Sunday, September 20, 2009

[Matt's Messages] "The Birth of Jesus"

“The Birth of Jesus”
Certain of Jesus - The Gospel of Luke
September 20, 2009
Luke 2:1-21

These are some of the most famous verses in the whole Bible–ranking up there with John 3:16 and Genesis 1:1!

In my mind, I can hear Linus with his little blue security blanket reciting these words on the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Can you?

We read them every December, multiple times, especially on Christmas Eve. This is one of those passages that we love to hear read in the King James Version, because it is so beautiful and familiar.

I’m going to read it today in the NIV, not because it’s a better translation, but I don’t want us to be familiar with it today. I want us to experience it anew.

There is no way that most of us can truly pretend that we’ve never read this one before. It’s just ingrained in us.

But let’s, at least, ask God to help us to hear it with fresh ears and open hearts.

Because this is the story of the “The Birth of Jesus.” Dr. Luke, in writing in his gospel, has the purpose of assuring us of the certainty of the things we have been taught about Jesus.

Luke has done his homework, as a good historian, and has compiled an orderly account of Jesus’ life and ministry and shared it with us.

Last week, we got a bit of the amazing “back-story” of Jesus. How his relative John’s, birth was pre-announced to his father Zechariah. How His birth was similarly pre-announced by an angel [!] to His mother–Mary. And how the two babies met in-utero and John jumped for joy! And how Mary and Zechariah felt and what they thought when these two babies were announced.

John has been born and named, as predicted.

Now, it’s time for Jesus.

As we go through verses 1 through 21, we’re going to stop along the way, and pick up 3 major themes that I want to apply to our lives today.

“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. 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.”

Now, this little paragraph or so is pretty amazing just by itself, but it doesn’t seem that way at first blush.

When you first read it, it sounds kind of blase, like just a fragment of news or history.

Caesar Augustus, yada, yada, yada, Nazareth, Galilee, Judea, Bethelehem, yada, yada, yada, pledged to be married, expecting a child.

{Not to mention what we learned in the last chapter, that this child was conceived supernaturally! Mary not just pledged to be married but was still a virgin and was expecting a child!}

But when you read these verses just by themselves, it sounds kind of like just a fragment of history.

And that’s the first theme I want to emphasize this morning: HISTORY.

This IS history.

This happened.

This is not a fairy tale. Not a myth. Not a made-up story. Not a movie.

This IS history.

There WAS a Roman Ruler called Caesar Augustus. His other named was Octavious. He was the grand-nephew of Julius Ceasar. And he was a fierce fighter who won the Roman rule away from Mark Antony (the man who was mixed up with Cleopatra) and was named by the Roman Senate: “Augustus,” meaning “Revered” or “Holy.” He was a considered something of a god by the Romans.

Caesar Augustus really existed, and Luke is careful to situate his account in history by using the reign of Caesar Augustus to date his story. More than that, there was a governor, under Augustus named Quirinius who was governor of Syria. This is history.

And, according to Luke, during these days, Caesar Augustus made a law that called for a census of the entire Roman world. Everyone was to be counted. Everyone was to be registered for tax purposes. This is history.

This really happened.

Many people think that Christianity is just a bunch of stories. It’s a bunch of fairy tales, like the Brother Grimms’ fairy tales to teach us morality–how to live.

Many people think that Christianity is not historical.

I had someone say that to me just a couple of weeks ago.

I post these sermons on my blog (my personal website), and a man named Cameron Reily left a comment on the first message in this series. In that message, if you remember, I said that Luke was a capable historian and was writing so that we can be certain of Jesus.

But Cameron was hostile to this message.

This is what Cameron said:
Sorry Matt, we can't be certain at all. Who was "Luke"? We don't even know. We don't know anything about him, including his name, and therefore we know nothing about his credibility or the veracity of his information. What we do know, however, is that much of what's contained in "Luke" is copied out of Mark and the Q Source, therefore the author's claims to being a historian are completely dubious.

The facts are that there is no evidence to verify whether or not the Jesus of the gospels existed or not. Not a single eyewitness or contemporary account. Just some myths passed down amongst uneducated peasants living in Palestine thousands of years ago. Hardly historical.
I really appreciate Cameron’s honesty and willingness to interact with these ideas.

But I thoroughly disagree. I believe that what we are talking about here is not myth but genuine history.

Here’s how I responded to Cameron. I wrote:


Welcome to Hot Orthodoxy! It's good to have you drop in and comment.

Are you open to other ways of looking at the evidence or are you stuck in just believing what folks have told you?

If you are open minded, I'd suggest reading this article by Craig Blomberg: Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters.

I think that Luke is very up-front that he isn't an eyewitness but that he's done his homework.

