This passage about the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is wonderfully full of rich truths for the Christian. It begins with the story of two kings; one is the emperor of Rome, the most powerful ruler in the world at the time. The other king is a child, born in low circumstances, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

The Roman king issued a decree (for taxation purposes) that all under the Roman Empire must go and register in their home towns. Ironically, one of the reasons for the decree was to raise money to build a temple to honor the deity of Caesar's late uncle, Julius Caesar. The people of Rome worshipped corrupt men as gods.

As R. C. Sproul comments: "The only deity within the confounds of the Roman Empire was to be found in Bethlehem, this impoverished child in a manger; decreed by God to come before the foundation of the world." This contrast is to teach God's people not to place their hope in men or rulers of men, but God who alone is the sovereign of the world.

We are meant to see God's sovereign hand in all these events. The prophet Micah had written long ago that the birthplace of the Messiah would be in Bethlehem. Bethlehem means "house of bread," and the Lord Jesus has come from heaven to give life to men on earth. Mary was in Bethlehem at the time of his birth because of this decree by Caesar, but before that was the decree of God.

The birth of Jesus in the lowly condition is deliberate. He came to do the will of God, to live to the glory of God. His meat and drink would be the will of God. He laid aside his glory to take our nature in order to live a truly human life, the way God made man to live; not by bread alone, but the word of God. He humbled himself even unto death, in order to take away the sins of men.

In verse 8, the scene shifts from the baby in the manger to shepherds in a field nearby. They are shaken out of their normal routine of watching the flock by an angel of the Lord appearing and the glory of the Lord being manifested.

In the Old Testament the glory of the Lord would descend upon the tabernacle and later the temple as a sign of the presence of the Lord. The Lord's glory would settle in the holy of holies, the part of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant was located, which contained the two tablets of God's law. No man could enter into the presence of God without a sacrifice for sin.

The appearance of God's glory in connection with the birth of Christ signals the presence of God among men and God's provision for dealing with transgressions of his law. Paul says in Colossians 2 that all the fullness of deity dwells in Christ. His coming means God will make his dwelling among men.

The shepherds are filled with fear, but the angel proclaims "good news." The child born in Bethlehem is the promised Messiah or Christ, and he is a Savior for all the people. God is proclaiming peace to men through him. The angel says this is a pronouncement of "great joy," It is great joy for all who believe; the joy of loving fellowship with God that will never end.

The temple of the Lord, the dwelling place of God, is now with men, and in men. The pronouncement of God is "here is your Savior," the very Son of God taking upon himself your nature so you can be assured of the favor of God and the forgiveness of your sins.

In verse 15, we read that the shepherds respond to this revelation by making haste to go to Bethlehem to see the child. They aren't going to see Joseph and Mary; they are hurrying to see Christ, a baby and yet the Lord of all. They are believers.

When they arrive, the shepherds tell of all that had been told them concerning this child. All who heard it marveled at it, and we read that Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." We need to be like her, thinking deeply of the wonder of such a Savior.

The scene ends with the shepherds returning to their work, glorifying and praising God. They still have work to do, a flock to tend; but they are not the same shepherds. They bear the mark of grace; those who glorify and praise God for Christ, the gift of God for salvation; eternal life with God.

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