Was Jesus Born in a Barn, Cave, or House?

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The question “Where was Jesus born?” is surprisingly tricky. The easy answer is, “In Bethlehem.” Yes, but where? The typical nativity scene features the holy family in a stable that looks like a barn, separate from the Inn, where there was no room. But is this accurate? Most historians and scholars say, “Not so much.”

This is a question that I’ve seen pop up more frequently on social media this year than in previous years, so I figured I’d take some time to lay out the facts and present some of the more popular theories.

What We Know
We know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was no room “in the inn,” and that he was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger.

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
Luke 2:4-7 (ESV)

Aside from these basics, there’s a lot of detail left open: Why were they turned away from “the inn?” Why was there a manger, does that mean they were in the barn with the animals? Where did people in ancient Bethlehem keep the animals? These types of questions have led to a few different theories about where Jesus was actually born, which are briefly summarized below. Continue reading

God Chose a Poor Family

Manger

One of the details about Christ’s birth that can be overlooked is the poverty of Mary and Joseph. When we consider that the infinite, holy, Triune God who created the heavens and earth became a baby boy, we would expect him to choose an appropriate home. How many parents, when presented with the option to choose what type of home in which choose poverty?

But this is exactly what God did. He was not born in a mansion. He did not entrust Jesus to a powerful or influential family. God didn’t even choose the equivalent of a middle-class family. Instead, he choose a young woman who was engaged to a poor but godly man… knowing that their family would be shrouded in rumors and suspicion because of the apparent-infidelity that surrounded Jesus’ birth.

Luke 2:22-24 tells of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple. Each family, upon the birth of their firstborn child, would present an offering to the Lord (see Leviticus 12:6-8). The offering would be a lamb and either a dove or pigeon. This was an offering most middle-class families would be able to afford. It wasn’t extravagant, but required enough sacrifice that it was a meaningful offering to the Lord. But if the family was poor and could not afford such an offering, they could present two doves or pigeons.

Do you think you have little to offer God?

Remember Mary and Joseph. Of all the people God could have chosen, he chose them. Their godliness was of greater value than any offering they could have presented in the temple. Do not allow your lack of resources or prominence to keep you from believing God is able to use you.

They simply obeyed God. When the angel declared to them that the child would be the Messiah, they obeyed. When the Torah told them to offer a sacrifice in the temple for their firstborn, they obeyed. When the angel told them to escape to Egypt, they obeyed. In the midst of their simple obedience… God was at work in miraculous ways.

Doesn’t that just sound like the way of the gospel? God choosing those who have nothing to offer except faith-filled obedience, trusting in the power of God to provide.

What Jesus Meant by Entering the Kingdom as Children

Boy with Bible Laughing

I am convinced one of the most misunderstood Bible passages is where Jesus tells his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4) Why would Jesus say we need to enter the kingdom of heaven as children?

I’ve heard many explanations about how children are obedient and respectful, and so we should be the same way towards God. At the risk of sounding like a terrible parent, this simply isn’t how I’d describe my parenting experience. Being a father is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Sometimes it’s downright painful. Kids have a way of knowing they’re not in control but they keep grasping for authority.

Don’t we do that same thing to God? We know we aren’t in control, but we grab every opportunity whenever a window cracks open to exert our authority and try to grab control over life. Like the child who wants a suitable explanation for every decision, we keep asking God, “Why? Why? Why?” And if his answers are unacceptable (or if he simply says, “Because I said so.”) then we stomp our feet and look for someone else to tell us what we want to hear.

We don’t enter the kingdom of heaven as children because we have become so gentle and obedient. We enter as children because of our Heavenly Father. To boil it down is this: Christians have been adopted as children of God. This is why Jesus said you must be like a child to enter the kingdom.

When the disciples tried to keep the children from coming to Jesus, I am convinced that Jesus was urging his disciples to remember their status as disciples had nothing to do with their own importance. The disciples believed they were more important than those kids. But Jesus rebuked them and set them straight. Only those who are children of God will enter the Kingdom of God. It depends on their relationship with the Father, not because of their own value.

Remember, in the ancient world, children had barely any status – their value and importance came from their daddy. The good news of the gospel is this, “But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Those who lay down their status and declare their only entrance into heaven comes from Jesus Christ their Savior (remember, the end of Mt. 17 emphasizes Jesus as the Son of God)… those are the people who will be given entrance. Salvation isn’t a result of works, it is a gift of grace because you have been adopted as a child of God (Eph 2:8-10).

