It Did Come True
What is a self-fulfilling prophecy? It’s when you say something and then make it come true. I remember many years ago as a student in Glasgow going frequently to Pars Bakery for rolls and bread. Waiting in the queue one morning I heard the shop assistant say to another woman ‘Ro’in day’. I think this was a Glaswegian expression indicating that the weather was inclement. But there was no guarantee that the weather would remain that way all day. Perhaps it did, I can’t remember. However the saying “Ro’in Day” was a prophecy at least of bad weather to continue and whatever else besides. If you say in the morning, “This is a bad day” it is the same thing. If you say “This is a good day” it may help it to be so. If you say to a badly behaved child, “You are going to be good today” it might help to make the child behave better. If you say to a child “You’ll never amount anything” it may contribute to the child’s lack of self-esteem and therefore become true later in life.
Sceptical anti-Christian scholars for the past 200 years have thought that the New Testament is full of self-fulfilling prophecy. They think that early Christians read back into the Old Testament to find bits that corresponded to what had happened to Jesus of Nazareth and to them and what they had experienced in relation to Jesus and then claimed that what was in the Old Testament were hundreds of years old prophecies which vindicated Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah and the Church’s claims to be the New Israel. Christian scholars take the opposite point of departure. They exhibit Old Testament passages which did not come true in their day and time and age but which did come remarkably and accurately true in and after the life of Jesus. This then makes some sense of the nature of Jesus’ Messiahship, the suffering servant rather than the conquering hero.
In Acts 8 we learn about an Ethiopian Chancellor of the Exchequer who was very interested in Judaism, so much so that he had journeyed to breathe in the atmosphere of Jerusalem and to worship as a Gentile. Philip who had been ordained as one of the first band of deacons along with Stephen and others was led by the Holy Spirit to meet this seeker after God. Philip found him reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah 53 : 7 & 8.
'He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgement he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.8 By oppression and judgement he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living'.
The Ethiopian asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Acts goes on 'Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus'. This is an obvious correlation between what was written centuries before and what did happen to Jesus. Neither is it plausible to suggest that Jesus brought about his own suffering and death through manipulation just to self-identify with the passage from Isaiah. We know that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus expressed his own wish not to have to suffer and die. This was not self-fulfilling prophecy. We don’t know how much Isaiah himself understood about what he wrote down. Was he inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the vision of the future? What he wrote actually did come true however in Jesus – Jesus did redeem the world through personal suffering. He is still doing so. Isaiah’s prophecy is still coming true before our very eyes in our own generation throughout the world. It is mean spirited to conclude anything less.
There are lots of other references also. Isaiah 9:7 reads : 'Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this'. And Luke 1 : 32 & 33 reads: 'He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end'. 2000 years on we can see that this has come true. There is a spiritual kingdom throughout the human community in which Jesus rules the hearts of men and women and children and it has lasted more than any human empire. It is increasing and it will last forever. The Church became the People, of the New Covenant and all Christians became spiritual descendants of Jacob.
You are very familiar with the text from Micah 5: 2 'But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clan 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'. And with what happened as described in Luke 2:4. 'Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child'. In John’s Gospel there is an interesting discussion between Philip the new disciple of Jesus and Nathaniel. Philip found Nathaniel and told him, 'We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph'. 'Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?' Nathaniel asked. Nathaniel bought into the orthodoxy that the Messiah would not come from Nazareth and so for him, Jesus could not be that Messiah. In Matthew we have the story of the wise men coming to pay their respects to King Herod. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him'. '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'.
Some scholars dispute the truth and authenticity of these passages describing Jesus birth circumstances. As we have heard in the media over the years, even some highly placed Christian leaders are not convinced by the narratives of Jesus’ birth. Some think that Joseph and Mary contrived to be in Bethlehem in order to fulfil the Micah prophecy. The Bible gives the reason why they were in Bethlehem – the census. Also – there was no guarantee that the baby would be born while they were there – likely perhaps – but the birth could easily have been while on the journey, or after beginning the journey back home. Jesus is different from others in this respect. Much was said and written about him before he was actually born. It is impressive how much of this accurately came true in his life. There is a powerful dynamic in all of this which is very different from discussions about other world leaders in whatever day and age. Anything to do with the living God operates at a higher level than ordinary human society. Politicians try to control what they call ‘religion’. But its power is greater than what they think they have. What is lacking today is courage and commitment on the Party of professing Christians. We don’t care enough and we don’t pray enough. We are not that bothered that the Church is shrinking and less influential than it used to be.
Here is another interesting passage. Isaiah 42: 1 – 4 reads: 'Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope'. That Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, people without social status or influence fulfilled this prophecy. That he lived as he did without becoming a soldier or politician. That he lived by non-violence. That he was faithful to and through death. That he still seeks to establish justice on earth through the willing and responsive lives of those who follow and love him. These are all indications of the fulfilment of the prophecy. It did come true.
In the beautiful words of the Christmas Carols we love to sing – it does come true. In all the good and charitable acts done throughout the world in Jesus’ Name – it does come true. In the worship and witness of more Christians than ever this Christmas time – it does come true.
Do not be afraid or ashamed to believe. Christianity is for humble hearts. In our land the majority will miss the many splendoured thing this Christmas. But you don’t need to and you won’t. And – it’s all only just beginning – not just Advent – but for eternal life.