Luke 2:1–20 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
Christ's Birth, a Season of Salvation
After five weeks of studying Luke's gospel we'll now see God send forth his Son. In obedience to the Roman decree, Joseph and his nine-month-pregnant wife Mary travel to Bethlehem to be counted. During the final weeks of Mary's pregnancy, the Jews of Nazareth learned that Caesar Augustus had sent out a decree that a census of his empire would be taken. The Romans held a census every 14 years to determine how much tax money they could expect to raise. Mary and Joseph originated from the house and family of David; they had to travel some 90 miles south to Bethlehem (the land of Ruth and Boaz and their great-great-grandfather King David).
From a Census Comes Immanuel (vv. 1–7)
Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, God had predicted the birth of his Messiah, a son who'd come out of the loins of Adam; the loins of Shem, one of Noah's three sons; out of Abraham through Isaac (not Ishmael ); out of Jacob (not Esau); out of Jesse's son David (not one of David's seven older brothers); out of Solomon (from all of David's sons). Eventually, this son would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) in the city of Bethlehem. As the prophet Micah had written some 700 years earlier to the capital city of Samaria and Jerusalem when they faced the forthcoming Assyrian captivity (Micah 5:2–5), God used the Roman government to help fulfill the last of many prophecies concerning the coming of Messiah, God in the flesh.
Joseph and Mary didn't have relatives in Bethlehem with whom they could stay. To make matters worse, all the rooms that normally were available to travelers had already been taken by many Roman officials and Jews who'd arrived earlier. But Mary was about to give birth. Joseph found a large cave cut out of a rock ledge, used by a local inn to house its clients' animals. He secured a warm place with fresh straw: "She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them." There in that cave, a shelter for animals, was born the Son of God, the Savior of the World, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords, Immanuel.
Christmas is a season of salvation. We should rejoice that Jesus was born in the ancient city of Bethlehem long ago; our hearts should be filled with joy because that Child was — and continues to be — the Savior, Christ the Lord.
The Savior Is Christ the Lord (vv. 8–20)
In the same region there were shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. An angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; they were terribly frightened. The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
Shortly after the birth of the Savior of the world, an angel appeared and stood before a group of shepherds in the hills of Bethlehem to announce the birth of the "Shepherd of Israel" (Genesis 48:15). Scripture in many places refers to Jesus as a shepherd. For instance, in Psalm 23, the Lord is the providing shepherd; in Isaiah 40:11, the tending shepherd; in Ezekiel 34:11, the guardian shepherd; in John 10, the good shepherd; in 1 Peter 5, the chief shepherd.
However, shepherds were despised by the orthodox Jews of the day because they didn't obey the requirements of the ceremonial laws, feasts, washing of hands, etc. Thus, shepherds were very much part of "the lost sheep of their day." But the angel's announcing to shepherds the birth of the Shepherd of Israel was designed to give hope to these men: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (19:10). Not only had Jesus been born to seek and save these lost shepherds, but also those whom we'll soon see in Luke's affirming declaration in 4:18–19, quoting Jesus' words from Isaiah 61.
Jesus' ministry, which began with those shepherds in Bethlehem, continued on, as it continues today, to spiritually affect his believers.
The weather was mild then so the shepherds there kept watch over their flocks in the hills rather then drive them to the shelter of pens. There's evidence that these flocks were being raised for use in Jerusalem temple sacrifices five miles away, where an unblemished lamb was slain every morning and evening as an offering to the Lord. Now the angel was about to inform the shepherds that the Lamb of God, who'd take away their sins by the shedding of his own blood, had just been born. Seemingly, those shepherds' job security would last only thirty more years, before the final Lamb would be slain.
The angel's first words to the frightened shepherds were, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people." He was declaring good news to a society suffering from insecurity, meaninglessness, and the futility of life in general. That good news was for all the people: Jew, Samaritan, Roman, Greek, and Barbarian, regardless of their position in life, whether rich, poor, a master, slave, king, or peasant. This was good news for all, regardless of sex, color, and class.
The shepherds, hurrying to Bethlehem, found Joseph and Mary with the baby Jesus, lying clothed in a manger. There they told the couple and others what had occurred in the field. Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" as the shepherds headed back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all that had occurred.
Thankfully, Christmas was, is, and will always be — until Christ comes again — a season of salvation for every one who is willing, by faith, to ask Jesus to become his or her Lord and Savior. Merry Christmas, indeed!
- Q. 1 Why was it important that Jesus be born in Bethlehem? (See Micah 5:2, referenced above.)
- Q. 2 Of all the people the angels could have visited, why do you suppose God sent them to shepherds?
- Q. 3 Would Mary consider you God's humble servant? A proud, rich ruler? Why?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 2.]
† Watch this passage-specific video clip from Jesus Film Project titled "The Birth of Jesus."
The Birth of Jesus
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to their own town to register.
4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.