The Bethlehem Miracle :: By Dr. David Reagan

Jesus’ birth as a testimony of God’s faithfulness

Every year at Christmas time, I am reminded of the remarkable prophecies concerning the birth of Jesus and how they substantiate His deity and the faithfulness of God. Let’s take a look at some of those prophecies.

The Timing of the Birth

The timing of the Messiah’s birth had been indicated in Genesis 49:10 in words spoken by Jacob on his deathbed to his son Judah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah… until Shiloh comes, and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

The term “Shiloh” was recognized by the Jewish rabbis as a Messianic title. The “scepter” refers to the judicial power of the nation. Thus, this prophecy states that the Messiah will come at a time when the nation’s judicial power has been removed.

Although Judah was deprived of its national sovereignty during the 70-year period of Babylonian captivity, it never lost its scepter, for the Jews were allowed to have their own judges even while in captivity.

Josh McDowell, in his book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, points out that “the first visible sign of the beginning of the removal of the scepter from Judah came about when Herod the Great, who had no Jewish blood, succeeded the Maccabean princes who belonged to the tribe of Levi and who were the last Jewish kings to reign in Jerusalem.”

The crucial turning point came soon after Herod’s death when, in about 7 AD, the Romans removed the power of the Sanhedrin Council in Judah to pronounce the death penalty. Thus the scepter (the supreme judicial power) passed from Judah.

There is a notation about this in the Talmud (the Jewish oral tradition). The Talmud states that on this occasion, the members of the Sanhedrin were overtaken by “a general consternation.” Incredibly, it is further recorded that they “covered their heads with ashes and their bodies with sackcloth, exclaiming: ‘Woe unto us, for the scepter has departed from Judah, and the Messiah has not come!'”

What they did not realize was that Jesus the Messiah had been born around 4 BC during the last years of Herod (Matthew 2:1), so “Shiloh” had arrived shortly before the scepter departed — just as prophesied!

The Place of the Birth

The place of the Messiah’s birth had also been precisely prophesied five hundred years earlier by the prophet Micah: “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel” (Micah 5:2).

Have you ever wondered what the term “Ephrathah” means in this passage? It is a geographical designation to indicate precisely which Bethlehem is being identified. It’s like differentiating between Springfield, Missouri and Springfield, Illinois.

The point is that there was another Bethlehem in the land of Israel in the area to the north, near the Sea of Galilee. It had been allotted to the tribe of Zebulun.

By specifying the area of Ephrathah, the prophecy of Micah made it clear that the Bethlehem that would host the birth of the Messiah would be the one in the south of Israel near Jerusalem. In fulfillment of this very precise prophecy, Matthew tells us that “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea” (Matthew 2:1).

The Nature of the Birth

It had also been prophesied that the special child born in Bethlehem would be both human and divine. Daniel emphasized the Messiah’s humanity when he referred to Him as “the Son of Man” (Daniel 7:13). Isaiah stressed His divinity when He said that the Messiah would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

His divine nature was also indicated in other prophecies about His birth. For example, the first Messianic prophecy in the Bible is one spoken by God Himself in the Garden of Eden when He told Satan that he would one day be defeated by the One who would be born of “the seed of woman” (Genesis 3:15). This seems to be a clear indication that the Messiah would be born miraculously through a virgin. Thousands of years later, Isaiah specifically prophesied that the birth would occur in this manner: “Behold, a virgin shall be with child and bear a son…” (Isaiah 7:14).

It was further foretold by Isaiah that the Messiah would be given a name that would signify His divinity. He will be called “Immanuel,” said Isaiah, which means “God with us” (Isaiah 7: 14). Six hundred years later, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of the Messiah, he specified that she was to name the baby Yeshua (Luke 1:31). That name in Hebrew means “God’s Salvation” (Matthew 1:21).

Other details prophesied about the Messiah’s birth included the presentation of gifts to Him by kings (Psalm 72:10-11 and Matthew 2:1-12), the slaughter of the infants of His birthplace (Jeremiah 31:15 and Matthew 2:16), and His sojourn in Egypt (Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:11-15).

The Celebration of the Birth

The conception and birth of the Messiah were celebrated in some remarkable prophetic hymns. Mary prophesied in a song of rejoicing that the child she had conceived was evidence that God’s “mercy is upon generation after generation” (Luke 1:50). She went on to prophesy that He would “scatter the proud,” “bring down rulers,” “exalt the humble,” and “fill the hungry” (Luke 1:52-53).

Her relative, the priest Zacharias, also sang a prophetic song of celebration when his son, John the Baptist, was born. Referring to the baby in Mary’s womb, he proclaimed that God “has raised up a horn of salvation for us” (Luke 1:69). He then declared that his own son would be called “the prophet of the Most High,” and he prophesied that his son would “go before the Lord to prepare His way” (Luke 1:76). He concluded his song with one of the most beautiful poetic prophecies concerning the Messiah that can be found anywhere in Scripture: “Because of the tender mercy of our God… the Sunrise from on high shall visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

The next prophetic song of celebration was sung on the night of the Messiah’s birth when an angel appeared to the shepherds of Bethlehem and proclaimed: “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). That angel was suddenly joined by a multitude of angels who sang a triumphant chorus: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:13-14).

The final prophetic song related to the Messiah’s birth was sung by a “righteous and devout” man of Jerusalem by the name of Simeon. The Holy Spirit had come upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die before he saw the Messiah (Luke 2:25-26). He was given that glorious privilege forty days after the Messiah’s birth when the parents of Jesus came to the temple in Jerusalem to dedicate their baby to God.

