The Birth of Our Savior
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 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:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7)
Here the Holy Spirit tells us about the birth of the incarnate Son of God (not the birth of the Son of God; but the birth of the incarnate Son of God), the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. Never, since the world began, was there such a birth. This was the birth of him for whom and by whom the worlds were made. Here we see God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). What we have before us in these verses is the birth of him of whom all the law and the prophets of the Old Testament spoke. The Lord Jesus Christ was born as a man at Bethlehem that he might die as a man at Calvary to redeem his people from the curse of the law. This is exactly what our Lord Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 20:28, and what the Holy Spirit tells us in Galatians 4:4-5.
The Purpose of Our Savior’s Birth
Luke does not record the purpose of Christ’s birth in our text. But the Holy Spirit has recorded it for us in many places in Holy Scripture. And it would be pointless for me to write about Christ’s birth, if I did not tell you why he came into this world in human flesh. We are told the purpose of our Savior’s birth in the angel’s message to Joseph some nine months before this. — “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
The Lord Jesus Christ was God the eternal Son before he came into this world in human flesh. The Son of God had a people in this world, called “his people,” before he came here to save them. These people are God’s elect, sinners chosen to salvation from eternity (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). The Lord Jesus Christ came into this world on an errand of mercy, as our Substitute, Representative and Covenant Surety, to save his people from their sins. And, blessed be his name, he did what he came here to do. He saved his people, all of them, from their sins (Hebrews 10:5-14).
The Lord Jesus Christ saves his people from their sins by three mighty acts of grace, which he alone could perform: (1.) He saved all his people by blood redemption, by effectual atonement, by the satisfaction of divine justice, when he laid down his life for us at Calvary (Galatians 3:13-14; Hebrews 9:12). (2.) He saves his people, each one redeemed by his blood, by the irresistible power and grace of his Holy Spirit in regeneration (Ephesians 2:1-5). And (3.) the Lord Jesus will save his people by the resurrection of our bodies in the last day.
The Time of Our Savior’s Birth
We have in this passage a marvelous display of God’s wisdom and of his sovereignty. We are specifically informed that our Savior was born into this world in those days when Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor, made a “decree that all the world should be taxed.”
This is an important fact in the whole scheme of things. The Lord God promised, through his servant Jacob, that Israel would not cease to be a civil state until Christ came to redeem and save his people (Genesis 49:10). Luke here tells us of the precise fulfillment of Jacob’s prophecy. The Jews were under the dominion of Rome. They had lost all legal, civil power as a nation. Strangers ruled over them and demanded taxes from them. The nation of Israel was without a government of its own for the first time in their history. No sooner did Augustus tax the world than Messiah came! It was the “due time” and “the fulness of time.”
Divine providence had now arranged the best time possible for Christ to come into the world. When he had fully proved that the world by wisdom knew not God (1 Corinthians 1:21), God stepped into the world to make himself known. Religious ritualism had left men and women utterly ignorant of God and morally bankrupt. The philosophers, poets, historians, architects and rulers of all the Gentile world left the human race in spiritual darkness, moral corruption and political violence that only grew worse with time.
Yet, at this precise time required, for the first time since the tower of Babel, all the civilized world was under one government. By the time he sent his Son into the world, God had arranged the whole world in such a way as to make a path for the gospel into all the world. Let us ever find solace for our souls in this fact. – All the events of this world, all history, all governments, all times are in the hands of our great God.
“My times are in thy hand” (Psalm 31:15). — He always knows and always does what is best. We ought never worry and fret about the course and condition of this world, even in such dark days as these. We act like we know better than God what is best. What foolishness! I once read that Martin Luther used to frequently say to his worrying, fretting friend, Philip Malancthon, “Philip, stop trying to govern the world.” We would be wise to heed those words. Let us ever live in this world as the loyal subjects of the all-wise King of kings and Lord of lords. He who is our God is God indeed, God over all! He is too wise to err, too good to do wrong, and too strong to fail.
The Place of Our Savior’s Birth
Our Savior was not born in Nazareth of Galilee, where Mary and Joseph resided. Instead, he was born at Bethlehem. The prophet Micah had prophesied hundreds of years before it came to pass that the Lord Jesus must be born at Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); and so it came to pass.
Once more, we have before us a marvelous display of God’s sovereign, absolute rule of all things in providence to accomplish the good purpose of his grace toward chosen sinners. He, who orders all things in heaven, earth, and hell, turns the hearts of kings whithersoever he will. — “The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). It was the Lord God who caused Augustus to make this decree and begin enforcing it at precisely the time when Mary’s pregnancy had come to full term.
Neither Augustus nor Cyrenius had any idea what they were doing, or why. I have no doubt at all, being typical politicians, they acted only upon the unprincipled principle of expediency. What they were actually doing was carrying forth the eternal designs of our God for the salvation of his people and the glory of his own great name. Like the king of Assyria, they meant it not so, neither did their hearts think so, but they were performing the work of the Lord (Isaiah 10:5-12).
This act of the first Roman emperor was an act which laid the foundation for the kingdom of God, before which all the kingdoms of this world must soon bow and crumble. Observe this and rejoice to know that our God graciously and wisely rules and overrules all things, the good and the evil, for the accomplishment of his will. — “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psalms 76:10).
Our heavenly Father’s providential rule of the universe ought to quieten our hearts while we sail through the troubled waters of this world. If we believe God, we should never be greatly disturbed by the affairs of this world, or the conduct of earthly rulers. We ought to regard all things as the will of God. We should look upon every action of every political ruler as the oracle of God. It mattered not whither Shemei cussed David or praised David, God blessed him! Let us learn to regard all men and all devils, too, as creatures of God Almighty, created to serve his purpose, without the ability to think, wiggle, or move, except by the will of God (Ecclesiastes 5:8).
The Manner of Our Savior’s Birth
“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” — Let us never forget that it was through his own great humiliation that the Son of God obtained eternal glory for us. It was through his life of holy suffering as well as his death that he obtained eternal redemption for us (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Learn this, too, and learn it well. — God is no respecter of persons; and we must not be. We must never allow ourselves to form opinions of people’s character and worth based upon their poverty or wealth, their face or place, or their race or rank. May God the Holy Spirit give us grace to follow our Savior’s example in dealing with one another (Philippians 2:1-11). O Holy Spirit, give us the mind of Christ!
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