Through the Bible: Luke 2:1-20: The Appearance to the Shepherds

We are going through Tatian’s Diatessaron. It is a harmony of the four Gospels put together in the mid-second century. We are in section II, which today returns to Luke 2 and continues the story of Jesus’ birth.

I need to start with a line in Matthew that I did not address yesterday. In the Diatessaron, which I linked in the first paragraph, it is in lines [4] and [5]. In your Bible, it is Matthew 1:21.

The Name(s) of Jesus

She shall bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He shall save his people from their sins.

Jesus name in Hebrew is Yeshua (Jews for Judaism & Wikipedia). It means “Yahweh saves.” That is why the messenger told Joseph and Mary to name him Yeshua.

The reason Yeshua has become Jesus in English has to do with the Greek of the New Testament. In Greek, there is no “sh” sound, so it had to be replaced with an s (the Greek sigma). Also, the ending of names change in NT Greek. Names end differently depend on whether they are the subject of a sentence, the direct object, or the indirect object. Because of this, all male names end in -os or -us. Finally, though Greek has a sound matching Ye-, it has no “y.” The result is that Yeshua transliterates into Greek as Iesus. Not very similar, but there’s not much else to do.

There are “sacred name” movements complaining about this (for example), but the apostles used Iesus, too. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude all used Iesus in Greek. When the Bible reached those speaking Germanic languages, of which English is one, the J was inserted for the I because in most Germanic languages, Je- sounds just like the Ye- of Hebrew and the Ie- of Greek. Unfortunately, English is also heavily influenced by the Romance languages (such as Latin and Spanish), so we don’t pronounce the Je- like German does.

The result is that Germans, English, and Spanish all spell his name “Jesus,” but all three languages pronounce it differently.

This all happened from the nature of languages, not from any evil or demonic purpose. God has a long history of healing and saving people no matter how people honestly pronounced the name of Jesus. So if you run across people calling you to accurately pronounce Jesus name as Yahowahshua or other bizarre spellings and pronunciations, just ignore them.

Luke 2:1-4 and the Taxation under Quirinius

Tatian chose to insert a small portion from Matthew about Joseph into his harmony of the Gospels, which we covered in the last post. Now he returns to Luke’s Gospel.

In those days there went forth a decree from Augustus Caesar that all the people of his dominion should be enrolled. This first enrollment was while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Every man went to be enrolled in his city. Joseph went up also from Nazareth, a city of Galilee, with Mary his betrothed who was pregnant. [He went] to Judea to the city of David that is called Bethlehem to be enrolled, for he was of the house of David and his tribe.

This enrollment under Quirinius (or Cyrenius) has been a subject of great debate. The most obvious reference here would be to a taxation conducted in A.D. 6, a decade after Jesus’ birth. (The person who calculated B.C. and A.D. did not do so until 525, and he was off a few years, so Jesus was actually born no later than 4 B.C. and possibly earlier. The link I just gave is a children’s math site that explains the BC/AD problem in very easy language.)

You can read various explanations of the problem of the date of Quirinius’ enrollment at BibleHub.com.

Luke 2:5-7: The Birth of Jesus the Messiah

While she was there she completed the time of her pregnancy. She brought forth her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them where they were staying.

For those of you who like me have never been certain what a manger is, dictionary.com says that it is “a box or trough in a stable or barn from which horses or cattle eat.”

Luke 2:8-20: The Shepherds See Jesus

There were shepherds staying in that region, keeping their flock in the watch of the night. Behold, the messenger of God came to them, and the glory of the Lord shone upon them, and they were greatly terrified.

We overuse “awesome” here in the U.S., but this is the true definition of an awesome event.

The messenger said to them, “Do not be terrified, for I bring you news of great joy which applies to the whole world! A Savior is born to you today, which is the Lord the Messiah, in the city of David. This is a sign for you: you shall find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger.”
   Suddenly many heavenly forces appeared with the messengers praising God and saying, “Praise be to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good hope to men!”

What a great rendering! “Heavenly forces” appeared. This was the the army of God. Perhaps they were beginning their attendance upon the baby who was really the Lord from heaven. God’s “Secret Service” had arrived to protect their King (cf. Matt. 26:33).

When the messengers departed from them to heaven, the shepherds spoke to one another and said, “We will go to Bethelehem and see this this message which has been, as the Lord made known to us. And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and [they found] the baby laid in a manger. When they saw, they reported the message which was spoken to them about the child. Everyone that heard wondered at the description which the shepherds gave to them. Mary, however, kept these sayings in her heart and considered them in her heart.
   Those shepherds returned, magnifying and praising God for all that they had seen and heard, as it was described to them.

Surely these shepherds were excited about the idea of Jesus overthrowing Rome on behalf of Israel. The Jews were expecting two different Messiahs, one the Suffering Servant (Messiah ben Joseph) and one a Conquering King (Messiah ben David). Of course, it was the Conquering King that most of them were really hoping for. They were thinking this was the end of centuries of oppression by the Greeks and Romans.

The messengers had told them the baby was the Messiah. There was no way, however, for the shepherds to understand the real meaning of “news of great joy which applies to the whole world.” Jesus will one day to return to conquer, but back in 6 B.C. or somewhere near that year, he was coming to suffer so that news of great joy could be brought to the whole world (Matt. 28:18-20). He was not going to deliver the nation of Israel, at least not right away, but he was going to deliver us all from fear of death, suffering, and everything else that might hold us in bondage (Heb. 2:14-15). He released the whole earth from bondage, so that all who call upon the name of Jesus can be saved, Jew and Gentile alike.

The Suffering Servant Offers Unlimited Emancipation

That is not to say that Jesus could not have conquered on his first coming. When he left, he told the apostles that all authority had been given him in heaven and earth. For those of us who believe and follow him, we know that this authority sets us free from every government. Our people triumph over every enemy because death is deliverance for us.

It’s a beautiful thing to God when a Christian does battle with pain. When he faces threats, punishments and tortures by mocking death and treading underfoot the horror of the executioner; when he raises up his freedom in Christ as a standard before kings and princes; when he yields to God alone and, triumphant and victorious, he tramples upon the very man who has pronounced the sentence upon him … God finds all these things beautiful. (The Octavius 37)

It is true that Jesus will return as Conquering King, but do not underestimate your power to triumph now. The early Christians were not always in danger of their lives. Sometimes they had relative peace. In those times, these kinds of exhortations were given:

Since, O son, you desire martyrdom, hear. Be like Abel was, or like Isaac himself, or Stephen, who chose for himself on the way the righteous life. You indeed desire something suited for the blessed. First of all, overcome the evil one with your good deeds by living well. Then, when he who is your King sees you, be secure. … Even now, if you have conquered by good deeds, you are a martyr in him.

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