Stunning Sovereignty in the Birth of Jesus
Topic: Sovereignty of God Passage: Matthew 1:18–1:25, Luke 2:1–2:7
The inspiration for this message came to me a few weeks ago when Josh taught on Micah 5. That’s where the Lord said ‘O little town of Bethlehem, the Savior and Ruler of Israel will come forth from you.’ And I was so impressed that GOD got Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem! - at just the right time! - to fulfill his word! They didn’t live there. They didn’t want to go there. Mary was late in her pregnancy. But God used the decree of Caesar Augustus to get them there. I was so impressed with God’s sovereign rule over the details of life! God will get us where we need to be, and when we need to be there. God is ruling over our lives for good and to fulfill his plans!
I think all of us, at least at times, fight the lie that our lives are ran by chance, and not by God. Everything that happens to us day after day seem so random, so odd, so coincidental, that it feels like we are governed by happenstance rather than by God. But..the Bible reveals to us a God who is in charge of history, AND in charge of our own story.
God is sovereign. That means God has power and authority over all things, all people, and all events. When the church prayed in Acts 4 they addressed God as “Sovereign Lord”, and they worshiped him saying that even those who conspired against Jesus “did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen”. They had a deep trust in the wisdom of God to work his plan in the details of human history!
And God uses His power, to work for the good of his people. That is called His providence. We experience God’s sovereignty and providence every single day of our lives, all day long! This is NOT merely the impersonal positive thinking that “all things happen for a reason”. It is knowing God himself actively brings things to pass for our benefit, our safety and our good, even in things we call trouble or evil.
Romans 8:28 says this best: “And we know God causes all things to work for the good of those who love God, and are called according to his purpose for them”. God exercises his sovereignty in a special way for his children!
Joseph Flavel said, God has his hand upon all the concerns and interests of the saints. “It is not that God has his hand on this or that, but He has his eye upon everything that relates to them throughout their lives, from first to last. Not only the great and more important, but the most minute and ordinary affairs of our lives are managed by him.”
When things look out of control, or it seems that evil or evil people have the upper hand, we have absolute assurance that God is working, his plans for our good.
We see these truths clearly from the Bible, in story after story. But especially we see it, in the events surrounding the birth of Christ. God put on a stunning display of sovereignty in the circumstances of Jesus’s birth. Even the smallest details of his birth took place to fulfill the plan and promise of God! Things didn’t just happen, God destined them, he made sure they happened just as he wanted. That’s what we are going to look at this morning.
Three blessings will come to us from knowing this:
*First: The way God fulfilled his ancient promises to us in the birth of Christ will lead us to confidence in Jesus as our Savior and King. Fulfilled prophecies are a SIGN to us. They are evidences that Jesus was God coming to us! God does not ask us for blind faith. He gives plenty of evidence to make us bold, confident Christians!
*Second: When we see God’s power to direct the details of history to carry out his plan of salvation for us through Jesus, it causes us to glorify God. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1 that God planned to save us through Christ even before the foundation of the world. He promised it for thousands of years ahead of time, all through the OT scriptures, then at the right time He sent Christ into the world. We glorify God as we see his plans fulfilled!
Romans 11: “Oh the depth of the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge!” NASB “How unfathomable are his ways (of doing things!) Everything comes from him and exists through him (his power) and everything is ultimately TO him, meaning it is for his glory. All praise to him forever! Amen.
*Third: Then also God’s sovereignty, displayed in the birth of Jesus, leads us to a deeper trust in God providence with our own lives. We see his sovereign plan for Mary and Joseph and we believe he has a plan for us. We see God orchestrating the details of Christ birth, and we have confidence He will direct the details of our lives.
*First, we will look at the sovereign work of God fulfilling the ancient promise that Jesus would be the Son of David. The coming Savior and King HAD to be the descendant of David. Over and over God spoke through the OT prophets that the coming Savior/King would be the Son of David.
