Truths of Christmas
I am sure we all know Luke 2 as well as we know any Scripture reference. In this article, we will not have time to look at this whole chapter, but I want to look at several truths about God revealed in this well-known story.
Luke 2:1 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.)
It came to pass in those days…
This phrase is critical because it tells us that the story of Christmas is not a myth. It did not happen “once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away…” It happened in a very real historical setting.
Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman…
Luke was very concerned about getting the story right. Thus, he was very specific about the time, the place, the setting for the birth of Christ.
In addition, there are the references to…
…Caesar Augustus…Quirinius, governor of Syria…
The mention of these two historical figures reinforces the idea that this story of the birth of Jesus took place in a specific setting.
Augustus was the grandnephew of Julius Caesar and the first Caesar of the united Roman Empire.
His leadership brought about Pax Romana – the Peace of Rome – ending 100 years of civil war, paving the way for the establishment and spread of the church.
This is not the first time that God used a pagan ruler to carry out His purposes.
In the Old Testament, you can read about the decisions and the works of Pharaoh, and of Nebuchadnezzar, and of Cyrus, and of Darius by which God accomplished His perfect will.
At first reading, this looks like the Bible has a glaring error, because Cyrenius did not become governor of Syria until 10-12 years after Jesus’ birth.
Admittedly, this is one of the most difficult passages of the Bible to explain. Many scholars have attempted to do so, and many of them are very convincing.
There is not time or space here within this blog to detail all of those arguments. However, if you would like to read more on the subject, the following links provide some very convincing explanations.
Biblehub.com – There are several commentators (Ellicott, Benson, Barnes, et al) at this site with great explanations.
Preceptaustin.org – This site has long, extensive commentaries on each verse of the Bible and covers the controversy very well.
Luke was so meticulous in his research that it seems very improbable that he could have made such a glaring error. Furthermore, if Luke did make such a tremendous error, it seems that someone during the time period would have called attention to it. The fact is that no one did.
For the Christian, we know that the Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and He certainly does not make mistakes.
Whenever and wherever there appears to be a contradiction or an error in Scripture, we should, by default, acknowledge our own limited knowledge and understanding, and trust that the word of God is true.
The fact is that the circumstances of history brought Joseph and Mary to the place where God intended them to be at this particular point in time, so His eternal purpose was accomplished.
Truth #1: The Bible is inerrant and infallible and worthy of trust in all things historical.
…that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus…
This word “decree” is very important in the story. The root of this word “decree” means to have a thought or an opinion, not determined by facts so much as how the person might be affected by the facts.
When this thought or opinion belongs to a king and is expressed to his loyal subjects, it becomes a statement of authority. The king or ruler then expects his subjects to take whatever actions are required to turn that opinion into a reality.
In this case, Caesar Augustus had a thought…
…that all the world should be taxed (registered).
Caesar had plans for a large number of expensive internal improvements in the kingdom which would require an increase in taxes. Before those taxes could be levied, he would need to have an idea of the population of each province.
In the KJV, this verse says that Caesar called for all the world to be taxed, but in fact what he called for was a census. The word translated “taxed” in the KJV is better translated as “counted” or “registered.”
And Luke tells us that this is exactly what happened…
Luke 2:3 And all went to be taxed (registered), every one into his own city (the city of his birth). 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:)
Bethlehem is located approximately 70 air miles south of Nazareth, and five miles southwest of Jerusalem.
This was the home of Naomi and later of her daughter-in-law, Ruth, the great-grandmother of David, and the place where David was crowned to be king of Israel by Samuel.
Bethlehem was identified by the prophet Micah as the birthplace of the Messiah – the Son of the promise given to Abraham – 800 years before the story in Luke 2.
At the time of Caesar’s decree, Joseph and Mary were living in Nazareth. Yet just in time, the decree – the thoughts and decisions of Caesar which came to be commands – caused both Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem where the prophecy of Micah and the plan and the purposes of God would be fulfilled.
This is the way God gets things done.
God accomplishes His perfect and predetermined will through the willful decisions of men, whether pagan or redeemed.
Truth #2: The willful decision of Caesar to take a census of the Empire was part of God’s eternal plan for the birth of Jesus from before the creation.
Luke 2:5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being gret 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 hi in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
…her firstborn son…
Genetically, this was Mary’s son, not Joseph’s. Joseph was the legal father of Jesus by adoption, but not by conception.
