Sunday, December 20, 2009

Luke 2:1-12 The Infant is Sovereign


Opening thoughtThe story of the first Christmas is so beloved that singers and storytellers across two millennia have embellished, elaborated, and mythologized the story so much that the canvas is covered in cultural lacquer, obscuring the view. It has been so told and retold and overtold that most people now don't know which details are biblical and which are fabricated. People usually imagine the manger scene with snow, singing angels, many worshipers, and a little drummer boy. None of that is found in the biblical account.[1]

Pray & Read:  Luke 2:1-12

Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 2:1-12 to teach believers that the Infant born in Bethlehem is Sovereign over all and is himself the Sovereign Good News.

Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about the sovereignty of the Christ Child.

Sermon Points:
  1. The Infant is sovereign over government politics (2:1-4)
  2. The Infant is sovereign over family scandal (2:5-7a)
  3. The Infant is sovereign over embarrassing want (2:7b-8)
  4. The Infant is the Sovereign Good News (2:9-12)

Exposition:   Note well,

1.   THE INFANT IS SOVEREIGN OVER GOVERNMENT POLITICS (2:1-4).

a.   A.T. Robertson: In regard to "Caesar Augustus had ordered all the world registered/taxed": It was for long assumed by many scholars that Luke was in error. But papyri and inscriptions have confirmed Luke on every point in these crucial verses Luke_2:1-7.[2] The World (tēn oikoumenēn). Literally, the inhabited (land, gēn). Inhabited by the Greeks, then by the Romans. Should be enrolled (apographesthai). It was a census, not a taxing, though taxing generally followed and was based on the census.

b.   Ben Witherington: “At the time of the birth, Joseph and Mary are in Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral home, where the couple has traveled, according to Luke 2:1–5, to participate in a census. Much ink has been spilt on Luke 2:1–2, in regard to the apparent mistake of Luke’s suggestion that Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem to participate in a world-wide census conducted by Quirinius, governor of the Syrian province (which included Judea at that point). Suffice it to say here that it is perfectly feasible to translate here “this registration happened first, (before) Quirinius was governor of Syria.” While there may be some rhetorical hyperbole in the reference to “all the (known) world” being enrolled in Quirinius’ census, Augustus did pursue a policy of taxation right across the imperial provinces of the empire; Judea was part of an imperial province, so an enrollment is perfectly feasible.[3]  

c.   ILLUSTRATION: How ironic that on the week we celebrate the birth of an Infant Savior, we find our government engaged in a forceful move to fund the liquidation of innocent human beings whose only fatal flaw is that they have not eight inches to cold air.

d.   APPLICATION: People of God, in days and years ahead, we cannot fall back on a confidence that our government will do things for our benefit or look out for our best interest or protect our consciences or rights. We now see the emergence of a way of governing which is of the rulers, by the rulers, and for the rulers. We will not be able just to accept what they tell us anymore as fact, to trust their reasons. Because their lives are no longer largely governed by the principles of a Judeo-Christian worldview found only in Scripture.

e.   If Mary were pregnant in our nation today, she would be encouraged abort her baby, conserve the environment, and eliminate the baby’s carbon footprint and her own embarrassment. We must measure everything our government says by the Words and standards of Scripture, and follow that Rule above all others, even if it means detriment to our homes, to our families, and to our reputations and wallets. We must teach our children our spiritual heritage and to follow the Word of the Lord wisely, not the word of the government blindly. Without revival and wholesale spiritual awakening, we are moving toward a nation where we will remember what freedom was and be persecuted for adhering to that birthright.

f.    APPLICATION: But The Infant is Sovereign over more government politics than just our petty national problems. The Infant is Sovereign over the politics of the Garden.

             i.        Over the shell game: “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:” (Genesis 3:1, 4).
            ii.        Over the blame game: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Gen 3:12).
          iii.        Over the shame game: “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons” (Gen 3:7).
          iv.        Since the Infant is Sovereign, he set the END GAME: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). And in that Sovereign Infant in the midst of a government enrollment, the eternal Hope for Change arrived.

