Following are two excerpts from Why on Earth Did Jesus Come? (EP Books, 2009), by British Christian apologist John Blanchard. In the first, Blanchard makes a case for the extraordinary reality of Christ’s birth.
Of the 60 billion people who have lived on our planet most have left almost no trace of their existence. Many others have left tiny ripples, while some have affected thousands, even millions of people over many years. Comparatively few have left a truly major mark on history. In this elite group one person towers above all the others—Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth sparked off the annual celebration of Christmas on December 25 centuries later.
The Uncertain Certainty
We have no record of Jesus’ date of birth, but in the fifth century the Western Church settled on December 25, apparently to counter a Roman feast held on that day in honor of the pagan sun-god. Nor do we know the year in which Jesus was born; we can probably get no closer than sometime between 8 and 4 B.C.
When CNN talk show host Larry King was asked who in all of history he would most like to interview he replied, “Jesus Christ.” When asked, “And what would you like to ask him?” King replied, “I would like to ask him if he was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me.” Yet to speak of Jesus as virgin born can be misleading. As far as we know, He left His mother’s womb in the same way we left ours. What sets Jesus apart is how He entered the womb—and the Bible’s testimony is startling; He was conceived in Mary’s womb without sexual intercourse and she became pregnant while still a virgin. Those who argue that in vitro fertilization, embryonic transfer, and artificial insemination now make it perfectly possible for a woman to give birth without sexual intercourse miss the point that in every case male sperm is needed. In the case of Jesus there was none.
The best evidence for this comes from men used to the accurate recording of facts. The first was Matthew, a civil servant who collected taxes for the occupying Romans. His testimony (in Matthew 1:18-25) records an angel telling Joseph, who was betrothed to be married to Mary, that she was pregnant. Joseph was shattered. As he knew he was not the father he planned to end their relationship immediately, but God told him to go ahead with the marriage, as Mary’s pregnancy was not the result of adultery but of the miraculous intervention of God the Holy Spirit. God also told him that the baby was to be called Jesus (the word means “Savior”) ”for he will save his people from their sins” (v.21). This was way over Joseph’s head, but he obeyed God to the letter. The marriage went ahead as planned, though Joseph “knew her not until she had given birth to a son” (v.25). When Jesus was born, Mary was still a virgin.
The second testimony comes from Luke, who as a physician would hardly invent a birth story that would make him a laughingstock among his peers. His account (in Luke 1:26-38) records an angel telling Mary the stunning news that she would give birth to ”the son of God” (v.35). Mary was baffled and overwhelmed by this, but the angel convinced her that God was in this and she replied, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v.38).
Needless to say, the Bible’s record has been widely ridiculed. Early skeptics said the virgin conception was a myth created to cover up the fact that Jesus was fathered by a Roman soldier named Panthera or Pandira, but this desperate attempt to undermine the beginnings of Christianity never had a shred of evidence to back it up.
Others say that conceiving a child without receiving male sperm would be a miracle, and miracles never happen. Yet this approach is not only irrational but dishonest, as it pronounces the verdict before examining the evidence. Natural events reflect God’s usual way of working and supernatural ones his unusual way of working. To deny that God can overrule the normal way for human beings to produce children if He chooses to do so is ignorance masquerading as intelligence.
Another approach suggests that the virgin conception of Jesus was a case of parthenogenesis, a form of reproduction in which embryos or seeds develop in the female of the species without male fertilization. This happens rarely and in a few species, but never naturally in mammals. In any case, we know that this did not occur in the case of Jesus, for one very simple reason. In the genetic make-up of human beings, the male has X and Y chromosomes, while the female has X and X. If Mary’s pregnancy had been triggered by some unique biological freak, the child born would have been female, as no Y chromosome would have been present to produce a male.
Most of the controversy about Jesus centers not around His words or actions but around His identity. Yet apart from His miraculous conception was He somehow different from the rest of the human race? No—and yes! He was not physically different. He did not have a halo or wings. He could not stand on the day He was born, jump 100 feet in the air, or be in two places at once. The Bible traces His normal development as “a baby” (Luke 2:16), “a child” (Luke 2:40), and “a boy” (Luke 2:43). Like other children He had to be taught to crawl, stand, walk, feed himself, wash, dress, read, and write. As an adult He got tired, hungry, and thirsty. We find Him “full of joy” (Luke 10:21 NIV), “overwhelmed with sorrow” (Mark 14:34 NIV), and “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV). Jesus was truly human, not some kind of superman, hybrid, or android.
Yet calling Him “just as man,” as Mary Magdalene does in Jesus Christ Superstar, falls a long way short of the truth. Jesus said He had “descended from heaven” (John 3:13) and spoke openly of His life in heaven “before the world existed” (John 17:5). Although born at a certain point in time, He existed before time began. He had a birth, but no beginning and was “the Son of God” (Luke 1:35) before He became the son of Mary.
This prepares us for an even more astonishing truth. When asked whether He was greater than the Jewish patriarch Abraham (who lived some 2,000 years earlier) Jesus replied, “Before Abraham was, ‘I am’” (John 8:58). “I AM” was an Old Testament name for God (see Exodus 2:14) and infers eternal, timeless self-existence—yet Jesus unhesitatingly used the name about Himself. The issue was not His age, but His identity. Elsewhere He stated, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). The word “one” is not masculine, but neuter, showing not that Jesus and the Father were one person, but one in essence and nature. When the Jews “picked up stones again to stone him” they told Him it was “for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:31,33).
