by John Meador
Why do you celebrate Christmas? Are you sure of it? The waters of our seasonal celebrations seem to get murkier every year. With "Happy Holidays" (instead of Merry Christmas) and the ever-increasing commercialism of Christmas by our friendly retailers, one can get lost in the reason for celebration. Parents struggle to help kids see past the gifts to the real Giver of Christmas. Individuals get to the end of the celebration and often feel a deep sense of emptiness. But Christmas should bring hope, and there is a reason for hope!
It is good to remember that we have a reasonable basis of belief for believing in Jesus Christ-and for celebrating Christmas. In this world of relativism-where everything is relegated to what one "wants" to believe-we must have something more solid than just a sincere faith. We also must have a reasonable faith. The apostles did not die for something they just sincerely felt. They died for what they KNEW to be true!
We are told to "always being ready to make a defense (reasonable statement) for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet. 3:15). As we sit around the dinner table during this time of the year, as we exchange gifts with one another or worship together with all the incredible beauty and pageantry of Christmas-we insure a true celebration by remembering why we can be confident that Jesus is the reason for the season. We celebrate Christmas-and Christ-because we know He is the Messiah sent from God.
The Apostle Peter knew the reason: "Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" (1 Pet. 1:10-11).
Peter does not exalt common sense or experience as the basis of His belief. He rather appeals to the prophets and the obvious fulfillment of their prophecies as his foundation. These words convey Peter's answer to why he knew Jesus was the Messiah. This verse also gives our reason-your reason for celebration.
First, authentic prophecies of divine origin were recorded centuries in advance through recognized prophets.
The Old Testament prophets were those who spoke directly for God. What's more, God spoke through them to tell of events that were yet to occur! He told them when to go to war, and who would win. He spoke to them about men he would heal, or allow to die. He also spoke to them, frequently, about the coming Messiah.
The reason we know these prophets were authentic was their accuracy. A prophet who spoke "from the Lord" but who spoke inaccurately about a coming event was stoned to death. A bad prophet was a dead one. That tends to demonstrate who is authentic and who is not, and the authentic prophets are recorded in Scripture.
Second, these prophets predicted in precise detail the birth, sufferings, and glories of the Messiah.
These weren't just vague references to a general event. These prophecies were specific and time-sensitive. Listed below are only a few of the hundreds of Messianic prophecies.
A. His BIRTH
Given: Isaiah 7:14 - "The Lord will give you a sign; Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a Son. "
Fulfilled: Matthew 1:18, 24-25 - " she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit Joseph kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son."
B. His ANCESTRY
Given: Isaiah 11:1 - "A shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse "
Fulfilled: Luke 3:23, 32 - "Jesus (as was supposed) the son of Joseph the son of Jesse "
C. His BIRTHPLACE
Given: Micah 5:2 - "But as for you, Bethlehem...from you One will go forth for Me to be a ruler in Israel from the days of eternity."
Fulfilled: Matt. 2:1 - " Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea "
D. His TIMING
Given: Daniel 9:24-26 - " from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks (of years) "
Fulfilled: Mt. 2:1 - " Jesus was born in the days of Herod the king " (Herod died in 4 AD, just after Jesus was born, according to scholarly consensus, while the 69 weeks of Daniel [after the Jewish and Gregorian calendars are reconciled] were completed in AD 33. This fulfills Daniel's prophetic dating.)
E. His SUFFERINGS
Given: Psalm 22:16-18 - " they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bonds. They look, they stare at me. They divide my garments "
Fulfilled: Luke 23:34-35 - " And they cast lots, dividing His garments and the people stood by, looking on."
F. His GLORY
Given: Ps. 68:18 - "You have ascended on high "
Fulfilled: Mk. 16:19 - " when Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven "
Some say Jesus "engineered" all these things to be fulfilled. Now, that is a wild statement. How can one possibly control the day of his birth or his descendants? How can a person determine exactly when he dies, or predict how many pieces of silver he was betrayed for?
Others say Jesus' fulfillment of over 300 Old Testament prophecies was "coincidental." Peter Stoner says that the odds of one man fulfilling just eight prophecies of this nature are one in 10 to the seventeenth power! That would be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000. I don't think "coincidence" cuts it, do you? Only God could have orchestrated an event of this magnitude.
Third, these prophecies were supernaturally fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The apostle concludes that these prophecies were heard, fulfilled, and accepted as being fulfilled supernaturally: " these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven...." (1 Pet. 1:12). In other words, this is the witness of the Holy Spirit and heaven itself-an unarguable fact. It's what we preach, Peter says-and it is what we can believe.
So, why does all this bring hope? It brings hope to Christmas because it says that God orchestrated all these events, literally moving heaven and earth, so that we might have a Savior who would Himself bring us to God. And that, my friends, is hope.
I'm sure of it.
John Meador authors the column "Transformational Preaching" each month in Pulpit Helps.
He is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless, Texas.