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Unto You a Child is Born

Luke 2:1-21:

God had sent word through his prophets saying that He would raise up a descendant of David to the throne of Israel. This king would usher in an eternal kingdom of righteousness. The Jews have held on to that hope over all these years.

In chapter 1 of Luke, an angel announces to Zechariah that the long wait is over! He and his elderly, barren wife Elizabeth will have a baby, who will be the promised forerunner of the Messiah. The angel’s words come true; Elizabeth gives birth to John, and Zechariah praises God for His faithfulness.

The same angel announces to Mary that she, a young virgin, will become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that her child will be the long-awaited Messiah. Mary submits to God’s inconvenient grace; she too praises God for His faithfulness to His people.

This brings us to today’s text, Luke 2:1-21. We’ll consider this under three headings:

  • Action
  • Proclamation
  • Response

Action

 

The first action recorded in this section is by the man who is, apparently, the most powerful in the world: Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. He commands that all those resident within the Roman Empire must be registered for taxation. Among the Jews, the land was allocated according to ancestral clans. Whenever the Jews conducted a census, they required those being counted to return to the land of their forefathers.

So every Jew returns to the land of his ancestors to register.

Remember that chapter 1 records that Joseph and Mary were living at this time in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. Nazareth was out in the sticks, an unimportant place. Indeed, Nazareth is never even mentioned in the Old Testament.

Joseph hears of Caesar’s decree; he must travel to Bethlehem to register. Mary, several months pregnant, accompanies him to Bethlehem.

Understand: Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem only because of the command of Caesar Augustus. Had the emperor not issued his decree, Jesus would have been born in Nazareth.

Why did they go? Why did Mary have to undergo a journey of several days while pregnant? This seems like another of the many inconveniences that Mary had to face.

Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem because God had said through His prophet Micah that the Messiah would be born there:

2 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 origin is from of old, from ancient days.  3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.  4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.  5 And he shall be their peace. Micah 5:2-5

Don’t pass over this incident. Marvel at the sovereignty of God. God uses Caesar Augustus to get Mary to Bethlehem. Augustus had his own reasons for calling for a tax registration. He did what he thought would secure his own reign and build up his power. He thought the only reason for this action was to accomplish his purposes. Augustus had no idea that the most important effect of his decree concerned the newborn king who far surpassed him in power and might.

As Proverbs 21:1 says:

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

And God turned the heart of Caesar Augustus, in order that Mary might end up in Bethlehem.

The second action we’ll consider is found in verses 6 and 7:

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 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. Luke 2:6-7

Isaiah had prophesied more than 600 years earlier,

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. And the government shall be upon his shoulders. Isaiah 9:6

Now the child is here. The long-awaited Messiah. The Conquering King.

Yet this magnificent birth takes place in a far from magnificent setting. Jesus is born within the prophesied city, yes, but not in a palace, not even in a house. Traditionally, Mary gives birth surrounded by animals – "the friendly beasts,” according to one song. But while animals may have been present, we don’t know that. All we know is what Luke tells us here: There was no room for them in the normal place travelers would stay, so the couple stayed elsewhere. Either there was an animal’s feeding trough - a manger - where they stayed, or, needing a resting place for the child, Joseph found an unused manger and carried it to where they stayed.

So a young girl, a virgin, gives birth to a tiny, crying baby and puts him in a feeding trough. Meanwhile, the emperor gave commands, armies marched, politicians connived. They all thought that they were very important men of action. They all thought the world revolved around them, that the future depended on their actions. But the most important event that day – indeed, the most important event to that point in all of history – took place when that young girl gave birth. The Messiah is born!

 

Proclamation

 

God has planned this event since before the beginning of time. And so now He proclaims it, telling others the significance of what just happened. He sends a large number of angelic messengers to announce the birth of the long-awaited Messiah.

·        He could have sent them to Caesar Augustus, but He doesn’t;

·        He could have sent them to King Herod, but He chose not to;

·        He could have sent them to the High Priest or chief priests, but He ignored them.

Instead, God chooses to send His messengers to a group of poor shepherds herding their flocks in the middle of the night. 

Do you remember how the prophecy we quoted from Isaiah 9 begins?

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Isaiah 9:2

 

Joyous proclamation:

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

Question: Why did he say, "unto you”?  He could have just said, "For a Savior, Christ, the Lord is born this day.” But he says, ‘Unto you!”

He uses those words because they describe why the news is so joyous! The child is born unto you! Unto all the people! The child is born:                

  • Not just to the rich and powerful,
  • Not just to the Pharisees and Sadducees,
  • Not just to the chief priests and the scribes,

But to you! To all the people, young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick, strong and weak. The prophecy had said, "unto us a child is born.” So the angel says, "This child is born unto you! Truly, a good and great joy.

This is the day, the long-awaited day, the day when there would be no more delay. The child is born. The Messiah is come.

But who is this child? How does the angel describe Him? With three words: Savior. Christ (or Messiah). Lord.

Note that normal Jewish teaching at this time did not consider the coming Messiah to be divine. He was clearly to be a descendant of David. He would be great and mighty, restoring the kingdom to Israel. He indeed was to be a Savior, for he would save the nation from her enemies. But most Jews thought this salvation would be from their political enemies, their oppressors. Remember, even Zechariah seems to emphasize this expectation in Luke 1:71:

that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

These men are overwhelmed with fear and surprise at the angel’s appearance, astounded and confused by the angel’s words. They know they are at the center of a great event, but their heads are swimming at all that they have heard. Then the angel says something absolutely preposterous:

"This will be a sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

That might have been the greatest surprise of the night! That these angels would appear to poor shepherds to announce the Messiah’s birth is quite surprising. But the long-awaited Messiah – wrapped up like a common poor infant, placed in a feeding-trough?

Mary had said of God that He has "exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:52) and He surely does that here by choosing a humble place for Jesus’ birth, and by speaking to these shepherds.

But as if to underline the statement that this is the greatest news the world has ever heard, to ensure that the shepherds understand that the baby’s location does not diminish His glory, numerous angels now suddenly appear, praising God:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

Indeed, God is bringing the highest glory, the deepest praise to Himself through the humble birth of His Son. And He promises peace among those with whom He is well pleased. This is not a general command "goodwill toward men” but God’s peace, peace with God, for those who are His people, for those who are His treasured possession, for those who are the True Israel.

Micah had said as much in the prophecy we read earlier: The Messiah

. . . shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, . . .   5 And he shall be their peace. Micah 5:4-5

This is the proclamation: The time is now. The child is born unto you! God’s peace is here! God’s glory shines forth! The Messiah, the Savior, the Lord is with you!

 

Response

The first response to this good news is by the shepherds. They say, "We’ve got to get to Bethlehem, now! We’ve got to see what God has told us about!” So they go as fast as they can.

It must take a while – where are they to find a baby lying in a feeding trough? But in the end they succeed. In some nondescript place, they find Mary, and Joseph, and the infant Messiah. The shepherds excitedly tell Mary and Joseph all that happened, all the angel said.

Verse 20 closes the account of the shepherds:

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:20

How do the shepherds respond?

  • Not with pride: "Aren’t we special! God sent his      angels to us!”
  • Not with marketing savvy: "Hey! I bet a book      publisher would give us a hefty advance for the publishing rights to this      story!”
  • Not with skepticism: "Was this mass hallucination, or      what?”

Instead, the shepherds respond with joy. With faith. They give glory to God. They spread the news to others – not to make a buck, but to glorify God for His mighty, faithful work. 

 

 Invitation – unto you – is there room in your life for Jesus.

Are you giving him your best?

 




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