Luke 2:1 - God's Plan in Jesus' Birth
The most familiar passage of the Bible on the event of Christmas is Luke 2. What is Luke 2? For some it is an interesting story of a child born in very humble and primitive conditions to become the Savior of the world. Others look at it as an historical account of what happened that night so long ago. But we must look at it as more than simply an account of what happened long ago, though it certainly is that. It is preaching. Luke is preaching the message of salvation. He is proclaiming the mighty act of God in the history of Christ's birth. He is preaching Christ. This is what the Holy Spirit intends, and because of this, faith is required. Today the news of Christ's birth is presented so that you will believe in Him.
God's Plan in the Calendar
Luke begins his message of Christ's birth with the dating of his birth. "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world" (Luke 2:1). Luke places the birth of Christ in the context of Augustus' reign, in the context of world politics, in the broad context of world history. One may think that Christ's birth is a subdivision of world history, that it is a paragraph of world history, so that the ruling factor is world history. This is NOT what Luke is saying. That would make the account simply an interesting and romantic story.
Listen to the Holy Spirit in Luke 2. It does NOT say: "It happened in the days of Caesar Augustus." No, it says: "In those days Caesar Augustus..." or as the King James Version puts it: "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus..." In which days? Luke 1 tells us. These are the days in which the angel Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah; days in which the angel Gabriel came to the Virgin Mary to announce the conception and birth of our Lord; the days of Mary's song of praise; the days of the birth of John; the days of the song of Zechariah. In these days in which the Lord remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In these days in which God is fulfilling his promise made in Genesis 3:15, that the seed of woman would crush the head of the serpent. In these days in which the messianic promises of the Old Testament are about to be fulfilled. These are the days in which the Lord is making all things ready in the church, with Zechariah and Elizabeth, with Joseph and Mary. The Lord begins in the church. This is what Luke 1 says. He is preparing the way for the Lord.
After this Caesar Augustus is drawn in, that is, after the Word is made flesh in the church. Luke 1 tells us that the Word becoming flesh had already happened. Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Luke 2 and the birth of Jesus followed the "becoming flesh" in the divine conception of Jesus. The Holy Conception, that great and blessed fact of salvation had happened and had found a place before Caesar Augustus is inserted. The Holy Spirit gives church history in chapter 1 and world history in chapter 2. World history must serve in the history of salvation. Luke does not date the birth of Christ according to the year of Caesar Augustus because Jesus is not a servant or an officer of the monarch. No, on the contrary, Caesar Augustus is the servant and officer of Christ. He is used to fulfill the promise of God without his knowledge or concurrence. The command of Caesar is only important in connection with the kingdom of God; the command to conduct the census took place not later and not earlier, but just at the right time in which it must cooperate and work along with the fulfillment of God's salvation plan. World history is a sub-division of salvation history.
This is a comfort for us. God takes care in his providence that all of the facts of world history serve to fulfill salvation history. Remember, our God reigns! This is how we are to read the newspaper. We are to put all of the amazing happenings in Eastern Europe and the USSR in this context. We must see the earthquakes and natural disasters from this point of view as well. "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform."
God's Plan in the Census
We read that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. What did that involve? It was a census of every family in the empire. Caesar did it so he could determine how many subjects he had, how rich he was, how many soldiers he could draft, how much in taxes he could collect. The enrolling was a complete inventory of the world empire to possess total sovereignty.
It is stated that this is the first time enrollment was done in the Jewish land. It was just at the time that Jesus was to be born. In other places in the empire it was done before, but not in Palestine. We know why it was done now.
Joseph was from Bethlehem where he had his citizenship. It is called his own city. As a carpenter from Bethlehem, he had found employment in Nazareth where he had met Mary. Now he had to return to Bethlehem.
For the Jews to be enrolled was a great humiliation. It meant that they had to bow to the command of Caesar Augustus. We read in Acts 5:37 that there was a census which led to a revolt. For the Jews to be bound to Rome was a major disgrace. This was the deepest point of humiliation for the church and David's house — to bow to Caesar. The Lord humiliated the church and David's house because they had departed from the Lord. At this deepest point, the King is born.
God's Plan in Christ's Clothing
Christ was born not in a hotel, or an inn, but in an animal stall. He was wrapped in simple cloths. He was born in poverty and humility as a true and righteous man. His birth was like the birth of all other children, in contrast to his conception which was the "Mystery of Godliness," God manifested in the flesh, the wonder of Divine power and grace.
He was clothed. Remember when God clothed our first parents in the Garden of Eden? God provided clothing to cover man's nakedness, discovered because of his sin. The Son of God must be clothed with flesh in order to cloth his people with eternal clothing, the mantle of salvation and the clothing of righteousness. Through his humiliation-suffering, death, resurrection and ascension he has obtained white garments for us. But now in the manger he is clothed with our rags so he can obtain eternal righteousness for us. He left the rags behind in the grave and he arose to heavenly glory in flesh and blood.
The clothing of skins in paradise, the swaddling cloths at Jesus' birth, the linen grave cloths, and the heavenly clothing of white robes of righteousness are all in the line of the history of redemption.
This is the plan of God in Jesus birth. The calendar teaches God's providence; the census teaches God's grace and the clothing teaches God's mercy to dress us with the robes of Christ's righteousness.
May our celebration of the birth of our blessed Savior lead us to worship Him in total devotion.