1. Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.
2. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
3. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.
4. 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. 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. 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. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will 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.
This passage from the second chapter of Luke is one of the most familiar passages in all of scripture; even among the unchurched. We seldom hear these verses read other than during the Christmas season, and even Christians probably seldom see them except when they are going through a planned yearly read through the Bible; but this passage is so widely read just during the Christmas season, - in church programs and sermons - special newspaper sections - even on some television programs - that people from every walk of life, Christian or non-Christian are very familiar with this chapter’s cadence and its basic message.
To get a full understanding and feeling for the significance of the events on the night of Christ’s birth though, we have to take a little trip back in time.
Mankind has always looked for the coming of a Redeemer, even since long before there was a Jewish nation. In Genesis 3:15 God promised Adam and Eve that through the seed of the woman, a Savior would come to crush the serpent’s head and save men from sin. From that moment on, the one and only distinction between men, in God’s eyes, has been that they believe that promise and live accordingly, or they do not believe it, and (unfortunately) live accordingly.
At first we only get hints of man’s faith in a specific promise. Abel’s offering of a blood sacrifice over Cain’s unacceptable sacrifice without blood, is one of them.
As the accounts in Genesis unfold, we see other indications that men of God continued to believe in that promise given in the Garden, and we know by these things that the things God said to the first couple in Eden had been carefully preserved and passed down from generation to generation.
When the time finally came for God to repeat His promise, it was to Abraham, who was told that through his descendants all the nations would be blessed.
Abraham understood this promise to mean that he and Sarah would have a son in their old age, and that through that son, God would eventually bring His promised Redeemer.
God’s message seems really obscure to us, but when we give it some thought, we can understand, as Abraham did, that the only way all the nations of the earth could be blessed through one man’s son, is if that One was going to come through that son whose very existence would have a significant impact on all men, everywhere. That could only be the promised Messiah, because the only three things that all men everywhere have in common, are one common ancestor, Adam; and a common infirmity, sin, and one common destiny, death.
Only the Lord’s promised Anointed One could address all three of these issues in a meaningful way.
Abraham received the sign of circumcision and by this sign, became the first Jew. Through him came Isaac, and then Jacob, later known as Israel, and to these men the promises concerning the coming Redeemer were much more pointed and specific.
Through Israel’s prophets in Isaiah, God revealed the facts of His virgin birth. In Micah was revealed that Bethlehem as His birthplace, in Psalms, His priesthood, in Isaiah, rejection by His people, In Zechariah 9, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, betrayal, and more specifically, betrayal for 30 pieces of silver. (See Matthew 27:3-10 and Zechariah 11:12,13)
The prophets tell of the false witnesses at His trials and His silence before those false witnesses, His suffering, crucifixion, piercing (Zech. 12), mocking, His prayer for His enemies from the cross, the soldiers casting lots for His robe, his burial, His resurrection, ascension and second coming; and so on.
Down through history, from the confrontation in the Garden of Eden, to the time God shut Malachi’s mouth, in every generation in verbal declaration and acts of righteousness, we see Christ proclaimed, always in understandable terms. God wasn’t dropping hints. He was providing the only means of escape from a Hell, and He used every method, every opportunity to say “…those who diligently seek Me, will find Me.”
So for all these generations, God’s chosen people, the Jews, and God-fearers from every nation, had looked for the fulfillment of this promise. The Jews had their scriptures which they searched diligently, and Jew and believing Gentile alike had the common resource of prayer; which they used often, to ask, “How long Lord?” “When will the Redeemer come?” For the most part they misunderstood what the mission of that Redeemer would be, and they did not understand the words of the prophets, but still they looked for the Messiah.
The Bible says that in the ‘fullness of time’ God sent His Son, born of a woman. Gabriel had visited Mary and then Joseph, and both had received the news and had acted in obedience to the Word of God; and now, the night of the Savior’s birth had finally come.
Let’s look at four verses in Luke chapter 2, and see first, ; who did the angels come to, and secondly, what their message was, what the message means today.
"And, in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flocks by night."
A common speculation by Bible commentators, and one that probably has plenty of merit, is that shepherds of various different flocks had gathered together into one large group, and were watching their flocks as one in a certain area just outside of Bethlehem. This would have been done for mutual protection against predators and just better over-all security of both sheep and shepherd during the night hours.
