Gospel Bookends: The Humble Guest

We’re looking at “Gospel bookends” – themes or words repeated at the start and end of a Gospel that work together to present a beautiful portrait of Christ. Last time we saw in Mark how the torn heavens and the torn veil presented Him as the Perfect Son. This month we’ll be turning to Luke to consider Him as the Humble Guest.

A Full Guestroom (Luke 2:7)

As we open Luke’s second chapter, we find all Israel on the move. The governor has ordered everyone back to their hometown to register for taxation. No doubt many were grumbling at the nuisance of it all. And there, among the murmuring crowds, we find a young couple for whom this trip is especially inconvenient. The wife is heavily pregnant, so they travel along slowly and carefully. As others push past them on the road, little do they know that all this traveling is because of her Child. God has arranged all this to accommodate the birth of His beloved Son.

It could take a whole week to walk the 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, so Joseph and Mary must have felt exhausted when they finally arrived at their destination. Its very name, “House of Bread,” suggests a place of abundance and hospitality; but the town was crowded with visitors, so “there was no room for them in the inn” (Luk 2:7).[1]

At first that word “inn” might sound like some sort of hotel, but Bethlehem was probably too small and out of the way for anything like that. Besides, Luke uses a different word when he describes a public inn in chapter 10. But here the word is kataluma, and it likely refers to a “guestroom” in someone’s home. That would have been ideal – to stay in a relative’s guestroom – but apparently it was already full when they arrived.

So Mary gave birth in the area where the animals were kept, possibly on the lower level of the same house. She wrapped her newborn son in swaddling clothes and laid Him in the manger. This same Child had once bound the mighty seas, as with a swaddling band (Job 38:9), and now He Himself was a baby bound in strips of cloth.

The manger itself was just a feeding trough, perhaps made of hewn stone. Did Mary hesitate for a moment before laying her Baby there? It was a squalid crib for any newborn, never mind the Son of God. And if God Himself had set in motion all these events just to bring them to Bethlehem, why didn’t He prepare a guestroom for them there, with a proper bed for His Son?

How the shepherds’ words must have encouraged Mary! This manger was no accident. It was the very sign that the angel gave them to identify this Baby as “Christ the Lord.” All of heaven was praising God that He was there! As soon as the angel said these words, “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger,” the whole sky was filled with angels shouting, “Glory to God in the Highest!”

This was the only baby who had ever chosen His own cradle, and He chose this manger because He was meek and lowly in heart. So there He lay, Christ the Lord, not among kings and rulers, as the wise men expected, but with Mary, Joseph and a few shepherds. The guest chamber had no room for Him, but there was plenty of room within their wondering hearts (2:19-20).

A Furnished Guestroom (Luke 22:11)

But isn’t it interesting to discover that this same word, kataluma, is used to describe only one other place in Scripture? We read about it near the end of Luke. There we find Jerusalem also overflowing with pilgrims, as everyone prepared for Passover. The disciples were also getting ready, but with a startling contrast: Peter and John were preparing for the feast with Christ (vv7-13); Judas was preparing to betray Him (vv3-6).

The Lord had told them to follow a man with a pitcher of water back to his house. Once there, they asked the owner for a guestroom (kataluma) where they could celebrate the Passover. He showed them a large furnished upper room, where they met together that evening.

Only Luke records these words of Christ: “I have desired to eat this passover with you” (v15). What gracious words! They were such unworthy companions – boasting Peter, selfish James and John, doubting Thomas, and all the rest. Even that very evening they were still arguing about who was the greatest (v24). None of them were. But He still wanted to be with them. They were “His own” and “He loved them to the end.”

What was He wearing on this occasion? Not the swaddling bands of His infancy, but a plain set of garments, which would soon be taken from Him. He had no home, no money – just these clothes – and yet He would give up even His garments out of love for them. Indeed, He would give up far more than that: “This is my body which is given for you … my blood, which is shed for you” (vv19-20). And He who once lay in a feeding trough in the “House of Bread” now feeds them with broken bread and wine at the cost of His own life (vv14-20). He teaches them about true greatness (vv24-30). He prepares them for what lies ahead (vv31-38). Then He goes forth to lay down His life for them (v39).

John gives us another glimpse inside that guestroom. And what do we see the Savior wearing there? A servant’s towel as He washes His disciples’ feet. Should it not have been the other way around? Honored guests usually had their feet washed and their cheeks kissed (Luk 7:44-46). But the only kiss that He would receive that night was one of treachery. And yet He was so gracious that He washed even His betrayer’s feet. He was leaving us an example to imitate (Joh 13:12-17) that we might learn the secret of service – yes, even happy service (v17) – by obediently following Him.

The guestroom was full at His birth, so Mary wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger. Another guestroom was furnished and ready just before His death, but no one wanted to serve. So He wrapped Himself in a towel and willingly took the servant’s place. What a Humble Guest! May we all open the door to Him (Rev 3:20).

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.