JESUS GREW UP A THOROUGHLY Jewish boy. Not only was his lineage Jewish, it was Davidic: legally, he belonged to the suppressed royal house (Luke 2:4). Imperial politics were divinely manipulated to ensure that Jesus would be born in the ancient town of David (2:1-4, 11). On the eighth day of his life, he was circumcised (2:21). At the appropriate time, Mary and Joseph offered a sacrifice in keeping with the Law’s prescription of what was required of every firstborn male (2:22-24). “Joseph and Mary,” we are told, did “everything required by the Law of the Lord” (2:39). In the first days of Jesus’ life, Simeon prophetically addressed God in prayer, declaring that the coming of Jesus was “for glory to your people Israel” (2:32); aged Anna “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (2:38). Every year, Joseph and Mary traveled the long miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem to participate in the Feast of Passover, “according to the custom” (2:41-42), joining tens of thousands of other pilgrims; and of course, Jesus went along, witnessed the slaughter of thousands of Passover lambs, heard the temple choirs, and recited the ancient Scriptures. At the age of twelve, Jesus’ constant exposure to the heritage of his people and the content of their Scriptures led to the extraordinary exchanges he enjoyed with the temple teachers (2:41-52).
We cannot begin to grasp the categories in which Jesus spoke and acted, the categories in which his life and ministry, his death and resurrection, have significance, unless we find them in the ancient Hebrew Bible.
Yet that is not all there is to say. That same Bible does not begin with Abraham and the origins of the Israelites. It begins with God, the origin of the universe, the creation of human beings bearing God’s image, the wretched rebellion of the Fall, the first cycles of judgment and forgiveness, the first promises of redemption to come. Certainly Paul understood that the Bible’s long story of the Jews must be set within the still longer story of the human race, and that even the first calling of the man who is the ancestor of all Jews specifies that through him all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Gal. 3; cf. Gen. 12). Here at the beginning of Jesus’ life, the same framework peeps through. Simeon praises the Sovereign Lord for allowing him to live to see this baby: “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (2:31-32).