December 25, 2016 | Advent Message 2 | Matthew 2:1-6, Micah 5:1-2

Introduction

“What a humble birth! It is as though Christ slipped into the world—no fanfare, no king’s palace, no silk-lined cradle. Just humble swaddling clothes and a manger with straw for a bed! From Rome, Caesar spoke and the world obeyed, yet for it all, he faded into an insignificant shadow in history. The world scarcely took note of Jesus’ birth, yet the centuries have clothed him in glory such as the Caesars never knew. While the world hardly paused to note His birth, heaven bent low to herald to humble folk this event of the ages.”[1]

Christ, the Creator of all, enters His creation. The manner of his coming is in stark contrast to the world in which he enters.  He enters a world of pretense. It is enamored with its’ own strength, power, prestige, and spiritual elitism. And yet, it is all a façade. Christ enters this deceived world cloaked in humility but possessing true power, so that he may save us. Christ entrance into this world is a combination of the humblest of moments mixed with the grandest of concerts, a play with the poorest of settings and the wealthiest of attendees. Shepherds in a field are the sole attendees of the most majestic concert of all times. And the poorest setting of a stable is attended by wise men of the east.

Wise men, Herod, and Micah all point to Bethlehem. I have always found the story of the Wise men’s interaction with Herod rather fascinating.  How is it that these men come all the way from “the East” to a city only 5 miles away from Jerusalem, only to find the religious leaders, who know exactly where the Messiah is to be born, have not put together the information that these Wise men were able to figure out?  What was the source of information for these Wise men? Daniel perchance?  If so, how cool is that?  How is it that after these Wise men leave and travel only 5 miles away, Herod doesn’t send some soldiers or spies immediately to check this out?  Instead he waits to only find out that men, he had never met, “tricked him”? Let’s take just a moment to read through and consider this interaction.

Matthew 2:1–6 (ESV) 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6 “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

Herod is near the end of his reign.  Herod has been reigning for 35 years at this point.  And yet, he is still fearful of this child’s birth.  Even if this child was to be the Messiah, it would be many years before he would be a threat to Herod.  Why all the fear? Rome allowed Herod to be titled “king” even though he was clearly under the Roman Emperor, Augustus. He had obtained fame from his wars with Antigonus and other enemies.  He also had governed well, defended his country, repaired the temple, and built up the kingdom. But, he was as well known for his brutality and cruelty.  Matthew Henry wrote, “Crowned heads cannot endure to think of successors, much less of rivals; and therefore nothing less than the blood of this infant king will satisfy him.” [2]

Why is all of Jerusalem fearful with him? The Jews have longed for their Messiah.  Why wouldn’t they be waiting for such news?  In my speculative mind, I would have imagined that Bethlehem would be the place to have babies back then.  If they all knew the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, why weren’t women traveling to Bethlehem for their births? Maybe because, as Matthew Henry puts it, “carnal wicked hearts dread nothing so much as the fulfilling of the scriptures.” [3] The passage tells us that Herod was troubled “and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt 2:3). Of what might they have feared? What possible consequence of Christ’s birth would lead them to be afraid? Could the birth of a new king result in war? Might their comfortable lives be upset in some way? Whatever the reason, they preferred no other king, not even the Messiah himself. And this dynamic remains alive and well because humanity still prefers the slavery of sin to the glorious liberties found in Christ, but only because they expect that Christ’s rule may require a reformation of their soul.

When Herod inquired of the chief priests and scribes about where the king of the Jews was to be born, the religious leaders knew.  They even directed them to Bethlehem, and then just let them go. None of them bothered to follow along with them just in case they may be on to something. Consider with me, if you had an entourage from the East come to you and ask where the Messiah was being born, a Messiah you all claimed you were looking forward to have come, wouldn’t you think, “you know what, maybe it would be a good idea for some of us to go with these guys.  Maybe they’re on to something.” I can’t imagine that the people in Jerusalem hadn’t noticed the star as well. Why didn’t any of them go with the Wise Men?

How is it that they knew that the king would be born in Bethlehem?  It seems that with very little thought, they are able to recall the prophecy regarding the birthplace of the Messiah. Their knowledge comes from a prophecy in Micah. It is within this prophecy that we find a contrast to the Messiah’s coming and the world into which he came.

Micah 5:1–2 (ESV) 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.

