Well, I do hope you’re having a wonderful Christmas so far. I’m very glad you’re with us this Lord’s Day Morning to celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and to worship together with us. As you will know, if you have been with us in the month of December, in the weeks that have led up to Christmas we have been considering the teaching of various Old Testament passages that have prophesied the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this morning I’d like to invite you, if you would please, to take a copy of God’s Word and to turn with me to the prophecy of Micah, chapter 5. If you’re using one of our church Bibles, you’ll find that on page 778. Micah chapter 5.
Before we read it, let me set the stage a little bit and give you some context. It is about the year 701 BC and things have moved on a little since the prophecies of Isaiah chapter 7 and 9 that we considered the last few times we were together. The people of God, you may remember, have been divided into two kingdoms – the northern kingdom called Israel; the southern called Judah – and Isaiah had predicted disaster for the northern kingdom. The Assyrian Empire was going to come in and destroy them. And that has now taken place. That isn’t the end of the story, however. The southern kingdom, we now discover, with its capital city in Jerusalem, is about to face a similar fate. And that is where we meet Micah speaking to the people of Jerusalem waiting under the shadow of impending Assyrian invasion. But just like the prophet Isaiah before him, Micah, likewise, has a message of good news and bright hope for them focused on the birth of a coming King, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose coming we celebrate together today. So let’s direct our attention to Micah chapter 5, page 778. Before we read it together, would you please bow your heads with me as we pray.
O Lord our God, how we need the ministry of the Holy Spirit as Your Word is read and preached to us. Help us please, by the Spirit’s mighty working, to have ears that hear and eyes that see and hearts that receive the good news about Jesus Christ as we hear it anew this morning, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Micah chapter 5 at verse 1. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod, they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now, he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”
Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and inerrant Word.
You are probably very familiar with the words of Phillips Brooks’ famous and beloved Christmas carol that I think captures really rather well some of the contrasts that adorned the birth of our Savior. You remember how it goes: “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy 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.” There are a number of contrasts that Brooks is drawing our attention to. They are all asleep and in the dark streets, nevertheless, shines the everlasting light. And the hopes and fears of all the years, unbeknown to the citizens of Bethlehem, is being born into the world. Of course, Phillips Brooks was hardly the first to notice the contrasts that adorned that first Christmas. Some seven centuries before the event, the prophet Micah saw many of those contrasts clearly. Let me highlight three of them from the passage that we’ve read together in Micah chapter 5.
First of all, I want you to see with me the contrast Micah draws between two cities; two cities. Then secondly, the contrast between two kings. And then thirdly, the contrast between two communities. Two cities, two kings, and two communities.
The Contrast Between Two Cities
Look at Micah 5 with me and let’s think about the contrast here between two cities. Micah starts with the city of Jerusalem. That’s who the prophet is addressing in verse 1. If you’ll look at verse 1 – “Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us.” Here is the great city, the shining center of the Jewish nation, the place of God’s temple, the seat of the Davidic kings, the focal point of so many of God’s promises. And shortly, Micah says, it will be besieged. And so, “Muster your troops,” he tells them. “The enemy is going to surround us.” And worse news even than that, he says, “With a rod, they shall strike the judge of Israel on the cheek.” Not only will the city be besieged, but the judge of Israel, probably a reference to Israel’s king, will be humiliated and degraded and placed entirely in the power of his enemies. And so Jerusalem, in verse 1, is an image of abject defeat and hopelessness. And Micah actually is summoning the people to recognize that fact squarely, to face it honestly. To cling to fortifications or to military might or to the leadership of David’s heir to save them, Micah is telling them that is actually a forlorn hope. And they must come to recognize it as such in order that true hope may be found as Micah directs their attention elsewhere to the birth of a coming king.
Clinging to False Hopes
And that is actually very often our condition too. Isn’t it? I’m going to use an illustration which, when I wrote it at the time I thought was a great idea, but now I’m not so sure. So it’s Christmas Day, you all will just have to cut me some slack. Alright? We are like the chimpanzees. You remember when in the laboratory experiments they put their hands into the box to get at the goodies inside and then they can’t get their hands back out again. They have to let go if they want to be free. So when you get home over Christmas lunch and visitors or family members arrive for lunch and they ask what the preacher said today, please don’t tell them that was the sermon where “The preacher called us all chimpanzees!” That’s not my point! Rather, like the people in Jerusalem in Micah’s day who are clinging to forlorn hopes, we, like them, must let go of our empty hopes, our misplaced hopes if we are to find true freedom, true liberty, true hope in dark days. We are clinging, many of us aren’t we, to false hopes. Clutching at them, deceiving ourselves. Our self-reliance, perhaps. Our pursuit of riches or reputation. Maybe our charity. Maybe even our empty religion. We’re clinging to these things but they’re forlorn and empty hopes and we need to let them go that we might find true and lasting hope.
