Dear Radio Friends,
Bethlehem was about as busy as it ever had been. The city was astir with people hurrying here and there attempting to accomplish their business. Houses were filled with people, and the little inn in the town was itself packed to capacity. The townspeople were certainly not used to this busyness—and they had a hard time accommodating everyone.
Why were all these people here? Was it because of the prophet Micah’s prophecy? “And 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”? Maybe everyone was here in Bethlehem on this particular night in order to look for the birth of the Messiah. The people of Israel should have known the Messiah was going to be born here. Maybe they were here to watch for Him? Maybe their eyes of faith were now glued to this village because they were anxiously awaiting the fulfillment of this prophecy? Surely, that had to be the reason Bethlehem was all astir! But it was not.
There was another reason—one not nearly so noble as this—why all these people were in Bethlehem. Faraway in a distant country there lived a great emperor. His name was Caesar Augustus. The empire he ruled over had conquered much of the then-known world. This included the Palestine area. Long before this, this great empire, called the Roman Empire, had subdued the Jews and placed them under tribute. Now, Caesar Augustus and his senators had decided to levy a tax throughout the empire. In order to do this all the world had, first of all, to register for the tax. The actual taxing would not take place until later. But now, in Palestine anyway, the way chosen for the Jews to register for this tax was by going to the town of their lineage. This is the reason so many people were in Bethlehem at this particular time—it was time to register for the tax. All those who were of the house and lineage of David, as well as many other families who could trace their lineage to this village, had come to Bethlehem to register. As a result, that city was packed with people.
Certainly no one had his eye on Joseph and Mary. They were but another couple who were making their way to Bethlehem according to the command of Caesar Augustus. They were of the house and lineage of David and therefore they too were coming to register for this taxation. In our broadcast today our eyes of faith are focused on this young couple because we know that out of Mary would come forth that King whose birth we rejoice in. We look to see the birth of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, who was soon to be born exactly in the place it was prophesied of. It was upon their entering into Bethlehem that the words of Luke 2:7 unfold: “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” We examine this verse for a few moments today.
NO ROOM FOR MARY’S FIRSTBORN
I. The Meaning
We consider a fact today that seems normal enough in itself: Mary brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes. Mary and Joseph were poor peasants from the village of Nazareth in the region of Galilee. They did not have money to buy expensive clothing. That they wrapped their newborn son in swaddling clothes was not sad to them. They had brought these swaddling clothes with them, no doubt. Certainly, they were not clothes that could be found in the cattle stall where Jesus was born. These were long linen strips used by the poor to wrap their newborn babies. This was not a strange occurrence therefore—that a woman gave birth to a baby and wrapped him in linen clothing. But the place where Mary and Joseph gave birth to their baby is indeed a strange one. We learn that, after their baby was born, they laid him in a manger. A manger? Why, that was a feeding trough out of which animals ate. A manger is found in a barn or a stable. Why would Jesus be laid in a manger for a bed? That certainly is strange! To understand why this took place we have to consider the events that took place when Mary and Joseph finally reached the end of their journey in Bethlehem.
You see, upon entering this town they discovered what we were talking about earlier. The town was jammed with people. Houses had taken families in, and the one inn (which is a small hotel of sorts) was full. This was not unnatural either. It was to be expected. After all, there were many families in Israel that could trace their lineage to Bethlehem. The town was full. Yet Joseph, no doubt, had half expected that he would somehow be able to find a place in the inn. There had to be someone there who would take pity on Mary, his wife, who was about to give birth. But when Joseph inquired in the inn, he found that there was no room for them there. Even though the innkeeper could see that Mary needed shelter, he turned her away. There were others who had come, and would come, each with his own story and with his own reason why the innkeeper ought to make room for him in the inn. These too he would have to turn away. So Mary and Joseph could be no exception to that. We read at the end of the verse we consider, “there was no room for them in the inn.”
