Don’t Leave Jesus in the Manger

A few days ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Now what? Do we leave Him in the manger? Do we put Him away with other Christmas decorations until next December?

As we are about to begin a new calendar year, I challenge you to let Jesus to grow up. As you allow Him to grow, you will also grow in your relationship with Him.

All of us are familiar with the Christmas story as recorded in Luke 2. However, we have the tendency to stop after verse 20. If we keep reading, we will discover a few things about Jesus’ childhood. Luke 2:40 says, “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” When he was 12 years old, he went to the Passover Feast in Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph lost track of him. Verses 46-47 tell us, “Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” Jesus matured greatly in 12 years!

Luke 2:52 summarizes Jesus’ early life. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Let’s look closely at the four ways in which Jesus grew.

WISDOM
The Greek word for wisdom refers to mental and moral insights and understanding. We just noted in Luke 2:46-47 how impressed the teachers in the temple were with Jesus’ wisdom. Jesus had more than heard knowledge. He had wisdom and understanding. He had a greater maturity in wisdom than most boys his age.

What about wisdom for ourselves? Proverbs 1:5-6 says, “Let the wise listen and gain instruction, and the discerning acquire wise counsel by understanding the proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” We desire more than worldly wisdom. We want the spiritual wisdom Paul talks about in I Corinthians 2: 9-10. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.But God has revealed it to us by the Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.Verses 12-13 continue, “We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. And this is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

STATURE
Stature in Greek is a word that considers a combination of age and size to reflect physical growth. Jesus grew physically like any human being. Each year Jesus celebrated his birthday of being another year older.

For us, stature growth is noticed by changes in height and weight as our chronological age increases. Kids get excited about growing up in height. As adults, we may become more concerned about growing out in weight.

FAVOR WITH GOD
The Greek word for favor is the same word that is translated grace. It is a term of acceptance. Jesus was loved by His Heavenly Father. My favorite definition of grace is given by Don Mares. “Grace is the empowering presence of God enabling you to be who God has created you to be and to do what God has called you to do.” Jesus perfectly exemplified grace.

God offers us grace today. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” God assures us in II Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Jesus grew in favor with God – and we are encouraged to do the same. II Peter 3:18 says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

FAVOR WITH MAN
Again, the definition of favor is grace. As a normal boy, Jesus had the same experiences as everyone growing up in a family. He had earthly parents and siblings. Everyone needs grace while living with family members. Hebrews 2:17 NLT says, “For this reason He had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people.

In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked which is the great commandment. He answers in verses 37-39, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all you mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus is a man when He gives this answer. It is the perfect example for how we are to live in favor with both God and man. Another guide for how we can grow in favor with man is found in Proverbs 3:3-4. “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man.

Jesus didn’t stay in a manger as a baby. He grew up. Philippians 2: 6-8 gives a good description of Jesus’ life. “Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.” However, let us not forget the words of Philippians 2:1 for ourselves. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” This is how we grow.

Why Did Baby Jesus Cry?

And she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son.
She wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7

A baby is born. A baby cries. Why? The first cry of a baby signifies that his lungs are functioning outside the mother’s womb. The cry announces the miracle of new life.

Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you.
He is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign to you:
You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.
Luke 2:11-12

This baby who cried was no ordinary baby. When an angel announced His birth to the shepherds, we learn a little more about Him. This baby was Jesus Christ.

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.
We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

Any baby’s birth is a miracle. However, this was a unique miracle because this baby’s father was God. This baby was God in the flesh. Jesus cried just like all newborn babies. But, I wonder if His cries had more to say.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son,
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Although Jesus was crying as a human baby, we may hear deeper cries with spiritual connotations. I wonder if His cries were prophetic cries of the pain He would endure on a cross in 33 years. He was born to die for our sins so we can live eternally.

Jesus cried as a baby expressing His human needs. Maybe His cries were also announcing how He would satisfy our spiritual needs. Let’s make a few correlations.

Jesus cried when He was hungry. He wanted milk. Did His cry also exemplify our spiritual cry of hunger? Jesus says in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.I Peter 2:2 says, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.

