Christians believe that the most extra/ordinary thing ever is that God became a man. Almighty God (extraordinary) became one of us (ordinary). The story of how this happened is filled with the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary.
June 4, 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Luke: The Gospel for Everyone
Introduction and offering:
Merry Christmas! Yes, it’s Christmas in June! For our Summer Bible Series, we are working our way through the Gospel of Luke, and today we are covering chapter 2, which is the famous story of the birth of Jesus. Shepherds, angels, the manger—the works! In June! It’s an extraordinary story—in the truest sense of the word. In the most ordinary setting, the most extraordinary thing happens!
ILL: On January 12, 2007, a man at a metro station in Washington DC started to play the violin. In the next 45 minutes, he played six pieces by Bach. During that time, about 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
Only 6 people stopped to listen, including a 3 year-old boy whose his mother finally forced him to move along. About 20 dropped money in his case without stopping to listen; he collected $32. When he finished playing, no one noticed, no one applauded. One woman stopped to listen and engaged the musician in conversation because she recognized him.
You see, the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the finest classical musicians in the world. He had just played some of the most elegant music ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.
Two days before playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 a pop.
The Washington Post staged this as part of a social experiment. Do we recognize talent or beauty in an unexpected context?
In the midst of a very ordinary setting—hurrying to work on the subway—here’s something extraordinary: one of world’s greatest musicians playing some of the world’s greatest music on one of the world’s most expensive instruments. The extraordinary embedded in the ordinary = Extra/ordinary.
Christians believe that the most extra/ordinary thing ever is that God became a man. Almighty God (EXTRAORDINARY) became one of us (ordinary). The story of how this happened is filled with the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. It’s Joshua Bell playing in the subway—on steroids! As we read and discuss the story today, I pray that each of you will have the hope that an Extraordinary God is at work in your ordinary life too. We’re going to cover three things: the birth, the dedication, and the boy.
Offering here. Saturday night service! Starting Sept 9 at 6 PM. Mission critical: find tell bring.
- The birth: a baby who is God.
Here is something Extra/ordinary: a baby who is God. I’ll read the familiar story and I’m going to make comments along the way.
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.
Notice that Luke doesn’t start, “Once upon a time,” but “In those days.” He grounds the story in history. He names people, places, and events. Luke wants us to know that this is not make believe; this really happened, and here’s when, who and what. God invaded our history. The Extraordinary moved into the ordinary.
Caesar Augustus—his name was Octavian; Caesar was his title and Augustus meant “majestic or holy”—ruled from 31 BC to 14 AD and was one of the greatest of the Caesars. It is said that he found Rome “built of brick and left it in marble.” Perhaps most importantly, he was the first Caesar to encourage the deification of his name and office. This was the start of emperor worship. Augustus was called a god, the son of Zeus, and the savior of the people. One inscription dated to 9 BC hails Augustus as a god whose “birthday signaled the beginning of good news for the world.” “Son of God, savior of the people, whose birthday signaled the beginning of good news for the world.” Does this sound familiar? These same terms and titles are applied to Jesus. Luke wants us to know that the Savior is not mighty Caesar Augustus in Rome, but a tiny baby lying in a manger in Bethlehem. Extra/ordinary!
Caesar orders a census for the purpose of taxation. It would have been deeply resented by the Jewish people who hated the Roman occupation of their country, and hated even more having to pay for it. So everyone headed to their ancestral homes 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.
Joseph and Mary were forced to make the 70 mile journey from their home in Nazareth south to Joseph’s ancestral home in Bethlehem. I think it’s fascinating that God used this hated Roman census to get Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Do you think they would have made the journey otherwise? Ladies—how excited would you be to travel on foot or donkey for 70 miles when you’re near full term? I don’t think Mary was dreaming of a vacation in Bethlehem. They were forced to go. Not only by Caesar, but also by God, who had predicted centuries before that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. God used Caesar’s census to get Joseph and Mary to the predicted place for the birth of His Son. It’s another example of our Extraordinary God using the most mundane and ordinary circumstances to accomplish His purposes. Most people at that time would have said that the Big Event going on was the census. But the Big Event was really the birth of a baby in Bethlehem. Caesar’s census is jut a footnote in that story!
God loves to use ordinary people and ordinary events to do Extra/ordinary things! Where is God at work in the ordinary events of your life?
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.
