Broadcasting now. Watch Live.

The Birth of Jesus Christ - Part 2

Tom Pennington Luke 2:1-7


Last week we began to study what very well may be the most well known passage in all of Scripture except, of course, for John 3:16. It is the simple, yet remarkable record of the birth of Jesus Christ found in Luke 2,.an account we have all read and heard many times. But I hope this morning we'll gain fresh insight into what transpired on that cold December night. Let me read it for you as we begin. Luke 2:1.

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

As I mentioned last week, the theme of this record really is best captured in the words of the apostle Paul in Galatians chapter 4, in verse 4, where he writes, "… when the fullness of the time … [had come,] God sent forth His Son, [to be] born of a woman.…"

It's interesting that Luke here briefly recounts for us the details surrounding Jesus' birth. But he doesn't do so in a way that answers all our curiosities or in a way that plays to our sentimentality; instead Luke records the birth of Christ in a way that is designed to stress one basic fact, and that is, that Jesus' birth perfectly fit the divine plans for the birth of the Messiah. He wants us to see that what happened in fact with Jesus, is a perfect reflection of what God had said would happen when He sent the Messiah, His Son.

Now, last week, we saw that Jesus was born at the right time. The first three verses of this paragraph stress that reality. We considered the time clues that Luke provides here, and I'm not going to rehearse that again. Let me just summarize it for you; if you're interested in sort of the background and support you can go on line and listen to that message. But when we consider the time line and the time clues that Luke gives us we looked at the census that Caesar Augustus ordered in 8 BC and that was executed in Palestine a few years after that. We looked at the dates for Quirinius in Syria, and then we looked outside of Luke at the reality of the death of Herod; we know Herod was alive when Jesus was born and Herod died in the spring of 4 BC.

Now putting all of those factors together, we were able to construct a tight window of time for Jesus' birth. Jesus was likely born in the winter, probably either December of 5 BC or December of 6 BC, and very possibly on December 25th, the date we celebrate it. That is based, by the way, not on the later discussions about Constantine and all of that, but rather on a statement, a crystal clear statement by Apollotius of Rome around the year 200 AD long before all of that erupted with Constantine and the sort of secularization of Christianity in which he said, that Jesus was born on the 25th of December. We can't be sure but it seems very possible. The point however, of these first three verses is: when the fullness of time had come God sent forth His Son, at exactly the right point in human history.

Now, why does Luke spend three verses detailing for us the time frame of the birth of Jesus, and only one verse on the birth itself? Not only to stress the fact that Jesus is in fact a Man of history, that He lived at a particular time in a particular place, but beyond that to show that Jesus was born in the right time frame for Israel's long promised Messiah.

If we had time I'd take you back to Daniel 9, because in Daniel 9:25, the prophet Daniel, writing more than 500 years before Jesus' birth, tells us when Messiah would live on this planet. He says from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, probably the decree in 445 BC, until Messiah, will be 483 years. Now it's a complex computation because they counted the years differently in that time, but put it all together, and you end up with remarkably the year 30 AD, probably at the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem on the beginning of the Passion Week.

The point that Luke is making is clear. Based on the clues that he provides, Jesus was born at exactly the right time in human history, to be the long awaited Messiah.

Today, I want us to see secondly, that Jesus was born not only at the right time, but He was born to the right family. Notice verse 4,

"Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to … Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David," verse 5, "in order to register along with Mary.…" Here we meet the family into which Jesus will be born; Joseph and Mary.

This couple, they were both from the city of Nazareth, which was a town in Jesus' day that had fewer people in it that could be seated in this auditorium. We know very little about Joseph, Jesus' adopted father. We know that he was a carpenter; in Matthew 13:55, they refer to Jesus as the son of a carpenter, meaning Joseph. Now the Greek word for carpenter is a broad word like our English word builder. It can mean carpenter. It can also mean mason or wood worker.

Justin Martyr, writing in the second century, (he was actually a disciple of the apostle John,) he writes that when Jesus was on earth He worked in wood in the sense that He made plows and yokes and other farm implements. That certainly would be appropriate for Nazareth, it's surrounded by farm land; if that's true then of course Joseph would have made those as well, and Jesus simply inherited that business after Joseph's death.

