The Perfect timing

Nguljathang Haokip (Thangpu) *

Ever since I attended the opening lectures on Church History at a theological college some years ago, I cannot help but marvel at the wonders of God’s perfect timing every time Christmas season sets in. Now, time/timing is the key word here. I’d like us to keep this word at the back of our minds even as we proceed.

The lectures were on the origin of the Christian faith beginning with the birth of Jesus Christ and were based on the Bible passage from the book of Galatians chapter 4 verse 4. For those of us who do not own a copy of the Bible, and also for those who do own one but have not a clue as to where the said passage is, the verse in focus here reads thus: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law”.

So then, the time had fully come. Preparations were over. The stage being set, all of universe was now fully ready for the long-awaited fulfilment of the prophecy foretold hundreds of years ago. The Prophecy: the birth of a Saviour; the Mission: to save humanity; the Method: sacrificial death of the Saviour; and the Way to be saved: faith in Jesus Christ. Surely, each of the generations gone by would have longed to see the prophecy come true during their time. Yet again, we are reminded of the key word – timing.

The coming of the Son of God into the world had to be at the perfect time. Even the most minuscule of details could not be overlooked just as in our time today, even for the local MLA/MP to visit a place, everything has to be in order – decorations, sound systems, seating arrangements, etc.

Historians have placed the time of Jesus’ birth at 4 B.C. The question then is how was this the perfect timing? To be sure, one ought to look deeper into the social, political, and religious realities of that time. The main players on the historical scene of the world at that time, at least in relation to the prophecy, were the Romans, the Greeks, and the Jews. Jesus was born in a Jewish family in a small town called Bethlehem of Judea in ancient Palestine.

Palestine during the time of Jesus’ birth was under the Roman Empire. Prior to the Romans were the Greeks who ruled over the region of Palestine. Even though the Romans had attained political supremacy, the Greek influence in terms of culture and philosophy was still evident throughout the Roman Empire.

The Jews had long been subjects of several foreign powers, one after the other. Nevertheless, the Jewish people continued to hold fast to their age-old religion. It was in this Jewish religious belief in one God (monotheism) that the prophecy of a Saviour (Messiah) was strongly entrenched.

With the increasing high-handedness of the Roman rule, there was a growing resentment amongst the Jewish population. This led to the rise in the popularity of the prophecy about the Messiah, a Saviour who would deliver them from all forms of oppression. Expectation amongst the Jewish general public for the Messiah had reached its peak during this period.

Politically, the Roman Empire had brought under its dominion much of the world of that time. In order for the Roman army to move about through its occupied territories swiftly, vast and efficient network of roads were built. This in fact had led to the old saying, “All roads lead to Rome”.

Besides, the Empire was relatively peaceful and people travelled around without much fear. These factors served as the perfect conditions for the Christian message (the Gospel, as inaugurated by Jesus Christ) to spread at a speedy pace. The missionary journeys of the early disciples were greatly expedited by the good network of roads and peaceful times.

The Gospel message, being a message for the whole world, required a universal language for its transmission. As mentioned earlier, the Roman Empire was culturally and intellectually influenced by the Greeks.

Throughout the Roman Empire, the common language of communication was a unique form of the Greek language (in contrast to classical Greek). Through this medium, the Gospel message could be communicated to different people groups within the Roman Empire and beyond. The effect of this could be compared to the English language of today’s world which is spoken by almost every human race in the world.

Owing to the unchallenged might of the Roman Empire during that time, nations crumbled one after the other under Roman conquest. One significant result of this had been the disillusionment of these nations each with their own gods (idols) which apparently could not save them from Roman invasion.

This led to a longing and search for a new religion, a new god which could deliver them from subjugation by Rome. In other word, the time was ripe for the message of the Gospel to sow seeds of hope and deliverance (although not necessarily political) in the hearts of the people. Therefore, the Gospel found much openness amongst different people groups of that time.

The Roman army with its vast stretch of territories required a massive army in order to maintain law and order. For this purpose, the Empire recruited soldiers from the nations under their control.

During the course of the movements of these soldiers throughout the provinces of the Empire, many of them came into contact with the Gospel and converted to Christianity. Those who embraced the Christian faith in turn shared the message in the places of their postings. The coming of Christianity to Britain is a case of the spread of the Gospel through the efforts of such Roman soldiers.

So then, the time had fully come. Preparations were over. The stage being set, all of universe was now fully ready for the long-awaited fulfilment of the prophecy foretold hundreds of years ago. Now, I do not know what you call that. Some might want to call it a chance or mere coincidence. But I call it the perfect timing.

I believe that God is in control of the universe, and that he shapes world history and events to fulfil his plans. He brings down kingdoms and raises up empires. The Romans, the Greeks, and the Jews all played their roles in the fulfilment of God’s purpose. That’s how the Christmas story came to be possible.

Christmas is not just about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. It goes much beyond the conventional norms of revelling in the occasion with merrymakings and banquets. It is a time to marvel at the handiwork of the God of the universe in picking the perfect timing to send the Saviour of the world as a new-born babe.

It is a time to be reminded that history is indeed his-story (God-story), and that time is in the all-knowing hands of God. The timing of Jesus’ birth along with the unfurling of events before, during and after Jesus’ life on earth stand as witnesses that God’s timing is always perfect.

* Nguljathang Haokip (Thangpu) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on January 03, 2018.

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