Joseph, realizing what condition Mary was in, had to seek out the best shelter that he could find for her. The only place he could find on short notice was a cattle stall. Nowhere are we actually told that it was a barn or a shed of sorts that became the shelter for Joseph and Mary. But it is in a barn that a manger is located. Where this cattle stall was located is mere speculation. Some say it was on the outskirts of Bethlehem, and from this they explain that there was not only no room for Christ in the inn, but no room for Christ in Bethlehem itself. Where this cattle stall was located, however, we cannot say. But we can be sure that Mary gave birth to her son in the lowliest of conditions. While they were there in that cattle stall, the time was come that she should be delivered. So, there in that cattle stall she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and then took Him and laid Him in a manger for His bed. Such is the simple, well-known account we are given in this verse.
Now, all of these events seem natural enough in themselves. Even the unbelieving world can believe these events. When unbelievers do, they see a whole series of sad events. But they do not look beyond these events to see what they mean. When we tell the Christmas story, we believe something special about the Christ-child. We believe that He was the long-promised Messiah. We believe that He is divine—the Son of God made flesh. We believe that this child was born into this world to accomplish the salvation of His chosen people. The wicked of this world believe none of this, and therefore, though some can and maybe even will relate the events of Christ’s birth, that is all they will relate. But, my fellow believers, look closely, beyond these mere outward events, and see what this account really teaches us.
Mary brought forth her firstborn son. That is significant in itself! Again, the unbelieving world will say that there is nothing so significant in this. Here was a young married woman who simply gave birth to her first child, that is all. Many will even say that Mary possibly had other children before Christ was born. This was her firstborn son, but who knows whether Mary may have had a daughter waiting for her back in Nazareth. That is the nature of unbelief. Unbelief refuses to examine the testimony of Scripture, and, as a result, refuses to understand why the Bible at this point includes this word “firstborn” in its account.
Go back to Luke 1:26-38 and listen to the announcement of the angel to Mary. The angel appears to a young maiden who was a virgin—one who had never known a man—one who was not married, though she was engaged. The angel tells this young maiden, in verse 31, “you shall conceive in your womb and bring forth a son.” Mary believes, yet asks the question: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” To this the angel responds, in verse 35, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee: therefore that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” What does that tell us about this child that Mary was to bring forth? This firstborn son of Mary was in fact the very Son of God. Do we understand the significance, then, of the little verse we consider today when it tells us that Mary brought forth her firstborn son? That teaches us who read this Word of God in faith that this baby Mary now brought forth into this world is the very Son of God made flesh. His conception and birth is a miracle of all miracles! We behold, in the face of this child in a manger, the very Son of God.
It was necessary that Mary’s firstborn son be the divine Son of God. Without His being the eternal Son of God, salvation for you and me is impossible. Oh, it was necessary that Christ be born of a woman too. We do not discount that today. Christ had to be fully man. He had to be a human being just as we are. Man is the one who sinned against God, and it was man therefore who had to pay the price of his sin. God’s justice demands that. How highly unjust it would be of God were He to punish anyone other than a man for the sins that man commits. Christ as a man was able to represent His people at the bar of God’s justice and pay the penalty for their sins. So, it was important that Christ was born of Mary. But it is equally important that Christ be God, because man himself would not be able to bear the punishment of God’s eternal wrath against sin. He would be crushed under the burden of God’s heavy wrath. If Christ were merely a man, then that would have happened to him too. Then He would not have been able to bestow on us what He earned for us on the cross. He would still be in hell right now, attempting to pay the price for our sins. But Christ is the divine Son of God. He is eternal and all-powerful. Because Christ was divine, He was able to pay the eternal price for sin. The human nature of Christ leaned upon, depended upon, His divine nature to hold it up, to sustain it in order that Christ might indeed die, then live again, to bestow on others what He earned on the cross. This is what we see in the Word of God before us today! Mary brought forth her firstborn son. In this way God made possible our salvation. God’s people always rejoice in that wonder of God’s grace: Christ was sent by God to be born of a woman to deliver us who were lost in sin.
II. The Reason
That is one fact this passage of God’s Word teaches us about the birth of Christ. Do you see it? Do you understand it? If you and I do, then we must realize that it is only by God’s grace that we do. Unbelief shakes its head in disbelief at what you and I are able to glean out of this passage of God’s Word. You and I are able to understand the blessed gospel only because the Holy Spirit has revealed it unto us. It is hidden from the eyes of those who walk in unbelief. God reveals the things of God’s kingdom only to those who bow before Him in childlike faith.
