The Birth of Jesus
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 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. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah,the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
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.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
Luke was a scholar and wanted to record history as it actually happened. Therefore he includes that a census was taking place which was appropriated by actual people in actual history. These first few sentences are a reminder that the Bible is different than those stories of old found in other writings. The Greeks told stories and legends with the understanding that though they held the stories in high regard, they were not factual, but fables. Luke on the other hand goes to great lengths to place the birth of Christ in a direct time frame, searchable by record today.
In verses 4-5 we hear a short recap of what we have covered so far in our Gospel study – the lineage of Christ, and His miraculous conception. Now the baby Jesus is to be born. Because they were traveling they needed a place to stay the night, but all the rooms were filled so they were offered a manger, and there Jesus was born. Mark includes that this was Mary’s firstborn son. Just after the regulations for the passover were given in Exodus (see chapters 12 & 13) the Lord announces that every firstborn of any womb – beast or man – should be dedicated to the Lord. The first Passover took place in Egypt when the Israelites each selected a lamb to slaughter and marked their doors (denoting they belonged to God). The next day they crossed the Red sea. It is also the same day that Jesus was betrayed, handed over, and ‘selected’ as the lamb that would be slaughtered the next day, creating a way for us who are saved to ‘pass over’ death. How appropriate that Jesus is not only the fulfillment of the passover but that He was dedicated to God even before His birth. Not only that, but in Leviticus there are several laws about sin and guilt offerings that require the firstborn of an animal (with no blemish) to be offered and their blood spilled to atone for sin.
In verse 8 Luke records that there were shepherds watching their sheep in the nearby fields. This would have been common since Bethlehem was known as a shepherd’s town (King David was born there also). Suddenly an angel appeared to them and the glory of the Lord was all around them. There are only a few times in scripture that record the ‘glory of the Lord’. During the time of the Exodus God met with Moses on the mountain and it was consumed by the glory of the Lord. The people were so afraid of it that they asked Moses to be their mediator so they wouldn’t have to look at the glory for fear they would die from seeing God. In other places we see God’s glory manifesting in the temple between the cherubim where God would dwell while with the people. Only the high priest at that time was allowed to be with the ark and only at certain times. So this appearance of God’s glory all around the shepherds would have been truly amazing and terrifying at the same time.
Why is it terrifying to be in the presence of God’s glory? Picture this: there is a being who exists outside of time who created all that we can see or fathom. He is eternal, transcendent, and holy. He requires that those who desire to dwell with Him eternally also be holy. Man is sinful, and when brought face to face with the ultimate holiness we become painfully aware of our sin and recognize our deserving punishment. For we have not sinned against each other, but each sin is against God since He is the creator of all things. If God suddenly showed up at your house and blinded you with the deafening brightness of the most pure and holy light, you would be terrified, too.
The appearance of God’s glory in this case was to bring good news. From all eternity Jesus has been with the father, and it is only fitting that His glory be manifested at the time he enters the flesh of humanity on earth. The angel announces that the news will bring great joy to all the people (but as we will see in later chapters, not all the people were glad). This begs the question, who are the all? Could it be those who’s eternal salvation rests with Christ (the elect)?
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever. – Psalm 30:11-12
Then in verse 11 the shepherds (undoubtably Israelites who knew of the prophecies) were given the most wonderful of information: the Messiah, the Lord, the Savior has been born. The angel tells them where to look and then a whole host of heavenly beings appears to give glory to God for the miracle that has just occurred. All of heaven rejoices and marvels that God would lower Himself to becoming a man so that He might redeem His chosen people, as the angels sing.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. – 1 Peter 1:10-12
The shepherds were so amazed that they hurried off to meet the child. After they had seen and confirmed what the angel had told them, they went and spread the news and then came back again to marvel at what was taking place. Luke records in verse 19 that Mary ‘pondered’ upon all these things and hid them away in her heart. History records that Luke spent approximately 2 years in Cesaria while Paul was in prison. He would have been staying with the rest of the apostles and also was a very short distance to Mary at that time. It is possible that he interviewed and recorded her memories and that is why he is the only one to have this part of Christ’s life in his gospel. It would explain the intimate details of Mary written here and other places in Luke.
Verse 21 records that Joseph did indeed follow through with the naming of the child that the angel had ordered, and on the eighth day the child was circumcized. As we have discovered, the naming of the child was very important (see Matthew 1:18-25), and circumcision denoted again that this child was set apart to God. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17: 9-14), and was required for participation in the Passover (Ex. 12:48). Circumcision marked the people of the promise; the Passover celebrated their redemption. Symbolically speaking, we too, as Christians, have been circumcised and set apart to Christ.
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the un-circumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. – Colossians 2:9-15
This study is part of an overal study through all 4 gospels in an approximate ‘timeline’ of events. Follow along in order here, and be sure to subscribe to our blog so you won’t miss the next post in the series.