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The True Story of Jesus

Jesus' Birth Luke 1:5

We hear a lot of stories when we are kids. Some are good, and some are not so good. Now that I have sons of my own, I’ve told them some of the stories that I grew up hearing, and I’ve noticed that many of them are not as good as I remember. For example:

Rock a bye baby on the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Yes, we told our children a story about a baby falling to her death.
One of my favorite childhood memories is when my mom read Pilgrim’s Progress to my twin brother every night. Now, every day at dinner, I read a story to my family from The Jesus Storybook Bible, and we try to differentiate the fairy tales from the true stories that we read.
The true stories, especially the ones that describe events in which God overtly interacts with His creation, help us learn how we should live in the world He created us in. Our hope is that the Bible stories will be more than entertainment; that they will be the foundation on which we build our lives.
The greatest story told in the Bible is the story of God entering the world He created. Coming out of December, the Biblical image that is fresh on our minds is the image of Jesus in a manger surrounded by angels, sheep, kingly gifts, and a terrible stench.

The Story

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a city that is now in the West Bank, a region of Israel governed by the Palestinians. The current political unrest in Israel is distressing, but it was even worse back then. Luke begins his version of the story like this:

When Herod was king of Judea…

Luke was a historian, and he went out of his way to show that this is no fairy tale. When Luke names Herod, he gives the reader a tool to understand the place and time of the events.
In the rest of chapter one, we read about Mary’s encounter with an angel. During this encounter, she learns that she will be the mother of God’s Son. We also read about Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.
Then, in chapter two, Luke gives us even more evidentiary tools:

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)

If Jesus was born in Israel, why was the Roman emperor forcing Jews to participate in a census? Rome was an occupying force that used military power to force Jews to pay taxes to the government that conquered them. Can you imagine if Russia or Iran attacked Israel today, chose to occupy the nation, and forced the Jews to pay taxes to the enemy?
Luke has just done some serious historical name dropping. King Herod, Caesar Augustus, and Governor Quirinius were three well-known historical and political figures, who most people would have easily recognized as they read Luke’s account of Jesus when he wrote it back in that first century.
What could we compare Luke’s name dropping to more recently? It would be comparable to a historian writing a chapter in a history book in the early 1800’s and including names like Washington, Jefferson, John Adams, Betsy Ross, John Jay, or Paul Revere. All of those people are well-known historical political figures who we all know because of the historical record. Our history teachers made sure that we knew who they were. I have visited places like Valley Forge, Independence Hall, Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill.  I’ve also visited Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Nazareth.
No respected historian denies the existence of Jesus, and we know that Jesus was more than a man or a prophet. God showed up in human history. And although it would not be surprising for Augustus to require a census, the Biblical record is the only evidence of this census:

All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.

If you’ve read the story of King David, you probably remember that David was a shepherd in Bethlehem before he was the king of Israel. Because Joseph was a descendant of David, he had to go to Bethlehem for the census.

He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.

You might wonder why Joseph didn’t go alone to Bethlehem. Why did he take Mary with him? He might have done it because he wanted to be with Mary when she gave birth, or perhaps Mary went with Joseph because she knew that Micah’s prophecy must be fulfilled.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.

Because Mary went with Joseph, Micah’s prophecy was fulfilled.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

We’ve told that story as if it’s a fairy tale, but it’s not. It happened, and we don’t only believe it because the Bible reports it. We believe it because historians like Luke researched and recorded historical events. However, not everyone agrees on the details of the story, and that is dangerous. Choosing not to believe that Jesus is who He said He is has eternal consequences.
The apostle John also recorded the historical events of Jesus’ life, but he did so as an eyewitness to those events.

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.

We might not be able to physically spend time with Jesus the way the apostles did, but John is doing everything he can to help us see that the life of Christ should give us incredible hope and joy. Have you experienced that hope? Do you know the joy of having an eternal relationship with Jesus?
In 200 years, there might not be any physical evidence that you and I existed. Our great, great grandkids might have a picture, but beyond that, there might not be anything that documents the events of our physical lives. However, if you have a relationship with Jesus, your life is eternal. If you invite someone else in that relationship, your legacy will be passed on through them forever.
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