All Wrapped Up: Where Was Jesus Born?

When you think about Christmas, what comes to mind? 

Maybe family, friends, food? 

Turkey, tinsel, trimmings? 

Carols, cards, cakes? 

Or, maybe, gifts, presents?

Christmas Day is fast approaching, and there may be some exchanging of gifts. Maybe you are really excited to give that special someone that special gift, maybe you are really excited to open some gifts, to tear open some presents…but before you can see what is inside, before you can watch someone open their gift, you have to unwrap it, don’t you, and before that, someone took the time to wrap up that gift.

In Luke 2.7-12 we read of a very special gift all wrapped up.

7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Interestingly, one line of thinking can show that the shepherds who watched sheep near Bethlehem were no ordinary shepherds, but that they were there to care for the sheep who bred lambs for the temple. These were temple flocks and therefore very special sheep.

I read that

“Bethlehem’s shepherds were known to care for the temple flock. These men may have also protected and cared for the lambs used in temple sacrifice.”

Dr. John Macdonald gives more detail,

Consider the possibility that these were not shepherds of ordinary sheep.

Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889) provides an intriguing answer to our question. He was Jewish by birth and training. Later, he became a follower of Jesus, studied and taught biblical theology in Scotland, and wrote The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Writing about these shepherds, Edersheim referenced the Jewish Mishnah

The Mishnah is a collection of documents recording oral traditions governing the lives of Jewish people during the period of the Pharisees. As such, an understanding of the Mishnah gives us insight into how Jewish people lived during the time of Jesus.

One regulation in the Mishnah “expressly forbids the keeping of flocks throughout the land of Israel, except in the wildernesses – and the only flocks otherwise kept, would be those for the Temple-services” (Bab K. 7:7; 80a).

Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and their surrounding fields were not in the wilderness where ordinary flocks of sheep were kept. Therefore, according to the Jewish regulations, the flocks under the care of the shepherds near Bethlehem must have been “for the Temple-services.” These shepherds watched over sheep destined as sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem. 

These guys were, then, trained specially to raise lambs for the temple, their task was to raise sacrificial lambs. They had to make sure that when a lamb was offered without spot or blemish (Exodus 12.5, 1 Peter 1.9), that this truly was the case. Apparently, these lambs were wrapped in cloths to prevent injury or harm.

Back in Luke we read that 

“…she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger…

…this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

The place where these special lambs were born and raised was in a place called Migdal Edar, “The tower of the flock.”  on the outskirts of Bethlehem. This watchtower was used by the shepherds for protection from their enemies and wild animals. In this building the priests would bring in the sheep that were about to give birth to their lambs. The tower of the flock at Bethlehem is the perfect place for the Lamb of God to be born (John 1.29).


In the very place where thousands of sacrificial lambs had been born before Him, now the ultimate gift of God to the world had come.


Micah 4.8 foretells the place where the Savior would be born,

“As for you, O tower (Migdal) of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”

During lambing season the sheep were brought to the tower from the fields, as the lower level functioned as the birthing room for sacrificial lambs. Due to the fact that the shepherds were themselves under the care of Rabbis, these shepherd-priests would maintain a ceremonially clean birthing place. What a perfect place for the Lamb of God to be born, a ceremonially clean place where sacrificial lambs were born. The manger in the tower of the flock was not a smelly stable with other animals as we often see at this time of year, but the perfect place in the perfect place (Micah 4.8, 5.2).

I read recently that,

“After the lambs were born, the priestly shepherds would place the lambs in the hewn depression of a limestone rock known as the manger and wrap the newborn lambs in swaddling clothes preventing them from thrashing about and harming themselves until they had calmed down so they could be inspected to meet the requirement of being without spot or blemish.”

“…she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger

…this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2.7, 12)

What was the sign?  The baby wrapped in cloths. 

Where was the baby lying?  In a manger. 

Do you think the shepherds understood when they were told this? 

Absolutely!

There was no need for the angels to give the shepherds a map-pin or directions to the birthplace of Jesus, the sign of the manger could only mean their manger at the Tower of the Flock where they routinely birthed and wrapped sacrificial lambs. We can reasonably conclude that these shepherds knew exactly who this baby was, and exactly where He was born.


