The Bible is for the most part silent about the years of Jesus’ childhood. As we all know from the Christmas story, He is born in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger, and visited by shepherds on the night of his birth (Luke 2:1-20). But then what happens to Him? Well, that’s a good question, and I’ll try to answer it with this post and the next two.
For starters, when Jesus is eight days old He is circumcised. This is done in keeping with the Jewish law (Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:1-3; Luke 2:21). He is also officially given the name “Jesus” during this ceremony. Circumcision is mandatory for each Jewish male because the mark is the physical sign of the covenant that God has made with Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17:1-27).
There’s no way for us to know exactly how long that manger served as Jesus’ crib. Did the family ever get a room in the inn? The Bible doesn’t tell us. Evidently, however, it wasn’t too long before the family moved into a house there in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:11). Since Nazareth was Joseph and Mary’s hometown, perhaps the house was some version of a rental for that time.
What we do know is that forty days after Jesus’ birth — 32 days after His circumcision — we next find the little family in Jerusalem. They are still residing in that house in Bethlehem but they have made the trip of approximately five miles to visit Jerusalem. Why have they come here? They’ve come because it’s time for them to do some business at the Jewish temple. It’s here that they must perform two very important acts.
Mary is the focus of the first act as she is required to present specific sacrifices to a priest. According to Jewish law, any Jewish woman who gives birth to a son is considered ceremonially unclean for forty days (Leviticus 12:1-5). At the end of the forty days, the woman brings to the priest a yearling lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering (Leviticus 12:6). If she can’t bring a lamb, which is the more expensive offering, she can bring the “poor” offering of two turtledoves (one as a burnt offering and the other one as a sin offering). The fact that Mary offers two turtledoves (Luke 2:24) evidences the fact that the Wise Men haven’t visited Jesus yet. If they had, Mary would have in her possession plenty of gold to purchase a sacrificial lamb (Matthew 2:11).
The family’s second act that day focuses upon the baby Jesus. Under Jewish law, every firstborn son has to be formally dedicated to the Lord (Exodus 13:1-2, 11-15; Luke 2:22-23). This ritual involves the son being redeemed (bought back) from the Lord by the family for a price of five shekels (Numbers 18:16).
While Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are in the temple, they are approached by a man they don’t know. His name is Simeon, and the Holy Spirit has previously revealed to him that he will not die until he has seen the Jewish Messiah (Luke 2:25-26). This same Holy Spirit has led him to the temple that day to experience the fulfillment of that promise (Luke 2:27).
When Simeon sees the baby Jesus, he instinctively knows this is the Messiah for whom he has been waiting. He then takes Jesus in his arms, offers words of praise to God, speaks a blessing upon Joseph and Mary, and warns Mary that the child is destined to be a point of division in Israel and that she herself will have to inwardly endure the pain that others will inflict upon Him outwardly (Luke 2:33-35). All Joseph and Mary can do is stand there and marvel at the Simeon’s words (Luke 2:33).
Simeon has barely finished speaking when all of a sudden here comes a woman who is very old. Her name is Anna and she is a prophetess. She was once married, but her husband died seven years into the marriage and since then she has spent her life as a widow. She is “a widow of about eighty-four years.” (This either means that she was an eighty-four-year-old widow or that she had gotten married in her teens, remained married for seven years until her husband died, and then lived another eighty-four years. The latter interpretation would add up to her being over 100 years old.) She never leaves the temple and serves God with fastings and prayers night and day (Luke 2:36-37). (Perhaps this indicates that she had some type of residence on the temple grounds.)
When Anna sees the baby Jesus, she follows suit with Simeon and gives thanks to the Lord. Then she starts telling all her fellow Jews who are living in expectation of the Messiah that He has now arrived (Luke 2:38). Her actions serve as a lasting testament to the fact that the elderly can still perform great acts of service to the Lord. Getting old doesn’t mean that a person can’t bear fruit.
What a memorable time the baby Jesus and His earthly parents have that day at the temple. It all makes for a highlight-reel from His early weeks of life. But what happens next? Unfortunately for those of us who are the curious type, the Bible’s record of His early days then goes silent for an extended period of time. I’ll ask you to tune in next time, though, as we jump right back into the stream of the storyline as it is given. And until then I’ll also ask you to keep looking for the coming of Jesus like Simeon did and keep serving Him and telling others about Him like Anna did.