POST ADVENT Story Revealed part 16

“A Star, A Star… Shining in the Sky”

The Bethlehem Star is represented in practically every Christmas decoration through out the world. Just look at most Christmas trees and you’ll find at its crown a sparkling star. In nativities, you’ll find a star above. In the Philippines, the ornamental lantern parol which can be found outside every building and house represent the star of Bethlehem.

Some say that the Bethlehem Star was a comet or a distant supernova. There are many theories. But what does the Bible say?

Matthew 2:2-10
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’”
Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.
And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.”
After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

Let us talk about the star. Now, I will not focus on exactly what the magi saw in great detail. At the end of this article is a link to a Youtube video which I found intriguing and uplifting. I hope you would watch it after.

For this article, we will focus on the biblical aspects.

vs2 – …we saw His star in the east…

In our last post, we identified the magi as being astrologers/astronomers. When they said they saw his star in the east it is a funny statement because all stars rise on the east because of the earth’s clockwise rotation. So, what did they really see to cause them to travel to a distant foreign country?

As astronomers they would have developed a discipline of observing and plotting the stars’ relative positions. Keep in mind that the magi plotted what visible to the naked eye (because telescopes were not yet invented) and utilizing primitive tools.

The majority of the night sky were stars that were relatively stationary. Among those stationary twinkling lights are grouping of stars that form recognizable patterns. They are called constellations. Each constellation were assigned a name based on its apparent form. For example, a group of stars in the shape that looks like the head and horns of a bull with an angry red eye is the constellation Taurus.

Not all stars were stationary. The night sky also had objects that move, though at most times these objects were hardly noticeable to the common eye except for the magi and their like. I’m not talking about the moon or shooting stars. I’m talking about planets. One particular planet interested the magi at the time of Jesus’ birth. It was the planet Jupiter – the king planet.

I wish I can spend the time to tell all about what they may have observed about Jupiter and it’s movement. (Watch the video below.) What I will say is that at the time of Jesus’ birth, Jupiter rose in the east appearing at the extended paw of the great constellation Leo, the lion, which was also another symbol of king. As many nights past, the magi plotted the movements of Jupiter as it traversed up and down on Leo’s paw like it was holding something significant. To the magi, it was enough for them to scour through Scripture (I believe). And I think they would have found, at least, this biblical reference.

Genesis 49:9-10
Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

How does this connect? If you draw a line following the plotting of Jupiter’s movements that went up and down on Leo’s paw. It would look like Leo or the Lion of Judah receiving the royal scepter. By the way, by biblical reference, Jesus, the Son of God, is ultimately the Lion of Judah.

Some may argue that the star they followed could have been a comet or something visibly spectacular. All I can say is that the Bible says otherwise.

Look at the reaction of Herod in Matthew 2:3 when the magi asked “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (vs2).

vs3 – When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

If there was a comet or any cosmic spectacle in the night sky, Herod and his own wise men of Jerusalem would have taken heed. But instead he was quite surprised and troubled mainly more because they inquired about another King of the Jews.

What about the star that led them to Bethlehem? Did it really stop over where the child was according to verse 9? For myself, I have no problem of believing that the movement of Jupiter led them directly to the house that Jesus was in. If you watch the video below, you’ll get to watch exactly what Jupiter did to fulfill this. It is quite spectacular.

I want to pause this blog for us to take note on the rightful reaction of the magi when they saw the star.

Matthew 2:10
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

I think when we gaze into the night sky, we should consider the psalm and rejoice.

Psalm 19:1-2
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

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POST ADVENT Story Revealed part 15

Magi from the East

Again… in every Nativity movie and Christmas Pageant I have seen, the Three Kings or Wise men from the East would arrive in their lumbering camels just right after Jesus’ birth in the stable. On the golden screens, they followed a visible and very bright star on the night sky. That same star would also send down a single ray of golden sparkling light to pin point the spot of where the babe was born. The movies always made it look so magical. That’s Hollywood for you. But what does the Bible really say?

Matthew 2:1-2
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Of course, the obvious question should start with… Who were the magi?

In a nutshell, they were the astrologers of the time. They intensely studied the movements and relative positions of celestial objects to gain divine information which they apply into human affairs. This is clearly supported in verse 2. That is, they interpreted something in the appearance of a star or stars which compelled them to travel from a distant land in the east to Jerusalem. What compelled them? They were inspired that God himself will be there. Their impulse was to worship.

Why were they called kings?

Tradition had labeled them kings based on these passages in the book of the Prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah 60:1,3,6
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. They will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news of the praises of the LORD.”

How did the Magi know that the babe was to be King of the Jews?

Some have suggested that the Prophet Daniel may be behind this. You may remember him as the one being cast into the lions’ den and God protected him (Daniel 6). During the time when Judea fell to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, Israel were exiled to the east. That was about 500 years or so before the birth of Christ. Among the exiles were youths from among the royal family and of the nobles of Israel.

Daniel 1:3-4
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans.

