Saturday, 26 December 2015

Saturday, 12 December 2015

John C. Fenn


Weekly Thoughts
12/12/2015

When was Jesus Born?

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Hi all,
File this under fun and helpful rather than deep and heavy, and I hope you find it interesting. You have no doubt heard that Jesus wasn't really born on December 25, which is when most western Christians celebrate His birth (January 6 or 7 for Eastern Orthodox/Julian calendar).
 
Of course there is no record of first century believers celebrating His birth nor is it in the letters of the NT, so it is our choice and not something worth arguing about. There are many opinions, this is mine.
 
I'll list the order of events according to Matthew 1 & 2 and Luke 1 & 2, and then pin down when Jesus may have been born. I'll provide chapter and verse and historical and cultural information as we go.
 
Order of events:
1) Gabriel appears to Zacharias, John the Baptist's dad, to tell him he will have a son and to name him John.
2) In his wife's (Elizabeth) 6th month of pregnancy Gabriel visits Mary, she conceives Jesus shortly after.
3) Family travels to Bethlehem, housed in a stable, Jesus is born there.
4) Shepherds come to stable to worship Jesus.
5) Mary and Joseph move to a house in town.
6) They present 40 day old Jesus in the temple, the time of Mary's purification; return home to Bethlehem.
7) Wise men come to Herod to ask about new King and are told to find Him and return to Herod with news.
8) Wise men see star over Bethlehem and find the family living in a house.
9) Wise men warned by God not to tell Herod they found the King, they go home another way.
10) Joseph is warned to go to Egypt because Herod will try to kill Jesus.
11) Herod upon not hearing from wise men, kills all similar aged children in Bethlehem.
12) Herod dies in September, 4 BC
13) Family returns after Herod's death and settles in Nazareth
 
1) Start point - John the Baptist's dad
Fortunately for us, Luke gives us a starting point though it is often overlooked. Luke 1:5 tells us John the Baptist's father was a priest in the group of Abijah, and it was while serving as a priest that Gabriel* appeared to him and told him he was going to have a son, and to name him John. *Luke 1:8-23
 
In I Chronicles 24:1-19 we have the listing of the order of service for priests, and the order of Abijah is the 8th grouping (v10). David made it so that group 1 served in week 1 of the sacred calendar which started in spring, group 2 served week 2, and so on through all 24 groups and weeks, then they started all over again 1-24 with the 8th group serving in late November. We also know all 24 groups served at the 3 required festivals*, Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles to complete the year. *Deuteronomy 16:16
 
For this discussion I'm talking about his second week of service, meaning Zacharias would have been serving in late November. I'll explain why I chose the fall service rather than spring at the end.
 
2) Elizabeth's pregnancy
When Zacharias got home from his week of service it would have been late November or early December before Elizabeth could have conceived. Luke 1:26-33 says of Elizabeth, John's mother: "In the 6th month of her pregnancy the angel Gabriel was sent to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a young virgin name Mary, engaged to a man named Joseph..."
 
So if Elizabeth conceived in late November or early December, and 6 months into her pregnancy Gabriel was sent to Mary, it would be about mid-June when Gabriel told her she would give birth to Jesus. If  she conceived shortly and going forward 9 months, it would make Jesus born in mid to late March at the earliest, as pregnancy is generally figured to about the end of the 9th month (40 weeks +/-).
 
3-4) Jesus is born, family housed in a stable, shepherds come to the new King
We are told in Luke 2:7-8 that shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks. They were only in the fields around Bethlehem in spring and fall; in spring to eat the spring plants before moving into the higher elevations for summer, or after harvest to glean the last of the plants before winter. So this fits the time line. Luke 2:16 tells us the shepherds found the baby lying in a manger - an animal food trough.
 
5-6) They move into a house in Bethlehem, they present Jesus in the temple
Luke 2:22 says, "When the days of her purification according to the law of Moses* were accomplished they came into the temple..." This presentation happened when male babies were 40 days old (about 6 weeks), coinciding with the law of purification. This would have been in late April or early May. *Leviticus 12:1-4
 
It is clear the Wise men had not yet arrived in Jerusalem before His presentation and that neither Herod nor the priests yet know of Jesus' birth. Matthew 2:3 tells us when they came to Herod and told him there was a new King, he became very upset 'and all Jerusalem with him'. The family is clearly not in fear for their lives when they come to the temple. Also note Simeon and then Anna freely prophesy over Him without fear of Herod. So the wise men came after the presentation in the temple at 40 days old.
 
I see great grace from the Father in that He provided time for Mary to get healed and the baby to be a bit older before they would have to flee for their lives.
 
