Luke 2:1-7

Sermon preached on December 11, 2016 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Michael P. Murphy was one of the four Navy seals that were featured in the book and movie 'Lone Survivor'. He was killed in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005. What I'm about to tell you wasn't in that book or movie, but in the movie, "Murph, The Protector". In that documentary Michael's mother and father told a remarkable story about him. The last time they saw Michael was on Easter Sunday, March 27 of that same year. As he was leaving for his home in Hawaii his mother said good-bye to him. Michael responded that she never said good-bye to him. She said she didn't know why he said it. She told him to send a message when he got home in Hawaii safely. But she didn't get a text from him when he got back to Hawaii. She found that very strange. Sometime in the next month or two Michael was deployed to Afghanistan. He was killed there approximately three months after he had visited his parents. The U.S. military was remarkable in that they went to great efforts to recover Michael's body and the bodies of the two fellow seals who were killed from that mountain in Afghanistan. His body was flown back to the states and Michael was buried near his childhood home on Long Island. His funeral was on July 13. Here's the remarkable thing—just when the committal service at the graveyard ended, just after his mother and father said good-bye to him and were walking the short distance to their car, the mother's phone goes off. The mother said, "Who would be calling me now. They all know we're at a funeral." She opened her phone and her husband saw tears welling up in her eyes. He asked her if she was okay but she couldn't speak. She handed him her phone. On it was a text message. It was from Michael. It was the one that he sent on March 31, when he got home in Hawaii, that his mother didn't get until that moment. It read, "Momma, home safe and sound. Love, Mike."

How could that be? Talk about a coincidence. Or… it was a little message of comfort from God? I believe it was the latter.

There are no coincidences with God. We see this in our text. It was no coincidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. God summoned a distant emperor, the most powerful man in the world, to start the process which would lead to Jesus being born in Bethlehem. What we see here is that

God used His power, His providence, to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem at just the right time for Jesus to be born.

It's like Ken said last week, when the time had fully come, God sent His Son. This morning we're going to look at how God used His power to bring them to Bethlehem.

We all know that Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem. It was predicted in Micah 5:2. It says,

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small
among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one
who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times."

How did God arrange for Joseph and Mary to be in Bethlehem? It was through the pride, arrogance and greed of Caesar. Caesar issued a decree that a census should be taken. The purpose was to register people so that they could be taxed. The word that is used here refers to an, ("ἀπογράφω," BDAG, 108)

"official registration in tax lists".

God used Caesar to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Caesar was, as Norval Geldenhuys puts it, (Luke, p. 100)

"an instrument in the all-guiding hand of God."

God used this great pagan emperor to fulfill His purpose of having Jesus born in Bethlehem. Our passage calls to mind the beginning of the book of Ezra. It says, (Ezra 1:1–5)

"In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia,
in order to fulfill the word of the Lord
spoken by Jeremiah,
the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia
to make a proclamation throughout his realm
and to put it in writing:
'This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
'The Lord, the God of heaven,
has given me all the kingdoms
of the earth and he has appointed me
to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.
Anyone of his people among you—
may his God be with him,
and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah
and build the temple of the Lord,
the God of Israel,
the God who is in Jerusalem.
And the people of any place where survivors
may now be living are to provide him
with silver and gold,
with goods and livestock,
and with freewill offerings
for the temple of God in Jerusalem.'
Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin,
and the priests and Levites—
everyone whose heart God had moved—
prepared to go up and
build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem."

God worked in King Cyrus' heart. God moved his heart to worked in him so that he issued the proclamation for the Jews to return to their home.

So when we read of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, as a result of Mary and Joseph having to go to Bethlehem to be registered according to the will of Caesar, we should be assured the same thing happened. Just as God had predicted that the Babylonian captivity would last 70 years (Jer. 25:11,12, 29:10), so He predicted that the great coming Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Then God arranged it all. Human sovereigns, no matter how great they are—are instruments in the hand of God. As we read, in Proverbs 21:1,

"The king's heart is
in the hand of the Lord;
he directs it like a watercourse
wherever he pleases."

It was the same way with Pharaoh's heart. When did he let the Israelites go? In Exodus 12:40–41 we read,

"Now the length of time
the Israelite people lived in Egypt
was 430 years.
At the end of the 430 years,
to the very day,
all the LORD'S divisions left Egypt."

To the very day. They left Egypt on the 430th anniversary of the day they arrived. God's time was precise. So it was with Mary and Joseph being in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.

The second thing about our text is that

God arranged for Jesus be born in Bethlehem.

Why did Jesus have to be born in Bethlehem? One reason was because the Old Testament predicted it. Earlier I quoted Micah 5:2 which tells us this great truth. But why did God give His people this tidbit of information in Micah? Why did God choose to have Jesus born in Bethlehem? There were many reasons. One was that it was the City of David. (Luke 2:4,11) David was born in Bethlehem and Jesus was a direct descendant of David. (Matthew 1:1, 1:20) It was in David that the promise of a Messiah was given. In 2 Samuel 7:16 God said to David,

"Your house and your kingdom
will endure forever before me;
your throne will be established forever."

