Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
DECEMBER 20, 2015
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.
— Micah 5:1-5, ESV
Every aspect of Jesus Christ’s birth is important, including the place where He was born. Though the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke identify it as the city of Bethlehem, they were not the first to pinpoint this exact place. An Old Testament prophet, Micah, was actually the first to pen this page of the gospel story.
Phillips Brooks, the famous nineteenth century pastor, is the author of one of our most beloved Christmas hymns, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” I think he wrote more than he knew when he penned, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”
“Hopes” and “fears” are exaggerated in the American Christmas. There is more happiness and celebration and there is more anxiety and depression. If you are one of the happy, you will appreciate this message. If you are one of the depressed, you desperately need this message.
Micah was a prophet and prophets preach promises. Listen to the promises of God from Micah. They are stunning in their accuracy. They are encouraging in their relevancy. They bring hope to a hurting heart, or any heart, longing for a greater taste of the good news of Jesus Christ.
God promises to bring victory out of defeat.
Micah was a small town, southern preacher. His sermons were dark clouds with silver linings. He predicted his nation of Judah would be besieged by superpowers Assyria and Babylon. Assyrian would “strike the judge of Israel” in 701 BC, while Babylon would utterly crash and burn Judah in 586 BC. God allowed defeat to be the order of the day for His people “… until the time when she who is in labor has given birth.”
The spectacular birth of a special child would be the signal of victory. Yet when Jesus was born, Israel was still under the thumb of a foreign power. Yet, even Rome was under God’s control. God holds the hearts of kings in His hands (ref. Proverbs 21:1), so He ordained for Caesar Augustus to call for the census that made Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem. And there, as prophesied by Micah centuries before, Jesus was born.
God is at work in the circumstances of defeat to bring ultimate victory for Himself and His people. The foreign powers of death, disease, and discouragement may be invading your life. Micah promises us that God is in control. Better than Muhammad Ali, God plays a mean rope-a-dope. It often looks like His people are losing. But it is all part of a master plan. All who trust in God’s Christmas promises in the Christian gospel will be victorious in the end.
God promises to bring greatness out of insignificance.
Most maps of America have New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other major cities. Hot Springs does not appear on them, even though Shorty Kellums declared on “The Beverly Hillbillies” that it is the most interesting city in the world! In the overall scheme of American cities, however, Hot Springs is just a small town.
Bethlehem, which translated means “house of bread,” was a small town, too. It had its heyday a millennium earlier as the birthplace of King David. Since then, Bethlehem had fallen on hard times. It was insignificant, left off the map. Yet Bethlehem is the exact place God chose to bring His Son into the world, “… one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”
What does this mean? It means there is no insignificant place or person in God’s plan. You may not be on the map. You may not be quoted in the newspapers. You may not have become anyone famous in life. And if not, you are exactly where God can use you greatly (ref. 1 Corinthians 1:26ff). The most significant thing in the world is to believe in the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The most significant person in this world is a true Christian, in faith and practice. Remember in the end, it will not matter who is on the map of the world, but who is in the book of life!
God promises to bring strength out of weakness.
Micah made what many may have considered to be a faux pas in this sermon. Though he promised a “ruler,” he did not specifically use the term “king.” And in going forward to describe the person and work of the promised Messiah, he referred to Him as a “shepherd.” People in Micah’s day wanted a strong, politically savvy king. The prophet promised a simple, spiritual shepherd.
In Jesus’ day the messianic expectation was still for a power hungry and power wielding king to crush Roman rule and restore Israel to earthly glory. But consider what God gave in response to the prophet’s promise: a spuriously pregnant girl married to an impoverished carpenter who came to the insignificant city of Bethlehem to give what little money he had to the government. They probably could not afford a room in the inn if there had been room. This was the way “she who is in labor has given birth.”
Furthermore, the child grew up to be a nobody in this world. Almost nothing is known about His first three decades of life. Only the Gospels record specific episodes of His three years of public ministry. He grew a flock from a dozen to about 120 souls, weak by mega-church standards. At the end of the day, Jesus was executed on a Roman cross, the greatest symbol of helplessness and weakness in the world.
Weakness? Not so, according to Micah. “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.” No person has ever been as strong as the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no strength like the strength that can be found by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. Giving control of your life over to the Lord means your life will never be out of control. And whenever we are weak, He is strong!
God promises to bring peace out of war.
In Micah’s age there were wars and rumors of wars. So it was in Jesus’ day, also. It is so in our time, and it will be so until the end of time (ref. Matthew 24:6; Mark 13:7). But Micah promised, “And he shall be their peace.” The angel promised peace when Jesus was born (ref. Luke 2:14), even though peace may not have been His immediate concern (ref. Luke 12:51).
As long as there are human beings on earth there will be selfishness and sin. And as long as there is selfishness and sin there will be strife and war between nations, war between families, even war within families (ref. again Luke 12:51). Frankly, there is little we can do to stop international and inter-relational wars. But, you can stop the war that is raging in your own soul.
