Today when we can make international cell-phone calls, send world-wide e-mail, and download images from space on our computers, it's difficult to imagine the impact of one small satellite the size of a basketball. But on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union's launching of Sputnik I, the world's first artificial satellite ushered in the modern Space Age and changed the course of history. Nations rushed to catch up, technological development accelerated, and fear alternated with hope about the meaning of it all for humanity. But events that alter the present and future sometimes occur in obscurity. That was true of the birth of Jesus-just one baby, born to an ordinary couple in a small town. But it changed the course of history. When we open our lives to Christ the Lord and acknowledge Him as our Savior, the course of our future history is changed for time and eternity. The hinge of history is found on the door of a Bethlehem stable. ~Adapted from Daily Bread: October 4, 2007.
The purpose of this Christmas article is to show that the birth of Jesus is a history changing event. We discover this truth in Luke's account of the birth of Jesus recorded in Luke 2:1-7. Although the story is unique to Luke (no other Gospel writer recorded or reported on the events in Luke 2:1-7), yet its message is universal. I would therefore urge all of us to pay careful attention to its refreshing truths. In this article, we will first discuss the providential work of God in verses 1-2. Secondly, we will look at the public response to the decree of Caesar Augustus in verse 3. Thirdly, we will focus on two persons of particular interest to the Christmas story in verses 4-5. Fourth and finally, we will carefully consider the performance of God's purpose in verses 6-7. If you are ready, let's begin now to take a fresh look at the Christmas Story as told by Doctor Luke, one of the inspired Gospel writers.
Providential work of God (Luke 2:1-2)
The story begins by directing our attention to a prominent figure through whom God worked providentially to advance His divine purposes. God providentially orchestrates events in human history in order to fulfill His purposes.
"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 when Quirinius was governor of Syria" Luke 2:1-2 (NASB).
"By providence we mean the continuing action of God by which he preserves in existence the creation which he has brought into being, and guides it to his intended purposes for it...The word carries the connotation of acting prudently or making preparation for the future...Providence may be thought of as having two aspects. One aspect is God's work of preserving his creation in existence, maintaining and sustaining it...The other is God's activity in guiding and directing the course of events to fulfill the purposes which he has in mind."-Erickson: Christian Theology, pp. 387-8.
Now someone says, "the Bible simply says a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, therefore this is all about Caesar Augustus to me. Why are you saying this is about the providence of God?" Well. I'm glad you've asked. Please listen carefully to me. Way back in Daniel 2, God gave King Nebuchadnezzar a dream which He later revealed to Daniel as well as its accurate interpretation. God laid out the course of human history in that dream. Four world empires, namely the Babylonian, Medo-Persia, Greece, and the Roman were to rule until the time of Christ's first coming. Human history precisely followed the course God Himself predicted for it. Babylon's world empire came to an end in the year (find). Now take note of this carefully. The Babylonian world empire was followed, not by the world empire of Greece, but by the world empire of Medo-Persia. The Medo-Persian empire was toppled by Greece, not by the Romans. Greece's world empire was followed by the Roman empire exactly in the order God had predicted. Specifically, at this time in human history, the world was being ruled by Augustus Caesar, the second ruler of the Roman empire. So this passage is not just about Caesar. In fact, it is all about God, the predictor, director, shaper, and controller of human history.
Actually, the season of celebrating our Lord's birth is a time to be reminded of this practical and powerful truth: God is in control of the course of human history and will bring it to an end exactly as He has predicted in His Word. God is in control is therefore an important teaching of the Christmas message. We are living in uncertain and shaky times. But as true believers in Jesus Christ, we must believe that God is in control. He is in charge of world affairs. He is in complete command of the events of the entire universe. My friend, you can count on that.
