Luke: The Messianic Blessing
Three Portraits of the Birth of the Messiah Lesson #02
2016 Christmas Special
December 18, 2016
“Father, we are so grateful that we have Your Word, that You have revealed these things to us that we may come to understand that which is not knowable through our senses or through our intellectual activity, that You have revealed to us that which enables us to organize all of the information about our lives in reality, so that we can come to understand who You are. And we can come to understand who we are as fallen sinners, and that we can understand Your grace and Your love in providing a Savior for us, that our salvation is not dependent upon who we are, what we have done, but our salvation is dependent upon who Jesus Christ is and what He did on the Cross, that He entered into human history, for which we celebrate at this time of year, in order to die, in order to go to the Cross, in order to pay the penalty for sin as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Father, we pray that as we study today that we may marvel at Your grace, that we may be reminded of Your goodness and the way in which You orchestrated history in the fullness of time to bring forth the Savior, and that we may rejoice because we have salvation, and it is not dependent upon who we are or what we do, but on the Lord Jesus Christ.
We pray this in His name. Amen.”
Each year at Christmas I try to take some time just to reflect on the Person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, primarily related to His entry into human history, primarily related to His birth, helping us to understand many different dimensions related to what the Word of God reveals about the Lord Jesus Christ, reveals about the basic foundation of Christmas, why we get together and celebrate each year at Christmas. This year I’ve got a three-lesson series that I have put together that focuses on the three accounts of the entry of the Messiah into human history. So these are three portraits of the birth of the Messiah.
Last week we looked at the first one in the Gospel of Matthew, focusing on what Matthew is emphasizing in the text, the arrival of the Messiah as the hope of mankind, the Messianic hope. As we looked at just the broad overview from Matthew 1 and 2 emphasizing the five different quotes that are from the Old Testament, going back and briefly looking at those to see the original context and realizing that in each of those original contexts, there was a reminder of past judgment and deliverance, as well as a focus on future hope, so that by looking at those contexts in the Old Testament, Matthew is making a point that the Messiah’s coming is not only promised and prophesied from the Old Testament, but that it is a message of hope.
This morning I want us to look at the Gospel of Luke. We’ve looked at Luke in some detail in the past. Today we’ll look at an overview of the first two chapters. Luke 1 and 2 focus on the birth of the Messiah, but it is not just on the birth of the Messiah. There is more information given in the Gospel of Luke than in the Gospel of Matthew.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the focus was on the events related to Joseph and from Joseph’s perspective. It began with the genealogy that ended with Joseph, showing that because Joseph had descended in the line of David through one of his descendants named Jeconiah, or shortened to Coniah, that there was a curse from God because of Coniah’s rebellion against God, his apostasy, and his idolatry, that none of his descendants would sit on the throne of Israel. So Joseph could not be the father of the Messiah, the literal, physical, father of the humanity of the Messiah. The emphasis in those first two chapters was on Mary as the woman, the virgin, who fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.
In Luke, the emphasis is on Mary. The vantage point is somewhat Mary’s. We are told about Gabriel’s announcement to Mary. In Matthew, the focus was on an angel who appeared to Joseph. In Luke, it is Gabriel appearing to Mary and Mary’s response and what is referred to as the “Magnificat of Mary,” something we studied and went through last year.
In Luke, the focus is from the vantage point of Mary, both Mary and Joseph being descendants of David in the royal line, so that Jesus has His credentials as royalty through Mary the mother of His humanity, not through Joseph.
Now if we look at these two chapters, it’s interesting to see how Luke puts the material together. There’s a reason for that; it just doesn’t happen accidentally. There is a reason for this particular structure, and that is to emphasize for us and to point out for us that there is something distinct and unique about Jesus and His birth, even though there is something also distinct and unique about the birth of John the Baptist. There is something that is indicated here that shows that Jesus’ birth is more significant than that of John the Baptist.
So just to give us an overview because this is more of a flyover of these two chapters than drilling down into the details, first we have the announcement of Gabriel, the angel, to Zacharias that his wife, who has been barren, is going to become pregnant. Both Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth are much older and beyond childbearing years. She will conceive and give birth to a son and his name will be John. That’s in Luke 1:5–25
Then we shift gears, starting in Luke 1:26, and the angel Gabriel appears again some six months later to announce the birth of Jesus to Mary. This is covered in Luke 1:26–56.
