Sovereign God, Humble Savior
Text: Luke 2:1-7
Main Idea: Jesus was born as a baby in a lowly manger so that he could fully identify with fallen man and fully satisfy God’s wrath against our sinful rebellion.
I. The Iron Grip of Rome (Luke 2:1–2)
II. The Sovereign Hand of God (Luke 2:3–7)
III. The Purposes of God in a Feeding Trough
A. The manger is a sign that Jesus was nothing like Caesar Augustus.
B. The manger reveals the true depths of Christ’s humility.
C. The manger reminds us that Jesus came to end sin without ending us.
Well, Good morning. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two-weeks since we have been able to gather together as a church. The first week (Dec 26th) for a crazy Sunday morning snowstorm and the second week (Jan 2) because of COVID. Yet, instead of launching into our new sermon series today, as I was planning too before these unexpected cancelations, we will be concluding our Advent series in Luke. After all, you cannot end an advent series with the birth of John the Baptist…
So, as we turn to our text, in Luke chapter 2, this morning, I want to call your attention to an aspect of this account that has become the central feature of countless sermons, Christmas pageants, and children’s books BUT is never really recorded in the Bible … the story of a pour young couple making the long cold trek to Bethlehem in the dead of winter only to be cruelly rejected by every innkeeper in Bethlehem and virtually forced to sleep outside with the animals.
Now while it’s rather easy for us to justify these additional details, they can actually derail the overall narrative and obscure ultimate purpose for which Christ came. What I mean by this, is if you read the text carefully, Luke does not record Mary and Joseph’s personal feelings; nor does he indicate that they were treated wrongly. Rather, he depicts them as simple pawns in a pagan king’s quest for tax revenue… Yet, this king’s decree does something he never intended it to do; it causes Jesus to be born in the very place that the prophet Micah foretold 700-years before.
The Iron Grip of Rome (2:1–2)
The King of the World
As we begin, it’s important to point out that Caesar Augustus (Gaius Octavius) was one of the most famous and popular emperors of Rome. In 44 B.C. he rose to prominence when he joined forces with Mark Antony to avenge the brutal assassination of his uncle Julius Caesar. And in only 12 years he not only ascended to the rank of emperor, by routing Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium (31 B.C.); he launched the vast empire into an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. Augustus himself openly declared that he had found Rome “built in brick BUT left it in marble.”
The “god” in Human Flesh
Yet, Augustus was not content to be known as a great general, nation builder, and emperor; he was the first Roman emperor to openly encourage people to worship him as a god. And as this emperor cult grew, it built an entire mythology around the very birth of Augustus. He was not merely the nephew of Julius Caesar, he was living god that was miraculously conceived by a serpent and whose birth “signaled the beginning of good news [Gk. euangelion] for the world.”
In fact, if we had time to catalogue the records and inscriptions about Augustus, we would quickly discover that he is referred to in terms that the NT reserves for Jesus alone: God, Son of God, and savior; the one who brings peace and hope into the world.
Are you starting to see why Luke goes out of his way to mention Augustus? He is reminding his first-century readers that at the birth of Christ, Rome was enjoying the golden years of an emperor who believed that he was a god AND was able to exercise “sovereign control” over the known world with a single decree.
The God Who Was Fulfilling His Promises
But even more Luke wants them to see that the One, True God was actively directing the affairs of mankind (including Caesar Augustus) to accomplish his sovereign purposes! Just look back at the first-three words in chapter 2, “In those days.” In what days? In the days that God was already on the move.
- The days when God sent Gabriel to tell Zechariah that his long-barren wife would finally give birth to a son. And that this son would be nothing less than the long-promised prophet who would prepare the way for the coming Messiah!
- In the days that God sent Gabriel to a young, betrothed girl, the virgin Mary, to tell her that she was going to give birth to the promised son of David who would ultimately fulfill God’s promise to bless all the families of the earth (not just Israel) through a future child of Abraham.
- In the days that Elizabeth finally gave birth to John in the hill country of Judah AND that Mary was about to give birth to her son Jesus in the Galilean town of Nazareth.
Notice, it was in these days, the emperor of the known world “just so happened” to make a decree that everyone in the “world” had to return to their hometown to register and pay taxes to Rome. And the most amazing thing is that God ordained this oppressive census to be the very means by which he would ensure that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem NOT in Nazareth!