And he's up-front that he has used sources. All historians use sources. And in the ancient world, directly copying sources was a legitimate way of doing history. Plagiarism wasn't an issue.

I also think that Luke can be identified by the "we" sections of his second volume: Acts.

By your standards, I'm not sure we can know anything about Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. History in the ancient world was done differently than now. Not necessarily worse, just different.

I believe that in John's and Matthew's gospels, we have eyewitness accounts and in Mark's and Luke's we have well researched firsthand sources.

And these "uneducated peasants" were willing to die for what they were writing. That gives them lots of credibility in my book.

If you're willing to really do some hard thinking about these issues, I'd be willing to buy and ship to you a copy of either The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg or Can We Trust the Gospels? by Mark D. Roberts.

Just tell me that you'll read them with an open mind and give me an address: [hotorthodoxy AT lansefree DOT org].

Christians have nothing to hide when it comes the historicity of the biblical Jesus.

And non-Christians have everything to gain.

Let’s be praying for an open mind for Cameron.

Because what we’re dealing with here is history.

And if this TRUE history, then these are some of the most important events that have ever occurred since the beginning of time!


Now, before we move on, I want you to think about one other aspect of history.

And that is that God bends history to His plan.

Where should the Messiah of Israel be born? What do the prophecies say?

Bethlehem, right? Where do we find that in the Old Testament?

Micah 5:2. “, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."

Now, where do Mary and Joseph live? Nazareth. How far is that from Bethlehem?

It’s about 80 miles. In that region, that’s like half-way across the country.

Now, how is God going to get Jesus born in Bethlehem? What’s he going to do?

He’s going to use Caesar Augustus in Rome! And He’s going to use a tax census that affects the entire Roman World just to make sure that Jesus makes it to Bethlehem.

Now, who’s in control of history? Caesar or the LORD?

The Lord bends history to His plans.

Okay. Joseph and Mary make their way down to Bethlehem. Even though he is a poor man from Nowheresville, Joseph (and probably Mary, too) is a direct descendent of King David. And so, he has to go to “Davidstown” to register for the tax census.

80 miles. We mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there is no donkey mentioned. Perhaps Mary had to walk those 80 miles, very pregnant, very uncomfortable.

And when they got there, there was no place to stay.

No rentals. No hotels, no motels, no inn with a room.

There isn’t anything here about a stable, either. There might not have even been a stable, a shelter of any kind. And Mary had to deliver her baby. It was time. V.6 puts it very plainly.

“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.”

Here’s our second theme for today: HUMILITY.

This is another “Yikes” passage when you really think about it.

Mary had been told by no less than the Angel Gabriel that she would be carrying the Son of the Most High God.

She might have been forgiven for thinking that her life was going to be easy from here on out!

It’s time for ivory palaces and refined living! God’s son is coming! Build me a mansion!

But instead of she walks 80 miles and then gives birth out back somewhere.

And there is no cradle.

She wipes off the birth stuff with some linen cloths and wraps him up and puts him in the feeding trough for the animals!

You don’t get any lower than this!


How low can you go?

Last week, we heard Mary sing about humility and we were encouraged to humble ourselves to receive mercy from God.

Well, God Himself is not afraid to be humble!

God’s Son didn’t consider equality with God something to be held onto but emptied Himself and became a servant.

He became a man.

He descended from Highest Heaven and came down to be a humble baby.

Born in the humblest of circumstances.

Isn’t this amazing?

God in flesh. That’s amazing.

God in flesh in a feeding trough is truly unbelievable!


If God, who has everything going for Himself, can be humble, how much more can you and I be humble?

Are you and I cultivating humility?

There was another group of people had much to be humble about. They were shepherds.

Shepherds were just a rung higher than lepers on the social ladder of Israel at this time. They were often shifty and untrustworthy, rough and tumble, and they smelled like sheep. Peee-uuuu.

They were living nearby at this point out in the fields with their flocks.

We don’t know what time of year this was. There is nothing in the text to indicate that was December. We don’t know the date. December 25th was just a date that Christians chose along the way (4th century) to have a celebration of Jesus’ birth.

So, it could be today just as likely as it would be December 25th. We don’t know.

So, we don’t know if it was cold and wintery out there, but we do know that it was dark. And that the shepherds weren’t expecting what was about to happen to them! V.8

“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.”

Yeah! I like the King James here, “They were sore afraid.” They were so scared that it hurt!

Notice that almost every time an angel shows up in the Bible, the first thing they have to say is “Do not be afraid!”

These are scarey beings!

It’s night time and it dark and black and then all of a sudden the glory of the Lord shone around these...shepherds?!!

These aren’t cute little kids in bathrobes.

These are the real deal. Real shepherds. And real ANGELS! V.10

“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.’ [of all places!] 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.’”

Yikes! Wow!

