Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why a Manger Instead of a Palace?

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:4-7)

Every now and then we hear a story about a mother giving birth in an unusual place. Some of these events have even made the news.

• There was a woman in San Antonio who gave birth to her baby at a BBQ restaurant
• There was a woman in New York who gave birth while her cab was stuck in traffic at a tunnel toll booth.
• And, there was a Utah woman who gave birth to her baby in the bathroom of a local Wal-Mart.

By our standards the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ in a room designated for keeping livestock could be considered an unusual birth, and might even initiate a call to Child Protective Services.

But, have you ever wondered why Christ was laid in a manger, rather than in the comfort of a cradle in a palace? The answer can be found in three words: rejection, redemption, and reachability.
You should know that the manger perfectly pictures Jesus’ rejection.

Have you ever tried to book a hotel in a town that was hosting a large sporting event or convention, and found it difficult to find a room? I have. I have tried to make reservations at a hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, when there was a big sporting event going on, and I found that many of the rooms had been booked up far in advance.

A similar thing happened during the time that Jesus was to be born.

A census was ordered that required the people to return to their ancestral towns to register. This meant that a lot of people had to find a place to stay until their business was taken care of.

Some people were able to find a place to lay their head at the home of a relative. However, those who did not have family living in that town, or their homes were too full, were forced to seek lodging at an inn or some other establishment that rented out rooms.

It was no different for Joseph and Mary. They had to leave their home in Nazareth and travel about 90 miles south to Bethlehem, to register for the census. They didn’t have cars, trains or planes back then to whisk them to their destination and back.

For most people the only way of traveling was on foot or donkey back. Foot travelers could average about 16 miles a day. Under normal circumstances Mary and Joseph’s trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have taken at least five days. However, with Mary being heavy with child, that trip could well have taken two weeks or more.

It didn’t matter that Mary was pregnant and close to her time to deliver. She couldn’t get a doctor’s note to excuse them from participating in the census. There was no post office where they could mail in their census form. There was no World Wide Web they could use to email their response – no cell phones they could use to text message. Joseph and Mary had to physically go to Bethlehem to fulfill the requirements of the census or be in violation of Caesar’s order.

Unfortunately when they arrived in Bethlehem they were unable to find a place to stay. Some Bible scholars have speculated that Joseph and Mary may have sought to stay with relatives, only to find the house full. Then finding no room in the inn the young couple resorted to the shelter of a cave used for keeping animals.

This was the beginning of Jesus’ rejection. Instead of lying in a warm bed with his mother at his side, he was placed in a manger, a simple cattle trough, which served as his cradle. In those days, mangers were usually carved from stone and were used to hold food for animals. Jesus was laid in that manger because there was no room for him elsewhere.

Luke 2:7 tells us that “there was not room for them in the inn.” However, I’m sure there was room for business in that inn. I’m sure there was room for pleasure in that inn. I’m sure there was room for those with wealth in that inn.

In fact, many people are like that inn. They make room for work. They make room for going out and having a good time. They make room for other people in their lives. They make room for everything else in their lives, but they don’t make room for a newborn child who was sent to save the world – who was sent to save them.

Yes, Jesus knew rejection. In fact, the book of John provides us with an amazing rejection message…

• “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
• “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” (John 1:10)
• “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1:11)
• “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)

And, the world still rejects Jesus today.

Next, you should know that the manger perfectly pictures Jesus’ redemption.

Luke 2:8 tells us that during the time of Christ’s birth, there were shepherds that were in fields nearby guarding their flocks. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and brought them “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people,” and told them, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

Notice that the angel said “unto you is born.” The angel was announcing that Jesus belonged to them, just as He belongs to us.

Next the angel gave the shepherds two signs. They would find:

• A babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,
• And, He would be lying in a manger.

Some believe that the swaddling clothes represent the fact that Jesus was born of flesh.

It was the custom in those days to wrap a newborn in strips of cloth, or as they were called “swaddling clothes.” It was commonly believed that this was essential for the infants to develop proper posture.

Jesus was made of flesh and would grow and develop just like every other child of that day. The swaddling clothes remind us of the great humility of our Lord in leaving His preexistent glory and becoming a human being for our sakes. Without having done so He could not have died for our sins.

