We begin with Luke 2 verses 15-34, but our main verses will be 21-24.
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 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. 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.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting 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 do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed
This morning we continue in Luke: We are in the midst of chapter 2. Thus far, we have studied the why of this letter, the encounter of Zechariah with the Angel Gabriel, and the announcement that he would have a son named John, who would be the one to prepare the way for the Christ.
We studied Mary’s encounter with that same angel, Gabriel, and her announcement. We observed Mary go to visit Elizabeth and how the baby John leapt in the womb when Mary came in, and Mary gave her Magnificat, her song of praise to magnify the Lord. We learned of John’s birth, and the excitement surrounding it, and the Prophecy of Zechariah when his tongue was set free after his time of silence.
Then we celebrated the birth of Jesus together, and last Sunday, Christmas Day, we considered the shepherds and angels. This week, we are going to examine what Mary and Joseph did out of a religious obligation, in order to keep the law of Moses, as I mentioned, 21-24. Before i get there, however, I want to go back for just a moment to the end of the portion we looked at Christmas Day. Luke2.20
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
There a lesson resides for those among us who have lamented that Christmas is over. The decorations are coming down, in the stores, the Christmas displays have quickly been replaced with Valentine’s Day merchandise, the lights will come down soon, the Carols will stop playing. So many people get this sad feeling about Christmas being over.
Yet, for the Christian, this is a time when, rather than be depressed at the loss of the holiday season, we can rejoice that the baby we celebrated has gone on to finish his work, and because He has finished his work, we can continue to celebrate.
The Shepherds did not say, as they returned to their flocks, “Well, too bad Christmas is over. We won’t be seeing those angels again. That little baby is going to grow up and won’t be so cute in a few years. No, the Shepherds did not lament, but they were glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. So may I challenge you a bit and say that if you are feeling a bit blue about Christmas being over with, perhaps there is a contentment issue in your heart that requires examination, because if you be in Christ, the rejoicing has only just begun!
Whatever longing you have in your heart, whether it be for more fellowship, more joy, more peace, more of Jesus, if you are one of His, then you can have the confidence that all of his promises will surely come true! In Him, we will ultimately and eternally find perfect fellowship, with God and Christ, and with our fellow creatures who share in our inheritance. We look forward to finding perfect joy, perfect peace, and eternal bliss because He will keep His promises to those he has called His own.
So do not despair that the holiday is over! There is no need to cling to Christmas, as wonderful as it is. But keep the joy of Christmas with you throughout the year, just as Scrooge after his repentance. But now we must move forward in our text to the preaching of these verses, which carry within them some superb lessons for us to apply in our lives.
Big Idea: Obedient People Strive to Obey
The humble are exalted
As we consider these four verses, we are learning from the examples of Mary and Joseph, who did not discontinue their faithfulness to God after the birth of Jesus, but continued to honor God in the keeping of his statutes as well.
What do we find in these parents keeping the Law?
We find that they keep it not only from obedience, but also in response to His great gift.
We find that they desired to please God
We find that they would glorify God.
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. 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.”
To help us understand the background of what is happening here, let us read one of the shorter chapters of Leviticus12
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days. “And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”
The first of the commands they kept was the circumcision of Jesus. We find the history of the circumcision and the command for it in the Pentateuch, that is, the books of Law, or the first five books in the Bible. God gave the instruction first to Abraham: Gen17.12
He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring,
It was reaffirmed in Leviticus, which we have read already. It was commanded on the 8th day. So high was the importance of the 8th day that Jesus mentioned how circumcision would be done on the Sabbath if the Sabbath fell on the 8th day: John7.22-23
Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?
The context for that is Jesus being challenged for healing a man on the Sabbath, which some of the religious people thought was work, and therefore violated the Sabbath command not to work. Jesus more or less is saying there are situations where the Sabbath is broken without violating the spirit of it. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, Jesus said.
Circumcision was a sign of devotion to God. For Paul, he noted that it was one of those things that the Jewish people considered when they evaluated devotion to God. In his listing of his own credentials, he included his circumcision: Phil3.5
circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;
As he was circumcised in obedience to the law, Jesus was named according to the command of God given through his messenger Gabriel. Matt1.21
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
Just as John was named in accordance with the message from God, so was his cousin, Jesus.
The other command they obeyed was the command to present their first born to the Lord, and to make a sacrifice for him. Now, it may seem odd that there would need to be a sacrifice for atonement for Mary, since her baby was of the Holy Spirit, yet it was important to keep the law in every respect. Remember why, In response to the great gift of God, that they might please him, that they might glorify Him.
