The Testimonies of Bethlehem

When my father was doing some work for a business in Atlanta, Georgia, he was invited to join the employees in some Christmas festivities. They were singing “Happy Birthday” so he assumed it was for Christmas, however he discovered that a lady there was born on December 25th. Dad was surprised to learn other distinctives of this lady’s birth: her father’s name is Joseph and her mother’s name is Mary! When told that she was from Pennsylvania, he quipped, “was she born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania?” “No,” was the answer, but she also has a sister named Carol.

The birthplace of Jesus Christ, however, is very significant. Like every other aspect of the Son of God’s incarnation, the birthplace of Bethlehem has special significance for believers. Consider some ways in which this town, located about 6 miles south of Jerusalem, still echoes her testimonies.

1. Bethlehem is a testimony of PROPHECY.

The prophet Micah was inspired by the Holy Spirit to give a prediction concerning the Messiah’s birth. About 700 B.C. he declared, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting” (Micah 5:2). When the magi needed directions to find the one born “King of the Jews,” the Bible scholars found the answer in this prophecy (Cf. Matthew 2:2-6).

Because of the many fulfilled prophecies of the Bible, we have ample evidence to confirm our faith in God’s Word. This is why the apostle Peter advised us to depend upon the Scripture: “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21).

2. Bethlehem is a testimony of PROVIDENCE.

Since Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, how would Micah 5:2 be fulfilled? God used the edict of the Roman emperor to bring this about! As Luke recorded, “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered” (Luke 2:1-6).

In God’s mysterious, wise providence, the birth of Christ was timed to coincide with Mary’s arrival in Bethlehem.[1] Likewise, as a child of God, you can be comforted that life is not a matter of random chance; rather, you can trust in God’s ultimate plan, “… according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). This does not eliminate our free will, but overrules everything to accomplish ultimate good in the life of God’s people: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:28,29).

Nothing happens to us apart from God’s permission, so let’s depend upon His wisdom and purpose.

3. Bethlehem is a testimony of PRINCELY HONOR.

Although the circumstances of His birth were not “fit for a king,” (there was no room for them in the inn, and Christ was laid in a lowly manger), His was indeed the birth of the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). Bethlehem was known as the town of David (that is why Joseph and Mary–descendants of King David–were required to register there). The Book of Ruth records that David’s ancestors lived there and that God had promised David that the Messiah would be his descendant (Ruth 1:1; 4:13-22; Cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Luke 1:32,33).

What brought wise men from the east to Israel after Christ’s birth? What was their motive for such a long trek? They testified, “… we have seen His star in the East and have come to WORSHIP Him” (Matthew 2:1,2). They expressed their devotion by their gifts: “… and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

Even so, we should confess “Jesus Christ is Lord” and surrender to Him the control of every area of our lives–public and private, work and recreation, business life and family life (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:5-11).

4. Bethlehem is also a testimony of PROVISION.

In Hebrew, “Bethlehem” is literally “House of Bread.” How appropriate that Christ, the Bread of Life, should be born there. After feeding the 5000 Christ proclaimed, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world … I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:32-33,35).

If you yield and depend upon Him completely, you will discover fulfillment. Christ promised, “… I have come that they [believers] may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b).

The significance of Bethlehem was impressed upon pastor Phillips Brooks in 1865 when he visited Israel. He journeyed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, where he assisted with the midnight service on Christmas Eve. Brooks noted, “I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the Wonderful Night of the Savior’s birth.”[2]

In Philadelphia a couple of years later, Brooks wanted to have an original carol for the children to sing for the church’s Christmas program. He reflected on his visit to Bethlehem and the nativity texts of the New Testament. He then penned the beloved poem, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” which was put to music by his organist, Lewis Redner.[3]

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,

While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;

So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!”

I wish a joyful holiday season to everyone!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Notes:

[1] For further study on this topic, see Grace Note: “Living in Providence.”

[2] www.cyberhymnal.org, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

[3] Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace (Kregel), p. 370.

By the way, I was born in Orange, New Jersey. I don’t think that is significant (unless it explains my craving for vitamin C…).

Bible quotations from the New King James Version (c) 1979 by Thomas Nelson Inc.

Third edition. Copyright 2001 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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Copyright, John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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