Jesus – God’s Promise Fulfilled
This year is almost over. While 2020 was not the worst year in history, it is the worst that many of us can remember. Much of what happened has threatened to stifle our joy. It is helpful, then, that 2020 ends with some major holidays. They give us opportunities to celebrate, laugh, and party, even if we have to do so with smaller groups than normal.
We recently observed Thanksgiving Day. It served to remind us that we have much to be thankful for even when conditions are far from favorable. This past week, we crossed the threshold from November into December. December is the month in which we celebrate Jesus’ birth; it is the month of hope. Hope may be all that you have left after the ravages the past months have brought. You hope that smoother, less stressful days are coming.
I cannot promise you that 2021 will be any better than 2020 has been; I wish I could. What I can promise you is that Jesus will go with you. He says,
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)
Those are Jesus’ words. He may take you through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), but He has promised He will not send you there alone. It is God’s promises that I want to speak of – promises in the form of prophecies.
Christmas day will soon be here. You know the Christmas story. You are comfortable enough with the main points to communicate it to your children and grandchildren. Since many of you will not attend an in-person church service this Christmas, the responsibility of passing along this ancient story to the next generation falls on you. I would encourage you to do that sometime close to Christmas day.
As you do, particularly if you tell the story from Matthew’s gospel, you will encounter this phrase: “…that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet…”
Those words, or something like them, occur five times in the first two chapters of Matthew. They point to the fact that the details of Jesus’ birth were fulfillments of God’s promises. The same is true of His life, His death, His resurrection, and His return. So far, Jesus has fulfilled over 100 prophecies, most of which were very exacting in their detail.
These prophecies are ancient. The first prophecy concerning Jesus came to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:15 records it. It says that Eve’s offspring would eternally defeat and destroy the Serpent. Jesus did that at the cross and the empty tomb. The most recent prophecy concerning Jesus declares His intention to return to earth and take us to be with Him. The return of Jesus is approaching. Recent events suggest that it may be soon.
For now, we will concern ourselves with the prophecies pertaining to Jesus’ original arrival. We will consider three of them today.
These prophecies originally came to God’s people during periods of distress. An enemy was approaching. Their leadership was inept and failed to look to God for direction. Their people were experiencing extreme moral decay. Few were listening to those who declared God’s unfiltered truth.
Do those conditions sound familiar?
In Israel’s dark days, God’s prophesies communicated hope. They showed that God had a plan for His people. Though God was angry with them, He was not finished with them. The Messiah was on the way. The fulfilled prophecies proved both that God still moved in the affairs of men, and their actions could not alter or inhibit God’s good plan. The prophecies also showed that people could safely trust God’s Word, the Bible.
So, as we tell the Christmas story and highlight the prophecies connected to it, my goal is to encourage you. Just as God began the plan of redemption, He will finish it. God kept His promises to the world. God will keep His promises to you.
The first prophecy fulfillment we find in Matthew is that Jesus would be
Born To A Virgin – Matthew 1:22-23; Isaiah 7:14
Look at it in Matthew 1:20-23
“…an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’
The birth of Jesus to a virgin is a foundational truth of the Christmas story. The idea of a virgin birth is absurd to the natural mind, so this doctrine has come under attack, especially in the last century. Part of the reason for the disdain the virgin birth teaching receives is that people do not see its significance. They ask, “How does the virgin birth affect me? What am I supposed to do with that?”
Indeed. Why did God, the Father, bring His Son into the world through a virgin? The Bible communicates much of what Jesus did so that we will at least attempt to mimic His actions. Try, as you might, the virgin birth is one example you cannot follow.
The fact that God became a man without a sexual union has nothing to do with God having a negative attitude toward sex. In the Garden of Eden, God established the man and the woman as the first couple and determined the means by which they would produce children. He looked at all He had done, including His directive for our original parents to produce many children through sex, and assessed, “It is good.”
