WHO WAS THAT CHILD IN A MANGER? – The Evidence from Eyewitnesses

(Based on information in The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel)

We live in a time when people, many people are intent on removing Christ and the Christian faith from the public discourse.  By any means possible, they seek to discredit, demean and dissuade persons from believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners.  In his book The Case for Christmas journalist, author and pastor, Lee Strobel carefully elucidates some very compelling evidences that the child born in a manger in Bethlehem in the first century was real and that He was the prophesied and long anticipated Messiah/Christ – Savior of mankind.  Furthermore, He truly was Emmanuel – God with us.

This Jesus, for whom Christmas is named, was the most significant Person who ever lived or ever will live.  He changed the world forever.  To know Him is LIFE; to reject Him, disavow or deny Him is DEATH for a person as well as a people.  But how do we KNOW that child in a manger was who and what He claimed to be and the Christian faith has ever since proclaimed Him to be?  What is the evidence?

EYEWITNESSES TESTIFIED that the child, Jesus, born in Bethlehem was the Christ who died for our sins, was buried and rose again according to the Scriptures.  So said the Apostle Paul, himself an eyewitness to the resurrected Jesus.

I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; 4  that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; 5  that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, and afterward to all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:3-7 Good News Translation)

Paul says he passed on what he had received.  This describes very succinctly how the gospel, the story of Jesus, and the entire Christian faith has come down to us – what the first Christians received they passed on to others.  At first it was transmitted orally, then very soon in written form.  Indeed the whole Bible was communicated this way from generation to generation.  It was both accurately received and faithfully passed on so we can be sure that what we have today is the TRUE Word of God:  His truth endures to all generations (Psalm 100:5 New King James Version).

The grammar of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is such that Bible scholars believe it reflects a CREED already formulated in the early Church, RECEIVED by the apostle and PASSED ON in his letter to the Corinthians.  This is important to note because many try to convince us that Jesus’ life was “mythologized” in the centuries following his death.  They say the real Jesus of history was merely a mortal man teaching some very radical ideas.  But Paul was converted WITHIN TWO YEARS of Jesus’ death (c. A.D. 35) and already there existed a clear THEOLOGY OF JESUS that he received and passed on to those he discipled.  If we are to believe Paul, the author of thirteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books (and I think we should), then we must believe that Jesus is the Christ who died for our sins was buried and rose again the third day – all according to the SCRIPTURES!

Now most of what we know about Jesus comes from the four gospels in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  And Bible critics would have us doubt everything about them from authorship to accuracy to authenticity.  But, we can be sure the gospels tell it right because the authors were all eyewitnesses or closely associated with eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus, that child born in Bethlehem.

Written statements by early Church fathers (first and second century Church leaders) confirm the gospels’ authorship.  Irenaeus (c.125-202 A.D.), a student of Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John, wrote:  “Matthew published his own Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the church there.  After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching.  Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by his teacher.  Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on his breast, himself produced his Gospel while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.”[1]

Similarities between the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) substantiate the gospels’ accuracy because we would expect EYEWITNESSES to agree on things they saw firsthand.  Skeptics say that similar and sometimes identical passages in the first three gospels mean they must have all copied in part from a common but undisclosed document. They refer to that undisclosed document as Q.  But there is NO EVIDENCE at all that such a document ever existed.  However, as one of Jesus’ apostles, Matthew was an EYEWITNESS to Jesus’ life and ministry.  And John Mark’s knowledge of Jesus came from Peter – also an EYEWITNESS.  And Luke said his gospel was the result of his carefully investigating everything from the beginning, including EYEWITNESSES to what Jesus said and did (Luke 1:1-3).  Furthermore, as Paul’s associate, Luke was acquainted with the gospel Paul said he received by revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12 NIV).  It only makes sense then that these different biographers of Jesus’ life, all basing their accounts on either their own witness of Jesus or that of His apostles , would tell a similar story, at times even identical.

Differences between the four gospels give us a BIGGER PICTURE of Jesus. Panoramic is a feature on many digital cameras.  By moving your aperture slowly across the photo target while depressing the take button, you wind up with a much bigger picture than what you get from a single angle.  Now imagine each of the gospel writers standing on a different side of Jesus – front, back, left side, right side.  They each saw Jesus, the very same Jesus, but from a slightly different viewpoint (angle).  Each author chronicled the life of Jesus from his own viewpoint and highlighted  those things about Jesus’ most likely to touch the minds and hearts of his specific audience.  And, when you put the different pictures together, you get a bigger (panoramic) picture of Jesus:

  • Matthew wrote to the Hebrews/Jews and focused on Jesus the long expected Messiah and rightful King of Israel.  After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2 NIV)
  • Mark wrote to Christians struggling under Roman oppression concerning the Son of God who came to serve, not be served: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NIV)
  • Luke was a historian and wrote his gospel in a very detailed and orderly way for folks with inquiring and perhaps skeptical minds, like his friend:  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4 NIV)
  • John wrote his gospel last (c. A.D. 85) to an international and growing Church of both Jews and Gentiles about a Jesus who is bigger than time and space:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1 NIV).  And John was very straight forward about the evangelical purpose for writing his gospel:  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31 NIV)

Differences between the gospels also serve to confirm their authenticity. Simon Greenleaf, a well-known and accepted authority on what constitutes reliable evidence in a court of law, examined the four Gospels from a legal perspective. He noted . . . Had the Gospels contained exactly the same information with the same details written from the same perspective, it would indicate collusion, i.e., of their having been a time when the writers got together beforehand to “get their stories straight” in order to make their writings seem credible. The differences between the Gospels, even the apparent contradictions of details upon first examination, speak to the independent nature of the writings. Thus, the independent nature of the four Gospel accounts, agreeing in their information but differing in perspective, amount of detail, and which events were recorded, indicate that the record that we have of Christ’s life and ministry as presented in the Gospels is factual and reliable.[2]

More than a century ago, seminarian Samuel Valentine Crow, wrote concerning the endless attempts by men to discredit and/or destroy the Holy Scriptures:

“Hammer away, ye hostile hands, Your hammers break, God’s anvil stands.”[3]

We can be sure about who that child in the manger was and is because the Scriptures are true and trustworthy and they leave nothing to doubt:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 NIV)

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23 NIV)

 

[1] In Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christmas, p.19.

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/four-Gospels.html

[3] “Hammer and Anvil” by Samuel Valentine Cole.

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