Contend for the Faith

From the Word of God:

… I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3).

We have, on occasion, mentioned a thorn in our side — a nemesis, if you will — who vigorously condemns the Christian faith as being a collection of myths and fairy tales. This unnamed antagonist is also an atheist who vehemently hates God and religion.

The background of our foe might help you to understand their resolute hatred of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (S)he has a lifelong history of alcohol and drug abuse; is socially and politically left-leaning; and considers themself to be an intellectual. (S)he contends that the Bible is full of contradictions that no rational person with even a small measure of intelligence could believe.

Friends, we have not only had to contend with doubtful, hardened hearts outside the church, but also from within. Liberalism long ago pervaded even our most hallowed halls of education — institutions that were founded to equip and train reverent men and women. In the passing years, God has been banished from the public arena and our public schools. Children are not allowed to pray in class, but they are taught how to use a condom, and celebrate alternate lifestyles. As we have learned all too often we cannot protect our young from the poisonous indoctrination of secular education, nor the assault of a corrupt and violent world.

The church is not immune to the cultural diseases that plague our nation. Seminary professors cast doubt on bedrock doctrinal issues. They deny the Virgin Birth, debate the resurrection and discredit the Deity of Jesus Christ. Mainstream congregations even reject the inviolate, God-ordained and defined, social and cultural foundation of marriage.

Apostasy is a cancer that ravages the body of Christ.

Messiah Gate is a vocal proponent of Christian apologetics. No, we do not apologize, but contend for the faith. Apologetics means just that — to defend Christian doctrine as Peter exhorted:

… sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you … (1Pe 3:15).

But you must be more than a once-a-week Christian. It means turning off the television and spending quality time in the Word of God; listening to Christian radio or ministry tapes while driving to work, exercising or doing household chores; equipping yourself to teach your children and defend your faith against the attacks of unbelievers. Be sober, and do not be prey to the adversary as Peter warns:

… the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith … (1Pe 5:8-9).

… faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Ro 10:17).

It is our Christian duty to be immersed and well-versed in God’s Word so that we can defend the faith and give an answer to the world’s objections.

Newsweek magazine published an article by Bart Ehrman, What Do We Really Know About Jesus?, in which the author disputes the story of Christmas.

Ehrman is the Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was an evangelical Christian turned liberal before converting to agnosticism.

Now he preaches from the pulpit of higher education, proudly sowing seeds of doubt in our otherwise faithful sons and daughters leading many of them astray as they innocently succumb to Ehrman’s heretical persuasion.

Be mindful of God’s instruction:

Train up your child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it (Pr 22: 6).

Ehrman, like many of his institutional brethren, refutes a whole index of Christian orthodoxy even disputing that Christ was born in Bethlehem (as we read from the Newsweek article):

Only in this Gospel (Luke) do Joseph and Mary make a trip from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to register for a census when “the whole world” had to be enrolled under Caesar Augustus. The whole world? Luke must mean “the whole Roman Empire.” But even that cannot be right, historically. We have good documentation about the reign of Caesar Augustus, and there never was a census of his entire empire. Let alone one in which people had to register in their ancestral home. In this account Joseph and Mary need to register in Bethlehem (which is why Jesus is born there) because Joseph is descended from King David, who came from Bethlehem.

Ehrman contends that the Gospel accounts recorded in Matthew and Luke are full of irreconcilable contradictions. It is hard to argue with a learned professor who makes a credibly sounding point unless you are factually equipped to realize that his contention is false.

Archaeology discredits the assertion that there was no census under Caesar Augustus. Two unearthed bronze plaques titled the Acts of Augustus reveal that there were, in fact, three census registrations during the reign of Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.).

The only problem with Luke’s account is his statement that Quirinius was governor at the time of Christ’s birth. We believe that Jesus was born between 4 and 7 B.C. [due to the fact that there was a census in 28 B.C., 8 B.C. and 14 A.D.], but Quirinius was not installed as civil governor until 6 A.D. — eleven years late.

The solution to this problem, found in historical records, is that Quirinius was military governor of the region at the time of Christ’s birth, and the census of 8 B.C. would have been for the purpose of collecting taxes to support the Roman army and thus would have been conducted by the military governor.

One need only refer to the writings of Roman historian Tacitus and Jewish historian Josephus to corroborate the historical account which is a problem for someone like Bart Ehrman who is intellectually dishonest in suggesting that we accept the discrepancies rather than seek to conciliate what are concrete Biblical truths.