The main purpose of Matthew 1 is to show the fulfillment of that promise. That is why Matthew 1 begins, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David.” And then he proves by genealogy that Joseph was the direct descendant of David! And therefore Jesus Christ was the Son of David!
But this all falls apart, if Joseph and Mary do not meet and get married! So consider this amazing providence of God! God arranged that Mary was betrothed to a direct descendant of David. Of all the hundreds of thousands of men in Israel, who were not descended from David, Mary found herself betrothed to a direct descendant of David!
Although Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, he is regarded in scripture and by the angel as the full legal father of Jesus! The angel gave him the assignment to name the child Jesus showing his position as the legal father of Jesus. God ruled over all those marriages and children, generation after generation for a thousand years, from David to Joseph, to make that happen. Joseph and Mary weren’t figuring this all out! God was! God brought Mary and Joseph together, a woman with child by the Holy Spirit and a man who was a direct descendant of David to fulfill this ancient prophecy.
You aren’t figuring out your life, God is! You aren’t writing your life story, God is! Josh has a sign in his office that says, “God has a plan”. One day I walked into his office, after I had heard some really disappointing news, and that truth so encouraged me! God has a plan, NO MATTER what it seems like to us!
*Then...Matthew tells us that “Mary was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” This was the miracle of the virgin Mary conceiving a baby – an amazing miracle and probably the most important miracle in the Bible.
But the miracle Matthew emphasized was God’s sovereign fulfillment of his word! He said, “this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet” Isaiah 700 years earlier!” “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). IE God planned and promised this a LONG time ago. Then He worked it out in the details of Mary and Joseph’s life at just the right time in human history.
God chose Mary for this great honor. He came to her. The Holy Spirit overshadowed her and caused the supernatural conception of Jesus in her womb. So it is with us! God chooses us. He calls us. The Holy Spirit overshadows us and we bear spiritual fruit for God. Romans 7:4 We were joined to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God! God joined you to Christ and appointed you to bear fruit. We are part of God’s sovereign plan.
Now...For Mary to be with child from the Holy Spirit is a BIG blessing. But from a human standpoint this is a BIG problem. Matthew said, “This happened while Joseph and Mary were betrothed to be married but were NOT joined in marriage.” The betrothal in those days lasted several months and was a commitment as unbreakable as marriage. But there was no sexual relationship during betrothal. And Joseph being a righteous man, kept that purity in their relationship.
So when Mary became pregnant, Joseph knew he was not the father. He also knew her pregnancy would bring shame on them and especially her, and he decided to divorce her, and do it as quietly as possible to minimize her disgrace!
For a moment put yourself in Joseph’s place. All he knew was that the girl he was engaged to was pregnant, by another man. Imagine his heartbreak, confusion, and disappointment. Imagine him trying to figure out what to do! He felt he could not proceed with the marriage, but because of his kindness, he had no desire to humiliate Mary. His heart and mind were in turmoil. YET, all this was a result of God’s plan!
For reasons known only to God, OFTEN we are left in perplexing circumstances, and God let’s us feel that, for a season. We cannot figure out how things could possibly be used for good or for God’s glory. There may be things you are going through right now, that you do not understand, things that seem confusing or even disturbing, as they were for Joseph.
But then the Lord stepped in and assured Joseph all these things were part of God’s plan and purpose. Verse 20 “The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew said, “all this took place” to fulfill the word of the Lord! So Joseph’s heart was put at rest by this assurance. As you trust that “things that are taking place”, are under the sovereign, loving plan and purpose of God your heart can be at rest too.
*Then we move on to the actual birth of Jesus. Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel,” Everyone knew the Savior/King of Israel would come out of Bethlehem..
Matthew 2:4,5 Herod assembled “all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet.” So IF Jesus was the Savior and King of Israel he HAD to be born in Bethlehem.
