Category Archives: Jesus Christ

Salt and Cultural Decay “My Name Is…I Struggle With…”

“You are the salt of the earth,” was something Jesus said to describe the affect of Christ-followers on the culture. This statement also came with an adomonition to retain the saltiness. What does this mean?

Sometimes, first century, Near Eastern salt was this mixture of salt and sand. They didn’t have processing plants. Some of their salt was very poor and had to be thrown out because it had been diluted. When salt is mixed with another substance, it changes in its impact. The other substance doesn’t become salty, but the potency of the salt is diminished to the point that it may not even be seen or tasted. The salt loses its effectiveness.

Before they had refrigeration or ice boxes, salt was their chief means of fighting decay. In the ancient world, salt was a vital staple, both as a preservative and as a seasoning. In a non-refrigerated society, salt was rubbed into the meat to keep it from decaying. If you catch a fish on the Sea of Galilee, for example, and have to transport it to Jerusalem many miles to the south, you’re in trouble without salt. The transportation was slow. Refrigeration was non-existent. And they didn’t have Morton Salt Company either. They got salt from evaporated sea water, and it was never completely pure. Occasionally what they gathered to use as seasoning or to preserve their meat was so impure that it wasn’t very salty at all. When that happened they would gather it up and cast it out in their fields to use as fertilizer. Sometimes they would throw it out the door to harden the pathway that led to their front porch.

What Jesus says in these verses is that if His followers are going to change the world, they have to be the real thing. Our lives can’t be a mixture of all kinds of impurity. We have to be uncompromised, authentic as we engage the culture. Not perfect, just authentic and real with how we live life. What the culture needs are people who own their mess, who allow the teachings of Jesus to confront their lifestyles, and who honestly live a confessional life without pretense as they struggle to live life the way Jesus asked them to live it.

How did Jesus ask them to live a “salty” life? Jesus wanted them to extend forgiveness rather than keep someone in their debt. He wanted them to honor their marriage vows rather than do adultery. He wanted them to stop objectifying women and to really see them and their hearts. He wanted them to surrender the impulse to retaliate and seek revenge. He wanted them to deny themselves, to trust Him and not to worry about tomorrow. He wanted them to resist jumping to conclusions and standing in judgment over others. He wanted them to have the right priorities so that when life is done, you’re not burdened with regret that you spent your life on the wrong things (this is a summary of Matthew 5-7). What the culture needs are people who are willing to allow Jesus’ teachings to confront their values; to engage the culture by living out this struggle in front of a society that is already suspicious about religion and spirituality.

Now, it is possible for salt to be over used, to be too salty. If we try to impose Kingdom values rather than live them for all to see, we are too salty. If we always demand conformity to our viewpoint, we’re too salty. If you’re too heavy with Jesus and his teachings, you’ll ruin your relationships. If you call your atheistic neighbor at 3 AM in the morning to invite them to church, you’re way too salty. If you’re always quoting scripture to someone and preaching to them, you’re messing up your witness. If you pull up in the car next to you at the stoplight, and yell across, “Do you know you are going to hell without Christ?”, you’re too salty. If everybody around you only knows the things in life that you are against, and they never hear the things that you are for, you’re too salty.

On the other hand, if we never pursue Jesus’ values, if we never talk of spiritual things, if we ignore God as a life focus, then our lives are bland. There’s no depth to them. We talk about shallow things all the time – the weather, the latest news, the current scandals. We are just like the rest of the culture. We can never talk about the great ideas, like how and why Christianity is true. We relegate God to a Sunday morning and then we live the way we want to the rest of the time. You have very little impact on your community, family, or culture when you refuse to pursue and even entertain thoughts of God and His way in the world. This life is bland and does very little to help a decadent culture engage their God and His Messenger.

One of the saltiest things a person can do is simply own their struggle. “Hi. My name is Joey and I am a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with nearly everything that Jesus asked me to do.” Here’s some stuff that Jesus said. It also is stuff that I struggle with.

Matthew 5:1-12 (NIV)
1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them saying:

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Instead of poor in spirit, I’m often looking forward to the next exciting thing in life rather than just facing that I can’t handle life in my own strength. I’ll just distract myself from my truest, deepest needs and the One who can meet them.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Instead of mourning and dealing with the aches of life, I sidestep the hard places and difficult emotions. Mourning is that process that allows us to bleed off the toxic poison of bitterness. When you mourn, you’re saying that things matter, that dreams should be held dear, that people are important, that you care enough about them to work through the pain of losing them. I want to numb the pain rather than process through it.