We know also that Joseph was relatively poor. We know that because 40 days after Jesus' birth they take Jesus to the temple to dedicate Him, and they were supposed to offer a lamb. But they didn't have enough money for a lamb, and so as the Old Testament law provided, instead, they offered two birds. So, here's a young couple, just starting out, not much to their name.

The most significant thing about Joseph however, is found at the end of verse 4, and that is he was a direct descendant of David. He was of the house and family of David.

Verse 5 introduces us to the other half of the couple, Mary, who was engaged to Joseph. Now Scripture doesn't tell us how old Mary and Joseph were when they became engaged. If they're like the people of their times, we know that, we know that most men in the Jewish context in the first century were married before the age of 20. We know that most Jewish girls were engaged shortly after puberty, in the years 13 to 15. It's possible that Mary was in her late teens, but it's unlikely.

Now, Mary's name in Greek is often Maria. She was named after Moses' oldest sister, Miriam. We know also about Mary that she was a virgin, that's repeated on a number of occasions, and we know from her Magnificat that she was a devout Old Testament believer, who at 13 or 14 years of age knew the Scripture and had a profoundly deep understanding of the character of God.

Luke also describes her in verse 5 as being engaged. Now Matthew tells us that a few months before this, probably shortly after her third month of pregnancy, Joseph is told in a dream to marry her, that in fact she has not been unfaithful to him in their engagement, and so somewhere after her third month he actually marries her, but here Luke refers to them still in the ninth month as engaged. And I think that's because they were still acting as an engaged couple. They had not come together, and so Luke describes their relationship in that way, they were acting as if they were still merely engaged.

Now, because of the decree of Caesar Augustus back in verse 1, Joseph headed to Bethlehem and he took Mary with him. Have you ever wondered why? I mean why would Joseph take his wife who was nine months pregnant, that far away from her home and family? Well there are several reasons, I think. One of them is that he knew if she delivered while he was gone that she faced the brunt of fresh wave of insults and slander because everyone in that little town knew that she'd become pregnant before they were married. Undoubtedly, as well they had discussed it as a couple and like most young couples, they wanted to be together when she gave birth.

But Luke provides another compelling reason. Notice verse 5, "in order to register …" – Joseph goes to Bethlehem, "in order to register along with Mary.…" The implication both in English and in Greek is that Mary, too, was required by law to be present in Bethlehem for the registration. Historians tell us that women who lived in the Syrian tax region, which is where Israel fell, who were 12 years of age and older, were responsible to pay a poll tax, a sort of head tax, and so they had to register as well.

But I think there's another likely reason, and that's that Mary and Joseph were both Old Testament believers, they were true believers in the true God of Israel, and they knew Mary was about to give birth to the Messiah. They knew the Scriptures well enough to know that the Scripture had prophesied that the Messiah would be born where? In Bethlehem.

So, here you have this young couple, Mary, a young virgin; we know very little about her beyond that, and Joseph the village carpenter, a poor unknown couple, recently engaged, and living in a tiny backwater town called Nazareth. A very unlikely pair to be the parents of the Son of God.

So, why did God choose them? The answer is crystal clear in the announcement of Gabriel to Mary. It was an act of sovereign grace. It wasn't that they were more deserving than anyone else. Certainly, they were true Old Testament believers. They were committed to the God of Israel, but they were sinners. Mary praised God her Savior in her Magnificat. It was an act of sovereign grace, just like is salvation of us. Why? God chose this humble couple so that they wouldn't be the point of the Christmas story but the Child would be.

Now, all of that said, it's important that you understand that Mary and Joseph both did have one essential qualification to be the parents of the Messiah, but it was a qualification they had nothing to do with. It had to do with the family into which they were born. They were both descendants of David. And that was crucial, because without that, Jesus could not be the Messiah.

Go back to 2 Samuel 7 and there you read a promise that God made to David a thousand years before Christ. He said one of your descendants will sit on your throne forever, one of your descendants will be the Messiah. Had to come from the line of David. In fact, look back in Luke 1:32 as Gabriel announces the birth of Jesus to Mary he says this,

He will be great … [your Son will be and He,] … will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.

When you go to the sermons in the book of Acts again and again, the apostles make a big point of the fact that Jesus was in fact a descendant of David. It was crucial. Well Joseph was in the line of David. Look at verse 4, the end of the verse says he had to go to Bethlehem, "… because he was of the house and family of David."