Now someone says: Is all well and good to say that God is in control of the course of human history. But what about my life? I have all these problems in my life. I'm jobless. I'm homeless. I'm penniless. I'm going through a divorce. I'm going through a terrible time with a rebellious child right now. I'm dealing with a loss in my family. I'm forsaken by my friends and family. Stress in my life is at an all time high. I'm deep in debt. My health is deteriorating. My doctors can't help me. My house is being foreclosed on me. I'm not making any headway in life. I'm stuck in life. I'm broke. In school, no one wants me in there friendship circle. My spouse and I are drifting farther and farther apart. The outlook on my future is grim. Where is God in all these? Is He in control of my life and my circumstances?
Please listen carefully to me now! The God who is in charge of world affairs is also in control of our individual lives and circumstances. Let's not forget that! Why? Oftentimes, it's so easy to believe that God is in control of world history but not of our individual lives and circumstances. Just two months ago, I lost my beloved senior brother, Leonard. Even though I don't understand why he died so suddenly after two days of being taken to the hospital, one thing God impressed on my heart is that He is in control. He is still in charge of my life and circumstances. Now the question to you is: Do you believe that God is not only in control of this big universe, but also of your tiny little world? Do you believe He is charge of the circumstances in your life right now? Will you trust Him? Will you give Him the opportunity to demonstrate to you in a loving way that He has not forgotten about you? Will you give your situation or circumstance over to Him, today and trust Him to work out His purposes in it? Will you give over the control of your life and circumstances to God and watch Him perform His miracle in your life? Whatever your concern, condition, or circumstance, will you tell God, "Dear God, honestly, I don't understand it all. But I choose to believe that You are in control of my life and my circumstance. Please, work out Your gracious and good purpose in my life and circumstance for the praise of Your glory!"
If you are not a believer in Jesus, you first need turn over your life completely to Jesus Christ. You ask how? By simply and sincerely admitting to Jesus that you are a sinner. Accept and believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for you on the cross to pay for your sin debt in full. Acknowledge Jesus as your Lord and Savior of your life today!
Clearly then, we see the amazing providence of God in this passage. The Messiah was to be of the family of David, and to be born in Bethlehem of Judea as revealed in Micah 5:2-5. But the chosen parents lived at Nazareth which is 100 miles from Bethlehem. A decree of Caesar Augustus requires them to go to Bethlehem, just as the child is to be born. Thus God makes the decree of a pagan emperor to be the instrument of fulfilling His divine purposes. The Bible says in Proverbs 21:1 that the king's heart is like
Notice the Bible says "in those days." What days? The days leading to the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, the Shepherd of God's people, the Sustainer of the universe, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Son of David, the Sanctifier of the Church.
Public response to Caesar's decree (Luke 2:3)
Now would you please notice what the Holy Spirit reveals about the public response to the emperor's decree:
"And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city." Luke 2:3 (NASB).
This is incredible. Everyone went to his own city or town to register. They each headed to the place of tribal origin to be enrolled in the census. This was a time of mass movement on portions of three continents, namely Europe, Africa, and Asia. In fact, from the biblical records, Caesar Augustus was the only ruler whose decree resulted in mass movement of people on such an unprecedented or unheard of scale. Nebuchadnezzar didn't have such influence. King Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia did not enjoy such privilege. But God granted Caesar such authority. In this regard, one can say that Caesar Augustus was unique.
And may I say to us, no ruler today has such authority, that is, to make a decree that will result in mass movement on all the continents. Not the queen of England. Not the king of Spain. Not even the president of the world's only superpower, that is, the United States. In fact, I believe that a ruler like Caesar, whose decree was obediently responded to by his subjects-entire population on three continents, will never arise until the Antichrist. His decrees or orders will be responded to by people on seven continent who are not believers in Jesus Christ. It will be incredible.
Persons of particular interest are now brought into focus (Luke 2:4-5)
If I were shooting a movie of this story, I would show the faces of the masses who responded to the decree going to their various destinations on three continents. Then, gradually and slowly, I would make their faces fade from the screen. Using special effects, I would select two faces to appear on the screen. I would then focus the camera on them and show their every move from this point on.
"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" Luke 2:4-5 (NASB).
