New Testament Lesson 2 (Matt. 1; Luke 1–2)
For the week of January 2–8
Studying the Life of Christ
This year’s topic will assist you to draw closer to the Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. As you study His life and His early Church, you can gain a greater testimony and awareness of Him as a living, personal Redeemer. You can better understand His great and infinite atonement. And you can have a great spiritual experience if you will make this course more than an academic exercise by praying about those things that you learn.
THE ROLE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
John the Baptist’s Birth Announced
● Luke 1:5–17 Gabriel announced John the Baptist’s birth to his father Zacharias
— He would be great in the Lord’s eyes.
— He would be filled with the Holy Ghost.
— He would turn many to the Lord.
— He would prepare the way for Christ.
KNOWING JOSEPH AND MARY
The story of Joseph and Mary is an intensely personal one. It is the story of two individuals who had decided to marry, but had no idea what awaited them. God’s eye was upon them, and their spirituality and character would be of great importance in bringing forth and raising the Messiah to maturity. In this week’s lesson we consider the events that occurred in their individual lives prior to the birth of the Savior.
MARY WAS A SPECIAL DAUGHTER OF GOD
Mary’s role was truly prophetic. Isaiah spoke of her 700 years earlier (Isaiah 7:14). Nephi called her “a virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins” (1 Nephi 11:15). King Benjamin knew that the mother of God would be named Mary (Mosiah 3:8), and Alma called her “a precious and chosen vessel” (Alma 7:10).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Can we speak too highly of her whom the Lord has blessed above all women? There was only one Christ, and there is only one Mary. . . . We cannot but think that the Father would choose the greatest female spirit to be the mother of His Son. . . .”
Elder McConkie also said, “As the Father chose the most noble and righteous of all His spirit sons to come into mortality as His Only Begotten in the flesh, so we may confidently conclude that He selected the most worthy and spiritually talented of all His spirit daughters to be the mortal mother of His Eternal Son.”
Mary Learns of Her Sacred Mission
● Luke 1:26–30 Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary. It was during “the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy that] the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary” (vv. 26–27). This is how we know that John the Baptist was six months older than the Savior.
The Prophet Joseph Smith tells us that Gabriel is Noah.(endnote: 3) This ancient prophet—the father of us all—had already annunciated John the Baptist’s birth to his father Zacharias. Now, he appeared to the young virgin Mary, saying, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (v. 28). This was an odd salutation, and the young girl was somewhat troubled by its praise (v.29). Gabriel noticed and reassured her: “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God” (v. 30).
Her Conception Was Miraculous and Unique
● Luke 1:31–33 Mary learns that she will be the mother of the Son of God. Gabriel told her that “thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus” (v. 31). “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest” (v. 32). Moreover, “the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (vv. 32–33). She would be the mother of the King of Kings.
● Luke 1:34–35 Mary marveled at this miracle which would seem to be impossible. This was very surprising news to a young virgin who was not yet married—only espoused. “How shall this be,” she asked, “seeing I know not [have never had intercourse with] a man?” (v. 34). This had never happened before, and it will never happen again.“And the angel answered, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (v. 35).
At this news, Mary certainly must have been overwhelmed. According to legend, she was only about 16 years old, had never been married and had never had a child. Her conception would be miraculous and unique. God the Eternal Father would be the father of her child. Yet, even after conception, she would remain a virgin. It had never happened before, and would never happen again, worlds without end.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God
● Luke 1:35; Matt. 1:18–25 He was both the Father’s firstborn in the spirit and also His only begotten son in the flesh. The angel said unto Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (v. 35).
— God the Father was the father (Luke 1:32: he was the “son of the Highest”)
— She remained a virgin. (Isaiah 7:14: “a virgin shall conceive”).
— Never before and never again. (D&C 76:23: “the Only Begotten of the Father”)
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Apostate religionists—unable to distinguish between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—falsely suppose that the Holy Ghost was the Father of our Lord. Matthew’s statement, “she was found with child of the Holy Ghost,” properly translated should say, ‘she was found with child by the power of the Holy Ghost.’ (Matt. 1:18). Luke’s account (Luke 1:35) accurately records what took place. Alma perfectly describes our Lord’s conception and birth by prophesying: Christ “shall be born of Mary, . . . she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.” (Alma 7:10). Nephi spoke similarly when he said that at the time of her conception, Mary “was carried away in the Spirit,” with the result that the child born of her was “the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father.” (1 Ne. 11:19–21). As Gabriel [said], he was the “Son of the Highest” (Luke 1:32), and “the Highest” is the first member of the godhead, not the third.”
