December 16, 2018
Do you know who the most interesting man in the world is? Well supposedly he is the man who doesn’t drink beer very often, but when he does, he drinks dos Equis. The actor who played the most interesting man in the world was Jonathan Goldsmith, an American actor who appeared in various T.V. shows, like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Knight Rider, etc.
Is there a most interesting man in the world? Actually there is. But you won’t find him on television or in the movies. And he doesn’t drink dos Equis. The most interesting man in the world is generally dismissed by the world and yet this is the one man who should never be overlooked. His name is Jesus. And this morning I want to ask, “Have you met Jesus, the most significant person alive today?”
I. DAILY LIFE IS SHAPED BY WORLD EVENTS. Lk.2:1-3
At the beginning of Luke’s gospel in Lk.1:3 he tells us that his goal is to write an orderly account. Then in 1:5, we read, “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah.” Luke gives a historical context for his gospel. This is important because our faith is grounded in the historical person of Jesus who actually lived, died, and rose again. In Lk.2:1-2, we find a similar historical reference. It says, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” What I want us to attend to is the way in which Luke frames the birth of Jesus.
His narrative begins with a reference to Caesar Augustus. Augustus, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, was the first Roman Emperor. He controlled Rome from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. The Pax Romana (Roman Peace) was brought about by his governmental initiatives. It should be noted that this peace was often maintained through violence. He established an extensive system of roads. He institutionalized Rome’s first police force and fire fighting force. He also initiated public revenue reforms. He expanded the tax base of Rome by implementing consistent, direct taxation throughout the empire. Here’s a quote: “The measures of taxation in the reign of Augustus were determined by population census, with fixed quotas for each province.” Luke refers to one of those censuses. Caesar Augustus had pretty much unlimited power. His word was obeyed. When Luke says the “whole world” he is referring to the whole world of the Roman Empire. “All went to be registered, each to his own town.” Even though Augustus was 2,500 miles away from Israel, his word put people on the move with no regard for convenience.
There are many ways in which world events shape our lives. And when I use the phrase, “world events,” I’m referring to events that happen outside of our family and home life. Whether it be through governmental power, scientific discovery, political movements, national protests, social unrest, economic decline or prosperity, national epidemics, natural disasters, military conflicts, or even local acts of violence that take place seemingly every day, all of these events shape our lives, some in positive ways and others in negative ways.
And then there is the undercurrent of social change that is always occurring. Sometimes society is conservative or takes a specific religious veneer. Other times we see a more secular, non-religious movement in society. One generation rebels against the previous generation and it feels as if society is coming untethered from its moorings. If the economy is good we feel that the world is treating us well. If the economy is not good, the sky is falling.
We talk about making our way in the world, leaving our mark on the world, leaving the world a better place than how we found it. We also talk about how this old world is getting us down. We say, “Stop the world, I want to get off.” It’s as if the world has power over our lives. And in fact, it does have power over our lives. This world as a system does not embrace the way of God and his Son, Jesus. In 1Jn.2:15-17 we read, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life--is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires.” Sometimes we hate this world, but more often than not we love the world, for it seems to have so much to offer. When we love the world it leads us into idolatry and sin. Our daily life is shaped by world events. But let’s narrow our horizon by looking at v.4-5. In v.4-5 we see that…
II. PERSONAL IDENTITY IS ESTABLISHED BY FAMILY OF ORIGIN. Lk.2:4-5
In Lk.2:4-5 we read, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.”
Both Matthew and Luke emphasize the fact that Jesus is of the royal line of Israel’s greatest king, David. The angel Gabriel told Mary that Jesus would assume the throne of his father, David. Joseph could trace his lineage back to David.
It is interesting to note that nowhere in the Bible except here, is Bethlehem referred to as the city of David. The city of David is usually identified as Jerusalem. In 1Sam.20:6, Bethlehem is called “his city,” referring to David. And in Jn.7:42 we read, “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?" Being in the lineage of David, Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem to be registered.
