Any Room For Jesus?
December 17, 2017 | Randy Smith
Any Room For Jesus?Luke 2:1-7
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Pastor Randy Smith
Camping in the outdoors. The pure smells, the sounds of nature, the tranquility - that is until the 45-foot RV pulls in. It's almost as if it likes to announce its presence. It's like the visit of a royal dignitary whereby all the poor peasants in a $30 Walmart tent need to bow down in homage. The air now consumed with the smell of diesel gasoline. The wildlife has run for cover. Tree branches are snapping overhead as he drive to his campsite. And through the 6 by 12-foot plate of glass is a little old man clinging to a driving wheel almost too big for his arms to stretch side to side.
Oh, it gets worse. After they take 2 hours to back that monstrosity on their camping pad, they take another 4 hours to set up camp. Isn't the purpose of an RV to make your camping experience a lot more relaxing?
Out come the Coleman grill, lawn chairs, fire pit, screened-in house, tiki torches, Christmas lights, card Table, outdoor games, bikes, pets and a doormat. The sides are expanded and the awnings are unrolled (this thing triples in size) and this recreation vehicle is instantly transformed into a comfortable 3-bedroon house complete with television, Wi-Fi, running water, sewer hookups, climate control, stove and refrigerator. The generator is fired up and they hunker down for a week in their new residence.
And they don't move. After driving 10 hours to reach their special location, they don't move. They don't see the buffalo, the waterfalls, the sandstone arches, the alpine lakes, the wildflowers or the mountain vistas. An occasional squirrel may pass by. They ride their bikes around the campground. They have great campfires each night. Nobody can rival their breakfast. But the very uniqueness of a special place in nature is missed because they refuse to give up the comforts of their daily living. They like their stuff!
I wonder how much of our stuff foolishly keeps us away from the most important things in life? How about the most important Person?
I was talking with a person this week about life for Americans 150 years ago. What was there to do? They didn't have any stuff. No television, Internet, cable, kid's athletics, telephones, automobiles and video games. It got dark and that was about it. Entertainment was Pa playing the fiddle in the candlelight. Most worked all day on a farm and the only fellowship with others was looking forward to going to church on Sunday mornings. A lot of time to be together as a family. A lot of time without the comforts of daily living today to be freed from all the distractions. I'm sure it was easier to have more room in the day in your heart for Jesus.
We enter Luke 2 this morning and we'll take a look at this famous Christmas passage over the next three weeks. Today I'd like to focus on verses 1-7 which concludes with those haunting words. "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." I guess it's not a new problem for people to find room for Jesus.
Take all the modern conveniences combined this time of the year - gift exchanges, Christmas parties, Santa Claus, shopping, decorating, baking, television specials and a new Star Wars movie - and two-thousand years later people seem to find less room in the inn called their heart for Jesus.
Our goal this morning is to look at what this text has to say and then review what we can do to ensure that Jesus Christ now and always has first-place in our hearts.
As you know the Romans ruled the Israelites with an iron fist back then during the first century. The two things they did well that were most hated by the Jews were crucifixion and taxation. When it came to taxation, even the poor peasants on the far end of the Mediterranean Sea were not exempt as they were forced to contribute the demanded amount.
The leader at this time, according to verse 1, was Caesar Augustus. He was the grand-nephew, adopted son and prime heir to Julius Caesar. Augustus took the throne in 31 BC by defeating Mark Anthony. Originally born under the name, "Caius Octavius," in 27 BC he was honored with the name "Augustus," meaning "Exalted One." It was supreme dictatorial power until his death at age 76 in AD 14.
This is the world in which Jesus was born. Strange timing on the part of God. Through Augustus the region enjoyed tremendous peace. With such world peace, what need could there be for One known as "The Prince of Peace"? Augustus was a man worshiped as god. Why do we need another God on the scene, moreover a God that would become man? Augustus was the most powerful person anyone could imagine. What use will there be for a baby born in a manger? I mean, if there ever was a time to question God's timing or mode of operation, this might be the moment. How could Jesus possibly not get lost in this complex shuffle? After all, Augustus was known as "savior of the world!"
