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The Everlasting Light of Bethlehem

I think most of us already know the story of how, after the birth of Jesus, wise men came from the east (Babylon?) to bring gifts to the baby Jesus. You know what those gifts were. In fact, if I asked, you could name the gifts along with me: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I don’t want to preach about the wise men, today, but I will use them as a means to get to our text. Here are the items from that story that I think should stand out for us just now. (Points taken from Mat. 2:1-5)

  • For the wise men, the birth of the infant king was a certainty. “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” was their question.
  • The wise men said they had come to worship Jesus. (proskuneō = translated as “worship,” it means reverence, adoration, to prostrate one’s self, fawn over, even lick the master’s hand like a dog) These men would not have used that term unless in some sense they had come to worship One whom they knew in some sense to be their king, and thus king of the world.
  • We cannot say with certainty how the star informed and led the wise men, but we can agree that in some fashion the universe spoke to these men and led them to seek their King and Saviour!

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands. 2 Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge. 3 There is no speech; there are no words; their voice is not heard. 4 (Yet) Their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.

  • Note that the universe could only point in a general direction toward Christ. It could not tell the wise men how to find Him, how to come into His presence, or how to bind His life to theirs. To this day that requires a human witness. God’s plan is always that those who find the Lord should tell those who are seeking where they can find Him too
  • The chief priests and the scribes knew exactly where Jesus was to be born because they knew the Scriptures. If you go back and read Matthew, chapter 2, you will find that they turned to today’s text with no hesitation. Furthermore, they were in agreement as to the place of Messiah’s birth. And believe me, unanimous agreement among Bible scholars is a rare thing. They knew the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, a little town some 6.2 kilometres southwest of Jerusalem. And how did they know this? Because they knew what the prophet Micah had written some 700 years before. But tragically, they had long ago ceased to believe the books they studied.

Which brings us to today’s text, the passage the priests read to the wise men.

Micah 5

2 Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me. His origin is from antiquity, from eternity. 3 Therefore, He will abandon them until the time when she who is in labour has given birth; then the rest of His brothers will return to the people of Israel. 4 He will stand and shepherd them in the strength of Yahweh, in the majestic name of Yahweh His God. They will live securely, for then His greatness will extend to the ends of the earth.

Micah the prophet

  • lived and prophesied at the same time as Isaiah. (722 -701 b.c.)
  • preached in a time of prosperity and relative peace. But the good times were combined with rank unbelief; worship was a formality to be endured, not an opportunity to gather in God’s presence for praise and adoration. (Does that sound like our times?)
  • Micah’s preaching alternated between warnings of destruction and words of hope.

Warning of destruction

Micah 2:3 Therefore, the Lord says: I am now planning a disaster against this nation; you cannot free your necks from it. Then you will not walk so proudly because it will be an evil time.

Condemnation for Judah’s careless unbelief

Micah 2:11 If a man of wind comes and invents lies: “I will preach to you about wine and beer,” he would be just the preacher for these people!

Words of hope

Micah 4:1 In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established at the top of the mountains and will be raised above the hills. Peoples will stream to it, 2 and many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us about His ways so we may walk in His paths.” For instruction will go out of Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 3 He will settle disputes among many peoples and provide arbitration for strong nations that are far away. They will beat their swords into plows, and their spears into pruning knives. Nation will not take up the sword against nation, and they will never again train for war.

  • Please don’t miss this; throughout the Old Testament, Messianic prophecies frequently look beyond Israel to include the nations, the peoples of the earth, in the blessings of salvation that will stream from the Messiah. This is true of Micah and almost all the other prophets
  • It was Micah’s privilege (today’s text) to give the only Biblical prophecy that specifically states where the Messiah was to be born.

It is astounding that Micah could name the city of the Messiah’s birth 700 years ahead of time. Talk about being dependent upon God’s Providence! How could Micah even know that Bethlehem would exist 700 years later? Or that a descendant of David would come there, pregnant and ready to deliver at the appointed time?

I know that fulfilled prophecy is not enough to change a wicked, unbelieving heart into a heart of worship. That requires a sovereign work of God’s Holy Spirit—what the Bible calls the New Birth. But I will say this. On the judgment day no one will dare say to God that He did not provide sufficient proof of His existence. Fulfilled prophecy alone is enough to silence that argument forever!

Micah 5:2-4 unpacked

  • Bethlehem = Hebrew for “House of Bread.” Highly significant when one thinks of Jesus offering Himself to the world as the Bread of Life! But before the Hebrews took over the area, the Canaanite name for the little town was Bethlaham, the house of their war god. It is no accident that Micah’s prophecy drew attention to the town that had changed its name. He wanted Israel to know that just as God could transform one town from war to peace, so He will someday transform the whole world
  • Ephrathah = Hebrew for “fruitful.” Bethlehem was called so because it is found in what was a rich farming area of Judea, a fruitful area. But we should not fail to note that Bethlehem was a fruitful little village in that it was home to Jesse and David, the family that ultimately brought forth the Messiah, the Saviour of the world
  • Now we come to the heart of Micah’s message. From this small, but fruitful village God declares that One will come, “to be ruler over Israel for Me.” All the previous rulers over Israel had ended up ruling for themselves, and not for God. We know that King Saul ruled for himself alone. But even David, for all his spiritual passion, found himself one day looking at a beautiful woman and thinking, “I want her. I will simply take her. What does it matter if she is married to another? Am I not the king? Can I not have what I want?
  • David fell. Solomon fell. All of Israel’s kings fell. All of Judah’s kings fell. But God prophesies through Micah that a king would come who would rule over Israel for Him. Do you not hear the echo of this prophecy as Jesus speaks in John’s gospel?

