Monday, December 24, 2012

Sermon on Micah 5:2-5a, for the 4th Sunday in Advent, "Shepherd King"

            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve—the much anticipated arrival of the birth of the Christ child is almost here. Tomorrow our Christmas carols will joyfully leap from our tongues, as we “come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the newborn King.” But while many might already be burning out from an overdose of trite, secular Christmas music, let’s prolong our anticipation one more day, before the full tide of Christian joy and celebration pours out tomorrow and on Christmas Day. Let’s tune our ears in to hear the sacred “hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unending praises” that the Church sings to God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Let’s once more hear the voices of the prophets, chanting in one accord, promising the birth of the long-expected Jesus. Today the prophet Micah sings his haunting solo, then blends his voice to sing in tune with all the prophets, as he announces the hometown of the Promised One, the Savior, the Christ.
            Micah’s song was mournful at times, watching God’s dread judgment come against Israel, one half of the kingdom being taken into exile by the Assyrians, while the other half of the kingdom looked on, unconcerned that their sins were propelling them down the same path of judgment. Soon that fate would become their reality, and siege armies would surround the gates of Jerusalem. Exile awaited them too. But at this point in the song, Micah’s song rises to sing of hope and deliverance—the verses you heard read today. A ruler would be born for them. But who? Who would he be? A war hero, coming with mighty power, to smash their enemies, and secure their borders? What kind of deliverer would He be? All the OT was a search for Him.
            Ever since Adam and Eve shattered our relationship with God by the first sin, and we followed in their footsteps—the watch was out for this Deliverer, this Savior. At first the wide beam of a searchlight turned on, sweeping back and forth across a broad area: “look for the Savior to come from the offspring of Eve. He will crush the head of the ancient serpent, the devil.” Gradually the sweeping light gathered focus on the descendants of Shem, then on Abraham called by God, “Look for Abraham’s offspring: through Him all nations shall be blessed.” Down through time the light freezes on the line of David: “Look to the line of David, from Him the King to rule forever shall be born.” More centuries pass and the beam of light concentrates with laser-like precision: “Look for the Son born of a virgin; they will call Him Immanuel, ‘God with us.’” “Look for the birth of this ruler in Bethlehem, the city of David.”
            These and dozens of other prophecies were spoken of Jesus “with one accord” by the ancient prophets. Centuries more would pass, until finally, as one author put it, “all the scattered rays of prophecy concentrate in Jesus, as their focus.” The searchlight had become a spotlight, with Jesus Christ standing front and center, alone, as the sole fulfillment of all these prophecies in one man. The one born in lowly Bethlehem Ephrathah, an insignificant countryside town, “too little to be among the clans of Judah.”  He stands forth as the One whom God called to be “ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from days of eternity.” Clearly no mere earthly mortal. The Eternal One who alone could utter these words, “Before Abraham was, I AM!” (John 8:58). He exists from “days of eternity”—before all time, He who is, was, and is to come (Revelation 1:8). 
            Then Jesus, this mysterious-yet-familiar, unknown-yet-longed-for Deliver is born. Born under the spotlight of the Star of Bethlehem, the Star of Jacob; born under the spotlight of prophecies spoken from the time of Adam to Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. Elizabeth blessed Mary in today’s Gospel reading, saying, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” The birth of Jesus was that fulfillment, the promise of the angel Gabriel, that the Virgin Mary would give birth.  The prophet Micah had also said that Israel would be given up to their enemies until the time when “she who is in labor has given birth.” Their rescue, our deliverance, came when the virgin Mary, gave birth to the child of promise.
            Who would He be? Not a military conqueror, as Micah’s audience may have hoped for. But certainly no weakling or coward either. Not one to run or cower from a fight. Instead, a strong yet gentle king. A Shepherd King. Fitting, to be sure, since He was, after all, to be born from the family and in the same hometown, Bethlehem, of that first great shepherd king, King David. But Jesus, the greater One would “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.” To be a good shepherd of the flock, He needs to be strong and courageous enough to ward off the enemies that come after the sheep. But these were not the physical enemies with sword and spear and shield that Micah’s hearers saw—rather the enemies that Jesus, the Shepherd-King guards against, are sin, death, and the devil. That roaring lion who prowls around, seeking whom he may devour. And just as David stood firm against the lion, the bear, and even against the great warrior Goliath, and slew them all, so also Jesus, the greater Good Shepherd, stood firm against the spiritual enemies that are ever poised to strike at His flock.