These verses raise the idea of family of origin. Since there was no room for Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, we conclude that Joseph did not have immediate family there. Nevertheless, Bethlehem and the lineage of David helped to define Joseph’s personal identity. We can all relate. If you told me that you grew up in Allentown, PA, we would immediately have a number things in common. We would share the same home town. But for Joseph it was not so much Bethlehem that defined him. Rather it was his ancestry. He was of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David. His family heritage claimed Bethlehem as home. The fact that Joseph was known as a righteous man would indicate that his immediate family had a very positive impact on his personal identity.
We all have a personal identity that is established through our family of origin. We share various genetic traits with our family of origin. We have learned certain traditions and ways of doing things through our family. Some families are very close, enjoying frequent family gatherings. Some families have a great deal of pride. That pride may be found in wealth, accomplishment, or various forms of service to society.
Of course other families are not close. There may be little sense of family pride and unity. If a family struggles in poverty or if that family is filled with strife and disorder, this will shape our personal identity in negative ways.
Sometimes those who come from “good” families are actually carrying family secrets that compromise the public persona of the family. Sometimes family members feel that they are not able to live up to the family name. They feel that they have failed their family. The pressure to succeed is too much. And sometimes those who come from dysfunctional families are able to rise above all the negativity and find great success. When I meet with engaged couples for premarital counseling, we discuss family of origin issues in detail because our way of relating to those closest to us is deeply engrained by our family. Our family shapes who we are.
In the Old Testament we read about how the sins of the fathers are often visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation. We read about how various Jewish kings walked in the way of their fathers. Sin does not just lurk in our own hearts; it often lodges in families. Perhaps there are addictions. Perhaps there is a constant underlying anger. Or maybe the family is filled with fear and anxiety, or the pride of perfectionism pervades all that is done at home. It all shapes our personal identity. I point this out to show that as wonderful as family can be, when sinners live together sin often thrives and multiplies.
Now given that our daily life is shaped by world events, and given that our personal identity is established by our family of origin, let me go on to say that…
III. ETERNAL LIVING WITH GOD IS GIVEN BY JESUS ALONE. Lk.2:6-7
The world shapes our daily life and often betrays us. We may think we have the world on a string. But it won’t be long before our life is tied up in knots if we are depending upon this world. And truth be told, this world will never bring you into a life with God.
Family may be wonderful in establishing our personal identity, but every family is flawed. And no family lasts forever. Death and disagreement often separate families. And while your family may be religious, religion does not bring us into a life with God. However when we look at v.6-7 we are given hope.
In v.6-7 we read, “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
This passage is shaped in an interesting way. We begin with what seems to be the center of worldly power and privilege in the throne room of Caesar Augustus. Then our focus narrows to the little town of Bethlehem and the reality of family heritage and pride. Worldly power and family are both significant in shaping our lives. But Luke focuses our attention on a stable and a manger. A stable? A manger? What are they? They are the birthplace of Jesus. If you want to find the real center of power you must go to the throne room of the stable. If you want to find a forever family of love and joy, you must look into the manger.
In Ps.2:1-3, we read, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us." Those verses are quoted in Acts 4:25-27 referring to how Herod, Pontus Pilate and the Jewish leaders conspired against Jesus. But in Ps.2:6-7 God says, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill." I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” In the New Testament those verses are applied to Jesus. Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the center of power.
In Jn.1:11-13 we read, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” As wonderful as our family heritage might be, only Jesus can bring us into the forever family of God. His death on the cross for our sin and his resurrection from the dead enables us to receive his forgiveness and life. Through faith and allegiance to Jesus our personal identity begins to become like his. Jesus is the Son of God who gives eternal living in the kingdom of God for all who receive him. Through Jesus we are adopted into the family of God.
The birth narrative of Jesus in Luke is pretty sparse of detail. It reads quickly and leaves looking into the manger at the Christ child. It is a picture of humility. The whole life and ministry of Jesus was one of humility, love and sacrifice for you and me. Those who would be part of God’s family must come humbly in faith to Jesus. Amen