Luke 2:21-40 The Messiah has come

The Lord does not work according to the standards of the world.  We might expect that the long-expected Messiah would be found in a palace (as the Magi did – Matthew 2), mixing with the rich and powerful, but in fact he was born in humble circumstances.  That is how God works.  We turn now to consider Luke 2:21-40 The Messiah has come

1. The presentation

2 events are described in v21-24.  The circumcision on the 8th day was a sign of God’s covenant with his people.  The name ‘Jesus’ is full of meaning – ‘he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21).  The presentation in the Temple was the time of the mother’s purification.  The offering (v24) was for the less well-off, the Messiah’s lowly birth being part of his humiliation (see Philippians 2:8).  Incarnation involves the Son’s self-humbling.  Note:

            (i). He fulfils prophecy.  See e.g. Malachi 3:1 ‘Suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple’.  Throughout his life Jesus fulfilled the sovereign plan of God.

            (ii). He fulfils the Law.  Both events described here are prescribed by the Law.  Circumcision is the sign of the covenant (Genesis 17) and presentation honours God’s claim to every firstborn male (Exodus 13:23).  Jesus was ‘born under law’ (Galatians 4:4) and kept God’s law perfectly on behalf of his people, as our representative (Hebrews 2:17).

2. The prophet

Simeon (v25) is a man of deep faith – ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’, waiting for the Messiah.  He speaks prophetically (v27 ‘Moved by the Spirit’), recognizing the child as ‘the Lord’s Christ’ (v26).  In language steeped in the Old Testament Simeon ‘praised God’ (v28) – it is his mighty work of salvation, with significance for ‘all people’ (v31).  Both the Gentiles (as in Isaiah 42:6) and Israel are included.  His work involves judgment (‘the falling’, v34) but chiefly salvation (‘the rising of many’).  It will be at a cost, and Mary herself will know ‘a sword’, but only the Messiah’s suffering will be redemptive.

3. The prophetess

Anna is a ‘prophetess’ (v36) – a channel of God’s word.  She had known sorrow – ‘a widow until she was 84’, but this is a day of good news – ‘she spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem’ (v38).  God’s great work of redemption has taken a major step forward, in fulfilment of OT prophecies about the restoration of Jerusalem (e.g. Jeremiah 33).  There were other believing people to share her joy and praise (v38).

4. The progress

With the requirements of the Law fulfilled, the family ‘returned to Galilee (v39).  At this stage the visit of the magi and the flight to Egypt must have taken place (Matthew 2).  The statement of v40 is significant – ‘the child grew and became strong’ – he fully shared our human nature.  The Father’s blessing ensures he is equipped for his redeeming work – ‘he was filled with wisdom and the grace (or ‘favour’ ESV) of God was upon him’.

Luke 2:1-20 The Saviour born

The birth of Jesus is often romanticised and sentimentalised, a scene of warmth and cleanliness, free from pain and dirt.  The reality was quite different, with a relatively poor mother giving birth in a stable (or a cave) with none of the modern aids or pain relief.  This, however, was also one of the most important events in world history.  We turn now to consider Luke 2:1-20 The Saviour born

1. The Lord’s providence

Everything in these events depends on the providence of God.  The historical information of v1-2 is very specific.  Luke writes of a God who acts in history to fulfil his purpose.  He overrules the actions of the Roman emperor so that Jesus is born in Bethlehem (v4), underlining his Davidic ancestry and fulfilling prophecies such as 2 Samuel 7.  We see his providence also in relation to this humble family (v4-5) – for the incarnation of the Son, the birth of the Messiah, God has chosen an obscure couple and has brought them to a small town for a birth in poor circumstances.  This is the Messiah who ‘for your sakes became poor’ (2 Corinthians 8:9).  God reverses human expectations to fulfil his will.

2. The angel’s message

The announcement of the Messiah’s birth is given by an ‘angel of the Lord’ (v9, probably Gabriel) to ‘shepherds living out in the fields nearby’ (v8).  The message is astounding – ‘good news of great joy’ with worldwide significance – ‘that will be for all the people’ (v10).  The Gentiles too are involved.  Central is the Messiah, described in the most exalted terms – ‘a Saviour…he is Christ the Lord’ (v11).  He is God, come to perform a redemptive work.  The response of ‘the heavenly host’ (v13) is to give ‘glory to God in the highest’ (v14).  The peace the Messiah gives is reconciliation to God for ‘those on whom his favour rests’.

3. The shepherds’ praise

The reversal of expectations continues.  Shepherds were ritually unclean and generally had a bad reputation for thieving.  God chooses outcasts on the fringes of society to hear ‘good news’ (v10).  The Messiah has ‘not come to call the righteous, but sinners to salvation’ (Luke 5:32).  The flocks may have been for sacrifice in the Temple, reminding us of the sacrificial work of the Messiah which brings forgiveness.  There is an urgency in their response as they ‘spread the word’ (v17).  All who trust in the Messiah have a duty and privilege to witness.

4. The mother’s thoughts

These are events of world significance.  It is therefore not surprising to read of Mary’s response: she ‘treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart’ (v19).  Mary was a woman of profound faith, as 1:46-55 shows.  She has an understanding of the significance of the work of her Son but has much to learn.  No doubt the Holy Spirit instructs her as she ponders.  It must have been a great comfort to her to grasp gradually how the Lord was working through her.

