Date: 6 Mar 2022
Sermon Text: Luke 2:1-52
Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan
Greetings everyone and welcome back to our Sunday Service.
As a church we are going through the Gospel of Luke and each month, the first 3 Sundays will be on this pulpit series. In February, we went through Luke chapter 1. We got to know that Doctor Luke was writing an orderly account of the life of Jesus for a prominent member of the Roman society – a most excellent Theophilus. We saw the significance of Angel Gabriel’s communication to Zechariah and Mary, on the impossible birth of John and the miraculous conception of Jesus.
Chapter 1 ended with the birth of John. And as a faith community we were faced with this question – what is the nature of the King’s salvation? We saw that it was contrary to the value systems of this world, and it was inclusive to the fullest extend possible. Moreover, we understood that such perspectives can only be accepted and responded appropriately to, when we have been filled with the Holy Spirit. This morning, we will continue see some of these themes as well.
So, from the birth of John at the end of Luke 1, we now come to the birth of Jesus.
How many babies are born each year? Well, according to statistics, around 140 million babies are born every year in the world. In Singapore, our 5 year annual average is about 32,500. In the 1960s and 70s, KK Hospital was world famous for the number of births per year. Each baby is precious and I’m sure some were long-awaited ones, others, carried to term with great difficulty.
Now for all these births, the child is special to their parents and family and for some like royalty, significant even for the nation. But Theophilus, Dr Luke is saying, the birth of Jesus supersedes all significance. It has cosmic implications. It has impact for now and into eternity. And that is the question of the hymn we sing at Christmas – What Child is This?
What Child is this who laid to rest, on Mary‘s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the Babe the Son of Mary.
As we begin, let me give an overview of how we will be going through today’s passage.
Birth of Jesus
Whose kingdom elevates the humble
Angels and Shepherds
Infant Jesus in Jerusalem
Whose kingdom includes everyone
Simeon and Anna
12 year old Jesus at the Passover
Whose kingdom is one that takes priority over the natural order of things
Joseph and Mary
In the first column, I’ve listed the narrative as we see in Luke 2. In the middle column, I would like to submit the significance we can observe from the passage and am using it as the sermon outline. Finally, the 3rd column will see the testimonies of people that gives us glimpse of the appropriate responses we can have to the narratives.
Once we truly know what Child is this that Mary is carrying, there are appropriate responses we can have.
Whose kingdom elevates the humble
Let’s begin with the first 21 verses of Luke chapter 2 and ask ourselves, what Child is this whose kingdom elevates the humble.
May I submit our first observation – that this Child’s kingdom is a sovereign kingdom. A powerful one that overshadows even the world’s great superpowers. V1 says, in those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. Rome controlled the known civilized world then. It was the superpower of it’s time.
This decree by Caesar puts us in an actual period of history and it’s speaks of the total rule of Rome over the people of Israel. This decree was for control purposes, with one key purpose, for taxation.
Obedience is expected and so v3 says, all went to be registered, each to his own town.
Here is where we see that God’s sovereignty overshadows even that of the superpower of Rome. God is in full control, working through pagan Roman emperors to bring about the prophesy of Micah 5:2, which was one of the verses read at our call to worship.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. — Micah 5:2
The fulfilment that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. God’s sovereign providential hand continues to work even today.
He (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. — Hebrews 1:3
At our last prayer meeting, we prayed for the church as we continue to grapple with this Covid-pandemic. It’s been so long, we are nearly forgetting what life was like before the pandemic. It seems we are taking 3 steps forward and 2 steps back every time. This past week we see the war in Eastern Europe.
I pray that this first point will give us the big picture perspective. Nothing in this world happens without the knowledge of our Heavenly Father. Everything happens within His providential will.
God’s sovereignty is shown by Him using the Roman decree to fulfil the prophesy of Micah. A warning therefore to the proud and an encouragement to the humble. God is still in full control today.
