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Luke 2:1-21: Jesus' Birth
Individuals: Take time to think back about your past week. Where have you seen God work in your life or answer prayer? Write down any prayer requests you have.
Group: Open the study by sharing life updates, reviewing highs and lows of your past week, or sharing prayer requests and praises.
Icebreaker: What is your favorite birth story? It can be your own birth, the birth of your child or grandchild, your pet or other animal, or anything else. What makes that birth special?
All: Begin the study with a word of prayer, asking God to open your heart for today’s study. You can also pray for any prayer requests now, or save that for the end.
Read today’s passage: Luke 2:1-21.
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
What is the context for this passage?
In this passage we read about the birth of Jesus, but we learn other details in other passages. In Luke 1:26-38, Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, who announced to her that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her, and she would become pregnant and give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. Gabriel states that God will give Jesus the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. These fulfill important prophecies from the Old Testament. The mention of Jacob’s descendants links this promise back to God’s covenant with Abraham that we read about in the Genesis 17 lesson. The mention of the throne of David refers back to God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:16 that David’s house and kingdom would endure forever. Through the genealogy given in Matthew 1, we see the family line that goes from Abraham to Jacob to Judah to David and eventually to Jesus.
After the genealogy in Matthew 1, we read about how Joseph was notified of Mary’s pregnancy. Mary and Joseph were pledged to be married, and Mary becoming pregnant during that time would have been a disgrace to Joseph. But an angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and encouraged him to take Mary as his wife anyway, because she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, not another man. Joseph also learned another important fact about Jesus: he will save his people from their sins. Joseph followed the command of the angel and took Mary as his wife.
This brings us to today’s passage. Joseph and Mary are married, and Mary is about to give birth. However, first they must travel to Bethlehem to participate in the census that was commanded by the Roman ruler of the time.
Read the passage again.
Explore a different version if you have one available. If you are online, here is Luke 2 in NIV through Bible Gateway. You can change the version by using the dropdown menu at the top right of the page.
Try to summarize the passage in your own words.
Answer these three questions about the passage:
1. What does the passage say about God?
God fulfills his prophecies. Throughout the Old Testament, many prophecies indicate that God would send a Messiah to save his people. Even the smallest details like where the Messiah would be born are prophesied. In this passage, we see God fulfill those prophecies. The Messiah is born in Bethlehem, just as it was foretold.
God is proud of his son’s birth. Just like parents these days who want to show off pictures of their new baby and announce the birth to the world, God also announced the birth of his Son. He calls it “good news” that will bring “great joy.” This sounds like a proud parent to me!
God selects the most humble for the best news. During Bible times, being a shepherd was a pretty lowly position. Yet God chose to share his good news with them over anyone else on the earth. God tends to use the most humble people for his greatest missions. Even Mary was just a teenager without much standing in her community. So if you feel like you are just a humble, average person, don’t worry! God can still use you.
God assures people in his presence. The reaction of the shepherds to the glory of the Lord was terror. But God sent the angel to assure them: Do not be afraid. Although the Bible tells us to fear the Lord, God wants us to not be afraid to come into his presence.
God has a host of angels. The passage tells us that a “great company of the heavenly host” appeared to glorify God before the shepherds. We don’t know how many angels this is, but I would imagine it is a lot! This must have been a great sight to behold for the shepherds.
God is to be glorified. The purpose of the angels’ appearance was to do one thing: glorify God. God is worthy of not only the angels’ glory and praise but ours as well.
God is in heaven. The angels tell us where God resides: in the highest heaven. We don’t learn much more than that, but other passages in the Bible tell us more about what heaven is like. The most important part, though, is that God is there, and he is glorified.
God’s favor rests on people. And when God’s favor rests on people, it brings peace. This may not always be reflected in external peace, but a relationship with God should always bring inner peace.
2. What does the passage say about people?
People even years ago were required to participate in a census. Not much has changed from 2,000 years ago. Governments still like to keep track of their people. In this case, God uses this census to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the town of David, for the birth of his Son.
