Monday, December 22, 2008

The Star of Bethlehem

Some two thousand years ago, a group of wise men from an eastern land journeyed to the Roman province of Palestine. The men followed a star that led them to Bethlehem where they found a young child who was to be King of the Jews.

In the years since the journey of the wise men, readers of the Bible have wondered what kind of star would have led them east to Jerusalem and then stopped over the home of the young Jesus. Now, thanks to modern technology, a law professor from Texas A&M University may have found the answer.

On his website,, and in a companion video, Frederick Larson details his search to find the meaning of the Christmas star. Using computer software that incorporates the mathematic equations representing Johannes Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. This software can rewind the motion of the stars and planets so that we can view the same night sky that the ancients saw.

From a close reading of Matthew chapter 2, Larson lists nine points that must be satisfied by any legitimate candidate for the Christmas star. The star signified both birth and kingship. The star symbolized the Jewish nation. The star rose in the east and appeared at a precise time, yet Herod did not know about it. The star also endured over a period long enough for the wise men to travel to Bethlehem. Finally, it was ahead of the wise men when they traveled from Jerusalem, Herod’s capitol, south to Bethlehem, and then stopped. Most theories about the Christmas star fall short in one or more of these categories.

One candidate for the star would be the planet Jupiter, which represented kings to the ancients. When Larson looked more closely at Jupiter, he found that in 3-2 BC, the King Planet began to exhibit the characteristics of the Christmas star. At that time, an earthly observer would have seen another heavenly object move so close to Jupiter that they appear as one. To astronomers, this is known as a “conjunction.”

In September 3 BC, Jupiter moved close to the star Regulus, which is known as the star of kings. The Babylonians called the star “Sharu” and the Romans called it “Rex.” Both words mean “king.” Jupiter and Regulus normally come into conjunction every twelve years, but the one in 3 BC was unusually close. This, in itself, was not unusual enough to warrant an expedition to Jerusalem.

Additionally, in the 3 BC conjunction, Jupiter exhibited what astronomers refer to as retrograde motion. This means that, because of the earth’s motion through space, Jupiter appeared to move backward in the night sky. According to Larson’s observations, Jupiter entered a conjunction with Regulus, and then went into retrograde. At this point, it reversed course again for another conjunction. Jupiter then went into retrograde again for a third conjunction with Regulus. Larson refers to this as having the “Planet of the Kings dance out a halo above the Star of Kings. A coronation.”

The symbolism of Jupiter and Regulus goes even further. In Revelation 12:1-5, John describes the birth of Jesus. The mother is clothed in the sun with the moon at her feet. In September 3 BC, the constellation that rose behind Leo was Virgo, the virgin, representing, in this case, the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. At the time of the first conjunction, Virgo rose, clothed in the sun. A new moon was at her feet. These symbols indicate a birth. Taken together with Regulus and Jupiter, they indicate the birth of a king.

Jupiter’s conjunction with Regulus also provided a link to the Jews. Larson discovered that Jupiter’s triple conjunction occurred within the constellation Leo, the lion. The lion is the symbol of the Jewish tribe of Judah. Judah is also the tribe that from which the Messiah was prophesied to come (Genesis 49:9-10).

Larson takes his stargazing a step further. He reasons that if conception is the true beginning of life, then maybe there would be additional signs in the sky nine months later. To find out, he looked at the night sky of June 2 BC.

In June 2 BC, Jupiter and Venus, the Mother Planet, formed a conjunction. The two planets passed so closely to each other that they appeared as one, although in reality one sat atop the other forming an eight. The two planets formed the most brilliant “star” that man had ever seen in the night sky. A wise man from the east, such as Babylon, would have viewed this spectacle while facing Jerusalem to the east. The two planets then moved apart, as if one had given birth to the other.

Larson believes that the wise men started their journey after viewing this Jupiter – Venus conjunction. The journey from Babylon to Jerusalem would have taken several months in ancient times. If Jupiter and its consorts were truly the Christmas star, then, several months later, it would have to be in the southern sky when viewed from Jerusalem. As Larson “fast forwarded” the celestial motion, he found that in December 2 BC, if you looked south from Jerusalem, the star was there.

