A Christmas Meditation
The naiveté of those who doubt
that Jesus is the messiah because they suppose that he arranged to
fulfill the requirements and prophecies of the messiah himself always
amuses me - particularly at this time of year when the preparations
of God for the arrival of the messiah are so apparent.
It reminds me of the naiveté of the
comic character Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes - an active and curious
child who with his stuffed tiger (who is alive to Calvin) always gets
into amusing situations. In one instance Calvin asks his father:
"Dad, how come old photographs are
always black and white? Didn't they have color film back then?"
His dad answers him:
"Sure they did. In fact those old photographs are in
color. It's just the world was black and white back then."
They proceed to discuss why all photos
are color photos, but the world was once black and white - thus black
and white looking photos. Such is the case with those who believe that
Jesus just arranged to fulfill the prophecies himself. You must
have a very limited, childlike knowledge of the events of Christmas to
believe a mere human was capable of all that transpired. Yet, apparently
some do. Lee Strobel relates how he had tried to explain away all the
prophecies that Jesus fulfilled by supposing that Jesus just arranged
his life to fulfill them. He relates it as follows:
"My first line of defense was that
Jesus may have intentionally maneuvered his life to fulfill the
prophecies so that he would be mistaken for the Messiah. For
instance, Zechariah 9:9 predicted that the Messiah would ride a
donkey into Jerusalem. Maybe when Jesus was getting ready to enter
the town, he told his disciples, 'Go fetch me a donkey. I want to
fool these people into thinking I'm the messiah. After all, I'm
anxious to get tortured to death!"
He realized that could not be true
since many prophecies concern things Jesus - as a mere human - could not control. As
this is the Christmas season and Christians around the world are
celebrating the coming of God in the flesh in the person of Christ, let
me relate three preparations God made for the arrival of the messiah
that Jesus could not have done himself - were he a mere human. There
were signs in the heavens, preparation on earth, and preparation among
Signs in the Heavens: The Star of
Consider the divine preparation that had to have occurred before the
birth of Jesus in order for there to have been a "star of Bethlehem."
The Gospel of Matthew records:
2:1 After Jesus was born in
Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the
east came to Jerusalem
2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?
We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem
4 When he had called together all the people's chief priests and
teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.
5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the
prophet has written:
6 "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least
among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will
be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the
exact time the star had appeared.
8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search
for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too
may go and worship him."
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the
star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped
over the place where the child was.
10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
There are many problems here for a mere
human. We'll focus in on two:
1. How do you make a star appear that
will let Magi know that you - the messiah - the king of Israel - are
about to be born? And or course how do you pull it off before you're
born? (Matt 2.2)
2. How do you get the Wise Men to come
to Jerusalem from far distances to worship you as a baby? (Matt 2.11)
For Magi to see "his star in the east"
(Matt 2.2) - clearly there had to be something happening in the stars
that led them to this conclusion. What was it that they saw? This
deals with the identification of the Star of Bethlehem. Some posit
that the star had to be supernatural, primarily because of the motion
of the star (Matt 2.9), and an assumption that the star hung low enough
that it pointed out the exact house the messiah is in. But that is not
what the text implies.
The text suggests that the Magi had to
search for the child (Matt 2.8), in Bethlehem, which is south of
Jerusalem. When they leave Jerusalem, the star which had risen in the
east, had turned south, and stops over Bethlehem - causing the Magi to
rejoice (Matt 2.10) that it is confirming the direction they need to
head in. Both secular and Biblical researchers are converging on the
same answer as to how the motion was accomplished: Retrograde motion of
a planet. But what caused the Magi to start the journey in the first
place? The identification of the star of Bethlehem is a difficult task,
and many have opinions on it. It appears to me that just as the Jews
misunderstood the comings of Jesus - thinking there would be two
Messiahs with one coming instead of one Messiah with two comings; I
believe many Christians have misunderstood the star of Bethlehem -
believing it to be a single event - when actually it was a series of
events. I offer my interpretation here, recognizing that new
data may change it, but as of the data available now, the following
seems most plausible:
What motivated the Magi to head for
It wasn't a single sighting, but a series of sightings of the motions
of a particular heavenly body: Jupiter - the largest planet and the "king"
star. It was involved in not one, not two, but three conjunctions
that the Magi would have seen as significant, and two of those
conjunctions were triple conjunctions. We know that the Magi saw the
star more than once because they saw the star before they left for the
journey to Judah (Matt 2.2), and again when they left for the journey
from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (Matt 2.10). Here are the events I believe
These events were:
The triple conjunction of Jupiter with Saturn - between May and
Dec, 7 BC
Jupiter the king planet, crowning (triple conjunction) Saturn -
which some gentile nations believe control the fate of the Jewish
The Magi's likely interpretation:
A King is coming to the Jews. Now they're watching to see what else
The Triple conjunction of Jupiter the king planet, and Regulus the king
star in the constellation of Leo - Sept, 3 BC
Jupiter the King planet crowning (triple conjunction) Regulus the King
star in the constellation of Leo - the Lion. The Lion is the symbol of
the tribe of Judah.
The Magi's likely interpretation:
A King is coming to the Jewish tribe of Judah.
This would have been confirmation of the previous sign.