So Augustus, verse 1, calls for a census of "all the inhabited earth" (i.e. the Roman Empire). The mindset we have been taught was that there was a mass migration of everyone to his hometown. Most likely Rome permitted people to enroll at any time during the year. Basically the information provided was for the Romans to more effectively levy their poll taxes, but ultimately purpose was to demonstrate Rome's desire to control the people.
So all the people are forced to go to their, verse 3, "own city". Joseph, verse 4, currently living in the town of Nazareth in the region of Galilee travels to the town of Bethlehem which is in the region of Judea. It would have been an 80 mile journey over mountainous terrain. What made it more complex was that, verse 5, Mary was with him (his engaged fiancé) and she was presently pregnant by the Holy Spirit with baby Jesus.
Kent Hughes put it like this, "Caesar Augustus' relentless arm stretched out to squeeze its tribute even in a tiny village at the far end of the Mediterranean. Thus it came about that a village carpenter and his expectant teenage bride (Mary 13-14 years old) were forced to travel to his hometown to be registered for taxation. It was a miserable journey. Mary was full-term which forced a slow, rolling gait as she walked those 80 miles. Perhaps, if she was fortunate, she had borrowed an animal to carry her. But whatever the situation, she traveled in the dust (and unfavorable elements of weather), bearing the distressing knowledge that she might have her first baby far from home, from her mother, and from nearly everyone that cared about her." (Luke - Volume 1, p. 82).
So we are trying to keep our focus on Christ and we are told about two nobody people from a despised nowhere town under the powerful influence of a Roman government that would force a pregnant teenager carrying the scandal of an unwed mother to make this harsh trek through the wilderness. I don't know about you, but where is God in all of this? How can we possibly keep our attention on Jesus Christ? In the unfolding drama He just sounds so insignificant.
To make matters worse, the author Luke provides no commentary. I mean after all, the purpose of writing this book in the Bible is to show us why Jesus Christ is the God and Savior of the world. There are no side comments from the author, and the more history he keeps presenting only seems to raise more doubts in our minds. We're talking about making sure Jesus doesn't get lost. Right now it is hard to find where He exists and what significance He can bring to this world.
Things continue to get more bizarre. Verse 6 says, "While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth."
So again, the picture we have in our minds of Mary arriving in Bethlehem on a cold winter's night and giving birth to Jesus that very evening is incorrect. For starters, we do not know what month of the year this was. Scholars lean to the spring. And furthermore, verse 6 says there were there for some time before she delivered the baby.
In verse 7 we learn Mary "gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger."
There is more Christmas fiction because we have really sanctified this account. Nativity scenes and Christmas cards make the birthing place of Jesus like something out of a "Tennessee Made-for-Television Christmas Special" with Garth Brooks sitting on a bale of hay strumming some of our Holiday favorites in a clean barn with domesticated animals and seats for the children to drink their hot chocolate.
Clearly this was not the case for Joseph and Mary. The conditions were crude. We can assume animals were present, but the text never confirms it. Animals probably were at some time housed there since Jesus was placed in a manger, which is a feeding trough for animals. The whole place smelled not only from animal droppings, but also from poverty, scandal, insignificance, helplessness, humiliation and embarrassment.
Someone said, "His head rests where the cattle have fed."
Moms, imagine the specific pain Mary felt. Dads, how would you have felt if you were in Joseph's sandals that evening? Was any child in the world that day born in a more desperate situation?
"My mother groaned, My father wept into the dangerous world I leapt" (Michael Manson, Infant Sorrow).
Verse 7 also says Jesus was placed in this location "because there was no room for them in the inn."
The inn was full so tradition has Jesus ending up in a stable. That is doubtful. If anything it was a cave. Even that is doubted my many scholars as well.
Tradition says people were flocking to the town because of the census. For that reason the young couple could find nowhere to stay. The inn was already full. Moreover since they were poor one would provide for them any accommodations so they wind up in a cave. That's possible, but many would disagree.