Luke 1:57-80 A prophet of the Most High

The Israelites had a powerful messianic hope, nurtured by the prophets.  For centuries Israel waited but the Messiah did not appear.  After Malachi the voice of prophecy fell silent.  God, however, was working out his plan.  He promised in Malachi 4:5 ‘I will send you the prophet Elijah’ to be the forerunner of the Messiah, and with the birth of John the Baptist, one in the mould of Elijah, the voice of prophecy was again heard and the time of fulfilment had arrived.  We turn now to consider Luke 1:57-80 A prophet of the Most High

1. The birth of John

God’s promise through the angel (v13) is now fulfilled – v57.  God’s word never fails.  All is set in the context of an awareness of God’s hand in events: ‘heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy’ (v58).  The Lord’s mercy is key: God is a God of mercy to those in hardship, especially the misery of sin.  The Lord has ‘shown…great mercy’ to Elizabeth in bringing her through the dangers of childbirth and providing her son to play a significant role in the unfolding of his plan of salvation.  The naming of the child puts the spotlight on Zechariah.  In obedience to the angel’s message (v13), Zechariah states, ‘His name is John’ – there will be no argument.  After 9 months of silence imposed on him by the Lord because of his unbelief (v20), Zechariah is chastened, as we often are by hard experiences.  With renewed faith Zechariah responds in obedience to the Lord’s command regarding the child’s name.  The Lord in turn responds graciously – ‘Immediately his mouth was opened’ (v64) and his first act is to praise the Lord.  A deep impression is made on family and neighbours: ‘Fear cam upon all their neighbours’ (v65 ESV), spiritual awe, and ‘all who heard them laid them up in their hearts’ (v66 ESV) pondering what the Lord may do through this child.  Note v66 ‘the Lord’s hand was with him’, in fulfilment of the promise of the filling of the Holy Spirit (v15).  John is fully equipped to do the Lord’s work.

2. The song of Zechariah

Note v67 ‘Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied’ – his focus is on ‘the Lord, the God of Israel’, with no mention of John until v76.  We see:

            (i) The Lord redeems: v68.  It is the language of release from bondage.  The reference to ‘the house of his servant David’ (v69) shows this is messianic (as in Psalm 132:17).  In view is spiritual salvation, the goal being ‘to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness’ (v74-75).  The work of Christ is to set sinners free from the bondage of sin and transform them into his likeness.

            (ii) The Lord remembers: The Messiah’s work is set in the context of the unfolding of God’s eternal plan of salvation (v70).  He will ‘remember his holy covenant’, traced right back to Abraham (Genesis 17).  He rescues his people for service (v74).  The covenant is sealed with the atoning blood of Christ (Luke 22:20).

            (iii) The Lord reveals: Finally, in v76 Zechariah mentions John.  His mission – ‘a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him’, fulfilling Isaiah 40:3-5.  John will be a channel of revelation, pointing to the Messiah, not himself (John 1:8).  It is Christ who is the light – v78-79, the Saviour John exalts.

Luke 1:46-56 Mary praises her Saviour

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We learn much about people from the songs they sing – what they think and how they feel.  Songs reveal the truth of the heart.  This is evident in the response of Mary to the great events leading up to the birth of the Messiah by the miraculous working of the Lord.  As she visits Elizabeth, by the Holy Spirit’s working Mary sings an inspired song.  As we return to Luke’s Gospel, we consider Luke 1:46-56 Mary praises her Saviour

1. God’s grace to Mary

Notice how full of biblical language Mary’s song is.  It is very reminiscent of Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1ff.  Here is a woman whose mind is steeped in Scripture.  Note:

            (i) Praise (v46-48).  It is significant that, when Elizabeth has just described her as ‘the mother of my Lord’ (v43), Mary’s focus is on the Lord and not herself.  She is filled with praise because of his work (v46).  She uses the covenant name of God – ‘the Lord’ – the God who in grace and love binds sinners to himself in a saving relationship.  Note Mary rejoices ‘in God my Saviour (v47) she is a sinner saved by grace, like all the Lord’s people.  Literally she says, ‘my spirit rejoiced’ – she most likely has in view the annunciation by Gabriel of the conception and birth of the Messiah (v31-33), wonderful news for one conscious of ‘the humble state of his servant’ (v48).

            (ii) Contemplation (v49-50).  As Mary thinks of what the Lord has done for her, several of the Lord’s perfections stand out to her:

            God’s power: ‘the Mighty One’ (v49).  The virgin conception shows that creation is in the palm of God’s hand and he is sovereign in all things – Ephesians 1:11.

            God’s holiness: ‘holy is his name’ (v49).  The ‘name’ is who God is.  Holiness is always at the forefront of revelation – Isaiah 6:3.  He is separate from all created things.

            God’s mercy: ‘His mercy extends…’ (v50).  In mercy he responds to our misery with the provision of a Saviour.  Our response is to ‘fear him’, as we receive salvation by faith.

2. God’s grace to multitudes

Mary’s vision widens out (v51ff) to embrace the big picture of God’s saving work:

            (i) Grace effects deliverance (v51-53).  God has done ‘mighty deeds’.  He acts on behalf of ‘the humble…the hungry’, reversing the values of the world, bringing down ‘the proud…rulers…the rich’.  This has a physical application, but is primarily spiritual.  All of life is transformed.  God has acted thus in the past, but in view above all is the saving work of the Messiah that will soon begin.  He saves the spiritually destitute and his work cannot fail.

            (ii) Grace brings fulfilment (v54-55).  This is the language of the Old Testament promises.  Note ‘his servant Israel’ – where Israel failed, the perfect Israelite, the Messiah, triumphs (Isaiah 42:1).  His blood seals the covenant (Genesis 17:7), the Covenant of Grace that brings salvation.  In Christ it can be said of believers that we are ‘Abraham’s seed’ (Galatians 3:29).  The grace of God triumphs over the sin of his people, fulfilling his promises.