            The weapons they bear are accusations of sin and guilt that have us dead to rights. In God’s courtroom, we should all stand guilty, condemned, sentenced to eternal death without parole. The devil is no trifling accuser to be messed with, and the record of our sins is true. So who will shield the lambs of God’s flock, doomed to die? The answer is our Shepherd King. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for the sheep. The sacrificial lamb of God who laid down to take the death blow, to be nailed with all our record of sins to His cross, to “bear and fight and die” against the deadliest enemies that lay siege against us.
            But our true champion Jesus, greater than any would-be war hero, died at the climax of the battle, but in His death sealed His victory over death! His death and then rising from the dead shows the strength of the Lord and how Jesus, our Shepherd King rules “in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.” His life and His rule is filled with paradoxes: His lowly birth in a manger, yet born from a royal line. His cruel death on the  cross followed by a glorious triumph in resurrection. So why did God send the Deliverer from such a little, insignificant place, through such humble and lowly means? Born of a peasant family in a crude manger for a crib?
            God works in the smallest, most common, unlikely ways. Jesus was not born to power, prominence, or prestige. He didn’t arrive mysteriously as a powerful adult, war hero, politician, high priest, etc. He came in the lowliest form. He even allowed Himself to be despised by the world, born in a feedbox for cattle, surrounded by shepherds for His first visitors, living from town to town with no place to lay His head as an adult, finally suffering a criminal’s death on the cross. God could have sent Jesus in mighty power and terror, with such piercing glory and holiness that none could approach Him, or that none could despise Him. He could have been born to the finest luxuries, in the richest palaces, served by untold heavenly hosts. He could have struck terror in the heart of all who saw Him, and wielded fierce judgment. He could have come glorious...but unapproachable. But instead He cloaked His glory in humility. He stooped low to take on human flesh,  the “servant’s form [put] on to set His servants free” (LSB 331:2). He came with the tenderness of a shepherd, that we might approach Him and take refuge in His arms, and find safety from our enemies.
            His second coming will be glorious, however. It will come with His full glory and brightness and the sound of the trumpet, as every eye beholds Him. At Jesus’ first coming, many despised Him and did not proclaim Him King. They scorned His humility, His suffering, His lowly childhood origins and His death. But when Jesus comes again, all the glory, power and dominion will be His. Every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Now is the time to embrace the Shepherd King, to claim Him as Lord who comes tenderly to bring us His mercy, life, and salvation. Now is the time to approach His throne of grace with confidence, to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). To embrace Him as Savior before He comes as Judge. If we believe in Him and confess Him before men, then when He returns He will confess us before His heavenly Father. And His return will not be terror for us, but rejoicing and delight! Then we can pray with joyful expectation: “Come, thou Long-expected Jesus!”
            “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2).  Jesus comes to us even now, wrapped in the words and pages of Scripture as His swaddling clothes wrapped Him in the manger. As we hear the word preached, we hear Christ, Israel’s deliverer and ours. Our hearts are lifted with hope and joy to believe in Him and long for His deliverance. Jesus comes to us and to all, continually, beseeching us to come and believe in Him. Now is the favorable time, now is the day of salvation! Today He comes to us, “not in terror as the King of Kings, but kind and gentle with healing in His wings.” He comes to us as the Shepherd King, the strong yet gentle hand of our Savior, giving us His forgiveness, life and salvation. He Himself is our peace. Rejoice in His gracious and merciful reign over us, and let your praises rise to our God and King this Christmas season! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. The prophet Micah wrote while the nation of Israel was in turmoil. The Northern Kingdom had been exiled to Assyria, and he was warning the Southern Kingdom of Judah that they were headed in the same direction. Read Micah 4 &5. How did Micah bring hope that the exiles would be restored? How did he describe the Deliverer who would come? (5:2-5a).

  1. Promises of the Savior began very broadly (Genesis 3:15), and through the centuries narrowed in focus through the family of Shem (Gen. 9:26) and Abraham (Gen. 12:3), Judah (Gen. 49:10), and so on down through the family of David (2 Samuel 7:12-13). Prophecies of the Messiah became more and more precise till Isaiah 7:14 & Micah 5:2 gave exact details of His birth. Dozens of other prophecies cover various aspects of the Savior’s life and are fulfilled completely only in Jesus.

  1. What details in Micah 5:2, 4, show that Jesus was no ordinary man? Cf. John 8:58; Revelation 1:8; John 1:1-3.

  1. How was Jesus a “Shepherd King?” John 10; Matthew 21. How was He strong and yet gentle? What enemies did He come to defend and deliver us from?

  1. Why is Jesus’ humble birth, life, and lowly death important to us in terms of our approach to God? Hebrews 4:16; Philippians 2:5-11. How will He be exalted one day, and how will His second coming differ from His first? How shall we receive Him and “prepare Him room” for His coming? 

No comments: