Micah 5:2-5a Great gifts can come in small packages
In just a couple of days, those brightly wrapped presents under the tree will be opened. Usually, it’s the big boxes with colorful wrapping paper that really grab our attention. But sometimes, the most precious gifts come in the littlest packages. In fact, sometimes the best gifts we receive in our lives come in unexpected packages and in unexpected ways. That is the most often the case when it comes to the greatest gifts which the Lord gives. The Lord often chooses the small and insignificant to accomplish his work.
Think about the way that the Lord works to accomplish great things; how he works to accomplish our eternal salvation. He sends his Son in the flesh, born in stable. Jesus, God’s own Son, wins the victory over sin, death and Satan by dying on a cross. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Many of Jesus’ disciples were fisherman from Galilee – none were scholars from Jerusalem. Jesus performed many of his miracles in out of the way places, sometimes with few witnesses. Only three disciples witnessed the Transfiguration. Even Jesus’ first miracle – changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana – how many people realized a miracle had even taken place. Jesus simply had the servants fill jugs with water and then take that water he had changed into wine to the man in charge of the wedding celebration. No big display, no fanfare. When it comes to his acts of grace, the Lord doesn’t work with great displays of his power and glory. Sinners that we are, the Lord’s power and glory would only cause us to run away in fear. Remember the reaction of the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai when the Lord spoke to them. “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
So in love, the Lord deals with us in humility. He hides his glory. He comes to us in word and sacrament. Through the foolish preaching of the gospel – and not through miracles or other displays of glory – the Lord draws sinners to himself and gives his gift of salvation. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” … “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
So as we remember how the Lord works, this prophecy that we have about the Savior through the prophet Micah doesn’t surprise us. The Savior of the world, the King of kings and Lord of lords, would be born in a small, insignificant, out of the way village. The Savior would be born in Bethlehem – not in Jerusalem, the capital city, where most of Judah’s kings were born. Great gifts can come in small packages. This great gift is given to us by God. This great gift is our Shepherd-King and this great gift brings peace.
Bethlehem, while it was a little town – it was too small to be named among the more than 100 cities belonging to the clans of Judah, it did have some significant history in the Old Testament. Many of the events in the book of Ruth took place in and around Bethlehem. Ruth and Boaz were the great-grandparents of King David. So David came from Bethlehem. This reminds us that the Savior would be born from the royal line of David. God had promised David, “I declare to you that the LORD will build a house for you: When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.” God always keeps his promises. God would be faithful to the promise that he had made to David.
There was another notable event in the Old Testament that occurred near Bethlehem. It was near Bethlehem that Jacob’s wife Rachel had died shortly after giving birth to Benjamin. Rachel had given him the name – “Ben-Oni” which means “son of my trouble.” Jacob called him “Benjamin” which means “son of my right hand.” Those names would fit for the Savior Jesus as well. Mary might have called her own son Jesus – Ben-Oni; he would cause her sorrow as she would witness his crucifixion and death. Simeon said to Mary – “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” But God the Father could rightly have called Jesus – Benjamin, the son of my right hand, because Jesus came to carry out God’s eternal plan for our salvation.
Notice what the Lord says through the prophet Micah – “out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.” This was God the Father’s plan and desire. Already in eternity, before creation, before the Fall into Sin, God planned our salvation. In Revelation, Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” What great love the Lord has for us, that he would have so carefully planned our salvation – long before we were even born. What wisdom. Well now, from Bethlehem, the Savior would come who would carry out God’s plan.
“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” How amazing that God directed the events of human history so that his Son Jesus might be born in Bethlehem in fulfillment of prophecy. Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth. Why would they even consider traveling at a time when Mary was about to give birth to her firstborn? But Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken for tax purposes. And Caesar decreed that everyone should go to their home city, the city of their ancestors. Amazing that this should occur, so that prophecy would be fulfilled. But God is the God of history and rules everything for his gracious purpose.
So Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. How fitting! Bethlehem literally means “the house of bread.” And Jesus is the Bread of life. As Jesus taught, “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
So God gives his Son to be “ruler over Israel” and to be our shepherd. Jesus was “born king of the Jews.” Usually a person isn’t born king. A person is born a prince, he may later inherit the throne and become king. But Jesus always was king. His “origins are from of old, from ancient times.” This one to be born is the true God who has no beginning and no end. John begins his gospel with these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” That Word which John refers to is Jesus Christ, as John writes only a few verses later, “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus made it clear that he is the eternal God, the Great I AM, when he declared – “Truly I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”
Jesus may not have looked much like a king, but Jesus didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom. He came to establish his kingdom of grace with his death on the cross. Jesus rules in the hearts and lives of believers by faith. He rules by his word. But while Jesus came in humility and didn’t appear to be much of a king – as the eternal God he is in control of all things. His kingdom is a worldwide kingdom – far greater than any other kingdom. One day he will return in glory as King and Judge. On that day, everyone will have to acknowledge that he is ruler. For those who have rejected his rule and his word, it will be to their great shame and regret as they will suffer eternal punishment. The apostle Paul writes to the Philippians, Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
For us, what a glorious day that will be when our Savior comes in glory. Not only is he our King, but he is also our Shepherd who cares for us. What a comforting picture that is – the Lord is my shepherd. As our Good Shepherd, Jesus laid down his life for us. As the eternal Son of God, he lived a perfect life as our substitute and was able to have his death count for the sins of the world. As a true born, born in Bethlehem, he was able to be our substitute to take our place under the law and to die in our place.
And the result of Jesus’ work is that we have peace. His atoning sacrifice made peace between God and us guilty sinners. Through him we have a relationship of complete unity, perfect peace and harmony with our heavenly Father. The peace that Jesus gives us is a peace that is far greater than any peace the world could ever give. He gives us the peace of knowing that our sins have all been forgiven. He gives us the peace of knowing that eternal life heaven is ours. One day we will experience perfect peace, when we finally reach our home in heaven. The peace that Jesus gives lasts for eternity. It is a peace that we have even in the midst of trouble and sorrow. It’s a peace that even enables us to rejoice in suffering. It is a peace that we have in every circumstance and that cannot be taken away. His daily interceding for us gives us peace of conscience. His shepherd’s love and care allow us to live in peace in this vale of tears. His death and resurrection provide peace even in the hour of death. No wonder the angels sang that first Christmas, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Jesus secured peace for us. He satisfied the claims of absolute justice, so that God in perfect justice can declare sinners to be in a right relationship with Him. Being at peace with the sinner, God can pardon the sinner, and give to him peace which is a divine gift. Being at peace with the sinner, God now showers countless blessings upon us. Since we have that peace of God in our hearts, that peace will also show itself in our lives. It will be reflected in our relationship with others. It will be shown in the way that we deal with trouble and sorrow.
Great gifts can and sometimes do come in small and unexpected packages. We are often tempted to want God to appear to us in glorious ways. We want glory in our lives now. We want him to make our lives easy, to destroy evil and to bless us. But thanks be to God that he doesn’t work in the ways that we expect or desire. Thanks be to God that he deals with us in his grace and mercy. If the Lord gave us nothing but blessing and ease, how quickly we would forget him and lose hold of the peace that he has given us. If he appeared to us in glory, we would run away and hide in fear and never even hear his gracious promises.
God has given to us the greatest gift ever and he gave it in a way and in a place that we would not expected. Jesus, the eternal Son of God’s, was born in the little town of Bethlehem. He is our King. He is our Shepherd. He is our Peace.