The Second City
And that is where Micah directs their attention and ours in the second city that he contrasts with Jerusalem. Look at verse 2. Micah deliberately sets it in contrast to besieged Jerusalem. “But you,” he says. “But you,” in contrast to Jerusalem, “you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,” you will be the source of our true and lasting hope. Micah adds Ephrathah to Bethlehem to distinguish it from the other town of the same name in the land of Zebulun. And look at what he says about Bethlehem Ephrathah. It is sad, not at all, an impressive place. Is it? “Too little to be among the clans of Judah,” he calls it. It is not in the phone book.
When we were living in London but had been invited to move to Columbus, Mississippi to pastor the church there, the first thing my wife and I did is pull out our big Times of London World Atlas. And after searching for a while, we concluded that there was simply no way in the world we were ever going to leave London for a town we’d never heard of and could not even find on the map. I rather suspect that’s how people felt about Bethlehem Ephrathah when Micah contrasted it to the great and important Jerusalem. It is a hick town with one stop sign and a Waffle House. No way that is the source of our bright hopes! I thought there was no way I would move from London to Columbus, Mississippi, but the Lord knew better. And so too here, God’s ways are not our ways and Bethlehem Ephrathah is exactly where their deliverance will arise.
God’s Incomprehensible Love
And that is actually always God’s ways. Isn’t it? He loves to use the small and the weak and the unlikely to accomplish His great designs. He chooses the foolish to shame the wise. That’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:26 and following. “He chooses the foolish to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong. What is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.” And so its Bethlehem Ephrathah, not Jerusalem, in which the Savior would be born because that’s how God loves to work – to pick the unlikely instrument to accomplish mighty ends. A Savior born to peasant parents, squatting in a stable not dwelling in a palace; a baby laid in a cattle trough, forced to live the first few years of his life, you remember, as a political refugee in Egypt. He grew up to be a wandering preacher of no fixed abode. “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” Jesus said of Himself. He was despised and rejected of men. We esteemed him stricken by God and afflicted. We hid our faces from Him. He was betrayed and brutalized and hung between two thieves like a common criminal on the cross. Unlikely means, yet the very means by which God saves the world. That’s God’s surprising pattern. He ordains the small and unimportant town of Bethlehem Ephrathah. He chooses the weak and the foolish and the unlikely means of the cross. And because He does, do you see, that means that while God may not have much regard for human greatness, He delights to shower His love upon weak, sinful, unlovely men and women, boys and girls like us.
One more thing before we move on. Bethlehem was, you might remember, the town to which Ruth and Naomi returned at the end of the famine, the beginning of the barley harvest in the days of the judges where Boaz, the Ephrathite lived. It was therefore also the town from which a young shepherd boy, David, the great-grandson of Boaz, it was the town he called home. And actually, that was its claim to fame. It was the birthplace of David – Israel’s greatest king. In Micah’s mind, the significance of this little, backwater town, is that as Dale Ralph Davis puts it, “Bethlehem Ephrathah should really be renamed, ‘David’s-burg.’” That is its significance. It’s David’s-burg. It’s all about David, which is probably the meaning of the last part of verse 2 when it says the Savior’s coming forth is “from of old, from ancient days.” That is to say, He has deep roots reaching all the way back into the origins of David’s family from this little town of Bethlehem.
God’s Promise of David’s Greater Son
And listening to all of that, Micah’s first hearers would have had God’s ancient promise to David ringing in their minds from passages like 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 89. David’s son would sit upon his throne forever. It’s as though God were saying to them, “I’m going to turn the clock back, all the way back to the beginning. And your attention should rest not on Jerusalem but on Bethlehem where David’s story started because another David, a greater than David is coming who will fulfill My promises and bring My covenant to realization.” Against the gloomy backdrop of Jerusalem under siege, God wants the people to know He has not forgotten His promises. Even if it means going back to the beginning and starting as it were, starting all over at Bethlehem. When hope leaches away in the face of difficult days ahead – and who knows what 2017 is going to hold for many of us – and when our uncertainties seem to overwhelm our hopes, Micah reminds us that in Jesus Christ, God keeps His promises. That is where true hope is to be found – in the promise-keeping God and in Jesus Christ in whom all His promises are “Yes” and “Amen.” And so there’s the first contrast between two cities – the city of Jerusalem and the city of Bethlehem Ephrathah.
