The strange sign
At a recent wedding the bridal party arrived at the church in a Lamborghini and stretch limousine. And they arrived at the Reception to fireworks and frenetic music and drumming. It was a grand entry. In contrast, although Jesus was announced by angels, His was a humble entry.
At Christmas we remember the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. This was announced when an angel told some shepherds that the Jewish Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. That’s amazing because shepherds were near the bottom of the social ladder. And Bethlehem was only a small town. But how would the shepherds find him? And how would they recognize him? So they were given a sign from God to help them.
What’s a sign?
The Greek word semeion (Strongs #4592) means a “sign”. In this context it’s the means by which a person is distinguished from someone else. For example, Judas Iscariot identified Jesus by kissing him (Mt. 26:48). And circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and the Israelites (Rom. 4:11). Miracles signified an apostle (2 Cor. 12:12). And Paul’s handwriting showed that his letters were authentic (2 Th. 3:17).
They were given an unusual sign to identify the Messiah. Important people like royalty, and a President or Prime Minister are usually characterized by pomp, ceremony, security and publicity. That’s the kind of sign we would expect for the Messiah.
But the angel said, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk. 2:12NIV). So the sign was a baby lying in a cattle feeding-trough! What a humble birth.
So the shepherds were to look for a baby lying in a cattle feeding-trough. Although there would have been other babies in Bethlehem, it would be unusual for one to be lying in a cattle feeding-trough. It was a strange sign.
Jesus was born into the world just like all of us. It was a normal birth (following a supernatural conception). He was a tiny helpless baby. Nothing would have seemed supernatural. Why did God choose to enter the human race like this? So that He could provide for our salvation. Jesus had to be fully human so He could die for our sins (Heb. 2:14-17). He had to become like us in order to save us.
A baby lying in a cattle feed trough
The reason that baby Jesus was lying in a manger was “because there was no guest room available for them” (Lk. 2:7). The last supper was held in the guest room of a house in Jerusalem (Mk. 14:14; Lk. 22:11). According to scholars, the most likely place for a manger in Bethlehem was in a one-roomed peasant house with two levels. People occupied the upper level (Arab. mastaba) and animals the lower one (ka’ al-bet). The animals are housed overnight and fed from mangers built into the floor of the upper terrace or mounted to the walls near the lower level. Presumably there was no cradle in the house, but a manger could perform the same function.
The shepherds were told that they would find the baby in a manger. Shepherds were near the bottom of the social ladder and in many homes they would feel their poverty and be ashamed of their low position in society. But in this case, they faced no humiliation because it was probably a simple peasant house like their own with mangers for the animals. That’s why they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (Lk. 2:15). And they hurried off to find Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus.
What a strange way for a Messiah and Savior to enter the world. Even the poorest child would not be found in a manger.
Lessons for us
The Bible says that Jesus gave up His divine glory when He came to earth “by taking the very nature of a servant (slave), being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7). And “that though He was rich (in heaven), yet for your sake He became poor (on earth)” (2 Cor. 8:9). He did this (was born, lived, died and rose again) in order to die the death that we deserve. Through what Jesus has done, we “might become rich”. The promise is not for physical earthly riches, but spiritual heavenly riches. It’s forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with God, and eternal life. What Jesus did was like an “indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15). As a gift, it has not benefit to us unless we accept it. That’s why the Bible says. “might become rich”, not “will become rich”. Have you accepted God’s gift? Not many Jews recognized that Jesus was the Messiah. Why not recognize Him as your Savior?
Those who follow Jesus are to imitate His humility (Phil. 2:1-8). Our attitude is to be one of unity. mutual love, harmony, humility, sacrifice, and service, rather than being self-centered. Saul was recognized for being tall, Zacchaeus for being short and Jesus for being humble (1 Sam. 9:2; Lk. 19:1-4). But what is our characteristic attitude?
