New Testament Lesson 03 (Luke 2; Matt. 2)
For the week of January 14–20

INTRODUCTION

John the Baptist Is Born

● Elizabeth was Mary’s cousin, and her child John the Baptist was a 2nd cousin to Jesus.
● John the Baptist was born just six months earlier than Jesus (Luke 1:36).
● Obedient to the world of the Angel Gabriel, he was given the name of John (Luke 1:57–64).

The Decree of Caesar Augustus

Luke 2:1–3 Caesar Augustus ordered a general taxing (census) of the Roman Empire in 1 BC. We can set the date by virtue of the fact that it began when “Cyrenius was governor of Syria” (v. 2). And in the land of Israel, the people traveled to their city of origin to do this census (v. 3). 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. . . . 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.” For Joseph, that meant Bethlehem.

The Difficulties at Bethlehem

Luke 2:4–5 Joseph took his pregnant wife Mary to Bethlehem. They resided at the time in Nazareth, a city of Galilee, but “because he was of the house and lineage of David” they were required to travel “into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem” in order to be “taxed” [counted in the census] (vv. 4–5). Mary was “great with child” (v. 5)—in her ninth month of pregnancy—when they left their home in Nazareth and traveled (probably riding donkeys) a distance of from 80 to 90 miles to Bethlehem.

Luke 2:6 Mary was already in labor when they arrive at Bethlehem, so Joseph sought earnestly for a comfortable setting for the birth of their baby. He hoped to find room in one of the inns surrounding Bethlehem square.

Luke 2:7 Nobody made room for Mary in the inns. Because Mary’s condition probably required slow travel, when they arrived all of the inns were already full. And because of the crowded conditions and the insensitivity that often exists in crowded masses of people, “there was none to give room for them in the inns” (JST Luke 2:7). Note that there was no innkeeper. This is a quaint notion that arises out of the English translation of an “inn” as a sort of hotel with beds.

Inns were square buildings, open on one side, which faced the city square, and in which travelers commonly put up for the night. These khans or caravanseries, were not much more than crudely constructed roofs over open public courts. 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.”

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.”

The Savior’s Humble Birth

Luke 2:7 The Christ child was born in a filthy stable. Joseph and Mary had to settle for whatever shelter they could find in the stables. Livestock stalls were attached to the outside or back of the inns, and 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 imminent birth of their baby. As we imagine those circumstances, we can smell the smells and hear the flies that cattle stalls attract. We can imagine Joseph gathering hay and spreading it upon the filthy floor to make Mary more comfortable and the birth more sanitary.

And then there, alone and inexperienced, exhausted, in pain from labor, hurt by the rejection of others, and probably frightened, Mary lay down in filthy cattle stall and, with Joseph’s help, delivered her precious little baby boy. Do we fully appreciate “the condescension of God” in lowering Himself into such a humble birth? Cattle stalls are filthy, smelly, insect-harboring and crowded places. Yet, in such a filthy stall, the Savior of mankind and Creator of the visible universe was born.

Luke 2:7 Wrapped in swaddling clothes. Swaddling clothes consisted of “a cloth tied together by bandage-like strips. After an infant was born, the umbilical cord was cut and tied, and then the baby was washed, rubbed with salt and oil, and wrapped with strips of cloth. These strips kept the newborn child warm and also ensured that the child’s limbs would grow straight.”

Luke 2:7 Laid in a manger. There was no bed or bassinet in which to lay Him. The floor would be too cold and hard. So Mary chose a straw-filled manger, usually used for feeding the cattle, as the resting place for her newborn baby. We have no idea how long the family stayed in the manger, but it was probably until the census was over and the crowds dispersed. It was there in the stable that the shepherds adored Him. So the manger was His bed for more than one night and possibly for quite a while.

“Tonight You Are Mine”

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. We reflect on our own first experiences with our own children, holding and kissing them with feelings of pure joy. That was also the situation for Joseph and Mary, and the beauty of the story never fades, no matter how many times it is told.

When I picture this tender family scene, I am reminded of a beautiful carol called “Mary’s Lullaby (Tonight You Are Mine)” written by Wanda West Palmer, which relates what may have been Mary’s feelings on that occasion. She knew that this child was coming into the world to save it. All sorts of trials and abuses lay ahead, culminating in the brutal and bloody suffering and death of her son. But on that night—that sacred, holy night—He was their helpless little baby, and they certainly must have rejoiced over his birth.

The Date of Christ’s Birth

● Bruce R. McConkie said, “From the first sentence of the revelation given to Joseph Smith on the day the Church was organized in this dispensation (D&C 20:1), it appears that the latter-day kingdom formally came into being on the eighteen hundred and thirtieth anniversary of our Lord’s birth. In other words, Christ was born April 6, BC 1.”

WITNESSES OF THE CHRIST CHILD’S DIVINITY

The Heavenly Host of Angels

● “Unto you is born this day . . . a Savior which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:9–14).
— 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.

The Shepherds

● “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad . . . concerning this child” (Luke 2:15–17).

