31 Days of the Christmas Story from Genesis to John: Day 23 – Celebrations

Christmas Tree and Forest --- Image by © Jim Craigmyle/CORBIS

“I am Yahweh who sets you apart, the One who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am Yahweh.” – Leviticus 22:32-33

God is to be revered and holy, but God also wants us to have joyful celebrations so that we may remember His good deeds and provisions, and to pass those traditions down to our families. God gave the Israelites many festivals and holy days in the Old Testament to set them apart as a people and to proclaim the glory of God to all. There were festivals for Passover, the Festival of Trumpets, the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Day of Atonement, Purim, and the Festival of Firstfruits just to name a few. Jesus also continued many of those traditions, and much of our tradition and culture today have those same roots.

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated as a holiday on December 25th was in 336 AD, during the time of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine.

The 16th century German preacher Martin Luther was thought to be the first one to bring a Christmas tree into the house for decoration. He said that seeing a star on the tree reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas.

The first Christmas card was started in the United Kingdom in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole who was interested in how the new public post office could be used by everyone.

The poinsettia flower and leaves are thought of as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity.

St. Nicholas was a Bishop in 4th century AD in Asia Minor, now called Turkey. His parents died when he was young and left him a lot of money. He had a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it. What a legacy!

The custom of giving and receiving presents reminds us of the presents given to Jesus by the Wise Men – gold, frankincense and myrrh. And of course, the biggest present of all is Jesus! God loved the world so much, that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life. John 3:16

May you remember the origins and traditions of the Christmas holiday as a way to celebrate the joy and life that comes from God.

* Merry Christmas *

In Jesus’ Words: What Mark Saw (Mark 4:1-9)


I like how the apostle Mark writes about Jesus in this next story… “Again He began to teach by the sea, and a very large crowd gathered around Him. So He got into a boat on the sea and sat down, while the whole crowd was on the shore facing the sea.”

Imagine Mark telling about the details of what he saw – Jesus stepping into the boat, the crowd on the shore facing the sea – just like we would describe some great person or event we encountered – his every movement, where he went, who was there, and what he did.

No matter what your opinion of Jesus, this one person changed the course of history in just 3 years – with little means or status, with words that are wise beyond compare, and we are still talking about it today, over 2000 years later.

Mark 4: 1-9 ~ Parable of the Sower

Again He began to teach by the sea, and a very large crowd gathered around Him. So He got into a boat on the sea and sat down, while the whole crowd was on the shore facing the sea. He taught them many things in parables, and in His teaching He said to them:

“Listen! Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he sowed, this occurred: Some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil, and it sprang up right away, since it didn’t have deep soil. When the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it didn’t have a root, it withered. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce a crop. Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop that increased 30, 60, and 100 times what was sown.” 

Then He said, “Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!”

In Jesus’ Words: True Relationships (Mark 3:31-35)

I wonder how Mary must have felt when she heard Jesus say the words: “Who are My mother and My brothers? Look, here are My mother and My brothers! Anyone who does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother.”

According to the Gospels, Mary was there with some of Jesus’ brothers and they were worried about him. Maybe they thought he was working too hard, or perhaps concerned for his safety. But since Jesus’ brothers, particularly James, did not yet believe who Jesus was, maybe it was more out of jealousy than anything else. Maybe they talked their mother into coming along, thinking Jesus would listen to her.

And as usual, Jesus turns things around. Jesus is telling us that we cannot rely on our parents’ religion or who they are to be right with God or ultimately to get into heaven. Each of us, individually, must account for our actions alone. There is only one person who can vouch for us when we finally meet God, and that is Jesus. Someday God will ask, why should I allow you into heaven despite the wrong things you have done? For those of us who know Christ, we can point to Him and say, “because He willingly took my sin.” And Jesus will respond, “I know her, she is with me and part of my family. Come on in.”

And I think Mary understood, at that moment in Jesus’ ministry, that His purpose was bigger than all of us.

Jesus taught that relationships are the most valuable thing – relationship with God and relationship with others. On this Mother’s Day, that certainly proves to be true. At the end of our lives, none of the material things will matter, but those we have around us and the memories of those in our lives, will be what matters most.

~ True Relationships ~
Mark 3:31-35

Then His mother and His brothers came, and standing outside, they sent word to Him and called Him. A crowd was sitting around Him and told Him, “Look, Your mother, Your brothers, and Your sisters are outside asking for You.”

He replied to them, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” And looking about at those who were sitting in a circle around Him, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! Whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother.”

Did it really happen?

