Bible story

Matthew 02:01-23, “Responses to the Newborn King”

Bible illustration c.1900

Bible illustration c.1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(This is a slightly modified version of a previous post with a new recording added.)

A Merry Christmas to you! Today we want to talk about that very first Christmas, the coming of Christ into the world and the ways that people responded to him. How do you feel about Christmas, about the coming of Christ into the world?

  • Joyful, happy, thankful?
  • Indifferent? It doesn’t matter! What’s the big deal?
  • Angry? Hostile?

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We see all these responses to the birth of Christ.

What is your response to the birth of Christ?

How do you feel about the coming of Christ into the world?

Through the years we have received many birth announcements from proud parents. The birth of a child is usually a happy event that people pray for, wait for and plan for. Parents and family and friends are excited as the day approaches. Everyone wonders if it will be a boy or a girl. Today with ultrasound, it is sometimes possible to know before the birth whether the child will be a boy or a girl, but the birth of a child is a joyous occasion. Sometimes a special bedroom is painted and prepared. Gifts are given. A husband worries about getting his pregnant wife to the hospital on time. It is a happy time and the proud father and mother want everyone to know about the birth of their child.

Of course, that is not always the response. We live in a Genesis 3 world, a fallen world where people are broken and often live shattered lives. We live in a world where multiplied millions of babies are not welcomed. Married couples generally rejoice when they learn that soon in their home they will hear the pitter-patter of little feet and the chitter-chatter of little teeth. But that is often not the case when a woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock. An unexpected child becomes not a cause of rejoicing, but the subject of shame or simply an inconvenience to one’s plans for education and career. A relationship that was thought to start in love ends with cold hearts that stop the beating heart of an innocent pre-born child. In the culture of death that is found around the world today, millions of babies are aborted and discarded. We live in a confused world that rejoices at the birth of some babies and insists on the right to kill others. It’s called pro-choice, but it means the right to choose to kill the innocent, those who have the inalienable right to live. We will see in our story today that at the first Christmas, babies were slaughtered in the attempt to find and kill baby Jesus.

But first…

The Birth of Prince George Alexander Louis

Just over two years ago on December 3, 2012, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, announced that his wife, Catherine, was going to have a baby. The world was watching and waiting. This birth was greatly anticipated. Finally, on 22 July 2013, Prince George Alexander Louis was born.

“Gun salutes signalled the birth in Bermuda, in London, in New Zealand, and in Canada; the bells of Westminster Abbey and many other churches were rung; and iconic landmarks in the Commonwealth realms were illuminated in various colours, mostly blue to signify the birth of a boy…” Lullabies were composed. Songs were recorded. “Commemorative coins were issued by the Royal Mint, Royal Canadian Mint, and Royal Australian Mint; the first time a royal birth had been marked that way.” All to celebrate the birth of Prince George Alexander Louis.

The Birth of the Prince of Peace

Another Prince was born 2000 years ago: the Prince of Peace. This birth had been announced 4000 years before his birth. Down through the ages, precisions were made:

  • Descendant of Abraham
  • Tribe of Judah
  • Descendant of King David
  • Born in Bethlehem
  • Born of a virgin, for this Prince would be the Son of God.

And then he was born. John says it like this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made (John 1:1-3 ESV).

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14 ESV).

In spite of the prophecies and announcements, the world was not watching:

  • No guns signaled his birth.
  • No decorations were put up in Jerusalem
  • No commemorative coins were issued.

The birth of the Prince of Peace passed mostly unnoticed. Except for

  • Some shepherds who had been keeping watch over their flock that night.
  • A multitude of heavenly angels, an angelic choir singing, “Glory to God in the highest.”
  • All the angels of heaven worshiped this child:

Hebrews 1:6 ESV And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

  • And old man Simeon in the temple recognized that this was the Christ child, the Promised One.
  • And the old woman Anna who had spent years in prayer recognized him as…
  • And there was that star in the East bringing wise men from Babylon or beyond

Yes, finally the word got out. It became known that a most special birth had taken place. How would people react?

