Today I did something I NEVER thought I would do. I STOOD in the cave where Jesus was born. The sites we saw leading UP to that made the impact of being in that place all the more powerful… this’ll take some words… stick with me for how it all came together for me and others in our group as we processed this later.
As we arrived at Masada, the awe-inspiring cliff-top fortress of Herod on a giant (look back over previous posts), intimidating Judean mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, our tour guide, Andre, mentioned the date that Jewish Zealots fled to the abandoned fortress… 70 AD. Hmmm… That year rings a bell….
“Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifs dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’” Luke 21:5-6
Herod built that fortress and never used it. The people who DID use it were the Jewish people who fled Jerusalem after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD!! I SAW the evidence of almost a thousand people who lived there AND the Roman “camps” at the base of the mountain where the soldiers lived while they methodically planned their attack on those people for TWO YEARS before they broke down the wall only to find that they had killed themselves rather than be taken as slaves of the Romans. What did this have to do with the cave where Jesus was born?! I had the actually SEEN the historical evidence of events that Jesus SAID would happen BEFORE THEY HAPPENED!
One of the next stops was Herodium…
This was one of EIGHT fortresses Herod built in the region. He actually spent time in THIS one, though. He also chose this one as the site of his future tomb for a couple of key reasons… 1) He knew the people of Jerusalem hated him and he knew they would destroy his tomb if it wasn’t well fortified and some distance from Jerrusalem. 2) He was prideful, power hungry, and evil enough to exert his power over them even in DEATH. So, he build the mountain UP himself BEYOND the height it was naturally so that his magnificent tomb could be SEEN from Jerusalem! The decadence and splendor of it can STILL be seen in the colorful frescos on the walls of the theater thousands of years later! THIS is a man who did NOT want to be overthrown, whose power was intimidating, and who destroyed whomever threatened him. As a matter of fact, he wanted to kill Jesus after he was born!
“When they had gone (the magi), an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Matthew 2:13 (Keep reading to read of more of his evil ideas…)
If you look out toward Jerusalem from his tomb, you can see both Bethlehem AND Jerusalem. And, you KNOW who was born in Bethlehem… Read the account AGAIN in Luke chapter 2:21.
It’s surreal that over the last week I’ve been in ALL of these places… Nazareth, Galilee, Judea, Bethlehem… I first learned of the way homes were built at the time of Jesus’ birth in Nazareth when I visited the place of Mary’s home, the cave where it is believed she received the word that she would give birth to the son of God. Homes were typically built on TOP OF caves that were used for the animals and/or for storage for food. The same was true all over this rocky region and it was true in Bethlehem when Joseph pulled up with his pregnant wife on the donkey. The city was crowded with people and, according to Luke 2:7, there wasn’t a guest room available to them. So, Joseph and Mary went DOWN into the cave where it was sheltered and private, the same place where the animals ate, and Mary gave birth to our Lord and Savior, Jesus, the SON OF GOD. Emmanuel, God with us, was born so humbly and simply, the King of Kings making a quiet entrance into the world.
As we stood in this cave, our tour guide, beautifully described the scene… Lowly shepherds who were normally not even allowed to worship in the temple led by GOD Himself to be the first to see Jesus. He wasn’t the king people expected, you see the kings they were used to were like Herod – powerful, conquering, extravagant. THIS king was lying in a place where the animals ate and was born to common people. I was so struck by the ACCESS we all have to the Savior in this place. “For God so loved the WORLD, that He gave His only begotten Son…”
Fast forward a couple of thousand years to today. WHO HAS THE VICTORY?! Who is the one who has huge churches built over the cave where He was born and DROVES of people making pilgrimage to see it?! Herod the Great?! NO! When we went to his tomb, we were the ONLY ONES THERE!! There was nobody there worshipping HIM, no effort continuing two thousand years later to honor him! The ornate churches and shrines built around the cave where Jesus was born didn’t even bother me, it CONFIRMED the REALITY of His presence and His VICTORY over this world! He IS who He said He was! It happened JUST as it was foretold, and Herod couldn’t prevent God’s plan from moving forward!
“GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, and on earth PEACE to those on whom His favor rests.” Luke 2:14