With Easter approaching, and an abundance of films about Jesus and Christianity on television, and many other religious headlines and memes going around, I’ve had the opportunity to read quite a few social media comments – good and bad – about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. But the ones that really stick out to me are those who say – with confidence – that it did not happen. If someone is not quite sure about the resurrection story, I can understand that, but to know confidentally, without investigation, and without proof, that it simply did not happen, seems a little foolish, and unwise. The story of Jesus is one of the most known and re-told stories over the last two centuries. It would be equivalent to the “story of the century” when it happened back then. And for anyone who loves an investigative story or a captivating headline, this is one that is worth investigating thoroughly, just to be sure.  Because if one is so sure it did not happen, then there must be evidence of that as well.

The biggest claim from the skeptical comments I read is that it just isn’t logical. Being a very logically-minded person myself, I have to disagree with that statement. Most people have just not taken the time to look at the logic in detail. Professor Richard Swinburne of Oxford University is a scholar known especially for his aptitude in evaluating evidence. He writes in a book published by Oxford University Press that, based on the available historical evidence today, it is 97% likely that Jesus miraculously rose from the dead. (Taken from Ravi Zacharias’ book, “Jesus Among Secular Gods”). Even if you factor in an extra chance of error, those are still very good odds.  So let’s look at some of the logic of the resurrection.

God cannot be 100% proven or disproven. Neither side (atheist or faith-based) can state 100% proof, so the atheistic argument that God cannot be proven is not a good one. God cannot be completely disproven either. There is evidence that suggests a creator, and other miraculous events have happened in life that science cannot explain. Much circumstantial evidence points heavily toward God as well, and cases have been won on circumstantial evidence before.

Establish a baseline
If you believe in God and that He created the universe and mankind, then anything else can be possible. Therefore it cannot be ruled out that Jesus was resurrected. It doesn’t matter if one believes creation took 6 days or happened over 6 billion years. If you believe it came from God, that there is a Higher Being, then anything else becomes a possibility. Given this much to be true, then the real skeptical question becomes, “Who is God and how much does He interact in our daily lives?” That is a completely separate philosophical question to be explored later, but it does not abolish the belief in God and the possibility of God’s actions. Yet, if you do not believe in any Higher Being or these basic statements about the creation of life, then there is no need to discuss Jesus’ resurrection. Your issue is not with the evidence of the resurrection, but with the idea of God itself. That also is a separate discussion.

The possibility of God’s actions
Assuming one does believe in the baseline of God or a Higher Being, and that God created the universe and mankind, and therefore anything else could be a possibility, then this becomes the measure for determining the rest of the stories in the Bible. A God that creates the universe and mankind can certainly create a virgin to give birth to Jesus, and a God that creates life in the beginning can certainly bring someone back to life. None of this is out of line with God’s possibility. Even the unexplainable things we sometimes observe in our own lives today lean toward this possibility rather than contradict it.

Two Hypothesis
Many well-meaning people believe in God and even in Jesus, but just not the actual resurrection. Even though we’ve established the possibility of God and that this is in line with what God could do, some people need more proof. I get that. So let’s look now at some of the evidence. There are only two realistic hypothesis to examine: either the disciples made up the story, or it is true. The story could not have evolved later as folklore because those who wrote the New Testament gospels and letters were eye-witnesses or first-hand accounts, and wrote them not long after it happened. It was not a story that evolved later.

There were approximately 1/2 million Jews in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion due to Passover. Jerusalem was already a large city, but at Passover time, all Jews came to Jerusalem. Some people believe that Jesus was not even crucified, but that theory does have much credibility. What happened to Jesus instead? There were many accounts of Jesus’ healing and teaching, and large crowds followed him everywhere. He was a controversial figure at best. If he had not been crucified, these stories of Jesus would have continued. He would not have just disappeared, and his followers would not have just stopped following. There would have been some other story of his death or his continued life. But there isn’t.

Since it is very likely that Jesus was crucified, and historical evidence does support this, the real question is about the resurrection. Did it happen or was the body taken? No body was ever found, so it could not have been left in the tomb. If the disciples lied about the resurrection, which is the only other possibility, they would certainly not have invented a story the way they did. Let’s look at that story.

As the story is written in the gospels, the first-hand witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were women. Women were not considered credible in that day. If the disciple writers were trying to convince people of a lie and make it believable, they would have used more credible witnesses.

In order to make up the story, the apostles would have to steal the dead body and hide it where it could never be found – in a city of 1/2 million people and with Roman guards everywhere. These disciples had very little money and status, and therefore it would be very difficult for them to pull this off. It would also be the perfect crime – with eleven disciples all agreeing to it, even writing about it later, and eventually dying over it. This is very unlikely given our human nature. The easiest way to get away with a crime, is to do it by yourself. Multiply a crime by eleven people, and someone would have snitched.

Roman Guards
Even if the body could be stolen, how would they get it past the Roman guards? The counter-story to the gospels says that the Roman guards fell asleep while guarding the tomb. How would several guards all fall asleep at the same time and not hear the disciples moving a large stone from the tomb? If anything, the guards would have slept in shifts. And the penalty for a Roman guard to fall asleep would be for the entire unit to be burned. The Romans did not mess around with things like this.