Matthew 2:1-23 NLT Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: 6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.'” 

7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” 9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. 

13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.” 

16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. 17 Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A cry was heard in Ramah– weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.” 

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. 20 “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. 22 But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. 23 So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

This story in Matthew 2 shows us that there are different responses to the coming king.

So how do you respond to the Coming King?

1.Some people, like Herod, are hostile to King Jesus.

How would you like to be your own king? No one to tell you what to do but yourself? That’s the way most people try to live.

1.1.Herod was troubled (2:3).

Matthew 2:1-3 NLT Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.

Why was Herod disturbed? Herod was disturbed because he was King of the Jews. Notice the accent that Matthew puts on this in verses 1, 3, and 9.

Matthew 2:1 ESV Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,

Matthew 2:3 ESV When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;

Matthew 2:9 CSB After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was– the star they had seen in the east! It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was.

Rome had appointed Herod king in 37 B.C. But the wise men had spoken of a supernatural star that had announced the birth of a king. Notice that they asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” They were not talking about someone who would be appointed king at some point in history. They were talking about one who was born king, one who by His very nature is King. The Bible calls Him King of kings and Lord of lords. He is not nominated or appointed. He is not elected and he cannot be voted out of office. His kingship does not depend on your vote. He does not become king by some parliamentary procedure, and he cannot be removed from office by a motion of no-confidence. Jesus was born King. It is his nature to rule. Look at the prophecy of Micah again in v. 5-6,

” They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'”” (Matt. 2:5-6 ESV).

whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days (Mic 5:2 ESV)

Jesus is the King who stepped down from his throne in heaven to become the babe in Bethlehem. No wonder Herod the king was troubled.

  • He was troubled because wise men had come. 
  • He was troubled because they had spoken of one who was born king of Israel.
  • He was troubled because a phenomenon in the heavens had announced the birth of this king.
  • He was troubled because the word of the wise men had been confirmed by the Scriptures.
  • He was troubled because this newborn king was going to be a ruler who would shepherd God’s people Israel.

Herod was troubled. Herod was King of the Jews and would accept no challengers. Herod was not even Jewish. He was not a rightful heir to the throne, but by political savvy, he had convinced Caesar to name him King of the Jews. Now he hears about the one who was the son of King David, the legitimate heir to the throne, the one whom all the Scriptures had pointed to. Herod was a man who, because of jealousy, had killed his favorite wife. He had killed two of his own sons. Herod would accept no rivals. He would attempt to kill the newborn King.

History has had its fill of men like Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and Saddam Hussein. This past few years we have seen rulers in North Africa and the Middle East and North Korea kill thousands of innocent people to maintain their position as ruler.

King Herod would not hesitate to do away with a child who was born King of the Jews. So when Herod was troubled, everyone was troubled. Someone has aptly said that Herod was more interested in saving his throne than in saving his soul!

1.2.Herod made an inquiry from the chief priests and scribes to find out where Christ was to be born (2:4).

To kill the newborn King, Herod must find out where Christ was to be born. He determined from the chief priests and scribes that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem.

1.3.Herod made further inquiry from the wise men to find out when Christ was born (2:7).

Herod pretended to be sympathetic to the wise men. They had come to worship the newborn king. They assumed that everyone would be rejoicing. They assumed that everyone knew about his birth. But the people did not know. Perhaps they had not seen the star. Perhaps they did not know what it meant. The wise men came to Jerusalem asking, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” It was clear to them that the birth had already taken place. They were asking people in Jerusalem where the newborn king was to be found. There were no Christmas lights. There was no celebration. The word reached Herod. Herod was troubled, but pretended to be glad about the news.

He had been informed by the scribes that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem. 700 years before, Micah had prophesied that the ruler would come from Bethlehem. Herod knew now where to look, but he had to be careful. The wise men had seen a star. They would now know where to find the child. He took the wise men aside to speak to them privately. This was not the time for his advisors to figure out what he was up to.

