I think this morning’s passage is one of the most overlooked in the Christmas story. We tend to focus on the angels and shepherds, the wise guys and the star, the baby in a manger. BUT, for bible nerds, the announcement that Zechariah makes is like a hot fudge sundae with extra hot fudge.
Luke 1:67–79 || 67 Then [John the Baptist’s] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: 68 “Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and provided redemption for his people. 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 just as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets in ancient times; 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of those who hate us. 72 He has dealt mercifully with our fathers and remembered his holy covenant— 73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham. He has given us the privilege, 74 since we have been rescued from the hand of our enemies, to serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness in his presence all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. 78 Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the dawn from on high will visit us 79 to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” [CSB]
This prophesy talks about a conqueror that is a descendant of David. David was known really as THE ultimate, iconic king of Israel. King David was iconic and legendary to the Jews, I think in a similar way that George Washington is to us in The United States of America. Our first commander in chief and president, with I think an unparalleled legacy and reputation. But, like George Washington, David still had his flaws, and...he died. Like any great leader, he wasn’t perfect, and his leadership came to an inevitable end.
But David came after Saul, took the throne, and led Israel in many great victories, and under him all of Israel was united.
David, in contrast to Saul, came from more humble origins. He was a shepherd. He was a musician, and a poet. But he also was very courageous, fighting to defend his sheep from wild animals, killing fierce enemies like a lion and a bear, and then later defeating Israel’s enemies, starting with Goliath, and then leading Israel in victory after victory against their enemies.
After David, Israel longed for another king as great as he was, even though David wasn't perfect. He had some major failures, but still he was called a man after God's own heart, and it was through David that God brought Israel into an unprecedented time of peace, prosperity, safety, and rest. (nuach)
This passage references the word “prophet” 2 times and prophecy 1 time. The Prophets were an important group in the leadership of Israel and a large portion of our Old Testament is comprised of the writings or messages of the prophets.
TIME OUT: Prophesies are promises made by God of things that will take place in the future.
God made a promise to David before the end of his days.
2 Samuel 7:12–16 || 12 When your time comes and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up after you your descendant, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will discipline him with a rod of men and blows from mortals. 15 But my faithful love will never leave him as it did when I removed it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and kingdom will endure before me forever, and your throne will be established forever.’ ” [CSB]
In the beginning of this passage, God is referring to Solomon, however there are overtones of something bigger. Now, we know that there is no one on earth that will have an eternal throne. The use of the word “forever” two times in verse 16 point to a greater kingdom, that of the Messiah. So, in the book of 2 Samuel we have a prophecy that the Messiah would be a ruling king from the lineage of David. In the book of Matthew, chapter one we have the genealogy of Jesus, which traces him back to Abraham through David and Solomon. So, if we have a checklist of prophesies, we can check this one off!
For the Messiah to truly be FROM God, the Messiah must meet all the criteria that God established for him. There are many prophecies about the Messiah, and each of them must be fulfilled IF someone is to be recognized and the promised one of God that would redeem people from the curse.
By some counts there are 300 to 400 messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Other scholars believe that this number is a bit high. They certainly see that number of allusions to the Messiah, but count the major prophecies as less than 100. The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary lists 121 fulfilled messianic prophecies. Josh McDowell has made an excellent study of the major prophecies and numbers them at 61. He rightly characterizes these prophecies as credentials that anyone claiming to be the Messiah had to have.
[HOLMAN QUICK SOURCE™ GUIDE TO CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS]
Some of these prophecies have to do with the details of his birth, others the way he was treated, his death and then even the ultimate outcome of his mission.
The Promised Messiah
I’m going to just list off some of the major ones quickly. For time’s sake I won’t try to list all the Biblical references that go with these, but they do all show up in the Old Testament, with a direct New Testament correlation showing the fulfillment, often in multiple places.
The Old Testament promised that the Messiah would be:
- Preceded by a Prophet (Elijah/John, Zechariah’s son)
- Descendant of David (Which we already covered)
- Born in Bethlehem (City of David)
- Greater Than & King over David (Not just a new David, but new AND improved!)
- A Human (Son of Man)
- Be Born to a Virgin
- Be the Son of God (New Kind of Human)
- Star/Scepter of Jacob/Israel (New King)
- Prophet (New Moses)
- Bring a New Covenant (Like Noah, Abraham, Moses & David)
- Be Rejected/Despised (Like most of the major prophets)
- Betrayed (For 30 pieces of silver)
The list obviously goes on and on, and many are oddly specific like the 30 pieces of silver. They say he would be pierced, but no bones broken, come riding on a donkey, called out of Egypt, but that he’d also be a Nazarene. Others were probably very confusing or might have seemed paradoxical: He would be a Passover lamb, a suffering servant and willing sacrifice, but a kinsman redeemer, healer/restorer. He would be killed, but resurrected and enthroned, etc...). A lot of that foreshadows the sort of upside-down kingdom Jesus would introduce, but that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves. The point is, there were a LOT of messianic prophesies.
