The Birth of Jesus

Notes for December 1-2, 2018
Luke 2:1-7 

Biblical Background

  • Censuses:  The Romans took censuses every 14 years to keep track of the populace and more importantly to be sure that they were receiving their tax revenue.

  • Caesar:  There is a contrast between the great earthly Roman “King” or “Caesar” and the “King of Kings” who comes to earth by humbling Himself to become a fetus in the womb of Mary and eventually be born – taking on human flesh.

  • Date for the birth of Christ:  Our current Western calendar was based on the birth of Christ – B.C. – “Before Christ” and A.D. – “Anno Domini” Latin for “the year of our Lord”.  However, scholars are not sure of the exact date for Christ’s birth – putting it somewhere between 4 B.C. and 6 A.D.  However the names of Caesar and also Quirinius, Governor of Syria and Herod the Great place the birth within the historical context of this time period.  Christianity is different from some religions in that historical context and time and place are important since they show the consistent work of God throughout history – as God’s plan for the redemption of the world unfolds.  It adds credibility to the historicity of Jesus Christ – something no reputable scholar would question.  It is clear that Jesus is not a legend or folklore hero made up by people.  He was born into this world and lived during this time period.

  • Bethlehem, the home of David’s line:  the name means “House of Bread.” It was the home of David the shepherd boy who became the king of Israel.  Joseph was a descendant of David and while he lived in Nazareth in Galilee where he met Mary, his ancestral home was Bethlehem.  As well, he probably had some kind of family property in Bethlehem (land, house, etc…) since the Romans would base their taxes in part on this property.  Of course, the Messiah was to come from the line of David, so Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and the fact that both Joseph and his mother, Mary descended from the tribe of Judah and from the family line of David is important for the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

  • Betrothed:  The Jewish betrothal was a very serious engagement period in which a couple and their families prepared for marriage.  Sexual intercourse was forbidden during this period as the first act of sexual intimacy was reserved for the wedding night. Thus, the fact that Mary was pregnant was scandalous.  Joseph, knowing that he had not had sexual relations with Mary, had to be told in a dream that Mary had been impregnated by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-25).  This gave Joseph the courage and fortitude to travel with Mary and remain committed to her during the betrothal period.

  • Swaddling clothes:  These were clothes that were wrapped tightly around a baby to keep him snug and secure. 

  • Manger and cave:  This was a feeding trough used by animals.  This indicates that Mary gave birth in a stable – probably a rock cave carved into the hillside – common in Bethlehem.  The stable is a humble place for the King of Kings to be born into this world – another image of the humility of Jesus.

  • “Inn”:  The Greek word used here refers to a guest room rather than to a hotel or “inn” as we think of it in the Christmas pageants.  Normally Mary and Joseph would have stayed with relatives, but it appears in this case that due to the census, there was no room for them to stay, even with relatives – except in the stable. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important that Luke includes the mention Caesar Augustus and Quirinius, Governor of Syria, in this story?

  2. What was the purpose of a Roman census?

  3. Why did Joseph and Mary leave Galilee and go to Bethlehem?

  4. What is Bethlehem known for in the Old Testament? What do we know about Bethlehem?

  5. Why is the fact that Joseph belongs to the line of King David important to the story?

  6. What was the cultural perspective on a young woman being pregnant before her marriage?

  7. Why do you think Joseph was willing to remain committed to the pregnant Mary, knowing that he was not responsible for her pregnancy?

  8. How is Mary’s pregnancy different from any other pregnancy in history? How is it the same as any other pregnancy?

  9. Describe the scene of Jesus’ birth based on this passage in Luke.

  10. Read Malachi 5:1-6:  How is this Old Testament prophecy fulfilled through the birth of Jesus Christ?

  11. Read Psalm 2:  How is this Old Testament prophecy fulfilled through the birth of Jesus Christ?

  12. How does the understanding of the many prophetic fulfillments through the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ impact your faith?

  13. Familiar passages like this one which is read every Advent season can often become “old hat.” What have you learned or been inspired by as you’ve looked at this passage again?

  14. Pray for ways to share your faith in the “King of Kings” with your non-Christian colleagues and neighbors during this season of Advent.