The story of Christ's birth is miraculous. But it is more than a story; it is a historical fact. It is one of the few Bible stories that is universally known, but the common retelling differs from the original narrative. Aspects of the biblical account have been fictionalized and the alterations are regarded as fact.
"And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2:7)
Christ is always depicted as being born in a stable. But if you were to examine Luke's entire chronicle, he does not mention a stable even once. A manger is a food trough for animals and since He was laid in a manger, it is assumed that He must have been born in a stable. An old tradition suggests He was born in a cave (The MacArthur Study Bible, page 1481, note on 2:7). Since Scripture does not expressly state the place, no one can be certain whether it was or wasn't a stable. I have no qualms if someone portrays His birthplace as in a stable, because there's no proof He wasn't. All we know is that He wasn't born in the inn. However, all this should be taken in consideration, remembering tradition isn't necessarily fact. Regardless of His birthplace, there is a part of the nativity scene that is undoubtedly falsified.
"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.' When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: "And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel." ' Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.' 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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." (Matt. 2:1-11)
Three elements are wrong with the three kings. First, as the account above shows, the number of the men isn't cited. They brought three different gifts, hence the notion of three men giving them. Maybe there were three—or four, or five, or ten—but since time machines haven't been invented for us to travel back and ask them, it's best if we remain silent as to their number.
Secondly, they weren't kings. Matthew repeatedly refers to them as "magi"—never "kings." I don't think Matthew would have insulted a king by simply calling him a magi. Therefore, the song We Three Kings should be more accurately rendered, We Wise Men.
Lastly, they did not arrive immediately after Jesus's birth. He was probably at least a few months old when they visited Him. Joseph and Mary had taken a more permanent residence in a house (v. 11), indicating time had elapsed. Herod must have thought Jesus was older than a newborn since he ordered all male babies under two executed (v. 16).
These modifications to the story of Christ's birth might seem inconsequential. After all, they don't attack any major biblical doctrines. But the smallest deviation stains the pure tablet of truth and breaks its authority.
Another reason is that it poses a great danger to the youthful mind. Ken Ham found that those who attended Sunday school were more prone to be antichurch because their teachers were presenting the Bible in the same manner a person would tell Hansel and Gretal, Cinderella, and other fanciful stories ("Going, Going...Gone," Answers Magazine, July/Aug./Sept. 2011, page 125). We should never fictionalize any Bible passage; it could have dire consequences. Charles Spurgeon wrote “Let us never teach even the least error to a little child, for it may live on and become a great heresy long after we are dead” (C.H. Spurgeon, Commentary on Matthew: The Gospel of the Kingdom, 440).
Cute little elves don't exist, but angels do. Santa may not deliver gifts, but God bestows us with the gift of salvation. Even though we shouldn't tell The Night Before Christmas as if it were fact, that shouldn't keep us from spreading the true Christmas story! How could St. Nick’s presents ever compare with God’s gift
Thank you is not just a polite phrase, it's a thought, a feeling, an attitude. It should be more than an automatic response to receiving a gift. It should be a sincere, inner feeling we express—especially to the One who gave us all things. Gratitude and contentment are words that describe the Thanksgiving holiday, but are rarely expressed. They vanish as soon as Christmas ushers in its allurements of shiny bows and new toys. And when Christmas ends, the complaining of life's woes (big and small) begins. But that isn't how it should be. Thanksgiving should be practiced every day of the year.
"It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High." (Psalm 92:1)
You are probably familiar with the account of Exodus. It is a truth-filled book that showcases God's power and man's ungratefulness. Thankfulness was foreign to the Israelites. What little gratitude they had melted faster than a snowflake in the Sahara. With the music of praise still ringing in their ears, they journeyed to a place called Marah. The water there was as bitter as the Israelites’ attitude. Instead of approaching the Lord in prayer and humbly asking for water, the people griped to Moses.
