“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).
Octavian Augustus was one of the greatest Caesars – and the first with the title Emperor – of the Roman Empire.
Ironically, most know him today as simply a footnote to the Christmas story. (In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree…Luke 2:1).
But his edict created a major headache to the common people of his day: tremendous uprooting of daily routine, heavy traffic volumes, inflated prices for food, accommodation – all to update tax rolls. This was particularly repugnant to the Jews – a unwanted reminder of their continuing loss of autonomy; their continued languishing under Gentile authority.
Mary and Joseph were looking at a trip from Nazareth of at least 150 km. For reasons of safety and support, most people were travelling in caravans; but Mary’s reduced mobility probably caused them to travel largely alone.
Bethlehem is one of the oldest cities in the world, tracing its history back 4000 years. And although this town of 27,000 boasts as being the birthplace of 2 of history’s most impressive figures (including King David), when I was last there it struck me as being dingy, colourless, with ubiquitous graffiti, and hundreds of torn and weathered posted notices hanging off of buildings and fences.
Considering this was Joseph’s hometown, it is staggering to think that the young couple could find absolutely no reasonable accommodation – particularly when the baby’s birth was imminent! Clearly the town was overflowing with visitors – but the stigma attached to Mary’s pregnancy outside of marriage likely resulted in shame and rejection in his own small-town, conservative, Jewish community.
So why Bethlehem?
The whole arduous ordeal to get there was all about a prediction from a rather obscure Jewish prophet from the 8th century BC.
Micah, a contemporary of the great Hebrew prophet Isaiah, preached 3 messages to Judah. Buried in the second of the three, is the special promise for Bethlehem.
And so when the Magi turned Jerusalem into a pressure-cooker by inquiring as to where they could find the baby, the One born King of the Jews, they were directed to the village just south of the Holy City. The Jewish elite knew the ancient prediction.
Matthew’s record: When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“’But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:3-6)
We tend to read over fulfilled Bible prophecy rather routinely. But, what were the chances of this ancient prophecy being fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah with that precision?
Have you ever participated in a “baby birth pool” – you know, when you try to guess the actual date of an imminent birth?
We’ve done that a few times for our anticipated grandchildren. To get the exact date is one thing – but to nail the gender, the birthweight, and time of day is quite another!
Anyone can make a random prediction, but the odds of being accurate are greatly reduced with the addition of each predicted component. The more predictions, the less probability that all will be correct.
Calculation: the chance of 1 person fitting 8 predictive indicators would be 1 in 10to the power of 17.That’s analogous to filling the province of Alberta with silver dollars (remember those?) to a depth of 2 feet (61 cm), marking one dollar with an X, and then sending a blindfolded person to wade in and find that dollar. The chance of the blindfolded person plucking out the marked dollar on the first try is 1 in 10 to the power of 17.
And that’s just with 8 predictions.
Jesus of Nazareth was the most-anticipated, the most-prophesied person in all of human history. Over 300 predictions in the Old Testament looked forward to Him – with significant specificity. Matthew’s gospel alone refers to 25 such predictions. In a sense, Matthew was confirming Jesus’ “identity address”.
Earlier in her life, my sister lived in one of the most populous cities in the world: Tokyo. Even with a population of 9 million people, it was simple to get a letter to her from Canada. My address label indicated of all the cities in Japan, she was in Tokyo; and of all the streets in Tokyo, which street she lived on, which building on that street, which unit in that building, and finally which person in that unit – everything needed to specifically identify her.
That’s how Old Testament Messianic prophecy worked – it permitted those vigilant 1st century Jews to recognize the Anticipated One as the Man who fit the “identity address”.
Takeaway: not only is Jesus of Nazareth the figure in all of history about whom more has been written than any other, but much of what was written specifically about Him was written before He was born – centuries before His arrival. How can any objective person not recognize Him as the long-promised Messiah, the Man who is God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity? The Incarnate Son of God?
photo: Gary Richardson, freeimages.com
~this is an expansion of an original piece from my blog in December 2012