A Child Is Born

Charles Jennens helped make his friend rather famous. That wasn’t his intent, as he had far loftier goals for what he wanted them to produce together.

As a devout Christian, Jennens was concerned about cultural trends. The questions raised by opinion-makers challenging traditional values were causing church goers and even church leaders to doubt the authority of the Bible and the truth claims made by and about Jesus Christ.

So Jennens approached his German friend, an entertainer, with an idea. He wanted to use the medium of popular music to present lyrics based on the King James Bible, to tell the story of Jesus in an uplifting and powerful way in secular settings.  He reasoned that an authentic Christian voice was needed to counter the cultural mood of the day.  So with Jennens selecting the words and his friend composing the music (in just 24 days), they produced a work that accomplished their purpose, and ensured that history would never forget them.

The year was 1741. The friend was George Handel.  The work they produced was an English-language, three-part oratorio called Messiah.  Now you know the rest of the story.

Handel originally intended the Messiah for Easter, as he introduced the new oratorio near that holiday in 1742 in Dublin.  However today it is more associated with Christmas because Part 1 emphasizes fulfilled prophecy of the Messiah’s first Advent.  A Chorus in Part 1 presents this profound text:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6).

The more famous Hallelujah Chorus concludes Part 2 amidst a selection of texts about the crucifixion, resurrection, second advent, and the day of judgment. Enlightenment philosophers in the 18th century challenged these truths and the deity of Christ as do skeptics today, mythologizing the idea of a Creator born into His creation.  Yet without Bethlehem, there is no Calvary; if no Calvary the empty tomb is empty of meaning.  “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest…to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17).  So, either there is a Christmas miracle or Christianity is incoherent.

“A Child is born” tells of the first coming. As surely as Jesus fulfilled ancient prophecy in that way, He will come again as promised.  But the second Advent will be a great trumpet and gathering, infinitely more glorious than the grandest presentation of Handel’s (and Jennens’) Messiah.

The Sacrifice


After studying journalism and law (Yale), Lee Strobel became an award-winning journalist at the Chicago Tribune.  His wife disrupted his secular life when she announced she had become a Christian.  Though pleasantly surprised by the change in her character, he remained skeptical of Christian claims of history and truth.  So he systematically interviewed experts in history, science, medicine, and psychology looking for answers.  You can read about it in The Case for Christ. 

We are in the midst of the season celebrating the central events of the Christian faith: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  Despite the evidence, skeptics remain.  Some question not only his death by crucifixion, but that Jesus even existed.

First-century historians Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny, and Thallus mention the Jesus story.  From these sources, we find that:  Jesus was a Jewish teacher that many believed performed miracles.  Some believed he was the Messiah, but not the Jewish leaders.  He was crucified until dead under Pontius Pilate, but his followers believed that he continued to live.  His following spread into the Roman world in the first century as people worshipped him as God.  All of this from non-Christian sources!

The Bible adds historical details to these accounts.  The Jewish leaders killed him because he was a perceived threat to their authority.  The Roman governor Pilate killed him, and washed his hands in front of the crowd to exonerate himself of innocent blood.  The angry mob killed him because they chose the known criminal Barabbas to be released instead.  As for Jesus, they shouted, “Crucify Him!”

So if a real Jesus lived and died, the next question is, “Why?”  I was enjoying lunch with a fellow once, when he pronounced that he respected Jesus because “he died for what he believed in.”  I almost choked.  To him, Jesus was just some revolutionary, an activist that got what was coming.  Didn’t his death mean much more than that?

A Hebrew prophet tells us, “The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (Is 53:10).  Think of Jesus’ tortured death, then read that He “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross” (Heb 12:2).  Yes, joy! People may have carried out the death sentence, but it was God’s plan all along.  Why?  For us, for love.  Before the foundation of the world, God knew we would fall into sin; in love He prepared a Sacrifice to bear our sin and offer forgiveness.  His call is believe Him and accept what He has done for us.  It’s life-changing.

What became of Lee Strobel?  He was convinced by the evidence, and believed that Jesus lived and died on his behalf.  Might you also need to consider that you are the reason for the Sacrifice?