A music scholar and preacher, named Charles Jennings, is credited with assembling the collage of Bible verses about the life of Christ that became the lyrics of George Frideric Handel’s beloved, and perhaps most famous oratorio, “Messiah.”
The music from part one of the oratorio have engraved many of these scriptures deeply into our minds:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
And He shall reign forever and ever.
Charles Jennings pulled these prophetic words from the writings of the Prophet Isaiah, written nearly seven hundred years before the birth of Christ. But Isaiah’s were not the only prophecies foretelling the birth, mission, death and resurrection of the Savior.
How much information about the advent of the Messiah did the prophets reveal to the people of their day? Why were so many unprepared to receive Him? Perhaps the answer can be found in the words of a Christmas Carol titled, “Such a Small King.”
Such a small king, isn’t he?
Such a small boy.
Such a small king, isn’t he?
How can he bring deliverance to me?
Clearly, the Jews had been watching for the advent of their King for centuries, even millennia, prior to His birth. The first Prophet, Adam, knew. Adam and Eve knew God personally. They saw him and talked with him. They were taught the gospel of Jesus Christ even in that early time—which was long before the Lord’s earthly ministry, for Jesus had been appointed to be the Savior during our premortal existence. Because they were the first human beings the task of teaching them essential principles was left to the Lord and his angels. (Mark E. Peterson, “Adam the Archangel”)
Adam and Jesus or Jehovah were friends. They were together at every major juncture in the Plan of Salvation—in the Heavenly Council when we chose the Father’s Plan and agreed to come to Earth and place out trust in Jehovah. They worked together during the Creation. They were together again in the Garden, and in another Garden—Gethsemane—where as Michael, Adam succored the suffering Christ. Surely Adam knew everything about Christ and His birth, and passed the teachings on to His and Eve’s children.
And heavenly messengers continued to testify to prophets on both hemispheres. Mosiah chapter 3:5 records the angelic declaration given to the Nephite king, King Benjamin as a reward for his righteousness. The news was shared by him with his people, to buoy them up and assure them that God’s promised Savior would come in the not far distant future, and that He would come in power and glory.
Said the angel, “For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay. . .”
Christ’s eventual victory was to be universal and realized in a most unique and singular way. He would be the earthly son or Only Begotten of the Eternal Father in the flesh, but multiple prophets revealed that He would also be the offspring of a woman.
Jehovah, the pre-mortal Christ, revealed the marvel of his divine sonship and His mission, to Moses. He declared that He was be the literal Son of God sent to save mankind from the Fall.
“I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will."
Specific details about the Savior’s birth were revealed to Nephi by an angel nearly six hundred years before the miraculous event. In chapter 11 we read:
13 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.
14 And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?
15 And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.
16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.
19 And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!
20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.
21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!
The prophet Nephi identified the time of the Messiah’s coming.
"Yea, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews; even a Messiah; or, in other words, a Savior of the world. 1 Nephi 10:4-11.
Another Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, revealed the name of the chosen vessel that would become the mother of the Lord. “His mother’s name shall be Mary.” Alma7:10 Mos 3:8,
King Benjamin revealed more about the Savior’s birth and ministry. “And He shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.
6 And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.
7 And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.
8 And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.
It is impossible to separate the babe in Bethlehem from the Christ on Calvary, yet how hard must it have been for these prophets to see the baby Jesus in vision, knowing the difficulty and suffering that lie ahead. But it was his mission as Savior of the World, and his unique parentage was essential to that mission. Each of His parents imbued their divine Son with characteristics necessary for Him to fulfill his mission as Redeemer. (From the OT CES MANUAL)
If Jesus had been born of two mortal parents,
1. He could not have had the power to overcome death.
2. He could not have endured the infinite pain and suffering of Gethsemane. ( See Jesus the Christ, p. 613.)
3. He would have sinned and thus, like all other men, been under the demands of the law of justice.
If Jesus had been born of two divine parents, then-
1. He would not have died; he would have been immortal.
2. He would have been impervious to physical pain and suffering and so would not have been able to experience the physical pain and agony of the Garden.
3. He would not have been subject to the temptation and the opportunity to sin.
But, Jesus was born of a divine parent and a mortal parent; therefore-
1. Jesus had power to die and to rise again. The sons of Joseph and Mary could not do that.
2. Jesus had capability to suffer like man but could endure much more than man. The sons of Joseph and Mary could not do that.
Prophets sowed details about Christ in their writings that faithful, discerning followers could harvest. Those who did, like the wise men in Matthew, knew the name of the newborn King, and where to find him.
In the book of Moses we learn that Enoch and Adam, his great ancestor, knew the very name by which the Savior would be known among men—"which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men. P. of G.P., Moses 6:52.
Isaiah also foretold details about the Savior’s mother, His name, and place of birth, revealing also that he would be known by many names.
13 Hear ye now, O house of David;
14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah’s blessed promise was repeated by the angel Gabriel, sent from the presence of God to prepare the handmaiden of the Lord for her sacred calling, and reiterated again by the angel of the Lord to put a troubled Joseph’s mind at ease after discovering that Mary, his betrothed, was already with child. (compare Matt. 1:21-23.)
18 ¶Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.
