Another Reason to Rejoice this Season

Then the shepherds returned, glorifying God and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. (Luke 2:20)

Millions of Christians around the world choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus during this time of year—some on December 24 or 25 and others around January 7—while some choose not to celebrate at all. Whenever a Christian decides to celebrate, or if he elects not to celebrate His birth, we can all rejoice in the fact that, by putting on humanity, the Son of God became one of us to deal with our sin by dying in our place before conquering death when He rose from the dead.

History in Advance

The Gospel of Matthew gives us another reason to be thankful. The events associated with the birth of Jesus fulfilled numerous Old Testament prophecies given centuries before the events they described. Matthew 1:22 introduces a common statement in his work. He wrote, “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet.”1 Since he used this phrasing in at least a dozen passages, Matthew knew it was important to point out to his readers that many of the events he described fulfilled specific prophecies. Let’s take a look at some of these ancient proclamations before explaining why these give us a cause to celebrate.

The first use of the fulfillment phrase mentioned above introduces one of the best-known prophecies in the Bible.

Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

In reference to the birth of Jesus, Matthew cited a specific prophecy from Isaiah made more than 700 years earlier.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

Just as foretold, the virgin (Mary) indeed did conceive (Matthew 1:21) and bore a Son who is called Immanuel. This amazing event demonstrates God’s infinite knowledge and power. He is capable for foretelling the future with perfect precision, and He has the power to bring His prophecies to pass, even if that means a virgin would need to conceive and bear a Son.2

After Christ’s birth the magi arrived in Jerusalem. Herod gathered the chief priests and scribes and asked them where the Messiah was going to be born (Matthew 2:3). They responded by citing an Old Testament prophecy pinpointing Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Christ:

“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.” (Matthew 2:6; cf. Micah 5:2; John 7:42)

Herod’s murderous response of slaughtering the young boys of Bethlehem led to the fulfillment of three more prophecies. First, this tragic massacre fulfilled the words of Jeremiah.

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18; cf. Jeremiah 31:15)

The original context of this prophecy had to do with mothers in Israel lamenting the deportation of their sons to Babylon. These mothers were personified as “‘Rachel,’ the mother in the days of the patriarchs whose sons Joseph and Benjamin had also been threatened with being ‘no more’ (i.e., carried away into Egypt; cf. Gen. 42:36).”3 Ramah was a town close to Jerusalem and associated with Rachel’s tomb (1 Samuel 10:2–3).

The second fulfilled prophecy resulting from Herod’s paranoiac rage took place after Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt. Upon their return, God’s words to Hosea were fulfilled.

“Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Matthew 2:15; cf. Hosea 11:1)

This prophecy was originally made as a statement of history—God had called (and brought) Israel out of Egypt. Guided by the Holy Spirit, Matthew used these words to refer to the Messiah.

The final prophecy discussed by Matthew pertaining to events in the early years of Jesus has to do with his boyhood home. God warned Joseph in a dream not to go back to Judea, so instead he took Mary and Jesus to Nazareth in Galilee, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (Matthew 2:23). This statement has confused Christians because the Old Testament does not seem to make this specific prediction. Skeptics have jumped on this verse, claiming that it is a contradiction in Scripture. However, there are a few plausible solutions to this dilemma.

  1. Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Old Testament Law and was like a Nazirite who vowed to separate himself to the Lord (Numbers 6:1–8). However this is an unlikely explanation since no record exists of Jesus making this vow, and if He did make one, He would have broken it when He drank wine or vinegar (Matthew 26:27–29; John 19:29). Also, even though the words Nazirite and Nazareth look and sound similar in English, they are unrelated in Hebrew.
  2. Nazareth comes from the root word netzer, which means branch, and multiple prophets spoke of the Messiah as the “Branch” (cf. Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12).
  3. Nazareth was looked upon with scorn. Even Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Several prophets revealed that the Messiah would be “despised and rejected of men” (Isaiah 53:3, cf. Psalm 22:6; Daniel 9:26; Zechariah 12:10).
  4. Matthew may have recorded an oral tradition handed down from the prophets that was not written in the Old Testament, or perhaps it was a prophecy recorded in a non-extant, non-canonical work familiar to Matthew.4

Also, notice that Matthew indicated that the “prophets” (plural) had spoken about this rather than simply indicating that one particular prophet mentioned these things. Whatever the proper solution is to this dilemma, it is clear that Matthew did not introduce a contradiction in the text.

The Unique Savior

While thinking about the circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth, Christians can rejoice that the Messiah has come to earth and dealt with our sin. We can praise God for fulfilling His promises. and we can have complete confidence that He will always be faithful to do what He has declared.

Despite what many believe today, the religions and religious leaders of the world are not the same. Many people in our culture promote the ridiculous claim that Jesus was just another religious leader—a good person who tried to make life better for others—but Jesus is unique in so many respects. He alone was a “good person” since He lived a sinless life. Every other religious leader has been sinful and needed a Savior. But Jesus did not need a savior; He is the Savior.