Matthew begins his gospel with these words, "The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David.…" When Gabriel speaks to Joseph in a dream in Matthew 1:20, he says to him, you "… son of David …" This is absolutely crucial. Joseph was a descendant of David, and therefore a legal heir to David's throne. It's through Joseph that Jesus gets the legal right to the throne. But remember, Jesus is technically not Joseph's Son.

And so, it's interesting that when you look at the genealogy in Luke 3, which is Mary's genealogy, guess what? Mary, too, is a descendant of David; not through Solomon, the Son of David that Joseph was, but Mary is a descendant of David through another of David's sons, Nathan. So, not only did Jesus have the legal right to the throne because He was the adopted Son of Joseph, but He also had a physical claim upon the throne, because He was the physical offspring of Mary who was also a descendant of David. That's why Mary had to accompany Joseph to Bethlehem, in order to be register there since she, too, was a direct descendant of David.

Now Luke's point is very clear; Jesus was born to the right family. Jesus had a legitimate claim to the Messianic promises through not one of His parents, but both of His parents. Jesus was born at the right time to the right family.

Thirdly, He was born in the right city. Look at verse 4. "Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David." In Jesus' day Bethlehem was slightly larger than Nazareth but not by much; it was a village of about a thousand people. It's only about five or six miles from the city of Jerusalem. It's really not much of a city. Originally it was called Ephrathah. It has an ancient history. It originally was called Ephrathah, then Bethlehem Ephrathah, and eventually just Bethlehem, which means house of bread.

While it's an ancient city, and it wasn't a very large city, it did have an interesting history, because it was in the city of Bethlehem where Boaz lived, and where Boaz met and married Ruth. And a couple of generations later their most famous descendant was born in Bethlehem and that was David. In fact, in 1 Samuel 20:6 it's called David's City.

So, they leave Nazareth up in Galilee and travel to Bethlehem. The journey is about 90 miles if you take the Trans-Jordan route, that is, if you cross over to the other side, the east side of the Jordan rift and travel down the eastern side of the Jordan River until you get to Jericho, cross back over the Jordan, and then head up to Jerusalem. It's still a route many people take today, 90 miles. It would have taken three days under the best of circumstances, and these were not the best of circumstances. Imagine traveling 90 miles and three days with a woman who is nine months pregnant. And not in a Cadillac Escalade, but on the back of a donkey.

There was another problem that complicated the trip and that was the weather. If it was December as the evidence suggests, the weather was likely both cold and wet. In Israel, the rainy season peaks in December and January; in fact, the average rainfall in the area of Jerusalem and Bethlehem is about 5 inches in both December and January. And the average December temperatures are very similar to our own here in North Texas; the 50's during the day, and the 30's at night. How much easier it would have been for Mary and Joseph to have stayed in Nazareth, to have the Baby there, to be surrounded by family and friends in the community that they knew. But the place of Jesus' birth mattered. God had to get Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. Why? Because 700 years earlier, through the prophet Micah, God had said that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

In fact, turn back to Micah. A little prophet of Micah, one of the minor prophets. And notice what's said in Micah 5:2. This verse by the way was well known in the first century and even Jesus' enemies believed the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem because of this verse. Micah 5:2: "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you …" – God says, this is God speaking – "… From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel." [And this isn't any ordinary ruler because notice,] "His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity." In other words, He has appeared from the beginning. He's existed from the beginning, from eternity. The Messiah is coming, a divine Messiah, but He's going to become human because He will be born, and He will be born in Bethlehem.

Luke wants us to know that Jesus was born in the right place, in the place that God had prophesied, Messiah would be born. And God went to great lengths to make sure that that's where His Son would be born. So, Jesus was born at the right time, He was born to the right family, and He was born in the right city.

Fourthly, Luke explains that Jesus was born in the right circumstances. The circumstances of Jesus' birth were truly extraordinary. Look at verse 5. He went "… to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child." Mary was engaged to Joseph; again, they were technically married, but they were behaving as though they were engaged, and yet she was pregnant. But the child that she's carrying is not her fiancé's, not her now husband; in fact, the writers of the gospel record are crystal clear about this reality.

Turn to Matthew 1. Matthew wants us to understand that Mary was still a virgin when she became pregnant. Even though she's pregnant, she's still a virgin. Look at Matthew 1:18, "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed [or engaged] to Joseph, before they came together …" that's of course is an euphemistic expression, before they came together sexually, before they consummated the marriage, "… she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit."

