O Little Town of Bethlehem
CCCAG December 17th, 2017
Scripture- Micah 5:1-4
In Scotland many years ago, the pastor of a small village church was visited by one of his deacons before service one Sunday morning. As the pastor brought out some coffee for them to share, her could tell by the deacon’s demeanor that something was weighing heavily upon him. Finally the deacon spoke:
"I came early to meet you as there is something that me and the other deacons have been talking about that we want you to consider- There must be something wrong with your preaching and ministry; there has been only one person added to the church in a whole year, and he is only a boy."
What a way to start a Sunday morning!
The minister went into the pulpit that day with a grieved and heavy heart. After service he wished to be alone and lingered in the church after everyone else left so he could pray. He cried out to God asking why his efforts seem to be in vain despite him doing his best for God, and living a holy life before him.
After awhile of pouring his heart out to God at the altar, he became conscious that he was not alone. He looked up and saw that it was the boy, Robert, that had become a Christian in the last year.
The pastor asked, "Well, Robert, what is it?"
Robert replied, "Do you think if I were willing to work hard for an education I could ever become a preacher? A preacher?—Perhaps a missionary?"
There was a long pause and tears filled the eyes of the old minister. At length he said, "This heals the ache in my heart, Robert. I see the divine hand now. Yes, I think you will become a preacher."
That boy was Robert Moffat.
The boy that the deacons wrote off as an insignificant fruit of the old pastor’s labor became a name known in the courts of heaven.
In fact, the measure of the old minister's reward will be found in the gathered fruit of the labors of Robert Moffat. If that name is not familiar to you Robert became the great African missionary who translated the entire bible into the local language, so the native people would read God’s word for themselves.
I love telling you historical stories like this as they show God’s power, sovereignty, and faithfulness when we show faith in doing what He has asked us to do.
Our Lord Jesus compared our work for His Kingdom like a mustard seed- the smallest seed that produces the largest of plants.
So this morning I want to talk to you about small beginnings.
God chose one of the smallest and at the time of Jesus’ birth, most insignificant cities in Judea for the birth of HIS Son. As we study the biblical truth found in Micah today, I hope that you will see that God doesn’t need a lot to work with to accomplish great things.
In fact, our God is so great He simply spoke, and nothing became everything.
Keep that in mind as we read Micah 5:1-4 this morning
Marshal your troops now, city of troops, for a siege is laid against us.
They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheekh with a rod.
2 “But you, Bethlehemi Ephrathah,(EF-RA-THA) 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.”
3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return
to join the Israelites.
4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.
Big idea- What is it about Bethlehem that God chose it to be the birthplace of Jesus?
After all, if we were to use human thinking, then God really needs a publicist or an advertising executive to advice HIM.
If God wanted to make a huge deal out of the birth of Jesus, He just needs to adjust the birthplace of Jesus 5 miles to the north and he would have been in the middle of the temple mount- right in front of the priests and teachers who could have witnessed the birth of their messiah.
Why Bethlehem? What was it about this little village that attracted God to have Jesus be born there?
The first thing is what we spoke about a few moments ago-
I. It was small and insignificant
Even in the structure of the verse we just read, you can see the prophet highlighting this.
If you attended our Sunday school classes regarding the minor prophets, we talked about Hebrew parallelism. In their written language and conversation, the Hebrew people, will often use comparison. When they are making a major point, Hebrew writers would compare and contrast two ideas, situations, or physical things that were complete opposites.
In this case, verse 1 is referring to Jerusalem.
The contrast is mighty Jerusalem, surrounded by large walls, and having an army inside those walls, and a population in the 100’s of thousands.
Is being compared to Bethlehem- was unwalled, no defenses. Population during the time of Jesus was 2-300 people. In fact, during times of major attack, the entire population fled into the safety of Jerusalem’s walls.
