Category Archives: Christmas

Controversies from conception to crucifixion

The Annunciation by Murillo, 1655–1660, Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

(courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer Gear PhD

It is predictable that controversies will be experienced at many levels of society. In Queensland, the State government sacked the ‘entire scandal-plagued Ipswich council after fraud charges’. Similar action was taken when ‘Logan City Council [was] sacked by Queensland’s Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe’.

Remember the controversies surrounding the sacking of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on 11 November 1975 by Governor-General Sir John Kerr?

Cameron Bancroft caught ball-tampering. Image courtesy SportsRush (24 March 2018).

 

Could anyone forget the Australian cricket team’s ball-tampering controversy in the Newlands Test, South Africa in 2018?

A very different controversy

This one involved a scandalous conception, a rejection of the child’s adult occupation by his ethnic leaders, and some contemporary church leaders perpetrating these dissensions. The baby born had an aim for life that was out of this world.

This virgin woman, Mary, in first century Israel was betrothed (engaged) to be married to Joseph, of David’s family line, when the angel Gabriel came to her with an outrageous announcement:

Greetings! The Lord is with you; you are very special to him…. You will become pregnant and have a baby boy. You will name him Jesus. He will be great. People will call him the Son of the Most High God, and the Lord God will make him king like his ancestor David. He will rule over the people of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end (Luke 1:28, 31-33).

Mary was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. She became so confused she asked the angel how this could happen to a virgin. The angel’s answer was that the Spirit’s power would make sure the baby born would be holy and called the Son of God. The angel also announced her relative Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age (with John the Baptist). The assurance was that God can do anything (Luke 1:35-37).

The controversies of the conception passages regarding Jesus surround: (1) The ministry of angels, and (2) How God could cause a virgin to conceive a child without sexual intercourse?

Angels were created as, the host, ‘Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them’ (Genesis 2:1). There will be resistance to the notion of angels by those who oppose God’s description of the universe that includes the unseen ministry of these beings. Hebrews 12:22 states there are ‘myriads of angels’ – an innumerable number.

What is the job description of unseen angels? This is not from One Magic Christmas. The biblical view is that ‘all angels are spirits who serve. God sends them to serve those who will receive salvation’ (Hebrews 1:14).

Conception controversy

Imagine a first century woman engaged (betrothed) to be married and she became pregnant without intercourse. Also, this pregnancy was not announced about a woman who would give birth in a comfortable house or in a maternity ward of a local hospital. The son of God would be born to a humble woman in a Bethlehem cow shed that was nothing like an Australian dairy farm milking shed. After birth, he was placed in ‘a box where cattle are fed’ (Luke 2:7).

What does it take to understand and believe in the virgin birth of Christ? Protestant theologian, Wayne Grudem’s, assessment was: “Certainly such a miracle is not too hard for the God who created the universe and everything in it — anyone who affirms that a virgin birth is ‘impossible’ is just confessing his [ or her] own unbelief in the God of the Bible” (1994:532).

Retired Episcopalian, theologically liberal bishop, John Shelby Spong, called ‘an aging maverick’, gave an example of Grudem’s appraisal:

There was no biologically literal virgin birth, no miraculous overcoming of barrenness in the birth of John the Baptist, no angel Gabriel who appeared to Zechariah or to Mary, no deaf muteness, no angelic chorus that peopled the heavens to announce Jesus’ birth to hillside shepherds, no journey to Bethlehem, no presentation or purification in Jerusalem, and no childhood temple story….

All that can be stated definitely is that the echoes of the status of illegitimacy appear to be far stronger in the text than the suggestion that Jesus was Mary’s child by Joseph (Spong 1992:157-158).

Spong_Lecture_DM_01.croppedJohn Shelby Spong 2018 (courtesy The Chautauqua Daily)

That is speculation, a la Spong! Out of the mind of Spong, he produced what Grudem explained — a confession of Spong’s unbelief in the God of the Bible (and the universe). He confirmed this when he wrote, ‘No recognized New Testament scholar, Catholic or Protestant, would today seriously defend the historicity of these [birth] narratives [in the Gospels]’ (Spong 1992:44-45). 

Really? It’s too bad Spong didn’t give an even-handed approach to the historicity of New Testament material and recognition of scholars outside of his liberal theological brand.  Even in Spong’s own generation today, an eminent scholar and professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, Dr.Craig Blomberg (1987) provided verification of The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. I’m confident Spong would reject his scholarship because he is an evangelical.

Image result for photo Craig BlombergBlomberg (1987:255), while acknowledging his was “‘a ‘minority report’ among biblical scholars worldwide”, endorsed the historical veracity of the Gospels:

The gospels may be accepted as trustworthy accounts of what Jesus did and said. One cannot hope to prove the accuracy of every detail on purely historical grounds alone; there is simply not enough data available for that.  But as investigation proceeds, the evidence becomes sufficient for one to declare that what can be checked is accurate, so that it is entirely proper to believe that what cannot be checked is probably accurate as well.  Other conclusions, widespread though they are, seem not to stem from even-handed historical analysis but from religious or philosophical prejudice….

It has been argued here that the gospels must be subjected to the same type of historical scrutiny given to other writings of antiquity but that they can stand up to such scrutiny admirably (1987:254-255)

This affirms C S Lewis’s explanation: ‘One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important’ (1970:51).

Extraordinary controversy

If we thought the virgin conception was controversial, it is multiplied many times over when discussing God’s prophetic statement of the nature of that conception and birth. Yes, God can, did and does prophesy events. This happened with the virgin conception. In the Old Testament (OT), prophecy referred to a prophet who received divine revelations, as with Moses and Elijah.

I walked into my local pharmacy to deliver scripts a few days ago when I noticed decorations at the entrance, ‘Joy to the World. I commended the pharmacist for supporting the celebration of the birth of Jesus rather than Santa. What has that to do with predictions?

The prophetic controversies

OT Scriptures have created heated discussions over the centuries relating to Jesus’ birth. One of the most prominent is from:

Isaiah 7:14

The controversies are seen in the comparison of two eminent, contemporary Bible translations, the ESVA and the NRSVA:

Flower8‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’ (ESVA).

Flower8‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel’ (NRSVA).

There is a Christmas world of a difference between these two translations. Was this prophesied child, who would be called, Immanuel, born to a ‘young woman’ or ‘a virgin’? The difference has considerable implications. If she were a young woman, it does not guarantee that she was a virgin.

What are the problems with the prophetic passage from Isa. 7:14, which is quoted in Matthew 1:22-23 that has caused so much angst among Bible translators and commentators?

1folder There are two different ways to translate the Hebrew almah – virgin or young woman.

2folder ‘Almah’ does not actually indicate virginity. Don’t jump to conclusions about my statement, as there are other ramifications.

3folder The Matt. 1:22-25 passage is clear from the context that Mary was a virgin: ‘Joseph did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And he named him Jesus’ (v. 25).

4folder ‘Almah’ is not precisely equivalent to virgin or young woman. Congruent with many OT passages, many prefer the translation, ‘young woman of marriageable age’. Most, but not all, OT references to ‘almah’ indicate a virgin (Carson 1984:77).

5folder In about 250 BC, the Hebrews completed the translation of the Hebrew OT into Greek, known as the Septuagint (LXX). The translators, for the Hebrew almah, used the Greek word, parthenos, which is used in Matt. 1:23 and Luke 1:27 for Mary the ‘virgin’. However the LXX translation is about 300 years earlier than the gospel writings. Had the meaning, therefore, changed during these three centuries? An additional OT problem is:

Genesis 34:4 indicates that Dinah is a parthenos (LXX). However, the previous verse affirms that she is not a virgin. Why, then, would one want to translate parthenos in Matthew and Luke as virgin instead of young woman? Virgin is the preferred translation in the Gospels because ‘the overwhelming majority of the occurrences of “parthenos” in both biblical and profane Greek require the rendering ‘virgin’” (Carson 1984:78).

6folder To deal honestly with Isaiah 7:14, we need to examine Isaiah 7:1-9:7 as a unit. In context there is a double fulfillment in Isaiah’s day, with God’s judgement against Judah and Ephraim by the Assyrian armies. The second fulfillment is the coming of the promised Immanuel (God with us) to the virgin Mary.

Controversies from religious leaders in Jesus’ lifetime

These are only three examples of the religious who objected to Jesus’ actions.

Image result for clipart Hebrew signJesus’ actions caused anger among the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus and healed a demon-possessed man and the crowds questioned if he was the Messiah: ‘But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, “No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.” Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart’ (Matt 212:24-25 NLT).

Don Stewart commented:

The miracle was undeniable, for the man was blind and mute as well as demon-possessed. Rather than believe Jesus to be the Messiah, these religious rulers attributed Jesus’ power to the devil. Thus their “official” explanation was that Jesus’ power came from Satan. This was another cause for which they wanted Him dead (Why did the religious leaders want to kill Jesus?)

Image result for clipart Hebrew signThe Jewish religious leaders had corrupted the observance of the Sabbath. Jesus asked his critics, ‘“Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him. He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored!’ (Mark 3:4-5 NLT).

Jesus’ enemies were in the synagogue and wanted to see if they could accuse him of doing work on the Sabbath. There was a man with a deformed hand there. The man was healed and ‘At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus’ (Mark 3:6 NLT). These religious leaders were persuaded that these actions demonstrated Jesus was not a genuine Messiah because such a person would not violate the Jewish Law this way.

What did Jesus’ enemies now decide to do? ‘At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus’ (Mark 3:6 NLT).