● 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

● Elder James E. Talmage said, “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. . . . He was accordingly taken to the temple for the ceremon[y] of redemption. . . .”

● “It was revealed unto [Simeon] by the Holy Ghost, that he [would] see . . . the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:22–33). 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.”

● 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. . . .” (Luke 2:34–35).

Anna in the Temple

● Anna (84 years old) ” [who came also at] that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36–38, 41). Elder James E. Talmage called her “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.”

The Wise Men from the East

● “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? . . . We . . . are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1–2).

— Daniel H. Ludlow said, “The statement of the wise men ‘We have seen his star in the east’ is extremely interesting inasmuch as the star as a sign at the birth of Jesus is not mentioned in the present Old Testament. However, reference to the sign of a star was mentioned by Samuel the Lamanite in the Book of Mormon some five years before the birth of Jesus. (Hel. 14:1–5; 3 Ne. 1:21). The . . . language used by the wise men would indicate that other groups besides the Lehites were aware that a new star would bear record of the birth of the Son of God.”

— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “As to the star, there is nothing mysterious about it. The Magi . . . were not reading portents in the skies nor divining the destinies of men by the movement of celestial bodies in the . . . heavens. The new star was simply a new star of the sort we are familiar with. No doubt it exhibited an unusual brilliance, so as to attract special attention and so as to give guidance to those who walked in its light, but it was, nonetheless, a star.”

● The wise men visited Jesus in a house, not a stable (Matthew 2:3–12). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “[Since] He is called a ‘young child,’ not a baby, a total of 7 times in the course of 14 consecutive verses [and because] Matthew makes two pointed references to the diligent nature of Herod’s inquiry as to the actual time of the birth . . . the presumption arises that a number of months or even one or two years may have elapsed before the arrival of the [wise men].”

Elizabeth and Zacharias (John the Baptist’s Parents)

● Elizabeth called her cousin Mary “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:36–40).
● Zacharias prophesied of his son’s role in “preparing the way of the Lord” (Luke 1:67–80).

JESUS AND JOHN THE BAPTIST ARE PROTECTED

Joseph Takes Jesus into Egypt for Protection

● Joseph was warned in a dream to flee into Egypt with the baby (Matthew 2:13–23) in order to protect Him from Herod’s murderous intentions. Elder James E. Talmage said, “Herod was . . . tyrannical and merciless, sparing neither foe nor friend who came under suspicion of being a possible hindrance to his ambitious designs. He had his wife and several of his sons, as well as others of his blood kindred, cruelly murdered; and he put to death nearly all of the great national council, the Sanhedrin. His reign was one of revolting cruelty and unbridled oppression.”

● The Significance of Places:
— He was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1; fulfillment of Micah 5:2).
— He was raised in Nazareth (Matthew 2:23; fulfillment of a lost prophecy).
— He came out of Egypt (Matthew 2:14; fulfillment of Hosea 11:1).

John the Baptist Is Protected by His Father

● He was also a small child, just six months older than Jesus.
● He also lived with his parents in the vicinity of Bethlehem.
● He escaped Herod’s murders through the selfless courage of his father, Zacharias.

● Jesus alluded to what happened to John’s father (Matthew 23:34–36). The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “When Herod’s edict went forth to destroy the young children, John was about six months older than Jesus, and came under this hellish edict, and Zacharias caused his mother to take him into the mountains, where he was raised on locusts and wild honey. When his father refused to disclose his hiding place, and being the officiating high priest at the Temple that year, was slain by Herod’s order, between the porch and the altar, as Jesus said.”

● John the Baptist grew safely to manhood (Luke 1:80). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “As is the case with his kinsman Jesus, the scriptures are virtually silent on the life and labors of John prior to his formal ministry, which commenced, according to Levitical law, when he was thirty years of age. (Num. 4:3, 47). We do know that ‘he was baptized while he was yet in his childhood’ (D&C 84:28), meaning when he was eight years of age; that his parents were faithful and righteous people; that he ‘was a priest after his father, and held the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, and was called of God to preach the Gospel of the kingdom of God,’ that he ‘waxed strong in spirit,’ that is, became a tower of spiritual strength; and that he was guided during his whole life by the Holy Ghost. It naturally follows that he was trained in obedience to the law of Moses, officiated in the Levitical ordinances and performances, was married (an almost mandatory social requirement among the Jews), and probably had children.”

JESUS’ CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH

He Grew Up Like Other Children

● Isaiah said He would “grow up like a tender plant” and look like other children (Isaiah 53:2).

● Jesus did not have a fulness of godhood or knowledge at first, but continued from “grace to grace” until he received a fulness (D&C 93:12–14).

● He lived with his parents in Nazareth and was obedient to them (Luke 2:51–53).

● He was called a carpenter, showing he learned a trade, probably under Joseph’s direction (Mark 6:3).

