Written by Shelly Ginter Conrad
December 17 2010 - Revised December 25, 2019
All Scripture from English Standard Version
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is, called Bethlehem because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7)
During the Christmas season, it is tradition to see nativity scenes displayed in front of churches, in the community, and in front of homes. In these particular nativity scenes, Baby Jesus has been placed in a wooden cradle, which has been filled with straw for bedding. But is this accurate? Let's examine the Scriptures and also do some research - I encourage you to do your own study - into what it was like in the day when Jesus was born. Upon doing a little homework, we will discover the manger is very different than what we are conditioned to imagine or see displayed in our culture. The manger was not a wooden bed filled with hay, rather, it was most likely a stone trough used for feeding animals. Both food and water were put inside the manger. I would like to draw from both Old and New Testament Scriptures to teach a lesson about how both “water” and “rock” were used in Scripture to symbolize Jesus.
First, let’s address where mangers were located. They were located in caves near fields where sheep grazed. During the nighttime, shepherds in the field would lead the sheep into a sheepfold near a cave. Shepherds stored supplies in these small caves. This is where the sick sheep or newborns would be placed. It was a dark, dirty place. You would not find golden straw or wooden troughs in these caves.
Ponder this thought…
The “Living Water” and “Rock of our Salvation” was placed in a stone water trough.
Now let’s take a look an Old Testament Scripture pertaining to water and rock.
“All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.”(Exodus 17:1-6)
The Israelites were pretty upset about the fact that there was no water to be found in the wilderness. They complained and grumbled about their thirst and demanded that Moses provide water. They did not want to wait or wander in the wilderness any longer before being provided water. Moses spoke to God and asked Him what to do. Moses feared the Israelites would stone him. So, God provided instructions to Moses; go before the people, take some elders along, bring his rod, and go! God promised He would stand before Moses upon the rock in Horeb. He was right there with him in the face of adversity. God instructed Moses to strike the rock with his rod and from it would come water. The people would have their thirst quenched.
So, what does this Old Testament story have to do with Jesus? We shall soon find out. Our first impression is to focus on Moses and the Israelite. Jesus Himself said the Old Testament Scriptures testified of Him… (Jesus speaking) “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39)
Let’s next examine Scriptures from the New Testament and see how they directly link to Jesus from this particular story in the Old Testament Book of Exodus.
“and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:4)
Did you notice that the word “Rock” was capitalized in 1 Corinthians 10:4? Why, because it says Christ is that Rock! This New Testament Scripture can be cross-referenced to the Old Testament passage in Exodus 17 that we just addressed when Moses struck the rock, which brought forth water for the Israelites to drink. The “rock” in Exodus 17 symbolized Jesus, the promised coming Messiah who would be stricken as prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah. Let us now look at a passage from the Book of Isaiah.
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)
Are you beginning to see Christ in the Old Testament?
Now, let’s take a look at the word “water.” What was the significance of Baby Jesus being placed in a water trough? Let’s see what the Scriptures tell us.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”” (John 4:10)
The Israelites had no idea the symbolism of what had occurred in the wilderness. The Rock was smitten and out poured the living water that Christ provides us all! Baby Jesus was laid in a rock manger representing Himself as the Living Water freely offered to all.
"Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
The literal water the Israelites drank in the wilderness and the literal water we drink may quench our dry, parched mouths, but the spiritual water that Christ provides (salvation) when we believe upon Him, gives us everlasting life! This spiritual water that Christ provides us came at a great cost to Him. The Baby Jesus came into this world for the purpose of reconciling us to God. Our sin separated us from God. Christ, the foretold Messiah, lying there in a hard, cold, stony manger represented the Water of Life who would ultimately be despised, rejected, stricken, wounded, and crucified for us so that we might drink of His water of everlasting life.
What is truly amazing is the truth of this living water residing within every Christian because they have believed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, having received Him as their Savior.
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ (John 7:37-38)
The great mystery of “Christ in us” enables us, by the power of the Holy Spirit to, to share this living water to people whom God has placed in our lives.
“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)
The Christ Child came to earth so that we might drink of the living water and then share this spiritual water with others! When He came, you were on His mind. He came to quench your spiritual thirst. It is my hope that the image of Christ in a stone manger would bring new meaning to you this Christmas! Christ is The Gift given to us by God, the Father. It is our responsibility as Disciples of Christ to share this life-changing Gift with others this Christmas and every day throughout the year. Would you join me in asking God to bring people into our lives in this coming new year so that we might share His life-giving water with them?
Merry CHRISTmas with Love,
P.S. As Christians, we should always examine for ourselves what preachers, Bible study teachers and Christian speakers teach. We should be like the Bereans and examine what we are taught to ensure it is the truth. "Now the Bereans were more noble-minded than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if these teaching were true." (Acts. 17:11). If you have never done this before, I highly recommend you begin to do so. It will challenge you to dig deep into the Scriptures and as a result through your own personal study of the Word, the Holy Spirit, our Teacher, will give you wisdom, knowledge, and discernment. These you need so you can examine whether or not what you are taught is truth.
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