Joseph and Mary were to travel for 100 miles from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to the city of David, that is, Bethlehem in Judea. Please understand that traveling in those days was a real grind. The rich had their Cadillacs, that is, camels, the upper middle class had their dodge caravans, that is, donkeys, but most folks walked. And since there were no travel agents, auto club maps, or advanced reservations, a traveler or pilgrim ventured from home at his own risk-a big risk indeed.
Now the question arises: How would the shepherds recognize the Savior, who is Christ the Lord? The answer to that question brings us to the point in our where we discover that a sign was given to the shepherds.
Performance of God's purpose (Luke 2:6-7)
The decree of Caesar Augustus brought Joseph and Mary to exactly the right place at exactly the right time.
"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." Luke 2:6-7 (NASB).
While they were there. Where? Bethlehem, which means "house of bread." Someone has said: The hinge of history is found on the door of a Bethlehem stable." Phillips Brooks wrote of Bethlehem, "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.." Hess also penned these poem: "The turning point in history occurred one night in Bethlehem;/ And shepherds spread the glorious news/ The angels had announced."
God does everything beautiful in His time. Just at the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4-5).
David Jeremiah writes:
"A homeless birth was part and parcel of a homeless life."
William MacDonald writes:
"God visited our planet in a Person of a helpless Baby, and in the poverty of an ill-smelling stable. The wonder of it!
Nelson Darby expressed it well:
"He began in a manger, and ended on a cross, and along the way had nowhere to lay His head."
Joseph must have wandered, "Didn't the angel say this Child was of God, and that He'd be a Savior? Then why did tonight turn so badly? How can a Savior be born like this...It just doesn't make sense. But God has always specialized in the extraordinary, and Christmas is a living proof. His understanding is infinite and His ways are immeasurable." -Ron Walters: Letters to Pastors
Ron Walters also writes eloquently:
The Son of God came to this earth in the presence not of world leaders but of animals. He arrived not in a splendid palace or a shrine but in a stable. He came in simplicity, not in extravagance...He chose the stable in order to identify with of us, with the poor and the vulnerable. He entered the stable that you might dwell forever in the palace. Never before had the Eternal become so tiny, the Almighty become so helpless. He had out-muscled Pharaoh's army, but now He was held in Mary's arms. The eyes that see the beginning to the end could hardly open. The God who never slumbers was fast asleep... No Bethlehem had never seen a visitor like that before-nor since for that matter. As God often does, He used a nondescript location to change the world, a typical night to revolutionize time, a band of nameless shepherds to tell the world all they had seen and heard...In nowhere else but Bethlehem was this more clearly demonstrated. Instead of being born in posh Jerusalem, Jesus was birthed in a nondescript suburb. Instead of attending royalty, he was visited by the working class breaking from their midnight sleep patrol. Instead of a royal cradle, He was placed in a feed trough. Instead taking His rightful claim to the throne, He was rushed away to escape execution. How can this be? It didn't make sense. But things rarely make sense in the world-whether it's His birthplace or our workplace yet as in Bethlehem, God is still in control. He doesn't follow our plans our expectations or reasons.
It is the peace Jesus Messiah, the Prince of Peace Himself (Isaiah 9:7) brings to repentant sinners. In other words, to experience true peace in our troubled and tumultuous life on earth, you must have Jesus as your Lord and Savior. We live in a wicked world. In fact, the Lord Jesus Himself predicted that wickedness would indeed increase (Matthew 24:12). However, if you give your life to Jesus, you can know the peace of God. And no one, not even the devil, can steal that peace from your heart. Please mark this well! The people who experience God's peace and upon whom God's favor rest are those who repent of their sins and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Do you want to experience true peace? Do you want God's favor to rest upon your life? Then, you must turn away from your sins and wholeheartedly embrace Jesus in your life today! Jesus is waiting for you to come to Him. Jesus is waiting for to call upon His name. Jesus is waiting for you to confess your need of Him. Jesus is waiting to cleanse you from all your sins. Jesus is waiting to change you into a new creature. For the Bible says, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Remember, our greatest need is a Savior. And God has provided that Savior in the Person of His only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. He is the reason for this season. Please don't leave Him out of your life in this season and the other seasons of your life.