Ahhh… the nativity scene! If you don’t have one set up in your home, there is no doubt you’ve seen them in a friend or family members house or set up at church or a business during the Christmas season. What I love about nativity scene is the picture of the birth of Jesus that it allows us to view – Mary and Joseph comforting the child, the lowly shepherds with their smelly sheep bowing before their Maker, the wealthy wise men reducing themselves to the dirt of a stable, the animals scattered about to show the humble beginnings of our Savior’s entrance to earth, the stars shining, and the angels above singing – it’s all captured in one snapshot.
But, how much of this scene is accurately portrayed? According to the ultimate authority of Scripture, what is actually true about our snapshot into the birth of Christ and how much has been fictionalized? This past Sunday in our college and career Sunday school class, we took a fun little quiz to see how much we knew about the true, first Christmas. Today and tomorrow I’ll be posting these questions with their answers. I challenge you to take a look into the Biblical account of Christ’s birth to see how true your perception is.
These questions and answers are copied directly from Grace Community International.
Answer true or false to the questions below:
- The Christmas story roughly spans the nine month period from Christ’s conception to His birth in the manger.
- Mary rode on a donkey to Bethlehem
- At Jesus birth a star shown over the manger
- The angles came proclaiming, “Peace on earth and good will towards men.”
- The star led the wise men directly to Bethlehem
Below I have the answers, explanations, and Scripture references…
Luke 1:1 – 2:38; Matt. 1:18-2:23
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Christmas Story actually spans a period of several years.
The Christmas Story as described in the Holy Scriptures, spans a time period of several years. The actual time frame work extended from the announcement of the impending pregnancy of Elizabeth and subsequent birth of John the Baptist to the return of Jesus from exile in Egypt.
In the historical revelation of Jesus’ birth, no mode of transportation is given in terms of Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem to register for taxes. It only states that they traveled to the city and that she gave birth there. “And Joseph also went up from Galilee… along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.” If you have ever seen someone trying to ride a donkey, you would be very skeptical of a woman in the last days of pregnancy choosing this as a mode of transportation. The Bible does not say, but if we were to speculate, given Joseph’s profession as a carpenter, it is more plausible that he built a cart, filled it with hay and then either pulled it himself or used an ox or a donkey. This is far more believable than a woman, just days before giving birth, clip clopping along on the back of a donkey – especially given what we know about Joseph’s righteous character and sensitivity to Mary.
Luke 2:1-20; Matt. 2:1, 9-12
At Jesus’ birth there was no star. The shepherds followed the instructions they were given by the angels in order to ultimately find their way to where Jesus was lying in the manger. The star did not appear until later, most likely more than a year later, guiding the Magi. The common manger scenes sold in stores with the star attached to the pitched roof of stall is fabrication for the sake of convenience.
Although the quote “Peace on earth and good will towards men” appears almost universally on Christmas cards and in Christmas pageants the actual quotation is found in Luke 2:14; “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Two key elements are almost always left out when the angels are quoted.
- First: “Glory to God in the highest…” – the birth of the Messiah has to do with the glory of God. It is not man-centered but God-centered. God, not man, is the center of the universe. The center of the Christmas Revelation is God, what God is doing and the glory due Him, not man, nor what man is getting.
- Secondly: “with whom He is pleased”. The peace which Christ brings is not a universal peace. It is a peace extended to those to whom God, through His good pleasure is pleased to reveal Himself (Galatians 1:15). It is only a peace, a hope, for those who acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior of mankind, who submit to Him and put their trust in Him as their personal Lord and Savior. For the rest of mankind there is no peace, (Isaiah 48:22; 57:20 & 21); there is the turmoil of sin followed by the eternal judgment and agony of Hell (Revelation 20:10 – 15).
The message of peace in the Christmas revelation is a message of peace to those who put their trust and faith in Christ. The reality of the incarnation brought with it no end to wars, no end to poverty, no end to crime, no end to man’s cruelty to man, no end to despotic rule and unjust governments. It brought with it no universal peace on earth. These acts continued on unabated. Rather, it brought peace on earth to those “with whom He is pleased”, those who place their faith in Christ. True, the possibility of peace is presented to the world, but the reality of peace is for those with whom God is pleased and this is limited to those who trust Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. The rest of mankind experiences the displeasure of God, the turmoil of sin in this life and the prospect of the eternal judgment of God in Hell in the next. Just as in Satan’s dialogue with Eve where the Words of God are misquoted and distorted, so here the angelic message is so often misquoted and distorted to bring a generic message of “peace” and “goodwill” where the call for repentance in the face of judgment should instead be given.
Matthew 2:1-2; 9-11
- First: The Word of God says that the Magi, who were themselves from the East, saw the star in the East, then traveled to Jerusalem which would have been to the West placing the star at their back as they traveled. At that point the star was not providing specific aide in locating Jesus but rather was a sign which for some unknown reason caused the Magi to travel to Jerusalem. This is the first myth that must be overcome, that of the Magi were following a star to Jerusalem. Think now for a moment. Where were the Magi – “in the East”. Where did they see the star – “in the East”. Thus the Magi, east of Jerusalem, saw a star to their East, of both Jerusalem and the Magi. As a result of seeing this star which way did they have to travel – the answer being West. The Magi of the East, seeing a star in the East, traveled Westward to Jerusalem, the star at their back. We do not know why these Magi from the East, upon seeing a star in the East, would then choose to travel West. We do not know why they associated the star with the birth of a king. We do not know why they chose Jerusalem out of all the great cities to their west. We do not know why they unquestionably believed the scribes when they searched the Scriptures. There is no Biblical answer for any of these questions.
- Second: We do not know why they came to Jerusalem. A star such as the North Star may lead us in a general direction but certainly not to a specific city. If you were in Chicago, Illinois you could locate the North Star and by keeping it to your back travel in a southerly direction. You could not however use the North Star to guide you to Houston, Texas. The Magi were not following a star Westward to Jerusalem. The star remained in the East as they traveled from the East westward to Jerusalem, keeping the star to their back. Using this type of celestial orientation it would have been impossible for them to have guided themselves to a specific city. Why they chose Jerusalem as opposed to one of the great western capitals of Egypt, Rome or Greece (or one of the other great city states of the middle east) is not known. What is known is that there were Magi east of Jerusalem. These Magi saw a star in the East. For some reason they associated this star with the birth of an Israeli king and set out for Jerusalem. The Bible does not say why they chose to go to Jerusalem. Many plausible explanations abound, but since the Bible is silent, so we must also be silent. It should be noted though that no prophecy of scripture foretells a star, no precedence in scripture sets the scene for the star. No one who was looking for the Messiah, as a result of studying the Holy Scriptures, would associate the star with His birth. For a reason, apart from the Word of God, the Magi saw the star and traveled to Jerusalem. The why of it remains a complete mystery.
- Third: After Herod consulted the scribes and priests on behalf of the Magi, the star led them South, directly to Bethlehem and the residence of Jesus. Thus the star took them on an indirect route, first, prompting them, (for some reason unknown to us) westward to Jerusalem and then, contrastingly guiding them southward directly to Bethlehem and then finally bringing them to the exact house where Jesus was living.
The first star could have been a standard star created by God for this purpose or a comet or some other phenomenon put in place by God. This could have been created miraculously on the spot or something set in motion in the past and by the plan of God making it’s appearance at Jesus’ birth. Since it was a sign in the east it could have been any number of natural phenomenon miraculously put in place or motion by God.
Come back tomorrow for five more revealing questions!