Wherever Jesus went he did much good through his many works, including miracles. However, there were many who opposed him

Image result for clipart Hebrew signOne more example what happened as the time for Jesus’ death approached. Who killed Jesus? This question has been asked over and over for the last 2,000 years. Two groups of people were involved:

  • According to Matt 26:57-67 (NLT), the Jewish leaders called for Jesus’ death. Matt 27:20-26, 31-44 confirms the Jews called for Jesus’ death.
  • However, Matt 27:27-38 states the Romans committed the physical act of capital punishment by crucifixion of Jesus.

This was done so that Romans 5:8 (NLT) could be accomplished, ‘But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners’.

What’s the big deal for Aussies at Christmas 2019?

Doubters are out there in droves among ordinary people and scholars. Who wants to be associated with a mob of literalists like me, who allegedly concoct a story about a miraculous birth and have perpetrated it for thousands of years?

John Dominic Crossan (1994:17), fellow of the infamous Jesus Seminar, deconstructed the meaning of the virgin birth. This was his reasoning:

The prophecy in Isaiah [7:14] says nothing whatsoever about a virginal conception. It speaks in Hebrew of an almah, a virgin just married but not yet pregnant with her first child. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures the term almah was translated as parthenos, which in that context meant exactly the same thing — namely a newly married virgin (emphasis in original).

If it doesn’t refer to the virgin birth, to what does it refer? Crossan stated:

I understand the virginal conception of Jesus to be a confessional statement about Jesus’ status and not a biological statement about Mary’s body. It is later faith in Jesus as an adult retrojected mythologically onto Jesus as an infant…. He is not necessarily the firstborn child of Joseph and Mary. He could just as easily be their youngest (1994:23).

Crossan’s theology is radically removed from that of biblical Christianity. He vanquishes anything that reads like a literal interpretation. However, I wouldn’t dare read his many publications (which I’ve read) the way he interprets the Bible. Christianity is in freefall in the writings of Dom Crossan.

The truth of the Christ child matters because the one who came as a sinless baby (not impregnated by sinful Joseph) was here to live and to shed his life’s blood to provide cleansing for sin. Remember he was a Jew who followed the Jewish law for forgiveness of sin – shedding of blood.

The Jesus’ difference

One born through sexual intercourse between a sinful man and a sinful woman produced sinful offspring. Jesus Christ ‘didn’t have any sin. But God made him become sin for us. So we can be made right with God because of what Christ has done for us’ (2 Cor 5:21).

The Bible expressly declares that Jesus was sinless. As a high priest he is able to intercede with God on behalf of people because ‘he is holy, pure and without blame. He isn’t like other people. He does not sin. He is lifted high above the heavens’ (Hebrews 7:26).

At the birth of Jesus, Mary was assured by the angel, ‘The holy one that is born will be called the Son of God’. ‘Holy’ means to be separate and cut off from all that is sinful. God, the Son, cannot tolerate sin but he came to earth as a baby who grew into an adult and was crucified for the sins of the world.

Why should that interest us in Australia for Christmas 2019? Why should the Santa and the reindeer be replaced by a manger scene at Christmas? He brought ‘Joy to the World’ if people are open to receive it.

For Christmas we again celebrate, ‘Oh Holy Night’.

 

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 December 2019.

Image result for clip art nativity lines Mantle clip art christmas mantle with nativity scene image

 

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Celebrations smother the truth of Christmas

(image courtesy paper model kiosk)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Some of these details were published in my article, Make-believe and celebrations: Christmas message ignored, (Online Opinion, 24 December 2018).

Is this the truth about the origins of Christmas? Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker wrote: ‘Christmas—whether it is observed for religious or seasonal reasons or just for the hell of it—is in its origins and in its imagination and its implications indissolubly syncretist’ (Why wage a war on Christmas? 2018).

Syncretism is ‘the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion’ (dictionary.com 2018. s.v. syncretism). So Gopnik’s view on Christmas origins is that of someone who wants to combine opposing principles or beliefs. Is that where Christmas began? Is it a mixture of beliefs of the pagan gods, Santa and his reindeer, profiteering and the baby in the manger?

It is unlikely that syncretism will get to the core of Christmas origins. It will not be joyous but toxic. O’ Come Let Us Adore Him is not likely to be a prominent theme.

In 2017, objections to Christmas came from a different quarter. The Sunshine Coast Daily in Queensland reported:

A ‘JESUS ban’ in public schools has sparked fury from [Sunshine] Coast MPs, after reports kids swapping Christmas cards, making Christmas tree decorations or bracelets could be censored.

The Australian reported an unofficial policy from the Queensland Department of Education and Training had identified junior evangelism as an issue to be stamped out, following a Departmental review into GodSpace religious instruction materials.

“The notion of trying to take pictures of Jesus out of Christmas cards is ludicrous,” Fairfax MP Ted O’Brien said, fuming at the reported edict.

“What do they think Christmas stands for? Are they going to try and take Christ out of the word Christmas next?

“I don’t think Australians should cop such political correctness. I think it’s ridiculous”….

The department [of Education] “expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI are evangelising to (sic) students who do not” in Queensland public schools.

“This could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment,” the report read.

Examples of evangelising reported as being in the review and two other previous reviews included exchanging Christmas cards referring to Jesus’s birth, making Christmas tree decorations and beaded bracelet gifts in order to share the good news about Jesus (Sawyer 2017).

Image result for image Christ in Christmas(image courtesy The Leo House)

In the profiteering and commercialism of Christmas, what is the truth that is missed?

The charade that covers up these truths

Is the biblical Christmas story wrapped in history or myth? To unwrap this, see my article, The Virgin Birth: Fact, Fiction, or Something Else?

In this season, lost is the realisation that Christmas is first of all a celebration of the birth of the Saviour. He is all but forgotten – thoughtlessly smothered in the haste, commotion, partying and flamboyant marketing of this season.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that Christmas should be only solemn, sombre, grim religious observances without any cheer. It should be a time of real joy and gladness as exemplified in the Christmas carol with words by Isaac Watts and music by George Frederick Handel:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

This is not manufactured sentiment and wild revelry that characterises the way the community celebrates Christmas.

This Christmas truth is covered up

What do Santa, reindeer, lights and Christmas trees disguise?

(1) The virgin birth, including its prophetic fulfillment

Even from within the church, former Roman Catholic priest, John Dominic Crossan objected: ‘The stories of Jesus’ birth are religious fiction, or parable, if you prefer…. This does not mean that they have no value, but … they are not to be read as literal history’ (Crossan & Watts 1999:10).

Objections are at the core of the Christmas story. Even Mary was a doubter herself about the virgin conception. The angel Gabriel appeared to a virgin in Nazareth who was pledged to marry Joseph. Gabriel’s message was that Mary was ‘highly favoured. The Lord is with you’. Those words disturbed Mary and she was ‘greatly troubled’ by what the words meant.

The angel told her that she would conceive and give birth to a son to be called Jesus. He will be ‘the Son of the Most High’, given the throne of his father David, and reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. This kingdom will never end (Luke 1).

Then Mary’s fears rose like today’s sceptics. ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God’ (Luke 1:34-35).

Why is there resistance from Mary down to Dom Crossan in the late twentieth century?

(a) In a materialistic, commercial age dominated by naturalistic explanations, many find it more difficult to believe in a virgin conception than Jesus’ walking on water. Since God is so omnipotent he could speak the heavens and the earth into existence (Gen 1:1), doubt about God’s powerful actions has crept into our society through evolutionary theories. A flow on is resistance to the virgin birth.

(b) No matter one’s worldview, we live in a miraculous world where God’s providence means ‘he causes his sun to shine on evil people and good people. He sends rain on those who do right and those who don’t’ (Matt 5:45 NIRV). It would be sound thinking during this Christmas season to understand the everyday miracles we need to survive, including the air we breathe and the power of gravity. What happens when the rains are not sent by almighty God – for his reasons?

(c) Genuine Bible prophecy is held in low regard. This miraculous event was prophesied in the Old Testament (OT). The history of the Western world turns on this result, the division of BC to AD.

The Christ child’s birth in Bethlehem was prophesied in Micah 5:1-2 that he would be born in Bethlehem, 700 years before his birth. And it happened as predicted.

Yet sceptics respond with this type of question: ‘Where is the evidence that “Messianic prophecies of the OT weren’t manufactured after Jesus birth, life and death by his disciples”?

Paul Williams, British blogger and convert to Islam, posed this question:

There is evidence they [Jesus’ disciples] did [make stuff up] from time to time. Consider Matthew 2 [v.23] for example:

“There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

There is no such prophecy anywhere in the Bible (in Jimmy Akin, Did Matthew *Invent* A Prophecy About Jesus? 2012, emphasis in original).

It’s important to note How Matt 2:23 cites the OT: ‘… what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled …’ The specific quote is not found in any OT prophet. Was Matthew wrong with this statement?

An answer is found in what Matthew stated. He did not quote a specific prophet but referred to ‘prophets’. It would be fruitless to try to find a particular prophet who stated this about Nazareth when Matthew used the general, ‘prophets’. Geisler & Howe (1992:328) provide evidence of how Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of the OT law, which included fulfilling the Nazarite vow.

One fact removes the possibility that Jesus’ disciples read the OT prophecy back into the NT – after the fact. This evidence is in the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran, Israel, on the west bank of the Dead Sea. In 1946-47, Bedouin shepherd boys found every book of the OT except Esther in desert caves. Here is proof that the Messianic prophecies predated the incarnation of Jesus. Copies of Isaiah, Psalm 22, Daniel 9 and other OT prophecies have been dated to 335-100 BC by paleography, scribal and carbon 14 dating – secular methods. This was a significant find because it demonstrated the fulfillment of the prophecies was not manipulated by Jesus’ disciples.

