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Jesus' Birth in Bethlehem, Part 2 B

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
December 17, 2020 3:00 am

Jesus' Birth in Bethlehem, Part 2 B

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, Emmanuel, the God of eternity, stepped into time and space. The Lord of immensity, the Lord of omnipresence, was confined to a body about ten pounds in weight and under two feet in length. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. You've probably known the main details of the Christmas story since you were little, maybe from a school Christmas play, or because you attended a yearly Christmas service, or maybe your parents read the biblical account to you each year. But there's always something new and wonderful to learn when you explore the wonders of Jesus' birth. And today on Grace to You, John MacArthur is going to help you do just that. Take a fresh look at the Christmas story in John's study called The Promise of Christmas. So open your Bible to Luke chapter 2, and here's John with today's lesson. Luke, wanting us to grasp the significance of what's going on, provides for us, as any good historian does, a setting for this event.

The event is verse 7, she gave birth. The setting is what enriches it and informs it. And he works his way down, starts with the world setting, and then a national setting, and then a personal setting. First we learn the role that the larger world played in this, then the role that is uniquely designed by God for the nation Israel, and then the particular circumstances of the couple in Bethlehem and the birth of the baby. And so we get the big picture narrowed down to the little picture so that we can grasp in every perspective the wonderful, solemn richness of this remarkable, unheard of event. Now we come to the personal setting, and this is where the charm of the story comes.

The personal setting, Luke's focus now is not on the world scene, it's not on the national scene, it's on the personal circumstances that are so interesting. It came about, verse 6, that while they were there...I stop there and I say, okay, where? Bethlehem.

Where in Bethlehem? We have no idea. We have no idea. They were just there. We don't know how long they were there.

They were there days because the days were completed for her to give birth. They were there. We don't know where, for how long? We don't know.

Some days, maybe three, maybe four, maybe six, maybe seven, I don't know, maybe eight. We don't know. They were there. It doesn't tell us where they were, but it does tell us at the end of verse 7 there was no room for them in the inn. And I'll tell you this, if there had been room in an inn for the prior days, nobody in their right mind would have kicked them out when she was about to deliver the baby. And some have suggested that for the first few days they were there, they stayed with relatives.

Well, what relative in the world is going to kick them out on the day of the birth of the child? The fact of the matter is, wherever they were when the baby was born was where they had been the whole time they were there. They just were there for an unstated time in an undesignated place.

Simple words excite profound imagination. They were the homeless. They were the homeless.

I'll say more about that in a few minutes. There were certain shelters as there are today provided for people who were homeless, public shelters. And you can be sure of this, the Roman soldiers, the Roman registrars who were doing the registration of the people, all the Roman dignitaries, believe me, occupied whatever few guest rooms existed in a little tiny place like Bethlehem.

Which probably when you think of an inn, you think of some kind of three-story motel, no such thing existed. Whatever accommodations there were would have been taken by the officials, the Roman officials or the Jewish officials who were running this whole thing. So they were there and the days were completed for her to give birth.

Nine months was up. Absolutely nothing said about the details, nothing. And she, verse 7, gave birth.

That's all it says. I just wish there was more than that. Can I indulge in a little sanctified imagination?

Not stretching the point, I hope. I can imagine Joseph just almost beside himself with curiosity. I mean, if you knew that your wife was going to give birth to the God-man, you might have a few imaginations about what this child might be like, probably holding her hand through the long silent night of her labor, perhaps smoothing her forehead with a cool cloth, perhaps speaking sweet comfort to his dear young wife as she spent hours in labor in a place that offered no comforts, no doctors, no nurses, no mother. Every girl would want her mother there.

No family, just a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old. Hours of labor, just a teenage husband to help. And finally, she at the culmination of the labor at the glorious moment pushes one more time and pushes out the Son of God, and He cried the cry of life. In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, Immanuel, the God of eternity stepped into time and space.

The Lord of immensity, the Lord of omnipresence was confined to a body about ten pounds in weight and under two feet in length. That little life came out into the arms of that young father, and neither of them could fathom what was going on. And they had been told by an angel, and everybody around them had absolutely no idea. Luke is careful to tell us that she gave birth to her firstborn son, pro tatakan, firstborn. He does not use mano genes, only son. The Roman Catholic Church would have you believe she had only one child, and she was a perpetual virgin till her death.

That is not true. She had many sons and daughters. It says in Matthew 1, 24 and 25 that He kept her a virgin until Jesus was born. After that, Joseph and Mary had normal relationships as any husband and wife would, and they had boys and they had girls. In Matthew's gospel, chapter 12, we're introduced to Jesus' brothers.

In chapter 13, they're even named for us. Jesus' brothers who were born to Joseph and Mary, half-brothers actually, James, Joseph, Simon, Judas. Verse 56, and His sisters are mentioned as well.

