The Gospel of Luke
Part 6: The Birth of Jesus
--Terry Heames

(These notes are based on lesson notes prepared by Rob Mahon for Connection Class Leaders at Hoffmantown church.)

Review:

Last week, Larry looked at the entire first chapter of Luke, everything from the announcement of John the Baptist's birth to Elizabeth and Zacharias to his birth, as well as the angel Gabriel visiting Mary and Joseph's decision to marry her (after a vision) and ending with John's birth. Larry included a discussion on what the verses say about John the Baptist and Mary. The final emphasis was on faith, Zacharias' weak faith and Mary's strong faith.

There was also an appreciation for the virginity of Mary, i.e. it is mentioned several times by Luke. Josh McDowell, a noted author of apologetics, comments that he believes that when one thinks about God and how He could have entered the world that the process would have to be unique (else the result would be looked at as only human) and at the same time it would have to be human (else the result would be looked at as only divine). Thus appearing fully grown, or as an apparition, would not work as well as the uniqueness of the virgin birth. God had a plan.

Today - we move on to Chapter 2 and the birth of Christ.  I will only cover the first part and let Larry finish it up next week. Rob called this section

Don't Miss Christmas:

Last December, USA Today (12/8/04), published a list of the "Top Ten Christmas Songs" being played on radio stations across America:

1.   Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives
2.   The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole
3.   Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
4.   Merry Christmas Darling - The Carpenters
5.   The Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Andy Williams
6.   White Christmas - Bing Crosby
7.   Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Gene Autry
8.   Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms
9.   It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas - Johnny Mathis
10.  Feliz Navidad - Jose Feliciano

There are a lot of things in these songs that we associate with this season - Santa, Rudolph, snow, jingle bells, etc. But there's something noticeably missing - JESUS! There is not one of these songs that talks about the real meaning, the spiritual significance of Christmas.

This fact is a telling commentary of the spiritual condition of our country. But it's also a practical warning for all of us - let's not get so busy with the activities of the season that we forget about Jesus.

Dave Barry has also observed that people seem to try to remove all the spiritual significance from Christmas:

"To avoid offending anybody, the schools [have] dropped religion altogether and started singing about the weather. At my son's school, they ... hold the winter program ... and sing increasingly non-memorable songs such as "Winter Wonderland," "Frosty the Snowman," and - this is a real song - "Suzy Snowflake," all of which is pretty funny because we live in Miami. A visitor from another planet would assume that the children belonged to the [First] Church of Meteorology" -from Chicago Tribune Magazine, 7/28/91.

This week, we're studying one of the most familiar passages found in the Bible, the story of the first Christmas, the story of Jesus' birth.  As I noted, Larry covered Chapter 1 from Luke and today I will move into Chapter 2, the birth of Christ.   

A Harmony Of All The Events Related To Christ’s Birth From The 4 Gospels 

Event

Location

Matthew

Mark

Luke

John

 Pre-existence & Deity of Christ

 

 

 

 

1:1-18

 Genealogies of Jesus

 

1:1-17

 

3:23-38

 

 Mary is betrothed to Joseph

Nazareth

1:18

 

1:27

 

 Angel Gabriel tells of John the Baptist's birth

Jerusalem

 

 

1:5-25

 

 Angel Gabriel appears to Mary

Nazareth

 

 

1:26-38

 

 Angel (Gabriel?) appears to Joseph

Nazareth

1:18-25

 

 

 

 Mary visits Elizabeth, stays 3 months

hill country of Judah

 

 

1:39-55

 

 Mary returns home

Nazareth

 

 

1:56

 

 John (the Baptist) is born to Eliz. & Zach.

Nazareth

 

 

1:57-80

 

 Birth of Jesus

Bethlehem

 

 

2:1-7

 

 Angels & shepherds worship Jesus

Bethlehem

 

 

2:8-20

 

 Circumcision of Jesus

Bethlehem

 

 

2:21

 

 Jesus presented in the temple

Jerusalem

 

 

2:22-24

 

 Encounters in temple with Simeon & Anna

Jerusalem

 

 

2:25-38

 

 Jesus worshiped by the wise men

Bethlehem

2:1-12

 

 

 

 Joseph, Mary & Jesus flee to Egypt

 

2:13-15

 

 

 

 Herod seeks to kill Jesus

Bethlehem

2:16-18

 

 

 

 Joseph, Mary & Jesus return to Nazareth

 

2:19-23

 

2:39

 

- developed from numerous sources including Bible Knowledge Commentary & Thompson Chain Reference Bible 

In Luke, we have the most detailed account of the birth of Jesus. Matthew mentions Jesus' birth only briefly; Mark and John don't mention it at all. But in this passage, we not only have the facts of this wonderful story, but also the truths and applications that God wants each of us to take to heart.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. --Luke 2:1-3
When Caesar Augustus decided to take this census, he thought he was in control, didn't he? He thought he held the fates of the people of his empire in his hands. He was the ruler of the known world.  But he was wrong. Most people didn't realize it, but God was actually the one in control -- even over the actions of the emperor, who didn't realize that he was actually fulfilling God's purposes. Isaiah 14:27 (NCV) states, “When the LORD All-Powerful makes a plan, no one can stop it...”.

