A Christmas with Luke
“A Christmas with Luke”
No-one ever tells history impartially. There are always interests and concerns and prejudices that occupy the mind of the writer.
So imagine you are a tabloid journalist back in the time of Jesus. History records that the Romans ordered a census, which is also recorded in Lk 2:1, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the whole world”. The census was called because Augustus wanted to determine the amount of tax that Judea could pay him - and it was the job of Quirinius to organise the whole event. This is why Luke tells us in 2:3, “And so everyone went to his own town to register”.
Now imagine you're a Fleet Street journalist reporting on those events leading up to the first Christmas. You might report the census like this...........
[Jon and Fiona........”Utter Non-Census”]
And time goes on. Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem...picking the story up from verse 5, “Joseph went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first-born, a son. She wrapped him in clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn”.
How might a tabloid journalist report the birth of Jesus?
[Jon and Fiona........”A Stable Relationship”]
Tabloid journalists record events from a specific angle. Lots of rhetoric, lots of sensation - short on facts - written solely for financial gain and notoriety.
Gospel writers also record events from a specific angle. It's re-assuring to know that Luke doesn't write his story from the perspective of a sleazy Fleet Street journalist. Luke is a reputable citizen - he is a doctor, an historian, and he is a theologian.
There is no hidden agenda with Luke for he declares his hand in 1:1-4. “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught”.
Notice that Luke wants to write an accurate account about the life of Jesus so that Theophilus may know the certainty of the things he's been taught. Luke draws upon eye-witnesses - he carefully investigates everything and painstakingly selects his material so that he presents Jesus as the King and Saviour of the world.
Luke selects his material carefully - records history with specific interests and concerns. John Dickson has a doctorate in ancient history and he lives in Sydney. He says this, “It has often been said to me that the gospel writers were all convinced Christians and so they must be bias in their approach. This is partly true. They were thoroughly convinced that Jesus is the unique Son of God. However, the prior question is: What caused them to be convinced?
The Gospel writers, unlike many editorial writers, present their case and their personal interests and conviction right from the start and invite us to examine their conclusions.....Their interest in Jesus was likely to cause them to take greater care to check the facts than to make them up.
There was no doubt that they were convinced and completely absorbed by their subject. This is not the same as saying they must have been exaggerating because they were so convinced. If that were the case, it would mean we would never to be able to get accurate information except from disinterested people. And disinterested people can often give us inaccurate accounts due to their lack of interest which causes them not to care”.
Luke wants to tell us about Jesus - he is passionately interested in him - and he wants us to survey the evidence and be convinced, as he was, that Jesus is the Son of God. In fact, its not until about 3500 words into his account that Luke records Jesus speaking for the first time. Before he meet Jesus the Son of God, we must be prepared for this encounter - we must understand the significance of his birth.
Luke's special interests
So its clear, then, that Luke has special interests. How do we know what they are? Last week, Robert took us through the introduction to the Gospel of Mark. So if we compare how Mark handles the birth of Jesus, with how Luke handles the birth of Jesus, then we might get some idea of those things that Luke finds particularly interesting.
[table of comparison on the screen]
Some interesting things to notice from this table:
q Mark doesn't record any events relating to the birth of Jesus at all (explain).
q Luke's just the opposite. He goes to great lengths to explain not only the birth of Jesus, but also the birth of John the Baptist.
It's easy to see from this table that Luke squeezes a whole lot in. Without hesitation, Mark moves into John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus. BUT Luke pauses - he includes a whole lot of material about the birth of John the Baptist and about the birth of Jesus.
And so Luke has a special interest in the Christmas story. He especially focuses on these things:
q the significance of John the Baptist
q the significance of Jesus
q responding to the birth of Jesus
Let's move through these points so we might understand how Luke wants us to think about Jesus.
the significance of John the Baptist
John the Baptist is the last in the line of Old Testament prophets. And like the Old Testament prophets before him - like Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel- John looks forward to a time of restoration - a time when Israel will be a light to the Gentiles and through the seed of David all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.
If you were a Jew in the first century then you'd know that prophecy had ceased. For a few hundred years there had been no prophets and it appeared that God had other things to do. In this time of extended silence the Jews often referred to the bat qol - the time of God's leading through the quite inner voice. But then John the Baptist arrives on the scene and it appears that God has again thrust himself into the course of human history. Here is a prophet like Elijah - a prophet who prepares the way. And so Luke says of John in 1:17, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
It was John's task to prepare Israel to meet its King. The question I ask you is this: Are you prepared to meet your King? John the Baptist anticipates that the words of Jesus will not only save, but bring division amongst people in anticipation of the great day of the Lord. Are you prepared to meet the Lord Jesus who sits on the throne of his Father David - who is judge - whose kingdom will never end?
