If you sit down and really think about it, there's a whole lot about the "church" that's not biblical. The "church" often does things for no reason other than because we've always done them. More of what the church does is tradition rather than Bible. Tradition is—the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way. Do you realize that many of the practices, traditions, and beliefs that Christians practice today are not found in the Bible? The problem is that traditions are a hard thing to break. And if you break them it often ruffles feathers of those who hold to them.
Yeshua's most harsh words were reserved for the religious leaders of His day, and among His most harsh words for them was the elevation of tradition over God. The scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees had no problem with man-made rules and regulations that so "clarified" what God had to say, God was lost in the process.
And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men." Mark 7:6-8 ESV
The word "hypocrites" came out of the Greek theater. It's a word that means "to wear a mask." When you are in a play, you pretend to be somebody that you're not; you put on a mask. That's what Yeshua was saying: You pretend to be these religious leaders that are very spiritual and very wise, but the reality is you're wearing a mask—really, you're just selfish, arrogant, self-righteous men.
Yeshua quotes here from Isaiah 29:12 through 14. In that passage, the prophet contrasts learning the Word and living by it with those who live by the traditions of men.
Isaiah wrote in the days of the divided kingdom. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had built its own temple and ordained its own priesthood. They would soon find themselves destroyed.
But this passage was not written to the Northern Kingdom; it was written to the Southern Kingdom. It was written to the people who had the true Temple of God and the true priesthood and the true sacrifices. Because of what they had, they looked down their arrogant noses at the Northern Kingdom. But Yahweh challenged their false worship. He said that it was all a sham. They were worshiping on the outside, but their hearts were not in it.
The word "heart" is kardia, which refers to the mind, the thinking. They have God talk without any thinking. Their worship is in vain. The word "vain" is the Greek word: maten, which means: "to be void of results." Their worship has no result of honoring God; it is without purpose; mere ritual without any reality.
I want us to see from these two verses that the parallel between "this people honors me" in verse 6 and "they worship me" in verse 7 shows that at the essence of all worship is the act of honoring God. Notice also that it is God they are worshiping. But their worship is vain. They are worshiping the true God in the wrong way.
Yeshua is telling them that their worship is vain. That raises the question, "WHAT IS WORSHIP?" The word "worship" means: "Honor paid to a superior being." It means: "To give honor, homage, respect, adoration, praise, and glory to God."
The Hebrew word for worship is a powerful one. It describes the physical act of actually prostrating yourself on the floor before a sovereign, someone who has complete control over you.
The English word "worship" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "weorthscipe"—"worth" and "ship" meaning: "one worthy of reverence and honor." So, we see that worship is an honoring of God.
How do we honor God? In order to honor God, we must know Him, and the only way we can get to know God is through a study of His Word. That is why we study the Bible. The Bible teaches us that God is Holy, and we are to fear Him. Would you classify yourself as a God fearing man or woman? As God dealt with the children of Israel, He continually stressed that they were to fear Him:
how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, 'Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.' Deuteronomy 4:10 ESV
Now you may be thinking that fearing God is an Old Covenant concept. Are we, New Covenant believers, to fear God? Speaking of the New Covenant that was to come, Jeremiah said:
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. Jeremiah 32:40 ESV
In the New Testament, we see an ever-increasing fear of the Lord Yeshua the more men come to understand who He is. We desperately need to recover a sense of fear for God in our day. By fear I don't mean terror, but reverence. Paul tells the Ephesians that they are to:
submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21 ESV
"Out of reverence for Christ"—sadly all too often a proper fear of God is not a prominent part of the Christian's life. Fear of Yahweh just isn't part of the culturally correct, which means mainly psychologically correct view of the healthy, satisfying religious life. Fear is viewed as harmful by our culture. Children have no fear of their parents. Citizens have no fear of lawful authorities. And yet the Bible tells us to live out our lives in fear.
This is a subject that you don't hear much in our day, but it is still vital to the Christian's faith. We desperately need to recover a sense of awe and reverence for Yahweh in our day. We must begin to view Him in the infinite majesty that belongs to Him, who is the Creator and Supreme Sovereign of the universe. There is an infinite gap in worth and dignity between Yahweh, the Creator, and man, the creature. The fear of Yahweh is a heartfelt recognition of this gap. When we have a reverence for God, we will obey Him, we will put His Word above all unbiblical tradition.
Speaking of tradition, I really think that most Christians don't realize that our Christmas celebration is nothing but a tradition. What troubles me is that so many who call themselves Christians believe that our Christmas celebration is some how about Christ. We are often told by Christians to "Keep Christ in Christmas." How? What about our Christmas celebration is about Christ?
