Recently, I was asked to make a presentation to the youth at my church. The lesson was about Planning, Organization, and Goals. The presentation was fun, although you never can tell whether the youth really took hold of what we were discussing. I hope they did. What I really want to talk about was something that happened to me while I was preparing for the presentation.
When I was preparing I decided to start with the idea that there are “big goals” and “small goals”, with the big ones our underlying direction we want our lives to go, and the “small goals” are our plan that we can track that help us eventually accomplish our “big goals”. For many years, since 2006, I have set annual goals on my birthday. I track them every week and measure my progress. There are spiritual, financial, personal habits, and parenting goals to name a few. What is interesting to me is that while this ritual has helped me accomplish a lot of great things, I realized that my primary “big goal” has been to make my company successful. It has driven so much of what my goals have been. To be fair, I have set many “small goals” that help me in my spiritual, family, and non business life, but I haven’t really had a “big goal” based on something else with more lasting meaning.
At the same time as I was preparing for the presentation I was drafting my first New Testament lesson so I started really thinking about what I wanted my other “big goal” to be. It was then that I felt a very strong, yet quiet, impression in my mind that it should be Learning to Be a Better Disciple of Christ. I was taken aback when I felt the impression, because on the surface I thought I was already doing that, but simultaneously I knew in my heart that the truth was I needed that direction in my life. It was very inspiring and has been on my mind ever since.
So with that “big goal” in mind I am hoping my study of the New Testament this year will help me see some small things I can do to be a better disciple of Christ and hopefully help others to do that as well. I know our lives, even when things are going wrong, will be better if we are disciples of our Savior. So as we jump into this lesson based on chapter 2 of both Luke and Matthew I hope that you will feel and see ways you can be a better disciple of Jesus Christ, even if they are small.
CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 2 – LUKE 2 MATTHEW 2
– A number of very different kinds people had the Savior’s birth foretold or told to them, and came to worship him at his birth.
– The era Jesus was born into was a time of extreme cruelty and inequality by the ruling families toward the majority of the Jewish people. This cruelty and evil created a number of leadership upheavals in a short period of time, and the expected Messiah was supposed to free them from this situation.
– Even Jesus’ parents, recipients of angelic visitations, protections and his constant companions, had to learn through faith who He was, and what His mission was.
Context and Timeline:
– It is important to understand there were three ruling bodies that really matter when it came to the Jewish people in this era. The first ruling body was the Herodian kings of the Jewish people. King Herod the Great was the ruler from 37 BC until 5/4 BC (roughly around when Jesus was born). When he died the kingdom was split into 4 parts. The two that matter for us were the area of Judea, ruled by Herod Archelaus until 6 AD, and Galilee, ruled by Herod Antipas until 37 AD. Antipas was originally supposed to rule Judea until a dispute over their father’s will was settled by Augustus. Antipas was involved in Judean matters as well at times after Archelaus was exiled in 6 AD. Herod Archelaus was infamous for slaughtering over 3,000 Jews in the temple at the time of his accent, and his cruelty was one of the reasons Augustus selected him over Antipas.
– The next is the Roman government. At the time of Jesus’s birth Augustus was the Emperor of all Roman territories and he ruled from 27 BC until 14 AD. Next was the Governor of Syria (Judea was located in this territory), and at the time of Jesus’ birth Quintilus Varus (not mentioned in the gospels) was the governor of Syria. He began a census at this time and Quirinius (Cyrenius) was the governor in 6 AD when the census was completed. In addition to the governor there was a third ruler, called a prefect, of Judea. Originally this was not the case, but when Archelaus was exiled in 6 AD Augustus believed it would be better to have a Roman ruler in Judea working along with a High Priest that they would select. This arrangement would them both rule over the Jewish subjects and their customs. The first prefects are not mentioned in the New Testament, but Pontius Pilate is a famous prefect we will encounter later.
– The final ruling body is called the Sanhedrin and the ruler of that body was the High Priest. Typically the High Priest was called by the body of the Sanhedrin, but beginning in 6 AD after the removal of Archelaus, the High Priest was actually chosen by the Romans as well and their first chosen was named Annas. He was the patriarch of a very influential family that led the Sanhedrin until 66 AD, including his son-in-law Caiaphas. The role of High Priest during this time was to try and keep the Roman overlords happy, and to rule over the Jewish people and their religion. Having them chosen by Romans, and made rich and powerful created a very deep division among the Sanhedrin and with the Jewish people.
– Jesus and Mary were required to undergo purification rituals after his birth. They are explained in Leviticus 12:2-8, but essentially the male baby waits 7 days and then is brought to the temple to be circumcised and given a name. Mary must wait 33 days and then bring an offering to the temple to cleanse her and atone for her. The fact that birds were used, indicates that Mary and Joseph were likely more poor than many at that time as the preferred method was a lamb and a dove or pigeon, whereas Mary only brings two birds.
– The magi who come from the east were likely gentiles and although the KJV talks of a star to the east, it is likely translated as the “rising star.” Historically Magi were Zoroastrian priests or adherents.
