The Star of Bethlehem

Much has been written about the star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to Jesus, so why say more? As a scientist I never put much stock in attempts to explain the star, but as a preacher, I felt it essential to study the matter and reach some definite conclusions. So it is as a preacher and a scientist that I approach the passage, and perhaps add a little new light to the old.

Let us begin with what chapter 2 of Luke says and does not say. It begins by talking about wise men from the East coming to Jerusalem. It does not say that they followed a star westward to Jerusalem, but rather that they saw a star in the East heralding the birth of the King of the Jews. Some translations say they saw His rising star, or a rising star, but the Greek says a star in the East, using the same word for the wise men from the “East” and the star in the “East”. What I find interesting in the story is not that there was a star, but rather that the wise men knew it heralded the birth of a king, and not just any king, but the King of the Jews. How could they possibly know this. What detail of this star identified it with the birth of the King of the Jews? Perhaps such knowledge existed at some time, but now is lost. I shall speak more of this later.

Next comes the question of where the King will be born. The wise men did not know the answer. They only knew the King of the Jews was to be born. So what did they do, they went to the royal city of David, to Bethlehem where King Herod ruled over the Jews. If anyone would know about where a king was to be born, the current king was the most likely candidate. But Herod did not know, and found the news most troubling. So he spoke with the Jewish chiefs priests and scribes, and they provided the answer: Bethlehem, in the land of Judah. So Herod sent them to Bethlehem. Now no star was needed to find Bethlehem. Its 100 miles south of Jerusalem, no doubt on a well traveled road.

Now here is where the story gets very interesting. The star they had seen in the East now reappears and goes before them. Now as most people know, stars rise in the East and set in the West, just like the Sun and the Moon. The reason stars rise in the East and set in the West is because the Earth rotates. The stars are essentially fixed points in the heavens. Thus the motion is an apparent motion due to the Earth’s turning, not a real motion of the stars themselves. But Bethlehem is almost due South of Jerusalem, about 100 miles. For a star to lead from North to South, its motion must be due to a real motion of the star. Further, it must be moving West to East as well as North to South in order to counteract the apparent motion due to the Earth’s rotation.

This motion presents certain complications. Consider the television satellite dishes that some people use to pick up TV signals. These point towards satellites that are always in the same position over the Earth (don’t need to steer the satellite while watching a show). These satellites are uniquely located over the equator at an altitude of about 22,000 miles above the Earth, the so called Clarke belt. These are the only locations where an object can orbit above a fixed location on earth without the use of rocket engines. At all other distances from the Earth, some method of propulsion is required to keep then  stationary above the Earth. Thus, unless the Star of Bethlehem was in the Clarke belt, it required a source of propulsion to keep it over the region between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. And it could not be in the Clarke belt and be over Bethlehem, since Bethlehem is not on the equator.

To remain above Bethlehem, the star must orbit the Earth, no matter how far away it is. The nearest star to us is over 4 light years away. That means if it orbits the Earth every 24 hours, it must travel about 25 light years, or about 1 light year per hour. This corresponds to a speed of 8,750 times the speed of light. This pretty much rules out the star being a star as we understand it. Looking at this from another perspective, if the object travels at the speed of light, it would have to be within our solar system at about the same distance from us as the planet Uranus. Uranus presently travels at about 15,000 miles per hour, whereas the speed of light is 186000 miles per second. The fact is, there is no orbit of any sort that would keep an object over Bethlehem.

One last  scientific point has to do with the conditions necessary to tell when an object is over a house. To tell if a star is over a house 100 ft away from your location, you must be able to discern the angle of the star measured relative to the vertical. Unfortunately, this angular difference is about 400 times below what the human eye can detect. The eye can detect an angular difference of about 1 minute of arc (one 60th of a degree). This means that if a house is 100 feet away from you, an object over the house must be at an altitude of less than 65 miles before you could even hope to detect that it was over the house and not over you. In reality, it probably must be 10 times or more lower, say less than 5 miles up, for you to look up and tell the difference. This means the object must be in the Earth’s atmosphere.

