Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sermon--11/26/06--The Christmas Smear

It’s That Time Again—

I’m not talking about the time to put up Christmas Trees or Stockings or Lights or time to Put on the Pounds, nor even time to shop like crazy and trample on fellow shoppers like happened this weekend. I’m talking about that time when you will soon see Jesus on more magazine covers and in more television Specials than ever before—I expect it to start this week—it will be more than just whether Merry Christmas is allowed in stores or work. You may be thinking that this is a good thing; that our country may be turning around in their interest about Jesus. I hope so, but in many ways, these depictions are more of an Annual Smear campaign against Jesus. If all people read are these magazines and watch are these programs, then there is a greater possibility that they won’t want anything to do with the Christian Faith—because the Jesus they talk about is not the same Jesus we put our faith in. Who your Jesus is, is vital.
Having the right person to put your faith into is Vital to belief. The pledge of faith and commitment in baptism is dependent on the Person of Jesus—as is the Lord’s Supper that we will participate in later. And yet so many inaccuracies and deceptions abound about who Jesus really was and is will be perpetuated the as we approach the wonder of the Incarnation in the Birth of Christ.

Knowing the real Jesus is just as important as getting the correct address on a letter or sending an e-mail; if you mess up the address or the identity, then your message will be lost or misinterpreted.

I had found an internet story that speaks of this.
There was this couple from Minneapolis, MN who decided to go to Miami Beach to thaw out during a particularly harsh winter.
This couple were frequent flyers and because of the airlines strange policies, the husband was scheduled to fly down to FL the day before his wife. Once he got to his hotel and into his room, he decided to e-mail his wife back in MN that he had made it. Unfortunately, he did not notice that he had misspelled his wife’s e-mail address.
In South Carolina a woman received an e-mail. She was checking it because she wanted to see if any of her family had contacted her. See, she had just returned from her husband’s funeral, a Methodist minister for many years who had been called to glory just a few days earlier.
Upon reading her first e-mail, she let out a loud scream, fainted and fell to the floor. The woman’s son rushed into the room and found his mother on the floor. He glanced at the computer screen and saw the following e-mail message:

To My Loving Wife,
I’ve just been checked in. Everything has been prepared for your arrival here tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then.

Your Devoted Husband.
PS.—Sure is Hot down Here!!

Having the correct identity is important. That’s why one of the central questions of the Gospels is Jesus asking, “Who do you say that I am?”

Many of these magazines and programs have a tremendous amount of good and interesting information, that way, they make themselves believable and credible. But the writers will mix in a vision of Jesus that is totally foreign to the biblical account and what we believe. In fact, they have an agenda to recreate Jesus for this new millennium.

An article in the Atlantic Monthly from 1996 argues that this quest for the “Historical Jesus” started in the Enlightenment. They wanted to find “an inspirational but purely human figure who might have intended something different from the dogmatic—and in the view of many, oppressive—faith that grew up in his name.” “This Jesus for the America of the Third Millennium [is] a Jesus with little supernatural baggage but much respect for cultural diversity.”

One of these scholars is so impressed by these recent efforts that he goes so far to say “it’s over, we’ve had enough apocalypses. We’ve had enough martyrs. Christianity has had a 2000 year run, and it’s over.”

That quote is over 5 years ago and I’m glad to say, faith in Jesus Christ is alive and well!!!
We need to keep in mind the words of Paul who warned us in

Colossians 2:4 & 8 “4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.
COL 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”

There are many fine-sounding arguments—but they are ultimately hollow & deceptive, they can take you or keep you captive. Our human traditions and worship of reason wants to fit God into a nice, neat package where He never does anything unexpected, or anything that we cannot explain.

One magazine I bought a year or 2 ago, the US News and World Report says that these scholars and historians “have sought to discern to what extent the Christ of faith, as perceived and experienced by Christian believers, resembles Jesus of Nazareth, the man who lived and died in Roman occupied Palestine”.
It states clearly that these efforts have “focused as much on the veracity [or truthfulness] of the New Testament Gospels as on the figure of Jesus himself.”

These articles get press based upon which have the more exaggerated or more unorthodox claims—after all, the traditional, biblical account isn’t quite as scandalous as it was when it was first written—we’ve become desensitized to it all cute and cuddly in our nativity scenes. So let me give you a few examples.

1. The Atlantic Monthly article quotes a scholar as believing that “no one really knows how Jesus died and that the other Gospel stories [such as His resurrection], are pure fiction.”

2. “From Jesus to Christ”—shown on PBS is a 4 hour program that has some great information during 2 hours, but ultimately desires to tear down the Jesus of Faith in the other 2. Unfortunately, it was the brainchild of a man from the University of Texas. The program states on several occasions, without any argument or proof, that Jesus was not born in Bethlehem but likely Nazareth. That means, according to them, the shepherds were a lie, the wise men were a lie, the fulfillment of prophecy was a lie.

3. The same program argues that Jesus was not born of a Virgin, but that was mythology created later. Mary, they state as obvious, was likely attacked by a passing Roman soldier. This makes Jesus’ genealogy a lie, His sinless life a lie, His deity a lie.

These issues are foundational to the person of Jesus—who He is and what He did for us. If Jesus’ lineage is a lie—then He is not eligible to be the Messiah as an “heir to the throne of David”. If the Virgin Conception—the Virgin Birth is not reality, if He was conceived and born in the normal manner, then Jesus would have been born with the same fallen sin nature that you and I have—so He would have died for His own sins and not yours or mine—the Cross would have no power to deliver us, nothing with which to purchase our freedom from sin and death.

