Luke 2:6-76So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
These verses are among the best known in the Bible. Jesus came into the world as a helpless baby. This is the very image of Jesus as being fully God, yet fully man, truly fulfilling the Name – Immanuel. It’s one of those aspects of God that we simply can’t grasp fully with our finite minds. If we consider it carefully, we can never really understand how God is able to simultaneously be both omnipotent and completely helpless, or how He can be omniscient, yet not know the day or hour of His return. In fact, I would advise anyone to run quickly far from anyone who claims to have fully comprehended God’s coming in the flesh of the man – Jesus. The apostle Paul calls this a great mystery.
1 Timothy 3:16And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:God was manifested in the flesh,Justified in the Spirit,Seen by angels,Preached among the Gentiles,Believed on in the world,Received up in glory.
Although we can never really come to grips with this mystery intellectually, we take Jesus’ manifestation of God in the flesh of a man as an essential of our faith.
1 John 4:1-31Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
The Greek word φάτνη phatnē translated “manger” here is found four times in the New Testament – all of them in Luke. Three of these instances refer to the manger where Jesus was laid. The fourth is found in Jesus’ harsh response to the ruler of the synagogue who objected to Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath of the woman who had suffered from a discharge for 18 years. There it is translated “stall.”
Luke 13:14-1614But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”15The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, [φάτνη phatnē] and lead it away to water it? 16So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”
Mangers similar to the one in which Mary laid Jesus, made from hollowed out blocks of stone, dating from the time of Solomon, may still be seen today in his chariot city of Megiddo.
Inns, and public houses were not common in the ancient Middle East. Most towns and villages had no inn at all. Bethlehem’s inn would not have been very impressive, in any case, and the young family may have actually been better off in the barn with the animals. Travelers normally stayed in the homes of family, or even strangers. Hospitality toward strangers was a point of pride and “common courtesy” in ancient Hebrew culture, as it is even today in Middle Eastern societies. Certainly, the population of Bethlehem was temporarily much larger than usual due to the census, and this cultural hospitality was thus heavily strained. But the fact that Joseph and his family were not welcomed in by anyone, is nevertheless quite poignant. Jesus spent His very first night on Earth in abject humility, just as He would live His entire life.
Luke 9:57-5857Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.”58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Isaiah 53:3He is despised and rejected by men,A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Luke 2:8-98Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.
While shepherds weren’t actually despised in ancient Hebrew society, they weren’t respected either. This marginalization of shepherds was also common in ancient Middle Eastern societies, and carries through even into the modern social structure. Recall that Joseph used the Egyptians’ societal aversion to shepherds to influence Pharaoh into giving the prime agricultural land of Goshen in the Nile delta to his family, knowing that Pharaoh would want the shepherds located far from the cities and the seat of power.
Genesis 46:31-3431Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and say to him, ‘My brothers and those of my father’s house, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32And the men are shepherds, for their occupation has been to feed livestock; and they have brought their flocks, their herds, and all that they have.’ 33So it shall be, when Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34that you shall say, ‘Your servants’ occupation has been with livestock from our youth even till now, both we and also our fathers,’ that you may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”
Herding sheep was considered menial, and was the job given to the youngest sons, not the eldest and heirs of the fathers’ blessings. Recall that when Samuel was sent by God to anoint David as Saul’s replacement, Samuel himself thought each of David’s older brothers were the chosen one because he was looking at their outward appearance and position within their father Jesse’s family, while God knew that David would be a “man after God’s own heart.”
1 Samuel 16:6-126So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him!”7But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”8So Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 10Thus Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 11And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all the young men here?” Then he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep.”And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him. For we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!”
Shepherds were also suspect, having a reputation – often deserved – for thievery, deceit, and debauchery. Shepherds were the ones that people loved to hate. On the one hand, their work was essential. Sheep require a shepherd. Unlike cattle, they will wander and die unless guided by someone who cares for their needs. The sheep provided essential needs to the ancient Hebrew society – meat, clothing, and milk. But on the other hand, the shepherd’s job was menial, lonely, arduous, and thankless. Are we so far from these ancient people in our attitudes toward those who serve our basic needs? What is our true heart, for example toward the migrant farm workers who pick our crops? We want to buy our food at the lowest price possible, but we begrudge these people the benefits of our society’s infrastructure and services.
It is therefore significant that the first announcement of the coming of the Lord was to shepherds. It falls in line with what Jesus would later respond to the self-righteous Pharisees when they complained that He hung out with sinners and tax collectors.