John 5:30 I can do nothing on My own. I judge only as I hear, and My judgement is righteous, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent me.

John 6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

  • Jesus is a King who did not fail because He cannot fail. He did not fall, even at the great temptation of the cross, when every ounce of His being shrank from the coming trial— the physical pain, of course, but also the spiritual pain of becoming sin for us, of making restitution for us, of being deserted, even by His Father. Nevertheless, He steadfastly proclaimed, “Not my will, but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42
  • Here’s something that you may not catch at first glance. Other translations preserve the Hebrew word order: “He shall come forth unto me.” This is God claiming that the Messiah who would be born in Bethlehem would be the Son of God! This is God using the same kind of language as when He spoke from heaven at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved Son. I take delight in Him!” (Mat. 3:17)
  • It’s only logical, then, to recognize that if Jesus is the Son of God He must Himself be divine, and possessed with all the attributes of divinity. But God strengthens this thought in Micah’s prophecy when He says, again in verse 2 of our text: “His origin is from antiquity, from eternity.” Only God can claim an origin in eternity, for only God is eternal. Even here, then, God is claiming that a day would come, when His eternal Son, Whom we know today as Jesus, would come to be Israel’s new king—not to mention the King of Kings and Lord of Lords
  • But Micah’s prophecy doesn’t stop there. After stating in verse 3 that God would abandon Israel and leave His people kingless for a long time (It turned out to be almost 600 years), Micah then promised that God’s Son would come, the child of “she who is in labour,” and when He did come, He would be both King and Shepherd, gathering to Himself His brothers from Israel, as well as the nations we read about in chapter 4. Truly, “His greatness will extend to the ends of the earth.” This is what Jesus had in mind when He said:

John 10:16 But I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. Then there will be one flock, one shepherd.

What are we going to do with all this?

  • This prophecy was proven true. The Lord Jesus who was prophesied by Micah, did come, just as Micah prophesied, albeit 700 years later. As the risen King He is even now seated on the Heavenly throne, waiting “for His enemies to become His footstool” (Heb. 10:13). So although it is the course of wisdom to settle in and wait patiently for the Lord, know that His enemies are defeated already. Who do you fear the most? Muslims? Defeated. Atheists? Defeated. Secularists? Defeated. Those who are trying desperately to create a one-world, materialistic, atheistic all-encompassing government? Defeated! Already
  • But that doesn’t mean we don’t have battles to fight. Remember, if we refuse to confess Jesus now, He won’t confess us before His Father in Heaven. (Mat. 10:32-33
  • But what does it mean to confess Christ? It means we are to confess that God has come into the world in the person of the God-man, Jesus the Messiah. I’m speaking here, of the teaching of the incarnation: that the Second Person of the Trinity, without ceasing to be what He is, God the Son, took into union with Himself a human nature, “and so [He] was, and continues to be God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever.”

I John 4:2 This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. 3 But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God.

  • This is the incarnation. And this is what we must confess in front of the atheists and Muslims who say no such God exists.

Now you may say, “I don’t care about the details of Christian doctrine. Isn’t it enough to know that Jesus died for my sins?” Well, I don’t want to belittle anyone’s faith. But let me recommend to you what may be a new thought. It is very likely that the day will come when many of us in this room will be made to care about the incarnation. In other words, a day is coming in which we will be forced to decide, possibly upon pain of death, what we believe about Jesus.

You see, the doctrine of the incarnation, which is what our Christmas celebration is all about, is the one thing about Christianity most hated by Muslims. They call it “shirk,” which means polytheism, and is considered idolatry. The idea that God could have any kind of equal associate, such as a Son, is considered the greatest sin in Islam. It is their unforgivable sin, a sin so awful as to justify murdering the offenders. Shirk was used, for instance, to justify the bombing of an Egyptian Coptic church just last Sunday that resulted in 25 deaths.

But the temptation not to confess Christ in His fullness is usually more subtle than that. Just a couple of weeks ago the pastor of one of the ten largest charges in North America said in his Sunday sermon that it really didn’t matter where Jesus came from. The only thing that matters, he said, is the resurrection. And then he went on to emphasize the hope of eternal life that we find in Jesus’ resurrection.

Here’s the exact quote. “If somebody can predict their own death and then their own resurrection, I’m not all that concerned about how they got into the world. Christianity doesn’t hinge on the truth or even the stories around the Birth of Jesus.”

But I want to ask, what hope is there in resurrection if Jesus did not die for our sins? And how could Jesus’ death atone for sin if He is not the sinless, perfect Son of God, the God/Man Jesus Christ? And how could He be the God/man if his was an ordinary birth.

No, dear people, at Christmas time let us rejoice in the incarnation, prophesied, fulfilled, and ready to be fulfilled again when our Lord returns in glory.