Herod would tell the wise men where to look, but first he wanted some information from them. When had the star appeared? Why did he need to know this? He did not say.

“Bethlehem,” he told them. “You will find the child in Bethlehem. Go and search out the child diligently. Find out exactly where in Bethlehem he is. Then come tell me so that I can go worship him as well.”

Perhaps the wise men thought it strange that the king would know that the child was to be born in Bethlehem but had not known that the child had already been born. How strange that he would ask foreign diplomats to find the child for him rather than going himself to worship the child.

He told the wise men that he too wanted to worship the child. How happy the wise men must have been. There was no display of jealousy. The king wanted to worship the Christ child.

But no! Not at all. He had asked when the star had appeared because he wanted to know how old the child must be. He wanted to be able to identify him, not to worship him, but to kill him.

The wise men never needed to know. The wise men would never be the wiser. They would go to Bethlehem. They would find the child. They would worship him. They would return to Jerusalem to tell King Herod where to find him. Then Herod would go and kill him. So much for the newborn king. Herod would not tolerate any rivals to his throne.

But King Herod is not sovereign. There is a God, the one and only true God, who is sovereign and who rules over the affairs of men on earth. This all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise God, warned the wise men in a dream not to return to Herod. The plans of the King of Heaven and Earth would not be thwarted by some measly earthly king. The wise men were warned not to return to Herod, so they returned to their home country by another route. At the same time, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to get up and to take the child and to flee to Egypt. There was no time to lose. In the middle of the night, Joseph woke up and took the child and his mother and fled to Egypt.

Herod waited for the return of the wise men. They did not come. When Herod saw that the wise men had not returned when they should have, he was furious! He knew when the star had appeared to the wise men, so he sent and killed all the male children less than two years of age in Bethlehem and in all the region. Herod would stop at nothing to kill any concurrent to the throne.

It has been said that Herod is the picture of those who ask questions about Christ without any intention of acting rightly on the knowledge they receive. There are many who ask questions about Christ. Perhaps it’s out of curiosity. Perhaps it is in an effort to discount Christ’s claims upon their lives. But many are not sincere inquirers. They have no intention of submitting their lives to the Kingship of Jesus Christ.

But King Herod asked questions not simply out of curiosity but out of hostility. Herod is the picture of those who are hostile to Christ and to God.

There are God-haters today. People who try to kill God from the thinking of others. Christopher Hitchens was a well-known atheist. He did not believe in God and did not want anyone else to believe in him either. In 2007, he wrote God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. It was just one of many books and articles that he wrote to put an end to God. He hated the very idea of God.

On Thursday, December 15, 2011, Christopher Hitchens died of esophageal cancer – too many cigarettes and too much alcohol. “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that, the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). But God himself takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

Ezekiel 33:11 ESV …As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die…?

There are many God-haters in the world today. They know about God. They know that he exists. But they don’t want him interfering with their lives. They will be king of their own lives. No other king will sit on the throne of their heart. They are their own god. They worship themselves. They show their hostility to God by breaking his commandments and living as they want to.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way;” (Isa. 53:6 ESV).

We have all been hostile to God at some point in our lives. The good news is the rest of that verse: “and the Lord has laid on him, the iniquity of us all.” This child was born to die. He came to bear our sins, to take our place in judgment and to show the righteousness and the love of God the Father.

How about you? Do you live your life every day in submission to the King of kings and the Lord of lords? Or are you the ruler of your own life, the captain of your own ship? Who sits on the throne of your heart?

Some people, like Herod, are hostile to King Jesus.

2.Some People, Like the Chief Priests and Scribes, Neglect to Honor the King (2:1-6).

The distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem was only five miles (eight kilometers). But the chief priests and scribes, who should have been excited about the news of the newborn and long awaited King, did not bother to go see him.

Some people are not openly hostile, but they fail to honor Christ with their lives. There are three kinds of people like the chief priests and scribes who may fail to honor Christ as King:

  • Intimidated
  • Indifferent
  • Ignorant

2.1. Intimidated. Oli fraet!

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; (Matthew 2:3 ESV)

King Herod is troubled, so everyone is troubled.

