providence |ˈprɒvɪd(ə)ns|noun [ mass noun ]
1 the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power: they found their trust in divine providence to be a source of comfort.
• (Providence) God or nature as providing protective care: I live out my life as Providence decrees.
2 timely preparation for future eventualities: it was considered a duty to encourage providence.
ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French, from Latin providentia, from providere ‘foresee, attend to’
“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
700 years before Mary discovered that she would give birth, a Jewish prophet, moved by the Holy Spirit, wrote that the future King of Israel would be born. But, not just the future King. This word ruler that Micah used actually points to the Messiah, the anointed-one from God, that will rule the whole world.
700 years before Mary discovered that she would give birth, a Jewish prophet, moved by the Holy Spirit, wrote that the future King of Israel would be born in Bethlehem. He would be born in the city of David. The king wouldn’t be born in Jerusalem, neither in one of the other principal cities of the Israel, but in lowly, insignificant Bethlehem.
700 years before Mary discovered that she would give birth to her firstborn son, a Jewish prophet, moved by the Holy Spirit, wrote that the future King of Israel would be born in Bethlehem, but would also be eternally preexistent. He said that a man would rise up from Bethlehem that has existed forever. That sounded just as weird in Micah’s day as it would sound if someone said it today.
So, if Micah is a true prophet, then all of these things must become true. Therefore, for all of these things to come true, what did God have to do more than seven centuries later?
Simply stated…a whole bunch. And with holy perfection, found only in God Almighty, He set in motion an elaborately flawless plan to bring His Son into the world that touched all classes of society, messed with tax codes and census regulations, surprised ordinary shepherds and ignored the established royal family.
If we can’t marvel at the providence of God in Jesus’ birth, we either have absolutely no inkling about His true power or simply don’t care to know about it at all.
Providence properly defined is “the protective care God, timely preparation for future eventualities…from the Latin of ‘foresee or attend to’”.
Although, specifically in the New Testament book of Matthew we see the first effects of both God’s plan and providence in Nazareth at the home of an unassuming Jewish teenager, the hand of the Almighty had been working for centuries behind the scenes arranging everything for the arrival of the Messiah.
The Bible tells the majority of the story through Luke by giving us some background information about the revelation of John the Baptist’s conception and then nicely dovetails with the Gabriel’s appearance at Mary’s house.
So thinking about God’s providence, let’s quickly look, from this announcement until Jesus’ birth, at what God did to fulfill prophecy, show His infinite power, and announce the birth of the world’s Savior. Each act builds upon the other, as if piecing a puzzle together. Each stroke of the Master’s brush adds colors to the intricate portrait.
First, He sent an angel to Nazareth to forewarn a young lady named Mary that she would soon conceive a child, even though she had never been with a man. This would be a truly unique and miraculous pregnancy that would never again be repeated. It is important to note that Gabriel also told Mary what the child’s name would be.
Next, Mary conceived a child by the Holy Spirit. We have here a theological term, hypostatic union, which simply attaches a name to the dual nature of the Lord Jesus. He was from his conception perfectly divine and perfectly human at the same time. This hypostatic union was made at the moment he was conceived.
Meanwhile, with great prudence, about the time that Joseph was preparing to dump his fiancé because of this unexpected pregnancy, God, through a dream, sent the same angel he had sent to Mary, to Joseph, to forewarn him not to put Mary away because, “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” (Matt. 1:20). He also told Joseph that the baby’s name would be Jesus.
God the Father left nothing to guesswork. He planned everything. He arranged everything. He chose everything, hundreds and thousands of years before it ever took place.
What astounds and comforts me the most are the smallest twists and turns and decisions that God made that affected more than just Joseph and Mary. This Christmas season more so than ever, I’ve pondered Luke 2:1,3.
I suppose that’s what got me thinking about God’s providence in the first place. Seemingly out of the blue, Luke tells us, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed…And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.”
So, after the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” Mary, and she conceived the child in her womb, He arranged for a Roman emperor to declare that there would be a census taken, beginning that year. This Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, declared that for people to register for this census they needed to return to their hometown.
Where was Joseph and his family from? Bethlehem. 700 years earlier, where did Micah say that the future ruler of Israel would be born? Bethlehem.
This is in no way circumstantial or coincidental. It was completely foreseen and prepared in a timely fashion by an all powerful, all knowing God.
Before Jesus was born, do you think that God really cared about how many people lived in Israel? Did he really care about the population of the Roman empire? Other than for the purpose of getting Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem at the exact same time of Jesus’ birth, was there any reason to have a census that year? For the very first time? No. Absolutely not!
The Father wanted His Son born in Bethlehem. He declared it 700 years before it would ever happen. He chose His Son’s mother and step-father, with Joseph coming from the tribe of Judah which was from the town of Bethlehem. So, naturally in the exact year of Jesus’ birth, he moved the proper authority to declare that every man must register his family in his hometown.
And He did all of this so that we could have a Savior.
I’ll never look at Luke 1:1 the same way again.