Many things are said about Lord Jesus but there is none born of a woman who can be compared to Him. The angels revealed the identity of the messiah not only through the place and location of birth but about the unique way He will be lying in the manger. At the time of fall of humanity itself God had declared to Satan and all of mankind that seed of the woman will crush his head. The Creator of all of universe decreed the birth of His only begotten Son under such circumstances and the shepherds recognized Him from the given indicators. Despite this how many today miss out on faith in the Son of God and resultant salvation, eternal life of abundance and peace?
Why was the Child Jesus placed in the manger? – It is often debated that why would God allow His only begotten Son to be born under such lowly circumstances. Scripture provides some details of circumstances of Lord Jesus’ birth that His mother Mary ‘gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn’ (Luke 2:7). The Creator God first provided everything that Adam could need and after due inspection of all that and certifying it as ‘good’, did God create man. In Bethlehem, however, Joseph was the only one to assist his betrothed wife Mary to give birth, in the dark, without any other help, to wrap the newborn baby in swaddling cloths to save His skin from the hay and place Him in a feeding trough for animals as a makeshift cradle. Surely God could have arranged better for the birth of His own Son? We know from Scripture, ‘Behold, the protector of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep’, but then He did overlook the hardship of the parents with an obvious clear, deliberate intention and purpose.
The prophesy by Prophet Micah about the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem Ephrathah is well known and how events ensured the move of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Various reasons are given for this move, first, to honor King David who was promised by God for his eternal reign. Boaz might have redeemed the same land for Naomi to pass on to his son Jesse, David’s father on which shepherds were contacted by the angels. Second, to identify with the poor and the destitute and for fulfillment of the prophesy.
But is there something else also? The shepherds looking after the sheep in the plains of Bethlehem were employed to tend to the animals used as sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem and were referred to as ‘Priestly Shepherds’ despite their perceived lowly status. These shepherds of Bethlehem were special because they raised the lambs for the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and were from the tribe of Levi. Prophet Micah also prophesied, ‘As for you, O watchtower of the flock (Hebrew ‘Migdal Eder), O stronghold of the Daughter of Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to the Daughter of Jerusalem’ (Micah 4:8). ‘Migdal eder’ was a watchtower located in the northern part of Bethlehem built to protect the Temple flocks. The lower level of this tower functioned as the birthing room for sacrificial lambs and during the lambing season the sheep were brought there from the fields.
The conditions for the sacrificial animal were about age and physical state, ‘Your lamb must be an unblemished year- old male’, without any physical defect or spot (Exodus 12:5). To avoid any physical defect to the newborn lamb, the shepherds would restrain them and place them in the manger, till they ‘calmed down’ and then place them with the mother for feeding. The shepherds who heard the Good News from the angelic choir and came to see the baby were definitely familiar with the procedure of birthing a sacrificial lamb. The angels did not have to tell the shepherds where to go because there was only one manger where sacrificial lambs were birthed, the ‘migdal eder’, but they must have been surprised at the birth of a baby in that manner.
John the Baptist ‘saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world’ (John 1:29). God had decided in His foreknowledge that the life of His own Son would be given as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins and the manner and location of His birth confirmed that fact. The angels declaration to the shepherds was clear, ‘This will be a sign to you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger’ (Luke 2:12).
What is the significance of the swaddling cloths? The word used is cloths and not clothes. Greek word ‘sparganoo’, derived from ‘sparganon’ means wrap in swaddling cloths and ‘spagnon’ is to strap or wrap with strips or bands of cloth. These were strips of cloth and not clothes as in a garment. Micah 4:8 is a prophesy about the location of the restoration of the former dominion, the kingship to ‘Daughter Jerusalem’. The Shepherds would wrap the newborn lamb in strips of cloth and place in the manger to keep it protected from any injury, spot or blemish till it calmed down. Once the lamb had settled down from the birthing process, the shepherd would remove the wrapping cloths and deliver the lamb to its mother. The lamb would get special care from shepherds/priests to prepare it for sacrifice. To a common person a newborn baby lying in a manger wrapped in swaddling cloths would mean little but to those shepherds it was a sign from God. They reared lambs and brought them to God as a sacrifice and God revealed to them His own Son, the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world. In the Jewish culture the same strips of cloths were also used for wrapping a dead body before placing it in the tomb. The second aspect of the swaddling cloths is also declaration from God about the purpose of Lord Jesus’ birth to die for all of humanity as a Redeemer.
