For me, some of the great cinematic moments are when the main character is introduced. Perhaps the camera has been following him/her from behind and then they turn to face the camera and you see them. I can’t help but think of the scene in Tombstone when Wyatt Earp (played by Kurt Russell) is seen for the first time by his brothers and the audience. I cheer out loud when moments like that happen. The minister I work with told me that when he went to see Death Wish (the first one) in theaters, it was a time when people were very quiet during the movie (unlike today) and people watched movies. But when Charles Bronson blasted away the first thug in the movie, the crowd erupted.
That is what is happening in Luke chapter 2. Luke is finally going to introduce the hero of the story, Jesus. But unlike most of the famous characters of movies and even history, Jesus, the King of Kings, is not born in a palace or hospital with doctors present or even in his own home. No, the Savior of mankind is born in a stable and laid his head for the first time in a manger because there is no room in the inn for the king to stay. What a picture of humility painted for us by none other than the Lord.
The Historical Reality
Luke begins chapter 2 with some names and places, putting this book in an historical setting. The account of Jesus did not take place in a vacuum with no historical setting. Augustus was reigning as Caeser and acting as govenor over Syria was Quirinius. Further, Luke records that there was a census that took place at this time. We cannot stress the fact that Luke was a great historian and did the research to ensure his writing was accurate. His testimony concerning the places and people in authority in that time period could easily have been checked and if Theophilus is a man of power (as has been suggested), then he could check the certainty of the things he has been taught (indeed the purpose of this gospel account).
Away in a Manger
Joseph and Mary needed to go to Bethlehem to partake in this manditory census. So they leave home and head for Judea, but along the way Mary goes into labor. When it is time for the baby to come, it’s time. And since the inns were crowded (perhaps due to the number of people accumulating for the census), Mary must give birth to the Messiah in, traditionally, a stable. Some have suggested a cave (going back to Justin Martyr). Others claim it was an open air birth or in a house where the animals shared the same roof as the inhabitants. Whatever the case, the point seems to be that this was a lonely and lowly birth. And Luke hammers home the point that Mary was virgin and Jesus was the oldest of his brothers by indicating Jesus was the firstborn.
We should also note that Luke says Bethlehem was the “city of David.” However, we have no record of David returning to Bethlehem after leaving it. In the same way, we have no record of Jesus returning to Bethlehem after he is born here. At any rate, God’s word is fulfilled in that Jesus, the Messiah, is born in Bethlehem just as the prophet predicted (Mic 5.2, cf. Matt 2.6). God has worked his purpose and done so through humble and simple people. His Son has come into the world and redemptions grand scheme will enter the final act as Jesus grows, ministers and dies.
There is a lot that could be said historically and also concerning background. I urge the reader to research these things for themself. Maybe someday I will revisit these matters and expose them more deeply. But what I want us to key in on is Luke’s ability to contrast earthly, fleshy kings and the spiritual king. While Augustus is in Rome issuing decrees for a census, no doubt robed with the finest robes and surrounded by the luxuaries of life, the true king makes his debut in swaddling clothes surrounded by no luxuaries. While Quirinius is governing his territory Syria, one upon whose shoulders the government will rest is laid in a manger. All this is to show the severe misunderstanding the world has concerning true greatness. True greatness is not found in a palace nor in the finer things of life; it is found in small, obscure Jewish town, born to humble parents and laid in a manger. The baby who will grow into a man that will reveal the thoughts of the hearts of men is born. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, is come.