Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
Psalters: 320 (1-5), 109 (1-4), 243 (1-2, 4-5, 15), 304 (1-4, 6)
How strikingly different is this narrative of Jesus’ birth, from what the preceding chapter might have led us to expect!
Luke 1 records the announcement of the birth of the Messiah as the one who would restore the kingdom of David. He would be King! And He who would be King, would be the Son of God! We can understand why the wise men, seeking to worship Him, went first to Jerusalem!
But Luke 2 tells us that Jesus was born, not in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem; not in a palace but in a cattle shed; laid not in a nice crib, but a manger; dressed not in fine princely clothing but with swaddling clothes.
How was it that Jesus Christ, the King, was born so lowly?
First, God used the decree of Caesar. Joseph and Mary were living in Nazareth; but Caesar decreed that the whole world should be taxed. This taxing required the people first to go to the city of their ancestors to be registered. So Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, “because he was of the house and lineage of David.” A worse time for them to have to travel to Bethlehem, there was not, for she was nine months pregnant. And “while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.”
Second, upon arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary found no room in the inn, and no other suitable lodging; so Joseph was forced to find shelter with Mary in a cattle shed, where she gave birth.
Once more we see that God’s purposes are realized in God’s time and in God’s way. God so governed all of history, that His Son be born in our flesh not in riches, and with pomp and circumstance, but in lowliness, without any fanfare. And the question we ask this morning is, why? Why must Christ’s birth be lowly? Why was this necessary for our salvation?
JESUS’ LOWLY BIRTH
1. Born In Poverty
2. Born An Outcast
3. Born To Save
1. BORN IN POVERTY
The first aspect of Jesus’ lowly birth to which the text directs our attention is His earthly poverty. That Jesus was born in poverty is evident especially from the clothes in which He was wrapped.
It is true that His being born in a cattle stall and laid in a manger indicates poverty; but it does not primarily indicate poverty. Joseph and Mary found shelter here not because they could not afford an inn, but because there was no room for them in the inn.
But the clothes in which He was wrapped! They were swaddling clothes. The English word “swaddling” indicates that these were clothes in which a baby was wrapped. But the Greek word translated “swaddling” indicates that these clothes were pieces of old castoff clothing which were cut up into strips, and wrapped around a baby. This surely was not the kind of clothing that a baby of rich parents would be wrapped in; he would be dressed with decent clothing. But Jesus was wrapped in rags. He was born poor; Joseph and Mary were poor.
This poverty of Jesus which was evident in His birth was an indication that He would be poor His whole life. Jesus never was rich in material goods. God saw to it that His earthly needs were always supplied; He was given food and drink, clothing and shelter. But God supplied Him with these gifts from day to day, not in abundance. Jesus Himself told His disciples, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).
Jesus required His would-be disciples to notice His earthly poverty. Jesus spoke these words in answer to the statement of a man, “Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest” (verse 57). We are the disciples to whom Jesus speaks. We claim to follow Jesus. In following Jesus, we have gathered today to pay Him homage and commemorate His birth. Do you think it is a great thing to be Jesus’ disciples? Do you think we will share in His riches? Then we must remember that His riches are not material riches. Just as He was poor in respect of material things, so must we be ready to give up earthly riches to be His disciples.
But this earthly poverty evident in Jesus’ birth indicated also another kind of poverty – that of which we read in II Corinthians 8:9: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”
He had been rich – that is, He enjoyed the blessedness of the Godhead in heaven from all eternity. Jesus’ birth, we remember, was not the beginning of His existence; He existed from all eternity as the second person of the Trinity. And He shared in the glory of the Godhead! In heaven He had authority and power over all things.
But He became poor. This does not mean, as some think, that He gave up His Godhead. Nor did He give up His power and authority. But He veiled His Godhead for a time by coming into our flesh. That was an aspect of His spiritual poverty. The second aspect of His spiritual poverty is that He took upon Himself our sinful human nature, and the curse due to us for it. He appeared in the flesh, like any other human; bore the weakness of human flesh; and bore the curse of God for sin on the cross.
All this He did willingly, and in love! He was not constrained to do so! He was commanded of God to come into our flesh, and die the death of the cross, but His obedience was willing obedience. Love for the Father caused Him to obey; and love for us, who stood in need of the salvation He would bring, because of our spiritual poverty due to sin.
