If you feel a little tired after reading this portion of Scripture, there is a reason for that. I don’t know if you realized it or not, but in those 7 verses you traveled almost 3,000 miles.
This passage takes us down the road to Christmas. It is the journey to Jesus, so to speak.
We see here that the nativity of our Lord Jesus began with a long and arduous trek, and we are going along with Mary and Joseph. As a matter of fact, we travel a lot farther than the holy couple because we start out way over there in the city of Rome with Caesar Augustus. We sort of pick up with Joseph and Mary in Nazareth along the way, sort of joining in on their caravan.
But Dr. Luke is a good tour guide to have on this journey. It is good to travel with him because he points out some significant things along the way. In this journey to Jesus we learn quite a bit about God. We learn how God controls the affairs of men, convoluted the expectations of men, and condescends for the salvation of men.
Now I don’t want you to close your eyes because Luke doesn’t spare a second. The site seeing starts right away. As Luke starts us out on the Road to Christmas he begins by showing us God’s absolute control over the affairs of men.
I. God controls the affairs of men
The passage begins in verse 1-2 with the decree of Caesar that a census should be taken. This would be the means that God would use to bring Mary and Joseph to the appointed place of birth.
The Old Testament made it clear that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem. The problem though is that Mary and Joseph had made their home in the city of Nazareth, which was approximately 180 miles away as the crow flies. So, from all human perception, it would seem that the Christ would be born at the right time, but in the wrong place.
There would be only one way the Lord’s Word could be fulfilled: those who were comfortably situated would have to be compelled by a higher authority to take the long and tedious journey. As providence would have it, the Emperor called for a numbering of the people in his kingdom.
Certainly we could marvel at how one man could have such authority over such a vast region. People hop when he says hop. However, what is more amazing is that Caesar is nothing but a pawn in the hand of God. Despite his radical authority, he is still subject to the King of kings. Augustus is really nothing more than the taxi God uses to transport Mary and Joseph. Caesar is merely the means God uses to fulfill the OT prophecy.
Charles Spurgeon also notes that the Emperors of the Roman world were typically not the most virtuous of men. They were heathens and thus they were governed by the passions of their own inclinations. So the reason Caesar called for this census was probably for disingenuous purposes. Perhaps it was simply to horde more money through taxation. It may have very well been decreed simply to spite one of vassal kings who had offended him. This moves Spurgeon to say,
“The Ruler of tempests knows how to rule the perverse spirits of princes. The Lord our God has a bit for the wildest war horse, and a hook for the most terrible leviathan. Autocratical Caesars are but puppets moved with invisible strings."
Indeed, all the affairs of men are governed by God. From the leaf that falls from the tree to the secret plans which are put together within the confines of Caesar’s palace, God is in control. Nothing happens without His personal approval.
But what is beautiful about this passage is that the heathen nations are subservient to God’s church. Even with all their rebellious pursuits, they are the ministers of God for the welfare of God’s people.
What a wonderful thing for us to remember! As we enter into Christmas, we don’t just have to look at the manger to be reminded of God. We can look right into the Oval Office and remember that God is working all things for our good. Our president, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reed, what are they? They are nothing but pawns in the hands of God. The political leaders of our nation, and every other nation for that matter, are ultimately servants of the church. They are our servants!
History is replete with illustrations of this. Do you know why the Reformation was so successful? Why was it that a little monk named Martin Luther not burned at the stake like every other person Rome considered a heretic? The Pope had excommunicated him. The Emperor at that time was a devote Catholic. All things considered, Luther should have been put to death. The problem was the Turks! The Muslims were advancing against the Holy Roman Empire and the Emperor’s attention was directed elsewhere! If he got overly involve in a religious squabble, his kingdom would be compromised. So, in a sense, we owe the Muslim’s a great deal of thanks. God used them to save the church and preserve the faith just as much as He used Luther.
Do you know why the puritan movement was so strong in England? It was partially the doing of King Henry the VIII. The King was no friend of Protestantism. He persecuted them severely. But he was upset that his first wife would not bear him an heir. Because of her being barren he sought to divorce her. The only problem was that the pope would not permit it! So he decided to break with the Roman Catholic Church. The breach with Rome allowed Protestantism to grow more freely in the British realm. Imagine that! Protestantism was able to take deeper root because a king wanted a divorce! It just goes to show that the heads of state are the servants of heaven and the church!
