To Tell the ,
Daniel J. Phillips
[This began as a Christmas article for a local newspaper, and then was developed into a tract. It features a simple but solidly-based treatment of Isaiah 7:14. The first half could almost be subtitled "Or Why We Homeschool!"]
The warm and cuddlesome Christmas season is a time of both joy and frustration for our family. Ours is not the standard complaint of heavy traffic and long lines. Rather, it is the fact that Christmas represents the latest victim in our society's hell-bent intellectual and spiritual seek-and-destroy mission.
Selective Teaching. Years ago, my wife and I spoke with our daughter Rachael's teacher. This lady was surprised that I was surprised that she was telling occult stories to these little children weeks before Halloween. I explained that I didn't see what place the occult had in an academic curriculum. Her smug retort: "Oh, we celebrate all the holidays."
"Oh, really?" I replied, genuinely intrigued. "So, when Christmas and Easter come along, you will be telling children stories about the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ?"
"Oh, no no no," came her horrified reply; "Jesus is not culturally acceptable." (Her tone was that of a Modern explaining to a Neanderthal that all those people aren't really inside the television set. Perhaps you have heard that tone from your children's teachers, yourself.)
Say Where's the Baby? Valerie and I were agog. This teacher went on to explain that the holiday would be called "Winter Break," and not "Christmas vacation."
"But," I sputtered, "historically, our Christmas celebration was intended to commemorate the birth of Christ!"
"Well," she soothed, smiling in condescending pity, "that's how you feel about it."
"No," I rejoined, "it is a simple matter of history. How I feel has nothing to do with it. I could be dead, or a Buddhist, and Christmas would still have been about Christ's birth!"
And On It Goes. We were saddened (but not surprised) when this teacher later led the class into the Christmas season by apparently giving out endless tales and projects about the mythical demigod, "Santa Claus." The teacher reportedly told Rachael to stop admitting to other children that Santa is not real. Apparently public school teachers can tell deliberate, bald-faced lies that no adults believe, but they cannot tell sober, historical truth. In other words, it is all right to say, "Why, yes, Johnny; Santa is real" which is a lie. However, the strictures of political correctness and sensitivity do not permit that teacher to say, "Well, Johnny, it is called 'Christmas' because it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ" which is the truth.
Christ has been successfully "Xed" out of Christmas, in some quarters, even as a facet of history. Businesses are afraid to bid their customers "Merry Christmas." Instead, they opt for signs bearing the ghastly "Xmas" (as if we are celebrating the birth of "X," the man whose name is too dreadful to pronounce!), or the gutless "Happy Holidays." Jesus "is not culturally acceptable."
So much the worse for our culture.
Parties, We Love
Our society is like a lowlife who has been invited to the birthday party of a hated enemy. The boor has no intention of celebrating his foe's birth but he does love a good party! So he attends the party. He eats, drinks, sings songs (if they do not praise the honored person), takes party treats for himself, and chats with the other guests. Perhaps he delivers himself of some sentimental blather about how wonderful parties are, how much of a bonding experience they can be; and perhaps he wishes aloud that he could party all year long which he does anyway, truth be told.
Naturally, he brings no birthday gifts himself. And naturally, he skillfully keeps the conversation away from the titular Guest of Honor, whom he despises.
And so, similarly, we Americans also do love a good party. Yet it would certainly seem, judging by our behavior, that we hate the Guest of Honor, whose birthday December 25th was selected to acknowledge. We blither on merrily about what a "special time" the Christmas season is, yet we spare no serious thought about Him whose birth we are marking. Perhaps we could no longer give an objective, historically-based reason for the uniqueness of the date if our lives depended on it.
And perhaps they do!
Christmas: a History Lesson
Accordingly, I propose that we take a "time-out" from all the pleasant-but-plastic myths about Santa and Rudolph and Frosty and the Grinch, and all the other characters whom some people use as a distraction from Jesus. Leaving aside opinions and myth-inspired sentiment, I beg indulgence for a brief history lesson.
Prophecy. Some 2700 years ago, on this very planet, in the little Middle Eastern kingdom of Judah, a spokesman for God stormed into the presence of a king. Now, this king was no Good King Wenceslaus! Rather, he was the exceedingly wicked King Ahaz. The prophet's name was Isaiah. Isaiah told Ahaz (among other things) that God Himself would provide a "sign," a supernatural wonder: a virgin would be pregnant, and would give birth to a Son.
It's Hebrew to Me! Speaking in Hebrew, Isaiah called the virgin an `almâ. This is the perfect term to describe a virgin. It is used nine times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Every time we know anything about the `almâ in question, she is a marriageable virgin. (Check them out: Genesis 14:43; Exodus 2:8; 1 Chronicles 15:20; Psalm 46 [title]; 68:25; Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3; 6:8; and Isaiah 7:14.). In fact, our English word "virgin" is exactly the right translation; those English versions which avoid this term are simply equivocating. The Jews thought it the right term as well, themselves. Jewish scholars living centuries before Jesus' birth translated this passage into Greek. They used the Greek term parthenos, which unambiguously means "virgin."
Over four centuries ago, Martin Luther remarked that he would give one hundred German Gulden to anyone who could show that `almâ was even once used of a married woman. No one has ever collected on the bet. No one is likely to do so.