— Daniel H. Ludlow said, “The promise that the mother of Jesus would be “a virgin” at the time of the birth of Jesus should not be interpreted to mean that she would remain a virgin throughout her life. The false doctrine of the “perpetual virginity” of Mary is not substantiated from the scriptures. Indeed, “brothers and sisters” of Jesus are specifically mentioned later in the record. (Matt. 12:46–50; Mark 3:31–35; Luke 8:19–21).”
● Who would believe her explanation? She must have had many concerns as she tried to absorb this heavenly message.
— Would Joseph believe her? She could not explain things to him face to face.
— Would her family believe her? Or would they simply cast her out?
— Would anybody else believe her? Some did not. They said that Christ was “born of fornication” (John 8:41).
— Even today, many Christians, including pastors, do not believe in the virgin birth.
— We are left to wonder: “Just whose child do they think Jesus was? A child of fornication?”
OBEDIENCE AND FAITH
● Luke 1:38 Mary humbly accepted her assignment with faith. She said to the Angel Gabriel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.”
Elizabeth and Zacharias (John the Baptist’s Parents)
● Luke 1:36–40 Elizabeth called her cousin Mary “the mother of my Lord.”
● Luke 1:67–80 Zacharias prophesied of his son’s role in “preparing the way of the Lord.”
● Luke 1:39–45 Her cousin Elisabeth sheltered her. She also was pregnant with John the Baptist (a second cousin to Jesus) at the time, and when Mary arrived at her home John leaped for joy in her womb. He would be born just six months before the birth of Jesus.
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “In this miraculous event the pattern is seen which a spirit follows in passing from his pre-existent first estate into mortality. The spirit enters the body at the time of quickening, months prior to the actual normal birth. The value and comfort attending a knowledge of this eternal truth is seen in connection with stillborn children. Since the spirit entered the body before birth, stillborn children will be resurrected and righteous parents shall enjoy their association in immortal glory.”
JOSEPH WAS “A JUST MAN”
● Matthew 1:18 The shocking news comes to Joseph. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”
We can only imagine the agony and torment of uncertainty and doubt that must have filled the soul of Joseph. He knew for certain that he was not the father. He could not talk to Mary directly to hear her side of the story. He had received no heavenly vision to tell him otherwise, so he had to assume that Mary had been unfaithful to him. Joseph did not understand initially He could have reacted selfishly and with bitterness, and if he did, who could blame him? All his hopes and plans now seemed dashed.
When Joseph learned of Mary’s maternity, he had two alternatives under the law:
— Require that Mary submit to a public trial and judgment, resulting in her death; or
— Privately sever the espousal contract before witnesses.
● Matthew 1:19 Joseph’s love and mercy for Mary. “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.” Despite his agony, Joseph chose the most merciful of the two alternatives, which reveals much about his character. Elder James E. Talmage said, “Joseph was a just man, a strict observer of the law, yet no harsh extremist; moreover he loved Mary and would save her all unnecessary humiliation, whatever might be his own sorrow and suffering. For Mary’s sake he dreaded the thought of publicity; and therefore determined to have the espousal annulled with such privacy as the law allowed.”
● Matthew 1:20–21 The Angel Gabriel appears to Joseph to explain things. “While he [Joseph] thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (vv. 20–21).
Notice that it was after his trial of faith that the angel came to explain it all. Joseph’s mercy for Mary was shown without fully understanding what was happening to her. But after he made his merciful choice, the angel came and explained it all to him.
● Matthew 1:24–25 Joseph obeyed the angel immediately. “Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife” (v. 24). The consummation of their marriage would have to wait. Joseph “knew her not” until after she had given birth to the baby Jesus (v. 25). But he became her husband and protector immediately.
The Importance of Joseph’s Role
Though he is sometimes the “forgotten person” of Jesus’ nativity, Joseph was, without a doubt, an essential part of Jesus’ birth and upbringing. His love for Mary is evident in his mercy upon learning of her pregnancy, and in his loving care thereafter as he sought in vain to find her some comfort when the day of the baby’s birth arrived.
As a man, he courageously provided for and protected the Savior’s life, taking Him into Egypt for a time to avoid the murderous plots of Herod. He was the earthly guardian of Christ, treating Him as his own son in every respect, teaching Him from the scriptures, and teaching Him the craft of carpentry to sustain Him in his early manhood. Thus, Joseph was the role model for Christ in both temporal and spiritual things.
Joseph was also the father of a later Apostle—James, the brother of the Lord, who wrote the book of James in our Bible. And he was the father of Jude—not an apostle but an inspired leader and writer who wrote the book of Jude n our Bible. All of these important sons were raised and trained by Joseph the carpenter.
Legend suggests that Joseph did not survive to the time of Jesus’ ministry. We do not hear of him in the scriptures after the time of the Savior’s youth. He may have been older than Mary. But they clearly loved each other and are eternal companions now.