So next time you hear someone talking about how Jesus wants us to be gentle and cuddly little kids, you can smile to yourself and say, “Yes, we should be that too. But we aren’t. In fact, lots of times we’re pretty disrespectful children. Praise be to God that he’s a gracious Father!”

Are These the End Times?

Eclipse

Wars. Terrorism. Earthquakes. Increasing racial and political tension. Even a solar eclipse! Some people may be wondering, “Are these the end times? These must be signs that we’re nearing the end, and Jesus’ return is soon!”

In what is known as the “Olivet Discourse” (because the conversation took place on the Mount of Olives), Jesus addressed the end times with a small group of his apostles. That conversation is relayed for us in Mark 13. Here are a few of the highlights:

“Do you see these great buildings (the Temple)? Not one stone will be left upon another—all will be thrown down.”

“Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be alarmed; these things must take place, but it is not yet the end. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.”

“But in those days, after that tribulation: The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not shed its light; the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. He will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“Now concerning that day or hour no one knows—neither the angels in heaven nor the Son—but only the Father. Watch! Be alert! For you don’t know when the time is coming.”

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How Jesus Built the Church

Wooden Doors

When most of us think of Jesus, he is a meek and mild Savior who brings comfort and peace. That’s certainly true of him, but the Gospel of Mark highlight’s Jesus’ authority and power. This is a side of Jesus we easily overlook after years of familiarity with the Bible.

The opening verses (Mark 1:1-13) set the stage for Jesus to walk into the spotlight. Jesus is identified by John the Baptist as the Messiah, the long awaited “chosen one” who was foretold by prophets of centuries past. When Jesus is baptized, God himself speaks and identifies Jesus as “my beloved son.” Immediately after being baptized, Jesus endures temptation in the desert for forty days and nights. These present Jesus as the Messiah who is both God and human. These opening verses highlight that Jesus was always God’s “Plan A.”

Mark 1:15-19 is significant because Jesus’ first words are preserved for us (since Mark was the earliest-written Gospel in the Bible) are these: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” He identifies himself as the Messiah who has come to bring the kingdom of God, and he welcomes sinners to enter into it through repentance and faith in the gospel. This is Jesus’ mission… and immediately after his mission is announced, he starts to build his Church by recruiting the first disciples.

Mark 1:21-45 highlight Jesus’ authority over demons and sickness. When Jesus is teaching in the temple a demon-possessed man literally cried out for mercy. The crowds begin to flock to Jesus, seeking deliverance and healing. In v.38 the disciples say, “Everyone is looking for you.” But Jesus responds, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” He could have stayed and built a huge ministry-platform, but he rejected the ministry opportunity in order to fulfill his mission. His time had not yet come to be recognized as the Messiah. While the Gospel of Mark was written in the generation after Jesus’ ascension, the gospel was spreading and Christians were being persecuted and Jesus’ authority was the foundation of their perseverance. These verses demonstrate the power and authority of Jesus, and encourage believers to live in faith rather than fear.

When we look in Mark 1 we see Jesus built his Church through two ministry priorities:

  1. Preaching the good news and inviting sinners to repent
  2. Training disciples

The Great Commission was not something Jesus thought of near the end of his ministry. It was the driving force behind everything he did… that all peoples of the earth would repent and believe in the gospel and become disciples who are “fishers of men.” He would not allow miracles and social ministry to distract him from these two priorities. Obviously, he healed many and performed miracles, but the miracles always led to preaching or proved his authority to say what he said.

Jesus is the savior of those who are desperate and weary from their labors. He also causes demons to shudder and beg for mercy. Jesus brought the kingdom of God, and sinners are invited to enter through repentance and faith in the gospel. Speak the gospel to people with confidence, not embarrasment. Remember the authority of Jesus Christ and confidently proclaim the kingdom of God and invite others to enter in as new disciples, because Jesus continues to build his church through the gospel.