Joseph and Mary were citizens who followed the requirements of the law. The Roman government issued a decree and required all citizens to go to their “own town” to register. Even though Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, they had to go to the town of David, to Bethlehem, to register because they were descendants of David.
People make do with what they have in difficult circumstances. The story tells us that there was no room for Mary and Joseph to stay in Bethlehem, so they used what they had—they stayed with the animals and used the manger as a baby bed. This may not be the ideal situation, but it was perfect for the humble entrance of God into the world.
People are terrified when they see the glory of the Lord. The shepherds were terrified when they saw the angel and the glory of the Lord. Based on other stories in the Bible, this seems to be a natural response. I would be terrified too in the presence of a holy God.
People are naturally curious. Once the angels had left the shepherds, they did what most people would do—they went to check out this news. It’s just like drivers on the interstate slowing down to look at an accident. We want to know what’s going on. We have FOMO (fear of missing out). So when the shepherds heard the news of a baby—the Messiah—born in Bethlehem, the went immediately to investigate.
People talk about their experiences. You go on a great vacation. You eat at a new, tasty restaurant in town. You go to a concert by your favorite band. And then you post on social media and tell all your friends about the great time you had. The shepherds in the story are no different (well, other than the social media part). The passage tells us that the shepherds spread the word about what they had seen and heard. When we have an emotional high experience, we tend to talk about it. Do you find that your relationship with God is amazing enough to talk about? I hope so!
People’s natural response to an encounter with God is to glorify and praise him. Not only did the shepherds tell everyone about what they had seen and heard, they glorified and praised God. They had experienced everything just like the angels had told them, so they knew that this was the Messiah, the one worthy of praise. Mary had her own way of praising God—she treasured all the experiences she had, even a group of smelly shepherds that she didn’t know coming to see her newborn baby.
3. What does the passage say about God’s plan?
God’s plan was that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Long before the birth of Jesus, Micah prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). This passage shows us the fulfillment of that promise, because Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
God’s plan was that the Messiah would be of the line of David. Jeremiah 23:5-6 prophesied that God would raise up a King from the line of David who would be called The Lord Our Righteous Savior. This passage shows us the fulfillment of that promise, because Joseph and Mary were from the line of David.
God’s plan was that Jesus would be a Savior. This passage tells us that a Savior has been born, and that Savior is Jesus. Eventually, Jesus would die on a cross to pay the punishment for our sins, saving us from the consequences of sin—eternal separation from God.
God uses people to spread the good news. God used the shepherds to share the good news about the birth of the Messiah. As Christians, we have also been commanded to go and share the good news through the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to share your faith with others.
How does the passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?
Sometimes it’s easier to understand a passage if you have a little outside knowledge from other passages in the Bible. This section will help provide that outside perspective.
The story of the Bible is one of redemption. God created humans (Genesis 1-2), humans sinned (Genesis 3), and then God had to send his Son to save us—to pay the price of redemption so that we could have a relationship with God rather than be condemned to eternal death. The story of Jesus’ birth is a pivotal piece of that plan. It tells us of the coming of God in human form to do something that no other human could do—live a perfect life so that he could be the perfect sacrifice. Without Jesus’ birth, we would still be living under the law of the Old Testament. Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection changed that for all people for all eternity.
Individual: Answer the following questions thoughtfully for yourself.
Group: Pose these questions for discussion.
All: If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts to these questions. Feel free to use the comment section to start a discussion about this passage.
What else strikes you about this passage?
How does the passage affect how you view God? How you view yourself?
How does this passage affect how you will live your life?
For Bible Essential studies, you can use my thoughts as your devotional, or you can download and use the journaling sheet to work through the passage on your own. If desired, you can then compare your thoughts to mine. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically. Journal sheets are available for individual or group use.
If you plan to lead a group study, a PowerPoint presentation is also available.
You can access these resources by clicking here: Luke 2 Resources