From "The Long Expected Jesus":
Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing
Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing
without revealing his plan
to his servants the prophets.
Perhaps you’ve heard the modern parable about the man who was trapped in a flood and prayed that God would rescue him.
The man heard the voice of the Lord tell him that he would save him; so with this assurance in mind he sat on his front porch and watched the water rise and waited for the Lord’s salvation. Before long a man in a four wheel drive truck drove up and told him to get in.
“No worries” the man shouted to him, “God will save me!.”
As the waters rose above the man’s porch, a second man in a boat came by and pleaded with the man to get in, but again the man on the porch refused because as he told his earlier rescuer, “God will save me!”
Finally the waters rose above the man’s house and now he was relocated to the roof. A helicopter came by but with the same predictable result. The man refused to get in because he was waiting for the Lord’s salvation.
Of course the man drowned and when he got to heaven, complained to God that his salvation never came. But the Lord told him,
“I sent you a truck, a boat and a helicopter, you were obviously too stubborn to save!”
I’m sure you’ve guessed the meaning of the parable is that God often works in our lives in ways we don’t comprehend, but we are too stubborn or maybe too inattentive to see it. But for our purposes in this book I want to apply another meaning.
Over the course of our journey to discover the many ways Jesus is predicted and foreshadowed in the pages of the Old Testament, we have seen that God has used different means to deliver His message of a coming salvation. He has used stories, and types of Christ, the law, covenants and psalms. And as we will learn in this chapter, He used prophecies as well. In fact, when we think about the many ways down through the centuries that God has delivered His message of a coming Redeemer, it almost seems impossible to miss.
But like the man on the porch in the parable, most people miss it.
Do you remember back in the third chapter when I told you about mathematician Dr. Peter Stoner who has calculated the chances of someone randomly fulfilling 8 prophecies in the way Jesus fulfilled them and it worked out to a probability of less than 10 with 17 zeroes? As a reminder of the improbability of that ridiculously big number, I again quote Dr. Stoner’s analogy:
If you mark one of ten tickets, and place all the tickets in a hat, and thoroughly stir them, and then ask a blindfolded man to draw one, his chance of getting the right ticket is one in ten. Suppose that we take 10^17 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They'll cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one.
In other words, to prove that all of these prophecies came about in history just out of coincidence would be a mathematical impossibility. But now that we have come to the end of our journey, we can see that there were much more than just prophecies that pointed to the coming of Jesus.
But my objective isn’t to just show you the overwhelming probabilities or even to convince you to get into the boat. Like the man in the story, it is up to you to make that decision on your own. My purpose is to show you how Jesus was anticipated hundreds of years before the advent and the variety of ways that message was delivered. And that objective would not be complete if I didn’t point you to the many prophecies about the birth of Christ.
But before we look at those prophecies, I need to tell you some things about the Old Testament prophets.
First, Old Testament prophets prepared the way for the coming messiah
God installed Moses as His first official prophet to Israel because the Israelites were too terrified to hear directly from God. Although there were many prophets throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites knew there was a greater prophet yet to come. It was Moses who first pointed to that prophet in Deuteronomy 8:15:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to Him. (Deuteronomy 18:15)
Second, Old Testament prophets spoke not for themselves, but for God
The message of the prophet did not come out of their own sense of reasoning or creativity or bias, but directly from the Lord God. In this sense, the prophet was the mouthpiece of God.
“I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18)
Third, the prophetic office was ultimately realized in Christ
The third thing I want to tell you about prophets is that they were all imperfect. But their inadequacies and imperfections served to remind people that one day a perfect prophet was coming. David Murray makes this observation:
“Every deficiency or inadequacy in the Old Testament prophets contrasts with the fulness and perfection of Jesus Christ, the prophet of God. We see that looking back, but the Old Testament believer also saw that looking forward.” (Jesus on Every Page)
As I stated in the third chapter, there were more than 50 different prophecies in the Old Testament that were fulfilled by Jesus in minute detail. But instead of going through each of those prophecies, I want us to concentrate on ten that deal directly with His birth:
Jesus would come from the line of Abraham.
