Luke 2:1-20 – The Birth of Jesus Christ

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Luke 2:1

  1. Augustus (ruled the Roman Empire from 31 BC to 14 AD) was originally named Octavian and was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. After defeating Mark Antony and Cleopatra, Augustus became by far the most powerful man in the Roman Empire, as evidenced by the fact that he was the first Roman to give himself the title “emperor”.
  2. It is no coincidence that God chooses to send his Son into the world just when Augustus is emperor. God’s timing is perfect. There are many similarities and parallels between Emperor Augustus and Jesus.
    1. After all the Roman wars and civil wars, Augustus introduced the “Pax Romana”; the Roman peace. According to the “Inscription of Priene” (9 BC), Augustus was seen as a “god” and “saviour” who had brought “peace” to the whole world. When this peace was proclaimed, it was called “good news” (gospel).
      1. “It seemed good to the Greeks of Asia, in the opinion of the high priest Apollonius of Menophilus Azanitus: “Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by reason of him” which Asia resolved in Smyrna.” (Priene Inscripton).
      2. It is against this background that Luke writes his Gospel, which must most likely have been seen as some kind of rebellion by the Roman authorities. Going around proclaiming that someone other than the Roman emperor is God, Saviour and Lord were claims that the Roman emperor could hardly tolerate. In other words, writing as Luke does in his Gospel was a life-threatening proposition.
      3. It is true that the Jewish people at this time enjoyed various religious privileges thanks to their coming to the rescue of Julius Caesar when he was in trouble in Egypt. In return, Julius exempted the Jews from Roman military service and made Judaism a permitted religion in the Roman Empire (read more about this in Josephus Jewish Antiquities 14:225-227). The Jewish people were allowed to follow religious customs, although most Roman citizens viewed Jewish monotheism as atheism. Failure to worship the Greco-Roman gods, who were seen as protecting the Roman Empire, was seen as treason. These religious privileges also applied to the first Christians, as long as the Romans considered the Christians to be only a Jewish sect, but as more and more non-Jews became Christians and Christians and Jews went their separate ways a few decades after Jesus, the Christians had big problems with the Roman imperial cult, which led to the Christians being persecuted and murdered for not wanting to worship the emperor or call anyone other than Jesus Lord. Not only that, but in the early 100s Christians were criminalised, making it illegal to profess to be a Christian.
    2. The little defenseless infant born into a poor Jewish family in a Roman suburb stands as a parallel to the mighty Roman emperor. Augustus came with an imposed peace, called saviour, lord and son of God, but Jesus is the real Saviour who now comes into the world to offer real peace, and who offers this for free, by grace.
    3. It is probably no coincidence that God chose this particular time to send his Son into the world. The conditions for spreading the Gospel were very favourable. There was peace in the Roman Empire, travel was fast because the Romans had built 8,000 miles of paved road and 32,000 miles of other roads, a postal system had been established and there was an international language (Koine Greek).
    4. Although the Roman emperor Augustus was the most powerful man in the world at the time and commanded that “the whole world should be taxed”, he was still only a tool in God’s plan. The prophet Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2), and this command forces the pregnant Mary to travel from Nazareth down to Bethlehem, a journey she probably would not have made otherwise.

Luke 2:2

  1. Tax writing was an effective way for the Roman authorities to collect money from ordinary people.
  2. The second tax inscription, at least as Luke mentions, is in Acts 5:37.
  3. Luke’s clear naming of people and places shows us that Luke’s gospel claims to have happened in reality, it is anchored in history. This may seem natural to most believing Bible readers, but there are many who believe that the gospel of Jesus is just made-up fairy tales.
    1. There are many different kinds of texts in the Bible and not all of them claim to be historical. The Psalms, for example, are poetry and should not necessarily be taken literally. For example, when we read in Ps 59:10 that God is a “fortress”, we understand that God is not really a fortress, but we understand (hopefully) the point of the poetic language; that God protects us from our enemies. Luke, on the other hand, anchors his gospel in history, and we should read Luke’s gospel as if what is described actually happened for real.

Luke 2:4-5

  1. Galilee is north of Judea, but they say “up to Judea” because Judea was on a hill.
  2. The distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is about 13 miles, about the same as between Linköping and Jönköping or between Timrå and Örnsköldsvik. Normally, this distance would take about 4 days to walk, but considering that Mary was pregnant, this journey certainly took at least a week.
  3. Mary did not have to go with Joseph to Bethlehem to be taxed, but Joseph probably wanted to remove her from Nazareth to avoid unnecessary gossip among neighbors and acquaintances about why Mary was pregnant even though Joseph and Mary had not yet married.
    1. Luke writes nothing about all the possible troubles Mary faced being pregnant and unmarried, but one can imagine that this must have been a very difficult personal time for Mary, while she was probably very blissful and excited about the miracle that was going on.

Luke 2:7

  1. Many houses in Judea at this time had only one room and then a stable for the animals in a cave under the house. It is possible that it is in such a stable that Joseph and Mary spend the night and give birth to Jesus.
  2. The fact that Luke writes “she gave birth to her firstborn son” shows us that Mary later gave birth to more children (Matt 13:54-56, John 7:5, Gal 1:18-19).

