When Mark Twain visited the Holy Land in the 1860’s, he did not find Bethlehem to be impressive. In fact, he wrote later of its “mouldy domes and turrets” and disparaged its “noisy mob” and “leprous beggars.” He said he was never so glad to get away from a place in his life. And yet, years later he wrote to a fellow traveler on that trip, that he was glad that he had been to Bethlehem, and that it was indeed a special place to him, because despite all of its shortcomings, he knew that our Savior had been born there.
This morning we are beginning a 3-part series on Old Testament prophets who spoke regarding the birth of Jesus. We have entitled the series: “Heralds of the Advent.” “Advent” is a word which describes the coming of a great person – in this most famous case, the coming of Jesus Christ to earth. Each of the next weeks we will look a different Old Testament passage which predicted the birth of Jesus. The next two weeks, we will look at one from Isaiah 7, and one from Isaiah 9, and this morning we will focus on Micah 5:2-5.
Just a little background on the prophet Micah and his book: Micah lived about 750 years before the time of Christ – about the same time as the prophet Isaiah, who wrote the scriptures we’ll be studying the next couple of weeks. Micah lived in a time in which the people of God had turned away from Him, and were serving false gods, living in all kinds of sin, and they were about to be judged for it. Some of Micah’s and Isaiah’s prophecies were about the judgment that was about to come – things were about to get pretty ugly in their land. But amidst all of the darkness of their prophecies, there was good news: a Messiah was coming, who would save us and make us right with God. Micah 5:2-5 is one of those bright spots; let’s look at its message for us:
I. The Birthplace of the Savior
:2 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans ofJudah, from you One will go forth to be ruler inIsrael.”
The name “Bethlehem” literally means “house of bread”. “Ephrathah” means “fruit fields.” (Ephrathah was formerly the name of Bethlehem.) This expression, “too little to be among the clans of Judah” is an interesting one. The word “clans” is literally the Hebrew word for “thousands”, and is used to denote the large clans into which the people of Israel were divided up for organization – kind of like our Ward I, or Ward II, etc. So what it is saying is that Bethlehem was not big enough to have its own ward, or precinct, etc. The point being, the town was just not that significant.
But despite the fact that Bethlehem was not that big or prestigious, God graced them with the privilege of being the birthplace first of all for King David – as you may know, Bethlehem was often called “The City of David” – just as the angel announced to the shepherds in Luke 2. But now God was saying that Someone even more important than David was going to be born there – the Messiah, the Son of God Himself!
Now over the years, this prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem became very well known. Matthew 2 tells us that when the magi who had followed the star arrived atJerusalemand asked where the Christ was to be found, King Herod asked the Jewish religious leaders if they knew. The Bible says they answered that He would be born: “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet …” and then they quoted this verse, Micah 5:2. So this was not one of those passages that no one knew applied to the Messiah until He had already come. Everyone of religious understanding knew, from this text in Micah, that the place the Messiah would be born was Bethlehem. This Old Testament herald proclaimed the birthplace of the Messiah.
We can apply this in several ways:
— God keeps His promises. About 750 years had gone by since God promised through Micah that the Messiah would be born inBethlehem. It was an old prophecy to them. Some of those religious leaders who quoted that passage to Herod probably did it off the top of their head! They were used to hearing it. But sometimes when you get used to hearing something, it gets old, and you stop paying serious attention to it. We need to make sure that we don’t do that with God’s promises today. How many times have we heard that Jesus is coming again? Today so many people are just numb to it. But that is exactly what the scriptures tell us in II Peter 3, where it says that in the last days people will say, “Where is the promise of His coming? … All continues just as it was since the beginning of creation.” The Bible says there that God is not slow about His promise; He is giving people time to repent; He doesn’t desire for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. God’s word will not fail! He will do what He promised to do! Not only about the return of Jesus, but of every promise in His word. And this passage should remind us of that. God will keep His promises.
— God uses people from unlikely places, likeBethlehem– or Moss Bluff, or Gillis, or Westlake, or Lake Charles! You don’t have to be from some supposedly “great” place for God to use you. And it reminds us that God can work right here, in our quiet little corner of the world. In fact, I hope that you are actively praying that God would work here in a special way. We have a lot of plans and emphases for the New Year, but what we need more than anything else is for God to be with us. I believe He will. And a passage like this gives us hope that He will. God does work in little places like Bethlehem– and Moss Bluff – and even in your own little corner of His world!
— what God does, He does by grace! God did not choose Bethlehem because it was so big, or prosperous, or prestigious. He just chose by His grace to elevate it, even though it was insignificant and undeserving. And we need to realize that this is exactly what He does with US, too! We don’t deserve to be saved – NONE of us. We are all sinners, flawed and imperfect. And yet God in His grace is patient with us, and draws us to Himself, and convicts us of our sin, and allows us to receive Jesus as our Savior and be saved by what HE did for us – not for any good that we did on our own. It is all of God’s grace – just like the way He graced the little town of Bethlehem!
