Give Christmas Back to the Pagans

I am an ancient soul who doesn’t celebrate my birthday. Don’t misunderstand, I give thanks to the LORD always for the precious gift of life, and so I celebrate Him everyday. I am consciously aware when my birthday comes around, and I do give thanks to G-d for giving me another day … another year; but not with cake or presents. The simple joy of living is to be appreciated every day … giving thanks to the Creator always.

Sadly, I think people spend more time checking their text messages than giving thanks to the LORD.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech wrote an article, Jews and Birthdays, wherein he discusses why he doesn’t celebrate his birthday. In ancient Judaism, birthdays were not celebrated. It was a pagan tradition in which the Gentiles would offer gifts to their idols on the birthday of whatever false deity they worshipped.

Candlelit cakes would be offered to an idol as fire and smoke from the candles lifted the people’s wishes for safety and protection to the outer domain of the gods. This tradition was carried over to the celebration of an individual’s birthday who would blow out the candles and offer birthday wishes for their own personal safety.

In the Hebrew Bible there is only one mention of a birthday, and that was when Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker.

Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, wrote in his polemic, Against Apion:

Nay, indeed, the law does not permit us to make festivals at the birth of our children, and thereby afford occasion of drinking to excess ( Book II, Chapter 26).

[Brief digression]

I confess … I am a prohibitionist. This past week two people in my community were killed by drunk drivers. The offenders, as is so often the case, walked away unharmed. One of them had five prior DUI convictions. If I could make the world dry with the snap of a finger but, alas, the Bible does not prohibit drinking.

Scripture does, however, speak rather clearly on the evils of alcohol; and that drunkards will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.

And Bathsheba warned her son, Solomon (Lemuel), that kings should not drink wine, or crave strong drink.

In the B’rit Chadasha, Shaul admonished the Ephesians to not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.

Christian, why do you drink? Or, in this day and age I might ask, why do you smoke dope?

Well, it’s legal and natural. G-d wouldn’t have made it if we weren’t supposed to use it.

So, Eve took a bite of the apple because she saw it was good to eat … I see. That tipsy feeling is not the Spirit of God, but intoxication.

I remember turning 21, and how it was a rite of passage to celebrate by getting drunk. How stupid is that? My peers had been drinking, dropping acid and getting stoned since Junior High so it was sort of anticlimactic, but now they could drink legally. I didn’t do anything on my 21st birthday. Hoorah.

By the way, Jesus turned water into unfermented wine so let’s not go there as I have discussed that on another post.

The Bible is very keen on sobriety. Parties afford tempting opportunities for excess and while ancient Jews did not celebrate birthdays they did celebrate a person’s life upon death.

[End digression]

Now, let’s understand ancient Jewish tradition with regards to the birth and death of the Messiah. The disciples of Jesus did not celebrate his birth. Indeed, the secular version of Christ’s birthday has sold many holiday cards, but it is a fabrication.

There were not three wise men. Most likely it was a caravan of hundreds which is why Herod was so distraught when they arrived in Jerusalem looking for the King of the Jews. King Herod feared an insurrection which is why he ordered the death of all Jewish babies (boys) under the age of two.

The wise men, who most likely were Jewish descendants of the Babylonian exile, found Mary and her child not in a manger, but a house. Orthodox teaching is that the wise men were Gentiles from the East. Why do I say they were Jewish? Recall the Babylonian exile about five centuries before Christ (BC). Ezekiel and Daniel were among the thousands deported. Remember that Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and was made Prime Minister of the province (and chief over all the wise men).

Most of the Jews who were exiled remained in Babylon where they received prophetic revelation from Daniel particularly with reference to the 70 weeks, or 490 years to the coming of the Mashiac.

The wise men, Jewish disciples of the prophet Daniel, embarked on a momentous journey based on the revelation of G-d of the impending birth of Messiah whose star charted a course to the Holy Land.

In Judaism, as Rabbi Blech notes, people have more than one birthday — the day they are born, and the day they become righteous. The second birth is more significant — profoundly so.

