Sunday, 22 December 2013

Heavenly Bodies part 2

Advent 4 year A Sermon

How confident can we bewhen our cynical  non-Christian friends…dismiss Jesus’ story as irrelevant 

or a myth…or when people claim the Gospel record
in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John…has no historic validity?
Or when our highly spiritual new age friends… say well that’s just fine, but it’s not the only story.

Do we have any rational objective reason to believe other than our personal experience of God?

Well, last week… we learned from the sciences of astronomy and archaeology that…it’s the skeptics view that’s often rooted in ignorance…. and misinformation.

This year my friend Professor Jeff Tallon…
was jointly awarded the inaugural Prime Minister's Science Prize… for outstanding achievement.  A strong Christian and a good speaker…Jeff gave me permission,,, to present his scientific understanding… of why we can have confidence in the Gospel records.

Camels slide
Last week using Jeff’s scientific evidence… we established Jesus would have been born… sometime in 2 BC
and visited by the wise men …very likely…18 months later
on December 25 the first day of Hanukka…the Jewish holiday when gifts are given…precisely when we celebrate Christmas.

We established this working backwards… from verifiable events at the time of Jesus death…all recorded independently of the Gospel accounts.

Ancient Hebrew slide
This week we’re going to search…for the exact date of Jesus’ birth…and learn even more about the Bethlehem star
this time working forward…from the beginning
of a human life…not the end.

We’re starting our search from the wonderful moment a real human life began …from the conception of John the Baptist

You can follow this if you want to…in the first chapter of Luke. We know from Luke’s Gospel …that Jesus’ cousin was six months older…so John would’ve been conceived between
3 and 4 BC. Using information gathered by Luke
we can now verify the probable date… of John’s conception …independently of the gospels. Luke tells us

Priests slide
 ‘In the time of Herod king of Judea… there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah… One day when Zechariah's division was on duty
in the Temple…Luke tells us

Angel slide
…an angel of the Lord appeared to him.
When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: "Don’t be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer’s been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear a son, and you are to name him John…And he’ll go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous to make ready a people…prepared for the Lord.

Hebrew slide
We know from official Jewish records of the time…that the Division of Abijah was the eighth Division of priests…and in 4 BC the eighth Division served from May 19 to June 16… After their time of service finished…Luke tells us…
Zechariah went home… and Elizabeth conceived.

Allowing for nine months of pregnancy…John would have been born around the 7th of March, 3 BC.
and Jesus born…six months later…

Slide words
around the September the 7th…in the year 3 BC.
I want you to remember that date.

Now we return to the question we were asking last week
…just exactly what was… the star of Bethlehem?

Remember the Magi…wise men from Babylonia in the East remember they were astronomers and astrologists. The way the stars and planets behaved had great significance for them.

When we look at the astrological evidence through their eyes …through the eyes of the Magi…here’s what we find.
And from now I’m going to use Professor Jeff Tallon’s own slides … …

Jupiter danced slide  (with two clicks)
Ancient Babylonian astrological records tells us
that in 3 BC Jupiter ‘danced’…that means viewed from earth
Jupiter appeared to go back and forth.

[1] Modern astronomy shows us… what actually happened
is that Jupiter and Venus… the two brightest planets
went into conjunction twice…once in August three BC
[2] and again in June… two BC.
(in the slide – Venus is showing as a crescent).

What would have made these two events so fascinating
to wise men looking for astrological signs and portents…
is that between those two dates
when Jupiter appears to dance

11 September Slide (with 4 clicks)
[1] precisely on the 11th of September 3 BC…

[2]Jupiter…which was known as the King planet…
moved into conjunction with [3] Regulus…the King star
and all this occurred in the constellation of [4] Leo…the Lion …to the Hebrew people…the constellation of Judah!!!

Given their understanding of what this meant
wise men from the East… would easily believe
the stars they actually saw …were predicting…
a king would be born to the nation of Judah.

Virgo Slide (7 clicks)
And on exactly the same night…September 11… 3 BC…
[2] the planet Venus moved into the constellation of Virgo …along with [3] Mercury and [4] the sun.

To the ancient Babylonian Magi
the sun in the womb of Virgo (the virgin)…would have been a powerful image… foretelling of immaculate conception.

