Defending Christmas In An Unbelieving World, Part 3
First, let me remind you that I’m not defending what the world believes about Christmas. This has nothing to do with Santa Claus and reindeer, lights, trees, stockings hung by the chimney with care, elves and presents. My defense of Christmas is the Truth that God’s Eternal Son, Who is equal with God, made Himself of no reputation, took on the form of a bondservant, and came to earth in the likeness of men. Jesus, the Son of God, became flesh through the miracle of the Virgin Birth. That’s what I’m defending.
Here’s a quick review from the previous studies about Defending Christmas.
Job 1 – Preach, Teach and Defend
Four Pillars of Personal Ministry – 2 Corinthians 5
1) Please God – “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:9
2) Persuade People – “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” 2 Corinthians 5:11
3) Reconcile Souls – “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:18
4) Represent Christ – “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us.” 2 Corinthians 5:20
What group of unbelievers do you think is the most challenging to talk to about Christmas?
Atheists and many agnostics, humanists, and secularists believe Jesus is a myth and the Bible is filled with legends and lies. So, how do you have a meaningful conversation with them about Christmas?
You might ask them a question? Did you know that many non-Christians who lived during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD wrote about someone named Jesus Christ who lived and died and was followed by people who believed He was God? Did you know that some of those unbelievers are thought to be credible historians?
Depending on their answer, you might share this information with them.
1. Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 AD), known as the greatest historian of ancient Rome, was not a Christian. Here’s what he wrote about Jesus.
“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.”
2. Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (69-140 AD) was another well-known Roman historian who lived during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD and was not a Christian. Here’s what he wrote about Jesus.
“He banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus.”
3. Flavius Josephus (37-97 AD), a Jewish historian of the 1st century AD who became court historian for Roman Emperor Vespasian, was not a Christian. Here’s what he wrote about Jesus.
“Now there arose at this time a source of further trouble in one Jesus, a wise man who performed surprising works, a teacher of men who gladly welcome strange things. He led away many Jews, and also many of the Gentiles. He was the so-called Christ. When Pilate, acting on information supplied by the chief men around us, condemned him to the cross, those who had attached themselves to him at first did not cease to cause trouble, and the tribe of Christians, which has taken this name from him is not extinct even today.”
4. The Jewish Talmud was compiled between 70 and 200 AD. Here’s what it states about Jesus.
“On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostacy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.”
5. Lucian was a second century Greek satirist who was not a Christian. Here’s what he wrote about Jesus.
“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day–the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account … You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.”
6. Pliny the Younger (61-112 AD) was the provincial governor of Pontus and Bithynia. He wrote a letter to the Roman Emperor Trajan about how to deal with the Christians who worship Christ instead of Trajan. Pliny was not a Christian. Here’s what he wrote about Jesus.
“Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ — none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do — these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.”
7. Mara Bar-Serapion of Syria, who was not a Christian, wrote a letter from prison sometime between 70 and 200 AD to motivate his son to emulate wise teachers of the past.
“What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burying Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.”
There are 17 known non-Christian sources who lived within 50-150 years of Jesus’ Life. 12 of them wrote about His death and half of them wrote that people believed Jesus was deity. If you piece together what the 10 primary non-Christian references say about Jesus, we learn this:
1. Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
2. Jesus lived a virtuous life.
3. Jesus was a wonder-worker.
4. Jesus had a brother named James.
5. Jesus was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
6. Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
7. Jesus was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.
8. Darkness and an earthquake occurred when He died.
9. Jesus’ disciples believed He rose from the dead.
10. Jesus’ disciples were willing to die for their belief.
11. Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome.
12. Jesus’ disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Christ as God.
In light of these non-Christian references, the theory that Jesus never existed is clearly unreasonable. In fact, the writings of these non-Christians actually support the primary claims of the New Testament.
Using extra-biblical sources as part of proving that Jesus is a real person is often “pre-evangelistic.” It helps seekers and even skeptics see that some non-Christians who lived close to the time of the Lord’s earthly ministry knew about Jesus and did not deny His existence. However, leading an unbeliever to faith in Christ needs two things to make that happen: the Spirit of God and the Word of God.
In the next part of our study, we’ll learn about the “5 Word Question” defense and take on a big charge against the Virgin Birth.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”