Related image(image courtesy imgurmax.pw)

Isaiah 7:14 prophesied: ‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you [plural] a sign: the virgin [or, young woman] will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel [meaning, ‘God with us’]. This was confirmed – not invented – in Matthew 1:22-23.

You couldn’t believe the academic and other theological gymnastics that surround the meaning of ‘virgin’, with some wanting to translate it as a ‘young woman’ and not inferring virginity. In Isa 7:14, the Hebrew word used is almah whose root meaning could be either ‘maiden’ (virgin) or ‘young woman’.

Here is one example of the resistance to the virgin conception from Bob Seidensticker (2013):

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (Matt. 1:23).

Matthew documents the fulfillment of a prophecy written 750 years earlier. Powerful evidence of the truth of the Bible?

Well … no. The first reason is the reason by which anyone would reject a claimed prophecy: the evidence of the fulfillment is not independent but comes only through authors (of Matthew and Luke) who one must assume had read the prophecy. They had motive and opportunity to claim a fulfillment where none existed.

But was that quote from Isaiah even a prophecy of a messiah? You’d expect something like, “The LORD God understands the burdens of His people and will send a savior. And ye shall know him by this sign: the virgin will give birth to a son” and so on.

Here’s what that chapter of Isaiah is actually talking about. In the early 700s BCE, Syria and Israel allied with nearby countries for protection against Assyria, the local bully that was vacuuming up smaller states. Judea refused to join the alliance. Syria and Israel, fearing a potential enemy at their rear, moved to conquer Judea.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to tell the king of Judea that, with faith, his enemies would be destroyed. Isaiah gives him a sign: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (7:14). Before the boy is old enough to understand right from wrong, Syria and Israel will be destroyed.

In speaking to this opposition to Isa 7:14 being fulfilled in Jesus, Messiah and Emmanuel, it is important to note that OT prophecies mostly have a double fulfillment:

‘Few laws are more important to observe in the interpretation of prophetic Scriptures than the law of double reference. Two events, widely separated as to the time of their fulfillment, may be brought together into the scope of prophecy’ (Pentecost 1958:56).

See the excellent article by David Jeremiah that explains this more fully: ‘The principle of double fulfillment in interpreting Scripture‘.

This is the case with Isa 7:14. The immediate relevance of this verse is spelled out in the context. It dealt with the Lord speaking to King Ahaz. The son born to the young woman,’before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right’, was a sign that the land of the two kings that Ahaz dreaded would be deserted and the Lord would bring prosperity to Ahaz and his people (Isa 7:15ff).

Was this son born to a virgin or young woman?

Old Testament scholar, Gleason Archer (1982:269), stated, ‘It is … not as precise a word for virgin as the Hebrew bethulah’ (see Gen 24:16). However, for the seven times the singular almah is used in the Hebrew OT, the word always refers to a woman who has had no sexual relations – a virgin. We know from the Isa 7:14 fulfillment in Matt 1:24 that Joseph had no sexual liaison with Mary ‘until she had given birth to a son’.

When the Hebrew OT was translated into Greek (the Septuagint) about 250 BC by seventy Jewish scholars, parthenos was used to translate almah, which can only be translated as virgin and not young woman. This also is the case in Matt 1:23 where the Greek for ‘virgin’ is parthenos. The Greeks used numphe for bride or young woman.

Why is the virgin birth important in the records of the first Christmas? Am I nit picking in emphasising Jesus’ virgin birth rather than his birth to a young woman? Not at all! There are at least five reasons why the virgin birth is important to Christianity (suggested by Don Stewart):

https://i2.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  Because Mary ‘was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit’ (Matt 1:18), it guaranteed his heavenly identity of being God the Son.

https://i2.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  Jesus lived a sinless life since there was no sexual liaison between a male and a female for his conception. With a human father, he would have inherited a sinful nature. The sin nature is passed down through the male as it was Adam who was responsible for the first sin of disobedience (Gen 3; Rom 5:12). The virgin birth guarantees that Jesus ‘appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin’ (1 John 3:5). No sinful human being could guarantee cleansing from sin.

https://i2.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  For the cleansing of human sin, God required a perfect sacrifice in the OT (Ex 12:5) and the sinless Jesus, with his crucifixion, was a sin offering for Christian believers (2 Cor 5:21). Hebrews 7:26 confirms that Jesus was a high priest who truly meets our need because he was the ‘one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens’. This was possible because of his virgin birth.

https://i2.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  Christ’s unparalleled attributes are revealed in Scripture. Don Stewart’s summary of this uniqueness is:

What the virgin birth does is show the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. No one else has ever come into the world the same way as Jesus. The unique and miraculous nature of Jesus carried on through His entire life. His birth was a miracle, His public ministry consisted of miracles, Jesus miraculously lived a sinless life, He miraculously came back from the dead, and left this world in a miraculous way. From His entrance into this world until His departure, the life of Jesus Christ was a miracle.

https://i2.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  The historically reliable Bible confirms Jesus’ virgin birth. See my articles: (a) Can you trust the Bible, part 1? (b) Can you trust the Bible, part 2? (c) Can you trustthe Bible, part 3? (d) Can you trust the Bible, part 4?

With commercialised Christmases, these core elements are ignored and replaced.

(2) The meaning of nativity

Nativity is a special name for a baby’s birth place. If I was born in Brisbane, you could say my nativity was in Brisbane. However, it predominately refers to Christians’ pointing to the birth place of Jesus Christ. Nativity ‘comes from the French word nativité, which also means “birth.” The Latin root word is nativus, “born or native“’.

Often Christian nativity scenes include the Christ child in the manger, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, some barn animals, three magi and angels.

Should there have been angels in the first nativity scene? Luke 2:8-9 informs us that the shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks at night when an angel appeared to announce the Messiah’s arrival. The shepherds ‘were terrified’. So the angels should not appear in a nativity scene.

As a passing comment, to talk about angels appearing today could cause great anguish amongst many because we don’t believe in that such characters. They are made for movies!

To the contrary, the Bible teaches that ‘angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation’ (Heb 1:14). We hear about the dark side of evil angels (demons) today, but discussion of angels is far from our thinking of reality.

The late Billy Graham wrote a book on Angels: God’s Secret Agents. He said angels are real, are not the product of our imagination, and ‘if we had open spiritual eyes we would see not only a world filled with evil spirits and powers—but also powerful angels with drawn swords, set for our defense’.

Corrie ten Boom, who harboured Jews and others in her house’s basement in Holland during the Nazi Holocaust, wrote:

Are there angels here on earth? What do they look like? Do they have any influence on the history of mankind? Do they really have anything to do with the lives of human beings? The Bible writers believed in them and thought they were important because they wrote about them hundreds of times, much more than about evil spirits and Satan. So why do we hear so little about them these days? (God is Still a God of Miracles)

These dimensions of the Christmas story are ignored, by-passed or laughed at when commercialisation crushes Christmas.

(3) The star guided the magi

Image result for image star Bethlehem magi(image courtesy Crystalinks)

Often in nativity scenes, there are three wise men (magi) accompanying the manger, Jesus, Joseph and Mary. The setting is in a stable. Jesus may have been born in such a place but it is as probable that he was born in a house’s lower level where there were animals sheltering for the night.

Luke 2:7 states: ‘She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn’. It was in the kataluma (Greek word), which is best understood as ‘the guest room’. It was not a commercial lodging for which Luke had a word, pandokheion, which he didn’t use.

Which new mother with her firstborn would want to give birth in a public inn?

Even though the wise men often show up in nativity scenes for Jesus’ birth, the evidence points to the magi visiting Jesus later. It is difficult to create a time line for their visit to Jesus. We know the situation when King Herod found out about the city where the Messiah was born and sent the magi to find him:

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in that entire region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matt 2:16).

This is an indicator that Jesus was a young child, under 2-years of age, when Herod realised he had been deceived by the magi and then issued this edict to kill all male children in that age group.

Can the star that guided the wise men be identified? While the regular Greek word for ‘star’ was used, the text of Matt 2:1-11 doesn’t name the star. It appeared only to the magi, so it would be reasonable to assume it was no ordinary star because of its purpose of identifying the location of the baby Messiah.

(4) Jesus born to die a sacrificial death

Every human being is born to die: ‘Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment’ (Heb 9:27). What was subdued in emphasis at that first Christmas was what the angel told Joseph, husband of Mary.

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21-22).

However, Jesus of Bethlehem was born to be Jesus, the crucified One, who ‘will save his people from their sins’. This is glossed over at Christmastime. The real meaning of Easter is like a hand in glove event with Christmas.

I met a person recently who said: You Christians always (hyperbole) talk about sin. Please quit it! The reason sin (breaking God’s law) is an issue is because it is what separates all sinners from God. We needed a sinless, perfect sacrifice to bridge the gap between a holy and just God and human beings. Jesus, the baby in the manger, grew to become that sacrifice so that all who believe (trust) in Jesus may receive forgiveness and eternal life.

These are God’s requirements and not those any human being formulated.

(5) The baby was the wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father and prince of peace (Isa 9:6).

Related image

(image courtesy flickr.com)

This prophecy from Isaiah has a question that needs answering among the Christmas glitz.

How can the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, be prophesied to be the ‘everlasting Father’? At first sight, it sounds contradictory. How can the Son be the Father?

It is doubtful ‘everlasting Father’ is the best translation of the Hebrew, abiad, which literally means ‘Father of eternity’. The first part of Isa 9:6 stresses the incarnation, ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given….’ So ‘Father of eternity’ refers to the ‘Author of eternity’, from the beginning of time/creation to the consummation of all things. ‘This title points to Christ as Creator of the world’ (Archer 1982:268) as indicated by John 1:3, ‘All things came into being through Him….’

