Please enjoy this blog from Bob Phillips originally published in "Come Up Higher" newsletter in December 1996.
How will you feel when this holiday season comes to an end? When your Christmas tree lies naked on the curb outside your house, waiting for the trash men? When your credit card bill arrives and you don’t have the money to pay it? When the party is over, how will you feel? Disappointed? Empty? Exhausted? Even angry? I hope not. But, all too often, that’s the case in spite of the gift-giving and merry-making that highlight our holiday traditions.
For many people Christmas is a sad reminder of all that’s wrong or missing in their lives. It’s a time of mourning for the happy family life they’ve never known. A time for replaying painful memories. No matter what’s to blame for taking the joy out of your holiday season, you can put it back. This New Year can be different—and that’s my prayer for you. But you’ll have to do one thing—you’ll have to make room in your heart for Jesus. To find out how, keep reading!
At an army camp outside Washington, D.C. on a blazing hot day in June of 1861, a 20-year-old soldier named Andrew Cowan met President Abraham Lincoln for the first time.
“I ran to the colonel’s quarters to feast my eyes on a president,” he recalled in a speech he gave nearly 50 years later. “There was Abraham Lincoln surrounded by nearly a thousand men of our regiment, and as I gazed upon him, my heart sank. He was shaking hands right and left while the sweat streamed down his strong, homely face. On his head was a ‘plug’ hat, weather-beaten and faded. He wore a faded linen duster coat…I TURNED AWAY WITHOUT SHAKING HIS HAND.”
Reflecting back on this day, Colonel Cowan explained why. “I was nothing but a boy,” he confessed, “my young eyes could not see through the homely husk, the whitest soul a nation knew.”
A young officer then, Cowan was on his way up. He was proud of his accomplishments and filled with dreams of future glory. But, out of pride and ignorance, he foolishly judged a man by his appearance. And, when Lincoln didn’t meet his expectations of a powerful and stately leader, he turned away in disappointment.
When I read this speech, I thought of One much greater than Lincoln who experiences such rejection from the proud and the haughty on a daily basis. His name is Jesus, and since His birth nearly two thousand years ago, many have turned away from Him as well.
Perhaps He too, was “homely” when he walked on the earth. Even now, Jesus falls short of the world’s definition of royalty. “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” Isaiah 53:2.
Unlike a traditional king, Jesus did nothing to promote his regal appearance. To the contrary, He modeled humility by choosing to renounce the rights and privileges He deserved as the King of all kings. He came into this world with little fanfare or recognition. God never sounded a trumpet to herald the coming King. And the people to whom He came were preoccupied with their own problems and affairs. Remember? The Roman government had ordered a census. By the thousands, the Jews were traveling to their hometowns to register and pay taxes.
Who would have guessed that God would choose such a time and place for the birth of His Son? No one expected Him. NO ONE MADE ROOM FOR HIM.
So the King of the universe was born to a poor, unwed mother. “And she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). Only Mary and Joseph knew the true identity of the infant they beheld, and even they didn’t fully understand the nature of His mission.
Surely God Almighty could have intervened to provide better accommodations for the birth of His divine Son. But He didn’t. In fact, He ordered events so that Joseph and Mary would not come to the inn until it was full. By His command, only a crude stable was available for lodging. He chose a bed of straw for the regal birthplace of our King. Why did God do it this way? Why did Jesus, even at His birth, refuse to live up to our expectations of an earthly king?
WHY WAS THERE NO ROOM AT THE INN?
TO FULFILL PROPHECY. The One who orders all things in heaven and on earth ordered the birth of Christ to take place in Bethlehem—the city of King David—because Jesus was the King, of the lineage of David, who was to fulfill the prophetic voices of the Old Testament.
TO DEMONSTRATE HIS MAJESTY. Unlike human kings, Jesus doesn’t need majestic surroundings to be majestic. The gold and glitter of a royal palace pales next to the vibrancy of His Presence.
So when God selected a birthplace for His Son, He chose an ordinary stable to demonstrate, by contrast, the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Only the majesty of Jesus could transform that crude shelter into a place of astonishment and glory.
