Good morning! We are here this Christmas morning to worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lord, Jesus. Is today His birthday? I highly doubt it. I'm sure that you are aware that there is much debate in churcheanity over the date of Jesus' birth. So when was Jesus born? I think that if we look closely at the Scriptures, we can get a very good idea as to when He was born. To understand when He was born we first need to understand where He was born. We see from the Scripture that He was born in Bethlehem:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, Matthew 2:1 NASB
Bethlehem comes from two words bayith, meaning: "house"; and lechem, meaning: "bread." Jesus was born in the "house of bread." What do we call a house of bread? A bakery! This is interesting in light of the fact that Jesus said:
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. John 6:35 NASB
The Bread of life was born in a bakery. Jesus, the "Bread of life," offers spiritual food that will completely satisfy our hunger. This may sound a little silly to you, but this is Hebraic, they see things pictorially.
Bethlehem's unique location at the border between the mountains and the wilderness enabled its people to capitalize on the benefits from both environments. This photograph is taken from the top of the Herodion looking east towards the wilderness. It is striking how the farms seen in the foreground end where the wilderness begins. It doesn't rain in the desert. But in Bethlehem, just a mile away, they may get 28 inches a year, and it all comes in about 12 weeks; 6 weeks in the early rains, a little in between, and 6 weeks in the later rains. The fertile mountain valleys and hillsides that received adequate rainfall provided valuable crop land for farmers, while the wilderness nearby provided pastures for the shepherds' flock.
And she gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. Luke 2:7-8 NASB
Notice here that Luke says, the "Shepherds staying out in the fields...."--the Greek word here for "fields" is agrauleo, this is the only time it is used in the New Testament. Fields were small plots of land, and they were right next to the desert. In the desert there are the shepherds--they didn't want shepherds in the fields:
"What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? Luke 15:4 NASB
Notice here that Luke says that the sheep are in "the open pasture"--this word "pasture" is the Greek word eremos. This word is used 49 times in the New Testament and is translated as: "wilderness, desolate, secluded and desert." John 6:31 says, "Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness [eremos]..." So the shepherds keep their sheep in the eremos, not in the agrauleo.
As the harvest of the fields is complete, they pull the grain out of the field, and the shepherds show up. If any of the shepherd's flock steps in the field before the harvest is out, there would be war. The fields were the size of this room, and that is all they had to feed their family. The moment the harvest is gone, the shepherds move in. The sheep then turn the stubble into dirt. So, if the Shepherds were in the fields at the time of Jesus' birth, it had to be after the time of the harvest and before planting. Harvest ends about July 1, spring planting begins the moment the first rains happen, about November 1. So Jesus' birth could not have been between November 1 and July 1, which rules out December 25.
There is another passage in Luke that helps us date the birth of Jesus:
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. Luke 1:5-6 NASB
We know that Zacharias and Elizabeth were the parents of John the Baptist. Johns' father Zacharias was a priest. In the Second Temple period, in Jesus' time, there were 25,000 priests. The Temple itself is not as big as this room. So what they did was to divide the 25,000 priests into 24 groups called brigades. The Mishnah (Oral Torah) states that each division had to serve twice in one year (but not consecutively), with the first division starting on the first week of Nissan. Each division served a one-week period and all priestly divisions had to serve during the three pilgrim Festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. We know from Jewish history that Abijah's brigade serves during the first week of Sivan and then is required to serve the following week for Shavuot. During Shavuot, the priests would draw lots to see who would get the honor of going into the Holy Place to burn incense on the altar. Only once during a priest's lifetime could his lot be drawn for this service. Zechariah's lot was drawn:
according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. Luke 1:9 NASB
Zechariah would enter the Holy Place, offer incense, and then would return back outside to give the blessing over the worshipers. As Zechariah is offering incense, to his surprise, an angel of the Lord appears to him and informs him that his prayers have been answered, and that his wife will have a child. Zechariah doubted the angel's announcement, and he lost the ability to speak:
And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I have been sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. 20 "And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time." Luke 1:19-20 NASB
The worshipers began to wonder what was taking Zechariah so long ,and then he appeared to give the blessing, but realized he could not speak:
And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. Luke 1:21-22 NASB
After Zechariah's service was completed, he returned home; and Elizabeth, his wife, conceived. So it was around the end of May when the angel appeared (Luke 1:11) and told him that his wife Elizabeth was going to have a baby. Then the text says, "After these days his wife Elizabeth became pregnant." Let's assume that she becomes pregnant in the middle of June. Mary becomes pregnant with Jesus when Elizabeth is 6 months along. So the angel would have appeared to Mary in mid December, or early January. So that would mean that Jesus was born in late September, which would have been the time when shepherds were in the fields. This is also the time when the Feast of Tabernacles takes place. Notice what John Eleazar said about Jesus:
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 NASB
The Word became flesh. The Word "became" is the Greek word ginomai, which signifies entrance into a new condition. The Word "dwelt" is the Greek word skenoo, which means: "tent." Why did John use the language of Sukkot to describe the birth of Jesus? I think it is because Jesus was born during the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths.
"Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the LORD. Leviticus 23:34 NASB
If Jesus was born on Tishri 15, then His circumcision would have taken place on the eighth day of Sukkot. The Jews have a tradition associated with the eighth day called "Simchat Torah," and means "Rejoicing in the Torah." Luke 2:21-38 says that on the eighth day they brought the baby Messiah up to the Temple to circumcise Him and to name Him, and when Simeon and Anna saw Israel's Savior, they rejoiced over Him. These two righteous people were rejoicing over the Living Torah of God. Every aspect of Messiah's birth, including the day of His circumcision, is a picture designed to teach us more about Him.
The Feast of Tabernacles is called "the season of our joy." With this in mind, listen to what the angels said:
And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; Luke 2:10 NASB
Here the birth of Christ is announced as a time of "great joy which shall be to all people." So, we can see from this that the terminology the angel used to announce the birth of Jesus was themes and messages associated with the Feast of Sukkot.
There is a Sukkot liturgy recorded in Jewish writings that was written well before Jesus' time that says, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace and goodwill." The Angels said that to the Shepherds:
"Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." Luke 2:14 NASB
Why did the angels say the Sukkot liturgy the night of Jesus' birth? I think it was because He was born on Sukkot.
During the Feast of Sukkot, or Tabernacles, God required that all male Jews come to Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16). For this reason, the city would be overcrowded with people and would explain why Mary and Joseph could not find lodging in and around Jerusalem (Luke 2:7). Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born, is only about two miles from Jerusalem.
Sukkot is the seventh feast on the seventh month, and it was to last for seven days. The number "seven" is the Biblical number of completion. This is the grand finale in God's plan of redemption. What a perfect time for God's Savior to be born.
Sukkot is the most joyful and festive of all Israel's feasts. It is also the most important and prominent feast; mentioned more often in Scripture than any of the other feasts. In the days of the Temple, the Feast of Sukkot was viewed with great awe, for it was during the Feast of Sukkot that Solomon dedicated the newly built Temple to the Lord:
so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God. 2 Chronicles 5:14 NASB
At that ancient observance of Sukkot, the Shekinah glory of the Lord descended from Heaven to light the fire on the altar and filled the Holy of Holies. And I believe that it was on Sukkot that Jesus, the glory of God, came into the world.
During the Festival of Sukkot a choir of Levites sang the Hallel (i.e. the praise-- Psalms 113-118). At the proper time, the congregation waved their palm branches toward the altar and joined in singing:
O LORD, do save, we beseech Thee; O LORD, we beseech Thee, do send prosperity! Psalms 118:25 NASB
At the same time the priests, with palm branches in hand, marched once toward the altar. It was at this very festival that the Salvation of God was born into the world. So, if you put it all together, you see that Jesus could not have been born on December 25.
As long as we are talking about the feasts, let me share one more things with you:
Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace! Celebrate your feasts, O Judah; Pay your vows. For never again will the wicked one pass through you; He is cut off completely. Nahum 1:15 NASB
This is announcing the overthrow of Sennacherib and deliverance of Jerusalem. The "mountains" are those around Jerusalem, on which Sennacherib's host had been encamped, preventing Judah from keeping her "feasts." This is a type of the far more glorious spiritual deliverance of God's people from sin and death. Celebrate your feasts--the feasts contain the Gospel message: Passover--death of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world; Unleavened Bread--the burial of Christ. First Fruits--the resurrection of Jesus; Pentecost--the birth of the Church, the arrival of the New Covenant; Trumpets--the return of Christ, judgment falls on God's enemies; Atonement--sin is put away; Tabernacles--God dwells with His people. Jesus the Lamb of God, who died and rose for His people was born on Tabernacles--God came to bring man back into fellowship with Himself. The whole Christian message is in the feasts! Alright. so what, if any, is the significance of December 25? Some say that the date came from a pagan holiday of Saturnalia. They say this was a Roman observance of the birthday of the "Invincible Sun" on December 25. The celebration consisted of feasts, parades, gift giving, lighted candles, and green trees. So they say that many of our Christmas customs have their origins in Saturnalia. This pagan holiday was Christianized in A.D. 336 by the Emperor Constantine; he declared Christ's birthday an official Roman holiday. Chrysostom, the early church father, rebuked Christians for adopting this pagan holiday, but it stuck. There may be some truth to this.
I think there may be some significance to December 25. Last week I had a paradigm shift. This past Wednesday we watched the movie, "The Star Of Bethlehem" by Frederick A. Larson. Larson states, "With software which incorporates Kepler's equations, we can create a computer model of the universe. In minutes we can produce thousands of the sky maps, which was a great labor before computers. We can animate the universe in real time at any speed we choose, make months pass in moments or wind back the clock. We can view the sky precisely as it moved over Jerusalem 2000 years ago."
Larson writes, "Working from the Biblical account in Matthew, unpacking it verse by verse, we can compile a list of nine qualities which must be present before any celestial phenomena could be considered to be the Biblical Star of Bethlehem. If any qualification is missing, then we will assume we haven't found our Star."
