Born in a Manger

December 24, 2006 / No. 3338

Dear radio friends,

     The same wonderful blessed gospel is ours today:  Jesus Christ was born in a manger.  We read the Word of God in Luke 2:6, 7:   “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid hi in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

     Joy, great joy; happiness, true happiness, is ours.  That is what we read in verse 10 of Luke 2:   “And the angel said unto them, Fear not:  for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  That is the Word of God to His children today.  Great joy!  What is that great joy?  Verse 11:  “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

     The great joy of salvation is ours today as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The heart of God proclaims today the gospel that we need to hear.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever liveth and believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  God gave His Son exactly in the way that sinners need Him.  God did not give His Son in an oval office.  God did not place His Son on a battlefield.  God did not see to it that His Son was the head of a university.  But He was born in a manger.  That is, God saw to it that His own Son came under the shocking, the awful, the filthy, the stinking pile of our sins, so that He might bear them away, so that we might be free and follow Him to heaven and to glory.  Great joy is ours today.  A Savior is born.  Jesus Christ, the Lord.

     The birth of our Savior is another of the foundation stones on which rests the church’s salvation.  Jesus must come exactly this way.  He must not come as a Congressman, introducing social reform and bills for further education.  He must not come as a general outflanking the enemy.  He must not come as a psychologist with tips for healthy living. But He must come as a Savior from sin, from its damning guilt, its power, its awful power.  He must come as a Savior from sin.

     Do you long for this Savior?  Do you long, by God’s grace, that the guilt of your sin be lifted from your soul, that you be released from its awful power?  Do you mourn, are you troubled over your sin?  Unto you is born a Savior—Christ Jesus.  Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, said Paul, of whom I am chief.

     Let us focus on the manger for a few moments today.  Every detail of the birth of Jesus Christ was arranged just so by God.  There are absolutely no mistakes, no tragedy of circumstances.  Everything is perfect.  The only place for God’s Son to be born was in a manger, in order that you and I may weep over our sins, and in order that you and I may shout to God in praise for His inexpressible and immeasurable love.

     It was in a stable, perhaps a cave or a shed, near the inn in Bethlehem, a place where animals are sheltered, that Mary brought forth her firstborn son.  God had brought her to that place and timed her labor so that Jesus would be born right there.  It was not Mary’s decision.  It was not just the way things turned out.  God brought it to pass.  He brought it to pass through three things.

     First of all, the grandiose plans of Caesar Augustus, when Caesar decided that all the world should be taxed.  Joseph and Mary, we read in Luke 2, who lived in Nazareth, came down to Bethlehem because they were of the lineage of David.  In order to get a proper census or enrollment on the tax records, every person had to go to the city of his fathers to be recorded.  And Joseph, of the house of David, makes his way, with Mary, to Bethlehem.  There must have been some urgency for this, for why would Joseph go at this time when his bride is great with child?  And why did Mary have to come?  And how did they come?  We do not have direct answers to any of those questions.  There must have been reasons.  But God tells us that He wanted to use the world’s most powerful ruler as His instrument to accomplish His purpose, for the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord.

     The second thing that God used to bring Joseph and Mary to that manger was the cold indifference of the travelers in Bethlehem that night.  We read that they were sheltered in this stable because there was no room for them in the inn.  The travelers’ inn in Bethlehem consisted of a central courtyard flanked by rooms or covered porches that provided shelter.  And food was given by the innkeeper.  David had many descendants.  And Bethlehem is filled with them on that night.  There is no room.  And the innkeeper turns away a young woman who is great with child, who is large and uncomfortable.  He says to her, “There is no place here for you.  There’s no room.  Go away!”  And none among the nameless crowd takes notice of Mary.  Dark is the night indeed.

     Why did not Joseph get there sooner?  Why did he not stop earlier?  Why did not some people give up their accommodations?  There might have been human reasons for that.  But when you know who this child is and the depravity of your own human heart, you do not need to ask those questions.  You know.

     The third thing that God used was Mary’s labor pains.  We read, “the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.”  God, who forms the bones of each child, set the moment of her contractions.  Mary went into labor on that night because God chose that then was the time for His Son to be born.

