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“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 die 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 first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling-clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them”—Luke 2:1-20.
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The incarnation of our Lord is not merely a doctrinal tenet about which theologians of different schools may hold various views; it is a glorious reality, a wondrous fact, apart from which there could be no salvation for sinful men. “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4, 5). The miraculous birth of our Saviour is one of the foundation stones of our Christian faith. It is the companion truth to that of His expiatory sacrifice on the cross. Because of this, it will generally be found that he who denies the one denies the other. Too much importance cannot therefore be attached to the historic fact that Jesus was born of a virgin mother and that the “Child… born” was the “Son… given” (Isa. 9:6). He who deigned to enter human conditions by the birth in Bethlehem is the One “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2). To deny this is to repudiate the truth of the gospel, apart from which there is no hope for a lost world.
This passage connects very definitely with a prophecy which was given some 700 years before the events took place, which is found in the fifth chapter of the book of Micah. Micah was contemporary with Isaiah, and both prophets predicted the coming of the days of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. In the fifth chapter of Micah, second verse, we read, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall come forth unto Me, Him that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” It is rather interesting to note the next verse. You might expect the prophet to declare that immediately all Israel would recognize as their Messiah and find redemption through, Him; but we read “Therefore will He give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.”
How little chance there seemed, to almost the very last, of any possibility of the fulfilment of verse 2. It was given, as I have already said, 700 years before the Lord Jesus Christ was born. The Holy Spirit definitely indicated the place where he must be born—Bethlehem, a city of Judaea. It was David’s city. It was not a very large city, but it is the most beautiful city, to my mind, in all Palestine. For over a thousand years since the days of the first crusade Bethlehem has been a Christian city, at least in name. It has not been given over to Mohammedanism, but has been a recognized Christian community. The prophet said that the Messiah must be born there, and he declared that this mysterious Child was to be One “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” The psalmist says, “From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.”
This child, then, would be both God and Man—God and Man united in one Person, never again to be separated. This is the mystery of the incarnation.
Such was Micah’s declaration, but it seemed until a very, very short time before the actual event took place, that the prophecy could not be literally fulfilled. Almost up to the very last Mary was dwelling in the city of Nazareth, in the northern part of the land. In those days when one could only travel on foot, or on the back of an ass or a camel, it took a long time to get from Nazareth to Jerusalem. It is very different today. We made the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem in about eight hours, and we stopped over at a number of places en route, but that was by automobile. It was not possible to travel that quickly in those days. There was Mary at her home in Nazareth, expecting almost daily the birth of the wonderful Babe, the secret of whose conception she alone thoroughly understood, and yet the prophecy said, “He must be born in Bethlehem.” I wonder if Mary ever thought of the words of Micah. I wonder if Joseph was concerned. Did Joseph know that the child must come into the world at Bethlehem? At any rate, they seemed to make no preparation for it. Then we are told it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. He was the ruler of the ancient world. He had his throne in the city of Rome. And here was the prophecy which said that the Messiah must be born in Bethlehem, and there was Mary waiting in Nazareth. So God put it in the heart of the emperor, that everybody must go to his own city, the city where he was born, in order to be enrolled for the taxing. This was God’s way of bringing Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem on time, in order that His Word might not fail. We are told this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was Governor of Syria. The critics, those who try to find fault with the Bible and question its inspiration, used to point to this second verse and say, “Now you have positive proof that the Gospel of Luke could not have been divinely inspired because you have an inaccuracy. Cyrenius ruled over Syria something like 6 A.D., really ten years after the actual birth of Christ, because He was born four years before the change of the calendar from B.C. to A.D.” These objectors said Cyrenius was Governor of Syria, which included Palestine, a number of years, on from A.D. 6. This taxing could not have taken place in his time if it took place at the time when Christ was reputed to have been born. God has been answering the critics in a very wonderful way in our day. The spade of the archaeologist has been turning up a great many remarkable things that have demonstrated the truth of the Bible. One of the leading archaeologists of the day wrote recently, “I am acquainted with practically all the results of archaeological discovery for the last hundred years, and I have not discovered any that cast doubt on the Scripture, but hundreds of things have proved its statements to be absolutely accurate.”
I have jotted down an item which I took from one of the records. “It has been thought that Luke confused this census with that under Cyrenius, at 6 to 7 A.D., when he became Governor the second time. Luke refers to that also in Acts 5:37 as ‘the days of the taxing.’” But we know that Cyrenius had been Governor of Syria before that, under the reign of Augustus, from B.C. 12 on to B.C. 3. It was during this period that the census was taken, to which Luke refers here in his Gospel. Men are too short-sighted and know too little, to find fault with the Bible. Just give us the opportunity to get more facts, and the Bible will always prove triumphant in every controversy. God had so ordered things that this enrollment had to take place, and that meant that Joseph and Mary must go to Bethlehem.