Within that there are other things that are going on. Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, her cousin, six months after she has become pregnant, and there is that tremendous passage of Mary’s hymn of praise that she wrote. All of that is related to the announcement of the birth of Jesus to Mary.
In the next two sections, we have the description of the birth of John the Baptist in Luke 1:57–80 and then we have the description of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:1–7.
The conclusion of this section is in Luke 2:8–40, the reaction to the birth of Jesus. See, there’s no reaction to the birth of John.
We have the announcement of the birth of John, the announcement of the birth of Jesus, the birth of John described, the birth of Jesus described, and then the reaction to the birth of Jesus because that was the focal point.
What’s interesting is as we go through this, we see certain words and ideas that are reiterated and actions that highlight certain themes that Luke wants us to pay attention to. As I pointed out in the study of Matthew, Matthew has an embedded message of hope. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Messianic hope. What we find in Luke, because of the various words that are used, is that Jesus as the Messiah is God’s blessing to the world. So we see the Messianic hope in Matthew and the Messianic blessing in John.
As we do this, I just want to point out some of these keywords that are used as you read through the story in Luke 1 and 2. There’s an emphasis on blessing. You have two different words used in Greek for “blessing”.
The first word is the word EULOGEO, which is where we get our word “eulogized,” to say something pleasant or to say something well is sort of the basic idea there, but it indicates that people will say something well of God or well of Mary in these passages. So you have EULOGEO used in Luke 1:42 twice, in Luke 1:64, Luke 2:28, and Luke 2:34.
A synonym, also meaning to be blessed or to be happy, is in Luke 1:45, and its verb form is in Luke 1:48. So we see an emphasis on God’s blessing, that Mary is blessed because of God’s grace. The overriding idea here is God blesses mankind. He blesses through the birth of the Savior through Mary, and as a result, Mary will be called blessed, and we, as human beings, are called blessed.
Blessing relates to another important concept in the Bible and that is the concept of grace. Blessing is undeserved. God’s blessing of mankind, doing something favorable, providing some benefit to mankind that they have not earned or deserved is the main idea in blessing, and that is the concept of grace.
We have three different words that relate to grace that are used in Luke 1 and 2.
We have the verb form CHAIRO in Luke 1:14 and Luke 1:28.
We have another form of that word CHARITOO, which is only used twice in the New Testament. It’s used in Luke 1:28, related to Mary. The idea we really see from Ephesians 1:16 is it’s someone who is accepted by God’s grace, a graciously accepted one.
The application of grace is the meaning of the word “mercy.” Mercy is grace applied. The word ELEOS for mercy is used in Luke 1:48, 50, 54, 72, and 78.
As a result of God’s blessing to us in providing a Savior who would save us from our sins, the response to that is joy. Joy runs all the way through Luke 1 and 2. We have two different words again used for “joy”: CHARA and its verb form CHAIRO in Luke 1:14 and Luke 2:10 and also CHAIRO in Luke 1:28.
AGALLIASIS, which means gladness or rejoicing, in Luke 1:14 and Luke 1:44 and then its verb form in Luke 1:47.
We see that there is the response of joy and rejoicing by the angels when they appear to the shepherds in Luke 2, and they sing joyfully and praise God for the fact that He has given a Savior to the world.
These ideas together emphasize for us what Luke wants us to capture as we hear about the arrival, the coming of the Savior.
In the first part, just to summarize this, we have the angel Gabriel who announces the birth of John to Zechariah [Zacharias]. Zacharias is a priest. He is of a particular division of the priesthood, the division of Abijah.
In the Old Testament, the Levitical priests were divided into 24 divisions, and someone from each of those divisions would be assigned certain different times through the year when they would serve in the temple, and only once in a priest’s life, would they have the privilege of going in and lighting the altar of incense. This was chosen by lot. On this particular day, it is Zacharias who is chosen to go in and present the incense on the altar of incense to God. As he does so, something remarkable happens.
We’re told a little bit more about them in Luke 1:5–6. We’re told about his background as a priest, but we’re also told that his wife, Elizabeth, is of the daughters of Aaron. Aaron is the progenitor of the high priests, but all of the Levites were priestly, so there is heritage here for John the Baptist, where both parents are in the Levitical line.