Jesus did many things that may seem to have been ok to skip over, since indeed he was God. Surely not all the requirements for mere mortals applies to Him. Yet Mary and Joseph made the sacrifice as required, it showed their faithfulness, just as Jesus, not needing forgiveness of sins, was baptized by John.
This sacrifice, as we read, took place 33 days after the circumcision. This was because of the laws of impurity, during childbirth there is blood loss, and also this can continue for some time after. But this was also a mercy to the young mother. Being considered ceremonially unclean during this time, she would not be allowed to prepare food or to travel, and would be limited in having too much contact with others. I’m sure if you ask any mother, they would agree, being free of household chores for the first 6 weeks would be a good thing, and not being required to travel to the temple until then would also help to improve the chances that the journey there would be safe for mother and baby, since by then, the feeding routine would be established.
I mentioned in D6 last week, and to the youth group the week before that, that this passage tells us that most nativity scenes are wrong, since they usually show the wise men visiting with their gifts at the same time as the shepherds. But since we have now established with what care that Mary and Joseph have taken to obey the Law, most certainly they would not go with the sacrifice of a poor family if they had just received the very expensive gifts of Frankincense, myrr, and gold. It would be a dangerous thing indeed to mock God if one were rich and yet pretended to be poor, simply to save a little on the sacrifice.
So logically, if the wise men had arrived before the sacrifice, they would have made the sacrifice of a lamb, not the turtledoves, which were reserved for the mother who could not afford a lamb. And so it is from yet another angle that we are reminded of Mary’s poverty. Really, God has chosen many times those who had no standing in the world to do great things in His kingdom. And it seems that Mary was still poor as an older woman, since at the cross, Jesus commanded John to take Mary as if she were his own mother. Certainly if Mary had a great retirement account set up, Jesus would not have needed to tell John to care for her.
The lesson, then, that we learn from Mary and Joseph, and that they set us an example of, is obedience to God. We actually know very little about these two, even though they have a central role in the story. The bible only tells us of Mary, that she was a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph. We have already said she was probably between 12-14 years old. At the very oldest, one scholar put it at 16. Other than this, we know nothing else about Mary other than she was a relative of Elizabeth and was from a small village.
We know even less about Joseph. We receive no description of him at all. His occupation is given. He was said to be a craftsman or tradesmen. Most bible translations translate the word to carpenter, but it is possible he did some other trade. We don’t know how tall he was, how old he was. We know he also must have been poor, else he certainly would have bought the lamb for Mary’s sacrifice. Joseph, unlike Mary, is not mentioned at the crucifixion accounts, so it is possible that he died before Jesus had grown up. What scripture does not say we cannot know for certain.
Some think he may have been much older than Mary. It is feasible, in light of the culture of the time, that he was much older than her. On the other hand, much like today, couples were normally within 6 years of age of each other. We do know he was at least 20, since this would have been the minimum age at which he would have been required to appear for himself at the census. Any younger, and his father would still be covering for him in that case.
Obedient people strive to obey, and the humble are exalted. Mary herself made note of this in the Magnificat, which we studied recently: Luke1.52
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;
he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.
but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.
he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
The Lord lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.
thus says the Lord God: Remove the turban and take off the crown. Things shall not remain as they are. Exalt that which is low, and bring low that which is exalted.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Mary and Joseph were drawn into this story by the Master storyteller who had, before the beginning, decided this course of human events. They had no special characteristics that we know of, only that God in his good pleasure chose them for this task, and in choosing them for this task, he enabled them to have the required strength, humility, and trust in God to do their part. As I studied this passage, I wrote down this question? Why? Why were they concerned with keeping the law? Were they particularly devout before these things happened? Were they given some sort of regeneration by the Holy Spirit that empowered them to keep this law?
We cannot know beyond what scripture tells us. But scripture does tell us that God calls those he is pleased to use for his glory, and he saves those he chooses to save. So Mary and Joseph obeyed the angel regarding the birth of Jesus, obeyed the law regarding the circumcision, obeyed the angel in naming him, obeyed the law in making the baby dedication and sacrifice. They did this, I believe, in response to God’s great gift to them. God had blessed them with one of the most incredible parts in his salvation story. They were given the gift of faith to believe in what Gabriel told them. And so, they obeyed in response to his great gift.
