Saturday, December 24, 2016

December 25: Mary Treasured and Pondered

And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. - Luke 2:18-19, ESV

And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. - Luke 2:51-52
Mary Treasured and Pondered:
The Wisdom of Biblical Remembrance and Meditation

And so Christmas Day has come once again, as it has every year for century upon century. Every year, Christmas presents us with another opportunity to consider the person of Jesus – who He was, who He is and what difference He makes in our lives.  As we shop in the local mall, we hear the musical question, “What Child is This?” As we drive down the road listening to secular radio stations playing all Christmas music all the time, we hear “O Come All Ye Faithful” and the invitation, “O Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

As much as the world still seems intent on kicking Jesus out of His own birthday party, This is still the best time of year for many of us to focus our hearts and minds on Jesus, just as Mary did, and to consider, “Who is this child?”

Luke tells us that in the midst of that first Christmas night, Mary, having just given birth to her first child in a stable, welcomed visiting shepherds – grubby, low-life, disreputable shepherds – who were strangers to her and who brought her a story of the most fantastic tale.  When they tell their story of the visiting angels and their message, Mary listens and treasures up all these things, pondering them in her heart.  

In fact, Luke tells us twice in Chapter 2 that Mary “treasured these things in her heart.”  It is an interesting expression, and it means that Mary kept, preserved, treasured and safe-guarded the things she had seen and heard.  She kept these mysteries so well that she was likely one of Luke’s primary sources - perhaps the primary source - for the first two chapters of his Gospel.

Clearly, Mary valued what was happening.  She took her role in God’s plan of redemption very seriously and kept the sayings of God very closely guarded in her heart.  She was not just casually and callously “going through the motions” because she had to.

Mary had much to ponder, of course:

1. Less than a year ago, she had been preparing to get married, the single most important event in the life of a Jewish girl in the first century, when suddenly Gabriel came and stood before her, scaring her out of her mind.  Gabriel addressed her as " highly-favored one" and told her that she was going to have a baby boy, who will be God’s own Son. This baby would be the long-awaited Messiah, who will rule over God’s people forever.

2. Mary was understandably confused because, based on the “facts of life” she learned from her mother, she knew this was impossible, but Gabriel assured her that nothing is impossible for God.  As proof, Gabriel told her that her post-menopausal cousin, Elizabeth, had recently become pregnant. Still, believing that an older, married woman who had been infertile would now have a child was one thing – this kind of thing had happened in the Old Testament to Sarah and to Rachel and to Hannah. But for a virgin girl to have a child, the Son of God?  

3. As overjoyed as she was at being so highly favored by God, the realities of Jewish cultural life and the common-sense skepticism of your neighbors, meant that she have to go away and stay with Elizabeth for a while. As she was approaching the house, Elizabeth herself came to meet her, proclaiming with joy that she is the most blessed of women, the mother of her Lord, and that the baby in her womb leapt at the sound of her voice, thrilled to have a visit from his Lord and her mother. 

4. Then, just as her time was drawing near to give birth, Mary had to travel about 100 miles with Joseph to Bethlehem, to be registered for a tax.  

5. When Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, they went to stay with some of Joseph’s relatives, but they had no room in the main part of the house itself, so Mary and Joseph had to sleep with the animals.  (I'm sure this really made her feel like the highly favored mother of the Son of the Most High God.)

6. Among the animals, Mary went into labor and after a normal, dirty, painful childbirth (no epidurals, remember), she welcomed a beautiful baby boy into the world.

7. Before long, a bunch of smelly, dirty shepherds showed up to brighten up the place.  They were excited and in awe of Mary and her child, saying that an angel had just visited them and told them that this baby is their Savior and Lord, the long-awaited Messiah and King of Israel.  

All of this certainly provides ample material for pondering. Mary did not fully understand the meaning of all of the strange and wonderful things that happened in her life, but she thought about them and considered them and compared the various events with each other:

  • She was the mother of the Son of God, and yet she was a simple Jewish peasant girl.

  • Her Son was the long-awaited Messiah, and yet He was the son of a carpenter in a small town ruled by the mighty Roman Empire. 

  • Angels proclaimed His coming, and yet they did so to shepherds out in the fields, not to the king in his palace or the priests in their temple. 

  • The King of the Universe, God’s only son, was wrapped in rags, asleep in a feeding trough.
As Mary pondered these things, she probably began to think that God’s ways were not like our ways, that the kind of king and kingdom God was working to establish were not what most people would expect.  Years later, she would have much to ponder as she saw this King of kings, God’s own Son, hanging naked and bloody and gasping for breath on a Roman cross.  

