Christmas - The real story

We're all familiar with the Christmas scenes that are displayed in many stores, city displays, and front yards....... the stable, the manger with the baby Jesus surrounded by shepherds, the three wise men kneeling before Him offering their gifts of gold, incense and myrrh, while the famed Star of Bethlehem sparkles overhead.....

But how many people know that these scenes are incredibly inaccurate?

Luke the Greek physician, author of the Biblical books of Luke and Acts, traveling companion of the apostle Paul and always the meticulous historian, carefully researched the events leading to Jesus' birth, and put the events in order as they happened. His writings are so carefully researched that archaeologists trust him virtually without question in his accuracy, and have used his writings to locate lost Biblical sites. And to date he has never been proven wrong.

Note carefully his words as quoted below.

LUKE 1:1-4

1 Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,

2 Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;

3 It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,

4 That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

Note that Luke is careful to note to Theophilus to whom he is writing that he has attained perfect understanding in all things concerning the life of Jesus, and has determined to write all things in order.

LUKE 1:5-10

5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife [was] of the daughters of Aaron, and her name [was] Elisabeth.

6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were [now] well stricken in years.

8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,

9 According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.

10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.

The priesthood had grown so great by the time, that by the time of Jesus the priesthood had so many priests that a priest might serve his Temple duty in his course only once in his life. Zacharias was thus serving his allotted priestly duty before the Lord.

Also Luke, by speaking of Herod the Great, sets the timing of the events of which he speaks.

LUKE 1:11-12

11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

12 And when Zacharias saw [him], he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

There had been no word or vision from the Lord since the closing prophecies of Malachi 400 years earlier. And no one else was supposed to be in the Holy Place (the court outside of the Holy of Holies, which the High Priest alone could enter, only once a year).

In light of this, it is easy to see why Zacharias was so surprised and fearful, as no one else should have been there but he himself.

LUKE 1:13-17

13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.

16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.

17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Zacharias must have been stunned! Here the angel was telling him he was going to have a son in his old age, a son who would be a Nazirite (NOT a Nazarene, as in someone from Nazareth, but one dedicated to the Lord who would neither drink wine, or cut his hair. Samson was a Nazirite.)

This son was also going to fulfill two of the last great prophecies of Malachi, in which he said;

MALACHI 4:4-6

4 Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, [with] the statutes and judgments.

5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:

6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

And;

MALACHI 3:1

1 Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.

As those familiar with the Bible understand, these prophecies were fulfilled by John the Baptist.

John did indeed come in the spirit and power of Elijah, he just didn't come with the miracles that Elijah performed. Scripture never said that he would come with signs and wonders.

That's why people of his time didn't recognize him as the fulfillment of Malachi's prophecies. They were expecting a "miracle man". And if John had come performing miracles, there would have been a conflict among the Jews as to who was the Messiah, Jesus or John.

But just as Elijah tried to turn Israel back to the Lord during the time of Ahab and Jezebel, John did the same thing during his time on Earth, warning all who would listen that the Lord was coming.

Poor Zacharias. This would be enough to make a strong man skip a few heartbeats, let alone an old man! His shock and confusion are understandable;

LUKE 1:18-21

18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.

19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple.

This is one of the few times where the name of an angel is mentioned in Scripture. The fact that Gabriel gave his name is significant, for Israel knew of him from the prophecies of Daniel hundreds of years earlier, and he gave his name as a confirmation of who he was.

DANIEL 8:15-16

15 And it came to pass, when I, [even] I Daniel, had seen the vision, and sought for the meaning, then, behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man.

16 And I heard a man's voice between [the banks of] Ulai, which called, and said, Gabriel, make this [man] to understand the vision.

LUKE 1:22-25

22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.

23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.

24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying,

25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on [me], to take away my reproach among men.

Back then, being barren was viewed as a punishment from God for sin in the life of a husband or wife. As such, a barren woman was looked down upon, and scorned, for she was not raising sons for Israel.

However this is a wrong attitude, for God does things in His timing and for His reasons, and a woman being barren is not necessarily because of sin.

Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel also suffered scorn because she was barren;

I SAMUEL 1:1-7

1 Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name [was] Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite:

2 And he had two wives; the name of the one [was] Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

3 And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, [were] there.

4 And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions:

5 But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the LORD had shut up her womb.

6 And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb.

7 And [as] he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat.

Elkanah's other wife badgered and mocked Hannah because she had no children. Those who know Scripture will remember that Abraham's wife Sarah suffered similar persecution from their servant Hagar.

But in the cases of Sarah, Hannah and Elisabeth, God closed their wombs for a very specific reason.

Elisabeth remained in her house for five months after becoming pregnant, as at her advanced age, pregnancy would be a taxing phenomenon. I also suspect that she wanted to keep the fact hidden until John's birth, until she could show the surprise to everyone.

Luke 1:26-27

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name [was] Mary.

There has been much controversy concerning this fulfillment of Isaiah which states;

ISAIAH 7:13-14

13 And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; [Is it] a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?

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.

There has been much noise among some scholars concerning the term "virgin", with some saying that the Hebrew word for virgin used here, "'almah", merely means "a young girl, or young woman of marriageable age".

However, the term literally means "veiled" or "private" in relation to the young lady, and I believe that just as with our culture a virgin wears a veil to her wedding ceremony, this refers to the same thing in this case.

Please hold that thought, and allow me to digress for a moment.

If Jesus had been born to a human father, the sin and curse we inherit from Adam would have been passed on to Him, for as the apostle Paul states, sin passed to all men from Adam.

ROMANS 5:12-14

12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come).

Remember also that God held Adam responsible for what happened in the Garden of Eden, and held him responsible for his wife's actions.

GENESIS 3:17-19

17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed [is] the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat [of] it all the days of thy life;

18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou [art], and unto dust shalt thou return.

Adam's sin doomed all mankind as sinners, even though we weren't there when Adam sinned, nor did we sin in his likeness, not being born yet. Yet death takes us all because of that first sin, and God's resulting curse on mankind. And as Paul said, sin passed onto all men because of Adam. (For more on this issue, please see the study concerning the Fall of Man in this Web site)

Therefore Jesus, to be the sinless sacrifice required for God's justice concerning sin, had to be born outside of the "sin cycle" started by Adam, yet had to be born of flesh, for sin can only attack the flesh. Remember, without flesh there is no lust, greed, envy, covetousness, etc. As such, He needed a human body for the sins of the world to be contained in, when He went to the cross.

Jesus then, by having a virgin human mother (a ritually clean woman in accordance with the Law), but a non-human Father would fit the exact requirements for the perfect, sinless sacrifice that would remove sin from Man forever.

And by the same token, if He had been born of a woman who was not a virgin, especially if she was not married, He would have been illegitimate, and the Law was clear concerning illegitimate male children;

DEUTERONOMY 23:2

2 A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.

If Jesus had been illegitimate, the Pharisees and Sadducees of His time would have certainly known about it, and would have immediately barred Him from entering the Temple. But nowhere in history or the Scriptures does it state that such a charge was ever leveled at Him.

I find it difficult to understand why scholars have such a hard time believing in the "virgin birth", when these same scholars will defend with all their might that fact that God created Adam from the dust of the ground!

Ok, back to the study.

LUKE 1:28-33

28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, [thou that art] highly favoured, the Lord [is] with thee: blessed [art] thou among women.

29 And when she saw [him], she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Here Mary is given the honor of being the chosen vessel who would bring the promised Redeemer into the world, an honor hoped for by Jewish women down through history since the original prophecy of Isaiah concerning the event.

There had been no king of the line of David on the throne of Judah since the Babylonian captivity over 400 years earlier, and she was told that her Son would inherit the throne of king David, in fulfillment of God's promises to David 1,000 years earlier, when He had said;

II SAMUEL 7:1-16

1 And it came to pass, when the king sat in his house, and the LORD had given him rest round about from all his enemies;

2 That the king said unto Nathan the prophet, See now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains.

3 And Nathan said to the king, Go, do all that [is] in thine heart; for the LORD [is] with thee.

4 And it came to pass that night, that the word of the LORD came unto Nathan, saying,

5 Go and tell my servant David, Thus saith the LORD, Shalt thou build me an house for me to dwell in?

6 Whereas I have not dwelt in [any] house since the time that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle.

7 In all [the places] wherein I have walked with all the children of Israel spake I a word with any of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying, Why build ye not me an house of cedar?

