Lesson 49 - Christmas Lesson for December 26, 2010

Lesson 49 - Christmas Lesson for December 26, 2010

The Story of the Birth of Christ

Two of the four Gospels give us an account of the birth of Christ, Matthew and Luke.  They tell the story from their own perspectives without contradiction.  By the examination of each account we have a more complete story of Christ’s birth. 

Matthew was Jewish and tells his story from the Jewish point of view.  For example, Matthew traces the lineage of Jesus back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish race.  Luke, on the other hand, traces the lineage of Jesus back to Adam, the father of the human race.  Matthew breaks the lineage down into periods of fourteen hundred years citing significant events in Jewish history, which would be of importance to the Jewish mind.  Luke, a Gentile, makes no mention of these time periods, as they would have been of no significance to the Gentile mind.  Matthew traces the legal line of Jesus from Joseph and Luke traces the birth line of Jesus from Mary.  Both lines give Jesus the legal right and the birthright to the throne of David, which Christ will assume during His millennial reign.

By examining the two accounts we can get the chronology of the birth of Christ.  In Luke we are given the story of the announcement of the coming birth and the instructions from the angel Gabriel.  Mary was amazed by what Gabriel told her, but as a faithful servant of God, she obeyed. (Luke 1:26-35)  Matthew does not record this information, but begins with the conception.  Luke 2:1-7 gives us the reason that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem.  The reason was the census and determination of taxes to be paid to Rome.  Roman law required everyone to return to the place of their birth for this census.  Because of the great influx of people into Bethlehem, there were no rooms left in the inns.  Thus Jesus was born in the humble surroundings of a stable and placed in a feeding trough (manger).  The clothes that He was wrapped in were the same type as people were wrapped in after death (swaddling clothes).  In the Middle East, people traveling long distances were often met with many hardships and trials on their journeys. In the event of a death in travel, the body could not continue to be transported for many days. For that reason, travelers wrapped a thin, gauzelike cloth many times around their waist. If someone died on the journey, the others would use this cloth, referred to as "swaddling clothes" to wrap the corpse in before burying them.

When Jesus was born, there was no room in the Inn, so Mary and Joseph used a nearby stable for Jesus' birth. With no other cloth to use, Jesus was wrapped in the cloth normally reserved for a person's death.  All this was done in fulfillment of prophecies and a foreshadowing of events to come.

There were shepherds at the manger (Luke 2:8-10), but not magi (wise men.)  The Magi (wise men) first saw the star at the time of Christ’s Birth then continued to see the star long after Jesus was born until they arrived at the house of Jesus, when Jesus was less than two years old.  There is no evidence that the Magi were led to Jesus by a bright low hovering star.  Such a star would have been quite noticeable by many people.  The fact that Herod had to ask the Magi when the star first appeared proves that the star was out of the ordinary to the untrained eye.  Only the Magi, who studied the stars, would have noticed it.  Therefore, the idea of a very bright low hovering star shining over the stable where Jesus was born is wrong.  On the other hand, the star the Magi were attracted by has no acceptable natural celestial explanation and it was clearly a special miracle to attract the Magi.

The Bible says that the wise men came to Jesus' house, not the manger.  It is clear that the wise men came just prior to the time Herod issued his decree to kill all the children under two years of age.  The star first appeared to the wise men when Jesus was born, but it led the wise men to Jesus' house. (Matthew 2:11)

The wise men started their journey when the star first appeared (at Christ’s birth).  Being from the east, most likely Persia or Mesopotamia (Modern Iraq), they completed a journey of at least 500 miles.  They first arrived in Jerusalem to meet with Herod and it was Herod that sent them to Bethlehem to find Jesus.  When they finally arrived they found Jesus in a home and Matthew calls Jesus “the young child,” not baby.  Matthew 2:16 confirms that Jesus was not yet two and that He was no longer a baby in a manger.

