“Because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Do we believe and embrace this sign of Jesus’ birth, that there was no room for them in the inn? We surely have a sign here, a divine sign. This is obvious from the entire history of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The world, too, embraces this sign. Do we not hear it sung today wherever we go? Does not the world, in this Christmas season, speak and sing of the Christ Child, of His birth in an animal stall, that they wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn?
And yet the question persists: do we understand this sign, embrace it, carry it in our hearts? It is only if we do this that we can rejoice in this season of the commemoration of our Savior’s birth.
No room for them in the inn—a divine sign! Apparently, we have no sign here. With the history of our Savior’s birth we are all more or less familiar. The emperor, Caesar Augustus, had issued the command that all the world must be registered for the purpose of taxation. This taxation was necessary for the maintaining of the Roman empire. Inasmuch as this empire of Rome was a world-empire (the last, incidentally, until now), this command also involved the nation of the Jews. In obedience to this command, Joseph and Mary had traveled to Bethlehem, the city of David. Amid the most wonderful circumstances they had lived for several months, awaiting this Wonder Child from the Lord. Completing their difficult journey of some three days, they arrive in Bethlehem at a late hour and learn that there is no room for them in the inn. A stall is provided for them outside the city; and here Jesus is born, laid in a manger, and wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Apparently, there is nothing here out of the ordinary. What we have here, it seems, is a very natural course of events. Augustus is surely unaware of the imminent birth of the Messiah. And there is nothing unusual about the attitude of the world. There is no manifestation here of any antipathy toward Joseph and Mary. Apparently, we have no sign here at all.
However, this merely emphasizes the fact that we do have a sign here. The very ordinary character of these events should make this self-evident. It must be obvious that God willed this ordinary course of events. All the miracles of God, in the Old and New Testaments, are always extraordinary and sensational. . . . The birth of Christ is of all wonders the Wonder. The fact that there is nothing extraordinary here surely serves to emphasize that this simplicity is of God and rich in symbolical significance. Besides, did not the angel of the Lord tell the shepherds: “And this shall be a sign unto you”?
And what a sign this is: there is no room for them in the inn! Of course, the emperor must issue his command that all the world be taxed. Others must also go to Bethlehem at this time. There must be no room for them in the inn. To be sure, there is nothing here of man—just a manger and some swaddling clothes. There must be nothing here of man, and this for the simple reason that it is all of God. There is no earthy glory here; this King is heavenly, and His kingdom is heavenly. Why, then, should His birth be marked by earthy power and glory?
Specifically, however, there is now no room for them, for Jesus in the inn. Why should there be room for Him in the inn? Is it not a fact that there is never room for this Jesus? There is no room for this Jesus in the hearts of men. There is not a single heart in all the world, from the beginning until the end of time, that has a place for Him, desires Him; every human heart is closed to Jesus. And, remember, our heart is not a vacuum; it is not merely empty, but full. There is no room for Jesus because it is full of sin and darkness and corruption. What an awful indictment we have here against the world, against us! One would almost believe, in this Christmas season of cheer and good will, that this Jesus has a rather prominent place in the hearts of men. They sing of Him everywhere. However, be not deceived. This is the Word of God, also today.
What a shame! Imagine, if you please: no room for Jesus in the hearts of men, in the heart of any man!
The world would deny this truth. They seem to embrace this sign. That the Christ Child was born in a stall, laid in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes appeals to the world. They think this is wonderful; everywhere one may see this scene of the Nativity; everywhere one can hear these songs sung of our Lord Jesus Christ as He was laid in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. How glad men seem to be that Jesus was born as He was born.
What, I ask you, motivates the world?
It is said that the story of Abraham Lincoln, who was born in a log cabin, and “made it all the way” to the White House, is the typical American story. It proves what every normal American boy can do if he only sets himself to the task. This is also spiritually true. That Jesus was born in a stable simply emphasizes His tremendous prowess and accomplishments: to arise out of such great depths of poverty and attain unto such great heights of success, becoming the Great Example whom all men would follow. All this surely speaks of the greatness of Man, what we are able to do if only we apply ourselves. This also applies to the teachings of our so-called Fundamentalist circles. The sinner does not mind hearing that he is a sinner if only he be also told that he can do something about it. He does not mind hearing that all salvation is in Jesus, if only the gospel be preached as an offer which the sinner must and can accept.
