Ep. 1 | Who is the Baby in the Manger?

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Is Christmas a real, historical event?

You may be shocked to learn that some of the most treasured parts of the Christmas story are not found in the Bible. But can we still believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem?



today on the johnny Karberg show, who really was the baby in the manger that is celebrated at christmas. My guest today is former atheist turned christian lee Strobel? He received his master of studies in law degree from Yale University and then became the award winning legal editor of the Chicago tribune for 14 years as an atheist li like the christmas parties and presence but did not believe the baby in the manger was the divine son of God. But one day he decided to investigate the evidence for himself, consulting experts on the bible, archaeology and Messianic prophecy. Lee wanted to know who was the baby in the manger. He thought if jesus really was God in the flesh, then there ought to be credible evidence including can the biographies of jesus be trusted? What does archaeology reveal? Did jesus fulfill the attributes of God? Did jesus uniquely match the identity of the messiah predicted in the jewish scriptures after investigating the historical evidence for two years, What did lee discover to find out join us for this edition of the john a Coburg show, Welcome to our program. I’m john anchor berg and we’re talking about a question that I think is very interesting, do you believe that the christmas event is a real historical event? Everybody loves christmas, I don’t care where you’re at around the world right, but you think it’s you know, santa claus and presents and elves and stuff like that, but do you think that it’s actually a historical event that took place and the baby in the manger was more than just your regular baby, He was actually God in flesh. Okay. That’s what we’re talking about today and I’ve got one of the staunchest atheist. When I was growing up in Chicago, he followed me at the same high school. Okay. But the fact is we went on to different schools, I went to University of Illinois and he went on to Yale and got his law degree and ended up as being the uh legal editor of the Chicago tribune, which is one of the big papers in the midwest in Chicago. We wanted to know anything about the cubs or the bears or anything like that. The fact that we went to the tribune, but he wrote about legal things Alright. He covered trials and the murder trials and people that are swindling stuff. He covered that. All right. But it was a slow day when lee Strobel, it was getting towards christmas eve and lee, you said that you basically looked around and had nothing to do. But you were writing an article, talk about what you found and it was kind of a pinpoint that God used to start changing you from an atheist into a christian. Yeah, a few weeks earlier, I’d been assigned to do a 30 part series on the poor of Chicago. So I went to the west side of Chicago and I went into an apartment that was the most barren stark apartment I’ve ever been in. Uh there was a grandmother, they’re raising a 13 year old and an 11 year old granddaughter. And uh they had nothing, there’s no pictures on the wall, no rugs, no appliances, no, no close. Uh all they had was a bowl of rice and um the two girls had only a short sleeve dress for each of them. And they had one thin gray sweater and you know how cold the Chicago winters are and they would walk to school like a mile to school and one would wear the sweater halfway while her sister would shiver beside her and then they’d switch and the other one with the rest of the way. So these, these people were extremely poor. So I did an article about them and I put the address of their apartment in the article. Well here it was christmas eve, no news going on. Christmas eve was quiet and I thought I should go out and visit them and see how they’re doing. So I drove out to the west side and I knocked on their door and they opened the door and I’m telling you it was like a department store in there. The readers of the tribune had showered them with, you can’t believe all this stuff they said it was a christmas tree with gifts under the tree. They sent him hundreds of dollars in, in in funds. They opened the closet and it was packed with clothes and with coats and they had food coming out and they had everything. But as I walked in, what shocked me is that this grandmother and him with perfect to and her two grandchildren were busy packing up much of their newfound wealth to give away. And here I’m an atheist and I’m thinking, what, what is going on? What are you doing? And in halting english, she said, well, we cannot have plenty while our neighbors have nothing. She said, this is what Jesus would want us to do. So, I was just blown away by that. And I said, well, what do you think of this generosity of the readers of the tribute that showered you with all this stuff? And she said, oh, this is very nice, this is great, this is good. She said nothing we deserved. But it’s not our greatest gift. She said, the greatest gift is jesus, the greatest gift we celebrate tomorrow