Of this spiritual poverty, the poverty of His birth is a sign. He was born materially poor, to indicate that He took this spiritual poverty upon Himself. This poverty in which He was born, then, is the first indication that His birth was lowly. The second is that He was
2. BORN AN OUTCAST
That He was born an outcast, rejected of men, is evident in two ways.
First, by the fact that He was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was but a small village in Judah; it surely did not measure up to Jerusalem, six miles to the north, in population or in glory. Jerusalem was bigger, had been the capital city, and was home to the temple. As a consequence, Bethlehem was despised. The prophet Micah indicates this when he says in Micah 5:2, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah . . .” To be born in Bethlehem, therefore, was nothing to boast about.
Second, that he was laid in a manger is evidence that he was born an outcast – as becomes clear from the reason given in our text: “because there was no room for them in the inn.” With these words Scripture narrates a simple fact – the inn was full. It wasn’t that Joseph and Mary were refused lodging because the innkeeper didn’t want them; the innkeeper didn’t lie to them, telling them the inn was full when it wasn’t. The inn was full. Not only were many other people in Bethlehem for the taxing, because it was the home of their ancestors, but the Roman soldiers and government officials were also there – and they surely had taken up the best lodging available. So that there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the inn does not mean that the people consciously rejected them. It was, nevertheless, a God-ordained sign that the people of Bethlehem had no room for His Son.
That Jesus was born an outcast was prophetic of the rejection He would endure throughout His entire life. Herod tried to kill Him while He was yet an infant. The chief priests and scribes knew He would be born in Bethlehem, for they told the wise men so when the wise men came to Jerusalem looking for Him. But the chief priests and scribes did not go worship Him – they had no need for Him. This rejection of Jesus by the chief priests and scribes continued throughout His entire ministry. The people of Nazareth rejected Him on three different occasions. Many of His disciples left Him, after He fed the 5000 men with 5 loaves and 2 fish, but refused to be their earthly king. During the last week of His earthly life, Judas Iscariot rejected Him by betraying Him; Peter, by denying Him; the other disciples, by fleeing when He was arrested; the Jews as a whole, by passing judgment that He was worthy of death; and the world as a whole rejected Him, when Pilate sentenced Him to die by crucifixion.
Jesus lived a lonely life!
What explains this rejection?
Not merely that the people didn’t understand who He really was. Some give this explanation of His rejection: “if the people had understood that He truly was the Messiah, they would have believed.” But Jesus had made very clear to all that He was truly the Messiah by His preaching and miracles.
The explanation for this rejection is that they didn’t want Jesus Christ. And they didn’t want Jesus Christ, because they hated Jesus Christ! The birth of Jesus Christ is the condemnation of every sinner, for apart from our sins He would not have had to be born. The ministry of Jesus Christ was the condemnation of sin, for He warned sinners of God’s judgment, and died on the cross to save elect sinners from that judgment. But our nature hates to be condemned of sin; and so we hate the one who condemns us.
This rejection of Jesus, therefore, is not only a sign that others rejected Him during His life, but is a sign that every man – you and I included – reject Him by nature.
Perhaps we reject Him because we wilfully and actively hate Him, like the chief priests and Herod did. Perhaps we reject Him because He claims to be king, but we want to be king; because He takes away our glory and honor, and exposes us for the sinners we truly are. But maybe you say, “No, I don’t hate Him for these reasons.”
If we are not like Herod and the chief priests in our rejection, then we are like the innkeepers. They had no hate for Jesus; they merely had no room for Him. They were too busy, too preoccupied with their business, to show mercy to a woman about to be delivered of a child. They were too busy serving Roman soldiers and earthly kings to have time for the heavenly king. And we all are like that. The pleasures and cares of this earth cause us to say by nature that we have no room for Jesus.
This rejection of Jesus on our part manifests our total depravity. It demonstrates our need for Him; but indicates that we do not see that need of ourselves, for we are blind. To see our need for Jesus is a wonder work of God’s grace in us.
This rejection of Jesus in His birth and during His life was necessary for our salvation – for apart from it, we would be rejected.
God rejects the guilty sinner. He has no room in heaven for such. His holiness will not permit it. Therefore, if our guilt were not removed, we would surely be rejected of God and sent to hell.
