Luke chapter 02 - A poor and humble start
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Forced to travel to pay taxes, and then find no room in the inn. Born in a smelly stable, and visited by sweaty shepherds.
Luke has to present Jesus as the ideal Man. So Luke mentions very human issues.
Man’s biggest concern is wealth and this is always unevenly distributed. In 2015 America had 42% of the world’s wealth and second placed China had 11 %. The ten wealthiest nations had 84% of the world’s wealth. There are approximately 200 countries in the world.
The poorest 40 countries own 1% of the world's wealth.
Thus 150 countries have to share only 15% of the world’s wealth, giving each of them one tenth of a percent.
In the wealthy United States, 80% of the people only own 15% of the wealth. So there is a vast majority of poor people on planet earth. The poor are not impressed with the small group of the wealthy elite who seem to end up in charge and ruling the poor. The 2016 American presidential election cost about 7 000 million dollars. No poor person can win this election.
An endless problem on earth is the injustices and dislocations caused by the accumulations of great wealth in the hands of so few.
Luke appeals directly to the poor who are the vast majority. Jesus is their Man. Joseph, who adopted Him, and Mary were nobodies. Joseph and Mary, though religious, had no idea that Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem. So God drove them there by inspiring Augustus, the Roman emperor called Caesar, to raise a special tax.
LUKE 2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
Joseph, a poor man, has to travel about 140 kilometers from Nazareth to Bethlehem. His wife is heavily pregnant as the Baby is due in about one week. She has to ride on a donkey which is very uncomfortable and slow. The journey will take about a week. Will they get to Bethlehem before the birth? That thought would worry them all through the journey. So this is the worst time for Mary to travel. The donkey has to carry a week’s food, blankets for sleeping on the side of the road, and Joseph’s carpenter tools (two years later when the wise men get to Bethlehem, the family is still there and Joseph had to work in Bethlehem to support them). There is no place for baby clothes, baby cot, etc.
Why are they doing this uncomfortable trip? In order to pay taxes.
It is difficult to imagine a worse reason. We all hate paying taxes.
They have to travel slowly because of Mary’s condition. Faster people overtake them so that when they get to Bethlehem the inn or hotel is full. They find refuge in a stable that stinks and is not hygienic.
Stables are dirty places, covered in animal manure. They do not smell nice. The Baby is born. A manger, wet with spit from the cows and oxen licking up the last particles of food, is His cot. At the end of His life, humans will spit all over Him too. Why? He is the Bread of Life. We cannot eat bread until we have chewed it and thereby covered it with spit.
LUKE 2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
There was no room for them. They were not wanted. At the start of His life, Jesus was on the outside of religious Jewish society. At the end time in the last church age He stands outside the Christian church door.
The swaddling clothes in this case were old sacks. The only cloth available in a stable is the old sacks that are wrapped around the oxen's yokes that stop the wooden yoke rubbing against the ox’s neck and creating a sore spot. Oxen work hard and sweat. The rags wrapped around the wooden yoke get saturated in ox sweat. So Jesus was wrapped in rags that were full of sweat. Poor shepherds rushed to the stable, and were themselves dirty and sweaty as “they came with haste”. So they felt at home in His presence as He was wrapped in sweaty cloths in this dirty stable. Jesus makes the poor feel at home because He got off to the humblest start. Few babies could be born in poorer circumstances.
At the end of His life there would also be sweat. He would sweat drops of Blood. Why? Adam sinned and his punishment was to earn his living by the sweat of his face. So human sweat had to touch the Blood of Jesus so that this punishment could be redeemed and one day, in the new earth, there will be no more sweat-induced hard work.
Luke now makes it clear that God does not think the way we humans do. That is why God is not impressed with our human religious traditions.
For the first and only time in human history a multitude of angels appeared on planet earth in a fabulous display of praise and the glory of God.
Where did it happen? In a remote region of the Roman empire's border called Palestine. Where in Palestine? Nowhere definite. An unknown field somewhere in the vicinity of a minor town called Bethlehem.
Who was the audience for this one-off incredible supernatural extravaganza?
An unknown small group of uneducated, poor shepherds. Out in the fields they did not bath too often. They smelled like their sheep. We do not know who any of them were. Their names were not worth mentioning because they were such nobodies that no-one would have recognized their names anyway. They were dead scared, in the presence of the supernatural.
