When God was Born as a MAN (Luke 2:1-7)


When God was Born as a Man

Luke 2:1-7

Every young married knows firsthand how the birth of a child radically changes the trajectory of your life. Babies radically change people’s lives. Some births go beyond individually impacting a family–they can revolutionize society and change the world. What do I mean? On May 28, 1934, the Dionne sisters became the first known set of quintuplets–five kids to survive infancy. For the first decade of their lives, they were Canada’s biggest tourist attraction–even bigger even than Niagara Falls, generating several hundred million in tourist dollars. I’m not certain whether it was the birth or the oddness of Canada.

On January 11, 1974, the Rosenkowitz sextuplets–six kids were born, the first recorded set of sextuplets to have survived to adulthood, in Cape Town, South Africa. On November 28 and September 24, the famous, fabulous and fun, world-changing Mueller boys–two kids were born in 1983 and 1986.

Then the seven children born to Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey of Des Moines, Iowa on November 19, 1997, became the first set of septuplets–seven kids to survive infancy. Another notable birth involved only one child. On July 25, 1978, Louise Brown was born in Oldham, England. It wasn’t her birth, but the manner of her conception which was unique–she was the world’s first “test-tube baby”, conceived by means of in-vitro fertilization.

The Bible also records some world-changing births. Isaac’s birth was nothing short of miraculous, since his father Abraham was 100 years old and his mother Sarah was 90 years old and barren, as recorded in Romans 4. The Lord also miraculously opened the womb of Manoah’s wife in Judges 13, and she gave birth to Samson. Similarly in 1 Samuel 1, God allowed Hannah, who also had been barren, to become pregnant with the prophet Samuel.

Only a few months before Gabriel’s appearance to Mary, the Lord enabled an elderly, barren couple, Zacharias and Elizabeth, to conceive a child in Luke 1. That child, John the Baptist, was called by God to be the forerunner of the Messiah, and was the greatest man who had ever lived up to his time, according to Matthew 11:11.

But the most remarkable birth of all was that of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, God incarnate. John 1:14, the eternal “Word who became flesh, and dwelt among us,” supernaturally conceived in a virgin without a human father. This was the world’s greatest birth. CS Lewis, in his book titled Miracles, calls the birth of Christ as a man, the greatest miracle that has ever occurred. That miracle appears in one of the most familiar and loved passages in the Bible.

Luke raises the curtain on the true story of the birth of Christ in Luke 2:1 to 7–turn there and follow with your outline. What’s happening here? A decree goes out from Caesar Augustus to register everyone. Everyone had to return to the city of his family. Joseph went from Nazareth to the city of David, Bethlehem, because Joseph and Mary were of the house and lineage of David. And Mary was with child. While there, she went into labor and gave birth to her firstborn Son, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Yet here, Luke describes more than the simple Christmas story–God exposes truths which require a life response from you–you cannot ignore the implications. All scripturally informed Jews knew certain facts about their Messiah who would one day come to Earth. They knew He’d come from the royal line of David. Plus, that He would reign from the throne in Jerusalem over Israel’s glorious kingdom.

And one truth about the Messiah that all faithful Jews were certain of was predicted by the prophet (700 years before Christ’s birth) in Micah5:2, “Bethlehem…, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” God made it clear, that Jesus, the Messiah, had to be born in Bethlehem–even though Luke 2 does not even mention Micah. But Luke 2 does do something powerful–it magnifies how God providentially arranged Christ’s birth in Bethlehem in specific fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy. If events at the beginning of the first century had progressed on their normal path, Jesus would not have been born in Bethlehem. But God worked in powerful ways to make the Lord’s birth occur precisely at the right time and predicted place, thus verifying God’s own prophetic Word–it is called the miracle of providence.

