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SHOCKED BY THE BIBLETHE MOST ASTONISHING FACTS YOU'VE NEVER BEEN TOLD
By JOE KOVACS
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Joe Kovacs
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE REAL CHRISTMAS STORY
IT'S OFFICIAL. America has gone cuckoo over Christmas! At least it seems that way, with a bizarre culture war raging over December 25. And though it may seem like a recent phenomenon, it's a battle that dates back hundreds of years. The earliest Americans, who were Christians, actually banned the celebration of the day.
At the end of each calendar year, stores, schools, and even some towns struggle over whether or not to publicly display anything associated with the Christmas holiday. The greeting "Merry Christmas" is discouraged, and many places of business replace it with the more generic "Happy Holidays" so as not to offend those who do not take part in the Christmas celebration. Some places remove Christmas trees from public places-Sea-Tac Airport in the state of Washington did so in December 2006.
The political correctness has become so absurd that NBC's Saturday Night Live featured a hilarious comedy sketch in December 2005 that showed holiday carolers changing the lyrics of "Silent Night" from "holy night" to "regular night," and "holy infant" to "random infant."
In the skit, comedian Kenan Thompson portrayed NBC personality Al Roker celebrating "holiday time" instead of Christmastime at New York City's Rockefeller Center. The Roker character introduced the "Silent Night" song by saying, "So in the spirit of diversity and fear, please welcome the NBC Peacock Singers with an all-inclusive holiday medley for everyone."
The lyrics stated:
Silent night, Regular night All is calm, All is bright. Round the fire Mother and child Random infant Religiously neutral Sleep in comfortable beds Sleep in comfortable beds.
But the battle lines in this politically correct controversy are not as clear as they seem. There are many different approaches to Christmas.
Some people love every aspect of Christmas, even its name. They regard it as one of the holiest times of the year, and celebrate it in commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind. For many, it's the one time of year that they attend church. They also enjoy the jolly, secular aspects, from Christmas trees and presents to office parties and holiday revelry.
Some believe the birth of Jesus should be honored on December 25, but think the modern commercialization detracts from the significance of the holy day. They feel the mayhem at the malls makes a mockery of the so-called "reason for the season."
Others love Christmas as a fun-filled time to carouse and exchange gifts, but shy away from the religious aspects, especially in the public arena. They enjoy singing songs, going to parties, and sending cards with winter scenes or messages of "Season's Greetings," but purposefully avoid mentioning God. Some of these folks have been in the news for trying to ban the word Christmas or outlaw religious-themed songs and displays in public. In December 2002, a first-grade teacher in Sacramento County, California, said she had been ordered by her principal not to utter the word Christmas at school.
Still others enjoy the day as a pagan holiday, the origins of which predate the birth of Jesus by thousands of years. They point to yuletide customs that have nothing to do with the Bible. They often say they are honoring the winter solstice, as the sun begins to lengthen its time each day in the Northern Hemisphere.
Finally, some believe Christmas is completely unchristian, that its pagan origins make it unacceptable in the eyes of the true God, who feels no honor to be associated with traditions tied to the worship of the sun and trees. They point out that the Christians who founded the American colonies made it a crime in some places to celebrate December 25 as a special day, because they believed it was a heathen celebration.
The situation is certainly complex, and there are strong feelings on all sides of the issue. What is Christmas actually about? Who is right and who is wrong, or has everyone slid off the right track?
NOT on the Christmas List
To start, none of the following items are mentioned in the Bible concerning the birth of Jesus: the word Christmas; a Christmas tree (or any tree, for that matter); hanging ornaments; December; the exact day, date, or even year Jesus was born; three wise men; a little drummer boy; winter; snow; yule; yule logs; wreaths; boughs of holly; mistletoe; colorful lights; eggnog; candy canes; parties; drinking; shopping; reindeer; St. Nick; Santa Claus; elves; toys; wrapping paper; caroling; cookies; plum pudding; chimneys; stockings; colors of red, green, and white; Bing Crosby; Jimmy Stewart; or children coveting a Red Ryder BB gun, despite the fact they may shoot their eyes out as depicted in the film A Christmas Story.
I don't think many people will be shocked that Bing Crosby dreaming of a white Christmas and Jimmy Stewart's It's a Wonderful Life are absent from the pages of the Bible, but I cannot say the same for some of the other items on this list (which has been checked twice).
For instance, if asked how many wise men were present at the Bethlehem manger when Jesus was born, most people will likely answer, "Three." They would be wrong.
The correct answer from the Bible is actually ... zero! No Scripture shows the presence of any wise men at the manger at the birth of Jesus. The New Testament indicates the wise men showed up later-perhaps more than a year later-at a house in an unspecified location. Of course, those who guess incorrectly are in good company. Even the 2006 film The Nativity Story wrongly portrayed a trio of wise men arriving at the manger in Bethlehem.