on christmas. And here I am, I’m an atheist. And I’m thinking all I do is pursue ambition. All I do is pursue happiness. I’ve got every material good I could want these people had nothing materially, but they had a peace and a joy and a generosity and a love that made me want to know this jesus, that she talked about. And so it got your attention that you wanted to know, uh, was the event in Bethlehem a real one? Or was this just a legend. Okay, and uh, about the same time your wife had surprised you and you had married an agnostic little lady, that’s beautiful Leslie. And the fact is is that she surprised you one day and said uh Lee, I became a Christian and if I remember correctly, you put your hand through the wall at that point because you were so mad and thinking of divorce. But the fact that you stuck around and God changed her and she became, you tell the story we met when you were 14 years old. So we kind of grew up together and I always considered her a beautiful person, but almost like a Rose that is beautiful when it’s closed up and that’s how I knew her. And then after she became a follower of jesus, it was like that Rose just opened up and there was a beauty and a love and a joy and a generosity in her that was winsome to me and attractive to me. And and so I decided to take my joy journalism training and my legal training and investigate. Is there any credibility to Christianity? Is there any historical meaning behind christmas or easter or these holidays that we celebrate? And so I embarked on this investigation using the same tools I would use in Chicago tribune to investigate an article? Yeah, Okay, so where do you start? Well, um I started with the resurrection, which of course has a lot of historical data surrounding it. But the christmas story was especially fascinating to me because even as an atheist, I love christmas, I love celebrating christmas what’s not to like you get gifts, you go to parties and everything. But I wanted to know is there’s some historical reality to that and I began to investigate the historical record and what I discovered really surprised me, I found that there’s a lot of misconceptions about a legend that have grown up, but when you get back to the original text and what actually took place, it does hold together historically through the text. Well, the text is recorded in both the gospels of Matthew and the gospel of luke. In fact, it’s interesting, I love luke because luke was sort of a first century investigative reporter, you know, he said, I carefully investigated everything so I can write an orderly account about the certainty of what took place. So I love luke and luke. Apparently we can judge from the text um wrote the account based on mary’s perspective, may Matthew on the other hand, kind of rights it from joseph’s perspective. Um and so we get kind of two perspectives on this. Um and and so when you investigate this, what you learn, is that some of the things we hear in popular culture are not rooted in history, for instance, the story that we typically hear is that mary and joseph go on a donkey to Bethlehem because there’s a census and this is the city of David, he’s a Senator David. So they take this donkey, she’s on the verge of giving birth. Um They get there, the evil innkeeper says there’s no room at the end, go away. And so they go into a cave or stable. She gives birth and they put the baby in swaddling clothes in a manger. That’s the story we hear. But it’s not really what took place. What you find out. What I found out is that in the first century jewish culture, it would have been an abomination. It would have been unthinkable for anybody to turn away a pregnant, jewish woman, um who was about to give birth. And totally there be shame brought upon the village. And so that that clearly isn’t what happened. But what also is interesting is there probably was no in and there probably was no innkeeper. Bethlehem was a small town. It wasn’t even on a major highway. And so as a result, there probably was no commercial lodging in that vicinity. But the word that luke uses to describe the place that they were looking for. Catalina had been translated by some people as an end. But actually when you go back, it means a spare room. And so in the first century, the way the housing was, there’d be one big room and there’d be kind of a little step down into a smaller room. In the smaller room is where the animals would be kept at night and the floor was slanted to easily clean it. So the last thing at night the animals were brought in, the donkey couple sheet, maybe a cow were brought in there. There was a manger in there. In other words, into the floor, some hay for them to eat the upper part of the room. The larger part was the family area, that’s where the cooking took place, the sleeping took place. They also had a manger there because sometimes the animals would come up the stairs and eat there. So the word cattle lima refers to a guest room, a second room that was sometimes built to the property and it had an exterior and a separate exterior entrance. That’s the Catalina that looks referring to a guest room. And so what apparently happened in the historic account