II. The Person of the Savior
:2b “One will go forth for Me to be ruler inIsrael. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”
A. His Rule: “From you one will go forth for Me to be ruler …”.
This One who would be born in Bethlehem, this insignificant town, was sent to rule. When He came, He demonstrated His power over every area of reality. For example, within the span of just a few brief pages in the Book of Matthew, beginning in chapter 8, we read that Jesus
— healed a leper: demonstrating His power over the most dread diseases;
— He healed the son of a centurion, who was living in another town, demonstrating His power over time and space.
— He calmed a storm that was raging around their boat in theSea of Galilee, showing His power over what we call “nature” – His creation.
— He cast multiple demons out of a demon-possessed man, demonstrating His authority over the spiritual world.
— In Matthew 9 He tells a paralyzed man that his very sins are forgiven, and then when He was questioned about it by His skeptics, raised the man up to demonstrate that He really had such divine authority.
When He came to earth, Jesus demonstrated His rule over every area of reality. And right now, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven, where the Father told Him, “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet”. And one day, perhaps very soon, according to the promise of the God who has never lied, “this same Jesus will come again” – “His eyes a flame of fire … with the armies of heaven … and rod in His right hand to rule the nations”! And “every knee will bow – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – to the glory of God the Father.” This One who was born inBethlehemwas sent to RULE!
The most important question you need to ask yourself is: how will He rule over you? Will He rule as your own King, because you have trusted Him as your own Lord & Savior? Or will He rule over you as a Judge, because you have rejected His rule and His word? You WILL bow your knee to Him – one day “every knee will bow” – the only question is, will you bow to Him as the Lord you worship and serve, or as the Lord you rejected, and who will condemn you to eternal punishment?
And if you HAVE received Him as your own Lord & King: is there any area of your life which you have not submitted to His Lordship? Do you know that if you are disobeying the Lord in some area of your life, that is no insignificant thing — it is treason against your King! You need to ask Him to forgive you, and help you to change that part of your life right now!
Or is there some area of your life in which you are living or acting in fear – as if Jesus were not Lord over it? This Christmas season is a time of celebration for a lot of people – but honestly, it is also a time of great worry and anxiety for many as well. Some of you are worried about a decision you have to make; you are worried about family, your health, your money, your career, your future. Jesus demonstrated when He was here that He is Lord over every area of reality – and that means even those ones you are worried about right now. Ask Him to help you trust Him today. Pray that great and heartfelt prayer of the oppressed boy’s father in Mark 9: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Trust Him with all your circumstances; He came to rule as your King.
B. His Eternity: “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity”
One thing the Bible makes clear: this King did not just begin to rule when He was born 2000 years ago inBethlehem. These same two Hebrew words, “long ago” and “eternity” are used in Proverbs 8:22-23, where the Wisdom of God is speaking, saying: “From everlasting I was established, before His works of old; from everlasting I was established …”. God’s wisdom existed from all eternity – from before the creation of the world. And these very same Hebrew words tell us that the Messiah who came out of Bethlehem likewise existed from before the creation of the world. He would be born as a baby in Bethlehem– but His goings forth are from eternity! This passage tells us that the Son of God did not come into existence in Bethlehem; He had already existed eternally with the Father in heaven. We see this taught throughout the New Testament:
John 1:1, speaking of Jesus, says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God … All things came into being by Him, and without Him, nothing came into being that has come into being.” The Bible makes it extremely clear there that Jesus was and is eternal. He was “in the beginning with God” – and WAS God! – and everything that was made, came into being by Him. Jesus has existed for eternity.
In John chapter 8, the Pharisees (Jewish religious rulers) were arguing with Jesus and telling him that He was not greater than Abraham, and Jesus said to them that Abraham rejoiced to see His day. They said to Him, “You are not yet 50 years old, and have you seen Abraham?” And Jesus said to them: “Before Abraham came into being, I AM.” The Bible says that the Jews then picked up stones to stone Him – they knew exactly what He was saying. “I AM” was the name that God had given Moses when Moses asked Him who he should tell the people had sent him. God told him to tell the people: “I AM has sent me to you.” Jesus claimed to be the same “I AM” who brought the people ofIsraelout of thelandofEgyptand gave them the 10 Commandments! He knew Abraham; He knew Moses. Jesus could not have made a stronger claim to deity than He did there in John 8! He did not come into being in Bethlehem; He had pre-existed from everlasting, because He is God! This is important – because there are all kinds of scholars and religious groups that claim that Jesus is not God, and that He never claimed to be God. But these passages we are looking at today make it clear: Jesus Christ was and is God! He is the “I AM”! He was in the beginning with God, and all things came into being by Him. “His goings forth are … from eternity.” The Messiah was born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, but the Son of God did not come into existence in Bethlehem. He Himself is the Eternal God, the great I AM; God the Son who came to save us.
