Today we consider the conclusion to the episode of the shepherds worshipping Jesus and the record of His circumcision and dedication. Luke continues to carefully unfold the way in which Jesus has come to restore all people to the glory they were made for.
What Evangelism Looks Like
After the shepherds found the baby Jesus, they became the first Christian evangelists (Lk. 2:17). Luke says that they specifically told everybody what the angel had said which was that this child would be a Savior and the Messiah Lord (2:11). The message included the sign of the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes laying in a manger (2:12) as well as the song of the angels announcing that this was some really good news for the whole world (2:13). This was not the kind of thing that was easily dismissed. Everybody that heard the report of the shepherds had to wonder about it (2:18). Even Mary, we are told, took all of these things to heart and meditated on them (2:19). We know that the shepherds didn’t merely have a momentary religious experience because they went back to their work with the sheep “glorifying and praising God” for everything they had seen and heard (2:20). This is how all Christians should go about their work after experiencing God. We should note that the titles “Savior” and “Lord Messiah” would have conjured up images of Joshua and David and other political deliverers and rulers, and at the same time, the shepherds could return to their work joyfully (2:20). Instead of concluding that Jesus is not a a political savior, we should recognize that the shepherds understood that the kind of salvation that Jesus would bring would include the redemption of all honest labor. They could best prepare for the coming revolution through faithful diligence at their station. Ever since the beginning, some have thought the Church a good place for freeloading, but the apostles laid down a tradition of hard work (2 Thess. 3:6-11). A man who doesn’t work has no right to eat, and a man who claims to be a Christian who doesn’t provide for his family has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8). Meeting the grace of God in Christ catapults you into the world to tell everyone about the things you have seen and heard about Christ and hungry for honest, diligent labor, expecting to see the salvation of God all around you.
Naming & Dedicating
Luke records that the Child was circumcised and named Jesus on the eighth day in accordance with what the angel had said (Lk. 2:21). Likewise, according to the law of Moses, a woman was unclean for 33 days after the birth of a baby boy (Lev. 12:2-4), and after those days she was to bring an offering to the temple for sacrificial cleansing (Lev. 12:6-8). In this case, Mary and Joseph brought a pair of turtledoves or pigeons which indicates the relative poverty of their family. Luke also references the redemption law of the firstborn (Lk. 2:23) which goes all the way back to the Exodus when God claimed all the firstborn of Israel in the Passover (Ex. 13:2). God didn’t want the people to ever forget the Exodus and how He killed the firstborn of Egypt but saved the Israelite boys alive (Ex. 13:11-16). All of these details once again underline Luke’s diligence in historical record keeping. Luke has inquired diligently, and traced even these seemingly minute details. Secondly, these details underline the piety of Mary and Joseph. They do not assume that because they have a holy baby they are somehow exempt from the law. They are clearly not rich or well off, and so these ordinances would have posed inconveniences on them (perhaps even hardships), but once again we see them being faithful to God no matter the cost. True grace drives diligence and care, not laxity and carelessness. The whole law is summed up in loving God and neighbor everywhere. Thirdly, obedience to these laws at the beginning of the life of Jesus points to His whole life of obedience and fulfillment of the law. The law reveals that we are law breakers, but Jesus kept the law perfectly for us. In this way, the law leads us to Christ like a schoolmaster so that we might be justified by faith in Him (Gal. 3:23-24). We do not keep the law in order to get God to accept us; we have been accepted by God through Christ as His beloved children and have been set free to live our lives for Him. The law is not opposed to the promises, but we do not keep the law in order manipulate the promises. Rather, we receive the promises by faith and in that way, we receive the obedience of Christ in our lives. Herein lies the power of God, and it is far more effective than all our solo efforts. His love is far more powerful than our fear.
The Shepherds returned to their work glorifying and praising God because they found everything to be true just as they had been told (Lk. 2:20). We noted last week that this is Luke’s nod at Theophilus and all those who wonder if what they have been told about Jesus is true (cf. Lk. 1:4). But Luke has also embedded in these details themes that will come up again and again in His gospel. This will not be the last time a multitude will be proclaiming glory in the highest and peace: the crowds will be singing something similar when Jesus rides into Jerusalem to be crucified (Lk. 19:38). Likewise, this will not be the last time Jesus will be wrapped in a cloth and laid somewhere: at His death, He was wrapped in linen and laid in a tomb (Lk. 23:53). Finally, this would not be the last time Jesus would fulfill Passover and offer sacrifice for cleansing: ultimately, He would become the Passover lamb who takes away the sins of the world. This is how Jesus is our Savior and King. He comes to do what we could not do in order that He might accomplish in us far more than we dare to hope or imagine.