God decided to rescue the world by sending His Son to be born as a baby. He then saved His people by having His Son die a humiliating and brutal death. This is certainly something we need to ponder, even as Mary did. So, are we? Are you taking time to treasure and ponder the true message of Christmas and the true meaning of the Gospel this year?

Lord, give us hearts to treasure Your word and ponder Your gospel this year. May we consider Jesus always, not just at Christmas time. May we do more than consider. Maybe we believe and worship Him, now and always. In Jesus' name, Amen.

"Mary, Did You Know?" by Pentatonix:

December 24: Joseph and His Dreams

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

    and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. - Matthew 1:18-25, ESV
Joseph and His Dreams
Do not think for one moment that it is a mere coincidence that his name was Joseph and he dreamed. Scripture tells us the stories of two men named Joseph, both of whom were dreamers: Joseph the son of Jacob in the first book of the Old Testament, Genesis, and Joseph the son of Jacob in the first book of the New Testament, Matthew. 
The Joseph we read about in Genesis was shown his future in two dreams. These dreams brought him the jealous wrath of his brothers who sold him into slavery in Egypt. But Joseph's journey to Egypt ended up saving the lives of God's chosen family, paving the way for a later mighty deliverance under the blood of the Passover Lamb.
St. Joseph's dream, by Philippe de Champaigne
Joseph, husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus, also had two dreams before he, too, ended up in Egypt. The first dream told him to take Mary as his wife, and the second dream (Matt. 2:13) warned him to flee to Egypt. This Joseph was also driven to Egypt by jealous wrath, only he voluntarily fled the rage of King Herod. His flight to Egypt also was used by God to preseve the life of God's chosen family. His flight also paved the way for a later mighty deliverance under the blood of the true Passover Lamb.  
These two Josephs are further distinguished as two of the most morally upright and honorable men in all of Scripture. The Bible is very clear-eyed and sometinmes brutally honest about men's faults: Noah was a drunk, Abraham was a liar, Moses a murderer, David an adulterer, Peter a denier, Paul a persecuter. These two Josephs are among a very small handful of men whose tales are told without any stain or shadow on their characters. We're specifically told of Mary's husband that he was "a just man," one who was determined to treat her with gentleness, despite what appeared to be her unfaithfulness to him.
What I have always admired most about Joseph was how quickly obedient he was to the dreams God sent him. The angel Gabriel came to Zechariah and Mary in person, but the angel who spoke to Joseph only came in dreams. I could imagine a hundred excuses I could offer for not wanting to obey a dream, especially when I was being asked to do such difficult things: marry a woman who is already pregnant with someone else's child, fly away to Egypt and leave behind family and friends, and then go back to Nazareth to live among the gossips. Joseph's instructions were never easy, but his obedience was always quick and complete. 
Heavenly Father, may we, by Your grace, have the heart of Joseph. May we be just and gentle. May we be obedient and faithful. May we be willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of Your name and Your Son. In His name we pray, Amen.        
"Joseph's Song" by Michel Card - 
  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

December 23: Christmas Angels We Have Heard on High

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news." 
- Luke 1:19, ESV

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 
- Luke 1:26-28, ESV

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." 
- Luke 2:8-10, ESV

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"  
 - Luke 2:13-14, ESV


Christmas Angels We Have Heard on High:
The Messengers Who Bring the Good News

Christmas is the season of angels. We put them on our trees, sing of them in our carols, dress our children like them in our nativity plays and then pack them away for a year until we unpack them again in early December. Angels seem to be a nice decoration for our Christmas celebrations, adding a sense of splendor and glory to the whole scene. Yet when I read Luke 1-2, I suspect that we have probably missed the whole point.

The angels we actually meet on the pages of Scripture are not a decoration but a holy terror, literally. One angel shone before the shepherds with such intense glory that the shepherds were filled with great fear. When Gabriel came to Zechariah and the old priest doubted his words, he judged Zechariah with loss of speech for almost a year. 

 "The Shepherds and the Angel" (1879)  by Carl Bloch
These angels are also faithful messengers. The word "angel" in Greek means messenger, and that's what we see the angels doing in the Christmas story, Gabriel comes with news for Zechariah and Mary. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream in Matthew's Gospel, telling him to take Mary as his wife and then later to flee to Egypt from the murderous Herod. The angelic host comes to the shepherds to tell them the good news of great joy for all people.