The prediction that the Messiah would be from David's line is also in Isaiah 11:1–5. It says,

"A shoot will come up
from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom
and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and
of the fear of the Lord—
and he will delight
in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what
he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears
with his ears;
but with righteousness
he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions
for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth
with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips
he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt and
faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion
and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them."

The promises that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem was in line with the Messiah being from the house of David. It was one of the concrete promises that God gave to His Old Testament people to give them hope and confidence. John Calvin says, (Songs of the Nativity, Sermon on Luke 2:25-28, p. 153)

"the Lord Jesus Christ was not sent into the world without firm and certain testimony, so that our faith, being founded upon him, might be fully assured."

So the promise of the Bethlehem birth was given for the benefit of the Old Testament people to give them confidence and hope. It was a blessing to them in that it was a concrete promise, tied to a place. Every time they thought about Bethlehem, or heard about it, or traveled near it, they could bring to mind that thought,

"This is the place where the Messiah is going to be born."

What a blessing that was to them.

So when the time came for Jesus to be born.

He had to be born in Bethlehem. No other place would do. God had to fulfill His promise.

Otherwise God would be a liar. Otherwise, the hope of the people would have been found to be false.

The unseen background in all this is the fact that Satan tried, in many ways, to stop Jesus from fulfilling His mission to save sinners.

We see this in Revelation 12:4. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth,

"so that he might devour her child
the moment it was born."

We're familiar with that. Herod's murder of the children around Bethlehem was but one example of that.

But there is also an Old Testament story about Satan's opposition even to the birth of the Messiah.

The first instance occurred not long after the fall into sin. When Adam and Eve sinned God said to Satan, (Genesis 3:15)

"I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel."

When Abel was born Satan saw the beginning of that promise coming true. Abel was devoted to God, to serving Him. I have no doubt that Satan stirred up Cain to kill Abel. Satan tried to stop God's promise from being fulfilled.

We see this in the slavery in Egypt, in Pharaoh's attempt to kill all the male Israelite children. We see it in the sin of David, in the sin of the nation of Judah, in the exile, in the opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem—Satan time and again tried to prevent the birth of the Messiah. But God worked in all those things to preserve His people and ensure that the Messiah was born in Bethlehem.

I believe that the inn at Bethlehem being full was one of the last examples of Satan's attempt to prevent the birth of the Messiah as predicted in the Old Testament. For Mary and Joseph the choice was between going to another village or having their baby born in a manger. It's not nearly as big an event as Herod's later attempt to kill Jesus by murdering all the boys in and around Bethlehem—but it still was a great obstacle to Jesus being born in Bethlehem. The inn was full. What do you do when you get to a motel that is full? You keep going. If you're on a journey you go further. If you're at your destination, you would go to the neighboring town. That's what we do in the age of the automobile. But even with Mary and Joseph, there was another village, Etam, just a mile away. The choice was either leaving Bethlehem, or having the baby in the stable. Either one threatened the mission of Jesus. If they left the Messiah wouldn't have been born in Bethlehem. If they stayed, the birth would take place in the most unsanitary conditions.

But God, in His wonderful providence, arranged for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph didn't leave. In spite of Satan's opposition, Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Norval Geldenhuys writes, (Luke, p. 99)

"Throughout the centuries God had so led the course of history that everything was now prepared for the coming of His Son."

The fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in a manager, after thousands of years of effort by Satan and the forces of evil to prevent it—with God using a pagan emperor's decree to bring it about—was a incredible miracle.

There are two lessons from this.


This should give you confidence about the future of the church, about your salvation.

God's purposes to save His people will never be thwarted. Proverbs 16:4 says,

"The Lord works out everything
for his own ends—"

In Isaiah 46 God said to the rebels, (verses 9–11)

"I am God,
and there is no other;
I am God,
and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times,
what is still to come.
I say:
My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.
From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land,
a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said,
that will I bring about;
what I have planned,
that will I do."

If you survey the history of God's people, from the beginning to the birth of Jesus—you will find example after example of God using His power to ensure His purposes stood firm and came to pass. As Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:18,

"And I tell you that you are Peter,
and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."

The second lesson is that

God's way often involves hardship for His people.

We see this in Mary and Joseph in our text. There are many things in our text that reveal the hardship they endured. Mary being pregnant before they were married. Did people talk after Mary started showing? Were they shocked like Joseph was when he learned that Mary was pregnant? Did they gossip? Were harsh things said to Mary? We don't know, but it is quite possible.

Then there was the travel to Bethlehem. Approximately 80 miles while Mary was ready to give birth. There was no room at the inn. They had to stay with the animals And then there's the difficulty of giving birth. I've heard some women sometimes complain how they don't like pain. Wow. Yet they are the ones that undergo the pains of childbirth.

Then there was the flight to Egypt in the middle of the night. Traveling with a small baby is usually hard under the best of circumstances even in our modern world. Back then it was much worse.

The point is that doing God's will often involves hardship. Mary and Joseph were doing exactly what God wanted them to do. They were being obedient. They were in the center of God's will. Yet their life was anything but easy. At that crucial time, when they rendering to God the most important service that any human beings ever rendered to God—it was hardship after hardship after hardship. God could have made their life easy—but He didn't.

Some people think that if things come easy, then that path must be God's will. That's often not the case.

We need to embrace God's path for us. Do His will in spite of the difficulty. May God give us grace to do so.