Called to Bethlehem

This article begins a series of studies about the events surrounding the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. Follow the links at the top of the page to read through the articles which were first posted in 2010. There is also a complete index for all the articles telling The Truth About Christmas.

The Truth About Christmas

by Bob Burridge ©2010

The traditional Christmas story isn’t always told the way it really happened. The facts are recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The details recorded there give us a more sketchy story than what we might expect by our 21st century standards.

Unfortunately, where the Bible account is silent tradition speaks volumes. When a blend of tradition and fact takes place we tend to see things we expect to see rather than what’s actually there. A careful study the biblical account is the only way to bring our mental picture of Christ’s birth as much as possible into conformity with what God tells us took place at that special moment in history. Since we are so used to hearing the Christmas story told in the wording of the King James Version of the Bible, that’s the translation used in this series of articles.

Part 1 Called to Bethlehem

Amazingly, the story of Christ’s birth begins with the edict of a pagan emperor. Luke 2 tells a story that’s very familiar to us. It begins this way:

[1] And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. [2] (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) [3] And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

Long before the earthly family of Jesus moved to Nazareth, God promised that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. The prophecy of Micah 5:2 in the Old Testament said,

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

To fulfill that plan God used the decree of a heathen Emperor. The old King James Version said the command was that “all the world should be taxed.” But “taxed” is not the most accurate translation of the words in God’s inspired text. The word used here is apographesthai (απογραφεσθαι). It describes a census or registration of the people. The census was used to set up the tax requirements of each region of the Roman Empire.

Caesar Augustus set up a regular census when a man named Quirinius (Cyrenius in the King James Version) was governing in Syria. He governed the Roman affairs of the land of the Jews under the primary Syrian leadership of Varus. Augustus had no idea that his plan was part of something much bigger than updating the tax rolls.

In the region of the Roman Empire where the Jews lived registration was carried out in home-towns. That’s where the Jewish family records were kept. Everyone had to return home to the city where his family originated. This is what brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the town of their ancestor King David.

God’s Providence works in unexpected ways, even using the wicked to advance his plan. Proverbs 21:1 explains that God controls even the plans of an evil leader’s heart.

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.”

Next Study: A different way to view the trip to The City of Bethlehem

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies

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