Born In Bethlehem
Luke showed attention to detail by giving a time reference for the birth of Jesus. It was during the reign of Augustus. Augustus was the grand-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar.
As emperor Augustus wanted his subjects listed and taxed. That task fell to the local rulers. In this case, it fell to Quirinius, the governor of Syria, who had authority over Judea.
The people were required to go to their home town for registration, so Joseph took Mary and went to Bethlehem. (4) This was his ancestral town because he was a descendant of David. That is what “of the house and lineage) means.
We see in 1 Samuel 16 the the Lord sent Samuel to Bethlehem to find David and anoint him as king. This chapter refers to David’s father as “Jesse the Bethlehemite”.
Bethlehem is also important because of the prophesy that Jesus would be born there. Micah 5;2 says “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be the ruler of Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
And, it makes sense, that the one who would assume David’s throne forever would be born in David’s town.
Notice that Luke says Mary is Joseph’s betrothed, not his wife. Matthew’s account shows us that Joseph did not have sex with Mary until after the birth of Jesus. (Matthew 1:25)That was necessary for her to be a virgin when Jesus was born.
Joseph does not get a lot of attention in these stories, least of all in Luke. But he was faithful to God and an important figure in these events.
From all outward appearances, Jesus was born in the most humble circumstances. He was born a king who would reign forever. He was born in the city of the most revered king of Israel. But no one would have known from looking. He was born in a stable, wrapped in rags and put to bed in a feeding trough for animals (manger).
As a side note, notice that Luke referred to Jesus as Mary’s “firstborn”. (6) There are some who claim that the people listed as Jesus’ brothers were really cousins and that Mary never had sex and never had other children, being a perpetual virgin. But the use of the term “firstborn” implies there were others born to Mary. She had other sons and daughters. Mark 6:3 lists four brothers and refers to sisters, indicated more than one sister.
For the world to see, he was a peasant born to peasants in a place only the lowest class people would be. A future king, born in a palace, would be heralded with all sorts of ceremony and grandeur. He certainly would not be born among the farm animals.
But, to those to whom God chose to reveal him, Jesus’ birth was shown to be that of the most glorious king ever.
Announced by Angels
The son of a king would be announced by a herald. Likely, his subjects would wait outside the castle for word. When the son was born, a herald would come out of the castle and announce the birth of a son, the future king.
Jesus indeed had a herald. This herald was a glorious angel. He appeared that night to a group of shepherds. (8) He radiated the glory of the Lord so brightly that the shepherds were terrified. (9)
Have you ever wondered why angels do this? Why do they appear in such great glory that men and women are terrified, then tell them not to fear? Why not just appear as normal people? The Bible does not say, but I think it is because God wants to demonstrate his glory and holiness. His glory is so great that sinful men and women cannot stand it. They often fall on their faces. They may call out “woe is me” as Isaiah did, recognizing in terror what it is for a sinful human being to stand in the presence of the Holy God.
God, though holy, extends grace to the sinful human. He says “do not be afraid”. Only through God’s grace an we stand before him without fear, as Revelation’s picture of the final judgment revealed to us.
The angel, acting as a herald, proceeded to deliver the message: the Savior Messiah was born that day in Bethlehem. He even told them how to recognize him, the baby in the manger wrapped in rags.
It is good news of great joy for all people. It is good news, it is the gospel, that Jesus was born as the savior. Salvation brings great joy, for we are freed from the guilt of sin, reconciled to God and made a child of God for eternity.
It was not enough, though, that only one angel should announce the birth of Jesus. After all, he is the firstborn of all creation. And so a multitude of angels appeared with the first angel. They praised God. They said “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased”.
Let us also notice those to whom the angel was sent and to whom the great announcement was made. They were shepherds. They were largely despised by polite society. They slept outdoors with the sheep. They wandered around as they moved the flocks from pasture to pasture. How appropriate it is that the one who would be disposed and rejected by men was first announced to men who were also despised and rejected by their culture.
After hearing the announcement and seeing the angels, the shepherds naturally wanted to go and see the Messiah who had been born. They rushed to Bethlehem and found him. They told Mary and Joseph and those who were around what the angel had told them. In other words, they witnessed. They spread the good news, the gospel as they knew it so far, to others.
And then they rejoiced. they went home, glorifying and praising God all the way home for showing them Jesus, the Messiah, the savior.
Why was Jesus born this way?
First, it was necessary for our salvation. He became human so that he could give his body to death and bodily resurrection. His birth in humble circumstances points us to this truth.
Second, to call us to be like him. Being born human was humiliation for God, for he is infinitely superior to us. He wants us to live a life of humility, giving ourselves for others.