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The Babe Of Bethlehem

by

R. H. Boll

    RHBoll  The story of Jesus does not begin with His birth, as do the biographies of men. In the beginning before aught else existed was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Before the foundation of the world He was in the bosom of the Father, the object of the Father’s love (for “the Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hands”); and before the world was, He shared the Father’s own glory. It was through Him that God planned the ages, and through Him all things were created–all things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; and without Him was not anything made that hath been made. It was of Him that it is written–“Thou Lord in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy hands: they shall perish, but thou continuest; and they shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a mantle shalt thou roll them up–and they shall be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.” (Heb. 1:10-12.)  “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

His entry into the world of mankind was of His own choice and by the Father’s will. With purpose and intent He laid aside His divine glory; and “existing in the form of God, he counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:6-.)  “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” says Paul, “that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9.) There was then a time when He was rich–and how rich!–and then He became poor, and that deliberately, for our sakes: how poor the story itself will show; that through His poverty His redeemed ones might become rich–how inconceivably rich!

His coming into the world was carefully planned from of old, both as to time and manner. In the garden of Eden it was announced that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head; and “When the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman . . . that He might redeem them that were under the law.” (Gal. 4:4-5.)  To none other that ever lived could the term “the woman’s seed” be so perfectly applied. He had no human father. But to a pure and humble maiden of Nazareth in Galilee was made known God’s counsel and purpose in a wondrous message, borne by an angel of God, that she should bear a son, whose name was to be called Jesus. “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him  the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:31-35).  This, as the gospel of Matthew tells us was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which is, being interpreted, God with us.” (Matt. 1:22-23.)

When one day W. E. Gladstone, the “grand old man” of England, and the Archbishop of Canterbury were with Queen Victoria, the queen said to Gladstone–“In all your wide reading, what in your judgment is the most sublime passage in literature?” “The first verse of the first chapter of Genesis, Your Majesty,” Gladstone answered promptly: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” “And what is the most beautiful story you have ever read?” queried the queen. “The most beautiful story I have ever seen or heard, Your Majesty, is the story of the Nativity, as given in the gospel of St. Luke,” Gladstone answered. Those among us who know and believe will also bear testimony that nothing could exceed the wonder and beauty of the story of the Savior’s birth.

But it is beauty in a strange setting. We see a poorly-clad man who is helping a frail woman–his betrothed

wife–along the toilsome way. It was slow going, weary and painful, and the journey is long–some seventy miles from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem. For the Roman census has summoned him to the city of his fathers, and his wife could not be left behind. It was late when they arrived. There was no room for them in the inn. They found shelter in a stable. It was there, during the night that God gave to the woman, and through her, to all mankind, the most precious Gift He ever bestowed or could bestow–as said the prophet, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Out in the fields shepherds were keeping their flocks by night; and an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, “and they were sore afraid.” And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold I bring your good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this is the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.” The vision disappeared and the shepherds hastened to the nearby village, and [278] there found Mary and Joseph in the stable, and the babe in the manger, as the angel had said. Strange entry for God’s King! How pitifully poor was this Child! If he had been born in a royal palace and laid upon silken beds, the descent from His bright home above would still have been immeasurable. But not in any human habitation was He to be born, but in a cattle-shed; His first cradle was to be a trough in which the beasts were fed. No pretty little clothes awaited this little new-comer, such as loving hands prepare for the babes that are born in our homes, but in rough goods from the bolt–“swaddling-clothes”–was He wrapped. And as if to pour contempt on all pride of man, it was not to lords and princes, nor even to priests and scribes, that announcement of the new-born King’s arrival was sent, but to the lowly, simple-hearted men who pastured sheep on Bethlehem’s hillsides.

In a Bible class the question was raised why the Lord of glory chose so lowly a birth; and one suggested that perhaps it was that no person, however poor and lowly, should ever have room to think that the Lord Jesus would look down on him. The first step was also the beginning of a life of poverty–first in the wretched village of Nazareth where He grew up; then in His ministry, when He had nowhere to lay His head; and on down to His death when they stripped Him of His garments and vesture, and nailed Him on a tree, and friendly hands laid Him in a borrowed tomb. Strange indeed were the ways of God and the counsel of His love.

