Today we celebrate the birthday of Jesus. Though the exact day of His birth is not known, what is known without any real dispute, is that Jesus was born and lived in Israel around 2000 years ago. That’s an historical fact, attested to as much as any historical fact. Wikipedia, which has a section on the historical Jesus, says that “Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed historically.” While they may hold to many differences in opinion about the life of Jesus, most historians agree that He was baptized by John the Baptist and that He was crucified. Even the Quran states that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and certain aspects of his life and ministry. Non Christian Jewish and Roman historians, who had no interest in perpetuating the message of Christianity, wrote about the life of Jesus.
So there should really be no debate among rational, intelligent people that Jesus was born and lived and died about 2000 years ago in Israel. What is of great debate though is the question of the nature of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus. What kind of man is this? Well, what Christianity teaches is that what you believe about Jesus is the basis for your salvation.
Jesus is recorded as saying in John11:26 “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Notice He does not say “whoever believes that I live…” Tens of thousands of people were witnesses of Jesus’s life while He was on earth. But that recognition of His existence did not save them. What saves a man or woman is whether or not you believed in who He was, in who He claimed to be, the Son of God, that what He said was the truth, and that He died for your sins and rose again as your Savior and Lord.
In Luke’s account of the birth of Christ in chapter 2, he begins with the historicity of Jesus.He doesn’t argue for it. He just states verifiable historical details. He mentions that Jesus was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus. This Cesar was Octavius, who was the nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar. I think most historians agree that Julius Caesar was a real person, and without a doubt, there is far more evidence of Jesus being a real person than Julius Caesar, or Socrates, or Plato or practically any ancient historical figure.
He also mentions that there was a census, which was the reason that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem. Justin Martyr, writing in the middle of the second century, said that in his own day (more than a hundred years after the time of Jesus) you could look up the record of the same census Luke mentioned. And another verifiable historical figure is given as a reference, which was the governor of Syria, whose name was Quirinius.
But of course there was no doubt in Luke’s mind about the historicity of Jesus. And as I said, though there have been many nay sayers throughout the ages who wanted to cast doubt on Jesus’s life, that sort of dissent has been largely debunked, and even atheist historians acknowledge the basic facts of Jesus’s life.
Today, millions of people around the world are celebrating the birth of Jesus. To be fair, I think most could care less about the life of Jesus, and just enjoy the holiday aspects of Christmas. But perhaps a lot of them do believe to some degree that Jesus existed. But I wonder how many would accept the remainder of Luke’s message as the truth?
The familiar aspects of Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem, finding no room at the inn, and Mary having to give birth to her baby in a barn of some sorts, and lay Him in a manger for a bed are not in dispute, for the most part. Most people find some sentimental value in that part of the story.
The part that is difficult for most people to believe is the part spoken of by the angels. But you know, even the idea of angels is not a problem for most people to accept. It seems that all kinds of people believe in angels, even if they don’t believe in the gospel. But the message of the angels is where they part ways with the gospel.
Notice what the angels say starting in vs 10 “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
First thing to notice in this statement is the phrase “good news” is translated from the Greek word “euangelizō,” which means the gospel. The angels were proclaiming the gospel, the good news from God. The gospel is the truth of salvation.
Next notice that they proclaim the gospel which is that unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior. This title of Savior is one that was attributed by the ancients to gods and deities, princes and kings, and was eventually appropriated by the emperors of Rome. When Octavius became Caesar he had the Senate give him the title Augustus, which meant sacred, exalted one. He brought peace throughout the Roman Empire, and was in effect a political savior of the world. However, he was just a man, corrupted by power and pride and influence as many such men are. But Jesus was given the title of Savior of the world by God. He would save man from sin and from death and give them peace with God, which was far greater than any Caesar could ever hope or claim to do.
Jesus came to earth, to be born in a manger, to be the Savior of the world. As Peter would speak of Him later in Acts 5:31 “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Mankind was already under the condemnation of death because of their sin, but through the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross, man’s sins can be forgiven, man can be reconciled to God, and given everlasting life. That’s what Jesus was born to do – to be the Savior of those who believe in Him. And He accomplished that salvation through His death and resurrection.
So the angels proclaimed that Jesus is the Savior of the world and secondly that He is the Christ. Two of three aspects of Jesus’ identity that we must believe in order to be saved. Notice the angels say unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. What does Christ mean? Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew word Messiah. Messiah means the anointed One of the Lord. He is the One spoken of in Old Testament prophecies who would come from the line of David, but who is greater than David because He will usher in an everlasting kingdom.
He is the One spoken of in Isaiah 9:6 which says, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of [His] government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.”
The third aspect of Jesus’ identity that we must believe is that Jesus is Lord. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Lord is a title denoting a sovereign, a king. Jesus is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. He is for those who believe in Him their Lord, their Master, their King. He is the Sovereign One to whom we belong, who has the power and authority over our lives. And I suppose that this aspect of belief in Jesus is the most difficult for most people.
The apostle Paul rightly confers a superlative degree of emphasis on this title, saying in Romans 10:9-10 “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus [as] Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
To confess Jesus as your Lord, as your Master, as your King, is necessary for salvation. To believe then on Jesus Christ is to believe in who He is, the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. And to believe in Him is to receive Him; receive His forgiveness, receive His substitutionary atonement, receive His righteousness, receive Him as your Lord and King. To believe in part of the gospel, the part that emphasizes a baby in a manger, is not enough for salvation. But if you believe in your heart all that God has said concerning His Son, and accept Him as your Savior and Lord, you shall be saved.
Today is Christmas, and many of us will be hurrying home to open gifts that we have been given by loved ones. But I hope and pray that somehow in the midst of all this hustle and bustle of a commercialized Christmas, or even in the sentimentality and nostalgia of a much more reflective Christmas, we do not lose sight of the fact that God has given us the greatest gift of all, that we must believe for ourselves, and by receiving His gift of salvation we will find peace with God, that we might become a part of His eternal kingdom.
Let us then join the confession of the wise men who sought Jesus, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”