Born in Bethlehem

Holiday 2021  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  31:17
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Micah 5:2 ESV
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.

1. He comes in Meekness

Context: Micah was simultaneous with Jeremiah, in his lifetime, the people of Israel were carried off into exile. So he’s prophesying about their immanent doom. Of destruction.
Amidst the prophecy of doom for sin comes this: a prophecy of hope. Though sin was everywhere and God’s word toward his chosen people was doom, he gave them a spark of light to look forward to … that when they were in exile, they could think back upon and have hope for. But from where does this hope come? Where does this hope come?
And where would you expect it to come? Jerusalem? Rome? Another great and magnificent city? If we were thinking to our day, maybe Washington D.C., New York, Paris, London, Beijing.
But no, hope for Israel comes from the lowliest of places. A town that has little to no significance. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephratha, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah”. Bethlehem did not have the temple of God, but it would be the place where God’s temple would enter the world. It did not have grand halls, but was a lowly establishment. It was in the hill country, the place where shepherds would keep their sheep. It was a small town where all the young and talented people would move to Jerusalem, and be taken in by master craftsmen and toward places where riches and money would flow.
But our God chose to come into the world in Bethlehem.
Luke 2:1–7 ESV
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Christ did not seek gold or riches, but he came in meekness. In humility. Born into a manger. There wasn’t even a proper place for his family to stay. Instead, he was born around the slobber of animals.
And isn’t that freeing? God is not bound by human standards. He is above them. Let me say that again: God is not bound by human standards. The very birth of Jesus shows that our God is God, that he is above all else, that he isn’t made up by humans. If a human were making this thing up, he wouldn’t place the long anticipated savior in a small podunk town. No, the savior would come from somewhere significant. Not born in Bethlehem, and then growing up in Nazareth, a place so far removed from civilization that many Jews had no care to cross filthy Samaria even reach it.
But God is above all. He has the freedom to choose where he goes. And when you follow Christ, you can have this freedom too: to not live by what others think, but to live freely in the Lord.
He sets the example for Christians to follow. Paul writes to the Philippians:
Philippians 2:5–8 ESV
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Have this mind among yourselves. So, put on your mindfulness caps. Do not think of yourself in human terms: by title, by riches, by human standards of glory and success. Rather, in Christ you are free from such things. Accept the freedom of God.
And think of all the unnecessary worries and concerns that humans in their sin place upon people: all the unnecessary judgment and weight of the world- You have to have a steady financial job; you have to have a nest egg to retire into; you should keep up your looks so that you don’t look ugly in public; you must retain youthfulness and energy; you have to have a successful career; the list goes on. And these are the standards that human society builds because of sinfulness.
But no, there are no human standards by which Christians are to live. Instead, Christians are to live freely in the Lord. We do not cater to sin and unnecessary burdens. Rather, the yoke of our oppression in this world has been broken. We are made free in Christ. This is why he says “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”.
Because Christ came in meekness, because he invites you into his meekness, and because you are able to be freed from the sinful ways of this world.
And think about the extent to which Christ humbled himself: The transcendent God of all time bound himself to human form for all eternity. He took an extra burden upon himself, taking on something lower than himself. Lower than his position as the invisible and immortal God, above all material existence. From his position of exceedingly great light and glory to a position of meekness and humility, and eventually to scorn and death on the cross, so that we, God’s enemies, can have life with him. So great is the meekness of our Christ. What other human has done this? Has given up such great glories for the sake of others? Only our God. Willing to set aside his outward glory for a season so that we can have freedom in him.
But Christ did not come only in meekness. He also comes to rule.

