If you read all the chapters on the schedule, you will have read the entire New Testament by the time we finish. Last week Diane brought us to the birth of Jesus Christ. Assume you know the story, could probably recite it by heart from Luke 2, Matthew 2 : Bethlehem, the Star, the Angel, the Shepherds, the Magi, the flight to Egypt, the slaughter of the innocents.
And then the childhood, and early adult life of Jesus.
So with wonder and awe at the most important thing that ever happened on this planet – the birth into mortality, and the life and eventual death of the Son of God – let’s dive in.
Ceasar Augustus was a “capable, energetic ruler” who ruled from 31 B.C. to A.D. 14. His reign was marked by order and law, and financial reform. In 1 B.C. he ordered a general “taxing” of the Roman Empire. It was actually a registering of persons, a census of Roman subjects as a basis to tax different peoples. Usually, it was done at the town of residence, but Jewish custom, for which the Roman’s had respect, was to register at their ancestral and tribal homes. (Jesus the Christ, 91-92).
Mary is nine months pregnant. They are in Nazareth, the region of Galilee, in the North, and had to go south 80-90 miles to Bethlehem, in Judea. MAP.
About Bethlehem: PROPHECIES There were three prophecies that declared from where the Messiah would come and Matthew quotes all three: Micah 5:2 “But thou, Beth-lehem…though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel…” (Matthew 2:5-6 – quotes Micah loosely – “…for thus it is written…” Hosea 11:1 “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” (nation of Israel, but also Jesus). (Matthew 2:15 – quotes Isaiah – “…that it might be fulfilled…” Isaiah 9:1 More obtusely in – “…in Galilee of the nations.” (Matthew 2:23 – “…fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”) More direct prophecy lost.
All 3 turned out to be correct. To Matthew this proved the sovereignty of Christ.
ROYAL Bethlehem was rich in tradition, was the beginning of the royal stream. David: 1 Samuel 16: 11 “the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep…” 16:18: “…a son of Jesse the Beth-lehemite…” Ruth: Here that Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz.
How fitting that Christ said he was the bread of life. Satan tempts Christ to command that the stones be made into bread: (Matthew 4:4)
“But he answered and said, It is written, “Man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Quoting Deut. 8:3, God talking about giving Israel manna in the wilderness.
‘Inn’ the English translation for what was really a “caravansary” or “khan.”
“A khan is a low structure, built of rough stones, and generally only a single story in height. It consists for the most part of a square enclosure, in which the cattle can be tied up in safety for the night, and an arched recess for the accommodation of travellers. The ‘leewan,’ or paved floor of the recess, is raised a foot or two above the level of the courtyard.” Farrar, 33.
Christ’s birth in a cave is a very ancient tradition – written of as early as A.D. 150. Animals would have been in the back, the travelers in the front.
If the leewan was occupied, a traveler would have to go to the courtyard with the animals- filthy, smelly, hot, crowded, pariah dogs. You can imagine.
Was here that Mary delivered Jesus. And the shepherds came, having been told by an angel, probably Gabriel, “good tidings of great joy.” Mosiah 3:3 (angel to King Benjamin) “I am come to declare you unto the glad tidings of great joy.” What were the good and glad tidings? Mosiah 3:3-8 …” tabernacle of clay, miracles, called Jesus Christ…”
And then a multitude, a MULTITUDE praised God and said: (Luke 2:14)”Glory to God in the highest…”
The shepherds looked at the wonder and glory with a “startled awareness” – of this life and what they were seeing.
If this is, as we believe, the reality, that the Son of God was born to a mortal. Why would God have him born and raised in poverty and humility, in a despised, insignificant town, a few miles from a golden palace, to humble people, not rabbis or scribes, who worked in manual toil. And for 30 years be unnoticed and unknown, no miracles, no chorus of Hallelujas to announce his ministry?
1- The INN “a fitting birthplace for Him who came to reveal that the soul of the greatest monarch was no dearer or greater in God’s sight that the soul of the meanest slave.” (Farrar, 39).
2- The ‘INN’ is an “eternal parable” for the human soul – why WAS there, why IS there, no room in the inn for the Christ child? “Because other guests got there first.” (IB, 51.) Because we fill up our souls, not with the ‘bread of life’ but with so much that is meaningless.
3- He was born in the place he was born to tell us something: God is an intimate God. He is very near. He came not in some rare place, to those who were perfect, but to ordinary people. He came to a lowly place in the commonest environment. “I came to dwell with you.” Emmanuel (God with us.)
