The God of the Bible is a God of surprises. The God of the Bible is not predictable and rarely does things the way I would do them! I have learned this lesson many times during my twenty years of work in Russia.
In fact, when God directly intervenes in history or in our personal lives, there are usually lots of interruptions and unexpected changes. This was clearly the case with the surprising birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
For hundreds of years, the prophecies concerning the Messiah were passed down from generation to generation. Although the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were destroyed and its citizens exiled – and this was surprise to the Jews who thought they were a “chosen people” – they were eventually freed from captivity and allowed to come back to Palestine and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and the temple.
But this restoration was not what the Old Testament prophets had predicted. Even during the period of Jewish independence under the Hasmoneans from 166 – 63 B.C., the “Kingdom” which had been prophesized by Isaiah, Micah and Ezekiel, among others, was never realized. The Jews went back home, but to their surprise, they were still weak and vulnerable. Then another surprise – more foreign occupation, this time by the Romans.
After 400 years of silence, in what the Bible describes as the “fullness of time,” God dramatically intervened in human history in a surprising way – he sent his Son to earth in the form of a baby. The Christmas story, that is very familiar to some of us, is recorded in the Gospel of Luke, chapter two. Take note of the emphasis in this birth narrative on the “Prince of Peace” and his work while on earth.
The angel Gabriel proclaims “the good news of great joy” and refers to the newly born baby as “the Lord,” a term usually reserved only for God the Father, but now applies to this Messiah, his Son. When the host of angels appear, they highlight one result of Jesus’ birth for which God is to be praised: “on earth peace (shalom).” Of all the things that could have been said about the effect of the surprise birth of Jesus, it is shalom that is emphasized.
Luke’s meticulous record of Jesus’ birth and life underscores the point that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the hopes of Israel. Jesus is the one who would bring “the gospel of peace.” God has acted as he promised and, while the long wait did not make many Jews very happy, Jesus’ unexpected birth in a small obscure town in Palestine is indeed “good news.”
In posts that follow, we will wrestle with the question of what peacemaking means, what “the gospel of peace” means, as we look at Jesus’ actions and teachings. Stayed tuned!
- Have you experienced God’s surprising intervention in your own life? I sure have. When Marge and I were 32 years old, Marge’s sister died of breast cancer and then 9 months later her husband, our brother-in-law, died on the night of a wedding rehearsal for a re-marriage. As a result of these totally unexpected events, we inherited six children and a French poodle. Looking back on this experience, Marge and I can see God’s hand in this crisis and how God helped us through these difficult times. When God intervenes in our lives and major surprises happen to us that we never expect, it puts our faith to the test. If we maintain our trust in God during these surprising times, we grow stronger as a result.
Did you ever wonder why God’s Son was made human in the context of a small obscure village in Palestine, the son of a young Jewish girl? Why not the son of a king, like powerful King Herod? Why not placed in a home where he would get the best education available? Why not in Rome, capital of the world at that time?
We need to constantly remind ourselves that God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). If we put our faith in God, we will often be surprised when we least expect it, surprised – but also blessed!