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A Messy Birth for a Messy World
The other week I saw a picture with this caption, “A King Size Bed.”
What a great analogy this is, but it really didn’t do the birth of Jesus justice. It’s cute and all, but not accurate, in fact, it’s not even close. Yes the manger was the bed for the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, but this picture is way too sanitized.
This wasn’t anything like it was. When we see where Jesus was born and what the manger really looks like, what we see isn’t a cute Christmas manger scene, rather it was a messy birth, which is perfect for this messed up world we live in.
Let’s take a look at the biblical account.
Read Luke 2:1-7
Joseph and Mary had just made the trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which was no easy feat, especially with Mary 9 months pregnant and ready to give birth at any time. The distance they would have traveled was 80 miles, and with Mary being so pregnant it would have taken anywhere from 4 to 7 days, which was also dependent upon when the Sabbath fell.
When whey arrived in Bethlehem, which was right outside of Jerusalem, Mary was ready to deliver, but when they went to the local inn, there were no rooms available. Instead they found a small cave behind the inn that was used for a stable. It was there that Mary gave birth to her first-born son, Jesus.
They wrapped Him swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger. It was here that the angels told the shepherds to look for the Savior who would be no one less than Christ the King.
From the foundations of the universe, from the beginning of creation, this was God’s plan to save a world that was ever moving closer to the chasm of Hell. It was God’s plan to save humanity from the power of sin and death.
Now, this wasn’t a plan that any of us would have or could have ever thought up, not even in our wildest imagination. And the reason is because it was a really messy plan. It was a plan where God’s Son, the 2nd Person of the Godhead, Jesus, would come down to the earth, which He had created, and get all messed up in the process.
Think about that for a moment. The Lord God of all creation’s plan for humanity’s salvation involved sending His Son, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to this messed-up, sin-ladened planet. And He did so in a very messy way.
So where does the God of the universe send His Son? I mean, where does God make reservations for His Son to be born, who is no one less than the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He didn’t send Him to a clean and sterile environment like a hospital or doctor’s office. He didn’t send Him to the local inn, which was no Ritz Carleton; it was more like a motor inn in a small town.
Yes, Joseph and Mary went there first, seeing it was the only place for weary travelers to stay and somewhat clean and comfortable and the best place in town to have a baby in those days. But this wasn’t where God made the reservation.
Instead God made the reservation right behind the Bethlehem Inn. It was a stable, or what we would call a barn. But it wasn’t made of wood as you see in our modern nativity sets. Instead it was a small, cold, dark, and dank cave, filled with animal sounds and animal smells.
That’s right, God sent His own Son to a place that houses animals. A stable that housed sheep, goats, donkeys, cattle, and horses, not to mention mice, rats, and all manner of insects. And with all of these animals and vermin you would also have what they would leave behind which is an assault against the senses; namely manure and feces.
When we went to Vegas for Thanksgiving, the house we went to was downwind of the famous Las Vegas pig farm, and on a breezy day the hairs on the inside of your nose would curl. But when I was writing this I realized that this smell didn’t even come close to what that smell would have been there in the cave.
Think about it, there was no airflow because it was an enclosed place, so all that wonderful animal perfume would have just hung around to assault the senses.
But not only was Jesus born in such a messy place, He was laid in a manger. Now, again, a manger in those days wasn’t like what we see in nativity sets. Rather it was a hollowed out stone where the animals came over to eat from.
Now, while they probably took out all the old chewed up food and laid fresh straw in its place, still they never sanitized it. There on the bottom was probably several years of old dried out animal saliva, not to mention some more recent wet stuff.
Jesus wasn’t laid in a nice clean bassinette with a cute little mobile going round and round over His head. He was laid in a place where the animals ate.
Even the clothes that He was wrapped in shows just how messy this birth really was! The Bible calls them swaddling clothes. What are swaddling clothes? Well I can tell you what they weren’t. They weren’t baby clothes from Dillards with cute little pictures of ducks or penguins? Instead they were pieces of cloth tied together in strips and wrapped around the child to restrict their movements.
One would expect that the King of kings would be wrapped in the finest linens and silks, but instead He was wrapped in common rags. You might say that Jesus came wrapped in a plain brown wrapper.
And so when I say that God sent Jesus, His only begotten Son, to a messy place that’s exactly what it was. It was a dirty, gritty, grimy, and filthy place. A place fit for animals, not for humans, and definitely not a place where one would expect to find a king. But then Jesus was no ordinary King, because His kingdom was not of this world.
And so Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords had a messy birth. He was then laid in a saliva filled feeding trough wrapped in nothing but household rags. But this was God’s plan, and it was messy. But why would God do it like that? Why would God make such a messy plan for such a messy birth?
This is something that has baffled critics and scoffers. And while we may wonder, and while this may have not been the way we would have planned out the birth of the King who was no one less than the 2nd person of the Godhead, it was God’s way, and His ways are not our ways.
“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NKJV)
But God did have a purpose, and maybe the reason God made such a messy plan for such a messy birth is tied up in the purpose for the Messiah. The prophet Isaiah tells us of that purpose.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6 NKJV)
Isaiah says that He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, and the punishment for our sins was laid upon Him so that we can have peace with God, and that by the stripes He would receive on our behalf would bring to us the healing we so desperately need, Isaiah 53:5.