The conjunction of Jupiter with Venus, June, 2 BC
Jupiter the king planet joins (conjunction) with Venus the mother
planet, June, 2 BC creating briefly - as in a moment of conception
- a single, exceedingly bright star to the naked eye.
The Magi's likely interpretation:
A King will be born to Israel (King by birth and divine right, not
declared as by conquest, or setup as king by a ruling authority as Rome
had setup Herod as King over the Jews.
At this point they've seen enough. They're convinced - they've had
3 signs in the heavens - A king is coming - in the form of a baby - to
Israel. So they make arrangements (no rush the baby has not been born
yet), and ride to the capital - Jerusalem and ask where the child who
"has been born king of the Jews" is. (Matt 2. 2) The chief priests tell
them the child is to be born in Bethlehem, and they depart - in time to
see Jupiter - the star they've been watching - go into retrograde motion
- in the direction of Bethlehem - where they need to go, and where
it stops. They rejoice that their sightings and interpretations have
been confirmed. (Matt 2.10) The new born king is in Bethlehem - both the
scriptures and the star indicate that.
The text implies it was not the star
that located the house for them, but their diligent search (Matt 2.8),
which Bible scholar D.A. Carson points out would have been helped by the
shepherds who "did not keep silent about what they saw."
So what motivated the Magi, and how do
you get them travel to Jerusalem from far distances? You produce signs
in the heavens that could be read like a book - preordained since the
creation of the the universe - since the stars in the night sky move like
clockwork. These stars would both announce the event and direct them to
the general vicinity of it (Judea), then confirm the city location
(Bethlehem) upon arrival. An impossibility for a
mere man, but child's play for God, the King of the universe.
Preparation on Earth
Now Jesus was born to Mary, the wife of
Joseph who lived in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. How do you get the mother
of the messiah to be in the right place (the city where scripture says
the the messiah is to be born - Mic 5.2) at the
right time? (When the messiah is born.) Once again, this is child's play for God, for as
scripture tells us:
The king's heart is in the hand of
the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.
Both Mary and Joseph are in the line of
David. How do you get them to Bethlehem? Simply put it in the heart of
the king to issue a decree to make them return to their home town:
2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus
issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman
2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was
governor of Syria.)
3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to
Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the
house and line of David.
Since Caesar issued the decree for the
census, Mary and Josephus were required by law to return to the city of
their ancestors - Bethlehem. Once again, directing the hearts of kings
before you're born is an impossibility for mere humans, but child's play
for God, the King of the universe.
among God's people
Let me hazard a guess: There were no righteous people or prophets
eagerly waiting to see you and proclaim you the messiah of Israel
when you were born, right? How could any mere human arrange this
before they were born? Yet this is precisely the situation we find at
the birth of the true Messiah. Scripture records the righteous man
Simeon (Luke 2:25-35) waited years to see the messiah, and spoke
eloquently about him when he did. And God had placed the prophetess Anna
in the temple years before the birth of the messiah (Luke 2:36-38), so
she was "conveniently" there to proclaim the redemption the child would
bring. Again, impossible for a mere human to arrange before birth,
but child's play for God, the King of the universe.
Clearly the "messianic maneuvering" as Strobel called the theory that
Jesus just maneuvered his life to fulfill prophecy is dead on arrival.
To any who care to look at the signs and preparation it's laughably
false. Unless of course by "messianic maneuvering" you mean that the
Jesus, as the pre-incarnate Christ, Son of God, Creator of the
Universe (John 1.3) did the maneuvering when he was creating the heavens
and the earth (Gen 1.1) and placing the stars as signs (Gen 1.14) to
point to the season of his advent - ordaining them to be in the proper
positions at the time of his arrival on earth. When put in that
perspective that is a proper way of understanding the messianic
maneuvering that prepared for the arrival of God the Son coming to
achieve redemption for
Duane Caldwell | December 24, 2019
1. Bill Watterson,
Scientific Progress Goes "Boink", A Calvin and Hobbes Collection, Kansas
City: Andrews and McMeel, 1991, p. 23
2.Lee Strobel, The
Case For Christ, Student Edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001,
Kindle Edition, loc 549
3. Positing a
completely supernatural star: Jason Lisle, Don De Young and Danny Faulkner, all
featured on Answer's in Genesis site. Faulkner gives a lengthy critique of
Larson's theory (see note 4)
Star of Bethlehem" (Lisle, November 7, 2006)
was the Star of Bethlehem", (De Young, December 24, 2002) (Also
Evaluation of The Star of Bethlehem DVD", (Faulkner, December
4. Rick Larson, targeting
a Christian, audience presents a compelling but incomplete case for both the
identification of the star, and it's apparent motion in his DVD "The
Star of Bethlehem", (2009)"; a theory originally
proposed by Ernest L. Martin in The Star that Astonished the World" (1991)
He leaves out a few elements which I have added to my presentation.
Also pointing to the same events that Larson does as a possible solution are the secular
astronomers of the thoroughly secular series The Universe Ancient
Mysteries solved (A spin off of The Universe) - in the
Star of Bethlehem (2014)
Also supporting Jupiter as the Star of
Bethlehem: Astronomer David Hughes, who sees significance in the
conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. ref. from: Search for The Star of
Bethlehem, Science Channel Documentary, 2009
5. D.A.Caron "Matthew"
in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol 8, Grand Rapids,
MI:Zondervan, 1984 p.59