Believe it or not, Jesus wasn't actually born in a manger (a food trough for animals). But after Jesus was delivered, his mother did lay Him in a manger after wrapping Him in swaddling cloths.
What is the significance of Jesus being born in a manger?
So why was Jesus laid in an animal feed trough in the first place?
Thousands of years ago, God the Father promised His Son's birth soon after Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). Because sin now created a rift in mankind's relationship with God, we needed a Savior who would sacrifice Himself as payment for the sins of those who believe in Him. To that end, God put a plan in motion that would result in the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of the only Being capable of becoming the perfect sacrifice God's justice and holiness required.
When Jesus's mother, Mary, was pregnant, she was forced to travel to the town of Bethlehem with her husband, Joseph, so their family could be counted in a census of the entire Roman territory (Luke 2:1–5). This fulfilled the prophecy saying the Messiah would be born in that city: "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days" (Micah 5:2).
Some time after they arrived, Mary gave birth to Jesus. The Bible tells us that the reason Mary laid Jesus in the manger was because "there was no place for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7). There is more than one meaning for the Greek word for "inn" (kataluma)—it can refer to a hotel-like residence, but it can also be translated as "lodging-place." This has caused some controversy as to whether or not Jesus was actually born in a house with an area serving as a nighttime shelter, or a stable as many suppose (taken from the fact that Jesus was laid in a manger). Many houses in that day had a wooden or stone feeding trough for the animals that were brought in against the cold night. If Jesus was born in a house, it is likely that Mary and Joseph were relegated to the lower floor due to the overcrowding in the upper-level guest rooms.
Regardless of the exact location of Jesus' birth, Jesus' first bed was an indicator of His nature and purpose. Rather than coming to earth amidst fanfare and in plush surroundings, the King of Creation and God's own Son was born among animals, with his very first visitors being lowly shepherds from the fields. This humble king would grow up to one day sacrifice His life on a cross for sinners, rise again, and then return to His Father's side in power and glory.
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