Caesar Augustus:

He ruled the Roman Empire, including Palestine, when Jesus was born and ordered the registration (taxation) that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem (Luke 2:1). He was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. Born in 63 B.C., he first gained power with Antony and Lepidus at Julius Caesar's death in 44 B.C. He gained sole control at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C., where he defeated Antony and Cleopatra, who both committed suicide. This brought Egypt into the system of Roman provinces. He thus founded the Roman Empire and ruled with popular acclaim. At his death the Roman Senate declared him a god. --from the Holman Bible Dictionary

 Note:   It's is interesting to contrast Augustus with Jesus:

Augustus

Jesus

-born to prestige & power

-born in poverty & obscurity

-the adopted son of Julius Caesar

-the Son of God & the adopted son of Joseph, a poor carpenter

-ruled as emperor for over 40 years

-was and is King of kings, Lord of lords

-founded the Roman Empire which is now just a memory of ancient history

-founded His kingdom which, 2,000 years after His death, continues to grow throughout the world

-when Augustus died, he was declared to be a god. But people were wrong; He was just a man.

-when Jesus died, men declared He was just a man though he claimed to be God; But people were wrong. He proved that He was God when He rose from the dead (Rom. 1:4)

We don't always know what (or who) is really important. Consider all the “important” people listed here:

Though most people didn't realize it, Joseph and Mary were far more important than any of these rulers. In fact, today many more people know who Joseph and Mary were  than any of these “famous” people.

We need to be careful that we don't value people the way the world does.  The Lord doesn't want us playing favorites with the “famous” or the “popular”. James 2:1-8 exhorts us to appreciate the worth and importance of every person.

Matthew relates the time period to Herod in Chapter 2.

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” --Matthew 2:1-2

As Herod is known to have died in the year of Rome 750, in the fourth year before the commencement of our Christian era (4 BCE), the birth of Christ must be dated at least four years before the date usually assigned to it, even if He was born within a year of Herod’s death, as it is next to certain that He was. (Commentary on the Old and New Testament) 

A date of 6 BC is recommended by the International Bible Encyclopedia as it states Herod died in March and had been sick for some time and was not in the Jerusalem area.  They also feel that the conjunctions of certain planets that occurred earlier may be related to the “star in the East”. 

Some time ago Larry launched on this one and I think he came up with a similar date of 5 or 6 BC and reminded us that historically only from about Passover in April until autumn, were the flocks pastured constantly in the open fields, hence the December date is also questionable.  But back to the Luke verses.

The Trip: -

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

To register, and then to be taxed, one went to the city of one’s lineage where family records would have been kept. Mary and Joseph had been living at the wrong place for the Messiah’s birth. A little longer stay at Nazareth, and the prophecy would have failed. But, with no intention certainly on her part to fulfill the prophecy, much less on the part of Caesar Augustus, she was brought from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and at that time her son was born. 

God had said long ago that the Messiah would be born in David's home town of Bethlehem:

“O Bethlehem Ephrathah*, you are but a small Judean village,  you will be the birthplace of my King who is alive from everlasting ages past!” --Micah 5:2
*(”Ephrathah” is the name of the district in which Bethlehem is located. --Life Application Bible Notes).

This couldn't have been an easy trip for Joseph and Mary. Mary would have been as much as eight months pregnant. The trip from Nazareth in Galilee south to Bethlehem in Judea is about 70 miles.  As they would have come up from the Jordan valley, the terrain would have been difficult, this wilderness area is not very accommodating.

The Manger:

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  --Luke 2:6-7
Larry discussed the firstborn concept last week, and noted the implication of other children.

In our travels we came across a stone manger. Even filled with straw, it wouldn’t have been comfortable.  He was born in poverty, in a stable area that historically has been noted as a cave, which is consistent with the area around Bethlehem.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "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 Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." --Luke 2:8-12

Notice who hears first about the Messiah's birth - not Augustus, not Quirinius, not Herod, not even the high priest. The angel appears to ordinary shepherds.

What do you think the shepherds thought about this message of a Savior being born in Bethlehem?   They were clearly overwhelmed by the presence of angels, men have never felt easy with the invisible world laid suddenly open to their gaze, but what an incredible birth announcement.   Note that they were also told that a Savior was born, Christ the Lord, and would have realized that it had to be that the long awaited Messiah had arrived.

The Angels: - Notice the message: “good news of great joy that will be for all the people”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."  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. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
The Shepherds: - The response of the shepherds helps us understand why the angel appeared to them. God was looking at their hearts, not their careers: Conclusion: - Jerry Bridges writes,
God's sovereignty does not always answer the 'why' questions we face as we traverse through life. But more important than giving us the why, it anchors our faith in the Who and teaches us that chance is not in God's vocabulary. He really does have "the whole world in His hands." Our joys and our pains, our successes and our failures are woven into one wonderful tapestry as He works out His will in our lives.
Next week - Larry will continue in this chapter