Simeon took the Christ child in his arms, thanked the Lord, and then sang: “My eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples — a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).

The Significance of the Birth Prophecies

The fulfillment of all these prophecies in the life of one person, Jesus of Nazareth, is proof positive that He was who He said He was, namely, the Messiah of God (Mark 14:62 and Luke 22:70).

God’s faithfulness in fulfilling each of these prophecies in detail is also significant because it gives us assurance that He will likewise faithfully fulfill all the prophecies He has given to Christians regarding the soon return of Jesus.

A God of Prophecy

Our God knows the future and has the audacity to proclaim it (Isaiah 46:10). He also has the power to see to it that what He proclaims will come to pass (Isaiah 46:11). Most important, He is faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9), so we can rest in His promises.

Let’s rejoice that the Bethlehem birth so long ago is proof positive that the One born there will soon return in glory as the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).

Lamb & Lion Ministries


The Gospel: A Plan or a Man? :: By Dr. David R. Reagan

I was born into and grew up in a very legalistic church — so legalistic, in fact, that it claimed to be the one and only true church. All other professing Christians were viewed as deceived pagans who were destined to Hell, and rightfully so because they did not agree with us on our “plan of salvation.” That plan was also often referred to as “the five-finger exercise” because it consisted of five points which our preachers would always count out on five fingers of one hand. The five points were: 1) Hear, 2) Believe, 3) Repent, 4) Confess, and 5) Be Baptized.

Some particularly zealous preachers would sometimes add a sixth point: obedience to all New Testament commands. Over and over, I heard it declared that “God had done His part, and now we must do our part.”

This, of course, amounted to salvation by good works, in direct contradiction to Ephesians 2:8-10 where the Apostle Paul specifically stated that we are saved by grace through faith and “not as a result of works.”

Baptismal Obsession

The really BIG point in our plan of salvation was baptism. Yes, we believed in what theologians call “baptismal regeneration.” We thought that baptism magically washed our sins away. Our preachers even had a saying that “you meet the blood of Jesus in the water.”

Accordingly, while I was growing up, I heard sermon after sermon on baptism. I learned that my salvation depended upon being baptized in the right way by the right person for the right reason.

Specifically, I had to be totally immersed by a preacher of my church for the purpose of being saved. The Baptists were constantly attacked from our pulpits because they believed baptism was simply a public manifestation or proclamation of one’s salvation. Our leaders openly scoffed at such an idea, calling it “unbiblical.” The purpose of baptism could only be in order to obtain salvation.

Sermons in the Book of Acts

My turnaround occurred while I was in college. The Holy Spirit led me one day to start reading all the sermons recorded in the book of Acts, and I noticed that they focused not on a mechanical Plan but on a divine Man and His glorious resurrection from the dead.

For example, in the first gospel sermon ever preached by the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, he focused from the beginning to the end on proving that Jesus was indeed the long-promised Messiah of God. The entire sermon reveals how Jesus fulfilled Bible prophecies about the Messiah, leading up to the climax of the Resurrection.

As I read sermon after sermon recorded in the book of Acts, I noticed that the Resurrection rather than baptism was the central point that was stressed over and over again:

> On the Day of Pentecost, Peter declared that Jesus was raised from the dead, and therefore the Jewish people could know for certain “that God has made Him both Lord and Christ — this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:32, 36).

>When Peter was hauled before the Sanhedrin Council for healing a man in the name of Jesus, he called Jesus “the Holy and Righteous One” whom they had put to death but whom “God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:14-15).

>When Peter was arrested a second time for proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus on the Temple grounds, he declared to the chief priest and the rulers and elders that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10,12).

>In Acts 4:33, we are told that all the apostles “with great power were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”

>In the first sermon to a Gentile group, Peter, speaking to the household of the Roman soldier Cornelius, concluded his remarks by asserting that “God raised Him [Jesus] up on the third day” (Acts 10:40).

>We are told in Acts 17:18 that the Apostle Paul spent his time in Athens “preaching Jesus and the resurrection.” In fact, Paul concluded his sermon with these words: “He [God] has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man [Jesus] whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

Paul summed up the central message in these sermons and others in the book of Acts when he wrote these words in his letter to the Romans: “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

The Biblical Concept of Salvation

God’s true plan of salvation focuses on a person. It was revealed in the Old Testament in the book of Joel, where the prophet wrote: “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Joel 2:32 NKJV). In Old Testament times, that name was Yahweh; in New Testament times, it became Jesus (Yeshua) — both being divine beings who are part of the Triune God.

In addition to studying the sermons in the book of Acts, I discovered a definition of the Gospel written by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…”

A Summary

In summary, the Gospel is the good news that Jesus came to the earth, died for our sins, and was resurrected from the dead, proving that He was God in the flesh and that those who put their faith in Him will be saved. It is not a matter of God doing his part and us doing ours. No! Baptism is not even mentioned. Jesus did everything necessary when He died for our sins on the Cross.

My complete deliverance from baptismal salvation came when I discovered a verse about baptism that I had never heard read aloud in the church of my youth. That verse is 1 Corinthians 1:17. It is a verse that literally jolted my spirit. In it, Paul boldly asserts that “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” The gospel is not baptism; it is the joyful news that Jesus loved us enough to come to earth to pay the penalty for our sins, making it possible for us to be reconciled to God.

The focus of all Christian preaching should be a divine Man, Jesus, and not a humanly-devised plan. We should be proclaiming to all humanity that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus, and not by works of any kind (Ephesians 2:8-10).