Summary: How far is it from Bethlehem to Calvary... Geographically, Historically, and Spiritually? Will you make that journey?
Well it’s almost here, and almost gone. By the end of the day on Wednesday it’ll be over. The presents will be opened, the turkey will have been eaten, the carols will have been sung and for all practical purposes Christmas 2002 will be but a fond memory.
And yet it is only 17 weeks until we celebrate Easter. Wednesday we will celebrate the birth of Christ and in four months we will commemorate his death and his resurrection. 119 days, just a little under a third of the calendar year. And with that thought in mind we need to ask ourselves, “How far is it from Bethlehem to Calvary?” How far from the cradle to the cross?
This morning we’re going to explore that question a bit. We’re going to look at it from different angles and see what answers we may find.
“How far is it from Bethlehem to Calvary?”
Let’s first take a look at it geographically. You might ask a tour guide, “How far is it from Bethlehem to Calvary?” “Well” he might responds “Geographically, it’s closer than you might think. If you were in Bethlehem and were to walk down the road toward the northeast, it would only be about eight kilometres to the city gates of Jerusalem.” Just a two-hour walk from the sleepy little town of Bethlehem where Christ was born to the bustling streets of Jerusalem where Christ was crucified (just outside of the city).
He might go on and tell us, “You know, it’s not far at all, and there’s a lot of history on this road. Why, it was in Bethlehem that Rachel was buried, and it was to Bethlehem that Naomi and Ruth came, and where Ruth married Boaz. King David was born and raised in Bethlehem and the prophet Micah wrote in Micah 5:2:
Micah 5:2 (NLT)
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village in Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.
It was to this little town that the carpenter Joseph came from Nazareth with his young, pregnant wife to be counted in the census ordered by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. No it’s not very far at all from Bethlehem to Calvary, geographically speaking.
So let’s ask someone else. Let’s ask the historian: “How far is it from Bethlehem to Calvary?”
“Well, historically,” he might respond, “it’s a lot closer than you might think. Compared to the Millenniums that have come and gone since God spoke the world into being, thirty-three years is a relatively short period of time. It really isn’t that far from the starlit eastern sky of Bethlehem to the darkened midday sky of Jerusalem. There is only a short lifetime between singing angels to cursing soldiers, from tears of joy to tears of grief. Just a few short years from swaddling clothes to a crown of thorns, from dimples and stubby fingers to blood stained cheeks and nail pierced hands.”
And yet as close as it might be, it is a sad fact of life that not many have made that thirty-three year journey from Bethlehem to Calvary.
It is much more comfortable to talk about a cooing baby than a bleeding corpse. The historical journey from Bethlehem to Calvary should be a short one but too many people prefer the cradle to the cross. It seems much less offensive to read to our children words like:
Luke 2:10-11 (NLT)
“I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David!”
Than it is to read words like:
Luke 23:33 (NLT)
Finally, they came to a place called The Skull. All three were crucified there—Jesus on the center cross, and the two criminals on either side.
It’s easier to read the first passage than the second, and yet it was the same author who recorded the events in Luke 2 and Luke 23. The two passages both speak of the same person, Jesus of Nazareth, and yet many still prefer Christmas trees to Easter lilies and they try and separate the one from the other.
Everyone loves Christmas with its bright lights, upbeat music and gifts in pretty paper. People who may give very little attention to God and the Church pay a great deal of attention at Christmas time, even if it is unintentional. And even though we whine about the commercialization and secularization of Christmas we need to realize that whether society wants to admit it or not, they are joining in the celebration of Christ’s birth. Every advertisement for Christmas keeps the name of the Messiah in front of people. And while Wal-Mart may not play songs like “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” or “Jesus Loves Me” over their P.A. system, they have no problem proclaiming the birth of Christ to everyone in the store with songs like “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.