Every day we hear threats of radical Muslim invasions. We hear of increasing tyranny in our nation. The news media may lead with another story about human rights violations in communist China, and another shipment of toxic toys. Such things can be overwhelming if faith is not the lens through which we see life. These are shifts of tectonic proportions. The mighty titans cast their scepters here and there doing all sorts of evil and increasing tyranny in the world. This could be overwhelming to the fleshly eye. Yet we are to understand that, whether their plans may be for good or ill, they are for us and for our eternal welfare. That’s because they are all under God’s omnipotent hand.
So as we look at this passage, let us take comfort in the fact that God controls all of the affairs of men. We have nothing to fear, even from the most powerful people on earth, because God reigns.
While we are on the road to Christmas, let us not only see how God rules over the affairs of men, but let us also see how God convolutes the expectations of men.
II. Convolutes the expectations of men
In verse 4 we are told that Joseph went up from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And verse 5 tells us that his travel companion, Mary, was "with child." I actually like the KJV here. The KJV says that Mary was "great with child." That's more in line with the original. The word in Greek means "swelling." It could also be translated, "Bursting." That's good imagery for a pregnant lady! The idea is that she's late in the last trimester.
And notice what it says about the donkey! Yep, that's right. It doesn't say anything. All the storybooks you've ever read have Mary riding on a donkey while noble Joseph walks along side. But the reality is that she probably waddled to Bethlehem. It cost a lot to purchase a donkey and they were not people of means. So she was footing it too.
Think about that, ladies. Imagine walking to Cincinnati in the last few weeks of your pregnancy!
Now if you would, flip over to Luke 1. Over in Luke 1 the angel announced to Mary that she was to have a son. He said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” The angel goes on to say that she is going to be God’s agent in bringing the long expected Messiah into the world. He would be called great, the Son of the Most High. He would reign over the house of Jacob.
Now you can probably bet that Mary was flying high after that. Sure there might be a little confusion and concern here and there, but the more she thought about that the more her imagination probably took off. Wouldn’t you do the same? If you were to give birth to a king and you found out that you were the favored one of God, how would you react? You might start making big plans.
But where do we find Mary in our passage? We find her in the last term of her pregnancy making what would have been a torturous journey to Bethlehem. We find her in a stable, surrounded by a bunch of animals (and all their associated aromas!). I would assume that wasn’t quite how she thought it would happen.
That’s the irony of this passage. The king was to be born. Mary was God’s favored one. But the circumstances in which they found themselves probably didn’t reflect what they had expected.
Isn’t that God’s way of working though? Doesn’t he always do that? We think things are going to turn out one way—typically it involves living in the lap of luxury and sitting on a pillow of ease. But God takes us in a totally different direction. Our expectations get tossed completely upside-down.
This is what we need to remember though. Our ways are not God’s ways, our thoughts do not always comport with God’s thoughts. He likes to take us down the path of humility and hardship.
The good thing is that you are the favored ones of God. And God has said to you, just like he said to Mary, “I am with you.” He is here today to affirm that promise to you today, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
You might be wondering if that is true or not. Because your circumstances are not exactly the way you want them or the way you like them, you might not think that you are all that favored.
You know, the apostles might have thought the same thing. I remember the stained glass window at the church where I grew up. Each pain of the window presented the way each disciple is said to have died. Let me say that they didn’t die natural deaths. At least two of them were crucified. One was slain with a spear. Another was stoned to death and then beheaded (just in case, I guess). Each of them has a peculiar story about their persecution and ultimate martyrdom. Their circumstances might not have revealed it, but before Jesus pushed them out of the nest he said to them, “Lo, I am with you—even to the end of the age.”
We could look around here and each of us could see in ourselves or in each other different circumstances that are not the best. We could even think of some “worse case scenarios” too. For all practical purposes what we see around us might seem like it negates what we hear God say to us. Our circumstances don’t seem to line up with the promises. Yet this passage is here to remind us that the road that Christ leads us down is not the freshly paved superhighway. His road is full of bumps and surprises.
