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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:A Shepherd-King will come from Bethlehem!
Text:Micah 5:2-5a (View)
Occasion:Advent
Topic:The Incarnation
 
Preached:2013-12-15
Added:2014-03-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Songs from 2010 Book of Praise

Bible Translation: NKJV

Hymn 16:1,2,4

Psalm 132:6,8,9,10

Hymn 15:1,2,3

Hymn 18:1,3

Psalm 23:1,2,3

Read:  Micah 5; Matthew 2:1-12

Text:  Micah 5:2-5a

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters in Christ.

While most Christmas hymns and carols are expressions of joy and wonder, the hymn “O Come, O come, Emmanuel” is different.  The hymn that we began this church service with is a plaintive cry, a yearning call for the One who was and who is to come.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

and ransom captive Israel,

that mourns in lonely exile here,

until the Son of God appear.

This is a hymn that is crying out for relief from captivity, for relief from exile.  This is a beautiful hymn to sing in the days before Christmas because it reminds us what Christmas is all about, why we needed Christ the Saviour to be born, and what we should be rejoicing about.

We need that.  We need to be reminded of what Christmas is all about, what it is that is worth celebrating.  When you go shopping or when you meet with friends you might be asked, “Are you ready for Christmas?”  but what is meant by that question is, “Have you got everything ready?  Did you do your Christmas shopping?  Do you have your plans for the day all sorted out?”              But to be ready for Christmas, be really ready for Christmas is not about those things.  Rather, to be ready for Christmas, to be ready to truly celebrate the birth of Christ is to know why He had to come.

And so we turn this [morning] to the Old Testament Book of Micah, chapter 5.  In Micah chapter 5 there is a prophecy of the One to come, the Christ-Child who would be born in the little town of Bethlehem.  It is a prophecy of a King who would stand and feed His flock like shepherd and bring peace on earth.   And as we hear God’s Word from Micah chapter 5, we will hear the same sort of yearning as we sang about in the hymn “O Come, O come, Emmanuel.”  We will hear the yearning cry of an oppressed and besieged people crying out for the One who would come to deliver them and to bring them peace.

I preach to you gospel of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ under the following heading:

The LORD promises His besieged people that a Shepherd-King will come from Bethlehem.

This King will be:

  1. The Great Ruler.
  2. The Good Shepherd.

1. This King will be the Great Ruler.

Imagine for a moment that you were in Jerusalem at the time that our Lord Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.  Life as you knew it was relatively quiet and well ordered.  Jerusalem was not a free city but was controlled by the Romans.  And the Romans in turn had placed Herod, a descendant of Esau, of Edom, as king over them.  It might have been nice for some things to be different, but life was predictable and in that sense it was good.  But then suddenly some strange men appear, and they start asking a strange question.

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  What is this?  A new king?   A King so great that there would be a star in the sky to herald His coming?  And so Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem was troubled with him.  Herod was a jealous man and ruthless.  And the possibility that a new King had been born did not please him at all.  If a new king had been born, a king who might one day challenge him for the throne, Herod wanted to know where he could be found so that this king could be eliminated before he had a chance to do anything.  And so Herod called chief priests and the religious teachers together and he asked them where the Christ was to be born.  And they said to him,

 “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet, ‘But you, Bethlehem, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”

These words come from Micah chapter 5.  And so this prophecy from Micah was used to answer a simple question: where would the Christ be born?  Answer: in Bethlehem.

But why would the King, why would the Christ be born in Bethlehem?  What was the significance of this – and why did God give this prophecy to His people in the first place?

To find some answers to these questions, we need to go back to the days of Micah and to the time in which this prophecy from Micah 5 was first given.

The prophet Micah lived a long time, about 700 years, before our Lord Jesus Christ was born.  These were dark days for the people of Israel, of Judah and Jerusalem, days in which the faithful ones had great reason to cry for Emmanuel, the Son of God, to come and deliver them.

Micah spoke the words of Micah chapter 5 in the days of King Hezekiah.  In those days the world was in turmoil.  To the north of Israel were the Assyrians, a strong and a brutal nation of people.  The army of the Assyrians, under a king called Sennacherib, had invaded the northern part of Israel, had destroyed the city of Samaria and taken the 10 Northern Tribes into exile.  And from there Sennacherib continued to press on South into Judah and Jerusalem.  You can read about this in the Bible in 2 Kings 18, 2 Chronicles 19 and also in the book of Isaiah.  But in this case we also have an historical account, written by the Assyrians themselves.  In the British Museum there is a six-sided prism that had been discovered in the year 1830 in the old city of Nineveh.  This prism was written by or for Sennacherib himself, listing all of his military accomplishments.  And concerning the land of Judah and the city of Jerusalem, Sennacherib wrote the following:

As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to his strong cities, walled forts, and countless small villages, and conquered them by means of well-stamped earth-ramps and battering-rams brought near the walls with an attack by foot soldiers, using mines, breeches as well as trenches. I drove out 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered them slaves. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.

