12/13/2015 – Advent 3 – Matthew 2:26-56 – “Seeking Faithful Obedience”

Click this link for an audio version of this message: http://ppl.ug/f9XMxdizIug/

 

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 2:1-26-56

December 13, 2015

“Advent 3: God’s Grace Revealed: Seeking Faithful Obedience”

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

God of grace, God of glory, how we praise You and thank You for sending us Your gift of eternal life. Glory to God in the highest! Amen. 

About a month ago Paris, France, and a number of French Parisian suburbs were shot-up and bombed. And the world, including America, surrounded France with love and support – and prayers. Ten days ago a very similar thing happened in a Los Angeles suburb and while support and love went their way, at least from American society the social media was filled with criticism and words even of hatred about how worthless it is to pray for these people.

It was a fascinating cultural flip from our response to France and our reaction to San Bernardino.

 

As we move another week closer to our celebration of Immanuel, God with us, divinity in humanity, the birth of Jesus the Messiah, I wonder how our prayers change. We’re told to pray without ceasing, but with all the holiday hoopla it can be hard to obey that command. In fact, it’s hard to obey almost any of the biblical commands for justice and love and peace and joy when we’re fighting traffic to get the last of this year’s special toy, or imbibing at the office “holiday party” with a little too much enthusiasm.

As we recognize the nearness of Christmas (just 11 shopping days away), what does it mean to obey God?

 

I had a doctor appointment last Wednesday, and my doc reminded me that he has told me for several months to join a gym. And then he said, “With January 1 just a few weeks away, maybe this can be one of your New Year’s Resolutions.”

But even as he was talking I remembered that I’ve told him before that I would join a gym; and I also remember my 8th Grade Sunday School teacher, John Winterling, telling me that “delayed obedience is disobedience.” When I find an excuse to delay obeying God, I am merely disobeying God today.

What is it in your life that you “delay obedience” until a more convenient time? Is there an area of faith/life that we tell God, “Maybe tomorrow,” or “I will when <something> happens?

 

We are now on our 3rd Sunday in the season which prepares us for Christmas. We have been invited, along with Zechariah the nearly retired priest and his post-menopausal wife Elizabeth, to keep our eyes and our faith open to see what God is already doing all around us. We watched as another couple, Joseph, a carpenter, and Mary, a barely pubescent girl, from a backwoods village, willingly listened to and believed God.

Today we watch Joseph and Mary from a different angle – we have been using Luke’s Gospel, today we read from Matthew’s Gospel – and see what they teach us about seeking faithful obedience.

 

Listen to how Matthew 1:18-25 enters into the Christmas narrative: 18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Let me stop there for a second. Pretend this was the first time you ever heard this story. You know it’s about Jesus, because Matthew says so right up front: this is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about. But — what? Before they came together she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit? How many unplanned teenaged pregnancies have been announced like this before?

So, because Joseph was both law-abiding and decent, he planned to divorce her quietly. Yeah, they weren’t even truly married yet, but in their culture by the time the couple got to this point in their wedding plans, they were as good as married, so “divorceis the right word. But Joseph wasn’t gonna make a big fuss, he’d just divorce her “quietly. I don’t know how one does that. The wedding day is planned, the guests are invited, the party is already underway, the DJ is hired, the church is reserved … and somehow he’s gonna make all that disappear without drawing attention to that fact. But let’s give him credit for trying.

Joseph shows us the value of Facing Unexpected Events GRACEFULLY!

Are we able to meet these upsetting, disappointing, expensive surprises with GRACE? I have watched Jack Berry do that time after time. One time, about 10 years ago, our Mariner’s Fellowship group went up to Hwy 16, near Sacheen Lake for a dinner theater production, and Jack missed the driveway entrance to the parking lot and his SUV went into the snow covered ditch. And what did Jack do? He got Jean out of the truck, went into the theater, called AAA, and had a very enjoyable evening. Jack reached Sainthood in my book that evening. And he showed me what it means to Face Unexpected Events GRACEFULLY.