What did Jesus tell Nicodemus?

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).

Is this all starting to make sense?

Jewish disciples of Christ did not celebrate his birthday for the reasons so noted. It wasn’t until the 4th century when Emperor Constantine celebrated the first Christmas on December 25, 336 AD. Shortly, thereafter, Pope Julius I made it an official church holy day.

I mentioned earlier that ancient Jews did celebrate a person’s life at death. How did Jesus ask us to remember him?

In his letter to the assembly at Corinth, Shaul wrote of the Lord’s Supper:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me. In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

Video of our community holiday parade is posted on the YouTube channel, and the organizers have pretty much succeeded in taking Christ out of Christmas. Only two local churches participated — the Lutheran, and Episcopalian (whose pastor grabbed the microphone and sang Joy to the World which, by the way, is not a song about Christ’s birth, but his Second Coming).

Oh, how the traditions of men defile everything that is holy and true. It doesn’t help that Christians (who don’t know the Hebrew roots of their faith) have taken the Jew out of Jesus.

I don’t get caught up in the perennial debate — taking Christ out of Christmas — when the Yule season was a pagan celebration long before Messiah was born. If anything, Christmas adopted the bacchanal celebration of the winter festival; and it has, for centuries, brought reproach and contempt to that which a Christian should be remembering, and that is the death, burial and resurrection of Yeshua HaMashiach.

All else is vanity, my brothers.

Copyright © 2016 Messiah Gate

Messiah is Born

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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 James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was a “Born Again” Christian turned liberal before converting to agnosticism.

Now he preaches from the pulpit of higher education 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 colleagues, 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 unless you are well enough studied to know that his contentions are 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.).

One need only refer to the writings of Roman historian Tacitus and Jewish historian Josephus to corroborate the historical account.

More contentious is Ehrman’s dismissal of the genealogies as 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 Gentiles that the Christ was born for all people. Matthew’s record goes forward from Abraham to Jesus for the purpose of revealing to the Jews that Christ was their 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, however, but reveal 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 ancestry 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 Heli (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.

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 outcast Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) 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? 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 authority upon Zerubbabel, and renewed the covenant line of David which had been removed from Jeconiah, but now resumed through both Mary and Joseph thus confirming that the baby Jesus is the Christ of both Jew and Greek.

But how could the Messiah descend from an illegitimate ancestor? Recall that Judah had relations with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, who gave birth to Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38). Now look carefully at Matthew’s record:

Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king (Mt 1:3-6).

The law is given in Deuteronomy that no illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the LORD. That’s a pretty strong case that the agnostics lay charge against the authority of Jesus Christ. However, let’s examine the complete text:

No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of his descendants, until the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the LORD (Dt 23:2).

Now scroll up and count the names in Matthew’s record and note how many generations passed from Perez to King David — ten generations. Our God is an awesome God — faithful and true.

One final thought to ponder is why did Newsweek publish a Christmas article written by an agnostic atheist unless to promote a secular agenda, and antagonize the faithful? We, of course, maintain that agnosticism is, in itself, a religion — certainly the religion of the world — and Newsweek (like its peers) bows to the world system.

Do you celebrate the worldview of Christmas (which even the pagans worship) or do you faithfully hold fast to the 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.)

Copyright © 2015 Messiah Gate

The Gift of God

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And so we enter the season of peace and joy. But the hustle and bustle only elevates our level of stress and anxiety. People behave with even less civility than usual — rude, inconsiderate, impatient. I dared go out the day after Thanksgiving, and people seemed to be moving at warp-speed — running red lights, rolling through stop signs, honking their horns at anyone who got in their way. What were these people thankful for just a day earlier? To whom did they offer thanksgiving?

It was a half-century ago that my family was preparing for Thanksgiving. I was ten years old, the turkey was thawing, and I was excited to have a 4-day weekend to eat and play. But the festive expectation of that holiday season was shattered by the assassination of President Kennedy on the Friday before. I was stripped of my childhood innocence, and a dark cloud of mortality haunted my soul for years to come.

