Birth of the Son of God as man in not only astonishing for this only but also for the fact that there was no place for the birth of Him, who created everything, anywhere except in a sheep shed. The shepherds, after hearing the Good News of His birth from the angels, went, saw, rejoiced and informed everyone in the town of Bethlehem. Everyone expressed his/her surprise on hearing but nothing else changed in their lives. The magi came from afar off, worshipped the Child but Jerusalem, despite being so near remained full of darkness. Are we prepared to gaze upon the Redeemer and get rid of that darkness of heart?
Importance of His birth –The decree from Caesar Augustus for registration of all people with their families in their original place of inheritance went out at God’s command only. The travel of Mary to Bethlehem was decided by the LORD God more than 700 years before His birth. Prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah the prophet who revealed the identity of the place of birth of the Son of God more than 700 years before it happened. ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet 0out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose going forth are from old, from everlasting’ (Micah 5:2). King David prophesied about this ‘the One to be Ruler in Israel’ that ‘His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him Blessed’ (Psalm 72:17).
But why did God choose Bethlehem? – The Hebrew word Bethlehem has two parts, ‘beyit’ or beth meaning house and ‘lehem’ meaning bread thus it was called ‘house of bread’. This place is located about five miles south of Jerusalem and was famous for its grazing fields where shepherds would rear flocks for sacrificial offering at the Temple in Jerusalem. Bethlehem was David’s place of birth and he tended to his father Jesse’s sheep in its pasturelands. Prophet Samuel ‘anointed him in the midst of his brethren; and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward’ (1 Samuel 16:13). God blessed David that his kingdom shall be ‘established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever’ (2 Samuel 7:16).
The genealogy lists Lord Jesus as ‘the Son of David, the Son of Abraham’ identifying Him as the King and of Jewish heritage. He belongs both to the great man of faith, Abraham, and to the ‘man of God’s heart’ King David. David himself addresses the Messiah as His Lord for He is more than the physical Son of David (Psalm 110:1). Lord Jesus further clarifies this by revealing that ‘I am the Root and the Offspring of David’ (Revelation 22:16) so David has been created by Him and come from Him and He is his Son also. This being His relationship with King David, it is natural that the Son of David should be born in His father’s place, Bethlehem. Son of David declared, ‘I AM the bread of life, whoever comes to Me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in Me shall never be thirsty’ (John 6:35). The Bread of life has to be revealed to the world in Bethlehem, ‘the city of bread’.
John the Baptist identified Lord Jesus to his followers as the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). The word sin is in singular form for every sin is basically disobedience and rebellion against God and His commands. Thus the sacrificial Lamb of God must be born in the sheepfold and the decree was fulfillment of the will of God for this.
The details of the birth of Lord Jesus raise certain questions – The angels declared the birth to the shepherds but how did they know which manger to go to? Why was the child wrapped in swaddling clothes? Why were the shepherds given the news of His birth and not others?
The identification of the place of birth – The shepherds of Bethlehem raised sheep for offerings at the Temple of God in Jerusalem and specific instructions are there for the state of these offerings. Each offering had to be offered willingly and be without blemish for the one with any defect ‘shall not be acceptable on your behalf’ (Leviticus 22:19-20). The shepherds of Bethlehem would shift a sheep to the specified place before giving birth. This was the only specified place in the area and all shepherds were aware of this and it was easy for them to reach there, once being told by the angels. The angel of the LORD told the shepherds, ‘there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger’, which is an unusual sign (Luke 2:11-12). Christ means anointed and as Lord He is Sovereign over people.
A newly born lamb or ewe was carefully examined for any defect at birth and then its limbs would be wrapped in strips of cloth to ensure no damage occurs to its body. In like manner as per custom a newly born baby was also wrapped and only his face was visible while even the arms were wrapped. These strips of cloth were called swaddling cloths and the difference was in the quality of the cloth depending upon the financial status of the parents. Mary would have carried these from Nazareth itself knowing that she may need the same on the way. The command of God regarding the sacrificial offerings is very specific and how could God allow any blemish to occur in the ‘ultimate sacrifice for all mankind’. Also the Lamb of God, as the Perfect Offering, has to be born in the specific place for the sacrificial lambs and be placed in the manger.
Every Jewish husband is required to read Psalm 20 to his wife, before retiring to the bed at night, and then repeat verse 2, ‘May He send you help from the Sanctuary, and strengthen you out of Zion’. The command from God is to keep His word in your heart and to teach them diligently to your children, and talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Apostle Paul praised Timothy for the faith that was in his grandmother Lois, his mother Eunice and that was passed on to him (2 Timothy 1:5). On hearing the word of God everyone reacts differently. The shepherds heard the Good News from the angels and went saw what was told ((Luke 2:15-19). They made widely known the saying which they had heard and seen and others who heard marveled, but thereafter all forgot about it but Mary ‘kept all things and pondered them in her heart’. She heard, remembered and meditated upon that in her heart.
