“Some people have made transformational changes in…human learning or in one aspect of human life, and their names are forever enshrined in the annals of human history. But Jesus Christ, the greatest man who ever lived, changed virtually every aspect of human life—and most people don’t know it. The greatest tragedy of the Christmas holiday each year is not so much its commercialization…but its trivialization. How tragic it is that people have forgotten Him to whom they owe so very much.” (Rev. D. James Kennedy, in What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994, p. 1).
That’s the purpose of this article---to get us to stop “trivializing” our LORD and Savior—to get us to realize that EVERYTHING that Jesus the Messiah touched in our world, He totally transformed. His birth ‘touched’ time, because everything is measured either before or after that event. How do you explain how an “itinerant young rabbi” walked around the ancient Holy Land for about three and a half years, preaching His message of love and redemption and performing miracles, and changed the future? Could it have been the culmination of a “plan” that was conceived in the Creator’s mind before He created time, space, and matter? Let’s look at this ancient story with new eyes of gratitude and our hearts full of love for this “Star” that brought the very essence of God into the lives of sinful and desperate men.
“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel…” (Numbers 24:17). Considering that the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write The Book of Numbers around 1500 years before our Lord Jesus was born among mankind, it’s obvious to us alive today who the “Star” that was to come out of Jacob was --- and the identity of the “Scepter” that would rise out of Israel. But to the descendants of Abraham, the people who would become known to history as “Jews”, as they wandered in the wilderness for around 40 years before God allowed them into what is today called “the Holy Land”, it may not have been so clear. To some “Doubting Thomas’s” of this age, it’s still not clear!
I’ve written several articles previously over the years on what we who call ourselves “Christians” consider to be our Creator’s “Christmas Miracle”. We, as HIS people, need to constantly re-explore just “who” was the God/Man that the Prophet Isaiah called, “Immanuel, God with us.” On December 25th of each year (an arbitrary date to be sure), the Christian world celebrates the birth of a baby boy who did NOT “become” God, but WHO WAS ETERNAL GOD, the Second Person of the Godhead, miraculously Incarnated to come among humanity as one of us so that we could know His love for us—so we could “behold His glory” without being consumed by it. This baby boy—this “Son that was given”-- was the Savior of all who believed in Him, named in our language ‘Jesus the Messiah’, the Christ long prophesied and awaited by the Jews of old, and rejoiced over by all who are “called by His Name” --- i.e. Christians.
HIS COMING WAS PROPHESIED CENTURIES BEFORE HIS BIRTH!
Jews have long denounced Him as a “deluded blasphemer” at worst, and a “fraud” at best, and still await their “messiah”. Muslims call His name “Isa”, and claim he was but a “Prophet of Allah”, the “true god”, and pretend to honor Him. Christians of all historic ages since that long ago night when He appeared among us have celebrated His coming as the fulfillment of many prophesies that were Spirit-inspired and written down long before He lived among mankind. Here are two of them:
- Isaiah 7:14 -- “Therefore the LORD Himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
- Isaiah 9:6 -- “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
(Recall that the Book of Isaiah was written ca. 740 B.C.--680 B.C.).
In fulfillment of a 700 year old prophesy, it was further recorded:
- Luke 1:35 – “And the Angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God’.”
- Matthew 1:22-23 -- “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the LORD through the prophet, saying, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’, which is translated, ‘God with us’.”
WHEN WAS JESUS BORN?
Luke 1:5 -- “In the time of Herod, King of Judea.” This was Herod the Great, who ruled from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C., when he died. He must have been alive during Jesus’ birth (as I’m sure you know, our modern calendars are several years “off” in their original reckoning of when Jesus was born, so year “Zero”, when Jesus was actually born, is what we today would call 6 B.C. or 5 B.C., which also implies that Jesus
was older than the “33 years” that our modern calendars lead us to believe that He was when he died for our sins. He was actually around 38 or 39 years old.)
Luke 2:1-2: -- “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census (for taxing purposes) should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was Governor of Syria.”) A Roman census was usually done every 14
years; one was taken in 20 B.C. but the next one was ordered in 8 B.C., and probably required one to two years to complete, especially in uncooperative Judea, where the Jews were opposed to censuses. Quirinius was the military governor of Syria (including a sparsely populated area called Roman Palestine) from 9 B.C. to 4 B.C., having been sent there as a Legate at least twice during those years.
