Why In Bethlehem? (2:1-7)
A decree is given throughout the Roman Empire by Caesar Augustus that everyone within the empire was to registered. The most likely reason for the census was a registration for taxes. The way the registration took place was for everyone to go to their home city to be registered. For the Jews, this is a return to their ancestral towns to be registered by the Roman government. Joseph is from Bethlehem. Bethlehem is about 80-90 miles from Nazareth. This is not a short journey for pregnant woman in her final month of the term. The story is told to us Luke to explain how to get Joseph and Mary, who are living in Nazareth in the region of Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in the region of Judea. Luke does not mention this, but the reason it is important for Joseph and Mary to be in Bethlehem in God’s plan is because the prophet Micah declared that the Messiah would be born in the town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Luke is picturing God at work to bring about his plan for now is the appointed time.
Please notice all the details given concerning Jesus’ birth in verses 6-7. What day was Jesus born? The text does not say. We do not know what day Jesus was born. It was apparently not necessary for God to reveal to us the exact day. There is a 1 out of 365 possibility (1 day out of 365 days in a year) that December 25 is the day of Jesus’ birth. That is a 0.2% chance, less than one percent. The things that are done on December 25 are not done in worship to God, but out of human desire, for the scriptures are completely silent as to the day of Jesus’ birth. Just as knowing the exact day of Jesus’ death is irrelevant because we should worship and praise God every day for Jesus’ death, so also knowing the exact day of Jesus’ birth is irrelevant because we should worship and praise God every day for Jesus’ birth and life.
Too often imaginations have run wild concerning the information given to us by Luke. Luke does not mention that the innkeeper is some horrible person. Nor does Luke say that this is something despicable for Jesus to be placed in a feeding trough. There is an intended point that we are not to miss. Look at the humble beginnings of the Savior, the Messiah, the King. Jesus arrives in complete obscurity. No one in Rome knew about the birth of Jesus. No one in Caesar’s palace is keeping tabs on the arrival of this king. No one in Jerusalem is paying attention. In fact, no one in Bethlehem is paying attention. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are staying in the shelter where the animals sleep. This is not "king of the universe" beginnings! The birth of Jesus draws the attention of no one in the town of Bethlehem.
Why did God do this? Why wasn’t Jesus born in Rome? Why wasn’t Jesus even born in Jerusalem? Why wasn’t Jesus born into the Augustan family so that Jesus could rule the empire instead of Tiberius once Augustus dies? God could have just as easily had Jesus miraculous born to be to the wealthy powerful of Rome. Why wasn’t Jesus born into the rich and powerful of Jerusalem so that people would perceive him to the king of Israel? Think about those questions and we will answer these questions at the end of the lesson.
The Birth Announcement (2:8-21)
Meanwhile, there are shepherds tending their sheep at night. An angel of the Lord appears to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. Understandably, the shepherds become fearful because of this light show. But the angel says, "Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people; today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David." What an amazing announcement! The good news of great joy is for all people! The good news was not just for Israel. The good news was not for rich and powerful. The angel says in verse 10 that this good news of great joy is for all people. What is the good news? The good news is that today in Bethlehem was born the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. The Savior of the world was born today. The Messiah, the one who would deliver the nation of Israel from slavery, was born today. The Lord, the master over all people, was born today.
Further, a sign in given. The baby is wrapped in swaddling clothes and is lying in a feeding trough. This baby is not where you would expect to find him. You would not expect to find the Savior, Messiah, and Lord in Bethlehem. We would expect him to be in Rome or Jerusalem. You would not expect to find the Savior, Messiah, and Lord swaddling clothes and lying in a feeding trough. We would expect him to be wearing royal blankets, lying in a crib, in the palace of a king.
After being told the sign, having an angel of the Lord appear, and having the glory of the Lord shine around them, one more amazing event takes place. Suddenly there is an angel with a multitude of heavenly host are praising God. Can you imagine the sound of multitudes of spiritual beings praising God? They are praising God saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased."
