The Birth of the Savior

Part 1 of an EasyEnglish Bible Study Course on the Life of Christ

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Words in boxes are from the Bible. A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.

*Israel in the time of Christ The history of *Israel

Barrie Wetherill

Jews lived in *Israel at the time of Christ. They probably did not feel very safe. Once their country had been very powerful. David and Solomon had been their kings. That was 1000 years ago. Now they were not powerful. The people had done wrong things. They had not obeyed God. God had spoken to Abraham and Moses. He had given them a Covenant (made a special agreement with them). But the people did not obey God's rules. God punished them. He made them leave their country. He had told them that he would do this. In 586 BC, enemies burned down the *Temple of Solomon. This *temple was one of the most wonderful buildings in the world. The enemies took away everything that was inside the *Temple.

 

After 70 years, some of the Jews returned to *Israel. But it was very difficult to live there. While the Jews were away, many foreigners had come to live there. After some time the Jews did build the *Temple again. This was much smaller than Solomon’s *Temple. It was not so beautiful.

At this time, there were very strong rulers in the world. There were very strong countries. People from Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia and Greece were very powerful. Their armies marched into many countries.

Armies from Greece enter *Israel

Alexander the Great (from Greece) entered *Israel and many other countries. Alexander was not only a military leader. He also introduced new ideas to these countries. He made the Greek language and customs popular. Some Jews began to serve false Greek gods. After Alexander's death, his Generals (important officers) fought against each other. Each one wanted to rule parts of his lands. Some of these battles were in *Israel. Then one General spoilt the *Temple, which the Jews had rebuilt. This General did some evil things in the *Temple. He killed people who would not serve his false Greek gods. So, some Jews became very angry.

The Maccabees

The Maccabees were a family. They wanted the Jews to serve the true God only. And they opposed the false Greek gods. The Maccabees encouraged the Jews to fight their enemies. The Maccabees ruled *Israel for a short time.

The Romans

The Jews began to argue with each other. Then the *Romans came and ruled *Israel. They were very strict. The Jews wanted to be free. But the Roman *Empire became very strong. The *Romans ruled many countries. Their power was very great. It seemed impossible for the Jews to be free.

 

King Herod's *Temple

At the time of the birth of Jesus, the Romans had made Herod to be king over *Israel. Herod was not a Jew. He was a foreigner. Although he was a Jew by religion, he did not obey the laws of the Jews. He was a strong and cruel man. He became king by a plot. He wanted to control the Jews. So he built the *Temple again. He made it much bigger. His workmen began to build the *Temple in 20 BC. They continued until about AD 64. Herod's *Temple was a very beautiful building.

But what happened in the *Temple was not always good. People did not always behave in the right way:

A Jew might want to kill an animal as a sacrifice (as a gift to God). He had to buy the animal from a special shopkeeper. The rulers in the *Temple chose the shopkeepers. The shopkeepers could ask for big prices. People could not bring any other animals, even if they were good animals!

The Romans appointed the *high priest. But one family gave money to the Romans. So the Romans always chose men from that family to become the *high priests.

Sadducees and Pharisees

One group of Jews were called Sadducees. They had different ideas from other Jews. They did not believe in the *supernatural. They had very different ideas. Some people also have such ideas today. Really the Sadducees were a political party. They wanted to please the Romans. This group was very powerful. They did not care what they did. They wanted to remain powerful.

Another group were Pharisees. They studied the law of Moses. They did not always know its true meaning. Later, Jesus spoke to them about this. The leaders of the Pharisees were rich and powerful.

There were also some good Jews. These people wanted to please God. And they wanted to know more about God. They read the books of the *prophets. So, these people believed that God would send a *Messiah. The *Messiah would be a good king. He would rule over them well. They desired that the king would come. But they had waited for a very long time. There had been no *prophet for more than 400 years. Some people probably thought that God had forgotten them. Or, that God had left them. So, they were not sure that the words of the *prophets would come true.

In the next section, we will consider what the *prophets wrote about a *saviour. And in later sections, we will see how their words came true.