8 Now therefore so shalt thou say unto my servant David, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel:

9 And I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight, and have made thee a great name, like unto the name of the great [men] that [are] in the earth.

10 Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime,

11 And as since the time that I commanded judges [to be] over my people Israel, and have caused thee to rest from all thine enemies. Also the LORD telleth thee that he will make thee an house.

12 And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom.

13 He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever.

14 I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men:

15 But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took [it] from Saul, whom I put away before thee.

16 And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.

Note that in verse 11, God tells David that He will "make thee a house", meaning that David's lineage would become a dynasty, and that his descendants would rule over Israel. (Later, after the destruction of the rebel Northern Kingdom of Israel in 586 B.C. by the Assyrians, the line of David would rule over the tribes of Judah and Benjamin)

Some believe that verses 12-16 above refer to Solomon, but some sharp differences prove otherwise.

1. Solomon's kingdom wasn't established forever - 10 tribes of Israel rebelled against his son Rehoboam after Solomon's death and seceded as a punishment from God because of Solomon's sins of marrying multiple foreign wives in violation of the Law of Moses, and worshiping their pagan gods.

2. Solomon was never beaten with a rod for his sins, even though he was considered by God to be an evil king. As Scripture says of him;

I KINGS 11:1-13

1 But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, [and] Hittites;

2 Of the nations [concerning] which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: [for] surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love.

3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.

4 For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, [that] his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as [was] the heart of David his father.

5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites.

6 And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as [did] David his father.

7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that [is] before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon.

8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods.

9 And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice,

10 And had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the LORD commanded.

11 Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.

12 Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father's sake: [but] I will rend it out of the hand of thy son.

13 Howbeit I will not rend away all the kingdom; [but] will give one tribe to thy son for David my servant's sake, and for Jerusalem's sake which I have chosen.

Therefore, these promises were meant for a future descendant who would be of David's lineage, one who could establish the kingdom forever, namely Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

LUKE 1:34-38

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

This shows tremendous faith on Mary's part, believing what the angel had told her. Note that there is nothing described to show that she knew it was an angel that spoke to her. No shining light, no wings, no strange phenomena. Just someone who appeared to be a man who spoke to her.

I think the angel told her of Elizabeth's pregnancy to verify his words as God-given, for Elizabeth had hidden herself for six months, and no one yet knew of her pregnancy.

I find it fascinating also, that he who would become John the Baptist was of the line of the priests, who would naturally be the heralds of the Lord, who would seek to turn the hearts of the people to the Lord, to prepare them for His coming.

It is now necessary to examine the account given in Matthew at this time to get a more complete view of the event of Jesus' birth.

MATTHEW 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just [man], and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:

25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

During the time of Jesus, when a woman was "espoused" (engaged) to a man, she was considered to be a married woman, and was "off-limits" to any potential suitor. However, even though they were considered to be married, the marriage was not consummated until after the actual wedding, which date was determined by both sets of parents. Until that time, the young lady stayed at her parent's house, and any visits between the engaged parties were closely supervised by either the parents of the young lady, or trusted chaperones.

When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he was probably horrified, and greatly distressed. The Law was clear that any woman caught in adultery (remember, engaged women were treated as if married) was to be stoned to death.

LEVITICUS 20:10

10 And the man that committeth adultery with [another] man's wife, [even he] that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

According to the Law, Joseph couldn't marry her, but rather than see her stoned for her infidelity, he had compassion on her, and determined to divorce her secretly, sparing her life. He also probably had a hard time believing her story, for a virgin birth had never happened before.

This is interesting, because all Mary had to say was that she had been raped by a Roman soldier (not uncommon) and was pregnant as a result, and she would have been spared the death penalty. But she stuck to her story, signifying her faith in what she had seen.

However, God knowing the integrity of Joseph's heart, spoke to him, verifying what Mary had said, and telling him that his son would be the promised Redeemer and Messiah.

