Hey Josh Hawkins here, this is episode 23 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 21 and 22, we looked at Luke chapter 2 and talked about the shepherds in the fields just outside of Bethlehem. There was the appearance of the angel, and then a multitude of the heavenly armies, and finally their visit to the cave where Jesus was born. We talked about how the lowliest of Israel's society were the first ones that beheld the future, final king of Israel and God in the flesh. What was it like for them that night after they returned to the fields? What about the next day? How was their story received by those they told it to? It seems like it wasn't enthusiastically received by everyone. If word got to the Jewish authorities, which undoubtedly it did at some point, it seems like many of them had just brushed it off. I can hear it now: "Ok, so you mean to tell me, God announced the birth of our King to YOU, a bunch of shepherds? He's the Lord? Are you serious? Don't you think he'd tell something that significant to the priests in the temple or maybe even to Herod?" Like I said, God didn't do it that way, and this just speaks volumes about what Jesus is like. It's so utterly different from the way we would do things. Now Mary, after everything that had happened to her all the way back to Gabriel's visitation 9 months ago, totally could have just flipped out and said "ok, that's enough... this is just too crazy... I just want this to be normal." But she didn't. Luke tells us that she treasured up everything and pondered it in her heart. God had truly picked a special woman to birth His son.
Today I want to continue in Luke 2 and talk about the early days of Jesus' life. It's pretty easy to just jump right from His birth to the beginning of His ministry because the Gospels give a relatively small chunk of verses about His infancy. But there's so much to marvel at. Let's start today in Luke 2 verse 21:
“And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb."
So here we are, picking up the story 8 days after Jesus was born. But wait - let's not rush too quickly here. Think about it. Jesus was 1 day old. 2 days old. 4 days old. What were these days like for Mary and Joseph? Remember, they're still in Bethlehem, they're not back in Nazareth at this point. Their only significant guests according to the Scriptures have been shepherds thus far - the Magi have not visited them yet... Did anyone in the town or any of the pilgrims there for the census get to see Jesus and hold Him? Did anyone take them in? What was it like for God in the flesh's eyes to look around seemingly dumbfounded by His surroundings? You know what I mean - like when young babies are just looking around and can't even focus on you or smile at you yet. What was it like for the one who formed the worlds by His word to now be unable to say anything at all and just cry? The same one who gives life and breath to every living thing now has to rely on his mother for care and nourishment. Not just for the night of his birth, not just for the first week... For years. We could say so much more, but I'll leave that to your personal meditation and your own conversation with the Lord.
According to the Old Testament every male who was a descendant of Abraham was to be circumcised eight days after they were born. We see that in Genesis 17, Genesis 21, and Leviticus 12. In the verse we just looked at and in the next few verses that we'll look at in a little bit, Luke is highlighting the fact that Mary and Joseph were pious, law-abiding Jews. But there's more. Jesus' circumcision is purposefully identifying Him with His Jewish brethren, the nation of Israel. As Paul would say later in Galatians 4:4, Jesus was born under the law, the covenant that God made with the nation of Israel. But again, there's more - and it has so much to do with the Old Testament. What else is new, right? We can't forget what the whole purpose of circumcision was. I'll talk about it more in a future episode, but I want to introduce the idea here that this is very significant to understand in the story of Israel and therefore the story of the Gospels. If you remember, the rite of circumcision goes all the way back to Abraham, because God had made a covenant with Him that included very specific promises. The three main chapters on the Abrahamic covenant are Genesis 12, Genesis 15 and Genesis 17. I don't have time to develop them all here, but here's a few bullet points to remind you:
God had promised Abraham that He would:
- Give him a male descendant (Genesis 15:4)
- "Bless" all the nations of the earth through his descendant (Genesis 12:2-3)
- Give him a very, very large family (Genesis 15:5)
- Give him great political power and great wealth, thus becoming a "great nation" (Genesis 12:2)
- Give to him and his descendants the land of Caanan as a possession forever (Genesis 12:5,7)
So circumcision is first given in Genesis 17 as a sign of this covenant. In other words, if you were to take two people from Abraham's day and wanted to figure out who would actually be a member of Abraham's family line versus who wasn't, circumcision would be the sign. The one who was circumcised was part of Abraham's family and would inherit the "blessing" that God had promised. We'll develop this idea of "blessing" more fully in another context, but it's important for you to to understand that it does not mean comfortable circumstances, a lot of money, or even forgiveness of sins and it has so much to do with the "curse" in Genesis 3. Think "bless" and "curse", and what now happens to every single human being after God "cursed" Adam in the garden. Maybe that will give you a little hint. We'll get to this in a few episodes.
