November 15, 2021
As we approach the Christmas season, it is good to take some time to look at what the Bible actually says about Christmas. We will hear much about Christmas in the weeks ahead; but how much will be about the real and true story of Christmas, as God has revealed it to us in Scripture?
This is not a new problem. Irenaeus, a Christian church leader in the 100’s AD, wrote a book about false teachers and spoke of “an indescribable number of secret and illegitimate writing which they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish people who are ignorant of the true Scriptures.”
Do you remember The DaVinci Code and other books from the early 2000’s which were based on these and other false writings, written long after the time of Christ; and yet the claim was made that these were telling the truth — even though these writings were all rejected as false by the early church? These false books have had a very negative influence on too many people.
Come now to 2021. How many of our Christmas songs and stories will have to do with Santa and reindeer and presents, white Christmas, and on and on. There is nothing wrong with these things, as such - but they miss the real point of Christmas and can lead people astray, away from the real and true message of Jesus as Savior.
Too often, too, things are added to the simple Christmas story and bring more confusion to people. Someone once jokingly asked me where one could find the story of the little drummer boy in the Bible. It is a nice song, imagining a little boy honoring the baby Jesus with the music he plays - as we can still honor Jesus with our songs and music; however, this story is not in the Bible, and it can confuse people, in sorting out what is true and what is not. There is a popular show in the US that can be streamed called The Chosen. I have not seen any of it, but some say it is well done and presents stories about Jesus pretty well. The problem is that other stories and characters, not in the Bible, are also mixed in for greater impact and entertainment. Again, I wonder how many people can tell or bother to check what is Biblical and what is not.
There are also two Hallmark TV channels in the US. Since October 22, they have been running their own two-hour Christmas movies, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as a “Countdown to Christmas,” on both channels. The shows tend to be better than many one could watch. They are primarily the stories of people falling in love and tend to (but not always) emphasize more traditional values, like commitment in marriage and the importance of family and children, and helping other people in love and care at times like Christmas. There are a number of Christmas hymns sung and once in a while you actually hear the name of Jesus, in passing, or people are pictured in a church. All this is better than what one sees in most TV shows and movies; however, there is never a clear message of Jesus and Who He is and why He was born into this world at Christmas. There is much more about “angels” and what they do to help people - though it is far different from what angels so often do in the Bible, as messengers for God’s plan of salvation in Christ. The angels in these movies have a very human view of things and emphasize your free will and following your heart and your feelings, not God and His will, in Christ, which alone can free us from the bondage of sin and bring us to freedom only in Christ. There is also the usual mix of gay couples and
non-Christian beliefs and supernatural events, with no indication of what might or might not be so good.
All this introduction is a very long-winded way of saying that we really need to get back to the Scriptures this Christmas and make sure we know what they actually say and present about Christ and Christmas. That is what we will try to do in this study.
God in His wisdom chose to give us four Gospels, not just one, to tell us the story of the life of Jesus. Each writer wrote, as inspired by God Himself, and included just what God wanted. Only two of the Gospels, Matthew and Luke, include the story of the birth of Jesus, with those details God wanted us to have. John takes us through the whole story of the coming of Jesus in a summary way, in 18 verses. Mark tells us nothing about the birth of Christ and His early life, but starts in with the work of John the Baptist and then the baptism of Jesus, when he was about 30 years old.
We start the Bible study part of the podcast with a quick look at what Mark wrote and why he may have emphasized what he did. Christian tradition says that Mark worked closely with Peter and was in Rome with him at the time of his death. Mark wrote his Gospel for the Roman Christians, most of them Gentiles (non-Jews), as a summary of the life of Christ, with special insights from Peter. This would likely mean that Mark wrote his Gospel in 68 AD or a little later, after the Gospels of Matthew and Luke had already been written. There was no reason, then, that Mark needed to repeat in his Gospel what was already told by Matthew and Luke about the birth and infancy and early years of Jesus.
