Dear Radio Friends,
Bethlehem was as busy as it had ever 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. They had a hard time accommodating everyone.
Why were all these people here in Bethlehem? Was it because of the prophet Micah’s prophecy: “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”? Was everyone here in Bethlehem on this particular night in order to look for the birth of the Messiah? After all, Israel knew the Messiah was going to be born here. Or, at least, they should have known. Maybe they were here to watch for His birth. 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 that Bethlehem was all astir.
But it was not. There was another reason, one not nearly so noble as this, for all these people swarming to Bethlehem. Far away, 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 a bit later. But now, in Palestine anyway, the way that was chosen for the Jews to register for this tax was by going to the town of their lineage. This was the reason so many people were in Bethlehem at this particular time. It was a time to register for the tax. All those who were of the house and lineage of David had come to Bethlehem to register. As a result, that city was packed with people. Certainly no one was looking for Joseph and his wife Mary, who was soon to give birth to the promised Messiah. In fact, we find this young man and woman making their way to Bethlehem according to the command of Caesar Augustus, too. They were of the house and lineage of David. Therefore they too were coming to register for his tax.
Our eyes of faith are focused in this event on this young couple, because we know that out of Mary would come forth that King in whose birth we rejoice. 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 by Micah.
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 want to study once again this classic passage of Scripture as it records for us the birth of Christ.
We read in this verse that Mary “brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes.” That fact, in itself, is normal. 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 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 a cattle stall. These were long linen strips used by the poor to wrap up their newborn babies. So this was not a strange occurrence that a woman gave birth to a baby and wrapped him in these linen clothes.
But certainly the place where Mary and Joseph laid their child is a strange one. They laid Him in a manger. A manger? Why, that was the feeding trough out of which animals ate. Why would Jesus be laid in a manger for a bed? That certainly is strange.
To understand why this took place, we must reflect on what had transpired when Mary and Joseph finally reached the end of their journey in Bethlehem of Judea. You see, upon entering this town, they discovered what we were talking about earlier. The town was packed with people. Houses had taken in families of relatives. And, since there was only one inn (which was a very small hotel of sorts) in this little town, it was full, too. 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 of people. Joseph, no doubt, had 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 without pity. There were others who had come, each with his own story (or excuse), looking for special accommodations that might be made just for them in the inn. And these, too, he probably turned away. Mary and Joseph were no exception to that. So, we read in our text at the very end: “there was no room for them in the inn.”
Joseph, realizing what condition Mary was in, had to seek the best shelter for her that he could. And the only place he could find on short notice was a cattle stall. We say that, of course, because our text tells us that Christ was lying in a manger. There is no other indication that it was a cave or a barn or a lean-to of sorts that became a shelter for Joseph and Mary—other than that He was laid in a manger.
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 in that cattle stall, the time was fulfilled that she should be delivered. So there, in that barn, in that cattle stall, she brought forth her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and then took Him and laid Him in a manger for His bed. That is the account that we have before us today.
All these events seem natural enough in themselves. Even the unbelieving world can believe these events. When unbelievers do this, then they usually do it with an eye of pity—Aw, this poor baby and his parents, how sad! But they do not look beyond these events to see and understand the significance of them.
Believers view this account, however, with an eye of faith. None of these events took place by chance. They were all ordered by God. We believe that this son born to Mary and Joseph was indeed 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 God’s chosen people. The world does not believe any of this. Therefore, though some can and maybe even will relate events of the birth of Christ at this time of year, that is all they relate.
Dear radio friends, 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, “Well, there’s nothing so significant in this. There was a young married woman who simply gave birth to her first child, that’s all.” Many, and the sad part is, many in the church too, will say, “Mary probably gave birth to other children before Christ.” That is the nature of unbelief, after all. They refuse to examine the testimony of Scripture. And, as a result, they refuse to understand why the Bible at this time includes this word “firstborn” in its account.
Go back once to Luke 1:26-38 and read 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 these words in verses 30 and 31:
Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
Mary believes that and yet asks the question: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” To this the angel responds in verse 35: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also 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 who would be born unto a woman. Do we understand the significance of this verse when we consider that it tells us that Mary brought forth her firstborn son? That term teaches us that this baby that Mary now brought forth into this world is in fact 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. All we need is a reminder once again of the necessity of Christ being divine. Without His being the eternal Son of God, salvation for His people is impossible.
Oh, it was necessary that Christ be born of a woman. We do not discount that fact. Christ had to be fully a man. He had to be a human being just as we are. Man is the one who sinned against God, after all, and it was man, therefore, who had to pay the price of that sin. God’s justice demands that. How highly unjust it would be for God to punish another creature for the sin that man committed. Christ, as a man, was able to represent us at the bar of God’s justice and pay the penalty for our sins. So, no doubt about, it was important that Christ was born of Mary.
