Trigger Warning: If you are offended by the real meaning of Christmas, stop reading now.
For those who have chosen to continue, let’s begin by examining the origins of the word “Christmas.” It derives from two Old English words, Cristes maesse, “the mass of Christ.” Diving deeper: “Mass,” obviously related to the name of the Catholic eucharistic liturgy, derives ultimately from the Latin verb mittere, meaning “to send.”
So “Christmas,” we can say, means “Christ is sent”: “To send Christ” was the original reason for the season. In our increasingly secular, materialistic, and “thou shall not offend” culture, the generic word “holiday,” has evolved to become the most acceptable “one size fits all” alternative name for “Christmas,” and to send gifts has become the holiday’s primary purpose.
The historic source for this celebrated “mass of Christ” is the Bible, the most sold, bought, read, revered, and widely distributed book in all human history. The familiar birth story of the Christ “who was sent” under miraculous circumstances is told in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Born a Jewish male in Roman-occupied ancient Israel, he was a descendent of King David. His Hebrew name was Yeshua or, as is more common in English, Joshua. The Greek form is “Iesous,” from which is derived the Latin form “Iesus” and the English “Jesus.” In all its forms, the name means “the Lord saves.”
RELATED: Christmas: History within ‘History’
The birth of Jesus was prophesied in Hebrew Scripture — for Christians, the Old Testament. See, for example, Isaiah 11:1–10 and 7:14, Micah 5:1–2, Jeremiah 23:5, and Genesis 49:10. And his life and ministry fulfilled numerous Old Testament prophecies.
Even more miraculous is that his persecution, suffering, and crucifixion, while chronicled in the New Testament, appear also in the Old Testament in astonishing detail. Most well known among these prophecies are Psalm 22, written approximately 1,000 years before Jesus was born, and Isaiah chapters 50 and 53, dated between 701 and 681 b.c.
Remember that “Christ,” the title by which we know Jesus, is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew word “Messiah” (or “Mashiah”).
Jesus Christ, a rabbi who studied, taught, and quoted ancient Hebrew Scripture, was intimately familiar with all the messianic prophecies. Remember that “Christ,” the title by which we know him, is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew word “Messiah” (or “Mashiah”).
He revealed himself to be the Messiah, as recounted in Luke (4:14–30), while reciting Scripture aloud at synagogue in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
After reciting those words from Isaiah (61:1–2), he added, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Immediately the people “knew” that Jesus’s statement was blasphemous. Luke continues: “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.”
Little has changed. Today, Jesus’s enemies want to throw his followers off a proverbial cliff, and many are following through, as the persecution of Christians across the globe reaches historic heights.
We live in a world where science reigns. Do we have any empirical evidence that Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected? The answer to all of the above is “yes.”
Let’s start with several historic accounts written by authors neither Biblical nor Christian. Passages found in the writings of Tactitus (Roman historian, a.d. 56–c. 117), Josephus (Jewish historian, 37–c. 100), and Mara bar Serapion (a Stoic philosopher, probably first century) and in the Babylonian Talmud (third to fifth centuries) all substantiate that Jesus made an impression, led a movement, and was executed. He was variously described as a troublemaker, teacher, wise king, magician, and sorcerer.
As for his death, Josephus wrote that, “Pilate sentenced him to die on the cross.” And in the Babylonian Talmud, we read, “On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu [Jesus] was hanged” (Sanh. 43a).
Josephus also provided a firsthand account of what happened to the movement started by Jesus: “And the tribe of the Christians, who are named after him, has not disappeared to this day.” Not only did this “tribe of the Christians not disappear.” It grew to be the world’s most populous religion, whose followers transformed the world in every conceivable manner. Approximately 2.3 billion people celebrate the birth of the Messiah who “was sent.” Amazingly, 30 percent of the earth’s 7.3 billion inhabitants today call themselves Christian in one form or another.
Jesus Christ’s massive impact on mankind has for centuries been seen in history, law, politics, kingdoms, empires, war, morality, charity, education, culture, art, music, architecture, literature, printing, human relations, exploration, medicine, the calendar, and more. Regardless of whether you “believe in Jesus,” he has touched your life, as D. James Kennedy explains in his book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (1994).
So we can verify that Jesus was a real person who founded a lasting movement, was executed, and influenced humanity like no other. But do we have any proof that he cheated death and was resurrected?
In order to answer the most difficult question in all Christianity, let’s recall that the root of the word “Christmas” means that Jesus “was sent.” But why was he sent? According to the gospel of John:
“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (3:16).
#related#In chapter 6, Jesus again says that those who believe in him will have “eternal life.” One can logically conclude that Jesus himself has eternal life. And if he does, he lives now, having risen from the death he met on the cross.
For proof of Christ’s resurrection, let us consider, again, extra-Biblical sources.
First, some circumstantial evidence: If Jesus had not been resurrected, Christianity would have been unlikely ever to get off the ground, and its influence on human history would be scant to non-existent.
Second, there exists today what millions of Christians, including this writer, consider to be physical proof of his resurrection: the Shroud of Turin, the linen burial cloth of Jesus. Miraculously imprinted with an image of his body — front and back, head to toe — at the moment of his resurrection, the Shroud is the only material witness to the exact Biblical accounts of Christ’s torture and crucifixion.
As technology has advanced, so have scientists in their research into precisely how, and with what material, this full-body, photo-negative, “three-dimensional” image was formed. The Shroud is the most studied and tested religious relic on the planet but baffles scientists still.
The Shroud of Turin is the most studied and tested religious relic on the planet but baffles scientists still.
The key problem is that we have no other sources of Jesus’s putative DNA to compare with the blood, type AB, found on the Shroud. But more clues about the identity of the man in the Shroud continue to be discovered. For example, blood found on the Shroud points to DNA with only female, XX chromosomes. No male, Y chromosome is present. (See Luke 1:26–35 for compatible Biblical background.)
It is easy to cast aside the Shroud as a hoax because of the improbability that the burial cloth of Jesus would have survived two millennia. Indeed, it has survived several close calls, most notably the fire of 1532 that left all the scorch marks along the border, and more recently Hitler’s attempt (discovered in 2010) to steal the highly prized religious article.
If skeptics would only study all the verified facts — including the definitive debunking of the 1988 carbon-dating test, which led to the erroneous determination that the relic was a forgery from the Middle Ages — they would conclude that the image on the shroud can only be that of the man whose brutal death we know of from ancient historical accounts, including the gospels. Proof of Christ’s resurrection is there for all to see if one chooses to see it — like faith itself.
Christmas is here for us to celebrate the miracle of Jesus’s birth. “Noel, Noel, born is the King of Israel,” we sing. Those with faith know that this Jewish baby is God’s only Son, whom he sent to assume the penalty of our sins and thereby redeem the world. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).
The Shroud of Turin can be viewed as a receipt, or proof of purchase, of the greatest gift ever, “sent” by God and given to man as described in the “holiday” message of Romans 6:23:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Merry Christ Mass, all. May you receive the gift that matters.