As we study the events and details surrounding Jesus' birth, we realize that there is a great deal of suggestion found in the elements of His birth scene. For example, the fact that there was no room for them in the inn suggests that "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" (John 1:11). Perhaps more than anything, the events surrounding His birth suggest the aspects of His death. We cannot build doctrine upon shadows and types, but we know that Jesus in a unique sense was, as Ron Hamilton wrote, "Born to die upon Calvary"; and even in His birth we see the shadow of His death. The cradle of Christmas points to the cross of Calvary. Let's notice some things about His birth and then draw some parallels with His death.
We immediately see a foundational comparison between these two events. For in Luke 2:6-7, "the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son." We know then that His mother delivered Him in birth. But we also know that His Father delivered Him in death, for the Bible mentions "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). As we begin . . .
I. Let's Consider The Places Involved In His Birth And In His Death
Bethlehem lies roughly six miles to the southwest of Jerusalem, and the two events that we're talking about were separated by a span of 33 years. Yet we discover a fascinating intersection of thought between these two places as we survey the similarities between the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem and His death at Jerusalem.
A. In Both Of These Places We See The Overwhelming Crowd. The Bible tells us "there was no room for them in the inn" (vs. 7). Because of the taxation or census of Augustus, Bethlehem would have been filled well beyond capacity. And while hospitality was, according to some writers, a key element of Jewish life, the homes and private guest chambers had all been filled long before the arrival of Joseph and Mary. Thirty-three years after his birth, the Bible mentions a "multitude" in Jerusalem (Luke 23:1), and then we are told that as Jesus was led to Calvary "there followed him a great company of people" (Luke 23:27). Just as 33 years earlier a census had gathered a crowd, now, 33 years later, a crucifixion had gathered a crowd. We might also contrast the "multitude of the heavenly host" that wanted to glorify Him in Luke 2:13 with the multitude of the hateful host that wanted to "Crucify Him" in Luke 23:21.
B. In Both Of These Places We See Outside The Camp. The Greek word for "inn" in Luke 2:7 implies some type of simple building of varying size known as a khan or a kataluma, and these would offer the traveler the protection of walls and a roof, and water, but little more. According to Cunningham Geikie, often the inn would consist of a rectangular outer perimeter of rooms surrounding an open square. If this was the case in Bethlehem, then they were forced to go outside of the rectangular, enclosed area of the inn to accommodate the birth of Jesus. Just as there was no place to receive Him in birth, there was no pardon to release him from death. For "they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him" (Luke 23:21). And the Bible tells us that Jesus "that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate" (Hebrews 13:12). Just as they had gone outside of the rectangular, enclosed inn for his birth - they had gone outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem for his death.
C. In Both Of These Places We See The Overshadowed Circumstances. Then as darkness crept across the Judean hills and valleys around Bethlehem, Mary began to experience the pain and sorrow of childbirth as "she brought forth her firstborn son" (Luke 2:7). Jesus would later speak of the pains of childbirth when He said, "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world" (John 16:21). He essentially said that in the process of birth, joy follows sorrow. And His particular birth brought joy, not just to a woman, but joy to a world. Similarly, at the time of Jesus' death in Jerusalem, the Bible says that "there was darkness over the whole land" (Mark 15:33). And "Jesus ... for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). He knew that in the process of His death upon the cross, joy would follow sorrow.
II. Let's Consider The Personalities Involved In His Birth And In His Death
To read of the Nativity of Christ and the Passion of Christ is to become acquainted with a number of individuals. The categorical diversity of the sexes is not a limitation, for in both of these wonderful events, we find the involvement of both men and women. Cosmological diversity of spheres is not an issue, for we find the inclusion of both human beings and heavenly beings.
A. There Are Those Who Have A Close Involvement In These Events. After His birth, two individuals were closely present - a man named Joseph and a woman named Mary. Perhaps it was Joseph that "wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger" (Luke 2:7) as Mary looked on. Correspondingly, after His death, three were closely present - a man named Joseph and two women named Mary. Mark tells us that Joseph of Arimathaea "bought fine linen, and took Him (Jesus) down, and wrapped Him in the linen, and laid Him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where He was laid" (Mark 15:46-47).