You know, the crowd at that point was incredulous. They were saying, you know, Jesus, this is nobody special. They said this is just a carpenter's son. His mother is Mary. His brothers are James and Joseph and Simon and Judas and His sisters. They're all with us. They just looked at that family as an ordinary family.

They got...they got a whole family full of kids. We read...we meet His brothers again later on. Luke records their appearance in chapter 8. We read about His brothers in John 2, John 7 that they didn't believe. We read about His brothers again in Acts 1. Jesus was not the only son Mary had. Jesus was not the monogenes, the only begotten. He was the prototicon, the firstborn. And you see, that's very important because not only is He the firstborn, which of course means that she was a virgin, but He is the firstborn which of course means that He has the right to the inheritance.

He has the primogenitor as it was called, the primary right to the family inheritance. Frankly, Joseph didn't have a lot to leave Him. He was a tradesman.

He was a carpenter. Mary didn't have any great estate as far as we know to leave Him, but what they did have was the right to the throne of Israel. There hadn't been a king in a long time in Israel, a long time. The Babylonians had devastated that whole thing, and they were followed by the Medo-Persians, and they were followed by the Greeks, and they were followed by the Romans, and somebody was always ruling in Israel, but it wasn't in the royal line of David, but the royal line was still there, and it was there in the life of Joseph and in the life of Mary, and what they passed on to Jesus was the right to rule on the throne of David. He was the firstborn.

If you study the Old Testament, you find how important that firstborn inheritance was. And then some simple details that I find amazing. She wrapped Him in cloth. You ever ask, why is that there? Because that was normal.

That was routine. This is just a birth like every other birth, and a Jewish mother did this typically. You can find this in all the indications in history about babies that are born. They would wrap them in cloth. The Greek word is she swaddled Him, swaddled Him. That's why we talk about swaddling cloths. Swaddled is an old English word to describe wrapping, and here's what they would do. The custom was take long strips of cloth and wrap the arms and wrap the legs and then wrap the little body tightly. This was for warmth.

This was for security. I mean, that little baby in the womb is in there all cuddled and nestled tightly in there, and all of a sudden comes out into this stark hospital room, nothing touching it, its little extremities flailing in every way. No wonder they're screaming, this is a violent experience. They would just take that little baby immediately and they also believed that wrapping up those limbs and wrapping up that little body protected that little child, also believed that it helped to keep their bones straight when they grew in early life. The point is, she treated the baby like any other baby. This is just a normal little baby. This is just a baby like other babies, physically looked like any other child, physically treated like any other child. No royal robes, no fancy clothing, didn't come out with a little halo over his head.

It came out like everybody else comes out, same exact way. No doubt kissing that little boy as she wrapped him tightly and warmly and caressed him, nursed him. And then it says, most interestingly, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. Manger is the word phatne, phatne in Greek. It means a feeding trough, a feeding trough. By the way, it never says in the Bible Jesus was born in a stable.

It's not in there, so if you've been looking for it, you won't find it. It doesn't say He was born in a stable, doesn't use the word stable. A traditional, old tradition is that He was born in a cave, doesn't say He was born in a cave. All it does say is He was laid in a manger and from that we can deduce that it was a stable because that's an animal feeding trough and it says there was no room for them in the inn. And that indicates that they couldn't get into the facility for people and so in every facility for people in ancient times, there was an adjacent facility for the animals which they had with them when they traveled. You see a motel and immediately outside a motel, what do you see?

A parking lot. Well, the means of transportation in ancient times was animals and so they carried goods on their animals. If you were a traveling salesman, you had a beast of burden to carry your goods.

That's how it was. If you were a traveling family, you had beasts of burden to carry the women and children and so there would be adjacent to every place to stay, a place for the animals and the feed trough as well. And the indication was there was no room for them in the guest house and they were outside and the little one was laid in a feeding trough. Down in verse 16, it refers to that again, when the shepherds finally came to see him, they found the baby as he lay in the feed trough.

Now that is pretty good indication that it was a stable. There was no room in the inn. Let me talk about that for a minute. There's so much confusion about that scenario. I remember when I was a little kid, I think I was about eight, I was selected to play the innkeeper's son in the Christmas pageant. And I remember, never forget it because I wore this funny little tunic and they put makeup on my legs, you know. And as a little guy, I thought that was so strange. But I was the innkeeper's son and the innkeeper was a really rotten guy, really rotten guy and he wouldn't let Jesus' mother and dad in. And so his son grew up to be Barabbas. That was the story. And so I was...I was the childhood bad guy Barabbas.

Frankly, it was poor casting. Worse than that, it was a ridiculous fabrication. But anyway, they made this innkeeper into such a bad guy, this kid turned out to be Barabbas, arch criminal of Israel, you remember, who was offered to the crowd instead of Jesus. Well, that was all apocryphal. But there have been a lot of strange things about the poor innkeeper. Well, as far as we know, there wasn't one.

