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GLORY TO GOD; PEACE TO MEN

Luke 2:1-2:20
Key Verse: 2:14

Thank God that this year 2014 too, we can celebrate Christmas, the coming of the Son of God into this world. It is truly amazing that in history there was such a time when God’s Son was born in one specific place of the earth. In today’s passage Luke a historian describes the birth of Jesus the Son of God with the undeniable historical background and an angel’s message concerning who the baby Jesus is and angels’ song of the meaning of his birth. As we study this passage, we may go deeper into what Christmas means to us and to the world.

First, the baby Jesus born in Bethlehem, in a manger (1-7). Look at verses 1-3. “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Qurinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.” At that time the world was the Roman world, and Caesar Augustus known as Octavius in English world, was the Emperor, the first and presumably greatest emperor of Rome. At his command regarding a census, everyone went to his own town to register. His command was an absolute law.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. It was more than 120 km journey. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. The journey was an unexpected, costly and dangerous one.

Look at verse 6. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.” Luke had written in chapter 1 that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and so would be called the Son of God. The Son of God was born in this way, while his parents were traveling in observance to the human law, and because of the unexpected troublesome travel the baby was born in Bethlehem, which was prophesied by Micah around 700 years before to be the birthplace of the Son of God, the Messiah promised to come. In this way the promise of God concerning the birthplace of the Messiah was fulfilled. The time was the perfect God’s time. In this description Caesar Augustus was the subject, and undeniably he was the central figure in world history at that time. Yet, in truth God is orchestrating all things to fulfill his promise in his redemptive work and history. We must believe that the world is in God’s hand and the history is moving according to God’s plan and purpose until the end of human history. This is true in each one’s life.

Look at verse 7. “And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” We can say that Jesus was born in Bethlehem apparently through the political situation of that time. Now Mary the mother herself wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger. Humanly speaking, this could be one of the most sorrowful scenes in the world. Luke wrote, “because there was no room in the inn.” The social circumstance was so hard that no one could afford a room for the mother’s delivery and the baby just born. Yet, as Jesus was born in Bethlehem in God’s sovereign rule, so Jesus was laid in a manger in God’s sovereign reign. The Son of God, one in the highest place was laid in the lowest place. The most glorious one was put in the most inglorious and humble place, an animal’s trough. The riches one became the poorest one. This is God’s way. It is forever true that Christ Jesus can enter into a humble and poor heart, while sin entered into a proud and covetous heart. A humble heart has a room for Jesus, whereas a proud heart has no room for him. The humble birth of Jesus is an undeniable fact of Christianity. The humble birth in a manger sets the life of Christ to the humble rugged cross. Humble heart and humble manger-like lifestyle is a clear characteristic of Christian life. This is not a sorrowful and fatalistic lifestyle but a living and life-giving one. May we pursue it in our time.

Second, he is a Saviour, Christ the Lord (8-12). While Jesus was born in Bethlehem laid in a manger, what was going on nearby place? There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. This is a supernatural event. The events around the birth of Jesus are both historical and supernatural. An angel of the Lord did not appear just to scare the shepherds, but deliver God’s message to them. The message is this: “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.” This message is the revelation of who the baby Jesus placed in a manger is. First of all, his birth is related to all people of the world with no exception, and it is good news of great joy, the gospel of great joy for the people of all nations. This joy is universal as well as person. The reason of this great joy is due to who he is.

The angel said, “…a Saviour has been born to you.” Since man’s fall, all have been born as sinners. Yet, here is one exception. The baby Jesus was born as a Saviour. Luke made it clear in chapter 1 that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit and so sinless. It is obvious that a sinner cannot save another sinner, as a blind man cannot lead another blind man. Sinners are imprisoned and perishing in sin, and that is the situation of all mankind. At the very time man sinned and fell, God promised to send a Saviour, and according to his promise, a Saviour was born after about 4000 years later. The baby Jesus would grow and die for man’s sins and be raised from the dead. This would be the life path of the Savour. He saves sinful mankind through his death and resurrection. Yet, he himself is the salvation, as Simeon prophesied taking the baby Jesus in his arms and praising God, saying, “…my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people” (Lk 2:30-31). For the salvation, the message of repentance and the kingdom of God was proclaimed. John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, came and preached the baptism of repentance in the hope prophesied in the words of Isaiah, “all mankind will see God’s salvation” (Lk 3:1-6). Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God from the beginning of his public life to the end of his life on earth. Those who repented and accepted the words of Jesus were saved and moved from death to life. This work of salvation has been done throughout history. I thank and praise God for his salvation work among us, in the hearts of several students through Bible study this year.

The angel said, “He is Christ the Lord.” The literal meaning of “Christ”, in Hebrew “Messiah”, is “Anointed One” Jesus is God’s anointed one as Saviour and King, whom all mankind have been waiting. “Who is the Christ?” has been the endless inscrutable question to the people of the world. Yet, at the time of Jesus’ birth an angel of the Lord declared, “He is Christ the Lord.” And he proved himself to be the Christ through his death and resurrection. Saviour, Christ the Lord cannot be separated. Our Saviour Jesus is Christ the Lord. He is God’s promised and appointed Saviour King. He saves and he rules. Accepting Jesus means to accept him both as Saviour and Christ the Lord, King. Unless they accept Jesus as Lord and King, they are under Satan’s kingship. We have seen that the history of the world was in God’s hand, which led Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. Jesus once said, “All things have been committed to me by my Father” (Lk 10:22). The history of the world is in the hand of Christ the Lord. He is ruling and reigning. This is as the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “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” (Lk 1:32b-33). I repent that there was a sorrow and fatalism in my heart seeing that the power of this world seemed to be very strong and the work of God, very weak. I must renew my faith that he is my Saviour and he is Christ the Lord. At the time of great persecution in the powerful kingdom of Rome, John saw a vision and heard a loud voice in heaven, “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Rev 11:15).