By this point, most of Matthew’s requirements for the star had been met. It signified birth and kingship. It was linked with the Jews through the constellation Leo. Jupiter rises in the east and the conjunctions were identifiable at precise times. Herod was unaware of these signs in the sky because they would have been noticed only by expert astronomers. The time period of the events allowed the wise men to travel to Jerusalem, and the star would have been before them as they traveled to Bethlehem.

The biggest question that remained was how Jupiter, a planet in constant motion, could stop over Bethlehem. What Larson found as he looked further astounded him. On December 25, 2 BC, Jupiter again entered retrograde. To an earthly observer in Jerusalem, it appeared to stop in the sky above Bethlehem. In a shocking coincidence, the wise men may have viewed the Christmas star over Bethlehem on the exact date of the modern Christmas celebration.

That is not the end of the story, however. Larson examined clues in the Bible to determine the exact date of Jesus’ crucifixion. All four Gospels tell that Jesus was executed on a Friday, the preparation day before the Jewish Sabbath (Matt. 27:62, Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:14). John also tells us that it was the day before the Passover (John 13:1). The Passover begins at dark on Nisan 14. Larson looked at the Jewish calendar to see in which years during the reign of Pontius Pilate (AD 26-36) Nisan 14 fell on a Friday. It happened twice: April 7, AD 30 and April 3, AD 33.

Larson believes that the key lies with a Roman official named Aelius Sejanus. Sejanus was a regent under Tiberius Caesar. Sejanus ruled much of the Roman Empire and made many political appointments, including that of Pontius Pilate as Procurator of Judea. When Caesar discovered that Sejanus was plotting against him, Sejanus was executed on October 18, AD 31.

Larson notes that early in Pilate’s career, he had dealt harshly with the Jews. Historians of the day write that he placed images of Caesar in the Jewish Temple as well as killing Jewish worshipers (Luke 13:1). Something happened to change his attitude to one of conciliation with Jewish leaders who wanted him to have Jesus killed. Larson believes that after Sejanus’ death, Pilate began to fear for his life as Caesar ordered the execution of many of Sejanus’ appointees. At the same time, Caesar also issued a directive countermanding Sejanus’ anti-Semitic orders. The statement of the Jews in John 19:12 that sparing Jesus’ life would mean that Pilate was “no friend of Caesar” is life-threatening in this context.

In Daniel 9:25, an angel told Daniel that the Messiah would be cut off after “seven weeks and sixty-two sevens.” The “sevens” are seven-year periods, which render a total of 483 years. The timeline begins with the command to rebuild Jerusalem. Nehemiah received this order in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, 444 BC on the modern calendar. When we apply conversions to account for differences in old and new calendars, the year the Messiah is cut off is revealed to be AD 33. Thus, Larson believes that Jesus’ crucifixion can be conclusively dated to April 3, AD 33.

Larson then goes to Pentecost, shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection. First Peter quotes the prophet Joel (Acts 2:17-21) speaking of “wonders in heaven… blood and fire and billows of smoke” and the moon turning to “blood.” Then Peter says that the people present know themselves of these things, as if they have already come to pass.

When Larson looked at the sky of April 3, AD 33, he found a blood moon. The term “blood moon’ means a lunar eclipse. The moon is in the shadow of the Earth and receives no direct sunlight, causing it to appear a dull red. According to Larson’s research, the only lunar eclipse viewed from Jerusalem on a Passover during Pilate’s reign occurred on April 3, AD 33.

Mark wrote that Jesus was crucified at the third hour (Mark 15:25). At that time, the clock started at 6 am. The third hour would have been 9 am on our clock. Matthew 27:46 tells us that Jesus died at the ninth hour, 3 pm. During the six hours that He suffered on the cross, the sky turned black for three hours, there was an earthquake, the Temple veil was torn, tombs were opened and people rose from the dead (Matt. 27:45-54). As the moon rose, it turned to blood around 3 pm (below the horizon and invisible to people in Jerusalem), the precise time that Jesus died. Larson says, “the moon had returned to the foot of the virgin. But now it was a full moon. A life fully lived, blotted out in blood.”