Angels are messengers, but they are more than messengers. The angels in the Christmas story also bring glory to God. The radiant angelic host that fills the skies above the shepherds sings out 

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"  

These angels are proclaiming a true message, but the main reason why they sing is to glorify God. They are exalting the glory of God and proclaiming His goodness to the shepherds to draw their hearts into worship, too. This particular angel song has been used for centuries to praise God at Christmas time. 

For all of their power, might, splendor, truthfulness, faithfulness and worshipfulness, there is something angels cannot do: They cannot fully grasp or receive for themselves the good news they are sent to convey. 1 Peter 1:12 tells us that "the good news . . . sent from heaven" concerns "things into which angels long to look." Jesus didn't come to redeem the fallen angels. He came for fallen human beings, who bear the image of God. 

Hebrews 1:14 says of the angels, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" This Christmas, let's give thanks to God for the angels. Without their vital role, the Christmas story would never have unfolded as it did. Even today, they serve us in ways we never see. They are so much more important than a cool decoration. 

Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your holy angels. Thank You for sending them to bring the good news of Jesus' birth. Thank You for the many ways they serve and protect us still today. You are good and faithful and truthful, and we thank You for all of Your wonderful works. In Jesus' name, Amen.

"Angels We Have Heard on High" by Hillsong   




"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" by Chris Tomlin


December 22: The Christmas Sign for the Shepherds

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. - Luke 2:12, ESV


The Christmas Sign for the Shepherds:
The Newborn Wrapped in Swaddling Cloths

Have you ever wondered why God came first to shepherds to reveal the birth of Jesus? It was a rather unusual decision, given the realities of the culture. Shepherds were hardly a likely choice to bear good news: Because they slept outside and often moved with their flocks, they were not in towns and among civilized people very often. As a result, they were often not trusted, considered shifty and shady, smelly and unclean. God also chose women to be the first witnesses of the resurrection, so at Jesus' birth and at His rising from the dead, God intentionally chose unlikely, easily disregarded witnesses.

Is this why God chose the shepherds, because they were a marginalized people, or did He have some other reason? Well, what did the angel say to the shepherds when giving them the good news of Jesus' birth? The angel gave them "a sign" that was specifically for them: They would find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

Still, why choose shepherds and why give them this sign? Could it be that God was actually fulfilling a promise to bring the news of the birth of His king to shepherds? Micah 4:8 says, "And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem."(ESV) If the "tower of the flock" in Micah 4:8 refers to a tower which oversaw the flock of the sheep used for Temple worship, then the visit of the angels to the shepherds could indeed be the keeping of this promise. The most famous verse in Micah comes just a few verses after 4:8 in Micah 5:2: 
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. 

Migdal Eder: The Tower of the Flock
Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish convert to Christ who wrote The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah in 1883, believed that "tower of the flock" referred to a specific tower outside of Jerusalem toward Bethlehem where shepherds would bring pregnant sheep who were about to give birth. The sheep gave birth in this tower so that their newborn lambs could be wrapped in swaddling cloths and carefully examined to see if they were spotless and qualified for sacrifice in the Temple. Bethlehem stands just a few miles outside of Jerusalem. Surely almost any Jewish shepherds overseeing flocks in this region, so close to the Temple, would have been familiar with spotless lambs for sacrifice. 

This brings us back to the words spoken to the shepherds: "this will be a sign for you." In the Bible, "a sign" is not a set of directions but is a mark, a token, something given to point to a significant spiritual truth. Jesus' miracles are often referred to as "signs" because they pointed to aspects of His saving work as Messiah. So a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger was a sign pointing to what? Well, for most people it might just be a sign of a poor mother and father who were disadvantaged. But to shepherds who tended the flocks used for Temple sacrifices, the sign meant a spotless lamb destined for sacrifice.

At the same time that God was giving promises to Micah about the coming king whose dominion would come to "the tower of the flock" and who would come from Bethlehem, God was also speaking of the Messiah through the prophet Isaiah:
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth. - Isaiah 53:5-7, ESV     

This Messiah, who was to be born in Bethlehem, would be "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter," pierced for the sins of His people. So perhaps God did indeed send the news to shepherds because they knew about spotless lambs for sacrifice. They alone would be qualified to understand this particular sign of the "good news of great joy that will be for all the people."

Heavenly Father, give us the grace to see with eyes of faith this Christmas, that  we may recognize the baby in the manger as the spotless lamb of God sent to bear out sins. Let us draw near to Him in full assurance of  faith and worship Him for who He is and what He has done for us. We thank You for such love in sending Your Son and for such a sign to help us understand your gift. In Jesus' name, Amen.    

