1:1-4 These first four verses serve as a preamble to Luke’s work. He addresses his Gospel to the most honorable Theophilus (1:3), apparently a man of high social standing who perhaps served as Luke’s patron, funding the production of his Gospel, as well as the book of Acts (Acts 1:1). Luke wants Theophilus to be certain of the things about which he had been instructed (1:4), indicating that Theophilus may have been a new convert to Christianity.
1:67-80 Zechariah was then filled with the Holy Spirit and answered the question that everyone was asking (1:67). His prophecy of praise is called the Benedictus, which is the first word of the Latin rendering of Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel (1:68): Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel. He worshiped God for the redemption and salvation he was providing for his people through the Messiah, just as he had promised long ago (1:68-75). As for Zechariah’s son John, he would be a prophet of the Most High who would go before the Lord to prepare his ways as the Old Testament prophets foretold (see Isa 40:3; Mal 3:1). He would introduce Israel to her Messiah (see John 1:29-36). John grew up and became spiritually strong, spending much time in the wilderness and being prepared for his future public ministry (Luke 1:80).
2:1-2 As the time approached for Mary’s baby to be born, the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus gave orders for the empire to be registered (2:1)—that is, a census was to be taken for taxation purposes. Augustus ruled from 31 BC to AD 14. This was the first registration that took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. Thus, Luke places the birth of Jesus squarely in the middle of Roman and Jewish history.
2:3-7 As a result of the emperor’s decree, everyone traveled to his town to be registered (2:3). Since Joseph was of the house and family line of David, he had to travel from his home in Nazareth to Bethlehem (2:4), David’s hometown (see 1 Sam 16:1). The distance between the two places was about ninety miles. Mary traveled with him, and while they were in Bethlehem she gave birth to Jesus (2:5-7) in fulfillment of Micah 5:2. Given the number of travelers, there was no guest room available for them, so she resorted to laying her baby in a manger, a feeding trough for animals (3:7). The King of creation, who deserved all honor and glory, had been born into the humblest of circumstances.
2:8-11 Luke reports another angelic visit, this time to nearby shepherds watching their flock at night (2:8). These were shepherds who cared for lambs used as sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem. The unexpected and glorious appearance of the divine visitor terrified the shepherds (2:9), yet he brought good news of great joy (2:10). Not only was the visit unexpected, but the message was too: Today in the city of David (Bethlehem) a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord (2:11). Israel’s Messiah, her anointed and appointed King, had finally come. And God chose to announce his Son’s birth—not to the political or religious leaders of the day—but to a group of humble shepherds. He would be a Messiah for all the people (2:10) and offered as a sacrificial lamb like those cared for by the shepherds. He was born, the angel told them, “for you.”
2:12 To confirm his words, the angel told the shepherds where they would find the Christ child. This infant King wasn’t lying in a palace but in a manger. The shepherds were responsible for making sure that newborn lambs had no defects since the sacrificial animals had to be without spot or wrinkle. So the shepherds would tightly wrap the lambs in cloth to keep them from becoming blemished and injuring themselves. This explains why Luke makes the point that Jesus was wrapped tightly in cloth, since at his birth he was the sinless Lamb of God whose substitutionary sacrifice would take away the sin of the entire world (see John 1:29; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 1:19-20; 1 John 2:2).
2:13-15 Yet even though the circumstances of his entrance into the world were lowly, his birth announcement was anything but. Suddenly the angel was joined by a multitude of angels! The army of heaven came together to praise the Lord (2:13). They gave glory to God and announced peace on earth to people he favors (2:15)—to all those who would submit themselves to the Messiah.
The angelic announcement of “peace on earth” repeated so often at Christmastime is not about quiet tranquility or merely the absence of animosity between people. It is a declaration of the coming end of hostilities between a holy God and sinful humanity through the atoning work of the Messiah: peace with God. The Son of God came to pay the penalty for our sin and impute to us his righteousness. Only when “we have been declared righteous by faith,” can “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). Peace among people is only possible when humanity is living at peace with God and submitting to his kingdom rule.
