December 21, 2020
A baby in a manger. Angels singing. Shepherds praising. Wise men bearing gifts. A star brightly shining.
These are the usual images of the Christmas story that most of us grew up with. And these characters and events are neither fiction nor fairytale—they are wonderfully true! In the Bible, Matthew and Luke mentioned these details in the books they wrote as they recounted the day Jesus was born.
But just like most narratives, there’s a backstory. For the coming of the Savior of all mankind, that backstory includes generations of families, kings and kingdoms, and the best-laid plans and questionable motives of men, who unwittingly took part in the bigger plan that God had set into motion thousands of years before.
Much like in a movie or drama series, the story becomes more interesting and even more meaningful as the backstory is revealed.
The virgin birth of Jesus took place in Bethlehem, 150 kilometers away from where His earthly parents lived at that time. Joseph and Mary, as part of the Jewish nation conquered by Rome, were following the orders of the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar. The Romans regularly took a census to list people and their properties. From this they could determine their taxes, and the taxes were mainly used to fund the huge Roman army and build a vast road network.
All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
Luke 2:3–5 (NLT)
Despite the fact that Mary was pregnant, they were obliged to go to Joseph’s hometown, which was at least five days of travel away.
The Jews had been held captive by foreign rulers for more than 500 years, and this census was just another inconvenience they had to endure. But the rulers of the land had no idea that they were setting the stage for the fulfillment of God’s word.
Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem had already been foretold by the prophet Micah 800 years before it happened!
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
This is just one of the many fulfilled prophecies about Jesus. God’s word becoming reality reminds us of this mind-blowing truth:
God, in His sovereignty, has orchestrated every detail in human history to bring forth the birth of Jesus the Messiah.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman . . .
Since the coming of our Savior King is very important news that the world needed to hear, Jesus’ coming took place at just the perfect time in the timeline of human history.
At that time, the Romans had already built efficient road networks to bolster their military conquest. These roads eventually—and quite literally—paved the way for Christian missionaries to spread the news about Jesus and His gospel message.
Moreover, by the time that Jesus was born, the ancient known world had developed and adopted a universal language called Koine Greek, which made it easier to communicate with people from various places. This was because over 300 years prior to the birth of Christ, a famous conqueror, Alexander the Great, had already spread the use of this language from Athens to Egypt as a tool to conquer the world. Little did he know that God had been using his personal conquest to pave the way for the coming of the true Conqueror, Jesus Christ.
Throughout history, many rulers and kings used their power to build their own empires and advance their own political agendas. Yet God used them to bring deliverance and provision to His people.
The Egyptian Pharaoh appointed Joseph as governor so that his land would be spared from impending famine and eventually led to Israel’s clan being saved;
King Cyrus of Persia, who conquered Babylon where the Jews were held captive for 70 years, proclaimed that the Jews could return to Israel. He even raised funds for them to start rebuilding their ruined city!
There were many more of these powerful rulers who were serving their own dreams and plans, not knowing that they were actually accomplishing God’s sovereign will. This reminds us of the truth that no matter who holds positions of authority, God’s good, pleasing, and perfect plans will prevail.
Knowing that God is sovereign and in control allows us to see our situation in a different light. Even when we feel that this season will not be quite like past Christmases, we can take heart at the backstory of the birth of Jesus, understanding that our sovereign God knows exactly why things are happening, and that His purposes will always prevail.