Logically we can conclude that Jesus’ birth must have occurred between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C., because when Herod the Great discovered that the Magi had not heeded his command to return to him after they had visited the new “King of the Jews” and reveal His location, he commanded his military to kill all male children 2 years old and under in Bethlehem and its vicinity before he died in 4 B.C. A former pastor of mine concluded that our Savior was born among men in either 6 B.C. or 5 B.C. I agree.
WINTER OR SPRING?
Luke 2:8 – “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” The countryside outside of Bethlehem served as a holding area for animals raised there, which would later be sent a few miles to the Temple in Jerusalem for sacrifices, so they had to be nearby all year. We can’t know with certainty, but my best guess is that Jesus was born in the early spring, probably near to Passover. But since the flocks of sheep had to be kept out in the open fields even during the rainy winter months, His birth into human history could have been other than during springtime. What matters is that He did come among mankind as a baby, to serve as God the Father’s “human emissary” to point the way to Eternal Life. What season it was is immaterial.
THE WISE MEN AND THE STAR—WHEN DID THEY FIRST SEE THE CHRIST CHILD?
There is much conjecture and confusion regarding the “Wise Men”, or Magi, among believers. They must have been learned men, surely NOT what we today would call “astrologers”, who are con artists and charlatans, but more like early astronomer/philosophers. Whether or not there were three of them is also conjectural, but since three gifts were presented to the young Jesus, believers have long assumed that there were three of them. Also, in my opinion, most Christians have been mistakenly taught for generations that these Wise Men visited the new born Jesus and his parents while He was still in “the stable”, or animal shelter, just after He was born in Bethlehem. Surely their journey from somewhere in what is now Iran (although some Biblical scholars claim that the Magi came from Turkey) to Jesus’ location took them many months. Recall that an angel warned Joseph (in a dream) to take Mary and flee with their newborn son into Egypt to escape King Herod’s “massacre of the innocents” (Matthew 3:13-23), but this warning was not given to Joseph until after the Magi had visited the young Jesus, most probably at Joseph’s home in Nazareth, and offered Him their gifts. (this warning came after their refusal to return to King Herod and tell him where Jesus was, returning to their homeland by a different route, which infuriated the king when he discovered he had been deceived by the Magi, thus prompting him to issue that order to slay all male children in and around Bethlehem—where he assumed Jesus still was). Therefore this must have occurred between 5 B.C. to shortly before Herod’s death in 4 B.C. We know, of course, that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived in Egypt for a period of time until Joseph was told, in another dream, that King Herod had died and it was safe for them to return to Nazareth.
It seems plain from Scripture that Jesus was NOT a newly born baby when the Magi first beheld Him and offered their gifts, but was probably an infant or a toddler, because as Matthew 2:11 tells us: “On coming to the HOUSE they saw the child with his mother, Mary …” Jesus was already living in a house when they first saw Him, and quite probably it was in Nazareth, not Bethlehem (if there was “no room for them in the inn”, then where in Bethlehem would they have found “a house”, and why would they have stayed in a town that offered them no suitable lodging except for a smelly animal shelter?) I contend that the infant Jesus had been taken by his parents back to Joseph’s home in Nazareth as soon after His birth as Mary’s condition would have allowed, and was living with Joseph and Mary in Joseph’s combined house and carpenter shop, because Joseph was a “working man”—a carpenter, and could not afford to be away from his work and shop any longer than necessary. (The only group of strangers who beheld the baby Jesus in the manger were the local shepherds who were informed of His birth in Bethlehem by Angels from Heaven.) But it was from their home in Nazareth that Joseph and Mary fled with their young son, Jesus, into Egypt, and they didn’t return to their home in Nazareth until after Herod’s death. (Recall that the ancient prophecies declared that “the King of the Jews” would be born in Bethlehem, which He was, AND that He would be known as “a Nazarene”, an inhabitant of Nazareth, which He also was!)
WAS THE “STAR” NATURAL OR SUPERNATURAL?