5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Instead of being meek and content and submitting to God’s authority and His plan for meeting my needs, I met my needs my way. I live for the next thing – the next weekend, the next job, the next adventure, the next thrill.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

I hunger and thirst for all the wrong things and try to fill my life with them. Rather than take my soul cravings to God, I take them to other things and end up feeding on spiritual junk food.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

I can be harsh with those who live under my own roof and deny them grace. I can get really ticked at people who pretend and pose, especially when it comes to the spiritual life. They won’t admit anything and pretend to have it altogether. I don’t want to show them any mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

My heart is often divided among misdirected priorities. A pure heart is an undivided heart – a heart that is no longer struggling to decide where it will give its loyalty.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Rather than making peace, it’s often easier to settle just for what makes me happy.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When push comes to shove, it’s much easier to take the path of least resistance and blend in.

My name is Joey and I am a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with just about everything that Jesus asked me to do.

It’s about the saltiest thing I can say or do.

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Freud, Marx, Nietzsche, and Jesus Have It Right | Religion and the Hermeneutic of Suspicion at Christmas

Atheist Richard Dawkins offers a description of God in 23 adjectives: “jealous and proud of it, a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynist, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal…, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Dawkins doesn’t just disbelieve in God; he detests Him. Dawkins has bought the hermeneutic of suspicion.

In 1976, faith was “a blind trust that goes against the evidence”. Then in 1989, faith is “a mental illness”. Now, in recent years, faith according to the new breed of atheists, is “one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate” (Alister McGrath). Dawkins even suggested that faith in God is morally reprehensible. The hermeneutic of suspicion.

John Shelby Spong tells about Michael Goulder, who unlike Richard Dawkins, describes himself as a “non-aggressive atheist.” He asserts that God has no real work to do. It’s not so much “Is God good?” The question for Gould is “What good is He?” This God no longer fights wars and defeats enemies. This God no longer chooses a special people and works through them. This God no longer sends storms, heals the sick, spares the dying, or even judges the sinner. This God no longer rewards goodness and punishes evil. God is an unemployed deity. Goulder asserts that the church has entered exile. God now rings with a hollow emptiness. The power once ascribed to this God is now explained in countless other ways. God is irrelevant.

It’s the Nietzschean “God is dead” line all over again. Americans are really fulfilling the prophecy of a syphilitic and eventually insane German, but a brilliant philosopher. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote over 100 years ago, “God will be dead in the 20th Century.” He was a very bright man. He didn’t argue that there wasn’t a God in the Heavens. One could look at the stars and galaxies all in perfect harmony and know there was a God. What Nietzsche argued was that people would live as if God does not exist – and that’s precisely what we are doing; that they would kill God – and that’s what happened in the 20th Century and what is happening in the 21st.

Nietzsche had a hermeneutic of suspicion (Tim Keller). He suggested that religion was not just a product of wish-fulfillment (Freud); it was not just a way to control the masses (Marx); it was the suggestion that God doesn’t matter anymore. Nietzsche attacked our motives for being religious. We create religion so that we can feel good about ourselves, so that we have a system of payment for the bad things we do. And there is substantially no life difference between atheists and theists.

Rebecca Manly Pippert shares her story (Hope Has Its Reasons). A conversation with a Harvard professor went something like this: “Even though I am an atheist, I genuinely admire people like you who take faith seriously. There is no question that the human race needs help. But honestly Becky, isn’t life the same whether we believe in God or not? Don’t all of us long to be loved and understood?… Life is difficult for all of us. I don’t think cancer cells ask before entering a body, ‘Excuse me, are you a praying person?’ And don’t all of us, believers as well as skeptics, raise our children the best we can? And some make it and some don’t, leaving us with broken hearts and dashed hopes whether we believe in God or not?… And don’t believers fail morally? I grant that many of you do better in certain areas than we do. But I have met my share of religious people who were racists, gluttons, self-righteous, and full of pride, all the while mouthing religious platitudes… What possible difference does God make?”

That Harvard professor’s critique of religion is right on. Believers aren’t exempt from pain. They experience illness, sexist bosses, unemployment, violence, and marital problems just like everyone else. Christians fail morally. We are deeply flawed people.

What difference does religion make? The answer is “No difference.” It is easy to be just religious versions of the same people we’ve always been.

