Lesson for Dec. 25, 2011: The Lord Keeps His Promise (Luke 1:26–2:7; Galatians 3:6-18)
This treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson is written by Sam E. Stone, former editor of CHRISTIAN STANDARD.
The Lord Keeps His Promise
(Luke 1:26–2:7; Galatians 3:6-18)
By Sam E. Stone
God always keeps his promises. The life of Abraham provides an excellent illustration of this. In recent weeks, we saw an elderly, childless couple become parents. Moving forward 2,000 years, today’s lesson reveals that from their descendants came God’s own Son, bringing the hope of salvation for all people.
The first section of our text is part of Mary’s song after she learned that she would give birth to God’s Son. Following the angel’s visit, Mary went to stay with Elizabeth, her relative in Judea. Elizabeth blessed her because Mary had trusted God would do what he said (Luke 1:26-45). Mary responded with a beautiful song of praise to the Lord. It is sometimes called “The Magnificat” because of the first word in the Latin translation.
Of the four Gospel writers, Luke is the one who gives the historical details and setting of Jesus’ birth. With careful research and guided by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, he records the wonderful news of Christ’s coming. The second part of today’s text describes that event.
My soul glorifies the Lord. Mary’s song is similar to the one Hannah sang when God answered her prayers by giving her a son (1 Samuel 2:1-10). God . . . has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. Mary had no noble rank, no wealth, no earthly position. What she did have, however, was submissive faith in the Lord (Luke 1:38). She was content to be God’s obedient slave, come what may. God himself is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11; 10:11-13). All generations will call me blessed. Recognizing Mary’s faith and how God honored it does not mean that she is to be worshipped, of course. The Mighty One has done great things for me. All blessings come from God (James 1:17).
His mercy extends to those who fear him. Fear suggests proper respect and reverence for God and his power (Psalm 111:10; Job 28:28). He has performed mighty deeds with his arm.Compare Isaiah 53:1—“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” The “arm” symbolizes strength and power (Jeremiah 27:5). He has filled the hungry. . . . He has helped his servant Israel. Despite the suffering endured by the people of Israel for years, God remained true to his promises (Genesis 22:16-18; Micah 7:20; Galatians 3:16). The people’s hopes would be realized in her son, Jesus. Ours will be as well.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. The Romans were the dominant world power when Jesus was born. By using the emperor’s name and a specific event in his reign, Luke established the accuracy of his account. A. T. Robertson wrote, “Papyri and inscriptions have confirmed Luke on every point in these critical verses (2:1-7).”
And everyone went to his own town to register. All of the people went to their place of ancestral origin to have their information recorded. This meant going to the city where their forefathers had settled when Joshua divided the land years before (Joshua 13–18). 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. He went up in elevation but down in direction, coming from the northern region of Galilee to the southern area called Judea. Bethlehem is located about six miles south of the capital city, Jerusalem.
He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. Centuries before, Micah had predicted the Messiah would be born here. God used the decree of a pagan ruler to bring about the fulfillment of this prophecy (Micah 5:2). When the time came for the baby to be born, she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. It is not surprising that Mary and Joseph found a “no vacancy” sign, since many others were undoubtedly returning for the census as well. By describing Jesus as Mary’s firstborn, Luke obviously suggests that she had other children later (Matthew 12:46). The manger was simply a feeding trough used for the animals. It could have been located in a barn or cave. In this humble place, God kept his promise made to Abraham centuries before.