Luke 2 may well be the most familiar and beloved portion in Luke’s gospel. Our text tells us the best news in the world, but two factors make it difficult for people to appreciate it.
First, the story is perhaps the most widely known story in history. As a result, many people, even Christians, shrug it off as not being especially exciting or relevant to the problems they are facing.
Second, many people do not realize what dire straits they are in regarding their standing before God and their eternal destiny. So when they read the familiar story that a Savior has been born in the city of Bethlehem, they yawn and say, “That’s nice. What’s for dinner?”
Not seeing their desperate need for salvation, they fail to appreciate the fact that this story is the best news in all of history.
A couple of years ago, Moody Magazine (Jan./Feb., 1996) reported that 49 percent of professing Christians agree that “all good people, whether they consider Jesus Christ to be Savior or not, will live in heaven after they die.” If that opinion is true, then the story of the birth of Jesus may warm your heart and make you feel good. But it won’t be news that you cannot live without.
However, if the Bible is correct in stating that all people have sinned and apart from Christ they are under God’s condemnation, then the news that the Savior has been born is hardly just nice! It is the best news in the world and it is absolutely crucial!
Dr. Luke gives us three glimpses into the early years of the Lord Jesus Christ His birth drew Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem (vv. 1-7). Luke is the only gospel writer who related the events he recorded to world history. His account was addressed to a predominantly Greek audience that would have been interested in and familiar with the political situation.
Augustus Caesar was ruling, but God was in charge, for He used Caesar’s edict to move Mary and Joseph 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfill His Word. Rome took a census every fourteen years for both military and tax purposes, and each Jewish male had to return to the city of his fathers to record his name, occupation, property, and family.
God had promised that the Saviour would be a human, not an angel (Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:16), and a Jew, not a Gentile (Gen. 12:1-3; Num. 24:17). He would be from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), and the family of David (2 Sam. 7:1-17), born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14) in Bethlehem,’ the city of David (Micah 5:2).
All of this occurred just as the Scriptures said, and Caesar unknowingly played an important part.
By the decree of Emperor Augustus, Jesus was born in the very town prophesied for his birth (Micah 5:2), even though his parents did not live there. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because Joseph was descended from the house and family of David.
Old Testament prophets predicted often that the Messiah would be born in David’s royal line.
At this point, Joseph and Mary were engaged. The two were living together, but they abstained from sexual relations until Jesus was born (Matthew 1:24-25).
His birth drew the angels from heaven (vv. 8-14). How amazed the angels must have been when they saw the Creator born as a creature, the Word coming as a speechless baby.
The first announcement of the Messiah’s birth was given by an angel to some anonymous shepherds. By visiting the shepherds, the angel revealed the grace of God toward mankind. Shepherds were really outcasts in Israel. Their work not only made them ceremonially unclean, but it kept them away from the temple for weeks at a time so that they could not be made clean.
First, one angel appeared and gave the glad announcement; and then a chorus of angels joined him and gave an anthem of praise. For the first time in centuries, the glory of God returned to earth.
The Jewish word shalom (peace) means much more than a truce in the battles of life. It means well-being, health, prosperity, security, soundness, and completeness. It has to do more with character than circumstances.
His birth drew the shepherds from the fields (vv. 15-20). The verb found in Luke 2:16 means “found after a search.” The shepherds knew what to look for: a newborn Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And they found Him! They worshiped Him and marveled at God’s grace and goodness and the miracle He had wrought for them.
Consider five aspects of this good news:
1. The good news about Christ the Savior is historically true.
This needs to be emphasized in our day. So many legends have become intertwined with this story that people lump them all together and forget that the birth of Jesus Christ as reported in the Bible is true history.
It makes all the difference in the world. If it’s just a heartwarming legend, you can choose to believe or disbelieve it. It’s your option, based on how it makes you feel. It’s a completely subjective decision, binding on no one.