After the birth of Jesus, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” King Herod knew whom to consult: he assembled the chief priests and the scribes of the people. These were the people who studied the Scriptures and knew the Law and the Prophets. The wise men were looking for the newborn King, so Herod asked the chief priests and scribes where the Christ was to be born. They were able to respond without hesitation:

They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, 

Not only were they able to tell King Herod where Christ would be born, they were able to tell him why:

for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” (Mat 2:5-6 ESV)

There was no hesitation. There was no lack of clarity. They did not tell Herod that there were different opinions and interpretations. They didn’t tell him that no one really knew for sure where the Christ would be born. These people knew the Scriptures.

There is no other book like the Bible. It is God’s Word. God has declared things before they happen so that when they happen we will know that He is God and there is none other beside him and no one like him. He declares wonders that we cannot imagine and they come to pass.

He had declared that the Promised One would be born of a virgin, and that he would be born in Bethlehem.

The scribes and the chief priests know about the coming king. They know the Scriptures, but they choose to ignore what they knew. For one reason or another, they turn away from the truth and vainly hope that there will be no consequences.

These people are sometimes intimidated by others.

Verse 3 tells us that when Herod the king heard that the wise men from the east had seen a star announcing the birth of the King of the Jews, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. The king was troubled, so they were troubled. The scribes were those who copied and studied and taught the Old Testament Scriptures. The coming of the Messiah was the hope of the Jewish nation. Finally, the promises of God, the prophecies of the Old Testament were being fulfilled. Their hearts should have been filled with joy, but they were troubled because the king was troubled. They were intimidated by the king. The king’s concerns became their concerns. They were troubled because of their fear of the king.

There are people today who do not honor King Jesus because they are afraid of what others will say. They are afraid of what their family will say. Or religious leaders. Or the chief of their village. The Apostle John tells us that

“many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (Jn. 12:42-43 ESV).

Who do you honor? Some people are intimidated.

2.2.Others are indifferent: they don’t act on what they know.

They know that Christ came, that he lived, died and rose again, but it does not matter to them. They live as if he never came.

Christ had come. Here was the hope of the Jewish people. God had given the promises. The long awaited Messiah had been sent. A special star announced his birth. Foreign dignitaries had come a great distance to welcome the newborn King. But the people who know the Scriptures were troubled and didn’t bother to go walk eight kilometers to Bethlehem to see what God had done! Shepherds and wise men came to see him. Angelic hosts sang, “Glory to God in the Highest!” But the chief priests and scribes did not care to go see him.

There are people who know what the Scriptures teach. They know what they ought to do. They know they need to repent. They know they should obey the Scriptures. They know who Jesus is. But they don’t want to change. They don’t want to trouble themselves to submit to the one who was born King.

These people are not ready to submit to another King.

Churches are filled with people who are religious. Many of them know their Bibles. They can answer questions about the Bible. They can quote Scriptures. They’ve heard the promises of God all their lives. They keep thinking that someday they will get right with God. Someday they will let Jesus be King of their lives.

Perhaps you are faithful to church every Sunday, but you have not submitted to King Jesus. You are trusting in your good works, in what you know, in your church attendance, but you have not submitted the control of your life to King Jesus. You keep thinking that everything will be alright, that someday you’ll get right with God. The Bible says, “Now is the accepted time. Today is the day of salvation.”

Some people are religious. They know the Bible. They know that Jesus is the King. But they do not honor him as King. They refuse to submit to his Kingship.

Some people, like the scribes, fail to honor the King. They are indifferent.

2.3.Others are ignorant: they just don’t know.

They don’t come to the King because they haven’t heard that the King has come. They don’t know.

For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” 14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? … (Romans 10:13-15 NLT).

Some people are hostile to Christ. Some people simply neglect Christ and their own salvation.

3.Some People Like the Wise Men Worship the King.

