I am not a great advocate of topical studies. I am not opposed to topical studies per se, but I much prefer a verse-by-verse, book-by-book, approach to Biblical exposition. Such an approach prevents the expositor from falling prey to the temptation to gloss over or entirely skip the “difficult bits” of God’s Word. Let’s face it, those parts of the Bible that talk about sacrifice, suffering, and judgment are not the stuff that tends to fill the pews of the local church with those eager to hear more about them. There is also a very real danger of the expositor falling into an eisegetical approach to a topical study wherein the expositor decides beforehand what he wishes to impart, and then goes searching the scriptures to back up his arguments. Of course, this is an ever-present danger in Biblical exposition, but a verse-by-verse approach tends to keep the expositor true to an exegetical exposition of the Scripture – allowing God’s Word to speak for itself with minimum interjection of the expositor’s own beliefs and ideas.
Nevertheless, every now and again, it is appropriate to temporarily set aside our verse-by-verse studies to take up a specific topic of interest. Christmas and Easter are such topics deserving of a special focus. Bible exposition students are trained carefully in the proper format for topical studies. Each message should have a distinct introduction including one or more appropriate corny but clean jokes, a main body including no more than three key points, and a brief summation which preferably ends with a note of encouragement so that the listeners can depart feeling good about themselves. Above all, the message must be brief – no more than thirty minutes – so that the parishioners can get away from the church in plenty of time to get the best seats in the local restaurants for Sunday lunch. Bonus points are awarded if the main points of the message are alliterative – each starting with the same letter of the alphabet. Thus we have in this message the six Ws of Christmas. So I get the bonus alliteration points despite having more than three. Unfortunately, I may be penalized for lack of brevity, so I guess I’d better get on with it, eh?
Aspiring journalists in training are encouraged to seek out the five Ws of their stories – who, what, when, where, and why. Often, the “how” of the story is thrown into this list, but “how” doesn’t start with w, so we will simply ignore it. These newshounds must seek the answers to these questions, and once they’ve dug the answers up, they can go and write the story. Unfortunately, modern journalists spend an inordinate amount of time and focus on the “why” aspect of their stories, usually simply making up the “why” from nothing but their own preconceptions, more often than not under orders from their superiors and/or corporate sponsors. But that’s quite another story altogether, so we’d better just drop it, or we’ll never get around to the Ws of Christmas.
Bible students have the advantage over the journalists, in that we don’t have to sniff out the answers to the five Ws of Biblical topics because the answers may be easily found within the sixth W – the Word of God. Of course, Christmas is a topic spoken of throughout God’s Word. In fact, Jesus’ incarnation is the central theme of the Bible and the pivotal event of history, foretold by God from earliest times.
6 For unto us a Child is born,Isiah 9:6-7 – NKJV
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
8Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”Luke 2:8-14 – NKJV
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Christmas is of course the day on which we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But exactly who is Jesus of Nazareth whose birth we celebrate on this day? The Bible declares plainly that Jesus is none other than God Himself, come to earth in the flesh of the man Jesus. Most of us, as followers of Christ, have been faced now and again with the blunt declaration from an unbeliever that “Jesus never claimed to be God.” Sadly, many Christians (particularly in the modern Church in North America and Europe) lack sufficient knowledge of God’s Word to contradict this patently false statement. Shouldn’t believers at least be more familiar with Biblical teaching than the unsaved? The real tragedy of this situation is that the unbeliever goes away afterward with this false belief reinforced rather than dispelled due to the Christian’s ignorance of his own beliefs. Similarly, an unbeliever who is somewhat familiar with Judeo/Christian theology might (rightly) say that the words “trinity” and “triune” are never found in God’s Word. Most Christians are likewise dumbfounded by this. Nevertheless, the Bible is crystal clear in its teachings of both the concept of the Holy Trinity of God – The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit – and of the deity of Jesus of Nazareth – Immanuel, God with us – whose coming was foretold by the prophet Isaiah in the passage we read above.
