Had There Been No Bethlehem
Early two thousand years ago there took place an event that has changed the course of history; as the result of it, nations have come and gone; monarchs have soared to heights and fallen into the depths of despair and ruin; civilization has reached heights before unknown and human beings have been elevated to a sphere undreamed of by the generations of the long ago. That occasion was the birth of a child, a son, which birth took place in a humble city in Palestine called Bethlehem, the city of David the King. No event in the history of man has been so beautifully unfolded and no plan that was to affect the entire human race was ever so minutely detailed or so meticulously executed as the birth of this Son. The events leading up to it, the perfect timing of its occurrence, the fulfillment of all the promises of the Old Testament as climaxed so completely in this event without one single failure lifts this scene beyond the power of man’s wisdom and establishes beyond all possible doubt that it was conceived, developed, and finally perfected by a power and a wisdom not possessed by any mortal man. The power behind it all was that of God. There is no other explanation that satisfies the events of this night and the birth of this particular Son and the events that followed. We challenge any lawyer from any university of law to form a brief that will be more complete, more convincing to a jury in favor of that which he wishes to set forth, than the brief that can be presented in proof of the actual occurrence of this night when to this world was born a “Savior, Christ the Lord.” You would be forced to prove that the witnesses were incapable, untrustworthy, or that it was a framed affair on the part of those testifying that they might deceive those whom they wished to influence. This is not possible due to the fact that every recorded testimony of these men, every recorded sermon is of such nature that it elevates man to a higher standard of living than the writings of any other man or set of men in his generation. That these men did not get together and devise some scheme by which we are to be deceived is defeated in its beginning for your Bible was written by various men, covering many centuries, with no possible way of having met, and yet when their writings are brought together, we have the most beautifully connected story leading up to and climaxing the birth of this Son that the world has ever been privileged to read. No dreamer of fiction, no writer of true stories—not even the learned of this world of ours, with their volumes that grace the great libraries of this age—has ever equaled, much less surpassed, the beauty of style, the depths of thought, nor the dreams, hopes, and promises to be found in this one little book, the Bible. There is but one answer to this: The hand that guided them was divine, it was from God the Creator of man and the Possessor of all knowledge, both past and future, and because of this the men who wrote by His direction could write the future as clearly as they could the past, and when they wrote of the birth of this Son they made absolutely no mistakes in their predictions. I challenge you to find one failure in the fulfillment of their prophecies. If there can be found no failures—if all they ever promised came to pass—we must say then with the apostle Peter, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Friends, let the infidels, the skeptics, or the scoffers find a better answer than this as to why they made no mistakes and why not one of their predictions of this birth ever failed! Until they can, let them not laugh us to scorn for we have something solid upon which to stand, something they can’t explain, and it lives to curse and mock every generation of infidels; and instead of our looking like uneducated weaklings, they present themselves as spectacles of pity and objects of our charity, for they and their children must, like the animals about them, come to the grave without hope beyond if they be right.
All of us surely understand that no one knows the day of Christ’s birth. It is not given in our Bible as a day of religious worship. It is a season of good will which we all enjoy and toward which our children look.
The Promised Seed
Go with me now to the Garden of Eden and let us begin the unfolding of this event that has changed the courses of men and of nations for twenty centuries. God had created man and woman and had placed them in the garden called Eden. To this man and his wife He gave a law. This law was violated and God cursed them by driving them from the Garden of Eden. Having been tempted to sin by the tempter, God, in Genesis 3:15, had this to say: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and though shalt bruise his heel.” Here is the first mention of the seed that should overcome Satan; it is here called the seed of woman. This is but a veiled insight into the purposes and plans of Jehovah, but that plan is to unfold more and more as the centuries pass. In Genesis 12:1-5 is found the story of Abraham’s call to leave Ur of the Chaldees and go into the land that God would show him with this promise: “I will make of thee a great nation . . . and in thee shall families of the earth be blessed.” Here we find the family through whom the Lord is to bring His blessings upon the world, upon all nations—not just Israel. Now in Genesis 22 and verses 1-19 is the story of Abraham’s offering his son Isaac upon the alter as a sacrifice unto God when God stayed his hand, saved the life of the boy, provided the offering until Himself, and remade His promise to Abraham. Jehovah said, because “thou has done this thing, and hast now withheld thy son, thine only son . . . in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” In 2 Samuel, chapter 7 and verses 12-14, we have Nathan sent of God to David and to David was made this promise: “When thy days are fulfilled and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom forever. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his throne forever.” Here we have traced the seed of woman in the Garden of Eden to the seed of David the king. Turn with me now to our New Testament and let us find who this seed is. In Galatians 3:16, Paul says, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Christ, born in Bethlehem of Judea, was the fulfillment of this promise made in the morning of time, in the Garden of Eden. It is positive, specific and unanswerable.