Larson’s discovery shows the intricate detail of God’s handiwork. He set the stars and planets in motion in the very first verse of the Bible. These celestial bodies moved with mathematic precision for thousands of years. Their appointed journeys through the sky record the celebration of the heavens at the conception and birth of Jesus, then weep at His death on the cross. As you celebrate the birth of Christ this year, remember that the God who set the stars in motion, the same God who sent Jesus to take our place, still sits on the throne of Heaven. The God who is capable of such a masterpiece is certainly deserving of our trust and worship.

For a limited time, copies of the DVD version of The Star of Bethlehem are available without charge at
I am not affiliated in any way with this site.

Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 8, 2008

Listen to the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

A classic Christmas carol that is now seldom heard is I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day. The song was written by the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1864. Many Americans will remember some of Longfellow’s works, such as “the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” “the Song of Hiawatha” and “the Village Blacksmith,” from American Literature classes.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It is not as well known that Longfellow was a staunch Christian. His works included Christus, a trilogy detailing the history of Christianity. When Longfellow listened to the church bells ringing on Christmas day, they spoke to him the song the angels sang at the birth of Christ. This song has been repeated for the two thousand years since Jesus’ birth.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

In the midst of Christmas joy, Longfellow suddenly hangs his head in despair. In spite of the angel’s proclamation of peace on earth, he realizes that the world is far from peaceful. This song was written in the midst of the American Civil War (or to those of us from the South, The War Against Northern Aggression).

1864 was one of the darkest years of American history. The war had dragged on for three long years. Families were split apart as brother fought brother. Hundreds of thousands on both sides had been killed and wounded. Farmland and cities had been ravaged. Political opponents of President Lincoln attempted to force a negotiated settlement to end the war short of victory. For most Americans in 1864, there was no end in sight. Longfellow’s despair can be more clearly seen in two “lost verses” that are not typically printed in most songbooks.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

For Longfellow, the war was not merely a question of nationalism. Longfellow’s Christian beliefs led him to oppose slavery. In fact, many abolitionists of the era based their view of the evil of slavery on their Christian belief that all men are equal in the eyes of God. Longfellow, who along with Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a Bowdoin College professor, viewed the possible victory of the Confederacy as a triumph of the evil of slavery. Longfellow’s despair was due not only to the large numbers of casualties of the war, but the thought that their sacrifices might have been in vain; the Union might not be preserved and thousands of slaves might remain in bondage.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Finally, the bells speak to Longfellow through his despair. The last word has not been written. God is aware of what is happening. He has promised us that, in the end, evil will be defeated and righteousness will be victorious. Peace on earth, good will toward men is not a statement of current conditions. It is a promise of things to come.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day is a song that holds a message for us today. It is easy for us to despair as our nation is engaged in a long war against terrorist fanatics. We see dictators rising to power around the world. Other radical nations are growing closer and closer to the possession of weapons of mass destruction. At home, our economy is a shambles. Many of us are unemployed or in fear for our jobs and our livelihoods.

If we listen to the message of the bells on Christmas day, we will find assurance that God is in control and promises peace on earth and goodwill to men. God is just. Evil will not be allowed to flourish forever. Justice may be completed now, in the future when Christ returns, or in the next world, but justice will be done. Jusice delayed is not justice denied.

The fact is that justice is only denied because of the goodwill of God Himself. God’s patience and desire that we should become men of goodwill and seek His forgiveness for our own evil actions leads Him to delay administering our ultimate sentence of death for our crimes against God. We must realize that, in God’s eyes, little evils are just as evil as big evils, and just as deserving of divine justice.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day tells us that peace on earth and goodwill towards men are a future promise to be fulfilled by God. To reap the benefits of that promise, we must heed God’s call to turn from our own wicked ways and seek salvation through the baby in the Bethlehem manger. Our hope for peace on earth and goodwill towards men will be fulfilled through Jesus, who is the real hope of Christmas.