So what options are there. Some have suggested that the star was in fact the Shekina Glory cloud that led the wise men, just as it led the Israelites out of Egypt. This is a plausible option. But as I noted earlier, we still have the question of how the wise men knew the star had to do with the birth of a King of the Jews. Looking back through the accounts of Jesus birth, it is noteworthy that Angels appeared to Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph (multiple times), and to the shepherds. Angels can shine brightly, and they are messengers. I suggest that the star was in fact an Angel. Angel’s appeared to many others. They are messengers. They could appear as bright lights. They are not constrained by the laws of gravity. They could have communicated to the wise men. But most of all, it seems only reasonable that angels were in charge of all the PR, including the wise men. This would account for all the loose ends.

In the end, we will have to ask the Lord for the details when we see Him. He certainly could have orchestrated these events any way he wanted to. My observations may be entirely wrong. So I offer them as just another opinion, one based upon the belief that faith and science ultimately are in accord with each other.

Posted in Uncategorized

Covenant baptism of infants (and others)

One of the key practices distinguishing reformed churches from other Protestant churches is the practice of baptizing infants. This practice flows from a solid understanding of God and His Word. This article provides an introduction to the scriptural underpinnings of infant baptism.

We begin with the fundamental nature of God held by all Christian churches: there is one God in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The three persons of the Trinity exist in such complete unity and harmony that the Old Testament (OT) speaks of the One True God. Their oneness defines them. As we come to the New Testament (NT), it describes God’s Trinitarian nature in great detail through numerous stories and examples. Heresy is teaching about God that departs from this Trinitarian understanding.

The nature of God bears directly on our approach to and understanding of the Old Testament. God reveals His nature, His relationship to mankind, and nearly every important doctrine through the Law and the other books of the Old Testament. At the same time, the OT lays the foundations for the NT. For the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms speak about Jesus and His work (Luke 24:44). The God of the OT is the identical same God of the NT. Fundamental principles and teachings of the OT describe the nature and character and teaching of Jesus. He is the Word of God become flesh. Thus, to understand the NT, one must first understand the OT.

From the OT we learn that God deals with men through covenants, and that covenants have signs. Of particular interest to us here is circumcision, the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. Now Abraham was declared righteous because he believed (Rom 4:3, 9, 13; Gal 3:6; Jam 2:23), just the same as for us. Yet God commanded Abraham to circumcise the males of his household, including all newborn males of his household at 8 days of age (Gen 17:9-14). Now why would he do that? Did the children understand? Could they make a confession of faith? No and No! God did so because He calls families into covenant with him, literally households – all those under the authority of the head of the household). He brings the children of the house into the covenant. They are to be brought up as members of the covenant. They are included in the Passover (Ex 12:26-27). The covenant promises are to you and your children (Deut 1:40; 30:1-3). And they are to be taught as members of the covenant (Deut 4:9-10; 6:7; 31:12). Why is all of this so? Because the very purpose of marriage is godly offspring (Mal 2:14-15). In short, God loves families that love and honor him, from the time of birth to the time of death.

Now circumcision symbolizes a number of things:

  • circumcision of the heart (2:29)
  • the repentance of a stubborn heart (Deut 10:16)
  • a turning towards God (Deut 30:6)
  • a cleansing of evil hearts (Jer 4:4)
  • sin must be cut off
  • bloodshed is the price of sin
  • God is in the midst of the most intimate affairs of men
  • God looks forward to the redeemer, Jesus, the promised seed
  • Christ will rise from the dead on the 8th day

Circumcision clearly represents the cleansing work of God, a work that only He can accomplish. Circumcision of an infant points to God, that His grace is poured out on the child by being born into a family of believers, that He stands in line to inherit the promises of God.

Now baptism is the sign of the New Covenant, replacing circumcision in the Old Covenant. It is a cleansing work of God. Circumcision and baptism are connected (Col 2:11-15). God has not changed His mind about families. As boys were circumcised in the Old Covenant, now boys and girls are baptized in the New Covenant. The profound change in the signs is not from children to adults, but boys to all children.

