Christmas Reading Sermon
Rev. Dale H. Kuiper
Text: Micah 5:2
Scripture: Micah 5, and Matthew 2:1-15
Psalters: 375, 357, 280, 198 (1-3, 5, 7)
Theme: “The Ruler of Israel from Bethlehem-Ephratah”
Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ, today we join the Church of Christ on earth in the commemoration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. And as we celebrate that glorious advent in which God united Himself to us in the person of His Son, many things come to mind, many there are to consider that are worthy of our closest attention. As we learned already as children, This is the rich story that never grows old!
We cannot think of the birth of Jesus without thinking of those lowly shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night; those humble people who were blessed as the first recipients of the heavenly message concerning the birth of the promised Messiah. We cannot fail to follow them as they eagerly make their way to Bethlehem to see the things which had come to pass. We rejoice with them, even as we observe them in their worship. And we are certainly mindful of those strangers from afar, those representatives of the Gentile world, who came also with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrhh. And although their visit to the Christ child may have been as much as two years later, nevertheless we associate it in our minds with the advent of Christ. These wise men instead of going to Bethlehem-Ephratah went to the city of Jerusalem, the city of Jewish kings. And there, in their innocency, they exposed the fact of Christ’s birth to that cruel tyrant Herod, who under the pretence of worshipping that child, very clearly had intentions of slaying him, before He could accomplish the work that God had sent Him to do.
We think to a slightly later time: the presentation of the Child in the temple, and His reception by the aged Simeon and the prophetess Anna. And so we can go on.....there are so many stories! So many things of interest are connected to the birth of Christ. And all of them convey a special message, all of them enrich the overall picture of this great advent- the most important event in the history of mankind!
Oh, beloved, there is great reason to be glad! Our joy is, and should be overwhelming! And the more we spiritually enter into these matters, the greater that joy becomes! We rejoice today not simply as the Church of the New Dispensation that looks back about 2,000 years, to commemorate an event that took place at that time.....this morning, we can do more than that! We can even project ourselves back into history, into the time before the advent, and we can rejoice with the Church of the Old Dispensation. How those early saints must have rejoiced. How the saints of God, living in the horrible circumstances of Micah’s time, must have been filled with exuberance when the prophet, in the name of the Lord, spoke the prophetic words of our text. And gave the promise that out of Bethlehem-Ephratah would come forth Israel’s Ruler, Whose going forth has been from everlasting!
That we promise, we understand, and the people of Micah’s time understood, was Sure! It was sure because it was the Word of God. And, therefore, in the strength of that promise, embraced by faith, the saints of old could rejoice as much as we can today, in the fulfillment of all things. That we may know that joy, we ask you to consider with us the main thought of our text:
ISRAEL’S RULER FROM BETHLEHEM-EPHRATAH, noticing
I. His Identity
II. His Coming Forth, and
III. His Reception
I. HIS IDENTITY
There can be, of course, no question that our text refers directly to Christ. This is one of the most beautiful of all Old Testament, Messianic prophecies. That it refers to Christ is conclusively proved by the fact that according to Matthew chapter 2, the wise men came to Jerusalem, and inquired as to the place where the king of the Jews should be born. When Herod is unable to answer that question, he calls the leaders of Israel, and orders them to investigate, and report their findings back to him as soon as possible. And it is not very long before these leaders of Israel come back with the report that in substance contains the words of our text. They quote Micah, indicating that all the Old Testament Scriptures concur in the truth expressed by Micah, that out of Bethlehem-Ephratah the Christ, the Messiah, the Ruler of Israel, the Savior of the world should be born! Certainly the fact as stated by Micah that Israel’s Ruler should come out of Bethlehem-Ephratah agrees with the song which the angels sang unto the shepherds on the hillside outside this very village, when they declared, Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” That Savior, that Ruler, is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders.” This Ruler out of Bethlehem-Ephratah is, therefore, none other than the Christ whose birth we commemorate today!
