Making the Journey-How Do You Get to Bethlehem?
Scripture of the Month- Isaiah 9:6-For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
How many of you will be traveling at some point this week? There are a lot of trips made during this time of year for sure. Traveling, journeying, is just as much a part of Christmas now as it was that first Christmas in Bethlehem now so many years ago. There are lots of reasons why people are willing to make trips during this time of the year. In the message this morning, I want to focus on why the different journeys were made to Bethlehem.
Complete this sentence: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one __________.” What is it that compels us to take steps toward Jesus? Steps on a journey with God? Let’s take a look at some possible answers.
Luke 2:1-7 1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 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. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 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.
Mary and Joseph had already flexed a lot, right? To have your lives rerouted by angelic announcements, to have your wedding plans interrupted, to deal with social and relational tensions that would have naturally resulted from them being found with child before they were married, all of it was already a lot of adjustment for Joseph and Mary. And now to be told in the ninth month of her pregnancy that she was going to make an 80-mile trip either by donkey or on foot just so that she could yell, “Here” to the person who was checking off the names and counting the noses, had to be pretty annoying.
However, God was at work in and through natural processes, in and through human history, in and through the decree that Caesar Augustus sent out to get Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, to the prophesied place, so that she could deliver Jesus there. It was another level of planning that God was doing to work through the natural events of the day in order to get Mary to the place where it had been foretold that Jesus would be born.
- Natural events led Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.
God does work in and through natural events to draw people to the Christ-child. Caesar Augustus was participating in a miracle even though he didn’t do anything supernatural. He just thought it would be a good time to count the people who were part of the Roman empire. He didn’t know his decree was part of God’s plan to move Joseph and Mary into a foretold, preplanned spot for the delivery of their baby.
What I am trying to say is that God uses ordinary means to accomplish extraordinary measures. In this case, a census wasn’t merely a census. It was a fulfillment of prophecy that was being worked out through natural means.
That delay in the line at the grocery store just might be more than a delay. The red tape that requires you have an additional meeting with someone to discuss an issue might be more than a meeting. The request by a boss to work on a special project might be more than added responsibility. The class that you wanted to take but that got canceled may be God’s way of exposing you to something new you need to know.
There was a natural journey that Joseph and Mary made that led them to experience something quite supernatural as Jesus was born that Bethlehem night. Don’t discount the inconveniences, the decrees, the extra need to be flexibility at someone’s request because often God is moving us in and out of places where we can see Him at work more clearly and where we can also be part of His plan in a special way. It wasn’t ideal for Joseph and Mary to make the trip. It wasn’t a good time. Have you ever found yourself thinking, “This is not a good time for this to be happening?” We’ve all said that when an unwanted change of plans or an unwanted request has been made of us, but that which may not be a good time for us might turn out to be God’s appointed time for something very special to take place.
Sometimes God takes people to a place of faith in and through those natural means. Relationships with other Christians, an invitation to church from a believer, being “in the right place the right time” where your eyes are opened to see something spiritual that you had never seen before—all of these are the work of God to bring you to a place of understanding regarding who He is and what He can do in your life.
Luke 2:8-16 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
- A supernatural event led the shepherds to Bethlehem.
I think we can all agree that a sky filled with flying, talking, singing angels is a supernatural event. It was a miracle that prompted the shepherds to go to Bethlehem. A miracle moved them to the manager. A miracle led them to the Christ-child. No doubt, too, that the miracle gave them a measure of faith that what they witnessed when they got to Bethlehem was the stuff of Heaven. This was no ordinary baby.
My sister actually believes she was assisted by an angel when she was lost one time in TX. She was in what she perceived to be a sketchy part of a big city, late at night, and
she was given directions by someone. She turned to get into her car and remembered she hadn’t thanked the person, and turned right back around, but the person was gone. It was only a split second.
I, too, believe I saw an angel when one time there was a visitor in our church in Cincinnati who was dressed in a Harley Davidson vest (yes, angels come in all sorts of attire!) and he was holding a rose. That would stand out, right? You would notice a burly guy in a Harley vest carrying a flower into a Sunday church service. The flower was given to someone who was grieving in our church and had some special kind of significance to them. In a church of almost 700 people, that person and myself were the only two people who say they saw the individual.
