“Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger. “
How wonderful, generally speaking, is the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord! It was announced throughout the ages, and then by an angel out of heaven. Besides, the birth itself is wonderful. Jesus is Immanuel, born of a virgin. How wonderful, too, are all the circumstances accompanying this birth. The birth is announced, first by Gabriel and then presently by an. entire heavenly host, singing the most wonderful, harmonious song ever heard upon the earth. But, this birth announcement by Gabriel and .this song by the angelic chorus are brought unto a group of shepherds, of all people, and that in the dead of night, not in Jerusalem, but in the silent and lonely fields of Ephratah. And, is it not also wonderful that this Babe Immanuel should be lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes?
Wonderful is also the incident to which we now call attention. It is wonderful that these shepherds ever went to Bethlehem. It is wonderful that they saw what they saw. It is wonderful that they, returning, glorified God. And it is wonderful if we, today, are also able to go to Bethlehem.
Jesus, the Hope of Israel, born in Bethlehem!
Bethlehem, the city of David, was the “house of bread.” This is the literal meaning of Bethlehem. Indeed, Bethlehem was to become the House of Bread, the place where the Bread from heaven would see the light of day, where He would be born, Jesus Who declared of Himself that He is the Bread of Life.
Throughout the ages believing Israel had longed and prayed, had waited, impatiently and straining at the leash, had looked forward to the coming of this Jesus, Saviour, their mighty Messiah, Who would be born of the seed of David, ascend His throne, lead His people to new and unprecedented heights of glory and power and salvation. Yes, unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour Who is Christ, the Lord. Could it be that these shepherds were discussing this wonderful prophecy of the Lord this very night while they were watching their sheep by night?
Is it not an amazing thing that these shepherds ever went to Bethlehem, yea, that they came with haste?
On the one hand, what did they see? It is true that “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord.”
But, please notice His sign, the sign of His birth: ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a. manger. The King of kings and the Lord of lords lying in a manger, in abject, utter poverty! And, mind you, this is His sign, peculiarly fitting to Him! If only this manger and these swaddling clothes were a temporary “helpout,” because Mary and Joseph had come too late into the city of David, and that they would soon be replaced by earthy royal splendour and glory, one could overlook this rather inauspicious entrance of Israel’s King and Hope into the world. But this is His sign, God’s sign; thus it is and thus it ever will be; in the midst of the world we must always expect Mary’s Great Son as lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes.
How amazing that these shepherds ever went to Bethlehem! To see this! To be sure, many today love to speak of this babe as lying in a manger. Many anthems of praise are sung in His honour. But, of course, according to the world this babe did not remain there. Soon he attained unto a place of honour and power in the midst of the world. One may compare him to Abraham Lincoln in this respect; he, too, had a lowly birth. However, we must remember that these signs belong to Him, characterize Him—remove them, and you have no Saviour left. And presently the world will also take them away from Him, when they kill Him upon the cross of Calvary. But, who would care to visit such a king? Is this Israel’s Hope? Would we not expect these shepherds to become indignant and furiously angry to be told of such a birth in the city of David?
But there is more. These shepherds left their flocks behind them. These sheep constituted their living, their all. They simply left them behind them. They did not leave them in the care of a caretaker. They simply left them, in the midst of the night, exposed to all the dangers of the night. And, they were in a tremendous hurry. This is emphasized in the text. We read, on the one hand: let us go even now unto Bethlehem, or: let us go unto Bethlehem right now, at once. There was no time to lose. And, on the other hand: they came with haste. How amazing is this visit of the shepherds!
Does this also characterize us? We understand what it means for us to go to Bethlehem. It means that we go spiritually, that we contemplate and meditate upon this thing which is come to pass. And we must hasten to Bethlehem, proceed in great haste. It must constitute the one great desire and longing of our heart. We must fill our hearts and minds with that mystery of godliness, God in the flesh, Immanuel, that Jehovah God has come into our flesh and blood.