It is worthy to note that when Luke mentions the first census of Quirinius it is probably the registration of 8 B.C. since there was a second census taken when Quirinius was civil governor which led to an uprising as recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts (Ac 5:37).

But Ehrman doesn’t stop there. He nitpicks on whether Christ was born in a manger or a cave; whether shepherds were in the field; the number of wise men; and the implausibility that Christ was born on December 25th — a pagan holiday.

More contentious is Ehrman’s dismissal of the genealogies recorded in Matthew and Luke. Here we need keen discernment of scriptural context and meaning. Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience while Luke was writing to a Gentile audience.

Luke’s genealogy traces backwards from Jesus to Adam for the purpose of conveying to the Gentile world that the Christ was born for all people since the beginning of time. In comparison, Matthew’s record goes forward from Abraham to Jesus for the purpose of showing that Christ was the Jewish messiah born of the seed of David.

From Abraham to David, the gospel records concur; but after David the genealogies diverge substantially with only Zerubbabel and Shealtiel appearing in both lists. This should not sow doubt, but reap a greater understanding of the inspired Word of God in context of the culture and age in which the Bible was written.

When we look carefully at the two genealogies it is markedly clear that Matthew is chronicling the life of Joseph while Luke is highlighting the experience of Mary. Indeed, the record splits at David with Matthew’s genealogy tracing forward through David’s son Solomon while Luke records the ancestry through David’s son Nathan. Clearly, there are two ancestral lines recorded — one for Joseph and the other for Mary thus proving that Jesus Christ had both legal claim and birthright to the throne of David.

That should be sufficient to end the discussion except that Joseph is listed in both records due only to Roman custom and tradition (remember that Luke is writing to Gentiles) that dictates the mother’s ancestry be traced through her husband (thus Luke writes):

… Jesus, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli (Mary’s father) … (Lk 3:23).

Luke is recognizing that Joseph — as was supposed — was not the biological father of Jesus, but the son-in-law of Mary’s father Eli for it was custom and tradition for a son-in-law to have the recognition and status of a natural son through whom the mother’s genealogy is recorded.

We might point out that Luke was a meticulous historian and keeper of records. It is absurd to suggest that he would author a Gospel account that was factually inconsistent, or even contradictory to the synoptic testimonies — or that the church fathers would canonize books that were so disagreeable with historical records.

On a lesser account, agnostics take issue with the lineage of Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) in that both names appear in the post-Davidic genealogies. Zerubbabel was the grandson of Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) whom God placed a curse upon during the Babylonian exile — no man of his descendants will prosper, sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah (Jer 22:30).

How, then, is it possible that Christ has legal claim to the throne of David since Joseph was a descendant of the cursed Jeconiah? We surmise that most people reading this cannot answer the objection. The simple answer is that Christ was not of the natural bloodline of Joseph by Jeconiah since He was miraculously conceived through the virgin Mary, but we then have the problem that Zerubbabel is also an ancestor of Mary.

The answer to that can be found in the Book of Haggai. The word of the LORD came to the prophet instructing him to tell Zerubbabel (who was governor of Judah upon the return from exile):

I will take you, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, My servant, and I will make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you (Hag 2:23).

The LORD explicitly conferred power upon Zerubbabel, and renewed the covenant (or messianic) line of David which had been removed from Jeconiah, but now resumed through both Mary and Joseph thus confirming that the baby Jesus born in the manger (or cave, and does that really matter?) is the Christ … the Messiah of both Jew and Greek.

One final thought to ponder is why did Newsweek publish a Christmas article written by an agnostic unless to promote a secular agenda while antagonizing the faithful? We, of course, maintain that agnosticism is, in itself, a religion — certainly the religion of the world — and Newsweek (and its kind) bows to the altar of Ba’al.

A faithful steward must put on the whole armor of God recognizing that the world system — education, economic, political, and cultural — is subservient to the antichrist.

Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son (1Jn 2:22).

Do you celebrate the worldview of Christmas (which even the pagans worship) or do you faithfully hold fast to the true reason for the season?

Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Lk 2:10-11)

 Suggested reading: Newsweek vs. the New Testament

(We love the tag line in the suggested reading: It is Newsweek, and not the New Testament, that is going out of print.)

Next: Who Do You Say I Am?

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