Big News in Little Bethlehem

Born in Bethlehem: Christmas 2018  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:47
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The birth of Jesus the Christ in Bethlehem of Judea demonstrates God's sovereignty and glory in history, and it is news that alters the course of human history, and it can change your life and eternal destiny.

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Big News in Little Bethlehem - Luke 2:1-20

Where we just left off in 1 Samuel, Samuel went to Bethlehem to sacrifice… oh, and to anoint the one who would be the next king over God’s chosen people. He was Jesse’s youngest son who kept watch over the family’s sheep. His name was David.
God’s selection of David as future king put the small village of Bethlehem on the map. (But even that became small potatoes for what would happen there later in history.) And that’s where we are today in the Bible, in Luke chapter 2, which tells of the birth of Jesus the Christ in Bethlehem of Judea.
Where’s the most important place you’ve ever been, or the most substantially influential person you’ve ever met? Imagine being in the sandals of these shepherds on this night in and near Bethlehem!
And as we consider this text today, here’s what I’m hoping to emphasize for you to take away:
The sovereignty and glory of God in history
The bigness of this news not only at a point in history but especially for your life even today
Luke 2:8–12 ESV
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
(v. 8 says) In the same region… - As what? Bethlehem. How did we get here again? (Let’s back up a quickly review a few key points in vv. 1-7)

The Sovereignty of God in History

We began our service this morning reading that portion of this passage where Luke gives context for Theophilus (and by extension all future readers) to the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. - God sovereignly orchestrated the historical events, the family lineage, and the timing... all the way down to the necessity of Joseph making the journey to Bethlehem.
Historical backdrop - If we aren’t spiritually attentive in these first 7 verses, it could all feel pretty secular: “Well, you know so”... Emperor Caesar Augustus had begun this process of registering the inhabitants of all the known world in the Roman Empire. And Quirinius is named, whom we know later officially ruled as “governor” (in AD 6-9) over the region that included Judea. We know Luke is well aware of this bc he addresses the impact of a later census that causes more of a negative stir amongst Jews bc they don’t like the forced taxation - Acts 5:37. At this earlier date (between 4-6 BC), we know Quirinius was already an “official” (which can be another translation of the word) in the Roman court, so from Luke’s description (who is a careful historian), we can surmise that Quirinius was likely responsible for the administration of this earlier census as well. Of course too this is undoubtedly helpful and more readily clear to Theophilus than to us.
Jewish context - 1. Jews couldn’t be conscripted into the Roman military (they had been granted exemption), but they could still be taxed, like everyone in the Roman Empire. Rather than the normal method of Roman registration (counting people where they resided), it seems that the Jews were allowed to use their own custom for the census, registering their inhabitants according to their ancestral roots. 2. That Luke describes as the impetus for Joseph needing to register in Bethlehem, the hometown of his ancestral lineage, going straight back to David. And probably because Mary is so close to delivery, not knowing exactly how long this registration process will take (and with all the added awkwardness/difficulty of the fact that she is actually pregnant and hasn’t been with Joseph yet), he isn’t about to leave her behind. So they journey some 60-70 miles south from Nazareth (as many as 90 miles if they went around Samaria), up into the hills, over undoubtedly rough terrain, all the way past Jerusalem (which became known as the city of David) to the town of Bethlehem (which was the hometown of David)—the word “city” can be translated either way…
(The other context that Luke gives in addition to the historical backdrop and giving Jewish context… is that he describes the astonishingly humble setting for his birth.)
Humble setting - We can surmise that because the small town was so busy because of the registration, there isn’t any readily available place indoors to house them (whether “inn” (katalumati) is meant to be understood as a public shelter or a more formal inn,… there’s no room there). From the few, simple, unadorned details we learn that Jesus was laid in a manger (a feeding trough). So whether Joseph had been unable to find any shelter and the birth took place outdoors or whether the best he could find was a stable or a cave (a grotto) used for the same purposes, we don’t know for sure. But we absolutely know that these were humble, humble circumstances.
Instead of us reading this as a merely secular backdrop, Luke gives evidence to the sovereignty of God over even the decisions of Rome’s emperor, the timing of carrying out the census mandate, and so on. And then also the situation of Joseph needing to go be registered is precisely when Mary is very near her due date with this child. Finally, it is the sovereign direction and choosing of God that the Messiah should be born in humble circumstances.
So Jesus is born in humility at the precise time and location of God’s specific choosing, and nobody is around to witness and celebrate this momentous occasion… on earth anyways. But that changes when the celebration going on in heaven interrupts the calm night of some shepherds taking care of their sheep out on the Judean hillside. An angel from the Lord appears and says that he is…