This story starts with the arrival of wise men from the East. They have seen evidence of the birth of the king.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1 ESV).

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:19-20 ESV).

Who have these wise men come to worship? They have come to worship…

  • The one who was born of the virgin: 

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18 ESV).

  • The one who was conceived of the Holy Spirit:

“And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:19-20 ESV).

  • The one who would save his people from their sins:

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”” (Matt. 1:21 ESV).

  • The one who is born King. He is King of kings, and Lord of lords.

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2 NLT).

  • The one who is God with us:

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us)” (Matt. 1:22-23 ESV).

They have come to worship God.

They know that nothing else matters so much as the birth of this King whose star they have seen. This King is the purpose of their lives. They travel many weeks from the East, perhaps from what we call Iraq or Iran today. The Jews had been exiled in Babylon. Many of them were still there.

Perhaps these wise men had learned about the prophecies of the coming of Christ through the Jews who lived in Babylon.

How much of this did they know? How much had been told them by Jews in Babylon? They knew that this child was a king. They knew that he moved the heavens for they had seen his star. They knew that he was worthy of worship.

Worship is not a style. Worship is not singing about worship. Worship involves the entire person in adoration of the most glorious being that exists. Worship is total agreement with God. Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship God must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

Worshiping God in spirit is worshiping him from the heart. It is not just singing a worship song; it is singing from the heart. It is spiritual.

Joy:

“After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matt. 2:9-10 ESV).

“And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. ” (Matt. 2:11 ESV).

Worshiping God in truth: according to the truth about him.

“Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matt. 2:11 ESV).

Gold: Sign of royalty. The enfant was the newborn King.

Frankincense: Incense was used for the worship of God

Myrrh: For burial

Jesus was born to die. He was born to take your sins and mine upon himself. God alone could take away our sins.

What is your response to this one who was born king?

  • Neglect? Fail to honor him as God?
  • Hostility?
  • Worship?

REPENT: Let us repent of our sins. It may be natural for us to lie, to steal, or to commit adultery, but it is sin. The Fall has corrupted our natures and made us sinful.

BELIEVE: We need to believe that Jesus is the Savior. He is God with us. He is theKing.

FIND A BIBLE-BELIEVING CHURCH. Read you Bible. Pray. Seek the Lord. Come worship the King.

Sign-Off

Let me encourage you to find a Bible-believing church where the Word of God is preached, taught, and lived, and where the Bible and only the Bible — not someone’s vision or some other book — but the Bible and the Bible alone is the one and only final authority for what we believe and what we do. There is no other foundation than the Word of God.

Joy Bible Institute is accepting applications for the coming school year which begins March 2. If you believe that God has called you to full-time Christian ministry and are a member in good standing with a Bible-believing church, we would be happy to consider your application. JBI may be the school to help you prepare to fulfill the ministry that God has called you to do. You can download an application or fill one out online at joybible.wordpress.com. We look forward to hearing from you!

Thank you for tuning in to FM 107. This has been a ministry of Joy Bible Institute. You can visit our website at joybible.wordpress.com. Our prayer is that the joy of the Lord would be your strength.

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The Bible and Mythology

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What are we to think of the Bible? What are we to think of Christianity? Is it truth or fiction? Is it myth or reality? Did someone dream all this up, or is the Bible the record of things that actually happened in the course of human history? What are we to think of the Bible? Who is telling the truth? Who are you going to believe?

1.  Myths

The world is full of myths, and Vanuatu has its own rich collection of myths. Myths are stories that people make up to explain various aspects of life and to express worldview, how we see and interpret the world. There are myths about the world and the creation of the sea. There are myths to explain where man and woman came from. Some myths are about the islands and how they came to be populated. There are myths that try to explain good and evil. Other myths have to do with how man and woman are to relate to one another and to each other’s families. There are myths about children and the consequences of disobedience. There are myths about the afterlife, what happens to a person and where he goes when he dies.

So myths are stories which attempt to explain life and its meaning. They often share wisdom as to how we should live and relate to others and to the world around us. Myths are meant for teaching so that the wisdom can be transmitted from one generation to another.

