The Mystical Teachings of Christianity by Jim Lewis
A Pharisee named Nicodemus came to see Jesus one night. He seemed sincere for one who was a member of a group that opposed Jesus and all He stood for. He acknowledged that Jesus was a great teacher. He had no doubt seen some of the things Jesus did and had listened to Him teach some challenging ideas. Before Nicodemus could ask many questions Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
Nicodemus didn’t understand the statement; he began immediately trying to figure out how it could happen biologically. Of course, Jesus wasn’t referring to a physical birth, He was referring to something far greater. He began giving some instructions to Nicodemus about the New Birth, how it felt and what would happen in the life of the individual.
The stories about Jesus’ birth are symbolic portrayals of the New Birth experience. Unfortunately the stories have been taken literally and the great mystical teaching has been missed. The Virgin Birth and other details of the Christmas story have become matters of faith. One has faith if he believes these stories as actual fact; one lacks faith and is considered heretical and irreligious if he does not believe them literally. Those people who believe the stories literally become upset and frustrated with those who do not believe them. Some of those who do not believe them want to throw them out. This is unfortunate, for they are fantastic statements of spiritual truths.
I can understand the emotional attachment many have to these stories. When I was a young person, I was raised in a Catholic orphanage even though I wasn’t a total orphan. Each year a marvelous manger scene—the most beautiful one I have ever seen—was constructed in a big room. I would spend hours in that room thinking about the events of that scene, the countryside, the star, the people, the animals, and especially the infant. However, the day comes when the Light begins to shine and we are forced to consider the mystical truth in the stories instead of just believing the stories to be history.
The story of a Virgin Mother giving birth to a Divine Savior is common to all cultures and religions around the world. As a child I used to think that this was something that only happened to Jesus and therefore was unique to Christianity. It was disturbing to find out differently.
Maya, the mother of Buddha, and Devaki, the mother of Krishna, were both worshipped as virgin mothers. They are represented with infant saviors in their arms.
Isis, the mother of the Egyptian savior, Horus, was also worshipped as a virgin. On religious monuments of Egypt the infant Horus is seated in the lap of his virgin mother. She is called “Our Lady” and “Queen of Heaven”. These are names, along with many others, that have been used to describe Mary, Jesus’ mother. And Jesus has been pictured as an infant in the arms of His mother and as seated on her lap.
Candlemas Day is an important Christian celebration; it is of Egyptian origin. The feast was kept by the ancient Egyptians in honor of the goddess Neith, mother of Osiris. She was also known as the “Great Mother” and also “Immaculate Virgin”. Mary’s feast day of Candlemas is on the same day as Mother Neith’s. Candlemas is on February 2, forty days after Christmas. Better known as the Feast of Purification, it commemorates the time that Mary went to the Temple to be purified according to Jewish law after having her child. It was also a time when she would either have to give her firstborn to God in the Temple or make an offering of redemption. As stated in Exodus 13:2, “And the Lord spake unto Moses saying, ‘Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both man and beast; it is mine.’” It was to commemorate the flight from Egypt when the angel of death passed over the homes of the Hebrews and slew only the first born of the Egyptians.
Isis is also called “Star of the Sea”, “Governess”, “Mother of God”, “Intercessor”, and “Immaculate Virgin”. She is represented as standing on a crescent moon with twelve stars surrounding her head. In almost every Roman Catholic church in Europe, according to one source I have read, there are pictures and statues of Mary, “Queen of Heaven” standing on the crescent moon with twelve stars around her head. In the small chapel I attended there was a statue of Mary wearing a beautiful crown on her head and holding Jesus in her arms. She was not only “Queen of Heaven”, she was also “Mother of God”.
The Chaldeans, Babylonians, Etruscans, Assyrians, and Chinese all worshipped a goddess who was a virgin mother, and her son. Even the ancient civilizations in Mexico worshipped a virgin and her infant son.
