Q. Can You Clarify What The Bible Teaches On The Birth Of Jesus And Its Meaning For Us Today?
Dear Mr Deffinbaugh,
I hope you are well.
Currently [in school] we are studying sacred texts of Christianity and are required to construct… a[n] essay on a chosen scripture, and I have chosen the infancy narratives (Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-20). The task requires me to create a hypothesis, use research to assist this hypothesis, as well as talking about the “worlds of the text”: world behind the text (what time was like in the story-basically what life was like when Jesus was born), world of the text (literary devices used in the text- i.e. metaphors, etc), and world in front of the text (how the text relates to Christians and in what ways do we receive the message today?).
When conducting research, I came across your article (https://bible.org/seriespage/4-birth-messiah-luke-21-20 ) and found it extremely useful, however I did not fully understand some parts of the story. I was wondering if you could please read through my hypothesis and give me a quick summary on what the world would have been like in Jesus’s time (as well as King Herod because I am sort of confused on his input), and the prophecy of the messiah, as well as your thoughts on the infancy narratives and the message and how it is “modernised” in todays society.
I was also wondering if there is any chapter in the bible the specifically states God’s prophecy about the messiah as I am having difficulty finding the actual prophecy.
This is my hypothesis:
The stories of Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-20 have had major significance for Christians as it set up the foundation for Christianity and fulfils God’s prophecy. However, despite having had major significance, overtime the stories of the birth of the Messiah have decreased in significance as they are romanticized and overshadowed by Christmas and the consumerism that comes with it.
Thank you for your time…
Let me first talk about the matter of historical settings. I have a strong conviction that the Bible supplies all the historical setting that we need in order to understand its teaching. It is a sort of “stand alone” book, that can be read and understood on its own. In this way, people throughout all time, living in all times and places, can understand the Bible, based upon what it says, and the background it reveals. The alternative is that all those people with only their Bibles can never really understand what it teaches. I’ll attempt to show how this works with the birth of Jesus accounts in a moment.
External historical information can prove helpful, but this information will only illustrate what the Bible has already revealed, and this is all that we must know in order to understand it. The Bible is infallible and entirely reliable, and thus we can completely trust its account of historical background. Sadly, other external data may be flawed. Some authors, like Josephus fox example, have been accused of exaggeration. Other sources have also been used to dispute or distort what the Bible actually teaches. In a number of instances we are told something like this: “The commands or teaching of Scripture must be understood to be given to a certain people, at a certain time, and these have no relevance to our own times and culture.” Thus, we need to be somewhat cautious about our use of external sources.
Even when the teaching may not be directly applicable, it can be very applicable in principle. Let me give you an example from the writings of the apostle Paul. The Old Testament taught, “Don’t muzzle the ox when it treads the corn” (Deuteronomy 25:4). We don’t have oxen which tread corn (Most of us, that is. But there are some places where this may still take place.). But look at the way Paul applies this command to his readers, and to us:
3 My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we not have a right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? 7 Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? 8 I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? 10 Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. 11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:3-12, NAU).
Jesus taught the same thing:
3 “Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 “Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. 5 “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ 6 “If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. 7 “Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house” (Luke 10:3-7; see also Paul in 1 Timothy 5:18).
This use of the Old Testament Scriptures could be illustrated many times in the Bible. This is why Paul could write:
14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
Now, let’s go to the account of our Lord’s birth. First, let’s consider how the Old Testament set the scene by foretelling that a Savior would be born to a woman.
God said to Eve:
“And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15).
And God made this promise to David, that his kingdom would be eternal, through his descendants:
12 “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men,1 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever”‘“ (2 Samuel 7:12-16).
Then, later, we find these prophecies in Isaiah and Micah:
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
2 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity” (Micah 5:2).
Because the people of Israel refused to believe in God, and the coming of Messiah, God brought about a 400-year period of silence, which ended with the birth of Jesus:
1 Woe, O Ariel, Ariel the city where David once camped! Add year to year, observe your feasts on schedule. 2 I will bring distress to Ariel, And she will be a city of lamenting and mourning; And she will be like an Ariel to me. 3 I will camp against you encircling you, And I will set siegeworks against you, And I will raise up battle towers against you. 4 Then you will be brought low; From the earth you will speak, And from the dust where you are prostrate Your words will come. Your voice will also be like that of a spirit from the ground, And your speech will whisper from the dust. 5 But the multitude of your enemies will become like fine dust, And the multitude of the ruthless ones like the chaff which blows away; And it will happen instantly, suddenly. 6 From the LORD of hosts you will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise, With whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a consuming fire. 7 And the multitude of all the nations who wage war against Ariel, Even all who wage war against her and her stronghold, and who distress her, Will be like a dream, a vision of the night. 8 It will be as when a hungry man dreams-- And behold, he is eating; But when he awakens, his hunger is not satisfied, Or as when a thirsty man dreams-- And behold, he is drinking, But when he awakens, behold, he is faint And his thirst is not quenched. Thus the multitude of all the nations will be Who wage war against Mount Zion. 9 Be delayed and wait, Blind yourselves and be blind; They become drunk, but not with wine, They stagger, but not with strong drink. 10 For the LORD has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep, He has shut your eyes, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, the seers. 11 The entire vision will be to you like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, “Please read this,” he will say, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” 12 Then the book will be given to the one who is illiterate, saying, “Please read this.” And he will say, “I cannot read.” 13 Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, 14 Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; And the wisdom of their wise men will perish, And the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed” (Isaiah 29:1-14).