All cultures have their myths or their folklore. We could talk about the gods of Greek mythology, or Roman mythology, or Hindu or Chinese mythology. Various cultures interpret life with myths and symbols. All peoples everywhere have their stories that have been told and passed down as they search for meaning and try to explain the meaning of life.

1.1.              The Search for Meaning

Why is there this universal attempt on the part of all peoples everywhere to explain the meaning of life? Why do we search for meaning?

The Christian worldview not only explains the meaning of life and existence. It also tells us why we search for meaning and significance. The Bible tells us that we were created in the image of God with the capacity to know Him. God has placed in our hearts a longing for meaning and significance. Look around at the animal kingdom. Animals do not search the heavens to try to understand life and its meaning. They do not contemplate the universe or try to gain understanding. But the book of Ecclesiastes says that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV). Saint Augustine lived in the fourth century after Christ. In his famous book Confessions, he prayed to God, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” There is a huge vacuum in the heart of everyone, an emptiness that must be filled.

People everywhere search for meaning. So all cultures have their myths, their stories, their attempts to explain ultimate meaning.

1.2.               Christianity and Mythology

So how is Christianity any different from the mythologies of the world? The Bible is full of stories, so how is it different from the stories of any other culture?

Precisely in this: Christianity is not based on myths but on reality. The Bible is not based on someone’s philosophy about the meaning of life. It is not based on someone’s enlightenment or revelation. Christianity did not come out of someone’s dream or visions. In fact, the Bible specifically warns us about people who through their visions would lead us away from Christ:

 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, 19 and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it (Colossians 2:18-19 NLT).

The Bible is not based on someone’s ideas or dreams or visions or revelations about God. It is based on events that actually happened in human history. Christianity is based on the firm conviction that everything in the Bible including

  • the creation of the universe
  • the worldwide Flood
  • the crossing of the Red Sea on dry land by the Israelites
  • the miracles of Elijah and Elisha
  • the virgin birth of Jesus Christ
  • his miracles such as walking on water
  • his resurrection
  • and his ascension

The Bible is recorded history. All of these stories are literally and completely true. They really happened in the course of human history. They took place in time and space.

This is what the Apostle Peter, an eyewitness and disciple of Jesus Christ said,

2 Peter 1:16 ESV For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Peter insists that Christianity is not based on myths, stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, but on actual events that were verified by human eyewitnesses. The Bible is not the story of gods and goddesses and their activities in the heavens. It is the story of what God has done in human history here on earth.

2.  The Bible and Mythology

2.1.               The Bible Is the Story of God

At the risk of being repetitive, the Bible is God’s story. It is the story of God creating the entire vast universe and the earth in six days by his infinite wisdom, intelligence, and power. God created the first man, Adam, from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life and man became a living soul. God took a rib from Adam’s side and fashioned Eve, the mother of all people everywhere.

God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and when they sinned, God drove them out of the garden, but promised that he would send a Savior who would be born of a woman (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4-5). God dealt with Cain when Cain killed his brother Abel. Sixteen hundred years after the creation, when the earth became so full of violence that God could tolerate it no longer, he sent the Flood and destroyed sinful humanity with the exception of Noah and his family who found grace in the eyes of the Lord. When Noah’s descendants refused to populate the earth but decided to make a name for themselves by building a city to the heavens, God confused their languages at Babel so that even today we have 115 languages here in Vanuatu alone.

God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and renewed the promise that his many times great-grandson, who would be Jesus Christ, would be the source of blessing for all peoples everywhere. God sent the descendants of Jacob into Egypt and later delivered them from slavery by the hand of Moses in the Exodus. God opened the Red Sea so that six million Israelites crossed over on dry land. God drowned the Egyptian army in their attempt to recapture the Israelites. God made a covenant with the Israelites when he gave them the Law. God gave them manna in the wilderness and water from the Rock. God led them into the promised land of Canaan and made the walls of Jericho fall at the sound of the trumpets and the shout of the people. God raised up judges to deliver his people from their enemies. God sent prophets and set up kings. God renewed his promises of the coming Messiah and promised a new covenant. God judged his people for their sin and sent them into exile in Babylon. God raised up Cyrus, the Persian emperor, who allowed the exiles to return to Jerusalem.

