Good news

The birth of Jesus came suddenly and unexpectedly, at a time when there was little hope left that God would fulfill his promise to bring a Messiah to his chosen people, the Jews. Luke made a specific reference to a historical event, so that the date of Jesus’ birth would be accurately recorded. He said, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed (and this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria)” (Luke 2:1-2). The Roman government was at the height of its success in dominating the world and wanted to take advantage of its opportunity to collect taxes from every person that fell under its jurisdiction. God used the decree of a pagan emperor to fulfill an important prophecy recorded in Micah 5:2. It says, “But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

The location of the Messiah’s birth wouldn’t have been as critical if the Jews had remained in the Promised Land and their population kept in tact. Because the Jews had been scattered throughout the world during their captivity, and their geographical footprint altered by Roman occupation, the only way to know for certain that Jesus was actually a descendent of King David was to have his birth occur during the Roman census. Luke recorded, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child” (Luke 2:4-5). Joseph’s residence in Nazareth indicated that his relationship to King David was of no benefit to him. Most likely, it was unknown to everyone around him, and perhaps even to Joseph himself, that he was of royal descent until the Roman census occurred.

The shepherds that were keeping watch over their flocks the night that Jesus was born may have been the only group of people that were collectively willing to believe the good news they were told about their Messiah’s birth. The fact that the shepherds were given a sign to assure them that what the angel said was true suggests that even they were skeptical about the message they received (Luke 2:12). After seeing and hearing “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,” (Luke 2:13) it appears that the shepherds were still unconvinced. At the conclusion of this amazing worship event, Luke 2:15 tells us, “And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” It wasn’t until the shepherds saw the sign promised them, the babe lying in a manger, that their belief became evident. Luke said, afterwards “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” (Luke 2:20).

The test

The prophet Malachi is believed to have delivered the last message from God to his people before their Messiah was born. Malachi’s book is filled with numerous rhetorical questions that were meant to convey the doubt that existed in the Jews’ hearts. The topic that was most important to them at that time was the coming of their Messiah or Saviour. Malachi spoke of this when he said, “Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (Malachi 2:17). God’s response reiterated the purpose of his Messiah’s mission, to fulfill the covenant he made with King David. He said, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1).

We know now that the messenger referred to in Malachi 3:1 was John the Baptist. His ministry preceded Jesus’ and made a way for the concept of repentance to be better understood. John’s announcement of Jesus’ arrival is recorded in John 1:29 where it says, “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” The idea that sins could be removed completely was new to believers. Even though the Jews knew that their sins could be forgiven, they didn’t expect God to wipe them away to the point that there was no record that they had ever been committed. Jesus’ ability to purify those that believed in him was beyond the Jews wildest imaginations. Malachi fortold of Jesus, “For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ sope: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness” (Malachi 3:2-3).

Malachi’s twofold message of purification and judgment was somewhat like a good news, bad news scenario. Although the Messiah would purify God’s people, he was also coming to judge them (Malachi 3:5). God said, “Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from my ordinances, and have not kept them” (Malachi 3:7). One of the arguments God’s people made was that it was useless to keep God’s commandments because there was no reward for their good behavior (Malachi 3:14). God proposed a test to show whether or not he was faithful to his commandments. He said, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10). God had been faithful to his people, but there was little evidence that anyone had ever taken him up on his promise to bless his people. God’s final statement about his Messiah’s entrance into the world can be found in Malachi 3:18 where it says, “Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.”

Victory

Jehoshaphat, king of Judah was wrong about Ahab. He thought Ahab’s repentance was genuine, but Ahab never believed in the LORD. According to 2 Chronicles 19:2, Ahab actually hated the LORD. Jehoshaphat’s marriage alliance with Ahab opened him up to spiritual attack and he was vulnerable because the wrath of God was upon him (2 Chronicles 19:2)

Jehoshaphat was a strong spiritual leader, so when he realized he had made a mistake, he set judges in the land to encourage godly behavior (2 Chronicles 19:6), and charged the priests to serve God faithfully (2 Chronicles 19:9). When the children of Moab, and the children of Ammon came against Jehoshaphat to battle, Jehoshaphat “set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (2 Chronicles 20:3).

When Jehoshaphat sought the LORD in prayer, he reminded God of a promise that was made to king Solomon:

If, when evil cometh upon us, as the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house, and in thy presence, (for thy name is in this house,) and cry unto thee in our affliction, then thou wilt hear and help.

God’s response to Jehoshaphat’s prayer assured him that victory was possible, but a condition had to be met in order for their enemies to be conquered. The people had to put their trust in God.

And they rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa: and as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the LORD your God, so shall you be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper.

The Hebrew word translated believe in this verse, ’aman is the same word used in Genesis 15:6 where it says of Abraham “and he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” This verse refers to Abraham’s relationship with the LORD. It was the point in time when he “came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with His promises” (539).

God delivered Jehoshaphat and his people from the children of Ammon and Moab when they began to sing and to praise him (2 Chronicles 20:22). Their heartfelt worship was a genuine sign that they were devoted to God. Jehoshaphat’s success as a spiritual leader resulted in a major military victory for Judah.