Imagine that! The four-hundred years preceding the birth of Jesus were years when God, through His prophets, was silent.
That said, there were a few who did wait eagerly for the coming of Messiah. We are told that the magi from far away, the Jewish leaders, and faithful believers who awaited God’s salvation, understood that a Messiah would be born, and this would take place in Bethlehem:
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him” (Matthew 2:1-8).
And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:25-32).
And then, suddenly, our Lord’s coming is announced. John the Baptist appears on the scene, proclaiming that Israel’s promised Messiah was coming, and the people flock to hear what John had to say:
6 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. 9 There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” 16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him (John 1:6-18).
7 As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 “But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! 9 “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. 10 “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’ 11 “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. 13 “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 “And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. 15 “He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Matthew 11:7-15).
Now let’s turn back to the birth accounts of Jesus. We are told all that we need to know about Herod. From the Gospel accounts we know that he was extremely jealous, and fearful of losing his throne. (This, by the way, fits what secular historical sources tell us about him.) When the magi arrived in Jerusalem, he was deceitful, pretending to desire to worship Jesus. Shrewdly, he discerned how old Jesus was (from learning the time that the star first appeared to the magi), and he knew the town where the birth took place (learning this from the Jewish teachers of the law, who pointed to Micah 5:2). Thus, he asked the magi to come back and tell him where Jesus could be found, so that he would know exactly where he could find Him and kill Him. When this failed, he killed all the boy babies in the region around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-12).
The Gospel of Matthew also informs us how the people of Jerusalem felt about Jesus:
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him (Matthew 2:3).
The coming of Messiah was not only a threat to Herod, it was a threat to the Jewish religious establishment, who might very well lose their positions and power.
45 Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done. 47 Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. 48 “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:45-48).
While the magi came from far away to worship Jesus (the “King of the Jews”), they learned that Jesus was to be found in nearby Bethlehem. And yet the people of Jerusalem could not trouble themselves to travel the very few miles (5-7) it would take to worship Him. It was only a handful of people who rejoiced at seeing Israel’s Messiah, including the wise men and the shepherds mentioned in Matthew and Luke.
It is important to notice the number of times in the birth accounts of Jesus that the events described are said to fulfill the Old Testament Scriptures:
Matthew 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14
See also Luke 24:27 (which refers to all the Scripture prophecies that Jesus fulfilled in His life, death, and resurrection).
I find the account of Jesus in Jerusalem, at the age of 12, fascinating:
46 Then, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. 48 When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” 49 And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them (Luke 2:46-50).
It is my opinion that one of the passages which Jesus was discussing with these Jewish teachers of the law was this text in Isaiah:
13 “Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. 14 Just as many were astonished at you, My people, So His appearance was marred more than any man And His form more than the sons of men. 15 Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand.
1 Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? 9 His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10 But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors” (Isaiah 52:13--53:12).
How amazing it was to have it confirmed that He was the promised Messiah.
None of the events of our Lord’s birth, life, death, and resurrection were a coincidence. All of these events took place at exactly the right time, the time which God had long ago determined:
4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5).
5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6; see also Ephesians 1:3-14).
We dare not conclude without focusing on the nature and purpose of the incarnation. At the incarnation, perfect deity took on sinless humanity, so that Jesus could come to earth in human flesh, live a sinless life, and then take our punishment for sins upon Himself:
The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36)
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. 16 For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. 17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:14-18).
22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:22-25).
Have this attitude 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 grasped, 7 but 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 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 (Philippians 2:5-11).
Much more could be said about this (and is written in the New Testament), but perhaps this will demonstrate, to some degree, the way that the Bible has prepared us for the coming of Jesus Christ, and its meaning for us.
I hope this helps,
1 This is not saying that Jesus will sin, for He was without sin, a “lamb without blemish.” “(You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin (1 John 3:5; see also see Exodus 29:1; John 8:46; Hebrews 9:14). This prophecy in 2 Samuel is referring both to Jesus, and to David’s descendants who will reign before Jesus comes, to establish His eternal throne.
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