Why the Inn?

The story of Jesus’ birth is so familiar and oft repeated that readers may be tempted to skip this chapter in favor of “juicier” ones. Please don’t. There are some things in this story that most everyone has missed. But these missing pieces are certainly part of gaining a correct picture of Who Jesus IS. Read on.

Outstanding Writing

We have no way of knowing how good of a medical doctor Dr. Luke was. We probably assume he was wise and competent, but we have no direct evidence for this belief. However, if we want to evaluate his ability and care as a writer, we do have enough material to form an educated opinion. The truth is (in this writer’s opinion), as a writer Dr. Luke was top of the line. He researched,[1] interviewed his sources,[2] and composed his lengthy writings[3] with thoughtfulness and care.[4] He was an accomplished writer, and his two books in the New Testament are living proof.

Luke the writer sometimes employed an economy of words that reveal incredible skill and deliberation. He knew how to structure a story. With careful arrangement and a few choice words he could paint a vivid scene.

The story of Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem and ending up in a stable is certainly written this way. Dr. Luke does not describe Bethlehem, does not describe the journey there. He simply gets them there and states that it was time for the baby to be born. He has not described a scene at all.

He writes, “He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth . . .” Luke 2:5-7a).[5]

He offers this bland reporting then finishes off this episode with two bomb-shells:

             “. . . and laid him in a manger,”

            “because there was no lodging available for them.[6] (Luke 2:7a).

We may not have (up till now) understood these as bomb-shells, but Luke’s original readers knew more than we do, and they couldn’t miss it![7]

To catch the impact of these words we have to go back to the time and the cultural practices of the day. Near eastern people, and particularly Jewish people, had very fixed cultural and societal practices (which can still be seen today). Dr. Luke knew these things, the person/people he wrote to knew these things. He was not going to state the obvious when it wasn’t necessary (and might prove a stumbling block to some).[8]  Keep reading.

The Culture of the Day

In modern times, in technological, advanced societies, we are able to plan out and arrange all the details of an upcoming trip: Plane, car, and accommodation can be booked and paid for months in advance. Wherever we go there are coffee shops, restaurants, public restrooms, and a large array of accommodations to choose from.  This was clearly not the case two millennia ago. But there were structures in place that assisted people with travel.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day prided themselves on hospitality. Their houses were built to handle an influx of guests at any time.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day also had very strong relational ties to their large extended families. They kept family trees and knew the complex interrelatedness of their families, clans and tribes. Relatives in need would always be taken in and cared for.

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day also celebrated life, they valued large families, and each and every child was welcomed and celebrated. The birth of a child was a joyful and sacred event.

Joseph and Mary didn’t voluntarily choose to go to Bethlehem during Mary’s ninth month. They (and everyone else) were ordered to return to their tribal and family homes by Caesar Augustus.[9] Joseph was from a proud family line.[10] He was a direct descendant of King David, and their ancestral home was Bethlehem. When Joseph and his betrothed,[11] Mary, arrived at Bethlehem, they arrived “home.”[12] The town was literally filled with relatives.

Under normal circumstances there would have been any number of relatives who would have welcomed them with open arms. And the advanced pregnancy gave an additional reason they would be welcomed, and this little family would be celebrated. Under normal circumstances.  

So why did they end up outside the inn with money in hand hoping for a place to stay? This is the very question that Luke expected his readers to ask. Look at his deliberate ordering of information and intentional wording. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”[13] Luke 2:6-7 NIV, 1984

What is left Unsaid

There is something desperately wrong here. Bethlehem was their ancestral home. It was filled with relatives, direct relatives, some were immediate relatives. Yet no one opened their door to them. No one welcomed them and their soon-to-be-born baby. Something was desperately wrong.

Here is Joseph taking his wife fiancée with him to his brother’s house, “please my brother, you see my wife fiancée is in great need, can you give us a corner of a room?” and the brother snorts, shakes his head, and briskly shuts the door.

Then there is Joseph going to his favorite aunt’s house, “we are so sorry to inconvenience you, aunty, but could we have a place to stay?”  And the aunt, with tears in her eyes, slowly closes the door and says softly, “sorry, I want to, but they won’t let me.”

Why did Joseph and Mary go to the inn with money in their hands hoping to find a place to sleep? Because every last relative in Bethlehem rejected them. No one offered a place to stay. They were resigned to let Mary have her baby outside in the elements. This is shocking!

Note this: Jesus was an unwelcome addition to the Davidic clan.[14] His own uncles and aunts and cousins and even grandparents did not rejoice at his birth. Why? Because whenever people looked at Joseph and Mary the word that came to their minds was a horrible one, “fornication.”[15]

No one in Bethlehem or anywhere in Israel was ready to believe any story about a virgin birth,[16] preposterous! This pregnancy was a scandal among a proud, devoted, judgmental people.

The impact of Luke’s account was not that there was no room for them at the inn, but that they were forced to check out the inn at all!

Jesus’ parents were outcasts among their own people, shunned, despised, hated. They would have been alone that night[17] if it were not for the host of angels announcing the special birth to shepherds on the hillsides. The shepherds came and gladly witnessed God’s greatest miracle.[18]

The Apostle John said it well, “He came to his own, yet his own people did not receive him.” John 1:11.CSB

[1] Luke 1:3.

[2] The detail he includes about Zechariah and Elisabeth and Mary and … must have come from detailed interviews.

[3] His books are the two longest in the New Testament.

[4] An example is given in this chapter, but they are all through. He also used the most expressive and varied vocabulary in all the Greek New Testament.

[5] The translation used here is NLT 2nd ed., 2004.

[6] The use of the word “lodging” in the NLT is a very good choice. KJV uses “inn”, as does GWT and earlier additions of NIV, and this has made it into all the Christmas performances. Another good choice is “guest room”, used in NIV and CSB. Houses were built with hospitality in mind, and it was every-day practice to take in relatives who are travelling.

[7] The insights in this chapter are not something I can take credit for. I would never in all my life observed and figured it out on my own. I am so grateful for a timely visit by Dr. John Hitchen of New Zealand during which we discussed many things including the kernel content of this chapter. I asked him if this is something he discovered himself or has he seen it written somewhere. He said he can’t remember seeing it anywhere in print. I told him on the spot that if I ever put it in print myself I would give credit to him as my source. So thank you, Dr. Hitchen.

[8] Dr. Luke uses tact here. He didn’t need to add extra words that might offend some of the line of David and possibly drive them away.

[9] Luke 2:1-3.

[10] It is commonly believed that Mary was also from the Davidic line. But what is the evidence for this? Contrary to this belief, we do know that she had a “close relative” who was from a completely different line, the line of Aaron (Luke 1:5, 36). 

[11] In modern language, the word “betrothed” gets switched out to our word “engaged.” These are similar but not synonymous arrangements. This is explained below.

[12] Even if they were born and raised elsewhere, their ancestral home is always “home.”

[13]  Normal narrative would have put the inn-search well ahead of the manger and birth. But by putting the inn-search at the end, it opens a pandora’s box to consider. [FYI, newer editions of NIV dropped the word “inn” and replaced it with “guest room”, but the point is still the same.].

[14] This explains Mathew’s genealogy. He hangs out the Davidic line’s “dirty laundry” for all to see. They should be ashamed to have rejected God’s chosen Deliverer.

[15] In modern language, the word “betrothed” gets switched out to our word “engaged.” These are similar but not synonymous arrangements. A betrothal is a legal agreement between two families (Individuals didn’t act alone, families were always involved.) Betrothal gave them (the families) about a year to prepare for the wedding. There was to be no sexual activity before or during the betrothal period. All Israelis’ were expected to marry as virgins. Deuteronomy 22:13-29 states very strict guidelines. Mary’s pregnancy caused a dilemma for Joseph and his extended family. They would have put pressure on him to report her as violating the betrothal, otherwise he himself will look like a guilty party. Mat. 1:19 shows he decided to break the legal agreement in as quiet a manner as possible [The Torah actually calls for the death penalty (Deu. 22:20-21), but under Roman rule this could not be done]. This was before the Lord told him to do otherwise Mat. 1:20-21. They then lived as an unmarried couple, or “too early” married couple from that point on. This was a serious violation of social and religious expectations, and a direct cause for being shunned.

[16] Except Elizabeth, Luke 1:42,43.

[17] It is very likely that midwives were present to assist with the birth. This would have been done out of a sense of duty and the value of life.