Galatians 4:4-5 ESV But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

We read in Acts 2:23-24 that when

this Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, [and the Jews] crucified and killed [him] by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

The Bible is not the story of gods or of God doing imaginary things in the heavens. It is the story of God doing great things on earth. Human history is God’s story. History is his-story.

  • The Exodus
  • The Conquest of Canaan
  • The Exile
  • The Return
  • The Incarnation of Christ
  • The Death of Christ
  • The Resurrection of Christ

2.2.               The Historicity of the Bible

Over and over again, the Bible insists on the historical reality of these events. So once again, Peter says,

2 Peter 1:16 ESV For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

The New Living Translation puts it this way in…

2 Peter 1:16-18 NLT For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” 18 We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

The Apostle John, another disciple of Jesus, the one who leaned on Jesus the night before the crucifixion, wrote this:

1 John 1:1-4 NLT We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.

On that fateful night before the crucifixion, Jesus said this to his apostles,

John 15:27 ESV And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

Luke tells us in his Gospel, in the opening verses of Luke,

Luke 1:1-4 NLT Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, 4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.

Luke tells us again, in his second volume, the Book of Acts,

Acts 1:3 NLT During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive…

When the religious authorities were disturbed that the apostles were preaching about the resurrection, they threatened them and warned “them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again” (Acts 4:17).

Acts 4:19-20 NLT But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

These men who had lived with Jesus Christ for three years, these men who had walked the roads of Israel with the Master, who had seen him

  • Make the deaf to hear
  • Make the dumb to speak
  • Make the blind to see
  • Make the lame to walk
  • Raise the dead to life again
  • Calm the storm and cast out demons with a word

They all insist on the absolute reality of these events.

The Apostle Paul insisted that the Christian faith is verifiable and falsifiable. He insisted that you could prove it true or false based on one single event: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives a list of people who had witnessed the resurrection of Christ: Peter, James, and the other apostles. But his most interesting reference is to other followers:

1 Corinthians 15:6 NLT After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.

Paul is writing less than 25 years after the resurrection of Christ. Some scholars think that this was the appearance in Galilee that had been announced ahead of time on three different occasions by angels and by Jesus himself (Matthew 28:7, 10; Mark 14:28). Now, less than 25 years after the resurrection, Paul tells us that more than 500 people saw the resurrected Christ at one time and he adds this very interesting remark: “most of whom are still alive.” When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, most of the witnesses to the resurrection were still alive. Paul is telling the Corinthians that the facts of the resurrection could still be verified by living witnesses. Paul says in effect, “If you have any doubts about this, check with the living witnesses. Hundreds of them are still alive and they will tell you that Jesus was really raised from the dead.”

Now this is utterly important in Christianity. Our faith stands or falls on the literal reality of this event. Paul goes on to say this to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 15:14-19 NLT And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God– for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave… 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

This is no myth, Paul says. This is not a “kastom” story. This is absolutely and utterly true.

Acts 17:30-31 NLT “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”

2.3.               Real People, Real Places, Real Events

As we read through the Bible, we read of real people and real places. Archaeological evidence has identified many of the people mentioned in the Bible. We could list the names of 50 rulers mentioned in the Old Testament: Egyptian Pharaohs, kings if the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, and the emperors of Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia. In the same way, archaeological research has found extra-biblical evidence (evidence outside the Bible) for the existence of the Caesars of Rome, the Herods of Israel, governors, and many other people mentioned in the New Testament. The Bible itself is archaeological evidence that has been preserved and passed down through the centuries. The Bible is history.

Besides the historical figures that populate the Bible, there are the places: Ur, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tyre, Sidon, Moab, and literally hundreds of important places in the Bible. We know where they are. We can point to them on the map. Archaeologists have excavated these places and found evidence that the biblical record pointed to.