So Luke tells us something about God as a Human. He does things in a totally unexpected way. He ignored the favourites ( the religious Jews in the Temple and the synagogues ) and appeared in a most dramatic way to poor and struggling men who had no influence and absolutely no importance, and obviously no money. Too poor to bring presents, they were sufficiently grubby to feel at home and not be put off by the dirty and smelly circumstances of the stable. God was clothing Himself in human flesh and getting off to a start that was so completely unexpected in its simplicity that only the poor and unimportant could appreciate Him.
The Devil was totally fooled. He thought he knew better than to waste time and effort on a miserable stable and some unknown shepherds that were of no value. Two unknown no-bodies in the persons of Joseph and Mary could not have any significance in God's plan. Obviously this whole scene had nothing to do with the coming of Messiah. When Messiah arrived it would be to the important religious leaders in the Temple and there would be much pomp and glory. Only then would Satan rally his demon hordes to do battle with Him. Satan was completely outwitted by a very humble and very simple scene that was acted out by very ordinary people who society regarded as having zero importance.
Jesus, the greatest Baby of all time, was accompanied in the stable by a group of zeros.
The digital information age of computers and cell phones has revolutionized our lives. The digital age depends on two numbers, one and zero.
The birth of Jesus, the Word of God Who had all the spiritual information that we need, revolutionized the world. He is number One. So everyone else at His birth had to be a zero.
Luke emphasizes this human relationship between Jesus the Man as 1 and the rest of us humans as 0.
The world around us wants to make us rate ( self, ambitions, our church traditions, our church leader, our family, our culture, money, fame, women ) as number 1 and what the Bible says as 0.
Notice how little the people of today, including church goers, know of the Bible.
LUKE 2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
:9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
LUKE 2:13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke makes no mention of the wise men. They came two years later, and found the young Child, not a Baby. The wise men went into a house, not a stable. Jesus and Mary were present, but not Joseph.
Matthew 2: 11 And when they (the wise men) were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother.
Wise men would not have felt at home in the very unhygienic stable. Sweaty shepherds felt right at home in the stable. They were used to the smells of animals.
So Jesus, as a Man, got off to the poorest of starts in the humblest of circumstances. He thus fits in with the poor, who are the vast majority of mankind.
Luke mentions that He went to the Temple when He was twelve. The priests marveled at His knowledge.
Joseph and Mary left Him and had to return after three days to find Him in the Temple.
LUKE 2:48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.
:49 And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?
Surrounded by the Jewish intelligentsia who would not believe in the virgin birth, Mary got scared and called Joseph the father of Jesus.
His answer was one of correction and profound insight, delivered with such exquisite tact.
“How is it that ye sought me?” A very gentle rebuke. He could have said, “If you have been looking for me it is because you left without checking that I was with you. That is not good parenting.”
The lesson for us all is that we easily leave the Word of God and move on with our lives in an unscriptural way.
“wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?” Such tact. He could have said “Why are you so frightened of these men that you deny My virgin birth.”
What He said was in effect that if Joseph was His father than he would be in Joseph’s workshop doing woodwork. But if God was His Father, then He would be in God’s Temple talking to the priests and doctors. Because He had stayed all three days in the Temple, Jesus had stayed in His Father’s house. So His real Father, God, had not left Him for those three days the way Joseph, who was not His real father, had.
That way Jesus affirmed His virgin birth with great courage before an important audience that would not believe that claim. Their hostility was the reason that Mary had been scared to state this unpopular fact. So we learn that times will come when we have to stand up for very unpopular Bible truths that the church leaders strongly oppose. Will we have the courage to disagree and tell them what they do not want to hear?
Jesus made an answer that was so clever that He corrected Mary’s mistake without making it obvious that He was correcting her. Such is the respect that He had for Mary. This is a real role model for children who rebel against, disrespect, and criticize their parents.
LUKE 2:51 And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.
Here Luke teaches as an invaluable lesson. If a man wants to give orders to others, he must first learn how to obey orders. Jesus thus went through those difficult teenage years by being subject to Joseph and Mary and never disrespecting them. What a brilliant example. This made Him competent to give orders to others when He came of age and left the home of Joseph and Mary.
COLOSSIANS 3:20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.