2019-12-24 The Birth of the Christ

The Birth of the Christ
Luke 2:1-20
December 24, 2019

Prayer for Illumination:

Mighty God, the shepherds of old were full of your praises, saying that all they had heard and seen was mirrored by what they had been told. Move among us now with your Holy Spirit, that we too might hear and experience the wonder and joy of the living Word as we seek to welcome the written Word into our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14      “Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.[1]

The Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

These are some of the most familiar words in all of Scripture. We read them every year. Maybe if you’re like me, you hear these words in the voice of Linus van Pelt. They’re so familiar that we often miss the radical message in these words. These words tell us that when the time was right, God was born of the virgin to redeem his people, and that this message is for all people.

Luke writes, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria”. This is not “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” or “once upon a time…”. Luke is locating this in a specific moment in history.  This is history. Even though this is fantastic and hard-to-believe, this is real; this isn’t fantasy. Luke is giving us an orderly account so that we might have certainty about this gospel.

This happened in the days of Caesar Augustus. Caesar August was originally born Gaius Octavian. He was adopted by Julius Caesar and became the first Roman Emperor in 30BC. He reigned for 44 years until AD14. And during his reign, he brought about peace throughout the Roman Empire. Under his leadership, the warring factions ceased and there was peace. He build up the infrastructure so that there were paved roads all throughout the Empire.

Around 4BC, he issued a decree that everyone “should be registered”. He is issuing a census. What he wants to know is how many people are in his Empire so that he can tax people more efficiently. And because of this census, everyone was required to return to their hometown.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Joseph leaves Galilee and returns to Bethlehem. That is his hometown. It’s a roughly 80 mile trek from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea. He would have made that on foot. That would have taken four days. And he didn’t go alone. He took with him Mary his betrothed. Mary would have been almost nine months pregnant at this point. That wouldn’t have been comfortable for her.

Why? Why would he take her? She wasn’t required to be registered like he was. The census only had to do with men. So why did he take her? He probably didn’t want to leave her alone in Nazareth exposed to ridicule and shame. She was pregnant out of wedlock. And while she had been true, her pregnancy was miraculous, many assumed she had been unfaithful and untrue to Joseph. The people might have ridiculed her and shamed her. And Joseph being a loving man didn’t want to expose her to that. And while they were in Bethlehem, she gave birth. Because there wasn’t room in the guest room, they laid Jesus in a manger.

God was orchestrating everything so that things happened according to his will. He had said through the prophet Micah that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. Micah 5:2 says:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,

         from you shall come forth for me

one who is to be ruler in Israel,

         whose coming forth is from of old,

from ancient days.

R.C. Sproul writes, “It was no coincidence that this imperial decree of Caesar’s happened to take place at this time, forcing them to make the journey to Bethlehem. Here is the most powerful emperor in the world acting out the decree of God himself. Caesar Augustus, in the final analysis, was but a pawn in the hands of the Lord God omnipotent.”[2]

God was orchestrating and arraigning events so that things happen just as he planned they would. He planned that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem so he caused Augustus to issue the census decree. He planned that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem so he orchestrated and arraigned events that caused Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem.

The Lord our God is sovereign. All things work out just as he has planned they will. Things happen according to God’s plan when God says the time is right. God’s plan from all eternity was that he would redeem his Church. God within himself planned to redeem his Church even before he created the world. The plan was that God the Son would redeem his Church. And the on this particular day, the time was right for the Christ to be born. The time was right for God to take on flesh, to be as one born under the law so that he would redeem those under the law. The way that God redeems his people from the curse of the law is by living the perfect life, dying in their place on the cross for their failure to meet the law’s requirements, and rising on the third day giving all who believe new life. According to God’s plan of redemption, the time was right for this.

At times the idea that God is sovereign and orchestrating and arraigning events causes us discomfort. We hear it and we don’t like it. But this truth should comfort us. It should comfort us that God is sovereign and orchestrating and arraigning events. It should comfort us because that means God is in control. It should comfort us because it means that nothing happens that ultimately doesn’t fit his plan and work out for the good of all who believe. Let us take comfort in God’s sovereignty. Let us take comfort in the fact that God is orchestrating and arraigning events according to his plan so that his Kingdom comes.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14      “Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The first people told about the birth of Jesus the Christ are not the Pharisees or Sadducees, the religious leaders of the day. The first people told aren’t the kings and governors. The first people told about the birth of the Christ are shepherds.

During this point in time, shepherds were looked down. They were ceremonially unclean. They would have to touch dead animals and fecal matter which would render them ceremonially unclean. There was also prejudice against shepherds at this time. Many considered shepherds to be scoundrels and criminals. They weren’t allowed to give testimony in court. They were despised and looked down.

And yet they are the first people that the Lord our God tells that the Christ has been born. As they are keeping watch, an angel appears to them. The shepherds were filled with great fear. The Greek literally says that they “feared fear”. This is a truly deep fear. This is the most afraid they have ever been in their entire lives. The King James Version translates this as “sore afraid”.

Why were they sore afraid? Why did they fear fear? An angel of the Lord appeared to them. That truly is a terrifying event. TV shows like “Touched By an Angel” don’t really do justice to angels. When an angel appears, they come in the glory and majesty of God. And that is a terrifying thing.

It’s terrifying because we love darkness. Men and women love the darkness and not the light of God. The light of God exposes our sin and rebellion. So to see the light of God is a terrifying, awe-filling experience.

The angel speaks to the shepherds saying, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

The angel tells them not to be afraid. He hasn’t come in judgment. He’s come to bring them good news. And the news is for these shepherds and for all people is that a savior has been born. Here is the good news for you and for me that even though we have sinned, fall short of the glory of God, and deserve death, God has provided a savior.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14      “Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

And this savior brings us peace with God. Each and every person who believes that Jesus Christ bore their sins on the cross has peace with God. We no longer have anything to be afraid of. We no longer have to be afraid of the light of God if we are in Christ. Yes that light still reveals our sin; it still reveals that we fall short of the glory of God. But in Christ our sin was nailed to the cross so that we could have peace with God. And the light that once terrified us, now comforts us as it helps us to become more like Christ.

The peace that the angels are singing about is not some generic peace. This is not Pax Romana or Pax Americana. This is not cessation of warfare between rival gangs or groups. This is transcendent peace with God. It is this peace that allows us to come to the table and eat with him. Only those who have experienced the peace of God through Jesus Christ can eat, drink ,and have fellowship with God.

After the angelic host left the shepherds, they went to find the child. And they found him just as they were told. They found him in swaddling cloths lying in a manger. And as they left, they “made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them”.

These shepherds became the first evangelists. “Their testimony, although worthless in the law courts of the day, was valued by God. He entrusted to them the first human proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They heard the gospel; they came to Christ; they saw, believed and proclaimed. ‘And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.… The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told’.”[3]

As you leave here this evening, hopefully you have encountered the living God. Hopefully you have felt his peace that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ. And if you have, proclaim the gospel to your friends and family. Maybe society looks down on you. Maybe society despises you. God was pleased that the first evangelists were shepherds, looked down on and despised. He will be pleased with your evangelism even if others aren’t.

These words that are so familiar tell us something amazing. They tell us that God is orchestrating and arraigning things to bring about his kingdom and he has given us a message to share with everyone.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 2:1–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Sproul, R. C. (1999). A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke (pp. 29–30). Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.

[3] Sproul, R. C. (1999). A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke (p. 32). Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.