Now, if you're Joseph what's the conclusion you come to? You know the child's not yours; you assume she's been unfaithful with someone else.

And Joseph … [verse 19] … her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, [publicly] planned to … divorce her … secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is … [not from some guy she's been unfaithful with, but,] of the Holy Spirit. God Himself has created this Child in her womb. She will bear a Son; and you … [will] call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." [Now notice verse 22] … all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through prophet: [Isaiah] "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US."

The circumstances of Jesus' birth, as unbelievably extraordinary and unique as they were, perfectly matched what God had prophesied would occur. A virgin would be with Child, and while she was still a virgin, she would give birth to that Child, and He would be an extraordinary Person. You see, the virgin conception and the virgin birth, that is that Mary was a virgin when she conceived and that she was still a virgin when she actually gave birth to Jesus, those are absolutely crucial doctrines of our faith. Why? Because it fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy; it's what God said. Now I know there's a lot of debate about the Hebrew word "almah" back in Isaiah 7:14; there really is no debate even when you look at that word. But let's close the debate.

When the writers of the Septuagint, long before Jesus, a hundred and fifty years before Jesus, when they translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek, they chose the Greek word that always and only means virgin; no doubt whatsoever. When the inspired writers of the New Testament translate that verse out of its original language into Greek, they always use the Greek word that only and always means virgin. It had to be, because that's what God had prophesied.

You ever ask yourself, why? Why the virgin birth? Okay, it had to be because that's what God had said, but why did God say it?

Why did that have to happen that way? The answer is, because it was the only way. Think about this. If a man and a woman had come together, and a child had been formed, and then Jesus had come, you now got two persons. The virgin birth was the divinely determined means through which the eternal, already existing Son of God could add to Himself full humanity; and to do so without being united to a second human person, but instead be one Person with a divine nature and a human nature.

So, the circumstances of Jesus' birth were truly unique. A young couple engaged to be married with a woman who was a virgin and as a virgin had conceived a child without a man. They're forced to leave their own community, travel 90 miles to Bethlehem in the ninth month of her pregnancy.

Luke picks up the story in verse 6. "While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth." Now Luke doesn't tell us how long they had been in Bethlehem when Jesus was born; I want you to read the Scripture carefully here. Luke does not say, nor does he imply, that Mary went into labor the night they arrived in Bethlehem. Now, I know I'm raining on a lot of Christmas pageants here. That's how the story's normally told.

When I was in the ninth grade, I was in a Christmas pageant, and I played the role of Joseph. And you know I have to tell you that at the time I wasn't a Christian, and the reason I enjoyed playing the role of Joseph was primarily the girl who was playing Mary, 'cause she was really cute. But the way that Christmas pageant, and the way that most Christmas pageants tell the story, Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem at the end of a very long travel day. And when they got there, they discovered that all the other travelers had gotten there earlier and had filled up all the rooms at the local Motel 6.

The truth is, we don't know how long they were in Bethlehem before Mary gave birth. But at some point after they arrived, and the language in verse 6 seems to imply there were probably several days that passed, she went into labor, "… the days were completed for her to give birth."

Jesus was born in exactly the same way that you and I were born. Here's how it's described in verse 7, "And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." With those few magnificent words, Luke captures history's greatest miracle; God incarnate; God in flesh. The eternal second Person of the Trinity stepped out from the light of His eternal existence into the darkness of time and space.

Let's look at it together. Notice Luke calls Jesus, "… her firstborn son …" That's because Mary had at least six other children after Jesus. We're told this both in Matthew's gospel, chapter 13, and in Mark 6:3. Listen to Mark 6:3, speaking of Jesus, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?" Jesus had four younger brothers. Two of them by the way, two of his half-brothers ended up writing books in our New Testament the books of James and Jude. He goes on to say, "Are not His sisters here with us?" The sisters aren't named but clearly there are at least two of them, and perhaps more.

So, Jesus grew up in a home of at least seven children. But Luke's reference here, to Jesus being the firstborn, isn't just a recognition that He had other siblings. There's something more profound than that going on. As the firstborn in that culture, Jesus enjoyed the right of primogeniture; in other words, He had the sole right to everything that belongs to the primary heir, which was always the firstborn son. Now, we've already discovered Joseph really didn't have much to leave Jesus, he didn't have some great estate; instead, what Jesus received as the primary heir of Joseph, was the legal right to the throne of David. It was crucial that He be the firstborn.