There are no prophecies foretelling details about the birth of other religious leaders. No prophecies alerted the world to the coming of Muhammad (Islam), Joseph Smith (Mormonism), David Koresh (Branch Davidians), Charles Taze Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses), Siddhartha Gautama (Buddhism), or any other founder of the world’s religions. Yet the Old Testament pinpointed numerous details about the life of the Son of God and Savior of the world.

So what do these prophecies tell us about Jesus? In just the first two chapters of Matthew, we see that God foretold the virginal conception of the Messiah, who would be born in Bethlehem, yet in some way would come out of Egypt and be called a Nazarene. We also see that bitter agony would grip the mothers in that area.

In the genealogy recorded in Matthew’s first chapter, we discover the fulfillment of several other Old Testament prophecies. Jesus was from the line of Abraham (Genesis 12:3), Isaac (Genesis 26:4), Jacob (Genesis 28:14), Judah (Genesis 49:8–12), Jesse (Isaiah 11:1), and David (Isaiah 9:7). But that’s not all. A search through the rest of Scripture would reveal dozens of other details prophesied about the Messiah, including the following facts:

  • He would enter Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt (Matthew 21:4–10; Zechariah 9:9).
  • He would be betrayed by a friend (John 13:18; Psalm 41:9).
  • The betrayal would be for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14–16; Zechariah 11:12).
  • The money would be used to purchase the potter’s field (Matthew 27:3–10; Zechariah 11:13).
  • The Messiah would die a sacrificial death for us (Matthew 27:50; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Daniel 9:26; Isaiah 53:8).
  • He would die with criminals but His burial would be with the wealthy (Matthew 27:57–60; Luke 23:33; Isaiah 53:9).
  • He would rise from the dead (Matthew 28:6; Psalm 16:8–11; Isaiah 53:10).
  • He would say certain words on the Cross. He would be mocked, and people would gamble for His clothes (Psalm 22:1, 8, 18).

Many other prophecies could be listed that were perfectly fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. These were not lucky guesses made by fraudulent prognosticators; they were precise predictions made by the all-knowing God of the Bible who repeatedly demonstrated that He has perfect knowledge of all past, present, and future events. Consequently, we can be completely confident that He will always make good on His promises and that those future events He has foretold will certainly come to pass.

Conclusion

About 2,000 years ago, Jesus came to earth in a humble manner. The Savior of the world and God of all creation put on humanity to die for our sins and conquer death, giving the hope of salvation to all who turn from their sin and believe on Him. One day, He will return in judgment, and He will not appear as a seemingly helpless baby, but as the risen, glorified, sovereign Lord and Judge.

What will it be like for you when He returns? Will you be safe and secure because you have been saved by His amazing grace? Or will you tremble in fear before the holy and righteous God as you are condemned for rejecting His gracious offer of salvation (Revelation 20:11–15, cf. Philippians 2:9–11)?

If you are currently an unbeliever, I urge you to turn from your sin and cry out to Jesus to save you from the eternal torment we all deserve for our rebellion against the infinitely holy Creator. I pray that you find the same joy shared by the shepherds who visited Jesus on the night He was born.

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Footnotes

  1. For some of Matthew’s other uses of this phrasing, see Matthew 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:54–56; 27:9, 35. Back
  2. Some people object to this understanding of Isaiah 7:14. Looking closely at the language and context of the passage seems to show that this prophecy was supposed to be fulfilled in Isaiah’s time period, and not 700 years later. Isaiah had asked Judah’s King Ahaz to ask God for a sign that the kings of Syria and Israel would not attack his kingdom, but Ahaz responded by saying that he would not test God by asking for a sign. Isaiah’s response included the now-famous prophecy that was supposed to be a “sign” for King Ahaz. How could the birth of Christ be a sign to a king who had died centuries earlier? Also, there is no report in Isaiah’s time of a virgin conceiving and bearing a sign, so how could this prophecy have been fulfilled in his time? This may be one of several prophecies that include a dual referent or dual fulfillment. That is, the prophecy (or portions of it) would be fulfilled at one point, but the ultimate fulfillment would take place at a later date. For a good explanation of the different views on this subject, see Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986; 1999), pp. 277–278. Back
  3. Craig Blomberg, Matthew: The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), p. 68. Back
  4. For the first three points on this list, see Norman L. Geisler and Thomas A. Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1992), p. 328. The fourth point is my own and is not without precedence. For example, Jude quoted from the non-canonical book of 1 Enoch (compare Jude 14–15 with 1 Enoch 1:9) and may have alluded to the non-extant Assumption of Moses in Jude 9. These citations do not imply that these works were inspired or missing books of the canon—just that the particular statements cited were accurate or proper for Jude’s purpose. Back