Responsibilities in a Christian Marriage
“This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one” Genesis 2:24 NLT
As marriage was God’s idea from the beginning (Gen. 2:24), it’s appropriate to see what else He says about it in His Word, the Bible. We’ll look specifically at three aspects of Christian marriage – a new home, sacrificial love and mutual respect. It’s important to be aware of these topics whether you are married or about to be married.
A new home
The Bible says that a marriage occurs when a man leaves his parents and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. This definition – taught by Moses, Jesus Christ, and the apostle Paul (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:5-6; Eph. 5:31) – has applied since the time of Adam and Eve. By inference, the woman also leaves her parents and is joined to her husband, to be united into one. They are no longer two individuals, but one new entity. A husband and wife become linked together and interdependent in a way that requires cooperation and unity.
A wedding is a celebration of a new relationship, a new allegiance, a new identity, a new home and a new family unit. The old relationship with their parents is now superseded by their new marital relationship. They should no longer be physically or emotionally dependent on their parents. Next to God, their top loyalty is to be to their spouse. This means shared goals, shared budgets, shared experiences in life and shared plans for the future. If one rejoices, the other rejoices. If one is hurt, the other is hurt.
First Corinthians 13 is a chapter about how Christians are to love each other in the local church. This kind of love (Greek: agape) is referred to by Paul six times in Ephesians 5:22-33, and is the same love essential to a Christian marriage.
What is agape love like? According to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, it is patient, kind, truthful, protecting, trusting, hopeful, enduring, and everlasting. It is not jealous, boastful, proud, rude, selfish, irritable, evil-minded, or unjust. Such love is an ongoing commitment and an act of the will, not just a feeling or an emotion. It is a giving love, not a getting love – an unselfish love that is ready to serve. Elsewhere, we learn that it comes from God who demonstrated it when He sent Jesus to be our Savior: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Also, this love is an aspect of the fruit of the Holy Spirit that is available to all believers (Gal. 5:22).
How does the Bible describe what agape love is like in a Christian marriage? First, “you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the Church. He gave up His life for her” (Eph. 5:25). Husbands, do you love your wife enough to die for her? Is it reflected in how you spend money? In how much time you spend with her? In how you talk to her? In your prayers for her? Jesus is the example for a husband’s love for his wife.
Second, “Husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28). You are to care for your wife and put her needs before yours. It’s like your wife is a part of you. It’s the closest relationship you can have with another person. Husbands, when you show this agape love in your marriage, it provides the emotional security that your wife needs and it creates a happy atmosphere in the home.
Leadership and Respect
In Ephesians 5:22-33 the husband and wife are given complementary roles. The husband is the leader in their relationship, just as Christ is the leader of His Church (Eph. 5:23). He is to love his wife with the same love that Christ showed His Church (Eph. 5:25). As all believers are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21), “wives will submit to your husbands as you do the lord” (Eph. 5:22). Also “the wife must respect her husband” (Eph. 5:33).
What kind of leadership is this? It’s a cooperative relationship (Jn. 5:17-23; 1 Cor. 11:3), one that consults and listens to the viewpoints and desires of the wife and meets her needs. A benevolent leader acts in the interests of his wife and children, and delegates responsibilities when and where this is appropriate. He is a wise, prayerful and caring leader in physical and spiritual matters. Husbands, it’s your responsibility to show this kind of leadership in your marriage and family. Don’t shirk your responsibility or seek to dominate, dictate or control your wife.
What kind of respect and submission is this? As Christians commit their lives to the Lord, wives are to commit their lives to their husbands. They submit to Christ’s authority through their husbands. Wives, adapt yourselves to your husband; be loyal and respect your husband’s leadership; be a helper and companion like Eve was to Adam (Gen. 2:18,20). Encourage your husband to take responsibility and lead the family. Showing respect and submission in your marriage provides what your husband needs.
Marriage is about commitment – giving ourselves to our spouses. It is about teamwork – husband and wife working together. Marriage is a journey – husband and wife travelling together. May godly leadership and mutual love and respect flourish in our homes as we follow God’s plan for marriage.
Published, March 2011