Prophecy and History

At Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth whom Christians believe to be Yeshua, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Savior of the world.  They refer to Jesus’ birth as the Incarnation, meaning God became a person.  Christians believe that Jesus is the Christ for several reasons.  They speak about his sinless life, his miraculous ministry and his atoning death, but, most of all, they speak of his resurrection as the single most significant evidence for the claim that he is both Savior and Lord.

I would like to address another reason that gets less attention in our time but one that the early Christians thought was critical and compelling; Jesus was the Christ because the events of his life fulfilled prophecy.  At Christmas the issue of prophecy reemerges during Advent, the four weeks just prior to Christmas when Christians prepare themselves by rehearsing the events leading up to Jesus birth.  The narrative found in Matthew’s gospel carefully matches the events leading up to and following Jesus’ birth with the fulfillment of specific prophecies: Isaiah 7&9, Micah 5 and Jeremiah 31; however, the preferred birth narrative is found in chapter two of Luke’s gospel. Luke’s more particular and historically focused narrative was popularized and made more accessible when Linus quoted it to help Charlie Brown understand what Christmas was all about.

 

Taking Matthew’s prophetic emphasis and Luke’s historical focus into account, I would like to offer a brief observation about the relationship between prophecy and history, an observation that I believe is worth our attention in the coming year.

Prophecy can be both fore-telling and forth-telling.  In the instances I have listed above, I believe that prophecy is fore-telling, predicting, if you will, future events of great importance.  I would like to focus on the prediction from Micah 5:2 that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-6) and the manner in which that prophecy was fulfilled (Luke 2:1-7).

MPTP: The historical conditions in which a prophecy will be fulfilled is seldom provided ahead of time but those conditions should not be ignored because they reveal something significant about the nature of the God who is both the source of the prophecy and its fulfillment.

Mary and Joseph were at the center of this story of fulfilled prophecy but that fact did not entitle them to a free pass.  They did not take a magic carpet ride to Bethlehem.  The narrative does not tell us that they prayerfully and carefully planned a family trip to Bethlehem in order to fulfill the prophecy regarding Jesus’ birth.  The narrative is clear.  Mary and Joseph were driven, even coerced to take that trip to Bethlehem by Caesar Augustus.  The Roman Empire created the historical conditions surrounding the birth of Jesus.  Mary and Joseph complied.                                      

                                                  

The God of the Bible loves stories.  The God of this story did not circumvent history; He worked His purposes in it.  In doing so God affirmed that history has real meaning and purpose; therefore, so do the lives of people, all people.  Prophecy did not suspend history; it became a part of history.  The Christmas story tells us that God did not stop or suspend the world’s history in order for Jesus to be born; He proved its worth by entering it as one of us.  “And that’s what Christmas is about Charlie Brown.”

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