The atheists have it right. Religion is a power play to control others. It is the opiate of the masses. It’s a pain-killer. It’s a crutch for the weak. It’s a way to justify our behavior and allows us to feel good about ourselves. This is the way religion was perceived and what we learn is that Jesus Himself was anti-religious too and had some of the same issues that Frued, Marx, and Nietzche had with organized religion. That’s why he blasted the religious establishment guys, the Pharisees, like He did and kicked over tables and “violated their rules” like He did.

But what happened was that the ideas of these anti-religious establishment philosophers transferred over to God. Now people seem to see God one of two ways. “God does not exist, so life is meaningless.” Or, “God does exist, and here are the rules – keep them.” Jesus offers a corrective to all this and basically asserts that “I have fulfilled any requirement necessary to procure the salvation of mankind. All religion is inadequate and insufficient. And if you want to know what God is like and how He feels about humanity, then look at my life.”

Christianity goes beyond Judaism. It’s not just repackaging of the same system. Judaism (religion) could not contain it and it answers the deeper questions of life. Christianity blasts the lie that we’re OK or that we’re in charge. It shatters our religion. We can’t hide behind religion anymore. We want God without the hassle of looking at the mess we’ve become. Christianity forces you to look at the mess you’ve become.

What Nietzsche failed to consider is that in Christianity, God himself became the payment. In no other religion, do you have god or the gods becoming a payment for human evil. Stott says it best: “For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.” The tragedy is that when people turn away from God and turn to religion or man-made theories, they begin to see themselves as the center of the universe and they miss grace. We hate not being god, just like Dawkins.

I deeply believe that the crisis we face today is not a crisis of the economy or the stock market or health care, the real crisis in American life today is a crisis of values. What can we believe in anymore? There is only one answer. God became flesh. He became a person in the person of Jesus Christ. He’s come over from the other side of the hedge to let us know that there is a true and living God, and that an unseen world parallel to this one exists and there is a great battle raging for the minds and allegiance of creation.

Religion has been replaced by Relationship.

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Is Jesus Really God? | If So, There is No Such Thing As Atheism

“Jesus Christ is God,” an astonishing claim for a person embedded in a monotheistic religion to even write about or suggest, much less to actually claim such a thing. Jesus is not just part of God or sent by God or related to God. Jesus is God. Jesus shows up one day, does all these miraculous things, makes these remarkable claims, like existing before Abraham or “if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father,” and then has the audacity to forgive sins. A Jewish person would never do this in his right mind. A Hindu might claim to be god. A pantheist might claim to be god. For a Jew to claim to be God, was outrageous, suggests C. S. Lewis.

Several years ago, Josh McDowell articulated some thoughts presented by C.S. Lewis in this regard. Jesus is either liar, lunatic, or Lord. We could say He was a liar but He came out of the grave like He said He would. Liar doesn’t fit the facts. He wouldn’t have laid down his life if he wasn’t telling the truth. If his claims were false and he knew they were false, then he was a liar. We could say that He was a lunatic, but all the other things He said were true. If Jesus thought he was God and he didn’t know any better, then we could call Him a lunatic.

The only viable option is that Jesus is who He claimed to be – fully God. He is Lord. He’s more than just a great moral teacher. The leaders of Jesus’ day did not seek His death because he was a good man or a liar or a lunatic. They charged Him with blasphemy for claiming to be God (Mark 14:61-64). Nevertheless, all the Messianic passages of the Old Testament came true in His life. He indirectly claimed deity and He acted as if he was God in the Gospels. He told the paralytic “Your sins are forgiven.” He gave a new commandment in addition to the Ten Commandments of Moses. He requested prayer in His name. He even accepted worship on at least nine occasions. He never rebuked their worship.

If Jesus is God, this means we must listen to Him and follow His teachings. If Jesus is not God, then Christians are idolaters because they have worshiped him as God since the first century. A mere 15 years after Jesus lived, Paul quoted a hymn in Philippians 2 that says Jesus was equal with God. What convinced these monotheistic Jewish people to assert such radical things? What must Jesus have been like, what character must He have had, what claims must He have made, and what incredible deeds must He have done, to convince these orthodox Jews that He was everything their faith said a man could never be? (Boyd, Letters, 114). It was the resurrection of a man who had already embodied God-like attributes that would move them to make such a claim. If His claim is true, then it is imperative that we become a Christian and worship Him.

