We live in a world where Hollywood blockbusters, school plays, department stores, and our church hymnals all contribute to the way we understand and remember the birth of the promised king of Israel. This secularization has given rise to overfamiliarity with the story of Jesus’ birth. Our children’s books and nativity scenes, while helpful in some ways, have also given us a false sense of confidence when it comes to the details. Ask the average westerner today to tell you the story of Jesus’ birth and you will almost certainly hear things that are altogether inaccurate or utterly different from the reliable historical accounts we have in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
I’ve narrated through the birth of Jesus in detail in my video series on the Gospels, but as we approach Christmas, I wanted to give a handful of commonly believed details of the story that are misunderstood or absent from the Bible.
Knowing the story rightly
Getting the details right should matter to us - not just for the sake of our witness, but because we actually love Him. Not only does real knowledge lead to an overflowing heart, but is He worth us knowing Him deeply. Love is oriented outwardly and is focused on the object of our love, not on what we derive out of the person that we’re loving. This is why we should not be content with fuzzy or surface-level details of the story.
The Bible shares so many beautiful details of Christ’s birth, and each one is an invitation into a deeper knowledge of Him and closer friendship with Him.
God has designed us to love stories, and there's one story that He's going to use to thrill our hearts forever. This story, often called the gospel is what the Bible tells us about. However, the story of the gospel does not begin halfway through that book.
The story originated in a garden sanctuary in a land called Eden in ancient days. It continued to be told through a people called Israel, set apart by God to image Him to the rest of the nations. Then, over two thousand years ago, a Jewish child named Yeshua was born in adverse conditions and in the midst of marital scandal.
Today, we know this child as Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian church worldwide remembers Jesus' birth and life in a season called Advent. Advent is a term originally derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming" or "arrival". Not only do we remember His first coming, but we also seek to joyfully anticipate His return.
On July 10, 2014 - exactly two years ago today - I packed up a truck and moved everything I owned from tornado alley in the Midwest to hot and humid College Station, Texas. I had only undertaken such a thing once before in my life. In 2004, after graduating college with a degree in computer science, I left a prestigious tech job in New Hampshire and decided to give my life to full-time ministry. There have been many ups and downs since then, but God has been so faithful through it all.
Updated for 2016: Check out the 2016 Advent guide here!
Advent is a term originally derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming" or "arrival". Advent is a season in the Christian calendar where the church worldwide remembers Jesus' first coming and joyfully anticipates His second.
The story of Jesus doesn't begin with His birth. For centuries, the Jewish Law, Prophets, and Writings spoke about Him and what He would do. As the author of Hebrews says: "Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." (Hebrews 9:28 ESV)
For a day will come when the lowly baby in the feed trough will arise to rule over the nations from Jerusalem. We do well to remember His first coming and to heed the words of the Prophets, as Peter said: "And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises." (2 Peter 1:19 NIV)
This year, Advent runs from Sunday, November 29th through Thursday, December 24th.
A couple of years ago I published a brief guide and reading schedule that included short episodes from my Opening Up the Gospels video series to help fellow believers remember Jesus during Advent. I've updated the guide for 2015, which you can download below. The reading schedule includes both Old Testament and New Testament readings and returns to the story of Jesus' birth each Sunday. Short videos about the story of His birth are on the schedule for you to view throughout the week.
I hope you find this guide helpful as we ponder and anticipate Jesus' coming together.
Humans love stories, especially thrilling stories. This God-given love for stories is something we discover early on in our childhood. Stories engage our mind, move our emotions, and capture our heart. Whether fiction or non-fiction, stories teach us lessons and help us make sense of the world.
Our God has chosen to reveal Himself through a story. He could have merely given us a list of His attributes, accolades, character traits, and qualifications for His role as God and called us to believe and trust Him on that alone, but He didn’t. Instead, He told us about His dealings with weak men like Abraham and Moses and King David. He told us about Egypt, the Exodus, and a nation called Israel. He told us about their prophets and poets and singers and songwriters. And then He gave us Jesus of Nazareth, whose personal story is, in many ways, common to every man - yet it is also so utterly unique because of His identity.
I've been thinking a lot about the 21 Egyptian Christians killed by ISIS in Libya for their faith earlier this week. The media has not only given us glimpse into this horrific situation, but has also put before the world a very potent witness of the worth of Jesus. From the moment I heard about what had happened and from the subsequent details that emerged over the next several days, I was very emotional. I was moved to tears when I saw the brother in the picture above saying his final prayers and when I heard that in the last moments of their lives that the Christians all cried in unison “Ya Rabbi Yasou’”, an Arabic phrase that means “Oh Lord Jesus”.
Over the past several years my friendship with Jesus has grown tremendously by studying His life. The 89 chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John offer far more than surface-level details about our Lord. The more I've sought clarity about Him through the four Gospels, the more I've realized that I've had some wrong assumptions about Him. Because I care about Him, I care about people knowing the truth about Him. So this post is the first of several where I'll talk about some common misconceptions about Jesus' life. I wanted to share some of them with you hoping that it might spark desire to know Him in truth. Here are five to get you started:
Perhaps the most critical period in the lives of young adults in America is their time in college. More habits are formed, more beliefs are challenged, and more long-term lifestyle choices like vocation and relationships are made during those four years than in any other stage of life.
The transition to college also presses questions of faith and spirituality on young adults. Some say that the current generation of college students is the largest since the 1960's, but the lowest percentage to grow up in church. And 90% of the students who were raised in the church may never return after their graduation from college. This means that during the college years, young adults are becoming disenfranchised with the church and with Jesus. This is a full-blown crisis.
It's easy to see that there are millions of Muslims worldwide who need to hear the Gospel, but it's also easy to forget about the prodigals and the unreached from our own churches and workplaces who may have just lived across the street from us.
Why are campus missionaries a vital part of the Gospel witness and the Great Commission? Here are five simple reasons:
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13 ESV)
I believe the heart behind Paul's charge to Timothy was to strengthen his hearers' conviction of the veracity of the Law and the Prophets and to show them who Jesus of Nazareth was in light of those writings. In simpler terms, he was saying "Timothy, tell them the story. Help them believe it. Don't spare the details, and don't let them forget it."
With every new year comes new resolutions, new goals, and a fresh start for many things in life. One of the most important personal choices I’ve made for the past several years now is to read the Bible from cover to cover each year.
The Psalmist says “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). As we sojourn as pilgrims in this evil age and patiently await the return of Jesus, the Scriptures are like a bright light on a dark night, guiding us and strengthening our faith, hope, and love until that Day. And not only does Bible reading remind us of God’s commands and give us Godly examples to follow, it shows us who Jesus really is. If we don’t know Him as He presents Himself in all of the Word, we will never be able to rightly magnify Him with our lives and we will never discover the true purpose for which He created us - to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle I had to overcome in my resolve to read the Bible once per year was the hurdle of a schedule. It seemed like an extremely daunting task just to read 1189 chapters and over 31,000 verses, let alone to figure out how to split up all of that material into 365 manageable pieces.