2015 12-20 ‘The First Christmas’ Luke 2 1-20

“The First Christmas”
Luke 2:1-20

I. Introduction
Welcome to our worship service. In a few minutes we’ll turn to The Gospel of Luke and spend some time in one of the most well-known chapters in the entire Bible. In it we will see that God is always in control of both men and events. We can rejoice today because we know whom we serve – a sovereign God who will accomplish His purposes!

In order to set the stage for this morning’s sermon we’ll need to go back to the beginning.
*John 1:1-4
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

Seven hundred years before Luke wrote his gospel, the Prophet Isaiah spoke these words.
Isaiah 9:6
6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah’s prophecy of a child being born and a son being given was fulfilled when God’s Son took on a human body and walked among men.
*John 1:14
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

After the Child Isaiah prophesied was born, lived, died, and accomplished everything that God had sent Him to do, the Apostle Paul reflected on His first coming.
Galatians 4:4
4 But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman…

The fullness of time came when Zacharias’ and Elizabeth’s baby boy, John the Baptist, was about six months old. Then one night in Bethlehem, the city of David, God’s Son came into this world in a most humble manner. It is here, in this morning’s passage in Luke, that we read the most detailed account of Jesus’ birth to be found anywhere in the Scriptures.

As we delve into theses verses this morning, I would ask you to make every effort to focus on Christ and what the Holy Spirit is teaching you. It’s so easy to be overtaken by the dis-tractions of the world at this time of the year.
There are the pageants, social gatherings, cards, decorations, presents, and food. And some-times there are even “white elephant” parties where a plethora of wondrous treasures are lovingly exchanged…or something like that.

But there can be moments of melancholy and sadness too as we recall loved ones who are no longer with us. Add to that the ever-growing disdain of the world for the Lord Jesus and His followers. It can weigh us down. It can discourage the very best of God’s people, but take heart. “In the fullness of time” God moved in human history and kept His promises. He always does, doesn’t He?
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II. Text
*Luke 2:1-20 (Please stand with me in honor of reading God’s Word.)
1 Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census should be taken of all the inhabited earth.
2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 And all were proceeding to register for the census, everyone to his own city.
4 And 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,
5 in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
6 And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.
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.
8 And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people;
11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 “And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
15 And it came about when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds began saying to one another,
“Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”
16 And they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.
17 And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.
18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Luke’s description of Jesus’ birth is brief and to the point. In it we see our sovereign and omnipotent God. He will use anyone and anything to accomplish His eternal purposes. So “in the fullness of time” to quote the Apostle Paul, at the very moment in human history when God chose to bring the Lord Jesus Christ into this world, He moved in the hearts of men and brought about the events that would assure the Baby’s arrival precisely when and precisely where He intended.
*Luke 2:1-3
1 Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census should be taken of all the inhabited earth.
2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3 And all were proceeding to register for the census, everyone to his own city.

Caesar Augustus was actually his title, not his name. It meant “Honored Emperor.” His real name was Gaius Octavius. He was Julius Caesar’s grand-nephew and the most impor-tant and powerful ruler in Roman history. In order for Rome to know how much money they could collect through taxes, they needed people to register. They needed to take a census.

Governments can learn a lot about people by taking a census, can’t they? For example, from the information gained by the last census, the government now knows that Americans drive around 22,000 miles per year and annually consume 31 pounds of cheese. That last one is good for our state, but bad for our cholesterol!

In order to be even more specific about when Jesus’ birth took place, in v. 2 Luke tells us
this census was taken “when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” With those facts in place we know that Jesus was born between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C.

In order to fulfill prophecy, Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem. The Roman decree for a cen-sus saw to it that He would be. Caesar didn’t know it, but he was doing God’s will.
Micah 5:2
2 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”

The only Jewish king who came from Bethlehem was David. But Micah’s prophecy cannot apply to David because it was made more than two hundred years after David’s death. How-
ever, there’s something else in Micah’s prophecy that limits it to only one King. Micah said that the King who goes forth from Bethlehem will come from eternity past. “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” Clearly, Micah’s prophecy can only be referring to Jesus. (back to Luke 2)
*Luke 2:4-5
4 And 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,
5 in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

Joseph’s family was from Bethlehem, so in order to register for the census, he was required to make a four or five day journey of approximately 80 miles south from Nazareth up to Bethlehem, the “City of David.” We don’t usually think of going “up” when we go south. We go “up north” here in Wisconsin. We go “down south” when we go to Florida. But Joseph and Mary went “up south.” Direction was not the issue. Elevation was. Bethlehem is about 750 feet higher in elevation than is Nazareth. So they went “up.”

There are two things about Bethlehem that are worth noting. First, the name “Bethlehem” literally means, “House of Bread.” Could there be a better place from where the Bread of heaven would come? That is what Jesus repeatedly called Himself in John’s gospel.
John 6:41, 48, 51
41 “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.”
48 “I am the bread of life.”
51 “…if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

The second thing worth noting about Bethlehem is that it’s only about five miles from Jeru-salem. Sheep raised to be sacrificed in the temple were raised on the hills surrounding the village. Thus there would always be a sacrificial lamb readily available. Yet the shepherds who cared for those sheep would be the first ones to have the privilege of meeting the Lamb of God, the One who would put an end to the need to sacrifice sheep at all.

