Why the Nativity?
- Friday, October 09, 2009
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Why the Nativity? 25 Compelling Reasons We Celebrate the Birth of Jesus by David Jeremiah (Tyndale House).
Question 1: Why the Prophecies?
Time is a mystery. We live each day immersed in it, so we cannot imagine a life outside of it, looking in. Time marches by us, moment by moment and year by year. It leaves its mark upon us more than we leave our mark upon it.
Imagine standing several miles from a great mountain range. You admire the majestic chain from its foothills in the west to the last outcroppings in the east. But if you didn't have that separation—if you were standing on one of the mountains—you would see only the scenery that was right around you.
God watches over us from outside the straight mountain range that is time. He sees past, present, and future in one unbroken line. And as long as we are travelers through this life, climbing from one slope to the next, we lack his perspective—with one exception, that is: the men and women known as the prophets.
God gives many amazing gifts. To some he gives a surplus of wisdom, to others a specially loving heart. And some have received from him the sight to perceive certain shapes in the mist of the future. Those with this gift have always been people obedient to God and to his purposes. Why would he let them see what was to come? Because he loves us, and he wants us to know what lies ahead, whether for our encouragement or as a sober warning. A prophet's central mission, as a matter of fact, is not to predict but to preach. He speaks more of the present than the future.
Even so, the Old Testament prophets spoke frequently about a coming champion. Every page, from Genesis to Malachi, seems to tremble with the wondrous anticipation of his coming. The books were written by many different writers, at various times over many centuries. What bound the readers and writers together was their identity as a special people that God truly cherished. Through that particular nation, a small one called Israel, God's plan was to let the whole world know of his love.
But that nation encountered times of grief and despair. Because the Israelites occupied one of the most contested areas in all the world, they were frequently under attack by tribes and empires—by the Philistines, then the Babylonians, and finally the Romans. Their walls and homes and Temple were built, destroyed by enemies, and rebuilt.
Finally, Israel became a dying nation, filled with confusion and doubt. It was against that scene that the great age of the prophets came. Many of the Jewish people had been carried away into slavery. Some had lost their sense of national identity in exile. Many were cynical, faithless, embittered. Everyone yearned for the great days of the kings—David and Solomon and all their glory. And it was here that the prophets—men such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah—urged the people to keep the faith. Their message was, Wait for one more king. This one will be the greatest of all, and he will end our struggle forever.
Just when people most needed hope, God sent spokesmen to offer a foretaste of a better future. Throughout the words and work of the prophets, there were glimmers of a savior—a king who would rescue his people and restore them to God. In fact, there were more than three hundred specific prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures about the promised "Messiah," as they called him.
The hints were tantalizing. Isaiah said that this special deliverer would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). What kind of man could he be?
Micah, too, offered a prediction that was specific and startling. He said that the king would be born in the town of Bethlehem. That prophecy reads, "You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past" (Micah 5:2). Again, it was clear that the Messiah would be one who was not confined by the bounds of time. He would come "from the distant past."
There are references to a ministry of teaching, healing, and miracles. This would be a man who would enjoy public favor, then finally be "despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief" (Isaiah 53:3). There are surprising references to crucifixion by a writer who had never witnessed such a thing (Psalm 22).
Isaiah would conclude, "He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed" (Isaiah 53:5). The people of Israel could hope for a better time, including forgiveness by the God they had abandoned. The coming king would prove that God had never abandoned them.
Most amazing of all was the coming Messiah's mission. God said, "You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6).
Can you see the picture that emerges? It was as if many different artists had drawn strange squiggles on paper separately—only to find that when their fragments of art were combined on a single canvas, there was a beautiful portrait of a king we would come to know as Jesus Christ.
Nearly all of the more than three hundred prophecies have already come true (a few remain for our future). Jesus was all that had been foretold, and so much more. One mathematician determined that the odds of one person's fulfilling even sixty specific prophecies are 1 in 1 plus 157 zeroes.
Why the prophecies? They show us that even as Jesus was fully a human being like us, he was also "one whose origins are from the distant past." By reading the prophecies we see the entire mountain range in a breathtaking glance; we behold a magnificent God who works his purposes out through the march of time, patiently but faithfully, down to the smallest detail. We know that this is a God who can be trusted, and this is a Messiah who fulfills every hope in our hearts.
Does knowing that Jesus' birth fulfilled prophecies made hundreds of years beforehand affect your life? In what ways?
Which of the six specific prophecies mentioned in this chapter seems the most amazing to you? Why?
