Some time ago, we had one of our grandchildren spend the night with us. It was the first time in awhile that we had kept that grandchild overnight and the enthusiasm of the event was pretty high. At one point, my grandchild exclaimed, “I am just so excited!” We had set up the evening a few days before, and that day had finally come. A promise fulfilled! And hopefully, it was worth all that anticipation. They always love their time with their grandmother (I am there mostly to balance out the household). Of course, we all know children who have been letdown by promises that were not kept.
Promises made and kept: this is an important theme for followers of Jesus at this season of the year. We are coming up on the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and many of us begin to reflect on the many prophecies of His coming that students of the Bible have found in the Hebrew Scriptures (what we often call the Old Testament). These give us a greater sense of continuity with our Jewish friends, and remind us that God had been planning for this important birth for quite some time.
For example, in Genesis 3:15, the Lord God says to the Serpent who has just successfully tempted the first human couple to defy the one restriction that God placed on them: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (NIV). Fast forward to the narratives of Jesus, and we read about Jesus resisting the temptations of Satan (cf. Matthew 4:1-11) and robbing him of the power of death (cf. Hebrews 2:14-15).
And then also, students of the Bible have taken Isaiah 7:14 to speak of the incarnation (the “coming in flesh”) of the Son of God: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Immanuel means “God is with us.” This is exactly what the early followers of Jesus believed and proclaimed (cf. John 1:1-4) and what followers of Jesus have believed since then, that the very Son of God has come in Person. As 1 John 4:14 says, “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (NIV).
And Isaiah also foretells that one would come who shared the authority of King David of old: “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. … 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” (Isaiah 9:7, NIV). This is why followers of Jesus are called “Christians.” We believe that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah who was foretold in such passages (and many more). Christ (from Greek Christos) and Messiah (from Hebrew) both mean “Anointed One.” Followers of Jesus believe that he is the One anointed Prophet, Priest and King—he speaks for God; he stands before God to bring his people and God together, and he speaks with authority over the people of God.
And all of this was promised many centuries beforehand. One of the results of looking into this promise-and-fulfillment element of Christian faith is that we gain more confidence in his promises for us today. When Jesus was about to ascend to the Father again after His resurrection, He claimed, “Surely I am with you always (literally, “all the days”) until the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He had already promised to send the Holy Spirit to make his presence known to his followers. When we see how many ways in which Jesus has fulfilled the prophecies that foretold His coming, it makes it easier to trust his promises for us right how. Jesus still is, for those who follow him in faith, Immanuel, “God with us.”