Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in issue no. 13 (weeks 49–53; December 9–30, 2018) of The Lookout magazine, and is also available online at www.lookoutmag.com.
Lesson Aim: Marvel at how God wholly fulfilled prophetic promises in Jesus.
By Mark Scott
One evidence that the Bible is divine is the record of fulfilled predictive prophecies. The Bible was written over a period of 1,500 years by at least 40 different human writers. The evidence of fulfilled prophecy is extremely faith building. For instance, reading Psalm 22 (written 1,000 years before Christ) and Isaiah 52:13—53:12 (written 700 years before Christ) and realizing that they were describing a crucifixion centuries before crucifixion was invented as a method of torture and execution is a marvel to be sure.
Luke’s account of the Christmas story is not only a great story with much intrigue, it is also a historical account of fulfilled prophecy. In our text there are at least four specific prophecies (along with seven other allusions) fulfilled from the Old Testament. These are clustered around the three parts of the narrative.
Big Names | Luke 2:1-3
The big names in the world at the time of the first Christmas were Caesar Augustus and Quirinius. These were the movers and shakers. In those days (the days of John the Baptist’s ministry in the wilderness) Octavian (named Caesar by the Roman Senate in AD 27) issued a decree (dogma) that a census (for the purpose of taxation) should be taken of the entire inhabited world—not the total cosmos. And if Rome decreed it, everyone obeyed (v. 3).
The parenthetical comment by Luke in verse 2 indicates that this story is not a fairy tale. It assumed a historical context by saying that it was the first (it could be translated “before” or “beginning”) census while Quirinius was governor (leader or commander). The wording that Luke used allowed for some historical wiggling. Quirinius was in power in AD 6, but this census must be earlier than that—since we know that Herod the Great (The Butcher of Bethlehem) died in 4 BC. The exact date might be hard to fix, but Luke’s wording allowed for historical accuracy.
Perhaps more important than the exact date of the birth of Christ is the fulfillment of prophecy. When the prophet Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream he predicted that during Roman rule, the God of Heaven would set up a kingdom, and it would crush all other kingdoms (Daniel 2:42-44). Big names are no threat to God’s work in the world.
Humble Couple | Luke 2:4-7
The big names in our story, as far as God is concerned, are a humble carpenter from Nazareth named Joseph and his pregnant-out-of-wedlock wife named Mary. They “go up” (south) to Bethlehem, King David’s home town (1 Samuel 16:1). While there, Mary gave birth to Jesus. She wrapped him in cloths (tightly woven garments for warmth and security) and laid him in a manger (feeding trough) due to the fact that their accommodations consisted of being in something like a cave (attested to by as early as the second century BC).
Two Old Testament texts find their fulfillment in this part of our story. Micah 5:2 identified the town where the Messiah would be born. It might seem least among the towns of Judah, but from here would come the shepherd ruler of all of Israel (Matthew 2:6). Isaiah 7:14 identified that a virgin would conceive and bear a son who would be called Immanuel (Matthew 1:23). Though Mary and Joseph were pledged (betrothed), Joseph had not yet “known” (consummated the marriage) Mary as his wife (v. 25). Prophecy was fulfilled in a humble town through a humble couple.
Informed Shepherds | Luke 2:8-14
The Bible has a love/hate relationship with shepherds. On the one hand many of God’s greatest leaders were shepherds (Moses and David, for example), and shepherding is the major metaphor in the Bible for leading God’s people. On the other hand, shepherds were despised by the Egyptians (Genesis 46:34) and they were rejected in Jesus’ day—not even being allowed inside of the temple. But, fitting Luke’s emphasis on the wide embrace of God for all people, the shepherds were the first ones to be told the Christmas story.
The news was delivered to them by an unnamed angel of the Lord. Perhaps these shepherds kept watch over the flocks that would be used for temple sacrifice since Bethlehem is only six miles from Jerusalem. The angels appeared in brilliant light (the glory of the Lord) and told the shepherds the what (good news), the where (town of David), the who (Savior), and the how (the sign of lying in a manger). Soon a host of angels joined the angel of the Lord singing glory in Heaven and peace on earth. At the very least this fulfilled Isaiah 40:11. The whole fulfilled prophecy was not the result of coincidence. It was decided before the foundation of the world.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on the scope and sequence, ©2018 by Christian Standard Media. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
Image: “Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds” from 1639 by Govert Flinck. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.