Introduction: Can you imagine being in Bethlehem the night that Christ was born? Imagine seeing the baby Jesus lying in the manger[i] with Mary and Joseph joyfully looking on, surrounded by livestock and awe-struck shepherds. We are totally dependent on the Gospels for our information about that night in Bethlehem. Unfortunately, the birth of Jesus is treated by many people as simply a nice little story to tell their children at this time of the year. Oh, it has some religious significance, but no one is expected to take this very seriously. After all, the real meaning of Christmas, we are told, is not to be found in a historical figure who claims to be the way, the truth and the life, and also claims to be the Son of God…NO; the real meaning of Christmas is found in the spirit of the season. Regrettably, that is how many see Christmas. “But Christmas is Christ,” declares James Boice. “We are celebrating the fact that He came to earth as a baby, that he grew into a man, chose to die on a cross for our sins, and rose from the dead to be victorious over sin and death.”[ii] When we examine Luke’s Gospel, we find a number of individuals who were in attendance in the humble manger when the Lord Jesus entered this world. How did they view this historic occasion? With what eyes did they see it?
I. Joseph, The Husband of Mary[iii]: In Matthew 1:20, Joseph is called “the son of David.”[iv] As a direct descendent of King David, he was legally entitled to the throne. From Joseph’s perspective the significance of this event is obvious. The Old Testament promised that the Messiah would come from the house of David (II Samuel 7:12-13; 1 Chronicles 17:11,14; Psalm 89:35-37; Jeremiah 23:5-6). The Messiah had to be a descendent of David (Psalm 132:11). Joseph, therefore, saw the birth of this child through the eyes of Old Testament history. This was the fulfillment of prophecy.[v]
II. Mary, The Mother of Jesus: She saw the birth of Jesus through the eyes of faith. When the angel Gabriel told her that she would give birth to a son, she was puzzled (cf. Luke 1:26-34).[vi] The angel informed her that this miraculous event would take place through the agency of the Holy Spirit. In response, she committed herself into the hands of God. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said,” (Luke 1:38).[vii]
III. The Shepherds, Recipients of Angelic Announcements: The message of the angel to the shepherds was: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10-11). Shepherds were not held in high esteem (note that David, as the youngest son in the family of Jesse, was responsible for the sheep–1 Samuel 16:1) and for the most part were poor.[viii] The shepherds saw the birth through the eyes of the poor. The angel’s message told them a Savior had come for all the people–even for them.
IV. The Angels, Heaven’s Choir: The angels saw the birth through the eyes of glory. They announced the true significance of this event. They identified Jesus as the Son of God, come to fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies.
Conclusion: Something magnificent happened those many years ago. Something indeed happened, but it is also something which the Lord has made known; “not simply an event, but an event plus a revelation.”[ix] Do the eyes of history, the eyes of faith, the eyes of the poor and the eyes of glory help you to see the true significance of Christ’s birth. Do they help you to believe that this is more than a nice little story? Do they help you to understand and love the purpose of His appearing. Baby Jesus came in the fullness of time, born of a woman, born under the law, in order that He might save you and me from our sins and make us children of the living God (Galatians 4:4-6). May you know the true joy of Christmas.
[i] The popular manger depicted in so many nativity scenes is not historically accurate. Nolland comments, “On this reading it is best to think of an overcrowded Palestinian peasant home: a single-roomed home with an animal stall under the same roof (frequently to be distinguished from the family living quarters only by the raised platform floor of the latter). The manger could be free-standing in the stall or attached to the wall (it could also be on the floor of the living area adjacent to the stall area, but this would not fit with the exclusion of the child from the living quarters). I.e., to the living quarter provided by a single-roomed Palestinian home in which hospitality has been extended to Mary and Joseph. J. Nolland, Luke: Word Biblical Commentary (Word, 1989), p. 105.
[ii] J.M. Boice, The Bible Study Hour (Philadelphia: Tenth Presbyterian Church), Dec. 5, 1994. Allow me to acknowledge my indebtedness to the late Dr. James Boice. We were privileged during our study at Westminster to periodically attend Tenth Presbyterian Church and the ministry of James Boice. This message owes its structure to his preaching.
[iii] For more information on Joseph, cf. my sermon series, THE CENTRALITY OF CHRIST, No. 6, Dec. 5, 1993, “The Annunciation of the Lord: His Birth Foretold to Joseph.”
[iv] Note how Joseph is referred to in Matthew’s genealogy (Matthew 1:16). “One might ask why the Evangelist gives Joseph’s genealogy even though he was not Jesus’ father. The most obvious answer is because he was Mary’s husband, the law regarded Jesus as his son. In my view, however, the author also had deeper motives. The manner in which Jesus was granted to Joseph as a son reveals in what sense He was Abraham’s offspring and David’s descendant. It was not only His mother’s descent from Abraham and probably also from David that made Him this; in that case we would expect to find Mary’s genealogy. The Evangelist is genuinely concerned with Jesus’ relationship to Joseph. In Christ’s birth Joseph was the representative of the house of David, the man who, as Mary’s husband, was His putative father. By human reckoning, therefore, he was the man who ‘had to’ father Jesus.” H.N. Ridderbos, Matthew: The Bible Student’s Commentary (Zondervan, 1982), p. 21.
[v]During Biblical times, every Jew would have been preoccupied with his genealogy (cf. 1 Chronicles 9:1). Meticulous records were kept (cf. Nehemiah 7:5-6; Ezra 2:1). This was important for a number of reasons. The right to land and property were determined based on the genealogical records, and every family record was kept. These records were kept individually as well as nationally (in this way they were verifiable) until the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. At this time all of Israel’s genealogical records (except those given in the Bible) were destroyed. Since that date, no pretending Messiah could stake his claim to be of the house of David. In other words, the Messiah had to come before 70 A.D. In the case of Jesus, it was a well known fact that He was of the seed of David and it could be publicly demonstrated at that time. cf. David Baron, Rays of Messiah’s Glory: Christ In the Old Testament (rpt. Alpha Pub., 1979).
[vi] For more information, cf. my series, THE CENTRALITY OF CHRIST, No. 5, Nov. 28, 1993, “The Annunciation of the Lord: His Birth Foretold to Many.”
[vii] Note carefully the angel’s greeting to Mary: “Hail, thou that are highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed are thou among women” (Luke 1:28, KJV). Roman Catholic Mariology is traceable to the rendering of Jerome’s Latin Vulgate which reads gratiae plena, “full of grace.” This is a distortion of biblical text. The Greek participle is actually in the passive voice. Thus, Mary is seen not as a fountain to dispense grace, but as a vessel to receive grace. cf. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., “Mary, the Saints and Sacerdotalism,” in Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and Unites Us, ed. John Armstrong (Moody, 1994), pp. 119-140.
[viii] cf. Ralph Gower, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Moody, 1987), pp. 132-144.
[ix] M. Wilcock, Savior of the World: The Message of Luke’s Gospel (IVP, 1979), p. 44.