For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
The details of Jesus’ birth in Luke’s gospel are scanty. In response to the decree of Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed, Mary and Joseph made their way to Bethlehem. The Jewish custom was to pay these taxes in the city from which one’s family originated. Since Joseph and Mary were of the house of David, they went to Bethlehem, the city of David. Finding no room in the inn of Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary found lodging in a stable, probably one of the many caves outside of the city where passing caravans put up their animals for the night. There in the stable Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, which was a feeding trough.
What a significant birth this was! There has been no greater birth in all history. Never in history has a virgin given birth to a child. But more amazing yet is that through this birth the Son of God came into our flesh. And He did so to bring salvation to a world of fallen sinners.
But the birth of the Christ-child must be announced! People must know! And so the Lord sent His angel to lowly shepherds outside of Jerusalem who, abiding in the fields, were keeping watch over their flocks by night. How striking, yet significant, that the announcement of the greatest birth in history should come to these lowly shepherds.
Our focus is on the glad tidings that the angel brought—unto you this day in the city of David a Savior is born, Christ the Lord.
Who is this Savior?
To the shepherds who kept watch over their flocks by night the angel of the Lord appeared announcing the birth of a baby. The angel indicated that this birth had taken place “this day.” Bear in mind that the Jewish day began at sundown. And so it was that sometime earlier that night this babe had been born.
The angel also informed the shepherds where this babe was born: He was born in the city of David. The city of David was Bethlehem, so called because this was the town from which the great king David had come. These shepherds were themselves from Bethlehem, keeping watch that night over their flocks.
And according to the angel this babe just born in Bethlehem was a Savior. The Lord had just sent a Savior into the world. A Savior is one who brings salvation, who delivers from woe and trouble.
Luke and the other gospel writers tell us that this Savior is Jesus. He is the son of the virgin Mary, espoused to Joseph. His name was given to Him by God Himself, as revealed to both Mary and Joseph by the angel. And appropriately, the name “Jesus” means Savior.
Obviously this babe is not just any savior, of whom there were many in Israel’s history. Think of Moses, the judges, and king David whom the Lord used to save Israel from her enemies. This Savior is greater than these. He is none less than Christ the Lord.
That He is Christ means that He is the Anointed One. Throughout the Old Testament God promised to send the Anointed One who would serve as God’s prophet, priest, and king, not just for Israel but for the elect that God had among the nations. All the Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings in Israel’s history were only types and pictures pointing to the great Anointed One who was to come. The angel identifies this newborn as that Anointed One. As the Anointed One, this babe would accomplish that which no other prophet, priest, or king in Israel had ever accomplished. He would bring the salvation of God.
And He is the Lord. By identifying the babe of Bethlehem as “the Lord,” the angel revealed that He is God. Luke identifies the angel that appeared to the shepherds as the angel of the Lord, whose glory shone round about them. That Lord is none less than the Lord God. That God is Lord emphasizes sovereign ownership and rule over all. The Savior that has been born is that same Lord God. From ancient times the Jews understood that the Christ must be God. The prophets had made this clear, as Isaiah did in chapter 9 verse 6 of his prophecy, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” On the basis of this and other prophecies, the people of Jesus’ day understood that the Christ would be God. This is evident even from Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, when He was put under oath and asked, “Tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 16:16). The babe born in Bethlehem that night is the Lord God of heaven. He has come into human flesh as the Christ to bring salvation. This is the wonder of the incarnation.
What is the salvation He brings?
The circumstances of Jesus’ birth would lead many to conclude that nothing much would come from Him. Jesus’ birth was most humble. He was not born in a royal palace with doctors and nurses attending and crowds waiting with bated breath for the news of His birth. He was born in a lowly cattle stall, with no one to assist His mother at His birth but Joseph. Then He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.
The humble circumstances of His birth characterized His entire life. He was raised in the despised town of Nazareth by humble parents. Although He attracted multitudes in His short public ministry, He owned only the clothes on His back. And it all ended when He was rejected by the people and suffered death by crucifixion.
This is the Savior?! The Christ?! The Lord God come in human flesh to bring His great salvation?!
The lowly circumstances of His birth and entire life indicate the kind of salvation He has come to bring.
Certainly, He has not come merely to save us from our earthly woes. Most in history are concerned only about deliverance from physical poverty, illness, discrimination, war, and strife. They want a heaven here on earth. They will not find this salvation in Jesus who is born Christ the Lord. The masses followed Jesus for this kind of salvation. Miraculously He healed the sick and fed large multitudes with just a few fish and biscuits. Why, He even raised the dead. They clamored for Him to be their king. But when the masses discovered at His trial before Pilate that He was not the kind of savior they envisioned, they rejected Him and demanded His crucifixion. Neither do the masses today want this Jesus, even though they give lip service to Him as they seek to use His memory to make their heaven on earth.
Jesus has come as Christ, the Lord to save us from our sins. This is what the angel told Joseph in a dream when he explained the virgin birth and instructed Joseph to name the babe Jesus—for He shall save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).
What is this salvation from sin? The great evil that came upon mankind is not poverty, sickness, war, or discrimination. The great evil that we all deal with is sin. Sin renders us guilty before God and makes us liable to the terrible judgments of God, now and eternally in hell. Sin is also a power that has taken hold of mankind so that all we can do is sin and bring the misery of sin upon ourselves even in this life, which prepares us for greater misery in hell.
Jesus has come to save sinners from their sins. He came to deliver sinners from the guilt of sin, so that they appear sinless before the face of God. He came to deliver sinners from sin’s power so that they can live in the freedom of God’s righteous law. He came to bring sinners into a blessed covenant life with God and with each other.
This required Jesus to walk the way of suffering. To accomplish this great salvation, He must take upon Himself the guilt and punishment of sin and bear it all away, all the while walking in perfect obedience. He alone can do this, being both God and a righteous man. He did this all His life but especially at the cross. And the humble circumstances of His birth were only a picture of the greater humility that awaited Him as He bore the wrath of God for sin.
Who receives His salvation?
“Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior,” announced the angel to the shepherds. Jesus Christ, the Lord, came as the Savior of the shepherds.
How significant is the fact that the angel of the Lord was not sent with his glorious message to the political leaders of the world, nor to the religious leaders of Israel, nor even to the multitudes that came to the temple. This is because the salvation of the Christ-child was not for them. Nor were they looking for such a salvation.
The angel came rather to these lowly, uneducated shepherds. They were numbered among the elect remnant in Israel. Their election was evident from their faith, a faith that brought them to the manger and to the people with a joyful report of what they had seen and heard. Notice that they were probably the only visitors. Their news of the Savior’s birth fell on deaf ears. The blindness of unbelief saw no future with a babe that was laid in a manger. But the lowly shepherds were men of faith. To them the angel came and proclaimed that to them had the Savior been born.
The word of salvation that the angel spoke to the shepherds comes to all those who believe. Unto you is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. As believers, let us gaze on the manger scene and see the humility and shame of the cross that Jesus came to endure for His own. Embrace the babe of Bethlehem and the salvation He brings. And with the shepherds joyfully proclaim what you have seen and heard.