Luke 2:12

Sermon preached on December 25, 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.

If you were going to ask God for a sign, what kind of sign would you ask for? God gave some great signs to people who didn't even ask for a sign. He gave the rainbow to show that He would never flood the entire earth again. Rainbows are beautiful. Every time I see a rainbow I think of that promise.

The burning bush was also a great sight to see. To see a bush burn but not be consumed—Moses was given a great sign.

In 2 Kings 20:8–10 King Hezekiah was given a choice regarding the sign that he was going to be healed of the sickness that had come upon him. The prophet Isaiah said to him,

"This is the LORD'S sign to you
that the LORD will do what he has promised:
Shall the shadow go forward ten steps,
or shall it go back ten steps?"

King Hezekiah answered,

"It is a simple matter for the shadow
to go forward ten steps…
rather, have it go back ten steps."

So that's what God did. It was a great sign. It was a great help to Hezekiah's faith.

Naaman the Syrian was expecting a great sign, indeed, some fanfare when he went to Elisha the prophet to be healed of his leprosy. But when he arrived at Elisha's house, Elisha didn't come out to meet him. Instead, he sent a messenger to him. The messenger said, (2 Kings 5:10–12)

"Go, wash yourself seven times
in the Jordan, and your flesh
will be restored andyou will be cleansed."

When Naaman heard that he became angry. He said,

"I thought that he would surely
come out to me and stand and call on the name
of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot
and cure me of my leprosy.
Are not Abana and Pharpar,
the rivers of Damascus,
better than any of the waters of Israel?
Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?"

Naaman then left in a rage. It wasn't until his servants changed his mind and talked some sense into him that he went and washed himself in the Jordon and was healed.

In Luke 2 the shepherds were given a sign. This sign was to help them identify the baby that was the Savior, Christ the Lord. The angel said, (Luke 2:12)

"This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby
wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

The sign they were given

was remarkable for its lowliness.

In contrast to this the first sign that the shepherds were given was a great sign. They saw an angel who gave them a great message. Then they saw a great company of the heavenly host singing and praising God. These things magnificent, unusual, dramatic, wonderful signs.

But when they actually got to the baby—the sign about how they would recognize the baby was just the opposite. There was no fanfare. There was no visible glory of the Lord. There were no angels present. It was a child, born in a stable, lying in a manger. It wasn't a baby in a palace, clothed in the finest of clothes, cared for by lots of attendants. No, the second sign was of poverty, of want, of humility and lowliness.

Contrast this with the first sign and the message of the angel.

The contrast is amazing. The shepherds were told about the coming of the long awaited Messiah.

First, the angel said that he had good news of great joy that was for all the people.

In the New Testament the word, 'people' is most often used of the people of Israel. The shepherds may have understood this to mean that it was going to be good news of great joy to all of Israel.

But since we know from the rest of the New Testament that the good news of great joy was going to be for all the people of the earth, and since there are a few places in the New Testament where this universalism is implicit in the word, (Acts 4:25, Romans 15:10, Titus 2:14) it is clear that the angel's words meant that this birth was going to have universal implications. It was going to affect the entire world. It was good news of great joy for people everywhere.

Why, then, was the baby lying in a manger?

Secondly, the angels were told that

the One who was born in the town of David was a 'Savior'.

It is evident that the people of Israel were looking for a Savior, the Messiah. Later on in Luke 2:25 we see that when Jesus was presented at the temple, Simeon, who was,

"waiting for the consolation of Israel…"

He was waiting for the 'comfort of Israel'. Simeon had been told that he would not die before he saw the Lord's Christ. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Savior was, (" Σ," NIDNTTE, 4:425)

"applied above all to Yahweh (e.g., Deut 32:15),

The Savior of Israel was none other than God. We see this in Mary's words in Luke 1:47. In her song Mary said,

"my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,"

The Israelites had long been waiting for the great Savior, one like Moses, only much greater than Moses, the One who would come and save them.

Thirdly, the angel said that the one born in the town of David was,

Christ, the Lord.

He was Christ—the anointed One.

When the wise men came to Jerusalem they asked, (Matthew 2:2)

"Where is the one
who has been born king of the Jews?
We saw his star in the east
and have come to worship him."

In response Herod called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law. (verse 4)

"he asked them
where the Christ was to be born."

The people of Israel were long expecting the Messiah, the One anointed by God. In John 1:41 we read that after Andrew heard John the Baptist declare that Jesus was the Lamb of God, he followed Jesus to find out where He was staying. The first thing he did after that was,

"to find his brother Simon and tell him,
'We have found the Messiah, (that is, the Christ).' "

It was His birth that the angel announced. The child was the Anointed One, the Messiah of God. Norval Geldenhuys writes, (Luke, p. 111)

"The name 'Christ' refers to Him as the Fulfiller of the promises of God and as the One who has been anointed by God as the Great Prophet, Priest and King—the divine Savior."

He is also 'the Lord'.

This refers to God Himself. In verse 9 we read that the angel appeared,

"the glory of the Lord shone around them,"

The One who was born was none other than the Lord Himself.

In light of all that, we should be amazed that the sign given to the shepherds, the one by which they were recognize the child unlike any other— the long awaited Savior, Christ, the Lord—

was couched in poverty, want, and humility.

The sign was paradoxical. Joel B. Green writes, (Luke, NICNT; p. 135)

"The wealth of these acclamations stands in contrast to the poverty of the sign, a baby in a manger, wrapped in bands of cloth."

There were two parts to the sign.

First, they would find Him wrapped in cloths.

Wrapped in cloths. What does this mean? I'm not sure exactly what to make of it. Most commentators believe that it was just the way that most babies in those days were wrapped. They would point you to the fact that it was the second part, the baby lying in a manger that was the sign.

