“And there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
“And Joseph also went up. . . .unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem. . . .to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife being great with child.
“. . . .but he that came down from heaven.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord.
“And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them. . . .and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host.
“The shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem.
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea. . . .behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews?
“And they (scribes) said unto him (Herod), In Bethlehem. . . .
“And lo, the star. . . .stood over where the young child was.
“Then Herod. . . .sent forth and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem.”
—Matthew 2; Luke 2; John 3:13
In the fullness of time, when Jesus Christ our Savior was born, Bethlehem was the focal point of the universe. All things wend their way to the city of David.
First, there is that decree of Caesar Augustus! Yes, I have placed an exclamation point behind that sentence, and well I might. Wonder what the poor man is thinking about all through the ages of his hellish suffering. It was even through his imperial decree that Joseph and Mary and the child to be born took their journey to David’s city.
An exclamation point, for it shows us that the world must help to bring the kingdom of God to its completion. All through the ages, all things work together to bring the children in the bosom of the Father. All things are united in that one purpose.
But Caesar Augustus, seated on the mighty throne of the Roman empire, did not in the least suspect that he was bringing the Christ child to the place where he must be born according to the scriptures.
And, therefore, the Roman mandate, in some way or other, came in the fullness of time to Bethlehem, and the people told one another in the streets of that famous village: Did you hear the news? There went out a decree of the emperor! We must be taxed.
Oh yes, in spite of himself, not even knowing, perhaps, that there was such a place on the earth which was named Bethlehem: the mighty Caesar comes to Bethlehem!
The focal point in the universe of God!
And this decree of Augustus, (or shall we rather says: of God?) came in due time also to Nazareth, to the house of a young carpenter, named Joseph. I think that we may safely assume that both Joseph and Mary, his espoused wife, were of the best of God's people. Of Joseph we read that he was a just man (Matthew 2), and of Mary that she was a prophetess.
Mary, the woman chosen by God from all eternity to be the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ! Well may the angel call her, Thou that art highly favored!
And the favor of the Triune God was shown unto her when she was overshadowed by the Holy Ghost, when the power of the Most High operated upon and within her so that she conceived a son, the Son of Man! Great and high was the favor of the Lord toward Mary!
But the child must be born in Bethlehem. For so the Holy Ghost had spoken by the mouth of the prophet. And here the time was drawing near that she would be delivered of the man child!?
But never fear! God will take care of his own business! There are the messengers which also came to Nazareth, and in due time Joseph and Mary hasten to Bethlehem, even though it must have been a wearisome journey for the mother of our Lord.
All things move with divine, heavenly precision, the precision of perfection. Bethlehem is also highly favored. It is the focal point of the universe of God.
And then there is that wonderful text in John 3: “. . . . but he that came down from heaven!”
It is difficult and dangerous to write on that text. That is, if you are going to explain things. Strict, Reformed theologians do not like the song which is sung so often in the Netherlands: “Daar ruischt langs de wolken een lieflijken Naam!” They do not like it, because of an expression which we find there which runs somewhat like this: He (Jesus), who left heaven in order to save us! And these theologians say that Jesus did not leave heaven, for he is the omnipresent God! And I agree that they have an argument there. God is everywhere, and when God the Son came to Bethlehem, he remained in heaven and in Nazareth.
Let me emphasize it then: Jesus Christ, the Lord, the son of God and the Son of Man, came down from heaven into our misery, the misery of damnation, in order to do his enormous part in the scheme of God’s salvation: “. . . but he that came down from heaven!”
And so the God of our salvation conforms to his own counsel, namely, the decree to make Bethlehem the focal point in the universe in the fullness of time. The God of our salvation came to the city of David in order to be born there for us! Hallelujah!
And there is the gospel which was preached unto the church in that glorious night when Jesus was born. A little later we will write a few thoughts of the gospel heralds, but now I would see that gospel by itself. The gospel came to Bethlehem! Listen: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord!”
A Savior is born!
The impossible has become possible!
We should all go to hell for ever and ever, and there in hell we should weep and gnash our teeth! We should be forsaken of the fountain of happiness and blessedness for ever and ever! Because we have sinned, and are guilty before the face of a just and glorious God!
And now, listen: A Savior is born!
And what a Savior!
The Christ name tells us that he will do all the work that is necessary before the face of God in order to liberate us from the shackles of sin and of guilt and of death, so that he may usher us into the presence of a loving Father who gave us this Savior. As Savior he would go to the cross and suffer and suffer eternally. Oh, I cannot fathom that cross! As Lord he will own me and work for me and reform me so that I will serve him forever. What wondrous gospel we have to preach on Christmas day!
And he is born this day in Bethlehem! It is preached first by shepherds in Bethlehem, and it has gone forth to all the earth. And again and again we have remembered this gospel, also its historical veracity: this day, in the city of David! All according to the divine plan.
And unto you! The gospel is particular!
Christ the Lord is born for and unto his people only. The angel of the Lord told Mary even before she conceived him: . . . . for he shall save his people from their sins. The gospel is for the elect only.
