Luke 24 relates the account of Jesus, immediately after the resurrection, on the way to Emmaus with two travelers who have not yet recognized they are walking with the resurrected Jesus. They were discussing the events that had transpired the past couple of days, including Jesus’ crucifixion. Luke comments that Jesus, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, interpreted to them what was said about himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). “All the Scriptures” is a reference to the Old Testament. Jesus taught them that day that He is the key that unlocks all of Scripture; the unifying thread that binds it all together. There is no Old Testament book or passage that is not finally about Christ. Nowhere is this truth more evident than in the Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel.
A virgin will conceive (Matt. 1:22-2/Isa. 7:14)
Joseph had received the bewildering report that Mary, the young Jewish woman to whom he was engaged, was pregnant. He knew he was not the father. As he considered how to handle the situation, and angel appeared to him and announced that the child that Mary was carrying was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20-21). Matthew then added: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, ‘God with us’” (Matt 1:22-23). While criticisms have been raised about the historicity of the virginal conception for 2000 years, the truth is that the early Christians repeatedly affirmed and proclaimed that Mary conceived apart from sexual contact with Joseph or any man. That Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit establishes His deity; that He was “born of a woman” establishes Jesus’ true humanity.
Born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:5-6/Micah 5:2)
Those looking for the coming of the Messiah might have expected a birth in a more celebrated location. Bethlehem was a tiny village about five miles from Jerusalem, but it was the ancestral hometown of David, Israel’s greatest king. Jesus’ birth here affirmed that he was “son of David.” This fulfills what the Prophet Micah had written: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” (Matt 2:6). Born in the city of David, whose name means “house of bread,” the bread of life was born.
Exile in Egypt (Matt. 2:13-15/Hosea 11:1)
Herod the Great responded with murderous hostility to the report of the wise men that the “king of the Jews” had been born in Bethlehem. To protect the child, an “angel of the Lord” commanded Joseph to seek refuge for the family in Egypt. The echoes of the Exodus story, with the threat to infant Moses because of Pharoah’s decree, are unmistakable (Exod 1:15-2:10). Jesus and the family seeking refuge in Egypt is the ultimate fulfillment of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” Moses led the Exodus out of Egypt, but a new Exodus was coming led by a new Moses. Jesus is not only son of David; He is also the new Moses who will liberate His people from their sins.
Jewish mothers weeping for their children (Matt. 2:16-18/Jer. 31:15)
The family’s escape to Egypt only adds to Herod’s rage. When Herod can’t find his potential rival, he decrees to kill all the male babies in Bethlehem two years and under. Matthew saw in the grieving of those Jewish mothers a reenactment of the grieving Jewish mothers during the Babylonian invasion & exile in 586 BC: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children” (Jer 31:15). The fulfillment, however, is more than the shared grief between Jewish mothers across six centuries. Both scenes point to the promise of the end of exile. Rachel wept for her children, but God offered comfort. The next verse, Jer 31:16 promised, “There is hope for your future . . . your children will return to their own country.” And so, just as their exile would be followed by return to Israel, so the present mourning would be swallowed up by joy through God’s Beloved Son.
He shall be called a Nazarene (Matt. 2:23)
The final fulfillment passage in Matthew’s birth story is the most difficult to interpret. Matthew does not point to a specific Old Testament passage, rather he sees Jesus being taken to Nazareth as a toddler as an indirect fulfillment of the “prophets.” Matthew saw in the prophets a pattern. The Messiah would come from an obscure, tiny, hick village. Isa. 52-53 affirms the Messiah would be obscure and despised. Only a Messiah of such humble origins could identify with and liberate people otherwise forgotten and despised.
At Christmas, we celebrate the fulfillment God’s promises in a baby, born of a virgin, raised in an obscure hick village, of the lineage of David, a liberator like Moses. Thanks be to God that all of God’s promises find their “yes” in Him. Merry Christmas!