The Very Strange Prophecies of Christmas

Title: The Very Strange Prophecies of Christmas

[Audio http://ab86qw.bay.livefilestore.com/y1pPnUeYUnriEZLaV1yDLLieLMlRWNO2K8Q3RpOk6ji4yFSdQTVS-ZXAzYROHy12kJ2gFRgER9OOMUF2Gn_EAaWXw/1-4-09theverystrangepropheciesofchristmas.mp3%5D

Text: Matthew 2:13-23

Date: January 4th, 2009

Today is the very first Sunday in the New Year 2009, and before we leave the Christmas season I’d like to give one more Christmas message on the very strange prophecies of Christmas. Have you ever hear of the really strange prophecies of Christmas? Probably not, but if you examine the Christmas accounts in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew you’ll find three very strange prophecy fulfillments towards the very end of the Nativity passage. Why are these three prophecies and their fulfillment different from all the other prophecies given and fulfilled around the Christmas event? Because these three have peculiarities that cause us to stop and think a little bit, they have a strangeness to them that makes us scratch our heads, and they require a little bit more digging under the surface to fully appreciate them; more so than the other prophecies presented in the Christmas accounts in the New Testament. The first very strange prophecy and fulfillment is Matthew 2:14-15, “So he (Joseph) got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” The second very strange prophecy and fulfillment is Matthew 2:16-18, “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave order to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’” And finally, the third really strange prophecy and fulfillment is Matthew 2:23, “And he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” Now we’ve all read these prophecies and fulfillments so many times in our reading of the New Testament Christmas accounts that we don’t think anything of them, but if we scratch below the surface or dig deeper into them we find that they are very odd prophecies and very odd fulfillments indeed. So I’d like to take this first Sunday of the New Year 2009 as the last and final message of the Christmas season and explore the very odd and strange prophecies at the end of the Matthew Christmas account. It’s very interesting and I hope it teaches us more about the way God works as we examine these three prophecies. Some of you still don’t see how these three prophecies differ from any other prophecies in the New Testament, but I’ll explain all that in a moment. It just goes to show how God works in mysterious ways, and how we need to be ready for God to work in mysterious ways in our lives. Whenever we get to the point that we think we’ve got God all figured out, he’ll throw us something strange and mysterious just to show us that he’s in charge of things, not us. Are you ready for God to work in your life in mysterious ways? It’s a New Year; we need to be ready for anything! Let’s examine the prophecies.

First, there’s the “out of Egypt” prophecy. Matthew 2:14-15, “So he (Joseph) got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” Now what’s so strange about this prophecy is that it’s clearly a reference to the Jews leaving Egypt with Moses as described in the Book of Moses in the Old Testament. The quote in Matthew is taken from the Book of the Prophet Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” The Exodus was always one of the most popular and well-known stories in the whole Bible for the Jews. When Hosea spoke his prophecy hundreds of years before Christ everyone understood him to be referring to the nation of Israel, the Jews. Even the Jews during the time of Christ understood the prophecy as referring to the Jewish people during the time of the Exodus. But here Matthew is using it, not as a prophecy whose fulfillment is with the Jews, but whose fulfillment is with Christ returning to the land of Israel from his brief stay in Egypt. What is the solution to this problem? Is the prophecy referring to the Jews or is it referring to Christ? The answer is that it is referring to both. Yes, God called the Jews out of Egypt, out of bondage, into the wilderness and eventually into the promised land. Yes, the prophecy was fulfilled during the time of Moses, as he led the Jews out of the captivity of Pharaoh and into freedom, to Mount Sinai and beyond. But God also fulfilled the prophecy in Jesus Christ, as Joseph his father brought Jesus into Egypt to escape Herod and then brought Jesus out of Egypt back into the Promised Land Israel. The prophecy was fulfilled in the Old Testament and it was also fulfilled in the New Testament. Now admittedly, this prophecy is not a typical prophecy. Usually prophecies are fulfilled in a more straightforward and conventional fashion. Usually prophecies have their prediction and then their fulfillment, but sometimes God does a duel fulfillment of a prophecy. Is that legitimate? Is that permissible? Sure it is, God is God; he doesn’t have to answer to anyone, certainly not to his human children. Now the critics will simply charge Matthew with force-fitting an Old Testament prophecy into a New Testament fulfillment. The skeptics and doubters and unbelievers will cry foul when they encounter a double-fulfillment prophecy in the Bible. They will say that Matthew is just pulling prophecies out of thin air and using any piece of evidence he can to prove that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. They will say that Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 is not legitimate prophecy. Well, they need to simply open their minds and hearts to mysterious workings of God instead of trying to put God in a box. Obviously, God is trying to communicate something important for all believers by linking Moses and the Exodus story with Jesus. He’s trying to show us that just as Moses led the Jews out of physical bondage, Jesus leads believers out of the spiritual bondage of sin. Jesus is our spiritual Moses delivering us from sin, judgment, and the eternal death of hell. It is a strange prophecy; it’s an odd way to present its fulfillment. But we trust that the message it contains reveals something important from God. We need to keep an open mind to God working in unconventional ways.