What the *Prophets wrote about a *Saviour

It was difficult for people in the time of Christ to understand the *prophets’ words about the *Messiah. There were many *prophets. The meaning of their words was not always easy. Sometimes they did not seem to agree with one another. Many *prophets wrote that the *Messiah would be a great king. He would bring a time of peace. For the Jews there had been hundreds of years of battles, war and death. Enemies had made them prisoners. Enemies had destroyed their land. Of course the people wanted the *Messiah. They wanted the words of the *prophets to come true.

The *Messiah would bring peace

Isaiah 54:11-15: You suffering citizens, storms have hurt you. And no one has comforted you. I will build your city. I will build its strong walls and its gates of precious and beautiful stones. The *Lord will teach all your sons. Your children will live in peace. You will know true goodness. No one will come near you to hurt you. There will be nothing for you to be afraid of. I do not want anyone to attack you. If anyone does attack you, they will give in to you.

 

Micah 4:3: The *Lord will be the *judge between many nations. He will settle arguments for strong rulers from many countries. They will beat their swords and *spears into farmers’ tools. People from different nations will not fight or prepare to fight each other.

The *Messiah would be a king

The *prophets spoke about the birth of a king in Bethlehem, (Micah 5:2).

He would be from the family of David (2 Samuel 5:2). He would rule everywhere and for ever (2 Samuel 7:13, 16; Isaiah 9:6, 7; Micah 2:2-5). His rule would be good and completely right. It would please God. It would be like God’s first plan for the world, or even better. (The *angel who visited Mary spoke about the *prophecy about a king, Luke 1:32, 33.)

The *Messiah would be a *judge

There were other *prophecies. These said that this king would *judge. He would *judge all that is evil. John the Baptist knew these *prophecies. Many of them are about the 'Day of the Lord’. This means the time when men will see God’s power. The king will be absolutely right and good. He will be a wise *judge. But men will have great terror because he has these qualities. (See for example, Isaiah 13:6-13). John the Baptist spoke about this.

The *Messiah would suffer

Some *prophecies also spoke about the Lord’s servant who would suffer, Isaiah 42:13-53:12. He would be a man who would be very sad.

How to understand the *prophecies

This confused the Jews who lived in the time of Jesus. We can see their problems:

• • •

How could the *Messiah be all this? How could one man be a powerful king and also a servant who is sad? How could he be a strict *judge and also bring peace for ever?

But they were sure that the *Messiah would be a king. He would chase away all enemies. And all who had taken their land. He would give them peace, and freedom to rule themselves for ever. They did not understand the *prophecies. So they did not understand what Jesus did. Christ makes all these *prophecies come true, in a wonderful way. He made some *prophecies come true when he came into the world for the first time. He will make other *prophecies come true when he comes back again.

Elijah would come before the *Messiah

We must mention one more *prophecy. The *Lord said that Elijah would come before the *Messiah. Someone would bring the message about him.

The Jews thought that Elijah himself would appear. This was because his death was unusual (2 Kings 2:11). But later Jesus explained this *prophecy. The *prophecy referred to John the Baptist. John came like Elijah, with the power of Elijah. This is the subject for our next section.

[Note also Deuteronomy 18:15, 18; Daniel 7:27.]

Malachi 4:5, 6: See, the great day of the *Lord will come. Before that, I will send the *prophet Elijah to you. He will help fathers to love their children. And he will help children to love their fathers. If not, I will come. I will bring bad things to the land.

 

An *angel comes to Zechariah Zechariah and Elizabeth

The words of the *prophets were true. What they said would happen, began to happen. There were still Jews who loved God. They were honest. They wanted to please God.

Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, loved God. Zechariah was a *priest. He was on duty at the *Temple twice a year. Zechariah and Elizabeth loved God very much. But they had no children. For Jews to have no children was very sad. They also felt ashamed. They had prayed for a child for a very long time. God did not seem to answer.

Then one day Zechariah was on duty in the *Temple. He had a very special duty. He would do this only once in his life. He had to burn incense to God at the *altar in the *Holy Place in the *Temple. [This incense would have a very lovely smell. The Jews believed that the smell carried their words to God.]

When Zechariah was doing this, an *angel suddenly appeared to him. The *angel had a message for him from God.

The *angel's message about John the Baptist

Zechariah and Elizabeth were now old. So Zechariah could not believe the *angel’s message. The angel made him unable to speak (and probably unable to hear) until Elizabeth had her son, John. The angel said that John was to be 'great in the sight of the Lord’ [God would think that John was great]. God would give John the *Holy Spirit. The *angel also said this.