And the thing I would like to emphasize for a few moments now is that when we go to Bethlehem today in our thoughts, and in faith, and when we visit the place where the Christ child lay; when we see a Babe wrapped in rags and circumstances of great poverty.....REMEMBER!!!! We do not see a weak, helpless, frail, poor child so that when we gaze on Him our hearts bleed with pity! Oh, NO!! We gaze upon Israel’s King. Upon the child on whose shoulders rests Government! We behold the Ruler Of Israel!
And I want to state concerning His kingship that it is a glorious kingship! Even as Gabriel announced to Mary, Christ shall sit upon the throne of David, and of His reign there shall be no end.! It shall be everlasting. In other words, the picture that we have before us is one of His absolutely Sovereign Lordship! We’re not talking about a king who Rises to power in the world in the way of rebellion and revolt. We’re not talking about a man who has a certain relative authority and power among men, in relation to other kings and rulers. We’re not talking about someone who is an outstanding politician and gains rulership by his political acumen. But we are speaking here of Israel’s Ruler, the Appointee of God, Who is made King of kings, and Lord of lords, to Whom is given all power and authority in heaven and on earth.
I know, on Christmas Day, that is not visible to the natural eye. You can go up and down this great continent, you can visit the holyland, you can go up and down this great continent, and you will not find a single, visible sign of this Kingship. You will not see Him in the power of His glory, as the King and Ruler of Israel. But all that does not detract from the truth that out of Bethlehem-Ephratah He shall come forth Who shall be Ruler of My people Israel. And, He Has Come Forth! He was born in Bethlehem’s stable. And today we must behold Him, we must bow the knee before Him, for He is King of Kings and Potentate of Potentates forever and ever.
For notice, the text emphasizes the fact that He is Ruler Unto God! “Out of thee he shall come forth unto Me.” These words “unto Me” are very important, for they mean in the first place, that the rulership of the Child Jesus must be applied to Him as He is in the human nature. Oh, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, is eternally sovereign, is equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But Micah does not speak with application to His Divine Nature, but as a Man, as a human being. As a human being He comes forth unto God. As a real man He is given the position of supreme exaltation!
And in the second place, that means in all that is involved in that position of rulership, God has sent Him forth according to the purpose and work which He has eternally ordained for Him. So that we may say that Christ as man, Is appointed by God.....not to establish an earthly kingdom, not to revive the throne of David in the literal or physical sense as so many expect Him yet to do. But as Jesus Himself explains, God sent Him forth to establish a kingdom that is Not of this world. God sent Him forth to be King over Israel His people. God sent Him forth to be Ruler in His eternal, spiritual, heavenly, glorious, endless kingdom!
That’s the King! That’s the Ruler that we worship and adore today! And if He were not born, and if He were not living today, this day would have no significance whatsoever. It would lose all it’s meaning. And therefore we must notice How he comes forth.
II. HIS COMING FORTH
Beautiful is the description of His coming forth in the text, because it describes a two-fold coming. First, His coming forth has been from of old, from everlasting. And secondly, He shall come forth out of Bethlehem-Ephratah. A two-fold description of the same thing. What does it mean?
Let us consider first of all that His coming forth has been from of old, even from everlasting. There are various explanations given to that rather difficult phrase. It’s rather common to say that this refers to the same thing that Psalm 2 teaches, that is, the eternal generation of the Son of God by the Father. So that within the Godhead the Father eternally generates or brings forth the Son, and that is what Micah has in mind here. Now we do not deny that the Father eternally generates the Son. But it hardly seems possible that a phrase like this would properly apply to that particular work of God. I think if Micah had that in mind, he could have and would have described the eternal Sonship of Christ in different terms. And besides, the question would have to be answered, What specifically does the eternal generation of the Son have to do with the coming in the flesh of Christ in the stable of Bethlehem? .... A question to which there is no logical answer; and therefore we reject this interpretation.
Others say that Micah has in mind the historic coming forth of the Christ. So that when Micah speaks of “From of old”, he really does not mean what he says, he really means from Genesis one. And if you are to then trace the goings forth of that Christ, you are to begin with Genesis one, and you must follow through the various books of the Old Testament, and you must see how from age to age, and from generation to generation, this Christ is constantly coming forth. Again, we certainly would not want to deny that there is clear revelation of the coming of Christ in all the Old Testament. And certainly the Old Testament must be read with that in mind. As God unfolds this history, we see the coming forth of His Son, the Christ. Our objection to that view is that Micah does not say, “His coming forth is from the BEGINNING: he says from OF OLD, FROM EVERLASTING. That is, from eternity and timeless!
