Ready or Not - Son of Bethlehem
It’s interesting to see how differently two people can see the same activity. Take for instance the 2 guys whose wives were going Christmas shopping. They were invited to go along but decided to go ice fishing instead.
So these two brave and hardy souls they head out to the lake where it gets colder and windy as the day gets longer. The heater in their little ice shanty ran out of fuel, the wind was whipping through the cracks in the boards when they decided to head back to the shore. That’s when things started to get really out of control. They are walking across a thin part of the ice when it suddenly shifts, cracks, and one of the guys went through the ice down into the water. The second fellow gets down flat onto the ice reaches into the hole in the ice and then grabs his friends arm. They struggle to get out of the water and after a mighty effort they make it. As they are laying there on the ice, wet to the bone, the water in their clothing freezing in their clothing, and gasping for air, one guy turns to the other and says “This sure beats shopping doesn’t it!”
Now I know that some of you view shopping as the ultimate adventure – filled with powerful emotions fueled by the danger of fighting your way through a crowd, the exhilaration of a successful hunt, and the weariness that comes from hours on a mall safari. As strange as it may seem to you, there are others who view that same shopping trip to the mall as the closest thing to going to listen to an opera with performed by Dolly Parton.
Some people look at the story of the birth of Jesus and see a baby in a manger, helplessly bundled in blankets, surrounded by gentle cows, bored oxen, and a couple of tired donkeys.
But others look at the birth of Jesus and see something else entirely.
Micah – one of the great preachers of the Old Testament – sees Jesus as a great and powerful king – with some surprising attributes.
A Ruling King
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
According to Micah, Jesus would be a ruler over Israel – a king – even though he comes from a small dusty village – far from the kind of place where you’d expect a real king to be born.
Let’s be real… Kings are not the kind of people we are very familiar with in this day, age, and part of the world. We know something about presidents, legislators, and judges. We are used to having supervisors, mayors, trustees, and even the occasional chief – usually the fire chief or police chief – in our communities. Some of us have served in the military and we are used to the idea of generals, colonels, captains, admirals, lieutenants, and sergeants. In some other countries we hear about dictators, prime ministers, members of parliament, chancellors, and ministers of the government.
Today, once in a while in this modern age we hear about a king. There is the King of Jordon, the King of Saudi Arabia, the King of Sweden, and the king of Norway. We know little of these kings. We know a lot more about another king – this one has a plastic face and frozen grin – called the Burger King – but I’m pretty sure he isn’t a real king – just an over paid actor in tights, funny looking clothes and a mask.
Today, we simply do not understand the position… the prestige... or the power of a real king. Most of the kings in out times don’t have much in the way of position, power or prestige.
Of the 40 or so kings in the world today most are constitutional or traditional. In other words – they are ceremonial. They launch boats, give out medals to military hero’s, and cut ribbons opening up new buildings. Then have no real power. They aren’t really real kings.
A real king has absolute power. Their authority flows from their lineage. They have power not because of tradition or the words of a constitution written on paper. Their power comes from their parents, their grandparents, and their ancestors from ages past.
Of all the 40 or so kings in the world today there are only 8 kings that have absolute power. Of these only 4 have any wealth and none have any real military power.
No, the kings we know anything about today aren’t really the kind of king that Jesus was born to become.
Even though he came from a small town he was born to be a ruler with a heritage that comes from old – from ancient times.
In the letter written to the Hebrews we learn that Jesus comes from a line that extends comes from Melchisadek – the king of Salem in the days of old. Melchisadek was king with no beginning and not end. He ruled in the days of Abraham, who brought him tithes and offerings – for he was the priest of God and king over all God’s realm.
Jesus is a real king – he deserves our respect, our awe, and our adoration – in other words – He deserves your preoccupation.
The Reader’s Digest (Oct. 1995) had a story by Ralph Kinney Bennett entitled "The Night the World Turned Upside Down." In it Ralph describes the first time he kissed a girl. He had taken Paige to the movie, then walked her home. "When we got to her house, we stood inside her doorway, holding hands and talking in whispers. It was dark except for a dim light at the top of the staircase. I could hear the hum of the refrigerator, the sound of a passing car, but I only half-heard what Paige was saying. I was thinking about how to kiss her.
"I could barely see her face in the dark. ’Guess I better head home,’ I whispered. There was a long pause. I leaned down. She was on tiptoes. I closed my eyes and concentrated on pursing my lips just right. Our faces sort of smooshed together. "There was one millisecond of awkwardness, and then the world stopped dead. It was that instant when the Kennywood Park roller coaster reached the summit and was about to descend. I couldn’t hear anything, see anything, think anything. Every atom of me was concentrated in my lips. "Then the coaster descended. I was dizzy. I mumbled ’Good-night’ and lurched out the screen door. There was a buzzing sound in my ears, and I could feel every hair on my crew-cut head. "I walked quickly down the street, listening to my heart beat somewhere deep in my stomach. ’Golly,’ I said to myself. I swallowed a couple of times and took a deep breath. ’Golly’ "When I got home, Mom was sitting at the kitchen table. ’Hi,’ she said. ’How was the movie?’ How was the movie? How was the world? How was the world’s greatest kisser? I climbed the stairs and went to bed. But I didn’t go to sleep for a very long time." That boy was preoccupied, thinking about that girl and that kiss beyond anything else. In that context, can you grasp A. W. Tozer’s definition of worship?
