The Christmas Story…Part 1
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:1-2)
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:26-35).
Some commentators try to cast doubt on the validity of Isaiah’s virgin birth prophecy, saying the clearest Hebrew word for virgin is bethulah. In Isaiah 7:14 a different word, almah, is used. It means virgin too, but can also describe any woman of marriageable age. They contend that Isaiah’s failure to use the most specific word for virgin could mean that he wasn’t really prophesying a virgin birth. As if anticipating this, Isaiah included a rebuttal to their claims. It’s simple and appears in Isaiah 8, but first some perspective.
Long-range prophecies often have what’s called a dual fulfillment. The first is a partial one that confirms the certainty of the second, final one. As an example, Jesus said, “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him” (John 5:43). He was speaking of the future appearance of the anti-Christ, the impostor Israel will accept as their messiah at the end of the age having rejected Him, their true Messiah, back then. But at His trial, Pilate offered to release one prisoner in honor of Passover. He asked them to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, and the crowd chose Barabbas (Matt. 27:15-23). (Interestingly, Barabbas means “son of a father.”) This was the partial fulfillment that confirmed the final one.
Since there would only ever be one virgin birth, Isaiah’s prophecy had to be given in a broad enough context to accommodate a partial fulfillment, and that’s why he used almah instead of bethulah. Isaiah’s wife was actually the one who provided the partial fulfillment. (Isaiah 8:3) How do we know? The Lord referred to the son she bore as Immanuel (Isaiah 8:8) even though He told her to also give him the ceremonial name of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.
But think about it. In the context of Isaiah 7 the virgin birth was intended as an important sign to Israel. What kind of a sign would it be to say, “A woman of marriageable age will give birth.” That happened every day.
And there’s further support for the prophecy’s validity as well. About 600 years later, after Isaiah and his family were long gone, his writings were officially translated into Greek by 70 leading Hebrew scholars. When they got to the passage we know as Isaiah 7:14 they chose the Greek word parthenos which in the Bible only describes someone who has never had a sexual experience. (Parthenos is the Greek word Paul used in 2 Cor. 11:2 to describe the Church as a chaste virgin.) These Hebrew scholars expected a virgin birth, and 150 years later they got one.
And finally, the only way Jesus could have a legal claim to the Throne of David was to be a biological descendant of King David’s and in the royal line of succession, but not carry the blood curse God had pronounced on the royal line six centuries earlier. (Jere. 22:28-30)
Joseph was a descendant of David’s through Solomon, the royal line. But like every other living descendant of Solomon’s he carried the curse that disqualified him and all of his biological offspring from ever being Israel’s King. Mary was also descended from David through Solomon’s brother Nathan whose line wasn’t cursed, but whose descendants weren’t qualified to be king either.
Born of Mary, Jesus was a biological descendant of David’s. As Joseph’s adopted son, He was in line to be Israel’s King but didn’t carry the blood curse. In short, Jesus is the only man born into this world since 600BC who is legally qualified to serve as Israel’s King, and only because he has no earthly father. Read “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy” for all the details on this incredible story.
Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”
Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:36-38)
Elizabeth was six months pregnant when Mary conceived. Since John the Baptist, Elizabeth’s son, was born in March, a normal nine-month gestation period would place his conception in the previous June. Elizabeth would have been six months into her pregnancy in late December, the time of Mary’s conception, placing the Lord’s birth in the following September, six months after John’s. (Read “Happy Birthday Jesus” to review the Biblical support for this view.)
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matt. 1:18-25)
In those days a betrothal was as legally binding as a marriage, but it permitted no unsupervised contact between bride and groom to avoid tempting them to consummate their union prematurely. Joseph knew he was not the baby’s father, but accusing Mary of infidelity would have ruined her entire life. A betrothal could only be ended through divorce, so that’s the remedy he sought. The name Jesus is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Yeshua which means God brings salvation. Though in every sense of the word, he was “God with us” (Immanuel) it is only through Him that “God brings salvation” (Jesus).
The Birth of Jesus
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. (Luke 2:1-3)
Quirinius was governor from 6-4 BC and again from 6-9 AD. He had a census taken in each term of office. This one was during his first term. (Acts 5:37 refers to the second one.) More importantly, roads in the Jerusalem/Bethlehem area often became impassable after late fall due to winter storms, so it’s highly improbable that he would have required everyone to travel in late December. Early fall is a more likely time.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4-7)
Swaddling cloths, as they were called, were cut from worn out priestly garments. Mostly they were braided together and used as wicks for the four great four-branched menorah placed in the Temple courts during the Feast of Tabernacles. These giant lamps were so tall that priests had to lug buckets of oil up 30-foot ladders to keep them burning, and it’s said that the light they produced illuminated the entire city. These linen cloths were the first earthly garments to adorn our High Priest, the Light of the World.
The Shepherds and the Angels
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)
Again, the winter weather around Jerusalem would have kept shepherds out of the open fields after late October. The animals being tended were Temple flocks, lambs that had been carefully bred over many years to be free of spot or blemish. These were the animals the pilgrims from far off bought to serve as sacrifices during the Holy Days, rather than take the risk of bringing one of their own on the long journey from home. These lambs served no other purpose. They were born to die for the sins of the people. It’s fitting that their shepherds were the first to learn of the birth of The Lamb born to die for the sins of mankind (John 1:29).
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:13-20)
Traditionally, the birth of a firstborn son was cause for great celebration in Israel. The firstborn was the heir, and assured the continuation of the family. Those fathers who could afford it hired musicians to parade through the streets singing, dancing and joyfully announcing the new arrival to all within earshot.
Mary and Joseph were several days journey from home and family and didn’t have money for musicians, but the God of the Universe had it all taken care of. Opening the Heavens, He had His angelic choir sing the praises due this uniquely blessed event.
We’ll conclude this study in Part 2 next week. Merry Christmas.