The Good News of Great Joy Verses 1-20
The Emperor of Rome was Caesar Augustus and he ruled over most of the civilized world.
Augustus (23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD) was the founder of the Roman Empire and its first Emperor, ruling from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. He was born Gaius Octavius into an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian Octavia family. His maternal great-uncle Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir. He, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat the assassins of Caesar. Following their victory at Philippi, the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves and ruled as military dictators. The Triumvirate was eventually torn apart under the competing ambitions of its members. Lepidus was driven into exile and stripped of his position, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by Octavian in 31 BC.
After the demise of the Second Triumvirate, Augustus restored the outward facade of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates, and the legislative assemblies. In reality, however, he retained his autocratic power over the Republic as a military dictator. By law, Augustus held a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Senate, including supreme military command, and those of tribune and censor. It took several years for Augustus to develop the framework within which a formally republican state could be led under his sole rule. He rejected monarchical titles, and instead called himself Princeps Civitatis (“First Citizen of the State”). The resulting constitutional framework became known as the Principate, the first phase of the Roman Empire.
The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana (The Roman Peace). The Roman world was largely free from large-scale conflict for more than two centuries, despite continuous wars of imperial expansion on the Empire’s frontiers and one year-long civil war over the imperial succession. Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia; expanding possessions in Africa; expanding into Germania; and completing the conquest of Hispania.
Beyond the frontiers, he secured the Empire with a buffer region of client states and made peace with the Parthian Empire through diplomacy. He reformed the Roman system of taxation, developed networks of roads with an official courier system, established a standing army, established the Praetorian Guard, created official police and fire-fighting services for Rome, and rebuilt much of the city during his reign.
Augustus died in AD 14 at the age of 75. He may have died from natural causes, although there were unconfirmed rumors that his wife Livia poisoned him. He was succeeded as Emperor by his adopted son (also stepson and former son-in-law) Tiberius. (Wikipedia)
Good News of Great Joy 1-20
Though during Augustus’ reign it was relatively peaceful he was unable to give true peace. As Epictetus wrote: “While the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief, and envy. He cannot give peace of heart, for which man yearns more than even for outward peace.” In Luke’s Gospel he tells of One who will give that kind of peace that lay beyond the power of men.
Luke demonstrates the power of God to move in the affairs of the nations to accomplish His own purposes. In the Old Testament we see how God used Cyrus to achieve His own purpose for His people. (Isaiah 45:1) In the same way God used Augustus’ tax plan to being Mary and Joseph to the appointed place for the birth of Jesus. This was to fulfill the Prophecy of the Prophet Micah. (Micah 5:2)
The Apostle Paul referenced that birth of Christ as, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.” (Galatians 4:4) Paul’s point was that God sent His Son into the world in His time and in His way. Rulers in the world may think that they are in control of the destiny of their people but it is God who is in control. God is able to take the events of the government and the world and make them conform to His own plan and purpose.
There are many points in Luke’s narrative that are signs which herald the divine intervention of God into human history. One of the most dramatic is the angel’s announcement to the shepherds on the night of the birth of Jesus. Three verses of the narrative focus on the significance of this event, verses 10, 11, 14.
In verse 10 we see the announcement of the angels, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.” The earlier announcements were to people personally as with Zachariah and Mary. But in verses 8-14 we see the first public announcement.
Shepherds were the lowest of the low on the social scale. God gave the first public proclamation of the good news to the social outcast of the people. This was a deliberate choice as the Gospel was for all people and thus, it was first announced to a group of people who were excluded from society.
Verses 11 focuses on the One whose coming was heralded. Here Jesus is given three titles and each one is significant. The word Savior was a familiar word to the Jews and the Gentiles. It carried the meaning of a healer, a deliverer, and a benefactor. It was a word that was used of the great men of the day such as Caesar Augustus who was often heralded as a savior.
Christ mean Messiah, the anointed one to rule as King. This would be a fulfillment of the promise God made to David. Lord is a word from the Greek translation of its use in the Old Testament to represent Yahweh. This then speaks of the divine nature of the One who was born.
The heralding angel after his announcement was joined by a heavenly host of angels who praised God with these words, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” In some manuscripts we will read “peace, good will to men.” When the words good will is translated it is a word consistently used of God’s goodwill and not humanities. A paraphrase of this passage could be “peace to people who are the objects of God’s goodwill.” The Angels were not pointing to a select group of people of good will upon God would bestow His blessings. The heavenly host was praising God for His offer of peace to all people. Therefore they were praising God for the good news of great joy to all people described in verse 10.