Interestingly, the holy Scriptures never reveal exactly how many wise men eventually came to visit Jesus. It may have been three, but it could have been four, five, a dozen, or scores. The Bible does not specify. So where did the so-called "Three Wise Men" originate? Christians over the centuries likely assumed there were three because there are three gifts mentioned-gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The Facts of the Matter
The myth of the "Three Wise Men" raises a serious issue, though. If it isn't contained in Scripture, then what exactly does the Bible say about the birth of Jesus?
The accounts are located in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, which do include the following: Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Bethlehem, Nazareth, angelic appearances, a manger, shepherds, wise men, a virgin, a census, a taxation, a despotic ruler, and conception by the Holy Spirit (or as the King James Version calls it, the Holy Ghost).
Before the actual conception and birth of Jesus, an angel conveyed the news to Mary, a virgin engaged to a carpenter named Joseph: "The angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary" (Luke 1:26-27).
Mary was afraid and confused when the angel first greeted her, but the heavenly messenger was quick to explain the good news.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. (vv. 30-33)
She confirmed her virtuous state in direct conversation with the angel, as she wondered how she could give birth without having had sexual relations with a man.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (vv. 34-35)
Matthew also mentions Mary's virginity, noting that Joseph did not have sex with her until after she had given birth to Jesus: "And [Joseph] knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS" (1:25).
Joseph and Mary were not residents of Bethlehem, the town where Jesus was born. They lived in Nazareth, a city in the region of Galilee. But they were not in Bethlehem because they were homeless wanderers. According to Scripture, they were law-abiding citizens who were following orders to pay their taxes in a census ordered by the Roman authorities.
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)
The Son of God entered the world in a manger not because His parents couldn't afford accommodations but because there was no vacancy at the "Bethlehem Inn." Many people were traveling due to the census, so finding lodging was more difficult than usual.
As an aside, it's interesting that Jesus was not an only child. He had at least four brothers mentioned by name and at least two unnamed sisters, as Matthew reveals later: "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?" (13:55-56)
The Season Ain't the Reason
But back to the birth of Jesus in the Bethlehem manger, according to Luke's account: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (2:8).
While we're never told precisely what season it was when Jesus was born, some use this verse to suggest that it was either spring, summer, or fall, but not winter. They argue that the winter months are too cold and wet for shepherds in Israel to be in the fields at night. In this view, October would likely have been the latest month for them to have their flocks out. But the Bible is silent on the season.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (vv. 9-14)
Many people who celebrate Christmas are familiar with at least some of these six verses, as they often appear as inspirational messages on Christmas cards. The shepherds were terrified as they experienced a miraculous appearance from the unseen world. They saw not just one angel but a large number of heavenly messengers praising God.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (vv. 15-21)
According to Luke, the shepherds who received angelic instructions hurried into Bethlehem, found the baby in the manger, and then returned to their fields, all the while praising God. Again, there is no mention of any wise men at the manger. Neither are they mentioned in the first eight days of Jesus' life, when He was circumcised and given His name.
The first mention of the wise men is in the second chapter of Matthew. They arrived sometime after Jesus was born, but it's not clear precisely when. Because they were not certain of the exact place of birth, they sought help from the local ruler:
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. (vv. 2:1-8)
The Starring Role
As the wise men searched for the Christ child, they received miraculous help from a star acting as a global positioning device: "When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy" (vv. 9-10).
There are different theories about the star in these verses. Some say it was an actual star. Others claim it was a planetary conjunction, which creates a very bright light in the sky. Still others suggest it was an angel guiding them to the right place, since the text notes that the star moved, and other verses of the Bible refer to angels as stars (see Job 38:4-7 and Revelation 1:15-20).
But whatever they followed to get there, when the wise men finally gazed upon Jesus, it was not in a manger but in a house: "And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him" (Matthew 2:11).
The wise men were then warned by God in a dream not to return to King Herod, so they returned to their homeland by another route. Herod finally realized the Magi were not returning, and he became so angry that he slaughtered an entire generation of young boys in and around Bethlehem.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. (v. 16)
There is an important point here: according to what he had learned from the Magi about the time of Jesus' birth, Herod slew boys up to two years old. That means it's possible the wise men found Jesus up to two years after He was born! Remember, they were not present at the manger. They arrived later at a house to present their gifts. It could have been the day after He was born, but it's also possible baby Jesus was no longer a baby when they arrived. He may have been walking and talking. Additionally, while Luke's account refers to Jesus in the manger as a "babe," all seven references in the gospel of Matthew (the account mentioning the wise men) refer to Him as a "young child," coming from a different Greek word than the one translated "babe."
Excerpted from SHOCKED BY THE BIBLE by JOE KOVACS Copyright © 2008 by Joe Kovacs. Excerpted by permission.
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