Sunday, December 25, 2011

Luke 2:1-20 - The Birth of Jesus

Adoration of the Shepherds (Gerard Van Honthorst)
Contextual Notes:
Luke's Gospel has a developing pattern with a theological message. From the announcement in the Temple at Jerusalem of John’s birth, received by the priest Zecharias in unbelief (Luke 1:5-25), we see the announcement in an insignificant town of Nazareth of Jesus’ birth, received by the virgin Mary in belief (Luke 1:26-38). Mary’s Magnificat celebrates the coming prophetic fulfillment of the Covenants in the Lord Jesus (Luke 1:46-56). John’s birth creates expectation in the countryside (Luke 1:57-66), and Zecharias’ Benedictus celebrates the Messiah to come (Luke 1:67-80).

Luke wants us to see Jesus’ birth as greater than John’s. In Luke 2:1-7, the Messiah is born six months later (John 1:26) extraordinarily of a virgin, yet in insignificant town overlooked by the importance of the Registration. Then heaven lights up with a royal birth announcement and an angelic “Gloria in excelsis Deo” to the most insignificant of people, a group of shepherds minding their own business (Luke 2:8-14). Their discovery of the baby and spreading of the news creates excitement and expectation in the countryside. But Mary treasured it all in her heart (Luke 2:15-20).

Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 2:1-20 to teach believers about the humble birth of the glorious Messiah.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about Jesus’ birth.
Key Verse: Luke 2:14
Pray and Read:  Luke 2:1-20

Sermon Points:
1.   The humble entrance of a glorious Savior (Luke 2:1-7)
2.   The humble hearers of a glorious Announcement (Luke 2:8-14)
3.   The humble proclamation of a glorious Birth  (Luke 2:15-20)

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   Luke gives precise historical details which focus on the worldwide importance of seeming trivial events. These details have been questioned on nearly every point by various liberal commentators. By A.D. 6 wide-scale censuses were taking place every fourteen years with periodic censuses at other times.[1] The census was for evaluating taxation, generally conducted locally. Thus, Luke says it is the first census during (or perhaps instead, “before”) the time of Quirinius, whose governorship of the Roman province of Syria included the area of Judea. The census had to take place at the latest by 4 BC at Herod’s death (Matt 2:1-19; Luke 1:5). Joseph must have owned property in Bethlehem, and while in much of the Empire only the man was taxed, in the province of Syria, women were also taxed.[2]
b.   Luke 2:6-7 – The details give an impression of poverty. Joseph and Mary are in no position to obtain suitable accommodation. They even lack the everyday essential of a cradle (cf. Luke 2:24). The swaddling clothes are long strips of cloth used to keep babies’ limbs straight so they could grow properly.[3]
c.   The word here for “inn” (kataluma) is elsewhere in the NT a “guest room” (Luke 22:11; Mark 14:14).
a.   Shepherds were known as migrants and thieves, and the fact that an angel appeared to them, these no-good low-life’s, would challenge the more religious people who despised them.
b.   Luke 2:9 – The glory of the Lord shone round about them. This is the same Glory that appeared to Abraham in Ur (Acts 7:2), the same Glory as Moses encountered on Mount Sinai (Exod. 31), the same Glory as in the Tabernacle (Exod. 40:34-35), the same Glory as appeared at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:11), the same Glory as Ezekiel saw depart the Temple (Ezek 10:4, 18-19; 11:22-23). Now for more than 500 years the nation of Israel had been without a visible sign of God’s presence among His people. Now the Glory for which Israel had so long waited had been revealed to humble, believing shepherds in the field, not unbelieving priests in the temple.
c.   Luke 2:10 – The announcement of good news (euangelizomai) is a common verb for Luke and rooted in Isaiah’s announcement of an end-time salvation (Isaiah 52:7; 61:1). It is to all people, a parallel to the Abrahamic Covenant in which “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Gen. 12:3). And the angel sent them to the town of David in keeping with the promise in 2 Samuel 7:16.
d.   Luke 2:11 – A deliverer or Savior. (Greek soter, corresponding to Hebrew moshia, related to hoshia, related to Jesus’ name). This word was first used in Luke 1:47 for God the Father but now for Jesus, so that Jesus has a function that is exclusively divine.
e.   Luke 2:12 – The sign of a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes: Swaddling cloths were placed on the baby to stretch his limbs out of the fetal position for proper growth, as they believed. One way to dress a baby in swaddling cloths was to place the baby diagonally on a square cloth, wrap the corners over the feet, the arms, and under the head, then tie the covering with narrow strips of cloth to keep it on. Another way that the first century Jews did swaddling cloths was to wrap the babe in narrow strips of cloth much as a mummy was wrapped for burial.  

Herein lies the significance of the sign. The sign the angel gave was that the Babe -- wrapped in swaddling cloths and placed in a hollowed out, stone manger -- has the appearance of One wrapped for burial and placed on a stone slab in a tomb. The same Mary who, certainly with help from a midwife and a man named Joseph, helped dress that baby boy in swaddling cloths on Christmas night was the same one who, after the Crucifixion, with help from other women and a man named Joseph, helped dress the body of the Lord in strips of burial cloth and place him in a hollowed out stone enclosure in a tomb. The sign points to Jesus' purpose in life. It points to his death as a sacrifice for all mankind.
f.    Luke 2:14 – “peace to all mankind on whom God’s favor now rests.” The “people of good will” is a Hebrew idiom referring not to the good will of humans, but to God’s favor on his people.
a.   The angels offered a heavenly response (Luke 2:8-14). Now the shepherds offer an earthly response (Luke 2:15-20). The shepherds run to Bethlehem to see, and they do see the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, and they become the first evangelists (Luke 2:17).[4]
b.   Mary treasured in her heart the details in a clear parallel to the way Jacob treasured Joseph’s dreams (Gen 37:11).
c.   Note the missionary focus of Luke here to show that the shepherds could not help but spread the word. They had, like Moses who had seen the glory, a message to proclaim. And instead of the spectacular angelic encounter they had experienced, theses shepherds talked about something more important, a Babe who had come as the Savior, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord! Messiah had come. The Redeemer had come. The One who would rule Israel had come. People could now enter into the kingdom of the Prince of Peace.

[1] Josephus, Antiquities, 18.1.1; cf. Acts 5:37. These sources give information on the A.D. 6 Jewish Census Riots under Cyrenius (Quirinius), governor of the Roman province of Syria which included Judea.
 [2] Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Christ, 61.
 [3] Wisdom of Solomon 7:4. 
 [4] Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, 61-62.