B. There Are Those Who Have A Connected Involvement In These Events. It still thrills my heart to hear of the abiding watchmen, these shepherds, who were "abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8). Every shepherd may have been "an abomination unto the Egyptians" (Genesis 46:34), but these particular shepherds have had the privilege of being indelibly connected to the herald angel who announced the birth and visitation of the Divine One. But in like manner, we also see the attending women who, "when the sabbath was past . . . had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint" Jesus after His death (Mark 16:1). "And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment" (Mark 16:5). And it is here that we find their connection to the angel who announced the victory of the dead One Who was now risen.
C. There Are Those Who Have A Comforting Involvement In These Events. In the time following the birth of Jesus, when the angel of the Lord interrupted the stillness and silence of night, the Bible says that the shepherds "were sore afraid" (Luke 2:9). But then we're informed of the comforting words of this celestial being who said, "Fear not" (Luke 2:10). What a comfort to know that a Saviour is born (as we read in Luke 2:11), that He has come forth from the womb! Likewise, in the days following the death of Jesus, We again find an angel making a comforting announcement to some very frightened people. We might even say that these women were "sore afraid" as they saw this whitely robed young man. But "he saith unto them, Be not affrighted" (Mark 16:6). In other words, "Fear not." What a comfort to know that "He is risen" (Mark 16:6), that He had come forth from the tomb!
III. Let's Consider The Particulars Involved In His Birth And In His Death
The French novelist Gustave Flaubert said, "God is in the details." I do not dispute this. In fact, as we continue to observe these striking comparisons between the birth and death of the Lord Jesus, the more I am convinced that there was Divine design in all of these details. It seems increasingly clear that the Blessed Babe of Bethlehem was meant to be the Crucified Christ of Calvary. It seems increasingly certain that this same Jesus was born to die. Let's look at some particular aspects that bear this out.
A. Notice The Particular Clothes In These Two Situations. The Bible tells us in Luke 2:7 that Mary "brought forth her firstborn son," and perhaps Joseph assisted by wrapping the baby "in swaddling clothes." In his book on Bible manners and customs, James Freeman describes the swaddling process. He writes, "They tightly wrapped His body and limbs in these broad strips of common cloth to protect the baby's weak limbs. Miss Rogers, an English lady (who had traveled extensively in Palestine), describes the appearance of an infant thus bandaged: ‘The infant I held in my arms was so bound in swaddling-clothes that it was perfectly firm and solid, and looked like a mummy'." In the same fashion, after his death, Joseph of Arimathaea "bought fine linen, and took (Jesus) down, and wrapped Him in the linen." No doubt, the body was so wrapped "that it was perfectly firm and solid, and looked like a mummy."
B. Notice The Particular Cots In These Two Situations. At the time of His birth, Jesus was laid in a crib. And I use the term "crib" in both senses of the word - both a baby's bed and a feeding trough. We see Him laid in this "manger" (Luke 2:7), which was thought by some to be a hewn-out or hollowed-out piece of rock. James Freeman indicated that archaeologists discovered mangers in the region that were "cut out of limestone and were approximately three feet long, eighteen inches wide, and two feet deep." Just as He was laid in a hollowed out stone crib after His birth, He was laid in a hollowed out stone crypt after His death. For the Bible tells us in Mark 15:46 that Joseph of Arimathaea "laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock." And in all likelihood, the stone slab inside this hollowed out rock also had a length twice the measure of the width. My dear friend, all of these comparisons cannot be mere coincidence. I say again that it points us to the fact that He was born to die!
C. Notice The Particular Contrast In These Two Situations. As intriguing as the comparisons are between His birth and His death, the truly inspiring element in all of this is seen in a point of contrast. After the birth of Christ, the angel came and said to the scared shepherds, "Fear not . . . Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:10-12). Basically, they were told that if they looked in that hollowed out piece of rock, they would find the Saviour. But here's the critical and notable difference. Three days after the death of Christ, the angel came and said to the worried women, "Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for He is risen, as He said. Come; see the place where the Lord lay" (Matthew 28:5-6). Basically, they were told that if they looked in that hollowed out piece of rock, they would not find the Lord. Why? "For He is risen as He said!" Truly, He was born to die, but He died to live again, and now He is alive forevermore!
F. W. Farrar wrote, "As the east catches at sunset the colors of the west, so Bethlehem is a prelude to Calvary, and even the infant's cradle is tinged with a crimson reflection from the Redeemer's cross." Farrar wrote this specifically of the circumcision of Jesus, but as we have observed these numerous comparisons, we realize that it applies to so much more. As we celebrate Christmas again this year, if you only see the babe of Bethlehem, you've missed out. Jesus is not just a son in a manger. He's the Savior of mankind!
David E. Owen is Pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Acworth, GA.