Among those youths was Daniel. To make a long story short, God had made Daniel very special in the king’s eyes. Because of a mysterious dream that God placed in the mighty king’s mind and Daniel was only one who could interpreted it, King Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon (Daniel 2:48). (You can read the entire story in Daniel 2.)

The descendants of these wise men, the magi, had protected copies of Daniels written prophesies. It is suggested that when they saw certain signs in the stars that they scoured through his writings and by some divine inspiration they came upon the prophecies of the coming Messiah.

In the next post, we will look at the star that the magi followed.

ADVENT Story Revealed part 13

The Call of the Shepherd

Luke 2:8-9
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…

It is the day after Christmas and my thoughts lingered on the shepherds who were priviliged to be visited by an angel and instructed to seek the babe who would be the Savior of the world. I can imagine them coming together on the hillsides after watching a cascade of fiery angels lighting up the night sky and filling them with awe. I can just see them all wanting to head into the sleepy town of Bethlehem, but then some of the older shepherds hesitated to leave their flocks alone. So, some relunctantly stayed with the promise that they will be later relieved to seek out the Christ child also. Most eagerly rushed down the darkened hillside. They split up to scoure the overcrowded town, waking up the households with new born babes. There were probably a number of irated parents that night. For the shepherds woke them up and insisted to see their new born but quickly left because they have yet to find the new born in swaddling clothes laid in a manger. Of course, they found the house where Mary gave birth inside the empty animal pens. One of them blew a ram’s horn to signal the other searchers that the right babe was found. When asked of why this large group of shepherds came asking about Mary’s new born, they made known to them the statement which had been told them about this Child. When they eventually left…

Luke 2:20
The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

You know, shepherds were not highly thought of by the big wigs of that time. But God loves them. In the Old Testament, God favored them. Look up the stories of Abel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who were all shepherds. One shepherd in particular was so favored by God that he became Israel’s greatest king. He contributed a fair number of songs (psalms) in the Bible one of which was about ‘The Shepherd’ of them all.

Psalm 23:1-6 (A Psalm of David)
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

I know why God sent the angel to appear to the sheherds first. You see, He desires us to be shepherds just like them. I don’t mean literal shepherds but spiritual ones.

Like Jesus…

John 10:14-15
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Then we should…

Acts 20:28
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

And…

1 Peter 5:1-4
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

As to The Shepherd who look over us…

Psalm 79:13
But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.

ADVENT Story Revealed part 11

Tradition or What the Bible Really Say

As far as I can remember, in every traditional Christmas story heard, read and viewed, I always found Joseph and a very pregnant Mary traveling to Bethlehem on a skinny donkey. When they arrive, they find no public inn available because of over-crowding except for a space in a stable already inhabited by a cow, a donkey and some sheep. Just as Mary was about to give birth, the Bethlehem Star would burst through a hole in the roof to shine upon the newly born baby Jesus. Then shepherds would come first then the three wise men.

This version of the Christmas Nativity story, according to tradition, was first illustrated like this during the Dark Ages by the legendary, Francis of Assisi.

I must admit that I had always found this version quite magical but was it biblical? I mean, was it presented the way the Lord God intended? Let us see…

Luke 2:4-5
Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

The verses above only narrated the journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem with no other clear description on what was their mode of transportation or the conditions of the journey.

It may be that they did travel by donkey as tradition suggests. However, there are other considerations found in Scripture that may add to their journey story.

Nazareth is found in the region of Galilee which is about 80 miles as the crows flies to Bethlehem. At most traveling there by donkey using the established roads would take about 3 days trip. But Joseph and Mary being Jews were faced with a more arduous journey. Why? Let’s look at this map of Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth.

Joseph and Mary could not take the shorter and more direct route because to do so, they would have to travel through the region of Samaria. Jews avoid travelling through Samaritan territory. Why? The people of Samaria were hated by the Jews. [To fully understand the enmity between these two people, you can open your Bible in several books of the Old Testament.]

So, what would be their route? Let’s look at the map again.

As Jews, they would have skirted the Samaritan territory by taking the much more longer and risky route. This would mean at least a week’s journey time through hazardous country. Considering this added information, I really doubted that Mary could have ridden on the bony back of an ass 20 miles a day for a week or so. More than likely, she rode on a cart accompanied with other folks making the same trek to Judea.

So, they reached Bethlehem…

Luke 2:6-7
While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In the stories told and the movies I watched, Mary and Joseph always arrived in despiration to find lodgings because of extreme labor pains. But if you consider closely the words of Luke 2:6, ‘While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.’ I believe that what was implied was that they were already in Bethlehem for at least a day or so.

How about Jesus being born in a stable because there was no more room in the inn?

People got the idea of the stable mainly because the baby was laid in a manger. Understandable but in truth, not exactly accurate. Where the Bible only offered conjecture, archaeology may shed some light.

Based on archaeological digs in Bethlehem, the average houses looked almost like the image below.

What they unearth was that inside the house was an area for living, eating and sleeping. This living area part was on a large raised platform. The sunken area was reserved mostly for the household’s livestock which were usually kept indoors during the winter time.