 

Let’s continue this story, starting now in Matthew 1:20: 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” …

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Joseph heard from Mary already, but now an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him the same thing. He might still say, “No way! I’m outa here!” But he doesn’t. Instead he demonstrates how to Trust God’s Word COURAGEOUSLY! Why do I say “courageously”? Because he and Mary still had all the town talking. The village gossips were still yakking at the supermarket. The men were still speculating at the barber. The school kids were still asking questions on the playground. And they all had their judgmental opinions!

Are we able to trust God with COURAGE? Anyone who has been in this church family for long has seen person after person trust God through scary life circumstances. I’ll bet most of us can think of someone, maybe the person sitting right across from you this morning, who trusted God through financial struggles, through marital difficulties, through health scares. // And, we’ve all not trusted God at all.

Can we put that COURAGEOUS Trust in God’s Word into practice this season?

 

After the baby Jesus was born, Luke tells us, in the manger in Bethlehem, we come to the next Christmas narrative in Matthew’s Gospel. Look with me starting in Matthew 2:13: 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. …

This story is related to the last in that, once again, Joseph trust’s God’s Word; but this story of trust involves obedient action. Joseph exhibits how he Heeds God’s Warnings IMMEDIATELY!

He might have figured he could buy a gun, or take a Karate class, or just hunker down in a bunker and hide – those are the things I might have done. But Joseph wastes no time in Heeding God’s Warning. This is trusting God’s Word, but it is doing that with active obedience, right now!

 

The last part of this Christmas narrative, which is actually several months, maybe three years later, is told starting in verse 19. Listen to God’s Word: 19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. …

Joseph does the admirable thing – he Follows God’s Word CONSISTENTLY. We are told that after King Herod died an angel of the Lord told Joseph to take his family back home. He left for Egypt IMMEDIATELY; and now he again hears God’s Word and obeys it without any delay leaving from Egypt! But, even better than merely having an IMMEDIATE and COURAGEOUS trust that results in Faithful Obedience, Joseph also listens to God’s Word in Scripture, for Matthew reminds us that the Old Testament prophets allude to the Messiah being from a place like Nazareth (which was the actual home of Joseph and Mary before they went to Bethlehem for the census)!

It is important to Follow God’s Word CONSISTENTLYnot just when it’s convenient, or seems like a good idea, or won’t be too much of a change in my lifestyle, but CONSISTENTLYday in and day out, Monday through Saturday as well as Sunday.

This, of course, means Faithful Obedience, notdelayed obedience”, notpartial obedience” (I’ll go only so far; I’ll trust God with my check book but not my retirement account!), not disobedience in any fashion! Faithful Obedience!

 

How well do you obey God when unexpected events bring disappointment or pain?

 

How well do you obey God when God calls you to do something that is far bigger than you can achieve without His miraculous power?

 

How well do you obey God when God calls you to act with courage in a dangerous situation?

 

How well do you obey God when God calls you to do something urgent?

 

This is why, on this Sunday, we Seek Faithful Obedience above all else. Glory to God in the highest!

 

Pray with me the prayer on the bottom of your Sermon Notes page, and let’s live into this prayer:

“Lord, help me to obey You with grace, trust, courage, urgency, and consistency. Amen.”

 

Resources:

Family Bible Study; “Advanced Bible Study Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 15-32.

Family Bible Study; “The Herschel Hobbs Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 27-36.

Advertisements

07/05/2015 – Ruth 4:13-17 – “Full of Grace and Ruth”

Mark Wheeler

Ruth 4:13-17

“Full of Grace and Ruth”

July 5, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Remove, O Lord, any tension or anxiety, any stress or worry, anything, which may keep us from fulfilling Your wishes of who we could be. Fill us with the grace of the Father, the strength of the Son, and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

This past month has been one of those months when we realize how difficult following Jesus can be:

Hate-filled tragedy in Charleston, terrorist attacks, global financial instability (Greece), US Supreme Court decisions, legal and political posturing from candidates and government employees, at least 7 predominantly Black churches (from several denominations) burned to the ground in the last 10 days!, social media bombardment.

