What Really Happened at Bethlehem?

Dec 20, 2021 | Faith, Harold Sala

Church_of_the_Nativity_in Bethlehem

“My sole purpose in going to Florence,” wrote Mark Twain in his book, A Tramp Abroad, “was to see this immortal ‘Moses,’ and by good fortune, I was just in time, for they were already preparing to remove it to a more private and better-protected place because a fashion of robbing the great galleries was prevailing in Europe at that time.”  That was in 1880 but today, tourists still flock to see that giant sculpture of Moses by the master Michelangelo, which you’ll find in the Church of San Pietro. The sculptor depicted Moses as a powerful figure with a no-nonsense, stern-looking face.

You might be surprised to know that Moses gets figured into the story of Christmas. John Chapter 1, verse 17 reads, “For the law was given through Moses; (but) grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Michelangelo, the sculptor of this almost 8-foot-tall figure was a 16th-century master artist whose depiction of biblical characters influenced generations to come. He pictured Moses with horns, which in the context of art represented power and authority! What a contrast to the gentle, infant Savior who was born in Bethlehem. No wonder the book of John contrasts the law that was given under Moses with the grace that came through Jesus Christ.

The law showed man’s failure–his inability to satisfy God–while grace represents God’s reaching down to our level to bring satisfaction, forgiveness, healing, and restoration.

The little city of Bethlehem, where Christ was born, has found itself in the center of many conflicts. The Church of the Holy Nativity is there, sitting over the site, possibly a cave, where Jesus may have been born. During one conflict in 2002, Palestinian militia took refuge in this ancient church, the oldest one in Christendom, as the Israeli military took positions outside.

Yet the drama that took place there as machine guns and tanks were trained on the doors and windows, with both sides nervously awaiting the first shot which could trigger all-out war, depicted the very reason that prompted God to send His Son. Humankind couldn’t solve its problems. It took God’s very best, Jesus Christ, to do that.

Go within that ancient church filled with incense pots, pictures, and artifacts and icons hundreds of years old, and join the throng pushing down a narrow stairway worn smooth by the thousands of feet which have tread on those stones over the centuries, and you will come to a spot marked by a fourteen-pointed silver star.

There, according to history and tradition, the manger—probably a feeding stone trough for cattle—once accommodated a seven- or eight-pound bundle of human flesh, an infant boy, the unique fusion of both God and man—Jesus, the son of Mary of the lineage of David, and the Ancient of Days who knew neither beginning nor end.

Bethlehem can hit you with an emotional impact. This is our world, and the manger is a measurable distance from where you are at this very moment.  “The Word became flesh,” wrote John, “and dwelled among us!”

With our failures, our sins, our frustrations, our good but failed intentions, Bethlehem reminds us that God reached down to touch us at the point of our need. “Grace and truth,” he wrote, “came by Jesus Christ.”

Someday the wars and fighting will stop, and the One whose infant body was laid in a manger will return riding on a White Horse with the armies of heaven following. The once baby of Bethlehem will reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The American humorist, Mark Twain, was impressed with the image of the lawgiver, Moses, chiseled out of marble at the hands of Michelangelo, but the greater truth is that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

Resource reading:  John 1:1-17.

Speaker, author, and Bible teacher, Dr. Harold Sala founded Guidelines in 1963. Pioneering the five-minute commentary on Christian radio, Dr. Sala’s daily “ Guidelines-A Five Minute Commentary on Living ” is broadcast in 49 of the 50 states and is heard the world over in a variety of languages.

Sala, who holds a Ph.D. in biblical text, has authored over 60 books published in19 languages. He speaks and teaches frequently at conferences, seminars, and churches worldwide. Residing in Mission Viejo, California, Harold and his wife, Darlene, have three adult children and eight well-loved grandchildren.

You can read more of Dr. Sala’s articles HERE!

Featured image copyright Neil Ward

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