to do, (3) came immediately after Jesus was 40 days old to offer a purification sacrifice—two offerings, actually, and did it exactly as was written in the Old Testament, and (4) came to present Mary’s firstborn Son to the Lord.

Are there some laws we tend to ignore? Maybe about gossip? Attitudes? Forgiveness? Kindness? Always speaking truth? Showing love? Do we find it easy to make excuses for why we don’t follow some of these commands? Or do we faithfully try to put God first?

Jesus is the Way—the ONLY Way! Simeon’s prophecy said Jesus is the Salvation of God. God only has one way of salvation, and that is Jesus. He is the Salvation for Jews, and the Salvation for Gentiles. Jesus knew what He was saying when He said, “I am THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Have you tried to get in God’s good graces by some other way? Maybe it is through your own efforts (Look at all the wonderful things I’ve done), or maybe through your lack of overt evil (I’ve never killed anyone). Maybe it is through a false gospel (“Ask Jesus into your heart…”). Jesus is the only way, and He set forth the only way you can take that narrow way.

1 This is evidence for the divine authorship of the Bible. The eighth day is the time when Vitamin K levels are highest in the body, which helps with the healing. Today when circumcisions are done, they do it earlier (1 or 2 days old, frequently), but they also give the baby a Vitamin K shot in order to help with the healing. Apparently we can’t wait the 6-7 days to get to day eight anymore.

2 Genesis 17:10-14.

3 According to some traditions, this was usually done by a priest.

4 Leviticus 12:2-4.

5 Luke actually says “when the days of their purification had finished…” Yet the purification sacrifice was only for the mother according to the Law of Moses. How do we rectify this? Some have suggested that Joseph had become unclean as well (those who suggest such usually don’t say how, but it could be from sexual contact while Mary is considered unclean, or perhaps some other reason). Others suggest Joseph as head of the household was responsible for the cost of the sacrifice, and as such was grouped together with Mary in this instance. I personally think it more likely that Joseph isn’t being considered in the word their, but that it refers to Mary and Jesus.

6 Some translations (NLT, for example) use the phrase “destroying angel,” even though the word “angel” is not in the Hebrew text. The idea of an “angel of death” or “death angel” appears to come from Psalm 78:49, which, in describing the Ten Plagues, says God sent “destroying angels” (NIV) to accomplish His wrath.

7 There is a lot more detail which we have left out regarding the firstborn Israelites during the Exodus. They were all counted up, and God took the tribe of Levi in place of the firstborn of the rest of the tribes. However, the numbers didn’t match up, and so sacrifices/gifts had to be offered to redeem (buy back) the extra firstborn Israelites that weren’t covered by God taking the tribe of Levi (Numbers 3:40-51).

8 Numbers 18:15-16. This shekel was weighed according to the sanctuary shekel, apparently a standard unit of measurement for them.

9 This number comes from www.officialdata.org. Accessed May 3, 2023.

10 Simon and Simeon are two different versions of the same name. Simon Peter is called both (see Acts 15:6-14, especially verses 7 and 14, as well as Acts 5:8).

11 The tribe of Simeon disappears early in the biblical record. By Jacob’s prophecy at the end of his life, Simeon was truly scattered among the other tribes. Their inheritance was in the middle of the tribe of Judah, and was eventually absorbed into Judah.

12 This is probably because the Holy Spirit had told him he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26). This makes more sense if we imagine an older man, but it isn’t required.

13 Zachariah (John’s father) was also one, even if it was just for a moment.

14 It is worth noting that Simeon was told something by the Holy Spirit, but he attributes it to God. The Holy Spirit is God (see Acts 5:3-4).

15 Luke 8:19-21.

16 Joseph was dead before Jesus’ death on the cross. Otherwise Jesus would have never told John to take care of Mary as his own mother, and Mary then living with John from that day forward (John 19:26-27).

[Life of Christ] The King has Arrived: Early Life of Jesus (Part 1)

My apologies for not getting this sent out on Wednesday. We had a wonderful week of a Round Robin Gospel Meeting (5 nights, 5 speakers, 5 locations–supported by 9 or 10 congregations), and I didn’t get this posted like I should have. But, enjoy!

The King Has Arrived: The Very Early Life of Jesus (Part 1)
(Luke 2:6-20)

Joseph and a very pregnant Mary traveled to Bethlehem because that was the city of David, and Joseph’s ancestral family land. They had to go there as part of a census (for the purpose of knowing who was there they could tax). It is amazing that God used a Roman leader’s taxation plans to get Mary to the place where the Messiah had to be born.