Note carefully also, that Joseph married her, but didn't have intercourse with her until after Jesus was born, showing his faith, love, compassion and integrity of heart.

Ok, back to the book of Luke.

LUKE 2:1-5

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

2 ([And] this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

Scholars had a problem with this for a long time.

First, there has been nothing found in Roman annals concerning this tax, although the famous Jewish historian Josephus verifies this tax in his writings, and agrees that Cyrenius was charged by Caesar to perform this duty.

Secondly, scholars had a hard time believing that people scattered across the Empire would need to return home to be registered and taxed.

Finally, there was no evidence that Cyrenius (some versions call him Quirinius) ruled Syria during this time.

However, several items of interest have recently come to light to again prove the validity of Scripture.

In 104 A.D. a Roman prefect (governor) of Egypt created a document which stated;

Gaius Vibius Maximus, prefect of Egypt:
Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those who for any cause are residing out of their provinces to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census, and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments.

A census is a count of people in an area; "cultivation of their allotments" is a flowery term for "pay their taxes".

It is well known that the Caesars heavily taxed the Empire, so I find it difficult to believe that scholars would have such a problem with the concept of a Empire-wide census and tax.

Note that Gaius Vibius Maximus stated that those living outside of the provinces were to be compelled (forced) to return home to be counted and taxed.

Now for the problem with Quirinius.

Roman coins recovered in Syria have shown Quirinius to have been governor of Syria starting in 6 A.D. The book of Matthew states that Jesus was born during the days of Herod the Great, and it is known that Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., so that created quite a quandary for people to try to reconcile.

However, recently coins have been found with the name "Quirinius" dated 11 B.C., stating that he was the proconsul (governor) of Syria and Cilicia. So again, the validity of Scripture and the careful devotion to detail and the truth by Luke are proven.

LUKE 2:6-7

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

This I think shows how God does things in ways that Man would not. If Man had written this story, the birth of the King of Kings would have been a glorious even, surrounded by miracles and fantastic phenomena. Yet God decreed that His Son, the Creator and Savior of the world, the King of Kings was to be born in a humble stable, and placed of all places in a feeding trough!

LUKE 2:8-20

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen [it], they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard [it] wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered [them] in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Those poor shepherds! Can you imagine their shock and terror at what they saw?

Imagine you're out the fields, watching over your sheep. The sky is brilliant with stars, and the Fall air is becoming chilly, promising the soon coming of frost. Your thoughts wander sleepily as you stare at the night sky, and you idly think over preparations that need to be made for sheltering your flock during the coming winter.

Suddenly the sky lights up, and is filled with angels praising God, and the glory of God illuminates the Earth about you. You realize that you're not dreaming as you hear the frightened shouts of your companions indicating that they see it too.

Then you hear the stunning message for which Man had been waiting for thousands of years, that the Messiah had been born, and you are told to go see Him, and bear witness of His birth! What an honor, to be chosen by God to witness this great event!

And note that God didn't go to the priests, learned scholars, or the doctors of the Law to proclaim the message of the birth of His Son. He went to the poor and humble, those who would accept the message in reverent faith, those who depended on God daily for their food and shelter.

This also confirmed to Joseph the truth of the vision he'd had concerning the child that Mary bore.

LUKE 2:21-35

21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present [him] to the Lord;

23 (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)

24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name [was] Simeon; and the same man [was] just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.

26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.

27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,

28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,

29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

33 And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.

34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this [child] is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;

35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

Again, God confirms the birth of His Son through Simeon, and ensured that this was spoken in the Temple where many would hear. The sword that he spoke of as piercing Mary's soul, was to be the spoken Word of God through the Holy Spirit, as the author of the Book of Hebrews confirms;

HEBREWS 4:12

12 For the word of God [is] quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and [is] a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

LUKE 2:36-40

36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;

37 And she [was] a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served [God] with fastings and prayers night and day.

38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.

40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.

This is a tremendous tribute to Anna, the prophetess, for Luke speaks with admiration of her, saying that she was 84 years old, and had been widowed after having a husband for only 7 years. Most women of that era married when they were about 14-15, so she was probably about 21-22 years old when she was widowed. She had spent the rest of the time in the Temple, devoted to the Lord and had not married again, but served the Lord with prayer and fasting, and God had rewarded her with the gift of prophecy.

This was also done so that seeing she was well-known by the people as a prophetess, they would pay close heed to her words concerning the child.

Remember when I said that the "Nativity scenes" were incorrect? We will now go into the reasons why the typical scene is incorrect.

MATTHEW 2:1-3

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

2 Saying, 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.

3 When Herod the king had heard [these things], he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

First, the above verses help establish the time frame of Jesus' birth. We know that Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., therefore Jesus was born at least two years before Herod's death.

The term "wise men" could better be termed "astrologers", for they were star-watchers who believed that positions of stars and planets foretold of great events.

Also Herod was paranoid concerning his rule, and constantly believed that others were plotting against him to take his throne. He had already killed several of his own sons and wives whom he suspected of seeking to overthrow him, and was so bad that even Caesar Augustus said of him, "It is better to be Herod's pig, than his son." He said this, knowing that the Jews avoided all contact with pigs.

Herod also knew the people hated him because of his cruelty, his pandering to Rome, and especially the fact that he wasn't a true Jew, but was of the line of Idumea, (Roman for Edom) mongrel descendants of Jacob's brother Esau. Herod held the throne only by the permission of the reigning Caesar, whom Herod constantly flattered in order to maintain his throne.

So, the news of the birth of one destined to be the "King of the Jews" disturbed him greatly, and fanned his fears of a forcible takeover of his throne.

I also suspect that Herod was a highly superstitious man, and the arrival of astrologers predicting that the stars foretold the birth of a king would play heavily on those superstitions.

MATTHEW 2:4-8

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

6 And thou Bethlehem, [in] the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found [him], bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

It is interesting to note that Scripture was very careful to prophesy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem in Judah (Judea), as when the prophecy was made there were two cities of Bethlehem, one in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and one in Judah. King David was born in the southern city of Bethlehem in Judah (Bethlehem Ephratha), and it was from the lineage of David that the Messiah would come.

Apparently even Herod the Great was aware of the prophecies concerning the Messiah, for he demanded of the priests and scribes as to where the prophesied King was to be born. He also inquired from the astrologers when the star appeared, so he could know the age of the child he was seeking.

Then he veiled his true intentions by telling the wise men that he wished to worship the child also. The astrologers had no clue to anything different, so they went their way with all intentions of finding the child, then reporting back to Herod that he might worship him also.

MATTHEW 2:9-10

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

There has been much controversy concerning the "Star of Bethlehem". Many scholars point out that the Chinese, who were excellent astronomers and who kept meticulous records of their observations, didn't record any unusual celestial phenomenon during the time of Jesus' birth.

Actually this would fit with the descriptions given by Scripture, for to astrologers like the "wise men", it is the position of the stars and planets with relation to each other and their position in the Zodiac that are significant. And being astronomers, they could predict the position of a particular star or planet with reasonable accuracy several years in advance.

Therefore when Scripture speaks of a "star", it may very well have been a particular star of no special brightness, or even one of the known planets, but in either case it was in a position of significance according to their calculations and astrological charts.

So, what was the "Star of Bethlehem"? To this day, astronomers and astrophysicists have no firm idea. However, we do have a possible candidate.

In March and September of 7 B.C., a celestial phenomenon occurred in which the planets Venus, Mars and Jupiter were in close enough conjunction so as to appear as a single bright star. And it is interesting that John the Baptist, Jesus physical cousin, was born 6 months before He was. Hold that thought for a few moments.

MATTHEW 2:11-18

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.

17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,

18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping [for] her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

A lot of important points in these verses!

First, the "Nativity scenes" always show three "wise men", because three gifts are offered to Jesus. However, during that time, robbers frequented the roads and merchants usually banded together and traveled in heavily-armed caravans just for that reason.

So how many actual "wise men" were there? We have no idea, but it was probably more than three, considering the value of the gifts they brought.

