Galatians 4:4-5 “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Luke 2:7 “. . . 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.”
I like how the King James puts Galatians 4:4: “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman . . .”
Anyone who has experienced pregnancy can appreciate the phrase, the “fullness of time had come.” You prepare and prepare and get everything ready and by a certain time you are completely ready for the waiting and the pregnancy to be over. I was so “done” with pregnancy way before our kids ever arrived on the outside. Both Hannah and Josh were just an ounce or two under ten pounds at birth, and the “fullness of time” couldn’t come fast enough for me.
I didn’t walk. I waddled everywhere I went and by the eighth month I was riding those scooters around in Wal-mart! J People asked me frequently if I was having twins and when I said “No,” they would just get this look of pity on their fact and say, “Well, bless your heart!” Doctors were concerned about the weight and size of the kids, so rather than have me go full term with Hannah we did an amniocentesis to see if she was ready and could come earlier than doctors had predicted she would arrive. We had to make sure she was fully ready, fully developed before we scheduled a potential birthday for her. Everything needed to be just right in order for her to be born.
Conditions also needed to be just right for the birth of the Messiah. I don’t mean that He needed to be full-term or that His lungs needed to be fully ready, but the conditions on the outside, the conditions in the world, had to be just right in order for Jesus to emerge into the world. If news of His birth would travel to all parts of the known world, if His birth would have the universal impact God intended and still intends for it to have, there was a particular time in which He needed to intersect with humanity.
God the Father was very strategic in choosing Jesus’ birthday. Paul makes it clear in Galatians that a specific time had been determined for Jesus’ birth. What was special about the time in which Jesus was born? Why was it the “right” time?
It was CULTURALLY RIGHT.
Prior to the birth of Christ, Alexander the Great had conquered the known world and part of that conquest included establishing the Greek culture and language throughout the world. There was a uniting of people as barriers between different countries and groups came tumbling down under Greek influence. As English is today, the first language spoken in many countries and the second language spoken by most, Greek became the language of commerce. The widespread knowledge of common Greek was huge because the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek in 280 BC. As the New Testament which contained the stories of Jesus and the birth of the church would be written in Greek, they would be able to be read by everyone in the known world.
It was POLITICALLY RIGHT.
We often highlight how it was Roman guards who nailed Jesus to the cross as if they were somehow the antagonists in the whole crucifixion story. They were simply part of the strategic plan of God. In the century right before Jesus was born, Rome had taken control of the divided territories that had been conquered by Alexander the Great. With Rome in charge came the development of roads that enabled more effective travel and trade. The biggest thing that would get to travel was the Good News of the Gospel following Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection! Rome also ushered in the Pax Romana, a time of enforced peace. People were living in a peaceful, civilized way. That created a great environment for the sharing of the Gospel.
God was in charge of who was ascending to power. Scripture tells us Caesar Augustus was the emperor at the time of Jesus’ birth. When he called for a census he was acting in the will of God. Because of his edict, people returned to the place of their origin to be counted and taxed which is why Joseph and Mary made the journey back to Bethlehem.
It was SPIRITUALLY RIGHT.
The Israelites had always struggled with “wandering-eye syndrome.” They always got caught up in idolatry and the worship of the pagan gods of their neighbors around them. They never learned to be the separate, distinct people of God when they were surrounded by so many false gods. As a result they were disciplined. In 722 BC the Assyrians captured the tribes in the Northern Kingdom and those people never returned to their homeland. Later, in 586 BC the Southern Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezar took tens of thousands of people captive into Babylon. However, in 539 BC, King Cyrus of Persia captured Babylon. This was good news for the Israelites who were in Babylonian exile because the Persians were monotheists. They believed there was only one God. They didn’t worship Yaweh, but they were focused on one God and that focus encouraged the Israelites to return to their focus on the one true God since they were free from the multiple gods of the nations around them.
Another positive was that the Old Testament canon of Scripture was completed under Ezra during this time. So all of the strands of the Old Testament were brought together which was going to prepare the way for the preaching of the Gospel.
While in Babylonian exile, the Jewish synagogues sprang up. Since they could no longer go to Jerusalem to the temple to worship, they developed synagogues everywhere which later became great vehicles for the preaching and teaching of the Gospel after Christ came.