They say that in the 20th century the war was an ideology war between communism and democracy. Now this war was gone, but in 21 century the war is a religious war between Islam and Christianity. Nowadays Muslim power is rapidly increasing in Europe and North America, through generating many children and some other reasons, while Christianity is becoming so weakened. Some predict and worry that England, Germany and France and other European countries will be Muslim countries. Yet, there are living Christians. It was good to hear that at the time of referendum in England 1000 devout Christians prayed earnestly and God protected the nation from the division for Scotland to be a separate independent nation. Actually many people were surprised by the result, 55:45 that kept the nation into one. It was also good to hear to me that Mohamed grew as a sincere boy, but one reason he made Islam religion was that no one preached the gospel to him although there were some priests around him. At this time I newly thank God for the timeless message that Jesus is the Saviour, and Christ the Lord. This good news of great joy must be spread to all people of the world including Muslims.

Look at verse 12. “This will be a sign to you; You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” This will be both a physical sign and a spiritual sign. By seeing a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger in Bethlehem at that moment they would be assured that the angel’s message about the baby was true. And spiritually speaking, the sign of Saviour and Christ the Lord is his humble birth born in the stable of an animal and lying in a manger. No human was born in such a humble state. No one would be too lowly or too fatalistic to be embraced. His humble heart cuddles all. He would die on the cross to save all sinners. No sinner would be an exception unless the person remains unrepentant and rejects this grace of salvation. The manger and the cross are the unique and unchangeable sign of Saviour and Christ the Lord until the end of the age.

Third, Glory to God; Peace to men (13-20). Look at verses 13 and 14. “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.’” At this point no human being on earth would praise God not knowing what was taking place. But both the good news of great joy and the choir of praising God came from heaven. The group of the heavenly choir was a great company of the heavenly host. The theme of the song is glory to God and peace to men.

We remember that at the time of creation God’s glory was proclaimed throughout the universe. His glory was peak at the creation of men. The earth was full of his creatures, and so the whole earth was filled with God’s glory. But when men sinned, God’s heart was broken. Then as the whole world became corrupt with the image of God distorted in each man, God was so grieved that he had to destroy the earth through the flood. Instead of God’s glory, God’s wrath filled the earth. Now at the time of the birth of Jesus, Saviour and Christ the Lord, God’s glory was proclaimed anew by the heavenly angels in the chorus. This could be the expression of God’s utmost joy, for God’s redeeming love for mankind was displayed through his Son. Since man’s fall, nothing would make God happy but the redemption of mankind. The life of Jesus was full of God’s glory and so glorious, revealing God’s redeeming love to sinful mankind. He touched and cleansed a man with leprosy. He declared forgiveness of sins to a paralytic who came to him by his four friends, then the paralytic stood up, took his mat and went home praising God, and the people were filled with awe. Evil spirits obeyed him and came out of men. A sinful woman was forgiven of her sin and was made new pure and holy and truly loving. Jesus praised God that the gospel of the kingdom of God was revealed to the humble like little children although hidden to the wise and learned. Before the cross, he prayed, “Father…glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (Jn 17:1). On the cross he invited a fatalistic sinner to the kingdom of God. Jesus glorified God the Father most through his death on the cross. And his resurrection was the vivid demonstration of God’s power and glory. From the time of his birth to the end of his life Jesus was glory to God, particularly through the redemption of mankind. Now also in Christ Jesus our life purpose is renewed to glorify God, which is the original purpose of creating men.

And Peace to Men. At the time of man’s fall, peace was gone from men in broken relationship with God. And as a consequence peace between men and men was also gone. There began an invisible war between God and men. Since then man longed for peace with God. There was no true peace among men, even in a family. All human effort and sacrifices were of no use. Now at the time of Jesus’ birth it is declared, “on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” What an amazing grace! It was because the reconciliation between God and man was made through his Son Jesus, who would die as an atoning sacrifice for man’s sin. So this peace would be a result of salvation through faith in Jesus. This peace is through the baby Jesus. A carol song “Silent night! Holy night!” expresses this. This song was made by two humble church leaders (Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber) for their own mountain village parishioners in the region of Tyrol, high in the beautiful Alps, not realizing how universal its influence would eventually be: “Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright Round yon virgin mother and child. Holy infant, so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace; Sleep in heavenly peace.” At the last Supper Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (Jn 14:27). The peace Jesus gives is different from the peace the world gives. Many people wish that they may be peace in the Middle East through the ceasing of the war. Even such peace is not possible, because nation rises against nation and kingdom against kingdom as a sign of the end of the age. True pace come only through Christ Jesus. The good news, the gospel, is called the gospel of peace. His people are to bring peace to the world through the message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-20).

When the angel left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw the baby, who was lying in the manger. They spread the word concerning what they had been told about the child. And they returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. The shepherds were first Christians on earth and an example for all Christians, who would come. The saw the baby Jesus in a manger, spread the word and also heard and seen what God had been doing. They glorified and praised God.

We thank and praise God for Jesus who was born in a manger. He is the Saviour and Christ the Lord. And his birth is glory to God and peace to men. May we live in this world with faith in him and live a life that glorifies God and brings peace to men.

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