Mary is not only considered the Virgin Mother of Jesus but she is called, as I have said, the “Mother of God”. Jesus is not only Savior but He is God Who created the universe. His theological stature was so great that Mary’s position had to be upgraded. How could a human sinner be good enough and pure enough to give birth to God? To make this possible it was proclaimed by the Pope in 1851 that Mary was conceived by her parents, Joachim and Anna, without the stain of original sin. This is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which many Christians relate to Jesus’ conception. Human conception was thought to be sinful; the children of this type of conception were all considered to be sinners, for they had the original sin of Adam and Eve on their souls. Mary was proclaimed free. In 813 A.D. the Church had also proclaimed the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, that she ascended bodily into heaven.
At the time that Matthew and Luke wrote their versions of Jesus’ life and teachings, Mithraism was a very popular religion in the Roman world. Mithra was born of a virgin, instituted baptism and the communion meal, was crucified, and resurrected. The same details of a Virgin Birth had to be attached to Jesus if the unsaved Gentiles were to be persuaded. The Virgin Birth meant the infant Jesus was something special; it was evidence that He was of God and was God. Christians still think this way today. The early Christians even went so far as to give Jesus the same birth date as Mithra, December 25.
Matthew and Luke both stress the idea that Mary was a Virgin. Luke was writing mainly for Gentiles, mostly Greek Gentiles. They would readily accept the Virgin Birth for it was a common idea in their Greek culture. Matthew wrote for Jews, but they were Jews strongly influenced by Greek ideas. The feast of Hanukkah celebrates their independence from Greek cultural indoctrination. They freed themselves politically but not in consciousness. They were getting so “Greek” they couldn’t read their Hebrew Scriptures; the Scriptures had to be translated into Greek in the third and second centuries B.C. This translation, called the Septuagint, was used by Matthew in quoting passages about the Messiah and relating them to Jesus.
Not only do the passages have nothing to do with Jesus’ time, Matthew made a mistake about the virgin birth. In Isaiah 7:14 it reads, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel means “God with us”.
When this passage is put back into the context of the historical situation, a great crisis in Hebrew history, we find that Isaiah was talking to King Ahaz of Judah around 735 B.C. The birth of a child was a sign for the King regarding a situation that faced him. In the Hebrew, that passage reads, “a young woman of marriageable age”. The Hebrew word used to describe the woman was “almah”. The Greek word used in the Septuagint translation was “parthenos”. If Isaiah had intended to convey the idea of a virgin birth he would have had to use the Hebrew term “bethulah”. Matthew was using the Septuagint, the Greek translation, and it fit his purpose, which was to portray Mary as a virgin giving birth to the expected Messiah.
However, when we read the story of Isaiah and Ahaz in the Old Testament we find that Isaiah was more concerned about his day than 700 years in the future. This was the situation: Assyria was on the warpath. The northern kingdom of Israel and the nation of Syria wanted to form an anti-Assyrian alliance. The situation was so desperate that these two enemies were willing to join together to meet the advances of a common foe. Since King Ahaz of the southern kingdom of Judah was reluctant to join the alliance, Israel and Syria were going to attack Judah, get rid of Ahaz, and put a puppet king on the throne. Ahaz had good reason to be reluctant about joining the alliance; he felt, and rightly so, that to attack Assyria was futile. But he had to make a decision. He either had to join the alliance and take his chances that they might be able to defeat Assyria or to call on Assyria for help in defeating Israel and Syria.
One day while he was out inspecting the city’s water supply he had an encounter with the prophet Isaiah. The prophet said that the king should not join the alliance and that he should not call on Assyria. Instead he should “Trust in Yahweh; be quiet and keep calm.” Ahaz was doubtful this would work. Isaiah told the king to ask for a sign from God, but Ahaz didn’t want to tempt the Lord even though the Lord was telling him to ask for the sign through the prophet. Isaiah told the king he would give him a sign anyway. The sign was that a young woman, probably one that they both knew, would give birth to a male child and his name would be called “Immanuel”. Isaiah was trying to tell the king that God was with the people in this situation. Before the child reached the age of reason and self-dependence the situation with Israel and Syria would be resolved.
Ahaz couldn’t believe it and he didn’t listen. He called on Assyria for help. As a result he became a vassal to Assyria, having to strip the Temple and the palace of its gold in order to pay the heavy tribute demanded. An Assyrian altar was built in the Temple. Isaiah said it would lead to disaster and it certainly did.
Jesus never fulfilled all the prophecies of the Messiah as expected by the Hebrews. They were expecting a “King” with political and military power to overwhelm their enemies. He was to be in the lineage of David; Matthew and Luke try to give this impression in their Gospels, but the two genealogies do not agree.
We have been told the Christmas story so many times that we do not realize some of the conflicting information contained in the stories: how Mary could become pregnant in the summer and give birth to a child in December; how shepherds could be in the fields watching sheep in December when the sheep are usually taken into the folds earlier; why Herod didn’t see the star that the Wise Men saw and followed; how the Wise Men could follow a star in the east yet had to travel west to get to Bethlehem; how the shepherds found the child and His parents in the stable, but when the Wise Men visited, the story states they found the family in a house; how the Wise Men could make the trip of 500 miles in one night traveling by camel.
When we consider some other details of the Scripture we find that the events surrounding the birth of Jesus were not stressed by the immediate followers of Jesus, namely the disciples and Paul. Peter and Paul never mention anything about Jesus having a miraculous birth and I am sure that if this was important to them they would have mentioned it. In fact, Paul writing in Galatians 4:4 says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” Here Paul says Jesus was born of a woman and the assumption is that it was the normal type of birth.
In Catholic tradition great emphasis is put on the doctrine that Mary was a virgin both before and after the birth of Jesus even though it says in the Scriptures that Jesus had brothers and sisters. The brothers are supposed to be cousins, children of a previous marriage by Joseph. It would seem that this explanation would raise a serious question in the light of the Church’s teaching about divorce. Was Joseph’s former wife still living? If she was, then Joseph was a divorced man when Mary became his wife. Furthermore, the Scriptures tell us only that Mary was betrothed to Joseph and never mentions that they ever got married; we only assume they did. In trying to harmonize the stories with facts we have to assume a number of things.
Scholars aren’t certain that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. David was born there and we have to assume that since Jesus is supposed to be of the lineage of David that He was born there also. Luke states that a census was taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria and that this was the reason that Mary and Joseph made the trip to Bethlehem. The only problem with this is that Quirinius was not governor of Syria at that time. We can’t even be sure of the year in which Jesus was born. It was thought that He was born in 0 A.D. until it was discovered that Herod, the one who killed the children, died in 4 B.C. So now it is believed that Jesus was born around 6 B.C.
Why am I stressing all these things? It seems like I am trying to discredit the Scriptures, but that is not my purpose at all. I am trying to show that we must look beyond the historical incidents and realize that there is a deeper meaning to these stories. When we realize this, the stories will mean even more to us—at least they do to me. Jesus means more to me now than He ever did, so I am not trying to depreciate Him, but rather to elevate Him to an even greater importance, for what He taught us is of utmost importance.
What then is the mystical significance of the Virgin Birth stories? As I said in the beginning the story is a description of the New Birth idea and experience that Jesus was endeavoring to convey to Nicodemus. This is an experience that will take place in every person. It has already taken place in some, but it has not taken place in some of those who think it has.
The New Birth experience is more than a psychological response to religious emotionalism. The New Birth is a dynamic spiritual experience that leads to a marvelous transformation of the individual.
In the Virgin Birth story, the infant represents the realization of our divine potential, our divine sonship. Most humans have no conception of their spiritual nature. They know themselves to be human beings, sinners, separated from God because of sin, and very limited in talent, ability and power.
It was Jesus’ mission to reveal to us the Truth of Being. He was a son of God and He said we were sons too. He was divine and He said we were too. We are more than flesh and blood, we are spiritual being. It is when this great spiritual truth is born in us that we really begin to live, for this realization is essential to the attaining of eternal life.