2.   THE INFANT IS SOVEREIGN OVER FAMILY SCANDAL (2:5-7a).

a.   Joseph and Mary are engaged, and Mary is pregnant. Engagement in early Judaism was as binding as modern marriage is today. It required formal dissolution to undo such a commitment. Jewish women were usually between 11 and 13 when betrothed, and the men were generally a bit older. Marriage in early Judaism involved a covenant between one man and one woman, and the commitment was intended to be a lifetime covenant, though men were allowed certain grounds for divorce.
b.   What is important to remember is that in an honor and shame culture such as early Judaism it was a scandal to get pregnant out of wedlock or before marriage. Brides were absolutely expected to be virgins when they got married.
c.   If Bethlehem was the town where Joseph’s relatives lived, then it is natural to expect that Joseph and Mary would have first sought accommodations with family. This appears to be what they did. It is not the case that Mary and Joseph were forced to stop somewhere beside the road because Mary suddenly went into labor. Rather, Luke 2:6 tells us that “while they were there,” that is, in Bethlehem, “the time came for her to deliver her child.”[4]

d.   APPLICATION: Friends you can choose. Family you can’t. That has its good and bad sides. When you find yourself in an uncomfortable family situation, and we all have them, what do you do? You seek to treat them as Jesus would, in care, concern, grace, and lovingly holding to the Standard set by Scripture. Here was a family scandal. Joseph brought in his new wife who was ready to deliver a baby. And he supposed to be covering up the thing with stories about angels. Yeah, right. It looks bad. It is not what it looks like, but Mary and Joseph have to handle it with grace. The looks, the sideways comments, the cold shoulders, the silence, the exclusion. Family can be lonely at times. Family can hurt. But Jesus walks with us through those tough family situations and scandals. Will you let him lead you through yours this Christmas?

e.   APPLICATION: The greatest family scandal of all is that The Sovereign Infant has provided a place in His Family for each one of us, but many have not yet responded. And God’s children are cutting missionaries from the field instead of sending more family members to call those outside the family in. For you the greatest family scandal would be that you would one day open your eyes in eternity and find yourself not in the Family of God because you never kneeled to the Sovereign who was once an Infant. Philippians 2 tells us that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, but unless you do it willingly in this life, you will suffer the eternal punishment that the Infant who is Sovereign has set up for His enemies. Today is the day you need to give your life to Jesus Christ and set yourself in your proper place in his family.

3.   THE INFANT IS SOVEREIGN OVER EMBARRASSING WANT (2:7b-8)

a.   Where did they stay in Bethlehem? Luke tells us that after the birth, Mary put the baby in a “manger,” or corncrib, because there was “no room for them at the kataluma” (Luke 2:7)—a Greek term he uses elsewhere to mean “guest room” (see Luke 22:11). When Luke wants to speak about an inn, he calls it pandocheion (see Luke 10:34). Thus, Luke says nothing about the Holy couple being cast out of an inn and Mary having to bear the child in a barn.

b.   Historically, it is far more likely that Mary and Joseph had their child in the humble back portion of the ancestral home where the most valued animals were fed and, in the winter, housed, because the guest room in the family home was already occupied. In any case, Bethlehem was such a small village, on a minor road, that it is not even clear it would have had a wayside inn.[5]

c.   John MacArthur: That verse is explicitly concerned with a lonely birth. There were no midwives, no assistance to Mary at all. The Bible doesn't even mention that Joseph was present. Perhaps he was, but if he was typical of first-time fathers, he would have been of little help to Mary. She was basically on her own. Mary brought forth the child; she wrapped Him in swaddling cloths; and she laid Him in a manger. Where usually a midwife would clean the baby and wrap Him, there was no one. Mary did it herself. And where usually there would have been a cradle or basket for the baby, there was none. Mary had to put Him in an animal's 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 wonder of divine grace, isn't it?[6]

d.   APPLICATION: This year more than many in the last couple of decades, Christmas is coupled with embarrassing want for many around us. What our President calls “fat cat bankers” and what businessmen call “beastly politicians” have stolen from the little man and left many of us out here where life happens hurled in the ditch. Well, people, there is a Good Samaritan, and he was once an Infant born into embarrassing want. He didn’t have a midwife, not even a decent place to lay, nor even baby clothes that were sufficient, just swathing bands wrapped around him.