Further, we learn that this virgin-born Child would be called `immanû 'el, which is Hebrew for "God with us" (Isaiah 7:14). This promise means more than the nice idea that God would be on the Jews' side, which they believed anyway. No, it means that God would be personally present in this Child. Immanuel would be the Prince of Peace, and would Himself actually be Jehovah, the Mighty God, in human flesh (cf. Isaiah 9:6 and 10:21).
Fulfillment. And so it happened, some 730 years after Isaiah's prophecy! Right in line with this and many other specific predictions, and right on schedule (Daniel 9:24-27), a young virgin named Mary conceived a Child. This boy was called Yeû'a (the Hebrew word for "salvation"; through the Greek Iesous we derive Jesus), because He would "save" His people from their sin (Matthew 1:18-21).
Jesus is this Child's personal name; His title in Hebrew was maîach, which we pronounce "Messiah." Both the Hebrew term maîach, and its Greek translation Christos (Christ), mean "anointed one." The term refers to the ancient ceremony of pouring oil on the heads of prophets, priests, and kings. This one Person, the Messiah, would be the long-promised Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King.
From this title we derived the first part of the word Christmas, the celebration lauding the birth of Jesus, the Messiah the Christ.
Do you see? Now, honestly; is this not infinitely better than any "Santa" story? Is it not reason for celebration and reflection? Best of all, unlike the tales of Frosty, Santa, and Rudolph, this all really happened!
If we parents tell our children that there really is a Jesus, born of a virgin, born to be the Savior, we are telling them nothing more than the historical truth. We will never need to apologize to them for telling them the truth.
But if we tell them that there "really is" a Santa, we are lying, and we know it. And one day, they will know it too.
Years ago, that fabled editor lied to Virginia, when he told her that there really is a Santa Claus. He should have said, "No, Virginia, Santa doesn't really exist. However, Jesus did exist and He still does! Think of Him as you have a merry Christmas, Virginia." (Then maybe he could have gone on to tell her the truth about the Easter Bunny and Easter, too!)
Perhaps you agree that even a hopeless dullard can see that the Christmas tale is a touching and remarkable story. But is it more than just a lovely sentiment, or an historical oddity?
Indeed, it is infinitely more! We have already seen that Christ's birth was the fruition of a divine plan announced over the course of hundreds of years. But what was the purpose of this plan?
Why Bother? Part of the purpose for this complex of events is revealed in the first chapter of John's history of the good news about Christ. There we read that this Child was none other than God, just as Isaiah had predicted. "In the beginning was the Word [Greek logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1).
Later, John tells of the coming of this eternal Person. "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us as in a tent, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the unique One from the Father, full of grace and of truth!" (v. 14). Finally, "No one has seen God at any time; the unique God, who is in the bosom of the Father, that One set Him forth" (v. 18).
Revelation. God the Son came, personally revealing the truth of God the Father. He was not some wild-eyed "channeler" in a toga nor a well-dressed "channeler" at a $300-a-whack seminar! Rather, He was God incarnate, embodying and revealing the abiding truth of God.
For this reason, His every word and action is replete with the utmost authority and significance. Therefore, when Jesus declares, "I Myself am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through Me" (John 14:6), He is not simply sharing an opinion or a sweet thought. No, Jesus means precisely what He says and He is right about it! There is no possibility of knowing God apart from Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate.
But the incarnation of God had another purpose. Before the birth of Jesus, we were a race of alienated enemies of God, rebels and law-breakers all sinners by nature and by choice. If Jesus had only come and taught, His teaching alone would have enlightened and damned us! His example alone would have left us in despair, since the chasm between His purity and our impurity would have been both obvious and unbridgeable.
Redemption. Listen to Jesus' own declaration of the purpose of His coming: "the Son of Man came not to be served but instead to serve, and to give His soul a ransom in the stead of many" (Matthew 20:28). The "many" of whom Jesus spoke were captives, held in bondage to the power and guilt of their own sin, under God's death sentence (Romans 6:23).
Jesus would secure "freedom" for those "many," by paying the necessary ransom-price for their liberation. What was that price? What price could be of sufficient value to secure forgiveness and freedom for millions and millions of justly-condemned rebels such as you and I? The price would be none other than His own personal life, His "soul"!
Substitution. How would that price be paid? Jesus again later said that His own blood would be "poured out concerning many, resulting in the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28). The only righteous and pure man who ever lived, Jesus Christ, would die in the stead of a mass of unrighteous and impure folks like us. His death would be of sufficient value to accomplish salvation, because this Man was also God incarnate. His deity was proved in many ways, including the crowning fact that He rose physically from the grace after His death, just as He had said He would (Romans 1:4; cf. Matthew 16:21).
Invitation. Jesus Christ is thus not only the Celebrity of Christmas; He is also the grand Gift of Christmas! "For thus did God love the world: that He gave His unique Son, in order that everyone who believes in Him should not perish, but instead should have life eternal" (John 3:16).
However, it will do us no good whatever if we leave this Gift wrapped and unopened. The benefit is only for "everyone who believes in Him," with that faith which receives God's gift of salvation, and which displays a new life. "The one who believes in the Son," John writes elsewhere, "has life eternal; but the one who disobeys the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him" (John 3:36).
The greatest gift we can ever receive is Jesus Christ. Find out what it means to believe in Him, and to belong to Him.
Do it today!
[For more information about what it means to believe in Jesus Christ, and why it is important that we do so, please see my paper "How Can I Know God?" For information about the author's academic background, see "Your Host."]
Copyright © 1997, 1999, 2000 by Daniel J. Phillips; All Rights Reserved
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