The Journey to Bethlehem

The Journey to Bethlehem

Bethlehem is the setting for the Book of Ruth. Ruth was the great-grandmother of David. She was a Moabite who married Boaz from Bethlehem. They had a child named Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David.

1 Samuel 16:1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”

God promised David that his kingdom would last forever. But hundreds of years later the earthly kingdom of David crumbled from the consequences of sin. It was conquered by Babylon and became non-existent as a nation. As a result, the royal family tree of David looked like it had been sawed off.

Did God fail to keep His promise to David? By the human eye, it appeared so. But God told Isaiah what was unseen in the background, a shoot coming forth from the stump of Jesse.

Isaiah 11:1-2 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

There are going to be times when our future looks as hopeless as a stump. But God is working in the unseen background. He is a master at bringing new life from old stumps.

Luke 2:1-5, "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, 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."

For centuries, nation after nation had fallen to the Roman Army. One of those nations was Syria. Syria consisted of several provinces. One of those provinces was Judea, the location of the once mighty Kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon.

Judea was further divided into districts (small kingdoms) and a local “king” judged the matters in his “kingdom”. All the kings in Judea were subject to the Roman governor, who represented the Emperor of Rome. The Israelite kings were not allowed an army, nor could they decree any law. As a result, the Jews and Samaritans, living in Judea, were also subjects of Rome with little or no hope of gaining their independence.

Israel had long ago been robbed of its wealth and power. The citizens were taxed heavily to support the Roman Empire and its occupation without any representation or consideration of the desires of the people. On top of this burden, a new Roman Emperor was on the throne and he ordered a new tax. To keep anyone from escaping the new tax, everyone in the empire would be counted in a census.

To make matters worse, to be properly identified, every man in Israel had to return to his ancestral home to register for the census. They had to give their names, the name of their employer and job title, the name of their wives, children, servants, slaves, and the location of their property so the Romans could assess a value to their home and to the people associated with that home. The amount of taxes to be assessed was solely dependent upon the decision of the tax assessors appointed by Rome. These taxes could be collected in the form of money, property, and/or family members (all that’s left).

In Nazareth, a tiny city in the kingdom of Galilee, there lived a poor, hardworking, devout carpenter named Joseph, a descendant of Jesse and David. News of this census caused great concern for Joseph, for he knew that somehow, he must make the long 70 mile journey to his hometown of Bethlehem, a small town 10 miles south of Jerusalem.

To make matters worse, Joseph’s espoused wife was 8½ months pregnant and in no condition to walk 70 miles over mountainous country. The Bible doesn’t tell us what transportation they used, but any type would still make it an arduous journey for Mary.

There were no Burger Kings or McDonalds along the road. There were no Holiday Inns. Even if there were such places, there was no money to pay for these conveniences. So each day, taking probably as much as 10 days on the road, they had to stop to rest often, cook their own meals, bathe whenever possible in cold water streams or out of a wash bowl, sleep on the ground, and keep moving until they reached Bethlehem.

We aren’t told how Mary felt, but it would be normal for her to think “What is going on here? The Angel appeared to me months ago, and I know this baby is God’s! But now, at the worst possible time, I have to head off on this dangerous trip! What is God doing?”

Have you ever felt that way toward God? When we look at the circumstances of life, we may wonder, “What is God doing?” The problem is that we are looking at what we can SEE with our physical eyes. However, reality is so much more than what is visible to the human eye. What we CAN’T see is actually the most important reality of all.

Hebrews 11:1-3 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

When I was informed by a company, whom I had served for 26 years, that my employment was ending in 2 weeks, it was shocking news. I felt like someone had just punched me in the stomach, but immediately, the Holy Spirit said, “Do not fear, I have something else for you to do.” At that time, the “something else” was unseen, but it was still a reality. That assurance from God gave me complete peace, which astonished my supervisor, and it gave me an opportunity to share my faith in God and His provision.

As shocking as the news of this census was to Joseph and Mary, I believe they also had the assurance and encouragement from the Holy Spirit. Quite likely, they were reminded of the prophecy in Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Nothing is said in the Bible about the long journey, but the most direct route Mary and Joseph may have taken went along the Jordon River through Samaria to Jericho. The last leg of the route would have been the hardest of all. Jericho is the lowest city on the globe, and Jerusalem and Bethlehem are situated on top of the mountains. From Jericho’s plain to Bethlehem is an uphill hike of 3,500 feet for 35 miles.

Situated on the top of Mt. Zion was the beautiful Temple of Jehovah. Every year Jews from all over the world traveled to the Jerusalem because this Temple was the dwelling place of God on earth. Anyone who wanted to give thanks to God or to receive forgiveness from God came to the Temple, which was visible to the travelers on the Jericho road for many miles.