However, God put limits on the way humans express their sexuality. His desire, no, His command, is that people maintain their virginity until they get married, and Mary did that. Further, she and Joseph showed tremendous self-control and ensured that Mary remained a virgin until Jesus was born though God did not require this (Matt. 1:25). After that, however, they had other sons and daughters, and they produced each of those through a natural sexual union. Contrary to what some believe, Mary birthed only one child as a virgin.
There are some theological reasons why Jesus had to be born of a virgin, but we will save those for another day. For today, let’s focus on the practical benefits of the virgin birth miracle.
For one, the virgin birth marked Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior of the world. There were no virgin births before Christ. There have been none since. All those who claim to be Messiah but cannot prove they were born of a virgin should be immediately rejected.
Secondly, the incarnation of Jesus through a virgin birth helped to define God as the One who does the impossible. When Mary heard the angel’s announcement of God’s plan for her, she had only one question. She asked,
“How can this happen since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)
After minimal explanation of the process, and after telling Mary that God had given Elizabeth conception in her old age, Gabriel (Luke 1:26) gave these words as the ultimate explanation:
“For with God, nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:37)
The doctrine of the virgin birth is an important one, and we should defend it. Must we believe in a virgin birth to become a Christian, though? No. When my wife had the privilege of talking to our 4-year-old daughter about salvation, the fact that Jesus came into the world through a non-sexual union did not enter the conversation.
However, when my daughter’s Sunday school teachers later informed her about Jesus’ virgin birth, she accepted it as reality. She continued to believe it to be true even after she learned the specifics of human reproduction. She accepted the validity of other miracles in the Bible; she had no reason to reject this one.
Is it intellectually sound to accept one miracle in the Bible and refuse another? I assert that it is intellectual hypocrisy to deny the virgin birth but accept other examples of God’s intervention in the natural order of things; the most important of which is the resurrection. And belief in the resurrection of Jesus is necessary for salvation. That leads us to one final practical benefit to the virgin birth.
Like many other supposed impossibilities in the Bible, it requires faith, the kind of faith that leads to obedience. The virgin birth provides us with an opportunity to say, “I believe you, God.” That is what God required of Joseph too.
Imagine the turmoil Joseph felt when Mary informed him about what was happening inside her! The thoughts rolling through his mind had to have catapulted between sadness over Mary’s sudden insanity to anger over the thought of her betrayal. The Bible says that while he thought about what Mary told him and how he would respond, an angel appeared to him and confirmed Mary’s story.
Joseph received these words as fact because they came from God. The one who delivered them was an angel, who said,
“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
No matter how impossible a birth to a virgin seemed, Joseph and Mary received it by faith. They would soon hold God’s son, the Messiah, their Savior, in their arms. God is truly the One who does impossible things.
Before we go on to the second prophecy Jesus’ birth fulfilled, let me ask you a question. What impossible situation stands in your way right now? Are you asking, “God, how can this be? How am I going to get past this? It is too big, God.”
Examine the Scriptures. God delights in doing the impossible! There is nothing too big for Him! If He can rescue you from Hell based on your faith in Jesus, then He can do anything. Have faith, and watch what He will do.
Maybe the question you are asking is, “God, how can I survive this?” You see, sometimes, God chooses to miraculously sustain you instead of miraculously changing your situation.
As wonderful a truth as the virgin birth is, it was not so wonderful for Joseph and Mary’s future. It created a lot of questions. An obvious conception before marriage brought some shame on their family. That was no surprise to them. Still, they accepted their role and its consequences, and they trusted that God would see them through. He did, and He can do the same for you. God always keeps His promises.
Born In Bethlehem – Matthew 2:5-6; Micah 5:2
About nine months after Gabriel’s announcement of Jesus’ impending birth, Joseph and Mary had to make the 90-mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Though it was not a long trip by today’s terms, any trip with an about-to-give-birth woman is a long trip. That is especially true when the mode of transportation is either walking or jostling about on top of an animal.
No one would be so foolish to make such a trip unless an authority coerced them to do so. You likely know that the reason Joseph and Mary went is that the Roman government required it. The human justification for their journey to Bethlehem was to register for taxes, but the divine reason they went was for Mary to give birth to Jesus – in Bethlehem.
