Jehovah had four thousand years to plan His Son’s entrance into the world. He set the world stage for His arrival (Daniel 2:44; Galatians 4:4). He chose Jesus’ race (seed of Abraham), nationality (Israelite), and ancestors (e.g., King David) (Matthew 1:1). He chose the mother (Mary) and birthplace (Bethlehem Ephratah) (Luke 1:26–27; Micah 5:2). He even planned His first trip (into Egypt) (Matthew 2:13–15).
Yet He did not choose a hospital.
Jesus’ Father was not limited by poverty, power, or circumstances. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10–12), even the whole earth and fullness thereof (Psalm 24:1). He is wise and omniscient (1 Timothy 1:17), and thus incapable of forgetting something. He is omnipotent (Genesis 18:24). He could have arranged for Him to have the best doctor, medical staff, nurses, and birthing suite the world had to offer.
Yet He did not arrange to have even a midwife present.
Jesus certainly deserved the best (Colossians 1:18). From our perspective, with our salvation at stake, we would have taken no chances of complications or an infection or debilitating disease.
Yet King Jesus was born into a manger.
Who could have predicted that? What words could explain it?
While on the surface it may seem that Jesus’ birth was a haphazard affair, a closer look shows how meticulously God had thought everything through.
The Lamb of God was born in a barn.
Why Scripture does not specifically mention a barn, mangers were animal food troughs which typically were found in barns. How appropriate that “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) should be born in a barn. Who knows how many ewes had given birth to lambs in the very barn where Jesus was born? This city had been in existence since at least the time of Rachel (Genesis 35:19) and occupied by shepherds for more than a thousand years—since before the time of David (1 Samuel 16). Yet never had a lamb such as this been seen in this place.
Isaac’s question, “Where is the lamb?” (Genesis 22:7–8) had been echoing through the centuries as humanity looked for its Savior. Isaiah had prophesied of the Lamb, further heightening expectations. In His mind, God had slain this precious Lamb since before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:19–20), but now the fulfillment was beginning.
How did Jesus come to be born outdoors? It was no more common for mother to give birth in a barn then than it is now. It happened, no doubt, because God wanted it that way. Throughout the Roman Empire at this time, people were commanded to register for the purpose of taxation. Among the Jews, this meant a return to their ancestral lands and original tribes (Luke 2:1–3). So thousands of Jews were traveling at this time, and those of David’s family were all heading to Bethlehem.
It is likely that Joseph walked, while Mary, being nine months pregnant, rode sidesaddle on a donkey. Since Mary was “great with child,” she and Joseph travelled slowly. She must have felt every jolt and rock in the road. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a fairly difficult three-day journey of about eighty-five miles, but under these circumstances, it may have taken five or six days.
So it makes sense that by the time they arrived, the small hamlet of Bethlehem was overrun with people and all hotel rooms were taken. Under such conditions, people must have felt blessed if they could negotiate even a small space on the floor. We can hear Joseph being told, “All we have left is a space where the animals stay.” Perhaps Joseph looked over at Mary at this point, and said, “We’ll take it,” without hesitation. No kind person said, “You can have my space. You need it more than I do.” Imagine if one of David’s daughters had been about to give birth. Would she have been sent out to the barn? Yet this daughter of David had no friend to accommodate her in distress. Nonetheless, it must have been a relief for Mary rest, finally, after her journey.
The Gospel accounts do not say if there were animals there, although in that society animals were never far away. Neither does it say whether the manger was in a stable, barn, or cave. It is likely that Jesus was born in a cattle stall. Imagine it:
- How did it smell?
- What sounds were filling Mary’s ears as she had Jesus?
- How comfortable was it with no bed, couch, table, or chair?
- How private was it with all those visitors milling about?
- How sanitary was it with all the refuse and flies that normally are found in such a place?
To say the least, it was a disquieting place for a woman in childbirth. But Mary and Joseph made it work. Perhaps they hung a curtain over the doorway, and tethered their animal outside to block passage, thus gaining enough privacy for the birth. Ken Gire paints the picture:
Thus Jesus was born without protocol and without pretension. Where you would have expected angels there were only flies. Where you would have expected heads of state, there were only donkeys, a few haltered cows, a nervous ball of sheep, a tethered camel, and a furtive scurry of curious barn mice.
Why would God orchestrate such a place of birth? Jesus’ being born in a stable shows His humiliation (Acts 8:33). He laid aside all His glory, and took upon Himself the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7). He “humbled himself” (Philippians 2:8). Isaiah prophesied that He would be without form or comeliness, a root out of a dry ground and “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:2–3).
The manger and the cross are matching bookends to Jesus’ earthly life. Would it have been fitting that a man who was to die naked on the cross be born in a palace? Would it have been appropriate that one to be buried in a borrowed tomb begin anywhere but a borrowed barn?1 An inauspicious start was fitting, for He who would wear a peasant’s garb, associate with fishermen and tax collectors, and have common men as His disciples when He started His ministry.
1Charles Spurgeon. Sermons on Jesus and the Holy Spirit.