This is bedrock Bible teaching. It says that Jesus was “God over all, blessed for ever” (Romans 9:5), “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13), and “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). We are told that “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible …” (Colossians 1:16), that “he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:4), that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9), and that in Him we see “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). As C.S. Lewis wrote, the deity of Jesus Christ is “not something stuck on that you can unstick, but something that peeps out at every point, so that you would have to unravel the whole web to get rid of it.”
In this second excerpt, Blanchard considers why Jesus was born, and the implications this has for how, and why, we celebrate Christmas.
Most of us develop goals and ambitions as we go along, but Jesus is unique in that the meaning and purpose of His life were determined before He was born. The angel announced that Jesus would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The Bible says that “the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14), and Jesus confirmed that He had come “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
Here was a rescue mission planned, empowered, and carried out by all three persons in the Godhead—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are not to think in terms of a household ordering a reluctant son to leave home on a difficult assignment, nor of a junior partner in a company being forced to obey instructions from a superior. Instead, a mission planned within the Godhead “before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20) was put into operation at what we call the first Christmas.
The Real Christmas Message
The three statements above are light years away from many people’s idea of Christmas. They tell us that Jesus came to save people; that these people are lost; and that they are lost because of their sins. Many people think sins are limited to major crimes such as murder, rape, violent assault, or child abuse, but the Bible tells us the real truth and explains how they first became part of human life.
For some time after “God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27) our first parents lived in flawless harmony with God, with nature, and with each other. Then at some point in time they suddenly flashed their fists in God’s face and went their own way. When they did, “sin came into the world” (Romans 5:12), with catastrophic results. Their relationship with God was wrecked, their natural inclination to righteousness was replaced by a bias to do evil, they lost their moral balance, and they developed an appetite for wrongdoing.
While they were both guilty, the Bible focuses on Adam, who sinned not only as the natural head of the human race but also as its representative head, and when he sinned he dragged humanity down with him. Later, he fathered children “in his own likeness, after his image” (Genesis 5:3). They and their successors inherited not only their father’s physical nature, but also his spiritual nature—and we have the same spiritual DNA. Israel’s King David confirmed this when he confessed, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). The same is true of us. Assuming we were carried to full term, we were sinners nine months before we were born.
This may be hard to take, but it is impossible to deny. Our greatest moral problem is not what we do but what we are! As Adam’s descendants we have inherited guilty, fallen natures and a fatal tendency to break God’s law. Anyone who doubts this has not faced up to the fact that “The law of the LORD is perfect” (Psalm 19:7) and even a single sin means the entire law has been broken. If a policeman stopped me for breaking the speed limit it would be no defense for me to prove that I had kept every other part of the traffic law. We may not all have sinned in the same way, or to the same degree, or with the same knowledge of what we were doing, but this much is certain—we have all sinned, and one sin is sufficient to make us guilty in God’s sight and deserving of His judgement.
People sometimes treat certain sins as being trivial. Dishonesty, drunkenness, petty theft, drug abuse, immorality, and even adultery are sometimes joked about or engaged in without any serious thought of guilt. Yet the Bible warns us that sin is not a plaything but a killer. The link between sin and death is so strong that it speaks of ‘the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2), a death that never means termination, but separation.
Firstly, sin brings separation from God while we still live here on earth. It renders us “dead in … trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Secondly, physical death means the separation of the soul from the body. Finally, and worst of all, sin leads to “the second death” (Revelation 20:14), when those who are not right with God are separated forever from His love, mercy, and grace and doomed to endure what Jesus called “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46). Sin is not a toy, but a tyrant, and has the most appalling consequences. Nothing could be more important to anyone than to be saved from these.
This prepares the way for the real Christmas message, which is that Jesus came into the world to rescue sinners from sin’s penalty and bring them into an eternal relationship with God. Having lived a perfect life, unstained by sin and not liable to its penalty, Jesus paid that horrific penalty in full by allowing Himself to be put to death in the place of sinners and on their behalf: He “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Jesus became as accountable for people’s sins as if He Himself had committed them, and He paid in full the penalty they deserved. He not only died physically, but in enduring the horrendous punishment for sin demanded by a holy God He sensed His separation from His Father so intensely that He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
But that is not the end of the story! As Jesus had met all the demands of God’s holy law, not only by living a perfect life but by paying in full the penalty the law imposes, “it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24 NIV), and on the third day He rose from the dead. Before returning to heaven He gave hundreds of people “many convincing proofs that he was alive” (Acts 1:3) and showed that “Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Acts 6:9).
The Reason for the Season
This is the true celebration of Christmas, yet millions who join in the annual whirlwind of eating and drinking, parties and presents refuse to accept the greatest gift ever offered, and one that can be theirs at any time of the year if they would only turn to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith: “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
In December 2005, BBC Radio 4’s program Sunday ran a “Reduced Nativity Competition” to see which listener could best tell the Christmas story in 30 seconds. The real story can be told in less than three seconds: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” We need to see behind the glitter and glamour of a modern Christmas and fix our minds on the fact that Jesus did not come into the world as a diplomat, a politician, an economist, a psychologist, or a scientist, but as a Savior. He came to solve our greatest problem and to bring us into a living relationship with God that will enrich our lives here and now and transform them in heaven for ever.
Dr. John Blanchard is an internationally known Christian preacher, teacher, apologist and author. He has written 25 books, including two of Britain’s most widely used evangelistic presentations, Right With God and the booklet Ultimate Questions. The latter has over 14 million copies in print in over 40 languages. His major book Does God believe in Atheists?, published in 2000, was voted “Best Christian Book” in the 2001 UK Christian Book Awards, and immediately became a best-seller, described as “a brilliant defense of belief in God.” Other books he has written include: Truth for Life, Whatever Happened to Hell, Meet the Real Jesus, and The Beatitudes for Today.