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GOD: new evidence

Contents

Unwrapped: the Truth about Christmas

Contents

(1) Supernatural?

If you come to the accounts of Jesus's  birth with your mind already made up that there is no God and no supernatural world, they will not make any sense to you. But if there really is a God, is it impossible that he would choose to become one of us? 

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(2) Son of God?

Were the accounts of Jesus's birth legends added later to the accounts of his life?  The central claim that Jesus is the Son of God is not a later addition – it is there in the earliest Christian documents, and in all of the Gospels, even though only Matthew and Luke report his birth.

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(3) The Old Testament

The accounts of Jesus' birth make more sense when we read them against the background of the Jewish world and the Old Testament. (Matthew 1:18-2:18)

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(4) The Bigger Story

The accounts of Jesus's birth make more sense when we link them with the bigger story of his life: with his teaching and miracles, his death on the cross, and his rising from the dead.

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(5) Need to be rescued

Jesus came to rescue his people from their rebellion against God, and from all the brokenness and corruption that this causes.

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(6) Dreams and Angels

People can be sceptical of the accounts of Jesus's birth because they include supernatural events, such as angels speaking to people, and people finding things out through dreams. But if Jesus really was the Son of God, we can expect some unusual events to surround his birth.

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(7) Contradictions?

Do Matthew and Luke's accounts of Jesus's birth contradict each other?

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(8) A Careful Historian (1)

Luke claims that he had investigated everything carefully, and had written an accurate account. Of course, this does not prove that he did! But it does mean that he claimed he was writing real history, not legends.

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(9) A Careful historian (2)

We can see how accurate Luke is in the book of Acts, the second half of his account of the beginnings of Christianity. There are many places where Acts touches on wider world history – and wherever it does, Luke is accurate. 

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(10) Matthew's list of Jesus' ancestors

Matthew organises his list of ancestors in a way which shows that Jesus is the promised deliverer, the Messiah, that he is a descendant of King David, and that he is born at just the right moment.

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(11) Virgin birth?

Does it make sense for us today to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?

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(12) Virgin birth foretold? (1)

Matthew claims that the virgin birth was foretold by the prophet Isaiah. Is he misusing what Isaiah said? Or is there something going on that is not immediately obvious?

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(13) Virgin birth foretold? (2)

More evidence that Matthew was not misusing Isaiah's prophecy, but was looking at it in its wider context.

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(14) Prophecies fulfilled?

Matthew organises his account of the birth of Jesus around five proofs from the Old Testament that Jesus is the promised deliverer, the Messiah. Did he make up the accounts to fit the prophecies?

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(15) Patterns in history

For Matthew, there were patterns of how God acted in history. Jesus did not just fulfil the words that were spoken in the Old Testament. Sometimes, he also repeated patterns of events.

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(16) The centre of history

The writers of the New Testament were convinced that the centre of history was when God became a human being in Jesus. He completed the story that began in the Old Testament, and he was the key to how they understood the Old Testament.

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(17) Born in Bethlehem

Matthew makes a point of saying that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because this was king David's home town, and because of an Old Testament prophecy that this was where the Messiah would be born.

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(18) The census by Quirinius

Luke says that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because of a census by the Roman governor Quirinius. But there is no record of such a census, and Quirinius did not become governor until years after Jesus was born. So what is going on here?

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(19) Born in a stable?

Jesus was not born in a stable! He was almost certainly born in a family home – a poor family, which shared their living room with a space for their animals.

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(20) Shepherds and angels

Luke describes how, when Jesus was born, there were some shepherds in the fields nearby. They saw some angels, who announced good news – news of peace with God; news of the arrival of someone who can rescue his people; and news of great joy for the whole world. If this is true, nothing can be more important.

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(21) Three kings?

Matthew's account of the wise men who came to find Jesus is almost certainly based on real events. There was a widespread belief that a ruler would arise from Judea (mentioned by both Roman and Jewish historians). Astrologers from Babylonia or Persia probably knew about this belief. And astrologers in the ancient world were eager to find links between signs in the sky and political developments on the earth.

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(22) Follow that star?

Matthew describes the wise men following a star to find Jesus. We do not know what this star was, but that is no reason to dismiss Matthew's account.

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(23) Wise men from the East

Through Matthew's account of the wise men, he is making the point that these foreign astrologers were wiser in worshipping Jesus than the leaders of his own people were in rejecting him.

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(24) Herod the tyrant

The account of king Herod killing all the boy children in Bethlehem is not known outside Matthew's Gospel – but it is completely in character with what we do know about king Herod from other sources.

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(25) A Prophecy Misused?

Matthew says that Herod's slaughter of the boys in Bethlehem fulfilled a prophecy from the Old Testament. At first it looks as if he is misusing a prophecy that was not about the birth of Jesus at all. But when we look at the wider context in the book of Jeremiah, we can see how Jesus fulfilled it.

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(26) Out of Egypt?

Joseph, Mary and Jesus, fled to Egypt to escape king Herod's slaughter. Matthew links their running away to Egypt to a statement in the Old Testament where God says 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'  Is he misusing the Old Testament text?

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(27) Called a Nazarene?

Matthew says that Jesus fulfilled a prophecy that 'He will be called a Nazarene.' But there is no specific prophecy like this in the Old Testament. In fact, Nazareth isn't even mentioned in the Old Testament – it could not have been, because it did not exist in Old Testament times. So what is Matthew getting at?

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(28) Different lists of ancestors?

Matthew and Luke both include lists of Jesus's ancestors in their accounts of his birth. But Luke's list is different from Matthew's. Is this a contradiction?

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(29) The year Jesus was born

We have the wrong year for Jesus's birth – he was born in about 5BC. How did this happen? And does it support the idea that Jesus never really lived?

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(30) Born on 25th December?

Everyone knows that Jesus probably was not really born on December 25th. We do not know exactly when Jesus was born, and it does not matter.  What matters is that he was born, not the exact date when he was born.

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(31) How do you react?

How do you react to the claim that God became a human being in Jesus? How we respond is coloured by the assumptions we bring to the evidence.  Are we convinced that the natural  world is all there is? Or are we open to the possibility of God and the supernatural world?

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(32) Right with God

The Bible says that all of us have disobeyed God and rebelled against him. We are naturally cut off from God.  What we need most is to be made right with God – and this is why Jesus came. So the birth of Jesus is relevant to us today.  We all need to be rescued from our sins, and made right with God, and this can only happen through Jesus.

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‘We can't understand the Universe in any clear way without the supernatural.’
- Astronomer Allan Sandage