Many of you have experienced miracles, moments when Heaven has impacted earth and you knew that God was behind it all. God does still perform miracles. He offers Divine help in a moment, strength for the journey, healing when doctors say there is no hope. Just google “Divine, Modern-day miracles” and you can read or watch story after story about how God is still intervening in people’s lives. I asked on Facebook for people to share their experience with modern miracles and was astonished to read the responses. One lady, someone I know personally, was told she had a tumor on an ovary and would have to have surgery the very next day. The problem, however, was she was supposed to go to China in the next few days to adopt a child. She remained in the hospital overnight in prep for the surgery. The doctor came in to do a pre-surgery sonogram, and the tumor was gone. That was 17 years ago! She has never had an issue. That is a “wow!”
Sometimes a person’s faith journey involves personal experience with a miracle to lead them to open their hearts to the reality of God’s existence and plan for their lives. I also know people, however, who have begged God for a miracle and when one was obviously delivered, their hearts were just as hardened to the things of God after the miracle as they were before. Look at Pharaoh in the book of Exodus who saw miracle after miracle after miracle, but yet still refused to surrender to God. Miracles in and of themselves aren’t enough to make people believers, but miracles can prompt people to journey closer to Christ.
The shepherds weren’t satisfied with just experiencing a miracle. They could have been. Most people would find it the thrill of a lifetime to see an angel! What more could you ask for? They could have deduced that it would be super cool to go back home and to go from house to house to tell people about the angelic visitation. But, they didn’t. They weren’t satisfied with a mere miracle. They wanted a Messiah. They needed a Savior. The shepherds wouldn’t allow a miracle be a substitution for an encounter with Jesus, and they made the journey to Bethlehem to see the Christ-child for themselves.
Going to Bethlehem, getting to the Christ-child isn’t something you can just hear stories about. It has to be a personal journey like it was for the shepherds. Some of you have had God do miracles for you, yet you have yet to make the journey towards Him to accept Him as your personal Savior. What will it take to get you to make the trip?
Matthew 2:1-2 1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
- Human curiosity led the Wise Men to Bethlehem.
Intrigued by a very bright star, the Wise Men traveled quite some distance to Bethlehem. So, let’s talk about the star for a moment. Scientists pretty much agree that the star was formed from an alignment of some planets, the sun, and the moon. So, there is a very scientific explanation for the appearance of the star. It was created when a certain configuration or alignment appeared in the sky. It just so “happened,” however, that the configuration coincided with the birth of King Jesus.
These Wise Men were into the science of astronomy. They were also learned men who were trying to make scientific observations while putting those observations together with learned prophetic wisdom. It is widely believed that the prophesies about a King being born in Bethlehem had made their way to Babylon and Persia during the time of Daniel and the exile. So, it is likely that the Wise Men were adding what they had learned to what they were seeing, to what they studied, which piqued their curiosity about the whole thing.
Their wisdom was further seen in the fact that they brought gifts that were fitting for a King. Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. Gold was a gift given to kings. Frankincense was used by priests in the Old Testament. It represents the prayers of God’s people ascending to heaven. It spoke to the priestly nature of the Messiah. Myrrh was a fragrant perfume which was used in the embalming of bodies. Including this gift can be seen as prophetic of the Messiah’s death. They not only had wisdom, but they had insight as these three gifts together would underscore the Messiah’s offices as prophet, priest, and king.
They didn’t just wonder about the Bible prophecy and the bright star. They believed God was at work. They believed the Bible prophecy they had heard. In other words, they received the truth and in doing so, they were able to continue to explore that truth when the star appeared in the sky. They wanted to be where God was at work. They wanted to see what God was revealing. They made the trip because they had a basic belief and wanted to see more.
I encourage you to ask questions, but not with a desire to debate and not with a desire to doubt. If you do, you will never take the leap of faith that is required to see God for yourself. Ask questions from a desire to believe. When you do, God adds to your faith an understanding which cements your faith.
These Wise Men came from afar with a little knowledge, but it was the right knowledge. It was the right foundation. It was God’s Word. Educate yourself on what the Scriptures say. Learn biblical principles. When you do, you will find that Science can actually support and work hand in hand with Bible history. Commit to becoming as learned as you can about the Word of God. It will not only satisfy your curiosity, but it will create more curiosity in you to know more and more and more of the truth for yourself. When God gives you a special revelation you are not only willing to journey with Him, but you can’t help yourself because it is so exciting to uncover and discover what God wants to reveal to you. And here is the truth about walking with Jesus: We will never know it all in this life. There will always be a new adventure around the corner. Keep going and growing as you follow His lead.
