Wesley Congregations Combined Service
THE PROOF OF CHRISTMAS
8th December 2002
We live in an era when intelligent people want proof of everything. They want proof that leaders are honest, that schools have an achievement record, that qualification are legitimate, that achievements happened, that love is real. How many couples have faced the question: "Show me you really love me?" So great is the demand for proof that NASA has produced what it claims is irrefutable proof that men stepped onto the moon, because so many people believe it was a giant video hoax.
How can we prove events in the spiritual realm? At one time people were satisfied with an experiential answer: "You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!" That has given rise to many people seeking emotional responses in their religious experience. "If I can feel it, it must be real." Many others know that how you feel is not necessarily a good guide to reality. They want objective proof, something they can see and touch. Especially is this so, when people want to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. They want some objective proof that Jesus lived, that He healed people, that He was crucified, that He rose from the dead. That is why in Mediaeval times people adored relics. If they could only see a silver box in which lay a splinter of wood that came from the real cross of Jesus, they would believe! Today there is great value placed on archaeological discoveries from the time and place of Jesus. The recent discovery of an ossuary, a burial box, with the writing describing the bones as being those of "James the Brother of Jesus, the Son of Joseph" caught the imagination of scholars. That is why discoveries of ancient manuscripts containing the earliest known written records about Jesus, such as recently found by Prof Carsten Thiede are so highly prized.
One such claim of proof of the birth of Jesus is found in the Bible itself. This internal evidence is fascinating. The Old Testament prophecies dated from hundreds of years before the time of Jesus. There is proof of their existence in those centuries before Christ. There are over 300 predictions from hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus acknowledged by rabbis as having been made in reference to a coming deliverer they called the Messiah. These predictions included Bethlehem as the place of His birth Micah 5:2. It included that He would be born of a virgin: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel." Isaiah 7:14 This is found in the Septuagint Greek translation of which we have a copy written about 250 B.C.. It was also predicted that He would perform miracles, Isaiah 35:5,6 that he would enter Jerusalem on a donkey, Zechariah 9:9 would die a dreadful, yet substitutionary death, Isaiah 53 by crucifixion, Psalm 22:14-17 a form of death not even known at the time of the psalm's composition, and that he would be raised from the dead. Psalm 16:9f No one else in history can remotely claim to be the object of such prophecies except Jesus of Nazareth.
Astonishingly, the chances of fulfilling just eight specific prophecies is one in 100,000,000,000,000,000 notes a panel of scientists with the American Scientific Affiliation. Archaeological findings include inscriptions that Quirinius Luke 2:2 was twice governor of Syria, and so in power when Jesus was born, and that Caesar Augustus ordered a taxation enrolment that uprooted people such as Joseph and Mary from their homes. Luke 2:3-4 The apostles logically argued that Jesus was the Messiah through using the prophecies in the Old Testament.
These prophecies were well known to Jews. They looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. They argued from each one how Jesus, and only Jesus, was the fulfilment of the prophecies. There were none that He did not fulfil. Only He fulfilled them all. Let us look at the proof found in prophecy, answer some of the sceptics' questions, and show how relevant are the prophecies to Christmas and to the birth of Jesus. Most of the prophecies dealt with the events in the life of Jesus, but there are twelve which specifically deal with His birth.
There are 332 references in the Old Testament prophecies written at least 450 years before the birth of Jesus concerning His birth, His life, His death and His Resurrection. A sceptic might say "But how can we be sure that all of these were in fact written before the birth of Jesus? Could they not have been written after the life of Jesus?" The Old Testament was completed 450 years before His birth in Hebrew, and translated into Greek 250BC. Copies of that translation made 250 years before His birth are still in existence. Says the sceptic, "Would it not be possible for Jesus to have so learnt the prophecies that He arranged His life so they seemed to be fulfilled?" Nice argument! However, many of the prophecies involved other people, including people before His birth, including people of other races, cultures and languages who had not heard of the prophecies and who would never have dreamed that what they decided in Rome or Persia would have ramifications on the life of a Jew in far off Palestine. But their decisions made the prophecies come true in the life of Jesus. Consider twelve prophecies about His birth. Together them make a powerful proof of the birth of Jesus Christ.
1. God would send His Son to save mankind. God spoke to Satan who, in the guise of a snake caused Adam and Eve to sin. Genesis 3 God said He would cause the offspring of Satan to be hated by the offspring of the woman, and the woman's offspring would crush Satan head, even though Satan would bite His heel. God intended to redeem mankind, through the birth of a child of a woman, who would Himself suffer in conquering Satan.
2. This Son would be born of a woman. God said such an offspring would be born of a woman, not created like Adam and Eve and not as a result of human intercourse like each of us. He would be "begotten" of a woman only. No man required. Mary knew she was a virgin and was amazed when told she would bear a child conceived by the Holy Spirit.
