‘In the beginning’ or ‘Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod’
I like to eat nuts. All kinds. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews and peanuts. If you eat a certain amount it’s good for your heart. There’s only one little problem. Of the nuts I listed above, one is not a nut at all! Most nuts are seeds or kernels. The peanut, though, is a legume (think bean).
Oh well, legumes are good for you too! In the case of the peanut, the confusion starts with the name and is perpetuated by where they are placed in the supermarket. In one can of ‘mixed nuts’, you will find a large percentage of peanuts.
Were you surprised to read this? Would you be shocked to learn that a tomato is not a vegetable, but a fruit? Life is full of surprises.
The Bible is full of surprises, too. For example, the apostle John writes,
1 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.
Who is John talking about? Jesus. Just continue reading that first chapter. It is truly powerful. John comes at us full force with the declaration that Jesus is Almighty God. If you believe he is some created being, then you’d better get ready for a showdown!
Another apostle, Matthew takes a much different approach. He makes this declaration in chapter 2:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose[b] and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 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.’”
Here, Matthew writes that there was a beginning of Jesus. ‘Jesus was born’.
Trying to harmonize the two underlying ideas is difficult. John’s emphasis is on the fact that the Son of God is eternal. Matthew emphasizes that Jesus was born in time and space.
John moves from ‘above’ to ‘below’ in verse 14: ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’.
Matthew assumes that the reader knows who Jesus was and what He claimed to be. He doesn’t come at us with both barrels and philosophical language. He just tells us the facts and lets us peak behind the curtain once in a while.
These apparent differences are not the source of errors in the church and outside of it. The source of errors, for the most part are in human reason. Human beings want a reasonable explanation. So, one group of people think that Jesus is just a created being. He was adopted by God. This is the heresy of Arianism.
Another group believed that Jesus never had a real body, but just appeared to have a real body. This is the heresy of Docetism.
Many people fall victim to one or the other of these heresies. The problem isn’t the teaching of scripture, the problem is human reason.
To this mind, Christianity asserts that Jesus is both God and man. We worship this “God-man”. At this time of year, we prepare for the appearance of the Son of God birthed in a manger. Completely dependent upon his mother and father for life. Completely helpless. The Almighty born vulnerable.
How to explain this to an atheist? How to explain this to an agnostic? How to explain this to a Buddhist? Does is make sense to point to a replica manger with a little baby Jesus inside and say, “The God I worship was born a man”. That makes just about as much sense as saying, “I caught a swordfish in a puddle”.
The human mind would rather minimize or emphasize that which we prefer to be true. Reason doesn’t want to subject itself to anyone or anything. This is because reason is ruled by sin. And, the human mind cannot apply reason to escape sin.
Yet, logic and reason are essential to life on this earth. I have applied logic in the article that I am writing, right now. Communication demands reason.
And that’s just what God did. He communicated with us through written words. Better than that, God communicated Himself to us. By becoming a man, human beings could interact with the Logos, that is, the Logic of all life (See Curious: The Unexpected Power of a Question-led Life by Tom Hughes, page 18). God was no longer a mere abstraction. He came to be experienced in time and space.
So, here we are 2,000 years after the fact. If he is no longer among us, how can we experience him? Our reason will not do. We must hear him in his word. We must taste him in the Lord’s supper. We must be washed in him by the waters of baptism. He continues to come down, condescending to us humans.
And he comes in the mundane, scandalous fact that you can meet Jesus in church on Sunday morning, at 9:30, at 8800 Woodman Avenue, Arleta.
We’ll see you then.