says that as they came into the community there was no room in the guest room for mary. And so she gave birth in the family room, not a stable, not a cave, but in the family room. And there is a manger there. And then when jesus was born he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and he was put into that manger which consists of clean hey. So it’s it’s quite a different picture. And this question of whether or not she was on the verge of birth I think is misleading too because the way it’s phrased in in luke’s account is that after they were in Bethlehem the time came for her to have the baby. We don’t know if that was five minutes after they got there, five weeks after they got there. So this this idea that she was on the verge of birth actually comes from a second century writing. Um that is based on legendary accounts and it’s not historically Right. Right. Yeah. The fact is is that We’ve gotten off track and people have expanded on that. But when you came back to the actual words even go back to 1335 there are translators, Christian translators, it said the same thing you’re saying right now. Okay. And the fact is John Wycliffe was one of them I think of it. So that’s right. In 13 95 he actually did a translation which he translated as room guest room. Now keep on rolling here because people say you know I think that this thing is a legend okay. And they got it from someplace else and they just copycatting it over over into the into the bible. Yeah. You know, it’s interesting when we see legends and mythology, it always begins with once upon a time in a land in the far distant land kind of the mists of history. That’s not how the gospels represented. The gospels are ancient biographies which are written to convey what actually occurred. And so here we have two of the four gospels Matthew and luke specifically describing the birth story. Mark doesn’t mention it which is interesting but Mark doesn’t talk about the early childhood of jesus. Uh and Mark also has an account where someone refers to jesus as the son of mary. Well that suggests there’s something unusual about the birth because you would normally refer to that person as the son of joseph the father. Even if the father’s deceased jewish society, you never referred to the guy as the son of the, of the woman. You always did it to the man. Right. So there’s a recognition in Mark that this was an assumption going on right now and then in john now johN is the last gospel that was written. He doesn’t repeat a lot of the historical data that’s in the first three gospels. Um, but it’s interesting that john had a follower by the name of Ignatius. Uh in fact Ignatius was appointed by John to be the Bishop of Antiochus. He sat under John’s teachings. And in the year 108, he wrote a letter, he was on his way to being executed. He wrote Jesus was truly born of a virgin. Where did he get that idea? He was a student of john so john wasn’t disputing it. You know, you can’t say, oh because he didn’t talk about it in this Gospel. It didn’t happen. No, he doesn’t report a lot of the historical data about jesus. Yeah, I want to back up what you said here because I was just looking at my notes and luke 26 says that the time for the baby to be born came while they were in Bethlehem. It wasn’t an emergency situation where she was on this donkey and just hoping to make it, you know, the fact is, I hope we can get there before this baby pops out. The fact is, no, they were there, they were in the family room, the family probably cleared out. And the thing is all of a sudden the baby is born and they have this trench that actually was a manger in the room. So that if they wanted to let some of the, the family pets come on up in there, they could actually eat there. But the fact that they cleared those guys out and the fact is you have this baby lying in the clean right there. Yeah, totally consistent with what we would expect in jewish culture. Right. And you know, you talked about the accuracy of the gospels and, and is it reliable history? Um The other thing is that these gospels, uh, and the new testament as a whole claim to be rooted in eyewitness accounts. Yeah. Let’s talk about luke for a moment. The fact is that many, many years people doubted luke. Okay. And now we’ve got massive volumes where archaeologists have found that luke is instructing them on what’s actually was there because when he said he carefully investigated everything. He wasn’t kidding buddy. He actually put stuff in there that they didn’t even know about until just recently. And so I’ve seen these huge books and one of them was, people said there is no such place as Nazareth and the fact is what happened. Yeah you’re right because Nazareth is not mentioned by Josephus, the ancient jewish writer worked for the romans. Uh it wasn’t mentioned in the Talmud. Uh it wasn’t, I don’t think it was mentioned by historians still about the what? The fourth century or sometime. So people said oh Nazareth didn’t exist and um therefore luk is unreliable. Well in 2006 some archaeologists were excavating underneath a convent in where we would call Nazareth. And what did they find? They found a house from jesus Day and