When God finally broke His 400 years of silence, He didn't speak through a messenger or a prophet or a priest as in times past. He spoke directly. So join Stephen in this riveting message to better understand the implications that truth has for us today.
“Mary Had A Little Lamb”
When the prophet Malachi put away his quill and finished what we know to be the last Old Testament Book of the Bible, his book would be the last word heard from God for the next 400 years. Between the last verse of Malachi and the first verse of Matthew, God did not speak – the heavens were silent. And those years are known as “the 400 years of silence.”
No prophet . . . no revelation . . . no angelic messenger . . . no sign . . . no miracle . . . no fire from heaven . . . no word from God.
It was such a bleak time in Israel’s history that it was also called “the dark period.”
Plato, who lived during several hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, one day lamented, “Maybe one day, a logos – that is, an explanation, a word – will come from God.” In other words, “Maybe one day God will speak to mankind.”
The Apostle John wrote of Christ’s coming to earth by saying, “In the beginning was the logos – the word, and the word was with God and the word was God . . . and the word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.”
Jesus Christ shattered the silence of the heavens. And in a matter of hours, God’s angelic advertising agency would light up the once silent skies, delivering the unbelievable news that the word from God had come. The explanation from God had arrived, in a most unexplainable way.
I invite you back to our study in Luke’s Gospel, and the details surrounding the delivery and announcement of the living Word from God.
Luke 2:1. Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar (the son of god; if you were with us in our last study you might remember that this was the first Caesar to claim the title Augustus – which meant holy one – a name that was only used in reference to the gods of Rome; now attributed to him – it would be this Caesar Augustus who would begin the veneration of Caesar – which would lead to worship – and, for the Christians, great persecution since they would not acknowledge him, but instead held to Jesus Christ as the only true and living Son of God . . . but this Caesar Augustus ordered - ) that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5. in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
They were the scandal of Nazareth. Two Jewish young people who were betrothed, evidently violated their vows of purity before their kidusheem or betrothal period was fulfilled. She was with child, the text announced!
She was, in fact, nine months pregnant. When Joseph and Mary left for Bethlehem and they left their reputation behind.
The accusation of Jesus Christ’s illegitimacy would never be lived down. 30 years later as Christ was involved in declaring Himself the Messiah, the Jewish leaders scoffed at Him and said, “We were not born out of wedlock – literally, we were no born of fornication like you were.”
Based on the traditional age of betrothal, Joseph was probably 16 or 17 years old. Mary was younger, perhaps as young as 14 or 15.
I have been struck all over again with the deep character and trust of both of these teenagers. Their total trust in the word of God.
Trust that would help them overcome at least 3 major obstacles.
I’ve already mentioned the first one – that was unfair indictment. That is, the pain of accusation.
Second was unexpected inconvenience.
If you put the gospel accounts together you discover that Joseph was spoken to 4 different times by God, and after each revelation, Joseph was compelled to change something.
The first time he had to change his plans to put Mary away – that was the only thing he could do to rescue his reputation.
Over the course of their early marriage, Joseph was told to relocate 3 times.
The first two hears of Jesus’ life he led his family as they escaped for their lives and God, through revelation, let Joseph know where to run next.
Three times he had to re-establish his trade as a carpenter. Three times he had to move his family and reset up a home. Three times in less than three years.
Verse 3 begins their story with them on the road . . . pregnant, poor, isolated, misunderstood; they wouldn’t feel at home anywhere for several years.
The plan of God would forever change their lives. The will of God for them would be terribly inconvenient. It would end any dream of a normal life.
The will of God for Joseph and Mary would rule out a comfortable life and would lead, many times to total exhaustion.
Ask the average Christian – “How do you know if you’re in the will of God?” And they’ll answer, “When I understand the things that are happening.”
Ask Joseph? He would say, “When nothing seems to make any sense.”
Ask the average Christian, “How do you know if God is at work in your life?” and they’ll say something like, “When things are improving, progressing – everything is working out like I’ve planned.”
Ask Joseph and Mary and they would say, “When nothing gets better but everything we ever thought would happen just like we planned it to happen instead everything has been turned upside down.”
Have you ever heard any Christian say, “God is so good to me . . . absolutely nothing is working out, like I wanted!”
Joseph and Mary are heading to Bethlehem, they’ve packed enough for the 80 mile journey – they plan to return to Nazareth and set up their home and carpentry practice.