Our second observation is that such cosmic announcement is given to insignificant people. The angel says, Jesus is (1) going to be born in the line of king David, (2) he is to be the Saviour and (3) who is the Messiah, the anointed one and (4) who is the Lord, who is equal with God (cf 1:68). Should not the heavenly hosts have appeared in the temple in Jerusalem to the high priest, the Pharisees and the Scribes?
In continuation with this upside down theme with Mary, this earth-shattering announcement is given instead to humble shepherds. Those who worked with their hands, whose job was dangerous and who often had to sleep out in the open.
The shepherds were not outcasts, but in those days, they occupied the bottom of the social economic ladder.
And furthermore, Jesus the Son of king David is to be born in a manger. The whole of Bethlehem must have been packed with people coming to register for the census. There was no room for them except where the animals were kept for shelter. The humbleness of the birth setting and the first recipients of the angelic announcements, I’m sure did not escape the attention of the most excellent Theophilus. This sure is a very odd setting for the arrival of the divine Messiah.
Christianity in Singapore, some say has become very middle class. It may show in the way we dress, the things we talk about, and even in the way we do ministry. Does this cause us to have blind-spots as to whom we would share the birth of Jesus with? We may not explicitly say so, but because we are uncomfortable in ministering in humble settings, we hardly get a chance to interact with the least in society. Do we make those who visit us and are from the ‘lost’ in Singapore uncomfortable? Those who cannot fit in with general society, are they able to find their sanctuary with us? God sent his heavenly herald to humble shepherds, whom is he sending us to today?
Finally, we observe the response of the Shepherds in v15-20. 3 things they did. Firstly, they made haste to visit Jesus in the manger. If you have yet to put your faith in Jesus, the birth of Jesus is good news of great joy that is for everyone including you. If the Lord is speaking with you today, would you make haste to know Him?
Secondly, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. I’m sure they were testifying to all whom the Lord brought to their path. If you have recently become a believer, you have the greatest circle of yet-believing friends. Would you be like the shepherds and testify of what you have believed?
Finally, they were glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what we proclaim each Sunday. This is something we do weekly at our Sunday Service. Let this be our platform in which we joyfully participate regularly.
What child is this, whose kingdom elevates the humble. Whose kingdom includes everyone
Let’s now look at v22 to v40 of Luke 2. What child is this whose kingdom includes everyone.
The setting of these verses is in the city of Jerusalem and specifically in the temple. These verses are filled with a sense of the faith of ancient Israel. The sacrifices that Joseph and Mary were participating in and their interaction with Simeon and Anna, these all adds up to the scene being soaked in the faith of the Jews.
Let me give us a sense of that.
Firstly, the law of Moses is mentioned 5 times (v22,23,24,27,39) in this section. And Luke wants to show that Joseph and Mary were devoutly obedient to it.
Mary’s purification after childbirth (v22,24)
Present first born to the Lord (v22b-23)
Exod 13:2,11 – 13
Likely paid the redemption price
Interestingly, in the redemption of the first born this is reference to in Exodus 13.
And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” — Ex 13:14-16
The Jews redeem their first born because it reminds them of what the Lord did to the first born in Egypt which resulted in the freeing of the Jews from slavery. Then, the Jews were spared because they sacrificed the Passover lamb. Poignant significance this is, for Jesus will be our Passover Lamb when He goes to Calvary.
Secondly, we see that Simeon and Anna meet Joseph and Mary with baby Jesus.
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. — Lk 2:25
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher…. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. — Lk 2:36-27
Both of these elderly saints are described as fully devoted to God. Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel. Waiting for the comfort of Israel’s deliverance. Anna was also faithfully waiting in anticipation of the redemption of Jerusalem.
What Dr Luke is describing is a full-fledge Jewish religious setting – Joseph and Mary are carrying out their observance of the law of Moses in the temple in Jerusalem, and they meet with 2 elderly saints who are waiting for Israel’s savior.
“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.” — Lk 2:29 -32
It is thus so significant what Simeon, under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, reveals about Jesus the Christ. As Simeon holds Jesus in his arms, he says, Jesus is not just the means of salvation, Jesus is Salvation. Salvation is putting our faith in a person.