The Contrast Between Two Kings
And then secondly, there’s a contrast between two kings. We’ve already seen how the king of Jerusalem, called Israel’s judge in verse 1, is characterized by Micah as a failure. He will not effectively protect his people. In fact, he will himself be made subject to humiliation. They will “strike him on the cheek.” He is being shamed by his enemies. The king will not save the city, but the king will himself be made a laughingstock. But in contrast, look how Micah characterizes Jesus Christ, God’s coming King. Did you notice the three English prepositions in verse 2 that describe Him? Look at verse 2. Jesus, he says, “shall come from you, Bethlehem.” Then God says He shall come forth “for me.” And he says He will be “ruler in,” better, “ruler over Israel.” “From you,” “for me,” “over Israel.” That’s an admirable summary of the person and work of Christ, isn’t it? “From you, for me, over Israel.”
First of all, he says Jesus will come from Bethlehem, “from you, Bethlehem Ephrathah.” That is to say, He will be a man descended from David with historical roots in a real place and a real time. Micah is insisting on the historicity of Jesus Christ. The Christmas story is more than a story; it is history. And the Christian faith, you see, rests on an irreducibly historical foundation. It can’t survive without it. Jesus Christ was born of the virgin in the town of Bethlehem. He walked the streets of Palestine. He was crucified, dead and buried. On the third day, He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven. He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. That is not simply a statement of dogma. It is a summary of historical fact. The Christian faith is, as Francis Schaeffer famously put it, “It is the true truth.” And our joy this Christmas is sourced in those facts. We do not embrace mere ideas or principles or rules. We embrace a person who lived and bled and died and rose and who now reigns for us and for our salvation. “From you.”
But then secondly, Jesus, God says, Jesus will be “for Me.” Not only does Micah insist on historical roots but on a divine mission for Jesus Christ. How easy it is for us to lose sight of that. Don’t you agree? It is subtly done. After all, Jesus is our Savior. He came to set me free from sin and death and hell. He’s made me a new creation. He is at work in me still, changing me and shaping me into His likeness. Praise God if that is your testimony this morning! But that is not the final purpose of Christ’s first coming – His birth or life or death or resurrection. No, He came forth “from you, Bethlehem,” God says, “for Me. He came for Me.” The glory of God is the mission of Jesus Christ; the exaltation of God. He came to make much of God. That is, remember, what the angels in the skies above the shepherds that night sang, at the birth of Jesus Christ – “Glory to God, in the highest” they said. That’s why He was born – to bring glory to God. It’s why He lived His whole life – in John 17 at verse 4, Jesus prayed to the Father summarizing His whole earthly ministry in precisely those terms. “I have glorified You on earth,” He said, “having finished the work You gave Me to do.” That was His mission – the glory of God. Jesus Christ lived an entirely Godward life.
And brothers and sisters, I don’t know about you, but I find that to be profoundly helpful in making necessary adjustments in my own heart. After all, I rather like the thought that Jesus was all about me, don’t you? And to be sure, of course, He delights to forgive and cleanse and sanctify His people. He delights to hear us when we cry to Him in prayer, bringing even mundane details; of course, He does. But the great burden and objective of Jesus Christ in all that He did on earth, from the cradle to the cross, and in all He does still from the throne of glory, the great burden and objective of Jesus Christ is the exaltation of God. That’s one of the ways you can tell, always tell, the mature believers who know Jesus best among us. They are the ones who have the same objective for their lives. Whose whole attitude and agenda has been made to bear the likeness of Christ’s attitude and agenda like Him. They have come increasingly and manifestly to live Godward lives, lives taken up with the pursuit of the glory of God.
“From you,” “for me;” He will be ruler “over Israel.” Jesus is King, not only Savior but Lord. Notice Micah tells us what His kingship involves. Verse 4, Micah uses language associated with Israel’s kings, especially with David the shepherd. “He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.” Here’s what it means for Jesus to be our King – He shall shepherd His flock. And so in John chapter 10, Jesus said of Himself, “I am, I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” He said He calls us all by name. He goes before us. His sheep follow Him because we know His voice. Jesus, do you see, is the new and better than David, the great Shepherd, the one for whom Micah waits, to whom he points us, in whom the hopes and fears of all the years are met. He is our King and our great Good Shepherd. And as our Shepherd, Jesus knows us intimately. He knows His flock. His Word, His voice directs us and we follow Him. His rod and staff, they comfort us. He pursues us when we stray and He brings us back safely. He leads us to green pastures and by quiet waters He restores our souls. He judges our enemies. He defends us from those who are thieves and robbers who come only to steal and kill and destroy. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He is our King. And like sheep in His flock, we can depend on Him and trust Him completely and rest on Him wholly.
