The whole sojourn of Jesus on this earth was bracketed by two human impossibilities, a virgin's birth, and an empty tomb. His life could be summarized by, "from the womb to the tomb." From the time of His birth His life pointed to the cross of Calvary. He entered the world through a door marked "no entrance" and left through a door marked "no exit." These two miraculous events, His virgin birth and His glorious resurrection had been predetermined by God. Gal.4:4-5. (The above point gleaned from an article by Phil Garner); according to His divine purpose Eph.1:9-11. The stable in Bethlehem and the cross of Calvary Lk.2:1-20 records the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the city of David. As to the day Jesus was born, the Bible does not reveal it. People have assumed Dec.25. Since God did not see fit to reveal the day, then we should just be satisfied with knowing that Jesus was born. Whenever it was, it was the fullness of time Gal.4:4.
In this lesson I want to answer the question proposed in the title, "What Happened At Bethlehem? In Matt.2:1-12 records that after the birth of Jesus Wise Men from the East following a star that mysteriously appeared in the heavens came to Jerusalem seeking to worship "He who has been born king of the Jews." Of course he was not there. He was at Bethlehem. When king Herod learned of the Wise Men's purpose, he was troubled, as was all of Jerusalem. He gathered all the chief priests and scribes together and inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. Without any hesitation they informed him to Micah 5:2-3 which foretold that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem.
The reason they could answer so quickly was that Micah's prophecy was one of the most clear and specific Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. No prophecy was more universally agreed upon as to its meaning as the one in Micah. The scripture was so firmly fixed in the Jewish mind that when Emperor Hadrian came to the throne ca.98 AD he would not allow any Jew to live in or near Bethlehem.
The remarkable significance of this insignificant little village. What was so significant about Bethlehem? As far as people were concerned, nothing! The prophecy of Micah referred to it as being"the least among the rulers of Jerusalem." It was of no importance in the days when Jesus was born. It was so insignificant that Josephus, the Jewish historian of the 1st century did not bother to list it in his writing. An interesting side note. It was not listed in Joshua's catalog of cities in Jos.15. Later it was listed in the Septuagint (Greek version of the OT used by Jesus and His disciples), but in later listings of Hebrew manuscripts after the 1st centuries it was left out. Jerome, one of the church fathers of the 4th century (ca 325 AD) suggested that Bethlehem was removed by the Jews to obscure the evidence of Jesus' Messiahship. He could have been right.
Other significant things. Only after Jesus' birth and death did it gain any significance. It then became the most important birthplace in the world, especially to Christians, but not to the world in general. Bethlehem was called the city of David because it was David's ancestral home, and the site where Samuel anointed David to be king 1.Sam.16:4; 17:15; 20:6. Centuries earlier Rachel had been buried. Later it was the original home of Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth, David's grandmother. When Naomi and Ruth returned to Palestine this is where Ruth gathered grain in Boaz's field. See book of Ruth. This was also the area from which the shepherds came to visit the stable and manger where Jesus was born.
In addition to the fulfillment of scripture I see three other things suggested by Jesus being born in Bethlehem. 1. Bethlehem means "house of bread," and I feel it was appropriate for Jesus, who was to become "the Bread of Life." Jn.6:35, 48, 51, 58 was born in a city with such a name. 2. The sheep raised in that area were raised to be used in temple sacrifices. Jesus was also to become the sacrificial Lamb, offered on behalf of humanity. Jn.1:29. 3. The selection of this city as Jesus' birthplace speaks volumes to those who value human status symbols and pride of ancestry. It confounded the Jews Jn.7:41-42.
Some other remarkable aspects of Bethlehem as being the birthplace of the Messiah. 1. Mary did not live there. She lived in another part of the country, and came there only by the decree of registration of the people by Caesar Augustus. The providence of God brought her to the right place at the right time. 2. Jesus was to be known as a Nazarene Matt.2:23. But Nazareth was not the place of His birth. This fact confounded the Jews later Jn.7:41-42. 3. Neither the stable or the manger were a suitable birthplace for a king. This point is most remarkable for when Micah wrote his prophecy, the royal Davidic line resided in Jerusalem. One could not imagine a Messiah coming from a stable. 4. Perhaps the greatest significance is that Jesus chose to be born with lowly people in a most insignificant village. People generally do not get to choose where they will be born, but Jesus did. He chose Bethlehem. Phil.2:5-8; Heb.2:9, 16, 17; 2.Cor.8:9. It was here that Godhood took on manhood. A rich god chose for His Son to be a poor man. The King of kings choosing to be born in a stable.
What happened at Bethlehem? It was not merely a birth, but an incarnation. The birth was unique. It was the incarnation of one "whose going forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (This is past tense). An expression used to identify God Ps.90:2; Dan.7:9. A clear description of pre-existence, deity. Jn.1:1-3, 14. Jesus later made claim of this truth Jn.8:58. Paul affirmed it Col.1:15-17. The king born at Bethlehem, the earthly son of the Heavenly Father, the Heavenly Son of an earthly mother.
Suffering produces a blessing. Who is the one in travail? Many believe it refers to Mary as she gave birth to the Christ. If so she was the woman of Gen.3:15, the virgin of Isa.7:14. the woman of Gal.4:4. Note Lk.2:7. she "brought forth" the child. Others think it refers to the faithful remnant of Israel who produced the Christ. See. Rev.12. The idea being that God would not vindicate His people and exalt them until suffering Israel would bring forth His Son. The true Israel would be produced Heb.2:11.
The King of kings was born. He was "the one to be ruler in Israel." Note Lk.1:32-33. A ruler implies a kingdom. Jesus recognized this significance as He began to preach Mk.1:14-15. Note Satan's temptation Lk.4:4-8. But, He also recognized His kingdom was a spiritual, not a physical one Jn.18:36-37. This was declared on the day of Pentecost Acts 2:29-36. Now back to Lk.2 to emphasize the infinite significance of what happened in Bethlehem. The announcement of the angels Lk.2:9-11, 14. Never at any other place has there been such an appearance nor such an announcement.
By Tommy Thornhill
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