But if the story is actually happened as reported by Luke, then the birth of Jesus the Savior confronts every person with some objective facts that cannot be shrugged off as personal opinion.
The fact that these events happened as reported means that God exists and that He truly broke into human history in the birth of Jesus in fulfillment of many prophecies. The fact that God actually sent a Savior implies that people without the Savior are alienated from God and desperately need to be reconciled with Him through the forgiveness of their sins.
This means that the relationship between God and His people is not based on an inward experience inside their own heads, but upon a reality that was seen, heard, and authenticated by these witnesses. It means that you don’t just believe in Jesus because it makes you feel warm and happy inside, or because He helps you face life’s problems or because you like the Christian traditions of worship.
It means that you believe the Christian message because it is true.
- The good news about Christ the Savior is based on His unique Person.
The angel states it plainly in verse 11: Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, is the “Savior, who is Christ [Messiah, “Anointed One”] the Lord.”
He is fully man. He was born in the city of David, to descendants of David who were there to register for their taxes. There weren’t any special royal privileges for this baby. They laid Him in a feeding trough. Jesus the Savior assumed full humanity so that He might bear the sins of the human race.
He is fully God. The angel told the shepherds that this one who had been born in Bethlehem was Christ the Lord. We must interpret this title in light of its use in the Old Testament and in light of its context in Luke.
In the Old Testament, the Lord clearly is God, Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! Luke uses the same word in 2:9, where is says that the angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.
Before moving on from this term, Lord, we must note that it implies that Jesus has authority over every person, as well as over all angelic and demonic powers.
Jesus is both Savior and Lord, which means that submitting your entire life to Him is not an option for you to consider adding to the salvation package at some later date. It is demanded by virtue of who He is, the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth!
The title, Christ, especially focuses on the fact that Jesus is the One who fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies about the promised Savior.
Finally, note that this one who was born is the Savior. This implies that those He came to save are lost, alienated from God, under His just condemnation because of their sins.
- The good news about Christ the Savior is for all people, but especially the common person.
God chose shepherds to show that …the good news is for all people, not just for the elite. As Paul told the Corinthians, “Consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
4. The good news about Christ the Savior brings light, then fear, then joy.
The events that happened to those shepherds on that historic night were symbolic of what happens to every person who responds to the good news of Christ the Savior.
First, they were sitting in the darkness of the Judean night. Coming immediately after Zacharias’ prophecy that the Sunrise from on high would “shine upon those who sit in darkness” (1:79), the story of the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night is more than a coincidence. It shows a fulfillment of God’s promise. Their sitting out in that black night is a picture of every human heart without the Savior. We all sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
Then, suddenly, there was a great flash of light. An angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. It was as if a prolonged lightning flash lit up the night sky. But it was more than a physical event. It symbolized what happens to every person when the Holy Spirit illumines his or her darkened heart with the light of the gospel. Whereas before they were blind, now they see. As Isaiah prophesied, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them” (Isa. 9:2).
It’s easy to understand the shepherds’ next response: They were terrified. Sitting in darkness in a deserted place is enough by itself to make you a bit jittery. They were watching their flocks because of the danger of robbers or wolves. So they’re sitting there, kind of on edge, but also fighting drowsiness, when suddenly the sky lights up like the noonday sun, and a man who had not been there seconds before was instantly standing before them, brilliant in his appearance. Instant terror!
But, thankfully, God in His tender mercy does not leave us in that terrifying situation. The angel immediately spoke words of comfort and joy, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy …” (2:10).
5. The good news about Christ the Savior requires a personal response. They responded in several definite ways:
The response of faith. Although the text does not explicitly say that the shepherds responded by faith, it describes their response of faith. They obviously believed the words of the angel or they would not have left their sheep and gone to Bethlehem to see for themselves what the Lord had revealed to them.
The response of proclamation. “When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child” (2:17). It is “good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people” (2:10). The response of praise. “The shepherds went back glorifying and praising God” (2:20).