That Thanksgiving was the beginning of a long-fought battle with bulimia and anorexia. I felt no joy or thanksgiving in 1963 nor in the years that followed. By the age of 12, I had lost so much weight that the neighbors thought I had cancer. My father would sit me down at the lunch table and serve me a plate of sandwiches. I ate them only to ease his worry and concern, but then I would dig a hole in the backyard and … well, you get the idea.

My mother died last year during the holiday season — almost four years to the day that my father passed away. He suffered a stroke on Thanksgiving weekend and was gone by Christmas. So, no, I don’t really get into the year-end celebrations. I sort of look upon the season as Solomon would — it’s all vanity. The world’s revelry is all a glittering deception. It’s not about Black Friday deals — that fateful day in 1963 could not have been blacker — nor is it about Cyber Monday steals on 65-inch TV’s. By the way, who needs a behemoth sized television?

As Christians, we are called to resist the tide. The world system is based upon money and consumption. All of these gadgets that you covet and own are nothing but distractions — all are vanity. In fairness and disclosure, I do not own a car, television or cell phone. I was born in 1953, and survived comfortably without bluetooth and iPhones. If a person needed to make a phone call in those days they simply entered a phone booth and had a private conversation. Today, people stand in line at the grocery store chatting away for the whole world to hear. Gadgets are not a technical revolution, but a social devolution. It is the height of narcissistic behavior to hold up a line while answering your cell phone. We are so connected technologically, but not spiritually.

And how many hours are devoted to your coveted TV, or other electronic devices? Do you spend as much time connecting with God? If not, then it is clear to whom (or what) you worship, and the idols that you serve. Do you give thanks to God one day, and vainly spend your wages the next?

Isaiah (יְשַׁעְיָהוּ — Yesha’yahu) asks, Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? (Isaiah 55:2)

Why, indeed? I think John and Caroline would have chosen to have their father over any number of toys and gifts that year. Material consumption never satisfies. Shopping affects your brain chemistry, but does nothing to feed your soul. That is where man’s greatest emptiness dwells. This is what the prophet is teaching — and Jesus Christ when He speaks of living water. The woman at the well had lived an adulterous life of fornication and immorality — some choose alcohol and drugs, or vain consumption — but our Lord offered her that which truly satisfies:

but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst. Indeed, the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life (John 4:14).

I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst (John 6:35).

All of our toil and labor is in vain if we squander it on worldly goods. The Lord knows that we need food, clothing and shelter — and, to correct the false prosperity gospel, that is all He promises (Matthew 6:31-32).

Albert Barnes:

For that which is not bread – The idea here is, that people are endeavoring to purchase happiness, and are disappointed. Bread is the support of life; it is therefore emblematic of whatever contributes to support and comfort. And in regard to the pursuit of happiness in the pleasures of life, and in ambition, vanity, and vice, people are as much disappointed, as he would be who should spend his money, and procure nothing that would sustain life.

And your labor for that which satisfieth not – You toil, and expend the avails of your labor for that which does not produce satisfaction. What a striking description of the condition of the world! The immortal mind will not be satisfied with wealth, pleasure, or honor. It never has been. There is a void in the heart which these things do not, cannot fill. There is a consciousness that the soul was made for higher and nobler purposes, and that nothing but God can meet its boundless desires. [1]

The wrappings and glitter of the holiday festivities are all a worldly distraction to divert your soul from the true gift of the season which is Jesus Christ. It is not the gifts we give one another — or to ourselves — but the gift of God who gave Himself that your soul may be quenched with the promise of everlasting life.

Q: How did Jesus ask us to remember Him? By His birth, or His death?

A: And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me (Luke 22:19).

Notes:

1. Barnes, Albert. Notes on the New Testament. London, Blackie & Son, 1884. Reprint: Baker Books, 1998.

Copyright © 2015 Messiah Gate