Then we’re told about their character in Luke 1:6 that they’re both righteous before God. That’s not using the word “righteous” in the sense that Paul uses it, in the sense of being saved or having imputed righteousness. It’s talking about the fact that they are walking uprightly before the Lord, living to glorify Him, and living in obedience to the Mosaic Law. They walked blameless in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.
The angel Gabriel appears to Zacharias, and it’s typical of an angel appearing before—this is not THE Angel of the Lord, but just originally identified as AN angel of the Lord, we’ve come to know as Gabriel—that this angel appears to him, and the response is fear.
The first thing the angel tells him in Luke 1:13 is, “Don’t be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard.” Not that this was an immediate prayer, but over the years they had prayed for a child, and so he is told that this prayer will be answered “and now in the right time, you will bear a child, and you shall name him John.” So there’s a specific name that is to be given him.
And in Luke 1:14, we read, “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.”
Notice the emphasis there in these three different words that are used to express the response to the birth of John. Not because of John himself, but because of his significance in the plan of God. He is to be the prophesied forerunner of the Messiah. He is the one who will be the announcer of the arrival of the Messiah.
We see that depicted in John 1, which we will look at next week, that when Jesus first came into public view as an adult, He came to John to be baptized at the River Jordan, and as He walked down, John said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
He is announcing to Israel that the promised prophesied Messiah has arrived, and that His role, like that of the lamb in the sacrifices, is to be a substitutionary payment for our sin, and He will fulfill that. And as a result of that, people will rejoice. We are to have joy and gladness in celebration because we have a Savior who has provided for us.
Then as the angel tells all of this to Zacharias, he is somewhat incredulous about what is happening, and he says to the angel in Luke 1:18, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
At this time, the angel identifies himself as Gabriel and says, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings” (Luke 1:19).
Again, this is the word EUANGELION, which is the word for the gospel, good news, it’s something that is positive, something that you rejoice over.
But there is a judgment that’s announced, a temporary judgment on Zacharias because he didn’t believe the angel initially. The angel said in Luke 1:20 “You will be struck mute for the next nine months. You will not be able to speak again until the birth of John.”
So for the next nine months, Zacharias will be completely silent. He’ll have to write everything down or use some sort of sign language to indicate whatever he wants, and he will not say anything until the birth of John takes place.
When he came out of the Holy of Holies, we’re told in Luke 1:22 he was unable to speak, but people realized that he had seen a vision. Then after his days were completed, he went home, and he and his wife had relations. Elizabeth became pregnant, and this became known as something miraculous.
We’ve studied this in the past that in Scripture there are six women who are without child, unable to bear children, and due to divine intervention, they are able to have children. Each of those is significant, and each of those is a foreshadowing of the virgin conception and birth of Mary. Elizabeth is the last of those six.
Following that we’re told about the angelic announcement of the birth of Jesus to Mary. This begins in Luke 1:26 and goes down through Luke 1:56.
Gabriel appears to Mary. In Luke 1:26 we read, “Now in the sixth month—that would be the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy—the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”
There’ are a couple of things we need to emphasize here.
First of all, we note that she’s not married yet. She’s betrothed. In that betrothal stage, there were no relations between a man and a woman, and she was betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was specifically stated to be of the house of David.
When we get into Luke 2, this is reiterated, that because they both are of the house and the lineage of David, they are to return to the city of David in order to fulfill the obligations of this census, which would have been taken for some tax purpose.
So the angel comes to her, and what is he saying? In Luke 1:28, he says, “Rejoice”—again this message is one that should bring us to a level of joy and excitement because deliverance from sin is at hand—“Rejoice, highly favored one”—and this is based on a Greek word that means ‘the one who is graciously accepted.’ It’s based on the word for grace—“the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.”
So we see the connection between joy and being blessed, receiving unmerited favor from God, where God provides some benefit for us that we have not earned or deserved.
In these three verses, we see the announcement that is coming, and of course, she responds with a certain amount of fear and anxiety in Luke 1:29. Then the angel says to her Luke 1:30, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Again the emphasis on grace, undeserved favor. (Luke 1:31) “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name Yeshua (Jesus)”—that’s the Hebrew form.
