When I scan the news headlines on my phone, Buzz Feed’s daily post often captures my attention. Usually, there is a list of products that we can’t live without (or so they say). The one recently I couldn’t seem to resist reading was about small, inexpensive products that will “change your life.” But even though I am fascinated, I never order any of the products. So why does the feed continue to capture my attention? I wish it were just my curiosity, but I confess that some part of me thinks my life would improve if I had one of the things advertised. I thank God for restraining me as my better nature clicks in, and I come to my senses. This week’s passage seems to have curbed my desire for the trivial things of the world, preferring the little things of God instead, that he uses for his grand mission of redemption. “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. 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. 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. And he shall be their peace.” (Micah 5:2-5) Christ, a humble babe from an insignificant city, is our Great Shepherd of peace through his divinity and his human birth, life, death, and resurrection. It is my prayer that we will experience spiritual revival this Christmas as we meditate deeply on Christ’s humility and victory through his human incarnation.
We know that God does great things with the humble and little. Out of David’s birthplace came his heir, the Lion of Judah, to be the ultimate King, as foretold by the prophets. Other Old Testament passages remind us that David, Israel’s greatest human king, was also a humble shepherd born in Bethlehem (2 Samuel 7:13, 16). It was all according to God’s plan, for His glory and to accomplish his purpose, “you shall come forth for me” (v. 2). But, “This is not the way with human kings and kingdoms. On the contrary, history shows the kingdoms of this world rising and falling across the centuries. The normal course of the kingdoms of this world is described in a striking way in Daniel. (Dan. 5:18, 20–22). All human kings and kingdoms follow this course. God lets a man rise above his fellows in power, he is overcome with pride, and eventually God brings him down.” (1) The gospel of Jesus Christ, seen through the lens of his incarnation, turns everything upside down. Instead of wanting things to improve our lives, we can turn away from them to seek Christ. Instead of putting our hope in more, better, and bigger, we learn to be small, humble, and insignificant, to exalt Christ. Bethlehem suffered from famine in Ruth’s time, in spite of it being the “house of bread.” Bethlehem was too little for Judah’s reputation as the tribe of kings, yet it was here that our Savior was born. My life, and perhaps yours, is obscure and known only to a few people compared to the presidents and prime ministers of the world. Yet God can do mighty, magnificent, grand works through our short existences on this earth when we yield to his plan, known from ancient days. The peace we have with the Lord by his Spirit in Christ did not originate with Jesus’s incarnation but from eons before that. Our redemption and reconciliation with the Lord is part of God’s grandest, most significant, most compelling work; let’s not diminish or weaken its grandeur by our Christmas “celebrations” with trivia; there’s nothing trivial about God’s redemption.
Our desire to improve our lives and distract us from our pain and troubles drives us to find new products, conveniences, and pursuits. We don’t want to suffer as Israel did in their exile, driven away from their homes into foreign lands and alien cultures. But Micah predicted that “…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.” (5:3) God will bring glory out of Israel’s pain according to His timing, not his peoples’ impatience. God’s people had no king, no home, and no temple for seventy years. They had no control over their return to Jerusalem and had to wait for the Lord’s intercession. In the same way, Israel remained for four hundred years, until Mary’s labor, waiting for their Savior-King. And then God’s people waited another thirty-three years for the “rest of his brothers” to come to faith in the Messiah at Pentecost. (2) When the angel pronounced God’s plan to a little, insignificant woman named Mary, could she or anyone grasp the greatness of his birth? “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33) It’s one thing to hear or read the promise; it’s another to absorb and live in the reality of King Jesus born as a weak, underprivileged, dependent infant to a common, poor, but chosen woman. Christ, our Savior, rose out of Israel’s painful past.
Christ brings us peace and security while we are living our sinful, rebellious, ignorant lives, rebellious toward the living God. We have done less than little—nothing—to achieve this spectacular resolution, a Christmas miracle. “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. And he shall be their peace.” (Micah 5:4-5) This Christmas, we might consider the humanity and divinity of our Savior, without which there would be no redemption or peace. He is the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God. The broken body of our propitiation. Life everlasting and in the grave for three days. Eternally preincarnate and a carpenter’s son. The Lamb and the Shepherd. Predicted and yet surprising. Finished and interceding. “He endured death as a lamb; he devoured it as a lion.” (Saint Augustine) This is our Jesus, born for our everlasting joyful peace with God. “…In him, in whom they are chosen and preserved; in his love, from which they can never be separated; in his hands, out of which none can pluck them; in his church, where they shall ever remain; and so may be considered as a promise of the perseverance of the saints in faith and holiness to the end…” (3)
“In John 10, where Jesus calls himself ‘the good shepherd,’ there are two explanations of why he is so designated. First, Jesus is the good shepherd because he [voluntarily] laid down his life for the sheep…The second explanation of why Jesus is the good shepherd is that he knows his sheep and is known by them (John 10:14)…To be known by Jesus is to be a member of his flock and therefore to be one for whom he died. It is to be one who will never be snatched from his hand, as he says later. Nothing about us will ever suddenly rise up to startle our divine Shepherd-King and diminish his love .” (3) “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11) Thinking deeply about these truths reminds us of Christ’s humility and victory through his human incarnation, and prayerfully results in spiritual revival.
“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:14-22) Merry Christmas!
(1) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Micah 5, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
(2) Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Micah 5:3, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition
(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Micah 5:5 https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/micah-5.html
(4) Boice, ibid.
December 20, 2019