To further emphasize the insignificance of this city- during the Kingdom period of Jewish history (Over 700 years prior to these events) it’s population was never counted during census time. The reason- the only reason that census’ were taken was to number the men who were of military age, and then only the cities or villages that could field at least 1000 men were counted. Bethlehem was lucky if it could field 50 men and stay within the confines of what the Mosaic law counted as a military aged man.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem was only known as the birthplace of King David, but otherwise it was an obscure little town that people had to walk through on the way to Jerusalem.
In a way Bethlehem reminds me of when Tammie and I first drove here to meet with the board of the church to talk about coming here as your pastors. Prior to coming here Tammie and I had traveled to almost every part of the state, except here in the Coulee Region- in fact, we never heard of the Coulee region of the state. It took us 4-5 months of living here to even figure out what a Coulee was. If you draw a circle with the Mississippi river to the west, and I94/I90 to the north, east, and south we had never been in this area of the state before.
We took I94 up to Northfield and found it to be quaint, then to Pigeon Falls that we thought was a nice area, and the we saw a sign for Coral City.
We were in anticipation to see what this Coral City was about. Being it says it’s a city, maybe it has some of the conveniences we are used to- like Walgreens, Walmart or other retail stores, or even a good sized grocery store.
As we drove in, got to 53 and S, we found no city. We thought, maybe it’s slightly off the highway.
We looked for even a gas station/convenience store, bar, or a church that will usually indicate a town center in rural Wisconsin, and nothing.
Bethlehem would have been like Coral City- a group of people living in proximity to one another, but little to attract a visitor.
So what did God see in this little town of Bethlehem? What about it made it significant in God’s eyes. Let’s look at some of the historical events that took place there.
1. Genesis 35 shows this place as where Jacob’s wife Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. Rachel’s tomb is there, and her connection with that city is important in biblical prophecy.
Jer 31:15 This is what the LORD says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." You remember Matthew quoting that prophecy when Herod attempts to kill the infant Jesus by ordering the death of every male child under the age of two.
2. Bethlehem appears again in scripture when Ruth brings Naomi back to Israel. If you remember the story, there was a famine in Israel and Naomi’s husband picked up the entire family and went to the neighboring nation of Moab. Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women one of whom is Ruth. Over the course of time, everyone dies except Ruth and Naomi and a sister in law. Sister in law stays in Moab while Ruth brings Naomi back to her people Israel. In caring for Naomi, Ruth is out picking the leftovers from the harvest when she is spotted by Boaz. Eventually, Boaz takes Ruth as his wife.
Why is that important in relation to Bethlehem? This is where the biblical genealogies matter. Boaz is the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David the King- whose throne is to be filled by the Messiah Jesus.
3. All of that started in Bethlehem because if you trace Joseph’s genealogy in Matthew and Mary’s in Luke show that they are direct descendants of David, and that is why they had to go to Bethlehem to register as that was their ancestral home. Why did the census ordered by a Roman emperor do that? Because it was enforced by provincial governors, and therefore Herod would have ordered it to be done the Jewish way according to Jewish law- everyone had to return to the land granted to their tribal families God after the Exodus.
4. As an aside- What about this census? Census were done by Rome for two reasons- first and foremost was taxation- the other for possible conscription of military aged men. Caesar Augustus was a man of war- he fought civil wars, wars of conquest, wars between him and political rivals. Wars are expensive, and this census was for the taxation of the provinces to help support the Roman treasury that his wars were depleting.
Those are a few of the significant facts about the little town of Bethlehem. Let’s look at the lesson’s that Bethlehem can teach us-
II. Anything in creation can be used by God.
At the beginning of the message we said God doesn’t need a lot to work with, and Bethlehem fits that standard-
A few hundred years prior to Jesus’ birth Bethlehem had actually been a decent sized city of several thousand. It had walls, it had a thriving economy and industry, and it’s proximity to Jerusalem ensured that people would always be coming through there to get to the Holy City.
Then about 130 years before Jesus was born, there was a revolt against the Roman’s who destroyed the city and tore down it’s walls. During the time of Jesus, it was a shadow of it’s former glory- only a few hundred people living there.