There is more in this short verse of the Bible that we can see with the eyes of faith too. The reason Christ was born in a cattle stall is that there was no room for Joseph, Mary, and their baby in the inn. That is what is meant here by “them.” It refers to Joseph, Mary, and their soon-to-be-born baby. The spiritual significance of this phrase of our text also appears to those who read this Word of God in faith. It points to the truth that there is never any room for Jesus in the hearts or in the lives of men.
Again the question may arise: “But where does this verse say that? You are pulling things out of your hat here.” It is true the verse we consider here in Luke 2:7 does not say that “there was no room in the inn” means that there is never any room in the heart of man for Jesus. Neither can we say that the reason the innkeeper did not want Mary and her baby in his inn is because he did not want Jesus. He did not know that Mary was carrying in her womb at that point the long-awaited Messiah. He did not consciously in this act reject the Christ. To read this into this verse is saying more than it intends to say. What we have here in the birth of Christ, however, is a sign—that is all, a sign. The angels who announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds said this about Jesus’ lowly birth in verse 12: “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” The angels speak of the verse we are considering as a sign. That there was no room for Jesus in the inn is a sign. Of what is this a sign? The answer is found in this: it is a sign that Jesus Christ, even in His birth, was rejected of men. John explains in his gospel account, chapter 1:11: “Christ came unto his own, and his own received him not.” Or again in John 3:19, “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
Wicked man, who is lost in his unbelief, does not want Christ. And he does not want Christ because he sees no need of salvation from sin. He sees no need for salvation from sin because he does not see himself as a sinner in need of deliverance. Fallen man is lost in his pride! Unbelieving man views his sins as mere misjudgments, mistakes, or confusion on his part. He believes there is no need for deliverance from the bondage and guilt of sin because he refuses to see himself as in bondage to sin and guilty of sin. If placed before the choice therefore of whether he wants to continue in his life of sin or to acknowledge his sin and find salvation in Jesus Christ, fallen man will always choose the former. This is true because apart from salvation in Christ man is totally given over to unbelief. His eyes are blinded, so that he cannot even see the things of the kingdom of God. His will is in bondage to sin. He is unable to will the good or seek after the good. He will not seek after Christ. Fallen man is totally depraved. As Paul writes in Romans 3:11, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” Or again in Romans 8:7, “The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can be.” There is no ability in man to seek after God, to seek after salvation, to seek after Christ. He is enslaved to sin and unbelief in such a way that he cannot understand his spiritual plight. This is why John writes that when Christ, who is the light, came into this world, then men loved darkness rather than light. They did not want Christ. There is no room in the heart of man for Christ. This is what Christ’s lowly birth points to.
But then how is it possible that you and I come before God today with believing hearts? How is it possible for us to read this account before us and believe in what is being told us this morning—if there is no room in any man’s heart for Christ. Because, fellow believers, Christ Himself has made that room in our hearts. By means of the work of Christ on the cross we have been given to believe. It is a work of God’s grace that we have come to know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. The Spirit of our risen Lord has opened our hearts and revealed to us all these things. Christ has removed through His death the hardness of heart, He has taken away our blindness, and He has given us hearts that believe and understand. Now we see and believe.
III. The Joy
This in turn gives us great joy, which shall be to all peoples. Really. Is there joy in our hearts in this time of the year because of the presents and parties? Everyone, even the unbelievers, find some earthly satisfaction and joy in these. Oh, there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. But they really have nothing to do with the joy that the believer has in his heart. The real and lasting joy is this: for unto us is born this day in Bethlehem a child who is Christ the Lord. Our joy is found in the Savior who was born to deliver us from our sin. That is a joy that we have today. That is a joy that is ours every day. In that we celebrate: Christ the Savior is born. Hallelujah! We celebrate that in this time of year, but also all year through.
In that joy we go to the manger and we bow as did the shepherds. We bow because before us lies the light of the nations! Before us lies the King of kings and Lord of lords who even now has entered into the heavens and reigns over all. Before us lies the promised Messiah, who is Christ the Lord. We worship at His footstool. And hail Him as our King. We thank God for the joy of salvation He has freely given us.
Dear Radio Friends,