True worship is an everlasting preoccupation with God.
Do you understand that? Do you get it? Do you worship the king?
He is more than a king – he is your king… He is a King for all people.
A King for All People
3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.
Let me tell you a story. It’s a story about a man who had two sons. The first one was born outside the promise of marriage. Oh, he was married at the time and his wife was trying but she just couldn’t get pregnant. So, and this was her idea, she had her husband sleep with her maid – and wouldn’t you know she had a baby boy.
A few years later his wife had a baby boy and now you have a house with two women, two babies and one man fathered them both – and you think you have problems!
Ishmael was the first baby and he and his mother was sent into the wilderness with no birthright, no inheritance, no claim to the family name. Isaac – the other baby – was given every advantage and favored as God’s chosen one.
But Ishmael – seethed with hatred toward his brother Isaac. Isaac was the father of Jacob whose name was later changed to Israel. Ishmael was the father of the Arab nations who hate Israel to this very day.
It was Israel’s family that became the chosen people of God – until they left God’s ways completely some 700 years after God led them by Moses hand out of Egypt. Because of their rejection of God he abandoned them as Micah points out and for 400 years they suffered in silence… until finally a child was born. A child who would become a king for Israel… and for Ishmael… and for all the peoples of the earth.
God never forgot little Ishmael crying in the desert. God sent help to him and his mother that day and he still cares for his people today just as he does all peoples.
Have you ever felt abandoned and forgotten by God? Have you ever felt like no one really cares and no one really understands?
The man who met the president…
In the Spring of 1924, Jack Sundine was a four-year-old kid, standing in a line with his father inside the White House, waiting to meet President Calvin Coolidge. As they neared him, Jack noticed that he said something to each visitor as they shook hands. Soon, the thrilling moment arrived. Jack put his small hand into the President’s. Then the President said words Jack will always remember: “Move along.”
In contrast, aren’t you glad that when we come to God, He doesn’t tell us to move along. No, He is personally involved in our lives and desires to hear from us.
God does. Jesus came to serve us all as out king. For he rules differently than any other king does – Jesus came to be a shepherd king.
A Shepherd King
4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be their peace.
Micah prophesied of a Ruler who would come from Bethlehem who would shepherd His people.
We know from Matthew chapter 2 that this prophecy is talking about Jesus. It says there that Herod the king assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people, to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet [and quoting from Micah 5 they said]: ’And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel;’" Matthew 2:3-6.
Jesus is not just a king – he is a shepherd king. We are his flock and it’s his job to tend his sheep and it’s a job that He takes very seriously.
We don’t understand shepherding any more than we understand kinging.
Someone tells about a man who pulled up to a red light and saw a truck towing a trailer with many sheep inside. The man rolled down his window and yelled to the truck driver, "You shepherds don’t move your sheep around like you used to."
To which the truck driver replied, "I’m not a shepherd; I’m a butcher."
King David, before he became King, was a shepherd boy, and he would tell you that a shepherd’s job was to care for the sheep. Jesus is from the line of David and born in the same city as David – Bethelehem. Jesus understands what it is to tend sheep. He grew up with it.
According to Webster’s 1828 dictionary, to tend is to "watch; to guard; to accompany as an assistant or protector; to hold and take care of as in ’to tend a child’; to be attentive to."
Our Lord is not disengaged from our lives but actively, personally caring for us. I think of a gardener tending to His plants, a farmer tending to His crops, a mother tending to her children – a king protecting his people.
We are His people, the sheep of His pasture. The Everlasting King, the Almighty Eternal God is our Shepherd; and He stands among us to feed us, to tend to us.
When we think on this aspect of our Lord--that He is our Shepherd--we ought to consider some of the verbs associated with His job description. He tends to us. He cares for us. He watches over us. He protects us. He guides us.
He is Our Shepherd King
And Isaiah prophesied of Him, "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;"
Though God is the Eternal King, He came down from His throne to be our shepherd. "From you, O Bethlehem, shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. ...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." The Almighty God, the Ancient of Days, the Everlasting King walks among His people as their Good Shepherd.
What is the difference between the leadership of a king and that of a shepherd? A king rules from his palace. He is unapproachable, distant, above the people. He rules from his throne by his scepter. The shepherd, on the other hand, is dirty. He stinks like the sheep. He stinks because he dwells among them. He walks with them, sleeps by them, talks to them, attends to them. He knows each one by name; he searches diligently for any that stray. He is concerned for them. He protects them. He rules them, not by scepter, but by rod and staff. He knows his sheep and his sheep know him.
God Himself is our Shepherd.