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Jesus Before Bethlehem

Words of Life!

Volume 2, Number 10, December 199
A Publication Ministry of Word of Life Baptist Church

by Fred G. Zaspel

"But thou, Bethlehem 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" (Micah 5:2).

In this familiar prophecy the prophet Micah is promising a coming deliverer to Israel. This theme has taken up the entire third and fourth chapters of the book. But what is significant about this specific "Christmas prophecy" is the prophet's description of that coming Deliverer--He is One Who is "from of old, from everlasting." The claim is that this One to be born is One Whose existence will not have begun at his birth! Unlike any other man or woman, this One is One Who lived before his birth! In fact, He has lived from eternity!

Clearly, Micah was speaking of God Himself, for only He has existed from eternity. What is so significant, then, is that Micah is speaking of incarnation--that God would become man! God would be born! That is startling!

One old latin inscription about Jesus, found etched in marble, read like this:

I am what I was -- God

I was not what I am -- man

I am now both -- God and man

This expresses exactly what the Bible teaches about the true significance of what we call Christmas. That Babe in Bethlehem's manger was God come as man. He is now the God-man.

Jesus Is Unique!

It is interesting that while Scripture seldom sets out to argue Jesus' prior existence, it everywhere assumes it as the basis of other teachings.

For example, Micah speaks here of the incarnation directly--God Who exists eternally becoming man. Other writers of Scripture speak of it as God Who "gave His Son," or "The Word became flesh," or of Jesus as "descended from heaven." The point is all the same: Jesus is the eternal God now come as man.

Again, the Scripture argues over and over that Jesus' death on the cross effected an atonement for sins which availed before God. The whole idea rests on the assumption that Jesus is indeed God come to work on behalf of men.

Or consider what Scripture teaches about Jesus in reference to creation--He is the Creator! That is nonsense unless He is God, existing from all eternity.

You see, this question of the pre-existence of Jesus Christ is not of purely academic interest only. It is the foundation on which the whole superstructure of Christianity is built.

And a significant doctrine it is! Jesus' birth did not mark His beginning but only his appearance as a man on the stage of time. Unlike anyone else, His origin is not related to his birth, and His nature is not related to His ancestry. He is "the Lord from heaven" Who stooped to be born and thereby become man. But His existence is "from of old, from everlasting."

Saved From Eternity!

With all this in mind, it is interesting to search the Scriptures to find what Jesus involved Himself in doing before He arrived on the scene in Bethlehem. Not surprisingly (when we consider also why he came), He was making preparations for human salvation. Theologians speak of this as a "covenant" made between the three Persons of the Trinity, a "pact" or agreement concerning the salvation of God's chosen people. In this covenant, God the Father chose a people whom He would save and bring to glory. God the Son took on Himself the task of accomplishing what was necessary for their salvation. And God the Holy Spirit agreed to bring those people to Christ and apply the merits of Christ to them.

Hints of this doctrine are found all throughout the Bible. Jesus claimed to be going to the cross "as it was determined" (Luke 22:21-22). "I came not to do my own will but the will of my father who sent me" (John 6:38), He said. And when just before His crucifixion He prayed to the Father, His prayer was in specific reference "not for the world but those whom thou hast given me out of the world, for they are thine" (John 17:9). Announcing His soon arrival the angel proclaimed that Jesus had come to "save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). In fact, Paul speaks of our salvation as a gift of eternal life "promised before the world began" (Titus 1:2).

All of these point to a previous preparation for our salvation, that our salvation results from a plan made in eternity. We do not know all the details, but the basics are very plain. For some reason God set His love upon a certain people and from eternity planned their redemption.

It is significant, then, that Paul speaks of this salvation as a "promise." This promise theme is repeated all through the Old Testament. Beginning in Genesis 3:15, where God made the first announcement of salvation through a coming Deliverer, we see it over and again. Isaiah speaks graphically of the Lord Jesus as being severely smitten on behalf of His people (chapter 53). Daniel speaks of Him as being "cut off, but not for Himself" (9:26).

Working through the nation of Israel and in order to make us see more clear our need of salvation, God gave His law, thereby pointing out not only our sins but by that our need to find someone Who can fulfill its demands in our place.

So before Bethlehem Jesus was active in preparing for human redemption. There is the plan made in eternity. There is the promise made in eternity and repeated over and again by the prophets.

Mission Accomplished!

"But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). When we turn to those "Christmas narratives" in the Gospels, over and again we hear it repeated that "this was done that it might be fulfilled."

You see, God was carefully and systematically working out precisely what he had promised. The plan was made. The preparation was complete. All that remained was the doing of it. And so throughout Jesus' life we hear Him speaking of "being sent" and "given" and working out a salvation "as it was determined." Even on that horrible day when on Golgotha He died such an awful death we find that it was all the fulfilling of a mission, a Divine plan (Acts 2:23). He was "the lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8).

In fact, it is impossible not to see that ever since creation God has been in firm control of all of history, directing it all to the coming of His Son, moving all things toward that historic day in the little town of Bethlehem and finally to a hill outside Jerusalem.Micah may tell us of Jesus' pre-existence, but in doing so he also tells us that the birth of Jesus Christ was no accident of history. It was, in fact, the goal of eternity! Our Lord came with a purpose--to "save His people from their sins."

This is "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15).

The relatively unnoticed arrival of that baby in Bethlehem that day was a momentous event on God's calendar of redemption. It marked the outworking of His plan of human redemption made in eternity past. It was the answer to centuries of prophecies and expectations. It was the beginning of our Lord's poverty(!) and so of our riches.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Christmas Experienced!

It is required of us, then, to "believe on Him Whom God has sent" (John 6:29). Christmas is nothing more than sentiment to those who do not know Jesus Christ. But for us who know Him Christmas commemorates an event well worth celebrating. Our celebrations are marked by profound gratitude for this One Who from eternity stepped into time, and that for no gain to Himself, but simply to save us from our sin.