No crime charged
Why weren’t the disciples ever charged with the crime of stealing the body or breaking the Roman seal on a tomb? This would have been punishable by death. If the Romans crucified Jesus for less of a crime, why not do the same to the disciples, and shut it down once and for all?

Tomb stone
The place of the tomb was recorded as being down a hill. The large stone that covered the tomb would have to be rolled up the hill and away from the tomb. Imagine the disciples trying to do this in the middle of the night with the Roman guards sleeping. It almost seems comical, and definitely not logical.

Burial Linens
The burial linens were recorded as still being in the tomb. If the disciples took the body, they would certainly have left him clothed out of respect. When Lazarus was reportedly raised from the dead by Jesus, he came out still bound in his linens. However, Jesus did not.

And finally we have Luke, the doctor and historian who wrote about Jesus’ life after Jesus was already resurrected. Luke never met Jesus, and was not a follower while Jesus was alive. He was a Greek, and had absolutely nothing to gain by documenting Jesus’ life. Yet, he had heard the stories after the resurrection, just like many others had. He investigated for himself, talking to eye-witnesses and gathering facts. As a result, Luke has given us one of the most beautifully written accounts of Jesus. In those days, there were no “best-sellers” and no attention-grabbing headlines or similar motives like we have today. For Luke and the disciples, they could not have possibly imagined the outcome of all of this. They were simply telling what they saw and experienced. And there were others too. James, the half-brother of Jesus, did not believe in who Jesus was until after the resurrection, and then he became a follower. Why?  What would have been his motive if it had only been a lie?

Back to basics and the possibility
Since we cannot fully discredit the claim that the resurrection could be true, it gets back to one basic statement: If you believe in God and that He created the universe and mankind, then anything else is possible. And why not?  Would God just create mankind and leave us here with no other miracles or great acts? Not likely. There is sufficient evidence, the probability does tip the scales, and it is not illogical. We can all decide whether we want to follow the life and teachings of Jesus, but to say it’s not logical or that it definitely did not happen, is simply not true. But when one believes in the resurrection, then it changes everything, and maybe that is the real fear of the skeptic. It means that death is not the final end. And it means that God does care about us, and that He does interact in our lives – which also answers that earlier philosophical question about who God is and how He interacts with us.

Want to investigate more for yourself? Here are just a few resources:

Youtube: anything from Ravi Zacharias, an atheist turned apologetic with numerous recognitions and honorary degrees, who speaks at many colleges and conferences.

Josh McDowell: any of his multiple books. Josh McDowell set out in college to disprove Christianity.

Jesus Booklet: from Godlife.com

In Jesus’ Words: One Unforgivable Sin (Mark 3:22-30)

Jesus only mentions one sin that will not be forgiven – blasphemy against the Spirit.

Jesus warns, “He who is not with Me is against Me. Any sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” Matthew 12:30-31

This is a very specific statement from Jesus, so it is important, even life-critical, that we understand exactly what this blasphemy is and what it is not.  In this story about Jesus, the Jewish leaders or Pharisees are accusing him of being an evil spirit or the devil himself.  This is one of the biggest insults a person could say to Jesus, but insults alone are not blasphemy.  Insults or curses that are said in ignorance or unbelief against Jesus or the Spirit are not blasphemy.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a deliberate rejection from those who know Jesus’ claims are true, yet reject Him anyway.

These Pharisees could not deny Jesus’ claims and miracles to be true so they said He was from an evil spirit instead.  Their hearts were hardened, and they rejected Jesus even when they had the fullest possible revelation of who he was.  The Holy Spirit testifies of Christ and makes His truth known to us.  These Pharisees had that ultimate truth but rejected it, and that is why it was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (truth).

Rejection in ignorance or unbelief that later gives way to repentance is not blasphemy.

Saul of Tarsus’ conversion is a good example of this.  He was a murderer of Christians, and a hater of Jesus.  His sins could not get much worse than that.  But when the Holy Spirit (Jesus in Spirit) was revealed to him on the road to Damascus, he did not deny or reject it.  He embraced the truth, even when he knew what that meant in facing his past sins, and what it would cost him in changing his ways.  Paul was forgiven.

Blasphemy of the Spirit is a rejection of God and His truth, when you know exactly who God is.
It is the ultimate and final rejection of God.

~ Jesus mentions one unforgivable sin ~
Mark 3:22-30

The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul in Him!” and, “He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons!”

So Jesus summoned them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished!

“On the other hand, no one can enter a strong man’s house and rob his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he will rob his house. I assure you: People will be forgiven for all sins and whatever blasphemies they may blaspheme. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”