God’s work encompasses all of creation and history. That means He is working in the lives of obscure individuals as well as in the lives of the rich, famous, and powerful. His great work in bringing Jesus into the world as our Savior at just the right time is evidence of that.
The Perfect Timing of God
Several years before the birth of Christ, Halley’s Comet blazed across the night sky. Caesar Augustus announced that it was the spirit of his father, Julius Caesar, ascending into heaven as one of the gods. Augustus then minted coins declaring his own deity, with the words inscribed on the coins: “Caesar, Son of a God.”
Now as Luke begins his record of the birth of Jesus, it’s as if he is saying, “Listen, if you think what matters most is whatever Caesar Augustus is doing over there in Rome, you have actually missed it by 1500 miles. What is of infinitely greater importance is what is taking place in a little village called Nazareth.”
Luke writes in chapter 2 of his Gospel:
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. (verses 1-2)
Now it sounds like these guys are in charge, but Luke is going to take us behind the scenes. Mary and Joseph are expecting a baby, Israel’s promised Messiah. They are living in Nazareth, but the prophet Micah predicted 700 years earlier that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, near Jerusalem (Micah 5:2).
How do you get this young couple to travel some ninety miles to Bethlehem, especially when Mary is due to deliver her baby? Well, God, the person who is really in charge, moves the heart of Caesar to make him hungry for some more tax revenue. Caesar wakes up one morning with a bright idea to issue a decree for a census, registering people for an empire-wide tax. This will require heads of households to return to their families’ ancestral homes to register, and Joseph’s ancestral home is Bethlehem.
For Joseph and Mary, this could not have happened at a worse time. Maybe you have come to a point in your life where you are feeling like life is confusing. It doesn’t make any sense, and you are wondering what in the world God is doing. You might not have all the answers, but you can rest assured that God has not gone to sleep. In fact, the psalmist wrote in Psalm 121:4 that our God never slumbers or sleeps. He is always aware and in control. Now if God does not sleep at night, do you know what that means? It means you can go to sleep in peace.
It is easy to get distraught or distracted by the decrees and decisions of kings and governors and senators. But God is at work, accomplishing His purposes, and we usually do not catch on until sometime later!
Well, this trip, though it’s the will of God for Joseph and Mary, is going to make their lives uncomfortable, difficult, and even dangerous. But let’s not forget that Joseph and Mary are not pawns in the hand of Caesar; Caesar is a pawn in the hand of God.
We know from history that wives were not required to accompany their husbands. We are not told why Mary went along, but she no doubt welcomed the opportunity to get out of Nazareth and escape the scandal of her pregnancy. Probably nobody believed her story of a miraculous conception by the overshadowing presence of the Holy Spirit.
When they arrive in Bethlehem, we are not told if Mary delivered Jesus in a hollowed-out cave or an animal enclosure connected to someone’s house. There is actually no mention of an innkeeper who turns them away; verse 7 just says there was no room for them in the inn.
Verse 7 also tells us that Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths by herself. That was usually the role of a midwife and implies there was no midwife there to help. This baby is delivered into the calloused hands of Joseph.
Luke is not telling us everything. However, he is giving us enough details to show us the absolute humility of Christ’s incarnation, the amazing fulfillment of prophecy in Bethlehem, and the timing of God, which was perfect.
Luke writes in verses 8-10:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
By the way, this phrase “I bring you good news” is from the Greek verb euangelizomai, which gives us our word evangelism. In the first century, this verb was used of a messenger delivering an official proclamation from the king. It was even used for announcing the birth of a royal heir.
Here is the angel’s proclamation:
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (verses 11-12)
This angel is now joined by a multitude of angels—chanting a chorus of praise. I imagine the ground under the shepherds’ feet was shaking with the sound of this heavenly choir saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” (verse 14).
Jewish couples would typically hire local musicians to help them celebrate the birth of a child. Joseph and Mary are alone and away from family, and they are too poor anyway to afford musicians. I love the fact that God the Father sends the musicians directly from heaven.
When the concert is finished, and the angels disappear, the shepherds take off for Bethlehem:
They went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. (verses 16-18)
God’s ways are truly fascinating. According to the Mishnah, a collection of Jewish laws and customs, shepherds were considered perpetually unclean—they could not keep all the ceremonial laws because of their profession. Shepherds were not even allowed to enter the temple, yet God chose them to become the first evangelists.
Some people probably thought the shepherds had spent too much time outdoors. Other people no doubt asked questions. We are told in verse 19 that “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
These shepherds’ lives are changed forever. They don’t change their profession, but God certainly changed their hearts. Verse 20 says they continued “glorifying and praising God.” I do not doubt they are probably singing the lyrics they had just learned from the angels of heaven.
By the way, we ought to follow the example of these shepherds—let’s keep singing about the glory and gospel of God. And let’s tell others the good news!
You say, “But I’m not trained in evangelism.” Listen, beloved, as someone has said, you do not need to be a trained chef to tell someone you found a good restaurant. You do not need to go to medical school to tell someone you found a good doctor. And you do not need seminary training to tell someone you found the Savior.
Several years after this scene in Luke 2, seventy-six-year-old Caesar Augustus developed pneumonia and died. This man who called himself the Savior of the World and the son of God passed away.
Jesus would have been around eighteen years of age at the time. I cannot help but wonder when He heard the news if He quietly reflected on the truth that kings and kingdoms come and go. They seem to be the ones in power, but God alone rules the universe.
I wonder if He reflected on the truth that He alone is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. He is the Savior, but let me ask you this: Is He your Savior today?
 Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Luke (Zondervan, 2012), 61.
 Michael Grant, The Twelve Caesars (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975), 65.
 Bruce B. Barton, Dave Veerman, and Linda K. Taylor, Luke: Life Application Bible Commentary (Tyndale House, 1997), 41.
 Swindoll, 65.
 Swindoll, 69.
 Grant, 79.