Second, there’s the “Rachel weeping for her children” prophecy. Matthew 2:17, “Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’” Matthew is quoting Jeremiah 33:15, “This is what the Lord says: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because her children are no more.’” Now the original reference to this description in Jeremiah is the Jewish exile to Babylon. But what’s strange or odd about it being used in Matthew is that Rachel isn’t the ancestress of the tribe Judah, the territory of Bethlehem; she’s the ancestral mother of the tribes Benjamin and Ephraim. In fact, Leah was the ancient mother of the tribe of Judah. Furthermore, the prophecy refers to Ramah, which is North of Jerusalem, not Bethlehem, which is South of Jerusalem. So again, the critics have had a field day with this prophecy, claiming that it isn’t really a prophecy at all, but simply a reference pulled into the Christmas account in order to link the New Testament with the Old Testament. But again, they miss the point of how God might be working through the fulfillment of this prophecy, and what God might want to reveal to his children with it. Admittedly, it is an odd prophecy because it wasn’t originally intended as a prophecy as such, but really a description of Jews going into exile. But the point is that it’s entirely appropriate for Matthew to use it or link it to what happened in Bethlehem with the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod’s soldiers. There was a great tragedy, a great sadness experienced in the land of Israel, and it’s appropriate for these two tragedies to be seen in a similar light. No doubt for the mother’s of Bethlehem, whose babies had been slaughtered, there was no less mourning as there would be in such a sorrow as an exile experience. Both were sad events. It’s interesting to wonder out loud if all history is some kind of a repeat of some past historical event. Like Solomon once said in Ecclesiastes, there really isn’t anything totally new under the sun. Maybe the message God is trying to teach us believers is that he has already, in some way, revealed something to us in his Word, the Bible, either in the Old or New Testament, that can help us process anything and everything, good or bad, we might go through in life. And by looking and finding some kind of reference in God’s Word we can be comforted or strengthened by it. We can be reminded that we don’t have to go through life alone or without any light, that God has shed light in his Holy Word in some verse, some passage, some example, some historical account, some teaching, etc. so that we don’t have to feel like we are going through something entirely alone or unique. There’s a reason why this strange prophecy and fulfillment are mentioned in the Christmas account in Matthew. We must open our hearts and minds to search what God might be saying to us from it. God works in mysterious ways.

Third, there’s the “He shall be called a Nazarene” prophecy. Matthew 2:23, “And he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.” Now the really strange or odd thing about this prophecy is that there is no direct reference to it in the Old Testament. What prophet is Matthew referring to? If you search the entire Old Testament you’ll not find the exact quote mentioned in Matthew. So what was Matthew referring to? Some people think that Matthew is referring to a number of prophets of the Old Testament, not their specific, detailed prophecies, but their general predictions that the Messiah would be despised and rejected when he appeared, for example, as in Isaiah 53. Nazareth, and the people from there, were generally looked down upon by other Jews as backwards, so then a reference to a Nazarene would mean one who is despised or rejected. Remember Nathanael, the early disciple of Jesus, whose first reaction was negative upon hearing where Jesus was from: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). Maybe that’s what Matthew is intending by the prophecy. Another explanation is a prophetic play-on-words found in Isaiah 11:1, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” The word for “branch” in the passage is NEZAR in the Hebrew. Maybe Matthew is playing with the words NEZAR and saying, “He shall be called a Branch or NEZAR.” Jesus was historically raised in the town of Nazareth and he is also the ‘branch” or NEZAR of David, or the from the line of King David, a requirement for the promised Messiah. So if this is the explanation, the prophecy is really a fulfillment of a word-play prophecy found in the Isaiah the prophet. Again, this is an odd or strange type of prophecy, perhaps the strangest in the entire Bible, but who’s to say that such a prophecy and fulfillment isn’t legitimate. Anyway, a true prophet of God or inspired writer of Holy Scripture doesn’t necessarily need to give chapter and verse from another prophet of God; God can and does give them direct prophecy. This prophecy certainly doesn’t fit into our nice man-made human categories of how prophecy should be fulfilled. The Jews historically have rejected this as legitimate Old Testament prophecy, but then again, the Jews have historically rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah, even though he worked miracles and rose from the dead to verify his claims! It’s just another example of God blowing our minds with something “outside the box” of human expectations. The Jews were expecting a warrior-hero Messiah, but Jesus came as a spiritual sin-bearing Savior; that was unexpected. It makes sense that prophecies and their fulfillments would also burst the expectations of the Jews as well. Again, God doesn’t have to conform to human expectations. He doesn’t have to get permission to do something unusual in our world and in our lives. Are you ready for God to do the unexpected and unusual in your life in 2009? Would you follow his will even if it took you to a place you didn’t plan on going? Would you go along with God’s plan if it went against expectations? I hope you are ready, able and willing to follow God in any direction he might want to take your life in the future. That’s the excitement of living by faith!

One Response to “The Very Strange Prophecies of Christmas”

  1. Conspirama Says:

    The Very Strange Prophecies of Christmas « Jeffshort’s Weblog…

    Some people think that Matthew is referring to a number of prophets of the Old Testament, not their specific, detailed prophecies, but their general predictions that the Messiah would be despised and rejected when he appeared, ……

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: