Let’s look back two thousand years, when “…it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed” (Luke 2:1). Joseph and Mary, a young couple in the royal line of Israel’s King David, lived within Caesar’s domain in Nazareth, a small town few had ever even heard of. Once the decree was issued, they had to submit to Caesar and enroll in his census for taxation. They were required to return to their ancestral hometown, Bethlehem, to enroll. Mary was probably just 16 or 17 years old at that time.
Transportation conditions would be very harsh, especially since Mary was 9 months pregnant with Israel’s prophesied Deliverer. In spite of her advanced pregnancy, she was still required to make the long and difficult journey to Bethlehem. “…Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child” (Luke 2:4-5).
“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes…” (Luke 2:6-7 emphasis added). Jewish custom was for a woman to wear a long piece of fabric called a burial cloth when traveling far from home, so she could be wrapped in it for a decent burial in case she did not survive the trip. This would be a long, demanding, difficult journey of 70 to 80 miles with only a mule to help. It would be very hard on Mary.
God, for His own reasons and purposes, had to get Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. He used Caesar Augustus as His divine instrument when he enrolled the Roman world for taxation purposes. But Caesar was not the one in control of the situation like he thought he was. Seven hundred years before this young couple ever made their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, it had been predicted that “…thou Bethlehem, though thou be little among the thousands in Judea, yet out of thee shall He come forth whose goings forth has been from everlasting” (Micah 5:2). It was declared way back then that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of Israel’s Deliverer.
Mary gave birth soon after their arrival in Bethlehem. Then she wrapped her newborn son in her burial cloth as His swaddling cloth, being all she had with her. She did not know then that her newborn son being wrapped in a burial cloth at birth foreshadowed His death later on the Cross, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Abraham, that “…God will provide Himself [as] a lamb for a burnt offering…” (Genesis 22:8 emphasis added). Jesus was born in an animal feeding trough as the Chosen Lamb of God, “which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He was “…as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by Him do believe in God, that raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God” (1 Peter 1:19-21 emphasis added).
That same night, in outlying fields in the vicinity of the manger, temple shepherds were tending their flocks. Suddenly, a heavenly host of angels appeared, announcing the arrival on Earth of God’s divine presence and glory in His newborn, only begotten Son. One of the angels said, “…Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign unto you; you will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-13 emphasis added).
Imagine how those shepherds felt while they were “…keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). Mary had just brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped Him in the swaddling cloth, and laid Him in the manger. He was born in a stable used by temple shepherds for newborn temple lambs. The lambs had to be examined for any spot or blemish, to determine if they qualified to be offered for Israel’s atoning temple sacrifices. Here God brought forth Mary’s firstborn son, “the Lamb of God,” gift-wrapped in a swaddling cloth and laid in a manger. Mary provided the wrapping for God’s special gift to us, the fulfillment of His promise to all mankind. God as “Immanuel” was now with us through His only begotten Son, sent from Heaven to visit mankind in order to redeem us from our sin.
God has always longed for fellowship with man, but it was cut off by man because of his sin against God. To have true fellowship with God again, something had to be done about man’s sin. This is the primary reason why God chose Bethlehem as the place for His only begotten Son to be born. This need for a sacrificial lamb had been deeply imbedded in the Jewish mind in their longstanding culture and worship. Here Mary brought forth Israel’s precious Lamb of God and used her burial cloth to wrap Him after she gave birth. This cloth was the token of the chosen sacrificial “…Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 emphasis added). And how did a lamb remove sin? By his sacrificial death, as our substitute. And how was Jesus to take away the sin of the world? By His sacrificial death, as our substitute.
But where were the Magi, the wise men from the East? They had followed the star of wonder that they saw the first, special night Jesus was born. It led them west toward God’s perfect, eternal, divine Light in Bethlehem. They arrived as latecomers to the occasion of God coming in the flesh there, about 1 to 2 years after Jesus was born. Joseph and Mary had moved from the manger into a house in Bethlehem by then. The Magi therefore did not come to the manger to see Jesus. They went into the house and saw the young boy with His mother, then fell down and worshipped Him. They unwrapped their treasures and presented their gifts unto Him. The first gift was gold, fit for a king, one of the reasons for the Lord Jesus’ human existence. The second gift was frankincense, a fragrant gum resin used in religious rites and embalming, because He came as Israel’s Messiah (Anointed One). And the third gift was myrrh, a bitter aromatic gum resin commonly used for burial (see Matthew 2:11). How interesting that they would present gifts like these to a young child. These three gifts from the Magi were given to honor Jesus, who would one day become Israel’s glorious King, Great High Priest, and Savior.
These three valuable gifts came at just the right time to provide a source of funds for the upcoming long and expensive journey into Egypt when Joseph and Mary had to flee with the boy. They would be total strangers there. No one would meet or help them. And they would end up staying for a considerable length of time. Little did they know then how much they would need these gifts for support during that period. The Magi laid the gifts at the feet of the boy Jesus. And at this very same moment, God (seen as the boy Jesus) was still longing with all His heart for fellowship with man. And He is still hoping to be received into the hearts of all mankind today. That is the gift that He desires most from man.
The world’s largest package shipping company processes almost five billion packages a year, many of which are gifts. They make it possible to give gifts to the whole world. But God gave just one divine birthday gift package to the whole world two thousand years ago in little Bethlehem. He “…so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but He that believeth not is condemned already, because He hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16-18 emphasis added). He is the one and only gift anyone really needs in order to be with God forever.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Believe right now that He bore God’s judgment for your sins by His death on the cross, and you will receive the free gift of God into your life. You will be born again by the Spirit of God by putting your faith in Him, and you will become a brand new creation in Jesus Christ. God provided Him for anyone who wants to come to Him. The key is to believe in Jesus, the Son of God, God’s one special gift to all mankind.
For more information on knowing God and His Son Jesus please visit our page on the Way to God.