Looking Again at Bethlehem
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Luke 2: 1-18...

Bethlehem Has a Deeper Meaning

We want to study with you in a little different manner the latter part of the fifteenth verse. "...Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass..." As we look into God's Word at the wonderful happening described in these eighteen verses, there are some things that are hard for us as human beings to realize. We need to realize that the Gospels were not intended to furnish a biography of Jesus or material for one.

Man would like to know today that Jesus was born. He would like to know more of the details of Christ's life. If you follow His life, we find Jesus was born in Bethlehem, then the angel told Him to move down into Egypt, and later brought Him back to Nazareth. The Bible is silent about most of His life. It said He went home and was subject to His parents. Men study history because they want to bring together a real biography of Jesus or give us material for one.

The Gospel was only spoken with a twofold objective. We can read the objective of the Gospel in two places. Luke 1:4 says, "That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed." He wrote just what we need to be thoroughly instructed.

Lots of things are not mentioned in the writing of the Gospel. John 20:31 says the twofold objective is, "...that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." The Gospel was given for enough evidence to prove that he is the Son of God. The whole objective of the Gospel is that the hearers might believe that Jesus is the Son of God and believe in such a manner that they might have life through His name."

The heart and imagination of even a Christian tries to localize as much as possible the scene of this great, important subject that we are studying. I am told that on the spot where they believe the cave in which Jesus was born in Palestine is covered by a massive church building called the Church of the Nativity. They seemingly gathered enough history together that this was the spot where Jesus was born, and the Church of the nativity is raised up and standing there.

We're going into quite a bit of prophecy because there was more took place at Bethlehem than many of the people of the day in which Christ lived realized. We want to look at it in the light of God's eternal Word. Beyond the announcements of the bare facts, the Holy Scripture draws a veil over the most sacred mystery in the Bible.

Luke 2:7 tells the whole story, "...she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." After it tells that, God just draws a veil over the whole mystery, as it were. We are living in a time when there is really nothing to be concealed but much to be revealed. It brings gloom to think that the Son of God should be born in such circumstances, but when we leave that position, according to the Scripture, the sky was all aglow with starry brightness. Something mighty unusual had happened. This was not just a common child born in a manger.

That looked like a very crude way of living, but if you had lived in the East, it would not have seemed unusual. Mary and Joseph were not the only ones who stayed in a stable. When the rooms were all taken in the inn, there was a place in the stable where people could stay and sleep. If you study the customs of the East, it wasn't unusual for a child to be born in a manger, but this child was not an ordinary child because we find the sky was all lit up.

Special Shepherds

Luke 2:8 says, "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field..." The shepherds were despised by orthodox people. Shepherds were unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law because of the demands of the flocks that they cared for. They were unable to go through many of the rituals of the old ceremonial law with its washings and rules and many things that they had to do; so they were looked down upon.

The Scripture said they were in the same country. When we realize this, we appreciate the first truth that shines out: it was to simple men of the field that god's message first came. These were not just any shepherds; these were special shepherds. Nothing that happened at the birth of Christ was coincidental. The place was determined, the time was determined, and everything that had anything to do with this great experience was prophesied. The angels didn't start through the air and just go till they found some shepherds. These were special shepherds. It was prophesied that these shepherds would be the first to hear the good news.

What confusion there is! The Nativity scene is "one mixed-up affair". Man depicts a babe in a manger, some camels, and sheep. Off to the side stands three wise men, and the wise men didn't even come to the manger. Jesus was a lot older when the wise men came, and they came to the house in which He lived. Man just conglomerates it and brings it all together. If we're not careful, we'll get the idea that there were just some shepherds who happened to be out on the hills, and the angels said, "Here are some people who will listen; we will go tell them."

I say it with kindness, but our world endeavors to celebrate what they call Christmas-time and talk about Christ, when a great percentage don't even know what took place at Bethlehem. They're willing to go on in their darkness, willing to go on living as God speaks of people---living contrary to God and going right on in their own way.

Every minute detail of this even was prophesied, even to which shepherds would hear it. Our Scripture said there were shepherds in the same country. In other words, not far away there were special shepherds.

Micah 5:2 says, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah [There are two Bethlehem's, so the prophet made sure we knew which one he was talking about---the Bethlehem close to Jerusalem, Bethlehem Ephratah.], though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel..."

All the people who lived in Jesus' day, especially among the Jews, had a settled conviction that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Joseph, with his espoused wife who was pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit, lived in Nazareth. God, through the prophet, said the Child would be born in Bethlehem. In order to get Joseph up to Bethlehem, God moved on a wicked ruler and caused the whole world to be taxed. He put the whole world on a move to get Joseph in the right place for the Baby to be born.

I don't think that means much to many of us, but it does to me. If it changes programs of the whole world, the Word of God will be carried out just as God said it would.

