Luke 2:1-20

It’s interesting to compare chapters 1 and 2 of Luke’s Gospel. Chapter 1 is long and very complex, yet chapter 2 is comparatively brief even though it contains the story of Jesus’ birth.

In chapter 2, Luke stresses three main points:

  • The political situation, which explains why Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem;

  • Bethlehem was the town of David, which explains why Jesus had a rightful claim to the throne of David;

  • The humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth.

At the very outset of Luke’s version of the story, we are confronted with Caesar Augustus. Luke probably mentions his name to give Theophilus, to whom this Gospel was written, historical context. But we should also see a glaring contrast between the decree of earthly king versus that of God.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (Luke 2:1)

Government decrees are rarely cause for rejoicing! This “decree” issued by Caesar August was terribly burdensome. Can you imagine if President Obama issued a similar decree today? There would be national chaos. Caesar’s decree, which disrupted every life in the Roman Empire, was for the purpose of taxation. This particular taxing though, was not a one-time thing. It was a continual effort that went on  periodically over at least a 14 year period.   An earthly tyrant may issue a decree, but that decree was all part of God’s plan to bring His Son into the world at the right time, in the right place to fulfill ancient prophecies. As far back as Micah 5:2, we read God’s decree:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Man only thinks he is in charge. God, in fact, orchestrates the events of this world for the sole purpose of bringing Himself glory and pointing sinful man to Him. In a strange twist, Caesar Augustus brought about the the fulfillment of God’s will by creating the necessary circumstances.

We have to sit back and smile and ask ourselves, Is anything too hard for God? How can there be when God is in complete control?

1. The arrival

and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:7)

Use of the phrase “her firstborn son” tells us that, in spite of Roman Catholic doctrine, Mary did have other children. But it also tells us something else very significant: Jesus was her first child. She was, in fact, the virgin prophesied in Isaiah. Jesus was born the natural way, but His conception was miraculous.

There are all kinds of apocryphal stories and legends surrounding the night the Light of the World came into the world. We know that Bethlehem would have been overcrowded with families coming in for the census, plus there would have been Roman soldiers in town to quell any protests or riots. So, it makes sense that there was no “guest room” available for them. The image we have is that of a young family, about to have a baby, trying to find a hotel room. This probably is not an entirely accurate image. The birth narratives indicate that Mary and Joseph had been in town for a while before Jesus was born. Since this was his home town, he probably had family there. Luke’s “guest room” could refer to there being no room at his relative’s home as well as no room at any inn in town. Where would they stay? In all likelihood, the notion of a “cave” is also apocryphal, having been first put forward by Origen’s time.

It’s not romantic, but Mary and Joseph probably stayed in some sort of family shed or outbuilding that provided warmth and shelter. Hallmark cards are not the best when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

Still, nobody had room for this young couple or their soon-coming baby. Is it any different today? There is still no room for Jesus is the lives of most people, and, sadly, even in the lives of those who call themselves Christians, Jesus – whom they claim to be their Savior – is relegated to the outbuilding of their hearts. Even in the Church of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man has no pillow on which to lay His head. It’s hard to imagine a Church where Jesus isn’t welcome! But any time a Church has no time for the Word of God, it has no room for Jesus. He is the living Word, after all.

Many of the “social gospel” persuasion love to stress the notion that Mary and Joseph were destitute and dirt poor, which is why they couldn’t get a room. This is probably another legend with no basis in fact. Joseph was a tradesman – a carpenter – and he was as good as married to Mary, according to Jewish tradition. He no doubt had been preparing for his marriage by saving and working. By no means rich, he probably was not part of the “poorest of the poor” in Jewish society.

Luke in his narrative describes the humble circumstances of the Lord’s birth to show how strange an occurrence this event was to be. Here was a King, born in a shed. Here was the Lord, coming to His people in a small, overcrowded town.