What a shameless denial this presentation is of this Word of God!
O, it may appear that man is rather receptive for the Christ. Did they not offer Him a crown, while He was among us, desire to make Him king, as did the Galileans of John 6? Did they not shout, as late as the last Sunday before His death: “Hosanna to the son of David; blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord”? And, does not the same apply today? Today people are eager to acclaim Him as their great Example or Teacher or Reformer. They will give Him the place of honor in their peace councils, fervently embrace His Sermon on the Mount, enthusiastically declare that if men would only walk in His footsteps and adopt His principles, this world would be a much better place in which to live.
All this, of course, is merely a dream, an illusion. It is merely a dream because the Christ they would follow is not the real Christ, does not exist except in their dreams. As soon as this Jesus reveals Himself, things change drastically. As soon as He reveals Himself to the Galileans, they all forsake Him. If Christ be preached as He truly is, as the Christ of the Scriptures, His true followers will dwindle to a handful. It is simply a fact that the sign of this text does not speak of man’s prowess, but of his unspeakable misery: there is no room anywhere for Christ; no man is able to make room for Him, inasmuch as the Scriptures declare: “No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.”
What a shame!
What a shame that there is no room in us for Him because we are full of sin and darkness! O, the world may like this sign, but the people of God are ashamed of it. Is it not a terrible thing that we are what we are? Is there anything filthier than sin? Is not God great, incomprehensibly great, and worthy to be praised? Are we not His creatures, the products of His hands, who live and move and have our being in the Lord? Is anything more abominable than when man, who is less than nothing, less than a drop of water on the bucket and a particle of dust on the balance, thinks himself to be something, refuses to give God all honor and glory? Can we conceive of anything more abominable than when clay rises in revolt against the potter, when the looking glass appropriates to itself the glory reflected in it? Mind you, there is no room in us for Him, and this because we are full of sin and iniquity!
This is not all. What a shame this is, also because there is in us no room for Him! Mind you, He is the only One Who can possibly save us. This was His testimony in the synagogue at Nazareth. There He read from the prophecy of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . .” (Luke 4:17-19); and He added these words: “Today is this prophecy fulfilled in your ears.” This was His testimony throughout His ministry: “I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Door . . .” We can never save ourselves; He alone can save us. Yet, there is no room for Him in our hearts. To the one and only Great Physician we reply: “Physician, heal thyself,” and we would cast Him down to destruction from the edge of the cliff. In reply to His testimony concerning Himself that He is sent of the Father, we pick up stones to throw at Him. How desperately wicked is man! He cannot save himself and rejects the only Way of Salvation; he is lost in sin and tramples under foot the only possible Deliverer! What does this mean? It surely means that we love our sin and iniquity to such an extent that we resent anyone who presents himself as a deliverer; it means that we have not the slightest desire to be saved; we are slaves of sin and love it with all our hearts.
Indeed, there is no room in us for Jesus. How soon this becomes manifest! Not long after His birth, the attempt is made by Herod the Great to kill Him when he kills all the baby boys in Bethlehem. How He was hated throughout His earthly ministry! Men spied on Him, sought to catch Him in His words, counseled together to destroy Him. And finally He is forsaken by all, including His disciples, and killed upon the cross of Calvary. They even remove from Him the manger and the swaddling clothes. Having engaged the services of one of the twelve, they lay their filthy hands upon Him, lead Him outside of the Holy City, and make Him an object of public and universal shame and scorn.
Yet, this is really the wonder of this sign. Here all we can do is stand and marvel. This is the wonder of it, that that Sign, no room for Him is our hearts, is exactly our salvation. This is the wonder of it: He saves us, not merely in spite of the fact that there is no room for Him, but exactly through it! This is the wonder of it, that that cross, the symbol of our hatred, of our rejection of Him, becomes and is the way whereby He saves, makes room in our hearts through the power of that cross and presently by His Spirit as the exalted King of kings and Lord of lords and of glory. His death is our life, and that in everlasting and heavenly immortality. This is the Christmas story. This is the significance of Bethlehem. Do we see it and grasp it?
He alone is our salvation.
How ashamed we are of ourselves because of what we are!
How glad we are that He became poor, because otherwise we could never have become rich.
To God alone be all the glory, now and forever.