December 25: The Birth of Jesus

25 Birth of Jesus

The Birth of Jesus

Advent reading for December 25: Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 2:1-12; Micah 5:2

Luke and Matthew give us the beloved stories of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ and the circumstances surrounding it. Luke’s narrative follows the birth of John the Baptist and Zechariah’s prophecy concerning John’s ministry as the Lord’s forerunner (Luke 1:57-80). Luke then focuses on the immediate circumstances of Christ’s birth, the circumcision of the babe (brephos) eight days later, and the prophecies of Simeon and Anna.

Matthew picks up the narrative sometime later when Jesus is no longer called a babe (brephos), but a child (paidion). Matthew begins with the words “Now after Jesus was born…”(Matthew 2:1). He tells of the wise men (“magi”) who came from the east to Jerusalem in search of the one “who has been born king of the Jews” (2:2). He writes of Herod’s rage and the slaughter of all male children in Bethlehem who were two years old and under. He tells how Joseph, following the instructions received from an angel in a dream, escaped to Egypt with Mary and the child. Let’s consider first the birth in Bethlehem.


We might wonder why Mary was in Bethlehem, some 90 miles (145 km) from her hometown of Nazareth, when she gave birth to baby Jesus. This unusual circumstance resulted from a decree by the Roman emperor “Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” for taxes (Luke 2:1). Luke explains,

Luke 2:3–5 (ESV)  —  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.

Here we learn from a natural and political perspective, why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem with the important reminder that Joseph “was of the house and lineage of David.” As we have seen, Jesus, adopted by Joseph, was the legitimate heir to the throne of David. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were in Bethlehem because the emperor had issued the decree.


Bethlehem would not have been considered important at the time of Jesus’ birth. Although it was the birthplace of David (1 Samuel 17:12), it was only a village when Jesus was born. 1 

When the wise men from the east asked Herod, King of Judaea, where they could find the child who was “born king of the Jews,” Herod began his own search. “Assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born” (Matthew 2:4). His purpose was not to worship the child as he claimed, but to destroy him.

King Herod inquired of the chief priests and scribes where the Christ was to be born. They knew that 500 years before, God had revealed through the prophet Micah the place of Christ’s birth:

Micah 5:2 (ESV)  —  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. 

Bethlehem was “too little.” “O little town of Bethlehem” had seemed so insignificant. Except God had chosen Bethlehem as the place where his Son would be born. The scribes and chief priests gave their answer to Herod:

Matthew 2:5–6 (ESV)  —  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:  “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

Out of Bethlehem would come a ruler in Israel. Micah had said that his “coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” This future ruler would enter into time from eternity: “whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” King Herod proved to be impotent against God’s decree.

When a country sends an ambassador to another country, all the pertinent information identifying the ambassador is sent to the host country well in advance of his arrival so that he will be recognized as the legitimate representative. 


Through the centuries, going back four thousand years, God had spoken in various ways to the fathers through the prophets (Hebrews 1:1). He revealed specific details about the One who would represent and speak for the Father so that we could identify him as the only one having the proper credentials. The Messiah, the Christ, would be of the seed of the woman, a descendant of Abraham, the “star” of Jacob, of the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David, born of the virgin in the village of Bethlehem. He would be the Son of David, the Son of Man, and the Son of God. He would be Immanuel, “God with us.” He would be the righteous Branch, the Suffering Servant, and the resurrected Lord of Glory.

This One born in little Bethlehem will be the ruler who will shepherd God’s people. Let us follow the example of the wise men from the east. Let us worship and adore him (Matthew 2:2, 11).

1 James M. Houston, “Bethlehem,” in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 290.

See also:

December 23: Jesus Christ, Son of David, Savior, Immanuel

23 December Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ, Son of David, Savior, Immanuel

Advent reading for December 23: Matthew 1

The opening chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew is another example of the New Testament writers recognizing that the ancient prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. (See Advent Reading for December 22.)

Matthew opens the New Testament with these words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). Immediately he traces Jesus’ descent from Abraham through the royal line of Judah via “David the King.” Abraham is mentioned three times (1:1, 2, 17), but the emphasis is on David who is mentioned six times in four verses (1:1, 6, 17, 20), the second time as “David the king” (1:6). 


In the genealogy, Matthew uses the phrase “the father of” 39 times: “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of…” etc. When he gets to Joseph, the pattern changes. Joseph is not said to be the father of Jesus, but rather “the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is call Christ” (1:16).

Picking up the story in verse 18, Matthew clearly states that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. Joseph and Mary were betrothed, a legal status as binding as marriage, but they had not yet “come together” for the actual marriage had not yet occurred. When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant, knowing that he had not been with her, he naturally assumed that she had been with another man and decided to divorce her privately. 

As Joseph considered his plan, God intervened. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and addressed him as “Joseph, son of David,” reminding him of “his legal ancestry by which he was the legitimate successor to the throne of David.” 1 The angel relieves his fears about Mary. She was still a virgin: “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (1:20).


“She will bear a son,” the angel instructs him, “and you shall call his name Jesus.” The naming of the child was a legal act of adoption. By virtue of this adoption, Jesus is like Joseph “a legitimate successor to the throne of David.” 2 As the angel addressed Joseph as “son of David,” Jesus would be called “the Son of David” (eight more times in this Gospel) fulfilling the promise that God had made to David (2 Samuel 7:12-13). While both Joseph and Jesus were legitimate successors to the throne, Jesus alone was the promised Messiah, the Christ (1:1, 16, 17, 18; 2:4; etc.).


Thus, this child, conceived in Mary, from the Holy Spirit, would bear the name “Jesus” from the Hebrew Yeshua, or Joshua, meaning “Yahweh saves.” “God to the rescue!” 3 “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21). 


While Luke tells the story of the birth of Jesus from Mary’s perspective. Matthew focuses on Joseph. Mary was submissive (Luke 1:36); Joseph was obedient:

Matthew 1:24–25 (ESV)  —  When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,  but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him:

  1. He took his wife. 
  2. He did not have relations with her until she had given birth. This implies that he did have normal conjugal relations with Mary after the birth of Jesus. His brothers are frequently mentioned (Mat 13:55; Mark 6:3; John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19). 
  3. He called his name Jesus.


Jesus is no mere teacher, no guru, no Muhammad or Gandhi. He is ‘God with us’.

— Michael Green

Matthew specifically states that this virgin conception was a fulfillment of the prophecy given by Isaiah 7:14,

Matthew 1:22–23 (ESV)  —  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Immanuel: God with us. This is not us making our own way to God. No, God made his way to us. Jesus is God with us. 

Jesus is no mere teacher, no guru, no Muhammad or Gandhi. He is ‘God with us’. That is the essential claim on which Christianity is built. It is a claim that cannot be abandoned without abandoning the faith in its entirety. 4

God with us. “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

1 Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 53.

2 Ibid.

3 Michael Green, The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 60.

4 Michael Green, 59–60.