The fact that Jesus was laid in a manger, in a room meant for keeping animals, shows his birth set him apart. Back in those days sacrificial lambs were set apart from the other lambs. These lambs were to be spotless and without defect, just as Jesus too was spotless and without defect. The lamb was to be used for sacrifice in the Passover, and served as a sin offering. The lamb was set apart for a purpose.

Why was Jesus born in a room designated for keeping livestock? What better place for a Lamb to be born than among other lambs.

As Christians, we identify Jesus as the Lamb of God. We first heard that reference given by John the Baptist in John 1:29. While John was baptizing the people he saw Jesus coming towards him. John publicly identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John knew that Jesus was the suffering servant mentioned in Isaiah 53:7 and 12, who was to be “led as a lamb to the slaughter” and who would bare “the sins of many.”

When we think of the manger we must not forget the cross. Jesus’ sacrifice provided our redemption.

Redemption is the purchase back of something that has been lost. Christ's blood was the payment for our deliverance from the servitude of sin and from its consequence. The debt against us is not viewed as simply cancelled, but is fully paid.

Christ did not save us by his doctrine.
Nor did he save us by his example.
Jesus saved us with his precious blood.

How can we fail to rejoice, having been freed from the bondage of sin and the fear of death?

Finally, you should know that the manger perfectly pictures Jesus’ reachability

The first announcement of the birth of Christ was to common shepherds. Jesus could have been born in a palace, and had the entire kingdom worshiping him the night of his birth. But instead he was born in a place set aside for livestock, with shepherds as his first worshippers.

By being born in that humble place He showed that he was available to all – from the lowliest shepherd, to the mightiest king. It is fitting that our Lord said, "Let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant." (Luke 22:26)

Would Jesus have been so available to us if He had been born in a palace?

If Jesus had been born in a palace He would have been kept away from the world. Guards would have prevented ordinary men from coming to see Him. Only the rich and connected people would have had a chance to worship Him.

Jesus made Himself reachable! Not only was he reachable at His birth, he was reachable during his ministry. Even though he knew he was the Son of God, he did not stay hidden in a temple or live as a recluse, only making special appearances every once in a while. He went out amongst the people. He spoke to them. He touched them. He healed them. He was available.

Even at his darkest hour, as he hung from the cross, Jesus made himself available to a thief hanging on the cross next to Him.

This is not a complicated message. Jesus chose where he would be born, he chose the manger instead of a palace, and he receives all who come to him. He received:

• The shepherds
• The wise men
• John the Baptist
• The fishermen
• The sick and afflicted
• And, Jesus will receive us.

He’ll receive us because he loves us. However, to be saved you must receive him back. You do this by admitting that you are a sinner; believing that Jesus is God’s son; confessing your sins and asking Jesus into your heart.

So, the next time you think about the birth of Jesus remember those three words: rejection, redemption and reachability.

Yes, the manager perfectly pictures Jesus’ rejection. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. (John 1:10)

The manger perfectly pictures His redemption. He was the lamb led to slaughter and who bore the sins of many.

And, the manger perfectly pictures Jesus’ reachability. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you have done in your life. Jesus accepts us as we are. In John 6:37, Jesus tells us that, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”

So, let us return to the manger … that humble place … the place where Jesus first received us.

When you think of it, it makes perfect sense that Jesus should be placed in a manger -- a container used for the purpose of being filled with food that sustains life. After all, hasn't he been called the Bread of Life?

May God bless you.


  1. Excellent study. I really enjoyed how you broke it down and showed the why of each part, but especially why Jesus was born and placed in a food container. How perfect for the BREAD OF LIFE!
    I am always fascinated by the symbolism in Scripture. Thank you for sharing this one.

    Have a blessed day!

  2. I am blessed that my God is reachable. And a relationship with Him is as simple as receiving Him.
    Thank you - GREAT words.

  3. Thank you Dr. T. What beautiful symbolism. Christ taught us that the least would be the greatest, and the greatest would be the least. He is truly the greatest, the most humble, the most magnificent. The depth of your studies helps to give the understanding necessary for others to become "even as He is".