here’s the interesting thing john not only was this a house from Jesus Day in Nazareth but it had limestone dishware and the significance of that is jews would use that because they believed it wouldn’t make the food unclean now, is it possible that they stumbled upon the very home where Jesus grew up? Well we don’t know that it’s possibly can’t rule that out but we can’t rule it in. But what we can say is that there was a place called Nazareth in the first century, Here’s a home and then a few years later they found another home right down the block from the same era also in Nazareth. So this idea that Nazareth didn’t exist in the first century and luke is wrong now we know luke was right once again as History and archaeology have proven him to be right time after time after time because he is a careful historian who as you say, carefully reported everything to write an orderly account of what took place. Yeah, it also seems to me, I actually spent 78 hours taping in the Holy Land and I went to Nazareth and I actually talked with the professors that were actually on the spot and if you can believe this, john Dominic, Crossan of the jesus seminar was there and of course he’s dead now. But the fact is at that time he had written all these things that jesus never said this, never did this and he always wanted a time to either greek or roman mythology. And so he was sitting in this class and uh I thought what’s he sitting in the class in Nazareth about. And I asked the prof, I said what do you think about Crossing sitting here? And I don’t think he believes the word that jesus said. So uh I asked the prof and he said, well Crossing told me you know, he’s kind of looking around, looking around, I’m talking to him about this is a jewish settlement right here, okay. And he said you know Crossing was only interested in finding out any little tidbit he could about greek or roman history and society and tie that to jesus after that, he didn’t care about the actual facts that he’s sitting right on top of Nazareth. So I’m saying we’ve got scholars like that, but this the scholarly world is coming over to the fact that luke gave us an accurate, very accurate account. In fact there’s porticos in in Jerusalem that he writes about. They don’t even know about it and now they do know about those protocols that are there on a pool. And the fact is they’re just saying he really knew his stuff. It is historical, this is not legendary stuff. Even said at one point in the gospel of luke talks about a guy named licinius, the test track of Abilene, an area in that vicinity at a certain time. I think it was in 27 A. D. And people would scoff at that and say wait a minute, licinius, it wasn’t a truck as Luke said he was a king and he lived earlier, he was put to death. I think it was by Cleopatra many years earlier. And um and then later they discovered 14 miles west northwest of Damascus in an area called Abilene and their Abdullah in the first century um a marking a memorial to licinius. The tet trucks of Abilene turned out he was right, there were two licenses or or whatever you whatever the plural licenses, but there were two of them. And luke once again was proven to be correct. Yeah. Now here’s the punchline folks, you say, why are you doing all this information about jesus birth. Okay. You were the staunchest atheist. I thought we had in Chicago. Okay. You had a little sign on your wall up there. If your mother says she loves you, check it out a couple of witnesses, Okay. You didn’t believe anything unless you have evidence. And you checked out this evidence. And the bottom line was what bottom line was. I came to believe that based on the reliability of the new testament, based on the internal consistency, based on the way it was been transmitted through history, based on the corroboration from other ancient writings and from archaeology itself. That the account of the uh, birth, the life, the miracles, the death and especially the resurrection of jesus christ is firmly established. I couldn’t ignore it. You know, as a journalist, I was committed to facts. I was committed to investigating evidence and coming to conclusions that are based on solid findings. And, and, and so when I did this and I came to the conclusion that this is true, that jesus is who he claimed to be. He is a unique son of God. Um, I had to respond to that. I, I couldn’t sweep it under the rug. I couldn’t ignore it. I couldn’t, you know, just dismiss it. I had to act upon the evidence. And I remember the last verse that I read as an atheist john 1 12 so that as many as received him to them, he gave the right to become Children of God. Even to those who believe in his name believe plus receive equals become So I believe based on the data that jesus is who he claimed to be, but that’s not enough. I had to receive in a prayer of repentance and faith receive this free gift of forgiveness and eternal life that jesus purchased for me on the cross when he died as my substitute to pay for all of my sins. Quickly we’re gonna close this program. But the fact is is that many of you you believe in the christmas event? You actually believe that jesus was actually born in that manger. Okay. But