The Birth of Jesus Christ

11786041-birth-of-jesus--paint-from-milan-churchLuke 5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’[b] and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”

19 And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. 22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.

23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. 24 Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25 “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

Notes:  John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah was from the priestly division of Abijah. The schedule which governed the order of priestly service in Jerusalem was delineated in the Old Testament. Relevant passages include 1 Chronicles 24; 2 Chronicles 23:8, 1 Chronicles 9:25; Deuteronomy 16:16. From this I may deduce that the division of Abijah would have been working in the temple in Jerusalem in the second week of the month of Sivan of the Jewish lunar calendar. It appears from the text that the conception took place soon after Zechariah’s return home from Jerusalem. So John the Baptist was conceived probably in the middle of the month of Sivan (late May – early June on our calendar).  Notice these two sentences. “When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant.” In truth I don’t know what amount of time passed between “service was completed” and “returned home”. Nor do I know exactly how much time passed between “returned home” and “became pregnant”. It seems like it would have been a matter of days. But it is not precisely stated. Since my further estimations as to the time of the birth of Jesus all rest on the assumption that Elizabeth became pregnant within a few days or weeks after Zechariah completed his time of service, I cannot speak with absolute surety regarding the timing of the birth of Jesus. I can only say what seems to be true, based on what I know from the text.

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”[c]

29 But when she saw him,[d] she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”

38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

 The conception and birth of Jesus was a supernatural event. He was born of a virgin. Maybe your logic and reasoning and knowledge of human behavior are trying to make the Bible leave some doubt about Mary’s virginity. But there is no doubt in the passage. If you believe the first verse in the Bible, (which says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,”) then it’s not hard to believe that the same God can cause conception in a virgin.

The faith of Mary is shocking. When she heard what the angel said, certainly she instantly knew the ridicule she would receive. And she must have thought that Joseph would dump her. But there is no sign of hesitation, fear, or doubt on her part. It affects me like “a slap in the face!” when she just instantly responds, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Her faith definitely shames me. If I had been in her shoes, I probably would have been asking doubting questions of the angel. Concerning the time of year when this conception took place, the “sixth month” is probably not the sixth month of the calendar that was in use by the Jews then. Instead it was the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. This can be understood by looking at the phrase “she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.” And also by Luke 1:24 which says, “After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.” Then two verses later it says “in the six month…” So, it seems that Jesus was conceived in the month of Kislev (November-December). From that we can add 40 weeks to approximate the time of year of the birth of Jesus Christ.

39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

The Song of Mary

46 And Mary said:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. 49 For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. 50 And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. 54 He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.

This passage is often notincluded in the story of the birth of Jesus. If I want to stay in chronological order, then I need to include it.The text says that Mary hurried to go to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. So she left almost immediately. This trip was not about hiding from shame. Her pregnant state would not have been visible yet. No, this was a spiritual journey. These were two really spiritual women. As soon as Mary got near Elizabeth, John jumped in Elizabeth’s womb, and Elizabeth received a special revelation from the Holy Spirit, telling her that Mary was carrying the Savior. Wow! It appears that Mary stayed until John the Baptist was born. She wanted to witness with her own eyes the one who would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” John the Baptist would be the one who would prepare the hearts of the people for the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Everything was falling into place for the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Matthew 18After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.

19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.

 Okay, now Joseph is going to put us to shame also, with what a exemplary person he is. Most men would have told everybody what a low-life Mary was for getting pregnant while she was off at Elizabeth’s. But Joseph had made up his mind to do everything he could not to disgrace her.But then he gets the shocking news like Mary did. “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Whoa, he’s just been told that his wife-to-be is carrying God’s child! And what does he do? When he woke up he simply did what the angel told him that God said he should do. Unquestioning obedience in the face of the impossible. And we’ll continue to see this as a habit from this guy. When God tells Joseph something, Joseph does not doubt, hesitate or waver, he just immediately obeys – no questions asked. It’s no wonder that Joseph was chosen to be the guardian and helper during the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

If he was conceived in the month of Kislev as discussed above, that puts the birth of Jesus Christ in the month of Tishri (September-October). In the month of Tishri was the Feast of Tabernacles. It lasted for 8 days. (Lev 23:33-36) And every male from all over Israel was supposed to come to Jerusalem for it.

