Bethlehem: Despise not the day of small beginnings

Title: Bethlehem: Despising Not the Day of Small Beginnings

Text: Micah 5:2

Date: November 25th, 2007

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving for 2007. We are now resuming our look at the prophecies in the Old Testament that foretell Christmas. We’ve already examined Isaiah 7:14, where the virgin birth is predicted. Also, we’ve looked at Isaiah 9:6, where the boy child who would become king was prophesied. Now today we’ll examine Micah 5:2, where it tells the place where the Christ would be born. This powerful prophecy reveals how God delights in confounding the wisdom of the wise. It shows how God loves to shatter the expectations of man. One of the great temptations we all face in life is beginning to think that we’ve God got all figured out. The Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus thought that they had God all figured out. In fact, they thought they knew far more than they really did know about God. They were over-confident in their knowledge and understanding of God and God’s ways. That’s why when Jesus the Messiah appeared they failed to understand or recognize him. That’s why they crucified him. But we all come to God with certain expectations, but we have to be careful because we might be proved wrong by a mysterious God who defies all explanations. Every Christmas we sing the famous hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” because Bethlehem is the place where our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was born, but often fail to grasp the fact that this little town is a very unlikely place for God to appear in the flesh as did occur on that first Christmas. Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews, would seem to be a more logical place for the Messiah to be born and raised. After all, it is Jerusalem where the famous temple resided. And also, it is Jerusalem that is the center of the Jewish nation and destination of pilgrims to observe the Jews celebrations each year. Wasn’t it from Jerusalem that all the great Jewish kings reigned? Yes. These and other reasons lead us to look to Jerusalem to be the sight where the Messiah would be born. But no, that’s not how it was. Again, God delights in shattering all expectations of man. I think of 1 Corinthians 1:19, “For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’” Actually, the whole section of 1 Corinthians 1:18-30 applies to the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem, but here’s another example: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and things are not – to nullify the things that are,” 1 Corinthians 1:27-28. You get the picture. At Christmas time this year, we need to keep in mind that God does not limit himself to a rational calculation of things. He doesn’t always play the odds. He often breaks out of the typical, usual, normal pattern of things to do something great and unusual. That’s what Christmas is all about, originally and for us today. Let’s explore the prophecy further.

First, don’t let the size fool you. Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah.” The prophecy speaks of Bethlehem Ephrathah because it wants to distinguish this Bethlehem from another Bethlehem in Northern Israel near Galilee. I heard one liberal, skeptical scholar who claims that Jesus was really born in this other Bethlehem because it’s closer to Nazareth where Jesus grew up, but that the Bible got it wrong! What foolishness! 1 Corinthians 1 keeps coming up again and again: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” verse 20. Even before the time of Jesus, the little town of Bethlehem had produced greatness, in being the birthplace of King David of Israel. So the little town of Bethlehem has a history of producing big things despite its small size. That reminds me of the history of the Jews and how this tiny nation and ethnic group – as far as people groups are compared – has probably influenced the whole world in a greater way than any nation of all. The tiny Jewish people and their faith have virtually single-handedly taught the world to believe and worship One God. Before the Jewish influence, the world was foolishly following after many gods and goddesses. We might still be locked into the futility of worshiping gods instead of God if the tiny little Jewish nation hadn’t entered world history. It just goes to show you that you can’t judge a thing by its size. Our church today isn’t very big, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t have a great impact on the city of Jamestown. You can’t judge a thing by its size. I read in the paper this past week how little chipmunks are causing big trouble for the power grids in some areas of the country. Evidently these little critters get into where they aren’t supposed to and knock off the electrical power to entire cities, whole regions of the country. It goes to show you that it doesn’t have to be something big in order to make a big bang. Now Bethlehem was a little town in Israel that produced the great King David. It was famous and well known for that, but it still remained a small town because that was the only thing it was known for at the time of Jesus. Now because Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, again, some other liberal, skeptical theologians have speculated that Jesus was really born in Nazareth, that again the Bible got it wrong or changed the birthplace, from Nazareth to Bethlehem so as to make it look like Jesus was a king like David from Bethlehem. Do you know their argument that Jesus was born in Nazareth not Bethlehem? Because Jesus is called “Jesus of Nazareth” not “Jesus of Bethlehem.” But as anybody knows, people aren’t always known for their place of birth, but usually people are known for the place where they grew up or mostly lived. Just because we say “Jesus of Nazareth” doesn’t mean he wasn’t born in Bethlehem. That’s crazy. It just shows you how foolish these people are who claim to be experts. It’s just another example of 1 Corinthians 1, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength,” verse 25.