Jesus cried when He needed His diaper changed. Can we hear another cry for change? People’s hearts need to be changed. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Jesus cried when He was tired and needed comfort to go to sleep. In about 30 years Jesus would say in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Sometimes Jesus may have cried simply because He wanted to be held. Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” In coming years Jesus would say in Matthew 19:14, Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

A baby’s first cry announces he is alive. Jesus cried when He was born over 2000 years ago. However, His first audible cry announced more than that He was alive. His cries fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6-7. “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Jesus was not only alive – He was the Life. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He also says in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus in a few days, let us hear His cries of life!

The Gift

Christmas involves giving gifts. Have you found your gift under the tree? Or, maybe I should ask on the tree? The tag on this gift reads:
To: The World
From: God

Since it is for the world, you and I can both open it. The gift is Jesus! God chose this gift for us because He loves us. (see John 3:16)

John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” The Heavenly Father wrapped His Son in human flesh when He gave us the gift.

The gift was first given to shepherds over 2000 years ago. An angel says in Luke 2:11-12, “for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. ‘This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’” Notice two things. First, “born to you” can be interpreted to say “given to you.” Christ is given to us as a gift. Second, the baby is wrapped up – just like a present.

Luke 2:15 tells us, “When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, ‘Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’”  The shepherds were willing to go receive the gift that was for them.

I always enjoy watching our grandchildren exchange Christmas presents. I watch the eyes of the one giving the gift as well as the eyes of the one opening the gift. They love giving gifts to each other as well as receiving them. I am not sure whose eyes express the most joy. I visualize God looking down from heaven with His eyes dancing in anticipation of even one person receiving the gift of His Son. If you have not yet opened your heart to receive this sacred gift, you can do so right now. You do not have to wait until Christmas Day. God’s eyes are looking upon you and pleading with you to accept the gift of His Son. His gift has a tag with your name on it.

In Jesus Always for 12/25, Sarah Young writes, “I (God) gift you with unimaginable glorious Life that will never end! The best response to this astonishing Gift is to embrace it joyfully and gratefully.” There is no Christmas gift we could ever give or receive that can compare with the gift of Jesus Christ given by God.

As we wrap our Christmas gifts and place them under the tree, let us remember to thank God for the gift of His Son who died upon a tree to become our gift of salvation.

The Gift Goes On by Sandi Patty is a Christmas song that touched my heart many years ago. The words summarize what I want to share with you today during this sacred and special season.

The Father gave the Son
The Son gave the Spirit
The Spirit gives us life
So we can give the Gift of love
And the Gift goes on
And the Gift goes on
And the Gift goes on
And the Gift goes on

Don’t you love to get a present
Wrapped up in a Christmas bow
God gave each of us a present
On that night so long ago
It’s a Gift that keeps on giving
If our spirits can receive
It’s the secret joy of living
If our hearts can just believe

And the Gift goes on
And the Gift goes on
And the Gift goes on
And the Gift goes on and on and on

And the Gift goes on
And the Gift goes on
And the Gift goes on
And the Gift goes on and on and on

When your life is full of Christmas
Then your life is full of love
You can give away the present
That began with God above
Just like ripples in the water
The circles of our love extend
What was started with the Father
Is a Gift that has no end

A Manger of Stone – A Stony Heart

and she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger,
because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke 2:7

Jesus’ crib was a manger. Not a modern fancy piece of furniture with a comfortable mattress.

Our nativity scenes depict Jesus’ manger as being a separate piece of wooden farm furniture. A cradle filled with hay. Personally, I grew up on a farm and always imagined Jesus lying in a wooden trough that was built into the structure of our wooden barn.

However, as I search for information about the manger, I discover something different. In Bible times, the stable was most likely a cave. The manger was probably a structure hewn from stone. Maybe an old cistern. It was supposed to only be used as a feeding trough for animals. Not very comfortable for a bed, but definitely a stable one.

I ponder the stone manger. I see symbolism. I sense a prophetic picture.

A manger of stone. A stony heart.

As a baby, Jesus rested in a manger of stone. As our savior, Jesus is willing to come into a stony heart. Jesus took up residence in a stone manger. And, He still desires to come into a stony heart. But the story does not stop there.

And I will give you a new heart,
and I will put a new spirit in you.
I will take out your stony, stubborn heart
and give you a tender, responsive heart.
And I will put My Spirit in you
so that you will follow My decrees
and be careful to obey My regulations.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT

In this scripture, the heart refers to the central core of mankind or the inner person. God wants to remove our stubborn nature and replace it with a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and a tenderness towards those surrounding us. I like the choice of words for verse 27 in the Contemporary English Version, “I will put my Spirit in you and make you eager to obey My laws and teachings.”

