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God in Space and Time

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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December 9, 2023 12:01 am

God in Space and Time

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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December 9, 2023 12:01 am

Christianity is not a fable disconnected from real history. It concerns the incarnation of God's Son in space and time to redeem His people. Today, R.C. Sproul explains what makes the Christian faith different from manmade myths.

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The Scripture tells us, and it came to pass. This is not a fairy tale that says, once upon a time. But what the authors of the New Testament are declaring is, this actually happened in space and time.

And that's why it's so important, as we've seen in years past, that the cradle in which the message is carried is real history. With Christmas just over two weeks away, even in a very secular society, Christmas is all around us. Yet it's filled with fanciful ideas and mythology. Movies that speak of the amorphous Christmas spirit, believing in yourself. Elves and Santa Claus. And alongside this, you'll sometimes hear a mention of the birth of a baby. As you heard R.C. Sproul say, the incarnation, the announcement of the arrival of the Messiah actually happened, really, in space and time.

It's not myth, it's real history. Thanks for joining us for this Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. Each Saturday in December, you're hearing messages from R.C. Sproul about this remarkable historical moment, the first Christmas when the Word became flesh in the Incarnation. You also have the opportunity to request a new Advent devotional based on Dr. Sproul's teaching titled, The Advent of Glory.

You can request it at for your year-end donation of any amount. Well, to remind us of the historicity of the birth of Christ and the damage that's done if we deny it, here's Dr. Sproul. Our Scripture lesson this morning is part of the nativity lesson found in the second chapter of the gospel according to St. Luke.

I will be reading from chapter 2, verses 1 through 14. And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria, so all went to be registered, every one to his own city. Now Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth into Judea to the city of David which is called Bethlehem because he was of the house and lineage of David to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife who was with child. And so it was that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night. Behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were greatly afraid. The angel said to them, do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people, for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

And this will be the sign to you. You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men. He who has ears to hear the Word of God, let them hear. Shall we pray? Father, now as we contemplate the record of these events, we ask that you will smite us from on high with a new conviction of the profound significance and importance of these events in real space and in real time. For we ask it in Jesus' name.

Amen. For the first three centuries of Christian history, indeed extending into the early decades of the fourth century, there was a slogan that was known throughout the Roman Empire, two words, sol invictus, sol invictus, the unconquerable Son, because in Rome and through the empire in this period of her history, one of the dominant pagan religions was one that deified the Son, and the Son was considered to be unconquerable as the highest deity in the land. And every year the followers of the Son God came together at the winter solstice to celebrate the unconquerable Spirit of their divine God soul, and they celebrated publicly by creating huge bonfires to help illumine the world with the light of the Son. These celebrations to Sol took place on December the 25th. For the first three centuries of Christian history, the Christian church did not celebrate the birthday of Christ on December the 25th.

That didn't come until the fourth century during the reign of Constantine. But before Constantine in the first three centuries, Christmas was celebrated in the Christian world mainly on the sixth of January, which we still observe as the Feast of Epiphany. The main celebration of the Christian church in the first three centuries was the celebration of Easter, and that date was fixed according to the Passover among the Jews. But no one knew for sure when Jesus was born, and we celebrate His birth on the 25th of December and characteristically say that Christmas day, December 25th, is Jesus' birthday. No, December 25th is the day we celebrate Jesus' birthday. But nobody knows for sure what day He was born, and I guess you could say the odds are 365 to 1 that it was not December the 25th. In fact, the odds are even worse than that because we have few clues as to when Jesus was born, but one of the clues is that the record tells us of shepherds watching their flocks at night in the fields outside of Bethlehem. And we know that in the ancient world, the shepherds remained out of doors watching their flocks from late April or early May until the month of November.

