The Divine Glory in Subtle Shades of Simplicity


Historical and Geographical Setting – It is important for Luke to set his narrative at a particular time. Thus the birth occurred in conjunction with a call for registration for taxes during the time that Quirinius held some governing capacity in Syria during the reign of Caesar Augustus; and of course Herod the Great was the King of the Jews.. Being able to determine the exact date from this data has provided a challenge to commentators and historians. A final clear solution must await further data, but that which is provided puts the date close to 4 BC. The secular arm of power became the means by which OT prophecy was fulfilled, that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem.

Elevation of the Simple, outcast and downtrodden  This is a theme of Mary’s magnificat, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (1:52).

Lukan Theme

Jesus gives special attention to the poor [1:48ff; 2:7ff; 4:18; 6:20ff chh 14, 16, 18, 19], tax collectors [chh 3, 5, 7, 15, 18, 19], Sinners [5, 7, 15, 19, 23] Samaritans [9, 10, 17], Gentiles [2:32, 7:1-10, 24:47]and Women [1, 4, 7:11-17, 36-50; 8; 10; 13, 18; 21; 23; 24]

Enrichment of the ordinary

Appearance to shepherds – known as dishonest; unclean; testimony not accepted  in court; If this had been a manufactured bit of history, Luke hardly would have had shepherds as providing the first testimony to the birth of Jesus.

Wrapped in strips of cloth – he had exchanged the unviewable glory of his intrinsic holiness and excellence and essential omnipotence for the bands of cloth used to give warmth and a feeling of security to a new-born utterly dependent human child.

Lying in a manger – Jesus own birth would reinforce his message of “Take no thought for tomorrow, what ye shall eat etc.” In his birth, all that he had was on short loan from others and not his at all. The entire affair of bringing him safely into this world was a matter of divine providence.

Note: No amount of earthly status could add anything to the intrinsic glory of Christ; he needed not external trappings to exalt him and he came as an act of pure grace; this is emphasized by the sheer glorylessness of his external circumstances in entering the world. It is one element of Jesus being a stumbling block that so inglorious a setting was given the Messiah. Note the irony of the later observation, “Can any good thing come out f Nazareth?”

Announcement – In accordance with the true heavenliness of this event, an angel, though again in a somewhat privatized setting [just to shepherds] announced this event. This angel would be joined by  “multitude” to express the amazing exhilaration of these glorious heavenly beings at the coming to earth of the one around whose throne they had sung and marveled for ages.

Pattern in Luke

Appearance of the Angel 9; cf. 1:11; 1:26, 27

Response of fear – 2:9; cf. 1:12, 13; 1:29, 30

Word of reassurance – 2:10; cf. 1:13; 1:30

Divinely ordained message – 2:10-12; cf. 1:13-18; 1:30-33

Sign event [in this case not including any questioning] 2:12; cf. 1:13, 24; 1:36

To the shepherds

The Angel stood before them [-The angel probably is not hovering in the air but is with the shepherds on the ground.

appearance of angels – The coming of the angel made the glory of the Lord shine around the shepherds, probably an emanation from the angels for they stand constantly before the glorious throne of the thrice-holy God. Even Moses, not an angel but a mere man, reflected the divine glory when he came down from the mountain [Exodus 34:29-35] Angel means messenger; and as usual these angels had a message from God; They spoke what God told them and no more.

The message was

good news – gospel

great joy – joy inexpressible, full of glory [1 Peter 1:8; 1 John 1:4]

to all the people – in this case probably the Jews [not peoples] referring in particular to those who already were recipients of promises and were waiting for the redemption of Israel

A child is born, a Son is given in the most humble of states [in stark contrast to the glory which shone around the angels; their radiance of glory was a manifestation of his intrinsic glory]

A Multitude of heavenly host join the single angel standing before the shepherds

They give Glory to God; Angels, both by divine revelation and continual observation knew that his entire episode would be a demonstration of the divine attributes in a way that no other event had ever been or would ever be.

They announce peace to those who are the objects of his good pleasure. The savior has come to reconcile the elect. [Ephesians 1:5, 9]

Confessional importance of Angels – 1 Timothy 3:16

At the Birth – Luke 1 and 2

Temptation – Mt. 4:11

Gethsemane – Lk 22:43 [if this verse is authentic]

Resurrection –Lk 24:4-6

Ascension – Acts 1

Aids in gospel proclamation – Acts 5:18-21; 12:6-11

Titles of Jesus

A theme of Luke

Son of the Most High – 1:32

Son of God – 1:35

My Lord   – 1:43

In the Text




Importance of the historical appearing – Lk 24:26, John 3:17, Acts 17:3, Romans 3:21; Romans 8:3; 9:5; Gal 4:4; Phil 2:6, 7; Col 1:19; 2:9; 1 Tim 1:15; 3:16; 2 Tim 1:10; 2:8; Titus 1:2, 3; 3:4; Heb. 1:6; 2:9, 14; 5:7. God’s redeeming activity is not accomplished by an act of mere will. It had to be accomplished through the completion of and honoring of righteousness among his human creatures.

Responses to the immediate occasion –After the angels returned to heaven several responses of earthly recipients of these angelic visitations are seen.

A. The Shepherds had three responses

They went immediately and found things just as the angels had said. Nothing can thwart the plan of God is sending his Son to accomplish the saving of his people. All of it will be just as God has said.

They told others about these events and about the content of what the angels had said. A savior was born; the savior was indeed the Christ, and the Christ was the Lord.

The shepherds evidently had believed this with a saving belief for they returned, “Glorifying and praising God” and knew that the message they had heard proved to be unalterably true.

B. Those that heard the shepherds had a response – They wondered, that is the found these things to be matters of marvelous importance.

C. Mary responded

Assumptions and Inferences

Connections between History and Redemption – The Fall took place in time and space and brought God’s curse on man in particular but by extension on all the earthly creation. Within that sphere, then, God’s righteous judgment must be manifest and it must be accomplished in the nature that sinned.

Clarity and Simplicity of Revelation – Although the incarnation itself, shows a wisdom an power of truly divine proportions and a complete understanding of it will always elude us and the contemplation of it will be one of the most entertaining and joyful experiences of eternity, the events themselves and the announced purpose of these events is very clear. The Son of God has become incarnate in order to be a savior of Sinners, to gather his people together as a redeemed community.

We must learn to be content and find our only security and deepest joy in knowing that no matter what the appearance of our earthly status we are so absolutely in the hands of God, that no earthly position is any more secure than another but all positions are equally matters of divine directive and will.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts