Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A New Look At The Christmas Story

         The story of Christ’s birth is told a thousand times over at this time of year. The story of Mary and Joseph and the Three Wise Men, of the journey to Bethlehem only for there to be no room in the inn, and of the Savior of the world found lying in a manger. We reenact it in our Christmas plays and read the story on Christmas Day, but interwoven in this story are huge prophetic and historical implications. We see a poor virgin from Nazareth becoming betrothed to a lowly carpenter named Joseph. We see Caesar Augustus announcing a decree that requires Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem. But what importance, if any, do all of these facts carry?
           The coming of the Messiah was no small thing in the Jewish world. This was an event greatly hoped for and anticipated. They longed for the day when the Savior would come and free them of their bondage and establish his everlasting Kingdom. The Messianic prophecies were well known by all and included predictions of his lineage, time of birth, events surrounding his birth, as well as many events after his birth.
            The Messiah was prophesied to be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12:3, Gen. 17:19, Num. 24:17). He was to come from the tribe of Judah and would be an heir to the throne of David (Gen. 49:10, Isaiah 9:7). In Matthew 1:1-16, the lineage of Jesus is painstakingly laid out to demonstrate the authenticity of his ancestry. He came from the line of Abraham, who was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah, and King David came from the tribe of Judah. Christ’s lineage is traced all the way down from David to Joseph, the husband of Mary.
             The orchestration of God in the events of history becomes very evident when you consider the next few prophesies.
Christ was predicted to be born of a virgin, which in and of itself is impossible without God’s divine intervention. This was fulfilled in the virgin Mary. The birthplace of the Messiah was known to be Bethlehem because of the prophecy in Micah 5:2. God’s intervention in the history of the world is witnessed when Caesar Augustus decreed a census which required Joseph to return to Bethlehem because he was from the line of David. This fact alone is incredible because it required Mary and Joseph to journey where they would not have normally travelled in order for this prophecy to be fulfilled.    

            As far as events surrounding Christ’s birth, it was prophesied that there would be a slaughter of children in Jeremiah 31:15. This was fulfilled when King Herod “sent forth to put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which had been given by the wise men” (Matt:2:16-18). Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt to avoid the wrath of King Herod. This event only served to fulfill the prophecy that the Messiah would be called out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1).

            Not only does the Bible predict the Messiah’s lineage and the events surrounding his birth, but the prophet Daniel also predicts the time frame in which the Messiah would live, which was fulfilled by Jesus Christ (Daniel 9:25).

            By this point it is evident to see that the Christmas story is not some fable or that Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah was overplayed. His claim to be the Son of God is backed not only by his resurrection from the dead, but also by the myriad of evidences presented by his fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. The virgin birth is the main miracle focused on in the Christmas story, but this birth was surrounded by miracle after miracle of God’s orchestration in history.

            Among the most prominent characters in the Christmas story are the Three Wise Men. The Wise Men said that they followed a star in the east which led them to the Messiah. Many speculations have been made as to what this “star” was. Recent research done by theoretical astrophysicist Grant Matthews backs the theory that it was an alignment of different heavenly bodies. The most likely scenario is the alignment of Jupiter, the moon, and Saturn in the constellation Aries, and the alignment of Venus and Mars in a nearby constellation on April 17, 6 B.C. This event not only has the most supporting evidence, but also holds large prophetic implications.

            The Wise Men were believed to be Zoroastrian astrologers, which, because of the planetary alignment in the constellation Aries, would have caused them to distinguish this as a sign that an influential leader was born. Not only did this predict the birth of a great leader, but it also would have meant that this leader would die at an appointed time, which is very important because of Jesus’ later death on the Cross.

I was curious as to what the actual percentage would be of Jesus fulfilling all of the prophecies about himself that he did. In his book Science Speaks, Peter W. Stoner calculated the percentage of Christ fulfilling all of the prophecies concerning not only his birth, but his entire life. Stoner calculated the number to be: 1 in 1.5 x 10239. Let me put this in perspective, 1 in 1.5 x 106 would be a 1 in 1,500,000 chance. Imagine then, the chance of 1 in 1.5 x 10239. It is an unthinkably small number and an infinitesimally small chance, but Christ fulfilled that chance.  

             The Christmas story is read by families across the globe at this time of year and it is the focus of many sermons that are given during this season, but do we only see this as a story, or do we see it for what it really is: overwhelming evidence of God’s intervention in history and confirmation of Christ’s claims to be the Son of God. Peter W. Stoner says, “Any man who rejects Christ as the Son of God is rejecting a fact proved perhaps more absolutely than any other fact in the world.”As we hear the story of Christ being born in a manger and the journey of the Wise Men, this is no longer a tale, but a faith building testimony to the deity of Christ. As we see the King of kings entering the world as a helpless baby, we see God intervening in the events of history in order to redeem the world to himself.