So it was not the custom for shepherds to still be out in the fields in December. So the odds get worse that Jesus was born on December the 25th. Now many of you have heard people issue the charge that Christmas should not even be observed because all we are doing is imitating a pagan holiday, and people who know that the God of the Son, Saul, was celebrated on December 25th say, see, Christians have just incorporated a pagan festival into their own religion, and this is a crass form of syncretism that would be most displeasing to God and to His only begotten Son. Before I comment on that further, let me just continue to say that January 6th was the time which was celebrated for Jesus' birthday, and the reason for that was that His birthday was celebrated along with some other events, two other events. The main purpose of the celebration on January the 6th in the church was to celebrate the epiphany of Jesus. That's why we call it now the Feast of Epiphany, and it was only secondarily related to the appearance or the manifestation of the wise men in coming to search out Jesus.

The main focus of epiphany, which means manifestation or revelation, was to celebrate the beginning of Jesus' public ministry at His baptism at the River Jordan. But thirdly, particularly in the beginning of the fourth century when the divine nature was under attack by the Arian heretics in the world, the church wanted to focus more attention on the birth of Jesus because of the biblical truth of incarnation. And so at first more attention was given on the celebration on January the 6th, this until the Edict of Constantine, where in 321 in the Edict of Constantine the emperor declared that the time of worship for the Christian community would no longer be called the Lord's Day, but from thenceforth would be called Sunday, because his entire life Constantine was a worshiper of the sun god. And he didn't convert, you remember, to the Christian faith and submit to baptism until his deathbed. But he saw all kinds of parallels between the pagan god of the sun and the Christian faith, and as a politician was trying to amalgamate all the different religions in his empire under one banner.

And so since he noticed that Christians were worshipping on the Lord's Day, which was the first day of the week, and he wanted to amalgamate Christianity with Saul Invictus, he declared by the emperor's fiat that the first day of the week would be called Sunday. Now, at that same time, there was a carryover from a second-century heretical cult that some of you may have studied in your history courses called the Religion of Mithras or Mithraism. And there was a subdivision of this worship that also saw as the supreme god, the god of the sun. But the Mithras cult was very popular among Roman soldiers, because the symbol for their god was the bull. And it was a mystery religion, a secret religion with secret initiation rites in which the advocates and devotees, particularly among the soldiers who embraced this cult of Mithras, submitted to baptism.

But it was not baptism in water, it was baptism in the blood of a bull that had been slain for the occasion. And these pagan rites again were celebrated on December the 25th. And the Christian church decided to change the day of celebration from January 6th to December 25th, not to amalgamate with the pagans, but as a conscious effort to compete against paganism. They say, let those people celebrate their pagan deities on that day.

We'll use that time to celebrate the incarnation of God coming into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. And so the church harbored no idea of incorporating elements from the pagan cult when they established December 25th as the birthday of Christ. Now, because the church at that time knew that December 25th in all probability was not the actual birthday of Jesus, some in our day have looked back at that and say, see, they were willing to celebrate alongside pagans who were observing mythology because Christianity is just one more mythological religion among others. You've heard the Jesus seminars talk about casting votes about what's historical in the New Testament and what isn't, and they've rejected about 80% or more of the text of the New Testament as being unauthentic, and frankly, in an activity that can hardly be called sober scholarship. But the idea of seeing the Bible as a mixture of history and mythology has been at the center of the agenda of critics in the 20th century, particularly in Europe. And the dean of those critics was Rudolf Bultmann of the University of Marburg in Germany. I studied under one of his students in college and under several of his disciples when I was in seminary, and we had to read the writings of Rudolf Bultmann. And Bultmann was famous for teaching what he called the process of demythologizing the Scripture, saying that the Bible is a mixture of real history and mythology. And for the Bible to have any relevance to us today, we have to cut through the husk of the mythology in which the Bible is presented to get to the core truths or the kernel of that husk, which is real history. But in this program of demythologizing, Professor Bultmann developed what he called a theology of the here and now, a theology of timelessness, where he said that Christian faith is not rooted and grounded in history, but rather in some existential never-never land, where he says our relationship to God never happens on a horizontal level on the plane of history, but it's always vertical, existential, where in a moment of decision, God manifests Himself, zenkrecht von oben, directly and immediately from on high in this existential moment.