Taking Micah at his word then, we ought to be carried back with Micah into the eternal counsel of God. That’s exactly what the prophet has in mind. For he is telling us that the coming of the Christ child in Bethlehem’s manger proceeds out of that counsel of God. And then the beautiful thing is that His coming forth is First, first in God’s plan. You read of that in that wonderful passage of the apostle Paul in Colossians 1:15-17, “Who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature: For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” Do you see that? That babe in the manger of Bethlehem is before all things. He is the Firstborn. He comes forth out of that counsel of the eternal God in The First Place! And then the apostle goes on to say of Him, “He is the head of the body, the Church, that in all things He might have the Pre-eminence! That’s His rulership! That’s the same thing as when Micah says, “A ruler shall come forth unto Me! So that to understand the message of this prophet, we must see the Christ child proceeding according to the plan and purpose of God and His unchangeable counsel. Christ comes down from His exaltedness in glory, unites Himself with our human nature being born of our flesh and blood, In Order that He might realize God’s purpose, and that is to realize the everlasting Kingdom of Heaven which God conceived of from eternity.
Oh, this also means that His going forth includes all that He did in our flesh. He did not come forth from the counsel of God, to be born in the stable, and there to Stop! But it is written in the volume of the book concerning Him, “To do the will of the Father.” He comes to obey God and not men. He comes to suffer all His lifetime in the flesh. He comes to stand under the judgment of Pontius Pilate, and the Sanhedrin, the church and the world. He comes to be mocked and to be scorned, to be derided and hated, and finally to die on the accursed tree. He comes to be exalted through the resurrection unto glory, and to be made the Prince of Life!
All this is true of Him. But notice His goings forth also proceed out of Bethlehem-Ephratah. (Pause) Where is Bethlehem? What is Bethlehem? Oh you can find it on the map if you have a very detailed one, and look hard. It was just a small village about five or six miles from Jerusalem. It was obscured, really, by all the grandeur of that great city, the capitol city of the nation of Israel. And although it was not a proverb of Bethlehem, it could almost be said of it as well as of Nazareth, “Can any good thing come out of it?” The only thing of significance ever associated with this tiny village is that many centuries before the birth of Jesus, a shepherd boy named David was born there. His father’s family resided there and they took care of sheep in the country-side. And this boy David, we know, was chosen by God to be the second king of Israel. And it was on David’s throne that God told Israel He would set His Son to reign forever and ever! Bethlehem the city of David, the city of promise, the city which in all the eyes of the world meant absolutely nothing, Bethlehem was the designated place in which God’s Son Had to be born. Because God had so decreed it, and so announced it!
I’m sure that if you had been in Bethlehem at this time, you would have found many evidences of poverty, poverty that is climatically reflected in the stable scene where Jesus was born to the virgin Mary, with Joseph looking on. It’s really not strange, therefore, that the wise men never thought of Bethlehem as the place where they would find the Christ. That village was simply never associated with anything like this! In their minds it had no relationship to kingship, ruler ship, and government. Jerusalem! That was the logical place! That was the place of the throne. That was the place where riches, glory and grandeur could be found. But not Bethlehem!
But His goings forth shall be out of Bethlehem-Ephratah! Because He must be made Poor, in order that we may be rich! He must empty Himself, that we may be full. He must subject Himself to humiliation, ridicule, reproach and scorn, in order that we might be glorified with Him in due time!
