A Deeper Look at the Birth of the Messiah - Part 1
As a child, I always thought how unfortunate it was that Mary and Joseph had to resort to giving birth to the Messiah in a lowly stable. Wasn’t God a better planner than that? Why would He put Mary and Joseph in such a perilous, desperate situation? Why did Mary have to make the arduous three day journey south from Nazareth to tiny, insignificant Bethlehem while she was nine months pregnant? Poor Mary! That could not have been comfortable!
Year after year, as my Sunday School teachers retold this fascinating story, my mind would always question, “Why God? Why?” Didn’t He have better control over life events than this? Shouldn’t the birth of His one and only Son be better prepared for? Couldn’t He have left just one room in the inn vacant? Why did His Son have to be born out in the elements amid barnyard smells and lowing cattle? Why did Mary have to sleep next to a feeding trough that held her baby? Wasn’t God capable of providing better? My young mind certainly thought so.
If the pen had been in my hand, I would have written this story into a cushier environment. The innkeeper, understanding the magnitude of Who was about to be born, would have rolled out the red carpet for the weary travelers. The best room in the inn would have been prepared. Plates of cheeses and grapes would have been served. Mary, while being fanned by servants, would have lounged comfortably on pillows as her contractions increased. The baby would have been swaddled in a blanket instead of strips of linen and He would have been laid in a bed…a real bed.
Yes, all of this would make more sense. But, I didn’t write the story. Thank goodness.
So, why a dirt floor instead of the red carpet?
Why a trough of hay instead a tray of cheeses?
Why no room instead of the best room?
Why tiny, insignificant Bethlehem?
Between the last page of the Old Testament and the first page of the New Testament was a 400 year period of silence. Nothing. Then, BOOM! The births of two baby boys – John the Baptist followed by Jesus Christ six months later – shattered that silence. And, everything that happened with these births and thereafter was straight up prophecy fulfillment. Bible scholars tell us that nearly 300 references to 61 specific prophecies of the Messiah were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. The odds against one person fulfilling that many prophecies would be beyond all mathematical possibility.1
One such prophecy even named His birthplace: Bethlehem.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2
This is how King Herod’s people knew where the King of the Jews was born when the Magi, who had followed his star from the east, had come to Herod to inquire about the birth. Herod’s advisors pulled out the ancient papyrus scroll of the book of Micah, which had been written some 700 years earlier, and laid their finger on the answer written in Hebrew, לֶ֣חֶם אֶפְרָ֗תָה, or what we call Bethlehem.
But, why tiny, insignificant Bethlehem?
Bethlehem first appears in Scripture with the great prophet Samuel:
“The Lord said to Samuel, 'How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.'” 1 Samuel 16:1
Samuel traveled nearly 25 miles from Shiloh to Bethlehem to anoint the one who would be chosen by God to be the new king. With a horn filled with oil, he set his sights south to find a man named Jesse.
Who was Jesse? You may remember him from this post.
Jesse was the father of a little shepherd boy named David. Like the town of Bethlehem, David was also considered tiny and insignificant in the eyes of everyone. This tiny, insignificant boy would one day kill a bear, a lion, and a giant with nothing but his bare hands, a rock, and unshakable faith. He would also grow to become the king over all of Israel. His heart for the Lord as expressed in songs would move the hearts of countless believers from every generation thereafter. This tiny, insignificant boy who slept with his sheep out in the fields of tiny, insignificant Bethlehem would be the lineage from which Jesus Christ the Messiah would come (as told by the prophet Isaiah nearly 700 years before Christ was born):
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD…In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.” Isaiah 11:1-2,10
So, here you have:
1. The prophet Micah telling the Jewish people that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
2. The prophet Isaiah telling the Jewish people that the Messiah would be from the line of David, a Bethlehem native.
3. God using tiny, insignificant people and places for enormously great and significant purposes.
In Matthew 1, we read the genealogy of Christ starting with Abraham. Fourteen generations later, David was born. Twenty-eight generations after David was born, another great man was born. His name was Joseph, the husband of Mary.
The Lord then worked through Caesar Augustus as he issued a decree that a census be taken of the entire Roman world which required everyone to go to their own town to register; that is, the town of the house and the line from whom they belonged to. Since Joseph belonged to the house and the line of David, a trip to Bethlehem was in order. Thus, the need for an arduous three day donkey ride.
It all makes sense now, right?
But, there’s more to this story…much more.
In nail-biting fashion, the direct descendant of David entered Bethlehem just as the Messiah, the Promised One, was about to be born. This checked all the correct prophetic boxes. Prophecy was falling beautifully into place. Knowing these things satisfies our question, “Why Bethlehem?” But, there’s still one more nagging question:
“Why a stable?”
It turns out that Bethlehem was not just the birthplace of kings but also the birthplace of another equally significant thing.
Bethlehem was the birthplace for the sacrificial lambs used in Temple worship.
While many fields strewn with flocks of sheep surrounded Jerusalem, it was tiny Bethlehem that had the special honor of tending the lambs specifically bred and raised just so they could die. At one year of age, the lambs without blemish or defect, traveled to Jerusalem, entered through the Sheep Gate, bled out, and lay on the altar to atone for the sins of the Jewish people. Morning and evening these lambs were lain on the altar for the sins of all. These Bethlehem lambs were unlike any other.
And, where were the lambs born?
They were born in a stable.
“The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
The Lamb of God, the One who was born in a stable and lived a blameless and spotless life, was the perfect sacrifice. Morning and evening lambs sacrificed in the Temple over the course of hundreds of years would never be enough to atone for our sins. And, God knew this. That’s why He sent His Son, His one and only, born in a lowly stable in Bethlehem, the tiny town where all the other sacrificial lambs were born, to be the Substitutionary Atonement for me…and for you.
“He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Isaiah 53:7
“For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” 1 Corinthians 5:7
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” 1 Peter 1:18-19
“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!’” Revelation 5:11-13
“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” Revelation 12:11
The Lamb of God, whom we will one day encircle in all His splendor around His heavenly throne and fall down on our faces to worship, was born so that He could die. He came into the world just like a sacrificial lamb and He left the world just like a sacrificial Lamb. That’s the reason for Bethlehem. That’s the reason for a stable. He didn’t skip one detail. He fulfilled it all.
“God himself will provide the lamb.” - Abraham
To read Why Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh? A Deeper Look at the Birth of the Messiah - Part 2 click here
First, I am a child of God. And, like a child, I am always learning and growing. The more I know Him, the more I love Him. Second, I am a wife to a good man. Missions is his thing while teaching women to love God’s Word is mine. Third, I am a mama to three plus a sweet cockapoo who thinks he’s #4. My children are my ongoing sanctification. Fourth, I am a passionate advocate of all things healthy & natural, an even 50/50 split of introvert/extrovert, and a dreamer/designer. Old friends call me Becky, newer ones call me Rebecca, and the most intimate ones call me Beck. You can just call me friend.