Sunday School Lesson 3
Posted by Jim F. on January 15, 2007
NOTE: THE MOST RECENT, UPDATED VERSION OF THIS LESSON CAN BE FOUND AT: http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2011/01/09/nt-sunday-school-lesson-3-jef-luke-2-matthew-2/
Verse 1: Who were the wise men? As the lexical notes for this verse point out, the phrase “wise men” is a translation of the Greek word mago. It is because of this word that sometimes we refer to the wise men as “magi.” We get the word “magician” from mago. “The east” may refer to Mesopotamia, the center of astronomical studies at the time. Compare Numbers 24:17, Psalms 72:10-11, and Isaiah 60:1-7. What do such verses suggest to us about the wise men? Why does Matthew tell us about the homage paid to Jesus by the wise men, but Luke tells us about the homage paid to him by shepherds? Why does each story emphasize what it does?
Why might Matthew have thought it was important to tell the Jewish community about the visit of the Gentile wise men? We see that the Gentile visitors have come to adore the Messiah. What is the reaction of the Jews to the news of his birth? What might that foreshadow? Given that foreshadowing, how might this chapter be an excellent introduction to Matthew as a whole? Early Christians celebrated Epiphany, the holiday commemorating the coming of the wise men, before it began to celebrate Christmas. Why do you think that might have been?
Verse 2: What do the wise men mean when they say that they have seen his star? Notice that, in spite of our traditions, they do not say that they have followed his star. Note also that, as the lexical notes for this verse point out, they literally say, “We have seen his star at its rising” rather than “we have seen his star in the east.”
Verses 3-4: Why is Herod troubled? What would Herod’s wise men know that the magi wouldn’t know? In other words, why did the wise men consult with Herod and his court? (Note that Herod died in 4 B.C.)
Verse 6: Matthew quotes Micah 5:1-3. Since his quotation doesn’t correspond to either the Greek version of the Old Testament that was commonly used in Jesus’s day (the Septuagint) or the established Hebrew version, he is either quoting somewhat loosely, or he may be quoting a version of Micah that we no longer have.
Verse 11: Why does Matthew mention the gifts the wise men gave? What is frankincense? What is myrrh? (Look in your LDS Bible Dictionary.) How might Jesus’ family have been able to use these gifts?
Verses 13-15: Why does Matthew quote scripture so often when he tells what happened to Jesus?
Verses 13-23: The parallels between the story of Moses and that of Jesus are striking, as are the parallels between the Pharaoh and Herod: the Pharaoh tried to kill all male children (Exodus 1:22); Moses had to flee because his life was in danger (Exodus 2:15); when the Pharaoh died, and Moses returned (Exodus 4:19-20). In addition, as Word Biblical Commentary points out (33a:34), the language of Matthew 2:19 is almost identical to that of Exodus 2:23 (of the Septuagint, of course). What are we to make of such parallels? What is Matthew doing by drawing out attention to them?
Verse 16: How many children would you think were living in Bethlehem at the time?
Verse 17:”Jeremy the prophet” means “Jeremiah the prophet.” Matthew is quoting Jeremiah 31:15. As with Micah 5, he is not quoting exactly.
Verse 23: No scripture in the Old Testament mentions Nazareth, so what prophets can Matthew be thinking of? Some have suggested that Matthew has Isaiah 11:1 in mind: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch (nsr) shall grow out of his roots.”
As in chapter 1, Luke goes out of his way to tell the story of Jesus’ birth as a parallel to the story of John the Baptist’s birth: the joy at the birth of the child, the circumcision and naming, prophecies of expectation by someone closely associated with the temple, and a concluding remark about the growth and development of the child. Why do you think he does tells the stories with these parallels?
Verse 6: The Greek word translated “accomplished” could also have been translated “fulfilled.” Luke uses that Greek word, “fulfilled,” eight times in chapters one and two. Why?
Verse 7: As the exegesis for this verse indicates, swaddling clothes are strips of cloth four or five inches wide and about six yards long. They were used to bind children when they were born. The belief was that if the baby’s arms were bound tightly to its sides, they would grow straight and firm. See the lexical notes for the verse for a discussion of “inn” and “manger.”
Verses 8-20: Though Matthew shows us Christ’s birth (or at least his infancy—the wise men may have come some time after he was born) as it relates to the rich and powerful, Luke shows us the birth in relation to the poor. Why do you think Luke tells the story this way?