Let’s not offer the patronizing nonsense of just a “good moral teacher” to echo a Lewisian line. This leads us to wrong conclusions. Here’s a common one. Jesus may have existed, but his story has been embellished by His followers. People have modified the story to fit their agenda. Here’s another: Jesus never really died. He survived the crucifixion, married Mary Magdalene, hustled off to France, and raised a family. Here’s another: Jesus was a magician. He could stage miracles and use slight of hand like David Copperfield to win an audience. Patronizing, non-historical nonsense.

The only viable option if we allow the biblical information to speak to the subject, is that Jesus is who He claimed to be. If this is true, then neutrality is not an option and atheism is a mute point. If you ignore Him, you’re ignoring God Himself.

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Good Friday – “It is Finished” Not “I am Finished”

“It is finished.”
– Jesus Christ on the Cross at about 3 PM Friday afternoon 34 AD.

In John 19:20 Jesus said “It is finished” while on the cross, a phrase that means “paid in full (tetelestai).” The Greek word translated “It is finished” was commonly written across certificates of debt when they were canceled. What does this mean?

Your sin debt has been paid in full. Christ’s righteousness replaces our guilt and is credited to our account. A death sentence will never come to rest on those who are “in Christ.” All sacrifices were fulfilled. The Scriptures about Him were accomplished. The veil in the temple was split down the middle, indicating that man had free access to God. Satan’s reign was over and evils’ power conquered. Life had won. Man has been liberated and set free.

Christ didn’t say, “I am finished” because He wasn’t. He’s still alive today. God raised Him on Easter. He said, “It is finished.” What’s the “it”? Your salvation. The plan to provide grace for every person. It’s finished. The gospel is an announcement of an objective state of affairs informing the world of what God has done for them in Christ. “You are forgiven. You’ve been set free. Grace has happened for you. The party has begun. Personally believe and receive it, and sit down and enjoy it!” You don’t need to win His love; you already have it!

On that first Good Friday, it was dark. It was lonely. He was thirsty. He was naked. He was in terrible pain and distress. His friends scattered. His lifeblood ebbed away. He called out in the darkness and there was no rescue for Him. Everyone had forsaken Him. Even His Father. Men jeered. His enemies laughed. Demons danced and rejoiced. Death came slowly. He did it for you to pay a debt He didn’t owe.

“It is finished.” You and I and even the atheist is declared “Debt-free.” Now, the only thing left to do is to live in light of what happened on Good Friday and life will be truly good.

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Christianity: Domesticated by the Christians, and the Atheists Are Still Too Lazy to Pet It

In the early days of Christianity, Christianity was a grassroots movement with a wild side. Orphans would be taken off the streets and cared for; the status of women was elevated in a patriarchal culture; adherents gave their all in order to meet the needs of those in their community; people died for the name of Christ that sets people free from the tyranny of bondage and guilt. In these rough economic times in a culture that has lost it’s moral foundation and the existence of God is being denied, it will take primitive, wild, and undomesticated Christianity to begin a revolution of change.

We are not called to be Christians to merely enjoy life, to have everything around us pleasant and comfortable. Jesus represented a rugged Christianity. We have sterilized it, tamed it, domesticated it.

“Just give me a better parking place at the mall.” “Help me not to be offensive.” “Don’t mention the ‘Jesus’ word.”

Jesus has become lost in a religion that bears his name. When you become a follower of Jesus you become participants in an insurrection, a renegade of nonconformists in a culture that has lost its way. Erwin McManus calls it a “barbarian revolt.” The invasion to reclaim a fallen creation has begun in Jesus and we are to extend it, not tame it. I wonder along with others, if Christian Theists have left Jesus behind.

But it even gets worse. Even though the Christians have tamed Christianity, the atheists are still too lazy to pet it. Dorothy Sayers described sloth this way: “It is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”

There is an indicting apathy that has crawled over and settled on our existential times. “There’s really not that much to be excited about in life, and when it comes to God – oh well, whatever?” And the atheists even say that He doesn’t exist.

If God is as great as the Bible says He is, why do I not love this Creator with a daily aliveness that invigorates me to pursue him with passion? The idea of God has been tamed and Jesus has been domesticated. Imagine, a Being with a mind as great as God’s, with feet like fire and a voice like rushing wind and ocean waves breaking on distant shores, iridescent light that invites you into the mystery. How could I possibly have a “whatever” attitude when I have revelation like that of God? I’ll tell you how – sloth in a context of a domesticated faith. Sloth is when we do sullenly what we ought to do with devotion. Sloth says “It’s not really true; it’s nothing to be excited about. I’ll label it as fairytale and dismiss it.” Too lazy to pet it, even though domesticated.