John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Are you prepared to stand at the feet of Jesus - admitting that you're life needs to change? True repentance is a desire to stop offending God. True repentance hates sin and recognises there is something fundamentally wrong with my life.
“Why do you want to join the church?”,asked the pastor to the little boy. “Because I want to show publicly that Jesus has saved me”, said the boy. And so the pastor asked, “Who saved you”? And the boy said, “It is the work of Jesus Christ and myself”. “Of yourself! What was your part in being saved?” asked the pastor. Said the boy, “I repented, and Jesus did the rest”.
John the Baptist prepares the way - repent - seek forgiveness for rebelling against God - and look to Jesus for your salvation.
the significance of Jesus
Now although Luke speaks about Jesus and John at the same time, it is clear that Jesus surpasses John in every respect. Look at 1:31, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end”.
Is John “a Son of the Most High”? No! Does John sit on the throne of David? No! Will John reign over the house of David forever? No! Will John's kingdom never end? No!
In every possible way Luke draws our attention to the significance of Jesus. Friends, there are OT quotations and allusions coming out our ears in these first few chapters of Luke. Dr Luke wants us to understand that all the promises that God has ever made find their fulfilment and satisfaction in Jesus.
Let me give one illustration. Check out Zechariah's song in 1:67-75. This is what Zechariah, under the guidance of the Spirit, says about Jesus.
Jesus is a horn of salvation (69)
he belongs to the house of David (69)
Jesus will bring salvation from our enemies (71, 74)
in Jesus God remembers his oath to Abraham (72-73)
Jesus will enable us to serve God with fear - and in holiness and righteousness (74-75).
And even in these short few verses, there are references to Genesis, Deuteronomy, Exodus, Ruth, numerous Psalms, Micah and Isaiah. Do you get the picture? Luke wants us to perfectly clear that the forgiveness and restoration we need after repentance is found nowhere else other than in Jesus. As far as God's concerned, the corruptness of this world and the tragedy of the human heart is solved by Jesus.
responding to the birth of Jesus
How we respond to Jesus is therefore of utmost importance. I've always wondered why Luke bothers to tell us about the angels and the shepherds. My first guess was that God knew we'd need something to put on our Christmas cards a few hundred years later - and he reckoned the angels and the shepherds would look pretty good.......
But then I thought again. The angels come and they say to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord”. And then the shepherds trotter off to see baby Jesus and they return to the fields. Luke tells us in 2:20, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told”.
The Shepherds see for themselves that Jesus is and will become their both King and Saviour - and they glorify and praise God.
I have a friend of mine, Vince, and Vince is a very good swimmer. So good in fact that he used to be a life saver down at my local beach in Sydney – Warriewood Beach – best beach on the north-side. One day it was Vince's turn to be on the belt – which meant that if anyone was drowning, he'd be the one on the end of the line swimming out through the surf to retrieve the person in trouble. On one particular day, Vince was on duty during a reasonably large sea with a strong rip moving outwards around the headland.
Not surprisingly, someone was caught in the rip and was dragged swiftly out to sea. I don't know if you've ever been caught in a rip before – but its quite a scary experience. No matter how hard you swim, the shore seems to get further and further away – and the tireder and tireder you become. By the time Vince got to this poor lady, who was around the headland by this time, she was absolutely exhausted and understandably beside herself with fear. In fact, she was in such a state, she was so terrified, that when Vince turned up he couldn't grab hold of her. She was struggling so much that Vince almost had to hit her over the head so he could drag her back to dry land.
Vince rescued this woman because he had the power and strength to do so. Vince was strong enough to keep hold of the woman until they both arrived back on the shore.
Friends, we ignore God - we cannot meet his standard of perfection - we need rescuing. The only thing left to do is repent and throw ourselves at God's mercy. In his mercy, God sent Jesus into the world to be our King and Saviour. Jesus alone has the authority to forgive sin and he is the one the OT prophets spoke about - only Jesus can repair our relationship with God. Only Jesusn can bring us back to shore. And like the shepherds, there is only one thing left to do - glorify and praise God for the great things he has done.
Now - right now - is a good time for you to put your trust in Jesus. It’s as simple as saying SORRY, PLEASE and THANKYOU.
SORRY God that I haven’t trusted you in the past. Sorry that I have ignored you and lived my life without you.
PLEASE forgive me for rebelling against you and please be the boss of my life. Please give me the opportunity to live with you as King - a King who has authority over life and over death.
THANKYOU for sending Jesus to die for me to take the punishment I deserve for ignoring you. Thankyou that Jesus died so I might live a new life - trusting in you.
It’s as simple as SORRY, PLEASE and THANKYOU. Don’t leave Jesus in the manger, come to him and make him the rightful ruler of your life.