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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:A Great King from Little Bethlehem
Text:Micah 5:2-5 (View)
Occasion:Christmas Day
Topic:Christ's Kingship

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 89:1,3                                                                                    

Hy 16:2,4

Reading – Micah 4:6-5:5a; Matthew 2:1-12

Ps 132:6,7,8,10

Sermon – Micah 5:2-5a

Hy 41:1,2,3

Hy 16:1,3,5 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, whenever we meet someone new, one of the first questions that we ask is: “Where are you from?” We want to know where someone was born, and where they were raised. To us it’s important. It can say a lot: Are you from the city, or the country? Are you from Canada, the U.S., Australia, or from somewhere else?

Where we’re from can say something about us. It certainly says something about our Saviour. For Jesus came to this earth from heaven—and that’s essential information. His heavenly origin makes all the difference in our redemption. If He wasn’t from heaven, then we’d have nothing at all to celebrate! Christ is from heaven. But He’s also from earth; more specifically, from Bethlehem. That’s the town He was born, and where He spent his first couple years. To us, Bethlehem has a familiar place in Christmas. It’s one of those details we might not even give second thought to: “Of course Jesus was born in Bethlehem! Where else would He be born?”

But why? Why is the Saviour of the world born in this small town in Judea, of all places? In answer we turn to Micah, where there’s a prophecy of stunning detail. Because Micah doesn’t just speak in vague terms that the Messiah is coming someday, somewhere, but he says exactly where He’s coming from! In our text, Micah pulls back the curtain on God’s plan to save sinners. He says, “You know Bethlehem? That little town, just down the road from Jerusalem? Well, the Messiah’s going to come from there!” This is how real it is. This is how prepared God is to send a Saviour. “Whatever happens,” Micah says, “don’t lose sight of God’s plan: He’s going to save, shepherd, and strengthen his people.” That’s the gospel for us also, from Micah 5,

                  Micah foretells a great Ruler coming from little Bethlehem:

1)     his humble beginnings

2)     his eternal origins

3)     his faithful shepherding

4)     his universal rule


1)     his humble beginnings: Things were bleak in Judah. Micah has been blunt about what they’re facing in the near future: getting besieged by the enemy, and then struck hard in an attack (5:1). God was going to chastise his people for their constant idolatry and injustice, and He’d do it with exile, a forced relocation. This is what we read in 5:3, “Therefore He shall give them up…” Given up by the LORD—that drives home how serious this is for Judah! God will hand his people over to Gentile lands.

A judgment like this would have all sorts of results and consequences. Among them would be the painful reality of having no king. For centuries there’d been a king on the throne; one of the sons of the righteous king David was always ruling. Yet the people have forfeited the blessings of kingship. They were going to be kingless. Like the prophet asks in 4:9, “Is there no king in your midst?” This may have been a sarcastic remark about the incompetence of the present king—he sure didn’t act the part of a ruler! But that question also looks to when the throne would be empty, to a time when exiled Judah would be like sheep without a shepherd. Who then would lead and defend them? No king means no hope. None to go before them in battle, none to make right judgements. They’d be lost.

But as there always is for God’s covenant people, a ray of light pierces the darkness—there’s good news with the bad. God might give his people up for judgment, but that doesn’t mean He’s given up on them! For “He shall give them up… until the time that she who is in labor has given birth” (5:3).

Let’s consider that image: “she who is in labour…” That’s a metaphor we see often in the Bible: “like a woman in labour.” It’s a comparison that means having a resolute hopefulness, a stubborn optimism despite present hardship. For labour and childbirth are terribly painful—I’ve heard that it is. From moment to moment, an excruciating experience. But it leads to better things, to a miracle that makes all thought of pain quickly fade. In labour, you’re hopeful, you’re optimistic, despite tribulation. So God points his people to a better day, “[when] she who is in labour will give birth” (5:3). A day when the pain is over, and blessing has arrived.

People debate who’s meant here. Is this “being in labour” maybe a reference to the virgin Mary, she who gave birth to the Messiah in David’s town? Might be nice, but this refers instead to the people of Israel. Recall what we read in 4:10, “Be in pain, and labour to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in birth pangs.” God was encouraging his people that the pain of his discipline, the anguish of their exile, was going to give way to better things. From their labour, God would deliver something great and glorious and beautiful.