Yet in this Child of Poverty was wrapped up the world’s hope. This was the Day-spring from on high, sent by the tender mercies of God, to shine upon them that sat in darkness in the shadow of death. Of this Child old Simeon said, as he tenderly held it in his arms, “Now lettest thou thy servants depart, Lord, according to thy word, in peace; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples.” (Luke 2;29-32.)  For “in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12.)  Therefore also must His Name be called Jesus: “for it is he that shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21.)

The gospel of our salvation begins not at Bethlehem, but at Calvary; not at the cradle, but at the cross. Yet that cradle had to be that the cross might be. In the common course of things we all are born to die. But this Child was born that He might die–not of necessity like all the rest; with intent and purpose He partook of our flesh and blood, “that through death He might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and that he might deliver all of them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Heb. 2:14-15.)  Thus came this wondrous Child [279] into the world–wonderful in His entrance, wonderful in His life and work; wonderful in His death and His victorious resurrection; wonderful now in His ministry of the heavenly sanctuary.

But His final work is not as yet manifest, Was it “Peace on earth, good will to men” the angelic host shouted in their praise of God on that fateful night when Christ was born in Bethlehem? Alas, near two thousand years have passed since then–two thousand years filled with strife and bloodshed and heartbreak. Even today the world is locked in death-struggle, in the cruelest and most terrible war of all time. Has the angels’ announcement proved futile and false? Let us for the moment look back. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not.” He was despised and rejected–but it was by this means that the things which God had foretold by His prophets, that His Christ should suffer, were fulfilled. But there were individuals then, and since, many, who received Him. And, “to as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name; who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Not the world at large, not any nation as such, but individual believers–these does the good Shepherd now gather into one fold–“elect from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth.” These are His own. They are not of the world. They share His rejection and His sufferings, and are biding the coming Day.

For the promise of peace on earth, good will to men, is yet to be fulfilled. The day is coming when all that is promised and all that is foretold shall come to pass, since the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. In that day the righteous flourish and abundance of peace till the moon be no more. “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle tree; the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose; and the knowledge of Jehovah shall cover the earth as waters cover the sea.” When the seventh trumpet is sounded voices from heaven announce “the kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of the Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15.) For Jesus is coming again. He who once was the Babe of Bethlehem, who walked in poverty and humiliation on the earth; who died for our sins on the cross of Calvary; who rose from the dead and ascended to the Father; He to whom now belongs all power and authority in heaven and on earth, He will come again. He will make good all the Messianic promises of the prophets of old. For this event all creation waits. And His own, who in this day have fled to Him for refuge, who have confessed His name and received Him as their Savior and  Lord–they too watch and wait till the day dawn and the morning star shall arise in their hearts. The old hymn pictured this, the Christian’s blessed hope:

 

The Morning Star

Emma Frances Bevan, 1899

I woke and the night was passing

And over the hills there shown

A star all alone in its beauty

When the other stars were gone.

For a glory was filling the heavens

    That came before the day,

After the gloom and the stars together

    Faded and passed away.

Only the star of the morning

    Glowed in the crimson sky–

It was like a clear voice singing:

    Rejoice for the Sun is nigh!

O children a Star is shining

    Into the hearts of men.

It is Christ with a voice of singing:

    Rejoice, for I come again.

For the long, long night is passing,

    And there cometh the golden day;

I come to my own who love me,

    To take them all away.

It may be today or tomorrow,

    Soon it will surely be;

Then past are the tears and the sorrow,

                                                                 Then home for ever with Me.

 

[“The Babe of Bethlehem.” The Word and Work 38 (December 1944): 277-281.]

-R. H. Boll  (1875-1956)  Editor of ‘Word and Work.” 1916-1956




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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10