Friday, December 23, 2016

The Christmas Story, Day 1

The Christmas Story
Day 1

On today, Saturday, and Sunday we will be temporarily postponing our study of the last five chapters of Isaiah to look at the Christmas story. We're doing this for a couple of reasons. First, as we get so near to Christmas, it's a good idea to pause and think on the birth of Christ. Second, I've ordered quite a bit of materials for our next study which will be on the book of Daniel, and not all of them have arrived yet. I want to make sure we don't finish Isaiah before we are ready to move on into Daniel. 

We begin our study of the second chapter of Luke today. It's going to be a very familiar chapter to most of us but I hope that we will get a fresh look at the birth of our Lord. We are going to take a look at some of the history as well as study the first part of the chapter which involves Joseph and Mary travelling to Bethlehem to be taxed.

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register." (Luke 2:1-3) This particular census was for the purpose of taxation. Israel was under Roman rule in those days and taxation was a method of financing the Roman army, the building of roads, the upkeep of the palace and government buildings, and all the conveniences of their culture. 

Caesar Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar and his real name was Octavian, but he took the name of Caesar (no doubt for the royal honor that came along with it) and added the name of Augustus which means "great" or "magnificent". Caesar Augustus evidently had a high opinion of himself and essentially called himself "Caesar the Great" or "Caesar the Magnificent", as if he were a god. 

His taxation idea was the cause of Joseph and Mary travelling to Bethlehem and the Lord Jesus being born there. This fulfilled the word of God as spoken by the prophet Micah, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2) This was a prophecy about the Messiah, as the Apostle John validates by saying, "Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David's descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" (John 7:42)

"So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child." (Luke 2:4-5) I think we don't give enough credit to Joseph for the godly man he was. In the gospel according to Matthew we learn that when Joseph found out Mary was expecting a baby, he intended to "put her away privately". In those days an engagement was a legally binding contract and it was similar to getting a divorce to break the engagement. Joseph had the right to put Mary away for being pregnant by someone else but being a good man and not willing to bring shame on her, Matthew tells us that he intended to put her away privately. (Matthew 1:19) In other words, he intended to go through the process of breaking the engagement without making any sort of public announcement as to why. He was not going to charge her with being unfaithful. Joseph could have made her a public disgrace but he was too tenderhearted to do such a thing. 

Knowing what was in Joseph's heart, God intervened and sent an angel in a dream to tell Joseph that the baby was fathered by the Holy Spirit and that he had no need to put Mary away. She had not been unfaithful to him. The angel said to Joseph, "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) The name of Jesus means "God saves". What a perfect name for Him, as God in the flesh who takes away our sins! The virgin birth of the Lord Jesus was prophesied by Isaiah who said that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. (Isaiah 7:14)

In the morning Joseph woke up and obeyed the Lord and accepted what the angel had told him. It wasn't going to be an easy road to travel, for all their friends and neighbors probably thought that Joseph and Mary had been together before marriage or else they believed Mary had been intimate with another man. I bet there was all kinds of ugly gossip floating around, with folks speculating who the real father of Jesus was. People would have wondered why Joseph put up with it and raised Jesus as his own son. They would have thought Joseph wasn't much of a man if he was willing to overlook Mary's unfaithfulness. It took a strong and godly man to stand up to this kind of whispering and gossip. Not only was it hurtful to his own pride, but it also dishonored Mary's name by making her sound like a loose woman. But God the Father knew exactly what He was doing when He chose Joseph and Mary to raise His precious Son. It takes faith to go against the flow and obey God when the world is against you. It takes faith to obey God even when it hurts. This is the kind of faith that Mary and Joseph had and I believe this is why God chose them to raise His only Son.

Luke wants to make sure there's no doubt in our minds that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the one promised by God and prophesied by the prophets. His birth was the fulfillment of the Scriptures. If He were just an ordinary man, there's no way Jesus could have arranged His birth to coincide with the word of God predicting He would be born in Bethlehem. It took a taxation law passed by a prideful ruler to bring this about. There's no way Jesus could have arranged being born of the line of David as the Scriptures foretold. It took the will and plan of God to bring this about. There's no way Jesus could have arranged for His mother to be a young unmarried virgin girl as Isaiah prophesied. It took the Holy Spirit to bring this about. All the prophets, speaking hundreds of years before His birth, were speaking by inspiration of God and likely had no idea exactly how God would put all these things together. But God has had a plan in place since the very beginning and things were going to happen exactly the way He intended for them to happen. Whatever God says is as good as done whether it happens next week or a thousand years from now.

In the book of Revelation the Apostle John calls Jesus "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world". (Revelation 13:8) The execution warrant of Jesus was signed at the moment that God created mankind. His death on the cross was certain. The date of His demise was set. Everything that came before that day was going to take place exactly according to God's plan and exactly as foretold by the prophets. This is so there would be no doubt in our minds that Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin, born in a stable in Bethlehem, is the Son of God. Mary and Joseph knew this to be true and could stand up against any gossip or harmful whispers. They had no doubts about the identity of this Child. Neither did the Apostles who risked their lives sharing the gospel with the world. Nor should we have any doubts. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer. 

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