TO ARM JESUS WITH THE WEAPON OF HUMILITY. Jesus had come, the angel told Joseph, to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). But the root of sin is nothing more or less than man’s pride. Pride dethroned God from man’s heart and enthroned self. The multiple forms of sin are but the fruits of an enthroned self-life. If man is to be saved, it must be from himself—and his lust for self-importance and self-sufficiency.
So Jesus came to put an end to the reign of pride that causes men to reject and ignore God. He came to bruise the head of that old serpent, the devil, who is bent on destroying people and using sin to accomplish his purposes. But to do so, He needed a special weapon—the only weapon that brings victory over sin. Jesus’ humble birth placed the weapon of humility in His hands. THE MANGER IN BETHLEHEM IS GOD’S AX LAID AT THE ROOTS OF MAN’S PRIDE. Had it been possible to step into human history under circumstances more humble than a manger in a stable, Jesus surely would have done so.
TO DEMONSTRATE BY EXAMPLE THE ESSENCE OF SALVATION. The way of the manger reveals the means by which we embrace salvation—by humbling ourselves before God. Salvation takes place as you allow God to transform the rejected, lonely, despised and sinful places of your heart into a holy throne room for God. He did the very same thing at Christ’s birth when He transformed a lowly stable into a glorious sanctuary.
The Christian way of salvation—the way of the manger—lacks the luster that appeals to man’s fleshly, worldly appetite. But the cost of humility is minimal compared to the hidden treasures His life brings into yours.
- Unlike Christmas gifts under your tree, peace cannot be purchased with dollars; it comes only in Jesus
- Deliverance from years of bondage is found only in Him
- Joy beyond measure comes only in knowing Jesus and inviting Him to live in you
- And security is possible only in trusting the One who holds the future in His hands
Count on this: Jesus will never take anything away from you unless He offers you something much better in its place. He will never ask you to make changes or sacrifices, or endure hardship of any kind, unless He’s prepared to reward your humility.
That’s why there was no room for Jesus at the inn. By choosing to be born in a stable—when He deserved the very best accommodations known to man—Jesus showed us the way of humility, the path to salvation and all the treasures in Christ. That’s the true meaning of Christmas.
TO WARN US ABOUT THE SPIRITUAL DANGERS ON PLANET EARTH. Do you see the irony? There was no room at the inn; and yet there is room in this world for every conceivable form of sin.
- In our universities, there is room for the pride of man’s theories, however far-fetched they may be
- In the halls of government, there is room for greedy programs and self-aggrandizement
- In financial markets, there is ample room for conniving, and the lustful pursuit of wealth
- In the great temples of religion, there is abundant room for hollow, ceremonial display
- And, in most people’s lives, there is always room for self-gratification
But, when the Son of God appears to save men and women from themselves—when He comes with the plan of heaven for their lives—there is never any room.
“He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:10-11).
Common Substitutes for the Heart
Are you expecting Jesus in this season? Is there room in your heart for Him? You may think you’ve made a place for Him there, but take a second look—just to be sure. Sometimes, without even knowing it, we offer Jesus everything but our hearts. Let me suggest three common substitutes.
BEAUTIFUL CHURCH BUILDINGS. Throughout history, men have tried building a stately material temple in place of the inner sanctuary God seeks in us. But, no matter how much we spend, or how beautiful it is, that temple of stone cannot satisfy God.
RITUALS. We also build rituals in which to house our Lord. We spend countless hours designing reverent and dignified ceremonies for the Lord to inhabit. The more glitter the better, especially when it comes to worship. But, once again, God is not interested in how well we “mouth the truth”, but in how we live the truth. Jesus defined religious hypocrites as those who “say things and do not do them” (Matthew 23:3). “They tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Matthew 23:4). Rituals go beyond outward forms of religious ceremony, however. They can also masquerade as “holy safeguards” or boundaries. Jesus was born in a manger so He could identify with man’s suffering. But so often, we refuse to involve ourselves in the lives of others who are hurting. It takes too much time and effort. It’s too costly emotionally. It’s much easier to set limits on what we’re willing to do for Jesus.