     No, I do not believe that Joseph and Mary would choose this place (a barn or a stable) for their child to be born.  There simply was no other place.  God put Mary into labor so that she would lie on straw, on a barn floor, and give birth with the stench of manure in her nostrils; so that she would lay her first fragile baby in a feed-trough, a manger, probably a hollowed-out stone that cattle could not upset while feeding on grain.  And God saw to it that He was wrapped in discarded pieces of cloth (swaddling clothes).  God did that.  God, who is wonderful in power, marvelous in His doings, brought it to pass exactly this way.  If ever He brought something to pass (and He brings all things to pass), He certainly brought this to pass.  For He had planned it eternally, and it long lay in His heart.  He led Joseph and Mary, as you would lead blind people.  He brought them exactly to this place, to the stable.  He prepared every condition, as you would lead guests to a room that you got ready for them.  That is the way He always works.  He performs His wonders intentionally.

     Mary brought forth her firstborn son.

     Our Lord Jesus Christ is truly a man.  He was born.  He is a baby.  He cries.  He has come under the vanity of this world.  God’s Son in the flesh is now under the curse of our sins, the curse that we deserve.  The carol has:  “The little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.”  No!  He cried.  In fact we can say that no child ever cried like this child.  For He bears the sin of the world of God’s church.  God has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.  He is a weakened man, apparently He is helpless.  He is exposed.  There are unsanitary conditions.  And within a few months Mary would bundle Him up in the middle of the night and flee from Bethlehem, holding Him tight in her arms, after the angel told Joseph that Herod sought to kill the little child.  He was born in weakness, and to poverty He was exposed.  And it stayed that way His whole life.

     This was the firstborn Son of God.

     The significance is not simply to repeat that Mary is a virgin and that Jesus had opened her womb—that there were other children Mary would have with Joseph, so Jesus is the firstborn of Mary.  That Jesus is the firstborn suggests something far greater.  For the Holy Spirit tells us who Jesus is.  He is more than just the firstborn of Mary.  We read in Colossians 1:15 that He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature, and in verse 18, He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.  He is God’s firstborn, meaning He is God’s heir.  God intends that this Jesus, born of Mary, inherit all things.  God has made all things for Him.  As God’s firstborn He is Lord—Lord of lords, King of kings.  And He has the preeminence.  He has first place, above all other things.

     Now look into the manger.  The Babe that is wrapped in rags and placed where cows eat is God’s heir, for whom all things were made and by whom all things continue to exist.  He is God’s mighty Son, Lord of all.  He is the One who measured the water in the hollow of His hands and meted out the heavens with a span.  He is the eternal Son of God, glorious God.

     He is in a cave.  And He is heading toward another cave—the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.  And in between those two caves will be His suffering and death, His rejection and His crucifixion upon a cross.  He is the Savior.

     We look into this manger, this place that was prepared for God’s Son.  For God laid Him in a manger.  And later on God would nail Him to a tree.  And later on God would place His Son in a tomb.  Why?

     The answer is very familiar if you are acquainted with the Scriptures.  II Corinthians 8:9 reads:  “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”  God put our sin on His Son, born of Mary.  God put Him in our place.  God put Him on trial for our offenses.  The manger represents all of this.  It represents God placing His Son, now in the flesh, the holy child Jesus, in the place of those whom He has eternally chosen, under the awful debt of our sins.  That is why He must be there.  No one else would put Him there.  No one.  No grandmother would allow it.  No mother would stand for it.  The child protection agencies of our country would prosecute any parents who would place their child in a manger.  Their newborn?  In a place where cattle eat grain?

     But this is Jesus.  He shall save His people from their sins.  That is where He has to be born, in squalor.

     You can understand all of this if you know your sins, if you know them today.  If God’s Son is to come into my place, where must He be born?  Where would our sins place us?  In a beautiful estate?  No.  Look at the manger.

     And then look at the manger, not as it is presented on Christmas cards, in a peaceful and cozy sense.  But look at the manger as one who is there in the misery of your sin.