Caesar, unbeknownst to him and against his will, helped make sure that God’s will was fulfilled as declared in prophecy. Though Nazareth would play a part in the fulfillment of prophecy, it would do so as the place of Jesus’ maturing years, not as His birthplace. Do you realize that the only reason Jesus was born in Bethlehem and not Nazareth is because of an evil man’s decree? Jesus was born in Bethlehem because it fulfilled a prophecy hundreds of years old.
By the way, I hope that gives you hope for the future of our country. It appears that Joe Biden will become the next President of the United States. I do not consider Joe Biden to be an evil man, at least, not any more evil than I am. Some of the items in the democratic platform, however, are evil. If God can use Caesar Augustus, an evil man with an evil agenda, to accomplish His will, He can also use Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and even [gulp], Nancy Pelosi.
God rules the past, the present, and the future. He alone decided that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. More than 500 years before Jesus’ birth, the prophet Micah recorded these words:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)
But why? Why did God determine that His Son would be born in Bethlehem?
For one, it helped to draw the connection between Jesus and King David. The genealogy that begins Matthew’s gospel shows that Jesus was a Jew through His descent from Abraham and that He was royal through His ancestor, David (Matthew 1:16-17). Bethlehem was David’s hometown. Joseph, too, was David’s descendant, which required him to go to his ancestral home in obedience to Caesar’s dictate (Luke 2:1, 4).
Other prophecies indicated that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah, and more specifically, through King David’s family line (Luke 1:32; 2:9-11). Here is one from Jeremiah 23:5-6:
“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’”
John, one of Jesus’ original twelve apostles, recorded Jesus’ future statement that confirms His connection to David. We find it in the last book of the Bible and the last chapter. Rev. 22:16 says,
“I, Jesus, … am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”
Jesus will complete His plan when He stands as a King in David’s royal line. The fulfillment of Jeremiah and John’s prophecy is sure, but it is still future.
Though Micah’s prophecy has seen partial fulfillment, it too has a future aspect. The first part, Jesus’ birthplace, happened as predicted long ago. It was Bethlehem. The second part of the prophecy is still future. Jesus is not yet Israel’s physical, political Ruler, but His place on Jerusalem’s throne is just as sure as His placement in Bethlehem’s manger.
The reading of Micah’s prophecy in Herod’s presence occurred because the wise men arrived inquiring about a newborn king. They asked,
“Where is he that is born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2)
Herod, being a Jew, knew that the Holy Scriptures prophesied the Messiah’s birthplace. He sought out that prophecy from the scribes and governed his actions according to what they found.
Herod’s reaction to the scribes’ answer mirrors the way that many people treat the Bible today. He believed the prophecy enough to send soldiers to Bethlehem, kill the boys there under two years old, and believe that he had eliminated the toddler threat. But that is where his belief ended. His belief prompted envy, anxiety, fear, and murder, but it never gave him peace.
You may be like Herod – he knew the facts about the Messiah. You may believe every word from Matthew and Luke about Jesus’ birth. Perhaps, you would go even further and accept the accounts of His life, death, and resurrection. That is not enough. Belief in the facts surrounding the beginning of Jesus’ life and its end does nothing more for you than reading and accepting the biographical facts you would find in any other book.
Facts get you knowledge. Faith gets you a relationship. A relationship with God is the prerequisite to your entrance into God’s kingdom. You get that, not by just believing the facts about Jesus but by acting on those facts and taking Him as your Lord and Savior.
Think how things could have been different for Bethlehem and for Herod if only he had followed through on his stated intention of worshipping Jesus (Matt. 2:8)! Think about how things could be different for you if only you would submit to Jesus, fall on your face in worship, and offer yourself totally and unreservedly to Him as the Magi did!
In answer to Herod’s question, the scribes said that the king of the Jews would be born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was David’s birthplace. Herod knew that. Having Jesus originate there increased His connection to David and His claim on the throne, making Him more of a threat. Bethlehem itself was no threat. For 1000 years, the only thing that put this little town on the map was its most famous resident.
