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Then & Now  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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I was born in Brantford, ON Canada. If you’re into hockey, your ears will perk up. Oh, Brantford! The birthplace of Wayne Gretzky!
I was born in Brantford, ON Canada. If you’re into hockey, your ears will perk up. Oh, Brantford! The birthplace of Wayne Gretzky!
Now that doesn’t mean much to me, but my brother took great pride in it. He’d brag that he was born, not only in the same town, but the same hospital, probably the same room!
Most people have the same feeling of identifying strongly with their birthplace. Next year the world cup will be played. Across Canada, people will be waving the flags of their countries of origin. Sure, their Canadian now, but they’re proud of their homelands!
Bethlehem
The same thing is true about Bethlehem. The town is significant among God’s covenant people. It’s King David’s hometown - King David was a famous war hero, poet, and king. He ushered in the golden age of Israel and established nearby Jerusalem as his seat of power. The house and line of David might have been scattered across the country, but Bethlehem was their home town.
Micah spoke of Bethlehem many years earlier. People were nostalgic of the days of King David when Micah the prophet brought the word of the Lord. Rightly so, the level of corruption in Jerusalem had grown. People longed for justice and righteousness, especially in the royal family.
So God’s word comes through the prophet, that another great ruler will come from Bethlehem. The humble little town of Bethlehem will produce another ruler over God’s covenant people. It’s a promise that gets forgotten. Micah’s words are probably chalked up to hopefulness for the renewal of David’s dynasty.
And then a descendant of David makes the trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. He brings along his pregnant wife. They need to register for a census in his hometown of Bethlehem because he’s of the house and line of David. Oh joy, an interruption to go be counted for more taxes! But . . .
Luke 2:6–7 NIV
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
While they’re there, Mary gives birth to her firstborn, a Son and swaddles him in clothes and lays him in a manger.
This baby, born in sleepy little Bethlehem, was the one. Jesus is deeply rooted in the dirt of Bethlehem. He’s the shoot of the stump of Jesse.
It shows something of Jesus’ humanity. He’s from Nazareth, but his roots can be traced to Bethlehem. Not only is he from David’s house and line, but God maneuvered the geopolitical situation in the Empire so that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
It’s awkward for Mary. Probably her mother wasn’t there when the baby was born. Probably there were no sisters or childhood friends to oh and ah. Bethlehem probably had a midwife, but it wasn’t the familiar face Mary knew from Nazareth.
When God the Son came to earth and humbled himself to become a person, it was just as real, just as messy, just as humbling, just as beautiful as the birth of every other child. The nonsense that the body is bad and spiritual is good gets a serious blow when God himself becomes human, being born in the dusty town of Bethlehem.
It’s the beginning of the renewal of all creation. The creation was stained by sin by our first parents’ disobedience. Since their first sin, the ground was infested by thorns.
It’s something we’re all stuck in. I cannot live up to God’s call to righteousness and holiness. Can you?
Sin is serious. It always causes death and corruption, not just because God’s righteousness demands that the death sentence for treason be carried out, but because it is the nature of sin to cause death. Sin isn’t just punishable by death, it is always a fatal choice, poisoning and killing relationships and corrupting and polluting the environment. We’re dying and sinners face the doom of an eternity cut off from God’s goodness
But God is merciful and loving. He would rather die than lose his creatures and his creation. So Jesus took on flesh. He was born in Bethlehem. He suffered, was rejected, and died on the cross. His dead body was laid in the ground and the stone rolled in front of the opening.
On the third day he rose again. He’s the firstborn among the dead. Sure there were people who had been revived before - Jesus’ friend Lazarus among them - but Jesus’ resurrection was different.
By his death and resurrection, Jesus conquered our great enemies sin and death. They no longer have power over him. His body was raised to life and glorified.
All who have faith in him gain life and are glorified with him. Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of the renewal of ALL creation. This is an important point: Jesus’ physical birth and physical resurrection give us the reassurance that our salvation isn’t just something spiritual. Our bodies are redeemed, renewed, and revived. The earth is redeemed, renewed, and revived. There’s a new heaven and a new earth.
New Jerusalem
There’s an objection I hear regularly about the new creation. People who love living in a small town and farmers are skeptical of having to live in a city. People voiced this concern in rural New Brunswick and I hear it in Tillsonburg - I heard it again this week. I can relate. I grew up in a city. Except for the first couple years of our marriage, I’ve lived in the country. Who can get excited about living in a city?
But this isn’t just a city in the ordinary way, yet it’s also not a heavenly city. The New Jerusalem descends from heaven and gets firmly planted on the earth. God’s dwelling place is with humankind on the earth. All the tensions are resolved. Even the tension between city and country.
Size
It won’t be cramped. You know that the numbers and dimensions in Revelation are figurative, but you can’t help but marvel. 12 000 stadia by 12 000 stadia is big! Look at the map. As a cube, it’s enormous.
The international space station is visible as a bright spot racing across the sky. It is at 408 km above the ground. The walls of the New Jerusalem are 5X higher than that!
We didn’t read into , where we find that the city streets aren’t dead. They might be made of gold, but there is life and growth and crops in that city.
Best of all
Revelation 22:2 NIV
down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
rev 22: 2
Best of all, we’ll be with God:
Revelation 21:3 NIV
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
With God among us, the earth will be renewed and restored. It will be marvelous.
Real estate agents tell us that only 3 things matter in real estate: location, location, location. You don’t believe it? Think of the turmoil Donald Trump caused when he announced that the US embassy in Israel will be moved to Jerusalem. It caused riots and conflict and 138 countries voted to condemn the move at the United Nations.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem. That’s a significant location. The birthplace of rulers and kings among God’s people. The King of kings was born in the birthplace of his illustrious forefather.
When Christ returns, he’s not taking his followers away from earth and leaving his creation to go to hell in a handbag. When Christ returns, he’ll restore and renew his creation. His dwelling place among us will be on good old terra firma.
Believers from every nation, tribe, and language will be united in their allegiance to their God and King. The city will be big and in that city, all the tensions and conflicts will be resolved:
Women will be respected and appreciated without fear of sexual harassment.
Men will be manly by reflecting Jesus’ strength and compassion by speaking with his perfect blend of grace and truth.
People from all different birthplaces will sit side-by-side at the feast, united as citizens of the Kingdom of God and enjoying the opportunity to break bread with each other and with our Creator and Redeemer.
Even a city - a dwelling place for many, many people - will not suffer from sin and brokenness: no poverty, no crime, no more will thorns infest the ground.
But there’s a challenge. Jesus’ followers are citizens of that Holy City. Believers in Christ experience the beginning of the renewal. As we wait for Christ to come, live on earth again, we work towards that renewal of society. As God the Holy spirit renews and restores us to be like Jesus, we’re invited to collaborate with God in making our neighbourhood resemble the New Jerusalem.
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