2. He comes to rule

Micah 5:2 ESV
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.
“from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel”
A ruler is coming. A king, a prince. A mighty king.
In the Christian tradition of Advent, the second candle is colored purple. Purple was a color reserved for royalty. Today, we remember Christ’s kingly nature, that though he came to rule, his rule first includes grace and humility.
And so I want to explore a question with you: If Christ came to rule, what kind of a ruler is he?
Is he a kind king? Is he an angry king? Knowing what our king is like will tell us how we are to live under him.
But Isaiah prophesied and told us of this king.
Isaiah 11:1–5 ESV
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
Is this not our Christ? The Spirit dwelled with him. He was not subject to human ways of understanding, but entrusted himself to the Lord. He was truly righteous and faithful. This is the kind of king we have.
Imagine this story:
(Thinking about telling about a king that goes amidst his people, then reveals himself to be the one they needed all along … medieval tale)
So first Christ travels amidst the people, seeking out those who are loyal to the king and will respond to his call. Then he shall reveal himself in full glory and for judgment. And in that moment, when his hood is taken off, when all eyes are opened, when the heavens are rolled back like a scroll, all will see him and will fear. Those who have made peace with him will fear in awe and wonder and worship. Those who have not come to peace with him will fear in despair. For great is the might and power of our king. Though it is veiled now, it shall be established with justice later. But until that day comes, we must first remember that our God is merciful before he is judgmental. Though he has every right to immediately take action against sin and against his holy name, and against his rule and those who are in his kingdom, he holds back first in mercy.
And this is what Christ did for us on the cross. He died a death he did not deserve on the mercy tree. Though he could have called hosts of angels who were under his rule, he suffered and died that you, his enemy, might have life in him.
That’s the kind of king we have. We have a merciful king, who bends over backwards to save those who are living in rebellion against him.
And the tone of his life, the way it looks, sounds … sets the example for how we are to live in this present age. We are to first meet others with mercy, and save judgment for the Lord’s timing. “Judgment is mine” declares the Lord.
And one day that judgment will come. I do not want to downplay this fact: one day the Lord will call into account all the deeds and thoughts of every individual. And they shall stand before the Lord. Though all else disappears from his very presence, each human will be brought to inspection before the Lord. And in that day, everything will be made known. There is no secret thing that will not be brought forth, no deed that you think is so far in the past that will not be uncovered. And if there is anyone present today who hasn’t washed them self with faith in Christ, confessing their sin knowing that only in him are sins fully forgiven, then the wrath of the king awaits you. It is an eternal judgment, for disobeying the king, the Lord who reached out first in mercy, who gave ample opportunity to come to him, but you as a subject rejected every one of those attempts and chose to rule in your own wicked and fallen way.
And for the believer, who is saved by the passing over of God’s wrath by the blood of the lamb, are we aware of the danger to those who have not yet come to know the protection of our sacrificial lamb, Jesus? Their whole eternity hangs in the balance.
When we see someone in sin, do we first proclaim Christ’s victorious power over their sin, or do we judge someone already because of the condition they are in? If there is someone in your mind too terrible to share the gospel with, you don’t understand what kind of king we have. One day judgment will come, but that day is not today. Our king is merciful before he is wrathful.
James 2:13 ESV
For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Understanding Christ as a merciful ruler before a ruler of judgment also helps us understand why we suffer presently. Why doesn’t God just step in and interfere for his people’s sake? Why doesn’t he stop other people when they put his children to death? Well, have you considered that it might be because he is first a merciful ruler before judgment? Has he not given nonbelievers this life, with all the chance, all the opportunity to know him? Has he not commissioned his people to bring this message of mercy before his enemies, despite suffering, just as he did?
Oh church, let us be spurred on because of Christ our king, who comes first in mercy. Who saves us from judgment. Let us rejoice with shouts and songs of praise before the Lord!
So our Lord first comes in meekness. He comes to rule. But he also comes to fulfill our faith.
Micah 5:2 ESV
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.