Who is the announcement given to? Who was allowed to see all of this? Surprisingly, a bunch of shepherds. This announcement was not to the rich and powerful. This announcement was not to the important people of the world at the time. This announcement was not given in the city of Rome, to the Roman senate, or to Caesar Augustus. The announcement is given to simple shepherds. An important, amazing, miraculous announcement was given to these simple shepherds.
I love verse 15. Once the light show is over, the singing of praises ends, and the angels disappear, the shepherds say to each other, "Let us go over to Bethlehem." We need to go and check this out. We need to see this child. We need to what this is all about. So the shepherds go and find Mary and Joseph, and baby Jesus lying in the feeding trough. The shepherds tell Joseph and Mary everything that had just happened and they were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. Mary soaks in this information and thinks about what all of these things mean. The shepherds leave glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.
I would like to return to the questions I posed earlier in this lesson. Why wasn’t Jesus born in Rome? Why wasn’t Jesus even born in Jerusalem? Why wasn’t Jesus born into the Augustan family so that Jesus could rule the empire instead of Tiberius once Augustus dies? God could have just as easily performed the miracle to be to the wealthy powerful of Rome. Why wasn’t Jesus born into the rich and powerful of Jerusalem so that people would perceive him to the king of Israel?
Jesus is for the average person, a man for the masses. There is no silver spoon in this king’s mouth. He is not a king that comes from a privileged life. These are very humble beginnings for the king. The image is drawing a contrast between how great this child is (he is the Savior, Messiah, and Lord) but his birth is so common and ordinary. Nothing about this birth scene in Bethlehem screams, "Jesus is the Savior and King of the world!" This is God identifying with the human race. Not only is God identifying with the human race, but even identifying with the lowly and poor who are in lowly and despised circumstances. Why did God do this? God did this so that Jesus would be the king for the people. Jesus knows what you are going through and understands. Jesus cares about what you are going through. He is not a king who has no concept of what real life is like. Jesus identifies with you. He knows where you are at and knows what you are dealing with in life.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16; NRSV)
The humble king, born in humble circumstances, is looking for humble people. As we have seen in our study of Luke, the person that God is pleased with is the humble person. God is looking for humble hearts. We see Mary and Elizabeth practice humility in realizing that they were being blessed by God in the miraculous events that were happening to them. They let God do the exalting, not themselves. Humility is not an option. Those who are chosen by God practice humility before God and others. We cannot neglect to realize that humility is demanded of us. If Jesus practiced humility and we observe his humble beginnings, then it must be true for us as his disciples that we will have that same humility or we are not truly his children.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12; NRSV)
God does not care about status. God does not pay attention to addresses, clothes, bank accounts, or resumes. The things that impress humans do not impress God. The things that matter to us simply do not matter to God. God wants us to come to him stripped away of all that pride so that his words can mold us and change us into people who will worship and serve the Lord.
Respond to who Jesus is. Jesus is the Savior of the world. The proclamation of the angels and all creation declare that Jesus is the Savior. He died for the sins of the world so that God could forgive us our sins. Has the Savior saved you yet? Have you turned to Jesus and through Jesus received the grace of God? Jesus came because all of us are destined to eternal punishment for our sins and he is the only way for us to avoid that eternal destruction. Have you been saved from your sins?
Jesus is the Messiah, the king. Are you in his kingdom? Jesus is the king and we are subject to the king. Are we submitting our lives to him? We are not with Jesus if we are living our lives according to our rules, our wisdom, and our way of thinking. We must abide by the laws of his kingdom. He has revealed his commands to us and, as the king, has called us to turn away from our selfish living and obey him.
Jesus is the Lord, the master. Are you serving him? Notice from the Luke story that everyone is worshiping and serving Jesus. He is the master. He is the Lord. We are not only called to be saved from our sins through Jesus and to abide by his laws but to serve him with all our heart. God wants your heart. God wants your love. God wants your devotion. He has done so much for us, sending Jesus to the earth in the humble beginnings that we read about in this lesson. God has demonstrated his love for us through Jesus. Will you serve him fully today?