Complete Lyrics:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Prayer for My Children

My son often wants me to help “get him started going to sleep” by lying down with him. I usually take the opportunity to lie next to him and pray for his, and my baby daughter’s, future. This is my prayer for Ethan and Sarah Beth.

Most importantly, I pray that they will listen and respond to God’s call for repentance and trust in Jesus Christ. My personal belief is that the most important thing that a parent can give to their children is a solid spiritual foundation that will eventually point them towards receiving Christ as their personal Savior. Without safeguarding their souls, all else, health, education, possessions, is ultimately meaningless.

I pray that God will bless their lives and protect them. I pray that they will be happy and healthy and that God will send His angels to protect and watch over them. Growing children face many dangers, both internal and external. I pray that they will be protected from their own curiosity and lack of judgment as well as from more human dangers such as child predators and drug pushers.

I also pray that God will continue to watch over them as they grow up. I pray that He guides their choice of friends. I have realized that friends provide both positive and negative influences. The negative influences are much harder to resist. I pray that Ethan and Sarah will choose friends that will positively impact their lives.

I pray that as they grow, they develop the wisdom to avoid trouble. In cases where they make the wrong choices, I pray that the Lord will discipline them and call them back before they go too far and make choices that cannot be corrected.

I pray that both Ethan and Sarah will intelligent and successful. I pray that they realize that success in life most often comes from hard work and preparation. I pray that their work in school leads them to a career that is stable and financially, as well as emotionally, rewarding.

I pray that they are wise enough to realize that they should work to live and not live to work. I pray that they find a job that they enjoy, but realize that work is simply a means to an end and not an end in itself. Life is meant to be enjoyed. It is important to find a balance between the responsibilities of your job and the responsibilities to those you love.

I also pray that their success is moderated. Unbridled success can breed arrogance and greed. Failure can be valuable because it teaches. As their grandfather recently said, learning to cope when things don’t go your way is one of life’s most important lessons.
I pray that they learn from their failures and are not discouraged by them. I pray that they do not take their accomplishments and possessions for granted.

I pray that they learn both compassion and discernment. I hope that they do not look down on people who have less than they do. I hope that they will use their talents and possession to help these people when possible. I hope that they also learn that some people take advantage of this compassion. I hope that they learn to tell the difference.

I pray that God will pick out future spouses for both Ethan and Sarah. I pray that even now He is preparing Ethan’s wife and Sarah’s husband for their future lives together. I pray that He will give them a match that is literally made in Heaven and they will be as happy with their families as I am with mine. I pray that that one day, not too soon, after they are happily married, that I’ll have grandchildren to spoil.

I pray that when they grow up, they will still live in a country with the same freedoms and opportunities that citizens of the United States have enjoyed in the past. I pray that they will have the freedom to worship God and Jesus openly and without fear. I pray that they will want to worship openly and without fear.

I pray that they will enjoy freedom and speech and thought. I pray that they will still be free to buy a gun if they choose, but will not feel that they need to have one for protection. I pray that they will have the freedom to spend their money and time as they see fit and not have to work long hours to pay onerous taxes.

I pray that my fellow countrymen will not trade away their freedoms for the illusive security offered by government bureaucrats. Many today seem more than willing to make such a bargain. If Ethan and Sarah Beth grow up in a country that is not free, we will have only ourselves to blame. Once surrendered, freedom is hard to regain. As a founding American once said, “Those who would trade freedom for security deserve neither.”

My further prayer is that Ethan and Sarah will grow up in a world at peace. Even though the lights of freedom seem to be winking out around the world, I hope that the United States and other defenders of freedom will stand strong. Standing strong today will hopefully prevent Ethan and Sarah’s generation from having to face the same evils that are in the world today.

I pray that God will give me the wisdom and the strength to be the best parent that I can be. I also offer up a prayer of thanks that God would entrust me with such wonderful children as well as a fantastic (and beautiful) wife.