For further study: Read the following pairs of Scriptures to discover more prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus' first advent: Isaiah 9:7 and Luke 1:32-33; Isaiah 53:12 and Matthew 27:38; Zechariah 6:13 and Hebrews 7:24-25.
Question 2: Why Did God Become a Man?
In the beginning there was God. And, being God, he created.
The creations of God were magnificent. He made a universe of unbounded dimensions, measured out in stars and galaxies. Its size was matched by its vast complexity, in the intricate dance of atom and molecule. The range of his artistry—his color, his sound, his silence—reflected the wealth of his power and love.
But God wanted more than worlds, so he created life. He turned to his special world, the earth, and filled it with plants and animals, monstrous and microscopic—a kingdom of moving and breathing and even thinking creatures, all fashioned in wild variety. There were towering, brooding redwood trees that held court for twenty centuries, decorated by mayflies whose life began and ended within a single day.
But God wanted more than life; he wanted friendship, so he created mankind. This would be his crowning work: a manifestation of life that would reflect his own being. Rocks and trees, stars and whales—these were wonderful, but they were not his children. Men and women, as he made them, would be the close-knit family of an infinite God, clothed though they were in flesh and blood. An outrageous idea for communion it was: the perfect, infinite Spirit who is Lord of all, and the tiny, limited creature that calls itself human.
Yet there was love between them until the children of earth stumbled. That's a story for another day, but the truth is that God's children chose disobedience and fled in shame from his presence. Another name for the disobedience was sin, and it became an insurmountable barrier between the Creator and his creatures. Men and women knew God as one would regard a distant uncle who was never seen face-to-face.
In certain moments, the children of earth realized how different life could be. One poet looked around him at the beautiful world and reflected:
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
and crowned them with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:3-5)
The gulf between that eternal Creator and his tiny, incapable children was just too great. As a result, many ignored him completely. The best and most obedient strove gallantly to please him, but the stubborn human strain of disobedience doomed every effort.
The children had no illusions about their weakness. They knew they were lost, and they longed for the Father to whom every instinct drew them. In their wisest moments, they realized that even now, even with all they had done wrong, their distant Father loved them with an everlasting love. It was a hopeless longing all the same, for the separation remained. He was pure and they were stained. How could they ever aspire to the perfection that would make them worthy of him once again? They might as well set to work on a ladder to the moon.
If the children felt their loss so bitterly, how much more severe was the pain in the Father's heart? It was as great as his love was vast. As is true for any parent, his children were his greatest joy. They had failed him time and again, each of them, every day—yet his affection for them was undiminished. He loved each child perfectly, boundlessly, as if that little one were his only child.
So the Father yearned through the centuries and the rise and fall of civilizations, never ceasing to reach out to his prodigal family. He did this in every possible way: through the glories of his creation, through the immeasurable gifts he gave them, through the words of prophets and teachers. He dispatched his servants with countless messages that said the same thing in ten thousand ways: "Come home, come home! You are loved now and forever."
The great problem must have a solution. The first order of business was to reintroduce the children to their Father. How could impure flesh know pure Spirit? There must be a way that men and women could know what God is like and, therefore, realize what life can be. The full extent of that, of course, was greater than the capacity of their understanding. For example, they could never comprehend the nature of heaven. To do so, they would need to enter those gates—and in their tainted humanity, they could not do so.
Yet heaven could come to them.
Heaven could not be poured into the stained vessel that was the earth. But there was another way: God himself could make the journey. He could pour his Godhood into flesh and blood and visit the earth as a man himself! He could walk among people as a full-fledged human being in every respect, yet be fully God at the same time. He had sent prophets many times, but now he would do something far more shocking. He would leave the throne of heaven to walk among them—a King in disguise, the Lord of the universe in human scale, the Creator among his creatures.
Then the nature of God would be clear to all. People on earth could see what God was like. They would behold his perfect love and faithfulness, his unbounded devotion even to those who were sick or small or dark-hearted. They would know the things that mattered to him. And in that Incarnation, they would see a perfect model of what life could really and truly be.
All of this must happen if God and humanity were ever to be reconciled. So the Lord of the universe invaded this world.
He entered our world through a doorway called Bethlehem, and the world was changed forever.
The Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son. (John 1:14)
If you were God, would you have chosen the same method to reach humanity? Why or why not?
What ways did God use to reveal himself to man before he sent his Son?
For further study: How can people have a relationship with the God of the universe? Read these verses to see God's plan for you: John 3:16; Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23; and Romans 10:9, 13.
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