Theme: The Birth of Israel’s King
We see the birth of Jesus through the eyes of Joseph, the innkeeper, the shepherd, Mary, and the angels.
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
The first twenty verses of Luke 2 are the longest scriptural account of the birth of Jesus Christ, but twenty verses are not many and at first glance we might wonder why a story of such historical and spiritual importance is told in so brief a space. The answer, of course, is that although the story is brief, it is nevertheless literally bursting with content and amply rewards every careful reading and study of it. I find important new lessons every time I ponder the account.
One thing that has struck me as I have looked at it again this Christmas is the number of unique perspectives it throws on Jesus’ birth. They are not spelled out as explicit teachings. This is a story, after all, an account of things that actually happened and about the people to whom they happened. But it is in exactly that way that the perspectives I am referring to are taught. That is, they are communicated to us through the viewpoints of those who participated in the story. Indeed, the chapter invites us to look at the nativity as they saw it, which is why I have called this study, “The Birth of Jesus Seen through Ancient Eyes.” Whose eyes are these? That answer is obvious. They are the eyes of Joseph, the innkeeper, the shepherds, Mary, and the angels,
Joseph has frequently been the forgotten person in this story, just as most fathers tend to be forgotten in the births of children. It is the mother who gives birth, and she and the baby capture our attention. Yet we should notice that in Matthew, the only other Gospel that contains a narrative of Jesus’ birth, Joseph is prominent. In fact, that story is told almost entirely from his point of view. And even in Luke, though the first chapter focuses on John the Baptist and the annunciation to Mary, the second chapter actually begins with Joseph and his important function in the story.
The important thing about Joseph is that he was a descendant of Israel’s great king David and, moreover, that he was in that line of David’s descendants who actually sat on the throne. Ancestry was no small matter to the ancients. It was important among the Jews, and it would have been vitally, even overwhelmingly, important for David’s descendants in the line of Judah. This was because the Jewish people of that day were waiting for their promised Messiah, and the Messiah was to be in David’s line. God had told David, “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom” (2 Sam. 7:12). Isaiah added to this important prophecy, saying of David’s future descendant, “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (Isa. 9:7). Toward the end of the Old Testament the prophet Micah had even foretold that the coming Messianic king would be born in David’s ancestral home city of Bethlehem: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).
We are not told specifically that Joseph knew these texts, but we can be sure he did. Indeed, how could any descendant of David fail to know what had been prophesied concerning his royal line? If Joseph did know these texts—and we can be sure he did— then the angel’s announcement that Mary’s child had been conceived by the Holy Spirit and was to be called Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21), must have been received by Joseph in the light of these prophecies. He must have understood it to mean that the promises to David were now being fulfilled and that the king who was to reign upon the throne of David forever, was now to come.
He must also have welcomed God’s providential hand in the order of the emperor Augustus that everyone was to return to the city of his ancestors to be registered—especially at the very time Mary was to give birth! Joseph must have regarded the birth of that child in David’s city as important, or he would have waited until after Jesus’ birth to make the trip. Or perhaps he would have left Mary behind, since wives did not always have to register.
That Joseph must have looked on the birth of Jesus as the birth of Israel’s king gives unique perspective on the way the story is introduced. The story begins by mentioning the great Emperor Augustus and Quirinius, who was the governor of Syria. These were important people in the world’s eyes. It then moves on to Joseph and Mary, who were unimportant, and lastly to the baby who was the least significant character of all. Ah, but not in reality! In reality that fragile infant was of infinite and eternal importance. And this is what Joseph saw. He saw the birth of Jesus through the perspective of the historical Scriptures, and so regarded his birth as the most important thing of all.
Why was Joseph’s ancestry important?
How did Joseph know that promises to David were now being fulfilled?
Why do we assume Joseph knew Old Testament passages prophesying the coming Messiah?
Note the progression of characters as they are introduced in Luke’s account. What is the significance of the order?
Reflection: Are you looking forward to Christ’s next coming as eagerly as Joseph must have anticipated his first coming?