“Christmas: Taking the Scandal of the God-man as seriously as it deserves to be taken!”

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Dec 252016

PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “Christmas:  Taking the Scandal of the God-man as seriously as it deserves to be taken!”

By:  Ron Woodrum


     Frederick Buechner writes, “The Incarnation is a kind of vast joke whereby the Creator of the ends of the earth comes among us in diapers…Until we too have taken the idea of the God-man seriously enough to be scandalized by it, we have not taken it as seriously as it demands to be taken”.  Even though much of the world celebrates Christmas in the traditional way, the real meaning is still not taken as seriously as God intended it to be.  Someone has made that very apparent in their updated version of the Night Before Christmas-New Millenial Style.  They have written:


“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the town,

Not a sign of Baby Jesus was anywhere to be found.

The people were all busy with Christmas time chores,

Like decorating, and baking, and shopping in stores.


No one sang, ‘Away in a manger, no crib for a bed’,

instead they sang of Santa, all dressed up in bright Red.

Mama watched Martha Stewart reruns; Papa drank beer from a tap,

As hour upon hour the presents they’d wrap.


When what from the TV suddenly caught their ears?

‘Cept an ad which told a big sale at Sears.

So away to the mall they all flew like a flash…

Buying things on credit…and others with cash.


As they made their way home from the trip to the mall,

Did they once think about Jesus? Oh no, not at all!

Their lives were so busy with their Christmas time things,

No time to remember Christ Jesus, the King.


There were presents to wrap, and cookies to bake,

How could they stop to remember the one who died for their sake?

To pray to the Saviour…they had no time to stop,

Because they needed  more time, ‘to shop til they dropped!’


On Wal Mart! On Best Buy! On Target! On Penney’s!

On Halmark! On Sears! A Quick bite at Denny’s

From the big stores downtown, to the stores in the mall,

They would dash away, dash away, and visit them all!


Upon on the roof, there arose such a clatter,

As Grandpa hung icicle lights with his brand new step ladder.

He hung lights that would flash.  He hung lights that would twirl.

Yet he never once talked of Jesus…the Light of the World.


Christ’s eyes…how they twinkle!  His Spirit how Merry!

Christ’s love…how enormous…All our sins He would carry!

So instead of being busy, overworked, and uptight,

Let’s put Christ back in Christmas, and enjoy some good nights!”


Merry Christmas.


Let me end with a more serious poem by an Pastor-Theologian of the 1800’s.   George MacDonald spoke to the seriousness of Christmas when he wrote:


That Holy Thing


“THEY all were looking for a King

To slay their foes and lift them high.

Thou cam’st a little baby thing

That made a woman cry.


Oh Son of Man, to right my lot

Naught but thy presence can avail

Yet on the road thy wheels are not

Nor on the Sea thy sails


But how or when Thou wilt not heed

But come down thine own secret stair

That thou mayest answer all my need

Yes, and every bygone prayer”.

 Posted by at 1:49 pm


Dec 112016


By:  Ron Woodrum


     As we celebrate Christmas again this year there is a troubling trend that I think never quite gets addressed by Christians.  Christmas celebration each year is a mixture of fact and fiction that somehow neutralizes the impact that Christmas should have for each generation each year.  We celebrate the fact that Jesus was born into the world on Christmas day-(though even the fact that His birth may not have been on the 25th of December casts a fiction-like shadow of uncertainty about Christmas’ historical basis).  There are mentions in the Gospel narratives of Caesar Augustus, Herod the Great, Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph…all with historical relevance.  But then we add the visit of Three Kings of the Orient; The Angels from on High; The Shepherds-in such a way that it dramatizes the historical reality.  Then we throw Santa Claus into the mix; with the Christmas trees; and the Feast of Saturnalia; and the worship of the Evergreens as idols; and the fact that early Christians did not celebrate Jesus’ birth at first; and that even in America Christmas was outlawed during the early years of our nation, and suddenly Christmas and Jesus seem somewhat of a religious story…a nice one about the Baby Jesus; the Shepherds; the Innkeeper; and of course those Wise men…but come on did all of this really happen?  Like we have it in the Gospels?  Is all that historically believable?