Accepting these new teachings leaves you with a Jesus who is just an interesting man, a good—even moral teacher, a political outsider who ruffled the wrong feathers. Simply a man who gathered a following but was ultimately killed—no miracles, no resurrection—just a man divorced from any real divinity—without any real power.
Those who hold such teachings consider one of the greatest miracles to be that anyone pays attention to Jesus at all—that He isn’t lost to historical obscurity.

Maybe you never realized how important If these are things you haven’t heard or seen before, be ready. This type of smear is becoming more and more prominent; especially around college campuses. Professors, co-workers, even fellow students have many points and arguments that can easily shake the foundations of faith.

Maybe you have heard these issues before, maybe you have similar questions yourself—maybe they cause you to wonder. I want you to know that having questions is OK—careful investigation is vital—that’s what Luke promised he was doing in Luke 1:3—“I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning”—and he is the most detailed about the unique situation surrounding the birth of Jesus.

Along with trying to sell more magazines, these articles desire to shake the foundations of our faith and weaken our trust in the biblical accounts and the idea of who Jesus is and how we answer that question, “Who do you say that I am”.

The foundational beliefs the early church had about Jesus did not take decades to develop, I want to look at a passage of Scripture which gives us a strong indication of what the early church believed even soon after the Resurrection of Christ. Turn to

1 Corinthians 15:1-8
1CO 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
This passage is representative of early Church teaching based on some powerful reasoning.—EARLY KEY TEACHINGS

1. 1 Corinthians is identified as an early book in itself. Paul claims in 16:5-9, that he was writing while staying in Ephesus as reported in Acts 19 & 20:31. That means we can safely put the writing about or before 55 AD. This is only about 25 years after Jesus’ Resurrection.
2. Notice how Paul starts this section: “3 For what I received I passed on to you”. What follows is essentially a recitation of early Christian teaching about Jesus—that was taught to him to familiarize him with the basic beliefs of Christ the Messiah Paul now embraced. Some set and established form of teaching that Christians memorized.
3. If we put the Crucifixion and Resurrection in the late 20’s or early 30’s, then Paul’s conversion would have been at most a couple years later, by AD 32. Paul spent a couple of years learning his new faith and met with the Apostles for the first time 3 years later (Acts 9 & Gal. 1). Here was the likely time that Paul “received” this information.

4. So that reasonably traces the teaching about Christ’s death, burial & resurrection & more importantly, the meaning of His death & Resurrection—“For Our Sins”—to the mid 30’s, roughly 5 years after the Resurrection.
Not long after these were taught to him, Paul began preaching this Good News around the Roman World.

What does this passage teach us about Jesus and the Church’s beliefs?

1. Christ’s Death is based on the Fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy—Isaiah 53, Psalm 22
2. He died for a reason—for our sins as opposed to His own
3. Jesus was Buried and Considered Dead
4. The Resurrection occurred on the Third Day and fulfilled Prophecy—Psalm 17:9-11, Jonah 1:17, Matthew 12:40
5. The Resurrected Jesus Appeared to Eyewitnesses—many who were still alive at the time of writing
A. Peter
B. The Apostles
C. 500 believers (likely at the Sea of Galilee) many still alive
D. James, the half-brother of Jesus
E. Lastly Paul on the road to Damascus

I’ll take a guess and say that you’re wondering how this helps a discussion of Christmas and the birth of Jesus.

It is Important because…

1. It shows how quickly the essential beliefs about Jesus was taught and practiced—the biggest issues like His Death, Burial & Resurrection were believed, practiced and taught
2. Proves that these beliefs were not created long after the fact but were believed and taught by the Apostles immediately.
3. Eyewitnesses were still alive to refute the story—Including Luke and Matthew’s accounts of Jesus’ entrance into this world
4. Demonstrates the fact that miracles marked the faith of early Christians and changed their lives from running and hiding at Jesus’ arrest to bold proclamations after His Resurrection
5. Demonstrates the Historical Nature of central Christian beliefs because without the Resurrection, Paul says our faith is worthless and we are still in our sins.
6. If miracles such as the Resurrection can have an early and historical foundation then our confidence in the Virgin Birth and our Celebration of Christmas increases dramatically. Their beliefs are consistent. Luke’s careful investigation is legitimate and trustworthy.
7. The unique and special birth of the Messiah was not an after the fact construction, but a fulfillment of the Scriptures in the same way that the Messiah’s death & Resurrection fulfilled Scripture: Isaiah 7:14—“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”, Isaiah 9:6—“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
8. As We enter this season, celebrating the moment of history when God chose to make His greatest entrance, to make Himself most Vulnerable, don’t buy into the annual Christmas Smear. Understand that God desires that our faith be strengthened and not shaken no matter what we read or see. Instead, realize the Jesus of History is the Jesus of Faith. Be encouraged about the true Jesus of history. What began at Bethlehem, is the foundation that leads us to His Table, in which He broke bread and invited His followers to join Him and take of His Body and bread.
9. We have many reasons to be confidence in Christmas—many reasons to accept Christ’s invitation to join Him at His table. How you answer, “Who do you say that I am?” is what qualifies you for this table

1 comment:

cathrina said...

the jokes about the couple is the best..