"So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, 'What shall we drink?' " (Exodus 15:24)
God had parted the water only three days earlier. If I didn't know better, I would have thought some person had snuck into their camp and conked each Israelite in the head to have caused such a sever case of amnesia. The parting of the Red Sea should have washed all the ungratefulness from their bodies! Even though God sweetened the water, their hearts remained sour.
"The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The sons of Israel said to them, 'Would that we had died by the Lord's hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.' " (16:2-3)
If God had given them their preference of dying in the land of plenty rather than dying of starvation, they would have complained about that too. They couldn't be satisfied. Nevertheless, God provided them with nourishment. It would have been wise if they had used this food to close their mouths. It had barely settled in their stomachs before they engaged in another round of bellyaching.
"Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, 'Give us water that we may drink.' And Moses said to them, 'Why do do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?' But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, 'Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?' " (17:2-3)
It's easy to sympathize with them. Would we react any differently if we were put in a life-threatening situation? God knew they were but flesh and graciously endured their waverings, perpetually satisfying their needs. What more could they ask? But ungrateful people aren't content to be thankful anymore than a dog is content to stay clean. If they can't find a grievance, they concoct one.
"The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, 'Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.' " (Numbers 11:4-6)
The Israelites had crossed the line. Complaining about lack of food is one thing, complaining about the absence of their favorite dishes was entirely another. I must admit, if I had to eat plain oatmeal for a month, I'd probably gag on it on the tenth day. But even that plain oatmeal is a reason for a multitude of thanks. Complainers tread on shaky ground. They may receive more than they bargained for.
"Say to the people, 'Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, "Oh that someone would give us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt." Therefore the Lord will give you meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, "Why did we ever leave Egypt?" ' "(11:18-20)
Have you ever noticed that a display of God's power typically precedes their complaints? At Marah (Exodus 15:22-25), God had recently parted the Red Sea. In the wilderness of Sin, where they lamented the shortage of food (16:1-3), God had sweetened the bitter water not long ago (15:25). The chapter before the water in the rock incident (17:2-7) describes God's provision of bread and meat (16:4-16). Shortly after God's glory descended upon the tabernacle (Numbers 9:15-23), the Israelites hungered for Egyptian delicacies (11:1-6).
How could anyone be so ungrateful? But are we any different? What if the Exodus happened nowadays—our complaints would be so loud an astronaut could hear them in outer space. Not only would we complain about food, but we would bemoan the absence of our technological devices, TV, and internet. We'd be crying, "We are going to die out here of boredom, Moses!"
The Israelites are our mirror image but we can shatter that image with the mallet of thankfulness. They are our lesson; let us learn from it and not repeat their folly. The Israelites didn't realize that “A little sprig of the herb called content put into the poorest soup will make it taste as rich as the Lord Mayor's turtle.”
*C.H. Spurgeon, The Complete John Ploughman: Combined Edition of John Ploughman's Talk and John Ploughman's Pictures (Christian Focus Publications, 2007), 40.
“Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one!” (Job 14:4)
It is easier to wash a hundred pounds of soot off a wedding gown than it is to clean man’s soul. Job realized the impossibility of this task, but not everyone does. Some people don't even think they need cleaned—well, I don't think pigs realize they are dirty either. “Do not suppose, my friends, that men like the gospel any better now than they did then. There is an idea that you are growing better. I do not believe it. You are growing worse. In many respects men may be better, —outwardly better; but the heart within is still the same. The human heart of today dissected, would be just like the human heart a thousand years ago.” *
However, Job’s words are not completely true; there is one person who can make the unclean clean. The heart is harder to cleanse than leprosy, but Christ can reach beyond the skin and cleanse the leprosy of the soul. I doubt there is any soul filthier than mine or Paul's—God cleansed ours and He can cleanse yours. All you have to do is come Him, knowing full well your sinfulness and inability to rid it, and you don't even have to bring the soap.
Day by day we'll soil our garments but God keeps cleansing us until eventually we’ll shine like stars.
*C.H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume One (Hendrickson Publishers, 2016), 90.
