Saturday, March 19, 2022

History, Prophecy, and Providence - Luke 2:1-7 - March 20, 2022

 Luke 2:1-7 History, Prophecy, and Providence

Good morning! Turn with me again to the Gospel of Luke. Today we are going to look at Luke chapter 2, verses 1-7, that’s on page 857 in the pew Bibles. This might feel a bit like Christmas even with Easter on the horizon.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Let’s pray.

Every Christmas Eve we read this text. 

Luke 2 continues on with accounts of shepherds and angels all the parts that make up our manger scenes. We read these things and think about the birth of Jesus and Mary and Joseph and stables and inns sings songs about this wonderful time. It’s all very sentimental, it just isn’t Christmas without it, not to mention singing Silent Night and trying not to burn your hands with the hot wax from the candles!

But the author of this Gospel, Luke, the faithful physician, included the details of our text this morning for much greater reasons than just stirring up our emotions and feelings of sentimentality.

Do you remember when we talked about Author’s Intent Statements? Do you remember what Luke’s intent was in writing this Gospel? 

Luke’s intent was to give Theophilus certainty about the things he had been taught about what Jesus began to do and teach by carefully researching Jesus’ life and ministry and carefully recording those accounts.

So when Luke records these words in chapter two his purpose is far greater than to stir up all our merry and bright feelings about the Christmas season.

What Luke describes here in these few verses is much more than that, the details that he includes have a much greater purpose.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

Why would Luke include these details? It’s simple really. 

Caesar Augustus was a real person, Quirinius governor of Syria was a real person. They both existed and it is recorded in secular history. 

Quirinius served as governor of Syria twice and took a census both times, this one and one around ten years later. These are historical facts because Luke’s account is historical fact, this account was real not fantasy.

These historical facts are confirmed by historians outside of the Bible, the Roman historian Tacitus, who was not a Christian in the least confirms Luke’s timeline, Josephus, a Jewish historian, not a follower of Christ, confirmed the record of His life and death and resurrection and the existence of a great following that declared Jesus to be God.

Luke includes these details not to weave an engaging story but to establish historical fact, to anchor this most important narrative to the world’s historical record.

The second reason that Luke includes these details concerns the fulfillment of prophecy.

You’ll remember from back in chapter one when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that she will bear a son she responds, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke says again in verse five of chapter two that Mary and Joseph were still not yet married. 

This was to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 that messiah would be born of a virgin, Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

The first prophecy about Messiah was in Genesis 3:15 when God speaks to the serpent, and it shows that Messiah would be a human not an angel.

[And God said] I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

In God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 it shows that Messiah would be a Jew and not a Gentile since He would be Abraham’s offspring. Luke established already that Joseph and Mary were Jewish and here again in verse four when he records that they were both descended from David which is itself a fulfillment of 1 Samuel 7:1-17. 

Genesis 12:1-3 says: Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

According to the prophecy of Micah 5:2-5 the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.

All of these facts, all of these details recorded by Luke are included to establish their historicity, that they are tied to recorded history, and that they are in fact fulfillments of prophecy. God had already established that this was how it was going to go, He had told His people that it would through the prophets and He is proving Himself to be faithful to His Word.

And that brings me to the third reason that Luke includes these details, that in them God displays His attributes, not the least of which is His providence.

JP Lange records it this way:

“God manifests all His attributes in sending His Son: His power, in making Mary became a mother through the operation of the Holy Ghost; His wisdom, in the choice of the time, place, and circumstances; His faithfulness, in the fulfillment of the word of prophecy (Micah 5:1); His holiness, in hiding the miracle from the eyes of an unbelieving world; and especially His love and grace (John 3:16). But, at the same time, we see how different, and how infinitely higher, are His ways and thoughts than ours. His dealings with His chosen ones seem obscure to our finite apprehension, when we see that she who was most blessed of all women, finds less rest than any other. God brings His counsel to pass in silence, without leaving the threads of the web in mortal hands. Apparently, an arbitrary decree decides where Christ is to be born. Still, when carefully viewed, a bright side is not wanting to the picture. God as the Almighty carries out His plan through the free acts of men; and without his knowledge Augustus is an official agent in the kingdom of God.”

Augustus Caesar unknowingly became an official agent in the kingdom of God. This is an introduction to a concept that seems to be lost in our vocabulary: divine providence.

Joseph and Mary, were it not for divine providence, would most likely have stayed in Nazareth, had the baby, gotten married, raised a family, and grew old together, and the prophecies would have failed.

God the Father used Caesar and his decree to register everybody so he could further tax them to move Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem so the prophecy would be fulfilled.

That is divine providence. Providence uses what seems to be negative to bring about a positive. 

Another stupid decree from the stinking government that forces Joseph to trek some eighty miles with his very pregnant fiancée to Bethlehem only to find that there is nowhere for them to stay forcing them to have their baby in a cave with the donkeys, the most humbling conditions… Divine providence.

All of those negatives working out for God’s greater positives. 

2 Corinthians 8:9 says, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

And Philippians 2:5-11, Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

History, prophecy, and providence. Luke records these details because this account was real, not a fantasy. 

God’s Word is true, Jesus is alive, and we can trust in Him.