Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The World of Jesus Birth
When we think of the birth of Jesus we often get caught up in the story?the drama of Mary and Joseph, the journey to Bethlehem, the vision to the shepherds, and the baby born in a stable. But have you ever pulled back and thought about the bigger picture?
God?s dealing with His universe is broken up into four parts: creation, fall, redemption, and renovation. The first two take up only three chapters in Genesis. The middle part?redemption?takes up everything until the end of the last book of the Bible! Basically, God created humans, placed us in a perfect paradise call The Garden of Eden, gave us the job of tending the garden, and told us to do anything we wanted, except one thing-don?t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Well it was that one thing that put us in rebellion against God and separated us from Him forever and put us, and God?s creation, under the jurisdiction of the serpent that inspired the rebellion.
Except that God had a plan from the beginning to purchase us back, but not without a huge cost to Himself. It?s hinted at in the scene following the fall of man when God addresses that serpent:
Genesis 3:15 ?I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head and you will strike his heel.?
God planned to send a man, the ?seed? of the woman Eve, to strike the serpent on the head and rescue humans back to God. This man would absorb the penalty for our rebellion and buy us back to God. Exactly how that man would come on the scene was the subject of much debate down through the years. God, like any good writer, put in clues throughout His written speech, the Bible.
If you?d paid really close attention, and a few did, you?d know that God set a date, a place, and a people to birth this man. Now if you were to do the mission planning on this one you probably would not have chosen to do it the way God did. You might have your Savior appear in the sky in an unmistakable sign and ride in on a huge craft and wipe out the serpent and his minions in a single blow then set up his government and rule the earth. Well, that?d be correct?you? have the ruling part of the Savior?s mission?but what you?d miss is the saving part of that mission. That new ruler would have no one to rule over because in the process of destroying the serpent, He would also destroy the serpent?s ?seed?.
In order to save mankind, the Savior had to arrive in just the right way at just the right time and place on a mission that was top secret until it was time to reveal His real purpose.
So Jesus was born between 4-6 B.C. in a little backwater of a place known as Palestine?located in the Middle East?to a construction contractor and her teenage fianc?. It seems backward and strange for the Savior of the whole world to come to a rebellious little nation in the place no one outside Israel wanted to go at a time when they didn?t have technology or medicine or cars or even the internet! He would come quietly and live in relative obscurity as far as the rest of the world went. Yet if you look at the world in which God brought in His secret agent, it was perfect in every way.
So let?s look briefly at the environment in which Jesus came to the world: the history, the culture, the language, the politics, and even a bit at technology.
Language and Culture
Palestine (so named by the Roman Emperor Hadrian who named it Provincia Syria Palestina in AD 135) had regularly been overrun by greater powers, most notably the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and then the Greeks. Alexander the Great conquered the area around 330 B.C. and put the Jews under slavery. Alexander may have been one of the greatest military minds of all time. In just 13 years, starting when he was just 20 years old, he conquered much of the Mediterranean world. He died in 323 B.C. of a fever but not before bringing along with him the idea of one world (something he got from his teacher Aristotle).
On his staff were historians, ethnographers, geographers, botanists, zoologists, mineralogists, and others. Alexander didn?t just conquer a place. He spread the culture, and equally as important, the Greek language, throughout the region. Greek became the Lingua Franca of the world?the trade language of the peoples. Why was this important? Because in order for the news of this Savior to spread, people had to be able to speak about it to one another. But prior to this, the Jews spoke Hebrew or Aramaic?languages not spoken in other parts of the world. With Greek, they could go to Europe and eventually Rome?and all parts between would speak a language they could understand. (But even language wasn?t a barrier to this Savior?but that?s another story?see Acts 1-2).
Transportation and Taxation
It would do no good for there to be a common language if no one could travel out of Palestine very far with the news. The Greek empire was short-lived. After a brief rebellion the Jews were once again controlled, but this time to a people to the west of Greece?from Rome. Though the Romans did not conquer as much territory as Alexander, they had control over Palestine and nearly everything else to the west, north, and south.
It was in that environment that the Savior, Jesus, was born. One of the clues God hinted at about the location of the birth was that it would take place in a small village near Jerusalem called Bethlehem. God had to get Joseph, the contractor, and Mary, his teenage fianc?, from where they lived in Nazareth, 163km to Bethlehem (34 hours of walking on today?s roads but probably more than a week given Mary?s condition and the condition of the roads). In order to do that, years before, God moved in the hearts of the Romans to extend their territory which created a tremendous funding and moral crisis. Rome couldn?t financially support their far-flung empire that at the same time suffered from degenerating Roman morals. The Romans looked more and more to their military for help and support. Eventually several strong military leaders came up and through a series of battles, culminating in the defeat of Antony (of Antony and Cleopatra). One man became the ruler of the empire?his name was Octavian. In 27 B.C. the Roman senate declared him ruler and gave him the name Augustus.
Caesar Augustus had to raise funds to keep up his empire and so he instituted a tax and required every person in all of his lands to go to their birthplace, register, and pay.
Joseph was from Bethlehem and so Augustus? tax program forced he and Mary to go home?just when their baby was due but to just where God wanted them to be.
The other thing the Romans did was to build roads?lots of them. Some estimates put at 50,000 the miles of roads built by the Romans. Roman roads were so well built that some survive to this day. They created a transportation system just in time for the news of this Savior to go beyond Palestine and into the Mediterranean world.
So God prepared a world to receive the message of this rescuer, but why did He have Him come to such an obscure place as Bethlehem? Bethlehem, at the time, was a small village of perhaps just a few hundred to a thousand residents. But its significance is vital to their story.
- It was the place of sacrifice
Bethlehem stands only a few miles from Jerusalem. Generations of shepherds raised sheep in Bethlehem and each year they would choose perfect first-born males to be part of the sacrificial system at the Temple. The sacrifices were a picture of the price the ultimate sacrifice would pay in order to return us to God. Eventually Jesus would be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the earth.
- It was the place of nourishment
Bethlehem means ?House of Bread?. Jesus was the bread that came down from heaven to provide life, just as God sent manna from heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness, so too Jesus, in His death, burial, and resurrection, provided us with life that will never end?life that came down from heaven.
- It was the place of the king
Bethlehem was the birthplace of David. As God focused down through the generations to His coming Savior, He picked David as ?a man after God?s own heart?. David?s family line would birth the King of Kings who would die as a sacrifice, give eternal life, then rule and reign in a kingdom of love and rightness forever.
Why is all of this important?
Romans 5:6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (ESV)
God is so powerful that He manipulated entire empires and shaped human history so that a place, a time, and an environment were perfect for His master plan of saving humanity.
After His birth, Jesus went on to target an exact day and hour with exactly the right circumstances to die in just a certain way?on a cross where He was cursed without sinning?to accomplish this plan.
It?s important because many of us feel our lives are lost in a sea of confusion. Very little seems in control. But if God could do this much for the birth of one baby, He can do equally as much to make the right time for you to give your heart to His rescue plan and to entrust yourself into His hands.
And God continues to shape the world around His plan. As a member of God?s household He has missions He desires to send you on. Sometimes it seems like our nation is going the wrong way, just as Joseph may have felt when a new tax sent him on a long and hard journey. But if God can move whole kingdoms in order to get one family from point A to point B, He can certainly use your circumstances to accomplish His will.