How difficult this going to Bethlehem is for us! how difficult it is today to go to Bethlehem, really, in the midst of all the bustle and earthliness of our modern day celebration of the day of Christ’s birth! Indeed, to celebrate this day, truly, we must cut through so many things, to see this thing that has come to pass, the Christ of God in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
“Let us see this thing which is come to pass.” We do not read: “Let us see this baby which has just been born,” but: “Let us see this word which has come to pass.” The shepherds, of course, refer to the word of the angel, Gabriel, in the verses 10-12. This word of the angel, this divine announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Lord, this amazing thing that God has fulfilled His promise of the ages, the birth of Israel’s Hope, this thing has happened. And now, let us go at once and see it.
Indeed, let us not fail: to understand these signs. They are essential. They belong with this Child. God willed them. First, they are prophetic of this Babe’s position in the midst of the world. All He has is a manger and the swaddling clothes. This, of course, was not caused Him willfully by the world. The world was unaware of His coming. God willed this sign, this sign of poverty. In fact, presently, at the cross, the world will even attempt to take this manger and these swaddling clothes from Him, will hate Him and kill Him. Secondly, Christ is born in this abject poverty because of you and me. He became poor in order that we, being poor, might become rich. He was born, in abject poverty, as symbolic of the extreme poverty and misery which characterize us. And He was born without worldly or earthy glory and splendour because His kingdom’ is not of this world, is not earthly but heavenly.
How glorious, then, is our visit to Bethlehem!
Indeed, we must not fail to interpret these signs correctly, and appropriate and apply them to ourselves. They do not speak to us of the greatness and ingenuity of man, as, for example, of a Lincoln, who by sheer courage and will power was able to work his way from a log cabin to the White House. The manger and swaddling clothes tell us that His kingdom is not of this world. They tell us that, as the world was not ready to receive Him then (unwittingly), so, spiritually, it can never receive Him. We are never ready for Him, never have a place for Him. Indeed, our hearts are closed to Him. He is always wholly unwanted by us.
However, it is exactly for this reason that this scene in Bethlehem is so glorious! He is Saviour, is He not? Are we amazed that we have no room for Him in our ‘hearts? But, is He not Jesus, the Saviour? And this means that we must be saved, that we are lost, full of sin and darkness. Besides, let us look at these signs and rejoice! They speak to us of His rejection by the world, that the world always hates Him and will presently kill Him. But, is not that way, the way of His being killed upon the cross, exactly the way whereby He saves us from sin and guilt and death? Yes, He comes exactly as you would expect the Christ of God to come. Rejected by the world, He comes as the Son of God in our flesh and blood, struggles through the enmity of the world and of the wrath of God into the everlasting glory of the Kingdom of Heaven, makes room within our hearts where there was no room, that it may be known that He is the Saviour and He alone.
The shepherds went to Bethlehem to see this wonder of God. How was this possible for them?
This was possible, first of all, by divine revelation. The Lord, we read, made it known unto them. This refers to the message of the angel. God revealed to them, not only that Christ had been born, but also that He was lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. God revealed to them that these were signs of His birth. And, secondly, before this message was conveyed to them by Gabriel, another thing has already occurred. The glory of the Lord had shined round about them, and they had been sore afraid. They had been convicted of their sin in the presence of the glory of the Lord. To them, afraid and stricken, the message of the Christ Child, lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes, had been conveyed.
Do we understand?
Shall we go to Bethlehem? Shall we look at this wonder of salvation which the Lord has wrought? Shall we see these signs, be convicted anew of our sin and misery, recognize in Him our blessed Saviour and Lord, rejoice in His salvation?
However, this glory of the Lord must shine round about us and we must be afraid! We must see our sin and misery because the Glory of the Lord has shined all around us, and in us by His almighty grace. And if we then are stricken in our consciousness, realize our hopelessness, we will long for Bethlehem and be in great haste to see this Babe and fill our hearts with His salvation.
One more thing. The shepherds left their sheep behind them. Yes, if we would go to Bethlehem, really wish to see this Child, really rejoice in His salvation, we must leave everything behind us. Look at the Child, have nothing with you except your own sin and guilt. And we will rejoice, and return even as the shepherds returned, glorifying God and praising Him for the salvation He has wrought.