The gifts were of themselves significant, for they brought gold, signifying that the recipient was considered royalty; frankincense was used as an expensive incense, signifying that the recipient was considered deity; and myrrh was a fragrant spice used in the burial of the dead, signifying His future atoning death for the sins of the world.

Note carefully that the wise men came to the house where Jesus was staying, not the stable where He was born! Also king Herod had the infants in Bethlehem and the surrounding suburbs who were two years old and under killed in his effort to destroy Jesus, as determined by when the "star" appeared.

This indicates that Jesus was born at least two years earlier, putting His birth sometime in 7 B.C. (Remember, Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.) The fact that Luke reports that the shepherds still had their flocks in the field when Jesus was born shows that winter had not yet set in. Taking into account the two celestial conjunctions, this evidence points to Jesus being born in sometime in September of 7 B.C.

So now you see why the "Nativity scenes" are so inaccurate. They show three "wise men" bowing before the newborn Jesus, lying in the manger in the stable, with the "star of Bethlehem" overhead.

Yet Scripture clearly indicates that the "wise men" arrived two years after Jesus was born, and that they arrived at the house where he was staying. Scripture also indicates that He was at least two years old when they arrived.

So where did the erroneous concept of the "Nativity scene" come from? It appears to have come from the Hollywood fiction production of "Ben Hur", which has all of the characters and time frame displayed by the "Nativity scene".

On what date was Jesus born?

We aren't certain, but it is interesting that Yom Kippur, the great Day of Atonement in which the Jews confess their sins as a nation, and the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the nation occurs in September. And it would be fitting that God would have His Son be born on the Day of Atonement, seeing as how Jesus, 33 years later, would become the only acceptable atonement before God for the sins of the world.

So why does the world celebrate Jesus' birth on December 25th?

Actually this is a date set by the Roman Catholic Church set in the latter part of the 4th century A.D., and coincides with an old pagan Greek and Roman festival celebrating the return of the sun from the Winter solstice (called the Nativity of the Sun). (Many other ancient cultures had similar celebrations)

Pagan belief was that the sun god (called "Sol") traveled South to "die" each winter, and through sacrifices and prayers was "reborn" at which time it returned northward to bring light and heat again. It was a time of great celebration, feasts and the exchanging of presents to celebrate the sun god's "birth/rebirth".

It is believed that the Catholic Church created the Christmas holiday to bring pagans into the Church, yet still allow them to keep their pagan holiday.

In fact, concerning the "Christmas" date, the Catholic Encyclopedia says, "The well-known feast of "Natalis Invicti", celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date". (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p.727)

(Natalis Invicti means "the Nativity of the Unconquered Sun").

Apparently there was much confusion among the pagan "Christians" concerning this holiday, as scholars such as Tertullian and Augustine vehemently asserted to their constituents that Jesus was not Sol, the "sun god".

So is it coincidence that the birth date set by the Roman Catholic Church for the "Nativity" of Jesus, and the ancient Greco/Roman "Nativity" of the sun god Sol are the same? The fact that both were "born" during this time, both bringing light and life to the world?

The year that Jesus was born is significant for several reasons.

When Jesus was born, there had been no word from the Lord for 400 years, after the last great prophecies of Malachi. However, Malachi stated that several events would happen when the Messiah came.

MALACHI 3:1

1 Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.

Several points of interest here.

First, a messenger would come, proclaiming the coming of the promised Messiah.

That's why John the Baptist caused so much excitement among the Jews when he appeared, proclaiming the coming of the promised Redeemer. They were well aware of Malachi's prophecy and knew that when the messenger appeared, the Messiah would follow soon after.

Secondly, He would suddenly appear at His Temple.

The Jewish people have a tradition that the Messiah will appear at the end of time and will build the Third Temple. (Solomon built the First Temple, Zerubabbel built the Second Temple (Herod the Great expanded and modified the Second Temple, so it is still considered the Second Temple).

This also means that Jesus appeared at the Temple as prophesied before it was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Roman Tenth and Thirteenth Legions, and there has been no Temple since then. And if the Messiah is to build the Third Temple as tradition states, how can He build it, yet suddenly appear at it as Malachi prophesied?

Therefore the Messiah had to appear at the Temple before it's destruction in 70 A.D. to fulfill Malachi's prophecy.

