Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.
Luke 2:5 tells us that Joseph traveled to Bethlehem “in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.” Mary travels with Joseph in order to register for the census. By the way, Luke says that Mary was engaged to Joseph. By this time they were probably married. Why does Luke say engaged? I think Luke is underscoring that Joseph and Mary had not yet consummated their relationship. Matthew 1:25 says that Joseph kept Mary a virgin until after Christ was born. But for him to travel with her, most likely they were married. And so they traveled up to Bethlehem.
Now, the Roman law only required that Joseph go. Mary did not have to make this journey. Ladies, if you were nine months pregnant, why in the world would you get on the back of a donkey and bump along for an eight-five-mile journey lasting more than a week? Can you image what that would be like in order to be with your husband? I think there are several reasons Mary went with Joseph even though she wasn’t required to. No doubt Joseph didn’t want to leave his bride to give birth alone. The tongues were still wagging in Nazareth about the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy. Many were saying it was the product of an illicit relationship with a Roman guard.
But the most important reason that Joseph and Mary traveled together was in order that prophecy might be fulfilled. You see, seven hundred years earlier, God had prophesied where the Messiah was going to be born. He was not to be born in Nazareth; He was to be born in Bethlehem. In fact, God said through the prophet Micah, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah” (Micah 5:2). What does that mean? Bethlehem was a small village. It was so insignificant that in the listing of Jewish villages in Joshua 15 and Numbers 11, Bethlehem isn’t even mentioned. We sing the hymn today “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” It really ought to be “O Insignificant Town of Bethlehem.” This was the smallest place you can imagine. It was too little to be among the clans of Judah, yet God said, “From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2).
Now, here is the problem: Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth. How in the world was God going to get Mary and Joseph from Nazareth all the way to Bethlehem, where they needed to be when Jesus was born? Enter Caesar Augustus! Caesar Augustus commanded that everyone be registered for the census. Caesar Augustus thought he was acting in his own interest. Little did he know that by issuing that command he would cause a man he had never met named Joseph to travel to a little village called Bethlehem, in order that Joseph’s wife might give birth to the King of kings. The One whose followers someday would topple the entire Roman Empire. Caesar Augustus thought he was the most powerful man in the world, but in fact he was nothing more than God’s errand boy.
You know, today we might think that this world is spinning out of control: terrorist threats, war breaking out everywhere. But even when things seem to be out of control, even when things seem to be happening for no purpose whatsoever, God has a plan He is working out.
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Bethlehem Revisited” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2004.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.