Good News and Great Joy! (Luke 2:1-20)

  • Dwight Eisenhower said, “Good leadership is getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it”
  • some people have an extraordinary ability to get others involved in getting things done
  • one person calls it “planting a seed in someone else’s pot”
  • that “someone else” then waters it, helps it grow, and brings it to fruition – and usually gets the credit for it
  • it seems that this is common practice with God
  • God gets people to do what he wants them to do, because they want to do it – and they have no idea what’s happening!
  • we find an example of this in Acts 4
  • (Acts 4:24) When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.
  • (Acts 4:27) Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.
  • (Acts 4:28) They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
  • I read in Proverbs 21:1:
  • (Proverbs 21:1) The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.
  • God the Father is working behind the scenes, orchestrating the events that culminated in Jesus’ death and resurrection
  • that’s God’s characteristic way of working
  • he is behind everything, invisible to us
  • Luke chapter 2 is the most familiar New Testament text about the birth of Christ
  • it gives us an excellent view of God’s way of doing things behind the scenes – invisible, but very much in control
  • this classic narrative of Christ’s birth discloses several truths about God that are a source of great joy to humankind
  • FIRST, GOD CONTROLS HISTORY
  • God uses unwitting human agents to do his bidding
  • Christ’s birth proved that God is in charge
  • (Luke 2:1) In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
  • (Luke 2:2) (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
  • (Luke 2:3) And everyone went to his own town to register.
  • (Luke 2:4) 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.
  • (Luke 2:5) He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
  • (Luke 2:6) While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
  • (Luke 2:7) and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
  • God worked through the decree by the supreme ruler of the empire
  • Caesar Augustus was also called Octavian
  • he is regarded as one of the great administrative geniuses of history
  • he centralized the power of the empire in Rome itself, and established the Pax Romana – Roman peace
  • Rome ruled the world
  • but the Roman Emperor was not really in charge of the world
  • Quirinius was governor of Syria
  • at that time, the Roman province of Syria included Palestine under its jurisdiction
  • Augustus, that great imperial genius, had no idea that he was being used by a power infinitely higher and greater than his own
  • the emperor ordered a census to evaluate taxation potential
  • a census was never good news
  • the empire always wanted more taxes
  • but the plan for a census came not from Augustus, but from God
  • it’s hard to admit that God could actually be behind increased taxes
  • couldn’t God have arranged some other means to get the couple to Bethlehem at the right time?
  • but God chose to use the mighty Roman Empire
  • hundreds of thousands of people thought they were following Caesar’s decree, but they had no idea that Caesar was just doing the Lord’s bidding
  • the census usually meant that a person had to return to where the family owned property
  • Joseph’s legal residence was apparently still in Bethlehem
  • he may have owned some property there, so he had to go to Bethlehem for the census
  • Bethlehem was about 80 miles south of Nazareth
  • it’s only claim to fame was that King David had been born in Bethlehem about 1,000 years earlier
  • Joseph decided to take Mary along with him
  • maybe he didn’t want to leave her alone so late in the pregnancy
  • you probably think Caesar’s decree was highly inconvenient for the couple
  • you probably imagine them saying, “Of all the times for Caesar to order a census – why now?”
  • but it may have been the other way around
  • maybe Mary and Joseph welcomed it
  • “Yessss! Now we have reason to get away from the staring and the glaring. Bethlehem, here we come!”
  • when Mary’s time came, the only available place for the little family was one usually occupied by animals
  • we today probably get more upset about the unavailability of a room in the inn than Mary and Joseph were
  • the inns of that era were neither comfortable nor safe
  • travelers were often robbed at inns
  • in fact, if the inn was crowded, it may have been much better for Jesus to be born in a relatively quiet stable
  • bit in an animal shelter, unknown to the world, Mary delivered baby Jesus
  • and Mary wrapped him in cloths, and lay him in a feeding trough
  • it’s amazing to read the story and capture a central truth: God is in control
  • Caesar’s world empire was just a tool in the mighty hand of God
  • God said in Isaiah 40:
  • (Isaiah 40:15) Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
  • God is all-powerful, and in control of history
  • who would ever have imagined that the most powerful man on earth, Caesar Augustus, unbeknown to himself, was God’s instrument in bringing the virgin from Nazareth to Bethlehem at just the right time for the birth of the Savior, according to prophecy?
