The Mystery Man With No Room

Luke 2:1-7

December 12, 2004 | Brian Bill

Three years ago I began a message with a Christmas Quiz.  I recently came across some additional questions to test our knowledge of the Nativity.

Jesus was born in what town?

  1. Jerusalem
  2. Nazareth
  3. Bethlehem
  4. Milwaukee

Why didn’t Joseph and Mary stay at the inn?

  1. It was too expensive
  2. There was no inn
  3. There was no room
  4. None of the above

How did Joseph and Mary get to Bethlehem?

  1. Colt
  2. Mary rode a donkey and Joseph walked
  3. Wagon
  4. Who knows?

After being born, Jesus was placed in a:

  1. Basket
  2. Manger
  3. Pile of hay
  4. On the back of a donkey

A manger is a:

  1. Stable
  2. Feeding trough
  3. Wooden table
  4. Barn

Which animals does the Bible say were housed in the stable?

  1. Cows, donkeys, sheep
  2. Lions, tigers and bears
  3. Goats, sheep and cows
  4. The Bible doesn’t say.

Who told Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem?

  1. An angel
  2. Caesar Augustus.
  3. Herod
  4. No one told them to go.

What did the innkeeper say to Mary and Joseph?

  1. “I have a stable out back.”
  2. “Come back after the holidays.”
  3. “There’s no room in the inn.”
  4. Both a and c
  5. None of the above

(Answers: 1-C; 2-C; 3-D; 4-B; 5-B; 6-D; 7-B; 8-E)

How’d you do?  Anyone have a perfect score?  It’s interesting how the traditions and tales concerning Christmas are often not correct.  Christmas cards and even Christmas carols can reinforce a kind of sloppy seasonal sentimentality, in which “Merry Christmas” becomes “Happy Holidays.”  I came across a brand new word this week in an article I read in the Chicago Sun Times.  I’m not sure if it’s much better than “Season’s Greetings” or not: “Chrismahanukwanzakah.”  Weekly magazines like Newsweek run cover stories on Christmas, but seldom get things right either.  Although the magazine did report in a poll that 93% of Americans believe that Jesus really lived and almost 80% believe in the Virgin Birth.

While this is such a familiar story for many of us; it’s my prayer that we will linger long enough to allow this simple and straightforward account to impact us like never before.  Please turn in your copy of the Scriptures to Luke 2:1-7.  

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)   And everyone went to his own town to register.   So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” 

Let’s make some preliminary observations.

1. God used pagan rulers to get Jesus to Bethlehem. 

It was said that when Caesar started his reign that Rome was built out of bricks; when he ended everything was made out of marble.  In order for Rome to know how much money they could collect, they needed people to register.  The government learns a lot about its people through taking a census.  As a result of our last national count, our government now knows that Americans consume almost 31 pounds of cheese a year (that’s good for Wisconsin); and that on average, drivers put on almost 22,000 miles in 2001. In order to register for the census, since Joseph’s family was from Bethlehem, he had to make a long trip of 90 miles.  This trip took about five days from the northern town of Nazareth. 

2. Christianity is an historical faith. 

Christianity is tied to real people and real political situations because it is really real

Our faith is based on fact, not fable or fiction.  We know precisely when Jesus was born because we’re introduced to historical characters and events.  Luke was a very careful historian.  Both the birth and death of Christ can be established at a pinpointed time in world history.  Christianity is tied to real people and real political situations because it is really real.  John MacArthur writes: “This wasn’t a child like any other child.  This child was the Lord Jesus Christ, God and man fused together in indivisible oneness.  This birth was so monumental that it became the high point of history, the peak, the apex.  All history before this birth is B.C., Before Christ.  All history since is A.D., Anno Domini, Latin for ‘the year of the Lord.’”

3. Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem to fulfill Scripture. 

Listen to Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”  700 years go by until one day God explodes into human history by sending His Son to be carried in the womb of a woman named Mary.  God then moves in the heart of a pagan Roman emperor, who lived 1500 miles from Israel, to declare that a census had to be taken of the entire world.  Joseph was from the family of David and that meant he had to go to Bethlehem. 