They had now been told that the reality to which their life’s work pointed had now arrived!


William Barclay said 

“It is a lovely thought that the shepherds who looked after the Temple lambs were the first to see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 

Jesus was the sacrificial lamb, and He was our sacrificial lamb.

Jesus was wrapped as a baby in the traditional cloths of lambs and placed in a manger. He was wrapped as a baby, wrapped as a lamb, and wrapped as a gift. He is the Lamb who came to take away the sins of the world; spotless and without blemish.

The point of all this is to say that He is the real gift we are celebrating this time of year, He was wrapped; wrapped as a baby, wrapped as a lamb, and wrapped as a gift. 

The angels announced the birth of a Saviour that day in the city of David, which is the gift that we all need, not just at Christmas time, but today, tomorrow, the day after that, and the day after that, and every single day after that, too. 

How excited will you be on the 25th to open a gift from a loved one, or to watch a loved one open your gift…that is the feeling we need when we think of the gift of God to the world, His Son, the gift of Jesus.

Jesus Christ is the better gift.

He is the gift of a clean slate before God, 

He is the gift of reconciliation, 

He is the gift of eternal life, 

He is the gift of the opportunity to have a right relationship with God,

He is the gift of forgiveness from our sins.

He knew that we needed that gift, even before we did. Before we even knew it was there, before the foundation of the world, this gift was ready, poised, waiting to be accepted, through faith in Him alone. This gift was always plan A for humanity, never plan B. That’s what we gather to celebrate at this time of year, to commemorate and to consolidate.

All we have to do is take the gift. 

Will you take it? 

Have you taken it?

Will you take the free gift of salvation that Christ wants to give you right now? 

I pray you do now, tomorrow, and every day.

What a wonderful gift, the best gift ever given.

The Gospel in Micah

In Micah’s day, both Israel and Judah, deserved God’s judgment for their oppression, idolatry, and corruption. 

They lived out this wickedness right alongside the motions of offering sacrifice, and they expected that they could cancel out the bad by doing more good.

“God deals with sinners in one of two ways: deserved justice, or undeserved grace.”

God is a righteous Judge who carries out deserved judgment, he is also a merciful Savior who gives undeserved grace and full forgiveness and restoration and a sure and steadfast hope for the future to those who believe Him and turn to him in repentance.

 The hope Micah presented was the promise of a Shepherd-King, a sacrificial Saviour who would gather his faithful remnant back in the land, tenderly care for them, and give His life for them to defeat their great enemy. 

The result would be that people from all nations and tribes and tongues would come to worship God. 

To God’s people who had suffered under a line of failed kings and oppressive foreign regimes, Micah announced coming restoration and peace.

Jesus Himself is the long-anticipated Shepherd-King who has made peace with God through “the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1.20). 

He did not come to destroy but to be destroyed, laying down his life for his sheep (John 10.15). 

He now rules over his people in perfect justice and abundant mercy, empowering his people, by his Spirit, to walk humbly in his just and merciful ways (1 John 2.6)— the very life Israel in Micah’s day had abandoned.

“God deals with sinners in one of two ways: deserved justice, or undeserved grace.”

All those who look to Christ in trusting faith experience the undeserved grace rather than deserved justice.

As believers in Jesus we can expect that God will “pass over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance” 

Micah 7:18-20    

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity

and passing over transgression

for the remnant of his inheritance?

He does not retain his anger forever,

because he delights in steadfast love.

19 He will again have compassion on us;

he will tread our iniquities underfoot.

You will cast all our sins

into the depths of the sea.

20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob

and steadfast love to Abraham,

as you have sworn to our fathers

from the days of old.

Our transgressions have been put upon God’s Son, His imprint in a human body, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ (Romans 3.21–26). Christ will “bear the indignation of the Lord” on our behalf (Micah 7.9). 

Though we may suffer and fall in our life’s battle with evil, we shall rise, as the prophet believed he himself would, due to the Lord’s vindication (Micah 7.8–9)—and, as indeed will all those who are united to Christ by faith (Romans 6.5). 

This is the wonder of the gospel in Micah.

 

Adapted from an excellent article written by Nancy Guthrie.