(1) And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (2) (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) (3) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. (4) And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) (5) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. (6) And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. (7) And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
The events of Luke 2 begin with great majesty, as it tells of Emperor Augustus, at whose feel lay the whole known world, and to whose command obedience was rendered in every country, and city, and village.
It descends to tell of the humble circumstances in which a child was born in one of the obscurest villages in one of his provinces, but it rises again into majesty as it describes the appearance of angels to celebrate the true glory and greatness of this child.
But we may see in the passage a detailed account of that great act of self-renunciation of which the apostle speaks: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet … He became poor.”
Luke first records the lowly circumstances that attended His advent to earth and reveal the true majesty that clothed Him even then.
The Providence Of God
Luke 2:1 A decree from Caesar Augustus. – The providence of God is discovered to us in the Bible, overruling the actions of mankind, and adapting them to ends and purposes of which their authors were little conscious.
The “taxing” by Rome furnished an occasion for drawing this holy pair from their remote home in Nazareth of Galilee to Bethlehem of Judea. Bethlehem had long before been appointed as the place of Messiah’s birth.
Caesar’s Unconscious Obedience to God – The unconscious obedience of Caesar Augustus to the Divine will illustrate the statement in Proverbs 21:1, The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will.
A Testimony To Christ’s Greatness – But not just Caesar. The whole world was moved to bring about the fulfillment of prophecy: this is a testimony to the pre-eminent greatness of Jesus.
The Obedience of Joseph – Luke 4:2, Joseph also went up … to Bethlehem. It had been foretold that Christ would be born in Bethlehem. Yet the fulfillment of the prophecy was not brought about by any human plan. Joseph and Mary went up to Bethlehem in obedience to the emperor’s decree; and, so far as the fulfillment of the prophecy was concerned, were led like the blind by a Divine hand.
Mary, Filled With The Grace of God
Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. (Luke 1:30) – When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he declared “…Hail, thou that art highly favoured.”
In the Greek, this is declared, “you are filled with grace.” Mary was not the fountain from which grace is dispensed to the world, as the Roman Catholic Church declares. John 1:14 clearly tells us that Christ is “full of grace and truth”. Grace and truth come by Jesus Christ and flows from Him, not Mary.
Mary was not the fountain of grace but a vessel filled with grace drawn from the fountain of Christ.
Christ’s Lowly Birth
Swaddling clothes and … a manger – The lowly circumstances connected with the birth of Jesus served two purposes:
- They concealed the great event from the eyes of the thoughtless, sinful world.
- They revealed the Divine condescension – the Son of God, who, though rich, for our sakes became poor. For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. II Cor. 8:9.
The humility of the birth of Christ was characteristic of His whole spirit and life.
We see what sort of beginning the Son of God had ,and in what cradle He was placed. Such was His condition from His birth, because He had taken upon Him our flesh, that He might “empty Himself” (Phil. 2:7) on our account. – Calvin
(8) And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (9) And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. (10) And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (11) For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (12) And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. (13) And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, (14) Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (15) And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. (16) And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. (17) And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. (18) And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (19) But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. (20) And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
The Angel Is The First Evangelist
The herald angels sing – The angels announce the birth of a Saviour, a Messiah and the last name, Lord! This steadily leads the shepherds from the cradle to the crown of wonder and blessing. The announcement of the coming of a Saviour became the foundation for the other two names: Messiah and Lord.
The message they shared is for men! – “To you” first, to Israel; but its message stretches far wider, and includes all mankind.
The angel would not share in the blessing of the Saviour. But there was no envy in his words. He was, however, a conscious non-participant. The Son of God had come to Earth to save MEN from their SINS.
Ch. 4:12; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. – This was the confirming sign for the shepherds. It is a strange sign for identifying one born to such a lofty task. But Christ was born, like all other infants, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Humiliation becomes the sign of majesty, the depth of lowliness, a witness to the height of glory.
The cradle that was too poor for a child of man is fitting for the Son of God.
Ch. 4:13; And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God – The one angel has barely completed his message, as if unable to keep silent any longer, “suddenly” the “multitude of the heavenly host” begins praising God.
The incarnation and the work of Christ are the highest revelations of God. This was the revelation of their song.
The First Gospel Message Preached
The message of good news! – Let us remember, Christianity is not the re-enactment of moral law. The news of salvation is to those who have broken that law.
The angel proclaimed – “Be not afraid”. These first words are to calm their fears. It is not ill news he brings, but good news: they are to be made partakers of a “great joy”.
The message is of great joy! – Nothing is Gospel that is not joy-producing in those who receive it. This joy is so great, it will gladden the heart of every member of their nation and of the human race.
The message is to all people! – To all ages, all nations, all classes, in society. Primarily to the Jew first, but the larger meaning is implied in this message and in the preceding chapter.
The glad tidings are fully unfolded. “Today” there is one born who is “a Saviour” – for the sick, the sinful, the lost, and the perishing. This one is “Christ”, anointed of God to fulfil all the offices signified by priests, prophets, and kings.
The message is the cause of this joy! – The message was the advent of a “Saviour” to save His people from their sins. “Christ” the anointed High Priest of God; “the Lord”, the very incarnation of Jehovah.
The duties that rest upon us are to hear the glad tidings, for it is the best news that could be brought to our knowledge, and to receive the Saviour sent to us from heaven.
The Shepherds Heart
The employment of tending sheep had been honoured in the earlier times of the Jewish people. It was an occupation of Jacob, Moses, and David. But at the time of the birth of Christ, it was looked upon by the Jews with contempt.
The prophets had often made use of it in figurative descriptions of the work of the Messiah, and our Lord frequently spoke of Himself as having that relation to His people which a shepherd has to his flock.
The spiritually-minded hear first – It was necessary that, as Christ had been born into the world, the fact should be communicated to men.
He must be known in order that men might be drawn unto Him. But the annunciation of His advent was not made, in the first instance, to the rulers of the people or to the priests; for, as far as we can judge, both these classes of men were under the influence of worldly thoughts and ambitions. They were blinded to spiritual things.
These shepherds, on the other hand, if we may judge from analogy, belonged to the class of those who were “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”
The character of the others, to whom the special revelations recorded in these first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel were given – of Zacharias, Elisabeth, Simeon, and Anna – justifies our coming to this conclusion.
The Shepherd's Example:
- The example of faith in the message from Heaven.
- The example of obedience to the command to seek the Saviour.
- The example of zeal in communicating to others the glad tidings concerning Jesus.
- The example of attention to present duties; for after adoring their Saviour they returned to the duties of life, with the love of God in their hearts.
The Beginning Of Christian Worship
Luke 2:16; And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
When the shepherds with Joseph and Mary knelt at the manger-cradle, they inaugurated Christian worship, and the communion of the saints: by making known “the saying which was told them concerning this child.” These shepherds became preachers of the gospel!
They received no commission to spread the glad tidings; but doubtless they felt like Peter and John, “we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)
The Saviour is no shadowy, unreal being. He is really born, a real babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, in a definite place, at a definite date in human history. Born, in the lowliest of births, but the loftiest of reasons – the redemption of all mankind! Amen!