e.   If you find yourself in embarrassing want this holiday season (and we know that you are not the only one here like this), this church stands ready to help you. Speak to me privately. Speak to a deacon, and especially if you are a member here, your need will be confidentially and carefully handled to protect and provide for your needs the best we can. Don’t suffer or let your children suffer because of the sin of pride. Let us have the joy of helping you. But also ask the Lord Jesus to miraculously provide for you. I stand here to tell you that I have seen him work scores of times in miraculous provision when I or our family was in need. We were specific in our prayers. We were determined to operate in integrity when the provision arrived, and we saw God move with power to protect and provide for us. Will you let him do that for you?

f.    APPLICATION: But the most embarrassing want will be one day when millions find themselves without Christ. Might you be one of them? I asked a man at Nash County Jail the other day if something were to happen to him and he open his eyes in eternity if he knew where he would be. He said he really did not know. But the Infant who is Sovereign has provided an eternally secure way to know that you are saved – be forgiven of your sins, receive his salvation, and submit to his Lordship. Then that Sovereign Infant personally guarantees your eternal security. That inmate gave his life to Christ that day and secured his destiny. What about you? Do you need to do that today?

4.   THE INFANT IS THE SOVEREIGN GOOD NEWS (2:9-12)

a.   In these very fields where the shepherds bivouacked, David watched his sheep and killed the lion and the bear (1 Samuel 17:34).
b.   “Do not be afraid,” the angel reassures the men, “for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah” (Luke 2:10–11). The angel emphasizes that the savior is born “to you,” the shepherds—that is, to the least, the last and the lost.[7]
c.   I bring you good tidings of great joy (euaggelizomai hūmin charan megalēn). Wycliff, “I evangelize to you a great joy.”[8]

d.   APPLICATION: Ladies and gentlemen, Jesus is the Good News. This sovereign King. He is the good news. You see, God created this world in perfection, but through the sin of the first man and woman, sin came into the world and all of us have followed in their footsteps in disobedience to God. Sin destroys the good, and it destroyed the relationship God had with us and brought perfectly eternal punishment on us all without exception. But He loves us so much that He made a way for us to escape that punishment called Hell. He sent his Son, his only Son, one of the three persons of the Godhead, to die as a sacrifice for us, fully human and fully God, that Infant in the story today. His sacrificial death that paid the penalty for us and his defeat of our last enemy, death, in his glorious resurrection brought us the exclusive avenue to reestablishing that relationship with God and having eternal life. If you have never received Christ Jesus as Lord, if you have never made him boss of your life, if you have never given the filthy rags of your life to him, then right now you can do that. Will you pray with me this prayer? It is in three parts. The first part is to admit that you have been disobedient – a sinner and ask the Lord’s forgiveness. The second is to ask him to save you, and the Bible says in Romans 10:13 that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The third part is to give control of your life over to him to lead you, guide you, and direct your life from now on. Once you make that decision, Jesus Christ will save you from your sins and give you eternal life. Will you pray with me that prayer right now?

Invitation: If you prayed that prayer, then I want to invite you to walk down here to tell me about it while the music plays. If you know that this is the church the Lord is calling you to join and you just have not done it yet, and you’ve left the last several weeks regretting that you didn’t, today’s the day, at Christmas, to make this your church home. If you have a prayer need this morning, I am here to pray with you. If you want to come and pray at the altar, this altar is open. If you want to get a relationship right that’s been wrong, you want to apologize and pray with someone, this altar is open. If there is someone of the same sex as you or married to you whom you know would be encouraged by prayer, grab their arm and bring them down here and pray with them while the music plays. This is revival friends, when the presence of Christ, repentance, and prayer overwhelm us. The Infant is Sovereign. He is the Sovereign Good News. Welcome Him in your life and in this church today, won’t you?


[1] John MacArthur, “The Truth of the Nativity,” http://www.christianity.com/Home/Christian%20Living%20Features/11596373/.
[2] A.T. Robertson’s Word Pictures, Luke 2:1. See W.M. Ramsay’s books (Was Christ Born at Bethelehem? Luke the Physician. The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the N.T.).
[3] Ben Witherington, III, The Nativity According to Luke, http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/nativity.asp.  See the detailed discussion by John Nolland, Luke 1–9:20 (Waco, TX: Word, 1993), pp. 9–103 and all the bibliography there.
[4] Witherington, Nativity.
[5] Witherington.
[6] MacArthur.
[7] Witherington.
[8] Robertson.