Mary (in all probability) gave birth in the sunken area of a first century Bethleheman house which probably belonged to the kin of Joseph who readily took them in. By the way, the ‘inn’, in actuality, is usually the upper room or guest room built on the roof which was already occupied by another kin folk of Joseph who arrived there first. Hence the reason ‘there was no room for them in the inn’ (vs7). Fortunately for Joseph, there were enough female kin to help with the birth.

Praise the Lord God who always provide.

In my next post, we’ll talk about the part played by the shepherd and exactly who it is who was born in such humbling conditions.

ADVENT Story Revealed part 10

God’s Will Be Done [continued]

Imagine, if you will, God going over His checklist of things that are done and things yet to be done.

  • Sent angel to Zecharias.
  • Blessed a barren woman named Elizabeth to become pregnant in her old age.
  • Indwelled the child of Zecharias & Elizabeth with His Holy Spirit while still in the womb.
  • Sent angel to Mary.
  • Conception in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit.
  • Sent a dream to Joseph to protect Mary and unborn child.

Then God looks at the next item to be checked, but then He pauses for the next item was suppose to be…

  • Jesus born in Bethlehem

But there is a problem! Mary and Joseph are still in the northern village of Nazareth. Bethlehem, on the other hand, is located far to the south; about 3 days of arduous traveling time. Not too safe for a nine months pregnant woman who is quite ready to deliver.

So, Jesus is born in Nazareth, what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that the Lord God declared that he is to be born in Bethlehem. It’s written in Scripture… So, His will must get done

Micah 5:2
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”

In truth, God saw all this before it ever happened. His solution was to use a most unlikely of person, the emperor of Rome.

Luke 2:1-3
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.

This should be a reminder to us on how great our God is. For…

Psalm 22:28
For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations.

So, meanwhile…

Luke 2:4-5
Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

In tomorrow’s post, we will compare the traditional way of the Christmas story to what the Bible actually say.

THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch5 – part 4

A MOTHER’S TALE – Nazareth, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius and Jacob looked at each other but no words were exchanged. Mariam then told them that her husband to be, Joseph, wanted to divorce her quietly but the same angel spoke to him in a dream and they got married. They thought the baby was to be born at Nazareth but then came the Emperor’s edict for the heads of family to return to where they were born. So, we left for Bethlehem where I gave birth.”

“We know of the coming of the magi from the East and the dreadful event after. Was there there anything unusual that happened on the day you gave birth?” asked Jacob.

“When we arrived in Bethlehem, the village was crowded with people because of the census. We stayed with the family of Joseph but the inn, that is, the upper room for guests was already occupied by other relatives; one of whom was also ready to give birth. The midwives were already up there. At that time, I thought I still had about a week to go, so Joseph and I were quite content to sleep on the ground with other family members. We settled ourselves on the ground where the animals were usually kept during the winter months. That night, I went into labor. All the men were ushered out of the house while the women of the household helped me.

“When my son was born, Joseph wrapped him in swaddling cloth and then he laid him in a stone manger filled with a bed of fresh hay while I rested. I still recall how magical it was when Joseph let open the large wooden doors to let the cool air in. A ray of light from the moon seem to fall upon my baby’s face. But that is not the only special event that happened that night. Something else happened in the nearby hills. For this part of the story, I bring you an eyewitness.”

She nodded to one of her daughters. She went out the door leading an old man leaning on a hooked staff. Miriam gestured to him and said, “This is Eloa. He was there when I gave birth. At that time, he was a shepherd who was out on the hillsides of Bethlehem watching over a flock of sheep. I will let him tell you himself.”

“Gre… gre… greetings, your honors,” Eloa said nervously. “I is a simple shepherd. I not talk to others too good, but this story I like to tell very very well.

“I remember… I always remember that night like it yesterday. Me, my father and ten others… we sitting around fire. Night very dark, when suddenly on hill above us, man appear like very bright sun. We all knew man was no man but messenger of the wind… sent by Yahweh. He spoke to us in very clear words.”

Cornelius then heard him suddenly speak with clear diction and it seemed Eloa’s voice was not his own.

“Fear not… for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

“Then night sky burst bright with more light and there was many holy messengers flying by singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ [Luke 2:10-14 NASB]

“Then… no light… no singing… all quiet. Even sheep quiet… no run away. We shepherds laugh and cry because we so happy. We left sheep… not worry about them… they safe we know somehow. We met other shepherds going to Bethlehem. They saw too. More and more joined us. When enter Bethlehem, we asked where babies born this night. We search and search… found five but not right one. Finally, we came to house where baby born in upstair room but baby was girl. Then walked around house and big doors open and single light from lamp over manger. When we saw baby in manger, we knew sign. First, we quiet… then laughed out loud. Soon dancing and singing psalms. When villagers came… asked why… we told them all.”

Mariam smiled and nodded. Eloa bowed and then quietly left. “Eloa stayed with us ever since. The village did celebrate that night. Joseph and his family were concerned but as is the nature of people, they easily forget.

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The story continues on in my next post a week from now.

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Johann Q