Look at Mark 1:1-4. Mark starts his Gospel when Jesus is already about 30 years old, just before his baptism and the beginning of his public ministry. John the Baptist had already begun his ministry, calling people to “a baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins” (v.3). This was needed, so that people would be repentant and ready for the coming of the Lord Himself to His people (v.2-3). Jesus Christ is that “Lord,” and Mark writes of the Gospel, the Good News coming to the world, in and through Him, as “the Son of God” (v.1). (We will see much more about these terms in the Christmas story itself in the other Gospels. If you want to review more about the Gospel of Mark, you can scroll back on the podcast site until you reach our earlier study of the entire Gospel of Mark, also.)
Move ahead now to Mark 3:20-21 and 31-35, and Mark 6:1-4. While Mark does not tell us anything about the birth of Jesus, he does tell us some things about what is often called “the holy family.” Joseph, the husband of Mary, is not even mentioned, as he had likely died by this time. Jesus is called “the carpenter, the son of Mary,” by the people of Nazareth, likely because He, as the oldest son, had to take over His father’s job and help support the family by his carpentry work, until his public ministry began (6:3). Four brothers and some sisters of Jesus are also mentioned (6:3). These are most likely the children of Mary and Joseph, born the normal way after the birth of Jesus when Mary was still a virgin.
What Mark makes clear is that this family (other than Jesus) was not a perfect family. They were holy, eventually, simply by the grace and forgiveness of Jesus in His saving work for them. When “his family” heard about His ministry in Capernaum and what was happening to Him, so that He did not even have time to eat, properly, they came to “seize” Him and take Him back home to Nazareth, saying that “He is out of His mind”
(literally, “He is beside Himself”) (3:20-21). They did not believe in His ministry and that He was doing the right things He should have been doing.
In Mark 3:31-35, we hear that Jesus’ mother and brothers were standing outside the place where he was and “calling to Him,” seeking Him. Jesus ignored them and said to the people listening to Him, as they should be, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” The will of God is to listen to and trust Jesus and His Word. At this point, though, the brothers and seemingly Mary herself were not trusting Jesus and accepting Him, as they should. See also John 7:1-5, where His brothers were again questioning what He was doing; and John says, very clearly, “For not even His brothers believed in Him” at this time.
Finally, in Mark 6:1-4, Jesus went to Nazareth, his hometown, where he had grown up; and there He received a very cynical, questioning reception. They were “offended” at Him and what He said. Jesus responded that He was “without honor” there and “even among His relatives and in His own household.” And we hear in v.6 that “He marveled because of their unbelief.” That unbelief still seemed to include many, if not all, of His immediate family.
The Good News, of course, is that other Scriptures tell us that Jesus’ family did finally come to faith and trust in Him, by God’s grace, by the time of His death and resurrection. See Acts 1:14, for example. Maybe the Lord guided Mark to tell these stories, so that people would not think too highly of Jesus’ family, in an improper way. Later on in the history of the church, some elevated Mary and Joseph to sainthood, above everyone else, through their own merits. Mary is even eventually called sinless, like Jesus, and even called the “Co-Redeemer” with Jesus, by some. All such thinking was wrong, as Mark indicates, and as we shall see in other Scriptures. too.
Finally, turn to the Gospel of John, 1:1-18. This is the way John described the coming of Jesus to this world. We did not get far into this passage in the study, but it is clear that the Word referred to in v.1 is God the Son, Who existed from eternity, from the beginning, and was God, and was very involved in the Creation, and then, in verse 14, “became flesh,” became a human being, the man Jesus, as well as being God.
We will continue with this passage next week, for it has much more to say to us. Do note, though, that John immediately went on, after v.18, to John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus and His ministry, just as Mark had done. As far as we know, John’s Gospel was the last of the four to be written, and God led John not to repeat what was already said in Matthew and Luke, as He had done with Mark, but only to re-emphasize a few things he, John, already spoken of in Chapter 1.
Do keep your focus on what these Scriptures say and avoid speculation about what they do not say. God has given us just what we need, and that is enough. Keep your eyes on Jesus, above all. Who He is and why He came is at the center of the real Christmas story.