Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas and the Messiah

Greetings again. I am posting one of my wife's letters which she has invested time and love into writing, to edify her family about Christmas's origins and Jesus' unique role as Messiah. I want to share what she wrote for them, so please recall the context it is written in if it seems to be personally addressed (it is).

Jesus is the reason for Christmas, though it began under a pagan veil. To celebrate Christmas, while denying Christ was God come in the flesh through the virgin birth, to live a sinless life and die as the Lamb of God for the world, seems to be fruitless. What are you celebrating, I am compelled to ask? Consider the question, I sincerely ask you; if Jesus Christ means nothing to you, and you reject His claim at being the Son of God, and the Savior of the world, why elevate this day? You have removed the only reason it was observed and celebrated: gifts are given to commemorate the three kings who gave the newborn Jesus gifts at His birth.

I personally will no longer partake for tradition's sake, nor will I partake in anything in ignorance, without sounding the depths, as it were, of why I am doing this, and whether I should and want to be doing it. God has given us the gift of reason. Christ's birth is worthy of celebration solely because that day, in Bethlehem, the Savior came into the world! God sent His Son to die for us on the cross, so we did not have to die! The sinless, spotless, Lamb of God had come at long last, and everyone dead in sin and trespasses could now, through faith in Him, live and be reconciled to God. Hallelujah! Here, at last, is something worthy of celebration, and joy to the world, peace on earth, and good will toward man, because God has laid down the path to Him, via the cross. Thank You, heavenly Father for caring so much for this fallen world. Amen.

Oxford Dictionary(1) defines Christmas as: 1 the annual Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus held on 25 December. 2 the period immediately before and after 25 December. ORIGIN Old English, ‘Mass of Christ.’

Rightly does it describe Christmas as a celebration of Jesus’ birth, but you may be wondering how and why this celebration came about in the first place. Why December 25th? Was it really Jesus’ birthday? Who is Jesus anyway? And why are we celebrating his birth? These are all legitimate questions, and all have interesting (well, I think so anyways!) answers. In this essay I will strive to sufficiently answer these questions without going into extreme detail, as that would take an entire book, and perhaps raise a few more. If I have not gone into enough detail in any part and you are confused, or would just like to know more, please let me know; if I do not know the answer, then we can find it together! I hope you all enjoy and come away from this feeling slightly more edified! (I am also including a list of my sources at the end so you may check them out yourself if you like.)

To begin, we are actually going to address the last two questions first: 1 Who is Jesus anyway? 2 And why are we celebrating his birth?

Jesus [Greek: Yahweh saves](2) Christ [Greek: Anointed One, Messiah](2), God come in the flesh of man. Quite the boast you may say, yet He is the only man to ever fulfill every prophecy concerning the first coming of Messiah. From His conception and birth, on to His life, death, resurrection and more, Jesus fits all descriptions from the Old Testament which spoke of Him. In this section, I would like to show a very condensed list of some of the prophecies foretold of Messiah in the Old Testament (OT) and fulfilled, by Jesus, in the New Testament (NT).

Place of Birth(3), (4): (OT, Micah 5:2) “But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” (NT, Matthew 2:1) “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.”

Born in the Flesh(3), (4): (OT, Isaiah 9:6) “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (NT, Luke 2: 11) “For there is born to you this day in the city of David [Bethlehem] a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Born of a Virgin(3), (4): (OT, Isaiah 7:14) “Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [God-with-us].” (NT, Luke 1:31,34-35) “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.’ Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’”

Preceded by a Prophet Preparing His Way(3), (4): (OT, Isaiah 40:3) The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (NT, Matthew 3:1-3) “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.’”
Prophet(3), (4): (OT, Deuteronomy 18:15) “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me (Moses) from your midst, from your brethren.” (NT, John 6:14) “Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is come into the world.’”

God’s Spirit Rested upon Him(4): (OT, Isaiah 11:2) “The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” (NT, Mark 1:10) “And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.”

Riding on a Colt(6), (4): (OT, Zechariah 9:9) “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly, and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (NT, Mark 11:2-4, 7) “…and He said to them, ‘Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.’ So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it and He sat on it.”