Is that a message you’re preaching to yourself this Christmas? For some of us, I suppose not unlike the people in Jerusalem in Micah’s day, tomorrow and the tomorrows after that and 2017 ahead is filled with uncertainty; maybe no small degree of fear. And once the parties and the decorations and the presents have been opened and the Christmas dinner had and all the guests leave and all the distractions are gone, those fears creep back in. Here’s a message to preach to your heart – Jesus is my Good Shepherd. He knows me! He has words for me to guide my steps. He will lead me to green pastures and quiet waters. He will restore my soul. He is my King and under His rule and reign, I am safe. There’s a Christmas message to preach to your heart. I have a King today in Jesus Christ, and under His rule and reign, I am safe. Praise the Lord for King Jesus!
The Contrast Between Two Communities
There are two cities, two kings; finally, and very briefly, there are also two communities here. Do think about the people in Jerusalem as Micah wrote to them, mustering their troops, bracing for impact when the siege begins; embattled, fearful, maybe like some of us. But Micah says when Jesus comes He’s going to revolutionize and bring about a new community. He’s going to do two things actually the passage tells us. First of all, He will gather a new community. Verse 3, “Therefore he will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth. Then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.” Now there are complexities to that verse that I will not bore you with. Here’s what I think the prophet is really saying. God is going to allow this sequence of judgments to befall Israel until at last the virgin conceives and brings forth a son and calls Him Immanuel, the Lord Jesus Christ. And when she does, everything will change; when she does, nothing will be the same again. When she does, from every corner of the globe this child will begin to gather His brothers, that is, God’s people saved by faith in Christ from every tribe and language and people and nation, and join them to the Church, the Israel of God, from the epicenter of Bethlehem Ephrathah. A tidal wave of the global mission will begin to emanate outward to reach to every corner of the world until men and women, boys and girls from every nation shall be brought in through faith in Messiah Jesus to one worldwide family – the Church of Jesus Christ.
But then the second thing Micah says Jesus will do for the community of God’s people is to give them everlasting security. We’ve already touched on it, haven’t we? What a contrast to the insecure, vulnerable condition of life in Jerusalem under siege His promise in verse 4 really is. Notice verse 4. When Jesus comes, they shall “dwell secure, for now, he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.” Interestingly, the Hebrew verb that is translated “dwell secure” comes from a root that simply means “to sit.” At the beginning of the verse, Jesus Christ stands to shepherd His flock. Because He stands ever vigilant to watch over us, we may sit down in utter security at His feet to graze on the green pastures to which He brings us by His Word knowing that we are safe; He is our peace. What a picture. Jesus our Shepherd stands in constant, watchful care, His eye always on you. You can never stray from the line of His sight. Nothing in all creation able to separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. The Good Shepherd holds you, keeps you, tends you, and never, never overlooks you. And so you may rest securely sitting in safety at His feet.
There’s a Christmas gift to be cherished, don’t you agree? To be gathered into the one, global family of the Church of Jesus Christ and made to dwell in security under the watch care of our Shepherd-King, it’s the great gift that first Christmas was designed to offer you. That’s why Jesus was born – to bring glory to God by gathering us from all the nations to live in peace and in joy and in security under His reign. Do you know anything of it for yourself today? Do you know anything about what it means to live under the watch care and love of the Good Shepherd?
There are two cities here. One a picture of false and forlorn hope that we must give up. Give up our self-reliance; give up our empty religion. It cannot save you. And instead, look where Micah points us, to the little town of Bethlehem where true hope is found in the baby that was born to be King, the crucified and risen, Christ. And then there are two kings here. One, a picture of the defeat or failure; the other King Jesus, the Good Shepherd who keeps us forever. And then there are two communities. A fear-filled, embattled Jerusalem worried about tomorrow. Is that you? Worried about tomorrow? And then there’s the globe-spanning family of Jesus Christ, utterly secure in the keeping of our Shepherd-King.
Dear friends, my prayer for you this Christmas is that every one of us may know the security and the joy of life under His holy reign, to the comfort of your hearts, to the glory of Almighty God, and so may the Lord bless you and give you a very Merry Christmas and a blessed and joyful New Year. Let us pray together.
Father, we thank You for King Jesus. We would come now together this Christmas Day to bend our knees anew, or maybe for the very first time, before Him to acknowledge the bankruptcy of every other hope but to find in Him hope for time and eternity, to find security and peace under the watch care of our Good Shepherd, in whose name we now pray, amen.
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