JOHN PEARRELL: The life of Jesus makes the seemingly incredible claims of His birth, credible

Last week we began an examination of the Christmas story.

A whole lot of people do not believe the accounts given by Matthew and Luke to be accurate historical accounts. The reason? Because of the miracle of the virgin birth.

I heard one pastor explain that "What the Christmas story really teaches us today is that a woman should be a virgin when she marries." This particular pastor, like a lot of people, discounted the miracle of a virgin birth and suggested that it was a natural birth that, before conception, Mary had been a virgin.

Unfortunately, the eyewitness Matthew tears that application to shreds in Matthew 2:18-25. According to Matthew, Joseph knew the baby wasn't his (which means Mary was no virgin) and it took an angel to convince him otherwise.

It is this supernatural element which has many shaking their heads in obvious disbelief. So, if you permit me, let's look at some interesting facts that must be addressed if one is to believe that the story of the first Christmas is more myth than truth.

First, if Luke were making up his account, I guarantee shepherds would not have been the first witnesses. Why? In Luke's day, the testimony of shepherds was considered unreliable; they were not permitted to testify in a court of Law.

So, had Luke been fabricating this account as some modern critics claim, he certainly would have chosen a more reputable group of men to bring the news of this birth to Jerusalem.

Second, Matthew records a group of Eastern dignitaries who made an arduous journey of two years to visit a child born in an ignoble way and born in an obscure village in Judea. As far as I know, the fact of this visit is not questioned by even the most skeptical of critics.

Many do try to explain it away, trying to find a naturalistic explanation for the Bethlehem star, the most common explanation being that there was an occurrence of a supernova at this time in history.

Those who hold that view believe that these superstitious men mistook this natural phenomenon as a supernatural sign and did what unenlightened people have done for centuries, misinterpreting and misapplying scientific fact and turning it into a religious myth.

Whether or not you believe a miracle occurred here, you have to account for the fact that something so unusual took place that first Christmas that has changed even the way we record history.

Yes, a virgin birth under normal circumstances would be impossible. But if, just if, there is a God and He was involved in this event, then anything would be possible wouldn't it?

Third, we have to examine the life of Jesus. It is unlike any life that has ever been lived.

Even those of the Islamic faith recognize the uniqueness of Jesus' life. Mohammad agreed with the eyewitness accounts and held that this Jesus of Nazareth lived a sinless life. He did not claim that for himself, but he did claim it for Jesus. We Christians concur with that assessment.

If you read the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) you discover that Jesus made clear claims to Deity; He claimed to be God in the flesh.

Critics, of course, deny those claims, saying that He never really made them but His followers made it for Him. The issue the critics ignore with that argument is that if those claims were made by His followers, they were being made in the face of a whole company of people who were there, and we have nothing that would refute those claims.

True, legends develop over time, but no legend develops in the time the person lived. Yet that is exactly what we have with Jesus of Nazareth.

Many insane people throughout history have claimed to be God. Making the claim doesn't make it true.

If we were to evaluate such a claim, we would have to ask if that person's life gave credibility to the incredible claims he was making. In the case of Jesus, the answer is yes.

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.