The Birth of a Shepherd-King: Luke 2:1-20

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As we continue in Luke’s gospel, I would love to be able to focus in on every event and detail Luke included surrounding Jesus’ birth, however, there isn’t enough time in our year dedicated to this gospel. Luke is the longest of the four gospels, and because of this, I have the challenge of deciding what doesn’t get included. Unfortunately, this means that it is time to jump into chapter 2 of Luke’s gospel even though there are at least two more podcast worthy passages in Luke chapter 1.

However, without getting bogged down focusing on what we must skip over, let’s instead focus on what we can learn as Luke transitions in to chapter 2. When looking at the popular Christmas passages of the Bible, almost every Christmas story begins with the passage we will be looking at, and oftentimes, the passage we will be reading is read in its entirety.

With this said, let’s look at Luke’s famous Christmas passage, and discover some things we can learn about Jesus’ birth now that we are intentionally looking at this event outside of the Christmas season. Our passage is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 2, and we will read from the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 1, Luke tells us:

1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 
14 “Glory to God in the highest, 
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

This passage describes Jesus’ birth, the events leading up to this significant event, and the amazing details surrounding this easily overlooked point in history.

While Matthew’s gospel is the one to describe the wise men bringing gifts, and the young family’s escape to Egypt, Luke doesn’t let Jesus’ birth slip into the unknown pages of history. Luke describes the night Jesus was born starting like any night, except it may have been busier because of the census that was taking place. The night began relatively normally, and the only challenge leading up to this night was directly related to the census, since there was no room in the Bethlehem inn. While tradition holds that Jesus was born in a stable, a barn, a cave, or somewhere under the stars, the only hints of this is because there was no room in the inn, and because Jesus is laid in a manger, which is a trough that livestock eat from.

In my mind, this is a logical conclusion, since I don’t picture a host family bringing in a feeding trough to lay a brand new baby in.

This leads me to the amazing realization that Jesus, the destined King of the Universe, has the least glamorous entrance into this world as could be imagined. The only people likely present for this birth would have been Mary, obviously, Joseph, and perhaps a midwife or two. A cave or small barn would have given this event a little privacy, and because of this, Jesus’ birth gets the reputation and tradition of being in a stable.

The night Jesus was born could have been, and perhaps should have been, easily forgotten, if it were not for one event that God chose to include. While God could have woken the town up in any number of ways to get everyone present to take notice of Jesus’ birth, God decided to send an angelic choir to some people who would have been awake already, or perhaps at least most of them. While the shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem would have likely been planning on sleeping in shifts through the night, it was unlikely that this night contained much sleep for them.

Angels appeared to the shepherds, sing them a song, and commission them to find Jesus.

A skeptic might look at this event and doubt the details, not simply for the angel visit, or the choir’s song, but simply because it would be difficult to find one child born in a town full of travelers. However, at night, there likely would have been little noise or light, except for a few fires to keep those without homes or rooms in the inn warm. And it is quite likely that there may have only been one baby crying outside that night. From Matthew’s gospel, we know there were other young children in Bethlehem during that point in time, because after Herod sent his soldiers, all the babies were killed.

So why might God have picked shepherds to be the first to know about Jesus’ birth?

Part of me believes this is because the occupation of shepherd was one of the lowest on the social ladder, and because Jesus came to show God’s love to those society looked down on.

Also, I cannot escape seeing the symbolism in my mind that Jesus was destined to be like a shepherd for God’s people, and what better way to honor Jesus taking the role of Shepherd than to invite shepherds who were nearby and who were awake already.

Jesus coming into this world marked God stepping into our history in a big, personal way, and Jesus coming into this world helps us see just how much God loves us, and what God was willing to do to show us just how much He loves each of us!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to believe in Jesus. If you ever doubt what God thinks of you, simply look at what Jesus came to this world to do for you! Satan would have you believe Jesus came for other people, that Jesus didn’t really come, or that Jesus isn’t what the gospel writers describe, but these temptations are lies from Satan to get you to ignore God.

Instead, choose to believe what the Bible teaches us about Jesus because what we can learn from Jesus is a picture of God and His love for each of us!

Choose to do this by praying and studying the Bible for yourself. While it is easy to drift through life believing the opinions of your friends, your relatives, or culture, don’t do this because God wants more for you than what you might even imagine. Discover what God thinks of you through the pages of His Word!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, minimize or belittle where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Luke – Episode 3: In the most famous Christmas passage in the Bible, discover some interesting details about Jesus’ birth, and why tradition has placed Jesus being born in a stable when the Bible doesn’t clearly say this.

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