"Welcome to Our World" by Chris Rice:


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

December 21: Christmas is the Myth That's No Myth

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers . . . and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. - Matthew 1:1-2 & 16, ESV
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. - Luke 1:1-4, ESV
Christmas is the Myth That's No Myth:
Jesus Invaded Our World in Real Time

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened." - C.S. Lewis

We humans love good stories. We love stories that tap into our imagination and sense of wonder and birth in us a hope that blazes like light in the darkness of our world. We love stories where heroes overcome impossible odds and seemingly invincible enemies to rescue the world. We love stories where a man is so committed to his true love that he risks death again and again to ensure her safety and win her love.  

Of all our stories, the story of Jesus has proven to be one of the most popular. The story of God loving the world He made so much that He would leave heaven and come to earth to rescue it from darkness has kindled more hope in the hearts of more people than any other story. The story of the heavenly king who comes into the darkness of death in order to rescue His bride from the clutches of the enemy has stirred love and longing for millions upon millions of people over thousands of years.

The story of Jesus resonates so deeply with the heart of humanity and echoes the themes of so many classic human myths. These mythological echoes which ring out in the story of Jesus have caused many to classify Jesus as a myth. But both Matthew and Luke open their Gospels by firmly rooting the story of Jesus in history. Matthew opens by giving us Jesus' genealogy, so we can know exactly who His human ancestry was. Luke opens with a pledge to write "an orderly account," and then he fills his account with numerous specific historical details: the names of emperors, governors, rulers, high priests, towns, customs, etc. 

So if the story of Jesus is history, why does it have the ring of myth to it? I said that the story of Jesus echoes the themes of many human myths. What if the other myths are actually an echo of the true story of Jesus? What if each of us has an ache, a longing for rescue, a strong desire to be deeply and truly loved, which pours itself into our stories? What if God Himself put that ache in our hearts so that we would long for Him? What if God sowed the seeds in the human spirit which would ultimately only find their fruit in the coming of Jesus? 

This Christmas, let's look at the story of Jesus' coming with fresh eyes. Let's see with renewed wonder how the deepest  longings of our hearts are met in Him and in Him alone! 

Lord Jesus, You are not only the fulfillment of every promise of God, but You are also the fulfillment of every true human longing. We need the rescue and the love that You came to give us. So come to our hearts and lives afresh this Christmas, pray, Amen.     

"All is Well" by Michael W. Smith and Carrie Underwood - 


December 20: Christmas From Zechariah to Malachi to Zechariah

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
    and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
    and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
    I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.- Zechariah 9:9-11, ESV

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.-  Malachi 3:1, ESV


But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. - Malachi 4:2, ESV


"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

    for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
- Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, in Luke 1:67-79, ESV

Christmas From Zechariah to Malachi to Zechariah:
God Provides Redemption and a Forerunner to Prepare the Way

Have you ever really wanted something badly for a long time? Have you ever waited so long that you began to give up hope on hope? When such anticipation finally turns to realization, hope realized is transformed to joy unspeakable!

Today, we make a transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament as we continue to prepare our hearts to worship Jesus this Christmas. As we turn from Volume One to Volume Two of God's story, it is a time of waiting. God's people have been waiting for hundreds of years and were starting to give up hope. 

In Luke 1, we meet an old priest who was giving up hope himself. He had been unable to have children with his wife for many years. When they had finally given up hope of conceiving, God sent the angel Gabriel to meet this priest in the Temple and to tell him that he would indeed have a son who would be very special in the plan of God and His coming Messiah: 

"And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared."  - Luke 1:16-17, ESV

Zechariah didn't believe it. How could it be? In time, he would come to see the truth.  

This old priest was named Zechariah, and it is no coincidence that he bore the name of an Old Testament prophet who spoke powerfully of the coming Messiah and His salvation of His people.

