LIFE OF CHRIST - The Birth Narratives
Session 3

A literary analysis shows that each Gospel is written in a unique style and with specific intent, appealing to different groups of people in the world of that time. In spite of the differing emphases, the Gospel writers were in agreement on critical points. Each testified that Jesus was not born into a theological vacuum but was in fact the Jewish Messiah that had been anticipated for two millennium. Each acknowledged the heated conflict between Jesus and the prevailing religious leadership, which was rooted in an overly materialistic expectation of Messiah. Finally, each understood that Jesus claimed to be the unique incarnation of Yahweh, the personal God of the Old Testament, a fact anticipated in the ancient scrolls. It was this claim that ultimately cost Jesus His life.

I. New Testament Geography.

A. Palestine
A small country (90 miles wide and 150 miles long at its extreme) with a coastal plain and a backbone of disjointed mountains running north and south. Divided into four political section Jesus's time:

1. Judea (south)  
a. Consists of a maritime plain bordering the Mediterranean, the hill country, a wilderness extending from the edge of the hill country to the Dead Sea, and the Jordan Valley

b. Jerusalem

1) Located in the mountains on a rocky plateau at 2250 ft., 33 miles east of the Mediterranean.  2) Site of the temple, the center of spiritual life in Palestine.c. Judeans were passionately patriotic and loyal to their past.
2. Samaria (central)  
a. Prior capital of the split kingdom.

b.Samaritans were a mixed race with a heathen core, descendants of colonists brought in by the king of Assyria, gradually Hebraized through intermarriage with the Jews (Unger, p. 958).

c. There religion was a mixture of paganism and Judaism, though clearly some were anticipating Messiah (Jn 4).

d. Jews were hostile towards Samaritans (Jn 4:9, 8:48), willing to cross the Jordan and travel through Perea on a circuitous route to Galilee in order to avoid the more ~ would bring them through Samaria.41

3. Perea (east)
Providence east of the Jordan, roughly between Galilee and the Dead Sea.42 A Jewish province that served as a route around Samaria. "Transjordan" was probably the common term among the Jews of the time (ISBE, vol. 3,-p.763).  4. Galilee (north):  
a. Jesus grew up here (Nazareth) and opened His ministry here (Lk 4).

b. The center of Jesus' ministry was Capernaum on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. Of Jesus' great miracles, 25 of 33 were performed in Galilee, 18 of them near the sea itself.

c. Very fertile agricultural area; fishing and related occupations of boat building and fish curing (JSBE, vol. 2, P. 392).

d. Galileans were simple with earnest piety, yet passionate, intensely nationalistic and sometimes violent. Judeans considered them hicks, and anything Galilean was held in contempt in Rabbinic circles (Unger, p. 387).~~

B. Key geographical features
1. Sea of Galilee
a. Also called the "Lake of Gennesaret" (Lk 5:1) and "Sea of Tiberias" (In 21:1); 53 miles long.
b. Liable to sudden, violent storms due to variations in temperature.2. The Jordan River and Jordan Valley. a. A deep gorge dropping rapidly into the Dead Sea.

b. About 100 feet across, rapid and muddy, used more for a frontier boundary than habitation.

3. The Dead Sea a. 1,290 feet below sea level. The bottom, the lowest place on earth, is 1,300 feet lower than its surface.

b. Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were probably located along the southeastern end of the Dead Sea (JSBE, vol. 4, p. 560).

4. The wilderness a. Israel's wanderings, far to the south in the Sinai, primarily.

b. John the Baptist's preparation (Lk 1:80), probably a variety of locationsM44

c. Jesus' temptation (Lk 4, Matt 4).

5. Gentile areas a. Decapolis 1) A loose confederation of Gentile cities scattered to the east of the Sea of Galilee. 2) Infrequently visited by Jesus, but a source of many followers (Matt 4:25).

b. Tyre & Sidon.
Region Jesus visited (Matt 15:2 1, Mk 7:24) and taught in.

II. New Testament Heralds of Jesus' Birth   A. Broad teaching of the OT taught the Jews to expect certain things of their Messiah:
1. The Abrahaniic Covenant. Among other things this included a blessing to Abraham that would ultimately extend to all the Gentile nations (Gen 12:1-3).
2. The Davidic Covenant. A direct descendant of David would sit on his throne and reign forever (1 Sam 7:12-17).
3. The Mosaic Covenant. An innocent and unblemished lamb is sacrificed as a substitute to cover the sins of the people, bringing forgiveness and ultimate redemption (Lev 4:32ff).

