Israel 2014 -- Bethlehem; Day 10

BETHLEHEM - Christmas comes early this year as this morning you enter BETHLEHEM.


The merchant shops of modern Bethlehem make use of the town’s famous event by selling mass-produced olive wood nativity sets and Christmas paraphernalia. Not even in Bethlehem can we escape the commercialism of Christmas.


But just east of the city lies a large pasture known as “The Shepherds’ Field.”
  • Here the modern traveler can exchange Christmas shopping for the Christmas story.
  • No olive wood sets . . . just olive trees. No merchants hawking trinkets . . . just some local children holding lambs in their arms.
  • This rocky meadow represents the likely location of the angel’s announcement to the shepherds that first Christmas night.
Born to Shepherd. Born to Die as a Lamb.

The shepherds guarded flocks of sheep that were raised for sacrifice in Jerusalem. They heard the words from the angelic herald:
Today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. —Luke 2:11
These words gave a glimpse of what salvation would cost: the Babe in the manger would become the final sacrificial Lamb (Luke 2:11-12; John 1:29).

Jesus—just like the flocks the shepherds pastured that night—was born to die in Jerusalem, only five miles up the road from Bethlehem.

Jesus’ Birth Story Had You in Mind
Why would the Lord first announce the Messiah’s birth to lowly shepherds? Why would Jesus’ birth story begin in a barn?

Scripture reveals that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,” and Jesus Himself would later pray:
I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. —Luke 10:21
God choose such an ignoble beginning for such an important birth, perhaps for the same reason He would choose such an ignoble death for such an exemplary life.

Because God had you in mind.

The Lord knew that we—lowly sinners—needed a Savior. Jesus came to the lowly, lived a humble life, and died an ignoble death. All so that we could have our sins forgiven by faith in Him.



Climb the HERODIAN, the mountain-fortress of Herod the Great where the infamous king’s tomb was just excavated several years ago.


Hearing from the Magi that the “king of the Jews” was born in Bethlehem, the paranoid Herod sent and slew all the male boys under two years old in the town—a cryptic fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:15.

Of course, Jesus’ family got word of the impending threat and escaped by night to sojourn in Egypt until Herod’s death (Matthew 2:13-18).

Whenever I visit the area of the Herodium, I can’t help but think of the historical irony that Herod tried to kill Jesus—but failed. Instead, Herod himself died and was buried in the Herodium overlooking the very city the Messiah was born (Micah 5:2).

This offers a lesson of great encouragement in God’s sovereignty.

Devotional Thought for the Herodium
Read Matthew 2:1-18.

God warned Joseph in a dream to take Jesus and Mary and flee to Egypt. In a wonderful twist of poetic irony (i.e. God’s sovereignty), the raving King Herod died and was buried in the Herodium—where archaeologists recently discovered his tomb—overlooking the birthplace of the true King of Israel.

Caesar’s census caused Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem two years earlier. Herod’s murderous edict caused them to leave Bethlehem.

We can take encouragement that though the most powerful rulers in world make decrees and decisions that require us to move on, they only play into God’s sovereignty.

This wasn’t the first Joseph, by the way, whom God spoke to in dreams and sent to Egypt. What the patriarch said 2000 years before Jesus was born was just as true with Jesus’ move to Egypt: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
God uses even godless decisions to bring about good in our lives. That’s His sovereignty. (Tweet that.)
The Lord’s will for our lives is never thwarted by godless decisions. Instead He uses them for His purposes and for our good.

We then go to the SHEPHERD’S FIELD (YMCA) to sing Christmas carols inside a shepherd’s cave (with manger outside!).


Caves where shepherds “kept watch over their flock” still abound in the area east of Bethlehem. Here, the Gospel of Luke tells us, an angel announced the birth of Jesus.

The angel’s good news was not given to the noble or pious, but to workers with a low reputation. Jewish literature ranked “shepherd” as among the most despised occupations of the time — but Christ was to identify himself with this occupation when he called himself “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11).

The traditional place of the angel’s visit is the town of Beit Sahur. Originally known as the Village of the Shepherds, it is now an eastern suburb of Bethlehem.

The tradition connected with the Shepherds’ Field is complicated by the fact that archaeologists have identified more than one possible site.


Next we enter the CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY, the traditional birthplace of Jesus and site of Jerome’s translation of the Latin Vulgate.

Entering the church that marks the site of Christ’s birthplace means having to stoop low. The only doorway in the fortress-like front wall is just 1.2 metres high.

The previous entrance to the Church of the Nativity was lowered around the year 1500 to stop looters from driving their carts in. To Christians, it seems appropriate to bow low before entering the place where God humbled himself to become man.

Today’s basilica, the oldest complete church in the Christian world, was built by the emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It replaced the original church of Constantine the Great, built over the cave venerated as Christ’s birthplace, and dedicated in AD 339.

Before Constantine, the first Christian emperor, the Romans had tried to wipe out the memory of the cave. They planted a grove dedicated to the pagan god Adonis, lover of Venus, and established his cult in the cave.

As St Jerome wrote in AD 395, “The earth’s most sacred spot was overshadowed by the grave of Adonis, and the cave where the infant Christ once wept was where the paramour of Venus was bewailed.”
 

After time to shop at an OLIVE WOOD STORE we go back to Jerusalem and return to the Dan Jerusalem.

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