Jesus came to a messy place, a stable, but more than that, Jesus came to a messy messed up world. A world and a human race, a race that He created, but a race that rejected Him, not once but time and time again. He came to a messy world and to a messed up people filled with sin and evil of every kind.
But the reason wasn’t because He was going to rule and reign over humanity, to make them tow the line, so to speak. No! He came as the great Shepherd to gather to Himself His lost sheep.
In the famous Shepherd’s Song, King David said,
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1 NKJV)
The prophet Isaiah says of the Lord
“He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11 NKJV)
In one of the most recognizable prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, Matthew records the prophet Micah saying
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.” (Matthew 2:6 NKJV)
Jesus Himself said,
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11 NKJV)
Jesus came as the great Shepherd in search for lost sheep, that is, He came looking for you and me. You see, like sheep we’ve all gone astray, and God sent His Son, the Great Shepherd to gather us and to prepare the way for us to go home.
You see that is what a shepherd does. A shepherd doesn’t live in a house or a palace; instead he lives where the sheep are. When the angels came to announce the coming of the Christ, they found the shepherds exactly where the shepherds were suppose to be, tending and keeping their flocks, even at night.
You see, a shepherd lives where the sheep live. A shepherd sleeps where the sheep sleep. A shepherd eats where the sheep eat. And this is what Jesus did. The Great Shepherd came to where you and I live. He came to gather up and tend to His sheep. And this is what got Jesus in trouble with the religious establishment of that day.
The religious leaders of that day, the Pharisees and Sadducees, kept themselves aloof and apart from the common man and woman. They wouldn’t be seen with those who were sinners. But not Jesus; He came and hung out where they lived. He didn’t separate Himself; rather He went to where they were. And this is exactly what they accused Him of doing. They accused Him of eating with the sinners, with the tax collectors and prostitutes.
But that’s what a Shepherd does, and Jesus is our Great Shepherd and He got down and dirty with us, He got messy. Now, I don’t mean that Jesus sinned. The Bible makes it clear that while He associated with sinners, He Himself wasn’t one. In Him, the Bible say, is no fault.
Now, when Jesus was born, the angels came, not to the palaces of kings, nor to the mansions of the wealthy, but rather to a bunch of poor lowly shepherds who were out in the field watching over their flocks. And they said,
“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12 NKJV)
And what a sign it was. That the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Christ, the Messiah, would be a helpless baby born in a messy place and lying in a messy feeding trough, and wrapped in nothing but the rags of a common man.
The sign was that He would be just like us.
The Apostle Paul said that Jesus Christ, although He was God did not consider equality with God something that He sought for while upon this earth, but rather He,
“Made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:7-8 NKJV)
Jesus came to this earth as one of His own creations. What does this mean? What kind of sign was that for us to understand?
Jesus is assessable to everyone, not for just a selected few. He didn’t come for the religious, but for sinners.
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13 NKJV)
In one of the most notable stories found in the Gospels, Jesus befriends Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in the city of Jericho, and actually stayed in his house. This is something that no religious leader would ever do in those days. It would defile them. But Jesus went, and it brought a complaint by the religious saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
God’s messy plan was for Jesus to go to the messy and pull them out of the muck and mire. When Zacchaeus believed and repented, Jesus said,
“Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:9-10 NKJV)
Jesus can relate to all that we go through. Jesus said of Himself, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Mt. 8:20 NKJV).
And so Jesus, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, who left the glory of heaven behind, can relate to someone who is homeless.
And because He came as one of us, He can relate to everything we go through in this life. Speaking of Jesus as our Great High Priest, the writer of Hebrews tells us,
“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NKJV)
Jesus understood what we are going through, because He Himself was tempted in all these same areas, yet He had no sin, He did not succumb. But that doesn’t mean that He looks down upon us saying, “Hey, what’s wrong with you guys? I was tempted with that very thing, but I didn’t succumb.” No, instead look at what the Bible says about Jesus
“But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36 NKJV)
Jesus saw the suffering of humanity because of sin, because like sheep they all went astray because they had no one to lead them out. And so out of His compassion, as that Great Shepherd, He led them through the way of the cross, so that all who believe would be restored and renewed with Heaven and an eternity with Jesus to look forward too.
And so according to God’s messy plan Jesus got messy for this messed up world. It was a plan that called for Him to come to a messy world and to a messy place. That very first Christmas Jesus was born in a dirty and filthy stable. Laid in a manger, a feeding trough, and a place where the animals ate. And He was wrapped in strips of rags to keep Him warm.
The messy birth of Jesus was nothing less than Jesus following God’s messy plan for a messy world. It was a plan that led Jesus to the cross where He died a very painful and messy death. And we need to be thankful that God had such a messy birth and death in mind because without it think of the mess we’d all be in today.
The Bible says that all have sinned, that there is no one who is righteous, that everyone has broken God’s holy and righteous standards for life, that is, His holy and righteous law, and therefore none can enter heaven on their own, Romans 3:23.
The Bible also tells us that the wages of our sin is death, but that the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, Romans 6:23. And that gift is there for everyone to open up today. All that is required is belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Belief in God’s messy plan for this messed up world.
And so if I were to summarize our time together I’d say that because of God’s messy plan about a messy birth that leads to a messy death, all who then believe no longer need to be a mess, but their sins can be cleansed and they can become new creations in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study