3. He comes to Fulfill our Faith

Whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
Long before you or I were born, before the nations of the earth stirred and built cities, before the ancient wonders of the world were constructed, even before the foundations of the earth were laid, God held it in his plan to send forth the righteous Son, the eternal one from on high, to save sinners. When we think of ancient days, maybe we think back to before the first century AD. But the prophet Micah spoke these words about 450 years before Christ. He wasn’t referring to his own time as ancient. This prophecy, this coming of Christ, goes back long before that. To even the foundation of the world, when the counsel of God decided together that this was the plan. And there are whole traditions of theology that try to understand the order in which God made his plan for the world, but that’s not the point of this sermon today. The point is that God’s plan was set from before the beginning of time. Christ’s entry into the world was long anticipated because all of human history would revolve around it: that when the Son comes, he would fulfill the faith of many and provide the way to faith for many more.
I want to help you see and grasp the momentousness of the coming of Christ and the weight of the hope and faith that was placed in him.
The garden of Eden: Genesis 3:15
Genesis 3:15 ESV
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
An offspring of the woman, a human, would strike a killing blow to the serpent of evil, while he would only merely bruise the heel of the man - the man would continue to live.
To Abraham:
Genesis 17:19 ESV
God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.
Through Abraham’s line, the everlasting covenant will be established: God dwelling with his people. A Christ, a savior born to them.
To Judah:
Genesis 49:10 ESV
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
From Judah would come one who would be ruler. If you remember, Christ is born in Bethlehem, in Judah.
To David:
2 Samuel 7:12–13 ESV
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall 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.
The ruler will come from the line of David. If you think back to Isaiah 11:1, it says “From the stump of Jesse”- Jesse is the father of David, grandson of Ruth and Boaz. And where was their hometown? Bethlehem.
Throughout time, God has been working to bring about his savior. There has been a buildup, a progression. A revealing of God’s plan. And it all comes to a climax at the coming of Christ. The one who people placed their faith in to fulfill the curse of sin and evil given to Adam from the very beginning.
Have you ever wondered how any of the Old Testament saints were saved? (pause) How were Adam and Eve saved? Abraham? Miriam? Ruth? David? It’s a fair question. If we are saved in Christ and he is the only way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the father except through him, how were people who were born before him saved? By faith in his future works. Though he had not yet come, he would someday.
We have an answer for this in Hebrews 11
Hebrews 11:1–2 ESV
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.
The answer is that these saints were saved by faith.
And the passage goes on to talk about the faith of Abel, of Enoch, Abraham and Sarah, so on and so forth.
The point of the passage is, there have been many who have gone before us who walked in faith. They did not see the results of their faith tangibly. They did not yet have Christ.
And all those people throughout history placed faith: belief in something unseen, in the coming of Christ the king. Imagine if our God did not fulfill his promises- if Christ never came and all those people who placed their faith in him died in vain. What a tragedy that would be.
But their faith is not in vain. Christ came tangibly. Their faith was validated!!! His coming was told from ancient days so that those living in that time might place their faith in him, and might have their sins forgiven through the shed blood of Christ.
We know that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the certainty of the unseen.
Believer, do we not trust in Christ by faith? That he came into the world and died on the cross for our sins? Were we there? Did we witness it? No. We have good evidence to believe that it all took place, but when it comes down to it, we believe in faith in all that Christ did for us. And how do we know that Christ will come again? Is it not by faith? Yet we are certain that he will return, because he said so. We take Christ at his word.
And God is faithful to fulfill his word. Just as he did to Adam and Eve. Just as he did to Abraham and Sarah. Just as he did to David. And he is faithful to fulfill his promises to you. That your sins are forgiven. You no longer need to live in shame and guilt. That in Christ, all of God’s promises are yes and amen. Believer, by faith you can have assurance and comfort in Christ. When you fail to meet the world’s standards, you can have confidence of your eternal position in Christ. So rest in your faith and the hope that you have, knowing that God’s plan has been at work before the beginning of time. It holds its fulfillment in the coming of Christ.


God has been at work throughout all of time, working in human history. The name Bethlehem in Hebrew means House of Bread. Before that, it was known as Ephrapha, which means “fruitfulness”. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Ephrapha. From Fruitfulness and the House of Bread came the one who was the bread of life, who was the firstfruits of God’s kingdom. And the body of the bread of life was broken. And his blood, shed on the cross, was spilled so that you might have new life and forgiveness of sin in his name.
Today we gather to remember Christ and all that he has done for us at the Lord’s table. Here we eat and remember Christ’s body broken for us, symbolized through the breaking of bread (or in our case, a cracker). We remember Christ’s blood poured out for us, and the fruitfulness of the new life we have in his name by drinking wine, a symbol in ancient times of life. Our wine here is actually grape juice, but it points to the fruitfulness of God’s covenant for us.
If you are here today, and you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, or if you are holding on to unconfessed sin in your heart, then we ask you to refrain from partaking of the Lord’s supper. The Lord’s table is reserved only for those who recognize their need for Jesus, and who cling to him with all that they have, trusting in him to forgive their sin.
It is not for those who have lived perfectly, but for those who run to Christ because of their desperate need for him.
If you are here today and you have professed Jesus as your Lord and savior, and you have confessed your sin before the Lord and believe in him wholly for your forgiveness, you are invited to partake in this special time of remembrance.
Let us take a time to personally and quietly reflect on all that the Lord has done for us. When you are ready, you may come forth and take the cup and the cracker. And then we’ll all partake of it together, as a symbol of our unity through Christ.
“Christ’s body broken for you, and Christ’s blood poured out for you. Take and eat.”
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord before all time, and now, and for all eternity. Amen.”
You are dismissed.
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