CREEDS. Some people build houses for God out of creeds. They’re massive and rock-solid! Every beam and brick is well defined and firmly in place. The entire structure is held in place with a mortar of passion, zeal and devotion. From inside this house of doctrine, passers-by can hear its occupants shouting, “This is what I have built for you, O Lord. I am jealous for the honor of this house. Here is a home fit for a king.” God’s response? “No thanks.”
For What Kind of Home is God Looking?
If impressive church buildings, rituals and creeds aren’t suitable for divine occupation, what is? The answer lies in Isaiah 66:1-2. “Where then is a house you could build for Me?” Jesus asks. “And where is a place that I may rest?...But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at my word.”
Do you tremble at God’s Word? Do you willingly seek to obey God regardless of the cost?
Obedience is one of the most painful lessons we must learn as Christians. Obedience is the mark of genuine faith. It demonstrates the depth of your love for God. It speaks of your humility before Him. But, humility is costly and often painful. So to make obedience more comfortable, we water down God’s commands, and reinterpret His Word. Or, alternatively, we obey while it’s painless and convenient, and ignore God’s commands thereafter.
- I know of businessmen who are honest until their integrity costs them sales or profits.
- I know of husbands and wives who appear committed to their marriages until working through their problems demands too much time and energy.
- I know of Christians who are patient and kind until someone rubs them the wrong way.
It’s easy to obey when it doesn’t cost you anything—or you’re rewarded for good behavior! But that’s not the way of the manger. The Lord of Glory seeks the warm inn of an obedient heart, but the world only offers Him a manger of stone. What are you offering Jesus?
How Can I Make Room for Jesus?
Making room for Jesus is not something you can do just once—like moving a wall to enlarge a room. It’s an ongoing project that involves the cleansing and renewal of your mind, heart and spirit as a prelude to obedience. As you clean house spiritually, focus on four essentials:
1. Let the Word of God flood your mind. Compare your behavior to God’s standards. Are you living up to those standards? Are you forgiving your offenders unconditionally? Are you fleeing from temptation? Do you speak the truth at all times? What about your spiritual mindset? Are you an easy target for satan’s lies? When God doesn’t solve your problems as quickly and painlessly as you’d like, who do you believe, God or satan? By what basic assumptions about God and His character do you live? If you aren’t grounded in truth, you can’t trust and obey.
2. Set a fire in your heart against sin. Ask God to expose every evil thing in your heart that might shut Jesus out or mask His awesome holiness. God may reveal your sin as you pray or read the Word. But you may have to go through painful trials and suffering first.
Undoubtedly, the Civil War changed Colonel Cowan’s perceptions of Abraham Lincoln. Three months before Lincoln’s assassination, Cowan saw him again. But this time, he deemed it an honor to shake the President’s hand and look into his kind eyes.
3. Yield all your rights to God. Take a hard look at your expectations. Do you expect a certain level of comfort, good health or prosperity, for example? Do you expect people to treat you in a certain way? Typically, our expectations turn into demands, which we then justify as “rights”. Fighting for these so-called rights leads to sin. When some person or circumstance infringes on your rights, you’re apt to react in anger. And when anger fills your heart, Jesus cannot.
4. Love God above all else. Do you love the traditions and rituals associated with Christmas more than you love Christ Himself? Was finishing your Christmas shopping more important that spending time with the Lord? Look closely at how you order your priorities during this season. Don’t take your eyes off Jesus. Honor Him in everything you do. If you do, you will begin the New Year refreshed and invigorated, full of joy and expectation, and more in love with Jesus than ever before.
THERE WAS NO ROOM AT THE INN
Cherish these words. Remember their significance. Jesus emptied Himself of all that was due Him in glory and honor by being born in a stable. Later, He emptied Himself and “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). Do you see the pattern? The manger was just the premier episode of a long journey to the cross, along the path of humility and obedience.
Let’s follow and worship this Jesus. Not the Jesus of glitter and grandeur, but the Jesus who humbled Himself to save us from ourselves, so that we might follow Him and give glory to Him alone.