They also obeyed, I believe, out of a sincere desire to please God. And they obeyed to bring glory to God.
Mary and Joseph were called to this very important part. Many of us in this room have already responded by faith to the gift of God that is revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gift of a substitute who took our place to receive God’s wrath towards sin. The gift of a Savior who died and was raised again and gives us the promise of eternal life. We who have recieved this gift are called to obedience as well.
What is it that we are called to obey? All the commands of Christ. All the commands of scripture. Why should we obey, if we be in Christ? in response to his great gift. Eph2.8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
His gift, of course, is ultimately Christ himself, but he has also given us the gift of faith to believe. We are to obey that we might please him. This is a very different idea than some have thought. Some have thought that if we would please God by doing well in obedience to his ways, we might earn a place with him, or turn away his wrath towards sin. If only we would have a higher score on the obedience side than the negatives of our sin, but that is impossible anyway, and that is backwards from why we want to live a life of obedience to him. We want to please him because he first loved us. Rom5.8
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Why wouldn’t you have a desire to please Christ, if he has saved you, and shown his love for you in this way? I would argue that one who cares not about pleasing Christ probably has not really experienced this grace unto salvation. For if you have had true salvation, then you would desire to please him, and be delighted to make the attempt, in how you live, and spend your time and your precious treasures, whether they be talents or gifts. Since all comes from Him, all must be given back to Him.
And this is a great danger. There are many who appear to be pleasing Him, many who keep the commands, yet have never had a true conversion. There are always false converts in the church. You may be one. I must warn you, that unless you have truly believed unto salvation, you may be a false convert. I cannot assume everyone listening is truly saved, because if everyone here were, we would probably have the first church gathering in history with a completely pure congregation of true believers. But, no, in this room are most certainly some without true salvation?
Do you sit here in the presence of the preaching of the Word, knowing it to be true for you, and rejoicing in your gift of salvation? Or do you think to yourself smugly, I know a good bit of the bible. I have sat in the pews a long time. I have given to the offering, I have served on a board, I have attended a study, I have volunteered. And yet Christ may say to you, “I never knew you”. It isn’t about earning his approval, because you could never do so.
False converts come in all different forms. You could be a false convert as an 8 year old, and you may have told your Sunday School teacher you wanted to pray about Jesus, but you only did so to please the teacher. Or you could be 80 years old and be a false convert, even having attended church since you were a baby. Don;t think for a moment, when I say we ought to live as to please Christ, that I mean anything like the Catholic Church, which teaches that you need Christ and works to make it. No, salvation is all of Jesus, and no other. You cannot earn it. You must believe, and that is all.
And when you come to true faith, and the words you hear preached become real to you and your mind and heart resonate with the truth of the Bible, then you will certainly be saved. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free! But if You are in Christ, then live as though you care to please him. Live as though you would be not only a little happy, but as though you would be ecstatic and filled with great joy to hear those words from your Savior, when he invites you in to enter his rest, “well done, good and faithful servant!”
And finally, live as though you want God glorified through your life. Paul helps me greatly with his encouragements we find in his letters.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
He often uses phrases like, “you were” and “but now”
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
If you are in Christ, what you were is not what you are now, so walk in a manner worthyt of your calling, Eph4.1
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,
For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
Obedient people strive to obey. I know that sounds like circular logic, but I want you to consider it this morning. If you have been obedient to put faith in Christ, then strive to continue in obedience to His Word. Be humble enough to admit when you are off track.
We are to learn and keep all the commands of Christ, all the commands of scripture. Why? 1) In response to his great gift. 2) That we might please him 3) To glorify God.
Our examples this morning have been Mary and Joseph. May we emulate their pattern of obedience for God’s glory.
Revelation tells us about 24 elders who throw their crowns before the throne of God. This is a recognition that Christ deserves all glory. Even glory we may receive must be turned back to him. After all, any of us who are privileged to serve him, in the end, are only doing our duty. Some arrogant people believe that God is going to thank them for how wonderful they were, and how much they deserve some credit for their service. Yet, true servants will acknowledge that we were never worthy. we were never worthy to receive this grace, and we were never worthy to receive any kind of honor for what we may have done.
The truth is, we are slaves to whom nothing is owed. Luk17.10
So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”
So, my friends, in response to his great gifts, and that we might please him, and that we might bring glory to His name, as His servants, let us be the obedient who strive to obey. Let us be the humble. Let us resist our own proud natures adn submist to God and his will for our lives.