Many people outside the Church, and just as many inside the Church, feel discouraged, disheartened, and disoriented.

Some are feeling hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone.

Can anyone here relate to any of that?

You are not all on your own!

We are in a series which explores the depth and the height of God’s Grace – how it is more than we deserve and how it is greater than we can imagine. Our scripture today comes from the Old Testament story about a woman named Ruth. How many of you have read (or heard) this story before? This Old Testament story of Ruth is in the context of despair, depression and doom.

The story starts with the news of a severe famine in southern Israel, surrounding the town of Bethlehem, a little more than 1,000 years before Jesus was born. The famine was so severe that families were packing up and moving into neighboring, semi-enemy, countries, including Naomi and her husband and two sons. But once they got settled, Naomi’s husband died; and her two sons married women from this enemy territory, and then her two sons also died! Naomi was suddenly a widowed mother with no living children!

So she decides to go back home, traveling by herself, to be with relatives who knew her customs and religion. Talk about despair and depression and doom; hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone! Have you ever wondered if you might never escape the misery you were in? Darkness, fear, abandonment, estrangement … It is a terribly lonely experiencenobody, and it feels like no God!

But then this Old Testament story of Ruth also speaks of HOPE and GRACE.

One of her widowed daughters-in-law decides to go with her. Ruth was her name. She tells Naomi, “Your people will be my people (think how huge that would be – she left her own homeland and family to be with this strange mother-in-law and her extended family!), and your God will be my God (and this is even bigger than moving into a strange community – it’s a strange community and their stranger religion!).

So these two widowed women, unrelated except by marriage, move into town with no job, no family, no means of support, no children or grandchildren, no hope ….

And God provides a job, more food than they can eat, and the attention of a handsome, wealthy, land-owner, farm-manager who falls in love with Ruth and eventually wins her to himself. From the Jewish heritage in which they lived, his title was “kinsman redeemer”. He saved her, and her mother-in-law, from destitution, and he saved them for God’s plan of Redemption for humankind.

We read in Ruth 4:13-17 (almost the end of the book) where …. —-

13 … Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails.

Some of you will remember that way back in Genesis 12, God called Abram from the land of Ur and Promised him a new Land, and a Nation, and a people, and that one of his offspring would be a Savior for the world. And before that in Genesis 6, God promised a first salvation through Noah and that there would be a second salvation for God’s people. And before that in Genesis 3, God promised Adam and Eve that one of their offspring would crush the head of Satan and be a Savior for the people.

The story of this desperate foreigner woman named Ruth invites us into God’s perfect story of His perfect grace.

Almost without any regard for how valuable and important this information is, we are told, that “they named [their son] Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Who was David? Does anyone know? Yup, the second-greatest King Israel has ever had! Who was the first-greatest King? C’mon – someone say it: Jesus!

Are you ready for some hope and grace?

1,000 years after Ruth, her ultimate descendant is JESUS, the Savior who comes full of Grace and Truth.

John’s Gospel tells us this truth with poetic beautyJohn 1: (*read with breaks at the asterisks to explain some key points) “1In the beginning* was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God*. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made*; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind*…. 14The Word became flesh* and made His dwelling among us*. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and only Son, who came from the Father*, full of Grace and Truth*…. 17For the law was given through Moses; Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ*!

I am going to close early this morning, because we are about to move into a time of prayer, where I know some of you are living with some sincere fears and worries, some anxieties about uncertainties, recovering from surgeries and preparing for treatments, and still hearing the national and local news reports about how people suffer at the hands of other people, by natural disaster, because of less-than-smart decisions – and some of those people are very close to our hearts.

We feel discouraged, disheartened, and disoriented; hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone.

But follow the story of Ruth. Her story leads directly to Grace and Hope – we can live lives full of Grace and Ruth – simply by trusting in the One who is the Way and the Truth and the LifeGod’s perfect propitiation and expiation for our sins and our struggles.