The words of the angel referred to the *prophecy of Malachi:

Before the birth of John, Zechariah probably studied the *prophecies in our previous section. And he would have studied other *prophecies like them.

John the Baptist would be a Nazirite

The *angel also said this: John was to be a Nazirite as long as he lived, (see Numbers 6:1-21). This meant that John would not drink any wine. And John would not cut his hair. A Nazirite promised to live only for the *Lord. We know about two other men who were Nazirites for all of their lives. These were Samson and Samuel. John was to be a very special person. To be a Nazirite helped him to remember this.

An *angel comes to Mary

Six months after the *angel visited Zechariah, God sent the *angel to Mary. The *angel brought a special message from God to Mary. Mary would have a son. She was to call him Jesus. The angel spoke some wonderful *prophecies about Jesus. Mary knew that God had chosen her for a very special task.

Luke 1:13: Do not be afraid, Zechariah; God has heard your prayer. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son. You are to call him John

Malachi 4:5, 6: See, the great day of the *Lord will come. Before that, I will send the *prophet Elijah to you. He will help fathers to love their children. And help children to love their fathers. If not, I will come. I will bring bad things to the land.

Luke 1:17: And he [John] will go on before the *Lord, like Elijah. [God would think that John was as great as Elijah.] He will have the same kind of spirit and power as Elijah. He will help fathers to love their children. And help the bad people to love the wisdom of the good people. He will prepare for the *Lord.

 

The *angel tells Mary about Jesus

Luke 1:32-33: He (Jesus) will be great. Men will call him the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will make him king like his father, David. He will rule over the family of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end.

There was no doubt at all about this child. The *angel said quite clearly who Jesus was. These are the words. The angel said that Jesus was:-

Son of the Most High [This means son of God]. To have the *Throne of David. He will rule for ever. There is no end to His *kingdom.

This message impressed Mary very much. Her answer shows that she trusted God. She was willing to obey him, although it would be hard. She would be a mother. But she would not be a wife. The *angel had said all this. She could not have understood the meaning of it all.

Mary's song

The angel told Mary to go to her cousin Elizabeth. When they met, Mary praised God with a wonderful song. The song was full of words from the *prophets. Mary and Elizabeth praised God because he loves everyone. He is kind to us.

God chose humble people

God had chosen a poor girl from a village to be the mother of the *Messiah. The son of an ordinary priest was to tell the world about him. People think that certain men are powerful. But the *Lord did not choose them. He did not think that they were important. God chose humble people [people whom other people thought were not important]. These people showed how powerful and great God is.

Zechariah’s song John the Baptist is born

Soon after this Elizabeth had her baby, John. The time came for his *circumcision. And for his parent to give him a name. Then Zechariah was able to speak again. His song (Luke 1:68-79) was also full of words from the *prophets. Everybody knew about this (Luke 1:65). People asked each other questions about John. They asked, 'What kind of man would he be?' The Bible tells us that the *Lord was with John from his birth (Luke 1:15, 66). In the same way, the *Lord had been with Samuel.

God will free his people

The beginning of Zechariah’s song reminds us of words from the time of the *Exodus. God used his very great power then to free his people. Zechariah says that this will happen again. In his song he refers to the 'horn’. (In the Bible a horn is a sign of power. Psalm 132 refers to a horn.)

God will free his people from their enemies. This was not just a desire to defeat the enemy. It was a cry from a holy man. He wanted to serve the *Lord without fear. He wanted people to know this. God is good. Zechariah says some things also about John.

Luke 1:51, 52: God has done powerful things. He has scattered those who have proud thoughts. He has removed rulers from their *thrones. He has made humble men great.

Psalm 132:17, 18: Here I will make a horn grow for David. I have chosen him as king. I will set up a lamp for him. I will bring shame on his enemies. But I will give him a wonderful crown.

 

Luke 1:76, 77: And you, my child, will be a *prophet o
the Most High God. You will go first. You will prepare the way for the *Lord. You will tell his people this: he will forgive them. He will rescue them.