3. The Child would be male and be called Emmanuel. Matthew 1:22 Joseph was shocked to hear Mary was pregnant, but a voice said: "Joseph, descendent of David, do not be afraid to take Mary to be your wife. For it is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived. She will have a son and you will name Him Jesus - because he will save His people from their sins. Now all this happened in order to make come true what the Lord had said through the prophet, "A virgin shall become pregnant and have a son and He will be called Emmanuel - God with us."
4. The Child would face rejection and suffering. He might crush Satan's head, but His heel would be bruised, a symbolic way of saying He would suffer. Isaiah, 700 years before the birth of Jesus described in great detail all aspects of that suffering. Isaiah 53
5. The Son would yet emerge victorious. The Son's heel wound was not to be compared with Satan's head wound. Wounded Satan still waits for final destruction when Christ rules the world.
6. The Son of God would come from the Israel. From the promise given to Abraham, the people of Israel were chosen by God to be a blessing to all other nations. They in turn would possess their own land but from them would come God's Son or Messiah.
7. The Messiah would be from the tribe of Judah. Not just from Israel, but from Judah, one of the weakest of tribes. Old Jacob on his deathbed gathered his twelve sons and predicted what each would become. "Judah will hold the royal sceptre and His descendants will always rule. Nations will bring Him tribute and bow down in obedience before Him." Genesis 49:10. From one nation, one tribe.
8. The Messiah would come from the House of David. Within Judah, from one family house, that of King David, the Messiah would come. 1000 years before the birth of Jesus, God had reassured a disappointed David, that although He would not be allowed to build the Temple, one of His descendants would one day rule forever. One nation. One tribe. One house.
9. The Son would be born in the town of Bethlehem. Because the small town of Bethlehem was the city of David, there the Messiah would be born. Micah had prophesied 400 years earlier: "The Lord says, "Bethlehem, you are one of the smallest towns in Judah, but out of you I will bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes back to ancient times." Micah 5:2
Joseph would never have gone to Bethlehem with Mary about to give birth, but the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, wanted to improve taxation efficiency, ordered every person to be enrolled in their traditional family city. So Joseph and Mary travelled the hard climb into the mountains to Bethlehem, from Nazareth. Here Jesus was born because of an order from the most powerful man in the world anxious to collect more tax!
10. The Messiah would be born of a Virgin. So it was prophesised hundreds of years before His birth. Isaiah wrote: "The Lord Himself will give you a sign: a young woman, a virgin, who is pregnant will have a son and will name Him "Emmanuel". Isaiah 7:14
11. The Baby would be visited by Wise Men. Both David and Isaiah predicted this would happen: "The kings of Arabia and Ethiopia will bring Him offerings and all kings will bow down before Him and all nations will serve Him." "They will come from Sheba bringing gold and incense." Psalm 72:10; Isaiah 60:3,6,9. When those wise men came from the East bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they did not realise they were fulfilling a prophecy hundreds of years old. They just followed the star, but enquired of King Herod where the new King was to be born. Herod asked his counsellors if there was any reference anywhere to the birthplace of such a King. After searching, they told him Micah had prophesied Bethlehem. Herod asked the Wise Men to return and tell Him if they found any newborn king.
12. His birth would result in other children dying. Herod did not realise it, but in his jealousy, he was about to fulfil another prophecy.
For hundreds of years earlier, the Bible records the prophecy that Bethlehem, where Rachael had been buried 1750 years earlier would break into "bitter weeping. Rachael is crying for her children. They are gone, and she refuses to be comforted." Jeremiah 31:15 Herod was to blame, because fearful of a new King, he ordered every male child under two years old in Bethlehem to be slaughtered. Soldiers came and killed them all and the town was filled with loud wailing at this heartless and pointless murder. Except for Joseph and Mary. For warned in a dream, they left their house and fled to Egypt for safety. Little did Joseph realise that in so doing he fulfilled another prophecy that declared that the Messiah would need to be called from Egypt before He would start His life's work. Later, when Joseph heard that Herod was dead and it was safe to return, he went north to Galilee to Nazareth. Thus he fulfilled another prophecy that the Child would be called a Nazarene. That had been an apparent contradiction in scripture: the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but would be called a Nazarene? He was of David's descent and was born in his city. But He grew up in Nazareth, and was so called a Nazarene.
Many people want objective proof, something they can see, touch and think about. When it comes to Jesus Christ, and His miraculous birth, there is plenty to think and reason about, found in the Bible itself, among the more than three hundred prophecies. These prophecies, if studied, are enough of themselves to bring us to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. The prophecies are the proof of Christmas. Now is the time for you to trust Jesus Christ as both Lord and Saviour. There is more than enough proof for your trust!