Chrysalis Bible study 6: 11/03/2016 Luke 2: 41-52 & 3:1-20
Refs: NIV Bible
L Morris (Tyndale Commentaries) Luke
M Wilcock (The Bible Speaks Today) Luke
T Wright Luke for everyone
You recall that Luke completed his account of the presentation of the infant Jesus at the temple with a summary of His growth and development thereafter. He now picks up the story with one episode in Jesus life, which occurred when He was twelve years old.
At thirteen boys became fully active in the synagogue, but it wasn’t unusual for them to be introduced to what was expected of them some time earlier. Additionally Jews were to observe three festivals annually – Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles – in fact many observed only the Passover (the prelude to the release of the Israelites from Egypt on the night that all the firstborn male children died, unless the sheeps’ blood smeared on the lintels of the houses protected those within) and Mary and Joseph have gone up to Jerusalem for the occasion and taken Jesus with them.
It was common for extended families and groups to travel together and probably to take joint responsibility for the children, so Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have been aware that Jesus was missing until the end of the first day of the return journey. It took them another day to get back to Jerusalem, so it was on the third day that they eventually found Him.
Any parent who has lost a child can empathise with their feelings – do you remember the blind panic when you first realised they weren’t where you expected them to be? The mixed emotions when you found them? The sense of sheer relief, the self-recrimination and guilt which lead to an outcry – what we mean to say is “How could I be so stupid?”, but what we say is so different, and Mary is an ordinary human parent – she blames Jesus for the anguish she and Joseph have experienced!
Jesus’s first recorded words, in contrast, are a model of calm, but they reveal His growing awareness of His true identity – the translation “in my Father’s house” may also be rendered as “about my Father’s business” – in either event the clarity of Jesus’s understanding of the true identity of his Father must have pierced the hearts of both Mary and Joseph. Yet having established his autonomy Jesus returns with them and is obedient to them for several more years, of which we know little except that he continued to mature and to become a model adult.
.At the beginning of Chapter 3 we have moved forward several years. The detail Luke gives allows us to date this with some precision to AD 25-26. The Emperor Tiberius had tightened Roman control of the province so that the sons of Herod the Great were puppet rulers of the Northern territories while Pontius Pilate, a Roman, had administrative responsibility for the South, including Jerusalem. Annas the High Priest had been deposed by his son-in-law Caiaphas who was supported by the Romans, but many of the Jews still regarded Annas as the legitimate religious authority.
The Romans had effectively outsourced the taxation of the Jews in the province - the highest bidder being sold the right to collect the taxes, often adding extra charges of their own to enhance their profits (am I alone in seeing some similarity to buy-to let landlords in our day?) Jewish soldiers had to protect both the Quizling princes and the tax collectors, using the opportunity to make something for themselves by the odd bit of extortion here and there. The political scene was tense and, as the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, things were far from stable (does any of this sound familiar?).
Against this background people were looking for change and onto the stage strides a figure who has been in the background for a while – John. The expression “the word of God came to John”, in Verse 2, place him in the great tradition of the prophets. Luke quotes from Isiah to further emphasise the point. Historically the prophets rarely brought words of comfort, or if they did they were accompanied by warnings and demands for change before things would get better. So it is with John – he speaks words of warning, it is no good simply claiming to be descendants of Abraham as justification for salvation, there needs to be more, a real change in personal conduct, a way of living that shows concern for others, for ethical and moral conduct in secular and religious life.
Traditionally baptism was required only for Gentiles converting to Judaism, but John makes it clear that this is to be an outward sign of the recognition by the penitent of their own failings. Symbolically immersion in the Jordan represents leaving the former life and entering the Promised Land of the new, which is yet to be completed by one greater than John, for he baptises only with water while He who is soon to be revealed will baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The latter is probably a reference to the final judgement which all will face and the picture of the wheat and the chaff is all too vivid.
Luke concludes with the consequences of John’s condemnation of Herod Antipas’s incestuous and adulterous relationship with his niece, Herodias – but he deliberately omits part of the story, which we will see next time.