But the gospel also did come to Bethlehem, there to be preached first. For Bethlehem is the focal point of the universe. Really everything seems to have its representative there.
Let us all go to Bethlehem!
And now we see the heavenly host come to the city of David. No, they do not go to the city proper. They go to the outskirts of it, toward a field where shepherds watch their flocks by night.
They were elect people; there is no doubt about that. We have already intimated as much when we meditated on the gospel: unto you is born....
But you will also note the same thing in their conduct. Who knows? They may have spoken in that night of all nights, in that place of all places, about the hope of Israel, and the terrible darkness which enshrouded the elect people of their day. They say that the darkness is deepest just before dawn. Perhaps they spoke of the darkness in Israel, and the hope of Israel for the light that was promised.
At any rate, when Triune God made up his counsel from all eternity, he said: And unto whom will we show this wonderful gospel first of all? Then the same God answered: Unto a company of simple souls, some shepherds that will watch their flocks that night.
The special angel of the Lord is commissioned when the time was ripe: he received exact instructions. And there he went, down, down, down, toward the focal spot on the globe which is called earth. Of course! To Bethlehem. These angels had been very desirous to look into the details of the salvation of God. And now the fulfillment was come. You can safely assume that this mighty angel of the Lord rejoiced in the glory of his commission.
He alights in the midst of the cowering shepherds: Fear not, for behold, I bring you glad tidings....
I have wondered so often how the sound of an angel’s voice might be. It must be most wondrous in sound. It must be a melody in prose. And then what melody. Its source is heavenly perfection. But we better do not wonder too much. We better wait until we are there. And then our song will be even sweeter than the voice of angels.
And when the gospel is preached, there appeared the heavenly host. And they sang a song which has been repeated through the ages. It has been changed somewhat in meaning. We care not to argue in this little meditation, but it is not true that the angels sang: goodwill toward men. It is this: toward men of goodwill! The gospel content is this: Christ’s birth is peace on earth unto the men of God’s good pleasure!
But the angel world also came to this one point of the earth which has all the emphasis in that day, that great day of the Lord.
The angels came to speak and to sing in Bethlehem!
And the shepherds also go to Bethlehem. The angel of the Lord has told them about the sign of the Lord: the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger! A sermon which tells us from age to age that for our sakes he became poor so that he might make us rich forever and ever!
And they also said one to another: Let us now go even unto Bethlehem! And they did.
And they saw the sign and understood it, for they returned, preaching, singing and praising God for that he had visited Israel in her darkness.
Bethlehem, the center of the earth and of the universe of God. In thee are happening the most important things of all time.
In that focal point of the universe all the rays of the virtues of God find a common center, and that pinpoint on the map and in the dizzying depths of space, is resplendent of beauty, the beauty of holiness in the womb of God’s morning.
There is still more interest in that little town of Bethlehem.
The stars in their courses will send one of their number so that it finally may come and stand above the house where the child lay.
The star of David would shine. Even a wicked prophet had prophesied of that star which would herald the birth of the King of God.
And in the fullness of time that star appeared in the midst of the heavens. Many theories have been propounded about the mysterious appearance of that star. I care very little for them.
But I can understand the joy of the wise men when they saw that star in its initial appearance as well as when it appeared again unto them on the way to Bethlehem. I think that the Lord God purposely chose that star so that it might be the representative of the great heavenly creation. And that representative must be there to greet the Savior, to herald his birth, and to be a help unto some important men who must be led to the place where the child lay.
But the stars send their representative to Bethlehem. Bethlehem, the center of the earth and of all things at that wondrous time.
And there come the magi!
They represent you and me!
They are heathendom, elect heathendom, that shall share in the blessings of Shem, yea, they shall dwell in his tents!
They come, they are eager, they ask and say: where is Christ? Where is the King of the Jews? Come, tell us.
And the cold, evil, wicked men tell them.
Presently, they also go to that focal point, and worship! Look strongly on that child, on that Christ of God. He is also the Savior of the Bataviers, the children of the North. The East and the West, the North and the South, shall come to worship at that crib, at the feet of the King of kings!
Heathendom, elect heathendom came to Bethlehem! In the fullness of time.
And the wicked also came there.
It were better if they had never heard of that blessed name, than to hear it and to go there to mock, and to murder, and to hate the Son of God!
In hypocrisy Herod sent the wise men to Bethlehem, with the promise that he would surely follow them.
And he did.
But not to worship. Attend to this: “Then Herod, ....sent forth and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem.”
Yes, even the wicked, Herod and his cruel soldiers, they also come to Bethlehem. God’s ways are past finding out.
I have it in me to pity them. Hell is so terrible and it lasts so long!
Hie you to Bethlehem! For the sake of your soul, for the sake of your God, for the sake of heavenly joy such as the first paradise did not know.
Let us, beloved reader, let us go even now to Bethlehem, and adore the God of our salvation!
Bethlehem still has its unspeakable charms!
Focal point of the brilliancy of divine light!
It is the smiling face of Triune God!
This meditation was written by Rev. Gerrit Vos and originally published in the December 15, 1948 issue of the Standard Bearer.