     After the Civil War, a painting was made of one of the last desperate battles of the Civil War, a desperate, bloody battle in which the bodies were piled up.  The picture intended to portray the fighting.  The faces of the men were filled with courage.  One veteran said to the painter:  “But it didn’t look that way to us.”

     Shall we gloss the manger over?  Shall we make it pretty?  Shall we make it cozy?  Shall we make it pleasant?

     It did not look that way to Him.

     To Him the manger was the moment when He assumed the curse of our sins, when He began to grapple with that curse, in order that He might overcome and destroy the awful stench and weight and guilt of our sins.  Behold, the love of God who gives His Son.  And bow in worship.

     The manger says a couple of things about Jesus, and it says something about us.

     It says, first of all, that Jesus Christ came into this world without anything of this world.  Poorest, cast-off.  He had nothing to cover His nakedness.  He had no bed.  He had no shelter that was offered to Him.  And it never changed.  Later on He would say, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.”  Not one thing of this world came to aid Him.  Nothing of this world.  Did one thing come from you for your salvation?  Did one thing from this world contribute to salvation?  One thing?  Did earth supply one thing to help?  The answer is:  NO!  He did it all alone.  He saved us all alone.

     Secondly, the manger declares that He was cast out of the world.  For He is in the manger because there is no room for Him in the inn.  Did the world want Him and His salvation?  Was the world, in the midnight of its sin, ready to receive Him as the promised Savior?  No.  No, He had no place.  He was cast out.  They tried to kill Him, especially when He told them that He was the Savior from sin—when He made very plain that man’s problem is that he is a sinner deserving hell and that He alone could be the Savior.  It was especially then that they cast Him out, that they tried to push Him off a cliff, that they were ready to throw stones at Him.  There was no room for Him.  He was not wanted.  Was He wanted by the religious people, the scribes and the Pharisees, the ones who said that they knew God?  Did they accept Him?  Oh, no.  They hated Him.  He was not received.

     What about us.  Would we have been any different?  Would we have done something?  Would we, of ourselves, have given Him a room?  You like to think so?  The answer of the Bible is, No, you would not have—not of yourself.  For every sin that you have ever committed said:  No room for Him!  I have room for cursing and lying and hatred and lust and jealousy.  But no room for Him.  We do not have room for Him.

     That is why we, as the children of God, worship Him in a manger—because we know that our salvation is not of ourselves.  It is of Him.  The manger tells us something about ourselves.  It declares that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the chief.  All the poverty, all the awfulness, all the smelliness, all the shame, all the degradation of the manger is ours.  He came into our place.  He took our sin.  He touched us.  He drew near.  He was wrapped up in our sins.  And, therefore, never was God’s Son so beautiful to sinners as the night that He was laid in a manger.  For I see there the too-good-to-be-true grace and mercy and love of God in giving His Son to take our sins in order that the beauty of His Son might be ours.

     Our response must be that we bow in worship.  God gave His Son for us.  That is the most valuable thing ever.  Let us confess Him.  Let us glory in His holy name.  God gave His Son for us in the way that we need Him.  He sent His Son to assume the responsibility, to bear the debt of our sin in order that He might nail it to the tree and deliver us from it.  God sent Him down into the squalor of our sin and death in order that we might be lifted to the glory of His majesty.  We must and we can now only fall on our faces before Him, not as a block of wood, but with heart and soul, and cry out, “Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.”  We must do this with our families.  We must do this as the congregation of the Lord on this day.  We must cry out of God’s amazing grace and love.

     And the response of faith will be not only our words of praise, but our entire life.  We cannot live as the world does if this word has been made known unto us.  Then our life will be forever and fundamentally different.  We will have the grace of repentance.  We will serve Him.  We will be humble before Him.  And we will live in happiness and joy and peace.

     Now, let us go and tell others of the great things that the Lord hath done for us.  For He has so loved us that He gave His Son to be born in a manger in order that we might inherit the heavens.

     Let us pray.

     Father, we thank Thee for the Word of God.  And we do ask for Thy blessing upon that Word in our hearts in this day.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.