“THE JOURNEY TO BETHLEHEM” Luke 2:1-7
INTRO – “Getting Christmas Right” video
When we think of the journey to Christmas, this is probably the journey that most readily comes to mind. Our mind’s eye pictures a nervous young couple making a trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem w/ the pregnant girl riding on the back of a donkey. Let’s think about some of the details of that actual journey:
- 4 – “…Joseph went UP from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem…” – That word “up” gives us a clue about the mountainous terrain in the Judean country.
- The trip was about 70-80 miles long. If they were walking, it probably took about 4 days to make the journey. If Mary was riding on a donkey, it would have taken longer due to the cantankerous nature of a donkey – maybe up to 10 days.
- Speaking of a donkey, there’s no actual biblical proof that Mary was riding on a donkey. Some scholars believe she would have ridden on a donkey. Others are more skeptical due to her pregnant condition.
- No actual biblical proof that they had a conversation w/ an innkeeper. He’s included in most Christmas stories, but he’s not in the Bible. Not necessarily wrong to think about a conversation w/ an innkeeper, but there’s no Scriptural evidence of it.
Here’s the bottom line that we need to remember today about that journey: It really happened. One day, we will know all the details about it, but suffice it to say, it really happened. And aren’t we glad it did!
Let’s look at this journey to Bethlehem:
THIS JOURNEY WAS MANDATED – v. 1-3 – Luke was the only Gospel writer to give details about the geopolitical situation surrounding Jesus’ birth. Palestine was under the rule of the Roman empire at this time w/ Emperor Caesar Augustus in charge. He mandated the edict for the census to be taken that brought Joseph & Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. These censuses were taken for the purposes of military conscription & taxation of the people. While the Jewish people didn’t have to serve in the Roman military, Rome was not going to miss an opportunity to collect some taxes from them.
The Roman Caesars were considered to be gods. But the truth is that, when Caesar Augustus issued his decree for the taxation of the people, he was actually being used by the REAL God – the one, true, living God – to bring about the perfect divine plan for the redemption & salvation of mankind. A pagan king who THINKS he’s a god will ALWAYS be under the rule of the Perfect King who IS God! God can & will use man’s plans to bring about His plan. Rome may have thought that their mandate was just about collecting some taxes. But the truth is that their mandate was setting in motion the arrival of the Savior. They brought in some money – God brought in the Messiah! This mandated journey was all a part of God’s big plan!
I like what one commentator said about this mandated journey: “The government forced Joseph to make a long trip just to pay his taxes. His fiancée, who had to go w/ him, was going to have a baby at any moment. But when they arrived in Bethlehem, they couldn’t even find a place to stay. When we do God’s will, we are not guaranteed a comfortable life. But we are promised that everything, even our discomfort, has meaning in God’s plan.” (study note on Lk. 2:3-6 in NLT Life Application Bible, p. 1937)
THIS JOURNEY WAS MEANT TO BE – v. 4-5 – This mandated journey was meant to be from before the foundation of the world. This wasn’t some knee-jerk last-minute plan that God came up w/ because man’s badness caught him off-guard & took Him by surprise. No, this whole Book is the story of HIS story of reconciling man back to Himself. It’s HIS story of GRACE! HIS story of LOVE! HIS story of REDEMPTION!
In these short verses, 2 significant OT prophecies are fulfilled, showing that this journey that Joseph & Mary took was meant to be long before it actually happened:
- Bethlehem prophecy – Micah 5:2
- Mary prophecy – Isa. 7:14
These are 2 of the prophecies fulfilled by the coming of Jesus into the world. Ray Pritchard said, “What started in Genesis continued throughout the Old Testament. God promised over and over that he would intervene in history. One day the Messiah would come. There was an ever-narrowing stream of prophecy, the promises becoming more and more specific. Until it happened. The angel came to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Then to Mary. Then to the shepherds. Then the Magi in the east saw the star and knew the King of the Jews had been born. Herod, that evil and sick king tottering on the throne in Jerusalem, seems to have been caught by surprise. But the scribes weren’t. They knew the baby would be born in Bethlehem.
Thus the stage was set for the coming of Christ. It happened just as God said it would. Not too soon. Not too late. “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son.” (http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/2006-12-13-The-First-Christmas-Miracle/) It was meant to be!