4. The New Covenant. The ultimate provision for forgiveness and the indwelling of God's own Spirit within each believer (Jer 31:31-37; Ezek 36:24-36).

B. Angels
1. Gabriel45 a. Appears to Zaeharias (Lk 1:8-20)
Referring to John the Baptist: "He will be great in the sight of the Lord...and be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb. And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children46, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (15-17).

b. Appears to Mary (Lk 1:26-38)
"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.47 He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne ofHis father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end."48

2. Heavenly host appears to the Shepherds (Lk 2:10-11)
"And the angel said to them, Today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord."'
C. Zacharias
John the Baptist's father (Lk 1:67-79) prophesies in Messianic terms: "redemption for His people," "horn of salvation," "remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham," "the forgiveness of sins," "To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death."49

D. Mary (Lk 1:53-55) "The Magnificat":
"He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever" (54-55).Reflects back on blessing of Abraham that was promised.

E. Simeon (Lk 2:29-38)

1. "Now Lord, you can let your bondservant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory or Your people Israel."

2. Identifies Jesus as the Messiah. "He saw by the Spirit that the child would be the
touchstone of destiny for men" (Harrison, SLC, p. 53).

3. "...and a sword will pierce even your own soul..." (v35).

F. Anna (Lk 2:36-38) "She...continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (v38).

G. The Magi (Matt 2:1-12) "Where is he who has been born King ofthe Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him" (Matt 2:2).

H. The Significance: Jesus' introduction to the world.

1. The humble servant a. Born in a manger, among lowly people and Gentiles.  b. Simeon and Anna represented the finer side of Israel's piety (Harrison SLC, p.53).2. The promised Messiah
The message is clear that Jesus came into the world first of all as the promised Messiah of Israel. Gabriel, Mary, Zacharias, the heavenly host, Simeon, Anna, and the magi all center around that message. Later even the demons will be compelled to shriek this truth (Mk 1:24).

3. The Savior of the world
"Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Fall on your knees. Oh, hear the angels voices! Oh night divine, oh, holy night when Christ was born."

III. Chronology of the Life of Jesus--5 Divisions

A. Birth Narratives and early life (Man l&2; Luke l&2; John 1:1-18)

1. Background a. Portion of the Gospels: 5%

b. Amount of time covered: about 33 yrs.

c. Location: the narrative deals primarily with Jesus' early years in Judea, but also
includes the sojourn in Egypt, and glimpses of His boyhood in Galilee.

2. Highlights (9 events): a. Birth of John the Baptist

b. Birth of Christ

1) Birth date: 4-6 BC.50
2) Census: "To the devout mind the enrollment under Augustus looms as one
of the clearest indications in all history of the providential control of human affairs by the Almighty hand" (Harrison, SLC, p. 40).
c. Jesus' circumcision and naming on the 8th day (Lk 2:2 1)
"Representing voluntary subjection to the conditions of the Law, and acceptance of the obligations, but also the privileges, of the Covenant between God and Abraham and his seed" (Edersheim, Book H, p. 193).

d.Redemption of the firstborn and purification of the mother a month later (Lk

e. Visit of the magi (Man 2:1~12)52 1) Probably Gentile (Persian, Mesopotarnian or Arab) members of a priestly caste specializing in astrology, interpretation of dreams, and magic (JSBE, ~'ol. 4, p. 1084-5).

2) Contact with Jewish exiles may have given them knowledge of OT prophecy: Dan 9:25 "Seventy weeks"; Num 24:17 "A star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall arise from Israel."

3) We don't know how many, though the number of their gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh) suggests three.

4) What about the curious indifference of the scribes and those in Jerusalem in contrast to the sacrificial display of homage of these foreigners?

f. The flight to Egypt (Man 2:13-15)

g. Herod the Great's slaughter of the innocents (Matt 2:16-18)~~

1) An able, if ruthless, admimstrator, upholding the interests of Rome.

2) A great builder, responsible for the fortress at Masada, the port city of Caesarea, and a magnificent restoration of the Temple.

3) An Idumean, not a true Jew. Though he bore the title "King of the Jews," was never endeared to his Jewish subjects.