Other prophets knew details about Christ’s birth. The recorded covenant of God with Abraham, and confirmed with Isaac and Jacob, revealed the Savior would be born though their line. “. . . that through their posterity should all nations of the earth be blessed.” Gen. 12:3; Isaiah added further detail, proclaiming that the coming Lord was the living Branch that should spring from the undying root of the family of Jesse; Isa. 11:1 and 10;
The Good News of the coming Messiah brought joy and hope to the faithful. Nephi, the son of Helaman records, “Our father Lehi was driven out of Jerusalem because he testified of these things. Nephi also testified of these things, and also almost all of our fathers, even down to this time; yea, they have testified of the coming of Christ, and have looked forward, and have rejoiced in his day which is to come.
Details about the Messiah’s birth had been given to some, like Nephi, and King Benjamin, as a reward for righteousness. But God also called prophets to deliver the news of the Messiah’s impending birth to rebellious people as a call for their repentance.
The Nephite prophet Abinadi boldly testified of the coming of the Messiah. He called the wicked Nephites of King Noah’s court to repent and believe in the prophecies of his predecessors. Said he, In Mosiah 13:33-34, “For behold, did not Moses prophesy unto them concerning the coming of the Messiah, and that God should redeem his people? Yea, and even all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began—have they not spoken more or less concerning these things?
34 Have they not said that God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth?
Abinadi sealed his testimony with his very life.
One hundred twenty years later, a Lamanite prophet named Samuel was sent to call another rebellious generation to repentance with news of the Savior’s impending birth. In Hel 14:1-7 we read,
2 And behold, he said unto them: Behold, I give unto you a sign; for five years more cometh, and behold, then cometh the Son of God to redeem all those who shall believe on his name.
3 And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day.
4 Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign; for ye shall know of the rising of the sun and also of its setting; therefore they shall know of a surety that there shall be two days and a night; nevertheless the night shall not be darkened; and it shall be the night before he is born.
5 And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you.
6 And behold this is not all, there shall be many signs and wonders in heaven.
7 And it shall come to pass that ye shall all be amazed, and wonder, insomuch that ye shall fall to the earth.
Five years passed, but instead of greeting the news of the Messiah’s impending birth with joy and repentance, the unbelievers hardened their hearts, so much so that when the appointed time for the prophesied birth drew near, they devised a plan to kill those who believed.
(3 NE 1:9-13)
10 Now it came to pass that when Nephi, the son of Nephi, saw this wickedness of his people, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful.
11 And it came to pass that he went out and bowed himself down upon the earth, and cried mightily to his God in behalf of his people, yea, those who were about to be destroyed...
12 And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:
13 Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
15 And it came to pass that the words which came unto Nephi were fulfilled, according as they had been spoken; for behold, at the going down of the sun there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came.
16 And there were many, who had not believed the words of the prophets, who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew
17 . . .that the Son of God must shortly appear; yea, in fine, all the people upon the face of the whole earth from the west to the east, both in the land north and in the land south, were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth.
18 For they knew that the prophets had testified of these things for many years, and that the sign which had been given was already at hand;
19 And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day . . . and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given.
20 And it had come to pass, yea, all things, every whit, according to the words of the prophets.
Half a world away, in the prophesied city of David, the Son of God was born, to Mary, a virgin from Nazareth.
Those, like the wise men, who heeded the prophecies, knew the time had come for the birth of the newborn King. For those who rejected the hope of Israel, like wicked King Herod, the news was answered with fear and torment, while great joy filled others, like the shepherds who heard the heavenly host proclaim “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, good will toward men! The Wise Men read the signs and followed the star, journeying for almost two years to find the Messiah. During that time, others found the infant King in the humble circumstances prophets had foretold, a stable where livestock was sheltered, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger filled with straw, sung to sleep by the lullabye lowing of cattle and sheep.
It has been said that when man wants to change the world, he sends an army, but when God wants to change the world He sends a child.
The birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Son of God, was solemnly declared by prophets on both hemispheres and in all ages. They saw the coming of the King of King’s, and Lord of Lord’s, through whom salvation cometh, death was overcome, and redemption was made sure.
Time and history have proven the accuracy of the ancient prophets’ declarations regarding the birth of the Messiah. James Talmadge adds this note—“Not a word of inspired prophecy relating to the great event has been found void.”
This Jehovah, the Son of God, the babe born in Bethlehem, who condescended below all things and took on a tabernacle of clay in order to save us, this same Messiah who healed the sick, gave strength to lame limbs, who made blind eyes see, and who raised the dead, submitted His will to His captors and allowed his own life to be taken. On the third day, He broke the bands of death and rose from the grave to live again.
Latter-day prophets add their testimonies to those of the ancients in declaring that because Christ overcame death, we will also enjoy the gift of resurrection. But there is more, for Christ will come again to rule and reign on the earth as Isaiah proclaimed, “forever and ever,” and just as prophets of old called all mankind to prepare to receive the infant king, prophets today invite all mankind to prepare to meet their Resurrected Lord.
This is the prophesied good news that began with the babe born in a stable in Bethlehem. This is what makes His birth a celebration of hope.
As we gather around the tree, let us also gather around the manger, and declare like little children, that we believe, not only in the Christ, but that we believe what He said—thathe has the power to save all who will come unto Him. That is the first gift of Christmas. May we accept His gift and come unto Him, for He yet lives, and in the not far distant future, He will come again.
Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.