Let me tell you why. Inn is the word kataluma, but it's not the normal Greek word for inn. There's a different word for inn in the Greek used in, for example, chapter 10 of Luke, verse 34. This word simply means shelter. It means place of lodging. It means just guest facilities or guest quarters. It doesn't refer to an actual inn being operated for feeding and housing guests as such.

It's a very, very broad word. It's a lodging place and probably refers to a place of public shelter, more like a campground. It's very unlikely that there would have been an actual commercial inn in this little village, but they would have some kind of public area. Typically they would build it on four sides, two floors. It would be like a shelter, the top part being like a loft in a barn. One part of it might even be enclosed or it might have some rather primitive ability to close the doors, but it would be very, very primitive kind of places where people in transit could stay. And they would perhaps have four sides and in the middle the animals would be kept where they would be protected and kept from people who would steal them and their goods would be kept there as well. And perhaps such a caravan stopping station or a public guest facility would have as well places on the second floor and the first floor for the people to stay where they could keep their animals close by. This would have been an overcrowded situation.

I already told you the Romans would have probably taken up most of the spots as well as some Jewish officials and then the people coming back to their hometown to register. The place became very, very crowded. The rooms were all taken. Again, it was probably, as I said, public shelter.

They wound up, this little couple, just staying with the animals outside the appropriate quarters. Now if you were in that condition, you probably had to carry your own bedding. If there was no place for you in the guest room, they might have provided some, you know, rough place to lie on a straw mattress and maybe a straw pillow or a blanket. But if you were on the outside, you had to have your own blanket and your own pillow. And if you had no blanket, you'd wind up wrapping yourself in your own robe and trying to find a place out of the wind because it could be very cold. You would be down there, probably on the ground floor where the animals were kept in the middle, pack animals, camels, donkeys.

Here you would find your rest for the night. For days, we don't know how many days, Joseph and Mary were huddled in that kind of a place. We don't know when they registered or if they had to wait a long time to get to the head of the line to register. We don't know whether they had already registered and Joseph didn't want to take her back because he knew that she was going to give birth at any day. They were going to wait there until the birth came. It may well have been that they even knew the prophet Micah had said Bethlehem and they wanted to be sure they stayed there.

None of those details are given for us. The downstairs guest rooms, the upstairs loft, whatever kind of facility it was to house these people was full and they were bedded down with the animals. So there probably wasn't any kind of innkeeper who shut them out.

It was just the nature of the situation. The tradition, as I said, goes back that this all happened in a cave or that there was a cave nearby. This caused Helena, the mother of Constantine, to build a church on top of some cave that was presumed to be the site. If you go to Bethlehem today, you'll go to a church, you'll go into that church and it's a horrible place, frankly. It's an awful place full of smells and bells and hanging stuff and clutter and you'll wander down into this hole and there'll be a star and a hole and that's supposed to be the cave and that is not, of course, known by us.

It's the traditional site that the church you see there today is not the one built by the mother of Constantine, it's the one built by Justinian. The glitter and the trappings of that thing certainly wouldn't be anything like the stench and the smell and the odor and the crowd and all that was going on in the place where Joseph and Mary were. When Jesus came into the world, then He came in the most comfortless conditions, smelly, filthy. This is the wonder of grace, though, isn't it? And this is part of the story that when God came down, He came all the way down. He thought His equality with God not something to be held on to, but He gave it up and humbled Himself and He humbled Himself all the way down not just to a stinking stable, but to become a substitute for stinking sinners and bear the stench of our guilt in His own body. He came down to the poor and the lowly and the humble and the base and the wicked.

He came down to the common people to bring His glorious salvation. It was fitting in a sense then that He was born in a stinking, smelly stable because what smelled far worse to the nostrils of God than the odor of animals is the odor of sinners. He sent the Savior all the way down into the lives of the lowly and the whole picture of that scene is a metaphor for the stench of sin which Jesus bore in His own body. His little cloths wrapped in His little body must have collected the smell would have been the smell of animals, the stench of animals, the smell of fires burning in there to keep people warm, the smell of the humanity that milled around in that place, the filthiest place imaginable, unthinkable entrance for the world...into the world for God's Son and sweat and pain and blood and coldness and manure and straw and odors. But He came all the way down to the stench of sin to bear in His own body our sins on the cross. And this was a picture and metaphor of the condescension of God. He came all the way down, all the way down, all the way down to the smell of a stable, all the way down to the smell of a sinner like you and like me.

They had no room for Him then, they still don't have any room for Him. The writer John says He was in the world, the world was made by Him and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, His own received Him not. But He came for sinners. He came all the way down to bear in His own body the wretched, wicked sin that belongs to us. The smelly stable was simply a metaphor for sin and its wretchedness.