Micah reveals a sharp contrast between Christ and His creation. Before we jump into the contrasts, let’s take a moment to see why I believe the text is intending to communicate a contrast.  The first verse is outlining for us a period of time in which war is imminent and the Jewish people need to prepare themselves.  This is likely referring to the period when Nebuchadnezzar would conquer Jerusalem in the 500’s BC.  At that time, Zedekiah would have been the last king of Judah who was blinded by Nebuchadnezzar and quite literally fulfilled the statement, “strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod.”[4] The next verse then starts with, “But you.” In contrast to the war of verse 1 or the weakness of the king in verse 1 or the destruction and defeat of verse 1 or the slavery resulting in verse 1, from Bethlehem will come one that is wholly opposite.

He came in humility into a world of pride.

Let me offer a longer title. He came with immense power cloaked in weakness into a world of great weakness cloaked in power. Micah 5:1 calls out for troops. Why? Because the city of Jerusalem was under siege. They were under attack and would be defeated by such strength that even the face of the king of Israel would no longer be protected. The imagery is quite clear, but the exact historic moment is less so. Some believe it to be speaking of the conquest of Sennacherib in 701 BC[5] and others believe it to be the siege by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC.

BARKER. If so, the ultimate reference of Israel’s (i.e., Judah’s) “ruler” probably would be to Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar blinded by having his soldiers quite literally “strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod” (see 2 Kgs 25:7; Jer 39:6–7; 52:10–11).[6]

Nebuchadnezzar. It was this Nebuchadnezzar who would, not too many years later, stand “on the roof of the royal palace in Babylon” and say, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan 4:28, 30). “While the words were still in the king’s mouth” God removed the kingdom from Nebuchadnezzar, driving him to fields to live like an ox for seven years until Nebuchadnezzar came to know “that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:31-32). Nebuchadnezzar was great weakness cloaked in power.

Consider Herod, the king at the birth of Christ. Herod the Great became governor of Galilee in 47 BC, when he was only 25 years old. He was given this position by his father, Antipater. It was not until 39 BC that he was formally crowned the King of Judea due to his unwavering loyalty to Rome – who possessed the actual earthly power. For the next 33 years he ruled Judea under Roman appointment. Even though he reigned for 33 years, he was always insecure in his position. The origination of his family was outside the Jewish fold, and Jews didn’t like kings claiming the throne that weren’t from the Davidic line. Even more people found Herod’s reign repugnant due to his loyalty to the foreign power of Rome.[7] Herod ends up having two of his sons executed due to alleged plots on his life. And the height of this insecurity is shamefully displayed in the slaughter of all the male children under 2 years old in Bethlehem.

“Herod’s declining years were so full of bloodshed that an incident of this kind might well have gone unreported . . . Bethlehem was a small place and may well have had no more than twenty or so boys below the age of two years. With Herod’s ferocious killings this one may well not have attracted much notice.”[8] What a threat a baby boy must have posed to this old king!  Herod is great weakness cloaked in power.

And then there’s Christ. Who “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Phil 2:6-7, NLT). He was made “for a little while lower than the angels” (Heb 2:7, ESV). He traded the angelic sounds of heaven for the insulting cries of a fallen world. He lowered himself from the place of utmost prominence as the center of all of heaven’s affections to walk among those who would call him a demon, crazy (John 10:20), and born of fornication (John 8:41). Yet, he loved us enough to not stop it.[9]  This is great strength cloaked in weakness.

The place of His birth signified his humility. He was born as unimportant. It was as if his birth was a protest to ages of the popular opinion that those of importance were born with ancestral distinctions and amidst the dignified and wealthy. Nearly every other tribe of Israel had sufficient numbers to be divided into groups of a thousand fighting men, each group with its’ own leader (Num 1:16). And yet, Bethlehem was one of those few places that were too small and too lowly to even be counted among the possessions of Judah. Bethlehem was not a significant or notable place. Christ’s birth was great strength cloaked in weakness.

The actions of His life displayed profound humility. “He came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; Matt 20:28). As he observed the last Passover with his disciples the night of his betrayal and arrest, he humbled himself and washed his disciples feet. He washed Judas’ feet shortly before Judas went out and betrayed him. He washed Peter’s feet shortly before Peter went out and denied him. Was this the picture in Paul’s mind when he wrote, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had . . . he took the humble position of a slave . . . he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Phil 2:5-8, NLT). Christ’s life was great strength cloaked in weakness.

The manner of His rule displays great humility. We see his rule characterized in two ways in this passage in Micah. The first quality of his rule is seen in the somewhat awkward phrase, “from you shall come forth for me” (Micah 5:2). This very brief phrase for me emphasizes the fact that Christs’ reign served the Lord’s plans. His rule is not independent of God the Father’s overarching will and plan. The entirety of his life was in submission to the will of God the Father. Prior to his death, while still in the garden, he prayed, “glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you . . . I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:1–4, ESV).