“Historians tell us that the Roman world was in great expectation, waiting for a deliverer, at the time Jesus was born. The old religions were dying; the old philosophies were empty and powerless to change men’s lives. Strange new mystery religions were invading the empire. Religious bankruptcy and spiritual hunger were everywhere. God was preparing the world for the arrival of His Son.” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Free, p. 90)
Timing is everything for sure. But there is also one more thing perhaps as important as timing and it is place. Every realtor will tell you the value of a place depends on location, location, location!
Not only was it the right time for Jesus to be born, but Bethlehem was the RIGHT PLACE for Jesus to be born. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and was placed in a manger, an animal feeding trough. What?
Micah had prophesied the Bethlehem birth hundreds of years before. Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Did you know there were two towns called Bethlehem? One was in Zebulon and one was in Judea. God was specific about which Bethlehem He meant. It was “Bethlehem Ephrathah,” the one in Judea. It was the appointed place for the miracle of the Messiah.
God orchestrated the timing of the census decreed by Ceasar Augustus to coincide with the end of Mary’s pregnancy so that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem according to the prophecy.
What was so special about Bethlehem? The prophet even called it a small, puny, insignificant place! Why would God choose a small town with a weak reputation as the birthplace of His Son? As many of you know, “Bethlehem” is Hebrew for “House of Bread.” Bread is the most common of staples around the world. God wanted everyone to understand Jesus would be a common Savior. He would be the One and only One to bring salvation to every person regardless of their background, race, or status. Herod the King heard about Jesus’ birth. The Wisemen, education men from another country heard about Jesus’ birth. The lowly shepherds heard about the birth of Christ.
Jesus said about Himself in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” And later in John 6:48-51 He proclaimed, “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.
Is anyone here this morning feeding on Jesus, the Bread of Life? You and I could go to lunch after church together and I could choose to eat and you choose not to. One of us would be satisfied and one of us would be hungry. The same is true when we come to church or when we open God’s Word during the week. Each one of us has an opportunity to come to the table of the Lord and consume as much of Him as we desire. He freely gives Himself to us to strengthen us, heal us, help us, restore us, redeem us, and renew us, yet some people are feeding on everything but Jesus and wondering why they aren’t satisfied. Jesus said, “If you are eating what I offer, spiritually that is, you will never go hungry!” How much you seek to consume of Jesus and how often will determine how satisfied you are!
Jesus went on to say, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Jesus couldn’t have been plainer about what it meant that Jesus, born in the “House of Bread,” was the “Bread of Life” and that He would be sacrificed for the sins of the world.
If you had heard that “Bethlehem” is Hebrew for “House of Bread,” perhaps what you haven’t heard is that “Bethlehem” in Arabic means “House of Meat” or “House of Flesh”
“House of Flesh.” My heart started dancing when this next thought came to my mind. What does John 1:14 say? The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. The Word became flesh in the “house of flesh!”
It gets even better. You see, Bethlehem was strategically located five miles south of Jerusalem, the place of the annual pilgrimage for the Jews, the place where the annual sacrifices were made. On their way through Bethlehem, people would purchase their lambs for the sacrifice as Bethlehem was one of the main places lambs were raised for the specific purpose of sacrifice. The land on the outskirts of Bethlehem was prime grazing land for sheep. There were lots of nooks and cave-like crannies which shepherds could seek shelter in times of wind, cold, and rain.
There was a place called “Shepherd’s Field” just outside of Bethlehem It was a field near the field of Boaz where when Ruth needed something to eat she gleaned behind Boaz’s harvesters who would drop handfuls of grain on purpose for the needy. It was also the same area in which little David would have tended his sheep. It was a place where a special kind of sheep were raised; the kind that would be sold for temple sacrifices. The blood from those lambs would be shed for the sins of the persons who made the sacrifice. Because the Israelites would be traveling to Jerusalem from a distance, they wouldn’t carry a lamb for their sacrifice with them, but would purchase one once they got close. Bethlehem was the place.
The shepherds had watched those sheep carefully because they had to be perfect. OT prescriptions required the lambs to be spotless, without a blemish or defect (Exodus 12:5). People knew Bethlehem had the best of the best of lambs for sacrifice. The shepherds who watched the sheep from the Migdal Eder Tower in Bethlehem weren’t ordinary shepherds. They were priestly shepherds who kept watch over those sacrificial lambs for 12 months out of the year.
