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Manning: For Christmas, a look at the prophecy, timeline, setting of Christ’s birth | COMMENTARY

“But thou, 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.” Micah 5:2

This prophecy of Messiah’s birth was foretold by Micah over 500 years before it happened, and it was fulfilled in Bethlehem when God became man: the Divine Incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ.

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Bethlehem, in Hebrew means “house of bread,” and the Bible says Jesus is the “Bread of Life.” Symbolically, He is the spiritual bread given by God to all who ask, or who seek Him. The birth was first announced to poor shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem, not to kings or rich men. But then, Jesus is Himself the “Good Shepherd,” who comes to the humble of heart.

The actual date of the birth of Christ has long been in question, because the shepherds would not have kept their sheep out in the fields after the first rain of the winter season, which is normally early November. In addition, it would have been impossible for all the people to have gotten to their own towns of birth to register for taxing during the rainy season.

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Of course, we can’t know the exact date, but a logical time would have been late September, during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, and after the harvest was safely in the barns. The people made and “tabernacled” in crude shacks in remembrance of the Exodus march through the wilderness. In John 1:14, the apostle describes our Lord’s coming: “And the Word was made flesh, and ‘tabernacled’ among us, full of grace and truth.”

Another interesting thought about a September birth is, that would put the time of the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, in late December of the previous year ... 9 months before the Feast of Tabernacles, when the Father sent the Son into the world by way of the womb of a virgin. So our Christmas in December might be a celebration of the divine conception of “the Word made flesh” ... the Christ.

In the time of Jesus, Bethlehem was a town of probably around 400 Jews. The town’s main industry was the raising of lambs, to be taken for sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem. These lambs had to be as perfect as possible for the yearly sacrificial offering to God for forgiveness of the sins of the Jews; this is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, also observed in September.

God gives us a beautiful picture of our Messiah, the perfect “Lamb of God,” who offered Himself as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. Jesus was not likely born in a wooden stable as usually depicted, but in a cave ... carved into the sandstone hill at the edge of town, and laid in a stone manger or feeding trough. It was a “lambing-cave” where the ewes were brought to birth their lambs, in order to protect them from injury if exposed in the fields. These were the lambs that were born to die as substitutes for the people’s sins, and here, the “Lamb of God” was also born to die.

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The Father prearranged every detail, so people would be able to see and understand just who is this God-Man with whom we have to do. He even forecast it for us. Remember the account of Abraham when God told him to offer his only son as a sacrifice? (Genesis 22) When they came to Mount Moriah, Issac asked his father, “where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” And Abraham replied, “God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” This was, of course, a test of Abraham’s faith and trust in God, but also another picture of our Savior and His willingness to suffer and die as payment for your sin and mine.

I pray that each of you has claimed Him as your Lord and Savior ... ”For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”(John 3:16)

Merry Christmas

Steve Manning writes from Westminster.

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