Indeed, the concept of the Trinity is apparent from the very first verse of the Bible
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.Genesis 1:1 – NKJV
We have spoken of this before in a previous study, but it bears repeating. The Hebrew word translated as God in this verse – אֱלֹהִים ‘elohiym – is one of the plural forms of the Hebrew word for God – אֵל ‘el – and implies more than two. Thus we see a reference to the Holy Trinity right from the beginning of God’s Word. Interestingly, the Hebrew word בָּרָא bara’ translated “created” in this verse is a singular verb. This intentional grammatical error emphasizes the triune (three in one) nature of God.
As for the statement that Jesus never claimed deity for Himself, we find numerous counterexamples throughout the gospel accounts. Indeed, we find in one of these accounts that those to whom He was speaking took up stones to kill Him for the very reason that He had just claimed to be God.
22Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. 23And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. 24Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”John 10:22-33 – NKJV
25Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. 30I and My Father are one.”
31Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32Jesus answered them, “Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?”
33The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.”
On another occasion, Jesus incurred the wrath of the crowd by referring to Himself by the same Name God used at the burning bush to answer Moses when he asked who he should say had sent him to Pharaoh. This Name – translated as LORD printed in upper-case letters in most printed English translations of the Word of God – means simply “I Am.” It was considered so sacred that Jewish tradition forbid uttering it out loud, and since ancient Hebrew texts contained only consonants and didn’t record the vowel sounds of words, the true pronunciation of this Holy Name of God has been lost. It is often pronounced Jehovah or Yaweh, but no one is really sure how to pronounce it properly. Once again, the crowd tried to stone Him on the spot when Jesus used this sacred Name to refer to Himself.
48Then the Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”John 8:48-59 NKJV
49Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. 50And I do not seek My own glory; there is One who seeks and judges. 51Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”
52Then the Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.’ 53Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Who do You make Yourself out to be?”
54Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God.55Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. 56Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
57Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?”
58Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
59Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple,[ going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
Even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t grasp the idea of His godhood. During the Passover meal on the night He was betrayed, Jesus was trying to get His disciples to understand the events of His betrayal, crucifixion, death, and resurrection which were about to take place. But although they had walked with Him throughout His earthly ministry, none of them truly grasped what He was trying to tell them.
1“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4And where I go you know, and the way you know.”John 14:1-11 – NKJV
5Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”
6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
7“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”
8Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”
9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. 11Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.
During His trial, the members of the Jewish leadership council – The Sanhedrin – asked him directly if He was the Son of God, and He replied that He was – thus forming the basis for the blasphemy charge against Him under which they would seek permission from the Roman authorities to crucify Him.
66As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying, 67“If You are the Christ, tell us.”Luke 22:66-71 – NKJV
But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will by no means believe. 68And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. 69Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.”
70Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?”
So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”
71And they said, “What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.”
Luke 2:6-7 – NKJV
6So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Except for the creation of the universe, the incarnation of Jesus on the first Christmas is without doubt the most important event in history. When we take up the question of why Jesus came a little later in this lesson the significance of Jesus’ birth will be made clear. Billions celebrate the anniversary of Christmas each year over two millennia later. The birth of Jesus is recounted in detail only in Luke’s gospel. When I was a child, the only time our family Bible was taken off its shelf during the year was for the reading of Luke 2 on Christmas eve. The Christmas narrative is one of the most widely known passages in the Word of God. John’s gospel gives a succinct summary of the event.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.John 1:1-4 – NKJV
14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.John 1:14 – NKJV
The coming of Jesus the Messiah – מָשִׁיחַ mashiyach (annointed One) – who would bring salvation had been foretold in God’s Word since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. It was (and still is) eagerly awaited by the Jewish people.
13And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”Genesis 3:13-15 – NKJV
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14So the LORD God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
15And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
Centuries later, after Abraham showed his willingness to obey God’s command to sacrifice his son, Isaac, God clarified and refined this promise saying that the Messiah would be born of the line of Abraham through Isaac.
15Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— 17blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”Genesis 22:15-18 – NKJV
Before his death, Abraham’s grandson – Jacob (Israel) – called each of his twelve sons to his side to pronounce blessings upon them. Israel’s blessing of his fourth son – Judah – further refined God’s Messianic promise.
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes;
And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.
