Happy New Year!! Have you made your resolutions yet? Some head nodding, some head shaking going on.
In our gospel reading this morning, my attention was caught by the role that the prophetic writings played in the scene with the wise men and the court of Herod. Look at your gospel reading from just a moment ago. Notice the role of the prophetic writings ...
And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
Did you know that there are almost 350 individual prophecies that Jesus Christ fulfilled. 353 to be exact.
44 of those are specifically Messianic prophecies, such as the one above.
This morning I want to look at some of the words in the Old Testament and the categories into which they fall, so we can get an idea of the incredible assurance we can have of our faith in the incarnation of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
The quote above is from Micah 5:2. 700 years prior to the birth of Christ this was written. And I want to underscore - this is where Herod's court advisors went to find out where the Messiah was to be born!
What had to happen for this to be fulfilled? I just want to pause here to get the big picture. Mary and Joseph would have had their baby normally in Nazareth, right? Home town? Your own bed or something close? friends? family around. But no.
Bethlehem is a little further from Nazareth than Pueblo is from here in S. Denver. About 80 miles or so. That is about a 4 day ride on a donkey, probably more with a very pregnant wife. Maybe as much as a week! That is a real commitment by an expectant father and mother, at just the time of birth. What could possibly account for this decision.
Well, Dr. Luke tells us, doesn't he? In the first three verses of chapter 2, Luke tells us the explanation of why they were on the road again! The Roman government and emperor played a role here. Now I hope that your mind just went ... bump ... wider!! BUMP >>> Higher.
Had not the emperor, Caesar Augustus, issued a decree for a census, the baby, Jesus would have been born somewhere else - not fulfilling the biblical prophecy in Micah.
Do you get my drift here?
Was the census ordered because Caesar just needed to know the numbers, or _____???? Could it be that God nudged Caesar to do a census in just this way to move a mom and dad in Judea, down from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which was their ancestral "home."?
Could it be?
Is Christ the center of the purpose of the universe? Is Jesus the Name above every name? Will every knee bow and every tongue confess Jesus as LORD and GOD?
Let me pose one more rhetorical question...
If God indeed came down to become a man, wouldn't the whole creation bend down and take its orders from this "son of man?" I would think it just might!
Let's paint the picture just a bit broader.
In the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and in his death, the likelihood of someone intentionally fulfilling all the prophecies is so astronomical that it is virtually impossible, not to mention the ones that he had no power over, including the place of his birth and the manner of his death. In fact there are eleven specific prophecies about his birth, and 29 about the day of his death!
Let's turn for a moment to the latter:
In the matter of the day of his crucifixion by the Romans, there were twenty-nine specific prophetic descriptions about this death:
Some of the things that Jesus said from the cross, were quotes from these scriptures, the Psalms of David, specifically 22 and 31. In Psalm 22, which we read on Maundy Thursday at the stripping of the Altar, there are 7 specific verses that point to 6 parts of the event of the crucifixion:
He was mocked - vv. 7-8
His hands and feet were pierced - V. 16
He was stared upon - v. 17
His garments were gambled for - v. 18
His cry from the cross was verse 1
"eloi, eloi, lama sabacthani"
- My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
and finally, his death of a broken heart, the specific medical witness of death that John gives us in Jn 19:34 was foretold in v. 14:
I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me.
John tells us simply:
But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.
Of the 29 prophetic verses regarding the crucifixion, all fulfilled in one day, there are prophecies about his betrayer and the manner of his betrayal, the money paid for him, that it was thrown back into the temple and even what was done with it afterward, in the buying of the Potter's field.
There are specific predictions about his trial, his physical state, his companions on the cross, the demeanor of his friends and followers, what they did with his clothes, what he was offered to drink, the fact that no bones were broken and that his side was pierced.
Even the darkness that came over the land at noonday and the exact circumstance of his burial were foretold.
Friends, the odds of someone having the ability to fulfill all of these, even those outside the visible bounds of his power, are almost incalculable. I think it was Nicky Gumbel in the ALPHA course lectures that said someone likened the number to a layer of one-inch ball bearings that are six feet deep, covering the entire state of Texas like hail on the ground! That is a BIG number!
Not things Jesus had power over. But someONE did! Why it's almost as if someONE saw the day in its entirety millennia before it happened and wrote it down! Almost as if the ONE who went through it, was destined for it from the very beginning of His life.
The end of the verses that Paul wrote, the Kenosis passage in Philippians 2, say it best I believe:
5 Have this attitude [e]in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be [f]grasped, 7 but [g]emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death [h]on a cross.
9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NASB)
What we have been given, as a gift, in Jesus Christ is inestimable! We can rest in the assurance of faith in His Name, a Name that is above every other name in the whole universe - because His name is the Name of God. Just as surely as the tetragrammaton - the four letter name that we anglicize into Jehovah - is the Name of God. Jesus, according to Paul is the express image of the Godhead in bodily form. Jesus said if you have known me, you have come to know the Father!
All that Jesus said, did, taught - all the circumstances of his life, no matter how random they appear, were focused to drive home this point - There is NO OTHER NAME under heaven, by which we may be saved! He is completely unique in the whole history of the planet, from creation to now! As Paul says it in the last verse of the 11th chapter of Romans:
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (ESV)
And immediately our response to Him is found in 12:1-2 of Romans:
1-2 With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. (JB PHILLIPS)
Now that is not a bad New Year's resolution!
Lord Jesus Christ,
We present ourselves to you as living sacrifices. Each of us and all of us together. Use our individual lives as we "live and move and have our being" in You, Lord Jesus, and in the midst of this world - and use us, as a Body - a part of the Body of Christ here at REZ - use us together as a single witness to your love and your power in our midst this year, in 2015. We pray these things for the fame of Your Name, Jesus - that Name which is above every Name and by which only, can we be saved. We bow our knees and tell with our tongues that You, Jesus, are Lord, to the glory of God our Father.
Let Your Kingdom come among us, Lord, here on earth as in heaven.