The second quality of his rule is displayed in Matthew’s phrase, “who will shepherd my people” (Matt 2:6). Not only did he come humbly into a world of pride, he as well came as a shepherd king into a world of uncaring tyrants. Christ was born into an age that exalted extreme power. Into this world of military might and corruption came the One who possessed extreme power but exalted love. The symbol of Rome was the voracious and unwearied eagle. The Jews wanted a conquering king for their Messiah. Yet, Christ proclaimed to the masses, “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5, ESV). Christ’s life and the characteristic of his rule were starkly different than that of Herod’s.  Herod was known for his brutality and cruelty.  In stark contrast, Christ’s reign is characterized by the image of a shepherd. Go back to Micah. He writes, “from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel” (Micah 5:2, ESV). You may notice that Matthew’s quotation is a little different. “From you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” (Matt 2:6, ESV). Matthew includes an additional element in his statement. He includes the concept “who will shepherd” to Micah’s statement. Matthew reveals that the Jewish understanding of the Messiah’s rule had once been characterized by shepherding, care, and compassion, none of which characterized Herod at this point. This statement in Matthew comes from Micah but as well takes into consideration 2 Samuel. In 2 Samuel, David is anointed the king of Israel, and he is reminded that the Lord had said, “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel” (2 Sam 5:2, ESV). The Lord ties the concept of a caring shepherd to the role of king of Israel.

Herod “killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under . . . A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation” (Matt 2:16-18, ESV). In contrast, “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching . . . and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:35–36, ESV). Christ was the shepherd King that entered a world of uncaring tyrants.

He came from eternity into a world of dying kings.

The presentation of Christ this morning has been great power cloaked in weakness but that is not the only picture we see in Micah. Micah desires to offer us one more contrast. Christ came from eternity into a world of dying kings. This reality demands very little evidence save simple observation. Every king who has ever reigned has either died or will one day die. Their rule had a precise moment in which it began and an equally precise time for its end. Every loving and compassionate ruler and every tyrant dies. Yet, in the end of Micah 5:2 we find one more statement concerning the ruler that would come from Bethlehem. Bethlehem, “from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).

No longer is Christ a marvelous example of great power cloaked in weakness. We now see him as great power clothed in great power. “Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting” (Psalm 93:2, ESV). Christ is the personification of wisdom in the Proverbs where we are told, “ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth” (Proverbs 8:23, ESV). “The Lord sits enthroned . . . as king forever” (Psalm 29:10, ESV). Unlike the kings of earth, Christs’ rule is eternal. Its beginning is from everlasting and “he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33). We are reminded in Revelation 11:15 that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

So Then

What would happen if we adored Christ all year long like we do on Christmas day? During the Christmas season, most of us have paused at different moments to consider the birth of Christ and the significance of his birth. As we consider his birth and the resulting perfect life and sacrificial death, instead of asking “how might we apply that,” we simply adore him, which is really what he wants anyway. Consider the majestic work of Christ ought to produce in us two simple things – adoration and obedience.

Paul offers Christ as an example of power cloaked in humility in Philippians, “though he was in the form of God . . . emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:5). Paul acknowledges that two things flow from this humility of Christ. First, we are to model this humility, “by being of the same mind, having the same love . . . do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:2). Secondly, Christ is exalted. Because Christ humbled himself to the point of death, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2: 9-11).

 

 

[1] Hobbs, H. H. (1990). My favorite illustrations (p. 48). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

[2] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 1615). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[3] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 1614). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[4] 2 Kings 25:7 (ESV)  They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains and took him to Babylon.  View of . . . Barker, K. L. (1999). Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (Vol. 20, p. 95). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] “The siege in view, to judge from the rest of the book and verse 6, is that of Sennacherib. Accordingly the ‘now’ (av, rsv) is 701 bc, and if so, the ruler is Hezekiah.”  Donald J. Wiseman, T. Desmond Alexander, and Bruce K. Waltke, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 26, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 198.

[6] Kenneth L. Barker, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, vol. 20, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 95.

[7] L. I. Levine, “Herod the Great (Person),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 165.

[8] Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 44.

[9] Jonathan Parnell. “The Chaos of Humility.” (Desiring God Ministries, February 20, 2014). Accessed December 22, 2016. http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-chaos-of-humility

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