Genesis 49:10 – NKJV
The Hebrew word שִׁילֹה Shiyloh means tranquility, or He to whom it belongs – clearly a reference to the LORD God. This is also the name of a town in the tribal allotment of Ephraim in the Judean mountains north of Jerusalem where the tabernacle was placed after the Israelites conquered the land of promise. In that context, the word means – place of rest.
The Psalms contain a great number of Messianic prophecies as well. Two well known examples are Psalm 2 and Psalm 110. Many of these Psalms were written, of course, by King David from whose line the Messiah was to come. Hundreds of years after Jacob’s blessings of his sons, the prophet Isaiah wrote some of the most well known prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah long after Israel’s political power under King David and his son Solomon had waned, just a short time before the nation was carried away captive to Babylon. Perhaps the most frequently quoted Messianic prophecy of all is Isaiah 9, particularly verses 6 and 7 with which we introduced this study. One of these prophecies of Isaiah narrows down even further the lineage of the Messiah proclaiming that He would come from the line of Jesse – King David’s father.
1There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,Isaiah 11:1-5 – NKJV
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
2The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.
3His delight is in the fear of the LORD,
And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes,
Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;
4But with righteousness He shall judge the poor,
And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.
5Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins,
And faithfulness the belt of His waist.
As we shall soon see when we look at why Jesus came to dwell among us, it was critical that Jesus be born apart from sin in order that He might be the spotless lamb whose sacrifice was required to atone for the sin of mankind. Although Mary bore the baby Jesus within her womb, it is clear that even in the form and flesh of a man, He was fully God – perfectly holy. Isaiah famously foretold this.
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.Isaiah 7:14
Before we move on to the question of when Jesus was born, let’s take a look at one more of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecies.
1“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,Isaiah 61:1-3 – NKJV
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
3To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”
Recall from Luke 4 that Jesus read this prophecy of His coming before the congregation in the synagogue of His home town – Nazareth – and afterward proclaimed, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” which so greatly enraged the gathered crowd that they tried to seize Him and throw him over the cliff upon which the town was built. Even though Jesus in His incarnation was indeed Immanuel – God with us – most of those to whom He preached considered it blasphemy for Him to simply say so. Even today, the great majority of people on the earth – for whom He came to give Himself as a sacrifice for sin in their place – refuse to acknowledge that He is God, who came to dwell briefly among us as one of our own.
Almost everyone knows that the event we celebrate at Christmas time is the indwelling of God Almighty in the form and flesh of the infant Jesus of Nazareth. As we have seen, this blessed birth had been foretold in Scripture for thousands of years before it happened. There are no surprising revelations here. We have become so accustomed to the annual celebration that most of us scarcely even think about the event itself as we become embroiled in all the trappings and traditions of the celebration. But if we take a moment to deeply consider exactly what we celebrate at Christmas, the great mystery of it becomes apparent. It is well indeed that question of the how of Christmas doesn’t start with w after all. We could never come close to answering the question of how our infinite, eternal, all powerful God could somehow set aside His power and glory even temporarily to dwell among people in human flesh. Of course it is humbling when we realize that we can never fully fathom the true nature of God. But it is also encouraging to know that our God is so profoundly beyond our understanding. When we truly realize how unsearchable God is, we can then enter into the fully awestruck worship He desires from us, and receive the gift of faith without understanding – the childlike faith and trust in God that are necessary for our salvation.
Luke 2:1-2 – NKJV
1And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.
I doubt it will come as a great revelation to anyone that Jesus most certainly wasn’t born on December 25th in the year of our LORD 1. It is impossible to determine Biblically exactly when Jesus was born. The matter is further complicated by the fact that ancient cultures used lunar calendars that differed significantly from the modern calendar based on the solar year. In 45 BC Julius Caesar introduced a standardized calendar which very closely followed the true solar year. Later, this Julian calendar was slightly refined into the Gregorian calendar which has been in widespread use since 1582 AD.Consequently, the true dates of the reigns of the Roman emperors and other significant dates in the history of the Roman empire are reasonably well known. It is also a fairly straightforward, if tedious, task to convert the dates we find in other ancient records like the Bible into modern dates. Even so, we can’t truly nail down the true date of Jesus’ birth from these texts which often conflict with each other.
