A MESSAGE FROM JIM SHOWERS
We all know the Christmas story. It climaxes with the birth of our Savior in the little village of Bethlehem of Judea. The birthplace of Jesus Christ is one of the many places we visit on our tours to Israel each spring and fall. Today Bethlehem overflows with 28,500 people; but when Jesus was born, it was a small village of 300. Not the likely place for the King of kings to be born.
So why Bethlehem and not a seemingly more suitable site for His entry into this world, such as Abraham’s town, Hebron, or the city of His Father’s House, Jerusalem?
One reason relates to Jesus’ lineage. He is a descendant of King David, and Bethlehem was David’s hometown. So, Bethlehem was the most natural place for Jesus to be born. A census, ordered by Roman ruler Caesar Augustus (Lk. 2:1–3), took Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to their ancestral town of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth.
But there is more to God’s choice of location that points to the importance of Jesus’ birth. In the Bible, names often have significance and help us better understand what God is communicating to us. Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means “house of bread,” links Jesus to the basic substance of life: bread, a symbol of great significance in God’s Word. In fact, this important connection was God’s design.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He called Himself “the bread which came down from heaven” (Jn. 6:41). This bread, He said, “gives life to the world” (v. 33). Where else could the Savior be born but in Bethlehem, the house of bread? Jesus told His followers He alone is the “bread of life” and “the living bread” (v. 51) in whom men must believe to have eternal life (vv. 32–58).
Jesus compared the manna God gave Israel in the wilderness to the bread He offers. When the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, God sustained them with bread each morning, six days a week. Just as manna was their “saving bread,” a preserving gift from the saving God, so, too, Jesus was sent to be our “saving bread.”
This comparison makes even more sense when we grasp how God used bread in the Old Testament to teach spiritual truth. The Hebrew word for bread, lechem, appears nearly 300 times. Bread and the grain from which it is made were frequently part of the offerings and sacrifices brought to God. These gifts to the Lord reminded the Israelites their blessings came from God, who provided for them and was near to them, just as He is near to us today. In return, bread is a gift from God (Ex. 16:4; Neh. 9:15). On the night of His birth, Jesus, the Bread of Life, was God’s most precious gift who came near to us.
In the Tabernacle and Temple, God commanded that each Sabbath, 12 fresh loaves of unleavened bread, called showbread, be placed on a table to replace the previous week’s showbread. As part of the ceremony, frankincense was sprinkled on the bread as a memorial. Frankincense is the same gift the wisemen brought, and it reminds us of Christ’s First Coming by symbolizing the pleasant fragrance of Christ’s life and the sweet savor of that fragrance as He lives through the lives of believers (2 Cor. 2:14–15). Jesus, the Living Bread, was sent to sustain life everlasting and live on in the lives of His disciples.
Bread is also commonly used nearly 100 times in the New Testament, most of them in the Gospels related to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Unlike bread from the oven that satisfies for a short while, the Bread of Life satisfies forever. Those who eat it will never hunger or thirst (Jn. 6:35).
The Son of God, from the house of bread (Bethlehem), told His disciples to pray for their “daily bread” (Mt. 6:11); and before He went to the cross, He ordained the breaking of bread as part of the Lord’s memorial supper. Looking forward to His future glory, Jesus said those who eat bread in the Kingdom of God will be blessed (Lk. 14:14).
What an incredible gift is this Living Bread from God!
As you smell fresh bread baking or you enjoy sweet holiday bread over a meal in your celebration of Christ’s birth this year, remember that Jesus, the Bread of Life, was born in the house of bread to bring life everlasting to you!
Serving the King of kings,
Jim Showers, DMin