Christ of Bethlehem was the prophet of whom Moses spake in Deuteronomy 18:18-19 where God said to Israel, “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” That this prophet is this child born in Bethlehem of Judea, Christ the Lord, is as certain as is your Bible the word of the Lord. In Acts 3:19-26, in speaking of Christ Jesus our Lord, Peter applies this prophecy in Deuteronomy 18 to Him as he says, “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.” That this babe of Bethlehem is that prophet of the Old Testament there can be no doubt.
The City Foretold
Even the city of His birth was foretold in the Old Testament. In Micah 5:2 the prophet said, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” That this was fulfilled as spoken here we have to but come to Matthew 2:1 and hear the record as it says, “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.” In that immortal chapter in Luke 2, we also find the record of the glorious event that brought the Christ to the Earth, born as He was in the city of David, Bethlehem of Judea, just as the prophet foretold. Again it came to pass as told by the prophet.
One of the most beautiful of all is this promise of the mother of Jesus. In Isaiah 7:11-14 we have this prophecy: “The Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Here is the promise of a virgin to become the mother of our Lord. Will you turn now with me to Matthew Chapter 1 and verses 21-23? You remember the story: Joseph was ready to put Mary away and the angel of the Lord came to him and said, “She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Time forbids that I give in full the story of His birth as found in Luke, chapters 1 and 2, but let us now see the beautiful story of His birth to Mary in Bethlehem nearly two thousand years ago. Joseph and Mary had gone to the city to register. They asked for lodging in the inns, but there was none. They slept that night in what we, years ago, called “wagon yards,” where they kept both people and animals. It was here in a stable a King was born; it was here a Prince was brought in to the world; it was here our Savior came to earth to live with us poor mortals that He might know and understand our sorrows and our heartaches; that he might shed a tear when our hearts are broken. Little did that city know that night that a King was being born; a King that would change the course of the ages and bring to man hope beyond this vale of tears. That night the angelic chorus swung low in the heavens as it sang that song that has been immortalized and shall be sung all over the world today, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The shepherds were afraid, as the angel spoke to them, but said the angel, “Fear not; for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Here were climaxed the promises of the ages past. Here in the city of David, Bethlehem of Judea, was born the seed of woman, the seed of Abraham, the seed of David, the prophet of Deuteronomy. Here the virgin of Isaiah, Mary, the wife of Joseph, gave birth to the Son of God who should inherit the throne of His father David, which throne He occupied on the first Pentecost after His resurrection from the dead as He began His rule upon that throne (Acts 2:29-36) to rule there until all His enemies are overcome, even death (Acts 2:34-35; 1 Corinthians 15:24, 28). Yes, every prophecy concerning His birth, the city of His birth, and even His mother, all came true exactly as foretold by the prophets. It has to be right!
The Hope of Bethlehem
But the beauty of Bethlehem is seen in the promises of a resurrection of the dead (John 5:28; 1 Corinthians 15:16-47), in the hope of meeting each other in a never ending eternity, of living in heaven with Christ, the Child of Bethlehem (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17), and with the saints of all ages to join in singing that great chorus of Revelation 5:12: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory and blessing” who “hast redeemed us to God by the blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” The story of this child of Bethlehem means more to me today than it has ever meant, for today, as we approach the Christmas season, there is a vacant chair in our home—a lovely little girl who has sat with us to enjoy this season for 26 years closed her beautiful eyes in death, as on the operating table she was fighting for life as the doctors tried so hard to repair her heart. The sadness of this season will not be so hard because of this child of Bethlehem, for through Him we shall see Teenie after while. I thank God for Bethlehem of Judea. Will you not today obey His voice when He says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16), and to do just that, trusting Him for the salvation of your soul? Will you not, during this season, honor Him by obeying Him and walking with Him, that you and your children may enjoy the hopes and promises of that night of nearly two thousand years ago when to you was born in Bethlehem, a Savior, Christ the Lord? May the Lord bless you and yours and may there be no vacant chairs in your home as the children begin gathering in to see Father and Mother is my prayer for you and yours in the precious name of the child of Bethlehem, Christ, the Son of God.
E. R. Harper
[Directors Note: E. R. Harper was born in Enola, Arkansas. He attended what is now Freed-Hardeman University and also Union University. He was a close friend of Thomas B. Warren. I remember an occasion as a student in one of Dr. Warren’s apologetics classes at Harding Graduate School in which he introduced Harper to the class and invited him to address the students. E. R. Harper was a noted evangelist, lecturer, and author. Charles C. Pugh III]