So remember that God likes to convolute our human expectations. He did that for Mary and Joseph. He did it for the Apostles, and we shouldn’t think that we should be any different.
On our tour through Palestine we can say that we’ve seen some pretty amazing things. We’ve seen God’s power and his wisdom don’t even begin to compare with our own. But the greatest sight is yet to be seen. At the end of this journey we see his infinite love. At the end of this passage we see how God also condescends for the salvation of men.
III. Condescends for the salvation of men
Verse 7 tells us that Jesus was born in a stable and that he was laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.
When we look at this passage we don’t see any pomp or pageantry accompanying Jesus’ birth, do we ? We might even say there isn’t a single comfort that is afforded the babe, except some strips of linen with which he is wrapped. Providence might have been directing these events, but it led him to a stable, which in all likelihood was nothing more than a cave.
What you see here is that Jesus was not afforded any comfort. Certainly nothing becoming of the Son of God. But not even normal favors were given to him!
We might be able to accept the fact that after Mary gives birth to her baby there are no grand ceremonies or lofty exhibitions that would typically be associated with the birth of a king. What is odd though is that the passage ends with the fact that there is no room for them in the inn. The last note is not so much that a baby was born, but that there wasn’t any real place for the baby to be born. What we find is that this journey starts in the regal splendor of Caesar’s palace, but it ends up in nowhere. Literally, no where.
We went through Samaria and Judea, and then passed right through Bethlehem. We didn’t even stop at the stall. Somewhere in that stable we hit a warp of some kind and it sent us out beyond the reaches of earth—to no where. It is amazing too. How would you like it if you went back to your own home town and no one there would take you in? All your friends and family say, “Sorry. No vacancy.”
This, of course, is one of the initial indications of how our Savior would live his entire life. That he was born in a stable laid in a manger reminds us that His life would be a life of lowliness. That our minds are cast to no where reminds us that he would be cast out by his own kind and rejected by men.
Let's not forget that this is Joseph's hometown. He would have had relatives in this area. The whole city would have been filled with his relatives. The innkeeper could have very well been a cousin! That there was no room for them in their own home town reminds us that Jesus came to his own, but his own did not receive him.
What you need to understand is that Jesus, from his first breath, was bearing the wrath and curse of God. We typically associate Christ's bearing the curse of God with the end of his life and his cross. But Jesus suffered for sin every day of his life. The wrath of God is the stripping of all good things from you. Hell is when you find yourself stripped of all God's favors. And that is what Jesus expereinced right there in his infancy. This is his condescending! He took our form and let every good thing be taken from him.
And he did it in order to become your savior. He did it so that he might bear the penalty for your sin and your guilt. With his infant lungs he cries and writhes, and he does so because he feels the agonies that should have fallen upon you.
We might have finished our journey to Bethlehem. But as we turn off the ignition we are reminded that the journey has just begun. This road goes all the way to the cross. Actually, it would not end even there. It would go a little further until he reached another cave.
The funny thing about Christ’s life was that when he was born he temporarily dwelt in a cavern filled with a horrid stench (the stench of animals). Then at the end of his life he temporarily was boarded in another cavern—this one bearing the stench of death.
This was the great condescension of our Lord. He was willing to stoop so low. He was willing to assume human flesh. He was willing to condescend to our nature. And he did it in order to bring everlasting life to his people—the very people who did not want him. Truly this passage gives us a glimpse into how great God’s love for us is.
The question that we can conclude with then is this, where does the road go from there? We began this journey witnessing the majestic power of God as he demonstrated his sovereign control over the mighty kings of the earth. We saw that it took a pathway that didn’t necessarily involve luxury and ease. And our journey ends with the Christ who was rejected by men. But where does it go from here?
Hopefully that won’t be the end. I hope that the Christmas road doesn’t go off to no where. I hope it ends in your heart. That is where God wants it to end. You might not have made room for him before, but he is willing to come. That’s why he came in the first place. That’s why he began the journey. He came so that we might have life and know the God who rules over all. He came that he might take up residence in our heart.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.