Series on Luke, II The Identification, D The Birth of the Ages, Text: 2:1-20, Title: Make Room for the Lord

Introduction

Everything that has happened for two millennia, everything that is happening now in the world, and everything that will happen while this present world stands is wrapped up in this event. God came down in fulfillment of Isaiah’s words in  9:6 and 7, For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. Once he came the past was fulfilled, the present and the future guaranteed because in the end all power has been given to Him. As we look at Luke’s version of the well known story of Jesus’ birth I would like us to note two things. They are the remarkable developments and the remarkable devotion of this occasion.

I The Remarkable Developments

From the human point of view one might refer to the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth as remarkable developments, but from the divine point of view they are providential power bringing to pass the fulfillment of God’s promises.They are the decree, the delay, and the deprivation.

A The Decree

Paul says in Galatians 4:4 and 5, But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. In other words, there was a perfect time for this birth. However, in order to bring it to pass and fulfill the ancient prophecies certain things needed to happen. The prophet Micah had written in 5:2, But you, 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. We know that the Scribes of Israel believed that this prophecy referred to the Messiah because in Matthew 2 when the Magi inquire of Herod as to the place of birth of the king of the Jews, his court advisors who are the scribes tell them in Bethlehem. In order for this to come about God had to move the heart and will of a godless pagan king to issue a census decree at exactly the right time as we read in verses 1-3 of our text, 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.

B The Delay

The second remarkable providence following upon the decree was the delay. As we all know predicting the exact time of a baby’s birth is difficult for everyone except God. Sometimes they are early, and sometimes late, and there can be difficulties with either scenario. So we read in verses 4-6, 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. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born. Now this was a difficult journey for a pregnant woman, and she was young and this was her first child. Once in 1965 we travelled across the country with a tent trailer. In Zion National Park we developed trouble with the clutch and decided to take the back way out because the other way involved steep climbing. The map did not show that the back way was a washboard road through desert country, and my wife was 7 months pregnant. I cannot believe I did that now some 40 plus years later. Anyway, on our seemingly endless back route my pregnant wife was holding a young child still wearing training pants on her lap and when the  baby moved her lap was all wet. Not perceiving that the child’s protection had failed and leaked she and I thought her water had broken. Panic ensued, at least on my part. Far from home in a limping vehicle on a washboard road in the desert and not knowing how far we had to go to the oasis before us, every terrible scenario thinkable occurred to me. I tell you this personal story to remind us of the dangers and uncertainties surrounding Mary’s travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a journey of 80 miles. Joseph was probably walking and it is assumed and is extremely likely that Mary rode a donkey, although the Bible never actually mentions it. We are talking about at least three days for the journey walking ten hours a day at 3 miles an hour with no rest. That was unlikely for Mary and Joseph. Anyhow God arranged it so that the baby waited until they were safely ensconced in Bethlehem.

C The Deprivation

Now as you know, when they arrived there was no room in the inn because Bethlehem was crowded with travelers who were there because of the census, and we read in verse 7, 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. We who have spent many years lamenting the hardhearted innkeeper should stop. First of all, he gave them shelter in a difficult situation. Secondly, although we might not have thought of this as a remarkable providence it was. God had planned it that way. First because it was the beginning of the humiliation of the Savior, and Paul says in Philippians 2 that because he humbled Himself, God has exalted Him and given Him a name that is above every other name. Secondly, it made Him accessible to the only worshipers he was to receive in His birth, the Shepherds. These people wold have been comfortable in a stable, and they were able to find Him more easily than in a crowded inn. And this brings us to the remarkable devotion.

II The Remarkable Devotion

The fact that the shepherds came to worship Jesus in verses 8-20 is remarkable for several reasons,  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.” 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. Consider the recipients, the revelation and the results.


A The Recipients

First of all the shepherds were the least likely people to have been the first informed of the momentous event. In doing this God was at the same time ignoring the rulers, the rich, the religious leaders, the educated and the powerful. Shepherds were actually despised in  the first century AD. In the First Century, it seems, shepherds -- specifically, hireling shepherds -- had a rather unsavory reputation. The Rabbis of that period said that "most of the time they were dishonest and thieving; they led their herds onto other people's land and pilfered the produce of the land." Because they were often months at a time without supervision, they were often accused of stealing some of the increase of the flock. Consequently, the pious were warned not to buy wool, milk, or kids from shepherds on the assumption that it was stolen property. Shepherds were not allowed to fulfill a judicial office or be admitted in court as witnesses. A midrash on Psalm 23:2 reads, "There is no more disreputable occupation than that of a shepherd." Philo, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher of Alexandria of that period, wrote about looking after sheep and goats, "Such pursuits are held mean and inglorious." But God who is the shepherd of Israel and Jesus who is the good shepherd chose to reveal the most momentous event of history to them first, probably because they were humble and were like the publicans and sinners with whom Jesus sympathized.

B The Revelation

What is also remarkable is the way in which they were informed and the information they were given. Notice that the message is not only brought by an angel, but a multitude of them and they are singing glory to God and rejoicing in the display of the grace of God, for the language indicates not a peace on earth to men of goodwill, but peace to those on whom God’s favor or grace rests. We may remark on the fact that this marvelous display occurred without warning for the word suddenly is an accurate translation of the Greek. The angels just appeared, but then they obviously left more slowly because they were observed by the shepherds returning to heaven. The shepherds get to see a display which few men have ever witnessed. Also note that the angel never tells them to go see the Christ, they decided that by themselves. And then there is the message which might have been doubted by many, but was quickly accepted by the shepherds. That message is that the Savior has come and he is identified as the Lord and the Christ or Messiah. He is the hope of Israel and even uneducated shepherds would have some knowledge of the hope of their people, and besides, it wasn’t too hard to believe when  they were looking at a multitude of angels praising God. This led to some wonderful results.

C The Results

The results are three-fold. First, the shepherds discussed what they had seen and then we are told they hurried off to see the momentous event. Secondly they went off to tell others about this encounter including the message about the child; they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child. They must have been very excited and very convincing because ordinarily shepherds were not easily believed, but in this case those whom they told were amazed. This is confirmed by the text which tells us that they returned glorifying and praising God for what they had seen. The last result was the effect on Mary who, treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Matthew Henry puts it this way, “She laid the evidences together, and kept them in reserve, to be compared with the discoveries that should afterwards be made her. As she had silently left it to God to clear up her virtue, when that was suspected, so she silently leaves it to him to publish her honor, now when it was veiled; and it is satisfaction enough to find that, if no one else takes notice of the birth of her child, angels do.” Let us make room for Him in our hearts.