Notice how precisely God orchestrated everything that first Christmas.  Mary was close to her delivery date and so Joseph decided to bring her along on the long journey.  In his sovereignty, God made sure that they were in the right place at just the right time, to fulfill the Scriptures.  Friends, God’s sweet sovereignty is stamped all over the nativity narrative as He weaves His eternal ways through individuals and events to accomplish His purposes.  And, He still does that today, doesn’t He?

4. Bethlehem literally means, “The House of Bread.”

What better place for the bread of life to be born than in Bethlehem?  Don’t miss the symbolism of the Bread of Heaven being born in a feeding trough.  Jesus later said this about Himself in John 6:51: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”    

5. Sacrificial sheep grazed on the hills of Bethlehem. 

In the next section of Luke, which we will not get into this morning, an angel gave the first announcement of the Messiah’s birth to some anonymous shepherds.  Warren Wiersbe points out that it is quite possible that that these shepherds were really priests who were caring for the flocks that provided sacrifices for the temple services.  Since Bethlehem was only five miles from Jerusalem, the hills were perfect for raising sacrificial sheep.  They had to have a “perfect” lamb ready at all times.  The shepherds spent their lives caring for sheep and now they have the privilege of meeting the Lamb born in a stable, who will later die as their sin substitute and care for them for eternity.  

Now, let’s focus on verse 7: “And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”  

  • An Ordinary birth.  Isn’t it interesting how Luke describes the birth so matter-of-factly?  He doesn’t use any superlatives; doesn’t describe the labor; doesn’t spice it up at all.  There’s no exaggeration or embellishment.  Mary just gave birth as women do.  
  • A Firstborn son.  She gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  We know from Scripture that Mary had other children later and that’s why Luke says that Jesus was the “firstborn” (see Matthew 12:46-47; 13:55; Mark 3:31-33; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12; 7:3-10).
  • Wrapped in cloths.  Babies were commonly wrapped tightly in strips of cloth to keep them warm and protected.  This was a loving thing to do by a mother and shows us right from the beginning that Jesus was just like us.  One other point to this is that the baby wrapped in “cloths” was to be a sign to the shepherds that they found the right baby.  The king was not robed in royalty but in torn strips of tattered cloth.  He is a present not with pretty wrappings but instead appears in plain brown paper.  
  • Placed in a manger.  This was a rough-hewn feeding trough, showing us again his humble birth.  This was not made out of wood like our nativity sets depict, but was an indentation in the rock that was used for holding animal food.  It was probably not very clean either; in contrast to our sanitized scenes it would have been dirty and smelly.  By the way, the Bible never says that Jesus was born in a stable – only that he was placed in a manger after he was born.  We can deduce that it was in a stable because stables had mangers.

No Room in the Inn

As a typical man, Joseph did not call ahead for reservations, so they were forced to make some other arrangements.  While this was his hometown he hadn’t been back in a long time and likely didn’t know many people anymore.  On top of that, Mary needed a place quickly.  And so they tried an inn.  There are differences of opinion regarding what this inn actually looked like.  Whatever the case, try to get the idea of a modern-day-motel out of your mind.  These places of lodging were more like campgrounds for weary travelers, where they would spread out mats on the floor.  The word for “inn” in Luke 2:7 refers to a “place of lodging” or “guest quarters.”  The word literally means, “The breaking up of a journey.”  This inn was likely a two story structure where overnight guests would sleep on the upper level while their animals rested underneath or in another adjacent building in the “ancient parking lot.”

Only travelers, sojourners, and aliens used these kinds of inns.  If Joseph and Mary had stayed in an inn, it would have meant that they were just transients.  In Jeremiah 14:8, the prophet complains that the Lord is like a stranger: “O Hope of Israel, its Savior in times of distress, why are you like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who stays only a night?” Jeremiah is lamenting that the Lord is just passing through.  Because of their sin, God does not take up residence with them.  Stay with me on this because there’s a cool connection to Jesus.  Adrian Dieleman put it this way: “God did not want Jesus staying in Bethlehem’s inn like a stranger, an alien, a sojourner.  Rather, He was to stay in the local stable as a resident.  Jesus came to earth not as an alien, but as a resident; not as someone simply passing through, but as the Immanuel – God with us in the flesh.”