I learned something new this week. Notice it says, “guest room.” The Greek word kataluma, simply means “a lodging place, a place to stay.” It can be used of a commercial inn, but there is another Greek word that specifically means “a commercial inn” (used in Luke 10:34 of the Good Samaritan). Kataluma is most commonly used of a house, or a guest room. Luke uses it that way in Luke 22:11. How many of you have a guest room in your home? What do you use it for? For guests! The typical Palestinian home was a rectangle divided into three sections: the family living area, a guest room, and a stable, each with its own outside entrance. The stable would have been separated from the central room by a half wall that allowed the family to care for their livestock without going outside. The guest room would have been separated from the central room by a full wall for privacy. Because of this census, most people in Bethlehem would have opened their homes to those forced to travel, and usually these travelers would stay in the guest room. It’s very possible that everyone’s guest rooms were full; but middle eastern hospitality wouldn’t have left the young couple out in the cold. They would have been given a place in the main family room where the newborn baby was placed in a manger filled with fresh straw.
So most likely, Jesus was not born in a barn, but in a peasant home among common people. When God chose to enter our world, He chose the most ordinary of places: not a palace, but a peasant home, squeezed in among common people, and placed in a feeding trough. Extraordinary baby, very ordinary birthplace. It would have been easy to doubt the exalted nature of the child given the humble circumstances surrounding his birth. Perhaps that’s why God chose to give the angelic birth announcement.
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, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Once again we have the very ordinary juxtaposed with the extraordinary! In that culture, shepherds were lumped with tax-collectors and gamblers as despised occupations.
ILL: Just for fun, I checked to see what were the three lowest rated occupations for honesty in our culture. A Gallup Poll done in December 2016 revealed that the three lowest were insurance salesmen, car salesmen, and the lowest of the low: members of congress! Don’t shoot me; I’m just reporting the survey results.
So if God were doing this in our country today, maybe the angels show up not to shepherds, but at congress! By the way, I don’t feel that way about our representatives. Last week, I had dinner with Cathy McMorris Rodgers and I’m very impressed with her faith, her integrity, and her desire to do what is best for America and her constituents.
Shepherds were considered so unsavory and unreliable that they weren’t allowed to be witnesses in court. And this is who God picks to be the first witnesses of the birth of His Son! It was to these very unlikely and ordinary men doing a very ordinary thing (their every day work) that the angels appeared with good news. And what an appearance it must have been! The glory of the Lord shone around them! The sky lit up with heavenly radiance, and an army of angels sang and praised God.
How many of you have been to a concert recently—a really good concert? This one makes yours look puny! It was Extra/ordinary! But even more extraordinary than the angels, the glory, the praises was the news itself.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
A baby has been born—very ordinary—babies are born every day. But this baby is the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord! Very extraordinary! Remember, people called Caesar the Savior and Lord, and considered his birth good news for the world. Here, the angel announces the good news of another birth, and says that the real Savior and Lord is not Caesar Augustus in Rome, but a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. Our extraordinary God slipped into our world in the most ordinary fashion, and the world would have missed it entirely if not for this drama with the shepherds.
Extraordinary! A baby who is God!
Often God is quietly doing extraordinary things in the ordinary moments of our lives. Here’s my challenge for this week. Each evening take a moment before bed and ask yourself, “Where did I see God at work today?” Don’t just look for the big obvious thing—look in the mundane, the everyday, the ordinary, and see where God may have inserted Himself…in a manger, in a baby, in a census, in the middle of your job. Or even in church!
- The dedication: surprised at church.
After Jesus’ birth, His parents followed Jewish customs. These included circumcision on the eighth day, the dedication to the Lord of a firstborn child, and Mary’s purification. While performing these common customs, Joseph and Mary are surprised at church. The extraordinary invades the ordinary. Here’s the story.
Luke 2:21-40 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
First, Luke seems to conflate these three customs (circumcision, dedication and purification) into a single event, probably for the sake of space. These customs are described more fully in Leviticus 12 and Exodus 34 and would normally be spread over a month. The sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons was what was proscribed for the poor who couldn’t afford the usual sacrifice of a lamb. God chose a poor young couple to raise His Son—a couple who couldn’t even afford a lamb for the purification offering. Then, an ordinary ritual turns extraordinary.
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
So Joseph and Mary show up at the Temple to do what is required of them—the customs of the day—and they are ambushed! First Simeon, then Anna—two old warriors who prophesy over Joseph and Mary and their baby, and start declaring the news to anyone who will listen that this baby is God’s salvation. In the midst of something ordinary, the extraordinary happens.
