Jesus’ Birth in a Barn Had You in Mind

It must have seemed really strange. Honestly, it still does. Two thousand years of waiting for the Messiah, and He is born in a barn and laid in a feed trough.

Jesus' Birth in a Barn Had You in Mind

(Shepherd in modern Israel, courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

If it had been up to us, we would have given God’s Son a room in the finest five-star hotel in Bethlehem. But Jesus got only a one-star motel—and God had to provide the star!

When the shepherds hurried into Bethlehem to find the baby of whom the angels spoke, the wonder of God’s power must have seemed a strange contradiction to the conditions they found.

  • No halos hovered over Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.
  • Instead, they saw a poor couple surrounded by animals and the smell of manure.

Actually, the crudity of Jesus’ birth story offers really good news.

Because it had you in mind.

Humility Would be Easy, if Not for My Pride

I pulled up behind a line of cars at a stoplight, and a guy on a skateboard whizzed past me. Like fast.

He held his arms above his head and swayed back and forth, leaning into each turn and showing his skills to those of us stopped at the light.

Pride before a fall.

(Photo: by Globeskater (Album photo voyage perso), via Wikimedia Commons)

As he approached the intersection, he leaned to turn in the direction of the oncoming traffic but his skateboard fell out from under him. He and his skateboard (and his skills) flew into the middle of the intersection where the traffic zoomed both directions—toward him!

A large van swerved to miss the guy and hit his skateboard, bending it and sending it spiraling twenty feet in the air. After ten seconds of screeching tires, scrambling feet, and lots of yelling, Mr. Center-of-Attention grabbed his skateboard and limped off to hide somewhere.

It was the most entertainment I ever had at a stoplight.

And it made me think of life in general.

What Comes First in Our Relationship with God?

If Jesus told us He had a criticism for us, we’d pull out our checklist and start down it.

  • “Should I go on a mission trip, Lord?”
  • “Should I pray more?”
  • “Maybe memorize the book of Romans?”

“You just name it, Lord, and I’ll do it!”

The most important part of your relationship with God

(Photo: By Almonroth, via Wikimedia Commons)

I have discovered that slips in our relationship with God never start with the big things. They begin with the basics.

We would never consider waffling in our morality or our theology.

And yet, how often we betray a more basic element.

How to Avoid a Titanic Mistake

More than 100 years ago, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg just before midnight, sending it to the bottom of the North Atlantic in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

How to Avoid a Titanic Mistake

(Photo: Titanic at the docks of Southampton, 1912. Public Domain.)

The re-release of the blockbuster movie in 3-D has resurfaced tremendous interest in the ill-fated vessel. With the exception of Noah’s Ark, the Titanic has intrigued more people than any other vessel in history.

Experts of its day hailed this “ship of dreams” as “practically unsinkable.” One seaman even went so far as to say: “God Himself couldn’t sink this ship!” Thomas Andrews, one of the Titanic’s designers, boasted: “The ship is as perfect as human brains can make.”

That’s why the morning after the sinking most people refused to believe the “unsinkable” had sunk. Even the Wall Street Journal printed an optimistic report:

How to Resolve Marital Conflict [Podcast]

Song of Solomon 5:8-6:13

Marital conflict can be resolved best God’s way. It’s tough work, but it’s the only way.

In this intimate book, The Song of Solomon, we get to stare wide-eyed at love as God intended it to be. From its beginning in what makes one attractive to the struggle with that attraction in sexuality as a single. From the passion of physical intimacy given and blessed by God, to the passion of marital conflict and how it may be resolved. We shouldn’t be ashamed to study what God was not ashamed to reveal. In this practical book, we come to understand in a very practical way why the greatest of songs is love.

Play

Your Epiphany of a Surprising Jesus

The little-known holiday, “Epiphany,” reminds us that the Wise Men came to Jesus after Christmastime.

Rather than coming two weeks later, it was at least two years. How do we know? The Bible gives the clear implication in Matthew 2:1-2, 7, 16.

Visit of the Wise Men

(Photo: from thebiblerevival.com. Public domain.)

Jesus was a toddler when the Magi showed up. How surprised they must have been to come to Joseph and Mary’s humble house in Bethlehem instead of a posh palace in Jerusalem ( it was a “house,” not a stable; check out Matthew 2:11).

Jesus wasn’t the king they expected.

Our Expectations of Jesus

Honestly, to those who knew Him, Jesus didn’t fit most expectations of a king. Each one had an epiphany of sorts:

  • Jesus’ own family thought He was crazy.
  • The religious leaders blamed Satan for Jesus’ miracles.
  • And the wise magi? They didn’t come first to Bethlehem to look for Jesus. They headed to Jerusalem, to the place where kings were supposed to live.