But it was equally important that Christ be God—because man himself would be unable to bear the punishment of hell. He would be crushed under the burden of God’s heavy wrath against sin. If Christ were merely a man, He would not have been able to endure eternal death and punishment. But Christ is the divine Son of God. He is eternal and therefore He is all-powerful. As the Son of God, Christ was able to pay the eternal price for sin. This is what we must see in this firstborn Son born to Mary. Mary brought forth her firstborn son. In this way God made possible our salvation. This is the wonder of God’s grace in which the church of Christ rejoices.
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, dear listener? 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 amazement at what you and I are able to glean out of a passage of this sort. We are able to understand this blessed gospel only because the Spirit has revealed it unto us.
But that is not all we are given to see in this passage of God’s Word. The reason Christ was born in a cattle stall is also found in this passage. It may not be overlooked. The reason Christ was laid in a manger was because 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 points to the truth that there is never any room for Jesus in the hearts or in the lives of men. Again one might ask, “Where does this verse say that? You are finding things that are not written here.” It is true that this verse does not say that there is no room in the heart of fallen man for Christ. Neither can we say that the reason that the innkeeper did not want Mary or 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 in 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 of Luke 2: “This shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” They speak of the verse that we are talking about today as a sign. And that sign does not merely include these things that would reveal to the shepherds of whom the angels were speaking. But it includes as well why Jesus was to be found in a cattle stall.
Of what, then, is this a sign? That Jesus Christ, even in His birth, was rejected of men. John writes to us about the birth of Christ in his gospel account, in chapter 1, verses 10 and 11:
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
Contrary to what many in our day will claim, wicked unbelieving man does not want Christ. He does not seek after God or after His Christ. When Christ is presented in the gospel, unbelieving man has no room for Christ in his heart. He does not want Christ because he sees no need for salvation from sin. And he sees no need for salvation from sin because he does not view himself as a sinner in need of deliverance. He is willing to admit that he makes mistakes or misjudgments in life. But he does not see these as sin against the most high majesty of God, sin that offends God and incurs a deadly guilt. If placed, therefore, before the choice of whether he wants to continue in this life of sin or to acknowledge his sin and find salvation in Christ, fallen man will always choose the former. And this is true because apart from 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 enslaved to sin. He is unable to will the good or seek after the good. There is no room for Christ in his heart. Fallen man is totally depraved. As the Word of God tells us 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—and in such a way that he cannot understand his own 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 that you and I come to God with believing hearts? How is it possible for us to read this account before us and actually believe in what is being told us here? If there is no room in any man’s heart for Christ, how have we come to believe? Because, fellow believers, Christ Himself has made that room in our hearts by an all-powerful, irresistible work. It is by means of the work of Christ on the cross that God’s people have been given to believe. It is by a work of God’s grace that we have come to know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Otherwise we would be as so many others, who simply listen to what they believe is just a sad, quaint story. The Spirit of our risen Lord has opened the hearts of believers and has revealed to us these wonders and these marvelous truths, these signs that are given to us in the Scriptures. Christ has removed, through His death, the hardness of our hearts. He has taken away our blindness. He has given us hearts that believe and understand.
All that, He has accomplished by means of our salvation. Now we see and now we believe.
And that, in turn, gives us great joy, the joy that is to all peoples. Believing children who are listening, why does Christ’s incarnation and birth make us so happy? Because we open presents? Is it because we have fun with relatives, your cousins, or friends? There is nothing wrong with these things, you understand. But do these things really have anything to do with the birth of Christ? There is no secular way we can celebrate the birth of Christ. The real joy of the child of God, now and always, is “for unto us is born this day in Bethlehem, the Savior who is Christ the Lord.” Our joy is found in that our Savior came into our world to deliver us from our sin. And that we celebrate. Christ the Savior is born! Hallelujah!
Now 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. We hail Him as our King. And we thank God for the joy of salvation that He has freely given us.
Let us pray together.
Our Father who art in heaven, we thank Thee for the birth of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, who came into this world, who has taken upon Himself our many horrible sins, and who has saved us from wrath by paying the price for those sins. We thank Thee that salvation has been made possible through His incarnation and through His birth. And even as we celebrate that at this time of the year, may we not forget, Father, that this is something that we must celebrate every day of our lives. Wilt Thou keep us by this Word and sustain us, even in this season of the year. For Jesus’ sake we pray these things, Amen.
Dear Radio Friends,