Our natural tendency when we read prophetic promises in the Bible is to generalize them into broad principles that could apply to almost anything. But when we actually observe the fulfillment of one of those promises, we discover God meant it to be taken quite literally. He meant to say exactly what He said. We often find ourselves surprised at the way the New Testament authors quote from the Old Testament. Our modern, skeptical minds tend to wonder if they are pulling proof-texts out of context, but the truth is the Holy Spirit gave them eyes to see the deep meaning embedded in these revelations written hundreds, and even thousands, of years earlier.
The birth, and early childhood, of Jesus is a perfect example of this. Time after time Matthew shows us that the event he just described had been prophesied to happen exactly as it did. As we read these passages we come away realizing that when God says something to us (when its really God), He wants us to believe Hell do exactly what He said Hed do. He doesnt want us to reinterpret His promises or generalize them, or forget them, but to treasure them in our hearts, like Mary (Lk 2:51), and wait patiently for them to be fulfilled.
The First Advent
During the season of Advent we actually celebrate two advents (comings). One that has happened already, and one for which we are still waiting. And since God doesnt change, the way He fulfilled His promises about the first advent teaches us what to expect from the promises Hes made concerning the second advent. First, lets observe how careful He was to fulfill the promises about the first advent
the incarnation of the Son of God.
1) Matthew 1:18-25 shows us how God fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14:
A virgin: not just a young woman
A son: a human baby boy
Immanuel: in Jesus God came to dwell among us
2) Matthew 2:1-12 shows us how God fulfilled the prophecy in Micah 5:2:
3) Matthew 2:13-15 shows us how God fulfilled the prophecy in Hosea 11:1:
My Son: this term is not just a poetic reference to the nation of Israel during the Exodus, but Gods Son would leave Egypt to return to Israel
4) Matthew 2:16-18 shows us how God predicted the tragedy foretold in Jeremiah 31:15:
Rachel: buried near Bethlehem
5) Matthew 2:19-23 shows us how God fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 11:1 and 53:2:
Nazarene: the shoot from the root
Interwoven among these prophecies are descriptions of how God guided events, or predicted evil events, so that His plan to give us a Savior would be fulfilled. He knew exactly what He had to do to provide a way of escape (1Co 10:13) for the human race. Every detail mattered. If we combine Matthews account with Lukes, we discover that Caesar Augustus had to order a census so that Mary and Joseph would travel 80 miles south to Bethlehem, even though she was 9 months pregnant. And then God would have to speak to Joseph in a dream so his family would escape Herods slaughter by traveling to Egypt. Then Joseph would have another dream in which he was told that Herod had died and they were to return to Israel. Then another dream, and the knowledge that Herods son Archelaus ruled Bethlehem, sent Joseph back to Nazareth, where he didnt want to live.
If God fulfilled every detail concerning the first advent of His Son, then we should expect Him to fulfill every detail concerning Jesus second advent, when He returns to earth to rule in power. The same prophets who spoke of Him coming as a humble child also spoke of Him coming again to set up Gods righteous kingdom and ruling forever.
So, if we really take to heart the testimony of Christmas and the events surrounding Jesus as a child, and notice were not even touching the amazing prophecies that detail the Crucifixion, then a faith will arise in us that gives us confidence that we know what will happen in the future. We can be absolutely certain:
Israel will become a nation in its own land after many centuries of being dispersed all over the earth (oops, thats already happened)
There will be a conglomerate of ten nations surrounding Israel that will decide to attack it.
The gospel will be preached to every nation and people group on earth before the end.
A terrible ruler will rise up and blaspheme God and wear down His saints.
But the heavenly court will sit and the scroll will be opened (Dn 7:26; Rv 4:2, 4; 5:1-5), and all the prophecies of the second advent will take place.
And God will guide these future events as precisely as He guided the events surrounding the first coming of Jesus until:
the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom and all the dominions will serve and obey Him. (Daniel 7:27)
Or as the angel said to Mary:
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end. (Lk 1:32, 33)
This will happen as certainly as Jesus was born of a virgin, in Bethlehem, and fled to Egypt, and grew up in Nazareth
and died on a cross and was buried in a borrowed tomb, and rose on the third day, and ascended into heaven
and will come again in the same way as He went.
So Christmas teaches me that when God speaks a promise, He will do it, all of it, even more precisely than I expected. My response to His promises, including the ones He makes to me personally, should be like Marys response: I too should treasure all these things in my heart, and patiently wait in hope. If I let it, Christmas will stir up a fresh, child-like commitment to believe. It will change my attitude toward the troubles around me. It will give me the boldness to press forward because I know who wins!
The most important promise of all - John 3:14-18
This, too, is a promise meant to be taken literally. God really does love the whole world so much that He sent His divine Son to become incarnated as a man and then lifted up on a cross as our Savior, so that whoever believes in Him would escape Gods judgment and not perish, which means being miserably separated from Him forever. God sent His Son to rescue people, not judge them. Regardless of a persons background, no matter how bad it was, if they believe in Jesus they will be given eternal life. Believing means I look to the Son of Man who was lifted up like the bronze serpent in the wilderness. It means I realize that Im a sinner and He took my sin upon Himself and He died for me. And its impossible to truly believe Hes the Son of God and not bow my knee and call Him Lord.
Of all the promises in the Bible that I need to take literally, word for word, this is it. I need to treasure it in my heart and refuse to doubt every word, until the day I see Him face-to-face
just as He promised!
1) Is there a Bible promise that you treasure in your heart, quoting it often to yourself? Would you quote it to us? How does it help you?
2) Reflect for a minute on some of the promises about what will happen when Jesus comes again. Is there one that comforts you when the world gets crazy?