Do you know what providence is? Providence is, “God’s operating in every event in the world and directing the things in the universe to his appointed end for them.” Mine is, “God is in charge of the details.” The Bible states God is working out every detail concerning animals, nations, success and failure, apparent accidents, answered prayers—everything. Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

God orchestrated Joseph and Mary’s visit to Bethlehem, and the circumstances related to it–in such a way that God the Son was born exactly according to God’s perfect plan. God arranged the world, the nation, and the details of Joseph and Mary’s personal life to bring about the birth of Jesus Christ. With that lens, read Luke 2:1 to 7, “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

#1  Sovereign WORLDWIDE Providence  Verses 1 to 3

God orders all worldwide events to accomplish His will. He directly causes or allows everything, but His will is always done. Read verses 1 to 3 again. Luke 2:1 to 3, “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.” Caesar Augustus was the first Roman emperor while Rome occupied Israel. He’s the one who avenged the murder of Julius Caesar, he settled the Roman Civil War fought in Philippi, then re-conquered Egypt against Mark Antony and Cleopatra.

Yet in spite of being a world-changer, Caesar was oblivious to his role in Christ’s birth. God providentially directed the emperor’s actions–just like He does today with every president and dictator, to precisely work in accord with God’s perfect, prophetic timetable. The Lord knew when Mary and Joseph had to be in Bethlehem, so God planned their visit to occur under the authority of a pagan emperor who was totally ignorant of Scripture.

Luke starts with the concise phrase “in those days” to identify the times immediately prior to Jesus’ pending birth. What was happening in those days? Like a river that runs under a desert, underneath this description of Caesar is the Jewish attitude toward Rome–they hated Roman rule and the Roman occupation of their land. They struggled with those polytheistic, unclean Gentiles constantly waving their images of idols on their banners and shields. They hated Caesar’s image on all the Roman coins they were forced to use. So why is Caesar mentioned here?

Augustus was born Gaius Octavian. He was the grand-nephew of Julius Caesar, who adopted him as a son, then officially declared him the heir to the throne of the Empire. Octavian didn’t immediately ascend to the throne after the assassination of Julius Caesar, but the young man eventually prevailed in a power struggle with three other Roman leaders, to rule the Empire from 27BC to AD14. During that period, the versatile and capable Octavian demonstrated great military, political, and societal skills–ending all civil wars and extending Rome’s boundaries to the edges of the known world. His leadership aptitude also brought an incredible peace to the Roman empire (called Pax Romana, or peace of Rome).

Such previously unheard of tranquility allowed for the construction of a massive road system–the Egnatia Highway, that facilitated transportation in every direction, thus solidifying Rome’s control. For the first time, there were no rigid borders between provinces, no border checkpoints–but instead, an ease of movement all around the entire civilized world, which ultimately led to the rapid spread of the Gospel.

That’s part of what Paul meant in Galatians in 4:4, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son.” Everything on the world scene was perfectly arranged and timed for the arrival of Jesus Christ. And in Luke 2, verses 1 to 3, God alerts us to His providence, and to the unwitting role of Augustus to pave the way for Mary and Joseph to be in Bethlehem for the birth of God the Son.

Notice–Luke states in verse 1, “A census was taken and all had to be registered.” This was an imperial mandate for the entire Roman empire–an edict requiring registration. Rome did these registrations for two reasons. One was to determine which young men were eligible for military service. And two was to assess taxes. Since the Jews were exempt from serving in the Roman military, this was totally for taxes. In a taxation census, the people registered their names, occupations, property holdings, and family members to the Roman equivalent of the IRS.

The Jews not only hated the Roman occupation, but they especially hated paying taxes to their pagan Gentile overlords. And they especially hated fellow Jews like Zacchaeus and Matthew, who collected taxes for Rome. We don’t know how Joseph and Mary felt about Rome, but like everyone but the zealots, they obeyed the mandate and left for Bethlehem to pay their taxes. In spite of a general bad attitude against Rome, God used Augustus and his census to bring Jesus’ parents to Bethlehem at just the exact time.

History informs us that, due to various difficulties, Caesar’s census was actually not carried out in Palestine until two to four years after it was first announced. Providence–but finally Augustus imposed a strict deadline for compliance, making average Jewish citizens like Joseph and Mary head to their hometowns to submit to their pagan government . . . all timed perfectly for the birth of Christ.

According to Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph returned to their town of origin, to Bethlehem—”because [verse 4, Joseph] was of the house and lineage of David.” For the Jewish people, every 50 years, various lands would return to their original owners. With that awareness and the importance of family lineage, the Jewish people kept careful tract of their ancestry–their family history was their identity.