And that is just how it was!  God’s people and the city of Jerusalem were besieged!  Hezekiah was trapped in his royal residence like a bird in a cage.  And that is most likely the context in which we are to read Micah 5:1.

“Now gather yourself in troops, O daughter of troops; He has laid siege against us; they will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek.”

These were dark times for God’s people, a period of great suffering with a future that was bleak and without hope. 

But what made those times and the years that came later so bleak was that while the faithful ones of God’s people believed that God could help them and deliver them from their enemies, they were not sure that He would!  For they had been told that it was the hand of God Himself that was behind the enemy who had come to oppress them.  You see, the people of Israel, the people of Judah and the people of Jerusalem had, as a whole, turned their back on the LORD and turned their back on one another.  The book of Micah speaks of terrible crimes, wicked sins that the people of God were guilty of.  There were many prophets giving not the word of God but the word of Man, and who were leading the people astray.  There were priests who had failed in their service of the Lord.  And the rulers, the judges and the heads of Israel, Micah 3:9,10 says, abhorred justice, perverted equity and built up Zion with bloodshed.  The wickedness and godlessness of the people of Israel was terrible indeed.  And so the LORD had told them in Micah 3:12,

12         Therefore because of you

Zion shall be plowed like a field,

Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins,

And the mountain of the temple

Like the bare hills of the forest.

It was “because of you”, because of the sin and the failures of God’s people, specifically the failures of the prophets, the priests and the judges, rulers and kings that Jerusalem would be destroyed and God’s people sent into exile.    Jerusalem had failed.  For the main part her prophets had failed, her priests had failed, and her kings had failed.  And although King Hezekiah did indeed repent and there was a turning to the LORD in the days of Micah, this time of reformation was short-lived, and God’s people turned their back on the Light of Life to walk and stumble in the darkness.

And although this was all happening in far-away Jerusalem, and although this was taking place 2700 years ago, there is a message in this also for us today.  If Jerusalem was in a mess in the days of Micah, the world is in no less of a mess today!  If Jerusalem needed a Saviour in the days of Micah, how much more don’t we need a Saviour today!  Our world is falling apart.  Our society has fallen apart.  Our lives have fallen apart.  We need help!  We need a new beginning.  We need a new start.  For all the Christmas lights that are out there, the world without Christ is still very, very dark.

“O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s stem,

regard thine own and rescue them;

from depths of hell thy people save,

and give them victory o’er the grave.”

But then we read Micah 5 verse 2.

2           “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,

Yet out of you shall come forth to Me

The One to be Ruler in Israel,

Whose goings forth are from of old,

From everlasting.”

“But you, Bethlehem!” Jerusalem had failed.  Her prophets, her priests, her judges and her kings had fallen far short of what the Lord had required of them and the time would come that Jerusalem would be destroyed.  Jerusalem had lost her hope, had lost her future.

From Bethlehem would come one who would be the Ruler in Israel.  From Bethlehem would come the new King, a King like no other.  A King whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting, that is.

But why Bethlehem?  Why would the Lord Jesus be born in Bethlehem, that little village a few hours walk away from Jerusalem?  What was significant about this town?

Well on the one hand, nothing was significant about Bethlehem.  Bethlehem was really like so many other small towns and villages of Israel.  Micah was not exaggerating when he wrote concerning Bethlehem,

“. . . though you are little among the thousands of Judah”

for she was little, this town was insignificant.

Except for one thing:  Bethlehem was a town with a history.  Bethlehem was the town from which the LORD had called David to be king over His people Israel.  And the LORD had told David (we sang about this in Psalm 132), the LORD had told David in 2 Samuel 7:12,13 and 16,

“. . . I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  . . . And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you.  Your throne shall be established forever.”

By going back to Bethlehem, the LORD was doing two things:  He was starting again, providing His people with a new King who would gather His people together.  And at the same time, by going back to the city of David, He was reaching back to His promises of old, fulfilling His promise that the Christ would come from the line of David.

That is also how the people understood the prophecy of Micah 5 in the days of our LORD.  In John 7:42 they asked,

“Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?”