  • God chose to move the world for the occasion
  • I wonder if it was for the benefit of the principalities and powers – the gods of the age and all his demons
  • they would see what was happening
  • the world was supposedly under their control – and here is the Almighty orchestrating his plan
  • kind of a holy “in-your-face” to Satan
  • that’s truth number one that brings joy to humankind: God is in control
  • SECOND, GOD SETS STANDARDS
  • God makes the rules
  • God doesn’t conform to our standards
  • (Isaiah 55:8) “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
  • (Isaiah 55:9) “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
  • the people we overlook as insignificant may be the focus of God’s affection
  • God chooses unlikely people for glorious purposes
  • (Luke 2:8) And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
  • (Luke 2:9) An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
  • (Luke 2:10) But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
  • (Luke 2:11) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
  • (Luke 2:12) This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
  • (Luke 2:13) Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
  • God chose to make the announcement to humble shepherds
  • the good news first came to the social outcasts of the day
  • the shepherd’s work made them ceremonially unclean, and looked upon as being insignificant in the culture of the day
  • (1 Corinthians 1:26) Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
  • (1 Corinthians 1:27) But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
  • (1 Corinthians 1:28) He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are,
  • (1 Corinthians 1:29) so that no one may boast before him.
  • the shepherds were the first of all the millions of ordinary people through the centuries who have heard and received the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ, the Savior
  • (Luke 2:14) “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
  • “in the highest” suggests “among heaven’s angelic hosts”
  • this was a momentous event in heaven
  • there were no yawns among the angels
  • the apostle Peter in his first letter explained that the outworking of God’s plan announced by the prophets and fulfilled in Christ had the angels spellbound
  • he said, “Even angels long to look into these things”
  • it was good news that evoked great joy in the highest – among the angels
  • God’s way of inaugurating his greatest act was so contrary to what anyone might have expected
  • God makes the rules
  • that’s good news
  • God doesn’t rule out humble, struggling people
  • three truths about God that are a source of great joy to humankind
  • first, God controls history
  • second, God sets the standards
  • THIRD, GOD SATISFIED SEEKERS
  • God rewards those who are eager to find the truth
  • after the sensational announcement by the angel and the heavenly host, the shepherds did not stay put in the fields
  • (Luke 2:15) When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
  • (Luke 2:16) So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
  • (Luke 2:17) When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,
  • (Luke 2:18) and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
  • (Luke 2:19) But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
  • (Luke 2:20) The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
  • the shepherds agreed among themselves, “This we have to see!”
  • it probably wasn’t too hard to find the stable with the baby
  • Bethlehem was just a small town
  • they were God’s chosen welcoming party sent to Mary and Joseph
  • try to picture Joseph meeting these shepherds who came out of the darkness, and asking them what they want
  • they say, “Please, sir. May we see the baby, Christ the Savior? Some angels told us that he was born. We just had to come”
  • I picture Joseph, with tears in his eyes, saying to Mary, “Mary, how could we ever doubt? This baby is the Son of the living God for certain. Angels just told these shepherds about him. They left their sheep and came right away!”
  • and “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
  • if you were making the arrangements, it would have been so different, wouldn’t it?
  • I’d have called Placido Domingo or Pavaroti to come and sing, and Yatzak Perlmann to play his violin for the Messiah
  • God arranged the shepherds to be an impromptu welcoming party for the entrance of the Son of the Most High, the Savior
  • verse 17 tells us that the shepherds spread the word
  • they were the first Christian evangelists
  • the shepherds were seekers whom God satisfied
  • the shepherds came looking for Jesus, and they found him
  • (Luke 2:20) The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
  • I’d like to ask for your response
  • how has God been at work in your history?
  • I wonder what God has been doing behind the scenes to bring you to the point where you are right now
  • but here you are, Christmas Eve, sitting where you’re sitting
  • do you think that God has anything to do with it?
  • are you amazed that God cares about you?
  • that’s probably how the humble shepherds felt
  • but God sent the news to them first
  • are you sincere about “checking it out?”
  • Hebrews 11:6 says, “It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him”
  • are you seeking him this evening?
  • are you sincere about checking it out?
  • have you seen the Savior this Christmas?
  • have you even looked for him?
  • or are you mostly focused on all the other activities?
  • the God who controls history, and the God who sets the standards, is the God who is willing to reward you this evening, if you diligently seek him
  • because God satisfies seekers
Adapted from a message by Dr. John Crocker
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Liberty Grace Church in Toronto. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada