Micah 5: 2- 5 (Advent 4)
“Big Man from a Small Town”
The following are notes from New Unger’s Bible Dictionary on Bethlehem (“house of bread”). Even in the age of the www. I still enjoy holding a book in my handJ
“A town in Palestine, near which Jacob buried Rachel, then known as Ephrath (Genesis 35:19) It is also called Bethlehem Ephratha (Micah 5:2), Bethlehem in Judah (I Samuel 17:12), Bethlehem of Judea (Matt. 2:1), and the City of David (Luke 2:4). The old name Ephrath, or Ephrathah, lingered long after Israel occupied Palestine (Ruth1:2; 4:11, etc.)The city overlooks the main highway to Hebron and Egypt. The site of the city on a commanding limestone ridge of the Judean highland has never been disputed.
After the conquest of Bethlehem fell to Judah (Judges 17:7); Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel after Jephthah; Elimelech, the husband of Naomi and father –in-law of Ruth, was a Bethlehemite, as was Boaz.
David was born in Bethlehem, and here he was anointed as future king by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:1); here was the well from which David’s three heroes brought him water (2 Samuel 23: 15 – 16), thought to be the same three wells still existing in the N side of the village; it was the birthplace of the Messiah (Matt 2:1), and its male children were slain by order of Herod (2: 16) This Bethlehem is about five miles south of Jerusalem, and elevated 2,460 feet above sea level. In Bethlehem stands the Basilica of the Nativity, marking the traditional site of the birth of Christ.
These are big things for such a sleepy little town hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. There is so much history in this one piece of ground. The city itself goes all the way back to the time of Genesis. But Micah mentions for us one truly great thing that would happen in Bethlehem. A Baby Boy would be born. He would be a Ruler, the Son of a virgin, and a Shepherd that would bring peace to his sheep.
1. An Ancient Ruler
Out of Bethlehem would come for God a ruler over Israel, who origins are from of old, from ancient times. Christmas time is a perfect time for us to reflect the eternity of God. The story is the hub of the Old and New Testaments. Prophecy and Fulfillment come together. The Son of God who has always existed becomes the Son of Man. The Son of God is from ancient times. It is at Christmas when we contemplate Daniel’s prophecy about the “Ancient of Days” whose kingdom is an “everlasting dominion” (Daniel 7: 13-14). It is at Christmas time when we contemplate the first words of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God.”
Big things would happen in a very old small town. We know about the start of Bethlehem, the bread basket of Judah. We have learned the history of Bethlehem. We know the story of Ruth. We know King David’s roots are there. Though it was small town, it was an important town. But as old and historic as that small town was, it would never match the ancient history of the eternal Son of God. He is the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega. The ruler that would be born in Bethlehem had come from eternity. He had always been around. He was at creation. He was in the garden. He was at Abraham’s tent with promises of salvation. He was speaking through the prophets to Israel. Now he would be the Ruler of Israel.
But his kingdom would have no end: “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. He fights for his kingdom of faith. He battled against the dark enemies of our sin, the devils of hell and death itself. He provided every spiritual blessing and physical need for his people. His righteousness rules wisely. His justice was carried out by himself on a cross. His power was exerted in his own resurrection. He has returned to the throne that was his from Ancient times. The Ancient of Days, who became a baby in Bethlehem, is Ruler of heaven and earth. He is your King and lives in your heart through faith.
2. A Son of a Virgin Mother
How would God send his eternal offspring into time and place? “When she who is in labor gives birth.” says Micah. “When the time had fully come God sent his Son born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5).
“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the Town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there with Mary, who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first born, a son. She wrapped him cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2: 4 – 7).
What big thing happened in Bethlehem? A Virgin gave birth to a Son! Who is that Son?
I believe in Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent sufferings and death. (Luther’s Small Catechism; Article 2).
But there is more: This Great Child would also be a Shepherd.
3. A Shepherd for His Sheep
“He will stand and shepherd his flock … and he will be their peace.” How fitting that the Good Shepherd would be born in a city of shepherds. How fitting that the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, was born in a city where thousands of lambs were raised for sacrifice in Jerusalem. We learned that Bethlehem was a “house of bread”; a bread basket. With the exception of the nationwide famine during the time of Naomi and Ruth, Bethlehem has historically been a land of plenty, where shepherds could easily provide safe pasture for their flocks.
We recall our own famines; famines of faith. Like a famine on the land destroys everything, our sin kills and destroys. Our sinful words can eat away at relationships. Our hatred and jealousy can eat away at our peace and joy. Too often our thoughts and deeds demonstrate greed and lust. They leave our hearts looking like a ghost town.
But our Shepherd leads us to springs of water and prepares a banquet before our enemies. He destroys sin like a Shepherd kills the wolf and the lion. He gives up his life for the Sheep. Listen to what Micah prophesied: “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. And he will be their peace.”
Peace truly is the message of Bethlehem. Peace in the glad tidings of the angels. Peace between God and mankind. Peace in knowing that sin is atoned for and we are God’s people and the sheep of pasture in the hands of our crucified and risen Shepherd.
Because of this great man, this baby boy in this small town of Bethlehem, we have peace with God! And among all the history and heritage, the greatest of all: the birth a baby, an ancient ruler, a son of our own humanity, a shepherd of peace. He is our Peace now and always “and they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.” Amen.