The birth of Jesus
Luke is the only Gospel writer who related the events he recorded to world history. His account was addressed to a predominantly Greek audience that would have been interested in and familiar with the political situation. Palestine was under the rule of the Roman Empire; Emperor Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor, was in charge. The Roman rulers, considered to be like gods, stood in contrast to the tiny baby in a manger who was truly God in the flesh.
A Roman census (registration) was taken to aid military conscription or tax collection. The Jews didn’t have to serve in the Roman army, but they could not avoid paying taxes. Augustus’s decree went out in God’s perfect timing and according to God’s perfect plan to bring his Son into the world.
The government forced Joseph to make a long trip just to pay his taxes. His fiancée, who had to go with him, was going to have a baby any moment. But when they arrived in Bethlehem, they couldn’t even find a place to stay. When we do God’s will, we are not guaranteed a comfortable life. But we are promised that everything, even our discomfort, has meaning in God’s plan.
God controls all history. By the decree of Emperor Augustus, Jesus was born in the very town prophesied for his birth (Micah 5:2), even though his parents did not live there.
Joseph and Mary were both descendants of David. The Old Testament is filled with prophecies that the Messiah would be born in David’s royal line.
Strips of cloth were used to keep a baby warm and give him a sense of security. These cloths were believed to protect his internal organs. The custom of wrapping infants this way is still practiced in many Mideastern countries.
This mention of the manger is the basis for the traditional belief that Jesus was born in a stable. Stables were often caves with feeding troughs (mangers) carved into the rock walls. Despite popular Christmas card pictures, the surroundings were dark and dirty. This was not the atmosphere the Jews expected as the birthplace of the Messiah-King. They thought their promised Messiah would be born in royal surroundings. We should not limit God by our expectations. He is at work wherever he is needed in our sin-darkened and dirty world.
Although our first picture of Jesus is as a baby in a manger, it must not be our last. The Christ child in the manger has been the subject of a beautiful Christmas scene, but we cannot leave him there. This tiny, helpless baby lived an amazing life, died for us, ascended to heaven, and will come back to this earth as King of kings. Christ will rule the world and judge all people according to their decisions about him. Do you still picture Jesus as a baby in a manger—or is he your Lord? Make sure you don’t underestimate Jesus. Let him grow up in your life.
God continued to reveal his Son, but not to those we might expect. Luke records that Jesus’ birth was announced to shepherds in the fields. These may have been the shepherds who supplied the lambs for the Temple sacrifices that were performed for the forgiveness of sin. Here the angels invited these shepherds to greet the Lamb of God (John 1:36), who would take away the sins of the whole world forever.
What a birth announcement! The shepherds were terrified, but their fear turned to joy as the angels announced the Messiah’s birth. First the shepherds ran to see the baby; then they spread the word. Jesus is your Messiah, your Savior. Do you look forward to meeting him in prayer and in his Word each day? Have you discovered a Lord so wonderful that you can’t help sharing your joy with your friends?