● A summary of his character as he grew:
— Spirit Spiritual growth
— Wisdom Intellectual growth
— Grace Divine help
— Stature Physical growth
— Favor with God Pleasing his Heavenly Father
— Favor with man Social growth

He Had to Learn “Line Upon Line” Like We Do (Luke 2:40, 52)

● Jesus also had a veil of forgetfulness of the pre-mortal life—like all of us. Elder James E. Talmage said, “[When Jesus was born,] the veil of forgetfulness common to all who are born to earth. . . . But even as a child he had all the intelligence necessary to enable him to govern the kingdom of the Jews . . . because he overcame the veil and came into communication with his Heavenly Father.”

● President Joseph F. Smith said, “Even Christ himself was not perfect [in knowledge or understanding] at first. . . . Jesus, the Son of God, and the Father of the heavens and the earth in which we dwell, received not a fulness at the first, but increased in faith, knowledge, understanding and grace until he received a fulness. . . .”

He Was Taught by His Father in Heaven

● His training and intelligence showed as he talked with learned men in the temple at the age of twelve—fully aware of his calling and his relationship to the Father (Luke 2:41–50). Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “He astonished the doctors and wise men in the temple—he had learned a great deal about his Father’s business. This knowledge could come to him by revelation, by the visitation of angels, or in some other way. But his knowledge, so far as this life was concerned, had to come line upon line and precept upon precept. Without question he was in communication, from time to time, with his Heavenly Father. . . .”

● The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “When still a boy, He had all the intelligence necessary to enable Him to rule and govern the kingdom of the Jews, and could reason with the wisest and most profound doctors of law and divinity, and make their theories and practice to appear like folly compared with the wisdom He possessed; but He was a boy only, and lacked physical strength even to defend His own person; and was subject to cold, to hunger, and to death.”

● He was instructed directly by our Father in Heaven, and had God’s guidance continually (John 8:28).

● He spoke only those things the Father told him to speak (John 12:49).

● He served under Joseph, but “he needed not that any man should teach him” (JST Matt. 3:24–26). It is possible-even likely-however, that Jesus attended the Jewish synagogues and was taught in the learning of the Jews by the rabbis.

DOCTRINAL INSIGHTS

What are the doctrinal insights we receive from the stories of the Savior’s birth and childhood? You should consider discussing one or more of these with your class.

The Humble Circumstances of Jesus’ Birth (1 Nephi 11:14–18, 20–21; Luke 2:1–7). The prophet Nephi learned that the Savior’s birth would be a demonstration of the “condescension” of God (1 Nephi 11:14–18, 20–21). Nephi had asked what the tree of life stood for, and in response, “an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?” (v. 14). He was seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary. He answered, “A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins” (v. 15). And the angel then asked, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” (v. 16).

The angel’s question is a good one: Do we understand the “condescension” of Christ’s birth? To condescend means to lower oneself to the level of another person. The God Jehovah was condescending Himself when He became a mortal in order to save us. Nephi needed to understand this in order to understand the birth of Christ. For further details, see the section at the first of this article on “The Savior’s Humble Birth.”

There Were Many Witnesses (Luke 2:1–38; Matt. 2:1–12). Jesus’ birth was first told to humble shepherds. Then followed witnesses in the temple when he was eight days old. Later, as a child, he was visited by the Wise Men from the East who had seen His star in the heavens and knew that the Messiah had come. On the Western Hemisphere, prophets saw his birth in vision and reported it. This was not an isolated and unheralded event. There were many witnesses.

Parents Receive Revelation for Their Children (Matt. 2:13–23). Mary received the knowledge that her son was the promised Messiah and testified concerning it when she visited her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:46–55). Joseph, as Jesus’ earthly protector received revelation to take the child into Egypt to protect his life (Matt 2:13–23).

Jesus Had to Learn “Line Upon Line” Like We Do (Luke 2:40, 52) See the sections above about the childhood of Jesus, how He had to learn line upon line, and how He was instructed by His Heavenly Father.

Even As a Child, Jesus Was Focused On Doing His Heavenly Father’s Will (Luke 2:40–52). At age 12 he was found teaching the elders in the temple, with the explanation that He “must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:47). He clearly knew that He was the literal Son of God and even as a child he was focused on serving Him.

Notes:

1.  Jesus the Christ [1915], 91–92.
2.  The Life of Christ [1964], 33.
3.  Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–1973], 1:91.
4.  Geoffrey W. Bromiley, “Swaddling,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (reprint, revised ed.) [1995], 670.
5.  Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:91.
6.  The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979-1981], 1:347.
7.  Jesus the Christ, 95.
8.  Jesus the Christ, 96–97.
9.  Jesus the Christ, 96–97.
10. Jesus the Christ, 96–97.
11.  A Companion to Your Study of the New Testament, Pt. 1, 29.
12.  The Mortal Messiah, 1:359.
13.  Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 1:107.
14.  Jesus the Christ, 97–98.
15.  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 261.
16.  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 272–273.
17.  Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:89–90.
18.  Jesus the Christ, 111.
19.  Gospel Doctrine, 68.
20. Doctrines of Salvation, 1:32–33.
21.  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 392.

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