Obviously, to Him it doesn’t matter what we posses, but who we try to be. . Certainly his birth was a foretaste of his future life – despised, rejected of men, with no place to lay his head.
As long as we are pausing. A brief comment on the Angel Gabriel. Luke 1:19 “…I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee…” Luke 1:26 “And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin…” Luke2:10 “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord…”
Only two angels are named in the scriptures: Gabriel – “man of God,” “mighty man of God,” “the hero of God.” Michael – “who is like God?” In the Aprocrypha: Raphael – “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand in attendance on the Lord and enter his glorious presence.” Tobit 12:15 Uriel
Gabriel one of the seven archangels who stand in the presence of God. The seven “spirits” in Revelation. Apocrypha: Those books outside the Hebrew canon. Many written in Hebrew. 27 in the Septuagint – the Greek version of the Old Testament made for the Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt. D&C 91:1-5 “many things in..are true, mostly translated correctly, many not true, whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom.”
Joseph Smith said Gabriel was Noah, next in authority to Adam in Priesthood, father of all living in this day. He held the keys on earth, then in heaven. (Teachings, 157).
Daniel 7 Daniel has a dream/vision. Daniel 8 Daniel has a second vision. Daniel 8:15 a voice tells Gabriel to “make this man (Daniel) to understand the vision.” Daniel 8:16 Daniel is passed out on the ground. Gabriel touches him, sets him upright. Daniel 9:21 Daniel in prayer supplication for Israel for mercy. “Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel… being caused to fly swiftly, touched me…” Daniel 9:22-23 “And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to show thee; for thou art greatly beloved…”
Many fascinating things: –Touch (talk about another time) -Wants Daniel on his feet. -“the commandment came forth…” -caused to fly there swiftly Last thing is this: Angels observe us. “…for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.” 1Cor 4:9.
There is nothing about them in any other 1st Century Christian writing. Only mention is in Matthew. Great speculation as to who they were. Reference to them in Jeremiah 39:3, Daniel 2:48 (Daniel made chief of them because of his skill in interpreting dreams.) Greek word used by Matthew, translated as wise men in KJV, is ‘magoi,’ rendered in English as ‘magi.’ Magi seem to have been Medes, and priests, who had survived the takeover of Babylon by Persia (550 B.C.) Later, the word refers to the Zoroastrian priestly caste.
They studied the secrets of nature, divination, astrology, and medicine.
Synagogues existed throughout the East. The Magi were obviously familiar with Jewish beliefs and expectations that the appearance of the Messiah was imminent and also the belief of signs in the heavens at the birth of great men. And the more definite expectation at the time by the Jews that two years before the birth of the Messiah, His star would appear in the East. (Dummelow, 627).
The magi believed that a star could be the ‘fravash’ (counterpart or angel) of a great man. Matthew 2:2 “…for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”
From Jewish tradition,written in a smaller midrash: “the star shall shine forth from the East, and this is the Star of the Messiah.” (Studies in Scripture, 149.)
Numbers 24:17 “…there shall come a star out of Jacob.”
From Josephus: There prevailed throughout the entire East at this time an intense conviction, derived from ancient prophecies, that ere long a powerful monarch would arise in Judea and gain dominion over the world.” (Farrar, 51.) Where IS the star mentioned: Helaman 14:5 Samuel – “a new star arise…a sign.” 3 Nephi 1:21 a new star appears
It was a dark time for the House of Israel, preceding Christ’s birth, as we talked about last week.
Rabban Simeon, the son of Gamaliel (teacher of St. Paul): “The dew of blessing falls not on us, and our fruits have no taste.”
Niebuhr said it was an age which was “effete with the drunkenness of crime.” (Farrar, 51). (American theologian, died 1970) In a gold sarcophagus, studded with jewels, in the Cathedral of Cologne (12 B.C.), are the relics of the Three Wisemen – their skulls, each circled with its crown of jeweled gold, and their clothing. (I Googled it.)
The wise men never go back to Herod. Herod a cunning, cruel man, afraid of the prophecies. Had already murdered his sons, his wife he loved, almost the entire Sanhedrin, many others. Josephus: “Safer to be Herod’s pig than his son.” (He couldn’t eat pigs.)
Joseph warned in a dream to flee to Egypt. (Matthew 2:13-14) (Not in Luke). Egypt could be reached in three days. It then included the Sinai Penninsula. Under Roman rule, not Herod’s.