The Sovereign Hand of God (2:3–7)
See, Luke wants us to see that Caesar’s census is merely a part of God’s sovereign plan to get Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem. A world-wide census that disrupted millions of families and business all over the ancient world to force two people to travel the 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem in the final trimester of Mary’s pregnancy…
After all, God had been preparing centuries for this single birth. And had promised his people, 700 years before through the prophet Micah, that the Messiah would be born in the town of Bethlehem.
Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
In fact, this is the very same prophecy that Chief Priests and Scribes quote to Herod when he asked where the promised Christ was supposed to be born (Matthew 2:4–6). Just think about it, God could have chosen a faithful couple who already lived in Bethlehem. He could have had Gabriel tell Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem after Mary became pregnant so they could be settled in their own home when he was born. He could have used any number of simple and mundane ways to get this young couple to Bethlehem… But instead, he chose to the most ostentatious means—a mandatory world-wide census.
Yet, when Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem it suddenly appears as if God has completely overlooked their hotel reservations…
When I was still pastoring in Kodiak Alaska, I had the opportunity to teach a two-week intensive course at a Christian College in Ghana. Yet, before I got around to arranging my travel details, a former Church member, graciously offered to arrange and pay for my round-trip travel. And when he dropped off my tickets I was completely blown away!! He booked me business class seating from Seattle to Ghana AND arranged hotel accommodations for my layover each way in London.
I’ve never been so spoiled in my life. And everything was perfect until I landed in London on my return leg home. I landed well before check in time, so I decided to call the hotel and ask about early check in… And that’s when everything fell apart. My reservation at a very fancy hotel had been canceled. And a room was going to cost me over 300 pounds. Well, given that 300 pounds was well outside my budget I thanked the clerk, hung up the phone, and turned to hotels.com to find a last minute “affordable hotel” in London. About the time I reached my hotel, I received a very apologetic call from my friend who had unwittingly cancelled my reservation as he was adjusting other travel arrangements.
See, here is the difference between my experience in London and Joseph and Mary’s experience in Bethlehem. God doesn’t make mistakes. No! He plans all things according to his purposes. Don’t miss this, Jesus is not laying in a feeding trough because of a stingy, heartless innkeeper; because Mary and Joseph are poor, or because God accidentally overlooked their hotel reservations.
If God can cause a virgin to conceive and turn an empire on its head to move Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, he can certainly reserve a guest room… What I want you to see in this is that, if Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a simple feeding trough it’s because God ordained it for his sovereign purposes.
But, why? It revealed what kind of King and Savior that Jesus was going to be.
III. The Purpose of God in a Feeding Trough
The Manger is a Sign that Jesus is Nothing like Caesar Augustus.
Jesus is not the kind of king who carves out his kingdom by crushing armies, toppling kingdoms, and taxing his citizens. He’s not the kind of King who is constantly demanding respect, even though he rightly deserves it. Even more, he is not the kind of king who demands worship even though he is God in human flesh!
Just think about it. Jesus, the eternal son who is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint ofhis The one through whom all things were created AND by whom the very fabric of the universe is held together by the word of his power (Heb 1:2–3; cf. Col 1:15–17). The second person of the Trinity who actively shares and participates in the infinite, joyful perfection of God’s triune being, the One who deserves the utmost honor and highest worship, is the One who is laying in a feeding trough.
As Phil Ryken explains, “Jesus deserved to have every person from every nation come and worship him. He deserved to have every creature in the entire universe—from the fiercest lion to the tiniest insect—come to his cradle and give him praise. He deserved to have the creation itself offer him worship, with the rocks crying glory and the galaxies dancing for joy. He is God the Son, and anything less than absolute acknowledgment of his royal person was an outright insult to his divine dignity.” Yet, except for the shepherds that night, no one came.
Friends, this is the child who was born in a stable and laid in a manger. And he willingly endured all of this (and more throughout his life) not so we could empathize with Mary and Joseph’s difficulties. BUT that we might grasp the true gravity of Christ’s humility.
The Manger Reveals the True Depths of Christ’s Humility.
Phil 2:5–8 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Let’s take a few minutes to soak in the truths of these verses. One, when Paul tells us that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” in verse 6 he is NOT telling us that Jesus suddenly realized full godhood was just out of his grasp and that he should stop pursuing it. No. He is telling us that the incarnation was only possible because Jesus refused to cling to his rights and privileges as God. And this is important because it helps us see that no one forced him to come. No one broke his spirit. No one stripped him of his true glory and dignity. He came because he wanted to come.
Two, it’s important to explain what Paul means when he tells us that “Jesus emptied himself by taking the form of a servant” in verse 7. Heretics throughout the ages (and prosperity preachers of our time) have used this passage to undermine the deity of Jesus Christ, claiming that Jesus somehow abandoned his deity when he came to earth in the incarnation… But, they fail to recognize that Paul provides his own explanation of this “emptying” from two different perspectives.