Luke 2:8-9

  1. Some argue that the fact that the shepherds were out at night with their flocks shows that Jesus could not have been born in December because Judea was too cold at this time of year. However, it is not entirely impossible that at this time it was a warm winter and that the shepherds were therefore able to be out with their sheep. But normally shepherds were out with their sheep between March and October.
  2. The sheep that were sacrificed in the temple in Jerusalem were often herded in Bethlehem, so it is not impossible that the shepherds of the sacrificial lambs will now meet the sacrificial lambs of God (John 1:29, Rev 5:6).
  3. Herdsmen were at that time a very despised group of people. Together with the three wise men in Matthew’s Gospel, they contrast the scale of society, both high and low came to praise Jesus when he was born!
    1. It is probably no coincidence that God chooses to announce the coming of the Messiah to representatives of the lowest strata of society; Jesus himself says at a later point: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to the unlearned and lowly. Yes, Father, this was your good will.” (Luke 10:21)

Luke 2:10-11

  1. If I had suddenly seen a UFO, my knees would have been a little shaky to say the least, imagine these shepherds, who, for real, see an angel shining with the glory of the Lord. No wonder they are horrified and terrified. But fortunately for the shepherds, the angel comes with “good news”. The message of Jesus is something positive for all people and we have nothing to fear.
  2. The angel’s message is undeniably very similar to the message that the Roman Empire tried to convey about Emperor Augustus. The difference is, among other things, that Augustus comes with arms in hand and imposes a peace on the people while demanding their money and forcing them to confess the Emperor as God and Lord. Jesus comes as a servant and offers grace and peace to all who desire forgiveness of sins.
  3. Saviour means “saviour” and refers above all to the fact that Jesus is the one who saves us from sin through his death on the cross. All people can be saved from sin and all who believe in Jesus will be (1 John 2:2, John 3:16-17).
    1. The word “savior” is actually in Jesus’ name. Jesus is called “Yeshua” in Hebrew, which is a contraction of the two words “yhwh” (God) and “savior”. So Jesus’ name is “God saves”.
  4. The city of David is Bethlehem (1 Sam 17:12) and the prophet Micah prophesied that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Mic 5:2).
  5. Messiah is Hebrew and means “the anointed one” in English and “Christ” in Greek.
    1. In biblical times, a new king or high priest was anointed with oil when he was installed, similar to the way we crown someone king today (2 Sam 5:3). Jesus is “the anointed one” both in terms of being king and being high priest.
    1. The Jewish people had long waited for the “anointed one” to come and “save” their people (Dan 9:25).
  6. The Lord is one of the strongest confessions of Jesus there is: “Therefore, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9)
    1. Where it says “the Lord” in English, it says “kyrios” in the basic Greek text. Kyrios can mainly refer to 4 different things; “Yahweh (=God), “an owner”, “a boss” and “lord” (as in “sir” in English). In Bible times, the name of God was not usually pronounced “yhwh”. When it said yhwh in Scripture, it read “Adonaj” instead. Adonaj is Hebrew and means “lord” in the same way that “kyrios” means “lord” in Greek. Very often “Lord” refers to “God” when used as a title for Jesus. This can be seen by examining quotes from the Old Testament used about Jesus in the New Testament. For example, Mark quotes Isaiah 40:3 when describing Jesus as “Lord” in Mark 1:3. But in Isaiah 40:3, the basic text reads “yhwh” where Mark writes “Lord”.

Luke 2:12-14

  1. The contrast is great when a mighty and pompous choir of angels sings glory to God for the birth of a baby. God often uses something fragile and small to get his way because then all who witness must realize that it was God who did it or as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But this treasure we have in earthen vessels, that the mighty power may be of God and not come from us.”
    1. In the same way, God can use you to do great things. Even if you are small and weak in comparison to the mission you are given, God can work miracles through you if you enter into his service. But don’t forget to always give God the glory.

Luke 2:15-16

  1. Once again the contrast becomes clear! The shepherds have just heard the angels praise God for the birth of a Savior and now they find this Messiah and Lord in a “manger”.
    1. A crib was a wooden stand for feeding all kinds of animals. The manger was slightly raised to protect the feed from the surrounding droppings of the animals.
    1. This mighty Messiah who will save the whole world turns out to be a fragile little baby lying in a feeding trough surrounded by shit!
  2. It is honourable of the shepherds that they did not turn at the door when they saw this poor and unglamorous sight.
    1. We humans often want to express our faith with grand and fancy churches, with fantastic creeds or with pompous titles, but God has never asked this of us. What God wants from us is that we love God with all our heart and our fellow man as ourselves, then we will fulfil God’s requirements (Luke 10:27).

Luke 2:18

  1. There is a difference between “wondering” and “preserving”. Mary is a model for all believers in that she did not always understand everything about Jesus, but she kept it in her heart.
  2. Just as Mary did, we who are Jesus’ disciples today should continue to “keep” and “ponder” all that Jesus does. We read about Jesus in the Gospels and take to heart all that is written about him and ponder, pray and think about what Jesus did and what it means for us today.
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