7-9) Wise men arrive sometime after the presentation in the temple and ask Herod where is the new King, Herod tells them to find Him and return to tell him
 
Matthew 2:1-2, 3-11 says the wise men came after Jesus had been born. Herod and Jerusalem are troubled there is a new King.. He sends them on their way, asking when they find Him to return and tell him.
 
Verse 11: "And when they had come into the house they saw the young child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him." Verse 12 tells us they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went home another way.
 
10-11) Herod, not hearing from the wise men is angry; decides to kill the children, family flees
Matthew 2:16 says, "And Herod, seeing he was mocked (Gk: tricked, deceived) by the wise men, was exceedingly angry...and had all the children killed in Bethlehem who were 2 years old and under."
 
Today in the west we say after the child has lived a full year they are 1. But the Oriental counting from China to Israel counted birth as 1. So when Matthew tells us babies under 2 were murdered, by western figuring it was babies under age 1. He wasn't looking for toddlers - he killed babies.  
 
12-13) Herod dies in September 4 BC, the family returns and settles in Nazareth
Matthew 2:19-23 tells us they had fled to Egypt sometime after the wise men left but before Herod ordered the murder of the babies, and were there until Herod's death, then they returned and settled in Nazareth.
 
The trip from Bethlehem to the Egyptian border was about 200 miles (322 km), and they most likely would have joined a caravan for the dangerous trip. This wasn't a weekend getaway, that is 200 miles walking and riding with a baby for maybe 2 weeks, probably living off money received after selling the gifts the wise men brought them. (That is speculation on my part).
 
Josephus, the Jewish historian who wrote a history of the Jewish people for the Romans, tells us Herod became sick when a lunar eclipse occurred in the spring after he sinned against the priests, and was sick for several months before he died. The eclipse was on March 13, 4 BC, and Herod's death was in September.
 
The family returned to Israel shortly after Herod's death, possibly in the autumn of 4 BC. Matthew 2:19-23
 
Here is the 'if'. If Zacharias saw Gabriel in his spring week of service, it would have been mid-May, meaning John the Baptist wouldn't have been conceived until June. That would mean Gabriel would have been sent to Mary in December, 6 month's into Elizabeth's pregnancy. That would make Jesus conceived in December or January, meaning He would have been born in August or September. With Herod dying that September, they could not have presented Jesus in the temple at 40 days old until October, a month after Herod's death. That's why I suggest He may have been born in the spring.  
 
As I said, the early church didn't celebrate the birth of Jesus so this is not an issue to argue about, and I suppose one day we can ask Joseph, Mary, the shepherd and wise men, or the Lord about it ourselves!
 
New subject next week, blessings,
John Fenn
www.cwowi.org and email me at cwowi@aol.com

Friday, 4 December 2015

Must read Bible truth


Hi all,
This autumn we took a trip with others to visit friends in house churches in the US area called 'New England', which is the far northeast section of our country. On our last day we stopped by a favorite spot, the Lobster Shack on Two Lights Road, Cape Elizabeth, Maine. I don't eat lobster or their kind, which I call 'insects of the sea', but Barb likes their lobster roll and the setting is right on the edge of the rocky coast.
 
I picked up my hamburger and iced tea, and stopped at the little corner table where they had condiments, all in little packets in small compartments on the table; ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and lemon juice. I put 2 packets of lemon juice from that compartment for my tea on the tray, and walked to our table.
 
I tore open a packet of lemon juice and squirted it into my tea, and then picked up a second packet, tore it open, and squirted the contents into the tea - but to my surprise the packet I thought was lemon juice, was actually mustard! After some laughter I realized the heavier mustard would hopefully settle to the bottom without mixing with the tea, so I proceeded to drink my tea throughout the meal and forgot about the mustard lying in wait to ambush me at the bottom of the cup.
 
Sure enough, that last gulp of tea was pure mustard, and I laughed again though I nearly choked on it, and it sure cleared my sinuses!
 
Appearances can be deceiving
It looked like normal tea, but appearances can be deceiving if you didn't know what was added. Similarly, we have a situation in Matthew 8:5-12 that has caused believers a lot of anxiety because it looks like one thing at first glance, but when you check all the 'ingredients' within the story, the real flavor comes through.
 
Jesus is approached by a Roman Centurion saying this: "Lord, my servant lies at home in bed paralyzed, and is in terrible pain."  To which Jesus replies: "I will come and heal him." But the Centurion said "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Just give the order, and my servant will be healed."
 