Herod orders all the children under two years of age in Bethlehem and its ‘coasts’ to be slain. (Matthew 2:16) Probably about 20 children. Called the “Slaughter of the Innocents.”
Matthew then quotes Jeremiah: (Jeremiah 31:15) Matthew 2:18 “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” Jeremiah 31:15: “refused to be comforted because they were not.”
Ramah is an Ephraimite town, 8 miles north from Jerusalem. Rachel, wife of Isaac, buried at Ramah. When Jerusalem was captured by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, trains of Jewish captives were led by Rachel’s tomb. Jeremiah has Rachel weeping for them. Matthew applies Jeremiah’s words to the ‘slaughter of the innocents.’
For Jeremiah, Ramah was our world. The cry heard in Ramah is the voice of the world weeping. And it is also a type for God weeping over his children. WHAT IS MATTHEW DOING HERE WHAT IS HE HINTING AT?
WORDWORTH: “…the burden of the mystery…of all this unintelligible world.” (“Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.”
No logic can explain the slaughter by Herod. There is no comfort for some losses. Some say that sorrow purifies and refines your life. But: “for sorrow, in itself and unredeemed, is not purification, but death.” (Int. Bible, 261).
The only way to resolve such unmitigated pain: to know that God lives, and that he Abides, “a truth no Herod can destroy.” (Int. Bible, 2)61.
Paul says: “Who shall separate us…” Romans 8:35 Romans 8:38-39 “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Whenever I read these words of Jeremiah, though, I feel a strength in just the expression of sorrow, and relief that they are here.
But they cannot go back to Bethlehem. Judea is not safe. Herod’s son Archelaus is in power and Archelaus’s brutality is soon apparent. He is removed by the Romans after 6 years and banished. Procurators brought in and ruled from them on, except in the time of Herod Agrippa. (who had James, brother of John killed, and imprisoned Peter.)
Joseph and Mary go to Nazareth.
Luke 2:21 Jesus given a name, and circumcised – an outward sign of the covenant God made with his people: Gen. 17:7 “to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” Pointed to circumcision of the heart. His name in Hebrew was Yeshua, literally ‘Jehovah is salvation,’ the name given by Gabriel. (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:31.)
Mary, obedient to the Law of Moses, then waits through a 40 day period of purification (Leviticus 12,) after which they take the baby Jesus to Jerusalem for the sacrifices required for a male that opens the womb.
Simeon only appears here. No one really knows who he was. Perhaps Matthew records the incident because of the tragic prophecy he makes to Mary, and because of his beautiful hymn.
The hymn, Luke 2:29-32, is called the ‘Nunc Dimittis,‘ and has been used in the evening service of the Christian churches since the 4th or 5th century. Notice that it expressly includes the Gentiles.
Simeon’s prophecy in Luke 2:34-35. “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also…”
We have really only two verses and one incident about the childhood of Jesus. They are both in Luke.
The incident, of course, is Jesus, at twelve, in the Temple.
But let’s go first to Luke 2:40 “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.”
This is a verse encapsulating his childhood, and all that we have until he is twelve. In the pre-mortal world, Jesus was as “one like unto God,” (Abr. 3:24) and “more intelligent than they all,” (Abr. 3:19). But , as Joseph Fielding Smith said, Jesus came into the world like the rest of us and had forgotten everything. (Life and Teachings, 24).
Isaiah 53:2 “For he shall grow up…as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground…” Phil. 2:7 “…made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.”
In other words, he was very much like the children of his time. He grew up in a pious home, with the scriptures being what he breathed. The first thing he would have learned when he began to talk would have been the ‘Shema’ – “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one God…” (Deut 5:4-6). Mark 12:29 He would have learned hymns from the Psalms, and begun his Torah education at 5, beginning with Leviticus.
Although he had brothers (4) and sisters, and although he no doubt would have known his cousin, John, only 6 months older, we have to think he would have been alone a lot – in solitude “the audience chamber of God.” (Farrar, 100).
You can imagine his house, white, with doves on the roof, colorful rugs, water-jars of red clay near the door, vines growing. Simple food. Not much.
Farrar gives a beautiful description, saying he would have grown up in the quiet, obscure and insignificant town of Nazareth, in utter stillness, prayerfulness, and the quiet round of living – like Moses in the Wilderness, David with his sheep, Elijah among the tents of the Bedoun, Jeremiah in Anathoth. (Farrar, 73).
