Monday, December 19, 2011

The History of the Nativity – Part 3

Luke 2

21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

[After 8 days Jesus was circumcised according to the Law and named according to the revelation of the angel. Now we know Mary and Joseph will need to be back in Jerusalem 40 days after the birth of Jesus to offer the sacrifice of her purification, but we don't know if they went back to Nazareth, or stayed in Bethlehem for the 40 days. Given that Bethlehem is only 6 miles away and Nazareth is 90 miles, I suspect they might have stayed around Bethlehem to avoid they extra travel, but it's hard to know for sure.]

22 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD"), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

[You can see from the instructions in Leviticus 12 that Mary and Joseph were still poor, when they offered the provisional sacrifice of those who could not afford a lamb. ]

Leviticus 12

6 'When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 7 Then he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female.
8 'And if she is not able to bring a lamb, then she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons—one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.'"

[This is the first piece of evidence that the Wise men arrived at least 40 days after Jesus was born. So if you have a Nativity Scene at home with the wise men looking down on the manger, take them out, put them off to the side, they'll catch up later.]

Matthew 2

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."

[Two great questions arise from this passage. How were the wise man, and why would they think a new star, plant or whatever shining in the night sky would mean a new king of the Jews had been born?

Well the Wise men or magi as some translations use will be astrologers, fortune tellers, and interpreters of dreams. Well have well-known examples of this from the stories of Daniel and the Babylonian captivity, where he was trained in the ways of the Chaldeans, to understand omens and signs, but Daniel was different from all the others because he would only seek the Lord for answers.

But as to the star, the answer comes from another Old Testament wise man by the name of Balaam. Balaam was gentile fortune teller and seer, of some reputation among the gentile kings, who had come to fear the God of Israel based on the things he had learned of God protecting Israel during their 40 years in the wilderness.

Near the end of Moses' life, Israel was camped beside the river Jordon before they had crossed into Canaan. Balak king of Moab was in a panic because Israel had already defeated two other local armies and Balak fears for his own kingdom, so he seeks out Balaam to curse Israel. Now Balaam is a prophet-for-hire but he fears Israel so he has this whole back and forth of wanting to take the job, but God warned him not to do it. But Balak keeps upping the price and Balaam decides to listen and hope that maybe God would relent and let him curse Israel so he could take Balak's money. Well after the whole episode with an angel and a talking donkey, Balaam ends up blessing Israel 3 times. But the 3rd time the Holy Spirit comes upon Balaam this gentile fortune teller and he gives this multi-part blessing which includes some prophecy.

Numbers 24:17 "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, 
      And batter the brow of Moab, 
      And destroy all the sons of tumult.
(or sons of Seth)

[So since the time of Balaam the gentile magi have known of this prophecy. From Jordon, to Babylon to Persia any of these wise men watching the western horizon would see a new appearance in the sky over Israel and know something was up. Consulting the ancient writings they would find this passage and associate the new star with a conquering king.]

Matthew 2

3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

5 So they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

6 ' But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;

For out of you shall come a Ruler

Who will shepherd My people Israel.'"(Micah 5:2)

7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also."

9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.

[So the wise men get the Bethlehem clue, but they don't it need because when they leave Herod, the star reappears and leads them to the Christ child. They don't necessarily even go to Bethlehem because they are just following the star. But remember verse 7 because it shows Herod was already plotting what he would do to protect his kingdom from this new king.

So what is the Christmas star? The short answer is, I don't know. People have done whole books and DVD's on the subject saying they know for sure what the wise men saw in the sky; but all of these explanations have way too much speculation for my comfort. My guess is there could be two or three different things in play. Chinese astronomers recorded a nova in the constellation Capricorn in March-April of 5 BC. A nova has the behavior of appearing suddenly and burning brightly (sometimes flickering on and off) for one or two years, before vanishing. But it would be hard for a nova to move in such a way that it could lead you from Jerusalem to either Bethlehem or Nazareth. It could also be that an angel gave the luminous glow that appeared as a star in the distance, and the angel could also move as needed. Others say it is the Shekinah glory of God, like shepherds saw with the angels outside of Bethlehem. My best guess is they first saw the nova mentioned before, but when the left Herod they were guided by the glory of God, much like God used to guide Israel to the promised land; but no one can say for sure.]

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

[So where did we get the idea that the wise men were 3 kings, and what about those gifts? Well if you remember Daniel, a wise man was always acting in the authority and in the interest of the king they served. So the gifts were not likely to be the personal wealth owned by the wise men, but the tribute of eastern kings delivered by the magi; and of course people assumed 3 kings because of the 3 different gifts.]

Isaiah 60

3 The Gentiles shall come to your light,

And kings to the brightness of your rising.

4 " Lift up your eyes all around, and see:

They all gather together, they come to you;

Your sons shall come from afar,

And your daughters shall be nursed at your side.

5 Then you shall see and become radiant,

And your heart shall swell with joy;

Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,

The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you.

6 The multitude of camels shall cover your land,

The dromedaries of Midian and Ephah;

All those from Sheba shall come;

They shall bring gold and incense,

And they shall proclaim the praises of the LORD.

[Just as the prophecy says, the gentiles came to the light, and brought the wealth of kings as gifts of gold and incense. But as they fulfilled prophecy in the first two gifts, they made another prediction in the 3rd. When Jesus was crucified and Joseph took his body, Nicodemus brought 100 pounds of myrrh mixed with aloes and bound his body in strips of cloth (like the swaddling clothes of his nativity) anointed him with this balm of myrrh. Our Redeemer was literally born to die, to fulfill the law and make a permanent atonement for the sins of man.]

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