The Pathway of the Perfect Man (2): Bethlehem

Jim Flanigan

It was noted in the earlier meditation that Luke’s account of the Incarnation of the Savior in chapter 2 begins with a reference to Cæsar the emperor but then moves immediately to Joseph the carpenter. What a contrast! As has been suggested, one depicts sovereignty and the other represents poverty, and just as the real sovereignty is in the manger so also is the true poverty.

Perhaps we cannot really measure the Savior’s poverty since we cannot fully measure His riches in glory. "He became poor," Paul writes, "Ye know His poverty" (2Cor 8:9). He owned heaven and earth and the entire creation. The cattle on a thousand hills were His (Psa 50:10). But He became poor. Other different words are translated "poor" in our New Testament, indicating varying degrees of poverty but this word means "destitute." Our Lord never owned property. He never accumulated earthly riches. Never do we read of Him ever handling money. When He died He bequeathed only His few personal garments and these were stolen from Him. He became poor indeed, and that voluntarily. He was born of a maiden who, when her time came for bringing an offering to the Lord, availed herself of the law for the poor and offered only two little birds (Luke 2:22-24; Lev 12:2, 6, 8).

The emperor and his offspring may well be draped in scarlet and ermine, but the Carpenter was truly poor and Mary’s child was wrapped only in swaddling bands. But yet, He was the inestimably great One whose glory, in the purpose of God, had been temporarily veiled for the divine visitation to earth.

We are then introduced to the shepherds. A plaque in the fields at Bethlehem today reads, "The revelation of God’s great condescension was first given to shepherds, poorest of sinners. Still, today, God’s word is true that He will behold those who are of a contrite heart and will dwell with them." How interesting it is, and how very fitting, that the angelic messengers brought their message to shepherds first of all. They by-passed the king and his cohorts, both governors and tetrarchs. Likewise they ignored high priests and chief priests as well as a legion of priests who ministered in Judæa at that time, and appeared first to humble shepherds.

The shepherds abode in the fields and kept the night watches, overseeing their flocks. It was a demanding ministry, requiring constant and careful watchfulness both day and night. But while these shepherds guarded their sheep they were now to learn that the Shepherd of Israel had come to Bethlehem and slept, wrapped in swaddling clothes, in a manger bed. Later, in the days of His flesh He would say, "I am the good Shepherd; the good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep." And again, "I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine" (John 10:11, 14). He was no hireling. The sheep were His own and He would love them to the extent of giving His life for them, and they would love Him in return. It is perhaps not surprising that the shepherds should say, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass" (Luke 2:15).

What a sight and what a scene that was on that memorable night: A multitude of the heavenly host addressing a few humble shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem. And what a message they brought! It was a message of glad tidings and great joy. A Savior had been born. He was Christ the Lord. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace! Probably not since the day of creation had there been such a time for rejoicing as this. Would some of the angels in this heavenly host remember that creation morn, "When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7)?

Notice that when the herald angel first appeared to the shepherds, the glory of the Lord shone round about them. But even greater than the glory of the Lord was the fact that the Lord of glory had made His advent. There was no need to be afraid. The Lord of glory had come in the form of a little Babe. So they went to see and left the scene praising and glorifying God.

Luke’s narrative then moves on and some 40 days later, Joseph and Mary bring the Child to Jerusalem, to the temple. It is refreshing to know that amid the unbelief and apathy of the nation and the hypocrisy of scribes and Pharisees there were hearts that genuinely waited for the Messiah. Of these, Simeon and Anna were representative and typical. "There was a man … Simeon … and there was one Anna" (Luke 2:25, 36).

What a true worshipper Simeon was! He stood in the temple with the Christ in his arms and looking up he blessed God. So do we in this later day stand in a greater temple and bless God, bringing our gratitude for the gift of His Son. What a principle there is here too; Simeon blessed God (v28) and then blessed them (v34). The man who speaks well of God speaks well of God’s people. Nor was Simeon parochial for he could see beyond Israel and knew that He Who was the glory of Israel would be a Light to lighten the Gentiles too.

Anna was likewise a truly devoted soul who had waited for this day. She was very much advanced in years. It was 91 years since her wedding day but after a short married life of only seven years she had now been widowed for 84 years and for these many years she had given herself to a service of fasting and prayers, never departing from the temple either by night or day. Little is recorded of her words but she gave thanks to God and spake of Him to those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. The Redeemer had come!

Bethlehem! What memories! But the central wonder is a Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. May we, too, sincerely serve and worship.

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