Importance for a believer – The disciples heeded the call, left all and followed Lord Jesus and were witnesses to all that He said and did (Luke 18:28). The disciples probably followed the Lord with the ulterior motive of receiving glory in His kingdom after Roman rule was overthrown and that was on their mind even after seeing the Lord after His resurrection (Acts 1:6). But Judas Iscariot colluded with the Jewish elders to betray his Lord after learning about Lord Jesus’ death and no plan for kingdom restoration to the Jews. The Pharisees accused the Lord of working with ‘Beelzebub, the ruler of demons’ and refused to accept Him as Lord (Matthew 12:23-24). They not only rejected but also planned to kill Him and eventually crucified the Son of God (Matthew 12:14).
Even Adam did not have this high position that we have in Lord Jesus for we are part of God’s family. They say mankind is seen and studied in man but actually proper study of God’s chosen is God in His name, His nature, His individuality, His teachings, His works, all point to the calling and ultimate destiny of a believer. To know oneself is, therefore, to know God. Apostle Paul refers this to ‘the eyes of your heart be enlightened’ through the ‘spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him’ to fully understand the hope of His calling (Ephesians 1:17-18). Most people’s hearts do not have any eyes to gain knowledge and understanding and God desires both in each one of us. Once we receive this we understand the ‘riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints’. God considers us so precious that He takes us as His very own inheritance while we seek an inheritance from Him. ‘The LORD”s portion is His people; Jacob is His inheritance’ (Deuteronomy 32:9). And when we are His portion how much more will He look after us to ensure our well being. In His inheritance God invests His love, riches of wisdom, glory and His best investment His own Son.
There was no room for Him at Bethlehem for His birth, no room in the hearts of His people for ‘He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him’ (John 1:11). And He in His love goes looking for the one lost sheep knowing that He is needed by that sheep, ‘And when He has found it He lays it on His shoulders, rejoicing’ (Luke 15:4-5). He does not desire gifts or offerings but a place in our hearts for He loves us (Isaiah 1:11). The Lord stands at the door and knocks to wait and see, ‘If anyone hears My voice and opens the door’ to come in dwell in His/her heart to bless Him and make them His very own in heritance (Revelation 3:20). Are we willing to welcome Him into our hearts and establish His kingdom in our hearts?
Even when we do welcome Him into our hearts, the process is incomplete until we bid Him to stay there. The Son of God operates in our lives through the indwelling Holy Spirit, who can judge a person’s total spiritual record of whole life. Sinful record is erased through forgiveness of sins but the record of gradual transformation will remain. Also the details of what we attempt to do for the heavenly kingdom to thank God for His Divine grace and mercy will remain. It is a slow process of change but we must ‘Let Him’.
Opening the eyes of our hearts – The change in spiritual life is from God, ‘For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be confirmed to the image of His Son’ (Romans 8:29). The image is of the Son of God and not of some Church leader. In Him is the fullness of God for ‘God was pleased to have His fullness dwell in Him’ (Colossians 1:19) and again ‘For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power’ (Colossians 2:9-10). The Greek word ‘pleroma’ means ‘sum total, fullness, (super) abundance’, for Lord Jesus represents in bodily form the total character and being of God. Believers’ completion in Him is the daily slow process of change taking place through the Holy Spirit. If one does not perceive any change in his/her spiritual state at the end of the year, one must self examine under the light of God’s Word to identify and rectify the lack.
Apostle John further elaborates on this, ‘For, now we are children of God; and it has not been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is’ (1 John 3:2-3). Being like Lord Jesus is not that all believers will become His copies but each will reveal His traits in his/her individuality. This will happen when we see Him and on earth it will be at His coming in clouds and in heaven now when a person leaves this earthly body. Apostle Paul further clarifies that ‘now we see in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known’ (1 Corinthians 13:12). Heaven is precious for there we will meet our loved ones, the saints like the disciples, Apostle Paul and others, to walk on those streets of gold and see the gates of pearls, see the angels around God’s throne worshipping Him day and night and join then. But most of all heaven is heaven for God the Father and God the Son will be present. ‘And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure’ (1 John 3:3). When we know our end is to be like Him we must desire to be like Him here and now. Filled with this hope in Him and nothing else, not even heaven, we must purify our lives under the blessed power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. For the year that is coming in, let us resolve to do this, for only then can we really be seen by others as ‘the inheritance of God’ for we do not want to be inheritance of the devil. Let us surrender ourselves to His blessed control.
From the time and effort of construction of Tower of Babel mankind has always been attempting to reach God through their own efforts. God, on the other hand, desires to bless us through our surrendering to His will and be transformed to be like Him. It is through faith, we appropriate all blessings from God.