(The following is the devotional for the week that I sent to our small group.)
Only 14 days until Christmas. Wow. I find if I don’t take time to meditate on Jesus during this season, the time totally slips away from me!
I loved Brad’s sermon this past weekend about the shepherds (if you missed it, check it out here: http://www.tworiverschurch.org/700215.ihtml). Jesus came in such a way that even the most outcast of society still had access to Him. The way He entered this earth is nothing short of miraculous and significant.
If you go to Bethlehem today, you can enter the cave where Jesus was born. However, since the early church built on that site, it looks nothing like it used to. But not far from the Church of the Nativity is an area called The Shepherd’s Field. They have many caves there, left in their original state, so that you can imagine what it was like that night that Mary and Joseph welcomed a wailing 8-pound bundle of flesh into the world.
We probably all have heard sermons about how when Jesus was born, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes, in strips of linen… burial cloths. Right from His birth were signs of His coming death. Even the place where He was laid points to His sacrifice. Yep, the manger. In our Western thinking, we assume a manger is a feeding trough. But when you go to Bethlehem, you learn that is is so much more than that.
As Brad also mentioned on Sunday, Bethlehem was a place where the shepherds raised sheep for the Temple sacrificial system. Sometimes, as he mentioned, it was corrupt; but it was originally set up within the purposes of the systems set in place. And since Bethlehem is only 6 miles south of Jerusalem, it is close enough for that purpose. If a family didn’t have a lamb to sacrifice for Passover, they could buy one from Bethlehem. However, many Hebrew families did raise their own lambs. And if you had animals, your family had a stable (cave) to keep them in.
God’s laws stated the the lamb must be perfect, without spot or blemish, to be fit for sacrifice (Exodus 12:5). So the family would watch for that lamb to be born, and when it came along they would put it in a safe place, so that the other animals did not kick it or bruise it, because then it could not be used for sacrifice. So the safest place for this little lamb was up off the floor of their stable, on a shelf hewn out of the side of the cave, and they called that shelf a manger. (See picture below of a manger in The Shepherd’s Field.)
The shepherds who came to worship Him certainly knew the significance of this, seeing Jesus laying in the manger. Their whole worlds revolved around providing acceptable sacrifices to atone for the people’s sins… and here lay the Lamb who would once and for all atone for all.
Let that sink in a moment. Jesus was placed in a manger. The place reserved for the Passover lamb. He is the perfect Lamb of God (1 Peter 1:19) who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). When was he crucified? Passover week (John 13).
Is your mind blown yet? Jesus is so absolutely amazing. The more we learn about Him, the more we come to understand how intricately woven together His plan is. Everything He did (and does) has significance. He truly is worthy of our worship and adoration this Christmas season. So come, let us adore Him!