Sermon on Luke 2:1-7, preached on Sunday, 23 Dec 2018.
Bible Readings: (OT) Isaiah 9:2-7 / (NT) Luke 2:1-7
1. A decree went out from Caesar Augustus
2. Joseph went up from Galilee to Bethlehem
3. Mary, Joseph’s betrothed, came along
4. Mary a virgin was with child
5. While they were there, the time came
Surely Jesus’ birth is full of joy, awe and wonder. Thinking about the almighty God coming to this world in flesh just like us is truly an overwhelming notion for limited human mind. It is the greatest miracle the whole universe has ever seen and will never see again. There’s no doubt about that.
But this great event is depicted in Luke’s Gospel surprisingly short in length, in only seven verses in Lk. 2. If you think about what is recorded in Luke’s Gospel before and after this account, you’d know what I mean. Lk. 1 is eighty-verse-long chapter which is about what happened before Jesus’ birth. Then, this seven-verse-long story of Jesus’ birth begins ch. 2, and the next thirty verses of Lk. 2 are allocated for the stories of the shepherds in the field and Jesus’ dedication at the temple. Someone might talk about this and say that Luke’s Gospel gives more attention to other things happened before and after Jesus’ birth.
But this seven-verse-long section is a jewel in Luke’s Gospel – in fact, in the whole fourfold Gospels because this is the only place in four Gospel recordings that describe our Lord’s birth in detail – although it’s only pictured in seven verses. A precious jewel doesn’t really need a lengthy description, does it? This short account of Jesus’ birth is exactly like that. If you carefully examine this short section, you’d be able to see that this ‘jewel’ has many shining facets. Each facet shines a bright and brilliant heavenly light onto this greatest event of Jesus’ birth. And each facet of this great jewel reflects the precious truth or meaning of Jesus’ birth.
I want to point out only five facets of this gospel jewel today with the title, ‘Five unusual things about Jesus’ birth.’ Five ‘unusual’ things because they are extraordinary things; they’re extraordinary because they exceed man’s expectation. After all, it was the arrival of the Saviour of the world, the arrival of the only and true hope of sinners who had long been under the damnation of sin and death! So, please come along and examine five unusual, extraordinary, amazing things about Jesus’ birth. I’ll speak about two additional unusual things in the Christmas Day morning service.
1. A DECREE WENT OUT FROM CAESAR AUGUSTUS
The first ‘unusual’ thing is the decree for census issued by the Roman emperor. There was nothing unusual with this decree because the Roman Empire had several censuses around the time of Jesus’ birth. No wonder why the Roman Empire existed that long centuries. This decree for census was one of the empire’s administrative practices and there was nothing unusual with it. Caesar Augustus, the head of the empire, ordered it – or, if not, then, someone in the command chain did in the name of the emperor. So, there’s nothing unusual with it.
But the unusualness of this decree lies on its contribution to the decree of the sovereign King of the universe. Both Caesar Augustus and Quirinius, the Roman governor of the region, were agents of God’s plan; although they had no idea of how their human ‘decree’ would contribute to the divine plan of God, they administered the supreme King’s decree. That’s the unusualness of this decree for census. Their purpose of this census was simply to have an exact number of people within the empire so that they could have an exact figure for taxation and conscription for military service. That was all.
But they served God, not knowing what they were doing or achieving. They fell under God’s sovereign rule, brought about God’s purpose and plan. And this is the first unusualness we find from Jesus’ birth. God’s ways are not like the ways of men, His thoughts are not like people’s thoughts, says God in Isa. 55:8. His ways are higher than our ways. So, this fact that the secular empire and its heads contributed to administration of God’s decree tells us not simply the idea of God’s supremacy over men. Rather, this tells us about God’s higher thoughts and ways, as clearly revealed in bringing His Son, Jesus, to this world. By showing us this truth about God’s higher thoughts and ways, God tells us that He is in charge, He is the King, He carries out His plan and achieves His purpose. From time to time, this truth might seem faint to people’s eyes; it might seem false reflected on the dreadful situation of this world, but God is God as was from the beginning and is still now and always to eternity future.
Some Christians, if not many, wonder what might happen in the coming years. Issues like Islamic invasion, gender confusion, climate change and so on have bothered their minds and they feel somewhat anxious. The Jews of the time of Caesar Augustus and Quirinius must have had a similar anxiety when they heard this decree of census because it was clearly against their will, purposed to subdue them further. They must have known the Romans’ purpose of this census. But, God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts are higher than man’s thoughts as the heavens are higher than the earth! Like the way the evil will of the pagan emperor served God’s divine decree, like the way the administrative practices of a pagan governor executed God’s plan instead of achieving his own sinful purpose, the whole world and all lives in it are under the plan and purpose of our God! God is in charge.
