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When the angels appeared to the shepherds, telling them that the Messiah had been born in the City of David, they said in Luke 2:12, "And this shall be a SIGN unto you: Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
What was the sign? How was it a sign? and For what purpose? Were the swaddling clothes the sign? Was it the manger? or something else?
As for the sign itself, this appears to be answered in verse 16, "And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger." There is here no mention of the swaddling clothes. The shepherds obviously were looking for the Messiah, but to know that this really was the Messiah, they needed the sign as a double witness. And so this is what they were actually looking for.
After seeing the child lying in a manger, verse 17 says, "And when they had seen it (the sign), they made known abroad the saying, which was told them concerning this Child."
Because no further mention is made of the swaddling clothes, it appears that the primary sign was the fact that He was lying in a manger in Bethlehem, the "House of Bread." (In Hebrew, Beth is "House" and Lehem means "Bread.")
It had been prophesied in Micah 5:2 that He would be born in Bethlehem. This was well understood by the scholars of the day. It was also understood that He would be of the line of King David, who had also been born in Bethlehem. Hence, this was the "City of David."
Furthermore, in studying Micah 5:2, if you start with the 4th yod, counting every 49th letter, it spells out Yashua, the Hebrew name of Jesus. Thus, Micah 5:2 tells us the Messiah's name, the city of His birth, and the tribe (Judah) from which he would come.
But what is the significance of the sign? How is the manger a sign of His messiahship? Why was it important that He be born in a manger, rather than in a normal setting? It is in the fact that a manger is a place where animals are fed. Being placed in a manger means that in the House of Bread (Bethlehem), He would actually BE the Bread of Life for all men. Not just feed the world with bread, but BE that bread. That is why He was placed in a manger, and that is why it was a SIGN to the shepherds.
Thus, Jesus was able to say in John 6:48-51, "I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."
The people, however, had forgotten or were ignorant of His origin and of the sign that accompanied His birth. So we read in verse 52, "The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?"
But then Jesus gives us the true meaning of the sign accompanying His birth in verse 53. "Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
The manna in the wilderness was a sign to "the church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38) in Moses' day. The true Bread that came down from heaven at Jesus' birth was the sign to us to the Church in the Pentecostal Age.
The swaddling clothes are also a sign in a different way, though this was not the primary focus of Luke's account. There was nothing unusual about about wrapping a child in swaddling clothes. This was the normal practice of the day, putting a child diagonally on a square piece of cloth, and then folding the 3 corners up to wrap the child. The fourth corner at the child's head was folded to the back of his head.
But the sign relates to the difference in clothing between the first and last Adam. The first Adam was clothed with animal skins, which required the death (sacrifice) of an animal. The clothing was the mortal "tabernacle" in which we presently "groan" (2 Cor. 5:1-4), because it was identified with death. On the other hand, the last Adam was wrapped in cloth made of plant, not animal skin. It speaks of the "tabernacle" from heaven that is the immortal and glorified body.
Putting these concepts together, we see that food must die in order for it to nourish the eater. Thus, Jesus had to die in order for men to eat his flesh spiritually and drink His blood spiritually.
This is the first Christmas Sign.