But it is very interesting is that in many places in scripture we see God coming to people when in the midst of their routine daily pursuits. It is not when they are already out seeking to do some great thing for mankind; it is not when they are sloughing off and avoiding their daily chores; it is when they are going about minding their own business and fulfilling their normal responsibilities.
When God visited Moses at the burning bush, Moses was tending his father-in-law’s sheep, as usual. When He sent Samuel to anoint David as king, David was found tending his father’s sheep (probably very near the spot where the shepherds were on this night near Bethlehem). When He visited Gideon, Gideon was threshing wheat behind the wine press (Yes, he was hiding in fear from the Midianites, but he was just doing his daily chores, nonetheless). When Jesus called His twelve, He found Peter, Andrew, James and John at their fishing. He found Matthew on the job at his tax table. There are many other examples; but people, if you wonder what you should be doing for God on a daily basis, consider this suggestion. Just go about your daily business. Work to support your family. Do your chores around the house. Remember the needs of the church. And, in the doing of those things, remember to Whom you belong, and be sensitive to the moving of His Spirit on your heart, for spiritual enlightenment, growth, opportunities to share the Lord with others, to do good. He knows right where you are, and if you are truly His, He will use you where He has put you. If you are really submitted to Him, if the time comes that He wants you somewhere else, He’ll call, and you’ll hear, and you’ll go.
In the meantime, go about your daily business, with a spirit of constant prayer in your heart and acknowledgment of His Lordship in your mind and on your lips.
Notice that the angels were not sent to the kings and princes of the region. They were not sent to the mayor of Bethlehem, they were not sent to the village’s businessmen; they were sent to the shepherds. The keepers of the sheep. The watchers, the guardians of the flock.
Folks, we are both the sheep and the shepherds. “We are His people and the sheep of His pasture”, says Psalm 100:3.
Someone may argue that the Psalm refers to the Jews and not to the gentiles, but I would remind them that when Jesus was talking to His Jewish audience He said there were many who were His sheep also, who were not of that fold. His reference was to the gentiles who would come to believe in Him; and we are included in that group.
We are also shepherds, or ‘under-shepherds’ to the Great Shepherd. Jesus made us that, when He gave us the Great Commission. He made us that when, through the words of Paul, He exhorted us to love and care for one another; keeping careful watch to see where we might be of service to one another.
The angels were sent to the shepherds, because they were most in nature like those who would receive Him as the sacrificial Lamb of God, Who would take away the sin of the world.
Now let’s look at their message.
Verse 10-11: “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; for today in the City of David, there has been born for you a savior, sho is Christ the Lord."
Notice that the angel dispels their fear. Verse 9 says that when the angel appeared, and God’s glory shown all around them, they were terribly frightened.
What a wonderful example of our Lord’s compassion. He could have skipped the formalities altogether, and just had the angel yell, “Stop trembling and get yourself to Bethlehem! There’s something there I want you to see and then tell about. I’ll watch the sheep; just go!”
Not our Lord; the King and Ruler of the universe. And His angels are reflections of His glory, and speak only from their Creator’s heart. “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy...”
God’s good news has always been around.
From the announcement God made to Adam and Eve, His good news has always been that a Redeemer would come and save men from their sins.
So this wasn’t ‘new’ news. What made it so good, so full of joy for all the people, was that what God had been promising through the centuries; what His people had been watching and waiting for through the centuries, had become flesh.
"For today, in the City of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
Today, right here in your little community, is the fulfillment of the prophet Micah who said,
"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 of Israel. His goings forth are from long ago from the days of Eternity."
They had watched and waited and prayed and wept and suffered and sacrificed, and now it had happened. It was good news of a great joy.
It was God’s joy. According to the determinate plan of the Triune God from eternity past, the Word had become flesh, and would now go forth to carry out the Father’s will perfectly and completely. He would dwell among men. He would be the light of the world. He would carry the burden of all sin for all time on His Godly shoulders, and when the time was finally come, He would drink completely of the cup of the Father’s wrath against sin, and open the way for all who will to be reconciled to God. It was God’s joy.
It was the joy of the Israelites. Although as a nation they rejected Him, still, He was no less the fulfillment of all their hopes. He was the glory of their nation. He was the very purpose for their existence. He was the vindication for all their suffering and oppression and rejection by other nations throughout the ages. They had kept the Law and they had held dearly to the promises made to their father Abraham, and now they could say, “Emmanuel; God with us”. This news was the joy of the Israelites.