Our God does not forget His promises, nor does He turn His back on His people.  Yes, Israel had sinned and the people of Jerusalem would suffer the consequences for it.  The LORD would even “give them up” as it says in Micah 5:3, He would send them into exile for a time.  But through the Exile, the LORD would cause His people to see their sin, to repent and to turn to Him for redemption.  And then redemption would come.  It would come, ultimately, not in the way of a prophet, a priest or a king as of old, but of THE Prophet, of THE Priest and of THE King, our Lord Jesus Christ!  He would gather His people together and He would be their King.  Yes, He would be the Great King, the Great Ruler of the whole earth!

2. This King will be the Good Shepherd.

When the Wise Men came to Jerusalem, they wanted to find the new King of the Jews, and when Herod called for the chief priests and the scribes, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.  But when the chief priests and the scribes gave their answer, they told Herod more than just where this King would be born: they also told Him what He would do.  Matthew 2:6,

“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”

You may have noticed that this is not a direct quote from Micah.  Bethlehem is elevated in Matthew 2, so that while Micah 5:2 speaks of Bethlehem as being small and insignificant, Matthew 2 says it is “not the least among the rulers of Judah.”  And it would not be “the least” not because of its size but because of the One to be born there.  Further, Matthew 2:6 is a combination of Micah 5:2 and verse 4.  In Micah 5:3 the LORD says that God’s people would once more be gathered together and then verse 4 says,

“And He shall stand and feed His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God; and they shall abide, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth.”

This King to be born in Bethlehem would indeed be great – He would be the King of Kings and His greatness would extend to the ends of the earth – but He would not be a tyrant.  Rather, He would be a Shepherd.  He would stand and feed His flock, showing great care for His people and giving them food, giving them all they had need of. 

And so the Christ would be everything that the priests and the rulers of Jerusalem were not.  While they judged for a bribe, scattered and devoured the flock, the Christ to be born would gather His people together as a shepherd gathers His sheep, and He would defend them.  He would be the Good Shepherd.  Yes, He would be the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. 

And as the Good Shepherd, the One who would lay down His life for His sheep, He would be our peace.  For the besieged people of Israel there was no hope for peace, but the Prince of Peace would come and He would cause His enemies to beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks.  The Assyrians might be all around Jerusalem and King Hezekiah might be trapped in his palace like a bird in his cage, and the Babylonians might come after them and Jerusalem would still fall.  But out of Bethlehem the LORD would call His King, the Great Shepherd, the One who would gather His people together from the ends of the earth and this Shepherd-King would not just gather, but He would also defend and preserve His flock. 

And so, Micah 5:5 says, “this One shall be peace.”  He would bring peace on earth not just among men, but, more importantly between God and us.  It was the LORD who was punishing His people through Assyria and later Babylon, punishing them for their sins.  And we too deserve to be punished for our sins!  But the time would come when God would send us Son so that this One, Jesus Christ, can be punished in the place of His people.  Isaiah 53:6,

“All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, everyone to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the [sin, the] iniquity of us all.”

That was what this Jesus was born to do.  And Micah knew this!  And that is what caused Micah to exclaim at the end of the book of Micah, chapter 7:18,19

18         Who is a God like You,

Pardoning iniquity

And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?

He does not retain His anger forever,

Because He delights in mercy.

19         He will again have compassion on us,

And will subdue our iniquities.

You will cast all our sins

Into the depths of the sea.

That was the enemy whom  the Great King, Jesus Christ, had come to destroy.  It was not Assyria, it was not Babylon and it would not be King Herod or the Roman Empire whom Christ would ultimately conquer, but the Great Enemy called sin and Satan.  And He would make a spectacle of this enemy, triumphing over it through the cross. 

And having triumphed over the Evil One, our Lord now goes out, breaking down strongholds and bringing in His peace.  He gathers His people as a shepherd gathers His sheep, and He is their King.

But now what about us?  What will you do with this Jesus?  What will you do with this King?  Did you notice, when we read from Matthew chapter 2, that when the Wise Men asked the people of Jerusalem where the King of the Jews might be found, and they told him “Bethlehem” that none of those from Jerusalem came to see if it really was so, if the Son of God really had been born? 

“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.:

But what about us?  What will you do with this Jesus?  Are you truly ready for Christmas

Christmas is a beautiful time of the year for many, but the problem with Christmas is that while many people celebrate Christmas but fail to celebrate Christ.  They love the lights, but they remain blind to the True Light.  They give and receive gifts, but they fail to seek or to find the True Gift, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

But what about you?  What about me?  What is your response to the Christ who was born in Bethlehem?

O come, thou who hast David’s key,

Save us, that we eternally

In Paradise regained may dwell;

Forever shut the gates of hell.

Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2013, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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