The Reason for the Season

christmas-tree2 Christmas is here once again, and many of us are busy making those last minute shopping trips to find just the right gift for that special friend or family member. And whether you live in an area with a snowy white Christmas or a warmer tropical setting or somewhere in between, the stress of holiday shopping and the budgetary strain seems to affect us all. Between fighting the crowds at our local mall or paging through the websites of our favorite on-line retailers, the commercial aspect of Christmas can be challenging. It is amidst all this stress that I’d like to encourage you to take time to reflect on the real reason for the season, the birth of Jesus Christ.

In this regards, it is very fortunate for us that Luke took the time to thoroughly research the facts surrounding the birth of Jesus while those facts were still contemporary and that he composed those facts into a written record that is still available to us today in his Gospel. But can we really trust the record Luke left? Well, the evidence supporting the historical accuracy of Luke’s narrative is myriad, but let’s look at one specific piece of evidence right now. First, we’ll start with an excerpt from the Gospel of Luke:

Luke 2:1-21 – At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “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! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.

This part of the Christmas story starts with a census being taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Publius Sulpicius Quirinius is known to have governed Syria during 6-9 A.D. Josephus records that a census taken in 6 A.D. sparked a violent Jewish revolt, this is also mentioned by Luke in Act 5:37. Quirinius oversaw this census and played a major role in putting down the rebellion. But this cannot be the census Luke is referring to here in the Christmas story because it occurred much too late to fit Luke’s chronology. Luke was far too meticulous in his recounting of events to be accused of such a chronological error.

And, indeed, archaeology has upheld Luke’s accuracy. A fragment of a stone tablet discovered near Rome in 1764 contains an inscription in honor of a Roman official who was twice governor of Syria during the reign of Augustus. The name of this official is not found, but details listed among his accomplishments could fit no one other than Quirinius. Thus, we conclude that Quirinius served as governor twice. And other ancient records mention a “first” census being ordered by Augustus in 8 B.C. Evidently, this earlier census was not carried out in the Palestinian region until 2-4 years later, perhaps due to political difficulties between Rome and Herod. But Luke does state in verse 2 that the events he recounts occurred at the time of the “first” census taken while Quirinius was governor (obviously indicating there were more than one). Thus, Luke’s accurate rendering of these historic events is validated by the evidence and can be considered completely trustworthy.

Based on this decisive evidence, we can conclude that Luke’s telling of the Christmas story is reliable and I hope by presenting this evidence here it helps you see that Christmas really is a celebration of true historical events. And, as such, it should inspire us to pursue a relationship with our Creator who loved us so much that He sent His one and only Son to live among us, to die for us, and to be raised again that we might be reconciled to Him. Yes, Jesus truly is the reason for the season!

With this in mind, then, we see that the greatest Christmas present ever is the gift of grace given by God through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This Christmas season is a perfect time to accept that gift, if you haven’t already. Just take a few minutes to get by yourself and talk to God. Admit your wrongs to Him and turn your heart and mind toward Jesus (this is called repentance). Then confess Jesus is Lord and promise to follow Him to the best of your ability. As it is written, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

May you have a very Merry Christmas!

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
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Right Before Our Eyes

eyes 5  In chapter 3 in the book of The Acts of the Apostles (or “Acts” for short) a story is told of a man who was crippled from birth, who was brought daily to the temple, where he would beg for money to support himself. The man was incapacitated in his ankles and feet and could not stand or walk on his own. So he would be brought to the temple gate known as The Beautiful Gate, where he would ask for money from those entering the temple. One day, the apostles Peter and John approached.

The impaired man asks them for money as he would any other person. The book of Acts records the exchange that follows this way: Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them. (Acts 3:4-8)

Luke (the author of Acts) continues his description of this miraculous healing event by describing how amazed the people standing nearby were at this miracle. Before their very eyes this man, who they recognized as the man lame from birth, and now approximately 40 years old, was healed and was now walking and leaping for joy. Peter recognizes the opportunity before him and begins to preach a sermon to the people, using the healing of this man as the launching point for his Gospel message. As Peter is preaching he is confronted by the temple leaders and arrested, but not before many of the people listening to Peter believe and are saved.

The next day, Peter and John are brought before the high council and questioned about the healing and the message they were delivering. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, responds to the questioning with a Gospel message that includes this line from Psalm 118:22: “The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” Peter is unabashed in his claim that there is no other name on earth or in heaven by which men must be saved, the name of Jesus Christ. I find what happened next to be remarkable, if not a bit flabbergasting:

Acts 4:13-22:  The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say. So they ordered Peter and John out of the council chamber and conferred among themselves.

“What should we do with these men?” they asked each other. “We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.” So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

The council then threatened them further, but they finally let them go because they didn’t know how to punish them without starting a riot. For everyone was praising God for this miraculous sign—the healing of a man who had been lame for more than forty years.

Take a moment and read that again and contrast the two different reactions to the healing of this man. We see that the man who was healed and the crowds who had witnessed his healing are praising God for what they have seen and experienced. They believe what they saw and many of them accepted Peter’s Gospel message as a result and now have new life in Christ. The high priest and Jewish leaders, on the other hand, though they cannot deny the miracle because the healed man is standing right there in front of their eyes, remain stubborn in their attempt to cover it up, to stop Peter and John from preaching of the Gospel. Yes – you are reading that correctly – the man who was lame from birth, who was well-known to everyone in the area, who the Jewish leaders also knew was lame, is standing right there in front of them completely healed, and the council knows and admits they cannot deny it. But all they are concerned about is stopping the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Just as we see throughout the four Gospels, the high priest and the temple leaders are interested in but one thing; maintaining their power structure and status. So instead of the natural reaction of awe and wonder at this miracle, they engage in what can only be described as willful disregard for the facts. You’d think that, in the face of the evidence – the healed man standing right there in front of their eyes – that they would recognize the error of their ways, repent, and believe, but they do not. And this reaction is not unlike what we see around us to this very day –  people who continue their willful refusal to accept the Gospel message despite the fact that no honest historian denies that Jesus Christ was a real historical figure, that the evidence supporting the authenticity of the Bible is simply overwhelming, and that many millions of lives continue to be dramatically changed to this very day. These people continue to practice willful disregard of the facts, and nothing I write here is likely to convince them to change their mind.

The now-healed lame man stands right before their very eyes. They cannot deny it because to do so is irrational and illogical (though some still try). They are, as the Bible says in Romans, without excuse and one day they will stand before the living God and they will be judged. God’s judgment is always perfect, always fair, always just. But the Bible tells us “it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

So which camp do you fall into? Chances are, if you’ve read this far, you either believe or are ready to believe. It is in God’s great mercy and love for us that he provided a way by which we may be saved and we may experience the fullness of life that He intended for us. That way is through Jesus Christ. Jesus came to this world though the virgin birth, lived among us, experienced life just as we experience it, and then willingly laid down his life as a sacrifice for us. But on the third day he rose again, thereby defeating death once and for all.  In Romans 10:8-13, the Apostle Paul writes: And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

If you haven’t already, won’t you make today the day you believe the Gospel message and call on the name of the Lord?

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