Joseph remains, for me and for others, a hero—a man who did not react with macho anger or abuse but rather gentle forgiveness when he learned of Mary’s plight. His faith, his loyalty, his willingness to play the role of earthly father to the Son of God, all of these bear witness that he was a chosen man in God’s plan for the birth and childhood of His Son.
The Genealogy of Joseph
● Matthew 1:1–17; Luke 3:23–28 Jesus descended from kings.
— There are two genealogies in the four Gospels. Matthew’s account lists the legal successors to David’s throne—not necessarily a genealogical list in a strict father-to-son sense, for the eldest surviving heir may be a grandson, a great-grandson, or even a nephew or other relative of the reigning monarch. Luke’s record, however, is a father-to-son listing linking Joseph to King David.
— Jesus was not Joseph’s son, but Joseph’s genealogy is essentially Mary’s, for they were cousins; Jesus inherited from his mother, Mary, the blood of David and therefore the right to David’s throne. Jesus was born in the royal line.
— Elder James E. Talmage said, “Had Judah been a free and independent nation, ruled by her rightful sovereign, Joseph the carpenter would have been her crowned king; and his lawful successor to the throne would have been Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
THE BIRTH OF JESUS CHRIST
The Decree of Caesar Augustus
● Luke 2:1–5 Augustus ordered a general taxing (census) of the Roman Empire in 1 BC.
— Elder James E. Talmage said, “The taxing herein referred to may properly be understood as an enrollment, or a registration, whereby a census of Roman subjects would be secured, upon which as a basis the taxation of the different peoples would be determined . . . Had the census been taken by the usual Roman method, each person would have been enrolled at the town of his residence; but the Jewish custom, for which the Roman law had respect, necessitated registration at the cities or towns claimed by the respective families as their ancestral homes.”
The Difficulties At Bethlehem
● Luke 2:1–7 The place and circumstances of Christ’s birth.
— In her ninth month of pregnancy they left their home in Nazareth and traveled (probably riding donkeys) a distance of from 80 to 90 miles to Bethlehem to enroll their names as members of the house of David for a census.
— Mary must have been in labor when they arrived in Bethlehem. Joseph sought earnestly for a comfortable setting for the birth of their baby, hoping to find room in one of the inns surrounding Bethlehem square.
— Inns were rectangular structures, sometimes called khans or caravanseries, open on at least one side and sometimes not much more than crudely constructed roofs over open courts, in which travelers or caravans put up for the night.
—Frederic Farrar said: [They were] “perfectly public; everything that takes place in them is visible to every person in the khan [and] totally devoid of even the most ordinary furniture.”
● JST Luke 2:7 “There was none to give room for them in the inns.” Mary’s condition probably required slow travel, and when they arrived all of the inns were already full.
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Though her state was apparent, the other travelers—lacking in courtesy, compassion, and refinement—would not give way so she could be cared for. It was the traveling hosts of Judah . . . not just an innkeeper or an isolated few persons . . . who withheld shelter from Joseph and Mary. This rude rejection was but prelude to the coming day when these same people and their children after them would reject to their eternal sorrow the Lord who that night began mortality under the most lowly circumstances.”
— Livestock stalls were attached to the outside or back of the inns. The inner-most part of these stalls (or nearby caves) were used as stables. It was the only place offering a roof overhead and reasonable privacy for the birth of Mary’s baby.
— Exhausted, in pain from labor, hurt by the rejection of others, and probably frightened, Mary lay down in a cattle stall and delivered her baby.
The Savior’s Humble Birth
● Do we truly appreciate “the condescension of God?”
— Cattle stalls are filthy, smelly, crowded places.
— In such a stall . . . the Savior of mankind and Creator of the visible universe was born.
— We marvel that He would condescend to such a humble, lowly birth.
— We imagine Joseph gathering hay and spreading it upon the filthy floor to make Mary more comfortable and the birth more sanitary.
— And there…alone and inexperienced…Joseph helped Mary deliver her precious little baby boy.
● Though he was the Christ . . . that night he was their baby.
— We can imagine the fear of these new parents—and also their joy.
— We are touched by the story of a newborn child coming into the world on that silent, holy night.
— The beauty of the story never fades.
WITNESSES OF THE CHRIST CHILD’S DIVINITY
The Heavenly Host of Angels
● Luke 2:9–14 “Unto you is born this day . . . a Savior which is Christ the Lord.”
— They sang “Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men.”
— Why? Because this precious baby was born to save us all.
— As the Lamb of God . . . he would be sacrificed for our sins.
— Let us never forget that this little baby was born to die—so that all of us might have redemption and resurrection.
● Luke 2:15–17 “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad . . . concerning this child.”