Jesus is born (Luke 2:6-7)

And so it was that, while they were there, the days were finished that she should deliver the baby. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Her Firstborn Son

While I would love to say, “Look, it says firstborn, meaning there were others born afterwards—Mary wasn’t a perpetual virgin!” the fact is, this word doesn’t imply more children followed. It simply means the first one born. It could be used to refer to first and only, or it could refer to first of many. The rest of Scripture furnishes us with enough proof that Mary had other children. We don’t need to use this word to prove the point.

The fact that Mary was a virgin ties in with this being her firstborn Son. There was no possibility of Jesus being anything but the firstborn.

Wrapped Him in Cloths

Some translations say “swaddling clothes,”1 and some other translations just say “cloths.”2 These were either “strips of linen that would be wrapped around the arms and legs of an infant to keep the limbs protected,”3 or “a square of cloth with a long bandage-like strip coming diagonally off from one corner. The child was first wrapped in the square of cloth and then the long strip was wound round and round about him.”4 It appears, based on Ezekiel 16:4, that Hebrew babies, after birth, were washed, rubbed with salt, and then wrapped in these swaddling clothes. So what Luke describes is not something odd or different about Jesus’s birth.

It is believed by some that these linen swaddling clothes were made from remnants of priests’ old garments. The priests were commanded to wear linen garments,5 and it is fitting that the One who was born to be King and Priest was wrapped in priestly material at His birth—and His death.6 This isn’t proof that these were from priestly garments, but if they were, there is definite symbolism to be seen.

If, as some suppose, these were discarded or retired pieces of cloth, it would show the poor financial state of Joseph and Mary—they had to depend on discarded fabric to wrap Jesus.

The Feeding Trough and the Inn

Because of the amount of people who had already come to Bethlehem, connected with the census, all the room at the inn was full. It could have been Joseph’s extended family (they would be descended from David as well), or perhaps other travelers whose ancestors were from that area. Or it could be that the Roman officials who were in charge of the census were refused lodging in Jerusalem, and thus had to go to a nearby town to stay—Bethlehem, perhaps—and took up all the available spaces.7

Regardless of why, the couple found themselves in a place usually reserved for animals. The newly-born baby Jesus was placed in a manger—a feeding trough for horses and donkeys. Not exactly the birth you would expect when God comes to earth to live among us.

Some assert that this took place in a stable, most likely connected to the inn; and others (notably the Catholic Church) affirm this took place in a cave near the inn.8 Neither is specified by Luke, so it is a matter of conjecture.

One of the greatest events in history…

The birth of Jesus is truly one of the greatest events in history, right up there with the Creation and the Resurrection. But both Matthew and Luke describe it with the simple words, “she brought forth her firstborn Son.” You would think there would be more fanfare, more notoriety. Well, just give it a moment, because heaven is about the make the announcement.

The Announcing Angel and the Praising Host (Luke 2:8-14)

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Shepherds Keeping the Flock

It is said by people who know more about lambing in Israel than I do that the shepherds would not be staying with the sheep overnight in the fields unless they were lambing (i.e., giving birth or about to). It is also said that this would usually be sometime in April.9

It would be appropriate, if true, that the ones to whom the angel appeared were working with just-born lambs, because they were about to be told where to find the just-born Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world. Barclay adds an interesting possibility:

But these were in all likelihood very special shepherds. We have already seen how in the Temple, morning and evening, an unblemished lamb was offered as a sacrifice to God. To see that the supply of perfect offerings was always available the Temple authorities had their own private sheep flocks; and we know that these flocks were pastured near Bethlehem. It is most likely that these shepherds were in charge of the flocks from which the Temple offerings were chosen. It is a lovely thought that the shepherds who looked after the Temple lambs were the first to see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.10

The Angel Appears

God used heavenly messengers frequently in these early chapters of the gospels. Gabriel announces John’s upcoming birth. Gabriel comes back and announces Jesus’ upcoming birth. An angel talks to Joseph announcing Jesus’ upcoming birth. And now that Jesus is born, an angel announces that it has happened (and God isn’t done sending heavenly messengers)!

While some translations say the angel “came upon them” (KJV) or “appeared to them” (ESV, NIV), the meaning is more likely “stood before them” (NASB) or “stood by them” (ASV). In other words, the angel isn’t floating in the sky as he talks with these shepherds, but just appears all at once next to them.

And this is one instance where everything you imagine about the sudden appearance of an angel seems to be true. There was an immense glow all around him—so much so that it surrounded the shepherds too. And it wasn’t a glow from a candle or a torch or even a million torches—it was the glory of God.