(6) The baby who started Christianity and its peaceful spread

Christianity spreads through peaceful proclamation. Any other way is an aberration, e.g. the Crusades, John Calvin’s endorsement of the death penalty for Servetus who was not a Trinitarian, and support of slavery. Christianity is not spread through force or violence.

Even an atheist/agnostic such as scientist, Richard Dawkins, inferred the benefits of Christianity. A Fox News headline was, ‘Atheist Richard Dawkins warns against celebrating the alleged demise of Christianity in Europe’. Why would Dawkins, an anti-Christian, say this?

‘Before we rejoice at the death throes of the relatively benign Christian religion, let’s not forget Hilaire Belloc’s menacing rhyme: ‘Always keep a-hold of nurse – For fear of finding something worse….

Dawkins has previously voiced concern over the decline of the Christian faith, “in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse,” which he echoed in his tweet’.

Matthew 5:9 blessed are the peacemakers(image courtesy pinterest)

The baby born to the virgin Mary at Bethlehem is the Messiah who is the ‘prince of peace’ and Christianity’s spread worldwide is based on its theology, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Matt 5:9).

Conclusion

As illustrated above, all kinds of excuses and revelry – whether deliberate or going with the flow – have made the Christmas season one of celebrations while the truth is smothered.

This truth includes the Messiah born to the virgin Mary in Bethlehem, a Saviour who was prophesied by OT prophets.

He was born to die – not a normal death – and shed his blood on a Golgotha cross to provide salvation for the world.

This same Jesus will return triumphantly: ‘For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first’ (1 Thess 4:16 NIV).

Works consulted

Geisler, N & Howe, T 1992. When critics ask: A popular handbook on Bible difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Pentecost, J D 1958. Things to come. Findlay, Ohio: Dunham Publishing Company.

Sawyer, S 2017. No Christ in Christmas next? School ‘Jesus ban’ sparks fury. Sunshine Coast Daily (online), 27 July. Available at: https://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/news/no-christ-in-christmas-next-school-jesus-ban-spark/3205543/ (Accessed 21 December 2018).

Seidensticker, B 2013. Virgin Birth of Jesus: Fact or Fiction? Patheos: Cross Examined (online), 3 December. Available at: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2013/12/virgin-birth-of-jesus-fact-or-fiction/ (Accessed 21 December 2018).

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 December 2018.

Image result for colored line dividers public domain

Commercial celebrations contaminate Christmas

Image result for Nativity scene public domain
A Child is Born, courtesy GodTube
Image result for picture Santa public domain
(courtesy Clker)

By Spencer Gear PhD

Some of these details were published in my article, Make-believe and celebrations: Christmas message ignored, (On Line Opinion, 24 December 2018).

This is a delightful season for summer fruit from the tropics and temperate climes. I purchased a pawpaw that looked just right. I struck a problem when I cut it open.

It wasn’t seen from the outside, but around the stem, there was a small bad spot that had developed mould on some of the seeds inside. Once the bad section had been removed, the remainder of the pawpaw was delicious. I would never have written off the entire pawpaw because of some contaminated seeds.

But that’s what some people want to do with Christmas. The season has been commercialised with festivities that disguise the true message of Christmas.

1.   Paddling in the Christmas shallows

Let’s clear away some debris. December 25 is not the birth date for Jesus’ birth. There is no biblical mention of the exact day of Jesus’ birth. A few hints in the text indicate it was not in the middle of the northern winter. Shepherds were in the fields overnight guarding their flock (Luke 2:8). This suggests a time of more temperate weather.

There were early discussions about the date of Jesus’ birth in early church leader in northern Africa, Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215). He wrote: ‘There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, and in the twenty-fifth day of [the Egyptian month of] Pachon. This is 20 May according to our calendar (The Stromata 1.21).

For the first 300 years of the church’s existence, it did not celebrate Christmas. December 25 was adopted in AD 336 when Constantine was emperor. In 354 a list of Roman bishops was compiled. The words that appeared in 336 were, ’25 Dec: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae, i.e. 25 December, Christ born in Bethlehem Judea.

Around that time there were pagan festivals honouring the Roman god of agriculture, liberation and time – Saturn. Mithra (Mithras) was worshipped by the Persians (Iran, Iraq and vicinity) as the god of light. Could this have been a tactical decision by a christianised Emperor, Constantine, to encourage people to consider the new faith of Christianity?

2.  The Santa sham

I well remember the deceitful fun my parents had with us kids at Christmas with the gifts under the tree. The jolly old Santa was part of my family’s tradition. We children knew no other way to celebrate Christmas. Now we know its pretense, but who wants to spoil the fun for kids?

This legend has been traced back to the monk, St. Nicholas, born around AD 280 in Patara, modern Turkey. He was esteemed for his godliness and kindness. Many legends have sprung up around his story.

As for the name, Santa Claus, it emerged from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas. As for the chubby, bearded fellow in the red suit, those features originated in 1822 when Clement Clarke Moore, a USA Episcopal minister, wrote a lengthy poem for his three daughters, ‘An account of a visit from St. Nicholas’.

He was cautious about publishing it because of its petty subject. However, that poem seems to have been responsible for the contemporary image of Santa – the tubby old man in red who could climb up a chimney (history.com).

This year, I visited a major department store in the Brisbane region to purchase a nativity scene for my house. When I asked the person at the front door to direct me to where I might find such a scene, she naively responded: ‘What do you mean?’ She had no idea of the true meaning of Christmas and where a nativity scene fits into the picture. To her knowledge there were none in this very large store. She was correct.

However, she knew lots about Santa, tinsel, lights and Christmas trees.

3.  The contaminating myths

At this time of the year, the doubters, protagonists and atheists are out in force in the mass media. They try to show that the decline and contamination of Christmas indicate that the celebration is phoney. It demonstrates the ‘Christ-myth’ (Bruno Bauer, Arthur Drews). It’s really not a celebration of the Son of God but is a festivity for the god of sun.

Some focus on the supposed connection between the Egyptian religion and Christianity, particularly the Horus-Jesus relationship. Horus was the Sun of God.

4.  How are myths created?

Jane Yolen, in her Myth Writing Workshop defines myth as ‘a made-up story that explains the existence of a natural phenomenon – such as where thunder comes from or why snow falls from the sky. Myths – which often include gods and goddesses and other supernatural characters who have the power to make extraordinary things happen — are popular even when people know the actual reasons for natural phenomena’.

This agrees with the Collins’ Dictionary definition that a myth is ‘a story about superhuman beings of an earlier age, usually of how natural phenomena or social customs came into existence’. It is fiction, an invention and promotes historical, mystical and supernatural falsehoods – for creative reading, film and performance.

5.  Jesus’ birth as truth or fiction

How do we know Jesus birth and life are rooted in history and not fiction? His forerunner, John the Baptist, was born at the time when Herod was king of Judea (Luke 1:5-7). Herod the Great lived 73-4 BC and was appointed King of Judea by the Romans from 37-4 BC. Jesus was born ca. 6-4 BC under Herod’s late reign (see Matt 2:16).

Image result for clipart 25 December Christian Christmas(image courtesy Clipart Library)

The awful details of Herod’s death are recorded in graphic detail by the Jewish historian, Josephus (Antiquities 17.6.5). Josephus regarded this kind of death as ‘God’s judgment upon him for his sins’. He was brutal in his treatment of opponents.

6.  Is Herod’s massacre of young children a myth?

Matthew 2:16 records, ‘When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi’.

A writer on historical topics, Michael Grant, considered these details not to be historical but myth or folk-lore. The massacre of the children was invented, although he conceded it was likely related to the historical fact that Jesus probably was born in one of the last years of Herod’s reign (in Gordon Franz 2009).

In my research, I found no record of this massacre in secular literature outside the Bible. However, it is consistent with the brutality of Herod. He slaughtered friends, enemies and relatives (see Josephus Antiquities, 15:5-10). He even killed his second wife, Mariamme I, out of jealousy (Antiquities, 15.3.5). He had some of his sons killed (Josephus War 1.27.6).

Archaeology and other research have discovered much evidence to support the trustworthiness of Bible records.

‘Now for the first time, one hundred and ten 2,500 year old Babylonian tablets have been discovered in Iraq which provide a glimpse of Jewish life in Babylonian exile’. It corroborates the biblical story mentioned in Ezekiel 1:1. The Huffington Post, Australia (6 December 2017), hardly a Christian publication, concluded: ‘This discovery is a remarkable confirmation of the historical reliability of the Biblical text’.

7.  Embarrassment

Something that may have caused embarrassment or created difficulty for the early church is more likely to be authentic. Why? Because it is improbable that the writers of the Gospels would deliberately set out to write false, embarrassing or contradictory material that would weaken the position of the church.

Josephus stated: ‘But let not a single witness be credited, but three, or two at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives. But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex’ (Antiquities, 4.8.15).

What happened on resurrection morning? ‘The Sabbath day was now over. It was dawn on the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb’ (Matt 28:1). Imagine it! Women who weren’t worthy to be witnesses in that Jewish culture were the first to the tomb to find it empty.

Image result for picture embarrassment public domain(image courtesy Medical Xpress)

This is, therefore, more likely to be a credible witness to what happened historically because of the embarrassment factor.

Similarly with Herod! It would be embarrassing for the Gospel writer to record something as history if it did not happen. That record has been here for people to consult for 2,000 years and the Christian church worldwide has grown to be the largest religious group in 2015, ‘making up nearly a third (31%) of Earth’s 7.3 billion people, according to a new Pew Research Center demographic analysis’. That’s about 2.26 billion followers. Surely a myth wouldn’t engineer such a following!