What exactly was this “star” that the Magi followed to find Jesus? Scripture tells us that these “Wise Men” first approached King Herod when they got to Jerusalem (to which the “star” may or may not have led them), and as Matthew 2:1-2 tells us, they asked Herod, “…where is He that is born King of the Jews?, for we have seen his star in the East and are come to worship him.” A suspicious King Herod, fearing a new rival for his throne, sent them a few miles away to Bethlehem, where a “ruler” or “king” had long before been prophesied to be born, and bade them return to him when they found this new “King of the Jews” so he—Herod—could “worship him also”. If they did go to Bethlehem per Herod’s advice, I conclude that the infant, Jesus, was no longer there, for his parents had surely returned as soon as possible for economic reasons to their home in Nazareth after traveling to Joseph’s tribal city, Bethlehem, to enroll for the Roman’s taxation registration. The “star” moved and eventually led those “Wise Men” to the physical location of the Christ Child, as Scripture informs us. Matthew 2:9-10 says that the “star” “they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was-- (undoubtedly Joseph’s house in Nazareth—around 70 miles north of Bethlehem). When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.”
Some scoffers deny that the Magi “saw a star in the EAST” when, obviously, the Holy Land and Bethlehem were WEST of them. But what’s the problem? The Magi lived EAST of the Holy Land, and they saw God’s Heavenly guiding light appear to them when they were still living in the East, their probable homeland in what is today called Iran. God’s Guiding Light then moved WEST, toward where Jesus was, and the Magi thereby began to follow it after they had prepared for their long journey. Why they were first guided to King Herod in Jerusalem, rather than directly to the young Jesus’ location at the time, is unclear. My opinion is that they wanted to speak with “the top man” in Jerusalem, or his spiritual councilors, to get corroboration as to where “the King of the Jews” would be born. In any case, Scripture tells us that these Magi were “overjoyed” when God’s Guiding Light first appeared to them, for they were aware of the prophesies that were ancient even to them, regarding the birth of a great “ruler” over the Jews.
Is there a logical explanation as to what this “star” was? Many scholars have futilely tried to explain it over the centuries:
- The “star” was a comet, they claim. Comets were always connected to important historical events. Halley’s Comet was visible in 11 B.C. but this would have been too early (also comets don’t appear to move quickly in the sky – only meteors do);
- Some astronomers and Biblical “scoffers” are certain that the “star” was a conjunction of two or more planets in the night sky. These celestial events do occur occasionally, but two or more planets appearing to come close together do NOT appear as a single light source, nor would they be of sufficient magnitude to lead curious Magi across a vast distance over several months. There was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 6 B.C., but this could not have lasted for months, and it certainly did not move to guide the Magi.
- Some have claimed that the “star” was a supernova, or exploding sun elsewhere in our galaxy. These dying stars do flare up into brilliance over a period of several months, and can be seen even in daylight; but they DON’T appear to move, nor do they shine upon a particular spot on earth.
I contend that the “star” that the Wise Men observed, and that led them to the Christ Child, cannot be scientifically explained. I’ve always believed that this STAR that the Magi followed was sent by our Creator God, and was a temporary and a supernatural event – truly a MIRACLE sent by God to announce to the world that Heaven’s REAL STAR, Jesus the Messiah, had been born into the world of sinful people in order to show them how to live with Him forever. Disbelieve if you will, or believe another interpretation of these events. But to my mind that was then, and still remains, God’s greatest miracle!
May all who are “called by HIS NAME”—Christians—celebrate the anniversary of the Birth Day of our Savior in reverence and love—love for each other, as His followers, and especially love for the One who is “The Reason For The Season”. Let us not disrespect Him by concentrating on the usual foolishness and sinfulness of what man has long deemed as “The Christmas Season” (Santa Claus, gift giving, rowdy parties, drunkenness, etc.). Since we are not Biblically “mandated” to celebrate Jesus’ birth, and historically have followed merely “the traditions of men”, perhaps it would be appropriate during this Season to reflect upon how God’s People should celebrate the Birth of our Savior:
- Keep in mind whose birthday we are celebrating! Are we so “busy” during this Christmas season that we virtually ignore Jesus? Many Americans, even “Christians”, are guilty of this.
- Concentrate on giving rather than on “getting”. To whom do we give “gifts”? Do we give any “gift” to our Savior? To Christian organizations or missions, both locally and far off? The best “gifts” are given with no thought of return, but only with the hopes and prayers of the giver that the receiver’s life will be enriched or changed.
- Do we offer Him our thankfulness in prayer that our Triune God, the Creator of the Universe and all therein, loved US enough to appear among us to show us the way to live with HIM forever? That is the greatest gift of all.
May we all be blessed by the “gift” that God the Father gave to mankind so long ago. A Happy—a Merry—Christmas to you all!