What the travelers on the Jericho road could see with human eyes was a magnificent, white structure representing God’s presence on earth. What was UNSEEN, as they passed by Joseph and Mary, was that the baby Mary carried would make that Temple obsolete. God’s presence had already moved from the Temple to the body of a tiny pre-born baby. The very presence of God had already come to dwell in human flesh.

While Jesus was on earth, God’s presence resided in Him. After His death and resurrection, God took up residence, not in a Temple, but in every believer.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

People no longer have to travel to Jerusalem in order to connect with God. Because Jesus, who is Emmanuel (God with us), has come to dwell with us and in us. But no one could SEE these things during the 10-day trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

• What was SEEN was an exhausted young couple, forced to take shelter in a barn.

• What was SEEN was the birth of one more Jewish baby … born in less-than-ideal circumstances to poverty-stricken parents, who were far away from home.

• What was UNSEEN was that omniscient God had entered man’s time and space.

• What was UNSEEN was that God had come to bring the Kingdom of God to earth with salvation and freedom to anyone who believes in Him.

2 Corinthians 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

The night Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph could not hear the Angel’s declaration. They couldn’t see the wise men following that distant Star. While they were unaware of these things and swaddling their new baby, God was still at work behind the scene.

Soon the shepherds would arrive with the amazing story about a host of angels. A week later, two devoted worshipers in the Temple would declare they had seen the Messiah when they saw baby Jesus. Two years later, wise men, following a star, would arrive in Bethlehem with valuable gifts for Jesus, the King of the Jews. Then Joseph was instructed by an angel in a dream to flee to Egypt to avoid the murderous King Herod.

Matthew 2:13-15 Now when they [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

After the death of Herod, an angel appeared to Joseph again in a dream and told him to return to Nazareth. The next 25 or so years would be normal and uneventful. Jesus lived a quiet, small-town life. As a boy, He submitted to His parents and obeyed them. As a young adult, Jesus apprenticed as a carpenter, and then worked to help support His family. As far as we know, the first 30 years were mostly mundane and ordinary, not so different from our lives. But during those years, God was working behind the scenes to set the stage for Jesus’ 3-year ministry and the fulfillment of His purpose for coming.

God is working behind the scenes of our lives, too. It seems like our daily life is—well,— just daily. As far as what we can SEE, things just go along in a normal way with nothing important happening. We need to realize that what we see with our eyes is not all that is going on. God is still working. And when trials come upon us, disrupting our daily life, God is still working His purpose behind the scene of our trials, too.

Remember Joseph and Mary’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Remember that the people who passed them on the road to Bethlehem saw only worn out travelers, one of them heavy with child, plodding along because the oppressive Roman government demanded a census and more taxes.

Remember the people who passed Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem had no idea that they were walking past the Son of God! They had no idea God was doing His greatest work behind the scenes of an oppressive situation.

God was establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. That baby born in Bethlehem is the eternal King of the God’s Kingdom and the fulfillment of the promise that David’s kingdom would never end.

And through faith in Jesus, the King of Kings, you can be part of that Kingdom.

Mark 1:14-15 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

You can know the feeling of being a brother or sister of the King of Kings. You can know the joy and the excitement and the hope that you are a part of a Kingdom that will last forever. It is not a kingdom of this world, but you can experience the Kingdom of God every day.

Luke 17:20-21 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he [Jesus] answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

And behind the scenes of this world, Jesus is preparing a physical Kingdom we will see and live in forever.

Jesus said in John 14:1-3 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms. If that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.”

Each of us are on a journey. Sometimes the journey is long and arduous. However, the purpose of our journey is to get us to the place where God has determined that Christ is to be born in us by the Holy Spirit.

Maybe this moment, in this place, is where God has been leading you. Your journey has been mundane, or it has been long and hard. Either way, God has been working behind the scenes to give you faith in Jesus and a desire for a new life.

You see, you have to be tired of your old life before you desire a new one. You have to be tired of being your own god before you give lordship and control to Almighty God. The journey you have been on is your “Road to Bethlehem”, taking you to the place where Jesus will be born in you.

Are you ready for that? Are you ready for the life of God to be born in you? Do you believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who atoned for your sin on the cross? If so, have you given your life to Him by confessing your sin and repenting of it? If you have, then it is time to confess your faith publicly and die to your old life by following Jesus in baptism.

Then Holy Spirit will give you a new life and a new journey, called the Way. It is a narrow road where we follow Jesus, and it leads us into the Kingdom of God on earth and unto eternal life where we dwell forever in the city of God, called New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2).

On this new journey, God will give you grace and power to walk by the Spirit and no longer by the desires of your flesh, because you will be a temple of the Holy Spirit. God will be in you. You will have God’s power to be a witness of Jesus to those who are still on their road to “Bethlehem” where Christ can be born in them, too.