Catherine, who lives about an hour south of Dothan, was late for church several weeks ago. She hurried upstairs to the balcony. Once there, she eyed a happy newborn.
“I needed something cheerful,” she told me.
Catherine had just learned her company was dissolving -- she was suddenly a single mom with no job.
Catherine lifted her eyes to the baby’s parents and realized she knew them. After church she went to hold the child, and that’s when it happened.
“Catherine,” the baby’s father said. “You’re in!”
“My company is going into your building. I told them about you, and you’re in—you don’t even have to move your stapler!”
Some would call it a coincidence. Catherine knew it was the Hand of God.
Jesus talks about coincidence, telling us of the Good Samaritan who just happened to be traveling the same road as the man robbed and left for dead. There are many more coincidences in Scripture. Here’s one on Christmas Day.
When the angel appears to the Bethlehem shepherds, were these men chosen? What about those tending Bethlehem’s goats and cattle one hillside over? Would they have worked just as well? Does Scripture tell us?
The Christmas angel says very little, but the answer about the shepherds is in his words. Look closely: “There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10,11)
See the answer? If not, look again.
Countless Christians ignore Jewish customs and the Old Testament, believing they’re pointless. They say, “Jesus changed everything.” Out with the old, in with the new.
But Jews for Jesus have interesting information. Take Rabbi Jason Sobel. He says the Bethlehem shepherds were “Levitical” shepherds. Big word, but it’s easy. The third book of the Old Testament is Leviticus, which has the who, what, when, where, and why of Jewish sacrifice. For instance, the lamb must be without spot or blemish. Who do you think was charged with making that happen? The Bethlehem shepherds. Rabbi Sobel says these Levitical shepherds provided the temple with the sacrificial lambs. See? While “Levitical” sounds intimidating, it’s easy.
On Christmas day, as the shepherds kneel in awe before baby Jesus, they must have noticed a remarkable coincidence. The Lord was wrapped in swaddling cloth. The shepherds also used swaddling cloth. They wrapped the newborn lambs in swaddling cloth to keep them from spot or blemish.
Over 30 years will pass before the shepherds will understand that coincidence. God had well-planned Christmas Day, quietly announcing that Jesus would become the sacrificial Lamb.
What the shepherds couldn’t have known about the Messiah's future, the disciples understood, right?
No. They didn’t.
During Jesus’ lifetime, only one person knew Jesus was the Lamb of God---John the Baptist. Isaiah prophesied of this John: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” Isaiah then prophesied that Jesus would be “led as a lamb to the slaughter.” John understood both. (Isaiah 40:3; 53:7)
“Behold, the Lamb of God,” John the Baptist tells Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. (John 1:35-42)
But the disciples don’t get it. Only after the resurrection do they realize that Jesus is their Savior:
Peter writes, “[You were redeemed] by the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without spot or blemish.” (1Peter 1:18-9)
Paul says, “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.” (1Corinthians 5:7)
And John calls Jesus “the Lamb” at least 23 times in Revelation. (Revelation 5:8,12,13; 6:1,16; 7:9,10,14,17; 13:8; 14:1,4,10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7,9; 21:9,14,23,27; 22:1,3)
Yes, God deliberately chose the Bethlehem shepherds—no coincidence there. The shepherds swaddled the newborn lambs for sacrifice just as the Lord was swaddled at his birth.
There are theologians who say there are no coincidences, that God is in every one of these moments. I tend to agree. But, like those shepherds, you may experience something astonishing and not understand for decades what God is doing. Or God’s handiwork may be as clear as Catherine’s new job.
Be on the lookout. Listen closely. God speaks through amazing coincidences.
The Rev. Mathews is an attorney, faith columnist, and the author of “Reaching to God.” You can reach her at letters@RAMathews.com. Copyright © 2019 R.A. Mathews