The First Dominion

Micah 4:8 says, "And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion..." What does he mean, the first dominion? The first dominion was when God ruled over man, but when Israel backslid, they wanted kings like other men. Through Jesus Christ, God was going to bring back the first dominion with no man ruling over His people. It would be a theocracy with God ruling over His people.

The message to the shepherds was that God was going to bring back the first dominion. God would be King over His people again with no human rule between man and God. He sent His Son to be King over all nations. God is not looking with approval on any religion with popes and priests standing between Him and His people.

We're going to lose the full beauty of these prophecies if we try to literalize every verse. It will cause us to raise up just as the Jews do and cause Christ to be despised and rejected. We need to realize as we deal with this, it is dealing with spiritual things and a spiritual Kingdom.

Micah 4:1 says, "But in the last days it shall come to pass..." The last days were the days of Christ through to the end of time. When Jesus comes again there will be no more days. The last days began with the first advent of Christ. On the day of Pentecost Peter quoted Joel's prophecy and said "...this is that..." (Acts 2:16); it is fulfilled, this is the last days which the Bible speaks of, a Holy Ghost dispensation.

Micah started off the first verse by saying "but", letting us know that he has been speaking about some things that existed, but now he is changing and giving us the other side of the picture. The only way we can understand is to back up to the third chapter and the sixth verse, God, through the prophet, is telling Israel what is happening to them because they rejected His Word. The same thing will happen to us individually and collectively when we reject His Word. His Word is Light, and outside of His Word there's no Light. When we turn down God's Word, there's nothing but darkness.

Micah 3:6 tells us, "Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them." Micah is prophesying of the four hundred years of darkness that was going to come between the last prophet and the coming of Jesus Christ.

No Answer from God

Micah 3:7-12, "Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God. [We can get ourselves into a condition where God doesn't speak to us, where there's no answer from God. Micah is picturing the terrible darkness.]

"But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin [There's the reason that they didn't hear from God]. Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity. They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity."

"The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire [Some of these marks of darkness are on our world today. How many ministers are preaching with a burden? a good way to tell is to just cut the money off completely and see how many keep working.], and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us [Isn't that a pitiful condition? Transgression and sin are on every side. The preachers are just working for money and not for the good of souls. They aren't really hearing from God. They just make up things and put Scriptures together. They say, 'Thus saith the Lord.' In the midst of it they will say, 'Is not the Lord among us?']? none evil can come upon us.

"Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field [This thing happened. They were driven away from Jerusalem, and that which had been the temple was plowed as a field. They couldn't even find a place where the temple had been.], and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest." God's house would be like the high place of the forest. What is the high place of the forest---uninhabited.

After the prophet pronounced judgment on ancient Israel, it came to pass. She was bound to put up with her sins and iniquity. She wanted to go her own way. The prophets would not live right. They would not seek God's face and take God's Word. They were just in it for money. Because of that, the temple was torn down. The very place where it was at was plowed and what and crops grew there. Nobody could even tell there had been a temple.

There are a lot of people who are playing fast and loose with God. They're going to end up one of these days in an uninhabited position; maybe so far off from God that they'll never be reached.

We read in Micah 4:1-2: "But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow into it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." Now we're going to see it fulfilled literally as we get the spiritual picture. The Word of the Lord first went out from Jerusalem and to the uttermost parts of the Earth.

The Word Judges

Micah 4:3 tells us, "And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off..." What's he talking about? The Word of God judges whether we're right or wrong. There are too many with haughty attitudes living contrary to God's Word, and they'll say, "Well, we'll just let it go to the judgment." The judgment is already here. What the Word of the Lord says is the thing that judges. It is not our idea or how many we have standing with us. What the Lord uses to judge people (whether they belong to Him or the devil) is how they obey the Word of the Lord.

The strong nations afar off that he had in mind are the Gentiles. We were afar off as Gentiles. When we're wrong, the Word will tell us that we are wrong and rebuke us for it.

We continue in the third verse, "...and they shall beat their swords into plowshares..." Who's going to beat their swords into plowshares? Those who will take the rebuke of the Gospel, believe it, and repent. When they repent, they get a different attitude. The battle is over and they begin to know the message of "peace on earth" that the angels bore. Here's the peace that Jesus came to bring.

We'll never find this peace until we're willing to take the rebuke of the Gospel. The Gospel will rebuke us for our sins. It will tell us where we are, where we're going, and what our condition really is. If we will take the rebuke and repent, Micah said in the remainder of verse three, "...they [not the whole world] shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

It's talking about the definite change that will come through this little Babe. The angels bore the message of, "Glory to God in the highest , and on earth peace..." (Luke 2:1`4). Here it is...nation shall not learn war any more.