When you think about Christmas, what comes to your mind? Most, if not all, of us have celebrated Christmas in the traditional fashion since we were born. From my earliest memories, Christmas was presents, presents, and more presents. I can remember my brother and I staying up all night waiting for the appointed hour when we could rush to the living room and open our presents. One year my brother and I figured up the dollar amount of all of our gifts to see if our parents had spent the same amount on both of us. In my memory, Christmas is opening a lot of gifts and spending the day playing with them. Thoughts of Christmas bring different things to the minds of different people. Many things are associated with Christmas: lights, trees, presents, food, Santa Clause, family gatherings, and sometimes even the birth of Christ.
How much of Christmas is Christian? We associate it with the birth of Christ, and in some way see it as a celebration of His birth, but does it honor His birth? Is there really anything Christian about Christmas?
What about the name, Christmas? The word "Christmas" means "Mass of Christ," or, as it came to be shortened, "Christ-mass." The Christ-mass was a Roman Catholic Mass, which grew out of a feast day established in A.D.1038. The Christ-mass has nothing to do with Scripture or the birth of Christ! The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1946 edition, says this, "Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church. It was not instituted by Christ or the Apostles, or by Bible authority. It was picked up afterward from paganism."
Along with the Encyclopedia Britannica many teach that the date, December 25, came from a pagan holiday of Saturnalia. This was a Roman observance of the birthday of the "Invincible Sun" on December 25. Well William J. Tighe disagrees with that idea in an article he has written in Touchstone Magazine called, "Calculating Christmas, The Story Behind December 25." In the article he says,
"Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ's birth on December 25th, because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus' birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.
"Rather, the pagan festival of the 'Birth of the Unconquered Sun' instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the 'pagan origins of Christmas' is a myth without historical substance."
After a lengthy argument to prove his point that Christmas didn't come from a pagan celebration he concludes the article by saying:
"Thus, December 25th as the date of the Christ's birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influences upon the practice of the Church during or after Constantine's time. It is wholly unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ's birth, but it arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ's death." (http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v#continue)
So maybe the celebration of Christmas didn't come from a pagan feast, but however it came about December 25 certainly wasn't the date of Christ's birth as Tighe states. There are many ways to prove that December 25 wasn't the date of Christ's birth, we have gone over this many times. Luke writes:
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Luke 2:7-8 ESV
Most modern versions of the story of Yeshua's birth go something like this: Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem late in the night on December 25. Mary is in labor about to give birth. The local inn has its "no vacancy" sign clearly displayed. The tired couple seeks alternatives and finds none. With no other option, wearied from their journey and desperate for any shelter because of the imminent delivery, they spend the night in a stable where the child is born. Then some shepherds and three Kings show up and worship Him.
The Greek word translated "inn" here is kataluma. It means: "a place of rest, usually a guest room." In fact, the same writer, Luke, uses this very word later where it clearly refers to a guest room and not an inn:
and tell the master of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' Luke 22:11 ESV
Same author, same Greek word, but the translators translated it differently? Young's translates this in both places as, guest-chamber. The linguistic evidence shows that Luke used the term kataluma to mean not an inn, but the guest room—the definite article is used: "the" guest room of a particular house.
The cultural information gives a new understanding to the story of Yeshua's birth. Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem. They find shelter with a family whose separate guest room is full (or too small), and are accommodated among the family in acceptable village style. The birth takes place there on the raised terrace of the family home, and the baby is laid in a manger. (For more details on this see No Rooms in the Holiday Inn?)
Back to our text in Luke 2, shepherds did not live in the fields in Palestine during December. The shepherds always brought their flocks from the mountainsides and fields to corral them no later than October 15 to protect them from the cold, rainy season that followed.
In his book, The Birth of Christ Recalculated, Ernest Martin using the astronomical signs of Revelation 12:1-2 says that in the year 3 B.C., these astronomical signs came to precise agreement for less than two hours, as observed from Palestine, on September 11. This is the only day in the whole year that this could have taken place. Now I'm not an astronomer, but if Martin is right, then it seems quite clear that Christ was born on September 11, in the year 3 B.C.
Now that we know the date of Christ's birth, let me say that the apostles and early Church never celebrated Christ's birthday at any time. There is no command or instruction to celebrate it in the Bible. As a matter of fact, the celebrating of birthdays is a pagan, not a Christian custom. The Scriptures tell us that we are to celebrate Christ's death in the observance of the Lord's Supper, but we are never told to celebrate His birth. Neither the name nor the date of the supposed celebration of Christ's birth are Christian.
What about the exchanging of gifts? This is a major part of the Christmas celebration. Many claim it is patterned after the wise men who gave gifts to Yeshua. Well the wise men weren't there for Christ's birth, but is seems like it was December 25 when they showed up. So biblically there is something special about December 25. Ernest Martin in his book, The Birth of Christ Recalculated, says, "Jupiter, recognized by Jews and Gentiles alike as the 'Planet of the Messiah,' was located in Virgo's womb and standing still, directly over Bethlehem, on December 25, 2 B.C., when the Child was a little over a year old."