The heavenly choir singing glory of the Son of God, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in the manger was enough for the shepherds to go and see. And ‘The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, which was just as the angel had told them’ (Luke 2:20). Amazingly the ‘Lamb of God’ was crucified at the third hour, 09.00AM, the time of the morning sacrifice and He surrendered His spirit to God the Father at the ninth hour or 03.00 PM, the time of the evening sacrifice (Mark 15:25). This time schedule fulfilled the beginning and end of the sacrificial system through this one time sacrifice of God’s own Son on the cross to redeem mankind from sin and clutches of the devil.
Uniqueness of Lord Jesus – Every religion of the world accepts God as a loving Father who loves all of His creation and desires to have close fellowship with each and every individual. God not only created man in His image and likeness but also blessed him with the exceptional privilege of exercising dominion over all of the created things . Despite all these blessings God did not desire to control man for everything but gave him free will to make his own choice to obey and remain close to God or rebel against His word. The creation of the Tree of Knowledge and wisdom along with the Tree of Life is about giving that option with clear instruction about the result of disobedience. God is a Spirit and man is the only one, created as a spirit being with a soul and a body, thus enabling him to freely live in the spiritual and material realms. God visited both Adam and Eve everyday in the evening to maintain a close relationship with them.
Contrary to general perception God did not curse Adam and Eve even after their act of disobedience. God’s question to Eve, ‘What is this you have done?’ is about her awareness or not of the consequences and then God lists out the same for all of creation. The curse was pronounced only on the devil and with that the way of return of mankind to their original intended position was also decreed. God did not bar their way to Himself but only to the Tree of Life and willingly accepted the offerings of Cain and Abel and at no stage did God condemn them. God’s caution to Cain was to warn and encourage him about threat of and overcoming sin (Genesis 4:7).
God declares that He prefers a wicked person to ‘turn from his way and live’ for He takes no pleasure in his death (Ezekiel 18:23 & 33:11). God permitted the offering of animal sacrifice as a substitute for the sinner till the perfect sacrifice was made available and accepted. In the Gethsemane Park Lord Jesus prayed to God the Father, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this pass from Me’ (Matthew 26:39-44). The cup in question is the wrath of God that would be the cost of redemption of mankind from sin. Lord Jesus’ redefined commission of sin and His teaching is ‘that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matthew 5:28). The Jewish elders, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes and the Chief Priest and Satan scrutinized every work of Lord Jesus throughout His ministry but could charge Him with nothing sinful.
So why did God the Father, who does not want even a wicked person to die, not accept to the prayer of His Beloved Son who had pleased Him through His work as a righteous and sinless man? – For there was no other way to ‘destroy the works of the devil’ and rescue mankind from the clutches of sin and death.
Lord Jesus is unique for He assures every believer a place in heaven and that too not because of some great works that I do but only because of His love for each and every believer, His sheep.
Lord Jesus is unique for He reveals God the Father and His love for the world but also that in His sinless and perfect life He did not condemn anyone for sin (John 3:16-17). He was well aware of all intentions of Judas Iscariot, yet in the Gethsemane Park when he came with the ‘great multitude’ to arrest the Messiah, He still called out to Judas in love, ‘Friend, do what you came for’ (Matthew 26:50). Lord Jesus is compassionate and understands our weaknesses and willingly comes forward to help and heal. In His Divine foreknowledge, He warned Apostle Peter about the plan of Satan but also assured him that His prayers will ensure that his ‘faith should not fail’ and tasked him to encourage others ‘when you have returned to Me’ (Luke 22:31-32).
Lord Jesus is unique for He readily goes out looking for the one lost sheep that has gone astray and on finding it, rejoices greatly informing us about joyful exultation in heaven over every single sinner who repents and returns to God (Luke 15:1-7).