2:16-20 After an announcement like that, it’s no surprise that the shepherds hurried off to find the baby . . . in the manger (2:16). They wanted to see this wonderful truth for themselves! And afterwards, they became the first human heralds of the good news of the Messiah, amazing all who heard it (2:17-18). The shepherds went back to work as changed men, glorifying and praising God (2:20). Mary, however, quietly reflected on the events (2:19). Of all the women in Israel, God had chosen this ordinary, humble young woman to bring the Messiah into the world. God regularly works through the lowly to fulfill his kingdom program (see 1 Cor 1:26-29).
2:21-24 Joseph and Mary fulfilled the law by circumcising their son “on the eighth day” (Lev 12:3). In obedience to the angel’s instruction, they named him Jesus, meaning, “the Lord saves” (2:21; see 1:31). No one was ever more appropriately named! As faithful Jewish parents, they further kept God’s commands by presenting Jesus to the Lord in fulfillment of Exodus 13:2 and 12, and by offering a sacrifice in fulfillment of Leviticus 12:6-8. The kind of animals they offered indicates that Joseph and Mary were poor (see Lev 12:8).
2:25-32 Luke mentions two more humble Israelites who gave thanks to God for Jesus. The first is a righteous man named Simeon who’d received special revelation from the Lord (2:25). The Holy Spirit had promised him that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Lord’s Messiah with his own eyes (2:26). Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple just as Jesus’s parents brought him in (2:27). Praising God, Simeon took the child in his arms. The Lord had fulfilled his promise, allowing him to see the one who would bring salvation (2:29-30). He would bring light and glory to peoples everywhere—to the Gentiles and Israel (2:31-32).
2:33-35 Simeon also blessed the parents. Then he informed Mary of the effect Jesus would have on many in Israel. Some would fall by rejecting him, and others would put their faith in him and rise (2:34). Though he would be opposed, the hearts of many would be revealed (2:34-35): True colors would be exposed. Unfortunately, there would be more than blessing for Mary: A sword will pierce your own soul (2:35). She would misunderstand her son (2:41-50), think he was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21), and experience the grief of his crucifixion (John 19:25-27). But later, after his resurrection, she would know joy (Acts 1:14).
2:36-38 The second person Joseph and Mary encountered that day was an elderly prophetess named Anna (2:36-37). She had devoted her life to the Lord’s service in the temple (2:37). When Simeon concluded his prophecy, Anna began. She thanked God and announced to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem that the Messiah had come (2:38).
2:39-40 Having faithfully accomplished everything that the law of the Lord required, Joseph and Mary returned with Jesus to Nazareth (2:39). The boy grew up and became strong, filled with wisdom, and God’s grace was on him (2:40). In every way—physically, spiritually, and intellectually—Jesus matured in his humanity as God intended.
2:41-42 Jesus grew up in a godly Jewish home, demonstrated by the family’s regular observance of the Passover Festival in Jerusalem (2:41). Luke describes an occasion in which Jesus’s wisdom and grace (see 2:40) was evident even when he was twelve years old (2:42).
2:43-51 When the festival days were over in Jerusalem, Jesus lingered behind, while his parents assumed he was in the traveling party returning to Galilee. They would’ve been in a caravan with many relatives and friends (2:43-44), so it would have been easy to assume Jesus was among the group somewhere. When they realized he was missing, they returned to Jerusalem and found him after three days of searching (2:45-46). He was in the temple, interacting with the teachers and amazing them with his understanding (2:46-47). When his parents asked why he had worried them, Jesus replied, Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house? (2:48-49). They did not understand that he had a unique kingdom mission from his heavenly Father (2:50). Nevertheless, he also had a responsibility to honor his earthly father and mother (see Exod 20:12), so he obeyed and went home with them (Luke 2:51).
Though her young son confused her, Mary kept all these things in her heart (2:51). One day, she would understand. Meanwhile, Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and people (2:52). This demonstrates his true humanity. He wasn’t simply God disguised as a man. He had both a perfect divine nature and a genuine human nature that matured as he grew.