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Why Are Some of the Most Familiar Bible Passages So Misunderstood?
"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
"And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear." - Luke 2:7-9, ESV
I love Luke 2. It has been one of my favorite Bible passages since I was a kid. I remember growing up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. I still get goosebumps when I watch that with my children and Linus steps forward to tell Charlie Brown what Christmas is really all about by reciting from Luke 2 -
And yet, as wonderfully familiar as this passage is, we still misunderstand it. Several errors are commonly made:
1. There was no inn, not as we would understand that term. The word translated "inn" in Luke 2:7 was not a first-century Holiday Inn. There was no "inn-keeper." It likely refers to the room in the house where guests would sleep, which was probably on the floor of the dining area.
2. There was probably no stable either. The reference to a "manger" is a reference to a feeding trough for animals. However, this is probably because animals were frequently brought into the house at night, kept in the back of the main room of the house. Yes, Mary and Joseph and Jesus were sleeping with the animals and Jesus was placed in a manger as a cradle. But it was probably inside the main house and not likely in a cave or stable.
3. The sign given to the shepherds is the main point of the passage, but we miss the sign. The shepherds would have understood the significance of Jesus being "wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." We are given a version of this description of Jesus three times, in verses 7, 12 & 16.
Shepherds in the region near Bethlehem would often be called upon to provide lambs for sacrifice in the Temple. But not all lambs qualified; only spotless lambs could be used. How would shepherds keep a spotless newborn lamb spotless, keep him from hurting or dirtying himself? They would wrap him in swaddling cloths and place him in a manger. Thus the shepherds would have know the the sign for them meant one thing: Here was the spotless lamb of God, come to take away the sin of the world!
Let us rejoice like the shepherds and glorify God for sending us such a Savior!
Prayer Based on Psalm 102:
Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to You!
Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress!
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call!
For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
My days are like an evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
But You, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
You are remembered throughout all generations.
You will arise and have pity on Your people;
it is the time to favor her;
the appointed time has come.
For Your true servants hold Your church dear
and have pity on her suffering saints, bearing persecution for Your name.
Nations will fear the name of the Lord,
and all the kings of the earth will fear Your glory.
For You, O Lord, build up Your church;
You regard the prayer of the destitute
and You do not despise their prayer.
Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
so that a people yet to be created may praise You, O Lord:
You looked down from Your holy height;
from heaven You looked at the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to set free those who were doomed to die,
that they may declare in the church the name of the Lord,
and in Your congregation Your praise,
when peoples gather together,
and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.
Of old You laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
but You are the same, and Your years have no end.
The children of Your servants shall dwell secure;
their offspring shall be established before You.
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