And you would have had the same reaction they did. They were scared—very scared.

The Messenger’s Message

First, the customary angel greeting to humans who are freaked out: “Don’t be afraid.”

But he then gives a reason why they shouldn’t be afraid: he is bringing them exciting news. He calls it “good tidings” or “good news”—the same basic word that is translated gospel. And truth be told, “good news” is an understatement!

It is good news of great joy—especially for these Jewish shepherds, who were longing for God to send His Messiah. This joy, according to the angel, would be for all the people. Some translations render it “all people” (KJV, NKJV), but literally it is “all the people.” A Jewish shepherd would most likely have understood this to mean “all the Jews.”[11] This understanding is strengthened when the angel says, “For to you is born…a Savior.”

The Jews had been waiting on the promised Messiah, the Prophet like Moses, the true Heir of David—all describing (though the Jews didn’t necessarily understand it) the same person. But the angel describes the One who is born in three ways:

  1. This word appears 13 times in the Old Testament, and 11 of those are direct references to God. We have heard the name applied to Jesus so frequently that He is the one we instantly associate with the name—but Jews in the first century would have heard Savior and instantly thought of Jehovah, God. The angel was basically announcing that their God just became a human. And if you’re one of those shepherds, your mind is blown.
  2. This is the same word as Messiah (one Greek, the other Hebrew). It means chosen and anointed. David used the word when explaining why he would not harm King Saul—the Lord’s anointed. In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings were all anointed. And Jesus is all three. But most likely, the understanding the Shepherds would have had is that this is the true Heir of David, the King of kings who will usher in God’s kingdom.12
  3. Reiterating the identity of Jesus, the angel uses a word that most often describes God in the Old Testament. It means master or lord or ruler. It is worth noting that the conclusion of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost is that “God has made this same Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Christ.”13

Here’s Your Sign

This was a lot to take in for those shepherds. It isn’t every day you see the glory of God shining around you in the middle of the night, and hear a heavenly messenger tell you that you get to witness the crux of history and the fulfillment of everything you’ve been waiting for. So it makes sense that he gives them a sign to look for. Go to Bethlehem and find a baby wrapped in cloths and resting in a feeding trough.

Okay, so that seems like a rather odd sign of confirmation. I would think the bright, shining, heavenly light would be a more stunning confirmation of the message. God has come to earth as a human, fulfilling centuries of prophecies, and we’re supposed to look for Him in a… a feeding trough?

But consider this. In addition to showing the humbling nature of Jesus’ descent into humanity (see also Philippians 2:4-8), it is also truly something unique. I mean, think about it. How many times in your life have you ever seen a newborn baby in a real feeding trough? And not a sanitized one, but one that was probably used to feed animals earlier that evening? Normally, you would expect to find a newborn baby, wrapped up, and in a hospital or a house—or maybe an inn if they were away from home.

So while it might seem odd, that makes it that much better as a sign.

A Plethora of Angels

As soon as the angel finishes his message to the stunned shepherds, all at once “a multitude of the heavenly host” show up, “praising God.” The Greek word for multitude here is plethos. As in, plethora. One dictionary says the word can mean fullness or the whole number of something.14 That means it is grammatically possible that it was all the angels. Every. Single. Angel. All appearing at once. Even if it wasn’t every one, it was a bunch of ‘em.

Imagine the shepherds’ reaction. You’re already surrounded by a heavenly glow, talking to an angel, and then BOOM! Instantly thousands of angels appear (are they glowing too?) and begin to praise God in unison. I’d be freaked out. And in awe.

Their praise is: Glory to God in the highest. To praise or glorify is to give honor. The praise shows that all honor goes to God for this magnificent event—that God became flesh and dwelt among us. This is His plan (John 3:16) to save mankind (Romans 1:16-17). The highest is a reference to heaven, above which nothing can exist. No one is higher, more powerful, or equal to God, and there is no power that can control heaven except for Him.

Depending on the translation, the second part of their message can be understood differently. The classic King James Version says “and on earth peace, good will toward men.” If this is the correct rendering, then it means God’s actions are to bring peace and show His kindness and love to all mankind. Theologically, there is nothing wrong with that interpretation. But it might not be what the verse is saying.

Most newer translations render it “peace to those on whom his favor rests” (NIV), “peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (NASB, ESV). These translations seem to indicate that the peace that comes from God is only for a certain group of people—those on whom His favor rests, or with whom He is pleased. And so long as we recognize that God’s favor (grace) only rests on those who obey Him, and that He is only pleased with those who obey Him, this interpretation is biblically sound as well.

Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christians (often with the moniker of “reformed”) take this and claim it teaches the Calvinist doctrine of Unconditional Election—that God chose to save certain people before they were even born—before the world was even created! And they claim it is those pre-chosen individuals who God’s peace and favor rests on, because He chose them to be saved, and chose everyone else to be lost—regardless of their actions here on earth.

The Shepherds Skedaddle (Luke 2:15-20)

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.

The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Let’s Go!

The angels disappeared—quite possibly as suddenly as they had appeared, leaving the shepherds in the dark of night. And they wasted no time saying, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem!” There was no Let’s go see if… as though there was any doubt in their minds. They said Let’s go see this thing the Lord has revealed to us!

So they ran. They hurried. They were excited about this. (How excited are you about Jesus?)

They got into Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the baby. Honestly, it probably wasn’t that hard. Bethlehem wasn’t a huge town. And you’re not looking in the houses, you’re looking where a manger—a feeding trough—was. So you’re pretty much just looking for stables, barns, or small caves where there is probably light (candles, torches, something). I can’t imagine it was all that difficult for them.

Now the Shepherds are the Messengers

As they arrive, they tell Joseph and Mary (and anyone else around) what they saw and heard. And you have to know that they keep looking at the sweet, innocent, newborn baby that is lying in the oddest place—a feeding trough. Joseph and Mary had already had angelic interactions, but they only saw one angel. Imagine their surprise when the shepherds tell them about the multitude of angels appearing all at once.

The people who heard this wondered—they were amazed and contemplated what this all meant. If you’re in that position, and you are told this baby is the Christ, are you going to try to keep tabs on Him? To know how things are progressing? Are you, after several years of continual Roman oppression, going to get frustrated that He hasn’t taken over yet? Are you wishing time would hurry up? Or maybe you’re just not sure what to think, and you never really come to any definite conclusion.

Mary treasured or kept these sayings in her mind and heart. Did she ponder them, seeking a better understanding? Probably. Did she hear these words with pride for the future accomplishments of her Son? Possibly. Did she just keep her feelings to herself, because she knew her Son was not just hers, but was God’s gift to all humanity? Maybe.

The Praising Pastors

These shepherds (same word as “pastors” in Greek) left Bethlehem on cloud nine. They were excited, overjoyed, awed, humbled, thankful to God for blessing them with this incredible gift. I think any one of us would feel the same way if we got to go back in time and see the baby Jesus right after He was born. After all, we know how the story ends, and have a much better understanding of what His life and death meant than the shepherds could ever have imagined.

But notice they were rejoicing and praising God not just for the things they saw—but for the things they heard, the things that were told to them. How often do we hear about what God has done for us through Jesus? How often does hearing that cause in us excitement, joy, humility, thanks, and praise?

What does This Mean for Us Today?

God keeps His word. The first prophecy about Jesus came thousands of years earlier in Genesis 3:15. According to the biblical chronology, that was 4,000 years before Jesus was actually born. God is not slack in regards to His promises. God never forgets His promise. May we always remember that even though we may not see specifically how God is working things out, He is working them out according to His plan.

Jesus was humble. What greater show of humility can there be than for God to leave heaven and take on the form of a human—and not just any human, a poor human, born to a nation subjugated by another, born in a barn, born to poor parents. Jesus went all-in on humility. Remind me again why we think we’re so great?

Jesus is God. In calling Him “Savior” and “Lord,” God’s angelic messenger was making it clear that this baby isn’t a mere human. He is God in the flesh. He is Immanuel—God with us. This is incredibly important, because Jesus said, “Unless you believe that I, I AM, you will die in your

sins” (John 8:24).

1 ESV, KJV, NKJV

2 NASB, NIV, etc.

3 NET Bible Notes on Luke 2:7. E-Sword edition.

4 William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible commentary on Luke 2:7. E-Sword edition.

5 Exodus 39:27-29; Leviticus 6:10.

6 John 19:40.

7 This is suggested by William Hendriksen in Baker’s New Testament Commentary on Luke. E-Sword edition.

8 The mother of Constantine supposedly identified the spot, and a cathedral now sits atop it.

9 Henry Alford, in The Greek Testament: An Exegetical and Critical Commentary (Vol. 1), e-sword edtion, says it took place on April 5, and asserts it is the same date, 33 years later, on which Jesus died.

10 Barclay, Daily Study Bible. E-Sword edition.

11 Vincent’s Word Studies on Luke 2:9. E-Sword edition.

12 Foretold in Daniel 2:44.

13 Acts 2:36.

14 Thayer’s Greek Definitions. E-Sword edition.