Later in Luke 1, Zechariah himself speaks, and we hear from a transformed man. He sings a beautiful song of praise to God. He praises God for keeping His covenant promises to Abraham and to David. He praises God for fulfilling the words He spoke through the prophets. Zechariah's song is rich with echoes drawn from those prophets, from Isaiah and Jeremiah, from Zechariah and Malachi. Zechariah sings with joy, for the promises God made were coming true at last! 
  • The Old Testament prophet Zechariah had spoken of one who would set the prisoners free from the waterless pit, by the blood of His covenant. Priest Zechariah, being filled with the Spirit of God and speaking as a prophet himself, sang of how the Messiah would lead people out of darkness and out of the shadow of death.
  • The prophet Zechariah spoke of the enemies of God being destroyed. Priest Zechariah sang of how "we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us."
  • From Malachi's lips, the promise had come that the sun of righteousness would rise with healing in His wings. Zechariah sang that the sunrise from on high would now finally visit God's people.
All that God had promised was now coming true: Jesus would come and shed His blood, the blood of the covenant, and that would set the people of God free from condemnation. Jesus Himself would shatter the power of death and hell, and God's people would be led out of darkness and death into light and life and peace. Zechariah saw all of this, and more. Jesus Himself would rise as the sun of righteousness, as the sunrise from on high, shining the light of life on His people. 

If we have seen one thing clearly together over the past several days, it is that Christmas is the glorious good news of the greatest promises ever made being kept in a way that God's people long anticipated but could never have predicted. God spoke words so wonderful that most people never grasped their full significance until Jesus stepped into the world and the promises became flesh and blood. 

Zechariah the old priest had the joy of knowing that his son, John, would play a vital role in the long-awaited fulfillment of God's promises. John would be the forerunner, in the spirit of Elijah, preparing the hearts of the people for their king. Just as Malachi had said, God was sending His messenger to prepare the way, and that messenger was John, Zechariah's long-awaited son.

Zechariah knew the joy of long-held hopes finally turning to irrepressible joy. Have you received this joy for yourself, or are you still waiting for God to do what He's already done? 

Lord, You have kept Your promises. You have sent the Light of the World to lay down His life for the life of Your people. You have sent the Deliverer who has earned a redemption more powerful than any of us can grasp. Fill our hearts with true and saving faith in You, that we may rest in the promises kept and that our hope may turn to joy this Christmas. In Jesus' precious name, Amen. 

Chris Tomlin sings of the "Unspeakable Joy" that God's promise fulfilled in Jesus brings to the world:

Sunday, December 18, 2016

December 19: Christmas According to Micah

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 5:2-5a, ESV


Christmas According to Micah:
The Shepherd-King from Bethlehem

Western Pennsylvania is a collection of small towns where coal mines and steel mills once fueled thriving economies but where the best days seems like a distant memory. For whatever reason (maybe it's the water), this small region of the country has produced five of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of football: Joe Namath, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Johnny Unitas and the greatest NFL quarterback of all-time, Joe Montana. 

As impressive as the quarterback record of Western Pennsylvania is, Bethlehem's record of leadership is far more impressive. Bethlehem was a very small town six miles to the south of Jerusalem. It was so small that it was not listed among the towns of Judah when Judah's territory was allotted to it in the book of Joshua. Yet this small town was the center of the redeeming activity in the book of Ruth, home to the righteous Boaz, a shining light in the dark times of the Judges. King David arose from tending the sheep in Bethlehem to leading the people of God to victory over the Philistines and then establishing Jerusalem as the capital city of a strong and unified Israel.

After Boaz and David, Bethlehem seemed to fall back into irrelevant obscurity until Micah prophesied something wonderful 300 years later. Micah said that God would raise up a very powerful king from Bethlehem. This king would be very special in His origin, His strength, the effect of His rule and His renown:

1. His coming forth would be "from of old, from ancient days." This expression indicates that this coming King would actually be anciently old in His origins.

2. He would shepherd the people of God in the strength of the Lord, far beyond the power and might of any mere human being. 

3. He would give His people true security. Finally, under His good rule, they would dwell secure.
4. He would be great and highly regarded to the ends of the earth, earning world-wide renown.

Of course, we know that King Jesus perfectly fulfills the description laid out by Micah. Jesus was born in Bethlehem 700 years after Micah gave His prophecy, but His origins are from eternity past. His coming forth was decided in the divine counsel before creation and He was promised from the very beginning of the world. His strength that He displayed during His earthly ministry was the very power of God, over nature and demons and diseases and more. He alone gives His people the true security our restless hearts desire, and He is highly exalted in every corner of the world, worshiped and glorified all over the earth.

This Christmas, let us follow and find security in this great Shepherd-King. He came to be our strength and our peace, so let's find all that we need in Him.

Lord Jesus, thank You for being our Good Shepherd and our Mighty King. You laid down Your life for Your sheep that we may dwell secure in You, forgiven and free. Let out hearts find rest in You alone this Christmas season and always, Amen.  

Here's Matt Redman's version of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" (The Glory of Christmas):