Evangelizing Great Joy for All the People

First these shepherds have a natural reaction to the appearance of the supernatural. - Into their night shines the light, the splendor of the glory of God, and there appears an angelic figure. (It’s not as though they wonder who he is and where he came from. They know.) Naturally, they respond in fear.
But the angel reassures them that what he evangelizes to them, euangelizomai (he proclaims to them good news)… is of great joy that will be for all the people. - Why is it such a great message of joy to them and to all who hear it? Who was this just born in Bethlehem?
Today your Savior is born, who is Christ (the Messiah)… the Lord.
Savior means deliverer, rescuer. And it’s actually a title for Jesus that isn’t super common in biblical literature, but it’s used here by the angelic messenger. - These shepherds, as Jews, were quite familiar with the concept of God raising up people to provide deliverance. It had been a common theme in their past for God to raise someone up to deliver, to rescue, especially during the period from Moses through the time of the Judges.
Not to mention that any god-fearing Jew would have known that they were still awaiting the coming Messiah, the one prophesied about who had not yet come to deliver them… the promised Anointed One of God. - Because of their inclusion in the historical and religious heritage of Israel, these shepherds might likely have perceived themselves as ones who needed a Savior, a Messiah. And he would yet be more than they anticipated: Political salvation was far from their greatest need (or ours). He would “save his people from their sins”! (which was in fact the very meaning of the name Joseph was instructed to give him Mt 1:21). - It makes me wonder if all of us here this morning have a good understanding of our greatest need. Do we realize that we need rescuing? Do we understand the state that we are in because of sin? - Or even on the other side of that for those of us who, by grace through faith, God has allowed to see the depth of our need and to receive Christ as our only means of deliverance and to be given spiritual life. Do we live in dependence on our Savior, our Lord (rather than daily behaving as if we no longer need God’s ongoing intervention to do in us what we cannot do ourselves!)?
This one who is spoken of as Savior and Christ is not your average human deliverer. He’s even more than the human Messiah that they’ve been expecting. He is Lord. It is the Lord God himself incarnate in human form! - “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) - (which undoubtedly isn’t fully grasped by the shepherds nor yet even by Mary (v.19) nor immediately by others who were with Jesus on a regular basis in the time of his public ministry.
So we are meant to hear loud and clear from Luke that this babe who was just born and laid in a manger in Bethlehem is unique: He is the Savior we need. He is the promised Messiah who was to come. And He is God incarnate—He is the Lord.
If it wasn’t enough that first they meet an angel… and hear this mind-blowing message… now they experience a whole massive choir of angels singing God’s praises!
Luke 2:13–14 ESV
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The Glory of God in His Saving Work

The first result of the coming of the Son to earth is… Glory (Praise) to God in the highest (in the heavens) - Whatever other benefits and consequences there are to this monumental event in history, the central one always was and always will be this: Glory to God in the highest. The praise of God is forever the ultimate aim of all things, and clearly the glory of God is the goal and result in the life, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus.
And to us here on earth, it means peace for those who find themselves as objects of his favor.
This (both parts of this declaration by the angels) is far from the generic tip your hat to God and “joy and peace to everybody” that seems to pervade the Christmas season in the broader culture. The supposed Christmas spirit gets watered down to “God bless us everyone.” We talk of doing good and being generous at this time of year but without a clear understanding as to why. We talk of men living at peace with one another instead of the fact that Christ came so that men might have peace with God, because without his intervention we are at enmity with our Maker.
And that’s the big problem at this time of year with the whole lump of weak sauce Christmas jubilee, even some of which includes celebrating the birth of Jesus. The birth of Jesus can’t be separated from the purpose for which he came, and that purpose can’t be separated from our NEED for him to come, and that need can’t be separated from the God over all to whom we must give an account!
Christ’s coming is good news of great joy to all people… but according to what the angels say in their corporate proclamation, those who benefit by it, who are granted peace with God are those who are the objects of his good pleasure. God is glorified in choosing for himself those who are the objects of his good pleasure to whom he grants saving faith and peace with him. - And responding to God through faith in Christ is truly great cause for rejoicing:
Romans 5:1–2 ESV
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Back to our shepherds… what was heavenly announcement and heavenly praise now becomes to them earthly confirmation as they go to Bethlehem in search of the newborn child in the specific circumstance described to them (in v. 12).
Luke 2:15–20 ESV
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The Shepherds Give Glory to God

(And this is good application for us as well.)
They give glory to God by their responsiveness to go and find the child.
The shepherds know the one sign they are given, that they’ll find the baby lying in a manger, is unique enough that if they search for him they will find him. - So they say, “Let’s go to Bethlehem” and they do so with haste, finding Mary and Joseph and yep… sure enough, a baby in a manger of all things.
They give glory to God by sharing the news that they were told concerning the child.
Doing so generated at least two good results on earth (18&19)
They continue giving glory to God through their praise to him for the fact that he specifically blessed them to be involved in this momentous occasion. - Everybody can sing Christmas songs. But some sing Christmas carols from libs that praise the glory of God in his sovereign action to bless THEM with the good news of Christ’s coming!

Incomparable Good News for Your Life

The birth of Jesus the Christ in Bethlehem of Judea is very nearly at the pinnacle of demonstrating God's sovereignty and glory in history, and it is news that can change your life and eternal destiny.
Not only is it great news for us that the almighty and good God is sovereign (and that IS good news), but it is incomparably good news to you that God the Son came to earth and was born as a man to deliver us from our impossible situation of separation from God because of our sin.
And it is indeed good news that… Your place in history can be linked directly to God’s central purpose in history… your story interwoven with Christ’s coming, your purpose for today and tomorrow being caught up in “Glory to God in the Highest”… The Savior came… He is Christ the Lord. He became my Lord when I saw him through the eyes of faith… And everything has changed ever since. (If you can’t say that in the past tense, then you can begin that journey today! Respond in faith to the Savior, the Lord who died for your sin and rose again from the dead so that you can belong to God!)
I want my life to bring glory to God, to be a living testimony of evangelizing the great joy that it is to have access to God himself through Jesus. - Don’t you just want to be like a humble shepherd keeping up faithfully with your watch (what God had given you to do) and to respond in faith to God, to commit yourself to doing what this God has revealed, to share the amazing news that you have been given, and to praise his glory from a thankful heart? I know I do. What a good reminder.
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