Why is it significant that, from among the many poor people living around Bethlehem, the angel appears to the shepherds? What symbolic significance could that have? What was David the king’s occupation? How is Jesus sometimes described?
Verse 11: The angels announce the good news, the gospel: the Savior, the Messiah (“the Anointed One”), the Lord has been born. How does each of these titles differ in meaning? Luke is the only one of the four gospel writers who uses the title “Savior,” and he uses the verb “save” more than Matthew and Mark put together. Why might that be? What does it tell us about his gospel?
Verses 21-28: Notice that Luke shows us here that Jesus was raised according to the Mosaic law. He is circumcised and named, and his parents follow the law regarding the sacrifices to be made. Why would that have been important to Luke’s audience? Oddly, however, Luke seems to be confused about the rituals required by the law. According to Leviticus 12:2-8, forty days after the birth of a male child, a woman was to be purified by offering a lamb at the temple, or a pair of doves if she was poor. Exodus 13:2 and 13:12-13 says that the first-born male belongs to God and could be redeemed by an offering by the father. Luke has conflated the two offerings.
Verses 22-24; verses 25-27: In the first set of verses, Luke refers to the law three times. In the second set, he refers to the Spirit three times. What do you make of that parallel?
Verse 25: Some have speculated that Simeon is a member of the priestly class who, having seen the corruption of the temple priesthood, is waiting for its restoration. This speculation based on the fact that he calls himself a servant in verse 29 and that word is generally reserved for those with the priesthood. Simeon has been “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” What does that mean? A rabbinic tradition has it that the phrase refers to the last words spoken between Elijah and Elisha, words that will be revealed when Elijah returns. Could that rabbinic tradition have significance for Latter-day Saints?
The word translated “consolation” is paraklēsis. It is closely related to the word translated “comforter” in places like John 14:16 and 26, and 15:26. Literally the Greek word means “one who calls out” or “one who calls to,” so it means “an exhorter” or “one who beseeches.” Luke uses the word in Luke 3:18 to describe John the Baptist’s preaching. How does this word describe Jesus? How is it possible that a word that means “exhorter” can also mean “comforter”?
Verse 28: It was customary for a rabbi to take a child in his arms to give him a blessing.
Verse 32: Simeon recognizes that Jesus is the Savior of all people, Gentile and Jew. Why is that theme important to Luke? How did Matthew include that theme in his story?
Verses 34-35: When Simeon speaks of the fall and rise of many in Israel, he may have Isaiah 8:14 in mind. Note also that the only other times that Luke uses the Greek word that is here translated “rise,” he is referring to resurrection, so that is probably also what he means here. With what does Simeon bless Mary? When Simeon says that Jesus will minister so “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed,” what does he mean?
Verses 36-38: Anna confirms Simeon’s testimony. Four women in the Old Testament are called “prophetess”: Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), and Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3). The rabbis also recognized Sarah, Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1), Abigail (1 Samuel 25:32), and Esther as prophetesses. By calling Anna a prophetess, Luke explicitly compares her to these women. In what ways is she comparable to them? If we think of Simeon and Anna as types, who might they represent? Phanuel means “face of God” and “Asar” (Asher) means “good luck.” Is Luke mentioning these names because he believes they add an additional layer of symbolism to his story?
Verses 41-51: Notice how important the Temple is to Luke’s story. It begins in the Temple, with Gabriel’s appearance to Zacharias. As an infant Jesus’s divinity and calling is confirmed by witnesses in the temple. And the only incident we know from his childhood is one in the Temple. When we get to the end of Luke gospel (Luke 24:53), we will see that his story ends with the disciples in the Temple. Why do you think the Temple was so important to Luke’s understanding of the gospel? He is, after all, not himself a Jew. In verse 49, the phrase translated “about my Father’s business” is probably better translated “in my Father’s house,” and is, therefore, another place in which Luke is emphasizing the importance of the Temple.
Luke shows us a young boy who knows the scriptures, who is at home in the Temple, who understands that God is his father, and who obeys his parents. The person we see here is anything but a rebel. Why might Luke have thought it important to show his audience that?
Verse 49: This verse could summarize Jesus’ life. Did Luke write it with that in mind?
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