Declaring the Good News

Explore the Bible Series

December 25, 2005


Lesson Passage: Luke 2:8-20 and 36-38


Introduction: Luke’s account of the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus contains several mini-narratives that Bible students do not find anywhere else in the Scriptures.  This splendid biblical historian wove the stories of several interesting people into the fabric of his account, and this information has encouraged and blessed the hearts of believers for generations. With your permission, this lesson will extend a bit beyond the designated verses and include the story of Simeon in this week’s study.


The recounting the Christmas story must always, of course, center on the person of Christ.  Mary and Joseph obviously played important roles in this timeless story as well, but Luke, writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit, chose to include other people in the saga.  The persons he included might be easily forgotten: poor shepherds and two elderly people, Anna and Simeon.  Among many lessons we might learn, perhaps the inclusion of these people should remind us of the poor, helpless, and elderly in our lives; people easily overlooked and forgotten.  Luke didn’t forget them, and generations of Christians has benefited from Luke’s inclusion of these dear people.


The birth of Jesus occurred during an important, empire-wide census of Rome.  Caesar Augustus (Octavian ruled Rome from 31 B.C. to 14 A.D.) authorized this registration, and the emperor’s emissaries carried out the imperial decree shortly before the death of Herod the Great (4 B.C.). Luke recalled that this first census took place during the rule of Quirinius (Cyrenius) as legate of Syria.  Secular historians affirm that Publius Sulpicius Quirinius governed Syria from 6-9 A.D., but they do not recount his earlier governorship in this area.  He played an important role in the leadership of this entire region for many years: consul of Rome, military leader, tutor to Gaius Caesar, and imperial legate.  Luke’s account, no doubt, gives insight into the role he played in this first census in the Middle East.


Joseph, though a resident of Nazareth, traveled to his ancestral home in Bethlehem, Judea.  Here, along with his espoused wife Mary, the foster father of the Lord Jesus went to keep mind his responsibilities as a citizen and to fulfill the promises of Scripture.  At the appointed time, Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable, and she used a feeding trough as a cradle for her child.  Apparently, the new parents did not know of the remarkable appearance of the angels to a group of lowly shepherds as they tended their flocks.


I.                    The Angelic Appearance to the Shepherds (2:8-20)

A.     The social standing and vocation of shepherds (v. 8): Shepherds did not enjoy high social standing in the ancient Middle East.  Most regarded them as untrustworthy outcasts who could not be trusted. Some commentators believe these particular shepherds may have kept flocks intended for the Temple sacrifices in near-by Jerusalem. 

B.     The appearance of the angel (v. 9-12): At first, a single angel appeared to the shepherds.  The angel’s appearance was attended by the glory of the Lord, and these poor men were terribly afraid.  The angel comforted them and assured the shepherds that he came bearing good tidings.

1.      the angel’s message (vv. 10-11): The angel’s message brought good news to all people.  The Lord had sent a Savior, and these humble men would be the first to see the Promised One. 

2.      the sign of the Christ Child (v. 12): The shepherds would find the child in Bethlehem, dressed in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

C.     The appearance of the angelic hosts (vv. 13-14): Suddenly, a large number of angels appeared to the shepherds and they began to praise God with the familiar refrains that so many have come to love.


“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”



II.                 The Shepherd’s Visit to Bethlehem (vv. 15-20)

A.     The angel had not commanded the shepherds to go to Bethlehem, but the implication of the angelic message drove the men to find the babe.  With haste, they made their way to the humble stable, and, just as the angel had proclaimed, they found the precious family. 

B.     The shepherds became the first evangelists (vv. 17-18, 20).  Without training or elaborate training in the social graces, they boldly made known the good news of the birth of the Savior.  Those who heard their eye-witness account marveled at the message that the Messiah had come.

C.     Mary’s response to the visit of the shepherds (v. 19): This verse has always touched my heart.  Mary was apparently a meditative person, and she pondered the significance of these things. 



III.               The Story of Simeon (2:21-35)

A.     The circumcision of Jesus (v. 21): Mary and Joseph carefully obeyed the requirements of the Mosaic Law and had the baby boy circumcised on the eighth day.

B.     The purification rites of Mary (vv. 22-24): Leviticus 12:208 required that Mary conclude her season of post-childbirth, ceremonial impurity by offering a sacrifice.  Poor families, unable to sacrifice a lamb, were allowed to offer turtle doves and pigeons.

C.     Simeon’s encounter with the family of Jesus (vv. 25-35)

1.      The Holy Spirit had promised this godly man that he would not die until he had seen the Consolation of Israel.  Also, the Holy Spirit guided this man into the Temple where Mary and Joseph had come for the purification rite. 

2.      the song of Simeon (vv. 29-32):  The old man rejoiced that God has kept the glorious promise, and now the aged servant of the Lord could depart in peace.  This child would, according to Simeon, bring light to the Gentiles and glory to Israel.

3.      Simeon’s word to Mary (vv. 33-35): For the first time in Luke’s gospel, the dark foreboding of the cross casts its shadow on Mary’s life.


IV.              The Story of Anna (2:36-38)

A.     Description of Anna (vv. 36-37)

1.      a prophetess

2.      daughter of Phanuel

3.      of the tribe of Asher

4.      a widow of advanced age

5.      served God with fasting a prayer

B.     She gave thanks to the Lord for coming of the Messiah (v. 38). Through her witness and the announcement of the shepherds, many faithful people heard of the birth of Christ.