They barely get things set up when they have to flee in the middle of the night to Egypt; Matthew tells us in his account, chapter 2:13.
Their lives would be filled with unplanned, unmanageable inconvenience.
Their lives would also be pressured, I believe by unmistakable inadequacy.
If you skip ahead to verse 21 of Luke chapter 2 we’re told about an incident that occurred just days after Christ’ birth.
21. And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 22. And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23. (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), 24. and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
You need to know that this reveals the deep poverty of Joseph and Mary. There were other things prescribed by the law to offer God at this particular dedication. And you know they would have wanted to pull out all of the stops – this son was the Messiah – and they are dedicating Him to Yahweh.
Imagine the irony they felt in their hearts as they dedicated God the Son to God the Father.
They bought two birds . . . the law of Moses indicated that the most prized, most expensive animal they could have purchased to offer would have been a young unblemished lamb. But they were unable to afford a lamb – they had to buy the cheapest animals on the market – two common pigeons. This was an indication that they were truly, deeply poor.
And oh how they must have felt their poverty then.
It is interesting to realize though, at this dedication ceremony, they had brought a lamb – the Lamb of God – Emmanuel, God who had come to be with us, to die for us to take our sins away.
And just imagine how inadequate they must have felt raising the Son of God.
They were responsible for Jesus Christ’s education in the Old Testament scriptures – the stories of the people of God and leaders like Moses and Joshua.
It was probably rather wonderful to teach Jesus the Psalms of David and tell Jesus that he was the great, great, great-something grandson of David. To tell him the story of Ruth and Boaz and then inform him that Ruth was his great, great, great-something grandmother.
But can you imagine how inadequate these two parents were? There were no books on how to raise boys. Much less, how to raise a Messiah.
Can you imagine teaching the prophecies of scripture to the One whom the prophets had foretold? To teach the law to the one who would never break the law; to sing the Messianic psalms . . . to the Messiah.
God said to them, in effect, “I want you to teach the written word to the One who is the living word.”
By the way, before we go any further, I want to make one observation here:
Being who you are, where you are, with the challenges you face and the pressures you have – whether it’s raising your children, or walking with God in the midst of pressure, or trusting God when His will for you is extremely inconvenient; you can learn a lot from these two faithful teenagers.
Overcoming the obstacles – growing deeper in your faith when tested in your life does not require previous experience, but personal obedience.
More than likely, the things you are facing are things you’ve never faced before. You have no experience to fall back on. Life is not like most job applications – where you apply based on experience.
Most often God whispers to our hearts, “You’ve never done anything like this before . . . there’s no time to prepare . . . just obey me today . . . I’ll take care of tomorrow.
Another challenge surfaced as I studied this text: Joseph and Mary not only experienced unfair indictment and unexpected inconvenience and unmistakable inadequacy, but unfortunate indifference.
Notice verse 6. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and she wrapped Him in cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Some things haven’t changed. The inn was overcrowded then and the hearts of men today are overcrowded – there is still no room for Him today.
Justin Martyr, the second century church leader stated that the specific birthplace of Jesus was in a shallow cave used as a shelter for animals. Something that was common practice in those days. It’s interesting that in the middle of the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine ordered that a church be built over the supposed birthplace of Christ and it was built over and against a Bethlehem cave.
Did Joseph argue with the Inn Keeper? We have no indication that he did. We’re simply told that the inn was full.
I’ll never forget something that happened 10 years ago. My twin boys were in the first grade. That September they had not only started First grade, but here at Colonial they had started a new Sunday school class with a new teacher.
It was either the first or second Sunday of the new class when the teacher came up to me and introduced herself and said, “I’m your sons Sunday school teacher – I need to tell you about something that happened this morning.” I said, “You need to tell their mother.” No, I said, “Tell me what?” She said, “This morning after class your boys were getting ready to run out the door, and I reminded them that the rule states, you can’t leave the Sunday school class unless a parent comes to pick you up.” They protested, “We always do, we leave right after class.” She said, “Not anymore.” One of them said, “But we do it every Sunday – our other teachers let us.” She said, “Sorry, but I’m your teacher now and you can’t leave.” One of my sons put his hands on his 6 year old hips and said, “Do you know who my father is?” She didn’t know, so she said, “No I don’t, who is he?” And he said, “Pastor Davey!” I said to her, “What did you say to him?” She said, “I just looked him back square in the eye and said, ‘I don’t care if he is Pastor Davey, you not leaving this classroom.’” I said, “Great answer!”
He thought he had the ultimate connection to run the halls – he thought he owned the place.
Jesus Christ owned the world!
What do you mean there’s no room in the inn! Do you know who His father is?! Talk about pulling strings – they couldn’t done it! But that’s not the way God had planned it anyway. His plan was the stable.
Whether it was a wooden stable or a cave in a Bethlehem hillside, we need to erase from our minds the Christmas card picture of a fresh hay and clean animals and a warm fire – in fact, the last thing you’d ever do is build a fire in a stable around horses and donkeys.
That cave was dark and cold. The night air was punctuated by Mary’s cries of pain. Surrounded by manure and the stench of animals, the ground would have been packed hard by the animals, or worse yet it would be muddied by some recent rain.
Joseph, I’m sure made Mary a soft place to lie – perhaps his own cloak – we don’t know how long her labor was – perhaps it lasted well into the night; Perhaps Joseph held her hand, cooling her forehead, trying to encourage her – shooing away the animals – wondering why it was happening like this – not knowing exactly what to do.
If you’ve had a child, you remember perhaps the uncertainty and fear of that first child.
It was all new.
I remember the birth of those twin boys I mentioned earlier. We were finishing up our seminary studies in Dallas – Baylor Hospital was two blocks away. My wife was 9 months along – my wife and gone in for her usual checkup when things became rather urgent – they checked my wife in to the hospital – 5 hours later she’d deliver the babies. I was called and I raced to the hospital and was told to fill out all these papers while Marsha was prepped. Several forms that I was supposed to read and sign. I signed them – for all I know I’d just signed on for four years in the Marines. Finally we were in the delivery room – there were people everywhere. Two, three doctors . . . interns . . delivering twins without C-section was a little different some medical students were even there to see it happen. I should have sold tickets . . . after their birth we were congratulated. I didn’t deserve any of it. I called some family members and friends . . .
I couldn’t help but think – here are Mary and Joseph – two kids. Their out of town . . . in a smelly, dank stable. This is their first delivery . . . no nurses, no doctors, no interns . . . no midwife or mother or sister to help, no friends anywhere – they were alone.
And the pain increased . . . the contractions, the sweat and the fear. Luke simply records in verse 7. And she gave birth to her first born son.
Not her only son, by the way. In Matthew chapter 13 Mary and Joseph’s other sons are introduced to us by name – they had four more sons.
But Jesus was the first born – that meant he had the legal rights of inheritance. His mother and adoptive father were the descendants of King David – Jesus then inherited the right to claim the throne of David. He is the rightful King.
But for now, in that cave which reeked of livestock and dirty hay, this baby seemed anything but a King.
One author wrote, “His face is prunish and red. His cry, though strong and healthy, is still the helpless and piercing cry of a newborn baby. This is majesty in the midst of the mundane. This is holiness in the filth of manure
and sweat. This is deity entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager, into the calloused hands of a young carpenter.”
Max Lucado, God Came Near (Multhomah Press, Portland, OR) 1987. p. 23
He didn’t come out with a halo. The animals didn’t kneel and worship him. He was an ordinary looking, sounding, feeling baby. And after Mary swaddled him – that is, she wrapped him with strips of cloth, she was too exhausted to even hold Him.
And so they laid their newborn baby in a manger – the Greek word is fatnh (phatne) – which can literally be translated “feed trough.” More than likely, as was the custom, it was a place cut along the side of the cave and hollowed out. Joseph evidently cleaned out as best he could a section of the trough and put a blanket or hay into it to cushion the baby and then he laid in that feed trough the Son of God.
You could not have chosen a more wretched place to be born than this. You could not have scripted a more humble, poverty stricken beginning that this one.
What a picture of God’s condescension. He entered the world of sin – that stable perhaps serving as a metaphor of the filth of sinful humanity. He left behind the wealth of heaven and He chose the rags of humanity.
He couldn’t have stooped any lower. Emmanuel, God with us, had come from riches to rags.
Mary had a little lamb . . . His skin was bronze and smooth;
And everywhere that Mary went she pondered in her heart the news,
That this was not an accident – some inconvenient incident;
No, this was planned since time long past,
God’s voice, from a manger was heard at last.