There have been those who have set out to investigate whether Jesus was really a real historical figure.  One of the most famous and prominent scholars to do that of course was Albert Sweitzer.  Sweitzer is best known as a great humanitarian who spent his entire life from 40 on as a medical doctor giving his life to aid the poor natives of Africa.  But before he did that he was known for his magnus opus-his book entitled The Quest For the Historical Jesus, which he wrote in 1906. His book betrays Sweitzer as less than an historian or a theologian.  He concluded that book with a view of Jesus that was far from orthodox.  He stated that Jesus had brought about his own crucifixion; he also left Jesus without a resurrection.  Sweitzer taught that Jesus thought he was the Jewish Messiah, with a “messianic consciousness”, but thought that the only way to bring about the end of the world was by forcing his own death; and that, according to Sweitzer, was Jesus’ glory.  He died as a martyr to His belief in His “messianic character”.  Is that what history tells us about the Jesus story?  There are others who would have us believe that the only references we have to Jesus, in history, is the narratives written about Him by his own followers-Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Can we trust them to  give us an unbiased historical perspective of Jesus?  Is there anything written in secular history about the real historical Jesus.  Well…I not only majored in Pastoral Ministry at the University.  I had a double-major, and my second major was history, with an emphasis on Ancient History.  I am glad to report to you that there are some very reliable secular historical references to Jesus in the history books.  Unfortunately they are not often referred to in our recounting the Christmas story; or in the study of the Life of Jesus.  Let me briefly share the three  or four of the most significant ones.

The great Jewish historian Josephus makes two references to Jesus in his writings.  Josephus was a very important Jewish historian of the 1st Century.  When the Roman general Vespasian was taking the city of Jotapata by seige, and most Jewish colleagues of Josephus committed suicide, Josephus surrendered and volunteered to be a defender of the hated Romans to his own people.  Thus he wrote his narrative concerning the Jewish-Roman War  with a very defending view of Rome.  His most ambitious work was his The Antiquities.  This work was a history of the Jewish people from creation until his own time.  It is in this work that he makes his first historical reference to Jesus.  He describes how that the High Priest Annas took advantage of the death of the Roman Governor Felix, and had James killed.  He writes, “He (Annas) convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus, who is called the Christ, and certain others.  He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned”.  There you have his first reference to the historical Jesus.  He was the brother of James, who Annas had put to death.  That corroborates the historical narrative of the Book of Acts.  Then later, in Book 18, chapter three of the Antiquities, Josephus makes a reference to Jesus that has been called the Testimonium Flavianum.  This is what he writes, “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man.  For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly.  He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks.  He was the Christ.  When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him.  On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him.  And the tribe Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared”.  Concerning this reference to Jesus Christian historian Edwin Yamauchi says, “That passage in Josephus corroborates important information about Jesus:  that he was the martyred leader of the church in Jerusalem and that he was a wise teacher who had established a wide and lasting following, despite the fact that he had been crucified under Pilate at the instigation of some Jewish leaders.”  When you consider that Josephus gives us a very accurate account of the Jewish War that has been confirmed by the archaeological evidence found at Masada, and the parallel accounts of Tacitus, then his references to Jesus can be seen as accurate  representations of the historical Jesus.  This was written probably around 93 A.D.

Josephus is not the only secular historian to speak of Jesus.  Edwin Yamauchi says that the most important reference to Jesus outside the New Testament is the reference by the Roman Historian Tacitus.  Yamauchi says, “In A.D. 115 Tacitus explicitly states that Nero persecuted the Christians as scapegoats to divert suspicion away from himself for the great fire that had devastated Rome in A.D. 64”.   This is what Tacitus writes, “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.  Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius, at the hands of …Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievious superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome…Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty: then, upon information, and immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.”  (Tacitus-Annals).  What impact does this reference have?  Yamauchi explains, “This is an important testimony by an unsympathetic witness to the success and spread of Christianity, based on the historical figure of Jesus-who was crucified under Pilate.  It is significant that Tacitus reported that an immense multitude held so strongly to their beliefs that they were willing to die rather than recant”.

     Another reference to Jesus is found in Pliny the Younger.  He was Governor of Bithynia.  He was a close friend of the Emperor Trajan.  The reference to Jesus is a personal letter he wrote to the Emperor.  He writes, in book 10 of his letters to the Emperor, “I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of punishment awaiting them.  If they persist I order them to be led away for execution…their stubborness…ought not go unpunished…their guilt…they met regularly before dawn…to chat verses …in honor of Christ as if to a god, and to bind themselves by oath to abstain from theft, robbery, or adultery”.  This quote shows us that Christians worshipped Jesus…to the death.