Herod was a brutal king. As indicated, one of the leading criteria ancient historians use to determine the authenticity of an historical document is embarrassment. This applies to the investigation of what happened in 1770 when Captain James Cook sailed along the eastern coast of Australia, the terrorism on September 11 2001 in New York City, or whether Herod massacred the boys under 2 years’ of age in Bethlehem and its vicinity (Matt 2:16-18).

For a further discussion of these criteria, see Robert H Stein, The “Criteria” of Authenticity.

8.  That questionable census

The incarnation at the first Christmas when the pre-existent Son of God became a human being was accompanied by historical events and a human being with attributes of a person.

Jesus’ birth was at the time when emperor Caesar Augustus issued a decree for ‘all the world’ to ‘be registered’ (Luke 2:1). This was ‘the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria’ (Luke 2:2). Augustus was the greatest Roman emperor who reigned from 27 BC until his assassination in AD 14 (Ancient History Encyclopedia). Thus, Jesus’ birth was rooted in history and not myth.

(image courtesy Wikipedia: The Virgin and Saint Joseph register for the census before Governor Quirinius. Byzantine mosaic at the Chora Church, Constantinople 1315–20).

This historical information has some protagonists up in arms:

(1) ‘There is no record of Caesar Augustus’ decree that “all the world should be enrolled” (Lk. 2:1).  The Romans kept extremely detailed records of such events’ (N F Gier 1987).

(2) No records exist that Quirinius was governor of Syria when Luke wrote his Gospel. John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar stated, ‘The journey to and from Nazareth for census and tax registration is a pure fiction, a creation of Luke’s own imagination’ (Crossan 1994:20).

Even though there are questions about the accuracy of the biblical record, observe the association of Jesus’ birth with secular rulers – Herod, Caesar Augustus, and Quirinius. God’s purposes were worked out through unbelievers.

Herod died in 4 BC and Quirinius didn’t begin to rule in Syria until AD 6. Jesus was born in 5-4 BC. Is Luke telling a whopper? How can we answer this apparent historical discrepancy (suggested by J. Hampton Keathley, III)?

Flower10  An ancient census form from an official government order in Egypt, dated to AD 104, spoke of a house-to-house census for those who returned to their own homes. Archaeologist John McRay spoke of another papyrus from AD 48 indicating ‘the entire family was involved in the census’.

Flower10 External evidence to the Bible states census registrations happened about every 14 years and that Quirinius could have been twice in charge of these registrations. Luke records in Acts 5:37 that he was aware of the later registration or census of Quirinius, the one reported by Josephus. Luke shows from Luke 2:1-2 and Acts 5:37 that there may have been two census’ registrations by Quirinius. Or, there could have been two Quiriniuses,

Flower10  A distinguished archaeologist, Jerry Vardaman, found a coin with the name of Quirinius on it in very small writing, or what we call ‘micrographic’ letters. This places him as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 BC until after the death of Herod. ‘The census would have taken place under the reign of the earlier Quirinius. Given the cycle of a census every fourteen years, that would work out quite well’.

Sir William Ramsay, the late archaeologist and professor at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities gave a similar theory of one Quirinius who ruled Syria on two occasions. ‘He concluded from various inscriptions that while there was only one Quirinius, he ruled Syria on two separate occasions, which would cover the time period of the earlier census’.

9.  Manipulation of evidence

Have I stage-managed the evidence to arrive at a conclusion that conforms to Christian orthodoxy? That’s not my motivation. I want to honestly examine the evidence since Luke has a reputation of being a reliable historian. All readers of this article can choose to close down further examination of the evidence and claim that Luke got it wrong because of presuppositional resistance to the birth of Jesus happening as described in the Gospels.

The other option is to pursue the evidence where it leads. That’s what I’ve attempted to do. As a researcher of the historical Jesus, like all historical evidence (that cannot be examined in the laboratory by repeatability), the conclusions reached can be only probable and not 100% certain.

I have found reasonable answers to the Christmas questions posed about the biblical text.

10.  Conclusion

The season has become infected with profiteering and extra effects such as Santa, reindeers, tinsel, lights and Christmas trees.

Commercialisation of the Christian message or a bad experience should never testify against the real person and events surrounding Jesus’ birth.

Mouldy pawpaw seeds did not deter me from enjoying a special piece of summer fruit. Neither should a contaminated Christmas season stop us from remembering the Person who began this celebration ca. 4 BC, Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world.

The intrusion into the Christmas season of foreign symbols and signs detracts from the meaning of Christmas.

The history of the Western world turns on this event. The Christ child was prophesied in Micah 5:1-2 to be born in Bethlehem, 700 years before his birth. And it happened as predicted.

In the same era, Isaiah prophesied that he would be more than a baby in the manger. This child would be God the Son who would ultimately govern God’s kingdom. The baby of Bethlehem is the wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father and prince of peace.

He’s the One whom we celebrate every Christmas. The extravagance of the season should never blind us to the fact that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Image result for image For unto us a King is born and the government shall be on his shoulder

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 December 2018.

How to Cut Christ out of Christmas

https://charlespaolino.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/manger.jpg?resize=492%2C369

(Nativity scene, courtesy Charles Paolino, public domain)

 By Spencer D Gear PhD

If you wanted to pollute Christmas and distort its true meaning, how would you do it? It has been done all around the world for centuries with the Santa Claus commercial phenomenon.

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(courtesy www.marines.mil)

How did the legend of Santa Claus begin? According to history.com,

the legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick….

St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas) (www.history.com 2016. S v Santa Claus).

A.  A special Christmas attraction

Here is how a local business in northern Brisbane, Qld., Australia, took the Christ out of Christmas – for commercial reasons. This is one way that this shopping centre advertised the season and how to support its enterprise.[1] The event had been promoted by this shopping centre, MarketPlace, at Warner Qld, for a couple of months. It was advertising that on December 15, 2015, the ‘Car-istmas Giveaway closes on Friday at 5pm! Zoom zoom in for your remaining chances to enter’. It was giving away ‘a Mazda 3 Maxx’, supplied by a local Mazda dealer. It promoted, ‘Or 1 of 20, $100 MarketPlace Gift Cards. Simply spend $15 or more in any’ store there or $50 in Aldi or Woolworths. It advertised some ‘Car-istmas give away conditions of entry’.[2]

B. What had this business done with Christmas?

I was concerned with how the ‘Christ’ in Christmas had been replaced by ‘Car-ist’, so I wrote this email to the management of MarketPlace Warner on 17 November 2015, with the subject heading, ‘Your sacrilegious attack on Christ’:

Centre Management
MarketPlace Warner

Dear management members,

Since I live in North Lakes, I read your full-page advertisement in the North Lakes Times, November 12, 2015, p. 12. As a marketing ploy, the advertisement had the heading, ‘CAR-ISTMAS Giveaway’. I have now seen your link online at: http://www.marketplacewarner.com.au/car-ristmas-giveaway-second-draw/

I write to object strongly to the way you have desecrated the name of Christ for commercial purposes. You may have thought ‘CAR-ISTMAS’ was an attention-seeking headline, but I as a Christian am offended by what you have done to my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is a special season of the year for the Christian community for the celebration of Christ’s birth, not for a marketing grab to eliminate Christ from the season, which is what your MarketPlace advertisement has done.

I urge you to quit this sacrilege immediately. If you tried that approach with Muhammad at the time of Ramadan, could you imagine the response?

I added this P.S.: Sacrilege is ‘an act of treating a holy thing or place without respect’ (Oxford dictionaries 2015. S v sacrilege). I also included my home phone number.

C. Response: ‘We are all Christians here’

The next morning (18 November 2015), I received a courteous phone call from a woman in the office of MarketPlace Warner, saying, ‘We are all Christians here’. Interesting that she included, ‘all’. I took this to mean ‘all in management’. I urged her to get the management to remove the emphasis of this advertising immediately. She did not respond to my gentle request. However, the advertising in the North Lakes Times continued the following week with ‘Car-istmas’ on 19 November 2015 (p. 8):

On 18 November after the phone call, I sent this email to MarketPlace Warner:

Dear management staff,

Thank you for the phone call I received this morning about my email from yesterday regarding the sacrilege of your use of CAR-ISTMAS Giveaway in promotion of MarketPlace.

However, my disappointment with the phone call is that no attempt was made to admit that you got it wrong and that CAR-ISTMAS takes the CHRIST out of CHRISTMAS and you will eliminate such a sacrilegious statement from your present advertising.

I commend MarketPlace for its nativity scene at a time when such are disappearing from shopping centres.

This is how MarketPlace Warner advertised on its homepage at Christmas 2015:[3]

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Notice the emphasis. The ‘Merry Christmas’ greeting (online) is with Santa and not with the nativity scene. So much for ‘we are all Christians here’! If they were, Christ should have received a more prominent place.

The woman who phoned told me that MarketPlace Warner has a large nativity scene at the centre, which she said was more than I would find at most other centres. As a result of this conversation, I checked on what was displayed at my local Westfield Shopping Centre, North Lakes, and found a very small nativity scene (near the NAB Bank entrance to the mall), but there was no wording to say what it represented. Instead, Santa was large as life near the food court and he had children lined up with parents for the children to be photographed with Santa.

D. Newspaper letter’s censorship

I adapted the letter sent to MarketPlace Warner in a letter-to-the-editor, North Lakes Times. My letter, sent on 17 November 2015, with the heading, ‘Sacrilege at Christmas’, read:

I read the full-page advertisement for MarketPlace Warner, with the heading, ‘CAR-ISTMAS Giveaway’ (North Lakes Times, Nov 12, page 12).
I object strongly to the way MarketPlace has desecrated the name of Christ for commercial purposes. It may have thought ‘CAR-ISTMAS’ was an attention-seeking headline.
I as a Christian am offended by what this business has done to my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is a special season of the year for the Christian community for the celebration of Christ’s birth, not for a marketing grab to eliminate Christ from the season.
I urge MarketPlace Warner to quit this sacrilege immediately. If it tried that approach with Muhammad at the time of Ramadan, could you imagine the response?