Next, the prophet Daniel had been told that from the utterance of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem after it's destruction by the Babylonians, to the coming of the Messiah would be 483 years.

Note carefully that the prophetic time frame was based from the command to rebuild the city, not the Temple!

DANIEL 9:21-26

21 Yea, whiles I [was] speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation.

22 And he informed [me], and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding.

23 At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew [thee]; for thou [art] greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision.

24 Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.

25 Know therefore and understand, [that] from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince [shall be] seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.

26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof [shall be] with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.

This set a solid time frame in which the Messiah needed to appear, and Jesus made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, hailed as the Messiah, exactly 483 years later, just as prophesied.

(For those interested in Daniel's prophecies concerning this event and the 70 "weeks", please see the study devoted to the fulfillment of this prophecy.)

Finally, just as the Jews spent 430 years in Egypt without word from the Lord until Moses arrived, Malachi made his last prophecy 400 years before Jesus' birth, so that when He began His ministry at the age of 30, again the word of the Lord came to the Jews after 430 years of silence.

Ok, back to the rest of the study!

MATTHEW 2:19-23

19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,

20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life.

21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.

22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:

23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

With the death of Herod the Great, Augustus Caesar in order to bring the Jews into greater subjection to Rome split Israel/Judea into four parts which would be ruled by Herod's surviving sons, namely Judea, ruled by Herod's son Archelaus; Galilee (former territory of the ancient Northern Kingdom of Israel) ruled by Herod Antipas; Trachonitis, ruled by Herod Philip; and Abilene, ruled by Herod Lysanius. (The locations of Trachonitis and Abilene are uncertain).

However, like his father, Archelaus was a cruel ruler, and killed so many Jews during the 10 years of his reign, that Caesar banished him to Gaul (present-day France), and ruled Judea directly through Roman governors (procurators) until the destruction of Judea by Roman legions in 70 A.D.

Being warned by God concerning Archaelaus, Joseph took his family to Galilee, ruled by Archelaus' brother Herod Antipas. (This would be the same Herod Antipas that executed John the Baptist, and who would mock Jesus at His trial, and would send Him back to Pontius Pilate for sentence of crucifixion).

And unfortunately, we do not have the book of the prophets that prophesied that Jesus would come from Nazareth, which would probably either be the lost book of the prophet Jasher or the lost book of the prophet Iddo (both mentioned in the Old Testament). But apparently the audience that Matthew was writing to was well aware of the prophecy.



Conclusion

We have seen that the typical Nativity scenes that proliferate during the Christmas season are actually inaccurate in their portrayal of Jesus' birth. We have also seen that "Christmas" was originally a pagan Roman holiday celebrating the birth/rebirth of the sun god Sol, but was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church as a way to bring pagans into the Church.

Strong evidence indicates that Jesus was actually born in September of 7 B.C., at least two years before the death of Herod the Great, and that He was at least two years old and living in a house when visited by the "wise men".

There were two conjunctions of Venus, Mars and Jupiter, one in March of 7 B.C. the other in September of 7 B.C. which could have been the famed "Star of Bethlehem". John the Baptist, Jesus cousin, was born six months before He was.

The timing of the birth of Jesus was critical, for He began His ministry exactly 430 years from the last prophecy of Malachi, and He entered Jerusalem and was hailed as Messiah exactly 483 years from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity as prophesied by Daniel.

Now, the question arises: should we celebrate Christmas?

This is a choice that you must make. As long as we use the holiday to honor God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, there is nothing conceivably wrong with this, and I believe that such celebration would be acceptable to God.

But seek God's counsel concerning this when making your decision.

And if you choose not to celebrate Christmas because of it's pagan origins, that is also acceptable to the Lord, as He has not commanded that such a holiday be celebrated.

As the apostle Paul says;

ROMANS 14:5-6

5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day [alike]. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth [it] unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard [it]. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

Some may decide to still celebrate Christmas, while others may consider it a stumbling block in their walk with the Lord.

But above all, as Paul says, let each of you be fully persuaded in your own mind in the matter, and be at peace with the Lord concerning your decision.



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