This is what it’d be: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah… out of you shall come forth to me the One to be Ruler in Israel” (5:2). In this book, keep in mind, Micah is prophesying to people who lived in Jerusalem. Bethlehem wasn’t that far away from them, just a few kilometers to the south. Its name literally means “house of bread,” because it was in a region that produced a lot of wheat. “Ephrathah,” means “fruitful.” “Out of this Bethlehem will come a ruler…”

Now, even today sometimes you just have to say the name of a place, and there’s a whole flood of meaning and memory. New York. Toronto. Paris. It’s different for different people, of course. But these names mean things! Well, that’s what “Bethlehem” did in Micah’s time. Just saying that name called great things to mind among God’s people. Bethlehem was David’s hometown! Bethlehem was where Samuel anointed Jesse’s son as king of Israel—the one whom God promised an everlasting dynasty, one of justice and righteousness and peace. Bethlehem was a powerful reminder of those glory days, that golden age of Israel.

Except it was all so far in the past. Judah’s king right now might’ve been of David’s line, but he was hardly a “sovereign.” More like a dud. And Bethlehem? Sure, the town was still there, but it had never been much to speak of: “You are little among the thousands of Judah,” Micah says (5:2). Already in David’s time, it was “a-blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” kind of place, almost too small to be counted. David himself was an unlikely leader: the youngest in the family, a shepherd boy, overlooked by his own father.

But this is where Israel’s Saviour will come from: from Bethlehem, in Judah! Now, is this really the good news that the people need in their trouble and sin? Is this what they’ve been waiting for, so long now: a Saviour from nowhere? At the very least, shouldn’t their Saviour come from Jerusalem, and have some more impressive credentials? Yet God doesn’t work in expected ways. God certainly doesn’t need to use the glorious and strong, the renowned and praiseworthy, to accomplish his great deeds. It’s one of God’s trademarks—like Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty… that no [one] should glory in his presence” (vv 27-29).

The Messiah’s beginnings were very humble, but this didn’t keep God from saving sinners through him. Notice what God says, “Out of [Bethlehem] shall come forth to me” (5:2). The Saviour might hail from the smallest of towns, but this is what mattered: He was coming for God. He was coming to do God’s will, and to rule his people! In him, God would make a new beginning. God would go back to where it all started. Where the great king David once was born, Jesus is born—and then He’ll take his place on David’s throne, and He’ll rule in glory.

So we see it, some 600 years later: “Joseph also went up…to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David” (Lk 2:4). Again, despite very average outward appearances, this carpenter Joseph was no ordinary fellow—he’s a descendant of the great king. Months before, the angel had also announced about Mary’s child, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David” (Lk 1:32). A child, a royal son! And where would He be born? King Herod once asked the same thing. “So [the scribes] said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea,’ they replied, ‘for thus it is written by the prophet’” (Matt 2:5). They all knew it: the Saviour, the Son of David, the Messiah, would appear in David’s royal city! Later on, it’s true, people stumbled over these humble beginnings. They thought Jesus should be something more than He was. People still think that Jesus isn’t much of a Saviour—a wise teacher maybe, a fine example of holiness, but certainly not the only way to God.

But what do appearance and perception matter? The LORD will use the humble to do his work. He will use the lowly, the weak, the most unlikely. Because then no one can brag. There can be no boasting, there can be no pride, when God saves us. He saves us when we believe in a king born in little Bethlehem, He saves us by a Saviour hung on a shameful cross. It’s unexpected. But God can do it. God will do it. With him, even this is possible!


2)     his eternal origins: Back in the days of Assyria and Babylon, the people were always tempted to look elsewhere for deliverance. When the enemies were getting ready to “drop in” on Israel, the diplomats would hit the road again, in search of some other country who were willing to help them and provide protection. 

Come to think of it, we do a similar thing. When there’s some sudden trouble, or when we anticipate some hardship in life, we could start looking around for help. Sure, we know (in our minds, as a point of knowledge) that God is with us—just like the Israelites knew that. But we still think we need a Plan B. Some other kind of security, some back-up… just in case God doesn’t come through this time.