As far as the nations are concerned, there will be wars and rumors of wars. All man is looking for now is something to fight over. They fight over money. They fight over positions. It doesn't take much to start a fuss. Right in the midst of a world where there are wars and rumors of wars, every one who will take the rebuke of the Gospel, be saved, and let the King of peace come into their heart will get rid of their implement of war. They won't raise up against other nations---other people. I'm talking about what happened at Bethlehem.

Each Man Has a Fig Tree

Micah 4:4 reads, "But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree..." Micah teaches that salvation isn't a national affair, but an individual matter. If we're not getting good figs on our tree, we need to quit blaming the minister. If we're not bearing figs, we don't have anyone to blame but ourselves. Every man sits under his own fig tree. God didn't come to change nations; He came to change men and women...individuals.

Who are "they" that Micah refers to? They that take the rebuke of the Gospel. Everybody won't accept it, but they that take the rebuke will beat their swords into plowshares. Micah wants us to understand that true Christianity is the only guarantee of better days.

Human systems can never accomplish the work of God. History stands up as a record. Look at the ancient systems. They didn't bring better days. During the days of Roman and Grecian rule, many nations excelled in wealth, intelligence, and refinement, but their morals were degraded to an extra-low level.

If true Christianity has been the only power that could cope with heathenism and the only power to eradicate evil, will the verdict of the future differ from the past? Not one bit! We can read the verdict of the future by reading the verdict of the past.

The attitude that people are talking today is, "Just give me as much as I want, God." All we have to do is to take that attitude, and we can read the verdict of our nation. We that believe in true Christianity need to take a new hold on it. We need to read the value of it again. We need to dust the dust off of it. We need to get an experience where the beauty of it shines. Why? It's the only hope of better days. Our faith must stand, not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. In this we will be safe, happy, and triumphant.

Verse five tells us, "For all people will walk everyone in the name of his god..." That's what's going today. What do you mean "in the name of his god"? Men have gods that can be touched. The gods they follow are ideas they have set up on their own mind: "This is the way I'm going to worship God." We're living in a day when man is walking "in the name of his god."

A god is one we yield to. He's our ideal. He's the one who rules us. We have a religious world walking in the name of their god. What are they true to? The rules of that denomination or group. All one has to do is present the Truth to them and they'll turn god Almighty down and follow that religious track they're in.

The Family of God

God almighty is one, and He put His name on His family, the Church. "For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever" (Micah 4:5). Every true child of God is made a son of God. According to Ephesians 3:14-15, God only has one name for His family. Paul said, "...I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." The "God Family" or the Church of God. It's really the only biblical name. I don't use the phrase "Church of God" too often because too many groups claim it for their own---groups that have diverse attitudes and beliefs...and people get confused into thinking that God's Family is just another "group among all the other diverse groups". The truth is: the Family of God or the God Family or the Church of God is not a particular group using the "name" Church of God.

Micah 4:6 says, "In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halteth..." The halt is the one who is morally weak, spiritually tired, maimed, and disjointed. Some men are halting over a habit, restitution, or unbelief. If we want to understand who the halted are, let's go to John the fifth chapter. There at the pool of Bethesda he speaks of the blind, the halt, and the withered. In Luke 14:21, when the master's house was not filled, He said, "...Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind."

He's telling us what He is going to do through Jesus Christ. "...will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted." The Jews were carried away by force; and according to 1 Cor. 12:2, the Gentiles were carried away by dumb idols. No matter what we have been carried away by, He said, "...I will gather..."

The prophet takes it apart and tells how He is going to do it. How are you going to do it? Hear the Word of the Lord, take the rebuke of the Gospel, humble yourself and repent. God will change you and the outgrowth of it well be peace with God and peace among one another. He lets us know that through the power of the Gospel, even those who had been driven away would be brought.

Verse seven says, "And I will make her that halted a remnant..." Romans 11:5 says, "...there is a remnant according to the election of grace." People halted and said, "We are not able to serve God." They stopped on the way. How can He bring them on in and give them an experience? It's by grace. We are elected by grace, not by our strength, not by our ability, nor by our power. "And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off [the Gentile] a strong nation: and the Lord shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever" (verse 7). The next verse brings up the fact that He's going to bring back the first dominion---the Lord reigning over His people.

Verse eight says, "And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion..." The prophet is talking about spiritual things.

When the angels brought the message, it was first brought to the shepherds telling them how God would save men, change their lives, and bring them to a peaceable position with God and with one another. It then brings them into one Kingdom, one family, one house of god, and one Church of God.

The City of God

Micah 4:9 says, "Now why dost thou cry aloud? is there no king in thee? is thy counselor perished? for pangs have taken thee as a woman in travail." He's picturing mankind without Christ. The world cries out because they don't have victory. They have no force in their moral fibers where they can say "no" to sin and live right. There's no King in them.

