When last we left Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus, they were in Jerusalem in the Jewish temple performing a couple of important services per the Mosaic law. At this point, Jesus is 40 days old and has been circumcised and formally dedicated to God. He’s also had His praises sung by Simeon and Anna, two strangers who have with God’s help recognized Him as the promised Jewish Messiah. These events are all recorded in Luke 2:21-38.
Unfortunately, if we were filming a Bible-based movie about Jesus’ life, we would have to close the scene in the temple by fading to black. I say this because it’s here in the chronology that the Bible goes silent. Luke’s gospel follows up the events at the temple by saying that the family returned to Joseph and Mary’s hometown of Nazareth, but this leaves out a sizable chunk of the storyline.
If you’ve ever really studied the gospels in depth, you now that this type of omission is typical for the writers. More or less, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each just hit the highlights of Jesus’ life and ministry by only writing about the events they felt led of the Lord to include in their gospels (2 Timothy 3:16-17; John 21:24-25). In other words, to get the whole record of events — at least as much as we have of it — you have to consult all four gospels and piece the storyline together.
It’s Matthew’s gospel that truly picks up the chronology following the events at the temple. He does this by including the famous story about the wise men’s visit to see Jesus. Yes, I know that a whole bunch of people think the wise men visited baby Jesus on the night of His birth, but we can’t force the Bible to come in line with our Christmas cards, hymns, and movies.
How do we know the wise men’s visit doesn’t take place on the night of His birth? First, Matthew 2:1 plainly says they came from the east after Jesus was born in Bethlehem. While it’s true the word “after” could mean just a few hours after the birth, it is noteworthy that Matthew doesn’t say the wise men came the night of Christ’s birth. Second, they find Jesus in a house (Matthew 2:11). That’s a far cry from finding Him in a manger (an animal’s feeding trough) like the shepherds did (Luke 2:8-16). Third, there is the matter of Mary previously having to offer the “poor” version of an offering at the temple (Luke 2:24). (I explained that in the first post from the series.) Fourth, after Herod the Great asks the wise men when they first saw the star in their land, he ultimately has all the children from Bethlehem and its surrounding districts killed who are two years old or younger (Matthew 2:7,16-18). This leads many to believe that Jesus could have been as much as two years old when the wise men came to see Him. Even if He wasn’t quite that old, it’s significant that Herod didn’t just have all the newborns killed.
Evidently, the sequence of events plays out like this:
- Jesus is born in Bethlehem on the night the shepherds come to see him. (Luke 2:1-20)
- Sometime shortly afterward Joseph and Mary take up residence in a house there in Bethlehem.
- Jesus is circumcised and officially named when He is eight days old. (Luke 2:21)
- Jesus is formally presented to God in the Jerusalem temple when He is 40 days old (Luke 2:22-23). Jerusalem, after all, is only some five miles from Bethlehem.
- Following the day in Jerusalem at the temple, the family returns to the house in Bethlehem and lives there until the wise men visit (Matthew 2:1-12). Whether that is two years later or two weeks later we can’t say, but I do tend to lean more toward thinking it’s the ballpark of two years.
Okay, so what happens next? Immediately following the visit from the wise men, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and instructs him to load up Jesus and Mary and head south into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14). This flight allows Jesus to miss Herod’s massacre of the small children of Bethlehem, a massacre that serves as another fulfillment of a prophecy given by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:15).
The family then remains in Egypt until Joseph receives the news that Herod has died. He receives this news by way of an angel of the Lord (probably the same one from earlier, probably even the same one mentioned in Matthew 1:18-25) appearing to him in another dream (Matthew 2:19-21). By the way, the journey and subsequent stay in Egypt are no doubt financed by the gifts the wise men brought (Matthew 2:11).
Of course, I realize that what I’ve written leaves so many questions unanswered. How did Joseph and Mary afford what seems to have been some type of rental house in Bethlehem? Did Joseph take a job in Bethlehem? Once the family arrives in Egypt, where do they live? For that matter, considering Israel’s Old Testament history in Egypt, why does God the Father want Jesus to abide in that land for a while? The Bible simply doesn’t give us the answers to any of these questions other than to say that Jesus being in Egypt provides another fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy first given by the prophet Balaam (Numbers 24:8) and repeated by the prophet Hosea (Hosea 11:1).
With my next post we’ll finish up this short series on Christ’s childhood. We’ll get the family back into Israel and learn what we can about the silent years of Jesus’ upbringing. Admittedly, we won’t have a ton of scripture to consult, but we’ll find enough to do some reading between the lines. So until next time, just keep in mind that this divine baby that once caused so much fuss grew into adulthood, died on the cross for your sins, arose from the dead, ascended to heaven, took His seat at the right hand of God the Father, and will one day return to reign over this entire earth. All that from that babe in the manger? Yep. And that’s why He is worthy of all the devotion and service you can give Him.