But of course, that is where we all are. Where “myriads of the beloved of God are to be found, among the insignificant and obscure.” (Farrar, 89). “Our real existence in the sight of God is in our inner life and not in the outer life.” (Farrar, 88). In the quality of our soul.
And so, in Galilee, God placed his Son, the place he chose to be a training school for the Savior of the world. The place where the rabbis say to Nicodemus : “…for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” (John 7:41,52)
But here the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom.
One Rabbinical writing said that up to twelve years, a boy only possessed the ‘nephesh’ or animal life, but after twelve began to acquire the ‘ruach’ or spirit, which if his life were virtuous., would develop at 20 into the ‘nishema,’ or reasonable soul. (Farrar, 77-78).
So at 12 he would be old enough to accompany his parents to the Holy City for the feast of the Passover. And also to two other feasts: Pentecost – 50 days later, and the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall. (Passover in 2013 – March 25-April2) Luke 2:42-51 They would have traveled in Caravans, and there would have been tens of thousands of people.
You know the story. His parents leave for home and discover him missing, and after 3 days – 3 days! (only one day to travel back) they find him in the Temple “both hearing them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46)
(Among those famous men that were possible present: the great Hillel, called a second Moses; his grandson Gamaliel, the teacher of Paul; Annas, refined and liberal and his future judge;the wealthy Joseph of Arimathaea; the timid but earnest Nicodemus, and Caiaphas. (Dummelow, 744, Farrar, 83).
He wasn’t teaching them, he was asking questions and listening. But you can see, he is already what he would become – full of wisdom, intelligence and light. And he obviously knew. He knew who he was by now, for he says to his mother: Luke 2:49 “…How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?
(Jesus’ first recorded words.)
A better translations for ‘about my Father’s business’ is ‘in my Father’s house.’ “wist ye not that I must be in my Father’s house.”
He knew who his real father was.
Luke 2:50 They didn’t understand the words he said to them. In other words, he was surprised not that they came back for him, but that they didn’t know where to find him.
Of the next 18 years, before he began his ministry, at 30 (as John did) (Numbers 4:3,4) we really only have one word: Mark 6:3 “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…” (Joseph dead). He was a carpenter.
And we have the final verse in Luke 2:52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN, TO BE IN FAVOUR WITH MAN? (we could talk about stature and wisdom)
Remember it says “the common people heard him gladly.” (Mark 12:37)
Talk about this a lot later in the gospels, but this is something he must have learned in his youth.
People were drawn to him. When his enemies wanted to slander him, they did it by exaggerating his zest for life (“a man gluttonous and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.” Matt 11:19). Although I think everything he did was purposeful).
Jesus wasn’t an aloof ascetic. He liked familiar contacts with people. He liked sitting down to eat with them. So often in the Gospels we read of him going to this home or that house to eat.
For him, the life of the spirit, the spiritual life included the “bright enjoyment of this world.”
I read this: “All life ought to be baptized into a larger meaning.” (Int. Bible, Luke 69).
Of all people, he was awake to the wonder and awe of everything around him. Of all people, he knew something fearful was coming, but retained his joy , (but increasingly layered with anger at dishonesty and corruption).
Luke 2:52 “And Jesus increased…” HE GREW.
HOW DO WE INCREASE? HOW DO WE GROW?
Joseph Smith said we grow “from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace…” (Teachings, 346-47).
D&C 93:12-13 “And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but continued from grace to grace…until he received a fulness.”
In Luke 2:40 “And the child grew…” These words in Greek imply a course of growth in wisdom, not implying a finished or permanent result. (Farrar 78).
We are all works in progress. RACHEL REMEN says “Human being” is more a verb than a noun. (Kitchen Table, 223).
We can’t judge something until it is finished.
Jesus was sinless, but he was tempted and had to make choices. He was tempted so that he could “succor them that are tempted.” Hebrews 2:18.
DALLIN OAKS: Christ came to the holy, the humble and the very wise.
Read this once before,from Jane Wise, but here it is again:
“Once a Savior is born in the world, you can’t cradle Him to your breast without discovering that He is dragging the whole world into your heart as well. So let us not get too sentimental about what is happening in the manger at our Christmas celebrations. The reason Christ was born among us was to change the world…His mission is our mission.” Jane Wise, Professor BYU Law School, talk given at J. Reuben Clark Law School, Dec 3, 2003 ( Clark Memorandum).