Now baptism symbolizes a number of things as well:

  • repentance (Mk 1:4; Luk 3:3)
  • trials (Mk 10:38-39)
  • death to sinful self (Luk 12:50)
  • oneness with Jesus (Acts 19:5)
  • death and burial in Christ (Rom 6:2-5; Col 2:12)
  • salvation, appeal for a good conscience (1 Pet 3:21)

Notice the similarity between the symbolisms of circumcision and baptism: repentance, new life, removal of sin, salvation.

Why are NT examples mostly of adults (believers baptisms), because the practice of the new sign required instruction, understanding and obedience. Thus Jesus spoke to those who could understand and obey. But nowhere does God say that the sign of baptism is only for adults. All to whom He spoke understood the nature of family covenant with God, and the attendant sign of circumcision. There was no need to address the issue. Silence must not be used as an argument against infant baptism. Further, there are a few NT passages addressing salvation of households (1 Co 1:16; Acts 16:31).

In conclusion, God calls families into covenant with Him, and extends the covenant sign of baptism to all members of the household, even to the newborn children. And as such, He expects that children should be reared in the faith as suitable for the godly offspring of godly parents.

Posted in Doctrinal

Quote by Noah Webster

In light of recent shootings and other violence, the thoughts of Noah Webster seem appropriate.

“The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible”

Posted in Quotes

The Lord’s Day

The Lord’s Day is no longer held in high esteem in America as it once was. In past times, businesses closed on Sundays, in many cases by law (blue laws) that recognized the Biblical principles of Sabbath law. Some parts of the United States still uphold such laws (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_law), but most do not. How should today’s believers view the Lord’s Day?

The Bible addresses the Sabbath in many places. Christendom has long held that Christians are not bound to the Saturday Sabbath of the Old Covenant, but the substance of the Sabbath Law now applies to Sunday, the Lord’s Day. The shift to Sunday recognizes the profound significance of Jesus resurrection on the first day of the week (Sunday – Luke 24). The transference of Sabbath principles to the Lord’s Day recognizes the deep importance of the eternal principles of the Sabbath Law.

The Sabbath principles include:

Resting from one’s ordinary work (Exodus 31:15, 35:2; Deut 5:14; Heb 4:9;Isa 58:13-14)

Worshipping (convocation) (Lev 23:3-4)

Feasting and fellowship (Lev 23:2-4)

Doing good (Mt 12:9-14)

Love the Lord’s Day (Isa 58:13-14)

The few references given above should be enough to steer one into a study of each of these principles.

As Christian’s, we should endeavor to understand the great importance of these principles, and to put them into practice in our own lives. At Shepherd King we gather for Lord’s Day services, and share a meal together after each service. Our aim is to actively love God through worship, to love one another through fellowship and sharing a meal together, and to regularly encourage one another to good works. In doing these things, we come to love the Lord’s Day and enter into the true rest He intends for us.

Posted in Doctrinal

What is Reformed?

We recently had a booth at the Tualatin Crawfish Festival. I always enjoy working in booths, and have done so for business, politics and church. There are always lots of friendly people, and its always a pleasure to promote the that are near and dear to our hearts.

Of some surprise to me was the fact that nearly every person who stopped to talk with us asked the question “What is Reformed?”. This is somewhat understandable due to the fact that the name of our church, prominently displayed on a banner, is Shepherd King Reformed Church. But it was surprising to me how little people understood of the meaning of Reformed, even among Lutherans who identified themselves as such. I guess this simply verifies how little interest people have in matters of doctrine and church history, even among Christians. In some larger sense, I believe this reflects upon the church itself, and how far it is distancing itself from matters of truth and Biblical veracity. When each church is sure it has the whole truth, there is no need to look any further. After all, to find more truth might force us to decide whether truth matters, and whether we might be wrong and need to change. And change is rarely easy. Let us each pray that we might be humble enough to recognize and pursue truth beyond our selves, and even beyond our own congregation.