Right after the prayer and our offering, we will be invited to the Lord’s Table where we might just experience God’s gift of Grace and where we might receive ruth-ful Hope.

And may we never forget the challenge of Hebrews 12:15: “Let no one fall short of the grace of God.” Let’s pass God’s invitation on to our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates; let’s invite them to come into contact with the GRACE of God! Amen. 

“Dear God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Fellowship Community; 8134 New LaGrange Road; Suite 227; Louisville, KY; 40222; invite to Annual Conference in August 2015.

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 66-75.

Christmas Eve: Luke 2:1-20 – “The Birth of the Savior”

Mark Wheeler
Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Luke 2:1-20
“The Birth of the Savior”

We so deeply need what only You can offer, dear God. Fill us with faith and faithfulness. Conquer our fears and heal our hurts. Comfort us with Your Holy Spirit, that we might recognize Your light in our darkest moments. On this eve of the celebration of Your birth, we praise You with the conviction that You were born for us and for our salvation. Amen.

Finally, it is Christmas Eve! As much as I sometimes dread the harried schedules and almost anti-Christian aspects of American holidays – I love Advent and Christmas! Thank You for celebrating this day together with us!

For my first Christmas as a semi-professional pastor I worked with a collection of Presbyterian Christians in a little unincorporated town that was 99% African American. The residents of this town across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco had moved there during WWII to work in the Sausalito Shipyards, and then when the war ended these Black men were not allowed to join any of the unions and had no money to move back home (mostly to Louisiana), so they stayed in Marin City in government subsidized housing, in the wealthiest county in the nation! The church I worked in was called St. Andrew Presbyterian Church; half the congregation were African-Americans from WWII with 3rd grade educations, the other half were highly educated white doctors, lawyers, and university professors – an odd and beautiful mix of people.
I started there in June 1987 as an intern, and the church hired me to stay after my internship ended for another 2-½ years. This church had 40 people on a Sunday morning, and a choir of 7 people – but boy could they sing!
Alma Randolph, one of the senior ladies, whenever she said grace quoted from Acts 10, “Arise Peter, kill and eat. Amen.” One day “sister Alma” told me about the founding pastors of this church, seminary students in the 1950s, who told her how much Jesus loved her – and that’s all it took for her to believe!
That encounter, and several others kind of like it, always made me stop and simply admire who our God is – how powerful and how personal He is. As a white man in a suit and tie walking the streets of Marin City, 99% Black, I learned that many believed I was some sort of police officer walking my beat – then they learned that I was pastoring one of “their” churches and they suddenly warmed up to me – a little. The Gospel sometimes has a way of breaking down all the walls.
But, there was always a “wait-and-see” attitude. Wait and see what this white kid is gonna be like in this town.

Thankfully, waiting for God is over. God did, and does, show up. Jesus did come. For us and for our salvation. This truth changes everything.

Hear the Word of God from the New Testament Gospel according to Luke, 2:1-20 …. —-
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 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. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

After four weeks of anticipation and waiting, Christmas is finally here. The air is so thick with excitement that we can almost taste it. And this passage is probably one of the most familiar of all Christmas accounts. Every time I read it, I’m reminded of Linus Van Pelt explaining the meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown – not quite as high-class as Handel’s Messiah, but powerful none-the-less.

This passage contains three narratives around the birth of Jesus: The setting of Jesus’ birth itself (2:1-7), the angelic announcement of the birth (2:8-14), and the response of the shepherds to the announcement (2:15-20). In putting Jesus’ birth first in an historic context, Luke not only links Jesus to a real world political setting but also references back to the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus was a descendant of King David (cf. Micah 5:2), a very important link for the early church. As if he wants to contrast the political powers of Rome’s ruling elite — Caesar Augustus and Governor Quirinius — Luke then immediately transitions to a manger near a small inn in the tiny inconsequential village of Bethlehem: by giving a simple, straightforward account of Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and, once in Bethlehem, how Jesus was born, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger in the most humble setting possible.

This idyllic setting of Jesus’ birth always reminds me of that small church in Marin City – a simple building in a small township – and Jesus was there!!!

