Sermon date: December 13, 2016
Text: Micah 5:1-5
1 Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
on the cheek.
2 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 Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
to the people of Israel.
4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
5 And he shall be their peace.
The Little Town
Imagine living in a country going through desperate times. Imagine living in a country that is threatened by external enemies who want to destroy you. Imagine living in a country with failed political and spiritual leadership inside the country. We need look no further than Micah 5 to see that kind of situation. We also need look no further than current events in our world.
Last Sunday, when we began our journey to Bethlehem, we said that the fall of mankind had cast a long shadow of darkness. I said that we would never understand the reality of our world apart from understanding the fall. That message came on the heels of the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, which came on the heels of terrorist attacks on Paris and Beirut. Friday we learned that Geneva, Switzerland might be at risk. Sporting events and restaurant visits are approached with that thought, that fear, crossing your mind.
These events have occurred alongside violence in our cities, including the senseless murder of a 28-year-old pregnant pastor's wife named Amanda Blackburn, inside her home in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, the political debate continues to heat up in our country, as even Christians jump into the fray on different sides, on a whole range of issues.
But the application of Micah 5 is not only to desperate times on a global scale. This passage also applies to your troubled times. Micah was a prophet and a preacher. If only we could have listened to his podcast or read his blog posts. Actually, they are here, clothed in the language of Micah’s world.
This prophecy was given in the 8th century B.C. during the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib. The story of that siege is recorded in 2 Chronicles 32. Their leaders had failed them (Micah 3:1-4). Jerusalem was under siege from Assyrian invaders (Micah 5:1). This bright portrait of the little town of Bethlehem, and the ruler who would be born there, is painted on the dark canvas of the Assyrian invasion.
How are we to live in dark, troubled times?
Look to Bethlehem, not the prideful cities.
Bethlehem was the city of David, and that’s why Joseph and Mary had to return there, to their ancestral home, during the census that was decreed by Augustus in Luke 2. When the magi from the east came in search of the newborn king, they came first to Jerusalem, the seat of power. But the Bible scholars directed them to the little town of Bethlehem, based on Micah 5:2.
Micah said of Bethlehem, “. . . though you are small among the clans of Judah.” You see, the dwelling place of God is with the humble, not the proud. Jesus said, unless you become like a child, you can’t enter the kingdom of heaven.
In the first century, Rome was the prideful city of political and military power; Athens was the prideful city of philosophy and wisdom; and Jerusalem was the prideful city of self-righteous religion. But when the Christian movement was small and beleaguered, the apostle Paul said that Christ was “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:24)
Matthew Henry put it this way: “A relation to Christ will magnify those that are little in the world.” Mother Theresa was small in stature, but she pushed back the darkness in Calcutta. When Europe was besieged by the Turks, the bubonic plague, and a corrupt medieval church, Martin Luther and his 95 theses on the Wittenberg door brought the blazing light of the gospel to millions.
Today, we are seduced by the political power of Washington, the economic power of New York, or the media power of Hollywood. But let’s not forget the little town of Bethlehem.
Some of us might feel small, and we wonder if we have a significant part in God’s plan. We might feel small because of age, social status, past failures, personality, appearance, or having less than a full portion from God.
In his book No Little People, Francis Schaeffer wrote that “in God’s sight there are no little people and no little places. Only one thing is important: to be consecrated persons in God’s place for us, at each moment.”
“God is able to draw from smallness the greatest things.” (Bruce Waltke)
Hope in Christ, not in political saviors.
One of the lessons of the book of Micah is leadership failure. Indeed, it’s one of the lessons of the Old Testament. Micah 5:1 says, “They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod.” This was a way of humiliating the ruler of an enemy nation.
One of the sad moments in American history was the assassination of President John Kennedy in 1963. The sadness came home to me again in 1982 when I was in Tokyo, talking to a Japanese friend at Rikkyo University. He said that’s when the Japanese people lost their faith in America.
This political season, with more debates coming up, we are once again becoming emotionally invested in our candidates, and spewing venom at those we dislike. The prophet Micah pointed to someone greater.
He would be born in Bethlehem. His origins would be “from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2) He was the fulfilment of all the ancient promises, from Genesis on. Beyond that, Jesus said of himself, “Before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:58) He was the pre-existent Son of God, the second person of the Trinity.
“Israel will be abandoned until the time.” (Micah 5:3) From the time of the exile, there would be no kings until the coming of Christ. With pastoral care, Micah is giving them hope so that the faithful can remain vigilant in their troubled times. The same is true of us as we await the 2nd Advent.
“Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?
"Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4)
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9)
He would be "born of a woman," the seed of Eve and the child of the Virgin Mary. Galatians 4:4 takes on rich significance.
Trust in God’s plan, no matter the chaos.
Ten years ago, Lake Baldwin Church did not exist, except in the mind of God. Last night, our SPLASH Kids rode a float in the annual Baldwin Park Christmas parade, as we invited people to Advent services. We have a vibrant worship service and a great kids program to invite them to. Resilience over time has been worth it.
You see, God does have a plan, and we have a role to play in it. That’s why it’s important that we not be seduced by powerful cities and political saviors. Micah 4:11-12 reminds us that God has a plan even in the worst of times. What is his plan?
He would gather his “brothers” into a new family of the faithful (Micah 5:3). This would happen in the age of the Spirit, between the first and second coming of Christ. When Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were looking for him, he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-34) This new community was forecast in Acts 1:8, and gathered into one church made up of Jews and Gentiles. This church made it through the persecution of the Roman Empire. It was the confessing church that stood up to Hitler. It is the Egyptian Coptic Church standing up to Isis beheadings. It is the Ethiopian church fighting hatred with love. Do you see, that where God has placed you, that you are part of this story?
He would “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord.” (Micah 5:4) In John 10, Jesus said that he was the good shepherd, who would know and feed and lead his flock. This care the chief Shepherd now extends to the church through his under-shepherds, according to 1 Peter 5. “This prophecy finds its fulfillment in the church.” (Bruce Waltke) There are green pastures and peace for his church, even in chaotic times. Think of John 16:33—“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Is the Lord your shepherd? Do you see that this peace, these green pastures, are for you? (Psalm 23)
Finally, his greatness would extend to the ends of the earth (Micah 5:4). He is a global God, and this is not just theme of our upcoming Global Missions Festival, it is the teaching of Scripture. Do you see that our church is part of this global story?
This bright portrait of Christ is not only painted on the dark canvas of the Assyrian invasion. It is also painted forevermore on the dark canvas of human history, including our present distress. Let the peace of Christ be your comfort in your troubled times.
Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Ephrathah means “fruitful.” As Bruce Waltke says, “Bethlehem represents a new start for Christians.” What is your new start?
Are you not yet a convinced follower of Christ? Consider this newborn king prophesied by Micah, who would become the perfect ruler. Where failed kings were struck on the cheek with a rod by their enemies, the innocent Jesus was struck on the head again and again. Even more, he suffered and died for our sins on the cross so that we could have peace with God.
Why not receive this newborn king this Christmas, and have a new start?
Mike Tilley is the senior pastor of Lake Baldwin Church, and has lived in Orlando since 1994. He and his wife, Molly, worked with a core group from the Baldwin Park community to plant Lake Baldwin Church in 2006. Mike loves teaching the Bible in a way that relates to real life. In his spare time, Mike enjoys good movies, long dinner with friends, snow skiing, hanging out with his kids and two granddaughters, and travel.