No doubt that Christmas has some incredible claims contained within the narratives found in the Bible! Claims that could make the skeptic or searcher scratch their head wondering is this an episode of the “Twilight Zone”?
Maybe you have felt this way at times and maybe you still have some major reservations about this greatest story ever told! Well, you’re at the right place this morning, because over the next 3 weeks we will dig through the archaeology of Christmas, soar through the astronomy of Christmas and peer through the Christology of Christmas and see for ourselves the powerful truth claims of Christmas!
Think about it - the drama behind all the power, the determination found in the problems and the devilish and mentally deranged personalities make the Christmas story better than “All My Children”, “As The World Turns” and “The Guiding Light” all put together!!
The Christmas story is only found in the book of Mathew and Luke. It is Luke who gives the most detailed description and the most theological truths to the birth of Christ. And it’s archaeology that helps us 2000 years removed from that 1st Christmas to put real substance to the claims of Christmas.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “I believe in the shovel. It has fed the tribes of mankind. It has furnished them water, coal, iron, and gold. And now it is giving them truth – historic truth, the mines of which have never been opened till our times.”
In the Israeli Antiquities Authority database, archaeology has access to more than 100,000 historic biblical artifacts discovered in Israel since 1948.
Bible archaeology has only been around about 150 years and before that it was treasure hunters that dangerously searched for history in the dirt! SLIDE Indiana Jones…In the last 50 years, archaeology has continually brought forth new…
2 Facts To Carry Into This Study:
• The proper use of biblical archaeology is to confirm, correct, clarify and complement the Bible’s theology.
Psalm 85:11 “Truth shall spring out of the earth…”
• Archeology cannot form faith, but it can inform faith. Archeology brings forth the tangible remnants of history so that faith can have a reasonable context in which to develop.
There will always be a battle between facts and faith. The early Church Father Tertullian wrote, “I do not understand in order to believe, I believe in order to understand.”
John McRay wrote the handbook on Biblical archaeology. He studied at Hebrew University, Vanderbilt University of Divinity and University of Chicago. He now is a professor of N.T. archaeology at Wheaton Collage. In His masterpiece “Archaeology and the New Testament”, he writes, “Archaeology has not produced anything that is unequivocally a contradiction to the Bible. On the contrary…there have been many opinions of skeptical scholars that have become codified into fact over the years…”
Habakkuk 2:11 “The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.” NIV
It’s almost as if we are able touch and feel the 1st century for ourselves!
A good example of this is found in Caesarea a sea port of Herods that contained a massive harbor. 1st century Jewish historian Josephus recorded that the harbor was as massive as a harbor in Athens. But for the longest time no one believed him and thought he had been smoking something before he stated this – but again archaeology to the rescue!
SLIDE - Underwater archaeological excavation provides the primary information for the history of harbor’s construction. The harbor was built using materials that would allow the concrete to harden underwater. The 40 acre harbor would accommodate 300 ships.
SLIDE - Josephus called this a “most magnificent palace” that Herod the Great built out into the waters of Caesarea. The pool in the center was nearly Olympic size - filled with fresh water.
This is important because of the roll that this harbor played in the life of Paul. Paul imprisoned on the grounds of this palace. If Luke gets this wrong – the N.T. has just lost all credibility!
READ LUKE 1:1-4
Notice the key words: “Eyewitness” – Luke is uses apostles as the primary source of his writing. This is important because remember Caesarea – Luke was with Paul on most of his journeys and Paul was imprisoned at the Caesarea’s harbor for 2 years which would have give in him plenty of time to go and begin his research and investigation the Christmas claims before writing the Book of Luke!
“Having perfect understanding” = literally he’s saying, “having traced out”
“Certainty” = firmness or stability. In the first century it was used to describe a legal financial transition – money that was paid as assurance of living up to your word. Today we get the idea of “security deposit” from this word.
Luke 3:1 “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar - when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea...and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.” NIV
Well for the longest time scholars laughed at the Luke mentioning “Lysanias” because all history knew he existed 50 years earlier in Greece. But that all changed when archaeology stepped in and found an inscription which names him the joint ruler of Damascus during the life of Christ. This inscription is the only recorded evidence of this ruler outside of the Bible! What was the problem? There were 2 rulers with the same name!
Dr. Norman Geisler writes, “Luke references 32 countries, 54 cities and 9 islands without a single mistake.”
LifePoint: If Luke can get this vital information right then the reliability of his historical account of his claims of Christmas logically has to be trusted!
So let’s look at 3 particular claims within the Christmas story and see if archaeology can dig up tangible proof for us.
1. Mystery # 1: The Strange Census Taken In Bethlehem. Luke 2:1, 2
Maybe you’re thinking how can a government force all the citizens return to their place of birth?
Here’s an ancient official governmental order dated AD 104.