This story is a familiar one, but having both chapters to tell the story is nice in this instance because we get so much more context and details. I will attempt to combine the two accounts the best I can and hopefully it gives us a better picture of what is happening.
The story likely begins 2 years before Jesus’ birth when the Magi are inspired to follow a sign in the sky toward Judea to see the newborn King of the Jews. They at some point begin their journey to the west. In the meantime, Augustus calls for a census to be conducted and this meant that each family must go to the city of their family to be counted. Joseph was apparently required to go to the City of David (his family), which was Bethlehem and so they began their journey there, even though Mary was very pregnant at the time. So we have the Magi making their journey and the expectant parents making theirs.
The Magi arrive at the Palace of Herod and inquire as to the location of the newborn King of the Jews. Herod becomes very concerned and asks his scribes where the Messiah would be born and they tell him Bethlehem. Herod becomes even more concerned, because as mentioned last week, the Jews believed the Messiah would be an economic, political, and military savior probably more than a salvation type Savior. Herod is intent on retaining his Kingdom so He informs the Magi of the location and asks them to inform him when they locate him so he can worship as well, even though his plan is to remove the newborn king. The Magi set out on their journey to Bethlehem.
Likely sometime before that, Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem, and even though it is Joseph’s family city, they likely did not know anyone there. When Jesus was born, the only place they could find to stay and recuperate was in a manger, or stalls where animals were kept. Nearby angelic hosts visit shepherds and tell them of the arrival of the Messiah and they come to see the baby. They also start telling people in town, who also come to see the baby. I can’t imagine what is going on in Mary’s mind, but Luke says she treasured all these things and pondered in her heart. Sometime after that the Magi arrive bringing gifts to worship Jesus and having been warned in a dream they return to their homeland a different way to avoid Herod on their return.
Eight days later Jesus is circumcised and given his name, and then a month or so later Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem, as is custom, and there they encounter Simeon. Simeon had been told by the spirit that he would not die until he saw the Messiah with is own eyes. When he sees Jesus he praises God and testifies to Mary that Jesus is the Messiah. Anna, a prophetess, who never leaves her work at the temple sees the child and also begins to praise God at the coming of the Messiah.
At some point in the next two years Joseph is warned to take Jesus into Egypt because Herod has waited long enough for the return of the Magi and has decided, since he isn’t sure the exact birth date, to kill all children 2 and under in the area where Jesus was likely to have been born. Herod eventually dies and Joseph is told he can return. He decides not to return to Judea, as Archelaus is the leader and greatly feared, and instead goes to live in Galilee.
The story finishes with the only small bit of information we have about Jesus’s life as a youth. Mary and Joseph lose Jesus during the Passover festivities and after searching for three days they find him in the temple asking questions and listening to the teachers. The teachers there were amazed at his understanding and Mary and Joseph are amazed he is there to begin with and even more so at what he is doing. We also get the famous quote from Jesus that is best translated, “Why did you search for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Joseph and Mary do not understand what he means at this time, showing their somewhat lack of knowing who Jesus really was, and we finish with another statement of Mary keeping these sayings in her heart.
There are many different people who are involved in this story: Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Magi, Herod, Simeon, Anna, and the people of Bethlehem. How did they learn about the Savior? What were their actions as a result? How were they all different in status and station? How were they similar? What does this tell us about us and how we can come to know the Savior, or how we can be a disciple?
How do you think Mary and Joseph looked at all of these small events and miracles that happened during this time? Why is it important that Mary, treasured in her heart these experiences? Does it seem like these experience made more sense and mattered more to her much later in Jesus’s life?
Doesn’t it seem like Mary has to be the source for Luke’s gospel?
What do you think it felt like to be Mary and Joseph not only at Jesus’s birth, and as they fled to Egypt and back, but watching Him grow up, especially considering they likely thought him the future military, and political savior of his people, yet he was heading to the temple to learn doctrine and to teach those older than him? To me it feels like they weren’t sure what was happening, but trusted God and more things made sense to them later in Jesus’s life? What do you think? How does this impact our journey of faith?
Key Moment or Scripture: Luke 2:8-14
This is more than the key moment in the chapters, this is one of the key moments in history.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
I can only imagine this scene and the overwhelming emotions these humble and worn out shepherds must have felt. The scene in heaven, with this heavenly host who is shouting praises and singing Glory to God, is incredible. What joy they must have felt, but also what joy Mary and Joseph must have felt. I am certain Mary was flooded with feelings and thoughts that impacted her throughout her life.
With it being a few weeks since Christmas it is easy to glance over these chapters and their events as something we have already thought about and celebrated. However, I think it is important that we keep Christ and His life, His love, His mercy and grace toward us, and His sacrifice for us in our hearts. We must follow Mary’s example and treasure up not only the “big” things of Jesus, but the “small” and little experiences we each have where we feel Christ in our lives. It is the small things that probably mattered most to Mary as she treasured them in her heart, and it is the small things that can matter most to us if we do the same in our efforts to become better disciples of Christ.