Once the sacrificial lambs were born, shepherds would wrap them in swaddling clothes and lay them in a feeding trough or manger so that they could avoid any blemishes that might occur such as a broken leg. What would those Bethlehem shepherds have known that first night as they made their way into town and saw the baby the angels said was the Messiah who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and was lying in a manger?
In Matthew 1:21, Joseph had been told to name the baby Jesus because Jesus would “save people from their sins.” What had the Hebrews known when it came to having your sins forgiven? It was the blood of a spotless lamb that was required for the removal of sin. What was written about Jesus in 1 Peter 1:18-19? “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” Jesus was a spotless Lamb.
What did John the Baptist say of Jesus? “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:36) No other place was more appropriate than Bethlehem for the Lamb of God to have been born.
Let me try to make some application for all of us. The facts that Jesus was born at the right time in the right place will only matter if we believe them. They will only matter if we will receive Jesus and put our faith in Him to be our Messiah.
Christians, your confidence in the right time and place for salvation to come into the world and into your heart is the foundation for you to trust God’s perfect timing and direction for all of your life. You know what I call being in the right place at the right time? Not luck. Not coincidence. Not happenstance. Not a fluke. I call it being in the center of God’s will. Wait on God’s timing. Follow God’s direction. He still reveals Himself when and where you least expect it as long as you are open to receive Him, as long as you are looking for Him.
There was a devout man described in Luke 2:21-35. His name was Simeon, and he was looking for Jesus, eagerly waiting for His birth. He wasn’t a priest, but Scripture says he was righteous and devout. He knew the Scriptures. He knew Jesus was coming. Verse 25 says “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.”
Do you see all three references to the Holy Spirit? What was he waiting on? He was waiting on seeing the Messiah for himself. As he waited, he waited in the power of the Holy Spirit. So, he was moved to go into the temple courts at just the same time that Mary and Joseph were bringing Jesus to present him to the Lord in the temple. Simeon was in the right place at the right time because he walked with God and waited on God’s timing! Listen to what happens next in verse 28:Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Simeon held the miracle of God in his hands all because he was in the right place at the right time.
What miracles will you encounter this Christmas season? What will you hold in your hands? What will you live for and long to see? Are you trusting God’s timing? Are you willingly following His prompting?
The shepherds could have heard the news and failed to believe. They could have been more devoted to their job than they were to following the angels’ advice.
Mary could have refused to make the journey to Bethlehem. She had every right to argue that riding on a donkey for four days when you are almost full term isn’t in the best interest of herself or her unborn child.
The wisemen could have said the whole trip was too far and that they didn’t have enough notice. They could have seen the star and concluded it had nothing to do with their personal lives, that something spectacular was happening that was for people from another country, but not for them.
Joseph could have said he didn’t want to raise a son that wasn’t his own. He had every legal right to walk away from Mary when he suspected she had cheated on him.
Simeon could have given up on waiting for the Messiah. He could have lost sensitivity to the Spirit of God and missed being in the temple when the Messiah was brought there by His parents.
If you are a Christian you must trust that God’s timing in your life is always perfect. You must trust His timing and follow His leading. If you do, like the rest of the characters in the Christmas story, you will find yourself in the right place at the right time holding the miracle of God in your hands.
Non-Christians, you can’t celebrate Christmas without embracing Christ. You may be able to celebrate gift-giving or human love or family relationships or Rudolph, Frosty and “It’s a Wonderful Life” reruns, but you can’t celebrate Christmas without taking Christ as your Savior. You have to embrace that heaven did come to earth at the right time in the right way in the right place so that you can be right with God. Bethlehem was super crowded that night. There were many people in the “right place at the right time” but they missed it. It was the biggest night of history, and they missed it. They weren’t open to it or they didn’t believe it after they heard it.
How many church services will you have to experience before you give your heart to Christ? How many Bible messages do you need to hear? How many times does God’s Holy Spirit have to prompt you? How many testimonies of changed lives do you have to witness before you, yourself will take Christ in? There will come a time when your life on earth is over. Oh how I pray you will be in the right place at that time. How I hope you will know Jesus and be able to experience eternity in heaven.