What we see is this build up has been so Jewish. Yet the punch line is that God’s salvation is for all people – a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel. That was a bombshell of a proclamation – in the most Jewish of settings, Simeon announces that Jesus’ salvation includes even the Gentiles. And he even mentions the Gentiles first.
What might be our modern-day equivalent? It could be standing in the Taiwan parliament and say, I represent all Taiwanese and we regard China as our brother and we are one. It could be like the military government in Myanmar admitting that genocide happened. What Simeon said was truly head-line news in Israel. The kingdom of Jesus is an outside-in kingdom.
Now what Simeon said to Joseph and Mary, Anna now proclaimed to all who was at the temple at that time.
And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. — Lk 2:38
Like the shepherds, Anna testified to all who were around her, whom the Lord brought within her sphere of influence.
For me, Simeon and Anna lived out:
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. — Jer 29:13
They were filled with anticipation, they were looking out for Israel’s Savior. And so, when Jesus appeared, even though it didn’t look like it, they knew.
See, if they were looking out for the typical king, it would not belong to Joseph and Mary. They came from Nazareth, they were country people, hardly royal material.
They offered as a sacrifice a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. According to Lev 12, only the poor would offer turtledoves, for the standard was a lamb. The natural eye will not see Jesus as the potential king.
However, Jesus reveals himself to all who genuinely seek Him. It does not matter if you are born in a non-Christian family, it does not matter your status in life, your age, nor your race nor your nationality. He will be found of you if you seek him with all your heart.
To add to this understanding of inclusiveness, (that both Jews and Gentiles can come to Jesus), Simeon says, however not all will receive him as Lord and Savior.
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 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” — Lk 2:34
Simeon prophesied, not all will accept that Jesus is God’s salvation. Those who reject Jesus will ‘fall’ and those who accept Jesus will ‘rise’. The thing is there is no middle ground. We will either rise with Jesus or fall with rejection.
Further, not only will there be rejection, there will also be opposition to the good news of Jesus Christ. And I think this is instructive for us as we live and testify of the birth of Jesus. Accept that there will be mixed responses and to be prepared even for outright hostility. This is not meant to discourage us, but instead to pre-empt our disappointments and to increase our perseverance.
What Child is this, whose kingdom includes everyone? Whose kingdom is one that takes priority over the natural order of things
We come now to v41 to 52. Luke is the only gospel that gives us this narrative of Jesus as an adolescent.
What child is this whose kingdom is one that takes priority order the natural order of things.
We see the inter-dependence of community in this narrative. It’s like you trust your children are with the church group in the camp activities. You don’t worry unless they are not back in the room at the end of the day. Only then would you go search in the various venues of the hotel where you think they might be.
At 12 years old, the typical Jewish boy is transiting into adulthood. To them it was considered the age of discernment and so traditionally at 13, the boy becomes a man and was fully responsible for keeping the law.
We have seen the angels testifying about Jesus, so did Simeon and Anna. Now it is Jesus’ turn to testify about himself.
And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” — Lk 2:48
Here Jesus gives his parents a glimpse of his divine relationship. Jesus has a heavenly Father and that takes priority – did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?
This was such an audacious claim. In claiming God as Father, Jesus thus claims that He is God’s Son. That would amount to blasphemy if it were not true.
And Jesus is saying, this divine relationship must take priority over that of his earthly parents. Gospel priority, is that something which resonates with you? That my priorities and passions are all guided by the Gospel? Do we ensure that our choice of hobbies, friends, careers help us be more Christ-like and not less?
To the credit of Joseph and Mary, they did not react with indignation. I supposed everything was just so overwhelming for them. They knew what Angel Gabriel said about Jesus:
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” — Lk 1:31-33
Yet I suppose till age 12, Jesus had led so normal a childhood. They were struggling to put 2 and 2 together. Jesus had an ordinary childhood, but he was no ordinary child.
This leads us I submit to our 2nd observation.