We need the King to come into our heart and life. Without the King in us, we're restless, in captivity and misery, unable to cope with sin, unable to cope with evil habits, and unable to cope with the world. We're without the privileges of that City whose Builder and Maker is God. Abraham even looked for that City. How we need to find that City!

Many ministers will say that we have to die to get there, but we can find that City right at an altar of prayer. That City whose Builder and Maker is God is the house of God, the Family of the living God: the Church of the Firstborn that He purchased with His own blood. Isaiah said she is a City with strong walls.

The Glory of God

Luke 2:8-9 reads: "and there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid."

Why were they afraid when the angel appeared and the glory of the Lord shone? Whenever the glory of the Lord fell, even the priests were afraid to stand and Israel was afraid to move. The glory of the Lord that had attended the Law brought great fear.

The first thing that the angel said was, "Fear not." Their message was a message of Light and a message of love---the long-promised Saviour, the Messiah, is born in the city of David, and you can go to see Him. You will find Him in a humble place.

We have a type in the thirteenth verse, "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest..." Where do we have any type of this? If we look back into the Old Testament, when the sacrifice was laid on the brazen altar, the priests sounded out the silver trumpet and the music began.

When the babe was born, the message fell upon the altars or the ears of the shepherds, and the multitude from Heaven began to sing the hymn of good tidings. A sacrifice (a Lamb) had been given, whereby atonement could be made for the sins of the world. Now all God's glory would not be held in a literal tabernacle somewhere, but now man could possess God's glory.

The glory of God has been loosed. It no longer will be confined to some religious organization. When the Gospel is preached to us, the glory is right there just waiting for us to believe and receive it. When we believe it, God in His glory will move into our heart and life.

John said in John 1:14 and 16: "And the Word was made 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. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace." Any man, anywhere, who will hear the good news can possess the real glory of God in his own heart and life.

The glory of God was there, and the glory of God is still wherever the message is declared in honesty and sincerity. The glory of God is waiting to change lives.

Luke 2:16-18 says: "And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds."

It's full of wonder, mysterious, and beyond the intellect. A young woman who was a virgin, unmarried, and espoused to a man, brought forth a child. This child had not father on the Earth and no mother in Heaven. Jesus lived in Heaven before He came down to Earth. They wondered at those things.

When we tell people the real truth of what happened at Bethlehem and how Christ reigns, we will find that His Kingdom is spiritual. He didn't come to save men and women out of the world, but to save men and women out of the world by changing their individual lives. It seems very strange and hard to believe that on such a slender thread as the feeble throb of an infant life, the hope of salvation for the world lay. Unbelief has so worked that people have to see great things, great moves before they can believe God. Stop and think a little bit about a Saviour with power to save the whole world being wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Do you know what swaddling cloth was? It began with a diaper-like affair, and then there were strips four or five inches wide. They bound Him hand and foot and wrapped Him. Do you think He could save the world? He saved every one who looked at Him by faith. The wise men were changed. They went home another way.

Let's Keep Our Faith

Our president has the secret service watching him on every side, and here is the Saviour of the world lying out in an open stable with no protection or help, as far as the world was concerned. When we become newborn babes, we must hang on that thread of faith in God. The enemy will get us to look around to find some protection, help, comfort, and strength, but real salvation hangs on the thread of faith in God.

Anytime the Church begins to seek earthly comfort and earthly help in too great a way, she fails to be the Church. She has to come back to the simplicity that our leader, the babe in the manger, had---hanging on to the simple thread of faith. There wasn't a way in the world He could die. There weren't enough kings or swords to kill Him. God was always one jump ahead of them.

I love to study Jesus' life. When I study His life, I can apply it to my own life. If we will let the Lord lead us, we will always be one jump ahead of the devil. When he strikes, we have already moved.

Let's just watch the life of Jesus. You talk about a man who had to have faith; Joseph just got business set up, and God told him to move to Egypt. He just had to close shop and get on the road. Herod was going to kill Jesus so God moved Him clear out of the country. There's that thread of contact with God.

There's just one thing we need to know---that we are the children of God. That takes care of everything. The Church is the body of Christ, and just as God looked after that Babe, He's looking out for the Church today. The Word became flesh. He existed back in eternity before the world. He existed that he who gives us being might be able to give us well being.

Let's Rejoice in Christ

How we thank god for what happened at Bethlehem. The message that came from the angel to the shepherds is the same message that comes to us. The Gospel message has never changed; it is still "Glory to God in the highest...!"

When we live in sin, we come short of the glory of God; we can't glorify God. Therefore, God has sent His Son as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. If we'll turn to Him, we can glorify God. The message "Glory to God in the highest, and on the earth peace, goodwill toward men." We can have peace with God, peace with one another, and good will towards men.

[The End]