The Manger Preaches the Gospel of Salvation unto Life
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger.
Not long from now, we all will be shuffling off to bed. Visions of sugar plums will supposedly be dancing in our heads. All in all, we will enjoy the comforts of our homes and the particular comforts of our beds.
Before we do that, I would like us to take a few moments to linger at the bedside of our Savior. The Scripture tells us that, when Jesus was born, he was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger. And this make shift crib is something that I would like us to reflect upon. There’s actually quite a few lessons that we can draw from this, the central part of the nativity; lessons that teach us of Jesus and his work as the Savior of men.
Some have said that Christmas is a time for families. I would prefer to say that Christmas is a time for sinners. It is a time for sinners to rejoice in the hope of eternal life that we have through Christ. And that’s what the manger is all about. Believe it or not, this piece of furniture, if you can call it that, preaches a gospel of salvation and life.
When we think of the manger of our Lord, the first thing I’d like you to understand is that it displays the humble estate of our Savior.
I. It indicates the humiliation of the Savior
When we talk of Jesus’ life, we may divide it into two parts: His humiliation and his exaltation. His humiliation, of course, refers to how he was humiliated in his coming into this world. The manger speaks to this humiliation. It is one thing for the Son of God to take on flesh, but it is followed immediately by the indignity of the manger.
Scripture reminds us that Jesus was not given a place of honor when he was born. He did not have a velvet pillow or a royal carriage. He was not even in the comforts of his own home where he might enjoy a proper bedding.
The Son of God would have as his crib a feeding trough. The manger was designed, not for babies, but for animals. It was the dinner plate of crude beasts.
Joseph may have cleaned it the best he could have. They might have placed some hay or cloth in it in order to soften it and make it more comfy. But the reality is that this is where the slop would have been placed. The scraps and disregarded things from human consumption were what normally filled it. The slobber of animals was its lining.
When we come to this text we must strip away all the romanticism that typically is associated with the manger scenes. Hallmark may have pretty cards, but it has lousy theology. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the images do not convey the real significance of the manger.
Our Shorter catechism does a much better job when it asks the question, “Wherein does Christ’s humiliation consist?” And it answers by saying, “Christ’s humiliation consists in his being born, and in that low condition…” and here it cites our text. It recognizes that the manger was a place of disgrace. It was not merely unfitting, it was undignified.
God had come down, and down he had come. And here we remember that Christ’s life was a lowly one. He was not to be pampered and served; for he had come to deal with sin. Thus he could have no good thing. Luxury was not befitting because he was to be a castaway. As a reprobate under God's wrath curse, he was to be stripped of all the comforts and blessings of this life.
Which leads us to the second point we can glean from this manger. This manger was not only an indication of his lowliness, the manger also part of his suffering.
II. It signifies the suffering of the Savior
You've heard the expression, "You made your bed, now you have to sleep in it." It's talking about having to deal with the consequences of your actions. You have to suffer.
That cliche takes on new meaning at the manger.
You need to keep in mind that the manger is not the wooden basket that you often see depicted in nativity scenes. Mangers were typically made of stone. It would have been a trough carved out of a stone. The manger was therefore, not a place of comfort.
We’ve noticed this ourselves with our annual camp out. We may have once slept on the ground, but that was not in any way a friendly experience. It was a rather wretched. So the next year we brought an air mattress. That may have been a little better and offered some reprieve, but the next year we brought the camper. We attempted to put more distance between our backs and the unforgiving ground.
As I mentioned, Mary and Joseph would have made valiant attempts to soften the rigidity of the manger, but their efforts would have been somewhat futile. There’s only so much you can do to gain comfort from a bolder, especially for a baby who may wiggle around. The bedding would have offered little warmth from the coolness of the stone. It would have offered little reprieve from the unyielding stiffness that lay beneath.
For this reason I’m a little wary of the carol which says “no crying he made.” I have every belief that the Christ child had many a tear. He came into this world in order to be a Man of Sorrows. And you can be assured that he was also an Infant of Anguish.
All this you must keep in mind so that you recognize his lot as our mediator. Sin’s curse must bear down on him and God's wrath could not relent. To be sure, Jesus did not just enter this realm, he entered into the pains of hell itself. This earth was not to be a welcoming place to the one who was the bearer of sin and its penalty.
To be sure, this manger was the cradle of woe; a chamber of torment for his first sufferings.
The manger spoke of his humiliation and his sufferings. But note also that it also foreshadowed his demise.
III. It foreshadows the death of the Savior
The gospels are interesting this way. There are bookends, as it were, to the life of Christ - rocks that mark his birth and his death.
At the beginning of Jesus’ life he was laid a manger. The gospel accounts tell us that he also ended his life in a similar fashion. Luke tells us that, after Jesus died, he was laid in a tomb which had been freshly cut from the rock.
So, after coming through the trauma of the birth canal, Jesus was wrapped in cloths and laid within the stone casing of the manger. Then, after enduring the trauma of the cross, he was again wrapped in cloths and laid upon yet another stoney bed. Just as the manger was the first part of his sufferings, the tomb was the final part of it.
There may be a sense in which the manger prefigured what would come of him. The manger signifies the fact that Jesus was born to die. The manger is a prophecy of the Messiah’s doom. It is indicative of his life's mission.
Thus, the manger was something of an early grave. The earliest moments of his life spoke of death.
And, in that respect, the manger is a ‘Rock of Help.’ It is an Ebeneezer for us. The manger is a “rock of help” because it speaks of the curse of sin and how it came to its end for God's people.
I mentioned that the furniture preaches. It does. This manger preaches the gospel of salvation. For it points to how wages of death are paid in full by the Christ.