This would be like you showing up at church today, and suddenly, God speaks to you or heals you or changes you! Or this would be like you doing your daily time with God—we call it PBJ (prayer, Bible, journal) and God shows up in an extraordinary way. I’ve had this happen so many times!
ILL: On New Years Eve, 1977, our church in Eugene, Faith Center, was having a watch night service. Bad idea—I don’t like doing church at midnight. But the place was full, and I was on the platform with our pastor, Roy Hicks Jr. Just minutes before midnight, he asked us to get our knees and ask God for a word for the New Year. So like everyone else, I did—and God surprised me. The Lord said that I would be leaving Faith Center in the New Year and going to pastor somewhere else. This was like a bolt out of the blue! Just two weeks earlier, Roy had told me that he thought I’d be there long term—and I thought so too. It wasn’t like I was dreaming of going elsewhere. This was a shock!
Then the Lord said that He would make it happen, and He didn’t want me to do anything or tell anyone—just let Him do it. And He gave me a verse, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “Faithful is He who calls you; He will bring it to pass.” I wrote all this down in my journal.
I didn’t tell anyone—not even Laina—or do anything. And three months later Roy stopped me in the hall and said that God surprised him earlier in the week and said it was time for me to go pastor a church. I smiled, showed him my journal and said, “I’m three months ahead of you pastor!” A little over a month later, we were here.
It all started at church, praying, and God showed up and spoke. In the midst of something ordinary, the extraordinary happens.
I’ve had this happen many times in my daily time with God—doing my routine and suddenly it’s anything but routine.
ILL: A little over a month ago, I went on a walk to pray. I love to pray outdoors! Some of my favorite places to pray are in the sunshine on my deck, on a walk, in the hot tub, or on my motorcycle! So I’m walking and praying—I’m praying about my selfishness and asking the Lord to help me. And He brings to my mind the old acrostic JOY: Jesus, Others, You. The way to joy is to put Jesus first and others ahead of yourself. It was so simple, but so profound. Every day since, I write JOY across the top of my calendar, and I’m trying to approach each encounter Jesus, Others, You. Simple, but life changing. And it happened when I was just on a walk. In the midst of something ordinary, the extraordinary happens.
I encourage you to be ready for God to surprise you. Come to church expecting God to speak to you. Set aside some daily time for PBJ and expect God to show up! He loves to do extraordinary things in those ordinary moments.
- The boy: in his Father’s house.
From Jesus’ birth to His baptism, the gospels are silent—30 years that we know nothing about—except for one story about Jesus’ boyhood here in Luke 2.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
Every year, Joseph and Mary and their family made the trip to Jerusalem for the Passover. But this year on their routine trip, something extraordinary happened. They lost Jesus!
Some of you are wondering how Joseph and Mary could have been such terrible parents to lose their son and not recognize it for a day. How many of you have ever left a child behind somewhere?
ILL: When I was in 7th grade, my parents split for the first time. My mom took all six kids and we moved from Yakima to Modesto. Just outside Modesto, we stopped at a gas station. About a half hour later, when we got to my aunt and uncle’s house in Modesto, we all piled out of car, and my aunt said, “Bonnie, I thought you had six kids.”
“I do,” my Mom replied.
“Well I only see five.”
My mom did a double take and then said, “Oh my God! Mary!” She raced back to the gas station and there was a California State Patrol car, and my 7 year old sister eating candy. And my mom is a great mom! It happens.
It’s easy to see how this happened for Joseph and Mary. They traveled in a large caravan to and from Jerusalem, and the men and boys traveled ahead of the women and children. At 12, Mary thought Jesus was with the men, and Joseph thought he was coming with the women and children. That night when they stopped, he was nowhere to be found. So they traveled a full day back to Jerusalem and spent another day searching the city until they found Jesus in the Temple. There, 12 year old Jesus was
sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
This is an unusual child. When His parents bawled him out, Jesus replied,
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
The really extraordinary thing in this story is not that they lost Jesus, but it’s where they found Him and what He said. At 12, Jesus already understood that He was God’s Son. Even though Joseph was his adopted father, Jesus knew who His real Father was—and was determined to learn all He could and “be about His Father’s business.”
Everything in this chapter points to the fact that Jesus was no ordinary child. Everything that happened should make you ask, “Who is this child?” It is Jesus, not Caesar, whose birth was good news for the world. It is Jesus, not Caesar, who is our savior. It is Jesus, not Caesar who deserves our ultimate allegiance.
 Gallup Poll, December 2016. http://www.gallup.com/poll/1654/honesty-ethics-professions.aspx