God planned that there would be no room in the inn because in Jesus He is no longer absent from and alien to His people.  This was God’s way of saying that He was no longer like a stranger.  In Christ, He has drawn near.  John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

The innkeeper gets a lot of bad press for someone who’s not even mentioned in the Bible.  He’s the scapegoat of the Christmas story and depicted as either the vicious villain or the busy businessman.  If there even was an innkeeper, it stands to reason that there was no vacancy.  Since Bethlehem at the time was not a tourist attraction, and was so close to Jerusalem, there would not have been a lot of places to stay.  On top of that, since the census was going on, there would have been a lot of people in town, not to mention the Roman officials who were conducting the census, who no doubt had grabbed all the best rooms.  Remember too that Joseph and Mary would have arrived after most everyone else because they would have been traveling slowly to make it as easy as possible for Mary.  There really may have not been any place for them to stay.

While we don’t know if there even was an innkeeper and if there was, we’re not sure if he was indifferent, ignorant, involved, or indulgent…but you know if you are

Having said that, the innkeeper may have experienced some reactions that are sadly, still very common today.  He could have been…

  • Too indifferent.  Most people don’t have animosity toward Christ; they just don’t have any room for Him.  They might even sing Christmas carols and go to church.  Maybe you just don’t care that much about Christ.  Perhaps the routine of religion bores you.  Don’t be like those who say about the things of God in Malachi 1:13, “What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously.” 
  • Too ignorant.  Some people miss the message of Christmas simply because they don’t know.  Perhaps they’ve never really been told.  Or maybe they know a few things but have never investigated it for themselves.  The innkeeper should have known that one day the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem but he missed it, even though he was so close to Christ.  I talked to someone recently who said he just didn’t know about Jesus.  I gave him a Bible and another book and he’s reading and investigating.  Jeremiah 29:13 provides a promise to those who search for Him: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
  • Too involved.  The innkeeper might simply have been too busy.  In the midst of his frantic activity, he missed that which is most important.  That’s a good word for us today.  We get pulled in by the urgent and then find ourselves ignoring the important.  Some of us need to unplug and slow down, especially this time of the year.  Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God…”
  • Too indulgent.  The innkeeper may have been overly focused on building his business.  And business was booming that night.  Maybe he was chasing that ever elusive shekel and he didn’t think peasants from the backwaters of Nazareth could help his bottom line.  We need to be careful about this as well.  1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”  Remember what Jesus called the man who wanted to continue constructing bigger and better things in Luke 12:20: “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” 

While we don’t know if there even was an innkeeper and if there was, we’re not sure if he was indifferent, ignorant, involved, or indulgent…but you know if you are.  


Mrs. Lombard’s Sunday School class performed an unforgettable Christmas pageant one year.  She had worked for weeks to cast all of the children in the appropriate roles.  Wallace Pernell wanted to be a shepherd but he was selected to be the innkeeper instead.  Wally was nine years old and He was much bigger than all of the other nine-year-olds.  Mrs. Lombard thought that Wally’s size would add forcefulness to the innkeeper. 

The night of the pageant arrived.  The predictable audience was there, parents, loved ones, and no one was more into the Christmas story as it unfolded than Wally.  In fact, he was so excited that he twice almost walked out onto the stage before he was supposed to.

And then it was his turn.  As Mary and Joseph made their way slowly up to the inn, Joseph knocked on the door.  Wally came to the door and bellowed, “Who’s there?” Joseph softly said, “I am looking for shelter for me and my wife.”  Wally opened the door, walked out and said, “You’ll have to look elsewhere.”  Joseph then pleaded, “We have looked everywhere, and there is nowhere for us to stay.  Please, can we stay in your inn?” To which Wally replied, “There is no room in the inn for you.”  Joseph tried another approach, “But you don’t understand.  We have traveled so far, and my wife is heavy with child, and she needs to rest.” 