God providentially worked out every detail so that the human ruler of the world would force Jesus’ parents to be in Bethlehem at the precise time of the Lord’s birth. God’s will was accomplished, and God’s promise of Micah 5:2 was perfectly fulfilled.

#2  Sovereign NATIONAL Providence  Verses 4 to 5

The Lord was not only working on the international scene to perfectly accomplish His eternal plan with the birth of Christ, but He was actively working out every detail with the nation of Israel to accomplish His exact purposes. Mary and Joseph had to journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. On that arduous trip, they passed through many places significant to Old Testament history. They would have passed through Shiloh, where Hannah asked the Lord for a child, and the place where Joshua set up a stone of remembrance (that I actually sat on).

They would have gone through the city of promise, Jerusalem, then less than six miles away, finally the little town of Bethlehem, which you can see from Jerusalem. This was the home of Ruth and Boaz (King David’s great grandparents–Ruth 4:9 to 11), and the town where King David was born. Luke summarizes their journey this way in verses 4 to 5, “Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.”

What animal did Mary ride on their journey? Which? We don’t know if there was any animal. She might have walked, ridden in a cart, saddled up on a camel, horse or donkey. The Bible doesn’t say–that’s right, you gotta toss all those Christmas cards with the donkey. The center of the nativity scene is the town of Bethlehem in the Judean region of Israel. Judea is in south Israel. King David was born in Bethlehem, but he ruled in Jerusalem.

So Joseph, as a descendant of David, had to go to Bethlehem–David’s birthplace, for the census. From the genealogies found in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, we also learn that Mary was a descendant of David. Therefore, it was fitting they both went to Bethlehem to register. Both of Jesus’ earthly parents belonged to the lineage of David of Bethlehem.

Now put yourself in the place of Mary–not married yet, she’s had no intimacy with Joseph or any other man. Just how difficult was it for her to explain her pregnancy to her mom, dad, relatives, friends and community? How many of them accused Mary of lying to them about her purity? And how encouraging would Mary’s visit to Elizabeth have been in Luke 1:39 to 45? Elizabeth affirms Mary’s supernatural pregnancy–no doubt a needed encouragement in the midst of Mary battling the looks, talk, slander and slights of a woman who was pregnant out of wedlock.

Given that environment, there is no way Joseph would have made the 90-mile trip without Mary, even though she was nine months pregnant. Joseph would not leave her to be alone, nor face greater scorn. But more important, Joseph had God’s wisdom on the full significance of these events. Joseph knew Mary was pregnant with the Son of God. Matthew 1:20 to 25 tells us Joseph knew the baby would be Jesus, the Messiah, who would save His people from their sins.

With worldwide and national providence all coming together to bring about God’s birth as a man, the Lord even uses the personal life of Mary and Joseph with Bethlehem itself to accomplish His perfect will and see the God-man born.

#3  Sovereign PERSONAL Providence  Verses 6 to 7

Verses 6 to 7, “While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” The world and national settings are both crucial in which to understand the birth of Christ. They show us God’s incredible providence in bringing about the humble birth of your Creator as an infant.

But how God brought about this sweet nativity we all love involved more than world headlines–it engaged the personal lives of Mary and Joseph. The first phrase of verse 6 is where Luke continues. “While they were there”–we know Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, but it’s not initially clear where in the village they were, or exactly how long they had been there. They had most likely been there at least three days, perhaps even a week, because Luke adds this phrase in verse 6, “the days were completed for her to give birth.”

But we don’t have to ponder long over where the young couple was when Jesus was born, since Luke describes it in verse 7, “because there was no room for them in the inn.” Those simple words cause us all to wonder—trying to picture what was happening. Practically speaking, during their stay in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph were homeless. That does not mean they were completely outside in the cold, but simply they had no comfortable accommodations. Mary and Joseph were not staying in some sort of 2 star-hotel, or even a low-budget annex to a Motel 6.

The Greek word for inn in verse 7 is not the usual term for inn. Instead, Luke used a word denoting a shelter or place of lodging for guests. It wasn’t an actual inn, operated for the feeding and housing of guests. Instead, it was more like the sleeping section of a public shelter or a campground. MacArthur writes this—”Such shelters typically had four sides and two levels, with the top part being like the loft in a barn. One section of the shelter may have had crude doors to close it off. The entire structure would have been primitive, the kind of place where travelers could spend one or more nights in the loft area and keep their animals down in the center area, safe from theft. Their goods could be stored in the center as well.

