Sometimes we must lose to gain.
I was like that. I lost much – and gained more. And it all started when Jesus was born.
I am deeply moved every time I hear someone describe our Lord’s birth. You must understand that, until I was saved, I knew very little about Him. But when I heard about His birth, and where He was born …well, I’ll never forget what I felt.
You see, I own an inn. Or, I did until 5 years ago, when my second son officially became the owner. There was really very little to give him, with business being the way it is, but what is left, he owns. Maybe taxes will go down. Maybe cows will learn to fly.
I remember when, 40 years ago now, all the filthy government mismanagement really began to hurt our income. No one could afford to travel, and when we did have guests, we lost most of our profit to taxes. I thought we would sink.
Until a new census required everyone to travel. Now that tax I liked. We made more money in two weeks than we made the rest of that year. For 14 days straight, every room was full. I concentrated on using our opportunity to the utmost. And that, today, is what I regret.
Thinking back, I remember that, halfway through the first week, we started turning away many people every day. We had two or three rooms that might have held a few more occupants, but I was saving those spaces in the event a rich man was desperate and willing to pay double. You learn tricks like that when you’re in business as long as I was.
Soon there were only two spaces left. The first went to a poor man. He had walked for miles and could pay only half price. I wanted to help him, but I was sure that if I gave him the space, ten very rich, very desperate men would walk in right behind him. I almost said no, but then Caleb entered the inn.
“Look – he’s watching,” my mind whispered. “If you turn this man away, Caleb will tell the town how harsh and greedy you are.” On the other hand, if I had pity, Caleb would note that, too. And being favored by a man as rich as Caleb was a good thing.
So the poor man got a room. I blush now to think how much effort I poured into making the religious crowd see me as something I was not.
Ten minutes later, a young couple showed up. Maybe they had in-laws with them – my memory is blurry now. But I remember the couple. They could pay full price – but no more. I wasn’t about to lose my last space for regular price. Not on a night like that. Not when dozens of people would pay double. It was the one time government was benefitting me, and I intended to profit from the situation. Caleb was gone now. This was my business.
So I turned them away. And tried not to remember that we were Bethlehem’s only inn.
I heard later that our neighbors took them in. Many people were opening their homes and renting rooms for a small fee that month. Apparently our neighbor’s house was already packed, but they let this couple and the group they were with use the stable. They stayed there while waiting their turn to register for the census. All government projects take awhile.
On the second evening, the woman had a child. That’s all I remember about it. I’m sure there were noises, and lights in the wee hours of the morning; but I was running an inn. My wife remembers a group of temple shepherds coming to the door, asking permission to search our stable, but I was busy then, too. I know now that it was not ours, but our neighbor’s stable, that held what they sought.
Those busy weeks were soon over, and life returned to normal. I paid little notice when that couple left the stable and rented a tiny house in our town. A few months later, I hired the man to repair our worn-out front door – now that he was a useful neighbor, I wanted him. He did good work, I paid him, and we occasionally greeted one another in the street after that.
Many more months passed. My own wife gave me a boy – my first born son. He came into the world in a warm room, above the inn. He grew fast, and filled my heart with pride and love, with every coo and gurgle.
Then that awful night came. Only a few hours before sunrise, dozens of riders and terrible snorting horses came thundering down our peaceful streets. I looked out of the window with groggy vision while my wife tried to calm our crying Nathan.
They were pounding on the door, breaking in before I could answer. And then – my heart aches as I remember – they grabbed our little boy. His pudgy hands flailed the air. His big dark eyes tore my heart. The men said something about our king demanding the death of Bethlehem’s children. My wife was shrieking and sobbing as they held her back. I was halfway across the room before I was knocked to the floor. They held me there until it was over. The knife they used killed more than my son; it destroyed my heart.
Life didn’t matter after that. Why should I struggle to live, in a country where leaders could take what was dearest to me, and tear it apart? I did not live. I only existed. I grew old. Other children came, but I loved with fear, expecting to lose. And God? I no longer cared about pleasing Him. If He could let such gruesome wickedness go by unpunished, He could overlook my petty faults. Of this I was sure. He obviously did not hate evil as much as I had thought.
It was 30 years later that I finally understood. We had traveled to Jerusalem for the customary Passover feast, and as we left the city, we walked by the hill of the skull – Jerusalem’s place of execution. We saw the agony of the three men dying on that hill, and looked the other way. We were close enough to hear the gasping breath, and the dying moans. I heard the man on the center cross say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and I did not know what to think.
That was the scene God used to bring me to salvation a few months later. Philip visited Bethlehem and told us about Jesus. At first I scoffed, but then I heard that Jesus was the man who forgave while dying. And this Jesus was God’s Son. Images of my infant boy’s lifeless form, and a man’s destroyed body on a cross, mixed in my mind, and I felt pain. So God, too, had a Son who was killed by soldiers. And both the Son and the Father had willed it to be so. For me.
How could this be? Were my sins truly so awful that they demanded such a price? Perhaps God hated evil more than I thought. Did God really love me so much, that He would pay that painful price?
That day, I saw how awful my sins are, and that day they were paid for by the blood of Christ Jesus.
“You know, He was born here, in Bethlehem,” Philip told me later.
My brows raised. The Messiah? Born here?
“It was during a census, thirty-some years ago – I guess you are old enough to remember it.”
Yes, I did.
“His mother tells me she gave birth in a stable,” Philip said.
My tongue thickened and stuck to the roof of my mouth. “Tell me about it,” I croaked.
Can I describe how I felt when I learned how He was born? It did not take long to put the pieces together. To think – God entered the world in my neighbor’s stable, and it could have been my inn! Did ever a man lose so great an opportunity for so small a thing? I might have held Him in my very arms! My grandchildren envy me because I can say I saw Christ in the flesh, but O how much more I might have had! When I sit and ponder how my selfishness put the Son of God in a dirty stable on the night of His birth, I am even more thankful for those words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
To be forgiven by the Almighty is more than I can understand. I still miss my son. But I doubt I would have listened to Philip had I never known such loss. Such is the wisdom of God.
He took my son, so He could give me His.