The Ruler From Bethlehem

December 25, 2016 / No. 3860

Dear Radio Friends,
The prophet Micah lived during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. He was called to prophesy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity. In the midst of this prophecy of doom and destruction, Micah gives voice to the words of our text in Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Out of you, Bethlehem Ephratah, shall come a ruler in Israel. Jerusalem will be besieged and destroyed. The land of Judah shall be laid waste. But out of you, little city, will come a ruler.
Did Micah know what he was predicting? Did he know that this Word that God placed in his mouth prophesied concerning the Messiah? Maybe. After all, Peter says of the prophets that they searched diligently into the predictions they prophesied. Certainly, if Micah himself did not understand his prophecy fully, the scribes who later studied his prophecy did. Shortly after Jesus’ birth, magi traveled from the east to enquire about the place of the Messiah’s birth. The scribes and Pharisees were quick to point out exactly this passage of God’s Word. This prophecy of Micah pointed directly to the birthplace of the Messiah. Micah spoke it as if he had some kind of personal knowledge of the very events surrounding the birth of Christ.
We want to compare this Word of prophecy with the events recorded for us in Luke 2. As we do, we will be brought to a deeper understanding of God’s ways in the birth of our Savior. We will understand just a little more the exact way God had determined and carried out our salvation. Our salvation is not left up to chance. It is not left up to the will of man in any way. Our salvation, and the way that leads to our salvation, are ordained by God in eternity and carried out in time. That will lead us to a wonderful sense of assurance. And that in turn will give us great reason to rejoice! That is the reason, after all, that we commemorate the birth of Christ: to rejoice.
I. Our Divine Ruler
We are assured from Scripture that this prophecy of our text refers to Christ. But when we look at the events that surround Christ’s birth, we begin to wonder if this can in reality be true. Out of Bethlehem, our text states, “shall come forth unto me he that is to be ruler in Israel.” In Bethlehem would be born a king—a king of Israel! And he would be a king that came forth unto God, that is to say, this king would rule on behalf of God. We know that, years prior to this prophecy, king David had been born in Bethlehem. But after that, Bethlehem had returned to oblivion. It was but a tiny village with no significance as far as the kings were concerned. Yet, in this city of Bethlehem would be born a ruler—a governor—one who would rule over Israel once again. And this ruler would come forth out of Bethlehem unto God!
But let us look at the events surrounding Jesus’ birth.
Here was a lowly young couple who had no place to stay in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph were of low estate in Israel. They were poor. When they entered Bethlehem they were forced to take shelter in a stable—a place nothing better than a barn. A place where were sheltered cattle and sheep and donkeys. While in the shelter of this stable, Mary went into labor and brought forth a son. Because they were poor, the clothing of this babe was the soft but practical clothes of a poor baby. There were no doctors around—not even a midwife. Joseph and Mary together and alone had their baby. This baby Jesus was then laid to rest in a manger—a feeding trough for animals. According to the angels who later appeared to the shepherds, this was a sign that this baby was a ruler. “This shall be a sign unto you that this baby is Christ the Lord, ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger!” But when we look upon this poor little baby lying in this manger in Bethlehem, we wonder how this could possibly point to what we read of in this prophecy in Micah?
Yet, this baby, dear listener, is indeed Christ the Lord! And that name Lord refers to Christ’s kingship. This lowly little babe is born a ruler. The government is upon His shoulders, as Isaiah also foretold. No, we cannot see that in this babe of Bethlehem! Certainly, the unbeliever will never see this. That is because this baby was not born to be an earthly ruler who would rule over an earthly kingdom. If that were the case, then Jesus would have been born in Jerusalem, where the other kings out of David’s line were born. The fact that Christ was born in poverty—wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid to sleep in a manger—bespeaks the true Ruler that He is! Christ was sent by God into this world to conquer the power and dominion of sin in the lives of God’s people. He came to overcome the tyranny of sin. He came therefore to establish His spiritual kingdom in the hearts of His people. And this the babe of Bethlehem did too!
He did not do this by gathering about Him, during His life, kings and princes. He did not do this by organizing a great war-host to follow Him into battle against His enemies. He did not use His great power to perform miracles that would wipe away all nations from before Him in order that He might rule. Christ became this great ruler by means of the cross! By means of His death! At the cross Jesus might even have appeared to unbelieving hearts as weaker than He did at His birth. But at the cross Christ accomplished the purpose for which God had sent Him: He suffered the wrath of God against sin and paid the price. This Ruler would come forth unto God, after all. He came forth to do God’s will. And this Christ did too! Christ conquered Satan and his power over us. Christ took away the sentence of guilt that hung over us. Christ destroyed the grip of corruption.
And for performing this work in perfect accordance with God’s will, Christ earned Himself a name that is above every name. He earned for Himself a throne that far exceeds any earthly throne. Christ sits on a throne in heaven at God’s right hand. And Christ rules the nations! He rules! He rules over all the kingdoms and nations of this world. All men perform His will and good pleasure. But this Ruler of the world is the Ruler of Israel, according to our text. That simply means that Christ rules over all things to the church—for the benefit of His church. No, He does not rule over the earthly nation of the Jews. The Old Testament nation of Israel lost her glory many years before this already. The Messiah of whom Micah now speaks rules over the church by His Spirit and Word, blessing her and protecting her unto the end of time! But that baby in Bethlehem, make no mistake about it, is the Ruler—the King whom Micah predicted.
But there is something more that our text speaks of concerning this Ruler. At the end of our text we read: “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Puzzling, is it not? Here this Ruler has not even been born yet—in fact, would not be born for several hundred years yet—and Micah says then already that His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting! In other words, this Ruler who was to rule all of Israel will be one who has always existed! His works and ways have been from of old. He was there when the earth was created. He was with God from everlasting. But all of this refers to the Son of God. In several different passages the Bible speaks of God’s Son, who was in the bosom of the Father from all eternity, being with God from everlasting. The Bible speaks of the Son of God creating all things and governing all things with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our text, then, refers to the divinity of this Ruler. This Ruler would be God—the Son of God. But is this true of that little baby in Bethlehem?
We go to that manger again and look at this son of Mary. There He lies before us and we look at His face. He does not look like God. We cannot see God in Him. He looks like any other helpless baby. He has needs just like ours. No crying He makes? I hear Him crying. He is a human baby that cried when He was hungry or needed to be changed. We see nothing but Christ’s humanity when we look at Him in the manger of Bethlehem. He was veiled in human flesh. But when we look at this baby with the eye of faith, then we see Him as He really is. He is not the Son of Joseph. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit! He was born out of the womb of a virgin girl. This baby, though veiled in human flesh, is nevertheless the very Son of God. He is divine! His goings forth, therefore, have been of old, from everlasting. I know, it does not appear that way. That baby looks like any newborn child. But that is only as far as His humanity is concerned. According to His divinity He is the Word who was with God and who was God from everlasting! The Christ child is God! He is divine!
II. His Ordained Birthplace
AND, He was born in Bethlehem. “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands in Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth!” Bethlehem. What was so significant about Bethlehem? Nothing really. We learn from Scripture that Rachel, the younger of Jacob’s wives, was buried there. This was also the lowly village where Naomi lived with Ruth. Perhaps the only event of any import that happened in the town was that the great prophet Samuel had visited it once to anoint a king. David, who himself was only a lowly shepherd at the time, was there anointed to be king. And he, with his son Solomon, was the greatest king to rule in Israel. Otherwise, there was nothing significant about this village in Judea. It was small, insignificant, of no account in Israel. Bethlehem lay about 11 miles south of Jerusalem, the city of the great King. It was nestled in the hills of a region called Ephratah. Each tribe was divided into such regions. The tribes were divided into tens, hundreds, and thousands, over which there was a head or ruler—princes, as Matthew calls them in Matthew 2:6 when quoting this prophecy. Ephratah was one of the thousands—one of the smallest divisions in the nation of Judah. What this prophecy of Micah means, then, is that Bethlehem was so small and insignificant that it was only one of the thousands of regions of Judah. Yet, we are told that out of Bethlehem would come the Ruler that would rule not just this little region of Ephratah—not just this little town of Bethlehem—but all of Israel!