But we don’t need to “outsource” salvation. Don’t doubt for even one second God’s promise to save and help us! And why not? Because God provides in Christ so much more than a temporary solution. For He has a solid lineage, a proven history. Your Saviour is tried, tested, and true—the same yesterday, today and forever!

These days, it’s true, we go through our heroes so quickly. People get their fifteen minutes of fame, they have their turn on YouTube, and then they’re done. Here one day, and gone the next. Thrown out of the ring, ejected from office, off the charts. But Christ is dependable, He sticks around, because Christ is eternal. Says Micah of the Messiah, “[His] goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (5:2)

First, He was from David’s line. By Micah’s time this was already an old dynasty. David’s house had seen its rising and falling, through the reign of good kings and bad—and things were definitely at a low spot right now. But God always takes the long view. He stands outside time, so a passing disappointment like King Jotham or Ahaz doesn’t change his plan. God looks all the way back to the glory of David’s reign, and even farther. Because the King that He promised won’t get old. Our King doesn’t need propping up, He doesn’t ever disappoint. “His goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” Why, even before the time of David, the Messiah was waiting, ready to appear. You could say that God has been working on our salvation forever.

To Judah, this was a mystery. This was a revelation they couldn’t understand. The coming Ruler would be born in Bethlehem, but in a certain sense, He’ll always have been around, “from everlasting.” This is why Isaiah will speak about him in such exalted—even divine—terms, “His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father” (9:6). More than Job or Micah or Isaiah could know, the Saviour God sends is unlike any other. For this King is also God incarnate! He might hail from Bethlehem, but his home is in heaven.

And that, we said, makes all the difference. If Christ wasn’t eternal, if He hadn’t come to us from heaven, we’d have no hope. We could look elsewhere for deliverance, try to buy our security from whoever can give it—and never find it. But we have a Saviour who’s everlasting, “his goings forth from of old.” In Christ there’s never any variation due to change. No fading with the passing years. In Christ our King we have a sure deliverance, and a mighty protection!

When Jerusalem looked out at the gathering Assyrians and the judgment they were bringing, they might’ve trembled in their sandals. Their adversary seemed invincible in power, and Judah’s doom seemed all but certain. When we think about what we’re up against in this life, we might get nervous too. Satan has a formidable strength in these days. His temptations are everywhere, and they’re deadly, able to enslave us and kill us. Persecution from unbelievers and false religions is ramping up, and the world is growing more hostile. Meanwhile our own hearts can be so easily deceived, and falter so quickly. So we feel besieged by trouble, like it’s all around us and we can’t get out.

But in Christ we have a timeless King, an eternal Saviour! The same evermore. Beloved, learn to rest in him. Trust him, because his power is from everlasting, his goings forth are from of old. This King could handle Assyria and Babylon—He even struck down 185,000 at a time. So our King can also handle Satan, his demons, and this wicked world. He can handle terrorists and jihadis. He can even handle our own evil hearts, and get our wills in line with his. Christ isn’t going to go away, or suddenly become unreliable. He’s eternal, and if you seek him, He’ll be your shepherd always.


3)     his faithful shepherding: So the Messiah was coming. That was good. But what would He be like? What would He do? “He shall stand and feed His flock” (v 4). Micah was a country boy, so he turns to an image he knows well. “He shall stand and feed his flock.” Sheep need tending. Perhaps more than any other animal, sheep are docile and defenseless against predators. A sheep needs a shepherd, but when it has a good one, a sheep will instinctively trust him. It learns the sound of his voice, and it follows where that voice leads.

God often compares his people to sheep, and himself to a shepherd. We come across it earlier in Micah, in chapter 2, when God speaks of his care for Israel: “I will put them together like sheep of the fold, like a flock in the midst of their pasture” (v 12). Even when Judah had a threatening force all around her, God was in the midst of his people, to shield and protect them. And even when those sheep wandered far and wide, God would bring them back.

If God was the shepherd of his flock, God’s servants have the same task. Like David, that young shepherd-boy from Bethlehem. It says in Psalm 78, “[God] chose David his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds… to shepherd Jacob His people… So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart” (vv 70-72). David’s care for Israel was like a shepherd’s care: always devoted, effective, strong.