There’s a whole army of angels. When it says, “heavenly host” that’s what it means. An army of angels.

How many people can Beaver Stadium hold? Is it over 100,000?

Imagine if all of those people were angels, bright shining burning beings?

And they all of a sudden appeared and spoke together (it says “said” in verse 13, not sang, though I don’t doubt that it was beautiful as music).

Together this angelic army said, “Glory to God in the highest, and onearth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Glory to God and peace to men because of this baby born in Bethlehem.


One pastor said that this was probably the greatest manifestation of God’s glory on earth since the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. I think he’s right!

Can you imagine?

I think that just highlights the humility.

The angels can’t even help showing up and showing some glory when the Son of God becomes a humble baby in Bethlehem.

Now, the third and last key theme that I want to emphasize here is IDENTITY.


Who is this baby?

Who is this humble that He’s laid to rest in a manger?

And yet...

Who gets this kind of a demonstration when He gets born?

Who is this baby?

The angel said it in verse 11.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news [gospel] of great joy [mega 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.”

There are three identity markers there in verse 11.

#1. A Savior.
#2. The Messiah.
#3. The Lord.

First, a savior. This baby has come for a purpose. He hasn’t come for himself–just to see what it’s like to be a human.

He hasn’t come just to be a teacher, though He will teach the most important things.

He hasn’t come just to be an example, though He will give us the best example imaginable.

He has come to SAVE.

And not just salvation from Roman or salvation from Israel’s earthly enemies.

This baby has come to bring full salvation. Salvation from Sin!

And He’s going to do it through His sacrificial death on the Cross.

You want to see humility?

I was wrong when I said that you can’t get lower than this.

This was the not the lowest day of this baby’s life.

He was born in humble circumstances.

But He died in the lowest of low. Crucified between two bad guys.

But in doing that, He purchased our salvation.

Good news of great joy!

Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior?

I invite you to trust Him today.

Savior. Christ or “Messiah” is the Hebrew way of saying it. That’s His identity.

This means that this baby boy was the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament promises of a Messiah who would rescue God’s people.

Everything God had promised was bound up in this baby boy.

Everything that Mary and Zechariah had sung about was bound up in this baby boy.

Can you imagine? This little guy, smaller than any baby here, was the fulfillment of all of those promises.

Again, do you know the promises of God? This book is full of them. And they are what we live on! Promises are like fuel.

Yesterday, I was running a log-splitter. Drew and I are trying to get some wood ready for the winter. And in the middle of splitting a good sized log, the thing just up and quit on me.

And you know what I thought–I’m out of fuel.

And guess what? I was right! I got that one right.

All it needed was some gas in the tank, and it was back at it.

Are you sputtering and spitting and stopping?

God’s promises are fuel in our tank. They keep us going. And they are all bound up in Jesus.

Messiah–Christ. That’s His identity. And one more: Lord.
That means Boss. That means King. That means the one in charge.

Jesus doesn’t come into our lives to offer suggestions.

He comes in to take over.

And it’s grand. It’s good news of great joy that He’s the King.

But He is the King.

Are you following the King?

Here’s His identity: A Savior who is Christ the Lord.

Do you know that this is the only place in the whole Bible where these three titles all come together in one verse? It is.

This is who He is: A Savior who is Christ the Lord. V.15

“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 [of all places!]. 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. On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.”

That’s His identity: Jesus.

Now, what should we do about this passage this week?

What is our last word of application?

Let’s remind ourselves of the themes we’ve talked about this morning.

First, History. This stuff is real. Caesar August is real. Quirinius is real. Joseph and Mary are real. The angels were real! The shepherds were real!

They were eyewitnesses! And they told people all of what they had heard and seen.

This stuff is history.

You have to take that into account.

If you are not yet certain of Jesus, I challenge you to look deeper into these accounts. And then act accordingly!

Second, Humility.

We should marvel at our Lord’s humility. V.18 says that everyone who heard about the child in the feeding trough who was the Messiah to come was amazed. The King James says that they “wondered” at it.

But v.19 says that Mary (humble Mary) “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Mary will have a lot of pondering to do. We’ll see that again next week.

Have you pondered on these things, yourself?

Have you meditated on the humility of our Lord?

I think that when we see His humility, there is call for us to put on humility, as well.

And thirdly, Identity. His name is now Jesus (just like the angel said) and He is a Savior, the Messiah (the Christ), the Lord!

Have you received Him as Savior?
Trusted in Him as Messiah?
And follow Him as Lord?

His identity makes all of the difference, doesn’t it?

We know what Child Is This!

And, like the shepherds, we need to get the word out.

The shepherds couldn’t hold it in. V.17 says that they “spread the word.”

Who are you going to talk to about Jesus this week?

Who are you going to invite to the concert on the 2nd?

How are you going to spread the word about Jesus?