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A closed door in boom-town Bethlehem

December 1998 | by Jim Cromarty

Bethlehem today
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‘And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn’ (Luke 2:7).

Bethlehem was experiencing boom times. Caesar Augustus had decreed that a census be carried out, and the city was overflowing with those involved in recording the statistics – Roman soldiers and the clerks, as well as the many Jews who were obliged to return to their family city and be registered.

Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem must have been very stressful. Mary was soon to give birth to the One of whom the angel had said, ‘You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21).

The Son of God, the Lord Jesus, safe and secure in the virgin’s womb, was about to make his entrance into the world as a baby. However, Mary and Joseph were unable to find suitable accommodation – ‘there was no room for them in the inn’. The door was shut to the One who was ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (Revelation 19:16).

Why did Jesus come?

The most wondrous event in history till that time was about to take place. One who occupied heaven’s throne of glory was about to step down and become God and man in the one person. Why? To redeem a people to the glory of his grace. God was about to ‘send forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law’ (Galatians 4:4-5). ‘Eternity’ was about to invade time. In the life and death of Christ, God would ‘demonstrate his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:6). The death of Christ was an offering, an atonement, for the sins of his people. When he died, he bore our sins that we might escape the judgement they deserved. By rising from the dead, he showed that God had accepted the offering, and declared eternally righteous those who trust in him.

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But there was no room for the young couple at the inn; no room for the One who would bring untold blessings to fallen humanity. No compassion was shown to the Jewish couple who were about to become parents of the long-awaited Messiah. The inn owner’s finger pointed to a stable and suggested that they would find a place to rest where the animals were sheltered. It was there, in the most humble circumstances, that the Lord Jesus Christ made his entrance into the world. It was in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, that Mary and Joseph carefully placed their newborn child. Matthew wrote of this child: ‘they shall call his name “Emmanuel”, which is translated, “God with us”‘ (Matthew 1:23). This child was God, manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16).

A supernatural life

From this lowly beginning there followed a life of humility and poverty which culminated in death upon a Roman cross. But Christ’s life and death were for the benefit of his people – those chosen in eternity and given to him by his heavenly Father.

Christ’s supernatural virgin birth was a sign of a supernatural life to follow. By the power of God he performed miracles that attracted the attention of a nation. He preached the supernatural gospel of salvation by which sinners might be saved.

Today the same Christ still commands sinners to come to him, for in him alone there is salvation. Christ was ‘eternity’ invading time, and if you would be saved you need ‘eternity’ to invade your soul. The supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in your heart brings about the new birth.

The Lord Jesus invites sinners to come to him, for the door of salvation is now wide open. The entrance and pathway may be narrow. But, unlike the inn in Bethlehem, there is room in Christ’s kingdom for all who desire to enter.

A great supper

In the parable of the Great Supper, the master whose invited guests had turned their backs upon the invitation to his feast commanded his servants to gather together the poor and underprivileged – the outcasts of society. He gave instructions to ‘compel them to come in, that my home may be filled’ (Luke 14:23). It seemed that the rich man’s home was so large that there was always plenty of room for all who wanted to enter and partake of the feast. Isaiah wrote of the ‘land of salvation’ as a vast country where Christ’s redeemed people would ‘see the King in his beauty’ (33:17). Christ said of the new heavens and earth which he was preparing for his people: ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions’ (John 14:2). Today, sinners are still being called to repentance and faith in Christ. There is still room for you in the Master’s house.

The coming day

However, the day is fast approaching when Christ will enter this world a second time. He will not appear as the helpless baby of Bethlehem, but as the glorified, all-powerful King of heaven and earth, accompanied by his heavenly host. At the moment of his appearing, says the Bible, all unrepentant sinners will find the door of heaven firmly shut, as was the door of the inn in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

Sinners must beware of rejecting Christ, for the day will come when the gracious call to repentance is heard no more. Their opportunity of finding grace will have been lost for ever. Sinners cannot ignore or mock Christ and the gospel with impunity. Too late they will understand the awful warning of God: ‘Because I have called and you refused … I will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes … Then they will call on me, but I will not answer…’ (Proverbs 1:24-29).

Shut in or shut out?

Centuries ago, God judged a corrupt world by a terrible flood. The Scriptures record how he preserved Noah, his family, and a cargo of chosen animals in the ark. God cared for that precious cargo on the day when judgement was about to fall – ‘the Lord shut him in’, we are told (Genesis 7: 16). The door was shut, ensuring the safety of all inside the ark. Being safely shut in, of course, meant that others were locked out. To them the door was firmly closed, and they suffered the awful judgement of an offended God.

The parable of the ten virgins speaks of five foolish bridesmaids to whom the ‘door was shut’ (Matthew 25:10). Five wise bridesmaids were shut in to enjoy the wedding, picturing the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. The others were eternally shut out, languishing in ‘outer darkness’, where there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matthew 22:13).

All who have faith in Christ, who have been forgiven for their sins and clothed in his righteousness, will gaze on the face of their Redeemer and rejoice as never before. God will dwell with his people in the heaven he has prepared for them. It is a place of perfect harmony between God and man, and between God and his creation. There, ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’ (Revelation 21:4). Gone for ever will be the land of sin and death! In the new heavens and earth God will be all in all.

Come to me

Reader, do you have a part in Christ’s kingdom? There is a door to heaven and that door is wide open. There is only one door, and that is Jesus himself, for he said, ‘I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved…’ (John 10:9).

Christ invites you to come to him. Listen to his words to all who feel the burden of their sins. ‘Come unto me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’ (Matthew 11:28-29).

The God of grace who forgave a Paul, a David, a John Newton, a King Manasseh and a Jim Cromarty, will forgive all who call upon him. The door to heaven is wide open to all who trust their eternal well-being to the Lord Jesus Christ. Unlike the inn at Bethlehem, where there was no room for a needy family, there is room in heaven for needy sinners like us.

Those who enter will one day meet before the throne of God, and there praise him for ever and ever with those wonderful words. ‘Blessing and honour and glory and power be to him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever’ (Revelation 5: 12-13).