Was Jesus Born on December 25?

, by Christopher D. Hudson


In recent years, many bloggers have complained that the church under Rome adopted the holidays and customs of pagans as their own holidays. While often true, the context of these decisions explains the rationale and can remove some of the negative connotations associated with these decisions.

Background
Although Rome had made it illegal to worship pagan gods, the practical task of converting people’s faith was not as easy as commanding it. By redefining known holidays, the church redeemed them for their own purposes. This replacement approach made it easier for new Christians to adapt to their new religion.

The celebration of Christmas (the Christ-mass or mass of Christ) provides the greatest example of this. Many ancient religions celebrated the midwinter solstice in one manner or another. Some cultures even declared that the sun would disappear if their worship didn’t turn the path of the sun on that exact date.

While Roman paganism wasn’t quite that extreme, it did celebrate the victory of the sun god and light over darkness at the winter solstice. The ancient pagans believed that the Unconquerable Sun (Sol Invictus) was born on that date. Choosing this day for the celebration of Christ’s birth allowed the church to usurp the pagan festival of the Unconquerable Sun held on the winter solstice.

To that end, the church did indeed commandeer the pagan Roman holiday to institute Christmas. Its action allowed an easier transition for pagans who converted to Christianity, and it provided the church with an opportunity to teach about the birth of Christ—the One who overcame darkness and lives within us.

So, was Jesus born on December 25? Likely not. Because the church didn't know what day Christ was really born, they selected this day to become the time we commemorate His birth. They took a day people were used to celebrating and gave it a new meaning.

The early church similarly replaced New Year’s Day. Before Christ, the pagans celebrated the New Year with a drunken celebration that indulged physical passions. The church replaced this debauchery with the Feast of the Circumcision—a day to remember the circumcision of Christ when He was eight days old. By modern logic and counting, eight days after Christmas would occur on January 2, but the people used the same method of counting as the earliest church did. In the case of Easter, the Gospel writers claimed Jesus was buried for three days, even though He was dead only part of Friday night and Sunday morning. By similar counting techniques, January 1 lands eight days after December 25.


In addition, the church likely redeemed symbols used as part of these various pagan celebrations. While we’ll never know the actual origin of the Christmas tree, many legendary stories reference how the Christmas tree replaced a similar pagan symbol. One traditional story recounts that Saint Boniface (c. AD 675–754) chopped down an oak tree used by pagans. After his defiant act, he found a fir tree growing at the base of the oak tree and used its triangular shape to exalt the Trinity.

Does the church's conscription of pagan holidays and rituals undermine their meaning? Not at all. Just as Christ takes unholy people and makes them holy (2 Cor 5:17-21), the church took pagan, unholy holidays and brought them new life and meaning.   

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 The above article is adapted from my book How Jesus Changed the World. More information on the book can be found here.

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3 Reasons to Visit Museum of the Bible

, by Christopher D. Hudson

My wife and I visited Museum of the Bible this last weekend. Before we even made it home, my friends were was buzzing me for the scouting report: How was it?

And after spending two days browsing the exhibits, I can offer 3 reasons Bible readers will want to visit. Ready? Here we go.

#1 Bible Impact
The Impact Floor of the Museum reveals hundreds of ways the Bible impacted world history. The exhibits catalogue the's influence on literature, movies, governments, civil rights--and even fashion.

#2 Experiential Wow's

Everywhere you turn, Museum of the Bible has interactive desktops, movies, multimedia displays, and audio tours. The biggest Wow of all was the 30-minute, multimedia event called Stories of the Bible. I've heard that this interactive experience was created by a former Disney Imagineer. I believe it. the burning bush moment was simply surprising/stunning/awesome.

Along the same lines was the recreation of the Nazareth village. Being immersed in the scenes that Jesus and his disciples lived, caused me reflect on Jesus' parables and teaching with a fresh perspective.

#3 Deep Reflection
I was expecting Museum artifacts and certainly found those. (Yes, I saw my first Adulterer's Bible--an ill-fated 1631 printing of the KJV that has an unforgettable typo: thou shalt commit adultery--and I relished the chance to see some Bodmer Papyri up close after studying them so closely in college.

What surprised me, though, were the reflective moments that the Museum offered. The World Theater offered a 270-degree visual display of Bible readings. The Stories of the Bible exhibits challenged me to engage the Bible's message. The Nazareth Village encouraged reflection on the New Testament.  So while I was prepared to see copies of Old books and read their history, I wasn't prepared for how thought provoking aspects of the Museum would be.

