It is so easy to get distracted with all of the activities around Christmas; preparing for time off work, shopping, traveling to see family, etc. Nothing wrong with all of that – although some people spend money they don’t have – but life can quickly blot out the real series of events which occurred around the birth of Christ which Christmas time purports to celebrate. When we strip off all of the traditions and definitions that have been added, we see that the birth of Christ into the earth was a strategic move from God against the darkness.
In the previous article I wrote that what we call Christmas was really a violent clash of Kingdoms, and a primary weapon in God’s arsenal was the prophetic. As we examine the verses about the birth and first events in the life of Christ, it is important to note how God consistently spoke to and guided His people:
Being Saved From Danger
Matthew 2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The Lord gave the wise men clear intelligence regarding Herod’s motivation and his true purposes and they immediately acted on this insight. Instead of returning to Herod or traveling back by the same route, they were warned by God to avoid the surveillance assigned by the state. Herod wanted to force the wise men in order to find where Christ was so he could kill the Son of God. Governments using torture is still in the news as the recently released report on the CIA's interrogations after 9/11 attests. But God warned the wise men through a dream – the prophetic preserved them personally from capture and torture, and it also secured the young child.
Direction and Purpose
Matthew 2:13 An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."
God also warned Joseph in a dream of the impending assassination attempt of the boy, and told Joseph to flee with his family and reside under the jurisdiction of a foreign government where there were no warrants for his arrest and probably no treaties of extradition. Jesus lived in Egypt as a ruler in exile – a political refugee – while waiting for the existing administration to perish. God directed the family for His purpose.
Matthew 2:14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.
It isn’t enough to hear from God, we must walk in obedience. Joseph did that with great wisdom when he took his family at night and left for Egypt. The family’s migration from Israel to Egypt was done covertly at night in order to avoid the border and customs checkpoints. Wisdom and being swiftly obedient to the voice of God empowered Joseph to evade the homeland security mechanism of the state.
We can’t focus on the expression aspect of the prophetic and forget that a human response is required. When God talks we must internally bow and willingly change our lives to meet His demands. What is the point in hearing from God if we’re not going to obey what He said? Because we don’t know what the next command will be, our heart has to be postured to say “YES!” long before the command arrives. As Paul’s life was moving towards exit he stood before King Agrippa and declared “I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven” (Acts 26:19). That must be our lifelong testimony as well: God spoke, we obeyed and in doing so we accomplished His purpose.
Assurance of Safety
Matthew 2:19-20 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead."
After Herod died the family was released by God to return to the land of Israel. But this was before newspapers and smart phones, so rather than allowing the news to eventually filter down from Jerusalem to Egypt God gave Joseph a dream and beyond it being informational – that Herod had died – it was an assurance from God that it was safe to renter the land.
Fulfilling All of God's Purpose
Matthew 2:21-23 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."
Every word spoken about the Messiah had to come to pass, so God used Herod’s son who was equally corrupt and aggressively postured against the Lord’s purpose to cause Joseph to consider where he wanted to live. He then gave Joseph a dream warning him not to locate too close to federal authority, so the family settled in an obscure northern district thus fulfilling the prophetic word “He will be called a Nazarene”.
God's Mastery over Human Events
The account of Christ’s birth shows us the sheer mastery of God over human events, and over the conspiracy of darkness which tries to stop God’s purpose. Quite apart from the drama being played out on the stage of humanity with Caesar and Herod on the one hand and Joseph, Mary and the wise men on the other, Kingdoms are violently clashing and darkness is trying to extinguish the greatest hope given to man. But God’s mastery over darkness is made clear – God even gave “advance notice” about His intentions through multiple prophetic words spoken hundreds of years before, all mentioned in Matthew 2.
- Where Christ would be born (v 4)
- The Son would be called out of Egypt (v 15)
- Genocide would occur (v 17)
- He would be called a Nazarene (v 23)
Some of these are apparently contradictory – if we were alive in those days and looking at the prophetic words about the coming Christ, we may have wondered how he could have been born in Bethlehem but also be from Egypt and also Nazareth. Beyond the inability of the human mind to figure it out in advance, God outmaneuvered the darkness and even with these clear descriptions of Christ and the context of his early days, satanic opposition could do nothing to stop the purposes of God from being birthed into the earth.
The Call To Partnership / The Prophetic is for All
We can’t read the account in Matthew and stop with the fact that God has mastered all human activity. We must also conclude that this Sovereign God who moves in the affairs of man is also calling us to heightened levels of partnership. That partnership is prophetic at its core – it is God speaking to a man or woman and revealing His purpose. The call to partnership is a command from heaven to hear the voice of God, and access to His speaking has been given to all of us, not just some specially gifted prophets.
Nowhere does it say that Mary or Joseph were prophets. She was a poor teenage girl who was encased in a culture that didn’t recognize her right to go into the temple and dialogue with God. He was a tradesman of limited economic means – we know this because the law allowed for the poor to bring an offering of turtle doves instead of a more expensive lamb at the birth of a child, and Joseph and Mary brought birds to be offered to the Lord in thanks for the birth of Christ (Luke 2:24). This was also prophetic, because there is no lamb that can be offered up on behalf of the Lamb of God who was slain from the foundation of the earth, so God found a poor couple who could only afford a couple of pigeons. But these very average people were given access to high levels of revelation – they were intensely prophetic and it was the voice of God which guided and preserved them.
The couple existed in strong contrast to the established church leaders, who gave Herod information from the Bible regarding where Christ was to be born and were completely undiscerning regarding Herod’s desire to kill the promised Messiah that they purported to wait for. The indication here is that the church needs a reformation, and a strong part of the change that must take place is a return to Kingdom people who are guided by the voice of God and not political considerations and natural definitions.
When we examine the kind of things God spoke to them about it is amazing how practical the voice of God was: a) Directing their courtship and engagement (Mt 1:20); b) Indicating where they should live and when they should move; c) Managing their immigration to a foreign nation, etc. God does have a preference for these prosaic things in our lives – the prophetic is not primarily a gift that operates in church but a necessity in order to be piloted from the next realm so we can live correctly here upon the earth. Just as the voice of God guided and preserved them in a time of spiritual hostility, the present intense levels of darkness can only be overcome by an increased capacity to hear the voice of God.
Joseph and Mary’s ability to hear and interact with the voice of God produce a number of questions for us to consider, among them: a) How can the prophetic be effectively distributed to the entire Body of Christ so that everyone hears? b) What must we understand about the role of obedience, so that the prophetic is not just hearing the voice of God but also walking in the power of obedience? c) What definitions and limitations about the prophetic functioning in the church do we have to overcome in order to walk in a higher prophetic competence? d) How can I assess my own life to determine how I need to grow in the prophetic?
The Church must be guided by the voice of God. We must have the speaking of God in our individual lives and our communities as never before if we are going to partner with God down to the End of Time. Our ancient brothers and sisters heard the voice of God and they prevailed; Christ was birthed and his life preserved so He could offer His life as a ransom for all of mankind. Now it is our time to fulfill God’s purpose!
Look for Part 3 of the Christmas Story next week