4) A madman later in life, obsessed with perpetuating his power, alternately executed wives and sons.54

5) Shows the immediate peril surrounding the newborn Messiah.

h. Jesus left behind in Jerusalem, age 12 (Lk 2:41-52)
B. Year of Obscurity/Early Judean Ministry (Matt 3:1-4:11; Mk 1:1-13; Lk 3:1-4:13; Jn 1:19-4:42); 1. Significance: Jesus is basically unknown, but is beginning to gather a following.

2. Background

a. Portion of the Gospels: 7%

b. Amount of time covered: 1 yr. (?)

c. Location: primarily Judea

3. Highlights:

a. John the Baptist

b. Jesus' baptism

c. The temptation in the wilderness

d. The first cleansing of the temple

e. The first disciples

f. Nicodemus

g. Samaritan woman at the well

C.  Year of Public Favor/Great Galilean Ministry (Matt 4:12-14:36; Mk 1:14-6:56; Lk 4: 14-9: 17; Sn 4:43-6:7 1). 1. Significance:
Jesus' most famous time; public heyday. People responded dramatically at first, but their comntittnent was shallow.
2. Background a. Portion of the Gospels: 26%

b. Amount of time covered: 18 months

c. Location: primarily in Galilee

3. Highlights: a. Jesus' rejection in Nazareth

b. Disciples chosen

c. Sabbath controversies with the Pharisees

d. "Bread of Life" discourse

e. Gadarene (also known as "Gerasene") demoniac ("Legion")

f. Feeding the 5,000

g. Sermon on the Mount

D. Year of Opposition/Later Judean & Perean Ministry (Matt 15-20; Mk 7-10; Lk 9:18-19:28; Sn 7-1 1). 1. Significance:
The people were not ready for the Messiah that Jesus offered them so they turned away from Him. In response to their rejection, Jesus withdrew, spending more time in Gentile regions and spending more time with His disciples. He trained His disciples to carry on the work after the cross and spoke more pointedly about His imminent death, though the disciples did not understand at this point.

2. Background

a. Portion of the Gospels: 28%

b. Amount of time covered: 12 months

c. Location: Decapolis, Perea & outlying areas; Judea

3. Highlights: a. Traditions of elders attacked

b. Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ

c. The Transfiguration

d. The Rich Man and Lazarus

e. The Rich Young Ruler

f. The Pharisee and the Publican

g. The special training of the 12

E. Passion Week (Matt 21-28; Mk 11:6-ch 16; Lk 19:29-ch 24; Jn 12-21) 1. Significance
Passion week is the end of Jesus' journey, the fulfillment of thousands of years of Messianic promise and expectation. This marks the end of Jesus' earthly ministry, the initiation of the New Covenant promised by God through the Hebrew prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the promise of Jesus' return to usher in the Kingdom, and the birth of the Church.

2. Background

a. Portion of the Gospels: 33%

b. Amount of time covered: 1 week (8 or 9 days)

c. Location: Jerusalem

3. Highlights: a. Raising of Lazarus

b. Triumphal entry on Palm Sunday

c. Final disputes with Pharisees

d. Seven Woes upon the cities of Israel for unbelief

e. The Olivet Discourse

f. The Last Supper

g. The Trial & Crucifixion

h. The Resurrection

IV. Note the Trends
A. Jesus didn't rush. His approach was methodical, based on goals and priorities, not whim.

B. His ministry was thoroughly tied to OT prophecy and an Hebraic view of the world.

C. Sensitive to circumstances but not unduly influenced by them.

D. He had a plan.

E. There were seasons of different kind of activity.

V.  Jesus' Boyhood Not a lot of information

A. Jesus left behind in Jerusalem, age 12 (Lk 2:41-52).

B. Lived a normal childhood (except that He didn't sin) in Nazareth55 in subjection to His parents (Luke 2:40, 51, 52).56

1. He lived in obedience to His parents.
Jesus lived a life of submission to His earthly parents as a child (though, as a perfect man, He might have decided better), just as he would live in perfect submission to His heavenly Father as an adult. This was a time of training. The very absence of detail implies there was nothing unusual about His boyhood (as opposed to His birth). Young Jesus' life was the same as other young Hebrew lads.

2. Mary does not have a clear understanding of the nature of her Son or His ministry.

a. "And they did not understand the statement which He had made to them. ..and His mother treasured all these things in her heart" (Lk 2:50-5 1).

b. Would have rendered a normal relationship impossible.

c. It's portentous of a future in which many would misunderstand (John the Baptist, Jesus' immediate family, His disciples, the Jewish leaders). Some, in their confusion, "treasure these things." Others reject Him.