“Gaius Vibius Maximus, Prefect of Egypt [says]: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those who for any cause whatsoever are residing out of their provinces to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census…”
Then there’s the mystery of Quirinius the ruler of Syria during Herod the Great…the argument is that he didn’t rule until after the death of Herod – That’s a huge problem because the census was ordered by Herod! But again archaeology digs up the truth. It wasn’t until later we learn that there were 2 leaders with the same name – which is not uncommon during Bible day!
John McRay in his work writes, “An eminent archaeologist named Jerry Vardaman has done a great deal of work in this regard. He has found a coin with the name of Quirinius on it in very small writing…This places him as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 BC until after the death of Herod.”
2. Mystery # 2: The Sketchiness Concerning The City of Nazareth. Luke 1:26
True or false: Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament, by the apostle Paul, by the Talmud, or by the first-century historian Josephus? True!
Atheist Frank Zindler declares, “No ancient historians or geographers mention Nazareth before the beginning of the fourth century.”
Is there a problem? Just because it remains silent in record – is that an issue? Let’s test his statement…
SLIDE: Nazareth today is booming city of close to 100,000 people, we tend to think that a city like that has always been a booming city – but in fact just the opposite is true many times!
Dr. James Strange of the University of South Florida is an expert on this area, and he describes Nazareth as being, “A very small place, about sixty acres, with a maximum population of about four hundred and eighty at the beginning of the first century.”
You are probably asking “How does he know that?”
Let’s just travel 45 years after the time of Jesus - when Jerusalem fell to the Romans in AD 70, priests were no longer needed in the temple because it had been destroyed, so they were sent out to various other locations, even up into Galilee.
Renowned archaeologist Jack Finegan at Princeton writes, “Archaeologists have found a list in Aramaic describing the 24 families of priests who were relocated, and one of them was registered as having been moved to Nazareth. SLIDE That shows that this tiny village must have been there at the time...It can be concluded that Nazareth was a strongly Jewish settlement in the Roman period.”
SLIDES: Archaeological digs have uncovered first-century tombs in the vicinity of Nazareth, which would establish the village’s limits, because by Jewish law, burials had to take place outside the town proper.
- 1st Century Synagogue in Nazareth
- 1st Century Water Wells & Cistern
- 1st Century Olive Press
- 1st Century Olive Tree
- 1st Century Housing
- 1st Century Carpenter’s Shop
The burden of proof ought to be on the atheist historians and liberal scholars who dispute its existence!
John 1:45, 46 “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’"
3. Mystery # 3: The Slaughter Connected to The Little Town of Bethlehem.
What a grizzly scene! A powerful man like Herod the Great and he’s feeling threatened by the birth a baby boy!
But there is a potentially huge problem in this story because there is no record outside of the Bible connected to this slaughter in Bethlehem by a sick king!
I think Lee Strobel deals with this well in an interview recently on National Geographic. He states several scenarios:
• Bethlehem was no bigger that Nazareth in population and how many babies do you think were slaughter by Herod out of a population of about five hundred? 1000’S or 100’s? Very few!
• Second, it’s a fact that Herod was a blood thirsty king – he even killed members of his own family! He executed anyone who was a threat to his authority. Do you really think that the slaughter of a handful of babies would have made the Bethlehem News Network? Or captured the attention of the Roman world at the time?
• Thirdly, with no radio, T.V. or newspaper it would have taken a long time for this slaughter to get from the shepherds of Bethlehem to the historians of the world. By the time it got out it was probably a dead news story of the day!
But again archaeology helps to shed some evidence to the possibility of this event in the little town of Bethlehem.
The Bible does not say that Christ was born in a cave, but many houses in the area are built in front of caves. A cave could serve a household well by providing shelter for the animals or a place of storage.
On top of a cave system was built a church in the 4th century to honor the place of his birth. Helena, the mother of Constantine traveled throughout the Holy Land to mark the historic sights of Christianity. Using ancient documents, church fathers and local church tradition, she mapped out very important sights.
So this church has sat on this cave system for 17 hundred years now. Let’s take look inside for moment:
Slides: - the entrance of this ancient church
- Other side of entrance
- View inside church
- Original floor of the 4th century
- Entrance of cave system
- Rich kneeling down at a traditions place of Christ’s birth
- Jerome lived and about 389 A.D. he gave the first Bible translations from Greek into Latin in a large cave near the birthplace. The Latin inscription on the wall reads, “Once the place of St. Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church.”
- He also said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
- An entrance to another set of caves where archaeologist found the bones of 11 infants in 1969.
There is no doubt that biblical archaeology is plentify in telling the great story of Christmas.
Folks, we’ve just journeyed around the world, traveled 2000 years back in time to recognize that the reality within the rocks is radical! They proclaim truth to our hearts and they confirm just how amazing the Bible is!
Jesus Christ – the most talked about man of history, the most studied life of all time and the most written about by man – why not surrender to the most incredible man of all time?
NOTE: Some of the info in this sermon came from "The Case For Christmas" and many other sources including my 3 trips to Israel.
There is a POWERPOINT PRESENTATION available upon request.