The possibility of almost 400 Old Testament prophesies coming to fulfillment in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, apart from God's sovereign control of history, staggers the imagination. The certainty that God planned the coming of His son into the world can offer stabilizing support to our faith in our Lord.
We are living in a day of apprehension which offers nothing certain for us to hang onto. Foundations are crumbling, absolutes are quivering, old truths are ignored. The Christian can turn to the pages of his Bible and discover that prophecy can steady the faith which is so easily shaken if we allow our spiritual vision to lower only to the uncertain things of this world.
The story of the birth of Jesus in the first two chapters of Matthew's Gospel is not all snowflakes and fuzzy little lambs and starlight and singing angels. Typical of God's working in man, human anguish is followed by divine promise.
Joseph was shocked when his fiancee told him she was pregnant. While he was in this state of consternation, an angel appeared to Joseph with the simple counsel to stop worrying. Joseph wasn't thinking objectively. He needed to look at his problem from God's perspective. The angel gave Joseph his bearings by reminding him of prophetic truth. As with Joseph, we can gain a new perspective on life and problems when we understand what God foretold to His people about the coming of His Son into the world.
No other person in all of history has had so many prophecies ascribed to Him as Jesus Christ. From Genesis to Malachi the pages carry details about Him that attest to the supernatural character of both Jesus and the Bible.
In this article we will comment briefly on only a few prophesies of His earthly sojourn.
A Sign for Ahaz
The angel's message to Joseph, recorded in Matthew 1:23, is a quotation the angel took from Isaiah 7:14--"'Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel' (which means, God with us)."
The point of the quotation was that a virgin was to give birth to the Messiah. The word virgin is an unqualified term (parthenos). This is what allayed Joseph's fears--his fiancee was still a virgin!
The occasion for the miracle described by Isaiah was a threat to Judah's King Ahaz by an alliance between Israel and Syria. These two kingdoms wanted to replace Ahaz with another king.
In an earlier attack on Jerusalem Isaiah had tried to assure Ahaz that the invasion would fail and that he should rely on God to help Judah. Instead, Ahaz made what he thought was a master stroke of genius. He fashioned a diplomatic arrangement with Assyria to help him.
Isaiah tried to tell Ahaz to trust. "If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established" (7:9). In the Hebrew this is a play on words. The words "believe" and "established" are from the same root. The idea is that faith strengthens the reality of God's care for oneself.
In verse 11 Isaiah challenged Ahaz to go deep and let the sky be the limit in asking something unlimited and unrestricted from God: "Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven."
Ahaz refused to believe. Instead he let go with a pious platitude which he thought quite profound: "I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test" (7:12). Actually, this reply was a facade to cover his cowardly unbelief. Ahaz couldn't care less whether this pleased God or not. He was afraid to ask for a sign lest it not come to pass. He tried to hide his unbelief. Ahaz had already stripped the Temple treasury to bribe the king of Assyria.
God then countered with a sign of such a nature that men would not have thought it possible to come to pass: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (7:14). The sign was given to rebuke Ahaz in his continual unbelief.
Note the contrast between Joseph and Ahaz. Joseph accepted the promise, a source of comfort in his trial. Ahaz rejected the promise. The difference was their confidence (and lack of it) in God. Denial of God led to the ruin of Ahaz. Assyria responded with an invasion into Israel and Syria, and after defeating them, turned on Judah. Thirty-seven years of servitude followed.
The miraculous sign was not only a warning to Ahaz, but it was directed against the whole Davidic family (7:13). Ahaz and his family and nation would suffer extreme punishment from God. "The Lord will bring upon you and upon your house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah" (7:17).
The Message to Daniel
The prophet Daniel is another believer who found his bearings because of a prophetic announcement. Daniel lived in troubled times; his people were in exile in Babylon. After about 70 years of bondage in a foreign land, Daniel read the prophecy of Jeremiah. He was startled to find that Jeremiah had prophesied Israel's captivity (25:11-12; 29:10-14). Moreover, he discovered Israel would return to Palestine at the end of 70 years! Revival came into Daniel's life. He recorded his confession in the book that bears his name (9:3-19).
At the end of the chapter Daniel tells about his "seventy sevens" vision--a prediction of the time of the first coming of Christ. God had a comprehensive plan for Israel--"Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city" (9:24). These sevens are years. Seventy weeks are 490 years. Daniel received encouragement and certainty from this vision. After the privations of the captivity, God was bringing Israel home, and Daniel received hope.
Daniel prophesies the number of years that would pass before the Messiah would come. From the issuance of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the coming of the Messiah would be seven sevens (49 years) plus 62 sevens (434 years), or a total of 483 years. The decree to rebuild Jerusalem came in 445 B.C. Christ's crucifixion about 30 A.D. allows for the fulfillment of the prophecy in the prescribed time. Of all the outstanding religious teachers Judaism has had, Christ is the only One who could possibly fulfill Daniel's prophecy. (One seven-year period remains--the seven-year tribulation period yet to come.)
Thus in a time when Daniel and his people were harassed and troubled by their captives in a strange land, the prophet could find strength in God's promise of the coming Messiah.
Other passages give more details of the incarnation. Micah 5:2, for example, designates the place of the Messiah's birth. About 700 B.C. Micah specified that of the 12 provinces of the land of Israel, Jesus would be born in Judah. Micah even went so far as to say that the small village of Bethlehem would be the place of the birth of the Son of God. Micah used Hebrew terminology in this verse to make the strongest possible statement about His eternity: "Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting" (ASV).
With the many precise and unmistakable prophesies of Christ's coming, we wonder why He was not received more warmly. But "He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not" (John 1:11). The Jews couldn't believe in Christ and they couldn't accept the testimony of their own Scriptures. The two areas of unbelief go hand in hand.
What kind of God do you have? Can your God dispel anxiety and worry? Is your God worthy of your faith and trust? Can you believe His promises so thoroughly that you can trust him for the future? The God of incontrovertible prophetic declarations can be the God of your day-by-day life. And His personal promises to you focus in the central concern of those prophesies--Jesus Christ, His Son.
Anxiety and worry are essentially distrust in God. They are characteristics of the godless. We believers in Christ know what God is like--He provides for our needs.
Jesus said, "Tomorrow will be anxious for itself" (Matt. 6:34). Each day that passes nearly always proves that the anxiety of the previous day was unnecessary. Why ask for double trouble? Why worry about tomorrow? One day's trouble is heavy enough. If I add tomorrow's trouble on today's, I double my trouble.
To enter a state of apprehension and anxiety by anticipating the future's problems is to reject the idea that God has everything in control. We know God can give us bearings for today and tomorrow because He proved it with Ahaz and Daniel.
If you want to hitch your wagon to a star, make sure it's the Star of Bethlehem.
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