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Luke 2:1-39

It is not at all unexpected, really, but it still surprises some Christians. Talk to people about what a wonderful church you have, and you will get a polite smile. Tell them what a genius your Bible teacher is, and they’ll have an even more polite smile – and a burning desire to talk about sports. But talk about Jesus – that’s different. It seems that no one ever was lukewarm or polite about Jesus. Intense curiosity, hatred, a desire to see his name eliminated from the language - all these are normal reactions to Jesus, the Christ.

In this passage we shall see the first reactions to Jesus, while still an infant. These reactions have lessons for us today; lessons from those who hear about Jesus; from those who know about God; from those who love him.

Reaction: those who hear

Consider, first, the shepherds.

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 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." When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us 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.

(Luk 2:1-20 NASB)

Angels, it seems, are usually sent in disguise but occasionally in full uniform, whatever that might be. The reaction of the typical person is quite simple: they’re scared half to death. It’s a reaction that’s easy to understand:

  • Most of us have sense enough to know we’re sinners. Not perfect, and not anxious to be reminded of that fact.
  • So when the angels appear, and we are reminded of the existence of the holy and sovereign God, we know we’re in trouble.
  • But, as the angel says here, “Do not be afraid.” Why? Because the angel has come to announce good news – to sinners, of all people.

And what is this good news? We forget that the word “gospel” means just that:

  • We have been given a savior – one who can deal with our sins as we cannot.
  • He is the Christ – the long awaited Messiah. God now fulfills his promises which date back millennia.
  • He is also Lord – one with power over all things, and therefore we should expect great and wondrous things.

One might also notice something about the angels that is a surprise to most: practical instruction. The angel takes no time to explain; he simply announces and then tells them how to identify the baby. Having done that, the rest of the incident consists of giving glory to God, which is evidently the chief function of the angels.

In a hurry

It’s worth noting that the shepherds did not amble into Bethlehem, nor did they hold a planning meeting on what to do with the sheep. They hurried. Straight to Bethlehem. It is no accident that Satan tells the world to be cautious, go slowly in anything resembling righteousness – but of course “go for the gusto” in anything sinful. It sometimes surprises people just how challenging the Christian life is. It has an immediate, “right now” quality to it that is best seen from the inside.

They hurried – and they found what was promised. Isn’t it amazing? When we go into something with a half-hearted, who cares attitude, we’re not disappointed when it turns out to be bland and boring. But if we hurry to do the things of God, how much difference do we see! Those who take God at his word – completely – find what he promises is not only true; it’s a challenge and adventure.

Sharing the news

Those who genuinely hear the word of God react in a very predicable way: they want to tell everyone else about it. We seem to have the feeling that we can talk about it only after years of deep study and meditation, much experience and prayer. It is not so. The reason is simple: the good news is not from us, but from God. The shepherds acknowledged that, and therefore were unafraid to speak.

Two other things are shown here which we should expect:

  • People are going to marvel at what we say. Expect it. It’s God’s good news; they weren’t expecting it.
  • Just because we’ve heard the news does not mean that we suddenly all become street corner preachers. These men went back to their sheep. God comes to us where we live, and usually he expects us to stay there and work for him.

Reaction: those who know see his promise fulfilled

And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD"), and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS." And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, "Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel." And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed-- and a sword will pierce even your own soul--to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

(Luk 2:21-38 NASB)

Knowing God

Simeon has been given a promise: he will not die until he sees the Lord’s Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. What kind of man receives such a blessing?

  • He was a righteous man – it is the pure in heart who see God.
  • He was a devout (God-fearing) man – one who believed that God can and does act in accordance with his word.
  • He was a man who believed what he was told. If God said it, then it would happen.

Happy is the man in whom the Lord reposes such trust.


A man of such character is listened to, and he therefore begins his testimony to the crowd around him.

  • He tells them that the fulfillment of the promise made to him has now arrived. He can die in peace, departing this world fulfilled.
  • He tells them what this baby means – salvation. Salvation prepared by God for all the people of the world.
  • He tells them of what has been shown to him: that this baby will become a light to the Gentile world and be the glory of Israel.

