I recently sent an email to someone who did me a great favor ten years ago. They crossed my mind, and I wanted to thank them again for what they did because of how much it meant to me. I then added the line, “For what it’s worth, I’m praying for you and that your life is blessed.” I thought that was a friendly gesture… nope. I apparently said I hope his mother died cursing his name. He was furious. Knowing I’m a Christian he accused me of trying to convert him and that church doctrine is all crap. You could say he’s not a fan of Christianity. The benefit of this email exchange, however, was it led me to realize that he wasn’t necessarily wrong. Doctrine has its weaknesses, which is why I don’t get wrapped up in the minutia of it all. Details are boring. There’s a reason I’m not a lawyer (or maybe a few reasons like I’m not smart enough and I like having a soul). What I concluded, however, was simple: Jesus and Christmas either have some truth to them or they are the greatest hoax the world has ever seen. And if it’s not true, Charlie Brown and Linus are serious liars – and how can a cartoon not be true? Because there are a number of non Christian writers who wrote about Jesus (e.g. Tacitus and Pliny the Younger) we know He was a real man who performed miracles or a man who performed very impressive illusions like an early David Copperfield. Hypothetically speaking, if Jesus wasn’t the Messiah, He’d still be incredibly impressive. In some ways, it’d even more impressive than if he was the Messiah because He was just a man who got the world to think He was and to celebrate his birth and death 2000 years later. It’s not even just a few people. He convinced billions of people to call themselves his followers with millions dying in his name – that’s commitment. If someone said to my wife I will kill you if you stay with your husband, I’d be like “Yeah, I’m not worth it. You’ll be fine without me.” But these believers died for their faith. That’s amazing dedication (they show me up). If He is the Messiah that will end well for them, but if He isn’t… holy cow. Some random guy was able to get millions of people to die for Him over the next two millennia? That is the greatest hoax the world will ever see.
If you look at Jesus’ disciples, the original 11 (I’ll leave Judas out of that list; I’m sure you can guess why), after Jesus was killed they could’ve just gone back to their normal lives, but they didn’t. Well, actually at first they did. After His murder the disciples went into hiding until something happened that made them go full tilt promoting that Jesus was alive (kind of like they saw Him and knew He was alive). The one theory was the disciples pretended to be scared and then stole the body of Jesus despite it being guarded by Roman soldiers who would be killed if anyone took the body under their watch. Fishermen versus trained merciless killers fighting for their lives? Yeah, that’s not much of a battle. Even if the disciples didn’t steal the body and someone else did, it still had to be believable enough for them to come back together to claim Jesus was alive. For instance, let’s say the person who was in charge of putting the body of Jesus in the tomb somehow faked it. Maybe this person hid it under their toga before leaving the tomb and it being sealed – very Oceans 11 (convenient that it was the same number of disciples). The disciples, despite watching Jesus be brutally killed (that’d be a deterrent to be His follower anymore), would then have to be convinced He was alive and not just stolen. This proof would have to be pretty huge because everyone of them decided to start promoting that Jesus was the Messiah even though that almost guaranteed their own brutal deaths – that would take more than a hunch. Not only that, but it wouldn’t even make them any money. In fact, promoting Jesus would’ve kept them poor. That’s definitely not the best incentive package: “I get to be poor and be killed for what I believe? Perfect.” These were the same guys who abandoned Jesus when he was arrested. They didn’t even know about the cross yet. They just didn’t want to be arrested. Somehow these same guys were later willing to die horrible deaths themselves. They either fully believed that Jesus was the Messiah or they suddenly lost their minds and were insane, but still sane enough to convert a mass number of new followers. Realistically, this band of uneducated misfits, combined with the Apostle Paul, a very educated leader who had once murdered Christians and then miraculously became one himself, somehow became the greatest salesmen of a pyramid scheme (that didn’t make any money) the world has ever seen because it continues today 2000 years later. Primerica and Arbonne are good, but they’re not that good. If Jesus and the Christmas story don’t have truth, it really is the greatest hoax the world has ever seen by some of the greatest whack-a-dos the world has ever seen.
As I often do this time of year, I started reading the Christmas story section in the Bible. For the first time, the first chapter of Matthew stood out, which is strange because it’s just a list of people. Similar to how the Book of Genesis (the first book in the Bible) has a chronology for who was the father of whom, the Book of Matthew starts with a chronological history of who is in the line of Joseph, Jesus’ human father. This chronology goes all the way back to Abraham (the Father of Judaism and Islam), which proves Joseph is very Jewish. He wasn’t from a line of people who converted (not that many people converted to Judaism because it would mean a certain snipping of a certain male body part that doesn’t feel good to be snipped). Considering how hard it is for anyone today to have an accurate family tree record, it’s pretty amazing how well the Jewish culture kept track of their lineage (it’s like God wanted them to keep track). This list is actually very interesting… at least it was to me this time; I normally skip this section because it seems so boring. Three things particularly struck me about this list. First, Joseph is a relative of King David. Let me repeat that: King David. Joseph is not a king. He is a carpenter. Joseph’s great, great, great, great, etc. grandfather was the king and arguably the most important king the Jewish people have ever seen and he’s a carpenter. He’s not even a world famous carpenter. He’s a nameless carpenter no one would care about if he wasn’t supposed to marry Mary. I used to struggle with feeling like I didn’t live up to family expectations, but Joseph… ouch. This means from the line of a king, Joseph’s “son” was born in a stable. That’s a serious fall from grace (and/or great symbolism).
What’s even crazier is Joseph’s only relevance is based on his soon-to-be-wife. Even the line where Joseph comes up in the chronology suggests he was a loser: “Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.” (Mat 1:16) No other man in that list is written to be “the husband of (wife).” In a time when women were often seen as below men, that’s a serious loser line – your importance is based on who you’re marrying? Ouch. Sure, Joseph was kind of chosen to be the surrogate father to Jesus, but that was only because he was already engaged to Mary; it’s not like God could’ve broke up that soon-to-be-marriage. It was like “I choose Mary because she’s perfect… and by default there’s Joseph.” If I was Joseph, my negative brain would’ve been going wild beating myself up for being a loser, and then later, that’s how the story starts: “Jacob was the father of Joseph; he was kind of a loser because his wife was more important than him.”
The second thing that really stood out to me is there are a number of women added to the chronology. This was not something you’d expect largely because of how women were seen. Having women listed in the chronology definitely wasn’t in the lists in Genesis. This was new, and these weren’t even the rich or super important women – more prostitutes and bottom of the barrel women. For instance, Tamar is mentioned. She pretended to be a prostitute in order to trick Judah, her father-in-law, into having sex because he owed her a son. That’s a classy historical moment. Then there’s Rahab – an actual prostitute who was a gentile. There’s also Bathsheba “the widow of Uriah,” (Mat 1:6b) which is odd to include because King David basically had him murdered in order to take Bathsheba as his own wife. Those were not the highlights of Jewish history you’d expect in the chronology of the Messiah, yet these low moments (like the exile) are being brought up in the first chapter of the first book of the New Testament and the introduction to Jesus being born. It’s as if the author wanted to remind readers how sinful people are, and that we needed a Messiah. Either way, if the Book of Matthew was meant to sell Jesus, it wasn’t starting out in a smart way: “We’re a bunch of losers; come join us.”
The final thing that stood out is the passage after the chronology: “All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.” (Mat 1:17) That’s pretty amazing how the generations amounted to the 14 each time. It’s almost as if it was planned in some way.
This year may you consider whether Jesus and Christmas have truth or if they’re the greatest hoax of all time.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)