Sunday School 12 22 2013

 

Jesus is Born!”

Lesson Text: Luke 1:1-17

Background Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

Devotional Reading: Galatians 4:1-7

Luke 1:1-17 (KJV)

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.

2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)

3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 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.

5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,

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 guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 "Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.

 

 

ONJECTIVES

To summarize the story of the birth of Jesus according to Luke.

To know that God’s message is good news for everyone.

To reflect on the significance of Jesus coming into the world!

 

INTRODUCTION

The Power of Christmas

It has halted wars. It has altered economies. It unites families. It depletes bank accounts. It affects everyone's calendar. It is Christmas.

Though the Christmas holiday is influential, the true power of Christmas is in the Christmas story. As Luke tells it, Jesus' birth marks a sharp contrast between two kinds of power. One is the military and economic might of the Roman Empire; the other is the power of Jesus, the king whom God sent. He was God incarnate, the Creator himself entering the world as a human. He deliberately assumed a position of humility, lowliness, even poverty. Beginning in that unlikely position, he conquers the world.

LESSON BACKGROUND

Time: 6 or 5 B.C.

Place: Nazareth and Bethlehem

Author: Luke

 The Roman Empire conquered territories around the Mediterranean Sea in the centuries before Jesus' birth. By 63 B.C., Rome had controlled the historic territory of Israel, although it took some years to solidify that control. Caesar Augustus became emperor in 27 B.C., and the great age of Roman power began to take shape. Subject peoples were taxed heavily. Those who did not submit to Roman authority could be fined, flogged, exiled, or executed.

Roman domination was more than a political and economic burden for the Jewish people. It was also a religious problem: as long as Rome ruled, God did not (or so it seemed). The reality of Roman occupation was a constant reminder that God had consigned Israel to a state of exile—even "exile" within its own borders—for generations.

The faithful looked to the promises of Scripture for hope. God had promised a great Son of David to rule over his people (2 Samuel 7:12-16). He had promised that beyond exile lay restoration (Isaiah 51:11), like the exodus of Moses' time. One day the pagan powers would be destroyed, and God would rule supreme over all nations (Daniel 7:1-14). Though centuries had passed since God gave his promises, the faithful looked beyond the failures of their forefathers and kept their trust in God's promise to take back his world.

These ideas intersect with Luke's story of Jesus' birth. The power of Rome is portrayed through its power to tax. We glimpse the oppression of Israel in the poverty of Jesus' family. The promise of God is clear as we hear again of David, whose promised Son is to rule over all.


 

Worldly Power (Luke 2:1-3)

1. What was the real purpose behind the census imposed by Caesar Augustus? (Luke 2:1-3)

Luke 2:1 introduces Jesus’ birth by setting it in its historical context. The author mentioned the emperor of Rome, Caesar Augustus. This refers to Octavian, who had established a reputation for being administratively skillful and cunning. By this time, Caesar Augustus has been emperor for more than 20 years (see the Lesson Background), thus his power to call for a census is firmly established. As a result of an imperial edict issued by the Roman Senate, Caesar directed that the inhabitants of the empire be registered for the purpose of collecting taxes. The census was not so much to count people as to determine who owed taxes and who could serve in the Roman army (though Jews were not subject to military selective service).

Luke ties the story of Jesus' birth to contemporary events to establish its precise setting. This was the first registration taken when Publius Sulpicius Cyrenius was military governor of the Roman province of Syria (v. 2). Caesar relied upon high-level administrators such as Cyrenius to ensure that inhabitants throughout the empire journeyed to their hometowns to be registered (v. 3). Luke’s historical approach emphasizes the fact that at Jesus’ birth, the eternal God invaded temporal human affairs. Not only that, but also God used secular rulers and events to accomplish His purposes.

What Do You Think?

How do we distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate demands that a ruling authority makes on us? What reactions do those two kinds of demands call from you personally?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Mark 12:17; Acts 4:19; 5:29; 18:2; 23:5; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17


 

 

The Journey to Bethlehem (Luke 2:4, 5)

 

2. Why did God arrange for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem? (Luke 2:4, 5)

Even such a seemingly unimportant individual as Joseph was affected by the Roman census (Luke 2:4). At the time, Joseph was living in Nazareth, a town situated in lower Galilee, roughly halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea.