How do you think the North Lakes Times published this letter? Here is a Print Screen copy that appeared in the North Lakes Times, 26 Nov 2015, ‘Conversations’, p. 8, with the changed heading, ‘Reason for the season’:

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1. The nature of the editing

Notice what the North Lakes Times did with my letter. It censored the last paragraph which read, ‘I urge MarketPlace Warner to quit this sacrilege immediately. If it tried that approach with Muhammad at the time of Ramadan, could you imagine the response?’

2. Is this an important issue?

Is this a trifling issue? Have I made a mountain out of a mole hill? I don’t think so, for this primary reason. Jesus told Christians:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt 5:13-16 NIV).

a. Salt and light are indispensable

SaltIn the world of the first century and extending to the twenty-first century, salt has the qualities of a sharp taste and preservative power. It is this latter quality, ‘the potency of salt as an antiseptic, a substance that prevents and retards decay, upon which the emphasis falls here, though the subsidiary function of imparting flavor must obviously not be excluded (see Lev. 2:13; Job 6:6; Col 4:6)’. The negative function of salt is seen in how it combats deterioration. Christians should be in seen in action against moral and spiritual decay (Hendriksen 1973:282). Why would a woman in the office at a reasonable sized shopping centre own up to, ‘We are all Christians here’, if it were not for my challenge to that centre? As of 2 January 2016, there had not been one letter of opposition published by the newspaper to the content of my letter.

The qualities of light should be self evident in exposing the darkness. In Scripture, we see light associated with true knowledge of God (Ps 36:9, Sun Rays 4cf Matt 6:22-23), goodness, righteousness and truthfulness (Eph 5:8-9); joy, gladness, true happiness (Ps 97:11; Isa 9:1-7). From Eph 5:8 we know that Christians are ‘a light in the Lord’. Believers are reflections of Christ who is the true light (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:35-36, 46). Jesus’ words were, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12 ESV).[4]

I consider I was being salt and light in action in exposing the censorship of Christ at Christmas, all in the name of commercialism. This is engaging in the ministry of cultural apologetics. The Colson Center for Christian Worldview has stated that cultural apologetics involves the ‘working to transform the rhythms and practices of our culture – including the culture of our Christian communities – to reflect the beauty and desirability of Christ’ (‘Cultural Apologetics’).

E. Conclusion

What lengths will a significant sized business go to promote the commercialism of Christmas and take Christ out of Christmas?

MarketPlace Warner decided to attract customers to its shopping centre for Christmas 2015 by engaging with a local Mazda car dealership to put customers in the draw to win a motor vehicle if customers would make a certain amount of purchases. Of course, there was advertising chosen to promote this commercial venture that was designed to attract people to that shopping centre.

In doing this, MarketPlace Warner deliberately downgraded the Christ of Christmas to replace him with the Car of Christmas. This is sacrilegious marketing, in my view. In spite of the claim by an administrative staff member that ‘we are all Christians here’, I wouldn’t know that from the nature of the Christmas advertising in the full-page advertisements in the North Lakes Times (Nov 12, 2015, pp 12-14 and Nov 19, 2015, pp 8-9). There were half-page advertisements that I noticed on 10 Dec, 2015, p. 8 and 17 Dec, 2015, p. 2.

When I submitted a letter to the editor of the North Lakes Times, it was published, but the newspaper censored the portion when I compared it with what would happen if it did a similar thing to Muhammad at Ramadan.

The end result is that this message was nowhere to be found in the promotion of Christmas by MarketPlace Warner on its website or in the commercial (full page advertisements) in the North Lakes Times. This kind of proclamation was excluded, ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!’ (Luke 2:10-11 NLT).

You may say, of course it would be eliminated because that is not a viable message to sell goods at Christmastime. That’s my very point. Christmas is not a time for commercialism but for declaring Messiah’s coming into the world, becoming flesh, and this led to the provision of salvation to come through his sacrificial death on the cross (Matt 26:28), available to those who put their faith in Jesus.

Works consulted

Hendriksen, W 1973. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Notes


[1] Facebook. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/marketplacewarner/posts/534421553374133?fref=nf (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[2] MarketPlace Warner 2015. Available at: http://www.marketplacewarner.com.au/file/2015/11/MPW-CARISTMAS-GIVEAWAY-2015-TERMS-CONDITIONS.pdf (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[3] Available at: http://www.marketplacewarner.com.au/merry-christmas-from-the-team-at-marketplace-warner/ (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[4] These Scriptures and emphases were supplied by Hendriksen (1973:284).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 January 2016.

At Christmas do we celebrate the birth of God?

Sydney StAndrewCathedral.JPG

(St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. Courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

I’m an orthodox evangelical believer. I watched the Christmas Eve service 2011 which the Dean of the Cathedral, Phillip Jensen, led from St. Andrews Cathedral, Sydney, telecast on ABC1 TV in Australia. It was a magnificent Christ-centred service led by Phillip. I know that his church is a member of the evangelical Anglican diocese of Sydney and he has been  an orthodox stalwart in the midst of an Anglican church in Australia that has become theologically liberal in many states.

What is happening to the liberal Anglicans in Australia? See: “Anglican Synod 2004: Are liberal Anglicanism’s days numbered?“; “Church needs new vision, says Jensen[1]”; and “The Anglican Debacle: Roots and Patterns“.

The Sydney Anglicans news’ release about this event stated:

For the first time in many years, ABC Television is screening an evangelical service on Christmas Eve [2011]. St Andrew’s Cathedral has been chosen to host the annual carols telecast on ABC television at 6pm on the night before Christmas.

The National broadcast on ABC 1 will feature Dean Phillip Jensen and the Cathedral choir, along with guest musicians and orchestra. The Dean said “This broadcast provides a great opportunity to express the message of the birth of our Lord in a genuinely modern and Australian fashion”.[2]

However, one phrase caught my attention, and he said it several times in the telecast, as he spoke about Christmas celebrating “the birth of God”. Could this kind of language give the wrong impression? He has a brief article online that is titled, “Celebrate the Birth of God” (published 2 December 2005). In it he talks about Christmas as a time to “celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus, who is God in the flesh” and “give thanks to God for the great privilege of celebrating the birth of our Mighty God in this way”.

He seems to be trying to communicate that Jesus is both God and man, but does the language, “the birth of God” have potential problems? These are my questions:

  1. Is it misleading to speak of the birth of God when God the Son has always existed and has had no birth?
  2. Could it be better to say that the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, became flesh (a man) and we celebrate His birth at Christmas time?
  3. Many do not understand how a virgin could conceive and give birth to the Son of God as flesh, without the insemination of a male. Does the language of “the birth of God” convey orthodox theology, or is it meant to get the attention of secular people who celebrate Christmas for materialistic and holiday reasons?

The prophecy of Christ’s birth in Isaiah 9:6  states,  For to us a child is BORN, to us a son is GIVEN” (ESV). For this one event of the incarnation, there are two distinct matters.

(1) A CHILD is born – this is the human Jesus, and

(2) A SON is given. The Son was not born; Jesus the Son was GIVEN. He was from eternity.

I am not sure that he made this distinction as he should have. I consider that he should have made it clear about the humanity of Jesus (a child is born) and the deity of Jesus (the eternal Son is given). God was not born on the first Christmas Day. God the Son has always existed as God and he became a human being on that first Christmas Day but there was no “birth of God” as such.

Paul the apostle is very clear about this in Romans 1:3-4:

concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh  and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (ESV),

The eternal generation of the son is orthodox doctrine. Or, is he moving away from the teaching on the eternal generation of the Son. See, “The Eternal Generation of the Son: A Biblical Perspective”. The Nicene Creed states in part:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.

The Scriptures state that the child was born at the first Christmas, but the Son was given. The eternal Son of God was not born at the first Christmas. He was from eternity the Son.

What about Galatians 4:4?

A person on Christian Forums objected to my view, stating that I “ignore Gal. 4:4”.[3]

Gal. 4:4 reads: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law (ESV).

There is nothing here to state or insinuate that the incarnation was “the birth of God”. What does Gal. 4:4 mean? The late Herman Ridderbos, professor of NT at Kampen Theological Seminary, Kampen, The Netherlands, wrote:

The word translated sent forth [exapostellw] comprises two thoughts: the going forth of the Son from a place at which He was before; and His being invested with divine authority. By this the profound and glorious significance of Christ’s coming in the world is indicated. He was the Son of the Father, who stood by His Father’s side already before the sending (cf. 1 Cor. 8:6; 2 Cor. 8:9, Phil. 2:6, and Col. 1:15). The Sonship designates not merely an official but also an ontological relationship (cf. Phil. 2:6). The words, born of a woman, do not refer to the beginning of his existence as Son, but as the child of a woman. The expression serves to suggest the weak, the human, the condescending. The woman was not only the medium of His coming into the flesh, but from her He took all that belongs to the human [hence ek , not dia]. She was in the full sense His mother. That Paul in these words is also reflecting on the virgin birth is, as we see it, highly doubtful. For, as is evident from the absence of the article in the Greek, Paul is not putting the emphasis on His being born of Mary. Besides, the expression elsewhere is used to designate the human and nothing besides (cf. Job 14:1 and Matt. 11:11)”.[4]

Ridderbos is affirming what I have stated that the child was born of a woman but was the Son of the Father God before Jesus was sent into the world, becoming a human baby.

