Providence Fulfills Prophecy—Luk 2:1–7
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered …” Luk 2:1
The Bible declares that Jesus came into the world “in the fullness of the time” (Gal 4:4), that is, in the precise moment for prophetic fulfillment. The movement of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem was not a calculated attempt on their part, even though they knew the child Mary carried was the promised Messiah.
In Unger’s Bible Dictionary, providence is defined as “the constant and final aim of God [toward] … the fulfillment of His purpose in creation.” Perhaps the greatest statement about providence in Scripture is made in Rom 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” In accordance with the Doctrine of Providence, not even the fall of a sparrow is outside God’s overruling and sovereign will (Mat 10:29).
And so it was that God was at work in the timing of the decree of Augustus, without violating his personal desire to implement it. By this timing, Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem to find the inn full, and to move to the stable. This, in turn, made a symbolic statement regarding this Child, that this world—as constituted under the sway of Satan (“the god of this age,” 2Co 4:4)—had no room for Him. Thus, the “battle of the ages” was engaged!
Allies and Enemies—Luk 2:8–20
“In the same region there were shepherds … And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them …
the angel said to them … ‘today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’” Luk 2:8, 9, 11, 13–14 (NASB)
The implications of this section are filled with both hope and warning. The accurate translation of Luk 2:14 tells us that “peace on earth” is the possession of those only “with whom He is pleased.” All of the Scriptures—from Genesis to Revelation—affirm that there is but one way to be pleasing in the sight of a holy God. He is pleased with those who come to Him by faith, for, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6).
The message of the birth of the Messiah goes to the lowly shepherds, because the political and religious leaders in Jerusalem were not men of faith! The age-old enmity between the serpent and the woman—between Satan and the Christ—had now reached the crisis point (Gen 3:15).
With the birth of Jesus Christ, the spiritual war entered into a new phase. In essence, this spiritual conflict would rage through three historic phases. First came the prophetic phase, from Adam to Christ. The goal of Satan during this phase was primarily aimed at the nation of Israel—the chosen vehicle for bringing the Savior into the world. If only Israel was destroyed, the prophecies could not be fulfilled.
The second phase began with the birth of the Son of God. Now, all efforts were directed toward tempting Him to compromise the principles underlying His incarnation (cf., Mat 4:1–17; Phi 2:5–9; Joh 8:29). If at any time Jesus should act independently of the Father’s will, He could not go to the cross and die for sinners (Heb 5:8–9). Thus, throughout the entirety of His life, He was under an ongoing assault on His submission to, and trust in, the heavenly Father.
The final effort of the “prince of darkness” was the cross, which Satan knew was a terrific gamble. From Gethsemane to Calvary, all the forces at the devil’s disposal were utilized in an attempt to cause the Savior—for one moment—to act out of fear, doubt toward God’s Word, or distrust of the Father. Satan gambled that “God in Christ,” in His humanity, could be broken “[in the] foolishness … and the weakness of God” (1Co 1:25). In this gamble the devil lost, and salvation was accomplished.
With the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord, the spiritual war entered into its final phase. This phase is anticipated in the Christmas story, as King Herod is confronted by the wise men from the East.
Scripture Knowledge Versus Wisdom—Mat 2:1–12
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” Mat 2:2
The coming of the wise men created chaos in Jerusalem! Their question is of vital interest both to wise men, and to Herod and the religious leaders. Both eagerly wanted to find Him, but for entirely different reasons.
The wise men—being descendants of those taught by Daniel (Dan 2:48)—knew the timing of His coming, while the chief priests and scribes did not. On the other hand, the religious leaders knew the place, the town of Bethlehem (Mic 5:2; Mat 2:6), which the wise men did not.
The wise men came to worship Him (Mat 2:9–12), which is the expression of both faith and wisdom (Rom 12:1–2; 1Co 1:30–31). First Herod, and later the religious leaders, would seek Him to destroy Him. Their knowledge did not translate into the wisdom that is faith. In this way, whether by humble faith or arrogant unbelief, those with whom God is pleased and those who remain his enemies are identified. God, in the person of Christ, came to die for and reconcile His enemies (Rom 5:8–11). The decision whether to receive or reject Jesus Christ becomes, then, the determining factor in constituting us either the enemies or the allies of God.
Escape and Evasion—Mat 2:13–15
“Arise, take the young child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word;
for Herod will seek the young child to destroy Him.” Mat 2:13
This action is preceded by that of the wise men (Mat 2:12). Warned by God not to return to Herod, they return to the East by an alternate route. By these two actions, the principle of “escape and evasion” is implemented on behalf of God’s people. Later, Jesus would instruct His disciples in this important tactic (Mat 10:23; Luk 21:20–21). The object was that they survive—whenever possible—without compromise, in order to continue the work of evangelism. Thus, all the elements now incorporated in our military S.E.R.E. School (Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape), which was founded by Vietnam POW Lt. Nick Rowe, and one of the few who escaped captivity, were present two thousand years ago. By these methods, the living Word of God was protected from hostile world powers. The same is true today of God’s written Word, which in many places is printed, distributed, and studied in secret.
Ever since the first century, men and women of faith have utilized the skills of “escape and evade” in order to fulfill the missions mandate of the Church (Mat 28:18–20; Mar 16:15; Luk 24:46–49; Joh 20:21; Act 1:8). All around this globe today, there are men and women engaged in what most governments (including our own U.S.A.) consider unlawful conduct. They take the Word of God as their highest authority and, therefore, risk their lives and liberty in defiance of all earthly powers.
Having just returned from two areas of the world where believers are risking everything for the cause of Christ, Nan and I would encourage each and every one of you to join us in lifting up these courageous believers in your prayers. And beyond praying for their faith, courage, and comfort in the face of earthly hostility, it should also be our prayer to be more courageous and bold in standing for the message of reconciliation in our own land. It is more crucial than ever that we, in this land, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Mat 10:16).
Wishing you all a blessed Christ-filled Christmas,
Gene and Nan
P.S. Our mission report will follow in a few days.