In his book, The Star Of Bethlehem, Frederick A. Larson states, "With software, which incorporates Kepler's equations, we can create a computer model of the universe. In minutes we can produce thousands of the sky maps, which was a great labor before computers. We can animate the universe in real time at any speed we choose, make months pass in moments or wind back the clock. We can view the sky precisely as it moved over Jerusalem 2000 years ago." Matthew tells us this:
Now after Yeshua was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, 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." Matthew 2:1-2 ESV
Commenting on this verse, Larson says, "It can't be proven from the text, but it is quite possible that some of the Magi were of Jewish descent, perhaps a Jewish remnant from Daniel's day. This would help explain why a Jewish philosopher, Philo, would admire them, why they were watching the sky for things Jewish, why they wanted to worship a Jewish king, and why they were taken so seriously by Herod and Jewish chief priests. If they were not Jews, then they must have been most impressive magi indeed, as Jews of the time were deeply disdainful of pagans and their beliefs."
Larson says that the star that they saw was the planet Jupiter. In ancient times, planets like Jupiter were considered "wandering stars." Larson says, "A magus watching Jupiter that September saw two objects moving so close that they appeared to touch. This close approach of celestial bodies is sometimes called a 'conjunction.' Our Middle Eastern viewer saw Jupiter coming into a close conjunction with the star, Regulus."
After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. Matthew 2:9 NASB
Notice that the star, "went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was." So this star that they were following stops over Bethlehem. This account is not of the birth of Yeshua, this is over a year after His birth.
Larson says, "An astronomer tracking the movement of planets through the star field watches not so much on the scale of minutes, but on the longer scale of days, weeks, and months. On this scale of time, Jupiter did stop. On December 25 of 2 B.C. as it entered retrograde, Jupiter reached full stop in its travel through the fixed stars. Magi viewing from Jerusalem would have seen it stopped in the sky above the little town of Bethlehem." So according to Larson, the astrological charts show that it was December 25 when Jupiter stopped in the sky, and when the wise men presented Yeshua with their gifts. He also made the comment, "Nobody believes that Jesus was born on December 25."
Well, I'm no astronomer, but if what Ernest Martin and Frederick A. Larson are saying is true, this is kind of cool. Notice what actually happened on December 25:
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:10-11 ESV
Remember Herod ordered the slaughter of the infants "from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the Magi," indicating that the child was no longer a newborn. So when the Magi showed up to worship Yeshua, it was December 25, 2BC. And notice that the Magi were there to worship Yeshua and give Him gifts. They didn't give gifts to each other. So biblically what happened on December 25 was not the birth of Christ, but it was the day the wise men worshiped Yeshua as sovereign King of the world.
How much of Christmas is Christian? None of it! None of it is biblical; none of it is commanded by the Lord; none of it was apostolic; none of it was ever observed by the early church! Yet to many Christians, this is a religious holiday! The Puritans in America called Christmas, "Romish rags," and deliberately worked on December 25, to show disdain for the pagan holiday. In 1644 the English Puritans passed a law making Christmas day a working day, and it became illegal to cook plum pudding and mince pie.
Christians today work hard to try to keep Christ in Christmas, but why? There is a Christian song that says, "He's the reason for the season/He's the purpose of it all," but what does that mean? Is He the purpose for the myths like Santa Clause? In our country, Santa plays a bigger part in Christmas than Yeshua. Why mix the birth of Yeshua in with all the pagan myths? It seems to belittle the importance of His birth and diminishes His birth to seem like just another one of the fables associated with Christmas. Is He the purpose of the gross materialism, the drunkenness, and the gluttony associated Christmas celebrations? How does anything we do at Christmas honor Christ?
Christ and Christmas have nothing in common from a biblical point of view. The only way that Christ is connected to Christmas is through tradition. There is nothing Christian about Christmas. People may call Christmas Christ's birthday but it is not. People can also call a mouse a lion, but it is still a mouse.
It is not wrong for Christians to celebrate Christmas; I enjoy the holiday and all that goes along with it. We should just enjoy Christmas for what it is: a holiday of no religious significance, like the Fourth of July or Valentine's Day.
The birth of Yeshua is a miraculous event of great significance to mankind, but associating it with Christmas and all of its myths make His birth seem insignificant. The birth of Christ is about God becoming a man so that He could die for our sin.
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:21-23 ESV
This is the greatest miracle, and the most fantastic truth recorded in the pages of Scripture: God became a man. The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lye, stare, wiggle, and make noises. For a short time, God needed to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says this: "The Eternal Being who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man, but before that a baby and before that a fetus inside a woman's body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug."
