Sunday, December 21, 2008

Away In A Manger

As we move into this final few days before Christmas I thought it would be interesting to spend some time looking at the Christmas story. We seem to get so caught up in the “holiday season” that we sometimes forget (even though we would never admit it) the true meaning of what this season represents. So let’s take some time during this week and ponder exactly what it means that:
unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:11
This verse from Luke is actually the fulfillment of a prophecy that goes back several thousand years, all the way to the beginning of the Bible where we read:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.
Genesis 3:15 (NASB)
In the Garden of Eden, when God created the first man and woman, He gave them only one commandment: Do not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17). Our first parents chose to disobey this commandment and the plunged the whole world into sin, the result of which is that we are all now born in sin, spiritually dead, and separated from God. But God didn’t leave us in that state; Genesis 3:15 was a great promise to Adam and Eve, and it is a great promise to us today as well. In this verse we read that there is One coming – the seed of the woman – who will bruise (crush in the NIV) the head of Satan.

But what does it mean that this coming seed of the woman would crush Satan’s head? In Genesis 2:17 where God gave the commandment that Adam and Eve were not to eat from the tree He told them that if they broke that commandment and ate from the tree they would die – and that is exactly what happened. When they disobeyed God and chose to follow the devil they died spiritually; they were separated from God. So the power that Satan has over us is that he has the power of death, but by His death on the cross where He paid the price for our sin Jesus destroyed the one who had the power of death, that is the devil (Hebrews 2:14).

But I am getting ahead of myself here; before Jesus – the seed of the woman – could die for sin He had to first be born, and that brings us to our topic for today. A couple years ago I had the idea to write a series of Christmas articles based upon the lyrics of some of our well known Carols. Here is the first one of that series which is based on the children’s Christmas song Away in a Manger.

It is not known who wrote the lyrics to this song, although some have credited Martin Luther due to the fact that the song was first published in 1885 in a Lutheran Sunday school book. This poem was then set to music ten years later by William J. Kirkpatrick and became the song that we know today. The Lyrics to this song are:

Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head

The stars in the bright sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay

The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

I love Thee, Lord Jesus
Look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle,
'Til morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray

Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care
And take us to heaven
To live with Thee there

The thing that intrigues me about this song is that it focuses our attention on the fact that Jesus, the One who created this world and everything in it (Colossians 1:16), the One who existed in the beginning with God, and was Himself God (John 1:1), chose to give up the glory of Heaven and humble Himself to come to this earth not as the King of Glory, but as a servant (Philippians 2:6-7). In this song we focus on the birth of Jesus and we see that Jesus was born not in a palace, but in a barn. He was not placed in a crib; He was placed in a trough used to feed animals. His bedding was not silk; it was hay. And the first sounds He heard, while probably very joyous, still included the lowing of cattle in His nursery.

This is not the way that one would expect the King of kings and Lord of lords to come into the world. But that is the way He chose to come, so we must ask ourselves why. The prophet Isaiah, who wrote about 700 years before the birth of Christ, wrote:

1Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Isaiah 53:1-12
We could spend a lifetime trying to dig out every gem in this brief passage, but the one thing that I want you to see today is in verse 10; in this verse we read that He (Jesus) is an offering for guilt. In the NASB this verse reads like this:

But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
Isaiah 53:10

Did you see that? God the Father crushed His Son and He (Jesus) rendered Himself as a guilt offering. What is a guilt offering? Harpers Bible Dictionary says that “its purpose was the reparation of damages.” You see, when we sin we incur a debt with God, and that debt can only be paid by a death (Romans 6:23), and this verse in Isaiah chapter 53 tells us that it is Jesus who paid that debt for us when He Himself became our guilt offering.

We see this also expressed by John the Baptist who said:
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
John 1:29
So the next time you hear Away in a Manger, or the next time you wonder why the King of the universe would choose to be born in a barn, remember that it was this King born in a barn who is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And maybe then it will make a little more sense why on the night that the bright stars looked down where He lay the little Lord Jesus was asleep on the hay.
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Anonymous said...

Excellent reminder, Chris!

Merry Christmas, brother, and please send our greetings and blessings to everyone at home!

I've enjoyed your blog especially your exposition and insights into the Word of God, and look forward to reading more in the new year.

Soli deo Gloria,


Chris said...


Merry Christmas to you and your family as well.


Nathan W. Bingham said...

@Chris: I just stumbled across your blog today from your comments on Isaiah's blog.

With all the 'noise' of the Christmas season, thanks for this reminder that the birth of our Lord and Saviour occurred so that Isaiah 53:10 could be fulfilled.

Praise God for life, death & resurrection of our Lord.

Chris said...

Hi Nathan,

It's nice to meet you. And Ironically I just discovered your website the other day - also through Isaiah's site. I haven't had time to read much yet, but I am looking forward to speding some time there in the coming year.

Merry Christmas,