Come to the baby born in Bethlehem, the “house of bread.” Come to the man who presented Himself as “the bread of life” (ref. John 6:35). Come to Him who is our “peace.” the peace of God that comes through complete faith in Jesus Christ (ref. Romans 5:1).
Then, when you feel you are being defeated, you will know that you are a winner in Christ. Then, when you feel insignificant and small, you know that you are part of the people that matter most to God. Then, when you feel weak and without hope, the joy of the Lord will be your strength (ref. Nehemiah 8:10). Then, when war is raging all around you, Jesus Christ your Shepherd and Lord will give you peace (ref. John 14:27).
WHAT GOD WANTS FOR CHRISTMAS
Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
DECEMBER 13, 2015
The Lord your God is in your midst,a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
— Zephaniah 3:17, ESV
With only a few Christmas shopping days left, panic should be about ready to set in. Have you gotten everyone on your list what they want for Christmas? Are you getting what you want for Christmas? What about God? What does God want for Christmas?
God Wants To Be Seen
When I think about Christ and Christmas, I think about the young couple who invited their friends over for a party to celebrate their newborn child. Guests arrived, coats were piled on the bed, everyone was seated in the living room to see the new baby, but the baby could not be found. She had been covered up by all the coats!
It is hard to see God in the modern Christmas. Even a church in our city posted on the marquee, “Season’s Greetings.” Surely the church, of all people, should put “Christ” in “Christmas!”
Christ came the first time to put “The Lord God in your midst.” Isaiah called Him Immanuel, and Matthew reminded us that His name means God with us. John called Him the God who became flesh and lived among us.
Precious as they are, God did not make Christmas for Santa, elves, reindeer, or presents placed under a tree. God made Christmas for Himself to be seen in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
God Wants To Be Heard
The gospel is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Most people cannot see it, however, until they hear it. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the message of Christ” (ref. Romans 10:17).
Hearing the gospel can bring about repentance and faith, which makes God “a mighty one who will save.” A person cannot get saved by works, by being good, by being religious, or by giving away enough stuff at Christmas. A person is mightily saved when they hear the preaching of the gospel, the simple John 3:16 gospel, and understand the depth of God’s love, the depth of their own sin, and the historic fact that Jesus was placed in a wooden manger at His miraculous, virgin birth and upon a wooden cross at His sacrificial, atoning death.
And when we hear the gospel efficaciously, we may hear other sounds coming from God, too. We can hear Him laugh and we can hear Him sing. “He will rejoice over you with gladness …; He will exult over you with loud singing.”
God loves a good laugh. He even named one of his sons Isaac, which means laughter. When I read the Gospels I can hear Jesus rejoicing and laughing out loud at the wedding in Cana, on a retreat with His disciples, and eating dinner with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. I read Spurgeon’s sermons and understand why he was known by some as that preacher who tells jokes. And the whole Bible is full of song, songs that are near and dear to the heart of God.
Do you know what makes great laughter and gregarious singing? Love. Love makes presence more important than presents. Love makes for laughter in the living room and around the dinner table. Love, especially true love, makes you sing. God does all of this, and more, because God is love.
And what God wants for Christmas is for you to see Him, in Christ, and for you to hear Him, in the word of God and the gospel, and for you to know that because of love, there are some things He will keep quiet forever.
God Wants To Keep Some Things Quiet
“He will quiet you by his love” is one the most beautiful and mysterious statements in all the Bible. What does this mean? What does it have to do with Christmas?
Christ was born to die. When He died on the cross, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” It was a question from God the Son to which God the Father gave no answer. God was quiet as silent death fell upon His only begotten Son.
Here is the greatest gift. Through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Chrsit, God has washed away our sin. He has buried it deeper than ocean and remembers it no more. By the glorious doctrine of double imputation, we stand before God as if we never sinned and clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ. When it comes to our condemnation, God is forever quiet, because He has been spectacularly loud with His love.
No wonder the great Baptist A.T. Robertson called Zephaniah 3:17 “the John 3:16 of the Old Testament.” It is full of love, full of the gospel, and full of a list of things God wants for Christmas. He wants you to see Him, He wants you to hear Him, and He wants you to love Him, by fully trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
DECEMBER 6, 2015
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
— Matthew 23:37-39, ESV
When I was a boy, my father worked at a country radio station in Valdosta, Georgia. One day while visiting him I saw an album cover, heard a song, and fell in love with Emmylou Harris. The song was written by Boudreaux Bryant and recorded as a duet with Graham Parsons:
Love hurts, love scars, love wounds and mars, Any heart not tough, or strong enough,
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain, Love is like a cloud, it holds a lot of rain.
Emmylou didn’t love me back. Though I’ve seen her in concert, we've never met personally. I think now it’s too late for us to ever have a meaningful relationship. Love hurts.
This is a song sung more seriously by our Savior, Jesus Christ. God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, a Son who lived and loved, a Son who was criticized throughout His public ministry and crucified at its end. Knowing what was about to happen, Jesus expresses in the last, loving words of His final public sermon just how badly love hurts.