And yet God still used this little, obscure, rural city to change the word.
God can use anything, or anyone for HIS purposes, even a city struggling to come back after being totally destroyed
How many people have you met that have been destroyed by life?
One of the greatest evangelists of our time, Steve Hill was a major drug user and dealer prior to becoming a Christian. Steve was a convicted felon- He had been in jail several times, and was one of those people that everyone in town wished would just either be sent to prison, move somewhere else, or just die and quit being a drain to society.
Steve often told of the night he was in withdrawal and going insane with hallucinations. Desperate, his mother called the local church pastor for help. One of the pastors came over and led him to faith in Jesus.
And they say, the rest is history. Steve joined Teen Challenge- a ministry for people who have been addicted to drugs or prostitution. He was discipled directly by David Wilkerson and Leonard Ravenhill and became a fiery evangelist. At the Brownsville Revival, conservative estimates state that over 150,000 people came to know Jesus as Lord under his preaching.
Steve had destroyed his life, and yet God used him anyway.
Bethlehem had been wiped off the face of the earth and was left in a state of semi-ruin to be seen as a symbol of the foolishness of resisting Rome, yet God chose to use it anyway.
What is the application for us?
God can use you. (repeat)
God doesn’t need perfection from us. We sometimes think if only-
I could get rid of this irritating habit that doesn’t honor God
If I could only get enough education
If I could only find the right mentor, right school, right church
If I could find a different job and have more time
If only I hadn’t messed up my life so much God could use me.
IF that is you, if you have any of those feelings, then this message is for you!
There is a scripture I take comfort in whenever I feel like God made a mistake in using me for His Kingdom-
1 Cor 1:27 27 But God chosed the foolishe things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are notf—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.g 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus,h who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness,i holinessj and redemption.k 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”d l
Listen- name a hero of the faith-
Every single one of them had these things in common-
• Every one had huge triumphs for God
• Everyone of them had huge failures
• Everyone of them made mistakes
• In the end, they were just like you and me-
they were all reformed dirt having a spiritual experience.
One of the last things that the little town of Bethlehem shows us that can be an encouragement to anyone who is overwhelmed by life is this-
III. Bethlehem proves to you and me that God’s will cannot be thwarted.
Think of all the moving parts involved with Jesus being born in Bethlehem-
First, God needs to maintain a bloodline that stretches thousands of years Think of the Genealogy for a moment- if the line from Abraham, and through Jacob, then through David fails at any one point, the whole salvation history falls apart.
Do you know that it came down to 1 baby? Joash in 2 Kings 11 was the last of the Davidic line, and his evil stepmonster wiped out the rest of the family but Joash was hidden by a faithful priest until he could rise and be king.
Or what about all the human decisions that had to go God’s way?
What if Mary had told Gabriel to get lost?
“Me, and unwed teenage mom? They stone people for that. Get out of here!”
What if Joseph in his anger decided to end the engagement and divorce Mary
What if they had ignored the order to be counted in the census? They probably could have gotten away with it.
What if they had stopped early in Jericho (After all, there might not be room in the inn when we get to Bethlehem) until Mary gave birth? They weren’t on a strict timetable.
What if they had gotten there a day sooner, and there was room in the inn? What if even the stable had already had a couple in it, and they had to keep going and stay in Jerusalem?
Those are just a few of the situations that could have drastically changed the Christmas story.
What does that mean to you and me?
If something is God’s will, and HE has spoken it over your life
His word will always come true
What does that mean to you and me?
You can trust Him with your life. He already has a plan for you.
You can fight it, you can doubt it, you can disobey, you can refuse to follow HIM- but then you forfeit joy, peace, true prosperity, and the future HE wants you to have both in this life, and in the life to come.
Won’t you be like the little town of Bethlehem, and let God use you just as you are, because our God is an expert at taking something that life has destroyed into nothing and creating a beautiful something.
Let’s all rise and sing with a new found appreciation about this little Town of Bethlehem.