- The Explore the Bible lesson for Dec. 22 focuses on Matthew 1:18-25; Numbers 21:6-9
Have you ever made a promise you couldn’t keep? If you ask my son about me, the answer will be “yes.” There have been plenty of promises that I could not keep, at least by his reckoning. The problem relies on my son’s interpretation of my words. Every time he wants to do something, such as going to the park, I have to be precise in the way I communicate with him. If I say “yes,” it means “yes.” If I say “no,” although it means “no,” in my son’s mind it means, “I’ll ask my mom.” If I say “maybe,” that’s an automatic “yes” in his mind. There is no way out when dealing with him.
Before the separation between God and humanity, God had a plan in mind. In Isaiah 7:14, God spoke a prophecy in regards to the salvation of mankind: “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” This prophecy was fulfilled years later when Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem. God kept his promises. God showed his faithfulness by fulfilling the prophecies foretold hundreds of years earlier.
The Savior (Matthew 1:18-23)
In this first section in the Gospel of Matthew, the author stresses that the prophecies dealing with the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus. In Isaiah 7:14 God spoke to the prophet about the birth of a son. This was a promise about a savior, a redeemer, a prince of peace.
Matthew tells us an angel came to visit Mary and informed her about Jesus’ birth. When Joseph learned Mary was pregnant, he decided to leave her quietly. An angel of the Lord appeared to him accentuating that Mary’s son was part of God’s salvific plan and encouraging Joseph not to be afraid.
During the time of Jesus, to be engaged to someone differed from what we know in modern days. It was a bond between two families; it was a pledge before eyewitnesses. So, Joseph wanted to protect Mary by divorcing her quietly, not knowing that the author behind all these divine events was God himself.
The Arrival (Matthew 1:24-25)
When Joseph woke up, he did everything the angel of the Lord had commanded him. Joseph obeyed the commands the angel gave him and did not consummate the marriage until the baby was born. This demonstrated Joseph’s commitment to the law, his marriage and God’s plan.
One problem of modern society is an unwillingness to wait. We live in an instantaneous world where we can get almost everything at the speed of light. Take a moment to think about all the thoughts that went through Joseph’s mind: What am I going to tell my family? What about my friends? What if they don’t believe me? What if I do something about it? The fact that he remained faithful shows his willingness to surrender to God’s plan and his will.
The Requirement (Numbers 21:6-9)
In this last section, we return to the Israelites who have traveled for days. They grew impatient and spoke against God and Moses. As a result, God sent venomous snakes among them, and many Israelites died. They came to Moses and asked him to pray that the Lord would take the snakes away from them. Moses prayed, and the Lord answered: Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.
This was a unique situation that required unique obedience. The author highlights three things: if anyone is bitten, they need to look up at the pole, and they will live. This was to illustrate that salvation was personal and accessible to anyone.
In John 3:14, there’s an allusion to the bronze serpent as a foreshadowing of Jesus. Jesus and Nicodemus were discussing salvation when Jesus told him just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. The similarities in language (the Son of Man lifted up/make a snake and put it up, everyone who believes/anyone who look at it, may have eternal life/will live) serves as a bridge that links the two passages together.
Salvation comes by looking at Jesus—the one who came and died on the cross for our sins. For the Israelites in the Old Testament, the requirement to live after they were bitten was to look up. For the people in the New Testament, the requirement was to believe in the Son of Man.
Jaime Cortez is discipleship pastor at First Baptist Church in Athens, Texas.