This is the first unusual thing about Jesus’ birth. This gives us a great and deep and unmoveable comfort, and with this comfort, a deep joy of seeing our heavenly Father’s sovereign power in this birth of Jesus our Lord! What a great, joyful blessing this is for us who believe in Him, Jesus Christ!
2. JOSEPH WENT UP FROM GALILEE TO BETHLEHEM
The second unusual thing about Jesus’ birth is Joseph’s going up to Bethlehem, his ancestral city. You might wonder why this is unusual. Yes, Joseph had to go to his ancestral place for register – that was the procedure required for all people in Joseph’s time. So, in this sense, nothing was unusual.
Yet, consider Joseph’s residential status. He belonged to the Davidic clan but lived in Nazareth, Galilee. Although he had freedom to live wherever he liked to live in that world, he belonged to a place called Bethlehem and that’s why he went up to Bethlehem. But his present residence was in Galilee, a place called ‘Galilee of the Gentiles.’ His ancestral place was Bethlehem which meant ‘the house of bread,’ but his daily life was based in ‘Galilee of the Gentiles.’ And he was led to the place he truly belonged; he was led to meet his Saviour there at the house of bread!
This is the gospel light shone on Joseph and on you and me. Like the way Joseph was led by this gospel light, you and I came to God by the guiding hand of God; we didn’t come by ourselves. Joseph was led to God’s house of bread, and so were we. No one is able to come to God, let alone saving oneself, because all alike are in sin, thus, under the dominion of death. None can do anything about saving oneself. Then, God, in His immeasurable grace, reaches out to sinners like us, like Joseph and Mary, and draws us to Himself! What a great blessing this is! Like Joseph of Lk. 2 who was forced to go to Bethlehem, the house of bread, leaving Galilee of the Gentiles, you and I were led to come to God through Jesus, the true Bread who gives life!
3. MARY, JOSEPH’S BETROTHED, CAME ALONG
What about Mary? There’s an unusual thing with Mary as well. Almost everything with her is unusual as appears in this passage. First of all, we’re told that Mary was Joseph’s betrothed, meaning, she was engaged to Joseph. But if you read Mt. 1:24-25, Joseph married to Mary sometime after Mary’s miraculous conception and well before this trip. They were a married couple. But here, you hear that Mary was Joseph’s betrothed. This must have been recorded because, as Mt. 1:25 says, Mary was still in a sense a virgin until the birth of Jesus.
Another unusual thing is that she came along with Joseph. According to the Roman law, women didn’t have to register because they were exempt from military service or taxation. By the way, Jews were exempt from military service by the Roman law. So, no male Jew had to serve in the army. Considering all these, there’s no reason for Mary to come along to that about 120 km long trip – one way, I mean. So, it would surely be a round trip of 240 kms. Why did she decide to come with her husband?
Again, it is most probable that she had no other way than coming with her husband. Everyone in Nazareth, Galilee knew that she had conceived before wedding took place. If she had stayed alone in Nazareth, she would have taken people’s derision, their making fun of her. Otherwise, there’s no reason for her to accompany Joseph on that long, mostly uphill, trip, especially at the end of her pregnancy.
These unusual things now once again point our eyes to God’s grace and purpose for Mary as for us all who are in Christ Jesus. God uses all things of our life, as of Mary’s, as the means of drawing us to meet Him and have and enjoy His salvation! Likewise, some of us have been led to meet God and His Son, Jesus the Lord, through pains and difficulties of life, while some others through a careful and amazing execution of God’s sovereign will in their life. Whichever way we were led to our Saviour Jesus, one thing is ever clear – we’re in His mighty yet gracious and tender hand, and our heavenly Father never changes His will toward us! The Apostle Paul was so joyful when he delivered to us God’s word as recorded in Rom. 8:28 which says this and I’m sure that all of you know this verse by heart: “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose”! What an unusual grace and blessing this is! Mary’s walk with Joseph tells us this truth.
4. MARY A VIRGIN WAS WITH CHILD
The fourth unusual thing I’d like to point out to you is Mary who was with child. This is so unusual or abnormal to the human mind that many people deny its historicity, reject its authenticity and even ridicule its message. Among those who claim to be Christians, liberal theologians and their followers are the typical deniers of Jesus’ virgin birth. They’ve abandoned Jesus’ virgin birth alongside the inerrancy of the Bible and its divine authorship.