What a picture. So we come from the world's setting to the national setting and the fulfillment of a Hebrew prophet's statement that He would be born in Bethlehem all the way down to the circumstances of His birth which speak of His lowliness. He controls, does God, the great kings of the world. He fulfills the prophecies of Scripture and He comes all the way to the lowly sinner, sovereign God, God of Scripture, God of the humble sinner coming all the way down.

Well, it was in some ways a sad moment because of the obscurity of it all, but that didn't last. At that same time, some angels began to tell what was going on to some shepherds and we'll look at that next time. Father, thank You for this wonderful, wonderful portion of Your great Word. We grieve that as the centuries have passed, the Savior has been treated pretty much in the same way. But we're all so glad, Lord, that He came all the way down, all the way down to the wretched smell of a stable and even farther, far farther down to the wretched smell of a sinner. He came into the world, He came to the lowly and the humble and the base and the wicked and vile to take our place on the cross and bear Your judgment on our sin.

Oh, what a wondrous scene it is. You control the great movements of history. You control the fulfillment of prophecy. You brought Your Son all the way down to touch the lives of wicked sinners. Thank You for this grace, this condescension, this salvation.

Amen. That's John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, helping you make Christ the centerpiece of your Christmas celebration. It's part of John's study called The Promise of Christmas, here on Grace to You. John, you usually spend all but a couple of minutes each program teaching God's Word, but in light of the upcoming Christmas celebration, it's appropriate for you to take a moment and mention some items our listeners need to know about. The fact is, these are probably gifts you'll be giving to people on your Christmas list this year.

I keep a stack handy just for that purpose. Yeah, look, we do radio, and you're hearing us there, and we're so grateful for that. But we do radio, not as an end in itself, but really as a means to an end. We want to reach out through radio, and we want to let people know that we have a whole lot more resources beyond just the radio program. So I don't mind giving up a little sermon time to talk about those resources, because that is really the heart and soul of our ministry. Radio is an introduction to the resources, and you can get behind the radio into the real wealth of the ministry of Grace to You.

Now listen, you're getting close enough to Christmas that you need second-day shipping to ensure pre-Christmas delivery. And I'm going to mention three things that are really significant gifts. The first is the book, Biblical Doctrine. It's a systematic theology that I wrote along with Dick Mayhew, a longtime dean and professor at the Master's Seminary, and with the help of the faculty. It is a detailed, orderly study of God and all the doctrines of Scripture. It's a phenomenal resource. For every believer—readable, accessible, powerful, even devotional—it's over a thousand pages.

Look up any doctrine, it'll give you a full explanation in all the salient Scriptures that support and teach that doctrine. Biblical doctrine—all that the Bible teaches summed up in one volume. And then there is the MacArthur Daily Bible. This is basically a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, something every day from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs, a devotional reading for each day.

And it's good, because you can start right away on January 1, 2021. So order the MacArthur Daily Bible, or if you order the Study Bible, in either case we'll send you a free copy of a book, One Foundation, a collection of essays on the sufficiency of Scripture, celebrating Grace Tew's 50th anniversary. We'll give that to you as our gift as long as we have some in stock. And then the final gift is the MacArthur New Testament Commentary Series, the whole New Testament, 34 volumes from Matthew to Revelation, verse by verse, complete set or any part of it. Order by phone or the web and choose second-day air to guarantee delivery by Christmas.

Great and edifying gifts that will strengthen and bless your loved ones long after the decorations have come down. These are great resources for anyone who wants to become more like Christ in 2021. To order the MacArthur New Testament Commentary Series, the MacArthur Study Bible, the MacArthur Daily Bible, or the systematic theology titled Biblical Doctrine, get in touch today. Call toll-free, 800-55-GRACE. And again, to ensure delivery in time for Christmas, call us during normal business hours, that's weekdays from 730 to 4 o'clock Pacific Time. Our number again, 800-55-GRACE.

Or place your order online and be sure to choose second-day shipping in order to ensure delivery by Christmas. Our web address, And remember, with each MacArthur Bible you purchase, we'll include a free copy of One Foundation. It's a hardcover book specifically commissioned for Grace to You's 50th anniversary and it's designed to help you understand the sufficiency of Scripture in a fresh and practical way. Again, to order the MacArthur Study Bible, the Daily Bible, the MacArthur New Testament Commentary Series, or the systematic theology book, Biblical Doctrine, call us toll-free at 800-55-GRACE. One more time, that's 800-55-GRACE.

Or shop online at our website, Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Thanks for making Grace to You part of your day and be here tomorrow when John shows you the reason Christ came to earth, to save sinners like you and me. It's a lesson that can really enhance your worship this Christmas season. So don't miss the next half hour of unleashing God's truth, one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-14 07:39:45 / 2024-01-14 07:50:16 / 11

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