One the one hand, Christ emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant.
Given the prominence of slavery within the Roman Empire, there is no question that Paul’s original audience would have been struck by the massive contrast between ‘form of God’ and ‘form of a slave’ because these two identities were at the extreme ends of the “honor—shame culture” in which they lived. You couldn’t go any higher that God or lower than a slave! “Gods” reign in unhindered sovereignty over their dominion. Gods judge the wicked and put a swift end to rebellions. God’s cling to their privileged status and do not become slaves unless they are forcibly deposed by a greater power. Yet, Jesus willingly set aside his rights and privileges as God (while remaining fully and truly God) so that he might become a servant. And this servanthood isexpressly defined as becoming a man.
And on the other hand, Christ emptied Himself by being born in the likeness of men.And so that he might die on the cross for our sin.
The very one through whom Adam—the first man—was made, took on human flesh to fix what Adam had had hopelessly broken and to do what Adam and his fallen race could never do— overcome their abject slavery to sin and everlasting estrangement from God.
Romans 5:18–19 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Don’t miss this the true gravity of Christ’s humility is not merely that he willingly went from the highest position in the universe to the lowest. It’s that he willingly did all of this for a race of wretched, sinful rebels!
Romans 5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
We deserved his righteous judgment not his self-abasing humility.
The Manger Reminds us that Jesus Came to End Sin Without Ending Us.
Just think about it, if Jesus had come in the blazing glory of his deity 2,000-years ago no one would have survived his coming!
Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Romans 3:10–12 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Jesus Christ became a man and was born in a stable because he didn’t come to bring judgment; he came to bear He came to be rejected, not to be accepted, to be destroyed and killed, not to be crowned and worshiped.
Why? He came to take the rejection we deserve for our sin and rebellion against him, so that he can return someday in his white-hot holiness and glory to end sin and evil without ending us. This is what it means to be saved.
Hebrews 2:14–15 Since therefore the children (mankind) share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Hebrews 2:17–18 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
According to Hebrews, Jesus had to become one of us, and does anything have more of the feel and smell of our humanity than childbirth Even more, when Mary wrapped Jesus in strips of cloth, she was caring for the body of a real human being that was at the very same moment the divine Son of God. Jesus didn’t just seem to be a human being; he was a human being!
He was God in the flesh—immortal; invisible spirit clothed with human hair, skin, and blood; and supported by muscle and bone. In his humiliation, God had to breathe, eat, drink, and sleep. When he was cut, he bled. He longed for companionship when rejected. And truly suffered when his friends deserted him. He is one of our kind, and as we “share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things” (Heb. 2:14). And to this very day he remains one of us and forever-intercedes for those belong to him.
See, the manger is a constant reminder of how much Jesus is truly for us.
In the incarnation, the God of the universe entered into our situation, taking on all the limitations of our physical existence. He did not save us from a distance. No. He came as close to us as he possibly could, so that he could sympathize with our sufferings and ultimately die for our sins.
Even more, incarnation tells us that even though we sin, we are not alone; even though we’re weak and finite, Jesus knows what weakness and mortality are because he was weak and mortal just like us; and even though we continually fail, he has committed himself to be part of a race of failures so that we might be saved and enjoy him forever.
Don’t miss this, Jesus didn’t not use our flesh merely as an impersonal dwelling place, like a seedy motel room you can’t wait to leave. Rather, he assumed our nature completely at the incarnation AND he remains the God-man to this very day and throughout eternity. And he did this so that he can be a merciful and compassionate high priest who does not condemn us for our failings BUT cleanses us and comforts us in our weakness and failure.
See, when we grasp the bigger picture of Jesus’ life and ministry, we are able to see is that: Jesus was born as a baby in a lowly manger so that he could fully identify with fallen man and fully satisfy God’s wrath against our sinful rebellion.
 James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 67–8.
 Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 67.
 Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 68.
 “What at first appeared to be a great show of Caesar’s power actually proved the supremacy of God’s sovereignty. Even Caesar’s decree was part of the divine plan. God rules all things for his own glory;” (Philip Graham Ryken, Luke: Volumes 1&2, Reformed Expository Commentary, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani [Philipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2009], 67).
 Ryken, Luke: Volumes 1&2, 69.
 Matthew Harmon, Philippians: A Mentor Commentary (Ross-Shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2015), 211 N.29.