This is where many fail to notice the context and understand the culture of the day. This Centurion was not Jewish, yet a believer in Jesus, and understood His authority. When he asks Jesus to just issue a command for healing the Lord makes note that a Gentile can have faith too:
 
"Truly, truly I say to you, I have not seen such great faith in all Israel. And I say to you, that many will come from the east and the west (from Gentile nations), and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But many of the children of the kingdom (Israelites) will be cast out into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth." (v5-12)
 
Jesus' reference to 'many will come from the east and from the west' refers to Gentile people coming into the kingdom, as this Roman stood before Him, while children of the kingdom (Jews) will be cast out. We might say it this way;  '...children to whom the kingdom belonged but they rejected' will be cast into darkness...
 
Fear not believers - Jesus was not talking about believers having an uncertain future - He was talking about Gentiles who like the Centurion, would have faith in Christ, and come and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom, while many to whom the kingdom belonged, are cast out due to unbelief in Him.
 
Stand up, or sit down?
In Acts 7:55-60 Steven is on trial before the elders of Israel, which comes to an abrupt end when Steven is rushed upon and taken outside the city and stoned to death. The whole of chapter 7 is devoted to his trial which seems to be moving along at a crisp pace, only to end so suddenly. It makes the reader wonder what happened to cause such an abrupt and tragic conclusion?
 
"But he, being filled with the Holy Spirit, looked steadfastly into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And said, 'Behold! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'" Then they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord...and they stoned Stephen...And he kneeled down and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.' And when he had said this, he died."
 
Clearly the turning point was when he told the elders he saw The Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. But why?
 
It is because the Jewish culture of the day taught that God will stand up when He judges mankind, based on Isaiah 3:13-15: "The Lord stands up to contend, and stands to judge the people. The Lord enters into judgement with the elders of His people and their leaders....why do you beat down my people, and grind the faces of the poor says the Lord of the armies..."
 
Stephen was merely telling them what he saw - Jesus had stood up to judge the elders because they were bringing Steven to trial for his faith. THAT is why they were incensed. The idea THEY, the elders of Israel, were being judged...
 
The point I want to bring out is this; When Stephen asked the Lord to dismiss charges against them by asking 'Lay not this sin to their charge', the Lord would have sat back down, and on that last day the sin of murdering Stephen will not be brought against them. We have amazing authority before the Lord when it comes to forgiving and releasing a person from their sins against us.
 
White stone
In The Revelation 2:12-17 Jesus has a message for the disciples in Pergamos. He commends them for not compromising their faith though they live in the main city for emperor worship, but also says there are those in their midst who like Balaam did to Israel, have put a stumbling block before the believers in that they hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans, which He says, He hates.
 
Early church fathers say a leader in the church named Nicolas was the source of the heresy, and the word Nicolaitan means 'power over the people' and when combined with the Lord's example of Balaam who devised a seducing of Israel, we see the teaching of leaders having power over people is a seduction the Lord hates - it leads to 1 voice speaking to the people to tell them what God is saying, rather than staying with New Testament truth of Christ in each believer and therefore equality among the disciples.
 
Jesus tells the believers in the Nicolaitan teaching to repent, and for those who "...overcomes, I will give him the hidden manna to eat, and I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no one knows except him who receives it."
 
The hidden manna is a reference to heaven, for you may recall part of the manna Israel found in the wilderness was put into the Ark of the Covenant to be preserved forever by His presence. The Lord is telling the over-comers they will be with Him in heaven itself, the true Holy of Holies.
 
What is the white stone?
Jesus links the giving of a white stone with the eating of hidden manna. In Roman times white stones were used like business cards, and sometimes as a ticket to get into a Roman event. But the most common use was that when someone took in a stranger for the night, that person upon leaving, would give their host a white stone with that person's name and address on it, so that if they ever come to their city, they would have a home away from home, a place to stay, eat, spend the night.
 
Jesus said He would give them such a stone. Jesus is saying essentially, "I've made my home in your heart, and now I'm giving you a personalized ticket to gain entrance to my home, for you are in my heart." The fact He personalizes it so that only He and they will know what is on the card, shows us how intimately He knows us, to put a sort of 'code' on that stone only He and we will know. Amazing grace!
 
The theme for this last in the series is as you can probably tell, assurance of salvation, assurance of our home in heaven. From the Centurion who is no doubt one of the many Gentiles coming from the east and west to sit down with Abraham, to Jesus sitting down as we ask Him not to hold the sins of those who sin against us to their charge, to promises of eating heavenly food and gaining entrance with a ticket so personal only He and you will know what is written thereon - we have an exciting future!
 
As Ephesians 2:7 says of the Father's good intentions towards us: "That in the ages to come He will clearly show the immeasurable and unsurpassable riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.."
 
New subject next week, until then, blessings!
    John Fenn

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