2. The proclamation

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-12, 10 and 11 cited)

“Christ the Lord’s” coming was announced by “the angel of the Lord,” accompanied by the “glory of the Lord.” There was no more lowly occupation in Palestine than that of shepherd. It was hard work; it was dirty work; it was lonely work. Why did God choose to announce the birth of His Son to men like this? Shepherds were considered untrustworthy and unclean. Shouldn’t God have chosen men whose occupations were a little more respected? Why not religious leaders? Or political leaders? Obviously, these shepherds were men God could trust to see the glorious spectacle and hear the angelic announcement. It is fitting that the Great Shepard chose to reveal His birth to shepherds; that social outcasts would be the first to hear about the birth of One who Himself would be an outcast among His people.

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27)

Jesus was probably not born in December, although He could have been. The Bible is silent on precisely when the event took place, so it probably isn’t important for us to know. It’s funny that so much has been written on this topic. Christians are generally pretty good at majoring on minor points.

For their part, when the angel of the Lord appeared to them, the shepherds were terrified, just as Zechariah was. Who wouldn’t have been afraid by this amazing sight? Neither Zechariah nor these shepherds had seen such a thing before. But the angel spoke words of comfort, and he spoke words that Luke, though not an eyewitness, would deem as being most important as he uses them again and again in his Gospel. The words “Savior” and “salvation” occur well over 40 times in the writings of Luke and that of his friend, Paul. The “angel of the Lord” announced good news: the birth of the Savior. The shepherds would have interpreted that as a political savior had just been born, but God’s idea of salvation has to do with the soul of man. Circumstances in life change; good times come and go, but the soul is immortal, and without Christ, it’s sick and has no future. Jesus Christ came into our world to heal the sick soul and give it a future!

As if the angel of the Lord wasn’t enough, suddenly the shepherds saw and heard even more:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13, 14)

We can only imagine how the angels felt that night as they delivered this stunning news to this band of lowly shepherds. Of all the things angels can do, one thing they can never experience is redemption and salvation.

…Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:12)

All they can do is “look” and marvel at what God has done and continues to do for those who call out to Him.

3. Inquiry and Testimony

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. (Luke 2:15, 16)

We have no English equivalent for the Greek behind “Let’s go.” It is an urgency, these shepherds thought, to get to Bethlehem to confirm what they had just been told. The “this thing” refers to the birth of the Savior, and they rushed off to find Him. Luke makes it sound like they went right to Him, but it probably took them some time find where this Savior was born.

They heard the word from heaven, they believed the word, and they acted on it. It’s a shame that more Christians don’t behave more like these shepherds. If Christians would hear Word, believe the Word, and most of all ACT on the Word of God, they, like the shepherds, would find Jesus. These shepherds didn’t take time debate what they had seen and heard; they didn’t call a meeting to form a consensus of opinion. They had the wisdom to simply say, “Let’s go…and see this thing that has happened.” That’s faith!

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, (Luke 2:17)

They believed and they “spread the word.” These simple shepherds were the first evangelists. They proved the power of God’s Word in their own experience. Again, it would be nice if more Christians proved the power of God’s Word in the same way. The shepherds were full of joy; they were thrilled with what they had seen, heard, and experienced.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15)

Are you spreading this “trustworthy saying?” There’s a world of sinners that needs to hear what you know and what you have experienced!

People that heard what the shepherds had to say “wondered” about it. They, after all, hadn’t seen or heard what they saw and heard. They “wondered.” They didn’t know what to think. But Mary’s response to all this is interesting:

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

Her response was quite different to that of the shepherds and even those who heard their story and “wondered.” She, the mother of Jesus, kept her thoughts to herself. Mary knew more about her Child than anybody else on Earth. But there was a lot she didn’t know and even more she didn’t understand. But what she had seen, heard, and experienced didn’t stagger her faith. She simply kept her thoughts to herself as “precious memories” to be pondered and prayed about.

But there was NO keeping these shepherds quiet!

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20)

These poor shepherds returned to the their jobs; to the old familiar routine of their daily grind. But they were changed; their hearts had changed by what they had seen, heard, and experienced. The last we see of these shepherds, they are still praising God and rejoicing for what they had been privileged to be a part of, this night of the Incarnation.

The Gospel – the Good News – is full of good news! We who are born again should take special note of the role the shepherds played this night. The:

  • Heard;
  • Believed;
  • Obeyed;
  • Received;
  • Testified;
  • Rejoiced;
  • Praised.

Jesus changes lives.


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