Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sermon: Micah 5:1-6 - The New King

I wonder if you spotted the familiar verse in the middle of our reading tonight. If you were listening carefully, you’ll have noticed the reference to Bethlehem, which features prominently in Matthew’s gospel when the three wise men arrive in Jerusalem looking for the new born king. The scribes know where to turn in the scriptures, and thus they know that Jesus has been born in Bethlehem.

But as we come to the reading from Micah tonight, we don’t want to ransack the Old Testament for isolated verses. Yes, this verse, indeed, this whole passage is about what Jesus, the king will do. But we have to approach it in its own context first. As we see the original context, we’ll see the glory of the new king in a greater light. As we look at the passage, I want to you think of the promised king, the powerful king, and the peaceful king – not three kings, but one!

Last week we were looking at the promise of a new covenant, as revealed by Jeremiah. That came in the context of the kingdom of Judah collapsing with Babylon advancing against them. The prophet Micah lived about a hundred years earlier, and again is based in the southern kingdom of Judah, in Jerusalem, during the reign of King Hezekiah.

As we saw last week – just as the covenant had failed because the people rebelled against God, so the kingship had failed. Earlier in the year we looked at Saul, and his promising start and dramatic decline. David was next, but, apart from a few half decent kings, most failed abysmally.

For one, the kingdom had split into two, and the northern kingdom Israel has only recently fallen to the Assyrians, the big power base at the time, and their king Sennacherib.

Not content to leave Jerusalem alone, Sennacherib has advanced against the city. That’s the siege mentioned in verse 1. We find some details of it in 2 Kings 18-19, and (not to get ahead of ourselves), there we find that 185,000 of his troops died in one night, so you can imagine the size of the army (which must have been even greater). More than that, the Assyrians insult and disgrace the people by striking the judge, the leader of Israel on the cheek.

It’s into this context, then, that Micah prophesies these words about the new king to come. First, the promised king – the ‘one who is to be ruler in Israel.’ Notice, that the king is one ‘whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.’ Now, this may well be a reference to the ancient line of kings from David, but we can also see a pointer to an even more ancient, indeed, everlasting, king. That word ‘of old’ is the same word spoken of God in Psalm 90:2 – ‘from everlasting to everlasting you are God.’ Or in Habakkuk 1:12 ‘Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One?’

Micah foresees this new king, from of old, and he will come forth from the little town of Bethlehem. Yet do you see that Bethlehem isn’t spoken of in very favourable terms? ‘who are too little to be among the clans of Judah.’ Remember that Micah is speaking in Jerusalem – city folk. Bethlehem seems like a wee huckster of a place, like a Kinallen (if anyone knows where that is!), or a Drumaness. I’m sure you can think of your own idea of a backward place! You see, when Joshua conquered the land, we find in Joshua 15 a long list of towns and cities in the territory of Judah, their tribal land, and Bethlehem doesn’t even feature. Do you see what’s happening here? God chooses the weak things and the despised things to glorify himself. The wise men came to the palace at Jerusalem; they weren’t expecting the stable of Bethlehem.

As I’ve said, though, Bethlehem holds associations with King David – and so while being from of old, the promised king will also be of David’s line. With the promise of a king, comes the promise that he will see the return of the rest of his brothers. Remember this was written when exile was a real threat, and Israel had already disappeared. The promised king will bring restoration.

More than that, we see that the promised king will also be the powerful king. Once more, we see a familiar picture of leadership in Israel – that of shepherd. Verse 4: ‘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.’

The prophet Isaiah was active during this time as well, and over in Isaiah 40, he gives a picture of the LORD God as shepherd: ‘He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will gather them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.’ (Is 40:11).

In shepherding the flock – caring for them – there is also the task of protecting them against attackers. This seems to be the point of verses 5 and 6, the sustained statement about when the Assyrian comes into our land. Look at the middle of verse 6 – ‘he shall deliver us from the Assyrian.’ God’s king is a powerful king – not the gentle Jesus meek and mild that we can sometimes think about; but rather the powerful king who rules and cares for his people, and protects them against their enemies.

Think of David – in 1 Samuel 17 he goes out to fight against Goliath, and Saul says that he’s too small to go and fight. But David says ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.’ (1 Samuel 17:34-36).

We see as well, that he shepherds in both strength and in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. Strength and majesty, glory and might all belong to the king. And because of this, his people, his flock can dwell secure.

Can you see what Micah is saying to the people sitting huddled in Jerusalem as the might of Assyria rolls towards them? God will raise up a king for them who will be stronger than their enemies; who will be powerful and majestic – and in contrast to how their kings had failed, he will be majestic in the name of the LORD his God. Godly strength, rather than human strength. A King worth trusting.

The promised king is also the powerful king. And, we see in the start of verse 5, he is also the peaceful king. Let’s read the words again carefully: ‘And he shall be their peace.’ Now, I don’t know about you, but to my ears, that sounds a bit strange. Surely, you would expect it to say ‘he shall give them peace’ or ‘he shall bring them peace.’ But no, it says ‘And he shall BE their peace.’

So what does it mean? How will the king be the peoples’ peace? Well, as we’ve already seen, the king has been promised and powerful. He will deal with the attack from enemies, so will provide peace. But peace is more than just the absence of war. To think of peace in that way is to be negative. Rather, peace can also be seen in a positive way. The word peace is our version of the Hebrew ‘shalom’ which is very positive, meaning blessing and enjoyment and contentment and life and love. To see it in action, look over at Micah 4:3-4. Verse 3 shows the negative, then 4 the positive: ‘He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far off; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.’

As we come into the New Testament, we see that as Jesus the King gives himself to die for us on the cross, he is our peace, both from the wrath that is due to us from God because of our sins, and also from the attack of the enemy. Think of these words from Ephesians 2: ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.’ (Eph 2:13-12)

To a war-torn land, with poor leadership, under siege from a superior army, that must have sounded like good news! God promises a new powerful king who will be the peoples’ peace. He will guarantee it. How much more, then, on this side of the birth of Jesus, his life and death and resurrection, can we know that Jesus is our peace. Not the schemes of man or negotiations, but Jesus himself is our peace. No wonder, then, that at the birth of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), the angels sang ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ (Luke 2:14).

So if you’re labouring with a heavy conscience tonight, wondering if God can accept you, or if God can forgive you – look tonight at the promised King who is our peace. As you confess your sins to God, you are forgiven – Christ is your peace.

Or maybe you find Christmas a hard time of the year. Memories of loved ones come back, and you don’t know how you can go on. Christ, the promised king is your peace, and also takes care of you as your tender shepherd.

Or maybe tonight you’re wondering how to make ends meet. Things are looking bleak at the moment and you don’t know where to turn. The Lord Jesus is your shepherd – he knows the way – he shepherds, leads, guides, provides, so that his people ‘shall dwell secure.’ Keep trusting in the Lord – he is in control. The Lord is your shepherd, who protects you from your enemy.

The people of Judah were waiting. Looking out of the city walls, they could see the Assyrians setting up a siege. Sieges could take a long time, and be brutal events. Yet they had the promise of God that he would send a new king – a promised king, a powerful king, and a king who is their peace.

Tonight, we don’t have to wait. The king sits in glory, on the right hand of God, and will one day return to judge the earth. What will you do with King Jesus?

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 14th December 2008.

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