Luke 2:1-7 This is a familiar text that we hear just this time of year. 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.) Ad everyone went to his own town to register.
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, 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.
What does this text mean to you? What does it make you think of? We usually only hear these verses read at this time of year so most of us associate them with Christmas. Yet it is so much more. It is the beginning of the Plan of Salvation in the Person of Jesus. The promise made to Adam and Eve that we talked about last week (Genesis 3:15) is being fulfilled. The Word became Flesh! These verses also bring to mind other things; poverty, humility, rejection, unpreparedness.
Look at our church. We are prepared for Christmas. Weeks in advance, these beautiful decorations were put in place. We have been singing Christmas carols for our worship service. Special Christmas programs have been planned and given. We have given "Gifts for Jesus" to our Samaritan Center. We have had a Christmas social. Our Sabbath School departments have been decorated as Bethlehem. So much has gone into preparing for the day that commemorates the birth of Jesus. We're prepared to celebrate that day that commemorates the birth of Jesus.
But when I look at this text, I sense a lack of preparation for that very first most special Christmas of all. Unfortunately, it was indeed a 'Silent Night.' The only place there should have been silence was in the room with the baby so as not to wake Him! But outside there should have been throngs and multitudes making all kinds of noise. Rejoicing, whether it be in the town, in the cities, in the country, on the continents...All around the world there should have been noise that night, praising the Lord that Jesus was here. But there was silence. I'll bet the angels found this unnerving. There's never silence in heaven. Did you realize that? Every time we hear of something going on around the throne of God there is music, there's noise praising God. The angels are gathered there. Jesus is there. The only time I found in the scriptures that there is silence in heaven is when heaven is empty because the residents of heaven have come to earth to take us back to heaven (Revelation 8:1) at the second coming. Yet, here lies the Savior of the world in silence.
The book, Great Controversy by EG White, describes an angel visiting "the earth to see who were prepared to welcome Jesus. But he could discern no voice of praise and triumph that the period of Messiah's coming was at hand. The angel hovered for a time over the chosen city and the temple where the divine presence was manifested for ages; but even here was the same indifference."
This angel was not looking for people who knew about the coming Messiah. Many had knowledge of this soon coming event. He was looking for people who were ready for it to be NOW! Fortunately, the angel's search was not totally in vain.
Luke 2:8, And there were shepherd living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
These were the very fields where David watched his family's sheep. The book Desire of Ages by EG White indicates that these shepherds were not merely sitting around watching out for wolves and talking about miscellaneous things, they were discussing the coming of the Savior they were longing for and they were praying for it that night. That is how they were found by the angels that night: praying for the coming Messiah.
Luke 2:9. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
If you had been coming to our prayer meeting series on angels, you will know the actual name of this angel. Can you imagine? There they are, gazing up into the night sky, looking at the stars, and suddenly something brighter that the sun itself appears before their eyes. No wonder they were terrified that night.
Let's read verse 10. 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."
"Good News" - the Gospel! "I bring you the gospel. It's the gospel of joy for all people." Fortunately, the good news was for all people, not just for those who were ready for it that night! Or there would be just a handful of shepherds in heaven. It is for all people, not just for the Jews.
Luke 2:11,12. 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."
What? The Messiah lying in a donkey's feed box? The shepherds must have been stunned! They were used to feed oxen. What about the angels? If the shepherds were stunned by this event, the angels must have thought it beyond words. They had lived with the Son of God. They knew what Heaven was like. To see their God lying in such a place must have been unfathomable. They were not used to seeing Him wrapped in cloths. I think that why they mentioned it: "He's wrapped in cloths. We're used to seeing the Son of God wrapped in glory!" But here He is, wrapped in rags and lying in the donkey's feed box.
Luke 2:13,14. 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."
I have a theory. I believe that the other angels could not hold back! They may have been sent around the world in search of someone to share the good news with. But, upon finding no one else who was ready to hear it, gathered behind this one angel who was sharing the Gospel. Not wishing this to be the only privileged angel, they burst into song! What a sight and sound that must have been! I imagine the shepherds conferring with each other years later; "Did we really see that?" "You saw it, didn't you? You were there." I can't believe that happened!"
Luke 2:15. 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." They didn't just go back to watching sheep that night. They didn't just say; "Wow! That was intense," and go back to do what they were doing. They dropped what they were doing and looked for the Savior. Nothing could keep them from doing that. Their livelihood didn't matter as much as their love.
At first service, Kirk and Mary's little boy couldn't be kept from his father while his father was singing up front. And all during first service Kirk held his son while he sang. And I thought, Isn't that the way we need to be? Nothing can keep us from our Father. Even the terror of coming up on this platform. Did you know that public speaking is the number one fear of human society above death? And that little boy would not let that keep him from being with his father. Nothing could keep the shepherds from Jesus. They left their flocks behind. They left their lives behind. Their lives were changed after this. What happened?
Luke 2:16-18. 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.
When you truly meet Jesus, not just know about Him, you cannot keep it to yourself! There must be a response. We must share what we know to whom we know! And whatever manners God had given us to do that, whatever talents He has endowed us with to do that, but we cannot keep it silent.
Luke 2:19,20. 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.
Were the shepherds really the only ones ready to hear the good news? Fortunately, the answer is no. Next week we're going to talk about Simeon and Anna. They were also ready. Yet, there were still others who were ready.
Matthew shares something extra. Turn to Matthew 2:1. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is born the One who has been born the king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him."
This is the only place in Scripture that I can find Magi spoken of in a positive manner. Most were involved with sorcery and trickery. These seem to actually be true men of wisdom. They were genuine seekers of truth. God can make His presence known even in lands where His name is unknown. Nature teaches much about it's Creator. They would have also had available the Hebrew scriptures. Balaam's prophecy, of the Star of Jacob and the rising of a Scepter out of Israel, would have been known to them.
We don't know where they were from, though it is generally believed that they came from Persia where many Hebrews still lived, having never returned after the Babylonian captivity. We don't know how many there were. We assume three because three types of gifts are mentioned. But there could have been a whole caravan bringing these gifts to Jesus. We really don't know much about them.
Someone once wondered, "What if they were not wise, but wise women?" Well, what would have happened?
Well, I'm not sure that is good theology, but it is something to think about.
Matthew 2:1,2. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him."
Can you imagine their disappointment upon their arrival in Jerusalem. Where are the banners? Where are the choirs? Where is the party? Where is the excitement? Where is the great feast? Where is the King?
They had been traveling by night over a great period of time, leaving family and jobs, following a star, studying prophecy, longing to meet the King of the Jews, only to find this response, "What King?"
Verse 3. When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
Now, I can understand why Herod was disturbed but why Jerusalem? Herod was known to be extremely jealous of his position. He had people killed to get to where he was. He had his favorite wife killed when he thought she was plotting his downfall. His own sons were killed to keep them off the throne. Roman Emperor Augustus bitterly claimed that it was safer to be Herod's pig than his son. Before his death, he had Jerusalem's most distinguished citizens imprisoned with orders that at the moment of his death, they would all be executed so that it would guarantee weeping rather than rejoicing! Now you can understand this man's mind. When he had the innocents of Bethlehem killed: "I will not have anyone lay claim to my throne." It is thus within reason to believe that a man this obsessed with power would put up with no rival. That is why he killed the innocents of Bethlehem. That's just scratching the surface of his history.
But why would Jerusalem be troubled. Didn't they know that a King was coming? Hadn't they been looking forward to that event? Didn't they desire Him? Knowledge does not mean love. Satan knows God but does not love Him. No true personal relationship must have existed from those people with the God of their Fathers.
Look at verses 4 to 6. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
"'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of My people Israel.'"
Did the priests know what was happening? Oh, the priests knew the answers alright. They knew the time. They knew the place. They knew the answers. But again, knowledge does not equal love. They were indifferent about Jesus. They did not even travel the short distance to Bethlehem to check out the story. The wise men were not their first encounter with the story. Remember the shepherds telling everyone about what they had seen? The priests were more interested in keeping these rumors down than seeing if they were true. After all, if it was true, who were they? God had bypassed the church leaders and given the news to blue-collar workers out in the field? Given the news to heathen magicians? "If it's true, we don't want anything to do with it." Their pride caused their hearts to harden.
Matthew 2:7-12. Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the Child. as soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and (kill Him, I mean) worship Him." Oh he meant to kill Him. He didn't want the Magi to know that.
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the Child was. This was no alignment of planets like some people have said. This was no Halley's comet like I heard just this week. This was a group of angels leading the Magi directly to the Savior's home. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod they returned to their country by another route.
The book Desire of Ages by EG White says, "Beneath the lowly guise of Jesus, they recognized the presence of Divinity. The gave their hearts to Him as the Savior, and poured out their gifts, 'gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.' What faith was theirs!"
The Magi's interchange with Jesus did not end with their bowing down in adoration, but extended to the more tangible presentation of their gifts of wealth to Him. Worship never takes place just in our minds. To the contrary, it spills over into the world of everyday life. It's not just something we do on Sabbath. It's something that we are. We are God's. And the wise men recognized they were God's and they gave of themselves. Just as God gave of Himself to us, we are to give of ourselves to Him. The Magi's giving was as much an act of worship as was their bowing. Their gifts financed the trip to Egypt where Jesus would be safe from the wrath of Herod the Great.
We have seen in this story three responses to Jesus.
Did you know that the Jews were Seventh-day Adventists? They worshiped on the Biblical Sabbath and looked forward to the first Advent of the Messiah. We worship on the Biblical Sabbath and are rejoicing about the first Advent as well as looking forward to His second Advent. Will we be more ready than they were for the first? If so, it takes more than a mere knowledge of prophecy, it takes a love for the One Prophesied!
They were looking for a lion, He came as a Lamb, and they missed Him. They were looking for a warrior, He came as a Peacemaker, and they missed Him. They were looking for a king, He came as a Servant, and they missed Him. They were looking for liberation from Rome, He submitted to the Roman cross, and they missed Him. They were looking for a fit to their mold, He was the mold maker, and they missed Him. What are you looking for? Lion? Warrior? King? Liberator? What are you looking for? They were looking for their temporal needs to be met, He came to meet their eternal need, and they missed Him. He came as a Lamb to be sacrificed for your sin. Will you miss Him? He came to make peace between God and man. Will you miss Him? He came to model servanthood for all mankind. Will you miss Him? He came that we might have true liberty. Will you miss Him? When we submit to the Lamb, we will meet the Lion. Join with the Peacemaker, and we will meet the Warrior. Work with the Servant, and we will meet the King. Walk with the Submitted, and we will meet the Liberator. Concern ourselves with the eternal, and we will have the temporal. If Jesus is not fitting into the mold you have, then come to the mold maker and get a new one. Submit to His plan for your life and you will see eternal need met first; then all the other things you have need of will be taken care of as well. Author unknown.
Hymn of Praise: #135, O Little Town of Bethlehem Scripture: Luke 2:8-14 Hymn of Response: #136, Good Christians, Now Rejoice
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last updated 12/23/2000 by Bob Beckett.