Do you see how precisely God orchestrated everything on that first Christmas? The location was significant. What was done there was significant. And Joseph and Mary would be there in time for the prophecies to be fulfilled.
*Luke 2:6-7
6 And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.
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.

The coming of the Son of God to this earth – to be born of a woman, to introduce us to His Father, to die, to be resurrected, and to return to heaven – is the most significant event in human history. But notice how quietly Jesus arrives on that first Christmas. Jesus Christ came into this world in a most ordinary way. Luke doesn’t use any superlatives. He doesn’t exaggerate or embellish. In v. 7 Mary gave birth to her firstborn son.

Since the fifth century the Roman Catholic Church has taught that Mary had no other child-ren. They call this her “perpetual virginity.” But in Matthew 1:25 it says Joseph “kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son.” We know from other Scripture that Mary had other children. All four gospel writers mention them. Matthew 13:35 even names them. (James, Joseph, Simon, Jude) So Dr. Luke, ever the precise and careful historian, points out that Jesus is Mary’s “firstborn.”

The night Jesus was born into this world “there was no room…at the inn.” The innkeeper (assuming there was one) gets a lot of bad press for someone who’s not even mentioned in the Bible. He has become the scapegoat of the Christmas story and is usually depicted as some sort of villain. In any case, there wasn’t any room.
*Luke 2:8-10
8 And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people;

In the first century shepherds were among the least respected most maligned people in all of Israel. Isn’t it interesting that God chose shepherds to hear the first announcement of Jesus’ birth? Is there anyone else on earth who would be more excited about the birth of a Lamb?

If v. 8 gives you the impression of a calm and quiet night pretty much like any other, v. 9 abruptly shatters that picture. While the angel who bursts forth upon the shepherds is not named here, it would seem to be Gabriel. He had already visited both Elizabeth and Mary back in Luke 1.
His presence and the blaze of light that accompanied him would have been stunning. Sud-denly and unexpectedly finding yourself in the presence of such a supernatural being would engender that kind of response in any one of us, wouldn’t it?

But remember that both the glory of God and His presence are manifested by brilliant or even blinding light again and again in the Scriptures. In the OT God’s glory was also seen in the pillars of cloud and fire that led Israel in the wilderness.
In the NT Peter and John witnessed God’s glory at Jesus’ transfiguration. Here are two other examples…
Exodus 40:34-35 (When God indwelled the tabernacle.)
34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
Matthew 24:30 (Jesus speaking of His own return.)
30 “…the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.”

So when Luke 2:9 tells us that the glory of God was manifest on the first Christmas, we should not be surprised. Neither should we be surprised that awe, fear, and an acute aware-ness of personal sinfulness are the normal responses to appearances of God’s glory.
Isaiah 6:4-5 (When Isaiah was brought into God’s presence to be commissioned.)
4 …the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.
5 Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Luke 5:8 (When Peter witnessed one of Jesus’ early miracles.)
8 But when Simon Peter saw (it), he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

The angel seems to restore a modicum of calm when he tells the shepherds not to fear. His message is not one of judgment or of pending doom. On the contrary, he has good news for them, the good news of the gospel. God has sent His Son to earth, and all who will turn to Him will have their sins forgiven. His birth means “great joy” for those who will believe.
*Luke 2:11-12
11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 “And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.”

In v. 11 there are three very important words and one very important truth. The first word is “Savior.” The angel doesn’t tell the shepherds the Baby’s name. He only says, “Savior.” That’s one of Jesus’ titles. The name “Jesus” literally means, “The Lord is salvation.”
Matthew 1:21 (The angel speaking to Joseph.)
21 “And (Mary) will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.”

Please hear me carefully. This is important. Jesus did not come into this world to make our lives better, or to give us good health, or to make us rich, or to make us happy. You may enjoy some of those things, but again, that’s not why He came. Jesus came to this earth to save sinners from eternity in hell! He came to save the lost. He said so Himself.
Luke 19:10
10 “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

The second important word in Luke 1:11 is “Christ.” It is not Jesus’ last name. Just like “Savior,” it is also a title. It’s the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Messiah.” It means, “The anointed one.” God has anointed Jesus to three exalted and eternal positions. He is Prophet. He is Priest. He is Lord.

That leads us to the third title. Jesus Christ is Lord of lords. When the word “lord” is writ-ten using a lower case “l” it’s simply a term of respect. But in this context, when used with a capital “L” it means far more. The Greek word is “Kurios.” That is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Yahweh.” That is God’s name.
*Exodus 3:13-15 (When God called Moses to lead Israel out of bondage in Egypt.)
13 Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?”
14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
15 And God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever…”

In OT Hebrew, “I AM WHO I AM” is “Yahweh.” In NT Greek, “Yahweh” is “Kurios.” In English, “Kurios” is “Lord” with a capital “L.” The point that must not be missed is this: The Lord Jesus Christ is God in human flesh! His deity must not be denied!
Matthew 1:23
23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God (is) with us.”