In your own life experience, where do you mostly find Jesus? Do you look for Jesus in all the familiar places and circumstances, or do you look for him in the least likely ones?

Luke then shifts his focus to the countryside where shepherds were tending flocks by underscoring the extraordinary nature of Jesus’ birth, in depicting the angel’s announcement of it to the shepherds, and the glorifying praise by the heavenly host (2:8-14). The announcement of the angel specifically mentions three astounding titles for this humble baby to carry — Savior, Messiah, and Lord — encompassing the highest honorifics known at that time, both human and divine. This is significant because it foretells that Jesus was sent by the Father to become one of us, in order to embody for us this “good news of great joy”— to redeem us from our sins and show us the way to the Father.

In response to this “good news of great joy,” the shepherds then hurry off to see for themselves this newborn babe. They find him just as the angel has described. And after they share with everyone there what they have been told, they return “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (2:20).

But, of course, the Christmas story is only half of the story: because Jesus, who was sent by God — just as the herald angel was — has also sent us into the world to share this “good news of great joy” with all people. Just as Alma Randolph told me the story of a pastor that changed her life by bringing her to Jesus all those years ago, we’re called to make an impact in other people’s lives with the love of God by telling them who Jesus is: the Son of God, who was not only born to be one of us, but suffered and died to redeem us from our sins, was raised from the dead, now sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and will one day come back to take us to be with Him forever!

As we celebrate Christmas with our loved ones this year, take a moment to reflect who Jesus is to you — Is He Savior, Messiah, and Lord of your life? If He is, are you then willing to be His messenger in sharing this “good news of great joy” with others who have never heard or experienced God’s love and forgiveness?

Resources:
Teng, Bill; “The Birth of the Savior, Glory to God in the Highest”; For Us and For Our Salvation: An Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Experience; Fellowship Community; 2014.

Micah 5 – What Promise Are You Waiting For?

Mark Wheeler
October 12, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Micah 5
What Promise Are You Waiting for?

O God, through Your Son, the Man of Sorrows, You are acquainted with our grief. We pray for Your Church, especially in places of persecution and distress. When hope grows dim, kindle within us patience in prayer and persistence in the struggle for justice and peace. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

In 1865, shortly after the Civil war, the Pastor of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Boston, Massachusetts. was helping with a Christmas Eve service — — — in Bethlehem. He later wrote about his feelings as he went down the hill from Jerusalem into Bethlehem – riding a horse. He said, “I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, – close to the spot where Jesus was born.
The whole church was singing hour after hour splendid hymns of praise to God, it was as if I could hear angelic voices telling each other of the Wonderful Night of our dear Savior’s birth.”
Two years later, in 1867, this Pastor, Phillips Brooks, put his pen to paper and wrote a very special, and very biblical song that we often hear during the Christmas Season. He wrote these glorious words:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Those verses declare the heart of Christmas. It is a time of celebration, a time of salvation and a time of quiet contemplation.

We have been investing these early Autumn weeks worshiping God through the Old Testament prophet Micah, who lived about 700 years before Christmas. Micah’s book is a book of WORSHIP – even the prophet’s name suggests worship. The name “Micah” means, “WHO IS LIKE YAHWEH?”, and then every chapter in the book talks about how NOTHING or NO ONE compares to GOD! No one is like Him!
And we have been learning over and over again that this God who is worthy of our worship is a God of JUSTICE which authorizes His JUDGMENT and provides means for His GRACE.
So with that backdrop in place, let’s look at the fifth chapter of Micah, & see what it says about a promise God’s people had been waiting for. Listen to God’s Word from Micah 5:1-15…. —-
1 Marshal your troops now, city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod.
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”…
… 10 “In that day,” declares the LORD, “I will destroy your horses from among you and demolish your chariots.
11 I will destroy the cities of your land and tear down all your strongholds.
12 I will destroy your witchcraft and you will no longer cast spells. 13 I will destroy your idols and your sacred stones from among you; you will no longer bow down to the work of your hands. 14 I will uproot from among you your Asherah poles when I demolish your cities. 15 I will take vengeance in anger and wrath on the nations that have not obeyed me.”