Prophesied in Genesis 12:3:
I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Fulfilled in Matthew 1:1:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)
Jesus would be born of a virgin:
Prophesied in Isaiah 7:14:
14 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)
Prophesied in Matthew 1:18-23:
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
Jesus will be a descendent of Isaac and Jacob.
Prophesied in Genesis 17:19 and Numbers 24:17:
19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. (Genesis 17:19)
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Fulfilled in Matthew 1:2
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. (Matthew 1:2)
Jesus was born in Bethlehem:
Prophesied in Micah 5:2:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days. (Micah 5:2)
Fulfilled in Luke 2:1-7:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Jesus will be called out of Egypt.
Prophesied in Hosea 11:1:
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
Fulfilled in Matthew 2:13-15:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:13-15)
Jesus will be a member of the tribe of Judah:
Prophesied in Genesis 49:10:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Fulfilled in Luke 3:33:
The son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah. (Luke 3:33)
Jesus will enter the temple:
Prophesied in Malachi 3:1:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
Fulfilled in Luke 2:25-27
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,
Jesus will be from line of King David
Prophesied in Jeremiah 23:5;
5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
Fulfilled in Matthew 1:6:
And Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.
Jesus’ birth will be surrounded by suffering and sorrow:
Prophesied in Jeremiah 31:15:
Thus says the Lord:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.”
Fulfilled in Matthew 2:16:
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)
Jesus will be presented gifts by kings:
Prophesied in Psalm 72:10:
May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. (Psalm 72:10)
Fulfilled in Matthew 2:11
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)
As we can see from this sampling of prophecies and their fulfillment, the birth of the Messiah was foreseen over and over again throughout the course of Old Testament witness. Each one on their own may not be that convincing, but taken all together they make an impressive list.
He came at just the right time and place in history
In addition, the Bible teaches that Jesus came at just the right time and place in human history (Galatians 4:4). And in fact, His coming in the first century coincided with a startling number of innovations and world political and economic realities that gave unprecedented opportunity for the spreading of the gospel. For instance, in the first century A.D.:
The world had it’s first common language (Greek)
The world had it’s first protected road system (Via Romana)
The world had it’s first sustainable political situation (Pax Romana)
The world had it’s first global economic trade system (Roman Forum)
Consequently, for the first time in human history, people could carry goods and services and with them philosophies and world views, from one end of the known world to the other in relative safety, and they could do it utilizing a common language. The Romans were brutal conquers and overlords, but they were also excellent road builders because they needed a way to transport their massive armies. Consequently one effect of their rule was opening the world to the gospel.
Former president of New Orleans Seminary Landrum Leavell was a mentor of mine when I was a young pastor. One day we were talking about how to discern the will of God and he told me:
“The only way I have ever been able to fully discern the will of God in my life, was looking back on it.”
That perspective has always been helpful. By looking back we learn many things about the perfect will of God. When we look back on the circumstances of Christ’s birth and see the many prophecies that pointed to His coming combined with the moment in history in which He was born, we see how the perfect will of God was accomplished.
The “long expected Jesus” made His appearance at exactly the right time.
That reality became increasingly clear to the followers of Jesus. It is clear that the early disciples were deeply moved by what they found in the Old Testament scripture concerning Christ. They believed with all their heart that Jesus was not only the resurrected Messiah, but that His coming had been foreseen and expected. Paul the Apostle put it like this:
But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22-23)
My hope and prayer for you as we come to the conclusion of our journey in looking together at the “long expected Jesus” and all the many ways the message about His coming has been delivered to us, that you would be able to say with the disciple Phillip:
We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also in the prophets wrote - Jesus of Nazareth- the Son of Joseph! (John 1:45)