We ought not overlook the fact, therefore, that Bethlehem was the place that God Himself ordained from eternity to be the place of the birth of the Messiah! The Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem. It could be no other way. He had to be a Bethlehemite. This was ordained by God and established long before Christ was born. This is why David was born in Bethlehem. Notice how I phrased that—this is why David was born in Bethlehem. We do not say that Christ was born in Bethlehem because David was born there. We say that David had to be born in Bethlehem because Christ was ordained to be born there. Christ was born of the house and lineage of David. He was born organically and legally into David’s line. He was heir to the throne therefore. We would never see this in that baby born in Bethlehem, but it is true. For this reason, even as God had foreordained that Christ would be born out of this village of Judea, so also did David have to be born there. This, as well as Christ’s lineage, showed that Christ was born the Ruler of Israel.
But wait a minute, Jesus did not live in Bethlehem. He lived in Nazareth. And He lived there because both Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth. That was a far cry from Bethlehem! Nazareth was in Galilee, and Bethlehem was in Judea. How could it be possibly true that Jesus then was born in Bethlehem? Ah, but do we think that the events of which we read in Luke 2 are arbitrary? Do we think that the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem took place by chance? God was directing the affairs of the lives of these lowly peasants! A decree was issued by Caesar Augustus in Rome. He made a decision that everyone in his empire had to be taxed. He needed revenue to support his kingdom. And although the tax was not going to take place immediately, registration for the tax was. A set time and day was determined in which all (at least in Palestine) had to go to the city of their lineage. Since the time of David and the establishment of his kingdom, there were records kept as to what was the place and lineage of each of Israel’s citizens. Since Mary and Joseph were both of the house of David, it meant they had to leave Nazareth and travel briefly to Bethlehem to register for the tax. They probably looked up against the journey with some dread seeing that Mary was largely pregnant. They hoped, no doubt, to register quickly and return home to Nazareth before the baby was born. But this is not what God had in store for them. They arrived in Bethlehem the night before the day they had to register.
They could not find a place to stay, however. Bethlehem was small and so was the little inn in Bethlehem. And, after all, this little town was pretty busy, since there were others who were there already too, to register for the tax. Either Joseph and Mary were directed to or they stumbled upon a place of shelter. It was a stable, probably nothing more than a small cave hewn out of the side of a mountain. There it was that Mary went into labor. There was no waiting for a midwife or doctor. Joseph must have helped deliver their son. Jesus was then wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger for a bed.
But what was it that happened that night? A Ruler was born! Where? In Bethlehem Ephratah! The exact place God had ordained that His Son, the Messiah, was to be born! Did these events happen by chance? Of course not! They had been directed in their minutest detail to accomplish what God had willed from eternity! And from that time forth, Bethlehem, though it was little among the thousands in Judah, would no longer be the least in importance. From that time forth, Bethlehem has been associated with the birth of the greatest King that has ever lived or will ever live! It is a King whose rule has no end. It is a King that is still sitting on His throne today. It is a King that will rule forever over the house of Israel, that is the church!
III. A Certain Salvation
And Bethlehem speaks to us in turn of a certain salvation. Think about this prophecy before us once. It was spoken to the people of God who then were being threatened with destruction and captivity . For the faithful in Israel, things looked terribly bleak! That the Messiah would come seemed an impossibility! But then this prophecy is heard: the Ruler will come forth to rule in Israel! David’s seed will once again sit upon the throne! This spoke to God’s people, then, of their certain salvation. Nothing would thwart God’s plan to save His people. Nothing would keep the Savior from being born. What great reason for God’s saints then to have rejoiced.
And what great reason we have to rejoice! For us salvation has come. We have seen our salvation in the events that transpired in Bethlehem. Unto us is born this day in Bethlehem a Savior that is Christ the Lord. And our salvation is sure in Him. We need not doubt nor fear. That this prophecy of Micah was fulfilled reveals that today too, God’s Word never fails—it is certain. When that Word speaks to us of our salvation, we can be certain of our salvation! For that reason we rejoice. Our Ruler is come, and He even now reigns on high! Our celebration in this season of the year surrounds that birth of the Christ, the Son of God!