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by Randy White Ministries Sunday, Dec 17, 2023

Unpacking the Nativity: Insights into the Birth of Jesus | Dr. Randy White

Mary and Joseph: Seasoned Travelers

Contrary to the common misconception that First Century Jews seldom left their hometowns, Mary, and in fact the majority of devout Jews from the first century, were experienced travelers. Mary journeyed to Hebron and stayed there for three months, presumably on her own, right after she found out she was pregnant. A bicycle ride, which can be compared to a donkey ride, from Nazareth to Hebron takes about 12 hours according to Google Maps. Furthermore, Mary and Joseph made annual trips to Jerusalem for the Passover, as stated in Luke 2:41.

The Census That Brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem

The census was an official, written government order known as an "apographo," akin to a modern "writ," which had to be obeyed. The record it produced not only contained census information but also a record of a family’s assets. This record was then used for taxation and other political purposes. Importantly, this was not a process that could be carried out remotely; it required personal attendance. Although there are abundant records of such decrees, this particular decree is not recorded in history outside the Bible (Luke 2:1).

No Room at the Inn? Reexamining the Bethlehem Scene

Almost every Christmas play features a heartless innkeeper who turns away a young man and his pregnant wife. However, it's likely that such a scene never actually occurred. This misrepresentation stems from a common misunderstanding of the word “inn” in Luke 2:7. The OED gives the older English definition 1.a. for Inn as “A dwelling place, either temporary or permanent; a home, lodging.”

The Greek word "κατάλυμα" or "kataluma" used in this context, is the same word used to describe the upper room where Jesus had the Last Supper. It doesn't refer to an inn or hotel, but rather a “spare bedroom” or “guest chamber” as described in Mark 14:14-15.

Bethlehem: A Small Town with a Big History

At the time of Jesus' birth, Bethlehem was a small town with probably only a few hundred inhabitants. Despite its size, the city has a significant place in the Scriptures, being mentioned by name 49 times. Its first mention is in Genesis 35:19, noting the burial of Rachel, Jacob's wife. Joshua 19:15 mentions Bethlehem as being in the territory of Judah. The city was also the home of Elimelech and Naomi, later becoming the residence of Ruth and Boaz, and ultimately it was the birthplace of King David. The prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem is given in Micah 5:4. Interestingly, during Jesus' ministry, there are no records of him teaching or performing miracles in Bethlehem.

The Stone Manger

The popular image of Jesus' birth typically includes a wooden barn and manger, yet this is highly improbable. The manger that Jesus was placed in was actually a feeding trough for animals, as described in Luke 2:7. Rather than wood, these ancient feeding troughs in the Holy Land were made of stone, a material far more abundant in Judea.

Shepherd’s Winter Watch

The notion that Jesus couldn't have been born in December, on the grounds that shepherds don't tend their sheep during winter, is completely baseless.

Swaddling clothes Tell A Story

In modern English, the term "swaddled" refers to a baby that is wrapped tightly in a blanket. However, in ancient Israel, "swaddling cloth" had a different meaning. They were small strips of cloth used on lambs that were being raised for sacrifice, with the purpose of ensuring perfectly straight legs. Interestingly, no baby in ancient Israel would be wrapped in such swaddling cloth. This unusual detail served as a perfect sign for the shepherds as mentioned in Luke 2:12.

The Madness of King Herod

Herod, in his last days, was a lunatic filled with desperation and fear of anyone who might seize his throne or legacy. From the beginning, he was egocentric to the point of wickedness. It was said, "It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son," because while he would never slaughter a pig, he didn't hesitate to kill three of his own sons. He even went to the extreme of killing his most beloved wife, Miriame, and preserving her in liquid so that no other man could ever possess her. His final wish and scheme was a dreadful one: he planned to have 10,000 of Israel's leading men killed upon his death, guaranteeing that the nation would grieve when he passed away.

Jesus’ Time In Egypt

Russell Moore made a statement that is quite typical of left-leaning evangelicalism. He stated, "Our Lord Jesus himself was a so-called 'illegal immigrant.' Fleeing from a brutal political situation, much like many of those in our country right now, our Lord's parents sojourned with him in Egypt (Matt. 2:13-23). Jesus, who lived out his life for us, spent his childhood years in a foreign land, away from his relatives, among people speaking a different language with strange customs." [https://www.russellmoore.com/2011/06/17/immigration-and-the-gospel/. Accessed December 17, 2024]

However, this assertion is not accurate. Jesus never actually left the Roman Empire, as Egypt was a Roman province during his time. Moreover, it would have been geographically closer for Jesus and his family to go to Egypt rather than to return to Nazareth. Additionally, Egypt was densely populated with Jews during Jesus' time. In fact, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, Alexandria in Egypt became the largest Jewish city in the world.

Homeward Bound

The traditional belief that Jesus spent several years in Egypt conflicts with Scripture. A careful reading of Matthew 20:21-22 reveals that Jesus entered Israel, became afraid, and then departed. This fear wasn't necessarily about entering, but rather being there, and so he was instructed in a dream to withdraw to Galilee. Luke's account doesn't mention the time in Egypt but does note that Mary went to the temple for purification 40 days after birth, according to Leviticus 12:2-6. After this temple experience, they returned to Galilee. From these details, it can be inferred that the time spent in Egypt was likely a brief period between the 8th and 40th day of Jesus' life, meaning a maximum of about a month could have been spent there.

What Mary Knew

Mary was aware of several things about her son. She knew about the Kingdom, as mentioned in Luke 1:32-33. She was also aware of the virgin birth, as described in Luke 1:34-35. Lastly, she understood the pain that both she and her son would experience, as foretold in Luke 2:34-35.

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