The birth can only be a Virgin Birth. Mary represents a pure, unselfish desire to know the truth of Being, to know who and what we are as spiritual beings. This doesn’t mean our whole soul must be free of all negative desire or even other positive desires, but it does mean there must be at least one sincere unselfish desire to know the truth. In many people Mary hasn’t even been born as yet. But she has been born in many and she is about to or already has given birth to the Christ child.
Being born of a virgin also means that the realization of the Christ potential cannot come through the intellect, Joseph. We cannot gain this realization by reading a book about someone’s experience in receiving it. We cannot reason or analyze ourselves into it. It is an intuitive experience, a revelation. If Jesus could have given this truth to the world on the intellectual level He would have done so, but on that level we can only know about it. When it is revealed we shall know it.
In the story we are told the birth took place in Bethlehem. This word means “house of bread” and it represents the subconscious phase of mind or the feeling nature. When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem there was no room for them in the Inn. This means that in most cases our feelings are too preoccupied on the material level. We are desiring things. We feel that some object or person or money or position will make us happy, successful, rich, or famous. We are so busy in the pursuit of things that our true desire, Mary, hardly has room for the birth of the truth that will really satisfy and fulfill.
However, the day comes in the life of every person when the great event does take place. It may seem insignificant, but it is often the seemingly insignificant things in our lives that turn out to be the big, important events. When it happens it is very upsetting and disturbing to Herod. He represents the king of the intellect, the controlling, dominating master of human thought. Our human attachments and beliefs are upset. He knows he will lose his power, for a new king is born; his authority will be replaced. Instead of living by sense control we will live by the inner light.
The Herod in us tries to kill out any thought of reform or self-improvement, for he loves his sense control and gratification. Herod tried to remedy the situation he perceived as a threat by killing all the two-year-old males, but the child was taken to Egypt. We cannot kill the desire for improvement. It only waits patiently for the right moment to come. In many, the child has been born but is not growing in spiritual control because Herod is still very much alive and active. When we consider the multitude of thoughts and desires we have in the areas of politics, religion, social relationships, business, and family we are amazed that the birth, the desire for true spiritual improvement, could even take place at all.
But the day comes when Herod dies. We begin to realize the futility of material pursuits as the main objective in life. When we were half-heartedly searching for truth and had the spiritual realization we thought it was a joyous occasion and it was. The promise of peace, power, mastery, health, prosperity and redemption sounded great. But no growth took place or really could take place until Herod died.
Then the child was taken to Nazareth. This is where the intellect comes into its place of importance. It is not enough to receive intuitive, spiritual revelations of truth in the form of ideas. These truths, these great ideas, must be accepted. This is not always easy to do, but it can be done. The process of redemption, the transformation of consciousness, is a challenging and trying time of growth. The child Jesus growing up in Nazareth represents the struggle of growth, the struggle to accept the ideal.
The soul must be redeemed from the influence of negative beliefs and habits in all the categories I have already mentioned. We have been taught that all we needed to do to be redeemed was to profess to believe the doctrines of the church, be baptized and just wait until we go to heaven. I wish it was that simple and easy, but it isn’t. We are going to have to put our mind and heart and effort into this regenerating process. We can’t just sit back and make no effort toward spiritual growth, thinking that it will be done for us. We don’t have to do it alone, for God is with us to help us, but it is a cooperative adventure.
Someone has said, “Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, unless He is born in thee, thy soul is all forlorn.” This is true, but I would just like to add another thought to it: unless the child gets the opportunity to grow up and teach us, there is no real and lasting joy. We remain slaves to our sense habits and appetites.
It was a great day when Jesus was born. It will be another great day when the birth of God takes place in us. And it will be an even greater day when He is fully grown in us and begins His ministry of rehabilitation, for then we will be like Him, Jesus. It was Jesus Who said that we should follow Him in the regeneration. It was Jesus Who said that we should be perfect, perfect in the sense that we should always express principle, truth, in every situation and experience. It was Jesus that expected much out of us, for it was He Who knew there was much in us.
© 1981, Dr. James C. Lewis
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.