But if that's true, it seems strange that the strips of cloth would be mentioned at all. Alfred Edersheim suggests that there has to be something to it, (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, paragraph 890)

"Otherwise the remark would seem needless and meaningless."

He suggests that it's an emphatic statement indicating that Mary had no attendants to help her with the baby. Verse 7 tells us that Mary herself 'wrapped Him in swaddling clothes'.

It is also possible that the clothes that Jesus was wrapped in were made do ones. Perhaps Mary and Joseph, because they were traveling, didn't have clothes suited just for the purpose of wrapping a newborn. Perhaps in their need, Mary and Joseph tore up some of their clothes to wrap Jesus in. If this were so, the strips of cloth would also be a sign of poverty. Normally, you wrap a baby in a little sheet, a little blanket. It could be that that Mary and Joseph didn't have anything to wrap Jesus in so they had to improvise. They tore pieces of cloth from their other clothes.

Secondly, the shepherds were told that

they would find the baby lying in a manger.

This is a sign of utmost lowliness. Today you hear about babies being born in taxis or police cars that were taking the mothers to the hospital for the birth. But as we saw two or three weeks ago, Jesus was born in Bethlehem by the hand of God, who directed Caesar to issue a decree, which led Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where there was no room in the inn. No other birth was planned like this. But God sent His beloved Son to be born in a stable, to be placed in a manger.

The great question is—

why was this second sign to the shepherds all about poverty, want, lowliness?

James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke, PNTC; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 78.

"Without the divine word, who would imagine that in this humble person and place, Immanuel, "God is with us"?

As a song says, "Where but a stable would a lamb be born?" Jesus was the lamb of God, it was fitting that He be born in a stable.

Part of the answer is that it shows us a tremendous truth—

that Jesus stooped so low, in order to enter into our suffering, our low condition, in order to save us.

The Venerable Bede, writing in the 7th or 8th century said,

"It should be carefully noted that the sign given of the saviour's birth is not a child enfolded in Tyrian purple, but one wrapped round with rough pieces of cloth; he is not to be found in an ornate golden bed, but in a manger. The meaning of this is that he did not merely take upon himself our lowly mortality, but for our sakes took upon himself the clothing of the poor."

The point is that Jesus came to save lowly sinners and to emphasize that point He was born in the lowliest of conditions. Indeed, the angel appeared to shepherds. James R. Edwards writes, (Luke, PNTC; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015),p. 74)

"Along with gamblers and tax collectors, herdsmen were regularly listed among despised trades by Mishnah and Talmud."

Another commentator writes, (The Incarnation in the Gospels, (Doriani, Ryken, Phillips)

"Shepherds were outcasts, and thus their presence at the manger shows that salvation is for everyone."

James R. Edwards continues, (Luke, PNTC; p. 75)

"The appearance of the angel to the shepherds exemplifies the proclamation of "good news to the poor" (Isa 61:1).

This was necessary because there are two problems with us fallen human beings.

First, some people are so aware of their faults, their failings, their sins, that they think that they are too bad for God to save.

They hear the good news but they think that they are so worthless that God would never accept them. They think that their condition is hopeless. They think that they're the worst of the worst and that they are past redemption.

Nothing could be further from the truth. God's word shows us that God saves murderers, drunkards, adulterers, prostitutes, promiscuous people, people who denied Jesus, people who lied and cheated others, people who stole from others, people who went their own way when they knew the true way. The story of the Prodigal Son shows that.

Jesus said to sinners, (Matthew 11:28)

"Come to me, all you who are weary
and burdened, and I will give you rest."

And in John 6:37 He said,

"whoever comes to me I will never drive away."

The apostle Paul described himself this way in 1 Timothy 1:15,

"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves
full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world
to save sinners—of whom I am the worst."

If you think that you're too bad for Jesus, you're wrong. If you think that your sins are too bad for Jesus, you're wrong. He loves sinners. He invites them to Himself. He invites you to Himself. Go to Him.

Secondly, other people don't have the problem thinking that they are too bad for God, but they have a problem in that they think that others are too bad for God to save.

They don't have a problem with themselves, with God saving them—but somehow they look down on others and think that salvation is not for others, that it's not for others who are worse than them.

Is salvation for the really poor people here in Canton? Is it for those men in jail and prison? Does Jesus really care about them? When He began His public ministry in His hometown, Jesus said, (Luke 4:18–19)

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
freedom for the prisoners and
recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Jesus came to save sinners—even the lowliest of them, the worst of them. He was born in more humble circumstances than any of them. He did that to show that He does not despise them, but that He loves them so deeply that He even stooped lower than them.

Lastly, to those who aren't Christians, I ask you,

are you willing to accept this lowly sign?

Are you willing to accept this Jesus, that came to a stable to show that He will accept any type of sinner?

Are you willing to accept other seemingly lowly signs?

In the Parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus spoke about the rich man in torment. We read, (Luke 16:27–31)

"I beg you, father,
send Lazarus to my father's house,
for I have five brothers.
Let him warn them,
so that they will not also
come to this place of torment.'
Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets;
let them listen to them.'
'No, father Abraham,'he said,
'but if someone from the dead
goes to them, they will repent.'
He said to him, 'If they do not listen
to Moses and the Prophets,
they will not be convinced
even if someone rises from the dead."

To many today, the *Bible is a lowly sign, a sign not to be believed. The shepherds saw the baby in the manger, and they saw hope and glory there. You need to believe the Bible and go to Jesus for salvation. Only He can save you. Go to Him today. Today, obtain the best Christmas gift ever—the gift of Jesus.