III. HIS RECEPTION
You know, beloved, the world today really hasn’t changed much from the time of the prophet Micah. The world today tries to do just what Israel attempted in Micah’s day. It might be well, as we think of Christ’s coming forth out of God’s counsel, in the poverty of Bethlehem, to consider the circumstances in which this prophecy was first spoken, and then written. Remember, Micah labored during the same time as Isaiah the prophet. If you call to mind the general content of Isaiah’s prophecy, as well as Micah’s, you immediately get the picture of the horrible circumstances of spiritual apostasy and degeneration that existed, for they both labored in the time just before the captivity. Ill just give you a few, brief excerpts from these two books which will indicate how terrible things really were: Judah is steeped in iniquity. Widows’ houses are being devoured. The garners of the rich are filled with stolen goods, taken from the poor. The land is filled with graven images, and the people walk in the way of Omri, and do the works of Ahab. Oh, yes! There was religion being practiced, but it was a superficial, meaningless form of religion. In all their practices, Israel was wallowing in all kinds of transgressions that provoked the wrath of God. Already they were beginning to feel the hand of divine judgment upon them. They looked for a Deliverer, they looked for a Healer, and they looked for a King, a Ruler, to save them.
And in the midst of that Israel, the prophet Micah stands up and says, “Israel, Your Ruler is going to come forth out of Bethlehem-Ephratah!” Don’t you see what the masses of Israel will say? Can’t you just hear them retort, “O, Micah, do you always have to bother us with untruths and lies, and foolishness?” WE will bring forth our king! And we will bring Him forth, not out of Bethlehem, but we will bring Him forth out of Jerusalem, and enthrone Him there!
Today, many attempts are made to bring forth the Christ out of all kinds of places where that Christ can never be found. Businesses try to bring Him forth, in order that through Him they may serve their materialistic and carnal purposes, and satisfy the covetousness of the people. Science (so called) tries to bring Him forth, that they may overcome all suffering and even death, that they may produce a heaven on this earth. The theater and the sports arena try to bring Him forth, trying to satisfy the unhappiness of the people with all kinds of escape mechanisms, so people can forget, at least for a time their misery and the vanity of life. But in all that world, and with all that business and busyness, you can never find Christ!
If you would find Christ today, beloved, you must find Him in humiliation and poverty and obscurity. You must find Him in the Gospel that the world does not understand. You must find Him in the angel’s song. For, He Has come forth, and He is Still coming forth. He is still in the process of coming, until all things have been finished, and Then He shall appear in all the splendor of His kingdom, to be received as Israel’s King! Understand well, this does not mean that Christ is going to establish His kingdom with the Jews in some literal way, so that we expect His throne to be established in Palestine. Oh, that part of the world called the Mid-East is in turmoil. Great tensions exist between Israeli and Palestinian factions. Fear of war lives in the hearts of men there, and the eyes of all political leaders are in that part of the world. We don’t know what is going to happen. We don’t know what God has in mind. But this we know! God is not going to send Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, to restore a kingdom on earth, amongst the Jews, with its center in Jerusalem…. That much is sure!!
For this Christ child is going to come forth as Israel’s King, and ISRAEL is the spiritual Israel of God! Israel is that kingdom that is realized through the working of the King, by His mighty Spirit, in the hearts of the saints, out of every nation, tribe and tongue. Israel is the Church! Chosen before the foundations of the world, the members of which are made heirs and subjects in that glorious kingdom by faith! When Christ comes forth to finish what He began at Bethlehem, then Beloved, all the kingdoms of this world, every one of them with all their Industrial might, with all their military power, with all their Scientific achievements, Christ will destroy! He is Lord of lord and the King of kings!
What, in that light does Christmas mean to you, and me, to your children and my children? It means this: serve not that world. Bow not to the godless edicts and practices of the kings of the earth. But serve Him Who is king forever. Serve Him in godly fear. Bow before Him, and humble yourselves before Him every day. In faith, go to the place of His birth. Fall down before Him, and looking upon Him, say with the child Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth!” And serving Him, and walking in His ways you shall find a joy in Christmas that the world can never know. Because the very service of Him will be the evidence that Christ was born unto You, and lives in your heart!
Then that Bethlehem, its manger, its Babe, is of more than historic interest to you, but it has spiritual, saving significance! And thus, through that Advent, the blessings of His coming will be multiplied unto you more and more, as you increase in His sanctified service. And as you look in hope, through the dark clouds that hover, unto the dawn of that New Day, when the Day Star shall arise, with healing in His wings, to be glorified in all His saints.