(Deut 16:16) Bethlehem was like a suburb of Jerusalem, only a few miles away. So it would have been packed with people staying there. Add that amount to the displaced people from the census and it’s no wonder that the place was packed with people. As a side note about the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, there is no mention of a donkey used in the trip.

That’s the first of many ways we’re going to make you wonder how a certain version of the birth of Jesus got so cemented in your mind. So, no donkey for Mary to ride. Maybe there was one. Maybe there wasn’t.

The Greek word (kataluma) that is usually translated as “inn” in English is probably not properly translated. The only other situation that it is used is in the New Testament it was translated “guest room” or “upper room” in describing the place where the Last Supper took place. So it seems like all of the Christmas plays with grumpy innkeepers saying “No room” may have misinformed us. Notice that there is no mention of an innkeeper in the Bible. Joseph’s extended family was right there in Bethlehem as we were plainly told. And family bonds were very important in that society.

So it is probable that Joseph and Mary would stay in the guest room of a relative of Joseph. Also, notice that there is no mention of a stable. What!? No stable!? Right. No stable is mentioned. And no animals are mentioned either. And no hay. A manger is mentioned. A manger is an animal’s feeding trough. So that might lead one to assume it was in a stable, and that animals were present. Well, whatever shelter they stayed in probably was something that could be used like a stable, but was not one of the free-standing stables devoted to taking care of several animals like our barns would be or the stables on old Western movies where people kept their horses while traveling. What has been found archaelogically in that area of the world is stone mangers in the lower floors of homes. Apparently they would sometimes keep animals in a lower room where there was a manger made out of stone. These rooms were often almost like caves instead of what we would think of as a room. (In today’s terms think of a basement/garage combo that some people have in their homes. It’s not exactly inside and not exactly outside. You might bring a pet or an injured or pregnant animal in there to be warm.)

Sometimes the manger was free-standing and sometimes built into a wall. Then they could also use that room as a guest-room for people to sleep when necessary. However, it is possible that if the family that they were staying with was rich (unlikely), then there could have been a free-standing building for their animals. Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible translates Luke 2:7 as “she brought forth her son — the first-born, and wrapped him up, and laid him down in the manger, because there was not for them a place in the guest-chamber”. What we have is Jesus being born in a house that was apparently packed with people. Maybe there was a guest room upstairs that was so full that they ended up down below where the animals were.  Remember, it says there was “no room.” But it seems unlikely that a woman in labor would be treated like that. It seems more likely that they and several others were jammed into the only thing like a guest room that these people had. So there was no bed for Jesus. The manger was a good place to put him so he would be up off the floor, and couldn’t roll and fall out. It was a pretty good baby crib really.

They gathered up some cloths and swaddled him with them. Babies loved to be swaddled. It keeps them warm and calm. The climate in the area of Jerusalem and Bethlehem is fairly warm anyway. Swaddling was and is the normal thing to do with babies in many parts of the world even today. Many others have written on the question of what year the birth of Jesus took place.

The question is too big to be addressed on this page. Ernest L. Martin in The Star That Astonished the World (Second Edition; Portland, Oregon: ASK Publications, 1996) ISBN 0-94-5657-87-0 does a good job of showing that Herod the Great died around 1 B.C. which would put the birth of Jesus in maybe 2 or 3 B.C. However, there is much dispute about this, especially when combined with the phrase “This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria”. Hundreds of people have studied this in-depth and it still continues to be argued. Sorry, I just can’t take on this question here. But I should be on really solid ground by assuming that the birth of Jesus occurred somewhere between 10 B.C. and 10 A.D

 

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