Second, even big things come from small things. Micah 5:2, “Out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.” Now to have the great and famous King David coming from the little town of Bethlehem would have been enough, but not enough for God. He exalts tiny Bethlehem even further by making it the birthplace of the Messiah Jesus as well. This was a known fact among the Jews even before Jesus was born that the Messiah or Christ would be born in Bethlehem. Remember when the Magi came following the star? Remember that they came into Jerusalem and asked King Herod where the king of the Jews would be born? “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”’” That was Matthew 2:3-6. So here we see Bethlehem producing not one, but two great leaders, the first one, David, saved Israel in a temporary way; the last one, Jesus, saves us all in an eternal way. As another example of how big things can come from little things, think of our city of Jamestown. We produced one of the world’s most famous and all-time great comedians, Lucille Ball. I’m sure that when many of the tourists come here to visit the Luci-Desi Museum they are a little disappointed in our city. “This is it? This is where Lucy grew up? There’s nothing here.” I can just hear them now. But you never can tell what big things can come from a small thing. Never underestimate the ability of God to use you for big things. Never get to thinking because you aren’t rich or famous or powerful or in some high position, that God can’t use you in a big way. I think one of the messages of Christmas that God is giving us is never to limit ourselves by ourselves. Don’t place limits on how God can use you in the world. Remember what God said to Jeremiah the prophet when he was just starting out? God calls him to prophecy and Jeremiah says, “’Ah, Sovereign Lord, I don’t know how to speak; I’m only a child.’ But the Lord said, ‘Don’t say I’m only a child. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Don’t be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’” Jeremiah 1:6-7. God is saying to you and to me not to limit ourselves by what we see of ourselves. Another passage says, “Man looks at the outside, but God looks upon the heart.” If there’s anything the Bible teaches, it’s that appearances can be deceiving. Don’t limit God by your own human thinking.

Third, God works in mysterious ways. Micah 5:2, “Out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” This last phrase must have puzzled the Jews who were waiting for the coming of the Messiah when they read this prophecy. From our point of view 2000 years ago the birth of Jesus, we understand perfectly what it’s referring to – the eternal Son of God, the eternal Word, 2nd Person of the Trinity. The Hebrew words used in this passage actually refers to eternity past, so it’s pretty clear that it perfectly applies to Jesus Christ and all we know about his true identity. But to the Jews before Jesus and Christianity it must have puzzled them greatly. No doubt many of the Jewish commentators would have looked upon this last phrase “whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” as possibly a reference to a coming king who would originate from the ancient ancestral family of King David in a natural way. That would be a distortion of the Hebrew, which literally means “eternal past” but it might have made sense to a Jew who couldn’t conceive of the full meaning of the coming of the Messiah as we now know. It’s still hard to understand how the baby born in Bethlehem’s manger could be the Eternal Word, the Eternal Son, God in human flesh, 2nd person of the Trinity. It blows our mind to think that Jesus existed from eternity past, long before he was born in Bethlehem. Remember how in John 8:57-58, how the Jews questioned him, “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham!” And Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am.” The Jews were so upset that they begin to seek out Jesus to stone him for blasphemy. Yes, it is hard to understand how these things can be, but there is no question that they are. It just shows you that God works in mysterious ways. “My ways are higher than your ways,” God says to us. That’s why we should never limit God working in our lives or in anyone’s life just because we can’t see anything big and important happening at the moment. We live in an age that is taken in with the big, flashy, attention-getting people, places, and things. We live in an age of advertising and marketing. Lots of people and things fight for our attention. Usually the “biggest” and the “best” and the “most” get our attention. But we must remember “not to despise day of small beginnings,” as the Bible teaches us. If God can use a little town like Bethlehem to produce two great leaders, the last being our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, if God uses the seemingly insignificant things of the world to confound the wise, don’t you think he can use you in great ways? Remember the mustard seed. Jesus often used this littlest of all seeds to symbolize faith. If you have child-like faith in Christ you can be forgiven of all your sins, you can be accepted by God the Father, you can live in heaven forever – all that with just a little mustard seed of faith. Never underestimate what God can do with some little thing.

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