You see, back then hospitality was crucial to the reputation of any person. Oftentimes houses back then were built on an upper level with two rooms. The one room is where the family slept, ate and lived and the other room (we'll call that the inn) was available for guests. In this case the guest room in this house was already occupied by a higher ranking relative, but Mary and Joseph were permitted to take the lower ground level below the living quarters. This was the place where the animals were often brought in during the evenings. But most historians would agree that it would have been almost impossible to imagine the people from Joseph's lineage turning him away. According to the culture, few things would have been more shameful. Then again, in a shame/honor society, maybe they did when it was determined that Mary was unmarried and pregnant.
So I said this sermon is about making sure we don't lose our focus on Jesus during this Christmas season. So we turn to the Bible today. We specifically look at the definitive passage about Jesus and it seems as if Jesus is lost in what we covered. Why is that and how can today's passage help with the purpose of today's sermon in keeping a Christ-centered focus?
Next week and the rest of this book will progressively exalt Jesus Christ, but what about using this passage about Jesus that possibly exalts Jesus less than any other passage about Jesus? I think it's kind of fitting for us today. This is a so-called Christian nation where most celebrate Christmas, but Jesus really isn't seen anywhere? Or is He in this text from Luke 2? Here are two things to think about that will help you focus on Christ this Christmas.
Number One - Eliminate Distractions
The reason we often lose our focus is because we are consumed with too many distractions. The distractions might not necessarily be evil in and of themselves, but they can become evil if they begin to dominate our thoughts with the thoughts we should have reserved for God.
For instance, what do we hope for? What excites us about the season? What's bringing us joy? Where are we finding our peace? What is our primary focus?
The Holy Spirit through the author Luke was very careful to not distract from the primary message of this book. And what is that? That God sent a Savior into the world to redeem the world from their sin through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So does God really want our focus on a cute, adorable baby or does He want our focus on who that baby is and what He will become? That's why the text is silent regarding his physical appearance. Yet at the same time, the text is also careful not to undervalue the greatness of His arrival, but to present His arrival in a way where nothing will distract from His glory.
You see, when it comes to the birth of Christ, it's hard to find anything to brag about other than the birth of Christ! Stinky stable (and not a warm hospital), wooden manger (and not a beautiful crib), insignificant parents (and not reputable people), notorious town (and not the religious city of Jerusalem), dangerous journey (and not a bed for Mary), Roman dictatorship (and not servant leadership), swaddling cloths (and not fresh linens)? It is mostly bad so that we might not miss the good.
The focus is on the baby! But the focus is not on a baby, but again who this baby is and what He will become. The Christmas story is about wonder. You see, if He were born to Caesar Augustus in a palace there is not much left to the imagination. But we are called to intense faith to believe that somehow this Child will be King. The narrative makes it clear that for this to happen it must be the hand of God.
Just like the Holy Spirit did when He wrote this passage, eliminate distractions to keep your focus on the wonder of Jesus Christ!
Number Two - Have Faith
To the naked eye there is enough for any scoffer to mock this account. We must have faith this Christmas season to see the unseen hand of God.
For example, Luke 1:32-33 the angel said of Jesus, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."
Do we believe that or not? Easy for us looking back, but what about those living real-time and seeking those events unfold before their very eyes? If Jesus is not great in our eyes, how could He possibly have been great in their eyes? Is there anything in this account that gives a glimmer of promise that this Christ will be "great"? Keeping our focus on Christ this Christmas is believing Luke 1:37, "For nothing will be impossible with God." Faith in the power and promises of God.
Is God's hand of power and promise anywhere in this passage? Written long before in the Old Testament was a key prophecy. Micah 5, "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.Therefore He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel. And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth. This One will be our peace." (Mic. 5:2-5).
Was Jesus the pawn in Caesar's hands or was Caesar the pawn in God's hands to accomplish God's prophetic purposes in bringing the Messiah to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy?
Eliminate distractions and have faith in God's promises and power. You see, in a sense they are both related. The more we can get away from our "stuff" the more we can read our Bibles and then especially have the time to meditate and wonder and trust the promises of God. And only then will we have more room in our hearts for Jesus to see the superior worth of our Savior as compared to all the false gods this world dangles before our eyes.