The prophet Micah put his pen to papyrus and wrote about this little town of Bethlehem. In just a few brief words, Micah tells the story of a very special town. Though his words may be brief, they contain a wealth of spiritual truth.
The Story of Bethlehem is a special story that needs to be told and retold. Especially in these trying times in which we live. We are living in a day when the real story of the birth of Jesus is lost amid the trees, the decorations, the shopping, and the controversy about appropriate “holiday greetings”. And, yes, I know there are still 74 shopping days till Christmas – for Micah there was still 700 years before Christmas!
And The story of Christmas is also a story of a little town, a town of Bethlehem.

And the Story of Bethlehem is the Story of a Place. When Micah writes of Bethlehem, he writes about a little town that is destined to produce great things.
While Bethlehem may have been a tiny rural village in the country of Israel, it had a colorful past and a brilliant future.

When we think of Bethlehem, we often only remember that it was the birthplace of Jesus, our Lord. But, within the history of this little town, there is a wealth of spiritual truth.
The town of Bethlehem is only five miles south of the great capital city of Jerusalem.
Bethlehem is first mentioned outside of the Scriptures in a historical letter from one of the kings of Palestine to an Egyptian Pharaoh in 1250 BC (that is only 25 years after Moses died!). This would have been during the time of the Judges, shortly after Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and moved the Israelite people into the Promised Land. Bethlehem was already in existence before Israel became a nation.

The name “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread”. Micah also calls it by another name “Ephrathah”. Which is an older name for the city, and means “Place of Fruitfulness”. Bethlehem, the Place of Fruitfulness, and the House of Bread.
How fitting that Jesus should be born in Bethlehem! For He is the true bread – “The Bread of Life” that takes away the sin of the world. And His blood fills the cup of the new covenant, the cup of redemption, the fruit of the vine.

Bethlehem is first mentioned in Scripture in Genesis, the first book of the Bible (Gen. 35:16-20). When Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, and his family are journeying home to Canaan (about 400 years before Moses), Rachel goes into labor and gives birth to a son; but Rachel dies in childbirth, and as she is dying, she calls her son’s name “Benoni”, which means “Son of my sorrow”. And Jacob’s wife Rachel was buried just outside of Bethlehem. Jacob changed his son’s name from Benoni to “Benjamin”, which means the “Son of my strong right hand”.

So Bethlehem is initially associated with sorrow and death, but was transformed prophetically into a place that seats the son of my right hand.
Jesus, too, can take a place associated with grief and suffering and transform it into a place of strength and glory.

Jesus was called by the Prophet Isaiah “a Man of Sorrows” (Isa. 53:1-3). The One Who created the universe had nowhere to lay His head (Matt. 8:20). The One Who left Heaven to come and die was rejected by the those He came to reach (John 1:11). He knew pain; He knew sorrow; and in the end, He knew death – on the cross (Isa. 53:4-6; and all four Gospels).
Jesus is our “Benoni”! He is the “Son of My Sorrow”! But he is also the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, The Son of God’s Right Hand.

The beautiful story of Ruth also transpired in the town of Bethlehem. It was in Bethlehem that Ruth found redemption from her pain and from her past. She found grace, she found mercy, love, and acceptance. She found restoration, hope, family and a future – all in that place called Bethlehem.
Bethlehem is the birth place of David, the shepherd-boy who became the greatest King Israel has ever known. It was a drink from the well in Bethlehem that refreshed David’s soul during a day of battle (II Sam. 23:14-16).
And, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a spiritual well was given to us all. Everyone who drinks from this well, from this living water, will find that they will thirst no more; their thirst is quenched for all eternity (John 6:35; John 7:37-38).