The Proverbs 31 Woman is About Jesus

The description of the “wife of noble character” has always been a picture of biblical womanhood. She is a woman who provides for her family by fearing the Lord, shrewd business leadership, compassion, and tender care. On one hand, this woman is no push-over, and she isn’t a weak-willed subordinate. On the other hand, the “P31 woman” is not simply climbing a corporate ladder (note: this isn’t sexist, I also regularly caution men against ladder-climbing attitudes); she works hard for the sake of her husband and her children and she presses forward each day to provide for her family.

Proverbs 31:10-31 is King Lemuel’s advice to his son about what to look for in a godly wife. To be clear, this article is not written in an attempt to correct a perceived misunderstanding, but to fill out that she is noble and excellent because she is like Jesus. While it’s too far to say “Jesus is the Proverbs 31 woman,” it should be clear that we see Jesus through her description.

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Four Reasons to be Confident in the Resurrection 

Easter makes Good Friday good. Without the resurrection, that Friday would’ve been the most terrible Friday in human history. The only thing that could compete would be if Adam and Eve ate from the tree (Genesis 3). 

What would happen to your faith if Jesus never rose from the dead? Some people may be tempted to say, “Well, I’d still believe. Jesus’ teachings are still worth following, and he did die for our sins even if he didn’t rise from the dead.”

The Apostle Paul says this,“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17)

How Can We Be Confident in the Resurrection? 

(The following is a summary of the video above along with some of my thoughts added. The video is worth your time, it’s very well done.)

“I’m not saying they really saw the real Jesus. I don’t know what they saw. But as a historian, I know they must have seen something.”
(Dr. Paula Fredrikson, Boston University)



The Body 

They never found Jesus’ body. How did the disciples overpower the armed-guards and roll away the stone to steal the body? After they started preaching about the resurrection, the whole region was swarming with people looking for the body, but they never found it.

The Apostles

They were hopeless at best, cowards at worst. Their master and lord had been killed. Terrified and dejected, they hid from the authorities in a locked room to protect themselves from suffering the same fate as Jesus. These were not men bold enough to devise a revolution.

But something happened. Suddenly these men were in the streets of Jerusalem preaching about the resurrection. They set the world afire through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As the video above states, “liars make terrible martyrs!” They truly believed they saw what they said they saw. Not one of them ever recanted their faith, even while being tortured and killed for it. If they were lying, someone would’ve cracked and squealed. Instead, their courage came because they truly saw the risen Christ.

The Skeptics

James was the brother of Jesus. He thought Jesus had a few screws loose and didn’t believe his message until after Jesus’ resurrection. Suddenly, he does a 180 and becomes the leader of the church in Jerusalem (which endured incredible opposition and persecution) and he wrote the book of James in the New Testament.

Paul was so opposed to the resurrection he was essentially the leader of ISIS, arresting Christians and killing them if they refused to deny Christ. Paul tells his story in Acts 9 where he meets Jesus and is called as a missionary and teacher.

What happened in these men who were so opposed to the message of Jesus? They must have seen something…

The Church

If I was going to start a lie about the resurrection of Jesus, Jerusalem would be the last place I’d start that lie. That’s where he was just killed, so it’s not exactly a “friendly” crowd. Besides, if it’s a lie, these are the people who would know better. I’d start this new teaching somewhere far away from where I’m saying this miraculous thing happened!

It would have taken a long time for the apostles to agree on their story of what they saw and what it means. Instead, at Pentecost they immediately started proclaiming the resurrection the Church exploded onto the scene from the very place where Jesus was crucified.

Live With Confident Faith

There is always the need for faith. Yes, there are arguments against these “proofs.” If you are looking for a reason to doubt, you will likely find one.

But these are provided to encourage you that your faith does not need to be blind or unreasonable. There have been many times when my faith has been rescued and restored by the simple question, “What about the resurrection?” The Christian faith really boils down to that one foundational question… what happened to Jesus? If it was a big conspiracy, then you will deny everything else. But, if Jesus really did rise from the grave, that changes absolutely everything.

Don’t Sterilize the Cross

Cross

“Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:1b-2 (CSB)

On this Good Friday, let us remember the Cross was a brutal form of ancient torture so barbaric the Romans outlawed its use. It was like the electric chair or waterboarding… something only done to those who are the worst-of-the-worst of criminals. Like the electric chair, it’s goal was always death in a way that was shameful and painful; like waterboarding, it was only done to those who are not citizens but people who are considered great threats against the government.