Here in our area of Western Maryland, we have many small towns. To show their pride and up their image, some have a sign on the town’s outskirts. Most highlight a famous sports figure, politician, or inventor who once lived there.
I can envision a similar sign on the road into Bethlehem. The words that greeted travelers as they approached might have gone something like this, “Bethlehem: population 300. Date of establishment: unknown. [first mention – Gen. 35:19] Most famous person: King David.”
Like David, no one hailed Jesus in His early years. The only ones who knew His name were His parents and the shepherds. Things have radically changed since then.
Though Covid has brought international travel to a halt, pilgrims used to flock to Bethlehem, especially at this time of the year. They went there, not to see the birthplace of David, but to stand in the same place where shepherds beheld a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. No longer does David hold the place of prominence on the town sign. David’s name has been scratched through, and the name of Jesus etched in its place.
Bethlehem was a little town. Jesus was just a tiny baby. The story of Bethlehem and the story of Jesus are the same. We dare not equate small with insignificant; they are not the same. Little Bethlehem gave birth to two men who became kings, and Jesus – God Himself – the Savior of the world, calls tiny Bethlehem His earthly home!
When we look at something small, we see weak, insignificant, easily ignored. God sees something that He can use to glorify Himself. He sees a miracle waiting to happen. Regarding the initial, humble steps of rebuilding the temple, God spoke this through the prophet Zechariah:
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” (Zechariah 4:10)
Small steps, small contributions, and small people – to God, all have tremendous value. The Bible is full of examples: Zacchaeus, the widow’s pennies, Mary & Joseph, five loaves & two fish, and you and me. God can use what others deem insignificant or worthless. God likes using weak things. God chooses to use weak things!
“…God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty… that no flesh should glory in His presence.” (1 Cor. 1:27-29)
One of my all-time favorite Christmas specials is the Little Drummer Boy. It does not get near as much airtime as a lot of other Christmas specials. I think that is because it focuses its attention on Jesus instead of Santa. You remember the story, though.
A little drummer boy serves a cruel master to entertain an audience in the hope of financial gain. The boy’s name is Aaron, and he hates all people for what a few did to his family. However, he loves animals. When one of Aaron’s animals gets injured by a speeding chariot, the magi suggest that the Baby they have come to worship might be able to help.
There is a problem, though. While the Magi brought elaborate gifts, poor Aaron realizes that he has nothing to offer as payment for the requested help. So, he offers the only thing he has – a song, really just a beat, hammered out on his drum. To His amazement, the Baby acknowledges his gift with a smile and heals Aaron’s lamb. The drummer boy did not offer much, but the Baby was pleased with what he brought.
Maybe you are like that fictitious drummer boy or little Bethlehem. You think that what you have to offer is not as beautiful, elaborate, or costly as what others bring. Jesus probably will not accept it. Perhaps many have passed you by, and you wonder why Jesus would do any differently? Here’s why, because Jesus assesses value using a totally different scale. Jesus looks at the heart and evaluates based on grace, not gifts.
Bring what you have to Jesus, no matter how small, not to earn His favor but to bring Him pleasure. The prophecy about Bethlehem teaches us that. It emphasizes the town’s smallness when it says,
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel…” (Micah 5:2)
No matter how small, each of us has something to offer.
Very quickly, let’s consider the third prophecy included in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ early days.
Time In Egypt – Matthew 2:13-15; Hosea 11:1
Look at Matthew 2:1.
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem…”
The wise men did a foolish thing. Rather than following the star directly to Bethlehem, they did what any ambassador would do. They went to the capital city, where they found Herod. They should have known that the current king would feel threatened by those seeking a new king.
The wise men did not know the danger they created for Jesus and His family by going to Herod. Had they known, their part in it would have horrified them. Joseph and Mary were equally unaware. They concerned themselves with keeping food on the table; they had no idea that a usurper to the throne was on the way, intent on harming their son.
However, God knew about the danger. He expressed His knowledge of it over 500 years before it happened. Through Hosea, the prophet, God prophesied that His son would spend time in Egypt.
