John Putman – UK:
As I put pen to paper (yes, I still use a pen) my thoughts are directed towards the advent season that has just past and the New Year which is now upon us. The Bible contains more than 300 prophecies relating to the Messiah and 52 specific prophecies with regard to His birth. More often than not, any teaching in churches regarding the birth of Christ is confined to a few brief messages in December; but he purpose of this article in January is not simply to revisit the nativity scene, but to look at the outworking of promise and prophecy.
Mary and Joseph were very aware, through separate angelic encounters (through a dream in the case of Joseph ) that something extraordinary was happening to them. Both were aware that Mary was carrying in her womb a son (the Messiah) conceived of the Holy Spirit, who would be called Jesus and who would save His people from their sins. In all probability Mary would have been aged in her mid teens and Joseph not a lot older – certainly a young couple! We know that Joseph worked as a carpenter and that he was a righteous man. No doubt he would have regularly attended the synagogue; but I wonder would Joseph – before travelling to Bethlehem – have grasped the significance of the Micah 5:2 prophecy? A prophecy given some 700 years earlier. We cannot be sure but I am doubtful that he did.
Many of us are very aware of the biblical account. God worked through the mind of Caesar Augustus (The heart of the King is in the hands of the Lord. Prov 21:1) to bring about this particular census at this particular time. A census whereby every man had to return to his ancestral town to register. Although this was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria, census was a part of life in Roman occupied Judea. As I say, I tend towards the view that when making the arduous 80 mile journey south – from Nazareth to Bethlehem – Joseph and Mary were unaware of the prophetic significance of their undertaking.
All of which leads me to wonder about the promises and the prophecies somewhere in scripture that have bearing and direction for each of us. How many of us have faithfully acted upon God’s word and then found ourselves in a Bethlehem, only to later discover that God was at the heart of the whole journey and at the centre of all that we were doing. In biblical times Bethlehem – with a population of about 250 – was an unattractive , insignificant , out of the way sort of place. Today’s Bethlehem is larger, but not so different.
When God speaks to us through His word, there really is nothing more exhilarating or uplifting – there really isn’t! And yet, to experience the outworking of His Promises and Prophecy in our lives often leads us into to God-centred challenge and destiny – into a Bethlehem. And as we experience God’s leading and the fulfilment of prophecy in our lives, so we should also expect to experience His testing too.
I well remember standing with a missionary friend in the midst of the chaos, mayhem and squalor of the shanty towns of Lima. She said to me that despite a very comfortable upbringing (for which she was thankful) she had never felt happier and more at peace than when working in Lima’s shanty towns – but it took time! Initially, living out the Promise and the Prophecy looked and felt more like a Bethlehem; only later would it become a joyful and fulfilling destiny.
A closing thought: I find it interesting that the apostle Paul, at the conclusion of his letter to the Ephesians, simply says ‘pray for me…that I may be given the right words, that I might share the Gospel clearly (Eph 6:19-20). Although Paul had vast doctrinal insight he still asks that he be given the right words when he speaks!
And so as we seek to embrace God’s promises and prophecy for our own lives, prayer for one another will be absolutely vital. Whatever our Bethlehem, this coming year, we will need the presence of faithful and beloved brothers and sisters (Eph 6:21) if we are to endure seasons of testing, and come into all that God has for us.
Let us then, in 2023, be looking for fresh Promise and Prophecy from God’s word; and as we do so, let’s continue to lovingly commend and pray for one another, that we might bear fruit in all that God has for us.