We read in verse 4, “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).” So it was that while there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. Thus you will see God had set the whole world in motion—millions of people going to their own cities to be enrolled for the taxation, in order that one prophecy in the Old Testament might be fulfilled on time, and that Christ might be born in Bethlehem of Judaea. They were not looking for Him down there. There was no welcome. Though Joseph was of the lineage of David and though Mary was a daughter of the house of David, there was no blare of trumpets when they arrived. There was no reservation for them in the local inn. We read there was “no room for them in the inn.” I suppose hundreds of people were crowding into Bethlehem. The wealthy would make reservations ahead and preempt the good places to stay. I can imagine Joseph and Mary coming, tired and worn after that long journey, and saying to the innkeeper, “Have you a comfortable place?” The innkeeper would say, “You didn’t make any reservations. All the rooms have been taken.” You can imagine there would not be much attention paid to this poor carpenter. Yet God had made provision. There was one place, if there was no room for His Son to be born in the inn, there was a place in a stable among the cattle. So we read, “She brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling-clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” Do not think of the stable in which He was born as what we would call a stable today. It would not be a wooden barn but a cave cut in the limestone. When they show this place to people in Bethlehem today they say, “This is the cave in which Christ was born.” We could see where the sheep and goats and oxen had been kept; and passing through a kind of a catacomb-like lane, we got into another cave where Jerome spent so many years while he translated the Bible into the Latin from the Greek. According to his own record, he said that his cave was right close by the one where Jesus Himself had been born. They will show you the cave today. It was in some such cave-stable that our blessed Lord was born. They took the little One and they wrapped Him in swaddling-clothes, and for a cradle they put Him in a manger from which the cattle were accustomed to get their food.
Think of God’s blessed Son: become Man for our redemption! Born in a stable! and cradled in a manger! We find all heaven was stirred. In these early chapters of Luke you get one song after another. You have the song of Elisabeth, the song of Zacharias, and the song of Mary, and here you get the song of the angel. I know we do not actually get the word “song” here. It does not actually say the angel sang. But I am sure that the ordinary speech of the angels would be sweeter and more melodious than any song that anybody could sing on earth. All heaven was moved. We are told, “There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night, and lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.” They had heard of angels appearing in time past. But 400 years had gone by since the last of the prophets, and there was no authentic record of angels being seen on earth until Gabriel appeared to Zacharias in the temple. Now all heaven was illuminated and a majestic being was actually visible to mortals. They were sore afraid; but the angel said unto them, “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.” What a message—FEAR NOT! Gabriel twice before had used these same words, and this may have been Gabriel again. “Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings.” That is what the gospel is. The word means “good tidings.” Our English word “gospel” is just a slightly changed form of the old Anglo-Saxon Gudspel, which means “good tidings.” So the angel came to preach the gospel, and that word rings all through the Word of God. The gospel was preached to Abraham, and to the people of Israel. The gospel was preached all through the time or ministry of John the Baptist, and the gospel is being proclaimed today in the power of the Holy Ghost, sent down from Heaven. It is God’s message about His blessed Son. There is only one gospel. Paul says, “Though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel, let him be accursed.” This was an angel from heaven. If there be any who preach any other gospel than that which we have preached, let them be accursed. It is God’s good news about His blessed Son. It takes on different forms at different times. It was the gospel of the Kingdom, specifically, when our blessed Lord and the early apostles gave it forth.
Since Christ ascended to heaven, the message has been sent down to earth, that a Saviour is seated at God’s right hand. This tells of a finished work. It is called the “glorious gospel,” because it leads to the glory, and the “everlasting gospel,” for it is the gospel for all ages. The gospel will be the joy of our hearts for all eternity. It is all summed up in those wonderful words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
There are good tidings of great joy for all people, not just for the elect, not just for a limited number, but for all people. All men everywhere are invited to put their trust in the Saviour whom God has sent into the world. We have the definite announcement of the Lord’s birth as given by the angel, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord… And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger.”
Then we read that “suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’.” It seems strange—doesn’t it?—to hear those words ringing down through the ages, when you think of the awful condition which prevails in the earth today. Look where you will; there is no peace. Look at the lands abroad; there is war. Look out over our own land; it is strife between Capital and Labor—between different groups. There is misery and wretchedness everywhere—unrest on every hand; and yet the angel said, “Peace, goodwill toward men.” Ah, but that peace was dependent upon receiving the Saviour whom God had sent into the world. Alas, men rejected Him. They refused Him, and that is why the world remains in its unhappy condition.
According to Micah, the Messiah is coming back again, when the rest of Israel shall return to their God.
The shepherds did not stop to question, but we read, “It came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” I like the simplicity of their faith. They did not say, “Let us go and see if this thing has come to pass.” They said, “Let us go and see this thing which has come to pass.” They were persuaded even before they saw. They hastened and came and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in the manger; and when they had seen it they made known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. The first evangelists of the new age were these simple shepherds who went out saying, “He has come,” and “We have seen Him. He was born in Bethlehem. We saw Him there lying in a manger.” They went forth proclaiming the advent of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, and all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
Think of the virgin mother—what it must have meant to her! There she lay in the palace of straw! There—on the floor of the stable—there was the little Babe in the manger where she could just reach it with her delicately-shaped fingers; and all the time she was thinking what a wonderful message had come to her some months before, and now was the fulfilment. What does it all mean? Little could she see the wonderful results that would be manifested down through the ages, but she knew that God had come in, in grace, and visited His people. We read that “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart, and the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”
How our hearts rejoice in this story. We have read it over and over again, but it is always new; is it not? The sweetest story ever told—the coming to earth of our Lord Jesus Christ. No room for Him in the inn. Is there room in your heart? Have you made room for Him? Have you received Him? Have you trusted Him? If you never made room for Him before, won’t you say now,
“Come in, my Lord, come in,
And make my heart Thy home,
Come in and cleanse my soul from sin,
And dwell with me alone.”
He wants to come in, and He will come in if you will open the door.