[18] If we were to enter the halls of deepest and greatest theological debate to answer the question of what is the most astounding act of God in known history, I would immediately put forward the answer – “the incarnation!”

Power of the Play List

The invention of digital music centuries ago😊 is now taken for granted. But could you imagine sitting for several hour in front of a radio hoping they would play that one particular song you want to hear? So it was back in the stone ages.

Music is a powerful medium, something uniquely tied to our common humanity. A beautiful gift from our Creator. Young people have showed me how to put it to good use – build the right play list!

What does this have to do with writing? Let me explain.

I have spent a fair amount of time this last month or two building a particular play list. I am gearing up to seriously tackle my second major study/writing project that wants to become a book. My first book was assisted immeasurably by its playlist, this second book is going to need even more help, therefore it needs its own special playlist.

My daily, weekly, monthly schedule is never the same. The life of a missionary. Some occasions provide gobs of free time that I can give to writing, other times can be a circus, while some weeks I can be “power-less” at remote locations without any electricity or even a cell network.

This is all to say that research and writing gets picked up, dropped, picked up, dropped again. And for anyone who knows me, I don’t have a crystal-clear memory to be able to just “pick up where I left off.”  This where a dedicated play list can be a writer’s best friend.  The music provides a continuity, along with a whole range of emotional affects, that helps “get in the mood” and draw back the memories I need. It puts me in the “zone” to give full concentration. It energizes, uplifts, relieves the pain, and keeps one going like energizer batteries. Thank God for the gift of music!

About Relationships

Far more than rules and doctrines, The Bible is especially about RELATIONSHIPS. Our creator wants us basking in fulfilling, uplifting relationships!

“This is the life we have seen and heard. We are reporting about it to you also so that you, too, can have relationship with us. Our relationship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that we can be completely filled with joy.” 1 John 1:3-4 GWN

Who Jesus Is

The words of S. M. Lockridge say it right:

I wish I could describe Him to you, but

He’s indescribable. He’s incomprehensible. He’s invincible. He’s irresistible.

You can’t get Him out of your mind. You can’t get Him off of your hand. You can’t out live Him, And you can’t live without Him. The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they found out they couldn’t stop Him. Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him. The witnesses couldn’t get their testimonies to agree. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn’t handle Him, And the grave couldn’t hold Him.

Yea!, that’s my King, that’s my King.

(See more of his message by following the link below:)


Accessory to His Own Murder

It used to bother me that Jesus appears so strong and “in control” throughout his life[1], but then just seems to go limp and weak the last day or two in Jerusalem.  He lost all fight. He becomes as a “lamb being led to the slaughter.” No resistance, no fight, not even a cry for help.  I say this used to bother me, it doesn’t anymore, because studying things further I learned something startling. [2]

Jesus was an accessory[3] to his own murder! [4]

Could this be?  Was Jesus involved in the plot to have himself murdered?  Let’s take a look:

Jesus many times predicted the events of his arrest, trial and murder. He knew in detail what needed to happen.  “‘Listen,’ he said, ‘we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified.’” (Matt 20:18-19, see also Matt 16:21; 17:22; 26:1-2).

He not only predicted it, he purposely infuriated the religious leaders and forced their hand to do it.  “When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done [removed corruption from inside the temple], they began planning how to kill him.”  (Mark 11:18).   “The religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus because they realized he was telling the story against them – they were the wicked farmers. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.”  (Mark 12:12).

A slight problem

Yes, there was a problem.  Jesus stated the time that his crucifixion must take place.  “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”  (Matt 26:2).   Jesus played his cards right, but the powers in charge were chicken. They were afraid to do it during the Passover feast, because too many people were around, and the Romans feared as riot.  “At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. ‘But not during the Passover celebration,’ they agreed, ‘or the people may riot.’” (Matt 26:3-5).

This murder must occur on the Passover.[5] The leaders wanted to wait until afterwards, so Jesus prompted the one option that could speed things up:  If the leaders could arrest Jesus without creating a commotion (i.e., with no one around to create a fuss), then they could try-and-condemn him in private, twist the arm of the governor to allow crucifixion, then they could have him on a cross on “skull-mountain” before most people realized what was happening.[6]

So, Jesus egged Judas to do the dirty work.