How many of you have made plans to go somewhere, only to find out everything was booked because of some concert or event? Well, because of the Roman decree, Bethlehem was crowded with all the best rooms already taken. Mary and Joseph wound up staying with the animals in one of the public shelters. For an undetermined number of days, the young couple likely would have huddled on the shelter’s ground floor among the camels, donkeys, goats, cattle, and feed troughs–because the other part of the shelter (“the inn”) was full.

During that time, they would’ve used their own robes, possibly an extra blanket, to shield them from the cold. We don’t know how long they stayed, or whether they registered before the birth of the baby, or whether they were waiting for the birth before they registered? But we do know they made sure they stayed in Bethlehem until after Mary gave birth to Jesus. With all the circumstances providentially arranged, the most important birth in human history finally took place. Yet Luke describes the birth of the Lord with an economy of words found in verse 7–“she brought forth her firstborn Son.”

What do you imagine that birth was like? Typically, I think you gals would ponder a little more about this than us guys–but try to picture, within the confines of the Scripture, what that night might have been like. Joseph had to be curious what his son, the God-man, might actually be like. He no doubt held Mary’s hand throughout her labor, perhaps soothing her forehead with a cool cloth. Like any good husband, Joseph surely would have spoken words of sweet comfort to his bride while she endured labor pains. After all, they both were in a dark, drab place that offered no doctors, no nurses, not even the presence of her mother.

Mary only had the assistance and reassurance of her teenaged husband. After a certain period of labor, Mary would’ve pushed one final time to bring forth her child. “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” At that very moment, the Creator of the universe breathed air as a human being–eternal God stepped into earthbound time and space. As the apostle John wrote later, John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent Lord of the universe appeared as a baby, crying to life–probably weighing less than 10 pounds and measuring fewer than 24 inches in length. The little life would have rested immediately in the arms of young Joseph, who along with Mary, probably did not comprehend the full magnitude of what was going on–even though an angel had earlier informed them both about this extraordinary birth.

Luke carefully informs us in verse 7 that Jesus was Mary’s “firstborn son”. Jesus was not the only son Mary ever had–Jesus was not her only begotten, as He was the Father’s. But He was the “firstborn.” That’s important, because it’s consistent with Mary’s virginity, and it means Jesus had the primary right to the family inheritance. Neither Joseph nor Mary, as working-class people, had wealthy estates. But as both were descendants of King David, they passed on to Jesus the right to rule from David’s throne, the throne of Christ’s people, Israel.

Luke 2:7 gives us some more familiar commentary of the earthiness of this birth. Mary “wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths.” Swaddling is an Old English word that describes wrapping with cloth. The ancient custom was to wrap the arms, legs and body of the baby with long strips of cloth to provide warmth and security. Parents in those days also believed that wrapping the child helped his or her bones to grow straight. Luke’s point in mentioning the wrapping cloths, however, is that Mary treated Jesus the way any mother would treat a normal newborn. Physically, He looked like any other child, and his parents treated Him as such. God did not provide Him with royal robes or fancy clothing, but simply directed Mary and Joseph to welcome Him as they would any other beloved child.

Mary also, verse 7, “and laid Him in a manger.” Manger is a feeding trough. Joseph and Mary were staying in the section of the shelter that accommodated travelers’ animals and they conveniently made His first bed a feeding trough. When Christ entered the world, He came to a place that had some of the smelliest, filthiest, and most uncomfortable conditions. But that is part of the awesome power of God’s grace! When the Son of God came down from Heaven, He came all the way down. He did not hang on to His equality with God–rather, He set it aside for a time and completely humbled Himself (Philippians 2:5 to 8).

But never forget, this sacrifice was nothing compared to what Christ would do later. God in a feeding tough was nothing compared to what Jesus did about your sin. His birth is a big deal, but it is not the most important. What Christ did for you is even more smelly, uncomfortable, sacrificial and loving than you can even imagine. Has someone ever greatly sacrificed for you? My wife Jean continues to sacrifice for me innumerable times. I also I had a man once offer to give me a down payment for a house when I had none. I had a high school gal once go to bat for me when I had made a tragic mistake. I had a man once pay what was lacking in my salary for a year after being treated horribly.