Even those who walked in the footsteps of Jesus up and down the Holy Land—those He chose as His disciples—even these apostles stumbled over their expectations of who He should be.

We all do, in fact. (Talk about an epiphany!) Jesus never seems to be what we expect when we come to Him.

He is far greater.

Question: How was Jesus different than what you expected? Please leave a comment.

A Little Town—Bethlehem

When we listen to Christmas carols and look at Christmas cards, we often find them filled with sentimental terms such as “tidings,” “goodwill,” “noel,” “cheer” and “Merry Christmas.”

Scenes on the cards typically depict a newborn (who looks about two years old) with radiant beams from His holy face, oxen and donkeys bowing, with halos hovering above Jesus, Joseph and Mary.

A Little Town—Bethlehem

(Painting by Mattia Preti. Public domain.)

We call the baby’s bed a “manger,” not a feed trough. We label the scene a “nativity,” not a birth. We’ve even built a church over the cave where Christ was born!

We do all we can to take away the ignobility the Bible explicitly portrays. And what’s that? Christ’s birth represented humility in the truest sense of the word.

Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, Micah prophesied that One coming from eternity would bring the Jews back to their land and rule Israel with worldwide fame in the strength of the Lord (Micah 5:2-5). This mighty Messiah would come from the ignoble, little town of Ruth and David: Bethlehem (see Ruth 4:11, 22).

Why such unadorned humility? Because Jesus came the first time to live the life we should have lived and to die the death we should have died for our sins. The second coming of Christ is the one everyone wanted first. While Micah blended both advents into one prophesy, we understand the necessity of their separation (see Heb. 9:28).

We needed a Savior before we needed a King.

The words Phillips Brooks penned in 1868 after a Christmas Eve visit to Bethlehem remain so appropriate:

In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light: the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Adapted from Wayne Stiles, Going Places with God: A Devotional Journey Through the Lands of the Bible (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2006), p. 24. Used by permission.

Bad Company [Podcast]

Mark 2:13-22

When questioned why He hung around “sinners,” Jesus answered that the sick need healing, not the healthy.

The religious were preoccupied—as many are today—with rituals and rules; but Jesus spent His time in relationships with those who needed Him—and those who would receive Him.

Play

I’m So Sure

If you’ve ever felt the sting of a scorpion, you and I share a common awe at how something so small can produce a sting so painful. I get the same feeling from reading Obadiah, the shortest book in the Old Testament. Written to ancient Edom east of the Jordan River, Obadiah gives a stinging rebuke to the sin of pride.

The geography of Edom provided an almost impenetrable fortress. Invading armies could enter only by snaking through difficult mountain passes. This location gave the people of Edom great national security and led to some colossal arrogance on their part. “The pride of your heart has deceived you,” the Lord told them, “you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights” (Obadiah 1:3, NIV). The Edomites’ misplaced pride would later become their undoing.

Edom’s geography bears a resemblance to our affluence today. Our self-reliant culture crows, “Never take guff!” “Depend on no one!” “Save face at all costs!” Pride alone fuels this counsel. When we feel self-secure, we sense no need for anything or anyone else—even God. Our physical resources tempt us to reject any external influence in our lives. But as the Lord told the Edomites, such an attitude smacks of overconfidence: “The pride of your heart has deceived you.”

Boasting is the voice of pride in the heart of the strong. Self-pity is the voice of pride in the heart of the weak. —John Piper


Just as arrogance would displace the Edomites, so our pride will betray us unless we walk with God in humility (see Micah 6:8). God never created us to live in independence from Him, but in dependence on Him. Our model of humility? The One who is gentle and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29). What an honor to rely on the Lord of whom alone we boast . . . and from whom alone we receive all we need.

If we’re honest, we have to confess that the last stronghold in our hearts is defended by pride.

Adapted from Wayne Stiles, Going Places with God: A Devotional Journey Through the Lands of the Bible (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2006), p. 129. Used by permission.

A Tale of Two Cities – Jerusalem and Babylon in Prophecy [Podcast]

Genesis 10-11, 14; Isaiah 13-14; Revelation 21-22

Two cities represent two kinds of people. Babylon corresponds to the rebellion of man against God; Jerusalem epitomizes faith in God. In a day that leans wholly on humanism, we would do well to trace the history and future of these two cities to see their outcome.

God has prophesied to utterly destroy Babylon and eternally bless Jerusalem—and all that both great cities represent. Which city holds your citizenship?

Play

Open this podcast in iTunes