Worth the visit? Yes. And before you go, you need to know it's impossible to see it all in one day. I would recommend visiting over the parts of two days while also taking in some of the sites around Washington, DC.

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Christopher D. Hudson is an author whose mission is to help people read, engage, and apply the Bible. Learn more at www.ReadEngageApply.com


































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Following Jesus: Worship - A 24/7 Experience

, by Christopher D. Hudson

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
Psalm 95:6

Worship is more than singing songs about God. It’s more than a religious service at the church building up the street.

Our English word worship comes from the archaic word worthship (the state of having worth). Whatever we deem as worthy (or valuable) is what we worship. Whatever that thing, person, or goal is, we gladly give our time, money, attention, energy, and hearts to it. If we decide, “We won’t worship God,” we’ll find something else to focus on and devote ourselves to. We humans can’t not worship.

Christian teaching is that the Lord is the ultimate worth in the universe. This is why followers of Jesus spend their entire lives (not just their Sunday mornings) trying to make much of him. We do everything—live, work, drive, eat, exercise, give, parent, love our neighbors, and so on—to show how much we value Christ, his life, and his commands. Do you see now why worship is a 24/7 experience?

Reflection Question

What does worship look like in your life?

Prayer
Lord Jesus, I want to center my life on you. I want to value you above all else. I want to follow you and worship you every day. Amen.


This blog post has been adapted from my book Following Jesus Daily Devotional. You can learn more about it here.

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Following Jesus: Peace - Life as God Intended

, by Christopher D. Hudson

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7

The ancient Hebrew word for peace is shalom. And what a terrific word it is! Shalom doesn’t just mean the absence of tense conflict. It means completeness, soundness, security, and well-being. In a real sense, shalom is life the way God intended it to be.

The gospel says this: Jesus, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), came to reconcile sinners to God. He lived a perfect life and died a terrible death (in our place) so that we might have “peace with God” (Romans 5:1), and so that we might enjoy the “peace of God” (Philippians 4:7). From the new life and ultimate shalom he offers, Jesus wants his followers to live as peacemakers in the world: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Take a minute to think about your life and your relationships. Where is the peace of God needed?

Reflection Question

What steps could you take to restore peace to a tense relationship?

Prayer
Prince of Peace, may your Spirit give me a new passion to be a peacemaker in this fractured world. Amen.


This blog post has been adapted from my book Following Jesus Daily Devotional. You can learn more about it here.




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Following Jesus: Fear or Faith - It's Your Choice

, by Christopher D. Hudson

“He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ ”
Mark 4:40


For some, the great fear in life is an unknown future or being alone. For others, it’s being destitute or losing someone or something precious. Whatever the specifics, fear is a universal problem.

Crossing the Sea of Galilee one day with Jesus, the disciples—at least four of whom were experienced fishermen—encountered an especially violent storm. They weren’t merely worried—they were terrified. Jesus stilled the storm and then, by his questions, seemed to suggest that we will either live by fear or live by faith.

Will we cower through life thinking we’re on our own? Or will we move confidently through the world, trusting that the Master of the storms is with us and for us? It’s your choice today: either live scared or live secure in Christ’s love and care.

Reflection Question

What situations in your life tempt you to give in to fear?

Prayer
Lord, when I succumb to worries and fears, I’m not fully trusting in your protection, wisdom, and abilities. Forgive me. Strengthen my faith. Amen.


This blog post has been adapted from my book Following Jesus Daily Devotional. You can learn more about it here.

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Following Jesus: Generosity - Giving with No Strings Attached

, by Christopher D. Hudson

“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”
Luke 6:38 NLT

God doesn’t honor selfish giving, as one bitter giver can attest:
I saw this preacher on TV, and he said God would bless me if I “sowed a seed of faith” in his ministry. So I called. Using my credit card, I pledged the amount he said: $77. A woman prayed for me and promised that if I just had faith, in seven days I would receive back $777. All I had to do was trust God and patiently wait. Well, I’ve been waiting seven weeks. All I’ve received so far is my credit card bill, plus about ten more requests for money from that preacher.
Though the Bible says God blesses us for being generous, it does not say when or how. And the reward will not always be financial. If we are giving only to get, we need to check our motives. If God doesn’t answer selfish prayer requests, why would he honor selfish giving? (See James 4:3.)

Reflection Question
How do you give without ulterior motives?

Prayer
Jesus, I want to give with no strings attached. Amen.