J. B. Lightfoot agrees, stating that “sent forth … assumes the pre-existence of the Son” and “born of woman” means “taking upon Himself our human nature (cf. Job 14:1, Matt 11:11). These passages show that the expression must not be taken as referring to the miraculous incarnation”.[5]

R. C. H. Lenski explained:

“His Son—out of a woman” pointedly omit mention of a human father. Why? Because this is God’s Son who is co-eternal with the Father. He became man by way of “a woman” alone. Incomprehensible? Absolutely so! A miracle in the highest degree? Beyond question![6]

It is not Lenski’s view that this refers to the pre-existence of Jesus, but he does state that when Gal. 4:4 stated that God “commissioned forth his Son”, the vivid verb is associated with the preposition, ek[7], and not the usual preposition, apo. “This means that the Son went out on his commission not only ‘from’ God but ‘out from’ God. John says that he was ‘with’ (pros) God (John 1:1) and was God and that he became flesh (v. 14)”.[8] Lenski does believe in the eternal pre-existence of the Son, but he does not believe it is taught in Gal. 4:4. However, he does believe that this Scripture refers to the virgin birth:

“The Son of God” is the second person of the Godhead; he “became out of a woman” in executing his mission. This is the Incarnation, the miraculous conception, the virgin birth. God’s Son became man, the God-man.

The phrase that begins with ek denotes more than the separation from the womb, it includes the entire human nature of the Son as this was derived from his human mother. The word genomenon is exactly the proper word to express this thought, even the tense is very accurate. The Son’s going out from God on his mission is seen in his becoming man. He did not cease to be the Son of God when he became man. He did not drop his deity, which is an impossible thought. He remained what he was and added what he had not had, namely a human nature, derived out of a woman, a human mother. He became the God-man.[9]

I have been warned not to be another Nestorius

Since I see that Christmas celebrates the birth of the humanity of Jesus, the God-man, some have written to me warning that my view could sound like the false teaching of Nestorius. Most Christians would not know of Nestorius and his teaching.

The Nestorian controversy came to a head at the Council of Ephesus in 431. This Nestorian website gives a summary of the Christological controversies surrounding the teaching of Nestorius:

1. Nestorius became bishop of Constantinople in 428. He came from the Antioch school and was taught theology there by Theodore of Mopsuestia. He opposed a relatively new theological and devotional slogan Theotokos – affirming that Mary was the “God-bearer” or “Mother of God.” Nestorius was concerned with the thought that God might be seen to have had a new beginning of some kind, or that he suffered or died. None of these things could happen to the infinite God. Therefore, instead of a God-man, he taught that there was the Logos and the “man who was assumed.” He favored the term “Christ-bearer” (Christotokos) as a summary of Mary’s role, or perhaps that she should be called both “God-bearer” and “Man-bearer” to emphasize Christ’s dual natures. He was accused of teaching a double personality of Christ. Two natures, and two persons. He denied the charge, but the term Nestorianism has always been linked with such a teaching.

2. He was an adherent of the Antiochene “school” and he wished to emphasize a distinction between Christ as man and Christ as God.

a. He did not deny that Christ was God.

b. He said, however, that people should not call Mary thetokos, the “mother of God,” because she was only the mother of the human aspect of Christ.

c. Great opposition developed against Nestorius’ teaching and his opponents charged that he taught “two sons” and that he “divided the invisible.”

d. Nestorius denied the charge, but the term Nestorianism has always been linked with such a teaching.

e. The leader of the opposition to Nestorius was Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, a man who was one of the most ruthless and uncontrolled of the major early bishops.

The possible danger in my discussing the birth of the humanity of Jesus at Christmas, which is true, and rejecting anything to do with the birth of God (as the eternal God cannot be born), is that when I speak of the God-man Jesus, that I try to attribute some of Jesus’ actions to his humanity and some to his divinity. That is not what I’m saying or teaching, but I want to make it clear that God cannot be born, either as ‘Mary the mother of God’, or the celebration of ‘the birth of God’ (Phil Jensen) at Christmas.

Conclusion

The language that “God was born” at Christmas does not provide biblical warrant. God, the Son, the second person of the Trinity, has existed eternally. At that first Christmas, the Son obtained his humanity through being born to a virgin. This inaugurated the God-man nature of Jesus, but the Son never ceased being God from eternity. That the first Christmas celebrates the “birth of God” in Jesus, is false theologically. It was the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) at which God the Son became the God-man.

I would like to understand why Phillip Jensen is defining the incarnation as meaning the “birth of God” in his Christmas Eve service, 24 December 2011, at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, and telecast on Australian ABC1 television. I have emailed him to get his views, with much of the information above. To date, I have not received a reply.

Appendix A

I had a further discussion on this topic with a person on Christian Fellowship Forum.[10] My engagement went like this:

Jesus did not always exist. The divine person who became Jesus always existed. Do we disagree?[11]

Jesus, the Son, who is also called “the Word”, always existed and continues to exist as God. We know this from…

John 1:1-2 states:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. (ESV).

But this same Word (Jesus) entered our humanity, although he is God and existed in the beginning with God, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV).

But it was the humanity of the eternal Son of the Father that began in Mary’s womb. The divine person of the Son always was, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Maybe we do agree after all. Were you just in a disagreeable mood when you wrote?[12]

I’m never in a disagreeable mood when I come on this forum, but I agree with the statement that you made in this quote, except the disagreeable stuff. Please remember that I wrote to you to state that Mary as the mother of God[13], was not a biblical doctrine.

Who was born? A person. Who was that person? The eternal Son of the Father. God. God was born.[14]

False! God cannot be born. That’s an oxymoron. God is from eternity and is always eternally God so there can be no “birth of God” or “God was born”.

What does that mean? That God had a physical biological body for the first time at His conception. That at His birth, God the eternal Son of the Father breathed air, got hungry, felt His own mother’s warmth, slept, and grew physically. Who was born? The eternal Son of the Father? Was He true God?[15]

At the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity, the Son, became the God-man. It was the virgin conception of the humanity of Jesus. It was NOT the birth of God.

<<Your statement implies that Mary was only the mother of the biological body of Jesus. >>

And that was what she was. She was NOT the mother of God – NOT the mother of divinity. Then you state:

She was the mother who enabled Jesus to become the God-man and NOT the mother of God.[16]

I agree with this statement, but Mary is the mother of the humanity of Jesus. I’m indeed pleased that you admit that the RCC doctrine of Mary being the mother of God is false as you state that Mary was “NOT the mother of God”.

The only orthodox teaching is that Jesus was, from the moment of conception, fully man and fully God. Now maybe you don’t believe that. But if you do, then the person born on the first Christmas day was God the Son, and Mary was the mother of God the Son. Who else would she be the mother of? A plain human person? Or a mere human nature devoid of personhood?[17]

I agree with and practise the orthodoxy you stated that Jesus was from the moment of conception, fully God and became fully man. He is the God-man. But that does not make Mary the mother of God. She was the mother of Jesus, the human being. I have never ever suggested that Jesus, the human being was devoid of personhood. That’s your invention against me.

You might not give a hoot about all that old stuff.[18]

That is rubbish! I spend a lot of time in studying historical theology. That’s why I’m having this discussion with you. If I didn’t give a hoot about the theology of the past, I would not have started this thread.

Here’s an instance where Calvin has it all over you. In agreement with Zwingli and Luther, he held that Mary was the mother of God. It’s in the Heidelberg Confession as well as the Augsburg Confession.[19]

Richard supporting the Reformers. The day of miracles is not over! You know that there are issues with Calvin that I have opposed on this Forum, but since some Reformers believed that Mary was the “mother of God”, I have to disagree on biblical grounds. She was the mother of the full personhood, the humanity of Jesus.

You need to think clearly and regain your heritage. I’m not trying to start a feud here, but I do think you have a knee-jerk opposition to the idea of Mary being the mother of God. It could be overcome with some calm consideration.[20]

This is your over-reaction. It is no knee-jerk reaction by me, but a considered post about the content of the God-man Christology.

We celebrate the birth of God, the incarnation, when God from before all ages became man and dwelt among us, Emanuel. We remember that God became a human being in time, with a real human mother, and that from His conception in Mary’s womb he was a unified being with both a human and a divine nature. No, we are not talking about the genesis of God, who has no beginning and has no end. Some people will never understand that, and I can’t help them.[21]

I agree with this statement.

Notes:


[1] This Jensen is Peter Jensen, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, and brother to Phillip Jensen.

[2] Russell Powell, 11 December 2011, “Cathedral Christmas screening on ABCTV, available at: http://sydneyanglicans.net/news/stories/cathedral-christmas-screening-on-abctv (Accessed 26 December 2011).

[3] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘The birth of God’ (a thread I started at OzSpen), ebia #10, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7618703/ (Accessed 26 December 2011).

[4] Herman N. Ridderbos 1953. The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pp. 155-156.

[5] J. B. Lightfoot 1865 (Zondervan printing 1976). The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, p. 168.

[6] R. C. H. Lenski 1937, 1961. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, p. 200.

[7] I have translated the Greek characters that Lenski used throughout these passages I have quoted from him.

[8] Lenski, p. 198.

[9] Ibid., p. 199.

[10] He was Richard, Christian Fellowship Forum, Contentious Brethren, “The Birth of God”, #7. My response, ozspen, is #12. available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=2&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=120946 (Accessed 27 December 2011).

[11] Richard.

[12] Ibid.