Philippians 2:5-8 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!
- God’s redemptive plan led Him to Bethlehem.
God’s plan to redeem the world, to free the world from the slavery and consequences of sin, was that God would become a man. This Philippians 2 passage is one of several that help us understand that Jesus didn’t cease to be God when He became a baby, but He willingly laid aside His Divine privileges and rights. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit so that He wasn’t born with a sin nature as we are. He was placed in a virgin’s womb so that His perfect nature was not tainted. He experienced life in every way that we do including every temptation we face, and He lived sinless and died sinless in order to accomplish the will of the Heavenly Father. It was all God’s plan. I love the quote I heard this past week at a David Phelps concert when he sang, “Many babies grow up to be Kings, but only one King became a baby.”
You talk about a journey! Jesus left the splendor of heaven and became like us. Imagine trading the glory of heaven for the brokenness of earth. Jesus willingly accepted certain limitations and weaknesses. He left a place without limits and a place without time to enter into the confinement that is humanity and time. Scripture tells us that God is omnipresent which means He is everywhere, but when Jesus descended to earth, he was bound to a one place at a time experience. He who was the Source of everything became a person who needed to replenish himself with food and rest. He who created the winds and waves had to find shelter from the elements.
William Dyer wrote, “Christ uncrowned himself. To crown us, He put off His robes and put on our rags.” We often think of the cross as the place of sacrifice, and rightly so, however, we must understand that the entire incarnation, the entire experience of God becoming flesh was a huge sacrifice. Love isn’t always defined by what we give, but it is often more appropriately defined by what we give up. Jesus gave up a lot to journey to Bethlehem. Jesus, God Himself, took on the nature of a servant, became human. He didn’t claim any special privilege. He lived a selfless and obedient life only to die a selfless and obedient death. In other words, He came to Bethlehem knowing it was the beginning of a life of sacrifice and a death as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. But He still came.
I love the song written by Gloria Gaither called, “He Was Just an Ordinary Baby.” Here are the lyrics:
He was just an ordinary baby,
That’s the way He planned it, maybe
Anything but common would have kept Him apart
Apart from the children that He came to rescue
Limited to some elite few
When He was the only Child who asked to be born.
And He came to us with eyes wide open,
Knowing how we’re hurt and broken
Choosing to partake of all our joy and pain
He was just an ordinary baby
That’s the way He planned it, maybe,
So that we could come to Him and not be afraid.
He was ordinary with exception
Of miraculous conception
Both His birth and death He planned from the start.
But between His entrance and His exit
Was a life that has affected everyone
Who’s walk the earth to this very day
With no airs of condescension
He became God’s pure extension
Giving you and me the chance to be remade
He was just an ordinary baby,
That’s the way He planned it, maybe
So that we could come to Him and not be afraid.
And Jesus became like us so that we could become like Him. He took on our sin. He gave His life on a cross of torture. He experienced death. His sacrifice was received by God the Father on behalf of all people of all time that those who trust in Him will one day be where He is. For He isn’t the little baby in the manger anymore. He isn’t the Suffering Servant on the cross anymore. He is seated in power at the right hand of God the Father in Heaven, and He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
It isn’t about where you start. It isn’t even about why you journey. It’s about the fact that you willingly make the journey, and it is about where you end up. Have you been moving to a place of faith as a result of natural events? Things are just sort of lining up? People have come into your life that have shared their faith with you? Have you experienced a miracle that has moved you closer to the manger and a relationship with God? Perhaps it is your personal study and curiosity, your desire for answers, your desire to know what this God-thing is all about that has you on a journey to get closer to Jesus.
It isn’t about where you start, but it’s about where you end up. Where will you end up? You need to get to Bethlehem in your heart, and you need to get to Calvary where Jesus died because the baby who journeyed from heaven to earth paid the price we could never pay to enable us to journey with Him to our Heavenly Home one day. The greatest gift you could receive this Christmas comes from journeying with Jesus. However you need to get to Bethlehem, however you need to get to Calvary, get there as fast as you can.