But his message to the parents is deep and troubling; it is his to warn them of what will come. His words would seem both good and bad to Mary:

  • He will cause the “fall and rise” of many in Israel. His coming will upset the entire social order of the world, not just in Israel. When Christ touches a man, one thing is certain – that man is changed.
  • He will become a “sign spoken against” – no one will be lukewarm towards him; those who hear of him will love him or hate him.
  • His life and words will expose the thought of many. Those who love righteousness will be drawn to his light; those who love evil will curse it.

It is to Mary, however, that the bitterest of prophecies is made: He will pierce her very soul with a sword. She will see her first born son, the one she loves, the one so special, nailed to a Cross – and be executed as a common criminal.

Not a solo flight

It is a great consolation to those who study the word of God – we are not alone. Many others have spent the hours in the word, delighting themselves and then writing down what God has revealed to them. The life of learning in Christ is not a solo flight. We see that in Anna.

Remember, please, this is a time when women were to be silent. Anna would not normally be one to speak out. (Think how little Mary says in the Gospels.) But her role has not prevented her preparation; she fasts, she prays – she lives the devotional life, her heart set on God. So when the time came, she was ready.

What does the ready soul do when it encounters Christ? Action!

  • She gave thanks; God gives good things, we should be thankful.
  • She tells others about the good news.

We know no more about Anna than this; but that is sufficient.

Mary’s reaction

We have left this to last, for of all those who saw Jesus on this day she is the one most deeply affected. Luke gives us very little to go on, but that little is sufficient for those who love Jesus, as Mary surely did. Here, then, is what the lover of Christ, who is the lover of our souls, did:

But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.

(Luk 2:19 NASB)


The word in the Greek used here is variously translated; “kept,” “remembered,” “treasured,” “continued to treasure.” The meaning is clear; she kept these memories, safeguarding them over the years as Jesus grew up.

Some of us have poor memories of the past; often that is because the past seems so cruel. But the past, especially the blessings of the past, has its uses in the present:

  • The past can be a guide. We often learn from our mistakes (though evidently not often enough); do we consider our past as a lesson given by the blessing of God?
  • The past can be a solace. We can remember the times when God came to us in our griefs and fears, and take comfort that he has not changed.
  • The past can be our assurance. He cared for us then; he will care for us now. He told us that he prepares a place for us; anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.

Again, the word is variously translated. It is “meditate,” “ponder,” “gave much thought,” “thought deeply,” “wondered about,” “dwelling on,” “holding them dear.” Often we hear that God wants our hearts; some conclude that the intellect should be left at the church door. It is not so; indeed, the past is source material for the intellect, and we should use it as such.

We must remember the pitfalls in this if we are to understand the reason for this word, “ponder.” Left to ourselves, with no desire to think on the past, we will soon construct our own, favorable version of our history. The past becomes rosy, or a place of triumph remembered – anything but real. But if the intellect is to perform its function we must be honest; the intellectual life is the life examined. Mary pondered “all these things” – not just the ones she liked.

In her heart

The Greek is kardia, which means heart. The presumed seat of the emotions, it is here to remind us that intellectual assent is not sufficient; we must translate our thoughts into action. To do so we must train our emotions properly, producing the right response. Are we convicted of our sin? We should learn to weep and repent. Has God been especially good to us? We should learn to rejoice and give thanks. Combining the emotions with the thoughts helps build the will in the soul.

Sometimes we deny it, but there is usually a right emotional response to any given situation. If some punk is burning Old Glory, it is right to react in righteous anger. The right response to God’s discipline is training in the way of God.

The Challenge

May I pose you these three question?

  • When you meet Jesus, what do you do? When suddenly he appears in your life, are you like the shepherds?
    • Do you give glory to God?
    • Do you act upon what you find?
    • Do you tell others?
  • When God fulfills his promises to you, what do you do? Are you ready to do what he wants you to do?
    • Are you ready to testify for Him?
    • Are you ready to speak to one and all, friend or stranger?
    • Are you ready to rejoice with those who are likewise blessed?
  • If you are one who loves Jesus deeply,
    • Do you treasure his love?
    • Do you ponder his words?
    • Do you prepare your heart for his coming?

In these little matters we might find a guide even for today.

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