On behalf of the Band of Brothers, we hope you had a blessed Christmas and that 2018 brings you shalom, which is a Jewish word meaning “completeness”. A good reminder for 2018 is to allow yourself to receive the freedom that comes with knowing that God did for us what we can’t do for ourselves. On our own we can’t fix our problems, we can’t forgive ourselves, and we certainly can’t save ourselves. But we sure do try! By breaking into our existence as a child, an innocent sacrificial lamb, and then fulfilling His promise by taking our place and dying on the Cross, Jesus Christ proclaimed, “It is finished”. The work has been done. All we have to do is believe it, and stop trying so hard to prove our worth to God and others. You are His child, a redeemed Saint. That cannot be taken away from you. Unconditional love!
I’ve been looking at the birth of Jesus story (Luke 2:1-18) differently this season, and have some new insights as a result. The main goal of this article is to peel this story open, ask some questions, make some observations, and hopefully learn something new.
Another goal of writing this is to perhaps help you think about how you study the Bible. In July, I attended a seminar with two friends from church called “Simply the Story” (www.simplythestory.org). We received training on how to learn (not memorize) and present Bible stories using proven age-old oral story telling techniques. It is a lost art and it was a game-changing experience for me. When we look at this story about the birth of Jesus, we can ask “wise counselor” questions to find treasures in the story. For example: What is happening spiritually or historically before the story? What is the situation causing tension or in need of a solution? Who are the characters? What is being said or done in each main part of the story and what can we learn from that? What choices are being made? What other choices could have been made? What was the result or impact of the choices? How do we see God working in the story and what can we learn about God’s character? These questions give us a solid foundation of spiritual observations. These observations will lead us to spiritual applications (i.e. What can I learn and apply from the lessons of this story?).
So let’s use the birth of Jesus as an example. If you have your Bible or mobile device nearby, have Luke 2:1-18 handy.
Was Caesar Augustus a real person? Yes he was. He ruled for 41 years, from 27 BC to AD 14. As a matter of fact, during his reign the Roman Empire was established, which was a time of great prosperity and growth which reached it’s peak around AD 400 and then fell apart around AD 476.
What is the significance of Caesar Augustus ordering a census of the entire Roman Empire? The most important result of this mandate is that it forced Joseph and Mary to leave Nazareth, and travel around 80-90 miles (70 miles as the crow flies) to Bethlehem while she was about to have a child. Caesar unknowingly fulfilled the prophecy of Micah 5:2, “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”. Another interesting observation is that Caesar is building an empire that is expanding by collecting taxes from all of the people within its boundaries. He needs to raise money and it is obvious he is in charge, because everyone seems to be obeying his orders.
Don’t you also find it interesting that Jesus was born at a time when the Roman Empire was growing so rapidly? The Empire grew from about 1 million square miles to 2 million square miles between 25 BC and AD 117, and roads and transportation were required to connect this new world. In other words, this is the perfect time in history for Jesus to enter in and for his story to fan out to the civilized world. If you think about it, we are at a new inflection point in our own history today, because there is not a place on earth that cannot be reached with some form of communication.
I’m curious to know the reason Joseph and Mary didn’t stay with relatives. We know from the story that there was no room at the Inn, so they laid Jesus in a manger, which is nothing more than a filthy pen where animals stay. If Joseph was from Bethlehem, he must have had relatives there right? There are some reasonable conclusions we can draw but this is speculation. Perhaps Mary went into labor quickly and there was no time to find family members. Maybe they didn’t want to impose. Maybe they were not welcome. After all, Joseph and Mary were expecting a child while not yet married. This would have been scandalous. Whatever the reason, here are some questions for you – If the Inn, or the relatives home, represents your heart, how much room is there for Jesus? Are you willing to let Him in and live there? Or do you want to try to stay in control or your life and your faith, and keep Him in the manger? We do that don’t we? There are a lot of people out there that need a safe place to stay and not be judged. Can we love them like Jesus loves them, or lock the door and hope they go away? I think you know the right answer.
What can we learn from Joseph and Mary in this story? Pretty obvious, but the words “faith”, “trust”, and “obedience” ring loud and true. Think about Joseph’s life. He was a carpenter in Nazareth providing for his family and engaged to Mary. His life and his future was in place. From Matthew 1:18:25, we know an angel told him that Mary is going to have a child, but it was from the Holy Spirit, and he was not the biological father. Should he divorce her? What is everyone going to think? This is not how he planned it. He was reassured by an angel in a dream this is all true, so Joseph obeyed. However, later in Mary’s pregnancy, the census is ordered and Joseph now has to shut down his business and travel 80-90 miles to Bethlehem, with his pregnant fiancée Mary who is about to have the child. The relationship with Joseph and Mary is an endearing example for us to follow. They trusted God, they stayed together, they were more concerned about what God wanted then what other people thought. They didn’t have everything figured out but they went. How do you respond when you are inconvenienced or your plans don’t go your way? How about taking a step of faith when God is calling you out of your comfort zone? We can certainly thank Joseph and Mary for showing us how. And for the men, look no further than Joseph is a role model Pastor, Protector, and Provider. He was also far from perfect, just like us. Interestingly, he doesn’t get to bask in glory and he eventually gets phased out of the story all together once Jesus becomes an adult.
God chose to break into our world as a baby. And He first revealed himself not to Kings, but to lowly Shepherd’s. What does this tell us about the character of God? You have to give God credit for being consistent. He takes messed up people and situations and uses that weakness to show His strength and glory. John 3:16 says it clearly, that he chose to be one of us so that we shall not die, but have eternal life. He loves us so much that he would rather die for you than live without you. And from John 15:15, He is not a God that reigns over us with an impersonal iron fist, but that calls us His “friends”. This is amazing! He could have rode into town as a conquering hero but instead he made himself a vulnerable baby, and went through life just like us, in the form of a human being. What this tells me is that although He is still infinitely above me and I cannot possibly understand God’s ways, He chooses to be WITH me, and He understands me. He knows all of my shortcomings and brokenness but still loves me as a beloved son. That was all made possible by God becoming a man and making himself a sacrifice by dying on the cross to accomplish something I can’t do for myself, total forgiveness of my sins. That is His gift to you. It’s called Grace!
There are so many more treasures we could pull from this story. You may have some of your own. This is just a snapshot based on some of the areas God has revealed to me over the past 30 days. This is why “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12. It challenges us differently every time we study it.
I hope you found this helpful and perhaps the next time you hear this story, you will remember and share what you learned from it. This same approach can be used for every Bible story you read.
May God bless you and keep you.