the fact is you’ve never received them, how can they receive them? Would you say a prayer today as we close this program that if you want to actually not just believe in him but you want to have the reality of christ in your life and you want him to forgive, give your sins and promise that he’s gonna take you to heaven. Then you’ve got to ask him yourself, You’ve got to pray to him. He’s the one that saves you not us. The fact is and lee would you just say a prayer that maybe they could stay with you? Absolutely yeah. Just you know, if you want to receive him and become a child of God forever, spend eternity with God forever then just as as best you can just just pray this prayer, Say Lord jesus as best I can. I do believe that you are the son of God. You proved it by returning from the dead And right now I confess the obvious, which is that I am a sinner and I want to turn from that and in an attitude of repentance and faith I want to receive, I want to receive this free gift of forgiveness and eternal life that you purchased for me on the cross. Thank you for loving me so much. You endured the torture of crucifixion so that we could be reconciled forever. Help me to live the kind of life that you want me to live because from this moment on I am yours. And if you prayed that prayer with sincerity, you know that you have now become, you didn’t just believe you’ve now received and you become a child of God. Yeah, the bible says, whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved folks. I’m glad that you joined us this week. And I want lead to tell us a little bit more about his life and the research that he’s done, we’re gonna stick on Bethlehem and we’re gonna stick on jesus birth because there’s some other things that maybe you’ve never thought about before, but we’re gonna get to them and uh I wanna say thank you for joining us this week. And if you just stay tuned, I got a personal word for you in just a moment. Stay tuned, john will be right back, thanks for joining us today. So why was jesus born? Why did God come into the world like this? Jesus said he came to seek and to save those who are lost. He says it was because God so loved the world. He loved you so much that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. You see, Jesus came into the world to pay for your sins. He died on the cross and then he rose again so that you can be completely forgiven and spend eternity with him. This isn’t something that you can earn through your own good words. He offers it to you as a free gift which you can receive through putting your faith in him. If you would like to do this right now by asking Jesus to be your savior, I invite you to join me in this simple prayer, just say dear God, thank you for loving me. I know I’m a sinner. I ask for your forgiveness right now. I believe that jesus is your son and that he died for all my sins on the cross. I also believe that you raised him from the dead and right now I want to trust him as my savior and follow him as my Lord from this day forward. Please give me the strength to live for you. I ask this in jesus name, Amen You know folks one day I said a prayer just like that and if you pray this today, I want you to know what God promises to do for you. The bible says who so ever shall call upon the name of the Lord, that’s you. If you just prayed this prayer and if you did, I want you to see what God says he will do, he says shall be say that’s what God does. He promises to save you. Now, if you’d like to watch this program again or share it with a friend, you can do so for free on your phone through our app, just go to the app, store on your device and search for anchor bird. Once you download it, you can watch this series again as well as over 100 other programs. Anytime anywhere absolutely free to find these videos in your language, simply open up our app and tap on languages along with this, our app lets you read and even listen to the bible in over 1000 languages, simply tap on the bible icon displayed on the main page of our app to find your own language. Once it opens, you can find your language by tapping on the second box at the top. If you have never read or listened to the bible, I encourage you to find your language and check it out for yourself next week on the john anchor, Berg show, we don’t know the date that jesus was born, it’s not recorded in scripture or anywhere else. Um and uh in fact the there were some theologians in the year 200 A. D. That got together and said, let’s try to figure out when jesus was born, they determined it was May 20th, because if the shepherds are out in the field, they’re taking care of their sheep out there. The perfect time anybody that’s traveled to Jerusalem is around May april May, okay, and that’s where you also have the lamps having their babies and all that kind of stuff, so it made sense to them that that would be worth christmases.

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ABOUT DR. JOHN ANKERBERG Dr. John Ankerberg is an American Christian television host, author, and speaker. Dr. Ankerberg is a graduate of the University of Illinois—Chicago,...

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