We have just finished the Christmas and New Year holiday, and Christmas cards are piled up on my desk. It isn’t that I have so many people who send me Christmas cards. Most of the cards are from organizations wanting a donation. They send a “gift” of a bunch of cards and hope it will shame me into giving to their cause. What is interesting to me is the Christmas card picture of baby Jesus in the manger.
I have Muslim and Buddhist friends who laugh at that Christmas card picture. Muhammad was an upper-class, wealthy military man who married into money and lived in comfortable conditions. Buddha was a Hindu prince who was not even allowed to see a diseased or suffering human. Sometime after the age of 29, he left the palace behind and became a wandering ascetic.
In contrast to these founders of major faiths, Jesus Christ was born in a town in which He was an alien. He grew up in Nazareth, a low-class village in the occupied territory of Galilee. (See John 1:46.) When you read passages like Matthew 5:41, you realize how much Rome controlled everything. John 19:10 points out that the Romans knew they had control. Christ had no political power and no army. He was born an “illegitimate child” to a mother who left town when she realized she was pregnant. (See Luke 1:38-39.) People wondered why Jesus spent His time with the poor, despised, and downtrodden. (See Matthew 9:11-13.) Unlike Mohammed or Buddha, Jesus came into a world of misery, war, prejudice, pain, strife, and violence and did not associate with political leaders or the social elite.
Because of the birth and upbringing of Jesus, people were amazed at His teaching. (See Matthew 7:28-29.) It is also because of the background of His life that we cannot have a problem that Jesus doesn’t understand. He had no money – only his cloak. He was “born on the wrong side of the tracks.” He was born an “illegitimate child.” Unlike followers of all other faiths on Earth, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are – yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
I have seen mangers. They are dirty with mouth slime from cattle plus insects and worms and unprotected from the elements. The sterile, clean, neat, ordered Christmas card picture is not reality. However, but it can remind us of how God in His wisdom provides for us and understands our needs. The birth and upbringing of Christ provide an apologetic for the validity of Christianity.
People have constructed massive structures and religious places of worship to get in contact with God. Islam has Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammad with the Kaaba being the “House of God.” Buddhism has its shrines with the five elements–fire, air, earth, water, and wisdom. Bahai followers have their temples with the oldest one near Chicago, Illinois. Hindus have their “mandir” temples with the world’s largest one in the New York City metro area. The Mormons have the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City while Catholics have the Vatican. All of these cost a great deal of money, and all of them are geographically limited and impersonal. None of them are consistent with the biblical teachings for Christians. Where is God’s dwelling place?
Jesus made it clear that a new relationship was coming with the advent of Christianity. When Christ spoke with the Samaritan woman in John 4:20-24, He indicated that there would be no single place for worship. Peter in Acts 2:16-21 quotes Joel 2:28-32 in observing how worship of God and the presence of God was changing. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19 we read that our bodies are now the “temple of God.” Ephesians 3:17 indicates that Christ dwells in the hearts of Christians based on love. Galatians 4:4-6 tells us that God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us.
The Church is people, not places. It can meet anywhere, under any conditions, with no expense or construction or long pilgrimage required. The Church we read about in the Bible did not own a temple or a house of any kind. When we read Acts 2:46 we see Christians meeting from “house to house.” The disciples met in an “upper room,” and they even met in the Temple (Acts 3:1). There is no justification for spending millions of dollars on a physical place to meet while people starve or freeze to death within sight of the structure.
In Acts 17:22-31 Paul talks to the leaders of the day about God’s dwelling place. In verse 24 he told them and us that God “does not dwell in temples made with hands.” He then told his listeners that people “feel after God and try to find him though he is not far from every one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being” (verses 27 and 28). Paul told them they should not think of God as something made by art and human design. He calls on them to repent (verse 30).