Love Hurts When Love Is Not Returned
Most of us know the pain of unrequited love. Perhaps you had a crush on a boy or girl at school and they did not return your affection. Maybe you were in a meaningful relationship but your boyfriend or girlfriend broke it off. Or you may be among those of us who entered into a covenant marriage for keeps, only to have your spouse shatter it with divorce papers. On any and every level, love hurts when the one you love does not love you.
Jesus’ love for Jerusalem is made painfully plain in this passage. It was an extraordinary, motherly love that shows Jesus reaching out to hold and shelter people, while the people He wanted to hold keepHim at arms’ length. He invites them into a relationship with Him, but the prophets and preachers he sends repeatedly have their invitations sent back with mocking and murder. Jesus loves Jerusalem, but Jerusalem does not love Jesus.
Jerusalem represents the religious center of the world. All the people of this world are religious, in some form or fashion, even if the religion only consists of self worship. Jesus loves all the religious children of the world. He is loving and patient with hypocritical and nominal and cultic Christians. God sheds His common grace upon adherents of other religions like Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Most reciprocate with at least a superficial faith or a common appreciation for Jesus. But do they love Jesus? Do they truly know and really follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? No, they do not. This is why, at least as Jesus shows us in this passage, love hurts.
I wish I had another nickel for ever time a person of suspicious faith and character has sworn to me, “I love God.” But God would rather have us show than tell. People who do not obey the word of God and embrace the gospel are people who do not love God. People who are not willing to come to Jesus in sincere repentance and faith are people who do not love God. People who are unwilling to celebrate the Lord in baptism, communion, corporate worship, and other Christian disciplines are people who really love themselves, who love doing only what they want to do; therefore, they do not love God.
How can people not love our loving God and Savior Jesus Christ? It is because of original and ongoing sin. Sin poisons and hardens the heart. Depravity makes people “not willing” to come to Christ. Selfishness keeps self on the throne that would otherwise be occupied by Christ the King. Only sovereign grace, gospel preaching, and genuine repentance and faith can break the heart of stone and create a heart that truly loves the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Christ came the first time and looked down upon those who did not love Him, and it hurt the Lord. When Christ comes again, looking down upon all those throughout human history who have not loved him, it is going to hurt again, only worse, and this time it won’t be the Christ, it will be all those who were unloving and unwilling to become followers of Christ.
Love Hurts When It’s Too Late to Love
If you truly love someone, tell them and show them, today. If you truly love someone, at least tell them before they are dead, for then it will be too late. If you really love the Lord Jesus Christ, you better tell Him before you’re dead. For after death, if you have not truly loved the Lord, it will be too late for love and it will hurt, beyond repair.
Jesus gave Jerusalem, the religious apart from Christ, a dire, two-fold warning. First of all, their house would be destroyed. And finally, though they had rejected Jesus, they would still have to see Him face to face in the end.
The house destined for destruction that religion has built has many rooms. There are rooms for the legalists, like the Pharisees, who believe in salvation by works and use rules and regulations to promote their own pride and exert control over other people. There are rooms for the liberals, like the Sadducees, who think the Bible is a myth and salvation is a silly, unnecessary exercise. There are rooms for those who think we need government more than God, like the Herodians, who simply use God for political purposes. There are rooms for the atheists, the agnostics, the nominals, the hypocrites, and the practitioners of religions other than biblical Christianity.
This house if filled with people who profess with their lips a love for God, but deny it with their lives. This is a house the Lord looks down upon now with hurt, with patience, and with an outstretched arm of love. This is a house Jesus wept over at His first coming. And, this is a house that Jesus will wipe out in wrath at His second coming. Love will hurt on the last day, for the time will have run out to really love the Lord.
On that day, the prophetic Day of the Lord, everybody will bless and praise the Lord (ref. Psalm 118:26). Everybody will bend the knee and bow before the Lord (ref. Philippians 2:5-11). But not everyone will enter into the glory of the Lord. For most, it will be too late, for they did not truly love the Lord and commit their lives to the Lord while they had the chance.
Michael Jordan was once cut from his high school basketball team. Upon his induction to the Hall of Fame, he invited the very coach who cut him, then proceeded to humiliate him in front of the entire audience. That may have been bad taste on Michael’s part, but imagine being that coach who cut him having to face him at, of all places, the entrance to basketball heaven.
Mercy Me made a megabit out of “I Can Only Imagine,” singing about the joy and peace that will flood the souls of Christians upon Christ’s return. But imagine what it will be like for most people when the Lord returns. We don’t write songs about that. For the people who did not love and live for the Lord, the people who did not love and embrace the gospel, there will be no singing, no joy, no peace. There will be only weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Their time will run out, for all time, and love will hurt.
See the cross, hear this song of Christ, and fall in love with Jesus today. He already loves you, so it won’t hurt, unless you wait until it’s too late.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org