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The Prophecies come true at the Birth of Christ
What Christmas teaches me about God
Dr Alex Tang
Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance genius never ceases to amaze me. In his notebooks, he predicted flying machines (our present day aeroplanes, gliders, and helicopters), tanks, armoured vehicles and even a submarine. He made his predictions based on existing knowledge of his time and extrapolated it into the future. Biblical prophecies, however, are not predictions but revelations by God about future events. In understanding Biblical prophecies, we must take note that these prophecies usually have two components. One is a more immediate fulfilment and the second is a longer (in time) fulfilment.
One example is the prophet Isaiah prophesying about a virgin with child in Isaiah 7:14. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin (Hebrew word, ‘almah) will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” A sign was normally fulfilled within a few years. The virgin may refer to a young woman betrothed to Isaiah (8:3), who was to become his second wife (his first wife presumably having died after Shear-Jashub was born). In Genesis 24:43 the same Hebrew word (‘almah) refers to a woman about to be married. Matthew 1:23 apparently understood the woman mentioned here to be a type (a foreshadowing) of Mary who is a virgin. Immanuel meaning “God is with us” was meant to convince Ahaz that God could rescue him from his enemies. Therefore, the initial component of the Isaiah prophesy in Isaiah 7:14 is the birth of his son, Immanuel. The second component is the future birth of Jesus of Nazareth who is also named Immanuel.
Biblical prophecies are often clearer when we look at them backwards in time from its fulfilled second component. Standing on this side of the Christmas (the first coming of Jesus), we are fortunate indeed to be able to see the fulfilment of many of the Biblical prophecies. Scholars have counted that there are about 300 prophecies of the first coming of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah and 500 of the second coming in the Old Testament. In the table below I shall list some of these prophecies.
All of these prophecies were related to the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas. And all of them have come true. We know the genealogy of Jesus goes back through Judah, to Jacob, Isaac and Abraham. We also know that Jesus was conceived by Mary who was a virgin, and was born in Bethlehem, which was not their hometown. Jesus is the Messiah and Christmas is a time of celebration because it commemorates the first coming of Jesus Christ our Saviour.
During this Christmas season, a meditation on these fulfilled prophecies suggests the following:
First, our God is a God of details. Anyone who has read a well-written mystery novel or watched an excellent movie will be aware that the author or director has carefully planted clues throughout the storyline regarding the plot and the conclusion of the mystery or movie. If we study our Bible carefully, we will become aware that there are more than a thousand prophecies concerning Jesus, the Messiah and the Church in the Old Testament. God has already given man his revelations as prophecies on what his master plan will be. What has happened, is happening and will happen is not something that comes by chance but is in a well-designed plan for the whole of creation. Einstein is well aware that, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Everything is carefully planned.
What is even more sobering is the thought that God is in the details. God did not just make an overall outline but planned in the minutest details. Jesus re-emphasised this when he said, “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30) If God is concerned enough to take care of the buffalo grass in our fields, how much more will he take care of us, his beloved and complex creatures?
Second, our God is a God who sacrifices. It is mind boggling to try to imagine that God in all his power and splendour, will put aside everything to become one of us. Not only did he become a human being but also at the weakest and most vulnerable stage - a newborn baby. A cow in the barn may accidentally step on him! The closest I can imagine is that the President of the most powerful superpower in the world resigns, voluntarily gives up his power, influence and connections, puts on rags and becomes one of the homeless in the inner city of Detroit. From the most powerful man in the world to the most powerless one, the most protected to the most vulnerable. That is nothing compared to God who put aside his Godly power to place himself under the protection of a teenage Jewish girl. That is an unimaginable sacrifice with great risks.
Why would God do that? Philip Yancey in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, gives an illustration in his taking care of his aquarium. Even though he feeds and takes care of his fishes, they are afraid of him. The only way, he concludes, to make his fishes trust him and assure them of his good intention is that he himself becomes one of them. Jesus is God incarnate. We cannot see God who is spirit. We only see his handiwork. God loves us so much that he literally gave up all to become one of us. The most powerful Being in existence, because of love, became the most powerless being on earth - a human baby.
Third, our God is a God who is in control. The fulfilment of prophecies made thousands of years ago proved that God is in control of all situations. Sometimes, it may be difficult to believe this as we see the enormous amount of suffering and evil in the world. Natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, bushfires, and hurricanes take thousands of lives, injure many more, and displace millions. Evil seems to triumph as countries go to war based on lies, and as corrupt officials siphon billions from their governments. The rich become richer while the poor sink in poverty. Oppression, exploitation and genocide spread as globalisation creates a world without borders and morals. Do we really believe when we read “Peace on earth and goodwill to man” on our Christmas cards or e-cards on our computer screens?
As we read the Old Testament, we see the same situation as we see today: natural disasters, corruption, rise of evil, oppression, exploitation and genocide. Globalisation was under another name, Pax Romana. Yet the world survived until now. However, now we have the benefit of the Bible. We can study and see that God was in control of the situation in the Old Testament times and he is still in control. This should give us confidence that our God cares for us and is in control of whatever situations we are in.
Finally, our God is a God who takes the initiative. In no other religions does a God call his people to himself by taking the initiative. Most religions require believers to prove they are worthy. One can make oneself worthy by good works, self-denial, and obeying the tenets of the religion closely. Our God makes us worthy by dying for us on the cross. That is why he came in the form of his son, Jesus Christ. That is the first step in the redemption of human souls and this creation. Our God is not only the God who reveals himself, but one who initiates and acts for us. He is the one who gives us grace.
The prophecies come true at the birth of Christ. These are but a few of the many prophecies about Christ. Yet they reveal to me a God to whom no detail is too insignificant, who is willing to sacrifice all, who is in control, and who reaches out to us even though we are unworthy. Christmas is a special time to remember a special God who walked on earth two thousand years ago.
published in Asian Beacon Dec07-Jan08
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