Today was the third Sunday of Advent, and Pastor Ed Allen again preached about the meaning of the Christmas story and how we can trust that it's true.
The message began with a testimony from Kevin Baugh. We'll post that separately on this blog.
Today we looked at the story of the Magi in Matthew 2. Lots of mythology has sprung up around the "three kings," but we looked at Matthew's account, and Pastor Ed again listed 5 reasons why we can believe it:
1) Old Testament prophecy suggested something like this.
2) The first witnesses believed it.
3) Their students faithfully carried it to the next century.
4) It's consistent with the rest of Jesus' life.
5) Secular details are confirming of it.
Today we looked at the second reason, about the first witnesses. And asked: So where do these accounts come from if not from the legitimate recollections of early followers?
We looked at some alternative explanations:
1) Maybe Mary was crazy or delusional. But there's no evidence for this. And to believe it, you'd be replacing one made-up story with another.
2) Maybe Matthew and Luke were crazy or delusional. There's also no evidence for this and it doesn't fit with their writing.
3) Maybe Matthew didn't write the biography that bears his name, or at least the birth narrative part.
Some scholars think that Matthew 2 and the end of Matthew 1 were written much later, because chapter 3 begins with "In those days, John the Baptist came..." But no ancient documents have been found with the birth narrative missing, and there is also a striking similarity in the language, so there's no textual reason to believe it's a different author.
4) Maybe the account comes from a huge store of mythology surrounding Jesus' life and ministry.
The trouble with that is that it takes mythology at least a hundred years to solidify into something believed. But the stories of Jesus' birth were written only 40 to 80 years after his death - when people who actually knew him were still living.
Best explanation: These birth stories actually happened and Matthew believed it.
*If you miss everything else, don't miss this:
All of this matters because the Christian belief makes truth claims. It is based on historical events.
Christianity is unlike any other faith in this.
Christianity is belief in a set of historical events that changed everything.
Jesus was physically... biologically... literally the Son of God.
In the writings of Jesus' life, you can see the progression of his followers' beliefs about him.
Almost immediately, they saw him as a prophet and a great teacher. When he started doing miracles, they asked, "Is this the Messiah?" They began to think of him as the unique Son of God.
When Jesus calmed the storm, there was a turning point. They were terrified and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!" Jesus was in a totally different category from anyone else. Their utter confusion gave way to wonder and awe.
After Jesus' death, when Thomas saw the nail holes in the risen Christ, he declared, "My Lord and my God!"
Then their lives were utterly transformed. They gave worship to Jesus, as any self-respecting Jew would only give to Yahweh.
An illustration from C. S. Lewis is that the Trinity is like understanding another dimension. In one dimension, we have a line. In two dimensions, we have a square. In three dimensions, we have a cube. A cube is something utterly different from a square, yet it is also six squares combined in a new way.
On the human level, it's hard to understand, but God is three personalities combined in a new way. The early followers believed that Jesus was fully man and fully God.
Some encouragements for this Christmas season:
For those who doubt:
Don't just doubt. Also doubt your doubts. Test everything, including your doubts.
Don't stop seeking. It's worth it!
For those who believe:
Do acknowledge that there are things beyond my understanding.
God wrote Himself into our story.
We finished the service sharing Communion together.