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “These were not ordinary shepherds nor ordinary flocks. The sheep there being . . . cared for with love and devotion—were destined for sacrifice on the great altar in the Lord’s House, in similitude of the eternal sacrifice of Him who that wondrous night lay in a stable . . . And the shepherds—for whom the veil was then rent . . . were [of] spiritual stature . . . There were many shepherds in Palestine, but only to those who watched over the temple flocks did the herald angel come; only they heard the heavenly choir.”
Simeon in the Temple
● Luke 2:22–33 “It was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he [would] see . . . the Lord’s Christ.”
— Elder James E. Talmage said, “Part of the law given through Moses to the Israelites in the wilderness and continued in force down through the centuries, related to the procedure prescribed for women after childbirth. [Lev. 12.] In compliance therewith, Mary remained in retirement forty days following the birth of her Son; then she and her husband brought the Boy for presentation before the Lord as prescribed for the male firstborn of every family. It is manifestly impossible that all such presentations could have taken place in the temple, for many Jews lived at great distances from Jerusalem; it was the rule, however, that parents should present their children in the temple when possible. Jesus was born within five or six miles from Jerusalem; He was accordingly taken to the temple for the ceremonial of redemption from the requirement applying to the firstborn of all Israelites except Levites.”
● Luke 2:34–35 Simeon’s prophecy of the Savior’s death and Mary’s sorrow as a result.
— Elder James E. Talmage said, “Among the righteous and devout Israelites were some who . . . lived in righteous expectation of . . . (the birth of the Savior). One of these was Simeon, then living in Jerusalem. Through the power of the Holy Ghost he had gained the promise that he should not see death until he had looked upon the Lord’s Christ in the flesh. Prompted by the Spirit he repaired to the temple on the day of the presentation of Jesus, and recognized in the Babe the promised Messiah. In the moment of realization that the hope of his life had found glorious consummation, Simeon raised the Child reverently in his arms, and (said)..Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” (Luke 2:29–30).
“Then under the spirit of prophecy, Simeon told of the greatness of the Child’s mission, and of the anguish that the mother would be called to endure because of Him, which would be even like unto that of a sword piercing her soul . . .”
Anna in the Temple
● Luke 2:36–38, 41 Anna (84 years old) “ [came] in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”
— Elder James E. Talmage said, “There was at that time in the temple a godly woman of great age, Anna, a prophetess who devoted herself exclusively to temple service; and she, being inspired of God, recognized her Redeemer, and testified of Him to all about her. Both Joseph and Mary marveled at the things that were spoken of the Child; seemingly they were not yet able to comprehend the majesty of Him who had come to them through so miraculous a conception and so marvelous a birth.”
What are some doctrinal insights we receive from the stories of Joseph and Mary?
Jesus Had to Have a Mortal Mother and an Immortal Father
● President Russell M. Nelson explained that the Atonement of Jesus Christ “required a personal sacrifice by an immortal being not subject to death. Yet He must die and take up His own body again. The Savior was the only one who could accomplish this. From His mother he inherited power to die. From His Father He obtained power over death.”
● Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “God was his Father, from which Immortal Personage . . . he inherited the power of immortality, which is the power to live forever; or, having chosen to die, it is the power to rise again in immortality, thereafter to live forever without again seeing corruption . . .
“Mary was his mother, from which mortal woman . . . he inherited the power of mortality, which is the power to die. . . .
“It was because of this . . . intermixture of the divine and the mortal in one person, that our Lord was able to work out the infinite and eternal atonement. Because God was his Father and Mary was his mother, he had power to live or to die, as he chose, and having laid down his life, he had power to take it again, and then, in a way incomprehensible to us, to pass on the effects of that resurrection to all men so that all shall rise from the tomb.”
● Elder James E. Talmage said, “That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of Elohim, the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof; and, the offspring from that association of supreme sanctity, celestial Sireship, and pure though mortal maternity, was of right to be called the ‘son of the Highest.’ In His nature would be combined the powers of Godhood with the capacity and possibilities of mortality; and this through the ordinary operation of the fundamental law of heredity declared of God, demonstrated by science, and admitted by philosophy, that living beings shall propagate—after their kind. The Child Jesus was to inherit the physical, mental and spiritual traits, tendencies, and powers that characterized His parents—one immortal and glorified—God, the other human—woman.”
1: The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979-1981], 1:326-327.
2: Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–1973], 1:85.
3: Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 157.
4: Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:83.
5: A Companion to Your Study of the New Testament, 1:27.
6: Mormon Doctrine, 693–694.
7: Jesus the Christ, 87.
8: Jesus the Christ. 91–92.
9: The Life of Christ, 33.
10: Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:91–92.
11: The Mortal Messiah, Vol.1, 347.
12: Jesus the Christ, 95.
13: Jesus the Christ, 96–97.
14: Jesus the Christ, 96–97.
15: “Constancy and Change,” Ensign, November 1993, 34.
16: The Promised Messiah , 470–471.
17: Jesus the Christ, 81.