It’s transliterated as JESUS in the Greek, and the name is Jesus. The original Hebrew comes from a verb meaning to save or to deliver. So the name of Jesus indicates His mission, which is to save or deliver people, which is what is emphasized in the next few verses.
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David,” Luke 1:32. Again, a reference back to 2 Samuel 7, where the Davidic Covenant was given—God’s promise that it would be through a descendent of David that the Savior would come.
And in Luke 1:33, “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom, there will be no end.”
Then there is dialogue between Mary and the angel in Luke 1:35. The angel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you, therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”
We can’t miss the emphasis on the text. He is the Son of David we saw emphasized in Matthew 1, He is the Son of God, indicating His deity, and He is the One who will come to deliver His people from their sin.
The angel goes on to tell her about Elizabeth, and so she goes on a journey. In Luke 1:39 we see that that she goes to the hill country of Judah to visit her relative Elizabeth.
We read in Luke 1:42 that as she approached Elizabeth, “Then she—Elizabeth—spoke out with a loud voice and said, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’ ”
Once again, this emphasis on blessing, unmerited favor, undeserved kindness from God. And so again and again, this idea of blessing resonates through Luke’s Gospel.
In Luke 1:45, Elizabeth says again, “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of these things which were told her from the Lord.”
In Luke 1:46–55, Mary breaks out into this song. This is not extemporaneous, I believe. I think Mary has contemplated this. She knows the Word of God, and there are many parallels between this particular song and the song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel, which we studied in 1 Samuel 2:10 and following. In this she says some remarkable things I want to point out.
First of all, she says, “And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,” Luke 1:47. So the response to the message of a Savior coming is that of joy. We rejoice that our Savior is coming, and she’s rejoicing personally because she is the beneficiary of God’s grace.
She says at the end of Luke 1:48, “… for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” I have received this great privilege and honor to bring forth the Savior.
In Luke 1:50, we read another word for grace, which is the word “mercy,” meaning applied grace. “And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.”
Then in Luke 1:54, she says, “He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy.”
She recognizes this birth is significant to God’s plan and purpose for Israel and, thus, God’s plan and purpose for all mankind.
In Luke 1:57, we shift to the birth of John the Baptist. We’ve had the announcement of the birth of John to Zacharias, we’ve had the announcement of the birth of Jesus to Mary, and now we have the birth of John described in Luke 1:57–80.
We’re told that when “… Elizabeth’s full time came for her to be delivered, and she brought forth a son. When her neighbors and relatives heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her—again an emphasis on grace—they rejoiced with her,” Luke 1:57–58.
This is what the angel had announced, that there would be those who have great joy and rejoice with her at the birth of the son, so this is a fulfillment of prophecy.
Then John is born, and on the eighth day he is circumcised, and at that point, they ask, “Well, what are you going to name him?” To this point, Zacharias has been mute, and at this point when Elizabeth says he’ll be called John, then everybody was objecting to that because that was not a family name. Then he asked for a writing tablet where he wrote down that he would be called John, and immediately, we’re told he could speak, and he defended it.
Then he gave a prophecy, and I believe that over those nine months that Zacharias was contemplating this, God revealed these things to him, and he announces who this son is going to be.
In Luke 1:68 , he says, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.” This birth is a fulfillment of prophecy. He will connect him to the prophecy at the end of the Old Testament in Malachi 4, connecting him to Elijah, and that he would be the one who would come and be the forerunner of the Messiah.
In Luke 1:76–78, this is made clear. He says, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins.”
That is the key. The role of the Messiah was to come to die on the Cross for sin, to provide forgiveness for sin, so that we could have a relationship with God because sin separates man from God, and the only way for man to have a relationship with God is for God to initiate and provide the solution and for man to accept it.
As we’ve been studying on Sunday mornings in Matthew 23, one of the greatest problems is that of religion, that the Bible does not talk about religion, it talks about a relationship with God based on what God did. Religion is saying that man does something, and God must approve it or validate it; whereas, what the Bible teaches is that man can do nothing to gain God’s approval.
Man is born spiritually dead, and he is unable to produce anything of eternal value, of any spiritual value before God, and the only way to have redemption is for God to provide it and offer it as a free gift to man, so that man just accepts it by faith.