I have seen sacrifice–but only one person loved me enough to die for me–He died the death I should have died. He embraced the torture that should have been mine forever in Hell. Jesus did not merely humble Himself and agree to be born in a smelly stable, but He humbled Himself as a substitute for wretched sinners and bore the stench of their guilt in His own body on the cross. He came down to the common people to bring them His glorious salvation. The picture of the infant Son of God tolerating a stable’s dirt and foul odors is a fitting metaphor for the later scene of the Savior bearing the stench of sin as He died at Calvary, so you could live with God forever in Heaven.

TAKE HOME

A  The Birth of Christ was PLANNED

World, national and personal providence compelled Jesus’ parents to go to Bethlehem. But more crucial than those factors, they had to travel to David’s hometown to fulfill the prophecy given by Micah–connecting the Messiahs birth to the nation of Israel. The Old Testament was completed 400 years before Christ–it was translated from Hebrew into Greek 200 years before Christ. And it was not an accident or a manipulation that the Old Testament promised Christ’s coming hundreds of times–and in Micah, where He would be born.

Mary and Joseph had to be in Bethlehem so that it would be the birthplace of God’s special ruler. Micah 5:2 says, “Yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel.” This is a pointed statement about the Messiah. It could not refer to David, because he was born 300 years prior to Micah 5. In addition, Micah’s words “whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” can refer only to deity.

The Messiah is an eternal being, a ruler to be born in Bethlehem–yet One who has been alive forever. Every believing Jew who looked forward to the coming of the true Messiah knew that Micah’s prophecy pointed unmistakably to the Messiah. I dare you to try to disprove the clarity of God’s Word about the person of Christ. He is God, who was born a man in Bethlehem. He is God’s plan to rescue you from sin.

B  Mary needed a SAVIOR and so do you

The only reason anyone would ever call God their Savior is they know they’re a sinner. While Mary is pregnant, she prays and Luke records her declaration in Luke 1:47—”And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” From the shock of Gabriel’s announcement with her awareness of the need for God’s grace, to the declaration that as a sinner she needed a Savior, Mary admits her sin. She admits she has no hope, except that God would be merciful to her and provide a way for her to be saved–a Savior who would take her place, a Savior who would pay the penalty of death for sin, a  Savior who would bear the wrath of Hell for her sin so she would not have to go there.

The infant she held in her hands that day was not only the very God who created her, but the very God who could forgive her for all her sins. After Jesus rose from the dead and the 120 saints waiting in the upper room for the coming of the Spirit and the birth of Christ’s Church, Mary was with the believers who had already surrendered their lives to Christ. Mary was a believer in Christ. Mary will be in Heaven, not because she was sinless–far from it. But because her sin was paid for by her Savior, who also happened to be her firstborn son.

C  You are not under circumstances, you are under PROVIDENCE

You are here today to hear the message of Christ, because you need to turn from your sin in repentance and put your life by faith in Christ. Your sin must be judged on Christ and His righteousness must cover you in order for you to be right with God now, and to enter into Heaven forever later. If you are not in Christ, you will not be in Heaven. You say, “I prayed a prayer, I made a decision, I like Jesus.” Yeah, but . . . is He your life?

The proof of that is whether you follow Christ by obeying His Word. If you submitted to Christ in salvation, then you’ll submit to Christ in sanctification. But if you expressed a fake faith, you will not want to obey His Word now. You’ll not follow Christ, submit to His teaching, obey His Word, nor serve Christ with your entire life. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and follow Me.” Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?”

True Christians are willing to do anything for Christ, give up anything for Christ, give anything to Christ and worship Him with everything they are and all they have–because He is their first love, above their spouse, children, and their possessions. Test yourself to see if you are in the faith. If there is no change in your life, no service of ministry, no involvement in His community, no giving to His purposes and no worship where you offer your life—then cry out to Christ to give you a new born again heart. Turn from your sin and worship Christ, by surrendering your entire life to Him as your Lord and Savior. You live for now and look forward to being with Him forever. Let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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