Listen! Some of the tough stuff that’s happening in your life right now may be meant to be as God sets the stage for something incredible & miraculous to happen in your life! Or it may be that He’s setting the stage to intervene in someone else’s life through you, & the only way you’ll be ready for that is for you to go through some difficulties to sharpen you & refine you. Are you willing to trust Him in those hard times? Are you willing to let Him work in your life, even though you may not understand everything that’s going on right now? Which leads to the next point…
THIS JOURNEY WAS MESSY – v. 6-7 – You talk about a mess! The government forces you to make an unplanned trip w/ your very pregnant fiancée – you get to town & can’t find a room – you end up having to stay in a dirty, smelly, unsanitary stable – your fiancée goes into labor & gives birth in the stable – you don’t have a decent cradle or crib to put the baby in, so you lay Him in the animals’ feeding trough – TALK ABOUT A MESSY JOURNEY FROM START TO FINISH!
But Jesus came into our messy, sin-infected world in a messy way to bring His message of joy, peace, & salvation for the whole messed-up world.
Illustration: His name was Bill. He had wild hair, wore a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans, and shoes with no socks. This was his wardrobe during four years of college. Though mildly eccentric, he was a brilliant person. He became a Christian while attending college. Across from the campus was a traditional church. They wanted to develop a ministry to students, but weren’t sure how to go about it. One day Bill decided to go worship there. He walked in with his wild hair, T-shirt with holes in it, jeans, and shoes with no socks. The service had started. Bill started down the aisle looking for a seat but the church was full. By now people were looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one said anything. Bill got closer and closer to the front, when he realized there were no seats. He just sat down right on the floor. Although perfectly acceptable behavior at a college fellowship, this had never happened in this church! By now the people were really uptight, and the tension in the air was thick.
A deacon slowly made his way toward Bill. This deacon was in his eighties, a distinguished man with silver-gray hair and a three-piece suit. He walked with a cane. Everyone thought, “You can’t blame him for what he’s going to do. How could you expect a man of his age and background to understand some college kid, thinking he can worship sitting on the floor?”
It took time for the man to reach the boy. The church became utterly silent, except for the clicking of the man’s cane on the tiled floor. All eyes focused on him. When the elderly deacon got next to the boy, he dropped his cane to the floor. With great difficulty he lowered himself and asked Bill, “May I sit with you?” The man sat down next to Bill and worshiped with him, so he wouldn’t be alone. (Christmas sermon: “And They Were Amazed”, Craig Loscalzo, Copyright © 2004 LifeWay Christian Resources)
That’s what the birth of Jesus means. It means that, sometimes, the journey gets messy & we’ve got to be willing to get messy, too. A neat, clean, sanitized Christian life is not what Jesus came to give us. It was messy from the beginning, & it still is!
THIS JOURNEY WAS MONUMENTAL! – Remember the Faith Hill song – “A Baby Changes Everything”? The birth of Jesus certainly did that in a monumental way!
Joseph Damien – 19th century missionary who ministered to people w/ leprosy on Hawaiian island of Molokai. His unselfish, sacrificial service to those suffering w/ this disease was incredible. One morning before he was to lead a worship service, he was pouring hot water into a cup when he accidentally spilled some on his bare foot. It took a moment for him to realize that he had not felt any sensation. Gripped by what that could mean, he poured more hot water on the same spot. There was no feeling whatsoever. Damien immediately knew what had happened. As he walked tearfully to deliver his message, no one at first noticed the difference in his opening line. Normally, he began by saying, “My fellow believers.” But this morning, he began by saying, “My fellow lepers.” He identified w/ them in a much more intimate, personal way now. There suffering was now his suffering as he entered into their world in a new way.
In a much greater way, Jesus came into our world in a messy, monumental way to say to us, “My fellow humans.” Apostle John said it this way: “In the beginning was the Word…And the Word became flesh & made His dwelling among us…”
And now we are called to enter into the messy world of those who are lost & in need of the Savior that we know & tell them how much He loves them. And this week is one of the best time to share Christ w/ others b/c everyone is talking about Jesus this week as we move toward Christmas.
Use the Christmas Gospel tract in Worship Communicator to share Christ w/ someone this week!