“All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives.” (Proverbs 16:2)
All that I do is right—screech!—nope, definitely not, but sometimes I act like it. It's the thought that counts, but my inner thoughts are not always right. When I say “my drawing is terrible,” do I really mean that or am I saying that just to get praise? Sometimes I don't know why I do the things I do, say what I say, or think what I think, but God does. He knows facts about me I don't even know. My motives may be hidden to my own heart, but not to His eyes.
We think our way is the only way and that's when it's time to stop and think about what we're doing. We should assess all our actions, words, and feelings. Are our works really diamonds or fool’s gold? I need to put my motives under a microscope to determine the purity of my actions. More often than not, I usually have to dump my motives into the trash and start new. But “To confess you were wrong yesterday, is only to acknowledge that you are a little wiser today; and instead of being a reflection on yourself, it is an honor to your judgement, and shows that you are improving in the knowledge of the truth. Do not be ashamed to learn, and to cast aside your old doctrines and views, but take up that which you may more plainly see to be in the word of God.” *
*C.H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume Two (Hendrickson Publishers, 2016), 67.
"Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?" (Isaiah 2:22)
The world's most profound wisdom can be utterly shallow. And the world's opinions are usually so small you can't even see them with a microscope. But God's simplest wisdom is deeper than the longest tunnel and His opinions are bigger than the universe. Man's wisdom will not likely last past his lifetime, maybe not even that. God says their knowledge “ ‘shall be seen to be folly, ere another hundred years have rolled away.’ And so the mighty thoughts of Socrates, and the wisdom of Solon, are utterly forgotten now; and could we hear them speak, the veriest child in our schools would laugh to think that he understandeth more of philosophy than they.” *
In light of the shortness of man's wisdom, why are we still regarding it? Surely the Creator knows more about His inventions than the inventions themselves. As if the wires in the oven would know more about the oven than the electrician.
Not all human wisdom belongs in the trash; sometimes God sends His wisdom through us. He allows us to study His creation and get a glimpse of its complexity. We should never regard human knowledge as limitless and perfect, remembering today's latest discoveries may prove to be a sham tomorrow.
*C.H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume One (Hendrickson Publishers, 2016), 8.
"A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy." (Proverbs 29:1)
Scientists claim man descended from apes, but if humans descended from any mammal, I think it would be a mule. We balk, we bite, and we don't listen to reason. Stubbornness isn't exactly bad and neither is a frying pan, unless it happens to land on your foot. Apply stubbornness to the wrong thing and you're liable to wish that frying pan had broken your toe instead. The whole human problem starts with stubbornness—refusing to repent, hanging on to sin, and holding on to our own self-righteousness.
The worst kind of stubbornness is that which won't bend. "When troubles come it is of no use to fly in the face of God by hard thoughts of providence: that is kicking against the pricks and hurting your feet. The trees bow in the wind, and so must we. Every time the sheep bleats it loses a mouthful, and every time we complain, we miss a blessing."* Criticisms, rebukes, and corrections may sting our ears but they help the inflammation go down on pride. However, we shouldn't take everything people say seriously or we'd live our lives in tears. Rather, we should sift people's remarks through our conscience.
But if God reproved you, beware. His words are always true; they may be hurtful but they are not harmful unless you make them so. God's discipline is an expression of His love, so if you reject His reproof you are rejecting His love. He who ignores the danger signs and places his hand on the high-voltage box is likely to get fried.
*C.H. Spurgeon, The Complete John Ploughman: Combined Edition of John Ploughman's Talk and John Ploughman's Pictures (Christian Focus Publications, 2007), 41.
Mariposa is a self-taught artist who captures the glories of God's creation on canvas. She has a Ph.D. in creativity and a masters degree in imagination.
Aberdeen is a book-eating, ink-drinking dinosaur from the createtus period. When he isn't falling into plot holes or taking cover from the volcano of ideas, he's hanging out with Dee-Dee the doodledactyl. Read full bio