A number of years ago I had the privilege of going to the Middle East. I visited many of the places mentioned in the Bible. I stood by the Sea of Galilee and read the Beatitudes. I swam in the Jordan River. I visited places like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Jacob’s well in Samaria. Outside of Israel we went to Egypt, Baalbek, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Rome. I stood on Mars Hill in Athens where the Apostle Paul preached to the Athenians. We visited five of the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation, located in modern day Turkey. These are real places.

The Bible is not the product of someone’s vivid imagination. It did not come out of someone’s dream or vision. The Bible is about real people in real places. But it is more than that.

2.4.               Meta-Narrative

The Bible is not simply a collection of stories. The Bible is one great story with a beginning and an end. When we approach the Bible, we might wonder if it is possible to make any sense out of it. It was written by more than 30 different authors over a period of some 1,600 years, people living at different times in different contexts and cultures from Rome to the Euphrates River. How could there be anything coherent in such a collection of 66 books?

This is one thing that makes the Bible unique. It was not written by one man like the Quran or the Book of Mormon, but the different authors, from Moses to Matthew, from Jeremiah to John, were all inspired by the same Holy Spirit who was writing according to His plan.

If we compare the Bible with the scriptures of other religions, we see that the Quran, for example is a strange collection of disjointed pieces. It is impossible to find any order, progress or arrangement. The 114 Suras or chapters of the Quran are arranged according to length. The longer Suras are first and the shorter ones last. It is the same with the Zoroastrian and Buddhist Scriptures. There is no beginning, middle or end. They are collections of different materials that are loosely placed together.

The Bible is completely different.

From Genesis to Revelation we feel that this book is in a real sense a unity. It is not a collection of fragments, but has, as we say, an organic character. It has one connected story to tell from beginning to end; as we see something growing before our eyes; there is plan, purpose, progress; the end folds back on the beginning, and, when the whole is finished, we feel that here again… God has finished all his works, and behold, they are very good.[1]

The Bible has four great movements: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation.

1.   Creation

God created everything from nothing. In six days God created the heavens and the earth and everything that is in them. He created man to know God and to enjoy him forever.

2.   Fall

But man fell and with the Fall came the terrible consequences of sin and death. We live today with the consequences of our action in Adam. When Adam sinned, we all sinned. The image of God in us has not been destroyed, but just as Adam and Eve hid from God after their rebellion, we hide and want to go our own way.

3.    Redemption

God is the searching God. He came into the Garden in search of Adam. Jesus tells us that God is still searching for those who will worship him in spirit and truth. It is a terrible thing when mythology creeps into our worship of the one true God. It is terrible when someone introduces dreams and visions rather than holding to what God has revealed about himself in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. God is looking for those who will worship him in spirit and truth. We must fact the truth about ourselves and the truth about God. He is holy, righteous, loving, compassionate, all powerful, all knowing, and present everywhere.

The story of Redemption begins when God himself comes seeking for man in the Garden. He promises a Savior. He calls Abraham and promises that the Savior would be his many times great grandson. He raised up the nation of Israel. He gave the Law which would be fulfilled by the Savior. He sent the prophets who told the people to get ready for the Savior. He sent the Savior who died and rose again to save us from our sins. That is the story of redemption.

4.   New Creation

The Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is coming back to make a new heavens and a new earth. What was lost in Eden, will be restored in the new earth.

This is not mythology. It is not someone’s wild dream. It is the message of nearly 40 different writers that God moved to write over a period of 1,600 years the precious Bible that has been entrusted to the Church of the Living God.

Conclusion

You can trust the Bible because you can trust the God of the Bible. The Bible is the Word of God. But there comes a warning with the biblical text: because it is the Word of God, you must not take from it; you must not add to it. The Bible concludes with this warning:

Revelation 22:18-19 ESV I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

 


[1]Daniel P. Fuller quoting James Orr in The Unity of the Bible, p. 22.