In Luke 2:21 and following we have the account of Joseph and Mary presenting the infant to God as prescribed in the Mosaic Law.  Jesus was circumcised when He was eight days old (Luke 2:21).  Jesus was then presented in the temple 33 days later having completed the required “days of purification,” which is the 40th day after Jesus was born. (Leviticus 12:2-6 & Luke 2:22-38)   A man named Simeon who was looking for “the consolation of Israel" saw Jesus and recognized Him as the Christ.  He held the baby in his arms and praised God for keeping His promise to send a deliverer.  He then foretold that Jesus would cause the "rise and fall of many in Israel."  Similarly, in the same chapter, a very old prophetess named Anna also recognized Jesus as the "redemption of Jerusalem." 

Matthew gives us the account of Joseph, Mary and Jesus being told to flee to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod.  When they were told that it was safe to return (because Herod had died), they were sent back to Nazareth, not Bethlehem.  It was in Nazareth that Jesus grew into manhood and worked as a carpenter with Joseph.

The exact date of Jesus' birth is a mystery.  About the best we can do is to narrow it down to seasons.  The Bible does give us one clue.  The shepherds were in the fields with their flocks at night when Jesus was born.  This indicates that Jesus was most likely born during the warmer seasons.  During the coldest months like December or January, the shepherds didn't sleep in the fields but would bring their flocks into corrals.

Jewish tradition may prove helpful.  That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem was a settled belief, even among religious non-believers.  Equally so, was the belief that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder (the watchtower of the flock).  This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks, which pastured on the barren ground beyond Bethlehem.  This tower was close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem.  A passage in the Mishnah (Jewish writings) leads to the conclusion that the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for temple sacrifices.  The deep symbolic significance of such a “coincidence” is obvious.  However, some suggest that the whole idea that the flocks were brought into corrals during the coldest months, implying the shepherds were not out in the fields, is rejected by some who say the flocks stayed in the fields year round.

The "lambing season" for sheep is in February in Palestine.  It is an interesting suggestion that Jesus, being the "lamb of the world," was born at exactly the same time the lambs were born.  If so, then Jesus was born when the lambs were born, and he died when the Passover lamb was sacrificed (Nissan or April 14th).  Of course, this is purely speculative.  Another speculative argument is that the census that Caesar Augustus took in Luke 2:1 would not have been done during the coldest, harshest season. Such a census would require mass migration of large numbers of the population. Unless Augustus deliberately wanted to make life difficult, he would take such a census during the warmer months and certainly not in December.

The Bible is absolutely silent about the celebration of Christ's birthday.   The Scriptures do not tell us to celebrate the birth of Christ, but to celebrate His death.   Any encyclopedia will give you the basic details of where and how the celebration of Christmas developed. What is important is that Christ’s birth did fulfill many important prophecies.  The event brought about great joy to many when Jesus, "God with us,” was born into the world.

After the birth of Christ, we have only one appearance of Jesus before He begins His earthly ministry, which is recorded by Luke 2:41-52.  This appearance was at the age of twelve when the family traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  Traveling in large groups (family and friends) or caravans was common practice in Biblical times and we see the family of Jesus traveling in such a way.  For this reason, Jesus was left behind as his parents thought he was with relatives in the caravan.

After Joseph and Mary realized that Jesus was not in the group, they returned to find Jesus in the temple conferring with Jewish religious leaders, who were astonished at His knowledge of the Scriptures.  Jesus, being a human being and having restricted His deity, had to learn God’s Word in the same way that you and I do.  It is obvious from this passage that Jesus was a brilliant student of the Word and, being filled with the Spirit, He was able to astonish even the wisest.

In Luke 2:40 we read, "The child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him." Jesus was born so that He could fulfill the Father’s plan.  The great accomplishment in His birth was that a baby was born of a virgin, without a sin nature.  It is also important to note Who the baby was, and what He would grow up to do for mankind.  Jesus is the "Word" that "became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14) Isaiah the prophet wrote, "For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." (Isaiah 53:2-3)  Paul writes, "Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:8)

The baby grew up.  He grew into a man to fulfill the plan for our salvation.  He grew up to be the Advocate, the Intercessor, the "One mediator between man and God, the man Christ Jesus." (1 John 2:1, Hebrews 7:25, 1 Timothy 2:5) He grew up so that He could die, thereby offering a perfect, sinless life in sacrifice for our sins.  He grew up so that He might become the Savior of the World.