One of the most fascinating historical references to Jesus from the first century is by a historian named Thallus in 56 A.D. (referenced by Julius Africanus in 221 A.D.)  In the third book of his histories, Thallus makes reference to the darkness that occurred at Jesus’ crucifixion.  He says it was caused by an eclipse of the sun.  Africanus, argues with Thallus’ claim given when the darkness occured…at the Passover.  So Jesus life, crucifixion, and resurrection, and even the darkness at his cross, has been rooted in the historical records of the first century.  Historian Paul Maier puts this all in perspective…”This phenomenon, (of darkness) was visible in Rome, Athens, and other Mediterranean cities.  According to Tertullian…it was a cosmic and world event.  Phlegon, a Greek author from Caria reported that in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad-(i.e. 33 A.D.)  “there was the greatest eclipse of the sun…it became night at the sixth hour of the day, (noon), so that even stars appeared in the heavens.  There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicea”.  (Pontius Pilate Paul Maier.  1968.)  So this Jesus, born in Bethlehem really lived.  He really died.  He really rose again.  He is the central figure of history!  Don’t let anyone cause you to ever doubt that!  He still lives and impacts lives today as the first century.

Chuck Colson tells of this reality when he visited a notorious prison in Brazil.  He went to visit the notorius Humaita prison in Brazil.  The recidivism rate for most prisons world wide is 75 percent.  (recidivism means “returning to prison for further crimminal activity when released”).  But this notorious prison had reduced it return rate to 4 per cent.  Colson said “I saw the answer when my inmate guide escorted me to the notorius punishment cell once used for torture.  Today, he told me, that block houses only a single inmate.  As we reached the end of a long concrete corridor and he put the key in the lock, he paused and asked, ‘are you sure you want to go in?’  ‘Of course’ I answered, ‘I’ve been in isolation cells all over the world’.  Slowly he swung the door open, and I saw the prisoner in the punishment cell:  a crucifix beautifully carved by the Humaita inmates-the Prisoner Jesus hanging on the cross!”  ‘He’s doing time for all the rest of us’, my guide said softly”.  That was the secret of changed lives.  They had met Jesus.  He took their guilt to His cross.  He set them free from their sin.  They were new creatures in Him.  That is the key to their sucess in not returning to crime.  That is the historical message of the Christ born into history on the first Christmas.  That is the message of each new Christmas!  That is God’s footnotes on history.  It is indeed “His” “Story”.


 Posted by at 1:56 pm


Dec 042016


By:  Ron Woodrum


      In July of 1978, a little girl named Louise Brown was born in England.  She was born 5 pounds and 12 ounces.  She was a tiny baby.  But she came into the world as a most unusual baby.  Louise Brown’s birth was truly extraordinary because she was the first child ever born who was conceived out the human body, Little Louise Brown was the first “test-tube baby.”  Since then, many other children have been conceived by “in vitro” fertilization.  It is amazing-unthinkable just a few years ago-but it is not miraculous.  Conception occurs by a male seed fertilizing  a  female egg.  Birth occurs normally.  The only difference is the place of conception.  But 2,000 years ago, at the first Christmas, Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and became the incarnate Son of God via the Grand Miracle of the Virgin Birth.

Since that time there have been many attempts to discredit the reality of this important truth.  First it was explained away as Christian mythologizing the birth of Jesus.  Greek mythology taught that Dionysius, the god of wine, was born of his human mother, Semele, and the god Zeus.  In ancient Assyrian mythology, Semiramis, wife of Nimrod, gave birth to Tammuz, who was supposedly conceived by a sunbeam.  That leged was absorbed into Egyptian mythology, with the names changed to Isis and Osiris.  In India it is Isi and Iswara.  In China this myth was known at Shing Moo-with artwork eerily similar, if you did not know the source, of a picture of Mary and Jesus.  In Phonecia it was Ashtoreth and Baal.  There is even one legend about Buddha that claims he was miraculously conceived when an elephant entered his mother’s belly. Ten months later Buddha was born.  Even Olympia, the mother of Alexander the Great, asserted he was conceived by the gods.  Some scholars want to dismiss the Virgin Birth of Christ as just another in a long line of legends.  But all the bizarre myths of human religions stand in stark contrast to the simple reality of Jesus’ conception, and more than that, they are myth, Jesus’ birth was rooted in history!