Now, although we don't know how long Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem before Jesus was born, we do know that while they were there, there was no typical place for them to stay. Our English text says in those famous words, "… there was no room for them in the inn."

Now what do you think of when you hear the word "inn?" Probably what comes into your mind is some ancient version of a Bed and Breakfast or an ancient motel. There were such lodgings in the ancient world, but when Luke wants to speak of a paid establishment, like our hotel, like an inn in the sense we normally think of that word, he uses a different Greek word than he uses here. He uses the word "pandocheion" is how it's pronounced, "pandocheion." He uses that in Luke 10 when he describes where the Good Samaritan left the man who had fallen among thieves; he left him at a "pandocheion," at a paid establishment like our motel, where the inn-keeper was responsible to care for this man until he recovered.

But that's not the word Luke uses here. Here he uses the word "katalyma," which simply means guest chamber. Now there are two possibilities for what he means by guest chamber. The first is he could be referring to public guest quarters provided by the community; a kind of unmanned hostel. You see Bethlehem was on a major road, and in the ancient world if guests arrived into your city you were responsible to put them up. You can see how if you lived on a major road it might be worth your while to go together with other citizens in your town and provide a temporary lodging that travelers could use, kept them out of your home.

And so, that's what we're describing here, an unmanned man hostel; a simple, two-story structure with primitive rooms on the second floor; these were not uncommon in the ancient world. On the ground floor, the inner court of the ground floor, is where the animals were kept, where the cargo was kept, where the slaves slept. If that's the kind of lodging that Luke has in mind then, there was no place for them in this hostel. Oh, and by the way, if that's what he has in mind, we can't be too hard on the inn keeper, because there probably wasn't one. Again, I hate to rain on the Christmas pageant parade here, but what's likely is that when they arrived the available space in this unmanned hostel had already been taken, possibly by fellow travelers or more likely, by the Romans there to carry out the census.

It's like what happened to my family and to me when we traveled to Mobile after a hurricane happened in Louisiana, we went back for my mother's funeral a few years ago and we couldn't find an open hotel room because they were all taken with government officials and insurance adjusters and so forth; probably very similar situation.

A second possible meaning for the Greek word translated inn the word "katalyma;" not only could it be referring to these sort of public guest quarters created by the community, but it could also be referring to guest quarters in a private home. Listen to how one author describes it, "The view that Joseph and Mary simply arrived late to Bethlehem, and accommodations at the local hotel were full is incorrect. The word translated as inn is the word "katalyma," which is used elsewhere by Luke and is translated as guest chamber or upper room; same word, upper room.

It's not that Joseph and Mary were late to town, but it's that they were rejected by their family. Clearly, they had family members in town as that was the reason they returned to Bethlehem for the census, but there was no room in the guest chamber for a pregnant woman indicates that they chose not to make room for this unwedded mother. The birth of Jesus in a room where animals lived suggests shame and rejection."

Now we can't be sure which of these Luke intends. When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem either the local unmanned hostel was full, or their family's guest quarters were no longer available; quite possibly because Mary had become pregnant before her marriage.

So, where did they stay? Well, apparently, they stayed in a nearby natural cave. Justin Martyr wrote in the second century that Jesus was born in a cave. The "protoevongeleon" in James, also written in the second century, refers to the cave in which Jesus was born. Origin said in his day there was a well-known cave that had long been identified as the place where Jesus was born, and eventually Helena, the mother of Constantine built the Church of the Nativity over that cave.

It seems very likely that that's the spot where Mary gave birth. If you've traveled to Israel, if you've been to Bethlehem, and you've gone down into that series of caves underneath the Church of the Nativity you have most likely been in the very place where our Lord was born.

There are a lot of other details I wish we knew. It's possible that there were women there who helped this young couple; that's possible. But since none are mentioned in any of the texts, it's equally possible that Mary and Joseph dealt with both the birth process and the newborn entirely on their own.