David cries in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” The Lord promises in Ezekiel 11:19, “And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”

These are Old Testament verses crying out for what Jesus comes to fulfill when He is born in Bethlehem and placed in a manger of stone. He became God incarnate. Jesus was born so we could be reborn. Life in the flesh for Jesus makes possible spiritual life for us.

If Jesus was willing to be placed in a manger of stone, He is willing to come into a person’s stony heart. He will then change that hardened heart into a softened heart capable of receiving and giving love.

Jesus says in John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Bill Hybels has said, “The manger is a symbol of what can happen when Jesus Christ resides inside us.”

Hybels points out that a manger would only be known as an ancient feeding trough for animals if it had not been for Jesus claiming it as a bed. The manger gained new dignity as a place where Jesus slept. It was transformed. The same can be said for us when we ask Jesus to come into our hearts. We are transformed into new creations.
II Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Hybels continues to say, “When Jesus takes up residency, by His Spirit, in an ordinary life, I can assure you the ordinary gives way to the extraordinary. Just as a feed trough becomes a King’s cradle, a very average man or woman becomes exceptional through responsiveness to God.”

Jesus was born in a dark, cold cave and laid in a manger of stone so we can be born again. Our stony hearts can be removed and He can live in our hearts. Ephesians 3:17 tells us that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.

What a wonderful promise for us to meditate upon during this Christmas season!

Immanuel – Emmanuel

According to the liturgical Christian calendar, Advent has begun. We are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. God came down to earth as a baby. According to John 1:14, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He is Emmanuel, God with us.

Immanuel or Emmanuel. God is with us! The Greek language spells this special name with an I. Hebrew spells it with an E. In both cases, the name declares that God is with us.

The prophet foretells of Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14. Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Bible scholars point out that Isaiah refers to Immanuel as more of a sign of God’s protection than an actual person. However, it is prophetic. The Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament.

An angel informs Joseph about Immanuel in Matthew 1:23. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Scholars stress that Emmanuel in Matthew refers specifically to Jesus Christ.

According to https://www.preceptaustin.org/immanuel-emmanuel, “The Name IMMANUEL emphasizes the nearness of God. Christ’s birth brought the infinite, holy God within reach of finite, sinful man. God came to live with us so we could live with Him. . . . And so Immanuel speaks of the incarnation of Christ, God in the flesh.”

Let’s see how Immanuel/Emmanuel is present in Luke 1:26-38. The scripture begins with a conversation between an angel and Mary. In verse 28, Mary is told, “The Lord is with you.” This sounds like an interpretation of Emmanuel. Mary learns that although she is a virgin, she will give birth to a son whom she will name Jesus. Mary doesn’t understand. The angel explains in verse 35, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” In other words, the presence of the Holy Spirit is God with her. This sounds like another example of Emmanuel. Verse 37 states, “For no word from God will ever fail.” The New Kings James Version says, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” This assurance allows Mary to proclaim in verse 38, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” Mary could only give birth to the One who would be named Immanuel (God with us) because God was with her!

When I think of Mary being pregnant, I think about Jesus growing inside her. Emmanuel was in and with Mary before Jesus was born. Later during His earthly ministry, Jesus tells the disciples in John 15:5, “apart from Me you can do nothing.” He is Emmanuel – He is with them. He also promises in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.” For me, Jesus with the disciples is a picture foreshadowing the Holy Spirit with us today. Jesus says in John 14:16, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” Galatians 4:6 affirms, “Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.” Paul asks in I Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The Holy Spirit is our Emmanuel today.

I pointed out earlier how the gospel of Matthew began by recording that a virgin would conceive a son who would be called Immanuel. (see Matthew 1:23 above) I find it interesting that Matthew concludes his gospel (Matthew 28:20) with Jesus words,And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew affirms at the end of his gospel what he proclaimed at the beginning. Emmanuel!

According to Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Emmanuel/Immanuel at the beginning, throughout and at the end. Immanuel/Emmanuel is the name that was foretold, that was fulfilled and that will endure forever.

We are entering a busy season as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas. However, I encourage you to take a moment and meditate on the great name Immanuel/Emmanuel. God is with us today. We do not need to wait until Christmas to celebrate His presence. Joshua 1:9 declares, “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” And, according to Ephesians 3:19, we can be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.