The role of John will be “to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins through the tender mercy of our God,” Luke 1:77–78a. Once again the word “mercy” is used. The blessing of God is the outworking of His grace and His mercy in providing us with salvation.
In contrast to a rather lengthy account about what happened surrounding the birth of John the Baptist, we have the birth of Jesus. The initial birth is given in Luke 2:1–7, and then the reaction to that birth is given in Luke 2:8–38.
So this is the heart of the Gospel narrative, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ:
We’re told in Luke 2:1 “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.”
Now this is interesting. There is a lot of debate over several things in the first couple of verses in Luke. I just want to hit a couple of high points very quickly.
Caesar Augustus is the Emperor of the Roman Empire, and there were several empire-wide sort of tax-related censuses that were set forth during that reign, none that we can tie specifically to this particular period. However, there’s been a lot of recent research by a couple of different scholars, one of whom has written a book dealing with chronological issues called From Moses to Paul, which is pretty good, updates a lot of different things. They can pinpoint a couple of historical citations that indicate the possibility that there was one of these tax decrees given at approximately this time. I have seen a couple of references to this, but they occur around 2 to 3 BC.
Now that presents another little conundrum because the consensus among many evangelical scholars for the last probably 50 or 60 years is that Jesus was born sometime before 4 BC. At the latest, it would be very early in 4 BC, but probably 5 BC or maybe even 6 BC.
The reasoning behind that was that according to Josephus, who is a Jewish historian who writes around AD 70 to 90 and is a Jewish general during the time of the Jewish revolt that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the second temple in AD 70, Herod died at the time of an eclipse that was just prior to or not too long before Passover.
As you look astronomically at various eclipse options following 7 BC (there are other reasons why you go to that date, it couldn’t be any earlier than that), there were four eclipses. The first two are impossible. They just don’t fit the chronology whatsoever. The third one is one that occurred in April of 4 BC, but of the four, that’s the only one that’s a partial eclipse. The other four were full eclipses. The fourth one was in 1 BC, but it’s that partial eclipse that the consensus of scholarship has for probably 50 or 60 years taken as the one that indicates the death of Herod, so Jesus would have to be born before Herod died.
However, due to a lot of recent discoveries through a number of things, it seems that this 1 BC date fits every situation better, and so you have evidence of at least a regional-wide tax decree going out in around 2 BC. Herod dies in 1 BC so that would put the birth of Jesus sometime around 2 to 3 BC. So this fits.
It also gives us great confidence that the Scripture is accurate. These issues have been challenged by liberals for the last 150 years. They say Luke is making up the information or Luke makes mistakes. The more that we discover, the more we see that this does affect what we learn and discover from history.
This decree goes out so that all the world would be registered and that would indicate that in terms of Israel, people would have to travel home to their historic family roots.
It’s very likely Joseph may have held land in and around Bethlehem. And this was also why he had to travel there because that would be taken into account in terms of the taxes.
We see the hand of God in this, that in Galatians 4:4 Paul says, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”
In Luke 2:2 we’re told that this census took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. Again, this is another problem because he’s not the governor of Syria until about AD 5, but the word that is typically translated “governing” doesn’t mean governor, it means “administrator.” We know that there were two earlier periods when Quirinius was involved in the administration of the province of what was known as Syro-Palestine, so this clearly fits. In fact, there’s some evidence that has been discovered that he was an administrator around 6 to 7 BC, and then for a short time around 2 BC as well. He wasn’t the governor until AD 4, sometime later, but he was involved in the administration about the time of Jesus.
So we’re told that “All went to be registered, everyone to his own city,” Luke 2:3.
Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth, and Nazareth on the map here is located in the north in Galilee. It is a very small town, probably had a population of less than 200, maybe closer to 150 or 100. Not much was going on there in Nazareth at this particular time.
Bethlehem, the city of David, the home of Joseph and Mary’s ancestors, is located about 6 to 7 miles south of Jerusalem. It’s about 95 miles from Nazareth, especially if you cross the Jordan and come down on the east side of the Jordan, which was a standard because the Jews did not like to go through the area of Samaria, and then they would take the journey and come down, and that would take about six days.
