Today, we wrap up our current sermon series- I Didn’t Know That! This is our 4th weeks looking at things we may not have even known were IN the Bible! Today, we look at a topic that has some pretty long-reaching implications- the disciples didn’t even KNOW about the virgin birth!
I could read you passage after passage from the Gospels that talk about what the disciples know about Jesus- Who they think He is. And any passage I picked would be just ONE spot- out of countless spots, spread across four Gospels, that talks about what the disciples know in relation to Who Jesus is. But I could read EVERY one of those spots…I could read the totality of all four Gospels for that matter…and we wouldn’t find one reference- not ONE reference- to Jesus’ birth by the disciplines. The disciples- the people closest to Jesus- didn’t mention it…once. We think it’s perhaps THE most important fact in the Gospels- that and the resurrection. Without Easter there is no Christ, but without Christmas there is no Jesus. And yet, as important as WE think the birth narrative is…there is absolutely no mention of it from the disciples. None.
Question #1- Why do we hear nothing of Jesus’ miraculous birth from the disciples?
I have shared before that, even though Matthew’s Gospel is the first one listed, most scholars hold to the idea that Mark’s Gospel was the first one written- around 70AD. Luke and Matthew came along next, both around 85AD. And John bring up the rear, around 95AD. It is thought that Peter was the primary source of Mark’s Gospel- Mark wrote down what Peter told him. Then, 15 years or so later, Luke and Matthew both used Mark as a source. They also both seemed to use the same, yet unknown secondary source, often referred to as the Gospel of Q. (It’s called Q because of the German word “quelle”, which means “source”. The Q Gospel was first imagined by German theologians.) The Gospel of John is thought to have drawn from a source commonly referred to as the Signs Gospel- an unknown work that would have focused on the miracles and signs that point directly to Jesus as the Son of God.
So why is Matthew’s Gospel first? I mean, at least some of Paul’s letters, along with Mark’s Gospel, were written before it. It’s the first one listed because it’s seen as the best bridge between the Old and New Testaments. The main point of Matthew’s Gospel is to convince the Jewish readers that Jesus is their Messiah, their King, the Anointed One, the Christ, the Son of God and founder of the kingdom of God. In fact, Matthew’s account uses the word “kingdom” 50 times, and the expression “kingdom of heaven” 32 times.
So, four Gospels, four authors, different sources, one subject. And yet, even with all the differences between them, there is more to distinguish them from each other- they each have a distinctly different starting point.
The first Gospel written, the Gospel of Mark, starts at the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry, heralded by the coming of John the Baptist. Then we get the Gospel of Luke, which starts with the birth of Jesus, heralded by the birth of John the Baptist. Then along comes Matthew, which starts with the genealogy of Jesus, tracing Him back to Abraham. And lastly, we get the Gospel of John, which begins…in the beginning, before there was anything.
So, Mark starts with the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry. Luke backs up to Jesus’ birth. Matthew backs up a bit further- to the genealogy that LEADS to Jesus’ birth. And then John backs up as far as you can back up- the beginning! So the farther away from the actual events we get, the further back the author starts their narrative- the more “back story” we get.
I have heard people say my whole life, “If it’s not expressly addressed in the Bible, then it must be OK to do.” Making folks who want to join the church shave their heads and wear clown suits while standing in front of the congregation singing Muskrat Love must be OK- “Bible doesn’t say I can’t!” That mentality concerns me more than a little bit. (Especially because I absolutely HATE Muskrat Love! Worst song ever! How could the same group who recorded classics like Horse With No Name and Daisy Jane have also recorded…Muskrat Love?! Of course, The Steve Miller Band recorded both Fly Like an Eagle and Jungle Love, so there you have it and there you are!)
Automatically claiming that something not directly mentioned in the Bible doesn’t exist or is OK is a dangerous and slippery slope. Once we start down that path, we are no longer searching for what the Bible tells us. Instead, we are searching for what it DOESN’T tell us. And the only logical reason to do that is because you want to justify some belief, action or behavior by showing that “the Bible doesn’t say so”.
Question #2- What do you do, then, with something that is NOT expressly mentioned in the Bible?
It seems to me that seeking the discernment of the Holy Spirit is where we should land on this issue. Why didn’t the disciples mention the Virgin Birth? Honestly- I haven’t the foggiest. But two things come to mind: 1. I don’t know that they didn’t- I only know that the Gospel writers didn’t record it and 2. I have to assume that those same Gospel writers felt the narrative about His adult ministry was THE most important story to tell. I mean, we get a good birth narrative in Luke, an abbreviated version in Matthew and NOTHING in Mark and John. We get one story- ONE story- from His childhood (getting left at the Temple when He was 12) and NOTHING else. Clearly, the Gospel writers wanted to focus on the roughly three years of Jesus’ adult ministry.
So in the end, again, I don’t know why the disciples aren’t recorded as mentioning anything about Jesus’ birth…and I don’t have to know. I can read the birth narrative- two versions, to be exact- and I can seek the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit as to what’s important. United Methodist founder John Wesley said, “If your heart is right, take my hand.” In other words, if you accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then join me and don’t sweat the small stuff, because we want to keep the main thing the main thing. And the fact that Jesus is the One and only begotten Son of God is the main thing. And pretty much everything else is the small stuff!