Matthew 9:12-1312When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ [Hosea 6:6] For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Traditionally, the field in which these shepherds were tending their sheep is assumed to lie just north of Bethlehem along the road to Jerusalem. Tourists in Israel today frequently visit this field where they may have photos taken (for a small fee) with a young shepherd holding a lamb who invariably appears as if by magic when the tour buses arrive. It is notable that during the time of Jesus’ ministry on Earth, the lambs used for sacrifice in the temple at Jerusalem were born in the fields surrounding Bethlehem.
The fear of the shepherds in the presence of the glory of the Lord is reminiscent of the fear of the nation when the Lord’s glory appeared to them from Mount Sinai.
Exodus 20:18-2018Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. 19Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”20And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.”
Luke 2:10-1210Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
In this very first Gospel witness after the advent of Jesus, the angel uses the word σωτήρ sōtēr to proclaim the Gospel role of Jesus – Savior of the world. These are indeed “good tidings of great joy.” Hallelujah! This Greek word is found 24 times in the New Testament. It means savior, deliverer, or preserver. In the KJV it is always translated as savior. It is the same word used by Mary in the Magnificat when she says…
Luke 1:47And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
The Greek word Χριστός Christos means anointed, and is used throughout the New Testament in place of the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ mashiyach (Messiah) which also means anointed. Various English translations sometimes use Messiah instead of Christ. This seems like a long way around – using an English transliteration (Messiah) of a Hebrew word (מָשִׁיחַ mashiyach) meaning anointed, in place of the direct English translation (Christ) of the original Greek word Χριστός Christos which also means anointed. The idea in doing that, I suppose was to emphasize that Jesus – God’s Anointed – is indeed one and the same as the long-awaited Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ mashiyach – God-s Anointed, as He is.
Of course, although the original text of Luke is Greek, the lingua franca of Jesus’ day throughout the Mediterranean basin, these shepherds probably spoke Aramaic or possibly Hebrew, and didn’t speak Greek. Either the angel made the proclamation to them in one of the languages they spoke, or communicated it directly to their hearts in “angelspeak.” Clearly, the shepherds understood the message regardless of how it was delivered.
We also have no way of knowing how much these shepherds knew of the long-awaited Messiah. As we have already mentioned, the Jewish people had been awaiting their Messiah since at least the time of Moses, and probably long before. It was Moses who first wrote down the books of the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), but it is possible that Hebrew oral tradition had always passed on the very first Messianic prophecy given by God in the Garden of Eden.
Genesis 3:14-1514So the LORD God said to the serpent:“Because you have done this,You are cursed more than all cattle,And more than every beast of the field;On your belly you shall go,And you shall eat dustAll the days of your life.15And I will put enmityBetween you and the woman,And between your seed and her Seed;He shall bruise your head,And you shall bruise His heel.”
The shepherds were very likely illiterate, but would without doubt have been instructed in the synagogue regarding the coming Messiah. Regardless of what they already knew, though, the proclamation of the angel was crystal clear. They believed it, without doubt due to the splendor of its delivery, and would very soon put that faith into action.
Luke 2:13-1413And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:14“Glory to God in the highest,And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
This scene is reminiscent of the visions we read of Heaven.
Isaiah 6:1-31In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said:“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;The whole earth is full of His glory!”
Revelation 41After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”2Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. 3And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. 4Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. 5And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.6Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. 8The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:“Holy, holy, holy,Lord God Almighty,Who was and is and is to come!”9Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:11“You are worthy, O Lord,To receive glory and honor and power;For You created all things,And by Your will they exist and were created.”
The angels here in Luke 2 proclaim peace on earth, which only the Lord Jesus can establish – both peace with God, and the peace of God.
Romans 5:1-31Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Philippians 4:4-74Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!5Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Luke 2:15-1615So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
Apparently, the shepherds weren’t as confused as I was about the “City of David,” because they knew to go to Bethlehem rather than Jerusalem. We see here that they immediately put their belief in the message of the angels into action.
Luke 2:17-1817Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
The shepherds became the first human beings to witness the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their fellow men. Won’t it be amazing to speak with them in Heaven, and hear them tell about this night which transformed the world, making the way of salvation for hopelessly lost and sinful mankind!
Once the shepherds had seen with their eyes that which they already believed by the testimony of the angels, they immediately went out to proclaim the Gospel among the people of Bethlehem.
Jeremiah 20:7-97O LORD, You induced me, and I was persuaded;You are stronger than I, and have prevailed.I am in derision daily;Everyone mocks me.8For when I spoke, I cried out;I shouted, “Violence and plunder!”Because the word of the LORD was made to meA reproach and a derision daily.9Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him,Nor speak anymore in His name.”But His word was in my heart like a burning fireShut up in my bones;I was weary of holding it back,And I could not.