I said there were three important words (Savior, Christ, and Lord) and one important truth in Luke 2:11. Look again at the verse. This Baby “has been born for you.” He was born to save you! But that cannot happen unless you change your mind about who He is. (That’s repentance!) Come to Him. Confess your sin. Put your faith in Him and in Him alone. Only Christ can save your soul. The reason Jesus can save is because of who He is.
Romans 10:9
9 …if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord (Kurios – Yahweh – I AM WHO I AM), and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be
saved.

It’s Christmas! “…for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
*Luke 2:13-14
13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

The term “multitude of the heavenly host” isn’t specific, but their number must be great. What do they look like? How do they sound? Are they speaking? Are they singing? Are they flying? We do know one thing they’re doing. They are doing what angels do. They are praising God. One example of such praise is found in The Book of Revelation.
Revelation 7:11-12
11 And all the angels…fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God,
12 saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen!”

By the way, “Glory to God in the highest” in Luke 2:14 is the English translation of the well-known Latin “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” There is yet another important truth in Luke 2:14. This verse is often misquoted. How many times have you heard it said this way? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”? That makes it sound like peace and good will is directed toward all men. But that is misleading.

Neither the translators of the KJV or the NKJV did us a favor here. The literal translation from the Greek is this: “…peace among men of His good pleasure.” That phrase means “…those upon whom God’s favor rests.” The NIV actually says it that way. Three other major translations (NASB – ESV – Amplified Bible) get it right as well, using the term, “peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

You and I can learn a lot from the shepherds in Luke 2. In vv. 15-20 we will see that their response to the good news was the right one. They’re a great model for all of us to follow.
They heard the good news. The truth got their attention.
They believed the good news. The truth penetrated their hearts.
They told others the good news. The truth went out from among them.

In Luke 2:11-14 the shepherds heard the good news of the gospel and saw the sky filled with angels praising God. How would they react? What would they do?
*Luke 2:15-18, 20
15 And it came about when the angels had gone away from them into heaven,
that the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethle-hem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.”
16 And they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.
17 And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child.
18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. (skip to v. 20)
20 And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

What did the shepherds do? They rushed into town. They knew what they were looking for. They’d heard the gospel. Their Savior, Christ the Lord, was here and they wanted to see Him. It isn’t complicated. They heard the truth, they believed it, and they acted on it. They didn’t try “to clean up their act” before they went to Him. They just went.

In Luke 2:15-16 the shepherds believed and they received. That is salvation in Jesus Christ! Look at what they did next. In vv. 17-18, 20 we see that they told others all about what they had heard and seen. These shepherds had been given a unique privilege. God had shown them amazing things. They had seen God’s salvation right before their very eyes. They told others. And v. 20 tells us they glorified God. But what did Mary do?
*Luke 2:19
19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

I suspect that Mary had all the thoughts that any new mother has. But she had more to think about. The angel Gabriel had told her that her Baby was the Son of God. She knew she had given birth to Israel’s Messiah. But there was more that she couldn’t have imagined. Later, Simeon would tell her…
Luke 2:34-35
34 “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed –
35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul…”

But that’s for another day. Right now it’s Christmas. Our Savior is here. Like the shep-herds on those hills outside of Bethlehem, let us rejoice and glorify God.
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III. Conclusion
On the night Jesus was born into this world, “there was no room…at the inn.” So what has changed in today’s world? Do you have room for Him? The problem is that many people are indifferent. They don’t hold any outright or conscious animosity toward Jesus. They just don’t have any room for Him. They might care about their church and their religious activities, but they don’t care about Him.
Then there are some people who are ignorant. They aren’t stupid. They just don’t know. They miss the true message of Christmas because they don’t know it.

Some people are just too involved. Caught up in the midst of their frantic activity, they’re overwhelmed by the urgent and miss the important.

Finally, some people are too indulgent. They’re so busy chasing after the things of this world they forget that it is temporary.
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III. Conclusion
Listen, Jesus is still looking for space today. He wants to take up residence in your heart. Do you have room for Him? In the hymn, “Joy to the World,” it says, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” Have you done that?

Or are you too steeped in the philosophies of this world? Are you weighed down with sel-fish pursuits? Are you so involved with seeking after pleasure that you don’t have room for the baby Jesus? Do you remember what He said to the church at Laodicea? They were so full of the world that they had no room for Him. Jesus was literally on the outside looking in. I tell you plainly, regardless of what such a place may call itself, it is not a church!
Revelation 3:20
20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him…”

Don’t turn Jesus away. The day will come when He will no longer knock at the door of your heart. Then it will be too late. I implore you to invite Him in while you still can.
*John 1:10-12
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.
11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name…

If you have not opened the door of your heart and received Jesus, it is my prayer that you do so today. God has orchestrated everything. He has put it all in place. Jesus was born, He lived, He died, He was resurrected, He ascended to heaven, and is even now preparing to return to receive His own to Himself. God has put every detail in place. All you need to do is humble yourself, repent, confess your sins, and receive Him. Open your heart and invite Him in. He’s waiting…

~ Pray ~

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