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).
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