Birth of the SaviorLuke 2:1-20Theme: Paradoxes of the promise.This week’s lessons teach us that the good news of the Gospel is for everyone.
LessonAs Luke begins to tell the story, there is a certain progression downward from the important people of the world to those who, in the eyes of the world, were not very important at all.
It begins right at Luke chapter 1, verse 1: “In those days Caesar Augustus…” Caesar Augustus was the man who had brought peace to Rome. For twenty years the Roman Empire had been torn apart in civil war; then the great Augustus took the throne and he began to rule. He extended his rule in a powerful way throughout the Roman Empire. He put down all kinds of insurrections that were taking place during this period. He sealed the borders against the barbarians. He cleared the Mediterranean of the pirates. And so when Luke begins his story by saying, “In those days Caesar Augustus…,” he begins right at the top.
The decree that was issued in the days of Caesar Augustus was issued when Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Quirinius was a very important person. To be a governor of a Roman province was significant. Yet Quirinius was, after all, only a governor. Luke was stepping down a little bit when he brought Quirinius into the story. He began with Caesar Augustus and progressed down to Quirinius.
Then, in verse 4, Luke introduces Joseph, the third character of his story. Joseph was a Jew, a poor man who was a member of a people overcome by Rome, and therefore insignificant in the eyes of the Romans. Then, in vere 5, Mary is brought into the story. Here is a woman who, in the way of thinking of the time, is perhaps even less significant than Joseph. And she was poor.
Finally after Luke has gone through this great list from Caesar Augustus to Quirinius to Joseph to Mary, at the very end of the story he comes to that child, Mary’s firstborn son whom she wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a manger. Here was a child, an infant of a poor family in a distant area of the Roman Empire. Yet the irony of the story – the paradox at this point – is that this insignificant, poor child was none other than the Lord of Glory.
The second related paradox is the fact that when they came to Bethlehem there was no place for them. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t even room in the inn. When Luke says there is no room for them in the inn, we have to understand that it means that there was no room for them anywhere, because if there had been a place, they would have gone to it. That is why they ended up in the stable; that was almost to say there was no place at all.
That is really worth thinking about. It certainly means that there was no room for this couple in the palaces of the mighty. There was no room for the Christ in Caesar Augustus’s palace. He didn’t even know of the birth. And if he had, he certainly wouldn’t have taken them in. And there was no room for this family – this expectant mother and the child soon to come – with Quirinius. He wouldn’t have bothered. There was just no room among the mighty.
There wasn’t any room among the philosophers either. If this family had been in Greece and had appeared in the marketplace before the wise men of Greece, the philosophers would not have taken them in either.
Surely the Jews would have done better if they had known? No, as a matter of fact, they did not do better. Weren’t there any good families in Bethlehem that would have taken them in? After all, here is Joseph of the house and lineage of David. He was a descendant of that great king. Wouldn’t some of these good families have taken him in? No, they wouldn’t. It is often the case that good families take care of good families. The rich take care of the rich. They don’t take care of the poor, and this was the case here. And so when we read that there was no room for them in the inn, it really means there was no room for them anywhere.
Now we might want to say, “Well, today, certainly, if Jesus were around, people would make room for him.” But no, as a matter of fact, he would receive the same reception today as he received then, because the hearts of men and women are no more open to Jesus today than they were then. It is true that he was an infant and there was a slightly different connotation to his being rejected. But it is actually harder today, because now we know what Jesus Christ stands for.
What events and accomplishments had led to the fame and reputation of Caesar Augustus?
Who was Quirinius? What was his position in relation to Caesar Augustus?
Why was there no room for Mary, Joseph, and their baby anywhere in Bethlehem?