God will forgive his people

The Jews will serve God. Zechariah’s song says this. They will, at last, do right. They will be holy. They will be free when God forgives them. He will forgive the wrong things that men do. Zechariah was not thinking only about freedom from Roman rule. For many years, he had been studying the *prophets!

The childhood of John the Baptist John learned from his parents

We do not know what John was like as a child. His parents were good people. They wanted to please God.

John learned from the Bible

We can be sure that John and his parents studied God’s Word [the Bible]. They would have read about the *Messiah. They would have read about the *Messiah's fore-runner. [A fore-runner was a servant who went first, in front of an important person. He had to prepare people for his master. He had to say that his master would come very soon.] The *Messiah’s fore-runner was to say this: the *Messiah would come very soon. People should prepare for Him. Jewish children learned to repeat many words of the Bible.

John learned from other people

John would have learned about what happened in the *Temple. He would have learned about the meaning of the sacrifices [gifts to God] and customs. When John was a young man, he prepared for his special work. He lived in the deserts, near the Essene people. They were men who lived together. They lived in a very simple way, with discipline. They studied the *prophets.

John learned from God's *Holy Spirit

The *Holy Spirit was with John from his birth. We can be sure that God spoke to John. God would tell him about his work. He would teach him also about the character of Jesus, the *Messiah. Probably John’s and Jesus’ families met each other when John and Jesus were young. Before their births, God had told their parents about their sons. They all knew that their sons were special. All this must have helped John. He knew that he had to look for a different kind of *Messiah. Most people expected a king who would be a political leader. John knew that this was not God’s plan.

The birth of Jesus

Why Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem

The birth of Jesus was about 6 months after the birth of John the Baptist.

However, just before Jesus was born, the Romans decided to count the people. They wanted to know how many people would pay tax to the Romans. Every family had to return to their first home. The Roman officials would count them there.

Joseph and Mary belonged to the family of David. The family had come from Bethlehem. They had to go to Bethlehem. That was far away. It must have been a difficult journey for Mary. They were late when they arrived at Bethlehem. There were many people in Bethlehem. They had no place to sleep. There was no room anywhere.

 

So, the birth of Jesus was in a shed. Animals lived there. Mary put the baby in a manger. [A manger is a box that contains the food for animals.] The *prophecy said that the *Messiah would come from Bethlehem. This *prophecy came true.

*Angels, shepherds and wise men

Joseph and Mary had to stay near there for some time. They had to take Jesus to the *Temple after 40 days. Some visitors surprised them. Some shepherds came. [They were men who looked after sheep.]. They had seen *angels. The *angels had praised God. Christ the *Lord was a baby in Bethlehem. The angels had told them this. Another group of visitors were wise men. They gave wonderful gifts.

Jesus is the *saviour for people from all nations

The visitors are interesting.

The shepherds were Jews. But some Jews might not respect them, because the shepherds were poor. However, they must have been good men. They pleased God.

The wise men were foreigners. They were not Jews. They came from a country whose people did not know the real God. However, God guided them. Now they had found this baby. He would be greater than anyone that they had ever known.

Both groups of men showed *faith. They did not give honour to a prince in a palace. The shepherds saw him in an animal’s shed. The wise men came to a simple home. Jesus is the *Messiah not only for the Jews. He is for all nations. The visits show us this.

Simeon and Anna

The time came to take Jesus to the *Temple. Two very good people were there. Simeon and Anna spoke to Joseph and Mary. They praised God for the child Jesus.

Jesus had poor parents. They lived in a poor house. But the *angels of God knew about Jesus. And they told some good ordinary people about him.

Jesus is Humble Jesus was a poor man

Jesus lived like a very humble man. This is very impressive. Our *Lord might have been the son of a rich woman, or the son of a king. He might have been born to a very important family. That would have been a humble act for Jesus, because Jesus was really the Son of God.

But Jesus was actually the son of a poor woman. We know that Mary was poor. Mary and Joseph came to the *Temple with the baby. Then they offered a gift to God. The Jewish law told people what they should give. Mary and Joseph’s gift was the cheapest. They could only afford that. They offered two birds. Jesus was the Heir of all things [God meant to give him everything]. But he became one of the humblest men. From birth he was poor. He lived in a poor family. Joseph was a carpenter. [A carpenter made things from wood.] Jesus served people all his life. Jesus worked. Things did not always go well for him. He had troubles like our troubles.