[13] I had written to Richard in #5 and stated:

Jesus was God from eternity. His humanity began when he was conceived in Mary’s womb. The God-man began at that conception, but Christmas being the birth of God contradicts the Nicene Creed.
As for Mary being the mother of God, I consider that is as erroneous as saying that Christmas celebrates the birth of God. Mary was the human mother of Jesus’ humanity. She was not the mother of divinity. She was the mother who enabled Jesus to become the God-man and NOT the mother of God.

[14] Richard #7.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

 

Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 13 October 2015.

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Christmas, Torture and Church Growth

The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883) [courtesy Wikipedia]

By Spencer D Gear

To serve Jesus Christ openly in your community today in the Western world may come with flack, resistance and even discrimination in the workplace. But it is not a patch on what is happening worldwide to the Christians who are being tortured, even murdered, for their faith.

Why is it that followers of Messiah, the “Prince of Peace,” attract so much resistance? Jesus gave a clue when he addressed his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

Christian peace is based on a relationship with the King of Kings and is not related to external circumstances. Then add the fact that to be a Christian means submission to the Master’s will. This is not a popular notion. Nor is it politically correct.

As we move into a new year, it is right that we reflect on what is happening to persecuted Christians worldwide.

Ma Yuqin is a Chinese woman who was interrogated by the Chinese police but she would not be tortured to confess. “She never broke when she was tortured with beatings and electrical shocks. Even when she was close to death, she refused to disclose the names of members of her congregation or sign a statement renouncing her Christian faith,” wrote Nicholas Kristof in his column in The New York Times.[1]

The physical torture almost killed her but it was the mental anguish that was worse. She could hear the sounds of her son being tortured in the room next door. Both could hear each other’s screams. There were incentives for them to betray their friends and their faith. “It broke my heart to hear my son’s cries,” said Ma, but it did not break her faith in Christ.

Chinese citizens are burned with cigarettes, beaten with clubs, and some lose their lives. Why? They are Christian worshippers of God.

Instead of turning people away from Christianity, the result has been the growth of the church. Tens of millions of Chinese have embraced Christ and the church. It is just as predicted by church leader of the second century, Tertullian, “Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.[2]

The Christian organisation, Open Doors, that ministers to the persecuted, assesses the level of persecution of Christians around the world. Top of the list is North Korea. Keston Institute, a British-based human rights group, says that people found with a Bible in North Korea are “detained, tortured, sent to a re-education camp, or summarily executed.”[3] Number two on the list is Saudi Arabia where arrests, torture, and prison are common. To convert from Islam to another religion in Saudi can bring the death penalty.

Numbers three and four on the list of persecutors are the Marxist countries of Laos and Vietnam. The Keston Institute was watching Russia, Belarus and Uzbekistan with concern.

People today are cynical about zealots who die for their faith. However, these persecuted Christians are not dying to kill the unbelievers, as with suicide bombers, but die in service of “the Prince of Peace,” Jesus Christ. These martyrs die not to slaughter others, but so that others might be saved.

The sufferings of the church in China and the Sudan rival that of those who died under Nero in Rome, in Hitler’s Germany, and in Russia under Stalin. Missions’ strategist, David Barrett, estimates that there have been as many Christian martyrs in the 20th century as in all of the previous 19 centuries combined. This article was more sceptical. It stated:

World Christian Encyclopedia, produced by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary outside Boston declares there have been some 70 million Christian martyrs in history, and more than 45 million in the 20th century. In evangelical circles one often hears the claim that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined.[4]

How should we respond? As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who died to save us, we should pray for Ma Yuqin in China and the many others worldwide who are suffering for their faith. The Scriptures exhort us: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).

Notes:


[1] “God and China,” 26 November 2002, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/26/opinion/god-and-china.html?pagewanted=1 [Accessed 1 January 2010].

[2] Tertullian, Apologeticus (or Apologeticum) Adversus Gentes Pro Christianis, Chapter 50, available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.iv.iii.l.html [Accessed 1 January 2010].

[3]Charles Colson, Breakpoint, 8 November 2002, “Remembering the Mistreated: Prayer for Persecuted Beliebvers,” available at: http://www.thechristiannews.com/breakpoint/bp11-8-02.html [Accessed 1 January 2010].

[4] Jason Myassee, Christian Century 29 July 2008, “How martyrs are made: Stories of the faithful,” available at: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_15_125/ai_n27982019/ [Accessed 1 January 2010].

Copyright © 2010 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 October 2015.

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The solar eclipse & the baby in the manger[1]


solar eclipse (Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

On Wednesday, 4th December 2002, a total eclipse of the sun was visible from within a narrow corridor across the Southern Hemisphere. The path of the moon’s shadow began in the South Atlantic ocean and crossed southern Africa. After moving across the southern Indian Ocean, the path sweeps through southern Australia where the eclipse ended at sunset.[2]

A shadow passed over the South Australian town of Ceduna[3] and other parts of inland Australia. For just 31 seconds, the sun’s raw glare disappeared for 31 seconds. The cause was the moon as it passed between the sun and earth. It was a total solar eclipse.[4]

The next solar eclipse to be viewed over Australia will be on November 13, 2012, viewed from Darwin and Cairns.[5]

The first Christmas day just over 2002 years ago and the total eclipse have a remarkable connection. You read correctly!

The Lord Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God, created all things “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (The Bible’s Book of Colossians 1:16-17).

Jesus Christ’s involvement with the remarkable events of a total eclipse came about because that first Christmas day was not the first day that Jesus existed. The Person in the manger has always existed. All things today “hold together” in the universe because of Christ’s sustaining power.

Christ is not a part of creation. He is not a created being. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things in the universe.

The Bible’s Book of Hebrews 1:2 speaks of Jesus, the Son, “through whom he made the universe.”

Think of what this means. The baby in the manger is the one who created this immense universe with the ability for a solar eclipse.

Think with me on the enormity of the universe. It causes me to bow before the living Lord, the truly a majestic, all-powerful God.

It has been explained this way: A hollow ball the size of our sun would, for example, hold 1,200,000 planets the size of the earth–with room for 4,300,000 more

globes the size of our moon! The nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is five times larger than the sun. One of the stars visible in the constellation Orion is Betelguese. It is 248 times larger than the sun. Arcturus is ten times larger than that!

No wonder Job expressed his awe of God this way: ‘How should man be just with God? If he will contend with him . . . which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades’ (Job 9:1-2, 9, King James Version).

A ray of light travels at approximately 300,000 km per second, so a beam of light from earth will reach the moon in a second and a half. Mercury could be reached in 4.5 minutes. It would take about 35 minutes to reach Jupiter, about an hour to get to Saturn, but it would take 4 years and 4 months to get to the nearest star.

For light to travel only to the edge of the galaxy, the Milky Way, would take about 100,000 years. Count the stars as you travel and you would find about a hundred billion in the Milky Way alone. If you wanted to explore other galaxies, you would have literally billions to choose from. The size of the universe is incomprehensible.[6]

Who made all of this? Scientists want us to believe it came about by a naturalistic Big Bang explosion that eventually formed a primordial swamp, etc.

This doesn’t explain it satisfactorily to me. God created it. Every last corner of it. Who? The One who became the baby in Bethlehem. He made everything.

More than that. The Bible’s Book of Hebrews 1: 3 confirms that He is “sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

Without the real God-man, Jesus, this whole world would fall apart. The solar eclipse would not be possible. He is actively involved in sustaining this world. Your next breath cannot be guaranteed without the sustaining power of Jesus.

Yet, how do we treat Him? With a tip of the hat at Christmas time, maybe! But really, Santa, reindeer, snow, tinsel and materialistic things take pride of place. The Saviour, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, Jesus himself, is an embarrassment to a world that needs a reason for a public holiday.

This solar eclipse should be enough to bring us to our senses at this Christmas season. The baby in the manger is God in human flesh.

What child is this? This has been poignantly expressed by the poet:

Some say He was just a good teacher,

but good teachers don’t claim to be God.

Some say He was merely a good example,

but good examples don’t mingle with prostitutes and sinners.

Some say He was a madman,

but madmen don’t speak the way He spoke.

Some say He was a crazed fanatic,

but crazed fanatics don’t draw children to themselves or attract men of intellect like Paul or Luke to be their followers.

Some say He was a religious phoney,

but phonies don’t rise from the dead.

Some say He was a phantom,

but phantoms can’t give their flesh and blood to be crucified.

Some say He was only a myth,

but myths don’t set the calendar for history.”[7]

This Jesus of eternity, Bethlehem and the cross of Golgotha has been called: the ideal man, an example of religion, the foremost pattern of virtue, the greatest of all men, the finest teacher who ever lived.

These descriptions give some idea of his character, but they don’t approach the full truth. I think the apostle Thomas stated it beautifully when he saw Jesus after the resurrection and exclaimed the truth: “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28).

Notes


[1] This was a Christmas devotional that I, Spencer Gear, presented to the Bundaberg Ministers’ Association (Bundaberg, Qld., Australia) for its December 2002 meeting.

[2] NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, “Eclipse Home Page: Total Solar Eclipse of 2002 December 04”, available at:: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEmono/TSE2002/TSE2002.html [Accessed 1 January 2010].

[3] See the “Ceduna Total Eclipse Report” [Accessed 1 January 2010].

[4] “Total solar eclipse 2002: Eclipse science,” http://www.csiro.au/helix/eclipse/solar/index.html [Accessed 4 December 2002]. However, on 1 January 2010 this URL was not available.

[5] Ibid., also http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/SEpath/SEpath2001/SE2012Nov13T.html. [Accessed 4 December 2002]. However, on 1 January 2010 this URL was not available.

[6]John F. MacArthur Jr. 1989, God with Us: The Miracle of Christmas. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Books, p. 93.

[7]Ibid.,, p. 83.

 

Copyright © 2010 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 October 2015.