The traditional view is that Joseph and Mary have to go back to the ancestral home of Bethlehem. Mary is close to having a child, so he puts her on the donkey, and they travel, like I said, about five or six days. I don’t know any husband or father-to-be in this congregation who would put your pregnant wife who’s within five or six or seven days of giving birth on the back of a donkey to make a six-day trip, but that’s the traditional view; and the night that they arrived, she goes into labor. Of course, if she’s been bounced along on the back of a donkey for five days, you can understand why that might impact things.
Then they arrive, and there’s no place for them to house in a traditional concept of an inn. So they have to end up in a barn somewhere or in a cave, and that has been a traditional view. Again, certain things have come to light over the last 20 or 30 years focused on the customs in the Middle East.
- You have problems with that view because would Joseph really put his wife who’s that pregnant on the back of a donkey for five or six days, so they would arrive right when she gives birth? That doesn’t quite fit.
- In the Middle East, they are known for hospitality. This is their home. They would have relatives and distant cousins there where they could stay. Why would they be stuck out in a cave at a caravansary or in a barn somewhere?
So there are some disconnects in the traditional story, and it turns out that traditional story is traced back to something that was written in the second or third century AD, far removed from any historical reality.
A black-and-white photo that we have of Bethlehem from about 150 years ago shows the area like this, and it would have been much less inhabited at that particular time. It was very rural, very small, and everyone in Bethlehem would have known everyone else.
We’re told that they traveled, they went up from Galilee in Nazareth. It is very specific, indicating its historicity to Bethlehem because Joseph is of the house and lineage of David.
There they were to be registered for this tax-related census, and it just says in Luke 2:6, “… while they were there.” It doesn’t say the night they arrived. “… while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.”
“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths,” Luke 2:7. This was typical of the time.
Some people say, “Well, this foreshadows His death.” That doesn’t really fit. They would take something like a square diaper, larger than a diaper, lay the diaper down, put the infant on this cloth in a diagonal, and then they would completely wrap the body into this cloth.
Some say the possibility of wrapping the body in strips, but this other thing was just like a snuggly blanket. So “she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger.”
This would have been just a rock feeding trough, and I have a picture of one up on the screen.
A manger is just a feed trough. They’re obviously in a place where there were animals.
Then we’re told that the reason she did this is because “there was no room in the inn.”
This conjures up a waystation, a place where people stop on a trip and go in. Usually in that time, there would be a two-story building, and there might be three or four rooms upstairs where they could stay. But that’s not the word for “inn” here.
There’s a more technical word for “inn.” This is the word KATALUMA, which in other places is translated as an upper room or a guest room, and this makes more sense.
In Luke 22:11, this is used for the guest room, the upper room where Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Seder meal, the Passover, the night before He went to the Cross.
In Luke 10:34, in the story of the good Samaritan, the good Samaritan takes this traveler who has been waylaid and beaten up and takes him to an inn. This is the technical term for an inn: PANDOCHEION. That’s not the word that’s used in Luke 2.
In this diagram, we see just a sketch of a traditional Middle Eastern home. Even in the present, you go out in the rural farm areas, they’ll have a home that is built something like this. They would have a family living area raised up above the ground a little bit, and just below down the stairs, there would be a stable area. They would bring their favorite or most expensive animals inside during inclement weather. You don’t want to lose your livestock to sickness or death, so they would bring them inside.
Then there would also be an upper story, as depicted in this diagram, where down below you’d have a family living area. Sometimes they built the house over a cave, especially in an area like the Judean hills. They could use the cave to store food, much like the idea of a root cellar, but they would also have a little space there where they could bring the animals.
So there were some different variants on this, but the family would stay upstairs, and sometimes these would be a guest room for a relative or someone traveling through the area.
Here’s another diagram showing the same kind of thing. You have a little courtyard here, where you’d bring the animals inside. Then there’s a kitchen area here, family area upstairs, you have upstairs living space.
The picture here is that when Joseph and Mary arrived, the guest rooms were already occupied or it could be that other relatives were there already, and they chose to stay in the family area, maybe with the animals because there would be more privacy there if Mary were to give birth.
So this was happening. She’s not stuck out somewhere in a cave or back in the barn in the back 40 somewhere. She is inside the home of family, and this is why when the Magi come, the description in Matthew 3, they come to a house.