     Then again, scientists today are experimenting with what they call partheno-genesis.  Parthenos-means “virgin”.  Genesis means “birth, or beginning”.  Parthogenesis is the science of the virgin birth.  Their efforts in the laboratory have revealed that in some cases parthogenetic life can be generated in some animals.  Among honeybees unfertilized eggs develop naturally into drones.  Artificial parthenogenesis has been used to produce silkworms since 1888.  Many forms of invertebrates and plants may be reproduced fairly easily through parthenogenesis.  In recent years frogs and rabbits have been reproduced by parthenogenesis in laborotory experiments.  The results of all of these experiments fall short of genuine virgin births.  The frog births are of only female frogs genetically identical to the mother who laid the eggs.  All attempts on the human level have proved impossible!

But in the face of modern science Jesus’ conception and virgin birth remains unique.  Science can never explain how a virgin, a woman who had never had a sexual relationship with a man, could give birth to a male child.  It was a miracle of God, the greatest miracle of conception the world has ever known.  This miracle was called by C.S. Lewis “the central miracle of Christianity”.  He went on to say, “every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this!”.  Merrill C. Tenney called it “the stupendous miracle of the Incarnation”.  Gene Getz affirmed this truth as the miracle by which Jesus became a complete man while remaining genuinely God”.  Kenneth Gangel places this miracle beside the miracle of creation.  He asserts that “in the miracle of creation, God made man.  In the miracle of the Incarnation, He gave man the God-man”.  Erich Sauer, In Triumph of the Crucified, explained the Virgin Birth/Incarnation this way-“Leaving the free, unconditioned, world-ruling absoluteness of the divine form, the Son entered the limits of time and space of the creature!” But as we celebrate this we must first and foremost remember this is not a myth.  His birth was not an experiment.  It was a reality!  He really was born.  Born after a miraculous conception.  Born in a purely human birth.  But the product was the divine-human God-man-Jesus.

In the movie Second Hand Lions, Two Old Curmudgeons, Hub and Garth assume the care of Hub’s ten-year old nephew, Walter, after his mother abandons him.   The two men are at first reluctant hosts, especially Uncle Hub.  He begrudges Walter the little food he eats, the small space he takes up.  The two old men live in a dilapidated farmhouse, the fields roundabout gone to seed, and spend most days sitting on their tumbledown porch, shotguns straddling their laps, nursing a giant grudge against the world, and taking potshots at any traveling salesmen foolhardy enough to venture near.  They want to be left alone, to die quietly in their misery.  They  don’t care about nothing.  But the boy’s presence works a miracle: their withered hearts grow young again, and learn to love again.  They start to hunger for more.  They start to spend their enormous fortune on everything from garden seeds and garden tools, to a catapult that flings plates skyward for shooting practice, to a Red Baron-style airplance, to a second-hand lion, a mangy old feline who just wants, like they did, to finish her days in undisturbed idleness.  As the old men’s hearts awaken, they tell Walter, slowly, their story.  Uncle Hub was once a swashbuckling adventurer, a poet-warrior, and Garth was his side-kick.  Together, they lived an enchanted, dangerous life, routing armies, plundering treasures, rescuing a damsel in distress.  Together, they outwitted a cunning and noble enemy, an Arab sheik, Uncle Hub’s rival for the love of his beautiful Jasmine.  Walter is never sure whether to believe these stories.  He wants to but they are so out-sized and exotic…these two arthritic cranky old men bear little resemblance to the legendary heroes they describe in their stories!  But to tell stories is to re-inhabit them.  These two old men, in their closing years become every bit as adventurous and reckless as they had been.  They end up dying in their nineties, full of days, joyriding their plane with such reckless abandon they crash it upside down into the barn door.  They punch that door so clean and hard that they cookie cut a hole, perfectly plane-shaped, right through it.

In the last scene of the movie, Walter, now grown, comes to survey the scene of their death.  A helicopter rises over the trees and comes down beside him.  A handsome young man, around his age, steps out.  Walter realizes it is the grandson of Hub’s rival, the sheik.  Both men grew up hearing fantastic tales of sword fights and narrow escapes and buried treasures, and both wondered if the tales were true.  The Sheik’s grandson looks at the farm, the barn, the hole where the plane hit.  “So”, he says astonished, “It’s true after all. They really lived!”  Walter smiles.  He responds, “Yes.  They really lived!”  That is my hope for these messages on the Christmas story.  When we get through may the Spirit of God convince you so thoroughly you will be saying-“They lived.  They really lived!”  The Virgin Mary.  The Miraculously conceived Jesus.  The Shepherds.  The Wise men.  Herod.  They lived.  They really lived.  Because He lived, and lives, we can and will live too!


 Posted by at 1:54 pm