Lord Jesus is unique for He is Messiah from the heart of God, not from the desire of man. The transfiguration of Lord Jesus is miraculous revelation of His Divine identity but the bigger miracle is that He could keep from displaying His glory which was clearly seen by Simeon and Anna, the prophetess.
Lord Jesus is unique for He not only preached but also lived His words. Apostle Peter was forgiven and fully restored before the other disciples by the Lord by encouraging him to confess his ‘phileo’ love, the reciprocal, friendly affection that a sinful human being is capable as compared to the ‘agape’, an all giving, uncaused and unselfish love of Lord Jesus. The restoration comes with the assignment to tend to Lord Jesus’ lambs, feeding and tending to His sheep, which responsibility is about collecting, attending to, regulating and guiding Lord Jesus’ sheep and is not limited to merely offering them the bread of life. It was this clear understanding of his role that Apostle Peter urged all believers that ‘Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful servants of God’s grace in its various forms’ (1 Peter 4:10-11). The disobedience of mankind resulted in God covering the original glory of man with the garments of skin and dominion control getting lost to the devil (Genesis 3:21).
The uniqueness of Lord Jesus is that the glory that He had received from God the Father, that same glory He has given to every believer and making us ‘children of God’ and citizens of heaven through faith in Him. This uniqueness of Lord Jesus is not only about fulfillment of all prophecies about Him made hundreds of years before but His being the only way. He is unique for He makes all of us, His followers also unique that he who believes in Him is empowered to do the works that the Lord did but even ‘greater works than these he will do’ (John 14:12).
Lord Jesus declared, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance (all its fullness) and this is perceived as giving of riches of the world to every believer (John 10:10). There are four kinds of riches; the riches in what you have, riches in what you do, riches in what you know and riches in what you are or riches of character. The Messiah became man from God to be with us and to share His bounties with the one who would seek Him and invite Him into his life (Revelation 3:20). Invariably we seek the riches of the first kind, the least important kind of wealth.
He promised to send another ‘Comforter, Teacher and Guide’ from the Heavenly Father to be with and in every believer (John 14:16). On the Day of Pentecost, God whose glory was seen in the flesh by the believers came to dwell in man (John 14:16). And God the Holy Spirit fills us with ‘power, love and a sound mind’ (2 Timothy 1:7).
Lord Jesus, though He had the force of twelve legions of Heavenly forces available, He chose to die on the cross. In like manner the power of the Holy Spirit transforms us into His uniqueness that we use this power, filled with love and self restraint. The life of a believer then bears fruit of the Spirit of love, peace, patience etc (Galatians 5:22).
The beatitudes define the life of a believer, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ (Matthew 5:3). The Greek word ‘makarios’ translated blessed defines a believer in an ‘enviable or fortunate position from receiving God’s favor which extends or enlarges God’s grace benefits through the receiving and obeying in faith. This joy is independent of all the chances and changes of life. The poor in spirit is not about being insignificant but confession of sinfulness, lack of moral virtues and rebellious nature lacking any spiritual assets. Greek word ‘ptochos’ defines a bent over, deeply destitute and completely lacking resources (a pauper). Thus every one can come to God for all are in this spiritual state and it is not about what I have but what I have not. The power filled believer becomes totally dependent on God for he becomes fully aware of his own self and the Sovereignty of God. Lord Jesus blessed the believers to do all works that He did and even greater works (John 14:12) but then He also warned us that like Him we can do nothing of our own (John 5:19).
The transformation into His uniqueness is about using the God given power under His guidance and control and for His kingdom alone and that too, to display His love with total self restraint. This authority is not due to anything in us but only due to His mercy and grace. In a world where power is shown through ‘roaring’ or creating fear in others, Lord Jesus Himself came and sends His disciples as ‘sheep among wolves’. But the power of the sheep is in their numbers. However, their love and humility is often seen as weakness.
The Savior Lord transforms us and makes us stand in victory over Satan and also empowers us to share His love wiyth others and lead them into salvation and freedom through Him. All of humanity desires to be close to God but it is only a believer realizes the meaning of closeness when God Himself in His Spirit comes to reside in us. This is the challenge for everyone who does not believe in Lord Jesus to know Him to get close to Him.