What would they have done? Well, typically in Israel, newborns obviously had their navel cords cut, they were washed with water, and then they were salted, as an antiseptic. After that they would be wrapped tightly in cloths. The wrapping of the arms and the legs of the newborn with strips of cloth was an ancient practice, practiced for hundreds of years to insure the warmth and the security of the baby; in fact in Ezekiel, hundreds, more than 500 years before Jesus, we read this, where God's describing how He found the nation Israel. He says, Ezekiel 16:4, "As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths." His point is, you weren't properly cared for. But of course, Jesus, loved by Mary and Joseph, was. This is how they would have treated Him. It was common.

But what comes next is not common. Look again at verse 7, "… she gave birth to her firstborn son; she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger …" Literally, she laid the baby down to sleep in a feed trough; that's what the word manger means. It's a feed trough. That means Jesus was born in a place where animals were often kept. There's no record, in spite of our carols, that there were animals there at that moment. There may have been, or they may have simply captured this space as a place for them to live during the days they were there in Bethlehem and for her delivery. But it's certainly where animals were often kept.

For a number of years Jerome lived in the adjacent cave to this cave. In fact, that's where he translated the Latin Vulgate, there under the Church of the Nativity. And according to Jerome, the manger described here in Luke 2:7 was still visible in his time. It consisted of a rock groove with plain clay walls in a side cave that was about ten feet by ten feet, a child's room if you will. Certainly, there was only one Newborn in Bethlehem that night who was lying in a stone feed trough carved in a cave that was normally used to shelter animals.

You ever ask yourself, "why?" Why such humble surroundings? I mean, think about it. The God who arranged to have Caesar Augustus, the greatest emperor on the planet at that time, to make sure that he would issue a decree so that His Son would be born in Bethlehem, why does He allow Jesus to be born in such humble, austere surroundings? I think the answer to that question is this; God orchestrated the surroundings in which Jesus was born as a picture of several great spiritual realities. Think about these with me for a moment.

Why those surroundings? Number one, the fact that there was no room for Jesus is a profound picture of the essence of human sin. We read it earlier in John 1, "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him." How unimaginable is that?

The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 53:3 puts it like this, "He was despised and forsaken of men …" And here's the most serious indictment of humanity that's ever been offered, "… and we did not esteem Him." There is the essence of human sin. God reaches out to humanity with His Own beloved Son, and He's not esteemed. He's pushed aside in the business of life.

You see, if you're sitting here this morning and you esteem Jesus, it means you have acknowledged Him as Savior and Lord, you have acknowledged Him for the reason He came. You have committed yourself to follow Him as Lord. But if you don't esteem Jesus, you may come to a Christmas morning service, a Christmas celebration, but you're happy to keep your life to yourself, and live the way you want to live, and do what you want to do, because you don't esteem Jesus. And that is the essence of human sin, and that's what the world did to Jesus on that first Christmas night. And the surroundings pictured it.

There is a second great spiritual reality that we can learn here; the fact that Jesus was born in a stable with absolutely no pageantry, and that He slept His first night in this world in a feed trough is a powerful picture of His amazing condescension, of how far down He had to come. Think about it. He left the splendor and the glory and the brilliance of the presence of God, the praise of the angels, and He came into this world. What better picture could there be of how far down He came, and to leave all of that, and to be born in a cave where animals were usually kept and be laid down in a feed trough. It reminds me of Philippians 2,

… although He existed in the form of God … [in equality with God, He,] "did not regard that equality … a thing to be grasped, [to be held on to, but instead He,] emptied Himself [that is, He was willing to give up all of that glory, and all that He enjoyed, and to empty Himself of the independent exercise of those attributes that were His as God, and to become a man,] taking the form of literally a … [slave, a doulos,' … and being made in the likeness of men.

[That stable, that manger, is a powerful picture of how far down Jesus had to come to save us.]

There's a third spiritual reality taught in those humble surroundings. The circumstances of His birth are also a picture of His unique nature. He was a fully human Child. Luke goes out of his way to make this plain; He had a normal nine-month gestation, and at the end of that nine months, He had a normal birth process just like every one of us. He was a typical helpless infant. He was bathed, He was swaddled, just like every other newborn; but at the same time this Child was also God.

Look back in chapter 1. Luke 1:32. As Gabriel announces Jesus' birth to Mary he says, "He will be great and [He] will be called the Son of the Most High.…"

Look down in verse 35; the angel said, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, [Mary] and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God."

Look at verse 43. When Elizabeth sees Mary, she says, "… how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord … [should] come to me?"

