Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas, Later a Controversy

For as much as people can criticize the commercialization of Christmas and the busyness of the season, in some ways, the original Christmas was itself rather hectic and bore a strong resemblance to what we think of as tax season. Politics would most certainly have been a widespread and hot topic of conversation: Caesar had given a word, and everyone had to move accordingly.

For Joseph and a very pregnant Mary, this meant going “up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem” (Luke 2:4). The hospitality industry in Bethlehem was not prepared for the influx of visitors, so people stayed where they had to stay, even among the animals, if necessary—and it was necessary. While they were there, Mary's pregnancy reached its fullness and she delivered Baby Jesus right there (2:6-7).

In reading Luke's account, it sounds like they did what the law of the Lord required (because they weren't just rendering to Caesar), and then went back home “to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth” (2:39). That's true. That also leaves out several intervening events, but even just this one is enough to stir controversy for Jesus later.

Matthew's account includes the story of the wise men who came to visit the “King of the Jews.” King Herod was disturbed and called in the religious experts to inquire about the wise men's destination, and they confirmed: “Bethlehem in Judea.” This eventually led to Joseph and Mary fleeing with Jesus to Egypt. Herod developed a gruesome backup plan: If he didn't get to kill the threat to his power when that threat was a newborn, then he would kill off Him and all his playmates in the same age range, 2 years old and younger. Once the killer was finally dead, Joseph and Mary were able to return from Egypt. However, Herod's son had taken over in Judea, so Joseph rerouted to Galilee instead and settled in Nazareth.

Matthew concludes this was so “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (Matthew 2:23). This, however, is more a statement of genealogy than geography. There is no quote from the prophets about Nazareth or Galilee; instead some have drawn a connection between the Hebrew word for Nazareth and Jesus being the branch or shoot of Jesse. He was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth.

(I can relate: I was born in Chicago and grew up in Sanford. While in Central Florida I would always tell people I was “from Chicago,” that I “like the cold,” etc. Then I went to school in Tennessee, and on introducing myself to people, I continued my true story of being “from” Chicago. That is, until someone asked me, “Which part?” Which part of Chicago? Uh, actually, I'm from Florida. If we're talking Florida, then I can tell you which part.)

Fast forward about 30 years to John's account of when Jesus had become a public figure. Few were remembering the whole last-minute census trip. The Feast of Tabernacles was at hand in Judea where the Jews wanted to kill Jesus. He had already done many miracles and made claims as to Who He was. Now He shows up to teach and ends up engaged in a lengthy debate with his critics. Some start wondering if the lack of action against Him indeed confirms Who He is. Jesus uses the language of his critics saying, “You both know Me, and you know where I am from” (John 7:28) and then about his Sender adds, “I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me” (7:29).

On the last day of the feast more people are believing in Jesus, but some religious experts challenge this on the basis of his geographic origin: “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” (John 7:41-42). As for the law and Galilee, they said, “Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee” (7:52).

The religious experts got two things right and one wrong.

First, they were correct to “search and look” in the Scriptures. The New Testament affirms verifying religious teachers with the Scriptures. Second, in their search of the Scriptures, they correctly note that no prophet ever speaks of the Messiah as coming from Galilee or Nazareth, as noted above.

What they missed was they had assumed they knew where Jesus was from. Yes, He was known in Galilee, and no, He probably wasn't known from his youth in the specifically prophesied Bethlehem. But none of that changes the reality that He, the Messiah, was indeed born in Bethlehem exactly as prophesied. They never asked Him where He was from because they never felt the need.

What do you assume you know about Jesus? What if something about your assumptions is inaccurate? Get right the part these religious experts got right: read the Scriptures for yourself. Find out Who the Bible says Jesus is, and who He wants to be for you, your Savior.

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