This morning, though I’m sure you‘d love to sit and listen to us talk about every single one of them for hours, we’re going to narrow our focus a little, and just look more closely at a few that are specific to the birth of the Messiah, since his birth specifically is what we celebrate at Christmas. But if anybody IS interested in studying more of the prophecies on your own, let me know. There are some great resources online that can show you where everything is.
So, we’ll start with the immaculate conception itself, the fact that he was born to a virgin. I think this is one of the most well-known attributes about the Messiah, the Christ. Even before Linus recited the whole story, prophesy included, on national TV (Anyone else a Charlie Brown fan? I love the Charlie Brown Christmas special, and try to watch that one every year). But even before that famous scene, and still today, I think I’d have a hard time finding someone who wasn’t familiar with the term “Virgin Mary” whether or not everyone recognizes that it was actually a fulfilment of prophecy, and the significance of that. And I’m sure there are a lot of people who don’t believe it happened but are still familiar with the claim made in the New Testament.
This prophesy was specifically given as a supernatural SIGN to identify the Messiah, making this a very significant claim by Matthew & Luke.
When I think of probability and prophecy—I would probably lean more towards a broad approach with a higher probability. Like, the Messiah will come from the line of Jacob or that the woman will give birth in a barn. But God chooses something totally radical – he says that something that has never happened – a virgin will conceive. Like mana in the wilderness, God is going to do something that has never been done before that defies natural law.
Isaiah 7:14 || 14 Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. [CSB]
Matthew 1:22–23 || 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.” [CSB]
Luke 1:31–35 || 31 Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” 35 The angel replied to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. [CSB]
Matthew seems to quote word for word, while Luke ads some of the story of the people involved.
One of the prophecies we should look at is his name. In Isaiah and Matthew we have a name given, Immanuel. There are only three places that word is used in the bible. It is a very specific name.
Ok, hold on, if Isaiah prophesied that his name would be Immanuel, why did they name him Jesus? Well, the word “name” here is being used loosely in the prophesy. Remember, the Hebrew word for “name” can also refer to someone’s reputation, legacy or position. Two chapters later, Isaiah also says that “His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6).” So, clearly Isaiah is giving attributes as to the nature of the Messiah, rather than a literal given name. Notice that Gabriel even does this too, when he says “You will name him Jesus” but then says that he “will be called Son of the Most High” and “Called the Son of God.”
It’s just the difference between all the many things we might “call” someone...depending on their reputation and how we feel about them in any given moment...and what’s actually on their birth certificate.
So, in this case, the name is significant in that it talks about the very mission of God and the restoration of a relationship where God will be among his creation again. This has been a prophetic theme for all of scripture.
So, I need to take this opportunity to geek out for a moment about the name on the Messiah’s birth certificate. You may have heard this little rant from me before, but it’s just so cool I think it bears repeating.
His original name, in Hebrew is YEHOSHUA. It was actually a pretty common name, and often that name would be shortened to Yeshua or Yoshua, but it was essentially the same name, like we often shorten the name David or Michael to Dave or Mike.
Because of linguistic differences in translating that to Greek and then Latin, that “Y” sound became a “J” sound, so “Yeshua” got changed eventually to “Joshua” and, particularly, because of the Latin, which translated as “Yesu” we ended up with an alternative translated version of the same name being “Jesus” instead of “Joshua” But, in Hebrew, they are the same name, and the “Joshua” of the old testament, Moses’s successor, had the same name as Jesus.
So that’s a bit of debatably interesting trivia, but the MEANING of this name is what actually bears a lot of significance. “YEHOSHUA” means “YAHWEH SAVES.” So, in Matthew 1 the angel is actually making a significant claim by saying “Name him Yahweh saves, for he will save his people from their sins.” If Yahweh is the one who saves, but this man will save people from their sins, then this man is, in fact, Yahweh himself. It would be like saying “Your name is Luke, which means ‘the force is strong with Jedi’ and the force is strong with you.” From that, you can infer that Luke is, in fact, a Jedi.
Born in Bethlehem
The next prophecy has to do with the location of the birth of the Messiah.
Matthew 2:1–6 || 1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 So he assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the Christ would be born. 5 “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they told him, “because this is what was written by the prophet: 6 And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah: Because out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” [CSB]
Micah 5:2 || 2 Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; one will come from you to be ruler over Israel for me. His origin is from antiquity, from ancient times. [CSB]
There are some pretty cool things that we can notice about these passages:
- The size of the clan and even the size of the tribe does not matter. God chooses whom he pleases, not because of any merit on our part but simply because of his will and pleasure.
- Notice that this prophesied person would be a “ruler” (read king).
- “from antiquity, from ancient times” shows that God also transcends time, which we find in other places in scripture.