The shepherds were not only the first to hear the good news but they were the first to testify of that good news. They were quick to respond to the good news and were also diligent to tell others of the good news. And as they returned they were praising God for all they had seen and heard.
Luke gives us some insight into the mind of Mary in that she pondered all these things in her heart. This could mean that Mary was a valuable source of information for Luke in writing his gospel. Luke also makes the same observation in verse 51.
Glory to Israel and Light to the Gentiles Verses 21-39
The Temple was the central place of worship for the Israelite nation and a place that they found their hope. In 1:5 the opening of the story was in the Temple and Jesus was presented in the Temple in 2:21-38. Five times Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary acted according to the law. Verses 22, 23, 24, 27, 39. There were three ceremonies that were performed according to the law. On the eighth day they circumcised Jesus. (Genesis 17:9-14) They also named Him Jesus as the angel had instructed. Mary also went to the Temple for purification as prescribed by the law. (Leviticus 12:1-8) May and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple for the redemption of the first male born child. (Exodus 13:2, 12-15)
There is only one mention of Simeon in the Scriptures. Three times in these verses the Spirit’s influence on Simeon is mentioned. Verses 25, 26, 27. Both Simeon and Anna spoke prophetically when the infant Jesus was brought to the Temple. They were two Godly elderly people who represented Old Testament faith at its best. They both recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah. All of the first believers in Jesus were Jewish and Luke presents Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. True Israelites recognized him as such.
In Simeon’s prophecy he blessed God for allowing him to see God’s salvation, which Gad had, “Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” This salvation would not only be for the Israelite people but also the Gentiles. It is a strong theme in the Gospel of Luke that God’s revelation was for all people and even more so in the Book of Acts. This inclusion is clearer in verse 32. “A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”
Simeon’s prophecy to Mary is the first mention in Luke to the mission of Jesus being one of suffering. This is the first time that the shadow of the cross falls across the path of Jesus. Mary must have in later life remembered these words of Simeon. Anna’s prophecy reinforced the words of Simeon.
In His Father’s House Verses 40-52
Here we have the only insight of Jesus’ youth. There have been other writings about the time of Jesus’ youth but the early Christians only accepted this account from the Gospel of Luke.
In this account Luke stresses the mystery between the humanity and the divineness of Jesus. It has been a stumbling block to many a non-believer the paradox of the incarnation. Jesus was fully divine and fully human. Jesus was born to a virgin but He was born. Jesus experienced the normal growth process but at the age of twelve He knew of His divinity.
Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem to find Jesus who was missing from the trip back to Nazareth. When they found Him in the Temple they were amazed. Jesus was found in the midst of the teachers. The teachers of that day combined their lectures with answering questions from their students. Jesus had amazed the teachers of the Temple with His insightful questions and careful attention. They were astounded by the wise answers from the boy from Galilee.
The question that Mary asked Jesus and His answer is the heart of this passage. There are two translations to the verse which read, “In my Father’s house,” and “about my Father’s business.” Because they were in the Temple the former is the more likely interpretation.
Either way Jesus was fully aware of His unique relationship to the Heavenly Father. Mary’s question is interesting to look into. “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” It is clear from the question that Jesus was with them and that He was obedient to them. Yet His answer clearly asserts His sense of His Sonship to the Heavenly Father.
This short look at the childhood of Jesus forms a bridge between His birth and His adult ministry. As a child He was a respectful son but when in adulthood He began a mission that neither His family nor His followers could fully understand. Mary’s anxiety in the Temple foreshadows the future anxieties, as Jesus undertook to do the will of His Heavenly Father.
Some may wonder what Mary marveled at Simeon’s prophecy and them astonished by Jesus’ words in the Temple. Mary was fully aware of the wonders of His coming and why, would she be astonished by what He did?
This overlooks that Mary knew who Jesus was but did not know how His mission would unfold. As with others Mary was puzzled by the way that Jesus set about to accomplish His mission. (Mark 3:21, 31-35; John 2:3-5) We can see Mary as a pilgrim of faith as she marveled at the way the drama played out. As Mary traveled on it is probable that she had more questions than answers.