This is what God’s people can look forward to, says Micah: a new shepherd from Bethlehem! A faithful shepherd! One who will “stand and feed his flock,” just like David. In that brief job description is everything a person needs. The Messiah will lead us to green pastures, and along quiet waters. He’ll give unfailing protection. He’ll be gentle with the weak, and seek out the lost, and feed us, in body and spirit. It’s how Jesus spoke of himself in John 10. There He explains this most caring ministry: “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (v 14). In the good tradition of his father David, Christ works with sheep every day. Because He owns us, and we’re his! To those who trust in him, Christ gives enduring rest. To those who listen to him, Christ gives true freedom.

No, Israel wasn’t an easy flock to care for. Remember Isaiah, “All we like sheep have gone astray” (53:6). So often we bolt from the one who can help us. So often we nibble at the grass on Satan’s side of the fence, because it looks more inviting. But it shouldn’t be this way. Like Jesus says, “The sheep follow [me], for they know [my] voice” (John 10:4). Know your Good Shepherd. Hear his Word every day, and trust that what He says is right and good and true. You can follow him anywhere.

For this is how far the Shepherd went in caring for us; says Christ, “He gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Who could die for some bleating sheep, like Christ once did? Or who would bring back from exile a stubborn people? In the eyes of men, it’s a waste of an effort. But “in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD” (Micah 5:4), an unthinkable salvation becomes a reality. For the glory of his name, God sends his Son to this earth, to be born of a woman, and then to die on a cross. He does it so that all may see how awesome He is—so that all may ask with Micah at the end his prophecy, “Who is a God like you?” (7:18).


4) his universal rule: The chapter started with the gathering of troops and the laying of siege-works. But now comes a different promise. Because the King who is coming “shall be peace” (5:5). And Biblical peace, we know, is so much more than the absence of war. God’s gift of peace includes all the glory and happiness and blessing which his people can take part in forever. In the coming kingdom of Christ, there’s nothing to be afraid of, and nothing to regret, and nothing to fight against, but we’ll enjoy perfect fellowship with God. He shall be peace—the same one Isaiah called our “Prince of Peace.”

For the great Ruler from little Bethlehem isn’t a king who’s out for his own glory. Rather, Christ our King came in all humility to serve his people. And now that our King is enthroned in heaven, He rules us with perfect power and love. And what does that mean for us, beloved? It means that if He’s your King, you need to hear his voice. Hear him, as He calls you to serve in his Kingdom, calls each of us to bow before his throne in worship! And our King doesn’t just ask for revenue and taxes, He asks for things of far greater worth. The King asks you for your love. He asks you for your faith and trust. He asks for your life, for every bit of it. He calls you to work, and to pray, for his cause and glory. He calls you to seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, that his Kingdom might come.

For the job’s not done yet. Think of what Micah says, that our King shall rule, and “He shall be great to the ends of the earth” (5:4). To the ends of the earth… It’s true that Christ reigns already today, that He already has all authority. But He’s still working to extend his reign over all, so that all people everywhere bow before him. We wait for that, the perfection of Christ’s reign, the fullness of his kingdom: when He is great “to the ends of the earth!”

Will it ever come? We celebrate his first coming these days—will it ever be eclipsed by his second coming, by his second descent from heaven to earth? We’ve been waiting a while, but we know that Christ will come again—it’s a sure thing. For just think how certain is the Word of our God, how trustworthy. 700 years before it happened, the LORD gave this prophecy through his servant Micah. He even named the city where the Messiah would be born! Down the road, in Bethlehem. And it happened just the way God said: Joseph and Mary went there, and the great King was born in David’s town, as He needed to be. History bears witness: God fulfills his Word. He never breaks a promise. Not a word of his falls to the ground. 

We still don’t know when Christ’s second coming will be, but this is still how real it is, how sure it is. He came once from Bethlehem, and soon He’ll come again from heaven. So be ready for his coming, ready in holiness and ready in faith. And pray often for the return of the King: “O Come, Thou who has David’s key/ Save us that we eternally/ In paradise regained may dwell.”  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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