This is one of those places where we see that doctrine matters; it matters what you believe. You can’t just have a naïve belief that any person or group that uses the name “Jesus” is teaching the truth. There are all kinds of religious groups that will knock on your door, or broadcast on the radio, or write books, and they use the name of Jesus – but they do not believe that Jesus is the eternal Son of God! They are teaching “another Jesus” from what the book of Galatians calls “another gospel” – and that book makes it clear that those who teach and follow another gospel will be accursed. It matters what you believe about Jesus! The Bible makes it absolutely clear:
— The Triune God exists eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
— The Messiah Jesus was born in Bethlehem
— But God the Son did not come into existence in Bethlehem. He has existed forever. “His goings forth are from … eternity.”
III. The Work of the Savior
:4 “And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord … :5 “This One will be our peace.” Just as this passage teaches us two things about His Person, we see two elements of His work described here:
A. His work as a Shepherd: “He will arise and shepherd His flock.”
Micah says the people of God who have been scattered and who are about to be judged because of their sin, will be gathered by the Savior like a shepherd gathers His sheep.
–Isaiah 40 describes this: “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them to His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.”
–Psalm 23 famously says: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Psalm 23 is so well-loved because it describes for us in such a poignant way what Jesus came to do for us as our Shepherd: to restore our souls to Himself, to provide for us, and to lead and guide us through life.
But I have to ask you: are you letting Him do that? Are you letting Him “shepherd” you? Having Jesus as your Shepherd means more than just “getting baptized” and going to church on Sunday morning. It means really letting Jesus lead you step by step through your life. It means beginning your day with Him in prayer and in His word. It means walking with Him throughout the day. It means going where He leads you – in your career, in your service in the church, in every area of your life.
A lot of people have asked my wife Cheryl: “What diet plan are you on?” Can I tell you something, just as a public testimony to what the Lord is doing? It is not so much any “diet plan” as much as it is a recommitment in her life to just obey the voice of the Holy Spirit in every decision she makes: what to pick up, what to eat, what not to eat – and it’s not just about food; she has made a recommitment to listen to the Lord in EVERY area of her life, step-by-step throughout the day. The Lord is leading her that way every day, and it has brought about the results you have seen. He wants to lead you every day as well. That is what He came for; He came to be your Shepherd. But you need to understand that making Jesus your Shepherd means more than just having a good feeling when you read Psalm 23! It means you really let Him lead you, day by day, step by step, through every decision of your life. He will do that, if you will let Him. That’s what He came for; He came to be your Shepherd.
B. His work of Peace: “This One will be our Peace.”
This is interesting wording; that He will BE our peace. This is just what Ephesians 2 says; “For He Himself IS our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity …”. Jesus Himself IS our peace. He made peace for us with God, in His own body on the cross, Ephesians 2 says. I Peter 2:24 says “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” John says that when Jesus was on the cross, He cried out “It is finished”; “It is paid in full.” Jesus paid the full price for your sins, to make you right with God. If you will receive Him as your Lord & Savior, you can have peace with God – NOT because of the religious works you have done, or ever will do, but because of what Jesus did for you on the cross. Jesus Himself IS our peace.
In 1861, Phillips Brook was called to pastor the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia. He then called a great Sunday School director to help him, and soon had built a church of over 1000 — huge for that day. He began to be recognized as one of the greatest preachers of all time. But on Christmas Eve, 1865, Brooks was worn out. Those years of ministry were during the Civil War, and church members were being killed and injured on the battlefield every day. Then President Lincoln was assassinated, and Brooks was called on to preach the funeral sermon. It all just took its toll on Brooks, so he took a sabbatical to the Holy Land. On Christmas Eve, 1865, he took a horseback ride from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The locals advised against it; they said he could be robbed, but he didn’t care, and he soon found himself on the road to Bethlehem. As it got dark, and the stars came out, he soon saw Bethlehem spread out before him – almost unchanged in 1800 years. He had a great sense of awe at what God did there, when He sent His Son to become man, to save us. He later said that the experience was so overpowering that he would be forever “singing in his soul.” When he returned to his church in Philadelphia, he was reinvigorated. But it was hard for him to convey to his people what had happened to him – nothing he said seemed to do it. Then one night, he found himself reliving that experience in his mind, and he began to write it all down in a poem. He finished it, and gave it to his Sunday School director (who was also his organist), who put it to music:
“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie,
Above they deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
Phillips Brooks found peace that night in Bethlehem, because of what God did in Jesus there – and you can find that same peace, when you find the Savior who was born for you in that “little town”! Micah predicted that when He came, “this One would be our peace.” Jesus made peace for you with God by His death on the cross. So now: “Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.” The Jesus who was born in Bethlehem will save you, and send His Spirit into your heart, and give you peace with God, if you will receive Him today!