I believe all of you know why Jesus had to be born of a virgin. It was because He had to come as a sinless Man to be a blameless sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Precisely speaking, Jesus had to come as a perfect sinless Man as was the first sinless man, Adam, created in the beginning. Being sinless Man, Jesus had to fix what the first man failed in honouring and keeping the requirements of the Creator. By fixing it, Jesus was to rescue all those the Father had chosen. The first man’s failure put all his posterity under the power of sin, thus, its damnation, but this second sinless Man, Jesus, was to bring salvation to the elect and rescue them and bring them over to His kingdom of eternal life. So, Jesus had to come sinless so that He could be the blameless Lamb of God and, by giving Himself up, take away the sin of the world! So He was born of a virgin.
His conception was exactly like the work of God in His creation of man in Genesis. There, God created man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Likewise, God in His Spirit formed a Man in the body of a woman whose body was, in a sense, dust. Only difference between Adam and Jesus is that Adam was a creature, but Jesus was and is the God-Man, God incarnate. It surely is an amazing birth; it simply overwhelms our mind.
Once again, Jesus’ virgin birth teaches us a truth, that is, salvation comes from above, not from ourselves. We don’t choose God, we never accept Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, but God chose us and Jesus came to fulfil His Father’s will, thus, bring us the elect to Himself, thus, to the Father! So, in any individual’s life, when Jesus’ name becomes meaningful in his/her heart, that’s an impact of God’s divine plan for that person felt by that person. Then, when he finally realises that Jesus is the Son of God and his Saviour and Lord, and he decides to submit his life to Christ, that’s the moment that person is moved into Jesus’ eternal kingdom, being removed from the dominion of sin. Like the way God’s angel visited Mary and informed her of God’s plan for her and for all mankind, Jesus came to us. His virgin birth teaches us this absolutely amazing truth!
This is truly an ‘unusual’ salvation because all other religions of this world teach self-salvation. But Jesus’ virgin birth teaches us and proves to our eyes and hearts that salvation is from God through Jesus Christ!
5. WHILE THEY WERE THERE, THE TIME CAME
The fifth unusual thing about Jesus’ birth is the time of His arrival. Lk. 2:6 tells us that while Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, ‘the house of bread,’ the time for Mary to give birth came. Isn’t it unusual? Isn’t it amazing? Someone might ask and say, ‘What’s unusual with a pregnant woman giving birth at an unexpected time? That’s what happens with pregnancy, isn’t it? No one can predict the time.’ Of course, that’s how babies come.
But the unusualness of Jesus’ birth is on the exactness of time at the place foretold by the OT prophets like Micah. Micah 5:2 is clear about the place of the Saviour’s birth in these words, “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.” Joseph and Mary had been living in Galilee, having no plan of moving to Bethlehem. It is less likely that they’d visited this town before this visit. But, unintentionally, reluctantly, they came to this very place, without knowing what would happen there. Then, the ‘time’ came for Jesus the Saviour’s birth!
God’s timing is accurate, exact, missing not a millisecond. He fulfils what He spoke. Likewise, He will accomplish what He has promised in His word. This timing reinsures us that Jesus will come again to us at His right time as He promised to His disciples and, through them, to us! Moreover, you and I alongside all true followers of Jesus will be led and guided in His timing. In this way, this phrase in Lk. 2:6 which says, “while they were there, the time came for her to give birth,” it surely comforts us and strengthens us greatly! This comfort is unusual because this kind of comfort you’ll never find from this world! God will carry you and me in His mighty hand at His precise time!
These are the five unusual things about Jesus’ birth, and the two additional unusual things about Jesus’ birth I’d like to speak in the Christmas morning service. Those two unusual things are, first, ‘The baby Jesus was wrapped and laid in a manger,’ and second, ‘There was no place for them in the inn.’
In summing up of these five unusual things about Jesus’ birth, there’s one conclusion for us to grasp and rejoice and praise God. That is, salvation comes from God in the name of Jesus Christ. Remember what the Caesar’s decree was all about – he thought he was the ruler of the world, but God was and is and will always be. Any man’s ‘decree’ is a simple ‘agent’ of the Lord’s divine plan! The life of Joseph and Mary was another clear evidence of God’s divine plan and will for His elect. They went up to Bethlehem and the time came for the Son, Jesus, to come and begin His salvation ministry for you and me and all who will be led to God through hearing the good news of Jesus! What a great picture of the King of the universe this is! What a firm assurance of our life in the Lord God Almighty this is!
I pray that the Lord may deepen your joy in Christ Jesus, especially as we celebrate another Christmas! May our Lord’s truth bring a great tiding of good news to us all and our families and neighbours now and forever! Amen! ***