Nevertheless, the historical markers we find in the gospel accounts, particularly in Luke, help to narrow the time frame of the first Christmas somewhat. Our first clue is that the census for which Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem to register themselves was ordered by Caesar Augustus who reigned from 27 BC until 14 AD. Therefore, Jesus must have been born during that period. Furthermore, we know from the Biblical stories of the visit of the wise men from the east, and the appearance of an angel to Joseph warning him to take the young child and flee to Egypt, and later in another dream to tell him it was safe to return from Egypt following Herod’s death, that Jesus was born while Herod reigned as king of Judea. While that might seem to be a boon to our investigation, there were several monarchs during the period who were called Herod. Fortunately we can definitively infer that the Judean ruler at the time of Jesus’ birth was Herod the Great who reigned over Judea from 37 BC to 4 BC. We know this from the gospel of Matthew.
19Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” 21Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.Matthew 2 19-22 – NKJV
22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.
Herod Archelaus – son of Herod the Great – reigned over Judea from his father’s death in 4 BC until he was removed from the throne by Caesar Augustus in 6 AD. Putting all of this information together, we can conclude that Jesus was born sometime between the start of Augustus’ reign in 27 BC and Herod the Great’s death in 4 BC. At this point we run into another road block, because the only census in the Roman records was conducted by Quirinius – governor of Syria – in 6 AD. It would obviously be impossible that Jesus was born before Herod the great died in 4 BC, and also during the census of Quirinius in 6 AD. One possible explanation is that the census at the time of Jesus’ birth was conducted sometime earlier by Quirinius who also led military campaigns in Judea during the reign of Herod the Great. The Greek word ἡγεμονεύω hēgemoneuō translated as “was governor” in Luke 2:2 means “to be leader” and “to rule or command” not necessarily as the official governor of the province.
We can’t really tell exactly how soon before the death of Herod the Great Jesus was born. We might infer from Herod’s decree to kill all of the male children born in Bethlehem two years old and younger that the wise men from the east gave their gifts to the baby Jesus when He was about two years old. However, Herod might simply have been “hedging his bets.” He was a man known to be a shrewd politician whose nefarious schemes make the dirty dealings of modern politicians pale by comparison. Nor is there any Biblical means to determine exactly how long Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were exiled in Egypt following the visit of the wise men. Nevertheless it is reasonable to assume that Jesus was born fairly late in the reign of Herod the Great – say between 10 BC and 4 BC. Why?
Surprisingly, even though we can only narrow the time of Jesus’ birth down to a span of some 23 years based on the gospel accounts and the Roman records, we can determine with great precision the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection from the prophecy of Daniel. During the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede, Daniel determined after reading the prophecy of Jeremiah, that his people’s seventy-year captivity in Babylon would soon be coming to an end. After Daniel had prayed and fasted for several weeks seeking God’s mercy upon Jerusalem and his people Israel, Daniel was visited by the angel Gabriel who would later appear to Mary and to the father of John the Baptist – Zacharias. Gabriel gave Daniel an amazingly precise prophecy.
22And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you skill to understand. 23At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the matter, and understand the vision:Daniel 9: 22-26 – NKJV
24“Seventy weeks are determined
For your people and for your holy city,
To finish the transgression,
To make an end of sins,
To make reconciliation for iniquity,
To bring in everlasting righteousness,
To seal up vision and prophecy,
And to anoint the Most Holy.
25“Know therefore and understand,
That from the going forth of the command
To restore and build Jerusalem
Until Messiah the Prince,
There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks;
The street shall be built again, and the wall,
Even in troublesome times.
26“And after the sixty-two weeks
Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself;
And the people of the prince who is to come
Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.
The end of it shall be with a flood,
And till the end of the war desolations are determined.
The weeks spoken of in this prophecy are periods of seven years. Consequently the 69 weeks of the prophecy represent 483 years of 360 days each under the ancient Hebrew lunar calendar. Fortunately, the exact date of the command to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem is known from the historical records of the ancient Persian empire. It was given in 445 BC by King Artaxerxes. Therefore, Jesus’ death on the cross took place during the week of Passover in the year 30 AD. We know from Luke 3:23 that Jesus was about 30 years of age when He began His ministry with the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in the village of Cana. We also know from the gospel accounts that Jesus celebrated at least three Passover feasts during His ministry, possibly more. So He must have been born sometime very near the end of Herod the Great’s reign in 4 BC.