Hated without Cause(3), (4): (OT, Psalm 69:4) “Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head; they are mighty who would destroy me, being my enemies wrongfully; though I have stolen nothing, I still must restore it.” (NT, John 15:24-25) “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’”

Son of God(3), (4): (OT, Psalm 2:7) “I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’” (NT, Matthew 3:17) “And suddenly a voice came from heaven saying, ‘This is My Son, in whom I am well pleased.’”

Sin Bearer(3), (4): (OT, Isaiah 53:6) “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (NT, 2nd Peter 2:24) “…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.”

Forsaken by His Disciples(3), (4): (OT, Zechariah 13:7) “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the Man who is My Companion,’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; then I will turn my hand against the little ones.’” (NT, Matthew 26:55-56) “In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, ‘Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me. But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.’ Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.”

Crucified and Clothing Divided(3), (4): (OT, Psalm 22:14-18) “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; you have brought Me to the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide my garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.” (NT, Luke 23:33-34) “And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ And they divided His garments and cast lots.”

Voluntary Release of Spirit(3), (4): (OT, Psalm 31:5) “Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.” (NT, Luke 23:46) “And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed his last.”

This list is only the beginning of who Jesus Christ is. Amazingly, there are over 300 Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament(6). “Why? So Israel could identify Him, when in the fullness of time God would send forth His Son(6).” This is why we celebrate His birth; no other person has, can, or will fulfill prophecy in the way He has because everything must happen in its proper time, and some of those times are long past. (To find out more about this I can direct you to some good sources, mainly the Bible, but others too.) He is God our Savior, the only one who can take our sins upon Himself so that we may be with Him in heaven. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16-17(4)

Now that we have covered the “Who?” and the “Why?,” we will continue on to a short explanation of the origin of December 25th as the birthday of our Savior. To answer the most obvious question first, no, December 25th is most probably not Jesus’ birthday. Why do I say this? Well, admittedly, I am not the foremost expert on the topic, but I have done my reading and many agree that this could not possibly be the correct date for one very good reason: it would be too cold outside(5), (6). The Bible says, “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.” Luke 2:1-5(4) And “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Luke 2:8(4) Firstly, it would be uncalled-for to require men, women (including pregnant women), and children to travel during the coldest months of the year; and secondly, it would be highly unusual for shepherds to be spending the night in the fields near to the end of December when it was not customary for the Shepherds of Judea to be out later than the end of October(5). So, where did this date come from then?

To be quite forthright, the Christian church adopted the date from a pagan festival called the Saturnalia, a celebration, dedicated to Saturn, of the winter solstice(6). The church of Rome simply adopted this celebration in an attempt to convert Rome’s pagan populace to Christianity(6). Instead, it had the opposite effect by thrusting Christianity deep into many idolatrous practices including: vestments, candles, incense, images, and processions(6). Sadly, these practices were so well engrained into Christianity that they still exist today, resulting in the worship of these objects or practices rather than worship of the Creator. Should we stop celebrating Christmas then? On the contrary, the Lord has a funny way of turning evil to good (see Genesis 50:20), and as Dave Hunt states in his article The Cradle and the Cross, “Rather than joining the enemies of God in denouncing Christmas, however, might we not better cultivate the bits of truth that shine through the lamentable commercialization and paganism? This is a unique time of year for presenting the gospel to the world, so let us take advantage of the opportunity(6).”

In closing, though it has been a struggle of conscience since my conversion about whether or not I should be celebrating Christmas, I have now come to a solid and biblically sound conclusion. For Paul says in Romans, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.” Romans 14:5-6(6) I have chosen to continue observing the day in celebration of the Lord’s birth with the hopes of being a witness to the Grace and Love of Jesus Christ our Savior. And remember, “…whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.” Philippians 1:18(4)

Merry Christmas, I love you!

-Gillian


Sources:
(1) Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Fourth Edition
(2) The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(3) The New Defender’s Study Bible, by Dr. Henry M. Morris
(4) Holy Bible, New King James Version
(5) The Two Babylons, by Alexander Hislop
(6) The Berean Call, December 2009; The Cradle and the Cross, by Dave Hunt

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”
John 5:24(4)

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"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," 2nd Timothy 3:16.

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Joshua 24:15

All Scripture is taken from the King James Bible (KJV) or New King James Bible (NKJV). Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.