Well, Mary and Joseph circumcised their child on the eighth day and named Him Jesus, the same name that the angel had given them while He was still in the womb. You can go back and watch episode 13 and 16 where I develop the significance of His name a little bit. Now in Jewish culture, the 8th day following a child's birth was typically a day of celebration. But remember, Mary and Joseph are still in Bethlehem. We don't know who else might have been there - they probably were not surrounded by their family and friends and were more or less alone to some degree. If this is true, it again speaks volumes about what God is like. But again, scripture is just silent, offering such a brief summary.
Let's keep going in Luke 2:
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first 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.””
(Luke 2:21–24 ESV)
Here we see Mary and Joseph journeying from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Bethlehem is only about 5 miles from Jerusalem, so this wouldn't have been a very difficult trip for them at all. Jesus is a little over a month old at this point as they make this journey.
How do we know that? According to the Law in Leviticus 12:1-8, the mother of a male child was unclean for seven days and then was to be confined for 33 days before journeying to the temple in Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice. This is what Luke is referring to here in verse 21. The law prescribed a lamb and a turtledove for the sacrifice, but if the mother couldn't afford a lamb, then her sacrifice would be two turtledoves or two pigeons. If we look back in verse 24, Luke says that Mary and Joseph offered the offering of the poor - the pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons", presumably because they couldn't afford a lamb. Though Joseph was a carpenter by trade, it seems like his line of work did not give him a position among the wealthy of society. Again, this is just saying so much about what God is like.
The law also said that every male child that was born in Israel had to be presented before the Lord. And even though presentation didn't have to take place in the Temple but only before a priest somewhere in Israel, it made sense for them to go to Jerusalem for both the rite of purification and for the presentation before a priest because they were only about 5 miles from Jerusalem. This rite of consecrating the firstborn son goes back to the days of Israel's exodus, where the Lord spoke to Moses:
“The LORD said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine ... Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.”
(Exodus 13:1–2, 13 ESV)
This rite of dedication also brings to mind 1 Samuel 1 and 2 where Samuel was presented before the Lord when he was young.
“But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the LORD and dwell there forever.” Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the LORD establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him. And when she had weaned him ... and she brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. And the child was young.”
(1 Samuel 1:22–24 ESV)
Remember back in Episode 22 and the supplemental episode how Samuel and his mother Hannah are significant to understanding what "Messiah" or "Christ" means? This presentation of the baby Jesus before the Lord here should remind us of Samuel and the story of the kings or the Messiahs in Israel. This is going to become even clearer in the next episode when we look at Simeon and Anna.
Well Here's a few points for meditation this week:
1) Ponder the week after Jesus' birth before the 8th day where he was circumcised. How much did Mary and Joseph reflect on the past 9 months?
2) What was the brief journey to Jerusalem like? Could it have been the first time Jesus had been out of the house since he was born?
3) Think about the poverty of the young family and what it tells us about what God is like. Did Joseph find work in Bethlehem? How did he continue to support his young family after they had relocated?
Well in the next episode, we'll look at Simeon and Anna in the temple in Luke 2. If you haven't had the chance to watch the supplemental video to Episode 22, I'd encourage you to go back and watch it. It's entitled "Biblical Foundations of Messiah and Christ", and you'll find it plus all of the other episodes on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. Well, see you next time, God bless.