Bethlehem was the focus of an amazing prophecy by the prophet Micah. And that prophecy is the focus of our text today.
Bethlehem witnessed the most amazing miracle the world has ever seen. Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, God in flesh came into the world and was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-20). Bethlehem was where the wise men found the Christ Child and offered Him not only their gifts but their worship (Matt. 2:1-12), for He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Yes, Bethlehem is a story of a place. But, it is also a story of a promise. The words from the Old Testament proclaim “From you (Bethlehem) shall come forth for me …. one who is to rule Israel”! These words tell us that God has a glorious plan for humanity. And this little town of Bethlehem is a part of His plan.

When mankind turned from God in Eden, God gave humanity the first glimpse of this promised plan. He told Adam and Eve that a Redeemer would be born (Gen. 3:15). And as the years went by, more and more of God’s plan was revealed. When God saved His people from their bondage in Egypt by the blood of a Lamb (Ex. 12), He revealed a little more of His plan.
When He gave them Manna in the wilderness and brought water from the rock, He revealed a little more of His plan.
When He gave Israel the Law and the sacrificial ceremonies, He was revealing more of His plan.
Every aspect of the Tabernacle, the priesthood and the sacrifices revealed more and more of God’s plan.

Through the mouths of the prophets God gave insight into His plan. When Isaiah wrote about a virgin birth (Isa. 7:14), he was writing about this promised plan. Then the prophet Micah revealed the birth place of the Messiah – He shared where the King would be born – He proclaimed that the One Who would fulfill the promise would come from the little town of Bethlehem.
This glorious plan involved God becoming a human being, one of us. It involved Him going to the cross to die for the sins of the world.
His plan called for our Lord’s resurrection and for his Ascension. And it involves Him coming again — Returning in glory to rule and to reign on this earth. The Micah 5:2 promise is fulfilled in JESUS. But Micah 5:10-15 won’t be fulfilled until Jesus RETURNS!

It is a plan designed with you and me in mind! The prophet Micah closes this prophecy with these words concerning the Christ: “Whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” These words reveal the truth that this One Who would be born in Bethlehem (in 700 more years) was no ordinary Man.
The Prophet Micah tells us that while He may be coming out of Bethlehem, He is eternal! He may be born in Bethlehem, but His beginning is not there. He is Eternal. Jesus is eternal and He is in our midst this very day.
For where two or three are gathered together in His name, Jesus is in their midst. Jesus is in our midst – He is with us this day. Do you feel Him? Can you tell He is here?

The story of Bethlehem is a story of a miracle. The miracle of Bethlehem is that God became man. He did not stop being God! He merely “added” humanity to His deity. Theologians call this “The Hypostatic Union”. Miraculously, God placed Himself within Mary’s womb. Some nine months later Mary gave birth to a Son. And when she looked into the face of her little boy, she was looking into the face of God. God in human flesh!
We cannot fully comprehend the incarnation of our Jesus. He was Fully God, yet, He was fully human. He was as much God as if He had never been a man. And, He was as much man as if He had never been God! Yet he was both!
Jesus experienced humanity in its fullness — He suffered, He was hungry, thirsty, He knew loneliness, He knew grief, He grew weary, slept, wept, was rejected, and He died. Yet, while He was absolutely human, He lived His entire life sinless!
Jesus came to this earth because He loves you and He gave His life as a ransom for you. He came to offer you salvation.

The very end of this chapter says something about God taking “vengeance in anger and wrath”. While we worship this God who became human, who lived and suffered and died, for you and me – the reason this was necessary is because He is also a God of justice. You know how the meaning of words sometimes change over time – in Sunday School last week Madeline mentioned how the word “gay” has changed – no longer meaning anything like it used to.
That’s what happened to “vengeance” here. “Vengeance” really means JUSTICE. What Micah is really saying is that God will act justly with people who reject Him and His ways – but He offers Grace through the miracle of Bethlehem.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord …Emmanuel!

Amen and Amen!

Resources: (My biggest thanks to J. Jeffrey Smead for his Advent message last year)
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 487.

Smead, J. Jeffrey; “O’ Little Town of Bethlehem”; Epiphany Anglican Fellowship; Ligonier, PA; December 2013.