For a long time I taught, and others have taught, that there were two separate places. First, He comes and He’s in the barn in the manger. Then after little while, they found a house where they could live. It’s all the same structure.
So this describes the birth of Jesus.
Then we’re told the response to the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:8–40.
In Luke 2:8, we’re told that outside of Bethlehem there were shepherds who lived out in the fields and kept watch over their flock by night.
Bethlehem is about 6-1/2 miles from the temple in Jerusalem. They kept a special flock there to provide the sacrifices needed at the temple on a daily basis. They had a watchtower there that is referred to in the Old Testament as Migdal Eder, and so this is fairly well-known and documented. Year round these flocks were kept there, even in the winter, and it does snow there. I think twice in the last five or six years, it snowed in Jerusalem in the winter, so it can get pretty cold there. But they would still keep their flocks there to provide for the temple sacrifices.
An angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds and warns them again. Every time an angel appears, the first thing the angel says is “don’t be afraid.” So that tells us that the appearance of an angel, a messenger from God, is something that would strike fear into the heart of men.
And the angel says, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people,” Luke 2:10.
The New King James reflects the Majority Text, and it reads like this, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men,” Luke 2:14.
This isn’t peace in the sense of absence of war, but that the Savior will provide peace with God. This is reconciliation. This is the same idea. ’That’s much to be preferred than what you have in the New American Standard or others, which is translated as “peace among men with whom He is well pleased.” Peace is provided through the One who would be called the “Prince of Peace,” according to Isaiah 9:6.
After the angels left, the shepherds rushed into Bethlehem to see about this Child that has been born, and they are also joyful. After they had seen the Child, Luke 2:17, they run around the village telling everybody what they have seen, what they’ve been told about this Child.
And in Luke 2:18, “And all those who heard it marveled at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned—an exhibition of joy and gladness —glorifying and praising God.”
The rest of the story is covered in the remainder of Luke 2. You have Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the temple, and there are two people that meet them at that time.
One is a very old man named Simeon, and he has been praying that God would allow him to live until he sees the arrival of the Messiah. That’s described in Luke 2:25–26. God had revealed to him that he would indeed see the Messiah.
When they show up and bring the Child Jesus to the temple, he sees them.
In Luke 2:28, he takes the Baby in his arms and blesses God. There we have that word again. He blessed God or praised God and said, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation,” Luke 2:29–30. Jesus is the Savior.
In Luke 2:34, “Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against.’ ”
Then he warns, “Yes, a sword will pierce through Your own soul also” Luke 2:35—the foreshadowing of the death of this Child, that that is the reason He entered into history.
Then we have Anna, a prophetess who then comes up to them. We’re told in Luke 2:37, she also is well advanced in age, a widow of about 84 years of age. She comes to them and gives thanks to the Lord for His provision of the Savior and speaks to everyone who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
The message that we see here in Luke is to focus on the undeserved merit of God in providing us with the Savior, who is God’s blessing to all mankind and especially to Israel in fulfillment of all the prophecies, and that in response to that, we are to have great joy. We are to celebrate, and we are to tell others. As the natural result of realizing who Jesus is, we are to tell others why we celebrate Christmas, who Jesus is, and this great gift that God has given us, the forgiveness of sin.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to be reminded of all that You did to provide a Savior born in the fullness of time. You took 4,000 years to prepare the human race through revelation and through circumstances for the arrival of the Savior, that He would come in human history as a man so that He could die in our place, a substitute for all humanity, to pay the penalty for our sin, that by trusting in Him we could have eternal life.
Father, we pray that if anyone is here or anyone is listening to this message that they would come to recognize their need for salvation, if they have never trusted in Jesus as Savior. That all that is needed for salvation is to believe that Jesus died on the Cross for your sins. It’s not a matter of reforming your life or joining a church or becoming more “spiritual.” It is simply a matter of accepting or trusting in Jesus Christ as your Savior.
Father, for the rest of us, it is a reminder that our response to the gift of the Savior is joy, it is celebration, and it is telling others of this wonderful gift that You have given us, the gift of forgiveness of sin, the gift of cleansing from sin, the gift of eternal life that we know for sure that if we die, we will go to be face-to-face with You.
And we pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.”