In answer to the question of What is Reformed? I offer the following brief summary.

Reformed refers to the doctrines of the Reformation which led to the formation of Protestant churches, separate from Catholicism.

These doctrines fundamentally recognize that God is sovereign over all of life. This sovereignty is expressed in various ways. I list below some of the key points, and how Shepherd King applies them in practice:

  1. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): The Bible alone is our highest authority.
  2. Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
  3. Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone.
  4. Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
  5. Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone.

Sovereignty over God’s relationship with man: Covenant Theology (God relates to man through His covenants with man, children are to be included in those covenants)

Sovereignty over history:  Postmillennial eschatology (optimistic view of the future) rather than Premillennial or Amillennial.

Sovereignty over ethics:    The laws of the Old Covenant provide the foundation of ethics, that is, right and wrong before God.

Sovereignty over salvation: The five points of calvinism outline the key elements of salvation (Doctrines of Grace)

Sovereignty over man’s understanding of God: Presuppositional Apologetics (Understanding of God requires acceptance of the Trinitarian view of God, and of the Bible as the revealed Word of God)

As stated earlier, this is a brief summary. A search for any of these topics will lead to plenty of material to help understand them.

Posted in Doctrinal

Marriage in the Bible

Here are some excellent observations on the significance of marriage in the Bible.

Posted in Uncategorized

Quotes: Samuel Adams

While cleaning the garage, my wife ran across some copies of quotes collected decades ago. I would like to share one from time to time. This one is from Samuel Adams:

But neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest Laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.

Posted in Quotes

Covenant lawsuits OR covenant mercy?

The prophets of the Old Covenant frequently speak forth judgments against various nations. In many cases it is unlikely that those nations actually heard those judgments. If this is the case, why does God include them? Consider the book of Amos. God pronounces judgments against Israel’s neghbors, even including Judah. Many consider such pronouncements as God bringing a covenant lawsuit against his people. Unfortunately, lawsuits conjure up images of justice. Is God primarily after justice? Are the prophets trying His case against His people? More plausible is that God is acting mercifully towards his people. He is not declaring His cause of justice, but rather His great desire to extend mercy and forgiveness to His people. He pronounces judgments against the surrounding nations in order to demonstrate His love for His people, and show that He defends His people against their enemies. In Amos, He then goes on to lament the loss of His people, and call them to return to Him and His loving care.

God loves us, and watches over us, protecting us from the wiles of the enemy. He transforms us into His image, and prepares us for eternity with Him. Praise the Lord! For He is patient with us, and His steadfast love endures forever.

Posted in Doctrinal, Sermons

Covenants: The Language of Love

For many, the covenants call forth images of legal documents, lawsuits for breach therof, and so forth. But God is love, and he expressed his love towards us through covenants. We might ask “Why do covenants (the Old in particular) include curses? To answer this, consider the following hypothetical story.

Assume I, as one who desires to please God in all things, have a neighbor who deals drugs, and generally engages in all sorts of unsavory behaviors. Would I enter into a covenant with him? Not very likely. Why? Because he most certainly would not be interested in a covenant with me, nor would he likely be able to keep a covenant with me. He is basically incapable of doing so. What would it take before we could covenant with one another? Would it not basically take a complete change of heart on his part? And how would I know that this had occurred, and that he would understand what he would even be entering into? Perhaps if I gave him a description of the person he would need to be in order for us to covenant together, along with a list of the sort of things that would most certainly break our covenant agreement, including the consequences that would likely follow in the most grievous cases. If he had these materials, and then said “That’s what I want to be like! Will you help me change?”, then perhaps we could enter into a covenant. This would be a genuine act of love towards him.

This story describes the way God sees us, and the way he relates to us. His love graciously reaches out to us in such a way as to transform us into people with whom he may fellowship, and upon whom He may pour out His blessings. He is indeed a gracious and loving God.

Posted in Doctrinal, Sermons