At that point, Wally just stood there intently staring at Mary.  During this long pause, the audience grew a little bit tense and embarrassed.  The prompter off stage began to whisper loudly, “Wally, say ‘no be gone!’  ‘No, be gone!’”  Finally Wally looked at Joseph and Mary, took a deep breath and said, “No, be gone!” And sadly Mary and Joseph turned away.  Joseph put his arm around Mary as she put her head on his shoulder and they shuffled off.  At that point the innkeeper was supposed to shut the door and go back into the inn.  But Wally didn’t do that.  He just stood there and watched the forlorn couple walk away. 

And then the pageant ended as no pageant ever had.  Wally’s mouth dropped open.  His brow creased.  And his eyes began to fill with tears as he blurted out, “Joseph, wait a minute.  Come back.  Bring Mary with you!” And then a smile beamed across Wally’s face as he blurted out, “You can have my room.”   Mary and Joseph didn’t know what to do and the audience got nervous again.  This boy had ruined the whole story line.  How can you have Christmas without a stable?  The quick-thinking Joseph saved the program by replying, “Oh no, the stable would be just fine, really.”

Actually, Christ is still looking for space today.  Our world seems to be too crowded for Him, just as it was in the first century.  The only space found for Him was on a Cross.  Do you know where He wants to live today?  In your heart.  Do you have room for Him?

In the 19th Century, Phillips Brooks, who wrote O Little Town of Bethlehem, was also a great preacher.  Here’s a sample of his sermon based on Luke 2:7: “Nowadays, when the new stranger comes up to the doors, the opposition is just the great, impenetrable, passive fullness of the house he tries to enter.  Christ comes with his truth to the intellect.  What is the answer?  Every chamber of the intellect, from garret to cellar, is pre-engaged…and must be royally fed and lodged.  For this new applicant ‘there is no room in the inn.’

Christ comes with His work to the will.  But what chance for quarters here when the very entry-ways of the human will are packed to stagnation with a thousand little ephemeral plans making their flying visits, and a hundred great absorbing schemes that have taken up their permanent abode?  What answer but again, that this great inn is full?

Christ comes with His love to the great, roomy, hospitable human heart.  But the hospitality-not so wise as lavish-has it not been already more than wasted on a host of beggardly and ill-worthy claimants, so that when the heart’s Master comes there is no room to spare?  Thus daily is the scene of Bethlehem repeated.  He comes unto His own; but his own receive Him not.  The world is too full for Christ, and the heart too crowded for its Savior.” 

We sing the words to “Joy to the World” so easily, “Let every heart prepare him room.” They put us into the Christmas spirit.  But let’s stop and think.  Have we prepared him room?  Jesus is seeking entry into your life.  Is your intellect too inundated with worldly philosophies?  Is your will too weighed down with selfish pursuits?  Is your heart so heavy with other pleasures that you don’t have room for the king?

Making Room

MSNBC did a story a couple weeks ago about a British hotel chain that is offering married couples with the names, “Mary and Joseph” a free night’s stay over Christmas.  The manager of one of the hotels explained why they’re doing this: “We’re trying to make up for the hotel industry not having any rooms left on Christmas Eve 2004 years ago.  Our hotel is definitely more comfortable than a stable.  I just hope they don’t bring their donkey.” That’s a great idea!  It’s kind of like a “do-over.”  Would you like a “do-over” this morning?  You have a chance right now to prepare room for the Redeemer in your heart.

