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A Case for December

 Oftentimes our children ask us questions that leave us stumped.  Questions like, "Why is the grass green?"  We've all been there at some point.  Sunday School teachers in particular get questions regarding the Bible that can be difficult to tackle. Every year around this time, kids tend to ask the question, "Was Jesus really born on December 25th?"  It's easy to respond by saying, "sure," or "of course," but do we really know? If Christ wasn't born on the 25th of December, why do we celebrate on that day every year?

Those who would scrutinize the truth claims of Christianity often use the date of Christmas as a tool to delegitimize the faith altogether.  Skeptics of Christianity will claim that December 25th was picked by the early church in order to combat and compete with the pagan holiday Saturnalia which was celebrated by the Romans in the centuries after the death of Christ.  Saturnalia historically celebrated the agricultural God Saturn and took place from December 17th-23rd every year.  Others claim that the selection of December 25th was completely arbitrary.  A real historical figure needed a real birthday and so the church was left with a conundrum.  Perhaps some monks in a cave sat around a stone conference table and decided that December was perfect because the winter needed a Christian Holiday.

The truth is that December 25th can not be verified with full certainty but the selection of that date in particular was not merely capricious.  According to ancient Jewish beliefs, at least in the second century, important events occurred in the same month.  Thus the conception and the death of Christ would both have occurred around the same time.  It was widely accepted that Christ died on 14 Nisan in the Jewish lunar calendar.  One sanctioned belief is that the early church father Tertullian (125-220 AD) then converted that date to March 25th.  If Christ was conceived on March 25th, 9 months later would have been the date of his birth and would have fallen on December 25th.

Can we be certain that Christ was born on December 25th?  No.  What can we be certain about?  We can be certain that Christ was a real person who was incarnate deity.  We can be certain that through Him we have gained an unmerited salvation.  Finally, we can be certain that this year we'll have an answer for those inquisitive children who want to know why we celebrate Christmas in December.

Posted by Shawn Thomas
in Bible

Remodeled Sinners

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It’s almost a universal principle that having a car in high school makes you popular.  I didn’t have one, but one of my best friends did.  I still remember the day I first laid my eyes on it.  It was an older car but it looked impeccable.  From the new coat of paint to the aftermarket rims, his car was a sight for the sore eyes of high school kids who were tired of taking the bus.  After the final bell rang on one fateful day, my friends and I piled into his car and rolled down the windows in eager expectation.  Unfortunately for us, our ride that day was a short one. 

We didn’t make it to the end of the block before the car came to a sputtering halt.  As dark smoke plumed from the hood, we slowly rolled our windows back up knowing that the fun was over. In disbelief, my friend got out of the car and kicked the front tire in frustration.  He had bought a lemon.  With little to offer in the way of comfort, the rest of us slowly made our way to the bus stop, digging in our pockets for bus tokens.

The idea of conversion is something that has traditionally confounded people.  Is the change we see in ourselves as Christians due to white knuckled adherence to a new pattern of behavior?  Was the untangling of our sinful mess done of our own accord? Those who have adopted this line of thinking have ultimately been left in patterns of failure and bitterness.  The truth is that to simply try harder is no different than to put a new paint job on a 1980 Ford Fiesta…you'll inevitably be left stranded on the side of the highway.

As we look to scripture, we’re able to gain a clearer understanding.  In the third chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus, in the midst of a conversation with Nicodemus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  What a profound statement.  Christ makes clear that in order to enter the kingdom, we don’t simply make changes to who we are, we are utterly different in kind.  In this newly presented paradigm, our first birth, and all that came along with it, are essentially rubbish.  This statement likely left the Pharisee Nicodemus dumbfounded…

The response to such a proclamation is predictable though…How? (John 3:4) 

Nothing short of a gracious gift of God.  Paul writes in Romans 3:23-24, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”  To be justified, or declared righteous, is not an act of sheer willpower or merit, it is an act of God alone.  Nicodemus placed his religious hope in his lineage and law keeping.  Christ turned his world upside down by informing him that none of that was enough. For us to claim any credit for being born again not only posits an unearned contribution on our end, it diminishes the very nature of God.  

We are not sinners remodeled, we are new creatures altogether (2 Cor 5:17) and temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19) who are justified and continually sanctified by the unearned grace of God.  Living in the humility this knowledge produces will rightfully lead to the truthful understanding of who we are, and more importantly, who God is.

Posted by Shawn Thomas

'Tis the Season

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It’s that time of year again.  The Christmas season is upon us and the big day is drawing near.   At this point, you can’t go down a street without seeing homes lit up and inflatable reindeer on front lawns.  Neighborhood streets are crowded with Amazon delivery trucks as far as the eye can see.  But what does this season mean for us as the church?  As we are in the season of Advent, it is important for us as believers to reflect on the miracle of the birth of Christ in context.  We must ask ourselves a simple question…Why did Christ come?  

One of my favorite worship songs has always been In Christ Alone.  The lyrics are theologically rich and God-honoring.  The hymn has understandably become a staple in many churches across the world.  In 2013 though, there was some controversy surrounding the song.  The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA), seeing how popular the hymn was, desired to include it in their hymnal.  There was one problem, they wanted to change the lyrics.  The second verse included the line, “Til on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.”  The PCUSA Hymnal Committee decided that they would only include the hymn if they would be able to change the lyrics to “Til on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.”  (Original lyrics below)

"In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
'Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live"

Thankfully the writers of the song, Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, denied the request and kept the original lyrics thus keeping the hymn out of the PCUSA Hymnal.  It begs the question though…Why would PCUSA want the lyrics changed?  The culture in which we live shutters at the thought of “wrath”.  It’s an abrasive term that connotes pain and suffering.  It doesn’t mingle well with the concept of a socially accepting, tolerant, and “loving” God who allows people to wantonly live out their base desires.  Sadly, even churches, in hopes of being inclusive, have given into this way of thinking.  

We must hold fast to the truth.  It was God’s perfect holiness (1 Sam 2:2) and wrath (Rom 1:18), in harmony with His love (John 3:16) that deemed the incarnation of Christ necessary.  Christ came, that to the glory of God, He would be our substitute.  He and only He, could satisfy the wrath of a Holy God and impute to us His righteousness.  This Advent season, we should know that the Word became flesh for a reason…and it wasn’t for bellies full of ham and hanging mistletoe.  May we celebrate the birth of our Lord in the fullness of this rich understanding.

Posted by Shawn Thomas