  1. Jesus upset him by correcting him in front of the others (and even in front of a woman!).[7] “But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.”   Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial.  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”” (John 12:4-8). This triggered Judas to connive with the authorities to betray his Teacher.
  2. Jesus made the secret plot public. “While they were eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.’  Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, ‘Am I the one, Lord?’”  (Matt 26:21-22).  And he even revealed the perpetrator.  “Judas, the one who would betray him, also asked, ‘Rabbi, am I the one?’ And Jesus told him, ‘You have said it.’”   (Matt 26:25).
  3. He even prompted the betrayer, when the time was right, and sent him off on his dastardly mission. “When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, ‘Hurry and do what you’re going to do.’” (John 13:27).

Priests Turned into Puppets

Israel was captive to the nation of Rome, but the people were led by their own Chief Priests and the Great Sanhedrin (a religious and legislative body). There were sometimes severe conflicts between the Jewish leaders and the Roman appointed leaders, but the Sanhedrin often got its way because the Jewish people were so religions and loyal. The Sanhedrin held great sway over the people.

Jesus manipulated and goaded these esteemed leaders.

  1. He answered their “difficult” questions leaving them stunned (Mat. 21:23-27; 22:15-22, 23-33;
  2. He posed questions to the leaders they couldn’t answer (Mat. 22:41-46; 26:55-56).
  3. He told parables describing the leaders’ duplicity (read Mat. 21:33-46). “When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them – they were the wicked farmers. They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet.” Mat. 21:45-46.
  4. He publicly scorched these proud peacocks, detailing their hypocrisy in vivid detail. “Everything they do is for show” (v. 5). “You shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces.” (v. 13). “You cross land and sea to make one convert, and they you turn that person into twice he child of hell you yourselves are!” (v. 15). “Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs – beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.” (v. 27). “Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?” (v. 33).

The Lion becomes a Lamb

By deliberate choice (in obedience to His Father), Jesus changed his Modus operandi at the appropriate time.

No one could state this better than Prophet Isaiah: “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away … He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal, he was put in a rich man’s grave.” Isa. 53:7-9.

He did this with eyes wide open and in full agreement with the Father: “But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.” Isa. 53:8-9.

Given the chance to defend himself and thereby escape death [note how capable Jesus was in winning any argument], he kept silent. Jesus did not resist his death, because he knew his murder was the very thing needing to be done.

This is incredible.  The Sanhedrin that condemned him to death, the Roman officials who authorized it (Pilot and Herod), the crowds who shouted for his crucifixion, and even to Roman soldiers who carried it out were merely pawns in his hands.  They were carrying out the plan long ago agreed upon by Father and Son in eternity (Rev. 13:8b).

Yes, Jesus was an accessory to his own murder.  His death was not a surrender.  Satan did not win a victory.  He died voluntarily.  He did so, just like he lived his life, not for himself, but for those he loved. This includes you.

This is the Jesus we love, worship and obey.  This is the Jesus to whom we can invest everything to know better, to appreciate more fully, to love totally and forever.

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

[1] With his body weakened through 40 days of fasting he overcame Satan’s cleverest of temptations. No one was able to compromise him.

[2] The concepts behind this chapter were inspired by the following words penned by Philip Yancey.  “The might of the world, the most sophisticated religious system of its time allied with the most powerful political empire, arrays itself against a solitary figure, the only perfect man who has ever lived.  Though he is mocked by the powers and abandoned by his friends, yet the Gospels give the strong, ironic sense that he himself is overseeing the whole long process.  He has resolutely set his face for Jerusalem, knowing the fate that awaits him.  The cross has been his goal all along.  Now, as death nears, he calls the shots.”  The Jesus I Never Knew, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1995.  p. 188.

[3] In legal terms, the word “accessory” means “someone who is instrumental in making a crime take place.”

[4] The High Priests and Sanhedrin were guilty of murder to the first degree: “To intentionally plot and cause the death of an innocent person.”

[5] The Divine plan and schedule.

[6] They were fixated on getting rid of their greatest irritation but had to navigate (and manipulate) the Roman “authorities.” Once Jesus was on the cross early in the morning, they had the upper hand over the common people. The visual effect of seeing their “son of David” in a horrible state on the cross was more than enough to cause the crowds to lose all hope in their “would-be” Messiah.

[7] Men were rather inflated back then.


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