Acts 18:5When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.
Notice that the response of the people of Bethlehem to the testimony of the shepherds was not immediate and complete belief in the Gospel. Luke says that “those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them” not that everyone believed them and immediately rushed to see Jesus for themselves.
The Greek word θαυμάζω thaumazō translated in the NKJV as “marveled” is also translated here in Luke 2:18 as wondered, were astonished, were amazed, and did wonder. It never means “believed and were saved.” We should take encouragement in this. Sometimes people come immediately to faith and repentance when they first hear the good news as the residents of Nineveh did in response to the preaching of Jonah. Usually, though, folks hear the Gospel multiple times before finally coming to salvation. For me, it took 27 years of faithful witness by my loving brothers and sisters in Christ before I finally came to the point of surrendering my life to His lordship. So take courage in the story of the shepherds, and do not allow the evil one to steal your joy in the Lordby whispering the lie that your witness is ineffective.
Luke 2:19But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
When I was a kid, this is the last verse that my father would read on Christmas Eve just before closing up our family Bible for another year. Consequently, I got into the habit of thinking of this verse as sort of a throw-away verse. Now, years later, when I read this verse, I think about what God says through Isaiah.
Isaiah 55:10-1110“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,And do not return there,But water the earth,And make it bring forth and bud,That it may give seed to the sowerAnd bread to the eater,11So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;It shall not return to Me void,But it shall accomplish what I please,And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
Furthermore, as Paul told Timothy…
2 Timothy 3:16-1716All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
- What is it that God wishes this verse to accomplish in our hearts?
- How must it prosper in the thing for which He sent it?
- For what good work has He given us this verse to equip us?
- What were Mary’s thoughts as she pondered these things?
Almost every new mother has hopes and aspirations for her newborn child, but Mary had been given a special insight even before the child was conceived. She must have been thinking about the shepherds’ testimony and praises in terms of what Gabriel had told her.
Luke 1:32-3332He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Surely, Mary was the very first Christian believer, having heard and believed the Gospel of Jesus even before His conception. She certainly saw for herself that Jesus was extraordinary from the time He was very young. For example, later in this chapter, we read the story of how Jesus was reasoning with the religious teachers in the temple at the age of 12. We also know that Mary was aware of Jesus’ supernatural power even before He began His public ministry.
John 2:2-52Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”4Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”5His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”
Later on, we read that Mary and Jesus’ brothers came seeking Him but He would not leave His disciples go out to them.
Mark 3:31-3531Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. 32And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.”33But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” 34And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 35For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”
Jesus was not disrespecting His mother, who we know was a believer. Yet we know that His brothers were not believers until after His resurrection and ascension.
John 7:5For even His brothers did not believe in Him.
Instead of enjoying a separate time with His family, Jesus used the occasion of His family’s visit as a teaching opportunity. Jesus preached frequently that our relationship with Him, and our salvation through faith in Him must take precedence over our earthly relationships, even those with our own family.
Luke 12:49-5349“I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! 51Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. 52For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. 53Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
God knows how painful this is for us to have unbelievers within our own families, and not be effective in our witness to them. Our grief for our lost loved ones is the hardest thing we could possibly face. Yet our priority must be our focus on Him, and our Christian walk. This is part of what it means for us to confess Jesus as Lord. It has been said that if He is not Lordof all, He is not Lord at all. This is certainly not the way we would have arranged the world if it were up to us. But God’s will reigns supreme. It always has and always will. He is perfectly holy and just. We must take our encouragement in His promises, trusting in Him.
We are well familiar with God’s promise in Romans 8:28, but without leaning too much into the Calvinist camp, we need to consider that verse in its full context.
Romans 8:28-3028And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
We can also be completely certain that God’s righteous judgment on sin (including our own sin and the sin or our loved ones) will be fulfilled.
2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Jesus was, of course, fully aware of God’s sovereignty, and gave us the perfect example of complete submission in His agonized prayer at Gethsemane.
Matthew 26:39He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Luke 2:20Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
As we have seen in verses 17-18, the shepherds had come to witness for themselves what the angel had told them, and once they fully believed, they immediately went out to tell others about Jesus, and about their visitation by the host of angels. Here, we see them returning to the fold to spend time with Jesus, and to praise and glorify Him. We must also partake regularly in fellowship with our LordJesus together with other believers. This is essential to our Christian growth for a number of reasons.
We edify and encourage each other.
Proverbs 27:17As iron sharpens iron,So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
We interceded for one another in prayer.
James 5:16Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
We are strengthened in the power and presence of God’s Spirit.
Matthew 18:20“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Hebrews 10:23-2523Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.