Meanwhile, we have sterilized and gilded it as a piece of jewelry to wear around our necks. Perhaps your cross necklace truly draws you to remember the shame and torture Jesus endured for your salvation. But my gut says most of us have simply covered the cross with gold and made it into an ornament.

We don’t like considering the pain and torture Christ endured. It seems so barbaric and inhumane. But today, as we consider Christ’s sacrificial and atoning death on the cross, remember what he endured for you.

Take a few minutes to glimpse into the reality of crucifixion by meditating on The Horror of Crucifixion, which features a powerful audio clip which conveys the shame and terror that the cross would bring.

This Easter season, let the cross remain gritty. It was there that your sin and guilt and shame were removed – and replaced with purity and holiness and grace.

What does Palm Sunday have to do with Good Friday?

Palm Branch

On Palm Sunday we often talk about the Triumphal Entry, when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey and the people gathered to cheer and celebrate him as a prophet, laying palm branches down before him in joyful celebration. This fulfilled multiple prophecies and it showed us a foretaste of Christ’s kingship where all peoples would worship him in glory. It seemed that the Messiah’s plan was being fulfilled, but only a few days later the religious leaders stirred the people against Jesus and they put him to death for blasphemy and treason.

Jesus’ triumphal entry may have begun while riding on top of a donkey, but was fulfilled while carrying his cross to Golgotha on Good Friday. Jesus was a different type of Messiah than the people expected or wanted. They wanted a savior from the Romans who would restore the glory and pure-worship of Israel.

He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him.
Colossians 2:14-15 (CSB)

Matthew 16:13-28 shows a helpful narrative to set Palm Sunday in context with Good Friday. Once Peter offers the first confession of Christ (“You are the messiah, the son of the living God”), Jesus then begins to tell the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die and be resurrected.

Peter’s rebuke (“Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to you!”) completely makes sense when you put yourself in the disciples’ sandals.

  • You’ve walked the dusty streets, watching Jesus place his hands on lepers. But instead of the leprosy transferring to his flesh, his purity cleanses them and brings healing. (Matthew 8:1-4)
  • You’ve trembled when confronted by the demon-possessed, and yet the demons were the ones who shuddered in fear when Jesus came walking along. (Matthew 8:28-34)
  • You’ve fought against storms on the sea, fearful that your ship was falling apart until Jesus woke up and told the waves to calm down… and they did. (Matthew 8:23-27)
  • During another storm Jesus simply walked on the water, even while it was threatening to sink you. (Matthew 14:22-33)
  • You’ve seen Jesus swarmed by thousands of hungry people and make enough for a small meal feast for the entire crowd… with leftovers. (Matthew 14:13-21)

So when Jesus begins to foretell his death and resurrection, the disciples are rightly shocked. This isn’t what they expected from their master who has shown such great power and authority. Why would he suffer like that?

And not only does Jesus rebuke Peter, he responds by saying, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” He essentially says Peter, not only must this happen to me, it must happen to you too… and to anyone else who wants to follow me. Cross carrying is at the heart of Christianity.

Jesus’ plan all along was to enter Jerusalem triumphantly. Colossians 2:14-15 reminds us Jesus was triumphant over the debt of sin by nailing it to the cross. His hour of greatness was not when he rode into the city on top of that donkey, but when he gave his life on the cross and when he rose victoriously over sin and death.

Note: This is an excerpt based off a sermon I preached on 4/9/17 at Emmanuel Baptist Church. When the sermon audio is online I will include it here when it’s available. 

Why Did Jesus Come? For These Two Reasons…

Who knew that sweet baby boy in the manger would be the most controversial human in history? More ink has been spilled about him than anyone else who has ever lived.

It’s so easy for us to lose sight of the divisiveness of Jesus. He’s one person with whom you can’t sit on the fence: you either believe he is the Son of God and the savior of the world, or you don’t. He is either who the Bible says he is, or he’s just another misunderstood teacher who got himself in trouble by criticizing people of power.

In the midst of all the wrapping paper and Christmas presents, we can easily forget the controversial nature of Jesus’ mission. He was not born simply to provide a nice example for people to follow.

The following are the specific verses where Jesus explicitly says why he came (as well as a few other relevant verses from the New Testament). May these remind you why Christmas is worth celebrating.

mary-and-eve

Sr Columba Guare © 2005 Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey

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