When Mark Twain visited the Holy Land in the 1860’s, he did not find Bethlehem to be very 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 going to be looking at Micah 5:2, which is a “Herald of the Advent.” “Advent” is a word which describes the coming of a great person – and. in this most famous case in Micah, the coming of Jesus Christ to earth.
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. 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 by the Babylonians. 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 in the book; 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 of Judah, from you One will go forth to be ruler in Israel.”
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. So it is saying that Bethlehem was not big enough to have its own separate division. 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 at Jerusalem and 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 very 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 in advance the birthplace of the Messiah.
We can apply this in several ways:
— First of all, this tells us that God keeps His promises. About 750 years had gone by since God promised through Micah that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. It was a very 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? So many people today are just numb to it: “Sure, Jesus is coming back; we’ve heard that all our lives. 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. Remember: if the promise of Jesus’ second coming sounds old to us today, the promise of His FIRST coming sounded old to them in Herod’s day! But it WILL happen. This verse is a great example of it. God’s word will not fail! He will do what He promised to do! And not only will He perform His promise about the return of Jesus, but every promise in His word. This passage should remind us that God will keep His promises.
— God uses people from unlikely places, like Bethlehem– or Angleton, or Lake Jackson, or Brazoria County! You don’t have to be from some supposedly “great” place for God to use you. This 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 this New Year, but what we need more than anything else is for God’s hand of blessing to be with us. I believe He will. But a passage like this gives us hope that He truly will. God does work in little places like Bethlehem– and Angleton – 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! Don’t try to be good enough to be saved; realize that God saves you when you are insignificant and unworthy, just as a gift of His grace. If you’ve never received it, you should do it today.
II. The Person of the Savior (who was coming)
:2b “One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”
A. His humanity: :3 = about how “she who is in labor gives birth.” This leader would be born of a woman, as a real, 100% flesh and blood man. One of the THE great miracles of our salvation, is that eternal, unlimited God, became a weak, limited human being in the “incarnation,” the “in-flesh-ment” of God when Jesus Christ was born.
Many of you know that Cheryl & spent all this last week going to North Carolina to see our newest grand baby, Edmund Ezekiel Thomas. It was amazing to hold him: just a precious, brand new baby; so small; so frail. But if you want to have a good meditation on the true meaning of Christmas this season, hold a newborn baby, and spend some time pondering on how GOD took on the form of this little, helpless baby. It is an amazing miracle of God’s love and grace for us.
But that is exactly what He did. And it is exactly what He HAD to do, if He was going to save us. Hebrews 2:17 emphasizes that. It says: “He HAD to be made like His brethren … to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” If God was going to save us, there was only ONE way for it to happen: perfect God had to become a perfect, man, and die on the cross, and pay for our sins, that whoever would repent of their sins and follow Him as their Lord & Savior might be saved. “He HAD to be made like His brethren,” Hebrews says, for us to be save. Micah heralds that for us here in :3.
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 in Bethlehem. 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!
Our daughter-in-law Ashley told us that their second daughter Lorna was sitting and playing the other day, when out of the blue she said: “Jesus was borned in Bethlehem — so God had a beginning.” I thought it was something that a little one was even thinking about things like that, but the truth is, she had reasoned to the wrong conclusion. Jesus was born as a man in Bethlehem that day, but He had existed as the 2nd Person of the Godhead, God the Son, from all eternity. “In the beginning,” John 1 says, the Word, the Son of God, already was. And Micah confirms that here. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of 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 of Israel out of the land of Egypt and 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 eternal 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.” Yes, 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 Galatians calls “another gospel” – and that book makes it clear that those who teach and follow another gospel will be accursed and separated from God. 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.”
C. 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 by God to rule. When Jesus 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 dreaded of 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 the Sea 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 … a 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 in Bethlehem was sent to RULE!
That is a fact: Jesus was sent to rule. But the most important question for you is, is He ruling 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 rejected His rule and His word in this life? 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 love and worship and serve, or as the Lord you rejected, who will condemn you to eternal punishment?
And if you would say you HAVE received Him as your Lord & King: is there any area of your life that 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 not an insignificant thing — it’s 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; or about your 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 over all these things as your King.
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.”
We see two elements of His work described here:
A. His work as 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: to restore our souls to Himself, to provide for us, and to lead and guide us through life as our Shepherd.
But 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. t 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.
This is why our Daily Bible Reading emphasis in January is so important. HOW is Jesus going to lead you every day? How is He going to speak to you, and direct you as your Shepherd? He’ll do it through His word. If it’s not through His word, then how will He lead you? Through your “feelings,” your “impressions” — which can be WAY off? You need to let Him lead you every day through His word. I promise you: if you get into God’s word every day, His Holy Spirit WILL speak to you through His word, and He will speak about specific areas of your life where you need to be encouraged, where you need to be changed, where you need direction. I have seen it over and over, in my life, in Cheryl’s life, in countless lives of God’s people who have gotten into His word. Some of YOU right here are going to have the neatest testimonies next year about how God spoke to you, and led you through His word — but you have to make that commitment to get INTO His word every day, for that to happen.
Jesus wants to lead you every day as your Shepherd. That’s what He came for. 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, in His word. He WILL do that, if you’ll 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’ve done, but because of what Jesus did for you on the cross. Jesus Himself IS our peace. He will give each one of us who trusts Him as our Lord & Savior peace with God — and throughout our Christian life, He will give us peace, if we will turn to Him.
In 1861, Phillips Brooks was called to pastor the Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia. Soon the church was running over 1000, a huge church for that day. He began to be recognized as one of the greatest preachers of all time. But on Christmas Eve, 1865, Phillips 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. All of this just took its toll on Brooks, so he took a sabbatical to the Holy Land, to get some rest and recuperate. 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 all spread out before him – almost unchanged in 1800 years. He suddenly had a great sense of awe at what God did there, when He sent His Son to become a man, to save us. He later said that experience was so overpowering that he would forever be “singing in his soul” about it. When he returned to his church in Philadelphia, he was reinvigorated. But it was hard for him to convey to his people just what had happened to him – nothing he could say seemed to express 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), and he put it to music. The poem said:
“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, through 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!
— Have you ever received this Jesus that Micah predicted would be born in Bethlehem? It’s not enough just to “know about it” in your head; you have to receive Him in your heart, as YOUR Lord & Savior and Shepherd.
— Maybe Jesus is your Savior, but there’s a specific circumstance/person in your life that you have been anxious about; but God has shown you in His word this morning to trust HIM with it; pray and give that to Him anew today …
— Maybe you need to let Jesus “shepherd” you every day by speaking to you in His word. Get one of these Bible reading plans and take it home and let Him speak to you, and guide you daily. Don’t “JUST” read it; let Him speak to specific areas of your life through it. And be ready to DO what He shows you, and share it with others.
— Maybe you need to be baptized, or need a church home …