But Mary and Joseph were in Nazareth, NOT Bethlehem. They did NOT live in Bethlehem and had NO intention of going there! Mary was about to give birth. No one in her condition would travel under most any circumstances.
But God GOT Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem! So Jesus could be born there! So this prophecy and the plan of God would be fulfilled! God put Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, while she was pregnant. In just the right year, just the right month, just the right day, so they would be there for the birth of Jesus.
Luke tells us how God did this. Chapter 2:1 “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.”
Caesar Augustus ruled Rome from 31BC to 14AD. He was a powerful and ambitious and successful Roman Emperor. leader. He basically rebuilt the city of Rome. It is said that he found Rome made of brick and left it made of marble. He issued a decree for everyone in the Roman world to return to their home town and register their names. He wanted to consolidate his power and control over the people. And this was a way to impose and collect taxes, to fund the Roman government and all his building projects.
He is thinking power and taxes. He is NOT a godly person. Caesar Augustus has no notion that he is God’s instrument - but he is! And God is orchestrating his sovereign plan for the birth of Jesus, through this pagan ruler. Caesar thinks he is in control but he is merely carrying out the plans of God. This should give us great peace in the midst of all the upheaval in our world. No matter who is in power, and no matter how selfish or evil their motives are, God will prevail.
Psalm 46 “God is our refuge and strength… we will not fear though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea..The Lord Almighty is with us. He says to us, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth”.
The trip to Bethlehem was 90 miles, south out of Galilee, down along the Jordan River and west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem and on into Bethlehem. This was rugged, up and down terrain. An archaeologist who makes yearly trips to Nazareth to do excavation work, estimated that Mary and Joseph traveled no more than 10 miles a day and maybe less due to Mary’s pregnancy. So this was not an afternoon walk, but a 9 or 10 day journey.
In winter the temperatures can be in the 30s and it rains a lot. Travel for them was not by car or airplane but either walking or by donkey. Can you imagine how a woman late in her pregnancy might react to hearing she had to make this kind of trip? Or what about Joseph. How happy could he have been about this forced registration and the inconveniences of traveling and taking care of his pregnant wife. Not to mention the concerns about Mary and the baby’s safety.
Nothing would seem right or good or convenient about this. But this was God’s plan. They were walking into fulfilled prophecy! They were right where God wanted them to be, at the very time God wanted them, in Bethlehem, right at the very end of Mary’s pregnancy. So Jesus would born in Bethlehem.
God always has a way to get us WHERE we need to be, and WHEN we need to be there. It may FEEL inconvenient, it may seem hard, we may not want to do it. Someone we don’t know or don’t like may be imposing their will on us. But God is moving us, working on us, fulfilling plans and purposes for us that we might not understand!
*Then Matthew tells us how God sovereignly worked to fulfill the promise that Jesus would be called out of Egypt. Jesus HAD to be in Egypt and come out of Egypt to fulfill what the Lord spoke through the prophet Hosea. So Matthew tells us how God made that happen.
It started with the wickedness of Herod! He viewed Jesus as a threat to his power and was determined to kill him. So Herod was a part of this story that placed Jesus in Egypt, for the fulfillment of this prophecy. God also used a dream.
Matthew said, “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
The angel and the dream were used by God. And God used even Herod’s wickedness, to bring about this fulfillment of His plan!
We make choices and those choices matter. Other people make choices sometimes even evil choice and yet nothing stops God. He fulfills his word and his plans!
The three things we are to learn from all this:
*We should have greater boldness and assurance in our faith! God gave us a stunning display of his sovereignty and providence to confirm in our hearts and minds that Jesus is our Savior, sent from God.
*Second: We should glorify God for his power to fulfill his word, to rule people and events human, to turn evil to good, to fulfill his good plans.
*Third: We are to trust more deeply that God orders our steps. And have inner peace and confidence it that. If we belong to Christ our steps are ordered by Him for our good.
No difficulty stops him, no accidents ruins his plans for your good. If God is for us who can be against us!