Three Christmas story details you might not be aware of
1. Jesus was born in a rock cave (“a stable”)
Since ancient times, and during the time of Christ, wood was extremely sparse and typically available only to rich noblemen and kings; therefore, buildings were made almost entirely of dolomitic limestone which is extremely dense and weather resistant. Today we refer to this type of stone as “Jerusalem Stone” and in fact, since 1918, municipal laws in Jerusalem require that all buildings in Jerusalem be faced with Jerusalem stone, and hence if you visit Jerusalem, all buildings take on the same outward appearance, includes individual homes.
Even though the scriptures do not specifically say that Jesus was born in the “stable” we are told that He was placed in a “manger” (which is inside the stable). Since we know that there was no room for them at the inn and they stayed in the “stable” we can safely assume that is the location where Jesus was actually born as well (Luke 2:7). The function of a stable then is the same as a stable today. It is a place where animals were kept. Stables back then were not man-made but natural caves on the surface of the ground which you can see today in Israel. Since they mostly held shepherd’s sheep at night they were referred to as “sheep fold caves”. This is the type of cave that Mary and Joseph were staying in along with shepherds and their sheep the night that Jesus was born.
We are told that when Jesus was born, he was wrapped in “swaddling clothes” and laid in a “manger”. Swaddling clothes are narrow bands of clean fabric that happened to present in the cave and Mary used them to wrap up the newly born Jesus and then laid Him into a feeding trough which is a carved-out stone basin used to provide food and water for the animals (most likely sheep in this case). I doubt if Mary herself understood the significance of what she had just done! (Luke 2:19)
2. Shepherds who would understand were greeted by Angels
The night that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, an angel met shepherds tending flocks, along with a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and declared to them that the Savior, who is Christ the Lord, had been born in Bethlehem. Since the shepherds were close enough to Bethlehem to drop everything and travel right then to see Jesus, it is a logical assumption due to the typology and distances between towns that these shepherds were the shepherds that tended the flocks of the Jerusalem priests. From where they tended the flocks, they could see Bethlehem as it sat on a hill about 6 miles to the southeast.
These shepherds weren’t ordinary shepherds either as they had a special task that was critical to the temple and the sacrifices made to God. You see, when people came to the temple and made a sacrifice, if you were well off, you were to bring a lamb without a spot or any blemish. If you did not have such a sacrifice, you could purchase one from the temple which the shepherds would provide.
Their task was simple. When a lamb was being born, the shepherds assisted with the birth as the lamb could not touch the ground until they were cleaned and examined thoroughly. If they found that it had a “spot”, or physical defect, they would then put it on the ground so it could mix with the other lambs. It would not be suitable for a sacrifice as only the best could be offered to God. If the lamb was spotless, or physically perfect, then it was their job to ensure that it did not get hurt in any way and possibly get a “blemish”, which is a small cut, wound, bruise, or any other small flaw from the time it was born to the time it was sacrificed. To make sure that the spotless lamb’s feet didn’t get cut on the rocks, they would wrap the lambs’ feet with clean “swaddling clothes” that were already there for that purpose. Only after the lamb’s feet were wrapped up would they place the lamb on the ground to walk.
When the shepherds came to the cave where Jesus was laid in the manger, they saw Him wrapped in the same swaddling strips used to cover the spotless lambs to prevent them from getting a blemish and they understood immediately that Jesus was indeed the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29) who came to be sacrificed at Passover, and hence providing a means by which the relationship between us and God can be reestablished for those that accept His gift of salvation and continuously be led by the Holy Spirit as we serve the Lord.
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were … redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet 1:18-19)
3. The visit of the kings from the East
We have all heard of the story of the three kings from the East being led by the Bethlehem star that came to worship our Lord in the manger, but the actual details of the real events are typically not depicted in the modern Christmas renditions. It is these embellished and altered stories that hinder a secular person from taking Christians seriously.
Let’s start with the wise men, or kings, and the Roman Empire. At the time Christ came the first time, everything had already been prepared for Him. There was a universal extremely simple and logical language (Koine Greek). There was worldwide commerce with a road system created by the Roman Empire extending to the ends of the connected continents which all converged in Israel (In other words, all commerce in the world passed through Israel to/from the three continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa). But most importantly, there was universal peace. Granted, it was peace due to the power and intimidation of the Roman Empire, but there were currently no wars, and God’s message could be spread to the ends of the earth on the road system that was set up using the universal language that was also in place.