But Christ suffered rejection, in the place of elect sinners! He must be despised, rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, to show that the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all! Iniquity is the cause of rejection; even the world today rejects those whom it considers sinners. And so God rejected Christ, who stood before God in our place.
Christ, in being rejected by men throughout His life, experienced the rejection of God. In His death on the cross He also suffered this rejection, for Scripture says, “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). He was rejected of men and of God. He suffered in God’s sight as a criminal. He bore the curse of God due to us for our sins. And because He came into our flesh in order to die for us, that rejection that was evident at His death must be evident throughout His entire life, and even in His birth.
Beloved, He was born lowly! Even today He is rejected of many; and only by grace do we believe in Him. So we might ask the question, why then do we worship Him? Why then do we commemorate His birth? And the answer is that we believe He was
3. BORN TO SAVE
The text gives two indications that He who was born was indeed the Savior!
First, He was born in Bethlehem. We understand why He must be born there – because Bethlehem was the city of David. This child born to Mary is the son of David, who would come to establish the throne of David forever! He is the Messiah, the Prophet, Priest, and King, who was anointed of God to save us!
Second, He is the firstborn. Now the text makes clear that He was Mary’s firstborn. This is the first child she ever had. This fact underscores the wonderful manner of Christ’s birth – He was born to a virgin, God in the flesh. And as Mary’s firstborn, living in the Old Covenant, Jesus was to be consecrated to God. That was the law of God regarding the firstborn son particularly – he was to be devoted to the service of God in the temple. However, because the Levites were to work in the temple, all other firstborn sons were to be redeemed from this service by bringing an offering, which Mary and Joseph did, according to Luke 2:22-24. Furthermore, as the firstborn, Jesus had the birthright – the right to twice as much inheritance as the other children of Mary would receive, and the right to rule His brethren.
Now when we consider that Jesus is not only Mary’s firstborn, but also God’s firstborn, then the idea of the firstborn being consecrated to God and having the birthright blessing takes on deeper significance, and shows that Jesus Christ is the Savior.
He was BORN to be the Savior! He was consecrated to God – that is, set aside for the work of God – from His birth, being the firstborn.
And the salvation which He was born to bring consists of making us share in the blessings of the firstborn.
He bestows upon us His inheritance! His inheritance is heaven – the whole kingdom of God. His inheritance is the glorification that He received when He was exalted, after His death. And because He is not only God’s firstborn, but also God’s only begotten, this inheritance is entirely His! But the salvation He bestows upon us consists of making us to share in this inheritance. This is the idea of 2 Corinthians 8:9: “that ye through His poverty might be rich.” He makes us rich, by giving us to share in His inheritance! His righteousness becomes ours; His holiness and consecration to God is given us, and we are made saints; His glorification is given to us, for we will be taken to heaven. That we share in His inheritance does not mean that we have the whole inheritance for ourselves; Christ has it completely, and the whole body of the elect share in it. But to share in it is salvation!
Furthermore, the salvation which He was born to give consists of His ruling in the hearts of His elect. By His Spirit and Word He rules in our hearts, causing us to hate sin and to love obedience to His law. And in order that He might rule, He first had to make room in our hearts – He entered in at the moment of our regeneration, and took control of our hearts, and renewed us! By nature we have no room in our heart for Jesus; but He makes room for Himself in the hearts of His people.
This is why He must be born lowly. God has reserved no riches for us, no renewal of our hearts, no place of service in His kingdom, except in the way of paying the price for sin. And we could not pay that price! So He sent His Son, in accordance with the promises of the Old Testament, into our flesh, and to the death of the cross, to suffer what we deserve, and redeem us! That explains Jesus’ lowly birth.
Do you believe that He is the only Messiah? That He was born lowly, in order to save? And that in Him alone all salvation is found?
Then let us give God thanks! Thanks, that Jesus was not born in Jerusalem, in riches and splendor! Thanks, that Jesus in His birth was not loved and accepted by every one! Thanks, that Jesus was not born a mere human, as every other person is born!
On Christmas Day we acknowledge our own unworthiness for this gift. And we say, “Thanks – thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!”
Rev. Douglas J. Kuiper (Wife:Teresa)
Ordained: November 1995
Pastorates: Byron Center, MI - 1995; Randolph, WI - 2001; Edgerton, MN - 2012; Pofessor, PRC Seminary - Sept. 2017
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