By David Faust
The Bible tells us where, when, and how Jesus was born. Where? In Bethlehem of Judea. When? At the intersection of BC and AD, “when the set time had fully come” (Galatians 4:4). How? Miraculously a virgin conceived and bore a son; humbly she placed him in a manger.
Once the historical facts have been established, a larger question looms: Why was Jesus born?
In His Own Words
At his trial before Pilate, Jesus provided his own answer to the “why” question. It’s the only time recorded in the four Gospels when Jesus made explicit reference to his own birth. The governor asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33), but Pilate and his prisoner had different kinds of royalty in mind. In his response, the Lord explained, “My kingdom is not of this world
. . . . my kingdom is from another place” (v. 36).
William Barclay observes that when you face Jesus, it’s not Jesus who is on trial; it’s you. As the interrogation continued, Pilate, not Jesus, grew increasingly unsettled. “‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me’” (v. 37).
Why was Jesus born? In his own words, “to testify to the truth.”
The word truth appears frequently in the Gospel of John. The Messiah “came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The Father seeks followers who “worship in the Spirit and in truth” (4:24). Jesus said, “the truth will set you free” (8:32). He claimed to be “the truth” (14:6). He prayed for his disciples and said, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (17:17).
There’s a magical unreality about Christmas. It’s a time for suspending logic—for enjoying far-fetched, entertaining tales about toy-making elves, dancing snowmen, and flying reindeer. The biblical record, however, isn’t a fairy tale; it’s truth. Luke’s nativity account is probably the most famous (Luke 2:1-20), and he was a medical doctor and a careful historian who wrote after interviewing eyewitnesses and conducting a thorough investigation of the facts (Luke 1:1-4).
The biblical account of Jesus’ birth swirls with hard realities. A young couple wrestles with an unplanned pregnancy (unplanned by them, though planned by God). Taxpayers return to their hometowns in response to a government edict. A crowded inn forces guests to stay in an animal stall. Rough-cut shepherds find their usual routine disrupted. Joseph and Mary’s young family flees to Egypt to escape Herod’s violent paranoia.
Fast-forward 33 years, and another hard reality looms. Bethlehem’s babe is now on trial in Jerusalem, and Pilate wants to bring this unpleasant business to a close. Wearily he asks Jesus a cynical question: “What is truth?” (John 18:38). In a way, it’s everyone’s question. We all want to know what is real and right. We’re all tired of this world’s lies and hypocrisy. During the Christmas season, as at any other time, we don’t need to escape reality; we need to face it.
If we’re on the side of truth, we should listen to Jesus. We can trust everything he says about God, money, anger, work, justice, marriage, or any other topic. He “was born . . . to testify to the truth.”
1. If someone asked you to explain why Jesus was born, what would you say?
2. How would you answer Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for December 22, 2013
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
Micah 4, 5
Micah 6, 7
Zephaniah 1, 2