Before we look at what Larson says, let's look at what Matthew says:
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." 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. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:1-11 NASB
Notice verse one. Commenting on this verse, Larson says, "It can't be proven from the text, but it is quite possible that some of the Magi were of Jewish descent, perhaps a Jewish remnant from Daniel's day. This would help explain why a Jewish philosopher, Philo, would admire them, why they were watching the sky for things Jewish, why they wanted to worship a Jewish king, and why they were taken so seriously by Herod and Jewish chief priests. If they were not Jews, then they must have been most impressive magi indeed, as Jews of the time were deeply disdainful of pagans and their beliefs."
Larson says that the star that they saw was the planet Jupiter. In ancient times, planets like Jupiter were considered "wandering stars." Larson says, "A magus watching Jupiter that September saw two objects moving so close that they appeared to touch. This close approach of celestial bodies is sometimes called a 'conjunction.' Our Middle Eastern viewer saw Jupiter coming into a close conjunction with the star, Regulus."
Notice verse 9--the star, "went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was." So this star that they were following stops over Bethlehem. This account is not of the birth of Jesus, this is about two years after His birth.
Larson says, "An astronomer tracking the movement of planets through the star field watches not so much on the scale of minutes, but on the longer scale of days, weeks, and months. On this scale of time, Jupiter did stop. On December 25 of 2 B.C. as it entered retrograde, Jupiter reached full stop in its travel through the fixed stars. Magi viewing from Jerusalem would have seen it stopped in the sky above the little town of Bethlehem." So according to Larson, the astrological charts show that it was December 25 when Jupiter stopped in the sky and when the wise men presented Jesus with their gifts. He also made the comment, "Nobody believes that Jesus was born on December 25."
Well, I'm no astronomer, I don't even play one on TV, but if what Larson is saying is true, this is kind of cool. The wise men show up to Jesus' home on December 25 to worship Him:
After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 NASB
Notice that they come into the "house"--according to Luke, Jesus was not born in a house. This is several years after His birth. The wise men fall to the ground before the child Jesus and worship Him. To me this gives some spiritual meaning to December 25!
But you know it really doesn't matter when Jesus was born or how we celebrate His birth. What matters is that we understand why He was born. The birth of Jesus Christ is a miraculous event of great significance to mankind:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins." 22 Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 23 "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US." Matthew 1:18-23 NASB
This has got to be the greatest miracle, the most fantastic truth recorded in the pages of Scripture, God became a man. The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie, stare, wiggle, and make noises; needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation; God becoming a man.
God the Son has become a man. That is the meaning of the incarnation, but what is its purpose? Why did God become a man? The answer is found in verse 21 of our text:
"And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins." Matthew 1:21 NASB
The Bible says Jesus Christ came into the world to "save His people from their sins." That's the reason for His coming. He came to save His people. Is this restricted to only Israelites? No, but it is restricted to those who have faith in Christ. Speaking of the Abrahamic Covenant, Paul writes:
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ. Galatians 3:16 NASB
Paul is saying that the primary recipients of the Abrahamic Covenant were Abraham and Christ. This, of course, would include all who are in Christ--believers. This promise is not realized in the ethnic Jews, but in Jew and Gentile Christians.
God had given Israel His word, and in that Word He told them what He was going to do in the latter days. The apostles pointed to the Oracles of God to back up what was happening in the Church in Acts 15. The context of this chapter is that the Church at Antioch, which was primarily Gentile, and the Church at Jerusalem, which was Jewish, had come together to debate the Doctrine of Soteriology. The Gentiles were being saved by grace through faith and becoming part of the Church. The Jews weren't crazy about this.
Then James, the half-brother of Jesus, stands up in the council and says:
Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. Acts 15:14 NASB
James then refers to Peter's description of his evangelization of Cornelius and his fellow-Gentiles. Everyone knew about this, and how, through it, God had undoubtedly taken from among the Gentiles "a people for His name."
"And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, Acts 15:15 NASB
What is it that the Prophets agree with? "With this" refers back to what he just said in verse 14--the calling of the Gentiles. Then James quotes from Amos:
'AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, Acts 15:16 NASB
Amos said that the Tabernacle of David would be restored "in order that" the Gentiles may seek after God. To whom was the promise of Amos 9:11 made? "In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David." Amos was writing to Israel, the 10 Northern tribes. And yet James is saying that this prophecy is being fulfilled in the Church. I believe that the Bible teaches the essential continuity of Israel and the Church. The elect of all the ages are seen as one people--true Israel, with one Savior, one destiny.
In the birth of Jesus Christ God invaded human history in the form of a man. This Jesus lived a sinless life and then died a substitutionary death at calvary. On that cross, Jesus took upon Himself our sin and received the judgement of God that we deserved as sinners. Because He was an innocent infinite sufferer, He satisfied fully and completely the righteous demands of a holy God, and God was propitiated. Propitiation is the removal of wrath by the offering of a sacrifice.
The birth of Jesus, the incarnation, God becoming a man, was God's gift of love to us:
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16 NASB
On Christmas and every other day may our response to Jesus be that of worship. He is worthy of our worship and adoration.