Well, you don't want to hear all that, I know. But you have no idea what an impact Bultmannian theology has had on seminaries and consequently on churches throughout the Western world. And the real crisis of this kind of existential approach to Christianity is that the gospel is ripped out of the context of history. Probably the first German word I learned in seminary was the word Hausgeschichte.

You heard that term? Where the German critics were saying that the Bible is not history, it's Hausgeschichte, it's redemptive history, it's salvation history, which means it's not regular history. But the critics of the critics reminded the critics that yes, the Bible may be redemptive history, but it's redemptive history, that at the heart and soul of Old Testament Judaism and New Testament Christianity is the affirmation that what makes Christianity different from these other pagan religions of the ancient world is that the Bible's already demythologized. The Bible has no time for believing myths. The whole foundation of biblical faith has to do with what God has actually done in space and in time. If you rip the Scriptures out of their historical foundation, there's no reason for you to ever come to church again.

And it's because of these theories that the churches in Europe have become museums and mausoleums for the death of the Christian faith in these lands that embrace this sort of thing. Because the text as it comes to us manifests itself is with the declaration that the birth of Jesus took place in this way. The Scripture tells us, and it came to pass. That is a reference to real history, beloved.

It came to pass. This is not a fairy tale that says, once upon a time. But what the authors of the New Testament are declaring is this actually happened in space and time. And that's why it's so important, as we've seen in years past, that the cradle in which the message is carried is real history. It came to pass that a real decree went out from a real person who really was Caesar in a real Roman Empire, and his name really was Augustus, that all the world should be registered.

When did this happen? In some kind of timeless, super-temporal realm of the hick at Nunc? No. It took place while Quirinius was governing Syria, and all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. And what are the cities? Are they mythological places, Mount Olympus?

No. From the realm of Galilee to the city of Nazareth, into the realm of Judea to the city of David called Bethlehem. These are real places in real time. Well, let's go back earlier to the beginning of Luke's gospel, to how he introduces the gospel before he ever gets to the Christmas story that we love to read and rehearse every year. This is the man who gives us more information about Mary than any other gospel writers, who obviously was in touch with the primary sources of the events that he records here, who gives us the detailed description of what takes place in the course of Zacharias going into the temple to serve before God at the altar of incense, to tell us about the enrollment and of Quirinius' reign in Syria. This is how Luke is doing his homework and doing his research, and he said, why am I doing this? That you may know the certainty of these things in which you have been instructed.

That which had eternal repercussions came about because of a real intersection between time and eternity. When God came down to Bethlehem and gave us this baby, I don't care what day of the year it was, only that it was, and that we celebrate it for all we're worth. The point is to remember the birth of our Lord.

Let's pray. Father, how grateful we are that our faith is not based upon supposition or idle dreams, but on real, concrete, space-time history, that you as the Lord of time prepared history for that event, so that in the fullness of time, Christ was born to us. Glory to God in the highest.

Amen. Dr. Sproul loved Christmas, and it really is my favorite time of the year as we intentionally spend time remembering the birth of our Lord. Today, you heard a message from R.C. Sproul as he preached from Luke's Gospel, and I'm glad you're with us for Renewing Your Mind. To help you contemplate the wonder of the incarnation each December, there is a new Advent Devotional available from R.C. Sproul featuring 24 readings as well as prayers from various Christian leaders. It's called The Advent of Glory, and it's available for a donation of any amount at Your generosity fuels the daily proclamation of the historic reality that Jesus came to save sinners. So please show your year-end support at, and we'll send you The Advent of Glory. Next time, R.C. Sproul will preach a Christmas message from a less common text at Christmas, John 17. So join us next Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-09 05:35:42 / 2023-12-09 05:43:14 / 8

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