And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him…. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. — Lk 2:40, 52
And the child (John) grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. — Lk 1:80
Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man. — 1 Sam 2:26
Jesus was fully human, who had a divine purpose in life. Jesus grew and became strong. He was an infant, became an adolescent, then an adult. The descriptions of Jesus have similarities with John and Samuel. And we know that both of them were fully human. Luke was a physician who did extensive research. He knew what he was talking about. Jesus was fully human and he understood what growing up was all about. Jesus shows us that it is possible to be human and strive to live life as God has intended for us.
Church, Jesus understands us truly. Youths, He understands our growing up pains. Adults, He understands what it means to be human.
So, let’s have confidence that Jesus can appreciate our feelings and our struggles. It also means, because He understands, what He says is the solution to our challenges and also what our life purposes should be, are also appropriate and relevant.
Now if you are like me, you would like the first part – about Jesus’ identifying with us, but not so much the second part – that His solutions and purposes are relevant.
Because sometimes, we just feel God’s Word is so outdated, so unrealistic. But Ecclesiastes reminds, there is nothing new under the sun.
Jesus’ links to John and Samuel, connects also with their roles as Prophets. They spoke for God. John was to point to the Messiah and Samuel anointed King David. And we have been told, Jesus will fulfil the role of the Messiah and will sit on the throne of David forever. The trajectory of John and Samuel ends at Jesus.
Luke 2 thus highlights that Jesus has 2 natures. He is both divine and human. And even as a human, He had a divine purpose that took priority over everything.
But before we shirk any of our earthly responsibilities, remember v51 Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents and was submissive to them. And this honouring of parents will be displayed even at the cross when he asked John to take care of his mother.
So, what can we observe of the responses of Joseph and Mary? Let’s begin with Joseph.
Joseph does not say a word. Yet his life spoke volumes. Jesus was raised in a faithful Jewish home. In the midst of a pagan culture, under Roman oppression, Joseph determined to bring his family up in the faith. Joseph determined that his faith was of priority. So v41 says, now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.
Earlier, we saw that they performed what was taught in the law of Moses with regards to circumcision, purification of the mother and the presentation of the child. I submit Scripture is noting that Joseph lived out his faith with steadfastness. It says something isn’t it that God chose Joseph and Mary to bring Jesus up. God knew that Jesus would have a faithful and devout Jewish upbringing despite the pagan culture.
Fathers would we too today, model our Christian faith daily at home? May our actions not contradict our words, that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour.
What about Mary’s response in all this?
But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart…. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. — Lk 2:19, 51
Mary’s is a contemplative and reflective response. To treasure is to preserve, protect and defend. And to ponder is to think seriously and constantly about it. Mary was internalizing everything that is happening. Do we give ourselves time to do the same with God’s Word?
As time-starved Singaporeans, is our appointment with God just a tick on our to-do lists each day? Or do we set aside time to ponder, to treasure what God has been saying to us? Can we make time to linger in God’s presence, to contemplate on who He is and whose we are? Might this be an important element for mental wellness?
On this side of eternity, we all have to live with the natural order of things. But in Christ, we have already become citizens of heaven. Let us ask God then, to help us spend sufficient time, to develop biblical lenses to navigate in this fallen world.
What child is this whose kingdom is one that takes priority over the natural order of things — Conclusion
Friends, this morning, we have this question in front of us – what Child is this who is lying in the manger? Like the Shepherds would you make haste to know this child?
Church, like the Shepherds, would we be spontaneous in proclaiming what we have experienced? Or are we having the wrong expectation that angelic beings are needed to testify to our loved ones?
Fellow Hermonites, could Simeon model for us what it means to be led by God to minister to specific people? Could we be open to the Holy Spirit prompting for the divine appointment He brings to us?
Believers, Anna, spoke of Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Would we be sensitive to those around us who are eager to read the bible? Are we tuned-in to those who are seekers in our midst?
Disciples of Jesus, would our lives speak credibly for our faith like Joseph? Would we pause in the day to be like Mary. To give ourselves time to treasure and to ponder about the Gospel?
What Child is this who is lying in the manger?