Finally, it was to be our joy - the joy of all people. This brings me to the third point:
Although the Jews in Jesus’ day, and even today, have held that the coming of the Messiah would be for the Jews only, there is a lot of scripture (both Old and New Testaments) that contradicts that theory.
I won’t attempt to list all the passages for you to support that claim, but here are a few examples:
God’s promise to Abraham was that through his son Isaac, all the nations would be blessed. The terms “people” and “nations” throughout scripture, and the designation “Greeks” in the New Testament, are synonymous with the term “Gentiles”.
So when God told Abraham that the ‘nations’ would be blessed, even Abraham understood that the Redeemer would come, not only to the circumcised, but to all everywhere who would believe on Him.
In Matthew 8:11 and Luke 13:29, Jesus is said “...many will come from East and West, and recline at the table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven”.
It is made very clear in the Epistles that the gospel was sent first to God’s chosen people, the Jews, but because of their rejection of the Messiah, the Jewish nation was side-railed and the good news went out to the Gentiles. We are living in the time of the Gentiles now; but when that time is fulfilled, the message will go out again to the Jew, and the Bible says that the whole nation of Israel at that time will be saved, indeed; the gospel is being preached to Israel today, in some cases by Messianic Jews.
Nevertheless, although it is made clear that the gospel was first for the Jew, the abundance of evidence throughout the Bible is that God’s good news of salvation has always been available to the believing heart.
So on the night of the birth of Jesus, before the nation had an opportunity to reject Him, or even be made aware that He had come in the flesh, the angel announces that this good news is of a ‘great joy for all the people.
Later in this same chapter, the godly man Simeon holds the infant Jesus in his hands and calls Him, “...a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people, Israel”.
So, it is our joy too. The good news of Christ’s coming in the flesh was a joy for God, a joy for the waiting nation of Israel, and it is a joy for we who did not know; were not waiting; were not searching; but by God’s marvelous grace, the good news came to us also.
That’s what this good news means today, and here is what it means for YOU today.
The good news is that in the town of Bethlehem of Judea; the birthplace of king David; according to ancient prophecy; on a certain day in history according to God’s eternal plan, a SAVIOR was born, Who was CHRIST, the LORD.
He was SAVIOR: the One who would be the sacrificial Lamb of God to suffer and die and pay for sin.
He was CHRIST: the Anointed One. The One sent from God. The Promised One. The long-awaited Messiah.
He was Lord: King of Kings. The government will rest on His shoulders and
He will reign in justice and mercy forever and ever.
What it means for you today, is that you may have a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory, because God became flesh and dwelt among us. It means that God has identified Himself with you, when you were unable to identify with Him.
It means that you can have joy no matter what circumstances surround you, because the baby in the feeding trough that night was the God of the universe, who came to set you free.
You can have joy, my friend! As you come to realize the real and lasting significance of that night in Bethlehem and its impact on you for eternity, your joy will become full, and it will be a joy that no one can take away.
That one humble birth in Bethlehem was the first step in fulfilling God’s plan for salvation, and because of that one event on that one special night so far away and long ago, you may live now under the sheltering wing of the Almighty, and be assured of a place in His presence for eternity.
So, scripture has a lot to say about joy. Over and over in his epistles, Paul exhorts believers to rejoice, which is to say, “Express joy!” “Be full of joy!” He talks about rejoicing in the midst of tribulation. He talks about the joy that comes from hearing of victories in other believer’s lives.
But this is the Christmas season, let’s focus on this night, and the basis of our joy:
God became flesh and dwelt among us. On that first Christmas night in that little town in Israel, was born for you, a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.
Have you believed on Him from your heart? Has the baby been born there; do you have room in your heart for the One who was given no quarter in the inn? Have you received yourself the wonderful gift? Then He is your joy, believer! He is the provider and fulfillment of your joy, and it is a joy that nothing and no one can take away.
How the angel must have delighted in his assignment that night! “I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people!”
And I bringing this same message to you today. I declare to you, good news, which is to be the greatest source of joy for your hurting, searching heart: In the city of David, a child was born for you! A Savior, Who is Christ, the Lord! Rejoice.