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Hosea 11:1)
What God knew, He communicated to Mary and Joseph. Once again, an angel delivered the news.
“Now when [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’” (Matthew 2:13)
Being Jesus’ dad was a blessing, but this was the second time Joseph’s relationship with Jesus greatly complicated Joseph’s life. First, his plans for a simple wedding, followed by the start of a normal family, were put on hold when he took responsibility for raising God’s Son. Then, two years later, just after he and Mary had gotten comfortable in their house, and as his carpentry business was growing, he had to make a sudden move. Leaving would be difficult, both emotionally and financially.
Joseph loved his toddler boy, his young wife, and his simple life. Now, they had to pack what little they could carry and make a much longer journey than the one that had brought them from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This time, they would leave Israel altogether and travel to Egypt, where they would have to start again.
It did not matter; like any good parent, Joseph was willing to make any necessary sacrifices to protect his family. Still, though it is not recorded, he must have wondered how he would provide for them.
And then, Joseph remembered what the unusually dressed strangers brought to their home that day – gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold (Matt. 1:11). While Mary saw value in the spices, Joseph recognized what the gold could do. The wise men’s gifts eased the pain a fulfilled prophecy prompted, financed a speedy departure, and sustained Jesus’ family while they were gone, even if the worshippers’ presence put the family in danger.
Association with Jesus, then and now, has always brought danger. As an adult, Jesus warned his potential followers that they would be hated just as He was hated (Matthew 24:9). Today, the political landscape is increasingly hostile toward a biblical worldview and the kingdom of God. The danger that comes from being a Jesus-follower will only intensify as we approach the day of His return. But God will always see us through just as He did Mary and Joseph.
From beginning to end, He will provide what we need even if we do not see the purpose, at the moment, for what He has given. The job you tolerate, the acquaintance you barely acknowledge, the talent you never developed, or the house that feels empty may become what God uses to supply exactly what you need in a time of crisis.
Joseph, near the beginning of Jesus’ life, saw little value in the frankincense and myrrh that the wise men brought. However, these became significant at the end of Jesus’ life. You see, Mary, Jesus’ mother, was there as others prepared Jesus’ body for His burial. She, who had swaddled Him as a baby and placed him in a manger, now watched as Nicodemus and another Joseph carefully and lovingly wrapped His body to place Him in a tomb (Matt. 27:57-61; John 19:39-40).
What was included in those wrappings? Spices. Frankincense and myrrh would have been the most common spices used for a burial. God used one group of men to provide for Jesus’ safety. He used another group to provide for His sacrifice.
Just as was true for Jesus and His young parents, God knows the dangers around us and directs us to safety. By that, I do not mean to say that adoption into God’s family, coupled with faithfulness to Him, will prompt our escape from sickness, sorrow, or hardship. Take Jesus, for example.
Jesus is God’s Son, and He was fully obedient to His Father. Yet, He lived an uncomfortable life, often void of what we would consider basic necessities (Matt. 8:20). And His life ended with an excruciating, totally unjustified death.
God takes us through the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), but He does not withdraw His presence while we are there. And He provides exactly what we need. Sometimes, what we need is the comfort a rod and staff provide. At other times, a king’s gold is better. Whatever the need, God will meet it at just the moment that the crisis is most severe.
Think about this. The answer to your need is already headed your direction. Two years before Herod’s threat, the God who knew about the need that Joseph and Mary would have, caused wise men to choose gold as one of their gifts and sent a star to direct them on their way.
2020 has been a trying year for each of us. Some have suffered more than others. As I said initially, I wish I could point you to a prophecy that promises 2021 will be a huge improvement over what we have been through. I cannot. However, the three prophecies we have looked at in this article should be an encouragement to you.
They tell us that, while we do not know the future, the One who loves us with an intense love does. Further, these prophecies tell us that God can do the impossible, that He knows where you are and what you are facing, and that He will provide exactly what you need at the very moment that your crisis is the most severe.
He who knows the future knows your future too. And whatever that future holds, you know that God will be there with you.
Trust Him. Follow Him. Do as Jesus’ parents did, and obey what He tells you to do.
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