A sermon based on Micah 5:2-5a
Sunday, December 23, 2012 – Advent 4C
What would you think if told you I found a document written in 1300 (that's 700 years ago) that predicted that the winner of the 2016 election for president of the US will be someone born in Houston – But not Houston, TX, Houston, Alaska. It's " (~15 miles W of Wasilla. Population 1,200) You'd think I was nuts, right? After all, the United States isn't 300 years old. You might even say with incredulity, "From where?! Yeah, right!" But what if it really happened? You'd know that I had some incredible insight. You might even say it was a miracle—given to me by divine revelation.
Today as we take one last look at our Redeemer's resume we do one more background check to see where he came from. Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet Micah said that the Messiah, the Chosen One of God, would come from Bethlehem in Ephrathah, a little town of little significance; a very surprising place on the resume of the world's Redeemer. But that's not all. He would also come from of old, from ancient times, from God. True God, from ancient times, true man, from Bethlehem in Ephrathah, our Savior was born. The last reference we look at in Advent is found in Micah 5…
2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." 3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be their peace.
I. From Bethlehem
"Marshal your troops," Micah urged Jerusalem (5:1). "Steel yourselves against the coming Babylonian siege. The future is grim. And the future is gruesome. God will exact full punishment for Judah's self-serving godlessness." But just when we expect Micah to describe vividly the savage destruction that awaits the capital, he abruptly changes cities and theme. "Bethlehem … out of you will come … [a] ruler … [whose] greatness will reach to the ends of the earth." In other words, don't give up hope, Jerusalem; Bethlehem is coming to the rescue.
"Wait… Where?! Bethlehem? You mean that tiny little ranch a few miles away? Bethlehem will come to the rescue?!" What a surprising place. Kings were born in Jerusalem. That's the way it had been since King David. That's the way God promised it would be—one of David's descendants would never fail to sit on the throne. But their hero wouldn't be a prince, born in the palace of Jerusalem. The descendant of David would be born, not in the city that David conquered and then called his own, but in the small town where David was born: in Bethlehem. And not in Bethlehem of Zebulon (there was such a city), but the prophecy was very specific: in Bethlehem of Ephrathah.
But isn't that how God often works? 1 Corinthians 1(:28) says, "[God] chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not…" He chose humble men to prepare the way, lowly and despised prophets to tell of the details, a lowly stable outside of a lowly town for the location of the Redeemer's birth, and lowly print on page to show his prophecies and fulfillment.
This week I saw a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin asked, "If Santa's real, why all the secrecy? I mean, why doesn't he just show himself so everyone knows he's real and will believe?" His stuffed tiger, Hobbes, replies, "Who cares? Christmas isn't about Santa. It's a religious celebration." "I know," says Calvin, "but I have the same questions about God."
Ever wish God would just reveal himself and remove all doubts? I think that if he were to reveal himself to you visibly, your doubts would remain. You'd think you were cracking up and losing touch with reality. After all, why you? Why not the president? Or the pope? And was it really God? Or did you hallucinate or have a stroke? So instead he chose to reveal himself in a way that everyone could see and verify—through prophecy and fulfillment.
Make no mistake; it wasn't mere chance that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. It wasn't even the census to count all taxable citizens. It was God. Seven hundred years earlier God called his shot. Bethlehem. Not in Zebulon. But that tiny, ranching village outside of Bethlehem. That's where he'll be born: the Messiah, the Redeemer who will rescue not just Jerusalem, but the rest of Israel's brothers, all believers, and his greatness will reach the ends of the earth.
And this seems to be an area where God really likes to show off. He will be betrayed by a friend and sold for 30 pieces of silver. He will be mocked and taunted and stripped with his clothes gambled over. He'll be hung on a tree, with his hands and feet pierced. You'll see his ribs as dies, yet not a bone will be broken through it all. He'll be assigned a grave with the wicked, but given a grave with the rich. And three days later, he'll live again. Prophecy and fulfillment and prophecy and fulfillment, over and over, over and over, God shows how reliable his Word is.
Is there any doubt who the Redeemer is? With just the one prophecy of Bethlehem in Ephrathah, King Herod got it. When the magi came looking for a king, the priests told him, "Look in Bethlehem." (cf. Matthew 2:3-6) And we get it too. We know who Jesus is because of prophecies fulfilled. And we know we can trust the Word of God because of prophecies fulfilled. God spoke. God fulfilled. We believe and put doubt to rest. Even without God showing himself to us visibly, we know, through "the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not…" we know that God's Word is true, inspired and inerrant. And we know who our Redeemer is. For he is from Bethlehem.
But that's not all! Micah didn't just say the Redeemer would be from Bethlehem. He also said he'd be from ancient times, from of old, in other words, from God…
II. From God
Micah said, 2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." How could one who would be born (in the future) have origins from of old? How could he be from ancient times? Well, yes, he could trace his ancestry back to David, to Abraham, and even to Adam. Yes, he was the fulfillment of God's ancient plan prophesied in the Garden of Eden. But it was more. He was the eternal God. Micah pointed to the divine nature of the Redeemer.
And Micah's contemporary Isaiah made it clear too: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). He called him "Immanuel," "God with us" (cf. Isaiah 7:14), "Mighty God," and "Everlasting Father" (Isaiah 9:6). Even Jesus himself said, "Before Abraham was born, I am." (John 8:58) pointing out his eternal, divine nature.
But Micah was also clear about the Redeemer's human roots: "Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites." He predicted that Israel wouldn't regain any national prominence until "she who is in labor gives birth" to this ruler. The one whose "origins are from of old" will not simply dress himself in human form as he had done a number of times in the Old Testament, but the Redeemer would be human, as the author to the Hebrews pointed out: "A body you prepared for me." (Hebrews 10:5)
Our Redeemer is true man, from Bethlehem, born of a woman. Our Redeemer is true God, from ancient times, from eternity. And those are the qualifications we need for a Redeemer: As true man, the Redeemer could be born under the law in order to keep it in our place as our substitute. And as true man, the Redeemer could die to pay for our sins. As true God, the Redeemer would keep the law perfectly in our place as our substitute. As true God, his death on the cross could pay for the sins of all mankind.
As true God and true man he could be the Shepherd who would, "stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God." He could be the Good Shepherd who "[laid] down his life for the sheep," who had the power not only to lay down his life but to take it up again. (cf. John 10:11–18) He could be the shepherd who gives his sheep eternal life and guarantees that "they shall never perish" since "no one can snatch them out of [his] hand." (John 10:25–30). He could be the eternal Shepherd who watches over us and protects us still.
And the result? Micah said, "And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be their peace." And we do live securely—secure in the knowledge that our sins are forgiven, satan is defeated, we've escaped from hell. He is our peace. For "we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Hebrews 10:10) His victory is complete. His victory is eternal. His victory is ours.
And now, we share the exciting news that "his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth," all the way to Alaska! We tell others that the Redeemer is from Bethlehem! Prophecy is fulfilled! God's Word is true! We tell them that our Redeemer is eternal. He is true God! He won the victory for us! And still today salvation comes from unlikely places. As we share the Good News of the Gospel, it still comes from Bethlehem and from Calvary. But it also comes from Kenai, from Soldotna, Kasiloff, Sterling, and Nikiski. And as we tell others, then "they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace." In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.