CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR was my sixth since ALS decided to wage war against my body. Although it is winning slowly but surely on the physical front, it has already lost the war on the mental and spiritual fronts. When I die physically there will be a brief hiatus (“heaven” it is named), and then the new heavens and earth will be formed. Thus, rather than anxiety, I have peace. Rather than a gnawing angst while drawing nearer to death, I have a promise about what it will be like on the other side, and it is wonderful beyond description!
Let me explain. Hang on. Don’t drop off! This post is a little longer than most.
Every culture has its “tall tales.”
- In Roman folklore, when their grandfather, Numitor, was overthrown by his brother, in order to cut off Numitor’s progeny from the throne, he had his twingrandsons, Romulus and Remus, thrown into the Tiber River. They were rescued and suckled by a female wolf until a local herdsman took them into his home. They reportedly became founders of the city of Rome.
- Greek legend tells that when the god Zeus had a horrible headache, Hephaestus took an ax and split open Zeus’ skull to relieve the pain. Suprise! Out popped Athena, fully grown with a suit of armor! Because of how she was born she was thought to be the goddess of wisdom and intelligence.
- Let’s not forget Santa Claus, Paul Bunyan, Big Foot, or Little Red Ridinghood in our own American folklore.
Another Tall Tale?
Some maintain that the following story falls into the same category as a “tall tale.
“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’
“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’ ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’
“The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon 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. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.’ ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her. (The Gospel According to Luke 1:26-38)
QUESTION: Angels? God? An unmarried girl pregnant by God’s Spirit? God has a son? Now that’s one whopping story! Or so the skeptics’ muse. For example:
The Toledot Yeshu, an ancient Jewish book, states that Mary was actually married to a Jewish man, John, but was wooed by a handsome Roman soldier, Tiberius Panthera. When Mary became pregnant by Panthera, John divorced Mary.
Celsius (178 AD), a Roman opponent of Christianity, comments in his book, On True Doctrine, asks Jesus in an imaginary dialogue: “Is it not true, good sir, that you fabricated the story of your birth from a virgin to quiet rumours about the true and insavoury [Sic.] circumstances of your origins? . . . and . . . when her deceit was uncovered, to wit, that she was pregnant by a roman [Sic.] soldier called: Panthera, she was driven away by her husband the carpenter and convicted of adultery?”
A modern skeptic writes: “The nativity yarn is a concatenation of nonsense. The genealogies of Jesus . . . are pious fiction. . . The original Mary was not a virgin, that idea was borrowed from pagan goddesses. The pagan world knew all about virgins getting pregnant by randy gods. . .”
QUESTION: Why did so many Jews in Jerusalem accept the story of Mary and her pregnancy as history and not a “tall tale? “The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” About three thousand in the city believed in one day. Saul of Tarsus (later known by the Latin name “Paul”) was a highly educated Jew (he had studied at the feet of the famed Gamaliel. He became the chief agent of the Sanhedrin to hunt down Christians as far away as Damascus and he had some put to death. Even he became a believer!
Following are several facts about Jesus that have convinced me that he was extraordinary. He did what no mere mortal could do. His deeds were not performed in a world of fiction and intrigue, as was the playground of the imaginary Greek and Roman gods. His deeds were played out in public under the ever-present scrutiny of the Jewish leaders.
His words and deeds have been documented in the biographical accounts written by Matthew (a tax collector employed by the Romans), Mark (student of a former prosecutor employed by the Jewish Sanhedrin), Luke (a Greek physician and travel companion of Paul), and John (exiled by Emperor Nero to the small island of Patmos). At any time in the first century, after the general circulation of these documents, anyone living in Galilee or Judea at the time who was in Judea, Samaria, or Galilee could have challenged the authenticity of these reports, but no one did.
1. He performed 37 recorded miracles. Here are several.
- With five loaves and two fish, he fed a crowd of 5,000 men as well as women and children who had come to hear him teach–Wait! There’s more! The disciples picked up twelve bucketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. (The Gospel of Matthew 14:13-21)
- When the crowd was dismissed, Jesus went up a nearby mountain to pray, having told his disciples to cross the lake (Sea of Galilee) where he would meet them on the other side. On their boat trip across the lake, a bad storm arose. But that’s not all! During the storm, they saw a man walking on the water towards them. Only ghosts could walk on water, they thought! But, no! It was Jesus! (The Gospel of Matthew 14:22)-32)
- On another occasion, with seven loaves of bread and two fish, he fed 4,000 men, in addition to women and children, and the disciples picked up seven bucketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. (The Gospel of Matthew 15:32-39)
- How could one itinerate teacher attract such crowds? Matthew gives the cause. “The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.” (The Gospel of Matthew 15:31)
2. He foretold the future, most notably the 70 A.D. destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple. He predicted the event about forty years prior,”This generation,” he said, “will not pass away until all these things take place.” (The Gospel of Matthew 24:34)
3. He personally fulfilled 353 prophecies concerning the Messiah in the Old Testament. The time of his birth, the town in which he would be born, and the Jewish tribe of which he would be a member are but three of the prophecies he fulfilled.
In his digital book, Science Speaks, Peter W. Stoner selected eight specific prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. He asks the question, “. . . how many men, the world over, will fulfill all eight prophecies? This question can be answered by applying our principles of probability. In other words, by multiplying all of our estimates together, or 1 in 2.8 x 105 x 103 x 102 x 103 x 105 x 103 x 104. This gives 1 in 2.8 x 1028, where 28 means that we have 28 ciphers following the 2.8. Let us simplify and reduce the number by calling it 1 in 1028. Written out this number is 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.” Read more.
Who was the late Professor Stoner? Far from being a quack, Peter W. Stoner (1888-1980) was Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Astronomy, Pasadena City College and Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Astronomy, at Westmont College. His statements of probability have been examined and attested by the American Scientific Affiliation.
To read more evidence from the life of Jesus, see Josh McDowell’s book, More Than A Carpenter.
Jesus, who exists from all eternity, came into the world as an infant and came to live his earthly life to accomplish three things.
- He came to satisfy all the requirements of God’s law through perfect obedience. He did this on our behalf. He did what we could never do ourselves. God accepted the perfect obedience of Jesus and imputed that perfect obedience to our account. Conversely, God imputed to Jesus our guilt of disobedience to His law. Read more.
- He came to set an example of living marked by unconditional love, compassion, forgiveness, honesty, humility. He was the “true north” in a world filled with competing, confusing, and contradictory voices. By living out his exemplary life, he showed us God the Father (The Gospel of John 1:18; 14:9)
- He came to proclaim the answer to questions asked by humans universally: “I know there’s something or someone out there bigger than I am. How can I know that being? What must I do to please or to assuage that being? What must I do to convince him or it to make my crops grow, my animals to be fertile, or to make it rain, to win a war? What must I offer up as a sacrifice to cure sickness and plague? What about death and the afterlife?” Jesus clearly addressed these and other questions. To the central question, he said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (The Gospel of John 14:6). And: “Whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned–he has [already] passed from death into life” (The Gospel of John 5:24).
As C.S. Lewis said so succinctly, to dismiss the story of Jesus’ birth as legend or fable is to dismiss him entirely. He was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. One cannot hold him up as a great moral teacher and at the same time deny his deity. Could Mary be at his side from birth to death and be a woman of the highest virtue while at the same time be a co conspirator in the world’s greatest scam?
If a liar, I’ve lost nothing. If a lunatic, I’ve lost nothing there either. If Lord and Master of all things, I’ve gained everything!