As we know, there were no wars but that doesn’t mean the Roman Empire won all the battles. In fact, they had lost several battles to kings in the East where their forces were the weakest. Since the scriptures talk about kings of the East that come together to Israel to worship the Lord, we can assume that God Himself protected them against the Roman Empire for this purpose. At that time, it was a crime (whose punishment was immediate death) to say you were a king as there was no king except Caesar (Caesar Augustus in this case; Luke 2:1). [On a very sad note, when Christ was being tried by Pilate over 33 years later, it was the chief priests that said, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). They would not even acknowledge that God was their King.]
The kings talk to Herod who was afraid of them:
To approach the Governor (Herod) of a Roman Provenance (Israel) and to declare that you are “kings” and have come to worship the “King of the Jews” (Matt 2:2) that was born in Herod’s province begs the question: Why didn’t Herod immediately have these people arrested and put to death right then? The scriptures do not directly say this but perhaps it wasn’t necessary for Matthew to spell out the obvious. When kings traveled, they did not travel alone, especially when they had a long journey and they had valuable gifts in their possession. It would be amiss to think that they did not have a very significant regiment of soldiers to protect them and carry the provisions for the very long journey.
So, when the kings that the Roman Empire couldn’t previously conquer and their regiments of soldiers regiments came to see Herod about Jesus’ location, Herod must have been incredibly scared of them (Matt 2:3) and cooperated with them in having his scholars reference the Old Testament scriptures to determine where Jesus was born (Bethlehem, just 6 miles away: Mic 5:2). Herod knew Jesus must be killed according to Roman law so he wanted to know from the kings “when” they first met the “star” who told them about Jesus’ birth to know at what age to start killing children. They told Herod the time and he reasoned that if he killed every child in that region two years old and younger then Jesus would be among them (Matt 2:7, Matt 2:16).
There was no “star of Bethlehem”:
The word star was used interchangeably for Angel, messenger, or even Jesus himself (Num 24:17, Rev 22:16). An inanimate object is an “it”, but a person is a male or female. The “star” being referred to has the consistent parsing of a male that met them and not an inanimate object (Matt 2:2, 7, 9, 10). The kings also say that they “met” him (the star) when they were in the East (back home) and were led to Israel. Another way of saying that is that they were told to go to Israel where they would find Jesus. When they got to Israel, they didn’t know where to go so they inquired of Herod’s scholars.
The kings did not go to Bethlehem:
Herod left them with the impression that Jesus was possibly still in Bethlehem (6 miles to the SE) because that is where He was born but when they left Herold, the angel (he) met them (Matt 2:11) and took them to Mary’s house (Matt 2:12) in Nazareth (65 miles to the North). [After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem to dedicate Jesus to the Lord (Luke 2:21) and then back home to Nazareth (Luke 2:39) ] After the wise men gave their gifts to Jesus who was perhaps 18 months old or older at that time, Mary and Joseph had the funds to then take Jesus to Egypt and live off the gifts until the death of Herod so they could return home to Nazareth (Matt 2:19-23).
Celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour
I personally don’t understand why God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us in order to restore the relationship with us that was lost when Adam sinned. His plan of salvation comes with an “IF”. We must choose to accept Him and follow Him continuously. God will never force anyone to go to heaven no matter how much He loves us.
December 25th has been the date chosen for Christians to celebrate Jesus’ birth since sometime in the 4th century. It is a time we should reflect on how unworthy we are to even be offered such an amazing eternal and everlasting gift for those that accept the Holy Spirit and follow Him always will we are reunited with Christ. Knowing that Christ is not willing that any should perish, today is also a day, like all days, that we need to witness to others about Jesus’ birth and the Good News.
In these special last days in which the Lord has chosen to have you live, we are required to put on the “Whole Armor of God” as there will be a significant deception that will fall over the entire earth, and many Christians will be deceived. [The Armor of God topic was covered in a prior email. If you wish a copy, please send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.] The next more important thing you can do is pray and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and study God’s Word. The end times are approaching, and we must work while it is still day because when the night comes, no one can work. (Paraphrasing John 9:4).
While you study, I would suggest using “The Pure Word” as a complement to your favorite translation to understand more fully the meaning of each verse. Over the centuries, definitions of individual words have been slowly changing. It is the only translation that incorporates the original meanings of each of the 5,624 Greek root words as written over 1,900 years ago, along with their detailed parsings.