1. Giving Him First Place Again.

Do you remember what Jesus said to a church that was crammed so full that they no longer had room for Him?  Brothers and sisters in Christ, our selfish pursuits can push Christ off the throne of our lives if we’re not careful.  It’s time to welcome Him back by making room for Him.  Actually, we need to give Him the right to reign supreme, not just to occupy a little room in our life.  If you’re a believer and you’ve allowed other things to crowd out Christ, take these words to heart from Revelation 3:20: “Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

2. Making Room for the First Time.  

Have you ever opened your heart to Christ?  When Jesus came the first time, there was not only no room in the inn, there was no room in minds, in wills, and in the hearts of people.  The Savior came to this world and He was turned away.  John 1:10-11: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” The world did not receive Him because they did not recognize Him.  And they did not recognize Him because they were not willing to relinquish control of their lives.  How about you?  What’s keeping you from fully receiving Christ right now?  The very next verse tells us how to become a member of God’s family: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Christ came to rule over the universe, and to reign in our hearts.  He came as a child but will come again as King.  He alone has the gift of true and eternal life.  Next to his presence in our hearts, all the other presents with which we stuff our lives are mere trinkets.

No Vacancy?

Are you in essence saying to Jesus this morning that you have no room in your heart for Him?  Do you have the “no vacancy” sign turned on?  I’d like to close with an urgent appeal made by Charles Spurgeon over a hundred years ago

As the palace and the inn have no room for Christ, and as the places of public resort have none, have “you” room for Christ?  “Well,” one says, “I have room for Him, but I am not worthy that He should come to me.”  Ah! I did not ask about worthiness; have you room for Him?  “Oh,” one says, “I have an empty void the world can never fill!”  Ah! I see you have room for Him.  “Oh! But the room I have in my heart is so wretched!  So was the manger.  “Oh! But I feel it is a place not at all fit for Christ!’  Nor was the manger a place fit for Him, and yet there He was laid. “Oh!  But I have been such a sinner; I feel as if my heart has been a den of beasts and devils!”  Well, the manger had been a place where beasts had fed. 

Have you room for Him?  Never mind what the past has been; He can forgive and forget.  It does not matter what even the present state may be if you mourn over it. If you have room for Christ He will come and be your guest.  Oh! Sinner, if you have room for Him let Him be born in your soul today. “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”  Room for Jesus! Room for Jesus now!  

“Oh!” one says, “I have room for Him, but will He come?”  Will He come–most certainly!  Just open the door of your heart, and say, “Jesus, Master, all unworthy and unclean I look to you; come, lodge within my heart,” and He will come to you, and He will cleanse the manger of your heart; He will transform it into a golden throne, and there He will sit and reign forever and forever.  What!  Are there no hearts here this morning that will take Him in?  Must my eye glance around these galleries and look at many of you who are still without Him, and are there none who will say, “Come in, come in?”  

My master wants room!  Room for Him!  Room for Him!  I, His herald, cry aloud, Room for the Savior!  Room!  Here is my royal Master–have you room for Him?  Here is the Son of God made flesh–have you room for Him?  Here is He who can lift you up out of the slimy pit and out of the miry clay–have you room for Him?  Here He is who when He comes in will never go out again, but abide with you forever to make your heart a heaven of joy and bliss for you–have you room for Him?  This is all I ask. Your emptiness, your nothingness, your lack of feeling, your lack of goodness, your lack of grace–all these will be but room for Him. Have you room for Him?  Oh! Spirit of God, lead many to say, “Yes, my heart is ready.”  Ah! Then He will come and dwell with you.

We’re going to close this morning by singing the beautiful song, “Joy to the World.”  As we sing it, I’m going to ask you come up front if you’re ready to prepare him room in your heart.  You know, there will be another quiz that each of us will have to pass.  Actually, it’s more like a final examination.  One of the questions will be, “Did you make room for Christ when you were alive?”  Friend, if you don’t make room for Him now, there will be no room for you in heaven.  John 12:48: “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.”

Are you ready to take care of that right now?  If so, please pray this prayer with me in your heart.  “Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life.  At times I’ve been indifferent, ignorant, too involved and too indulgent.   I admit that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself.  I repent of my sins by changing my mind about the way I’ve been living.  I’m not going to close the door when I hear you knocking.  I believe and gratefully receive your pardon.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth.  With all my heart I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day.  Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life.  I open my heart to you right now and receive you into my life.  Not only is there room for you, but I ask that you get rid of anything else that may attempt to crowd you out.  Amen.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?