Go over to verse 76. Zacharias, celebrating the birth of his son John the Baptist, he says, "And you, child, … [shall] be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go … [watch this] BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS." Who was he a forerunner for? Jesus. And here He's called the Lord; in fact, he's quoting from Isaiah's prophecy, and in the Hebrew, God's personal name is used. You're going to go before Yahweh to prepare the way for Him.

This Child is fully human, but He's also fully God. In the words of the famous Council of Chalcedon, "Jesus was at once complete in Godhead, and complete in manhood. Truly God, and truly Man. Of one substance with the Father as regards His Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood. Just like God in His deity, just like us in His humanity." And the statement of Chalcedon ends with this, "Like us in all respects, apart from sin." Jesus was and is just like you in His humanity, except for sin; everything you are, He is, but He's also God.

There's one final lesson, one great spiritual reality that we find in the humble surroundings of Jesus' birth, ultimately the human birth of God's eternal Son is an everlasting picture or portrait of God's love for the world, and for you individually and personally. The other passage that is the most famous in Scripture says what? "For God so loved the world …" that is, God loved to such an extent, to such a degree, "… that He … [sent] His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

Let me take you to a passage that's not as well known but says the same thing and in a slightly different way; turn over to 1 John 4; 1 John 4:8, John the apostle says, "… God is love." And then he says in verse 9, "By this the love of God was manifested," or revealed in our case, "that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him." God expressed His love, He manifested His love, by sending His Son into the world. Why? So that, we might live through Him.

We are all, as Paul puts it in another place, "dead in trespasses and sins," spiritually dead, unable to relate to God naturally. But God loved us, and He sent His Son into the world so that we might live, we might have spiritual life, through His Son. How is He going to do that? Notice the next verse, verse 10, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son …" [Here's how He's going to give us life – His Son's going,] "to be the propitiation for our sins." That word "propitiation" means the satisfaction of God's just wrath for our sins.

You see when you and I sin, we violate God's character. We violate His very nature. It's personal. Every time you chose to sin don't think, "Oh this doesn't hurt anybody." It is a personal affront to God, and He is angry with that sin. The Scriptures are very clear. Jesus, again and again, made that clear. But God also loved us, and He sent his Son to be the satisfaction of His just wrath for our sins. You see Jesus was born in order to die in the place of spiritually destitute sinners. What better picture could there be of that, than a stable and a feeding trough.

Martin Luther wrote, "When I am told that God became man, I can follow the idea, but I just do not understand what it means. For what man, if he were God, would humble himself to lie in the feed box of a donkey, or to hang upon a cross? God laid upon Christ the iniquities of us all. This is that ineffable and infinite mercy of God which the slender capacity of man's heart cannot comprehend, much less speak of. That unfathomable depth and burning zeal of God's love toward us, who can sufficiently declare this exceeding goodness of God?"

Listen, if you doubt God's love for you, (you ever tempted to doubt whether or not God loves you individually and personally) look at the manger, and then lift your eyes, and look 33 years in the future when He's full grown, at Jesus hanging on a cross, crying out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" He was forsaken so that we could be accepted. It's amazing what happened in that cave on that first cold December night.

Mark Lowry has captured the irony in the birth of Jesus with these beautiful and familiar words that we sing and hear sung around the Christmas season. Listen to them again with Luke 2 in mind.

Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with His hand? Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kissed your little baby, you kissed the face of God?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations? Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb, and that that little child you're holding, is the great I Am?

What do we celebrate on Tuesday morning? We celebrate the reality that when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, that is under obligation to keep God's Law which He did perfectly, so that He might redeem those who are under the weight and obligation of the Law and guilty before it, and so that we might receive the adoption as sons.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for this wonderful record. We are humbled before it. Luther was so right. Father, how can we in words capture the miracle of that birth?

But Father, I pray You would take my weak attempt to explain it, and that Your Spirit would bring illumination and understanding, and richness to the minds of those who've heard, that those who know and love You might in this Christmas season truly worship and adore their Lord.

And Father, I pray for those here this morning who do not esteem Jesus. They give some token recognition by even being here this morning, but their lives are completely lived for themselves. They have never acknowledged Jesus as Lord. Father, I pray that this would be the Christmas when they would come to understand who He is and that they would properly esteem Him. Like the shepherds and like the wise men, they would be filled with love and adoration and worship, and that their lives would never be the same, that they would become true followers of Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose Name we pray, Amen.