Aside – The incredible precision of this prophecy of Daniel has caused Biblical skeptics over the years to contend that it was made up and inserted after the fact by early church leaders. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1946 finally laid this argument to rest, since the scrolls date to some 150 years BC, and the texts of the scrolls are virtually identical to modern Hebrew Old Testament scrolls. Also it is clear from Matthew 24:15 that Jesus Himself considered Daniel’s prophecy to be accurate.
4Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.Luke 2:4-5 – NKJV
The location of Jesus’ birth is clearly given in Luke’s account of the nativity. Over the years, various traditions, clear inaccuracies, and outright flights of pure fancy without sound Biblical foundation have crept into our cultural imagination regarding the “manger scene,” but the town of Bethlehem has never been seriously questioned as the site where Jesus was born. The exact location of the birth within Bethlehem is certainly questionable, and I don’t believe the actual site of the stable was any more likely to lie under the roof of the medieval church that commemorates the birth as any other location within the town. As with the other aspects of Jesus’ incarnation which we have examined so far, the location of the birth in the town of Bethlehem was also foretold by the Old Testament prophets, and clearly known by the priests and scribes of King Herod.
2“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,Micah 5:2-5 – NKJV
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
3Therefore He shall give them up,
Until the time that she who is in labor has given birth;
Then the remnant of His brethren
Shall return to the children of Israel.
4And He shall stand and feed His flock
In the strength of the LORD,
In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God;
And they shall abide,
For now He shall be great
To the ends of the earth;
5And this One shall be peace.
Bethlehem is located in the tribal territory of Judah in the Judean mountains just a few miles south of Jerusalem. The name Bethlehem – בֵּית לֶחֶם Beyth Lechem – means house of bread. As we see in the prophecy of Micah above, the town is also called Ephrathah or Ephrath. Jacob’s wife – Rachel – died in childbirth, and was buried near Bethlehem. The town was also the home of Ruth’s mother-in-law – Naomi, and Ruth’s husband – Boaz. Most importantly to the Christmas story, of course, Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David, and the place where Samuel anointed David king to replace Saul – Israel’s first king.
Now the LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.”1 Samuel 16:1 – NKJV
It has been fun and challenging looking at what the Word of God has to say about who Jesus is, what actually happened on the very first Christmas on which God was born in the flesh of the baby Jesus, and approximately when and where Jesus was born. But the most important question concerning Christmas is why the eternal, infinite, and all powerful God of the universe would choose to humble and limit Himself by coming to dwell in the flesh of a man. The short answer is that we have Christmas to make Easter possible. In order for Jesus to offer Himself in our place as a sacrifice for our sins, He first had to be born in the body of a mortal man. Praise God, though, that Jesus’s death on the cross wasn’t the end of the story because on the first Easter Sunday, He rose from the tomb, and has now ascended to the right hand of the Father, restored to the glory they have shared since before the foundation of the world.
The story begins with the very first Messianic prophecy which we looked at earlier, and the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden which preceded it.
15Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”Genesis 2:15-17 – NKJV
Of course, man disobeyed God’s command to refrain from eating of the forbidden tree. We became aware of good and evil through this sin, and consequently death entered into the world – eternal separation from our perfectly holy God. But God who knows all things, and knows the end from the beginning knew that we would fall into sin, and so conceived the plan for our salvation even before the creation of the world. God, being perfectly holy could not abide in the presence of our sin, yet He desires fellowship with us. In fact He created us in the first place so that we could choose to honor, love, and worship Him. Nevertheless, being a just and righteous God, He couldn’t simply give us “a pass” on our sin. An atoning sacrifice was required.
And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.Hebrews 9:18 – NKJ
But of course, in order to die in our place on the cross, Jesus first had to be born into the flesh of a mortal man.
5Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.Philippians 2:5-8 – NKJV
Thus Christmas is God’s ultimate gift of Himself for the redemption of mankind.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:8 – NKJV
16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.John 3:16-17 – NKJV