Jesus lived like a servant

In Philippians 2:7-11 Paul tells us that Jesus left the *glory of *Heaven. He became a human person. He was humble enough to die on the *cross. He knew what he was doing. It was not some terrible mistake. Jesus himself said that:

Micah 5:2: Bethlehem, you are small among the families of *Judah. However, out of you will come one for me. That one will be ruler over *Israel. I have planned this from ancient times.

 

I did not come so that men would serve me. I came to serve other people. And I came to give my life for many people. (Matthew 20:28)

He did not come just to make some changes in the ways of the world. He came to replace it. Jesus showed a different way to live. He showed this to greedy people [or cruel people with too much power]. He showed that a man could be humble. He could love and serve other people.

Jesus served people all his life. He made sick people better. He made worried people calm. The last time that he ate with his *disciples, he took a towel. He washed the *disciples’ feet. This attitude began at Bethlehem. He lay in the manger there, among the animals. [A manger is for animals’ food.] He was like someone who did not deserve a proper house.

Jesus obeyed his parents

Jesus obeyed Mary and Joseph, as he grew up. It would be wonderful to know more about his childhood. He was not proud. He came to serve. He came to show us how to live. Most of all, he came to die for us. He was so humble. But he was so great!

God chose the right time for Jesus to come

God arranged that the time was right. It was time for His Son to come into the world. It was the right time in the world. It was also the right time in God’s great plan. God had prepared for this, from the beginning of the world. Because of Roman rule, there was a kind of peace in that region. Many people could speak the Greek language. They understood each other. John the Baptist was ready. He was to come before Jesus. He was to tell people that Jesus would come. Jesus himself was born. God’s power did all this, but in a humble way. This should surprise us. It should impress us. God showed his love for men. They did not obey him. He wanted to forgive them. He showed this. Everybody should trust him.

Read: Luke chapters 1 and 2

Word List

altar ~ a special table, on which people put gifts for God, or for a false god angel ~ angels live with God and bring messages from God.

circumcision ~ when you cut off the loose skin from the end of the sex part of a boy or man. In *Israel this showed that the person belonged to God

cross ~ two pieces of wood fixed together. Jesus died on a cross, and so the cross is now the sign of the church

disciples ~ people who believe in Jesus and obey him empire ~ very big *kingdom. Exodus ~ the time when God led the *Jews out of Egypt. faith ~ belief and confidence in something or someone; trust in God and in his Bible glory ~ the power and greatness of God

heaven ~ where God lives and rules high priest ~ the most important priest in the Jewish *temple Holy Place ~ an inner part of the *Temple, which only a priest could enter, to speak to God Holy Spirit ~ God’s Spirit, whom Jesus sends to help people.

Galatians 4:4, 5: But when the time was right, God sent his Son. He had a human birth, under law. He came to free those under law. Now we can become the real sons of God.

 

Israel ~ the Jewish people, or the land of the Jewish people

Jew ~ a person who is from the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Judah ~ another name for the land of the Jews

judge ~ someone who decides if a person is good or bad. If you judge something, you make a decision about it.

kingdom ~ land that a king rules

Lord ~ a name that we call God or Jesus, when we obey them

Messiah ~ Messiah means the same as Christ. That is, the one whom God chose as *Israel's special king. God forgives us because Jesus, our Messiah, suffered the punishment for our evil deeds.

priest ~ a special servant of God, who gave gifts to God for himself and other people, in the *Temple

prophecy ~ words that a *prophet speaks

prophet ~ a person who can tell other people what God wants

Roman ~ a person from Rome. Rome was the most famous city in the world at the time of Jesus. Their soldiers fought and defeated many countries. They made the people obey the rules of Rome. They made them pay taxes to Rome. The people could not rule themselves, but they had to obey the laws of Rome.

saviour ~ Jesus, who saves us from the results of our evil deeds. He made us right with God when he died on the *cross.

spear ~ a long and thin object, like a sword. Men use it to fight with. supernatural ~ something that men cannot explain or understand. It seems to come from God temple ~ the special building in Jerusalem. The Jews went to *worship God there throne ~ a special chair, which a king sits on worship ~ when people give honour to God; they pray and sing his praises.