[5] Today
from a computer generated image
of the night sky on that very date[6] we can just make out
the crescent moon… lying under the feet of Virgo.

Remember this passage from our series on Revelation.
“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth… She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations.”

If this astrological event was well known to John of Patmos …it wouldn’t be surprising at all…would it?
because it really occurred.

Now just in case your dubious about this…we now know from ancient Hebrew scrolls discovered at Qumran
that astrology was practised by Jews and Babylonians alike.
And archaeologist have the 12 signs of the zodiac were imprinted in a mosaicon the floor of the Temple in Jerusalem…one constellation… for each tribe of Israel

A virgin with the sun in her belly and the moon at her feet…what an amazing way for God to communicate
with ancient peoples – according to their science.

Mary slide
In fact…some of the earliest presentations of Mary…show the crescent moon…below her feet and the sun in her belly.

Remember our calculations…based on Luke and independent Jewish records…calculations that place Jesus’ birth around September seven…3 BC?

And if what John describes in Revelation is a description
of a famous real astrological event…then instead of the 7th…just maybe the eleventh of September was
the exact date of Jesus birth.

And what about the star of Bethlehem

Lets read Matthews version of the story


Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked “where is he who is born King of the Jews?
We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

After they’d listened to what Herod had to say, the Magi went on their way and the star they’d seen in the east
went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.

On coming to the house they saw the child with his mother Mary…and they bowed down and worshipped him…
and presented him with gifts.

The star came to rest…over Bethlehem.

Visit slide (
[1] And here reproduced electronically according to scientific method…we can see a faint image of where [2] Jupiter was
that very night.

And my friends… this isn’t just any view of the night sky.
It’s the view from Jerusalem…where the Magi spoke to
King Herod…

Viewed from Jerusalem[3] Jupiter is due south and lies right over Bethlehem.

When the Magi paid their visit to the child Jesus…
we now know from the modern science of astronomy
the planet Jupiter reached the full extent of its retrograde motion… and came to rest…that means it appeared to stop

right over Bethlehem… on the 25th of December in 2BC…

But can you see …what’s just above the horizon?
On the  25th of December in the year 2 BC…the Southern Cross… has popped over the horizon for just a few days.

what completely amazes me…is that today
you can no longer see the Southern Cross from Jerusalem That’s because our solar system is moving…
in our galaxy the Milky Way.

But two thousand years ago… you could see it.

What strikes my friend Professor Tallon is…not only does the Southern Cross pin-point…precisely at the horizon…
the town of Bethlehem

But also as viewed from Jerusalem…is the figure of the cross. In an email Jeff wrote me…that to him this means… ‘The cross and the cradle were inseparable.’
And ‘For all these things to be true’…says this respected physicist ‘the guiding signs to the Christ…
would have been laid down in the motion
of the planets and the stars…from the beginning of creation!!’

Crucifixion slide
I leave you with this…

Some 500 years before Jesus’ birth
the book of Daniel tells foretells that the Messiah will come to Jerusalem and be “cut off”. The writer is very specific.

Slide with words
Daniel 9:24-26
“Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.
 “Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem… until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes…there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ … After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.

The people of the ruler who is to come… will destroy the city and the sanctuary….

Blank slide
From the time of the command to rebuild Jerusalem[1] to the coming of the Messiah… there were to be 69 sabbatical years.
That period ended
[2] to the day…on the 30th of March 33 AD, the day we established last week…by the modern science of astronomy…as the actual date of Jesus crucifixion.

Nativity slide
So on Christmas morning…whether you’re a true believer or a skeptic…you’d have to agree that some awesome conclusions seem unavoidable.

And if you are yet to believe in God… I hope you will be left this morning wondering…
just who is this man, compelling in his authority and his humanity

Who is this man…in whom our understanding of God
and physical history seem to converge.
Just possibly… he is the Word become flesh,
Lord of the cosmos, the hope of all humankind,
God becoming human… in time and space.

[1] Artaxerxes to Nehemiah on 1 Nisan (4 March) 444 BC (see Neh 2:1).
[2] Count forward 483 (i.e. 69x7) years of 360 days (see Rev. 11:3).