Not only was Luke careful about the historical details of the nativity. He also very carefully guarded the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ.
Once again, the purpose of this article is not to expound in detail about the importance of the virgin birth, but it is one of the major truths revealed in the story.
Truth #3: The virgin birth is critical in understanding that Jesus is the Son of God — the Messiah — God in the flesh — born to be the Savior of the world.
Luke 2:7 …she wrapped him in swaddling clothes…manger
Only the conception of Jesus was miraculous. His birth, as far as the record shows, was typical and normal. Swaddling was a normal procedure. The fact that Mary swaddled Jesus indicates that she was a good mother, prepared for the coming of her first born.
The word means “to strap or wrap with strips.” After making sure that the baby was securely wrapped, Mary laid Him in a manger, most likely one that was borrowed.
Although the words used are not the same, this is, in effect, what happened to Jesus following His death. Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of Jesus in linen cloths and laid Him in a borrowed tomb.
The King of Kings and Lord of Lords came into this world and was laid in a lowly manger – where most likely no man had ever been laid before, and was wrapped with burial clothes provided by someone who loved him very dearly.
Truth #4: The birth of Jesus laid the foundation for the death and the burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Luke 2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
…shepherds…keeping watch over their flock by night…
Many commentators believe that these were no ordinary shepherds, but that they were very special shepherds who had been trained to recognize and care for sheep that were unhurt, undamaged, and unblemished – sheep that were being raised specifically to serve as sacrificial animals in the Temple.
Many also believe that the place near Bethlehem where they tended these sheep was known as Migdal Eder because of the watchtower used by the shepherds who guarded the Temple flock.
Micah 4:8 And thou, O tower of the flock (Migdal Eder), the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.
If the commentaries are correct and these were special shepherds, it helps to explain why the angels would appear to them first at this place.
It was a settled conviction among the Jews that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, and that he was to be revealed from Migdal Eder.
In the Targums, paraphrases of the Old Testament Aramaic, there is added to this verse, “This is the place, where in the last days Messiah shall be revealed.”
Luke 2:9 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.
…an angel of the Lord came upon them…
In most depictions of this scene, the angels are usually shown floating in air, but the words generally refer to someone standing nearby.
The phrase “came upon them” does show that the appearance was totally unexpected.
…and the glory of the Lord shone round about them…
Remember the “decree” by Caesar Augustus from verse 1? His “thought or idea” set the stage for this whole event related to the birth of Christ to take place.
The word “glory” finds its meanings in the same root word as does the word “decree.” The word “glory” and the word “decree” both refer to a thought or an idea.
Caesar thought that all of this was his plan, never realizing that he was in fact carrying out the will and the plan of God.
I will repeat what I wrote earlier: This is the way God gets things done.
God accomplishes His perfect and predetermined will through the willful decisions of men, whether pagan or redeemed.
Refer back to Truth #2.
Let me share with you how J. Hampton Keathley explained this event.
First of all, this angel (and those who were to appear later) were completely encompassed in light – in glory – in the thoughts and the mind of God revealed as light.
This was nothing less than the shekinah, the brilliant white light of God’s glory, which represented the holiness and presence of God in the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament this glory appeared
- to Abraham (Acts 7)
- in the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35)
- in the Temple (I Kings 8:11)
Ezekiel watched as this same glory departed from the Temple because of the disobedience of the people and their lack of repentance (Ezek. 10 – 11).
In essence, God went silent.
And now, after more than 500 years, God’s glory – the visible brilliance that revealed the mind and thoughts of God’s present among His people – has returned.
In the New Testament, in addition to this passage, this same light was seen
- at the transfiguration (Matthew 17)
- by Stephen (Acts 7:55)
- by Paul (Acts 22:6-11)
…and it will be seen by all who are welcome into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:11, 23)
The glory of God – “the celestial splendor in which God sits enthroned and his divine effulgence, dazzling majesty, and radiant glory” – is revealed to shepherds.
Here in this short phrase – the glory of the Lord shone round about them – we see the thoughts and the mind of God – the glory of God – revealed in light.
Just as the glory of God was revealed in the light of Christ in…
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life; and that life was the light of men.
Truth #5: The light of the glory of God gave testimony to the deity of Jesus – that He was God in the flesh — fully God and fully man.
He has come that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly.