One of my first memories from science as a young boy involved learning the boiling point of water: 212°F. I didn’t know till years later that it varied depending on elevation, and that other liquids did not boil at the same point. That was too advanced for me at the time. I just needed the basics.
Science has enlightened us, hasn’t it? We are greatly indebted to researchers who have gone before us, aren’t we? Much of what was mysterious in the past has been boiled down to its basic elements by the scientific method; things that baffled us at one time are now understood and explained in astounding detail. We live in a truly enlightened age.
There isn’t much of what we would call science when we look at people living in the time of Jesus, is there? What nonbelievers often picture are groups of ignorant peasants wearing tunics and cloaks, genuflecting to various gods, engaging in outdated religious practices that smack more of myth than fact. And some are quick to describe them as unenlightened, believers in fantasy, duped by the ignorance of the age in which they lived.
So, when 21st century people come to Christmas what do they celebrate? Well, kindness, for one. There are presents, of course. But I think the predominant theme for most is the expression of good will to others, the acknowledgment that whether or not the baby in a manger was real, isn’t the point; it’s as good a story as any. All the camels pacing, the straw in the stable, the bright star in the sky, the men and women in odd clothes, the chorus of angels, and all the other trappings of the story with which we find impossible to identify do not deter us from the basic elements of the tale: peace on earth, goodwill to men.
But when Christmas is over, and the New Year begins, what do nonbelievers do with all the rest of it, i.e. the sequel to the Xmas story? They look at the tunics and cloaks, prayers and scriptures, Hassidic Jews shuckling (swaying) at the Wailing Wall, the exorcism of demons, the outmoded moral values, the modern day Christians hurrying off to church to sing hymns, etc. and they see a religious anachronism of which they want no part.
The foreign culture of the Near East of twenty centuries ago, and the strange words and beliefs of the day (often not even translated into modern day speech) give off an odor of ignorance, science-less, and unenlightened folderol to the modern nonbeliever. And I can understand that.
Until we boil it down, that is. Make no mistake: the Bible contains language, culture, and practices that are bizarre to modern man. But if you are willing to look behind the curtain of culture (so to speak), to “boil it down,” what appears is seamlessly relevant to the modern man or woman. For the intent of these ancient writings is quite clear:
But that is not all we need to know; we can learn the basic temperature at which water boils, but there is more we need to know in order to function successfully in this mysterious world.
Even though your identity is priceless and your purpose secure, the snake of wrongdoing and evil will also be a part of your life’s experience; it will be your undoing unless you find a means of rescue. And hard as you try it will not be found in career, relationships, or self-improvement. For even if you are fortunate enough to have great success in all these areas . . . death awaits you. My experience, and perhaps yours, too, promises a far from flawless success in any of these areas. As they used to say, “Life’s a b_____, and then you die.”
Cheerful words? Of course not! But if you are an adult you have lived more than enough to have experienced what I’m talking about. The coming of Jesus and the ensuing message of “good news” he brought addresses these crucial areas of life: identity, purpose, failure, and rescue. It gave perspective to those wearing tunics and sandals many centuries ago, and it gives perspective to those in jeans and Hoka’s, today.
And . . . as a bonus . . . it even addresses the most defeating aspect of life there is: DEATH.
You cannot afford to let the odd, cultural trappings of the past obfuscate the true message of rescue that Jesus offers. It is not about anti-scientific, outmoded, anachronistic folderol; it is about the issues you already face in your life. The same issues faced by folks 2,000 and more years ago. We are the same. Not different.
So, what is your boiling point? That is, when all your concerns, your issues, your heart of hearts, your dreams, i.e. YOUR LIFE, are boiled down to basics . . . what is left? When water boils at sea level at 212°F an interesting thing happens. It changes.
A Word of Warning: if you go on this tremendous journey, this quest, looking behind the curtain of Bible culture, and finding your own boiling point (the point at which your heart is truly revealed) . . . you, too, will change.