Don’t just join a revolution; be a revolution. How do we get through the crises of life? Turn Christianity loose, the real, untamed authentic kind. Stop pampering the atheists and the politically correct. Present a compelling case for Christian Theism in the marketplace of ideas. Love a person who hates you. Feed someone who is hungry. Drive old cars. Wear old shoes. Don’t seek revenge. Serve your spouse rather than divorce her/him. Give your money away. Care for a lonely person. Help people find jobs. Articulate a truly Christian Worldview. Love your family and invest in them. Stop offering your body to the first thing that winks at you. Radically serve your community. Meet a need. Recycle and reuse.

Get a little rugged for a change. Have a backbone, some moral stamina. “Deny yourself” is how Jesus would say it. Let’s not tame Jesus; let’s turn him loose. Life is not a petting zoo; it’s fallen, wild Creation on the Outback. It takes a “Lion” in these pansy, atheistic times. This IS something worth living for. And, something worth dying for.

I would hate to live in a world where there was nothing worth dying for, no larger story to be caught up into, no noble purpose for which we would give our lives. The slothful (be they atheistic or Christian) do nothing to make our world better; he or she leaves it unchanged, except for pillaging some of its resources, occupying some of its space. Sloth and selfishness is fueled by a culture of cynicism. We may not be intellectual atheists, but we are practical atheists, full of complacency. “There may be a god, but I’m going to live without him.” It’s all fueled by sloth, a refusal to deal with the hard questions of life and somehow find God in all of it.

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The New Testament Summed Up for Atheists

I have found that many people, especially atheists, struggle with a comprehensive understanding of the New Testament Bible books. In this post, I mention each of the 27 New Testament books by name; I succinctly in one sentence or less sum up that particular book or authors argument; and I tie it all together in a flowing, historical narrative that reflects the chronology of when books were written. This is literally the product of years of study. Again, I offer it to you free.

Here’s how I would sum up the New Testament for everyone, especially atheists:

After centuries of writing about and waiting for Israel’s expected Messiah (the Old Testament – see The Old Testament Summed Up for Atheist post), He finally arrived (that’s what Christmas is about) as the King of the Jews (Matthew), as the Suffering Servant (Mark), as a Human Being (Luke), as God’s Son (John) and some people slowly began to realize who He was and what He represented as they matched Old Testament teaching with what they had witnessed or heard about in the life and ministry of Jesus and they believed in Him, whereas others, specifically Israel’s leaders, rejected Him as Messiah and had him crucified. This resulted in a postponed kingdom implementation (the actual, literal reign of Christ on earth).

Nevertheless, He was resurrected from the dead, appeared to eyewitnesses to validate his life, prepared His followers for life in his absence and ascended back to heaven, after which His followers, specifically Peter and Paul, empowered by the Holy Spirit, spread the news of what God had done for the world through Jesus Christ (Acts) while building expectation of Christ’s return someday to rule and reign over the world in perfect justice and to love and heal the wounds of mankind.

Until then, those who believed Peter and Paul’s message became a part of the New Community of God, the Church, and needed instruction and training in how to live in this New Community, how to be a new Christ to the world, and what to believe and practice regarding several key beliefs (doctrines), such as the Second Coming of Christ (1 & 2 Thessalonians) and how to live a Christian lifestyle in the world and how to conduct themselves in the local church (1 Corinthians) and how to submit themselves to Paul’s authority (2 Corinthians) and how to be justified by faith and live the Spirit-filled life (Galatians, Romans).

Paul also taught that Jesus is Lord and that we should submit to His Lordship (Colossians), that we should forgive one another (Philemon), that we should live in light of our spiritual riches in Christ (Ephesians) and that we should joyfully serve Christ in a selfless manner (Philippians). Paul also trained leaders in how to lead in the New Community and on what viewpoints they should subscribe to regarding important issues (1 Timothy, Titus) and to stand firm for the Gospel even in his absence (2 Timothy).

James adds that believers are to be obedient to the Lord, even in trials (James) and to stay faithful to the superior Christ even when persecution makes it unpopular to do so (Hebrews, 1 Peter) and to stay ready for Christ’s return (2 Peter), earnestly contending for the faith (Jude), being careful to maintain a fervent love for God and one another in true fellowship (1 John) while exercising cautious support in showing hospitality to those who teach and proclaim the truth (2 John, 3 John) and do all of this in light of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ into the world where He will be glorified in human history after which believers will live forever with Him unhindered by sin in a New Heaven and a New Earth (Revelation).

And that’s the New Testament summed up for everyone, especially the atheist.

Christianity basically asserts that the end of all religions has come. They are no longer needed to be in a right relationship with God. Even though some choose to practice them, Christ has done all that needed to be done in order to bridge the gap between humanity and God. So “oppressive religion” does not have a monopoly on God’s grace. No religious group can contain what God has done for the world in Jesus. No special sect has a “corner” on the truth.

The truth has been embodied in a person – Christ Jesus, Our Lord. By-pass religion, and go straight to Christ. He will lead you home. And much of the New Testament is written to help those who have by-passed religion and who have come together to “be Christ” in a broken, and lonely world. Until He comes, may we all gather in New Community to be His hands, his feet, his body – to learn how to do life differently than we’ve done it before, to steward the creation, to be agents of redemption in a world of hate and revenge, to keep the memory of Jesus alive, to be the Church, and not just attend one.

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The Magi – The Closest Thing to An Atheist in the Christmas Story…And They Worshipped!

Matthew 2 “Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold Maji from the East arrived in Jerusalem saying, `Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the East and have come to worship him.’”

Matthew’s gospel is very Jewish. And in this Jewish story, no one’s going to expect a non-Jewish star-gazer (possible atheist) to enter the sacred Christmas story as a major character and give a gift to the Jewish Messiah. After all, they’re not Jews. But that’s what happened. The Magi have no vested interest in this baby, the prophecies related to him, or to the religion in which he was born into. And yet, they find themselves in the story. Imagine – an atheist in the Christmas story!

We do not know the number of the Magi, nor their names, nor the size of the party which traveled to Jerusalem. At best, they were wise men from the East, i.e., Persia, Arabia, or Babylonia, who had heard from either Daniel (who was in captivity for a time in their region) or other Hebrew prophets about a King being born to the Jews. Perhaps they had read Numbers 24:17 which states “A star shall come forth from Jacob and a scepter shall rise from Israel…” Or, perhaps, it was their own prophecy that set them up for this fulfillment. We can’t be sure though.

At worst, they were students of science, philosophy, medicine, astrology and world religions, or even atheists, curious about a star. They were pagan astrologers that took their cues from the stars! Their theological content was limited at best. They weren’t practicing Judaism nor were they living in the Holy Land nor were they part of God’s chosen nation. Yet, God supernaturally revealed to these heathen (perhaps, atheistic) people what He was up to in Jesus. A prophecy outside of the Jewish nation, and a Jewish writer without any proprietary reason to write “pagan astrologers” (or atheists) into the Christmas story, argues for the authenticity of the Matthean account.

This whole thing was started by the appearance of a star. The “star of Bethelehem” has been the subject of scholarly discussion ever since the first centuries after the birth of Jesus. Some have suggested that it was a nova or supernova, a white dwarf star that literally explodes and gradually fades out. Some have suggested that it was a moving comet. Some have suggested that it was a triple conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. Some have suggested that it was the same Shekinah Glory (visible presence) of God that was revealed to Moses in the burning bush, to Israel in the desert (Ex.13:21), to Jesus when he was transfigured, and to Saul on the road to Damascus. We cannot know precisely what phenomenon took place.

But we can safely say that the Magi were men who had an interest in astronomy and expressed what they observed in terms that were consistent with the scientific development of their time. They exhibited a great faith in the evidence they did have that resulted in a worship experience that changed their lives. Is it within the realm of possibility, that they moved from atheism to theism after their long, arduous journey and after seeing the Christ-child? I think it is.

In the context of Matthew’s Messianic Gospel, this part of the birth narrative hints at the eventual spread of the Gospel beyond the nation of Israel to include all people of the world. Men and women in every age, whether premessianic or postmessianic or even atheistic, have been able to fling themselves on to God’s mercies, regardless of the level of their theological content, and there find grace and peace and salvation. Even an atheist has a place in the manger this Christmas.

Atheist, you don’t have to go through a world religion to encounter the Christ-child. No specific religion brokers to you God’s love and favor. No one group has a monopoly on God’s grace. No oppressive, religous establishment can dictate to you this Christmas. Why? You are invited to go straight to the Christ-child. Atheists are welcome in his birth narrative.

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