This blog post has been adapted from my book Following Jesus Daily Devotional. You can learn more about it here.

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Following Jesus: Ministry - Doing For and Being With

, by Christopher D. Hudson

“He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.” 

Many Christians adhere to the formula: Following Jesus = Serving People. Consequently, they stay busy with mission trips, feeding the hungry, and doing kind acts for others. All these are wonderful things to do for others. But notice again the first part of the job description of Jesus’ original disciples: “He appointed twelve . . . [to] be with him” (emphasis added).

It was extended time in Jesus’ presence—watching him, listening to his words, and asking him lots of questions—that transformed these very ordinary men. By being in the company of Jesus, they eventually took on his character (Acts 4:13).

It’s easy to fall into the activity trap. But ministry for Jesus apart from intimacy with him leads only to frustration and burnout. The most fruitful and fulfilling service always flows from our relationship with Jesus.



Reflection Question
How can you get to know what Jesus said and did—and imitate him today?


Prayer
Jesus, remind me that before you ever commanded anyone to go, you first invited them to come and follow you. I always ask you to be with me; in truth, I need to be with you! Amen.



This blog post has been adapted from my book Following Jesus Daily Devotional. You can learn more about it here.

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Following Jesus: The Bible - God's Message to Us

, by Christopher D. Hudson

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16–17 (NLT)


Lots of books are inspiring. The Bible claims to be inspired.

By inspiration, Christians mean that the Bible is God’s message to us. The Christian teaching is that the Spirit of God superintended some forty human authors over roughly two thousand years, so that they recorded (in their own unique styles) God’s holy revelation to humanity about the spiritual history and future of the world.

In the Christian view, the Bible is God’s very Word. We read the Bible, therefore, to hear from God. We read it to learn about him and to understand how to get back on track when we lose our way. It’s by engaging and embracing the eternal truth of Scripture that we learn to live in ways that bring honor to God, blessing to others, and joy to our own souls.


Reflection Question
How should knowing that the Bible is inspired by God affect the way you read Scripture?


Prayer
Lord Jesus, your prayer is my prayer: “Make [me] holy by your truth; teach [me] your word, which is truth” (John 17:17 NLT).




This blog post has been adapted from my new book Following Jesus. You can learn more about it here.
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Following Jesus: The Holy Spirit - Our Live-in Counselor

, by Christopher D. Hudson

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
John14:26

Imagine being forced to take a graduate-level physics exam. Panic time, right? But what if just before the test you were filled with the “spirit” of the world’s greatest physicist and that person were suddenly in your head helping you solve all those complicated problems? You’d do great, don’t you think?

This isn’t a perfect analogy, but in a sense, it’s what happens in the spiritual life. When a person turns to God through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit moves into that individual. Suddenly, this new believer has a live-in counselor, guide, and helper. The Spirit convicts, teaches, and comforts. He helps us follow Jesus day by day.


When we give God’s Spirit free rein in our hearts, he helps us with all the complicated tests of life.


Reflection Question
The Holy Spirit wants to give us wisdom and guide us day by day. What distractions or misplaced priorities keep us from hearing his leading?

Prayer
Holy Spirit, thank you for living in me. Right now, I give you the power to control and direct my life. Amen.
This blog post has been adapted from my new book Following Jesus. You can learn more about it here.





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Following Jesus: Jesus' Death - The Strange Message of the Cross

, by Christopher D. Hudson

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:18

If people were going to create a religion out of thin air, they’d never dream up Christianity. No one would come up with these ideas: Let’s have a God who enters the world as a human baby. He’ll wait till he’s thirty to reveal himself, and then he’ll show compassion to the irreligious and wrangle with the religious elite for three years. Though he has power to crush his enemies, he will let them kill him! As he dies shamefully, he’ll triumphantly yell, “Mission accomplished!”

Christianity seems foolish to most people. And yet that’s the paradoxical gospel of Jesus: God came to us in order to bring us to himself. Love—not hate—nailed Jesus to the cross. Jesus was cursed so we might find blessing. The battered man being mocked by a raucous crowd was a victor, not a victim. Because of Jesus’ gruesome death we can experience glorious, new, never-ending life through faith in him.

The truth really is stranger than fiction.


Reflection Question
What thoughts and feelings do you have when you contemplate Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the cross?

Prayer
Jesus, give me eyes to see the wonder of your work at the cross. Amen.

This blog post has been adapted from my new book Following Jesus. You can learn more about it here.


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