To comply with the census, Joseph had to travel about 90 miles-at least a three-day journey-from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the little town of his ancestors (and possibly those of Mary; verse 5).

But Luke portrays Bethlehem as more than a little country village (Luke 2:4). He calls it the city of David and mentions David a second time in describing Joseph's connection with Bethlehem (compare Luke 1:26, 27). Luke wants us to think of the promise to David of a great descendant who will build God's house and rule an everlasting kingdom (see the Lesson Background). Micah the prophet foretold that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah (Micah 5:2), and Luke 2:11 records the fulfillment of the prophecy.

Mary and Joseph were already husband and wife but since they did not consummate the marriage until after Jesus was born, she is called his "espoused wife" (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:5). Because Mary was almost ready to give birth to Jesus (Luke 2:5), the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem journey must have been very trying for her. But there was no way Joseph could delay the journey.

 

 

The Savior’s Humble Beginning (Luke 2:6, 7)

3. Under what conditions was Jesus born? (Luke 2:6, 7)

Now we come to the central event of the story: the birth of Jesus. While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, Mary’s pregnancy ended and she delivered her child (Luke 2:6). With no midwife to help, Mary wrapped baby Jesus in swaddling clothes. Swaddling clothes are strips of cloth. The custom is to wrap babies securely with such strips for warmth and security. The infant Jesus receives the usual care of the culture in this regard (contrast Ezekiel 16:1-5). The use of a manger sends a different message, however. A manger is a feeding trough for animals, hardly the place one would place a baby. But this action yields a clue that the family has had to take shelter in a stable of some kind, perhaps one of the caves in the area that is used to shelter livestock. At this time, Bethlehem was likely overflowing with travelers who sought to register in the census. So, suitable accommodations were difficult to find. Their situation is lowly indeed!

However we paint this picture in our minds, the larger circumstances are clear. Jesus is born into a poor family under Roman oppression, yet in a town that reminds us of God's promise of a great king. What shall we make of this situation?

What Do You Think?

How can we use the circumstances of Jesus' birth to demonstrate that lowliness and humility rather than "health and wealth" may be the reality for the obedient believer?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In the way we pray | In how we socialize | In how we handle our finances | Other

When we by faith we view the Son of God being made man and lying in a manger, is our vanity, ambition, and envy checked?


 

The Affirmation of the Angels and Shepherds (Luke 2:8-17)

4. Why were the shepherds fitting witnesses of Jesus’ birth? (Luke 2:8-12)

The hill country around Bethlehem is suitable pastureland for sheep and goats (compare 1 Samuel 16:4, 11). The nighttime scene suggests tranquility, but that is about to change.

As with Zacharias (Luke 1:11-20) and Mary (1:26-38), an angel appears to ordinary shepherds, not the, powerful rulers or religious leader (Luke 2:8). These were industrious shepherds, who were in the business of their calling, keeping watch over their flock. We are not out of the way of Divine visits, when we are employed in an honest calling, and abide with God in it. Let God have the honor of our work.

The shepherds now see the angel accompanying glory of the Lord in a miraculous display of light (compare 9:29). Those who encounter angels in the Bible commonly are afraid (Luke 1:12, 29; etc.), and we can understand why the shepherds are terrified! But the heavenly emissary reassured them with good news of a joyous event (v. 10), namely, the birth of Israel’s “Savior” and “Lord” (v. 11). (This combination of terms appears nowhere else in the New Testament.) Jesus was unique, being the Christ (the Anointed One of God). The One who eternally existed in regal splendor had been born that night in Bethlehem. Indeed, He who is sovereign and all-powerful would make redemption available to humanity, including the weak and oppressed-even society’s outcasts.

The Gospel is always good news “of great joy” (v. 10) for everyone who receives it by faith. The “good news” is that God loves us despite our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds (see John 3:16-21; Eph. 2:1-10; 1 John 4:10).