3. Joseph probably died early, before Jesus started His public ministry (Harrison, SLC, p. 58). As the eldest, responsibility for the family would have fallen on Jesus' shoulders.
C. What must He be thinking? 1. As a carpenter removing splinters from His hand, thinking about the cross.

2. Hebrews 10:5-7 "Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, 'Sacflfic~ and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for me; in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure. Then I said, "Behold, I have come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me) to do your will, 0 God. ""'~

A simple-hearted Child was He, And He was nothing more; In summer days, like you and me, He played about the door, Or gathered, when the father toiled, The shavings from the floor. And when the sun at break of day Crept in upon His hair, I think it must have left a ray Of unseen glory there-- A kiss of love on that little brow For the thorns that it must wear. --Albert Bigelow Pain
41Jesus' choice to go through Samaria showedHis willingness to cross social and cultural boundaries to reach the lost. In fact, John seems to indicate Jesus was compelled to do so (see Jn 4:4).
42The "region of iudea beyond the Jordan" of Matt 19:1.
43philip's comment, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (Jn 1:46) reflects this bias.
44"Some have suggested that John was raised in the sectarian desert community of Qumran, but the evidence for this is inconclusive" (ISBE, vol. 4 p. 1063).
45These are two of only four appearances we have of Gabriel in the entire Bible (the other two are in the book of Daniel, 8:16 and 9:2 1). Each of these appearances of Gabriel was connected in some way with the promise of the Messiah. Though Daniel was terrified and in awe at his appearance, in the N.T. Gabriel brought reassurance and comfort (ISBE, vol. 2, p. 374).
46Here he quotes from Malachi 4:6.
47jesus is the Latin form of the Greek !esous. The Hebrew equivalent is Yesua, the same name as Joshua, son of Nun (Wilson, p. 181). The Hebrew verb yasha means "to save" or "to deliver," and the noun yeshis'ah, "salvation," derives from it. In the Hebrew Bible, this verb is not used in the sense of "escape to heaven." Rather, a careful study of its many occurrences reveals that the main idea is "to liberate," "to deliver from evil," or "to free from oppression." (Wilson, p. 179)
48The angel is telling Mary, in terms she couldn't possibly mistake, that her son would be the fulfillment of God's special covenant with King David (2 Sam 7:12-16, Jer 33:20-21).
49This last allusion is to Is 9:1-2.
50King Herod died in 4 BC. Since Herod's request was to kill all male children two years old and younger "according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi" (Matt 3:16), Jesus could have been born as early as 6 BC (Harrison, SLC, p. 39).
51This practise is prescribed by the Mosaic Law in Num 18:15-16 and Lev 12:1-4. For purification a lamb was customary, but two turtledoves or young pigeons were allowed. Mary's offering is a commentary on the family's poverty (Harrison, SLC, p. 53).
52At the time of the visit, Joseph's family was living in a "house" (Matt 2:10), not a cave or a stable. This and Herod's reference to 2-year old boys (v16) indicates that some time has elapsed since Jesus was born.
53There were a number of Herod's in the New TestamenL In addition to Herod the Great, there was Hemd Antipas, who dealt with John the Baptist, and Herod Agrippa I, who beheaded James the son of Zebedee, one of the Apostles (Acts 12:1-2). Herod Agrippa is called simply Agrippa (Acts 25:12). Another Herodian, called Philip (Mk 6:17) but apparently differentiated from Philip the Tetrarch, is usually designated Herod-Philip (Harrison, NTI, p. 15).
54This crime in Bethlehem, as brutal as it was, probably involved no more than 20 children, and paled in comparison to the many savage acts of Herod (JSBE, vol. 2, p. 828).
55There is no evidence that Jesus ever left His homeland to study Eastern religions in India. Such "lost years" reconstructions contradict text that indicates Jesus remained in Nazareth in subjection to His parents (Lk 2:5 1, Matt 13:53-58).
56The Gospels mention four brothers of Christ (or, more precisely, half-brothers): James, Joseph, Simon and Judas (Man 13:55). His sisters are unnumbered and unnamed. Jesus' brothers rejected Him at first (Jn 7:3-5), but later some believed (Gal 1:19). The Roman Catholic tradition that Mary remained forever a virgin is without foundation.
57Here the author of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 40:6-8.

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