The gospel of Luke is unique in many ways but one of the most striking areas that this book adds to the message of scripture is the events of the birth narrative. This entire account is considered an Interchange because of the weaving of both stories together through the whole birth narrative. Luke begins the book with the account of John the Baptizer and then tells the account of Jesus. The book follows an Alpha Beta linguistic pattern (ABABAB) through the rest of the text. Luke begins the ministry account of the book with the ministry of John and then moves to Jesus’ ministry.
The basis for the whole book is founded in the births of these two individuals. The birth of Jesus is one of the pivotal points in human history and provides a pivotal point in all of scripture as God begins the final part of His divine plan for the salvation of the world. Jesus is the promise of God and the completion of God’s plan for salvation.
This whole passage occurs in three stages the birth, the message and the discovery. The birth includes the information given about the Roman census and the actual delivery of Jesus in Bethlehem.
There are several Primary Characters in this text
1. Joseph and Mary: These parents of Jesus, the main characters of the text, are part of the primary census taken in the early part of the rule of Quirinius, who was a governor of the entire region of Syria, and this event was the cause of the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Luke gives us the only account of this trip. The town of Bethlehem has been over crowded by the Roman census and has caused a shortage of places to stay. Thus, the cause for Mary and Joseph staying in the stables. God seems to impact the world in very different ways than what we might expect.
2. Shepherds: Luke is also unique with this narrative in his account of Jesus’ birth because no where else is there mention of shepherds being at the birth of Jesus. This brings up an important theme in Luke’s gospel with the elevation of those who seem to be less important in society. Shepherds were not outcasts ,like many mentioned in Luke’s account, but they were not considered great roles in Israelite society.
There is also a theological reason for the presence of the shepherds. The presence of the shepherd brings forth the image of David as the shepherd king of Israel and the location of Bethlehem, the birthplace of David, adds weight to this symbolic message. The theological ramifications are incredible when the full story is revealed and Jesus’ own role as the Good shepherd is brought into focus.
3. Angels: Luke again records a heavenly presence by the angelic host and this is the third time angels have brought the message of God to earth in this section of the book. Three is a number of great significance in the Bible because it brings forth a general representation of God, the Trinity. Three is generally referred to as the number of God. It is interesting that there were three separate visits by the angels to deliver the message of birth and this clearly represents action of God on behalf of the people.
The message of the angels has been the same through this section, proclaiming the coming births, and now they proclaim the arrival of Jesus. This message is somewhat different because the role and power of the baby is pronounced to the shepherds. Three key words are used savior, Christ and Lord. All three words represent the power, person and position of Jesus.
At this point it is important to mention some of the Greek terms represented in this passage. Christos – Christ: Based on the Hebrew Meshiach meaning Messiah. Soter – Savior: Meaning one who will save or is saving. Lord – Kurios: Based on the Hebrew Adonai which was used to replace Yahweh in OT.
This account takes place during the rule of Caesar Augustus and a primary act of a census going on in the land of Israel. Caesar Augustus was one of the first and most likely the greatest of all Roman Emperor. Augustus was extremely wealthy and used much of his wealth to shape and direct the Roman Empire.
Quirinius was a governor over Syria during two separate terms, 6-4 B.C. and 6-9 A.D., and each term had a census ordered from the Roman government. This is the first of two census reports. So this is set in the time range of 6-4 B.C. and is most likely closer to 4 B.C.
This account takes place in the city of Bethlehem, called the town of David, and is the city of lineage of Joseph and Mary. This occurs after their trip from their home in Nazareth. Nazareth lies in the northern section of Israel in the region of Galilee and Bethlehem lies in the heart of Judea, the southern kingdom of Judah in OT times. This trip would take approximately three days to complete due to the distance and rugged territory.
God is in the process of bringing His will into reality by the sending of His one and only Son as a sacrifice for the whole world. This act of birth is the starting point of the final stage of salvation and the full completion of God’s plan.
This is the greatest display of God’s power and the highest of His mighty acts; coming into the world as fully human and fully divine. Jesus brought the grace and love of God to earth in physical form to show all people that God is at work to save all people.
The method of the birth of Jesus takes place through divine appointment and works to complete the prophetic action foretold in the OT. God is at work in the overall plan and function of Jesus’ birth and the whole event is shrouded in the power and plan of the Father. It is one of the many holy mysteries that has become truth for those who believe in the One who was and is and is to come. Jesus came to be the sacrifice for all people and to be the atonement for sin. Jesus is the source of salvation for all people and He is the savior, Christ and Lord.
Jesus is savior, Christ and Lord. These three functions of His person, power and position are the very cornerstone of the faith of the church. It is this that gives us the basis for our faith and our beliefs; without these fundamental facts our faith is worthless and baseless. Jesus is the savior; sent to cleanse the world from the effects and eternal consequences of sin. Jesus is Christ; the promised Messiah of the OT who is the King of Kings. Jesus is Lord; the source of leadership of all who believe and God who came in flesh to a dying world.