What Do You Think?

What can your church do this Christmas season to ensure that the “good tidings of great joy” are available “to all people” in your community?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Transportation issues | Food issues | Clothing issues | Worship and program access |

Other

 

The angel encouraged the shepherds to find the Christ child lying in a manger (feeding trough for livestock, Luke 2:12). What an interesting sign for the shepherds! Certainly, it is an identifier: the child they are to seek will be found in an unusual place. But it is also a description: the divine king is born in a place of poverty, even rejection.

 

5. What happened immediately after the angel’s announcement? (Luke 2:13, 14)

We can imagine the shepherds staring in amazement, trembling and trying to grasp the significance of the angel’s announcement. Suddenly the night sky exploded with the sounds of a vast heavenly army praising God (Luke 2:13). The angels gave glory (or honor) to the Creator and announced peace for all who receive His favor (v. 14). In that day, Augustus was hailed as the source and sustainer of peace. Even today, people long for freedom from war as well as to enjoy a state of mental calm and serenity. But true and lasting peace cannot be achieved until individuals experience an ending of hostility with the Father, and this is only possible through faith in the Son (see John 14:27; Rom. 5:1-11).

6. Why did Luke write that shepherds spread the news about Jesus? (Luke 2:15-17)

Consider the sense of excitement and urgency felt by the shepherds as they agreed to stop what they were doing and hurry to see the newborn Savior in Bethlehem (Luke 2:15). It’s interesting to note the shepherds’ recollection of what had just taken place. They wanted to verify what the Lord had told them. Even though an angel had delivered the message, it was God whose word was made known. Evidently, the shepherds ran to find the Christ child, and their efforts were not wasted. They met Mary and Joseph, and personally saw the newborn Savior “lying in the manger” (v. 16).

What Do You Think?

Other than a nativity scene, what aspects of your Christmas celebration especially remind you of "the reason for the season"? Why is that?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Family traditions | Special church programs | Music | Certain decorations | Other

Official Invitation

On November 24, 2009, two gate-crashers somehow managed to join hundreds of guests at a White House state dinner. Having not been invited, the two had not undergone the background checks, etc., that invitees to such functions must undergo. The fact that these two managed to bypass the entire security process, even to the point of getting their picture taken with the president, caused quite an uproar!

God did a thorough background check before issuing invitations to see the newborn king. As a result, the shepherds were invited, as were the Magi (Matthew 2:1, 2). Herod wanted to come, but was denied (2:8, 12). Today, God extends an invitation for all to approach and accept Jesus. We all have criminal backgrounds because we all have broken God's laws. And that's precisely why He bids us come! How will you respond?—C. R. B.


 

(Luke 2:17)

After the shepherds had encountered Jesus, they became instant evangelists. Being in His presence must have convinced them that what the angel had said to them was true. Indeed, the shepherds felt compelled to tell every person they met that they had seen the Messiah (v. 17). The shepherds could have responded differently to the wonderful things they had seen and heard. They could have been so paralyzed by fear that they told no one about the wonders. The shepherds could have remained quiet. The simple truth is that what has been revealed in Jesus is too wonderful to hide!

 

 

POINTS TO PONDER

 

1. God acts in time to accomplish His eternal purposes (Luke 2:1-3).

2. God uses obedient people to carry out His plan (Luke 2:4-12).

3. God wants us to be so filled with joy that we tell others about Jesus (Luke 13-17).


 

CONCLUSION

Life Turned Upside Down

All the publicity seems to go to powerful governments, rich corporations, dynamic businesspeople, and famous entertainers. Perhaps we think that God's message would be better received if the church had a more powerful, prominent identity.

But the power of God does not operate like the power of the world. God's work confounds how we look at life. It turns life upside down, beginning in a stable, leading to a cross, climaxing at an empty tomb. It is the power to save for eternity.

PRAYER

O God, may we rejoice anew in the greatest gift ever given! In the name of Jesus, that gift, amen.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER

Come to the manger yet again.

 


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