God orchestrated the events of the day, using a pagan government official to plan an event that would move people all over the place, so that his plan would be fulfilled. While we would tend to think it was a horrible time for a census, God thought it was a perfect time.
While WE tend to focus on the circumstances surrounding our lives, this is a great reminder that God works in and through the lives of all peoples, even those that may be opposed to him. Quirinius was certainly no worshipper of God, yet his census was the driving event that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem at the time of the birth – a time you would not normally choose to travel.
This is a lesson has been teaching me more and more, especially in 2019. It is not about my circumstances; it is about what God is orchestrating through many people and circumstances that matters. You never know when selling something on Facebook might lead to a conversation about your faith that might lead to someone attending church and inviting their friends, etc.
LOOK: look for this throughout the entire Christmas narrative!
Human (Son of Man)
The next thing we’d like to highlight is the fact that the Messiah is referred to as the “Son of Man.” I think this is especially interesting because that’s exactly the phrase Jesus used whenever he would speak in reference to himself. He never directly called himself the Messiah, or the Son of God, he agreed with people who did call him those things, but when he talked about himself, he used the term “Son of Man.”
That phrase might sound a little odd to us, but really all it means is “Human.” Descendent of Adam, son of human. But it is a specific way to say “human” isn’t it? The most significant reference to which this phrase points is in Daniel, where we find a vision of the Messiah:
Daniel 7:13–14 || 13 I continued watching in the night visions, and suddenly one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. 14 He was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed. [CSB]
This vision portrays a human figure being crowned the king of kings over all the universe, which is really elevating him to the status of Yahweh’s authority. For that authority to be given to a human is a remarkable thing.
This goes back to the narrative of Israel wanting a human king like the other nations. Someone they could see, that would be physically present with them. However, when he was with them, they did not accept him as their king.
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, also had a vision as he was being stoned, this was after Jesus had ascended into heaven:
Acts 7:56 || 56 He said, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” [CSB]
I think sometimes we forget that Jesus still is human. Even after he ascended, and his appearance changed, he’s still referred to as a human. And it’s as a human that he’s given authority over all things. Why is that significant? There are a couple reasons:
First of all, remember that Jesus came to be an example of a new kind of human. One filled with the spirit of God, who spoke and lived the good news of God’s kingdom, bringing love and truth and restoration.
We talk all the time about how we’re meant to emulate his life on earth while we walk this earth. But, Jesus also demonstrated and proved that he conquered death for us, by coming back to life. And because he resurrected, we know we will be resurrected too.
I believe Jesus lives as human 2.0 as an example of what we can hope for. Not that we will be elevated to his level of kingship of course, BUT he does want us to rule under him just as Adam and Eve were originally meant to do. In fact, he told his twelve disciples that they will rule under him:
Matthew 19:28 || 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, in the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. [CSB]
Now this is starting to get into the subject of the future, and we don’t know exactly how all of that will work, or what it will look like, but I think it’s really cool to think that Jesus is an example of what it means to be human, both in this life and the life to come.
The other important takeaway is the fact that Jesus, being human, IS also Yahweh himself. That’s how he’s different from us. Jesus coming in human form is the meaning of that name “Immanuel” it is a restoration of Yahweh’s presence, of him “walking among” us as he did with Adam and Eve. The fact that Yahweh would take on flesh, and become like us, means that we have a God and king who we know can relate to us, and us to him.
Hebrews 4:14–16 || 14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need. [CSB]
Each prophecy provides a promise and a hope that we can cling to and claim. However, they are not limited just to the scope of our beneficence, but also point us directly to the source of the promises and give us a glimpse into the very heart of God. Each prophecy shows us the nature, character and will of God.
The Messiah is a promise from God, IS God and is the ultimate representation of God on earth. Through the prophesies of the Messiah we see the character and mission of God.
Regarding his character we see that God is beyond both the physical aspects of our world and also time. He is not constrained by the laws of nature (he can make a virgin conceive) and he is not bound to a specific time (he is ancient and yet future).
Regarding his mission, we see that he came to dwell among man. He became a “son of man” and walked among us. God’s mission is still about reconnecting with his creation. His coming to earth is reminiscent of the garden when he walked with mankind.
Going back to King David and the theme of kingship, even though David was Israel’s most beloved king, and a type of messiah-like figure who pointed to the messiah, he was still a lesser king. Jesus is the author of life and ruler of all the kingdoms of the universe. And his reign is everlasting, bringing peace.
1 Kings 2:33 || … for David, his descendants, his dynasty, and his throne, there will be peace from the Lord forever.” [CSB]
Romans 15:12–13 || 12 And again, Isaiah says, The root of Jesse will appear, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; the Gentiles will hope in him. 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. [CSB]
So, once again, we see how the lesser king points us to the greater king, the King of kings. And the prophesies that exist are designed to prove to us that the Messiah is THE king that God had in mind in Genesis 3:15, and king Jesus will be the one to finally rule creation the way God intended.