The more you think about it, the more staggering it is. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as the truth of the incarnation, God becoming a man. The author of Hebrews puts it this way:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV
Yeshua became a man of flesh and blood. This speaks of the frailty, dependency, and mortality of man. Yahweh has become a human being! This is what we call the incarnation, which is a Latin word meaning "in flesh." What exactly is the incarnation? God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, who was eternal in the Godhead took unto Himself human nature at a point of time. He identified not only with our nature, but also with the conditions in which we live on this earth. The person of Christ always has been, but at a point in time He began to be what He eternally was not, a man, yet he did not cease to be God. Lazarus put it this way:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 ESV
The Word has been in existence since the very beginning, since eternity past. The Word was with God—the words "was with God" prohibits us from seeing no distinction between the Father and the Word. There is a distinction. The Son, the Word, is distinct from the Father. That is Trinitarian. And "the Word was God." In verse 3 we see that the Word is the Creator of all things. Now in verse 14 Lazarus writes:
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
I like the way the Complete Jewish Bible translates this:
The Word became a human being and lived with us, and we saw his Sh'khinah, the Sh'khinah of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 CJB
The eternal Word, who was with God and was God, the Word who created all things became a human being. This verse teaches the staggering truth that Yeshua of Nazareth was Yahweh become man. The divine Son became a Hebrew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby.
The Word became flesh. The word "became" is the Greek word ginomai, which signifies entrance into a new condition. Look at the contrast between verse 1 and verse 14. In verse 1, "the Word was God," and in verse 14 "the Word was made flesh."In verse 1, "the Word was with God," and in verse 14 "the Word dwelt among us." The word "flesh" in verse 14 is the Greek word "sarx"; it refers to all which is essential to human nature. John is saying that Yeshua became one of us in every respect except for sin. Yeshua had the mind, will, and emotions of a man, not just a body. John did not say the Word took a body: God assumed a human nature. Yeshua became the God-Man. Yeshua is one person with two natures, the God-Man. He is different from God in that He is a man and different from man in that He is God. Yeshua is the unique person of the universe. The incarnation can be stated as undiminished Deity and true humanity in one Person forever. We must accept the doctrine of the unique God-Man in the same way that we accept the Trinity; by faith in God's Word.
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, Colossians 2:9 ESV
All of Deity dwells in bodily form. The word "dwells" is in the present tense so this is an on-going, permanent state. The Incarnation is at this moment a present reality.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, Romans 8:3 ESV
The statement that God sent His son in the likeness of sinful flesh has disturbed some people; the Greek word translated likeness is homoioma, which means: "similar but different." Did Yeshua only resemble a man? No! He uses the word likeness because He described flesh as sinful. Yeshua was different from other humans in that He was sinless.
Someone might question, "Is it a big deal that we believe that Yeshua was the God-Man?" Yes, it is a very big deal!
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Yeshua the Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Yeshua is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 1 John 4:1-3 ESV
Anyone who denies the historical event of the incarnation is of the spirit of anti-Christ. Yeshua became a man in every respect except for sin. We see His humanity all through the New Testament. He had human experiences and emotions like weeping at Lazarus' tomb. He had human feelings, desires, and needs; He hungered, thirsted, was weary, and sorrowed.
God the Son has become a man in every respect except for sin. That is the meaning of the incarnation, but what is its purpose? Why did the Second Person of the trinity leave heaven's glory and become incarnate?:
even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28 ESV
He is God, it would only be right that we served Him. But He came to "minister"—He came to serve us and give His life to pay our sin debt. He came to die. We also see this in Matthew 1:21 and Hebrews 2:14:
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:21 ESV
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, Hebrews 2:14 ESV
Yeshua was born to die! The purpose of the incarnation was specifically that Yeshua Christ might die. The pre-incarnate Christ couldn't die for us because God cannot die, therefore He became a man to die.
The ultimate purpose was that through His death as a sinless man, He could redeem man. The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death; we have all sinned and therefore all deserve to perish. Yeshua died for us; He paid our sin debt; He took our penalty. As a sinless substitute He satisfied the just demands of a holy God.
If you trust in what Yeshua has done for you, you will receive the forgiveness of your sins and spend eternity in heaven. If you reject what Yeshua Christ has done you will perish.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3:36 ESV
The birth of our Lord Yeshua is much too important to confuse it with all the myths and traditions of Christmas. The incarnation was God's gift of love to us.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV
Our Lord's birth was a fantastic miracle: it was God becoming man. But our Lord never told us to celebrate it, especially not in the way we celebrate Christmas. The purpose for His birth was that He might die for our sins. We need to separate Christmas traditions from the biblical facts, and we'll see that Christmas has nothing to do with Christ. But let's also remember that everything we do, even celebrating Christmas, we are to do for the glory of God:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV