The Kind of Christmas Promise that Turned Herod into a Mass Murderer
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Sunday, December 19, 2010 - 10:00 a.m.  Sermon #: 1428
Pastor Don Horban

Micah 5:1-6 - “Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. [2] But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. [3] Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. [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. [5] And he shall be their peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land and treads in our palaces, then we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princes of men; [6] they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod at its entrances; and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian when he comes into our land and treads within our border. “

It’s a passage so obscure many of you had to look Micah up in the table of contents in your Bible, but the scholars just prior to Jesus’ birth knew these verses well. Matthew tells us that King Herod had these very words quoted to him, and they filled his power-hungry heart with trepidation:

Matthew 2:1-6 - “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, [2] saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." [3] When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; [4] and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. [5] They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: (then the wise men partially quote and partially misquote the words from our text in Micah) [6] '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.' "

The wise men from the east were familiar with this text because they had been studying it. They sensed something powerful happening with the birth of baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem. They had also been studying Jeremiah’s prophecy about the star and had been following it. In short, they saw what other careful scholars saw in those days, that everything was coming about as the prophets had foretold. They knew what so many people today miss - Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah.

Herod was so sure of this fact that it filled his heart with fear. He knew his rulership was no match for the One whom Isaiah said would be called “mighty God” with Father God’s “government resting upon His shoulder.” Matthew is careful to record that Herod called the whole religious establishment together. So troubled was he to hear of this new-born King. (That’s what Matthew means when he says Herod “and all Jerusalem with him.” Then he adds clearly that he meant Herod called the “chief priests and the scribes” - Matthew 2:4.)

His attempted annihilation of all those two years and under evidenced the desperation of his heart. There’s a fearful insanity that grips power-hungry people when the might of Christ threatens their self-rule. A heart that refuses submission to Christ at any point can’t be trusted to make sane decisions. That’s what we see unfolding in Herod.

One of the things that made this prophecy so unlikely was the fact that neither Mary nor Joseph lived in Bethlehem. Joseph was to go there because it had been the place of his birth. He may not have lived there since. Mary was living in Nazareth when she became pregnant and was in no condition to travel anywhere. That is why God saw to it that all the might and muscle of the powers that be in Rome did His exact bidding in calling for a census that would bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

Let this wonderful old story pound something freshly into your soul this morning. Every Christmas we celebrate not only the fact of Christ’s birth, but the way in which God brings it about. God moves both galaxies - the star - and empires - the will of Rome - to accomplish His Word. There was absolutely nothing likely in Jesus being born in Bethlehem. Everything seemed against it. How great is our God! Always line up with God. And always bet on God. Those are Christmas realities.

Matthew doesn’t tell us this, but I’m sure more happened than we read in his brief account. I don’t believe for a moment that Herod just listened to these wise men make their speech and move on. I think Herod took out the scrolls. I’m sure he blew the dust off of these ancient manuscripts. And He saw things that turned his proud, powerful heart into butter:


Micah 5:2 - “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, (which means ‘fruitful’) who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”

Just look at the first phrase for now. Bethlehem was “too little to be among the clans of Judah....” She was too small to count. There was nothing about Bethlehem that could attract such an event. There was nothing in Bethlehem that could have ever earned such a blessing. I believe we’re supposed to learn something about our God from the birth of His Son.

Micah’s prophecy paints big events in very broad strokes in these 6 verses. Very few details are given. He warns of God’s coming judgment at the hand of the Assyrians - “Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek”(1).

God’s people, Israel, are on the brink of terrifying times. Then he says God will come again and restore His people - “the rest of the brothers shall return to Israel” - but again, there are no details or times given. It’s just a fast-forward through the still unfolded pages of future history.

But suddenly, in the middle of all these broad strokes he paints in one careful detail - “Bethlehem” - “out of you One will come forth...”(2). I think there are two reasons for this detail. We’ll look at the second one in the next point. But the first lesson - the one the wise men missed in their presentation of the text to Herod - is the smallness of Bethlehem shows all who will see it - right to this day - the pattern of how God sends His grace into this world.

There are people sitting in this sanctuary this morning who need God’s grace and help and even forgiveness desperately but won’t turn to Him because they feel unworthy. They feel they don’t qualify. Even their act of turning to Christ seems too small to change things very much. What difference could it possibly make in the real world?

And those people need to know Micah’s prophecy about Bethlehem. They need to know that Christmas is all about “glory to God,” not “glory to us.” Bethlehem establishes the same pattern as the stable and the manger. None of them attracts any attention to itself. It isn’t about them. It’s about God’s mercy and love. The power of God’s redeeming muscle flows disproportionately from these non-descript beginnings.

This is the message we need at Christmas. Santa may know who’s naughty or nice and save his gifts for the nice. The problem is, when we look deep enough into our hearts, that system will leave all of us out in the cold. How typical of all man-made systems! How contrary to the true message of the birth of our Redeemer in Bethlehem!

I said there was a second reason for Christ’s birth at Bethlehem:


One of the mightiest promises in the Bible comes to David when he was least expecting it:

2 Samuel 7:12-16 - “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. [13] He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. [14] I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, [15] but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. [16] And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever."

These are tricky verses. They don’t have a quotable feel to them. There is a promise made regarding King David’s reign. He is told that the establishment of his throne will continue long after his death (12-13). The problem is no one person fulfills all the terms of the promise. We know that the future one to whom the promise refers will be a person who commits sins because God says “When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men...”(14). So there’s a very human side presented here. And yet the promise also says David’s successor will have an eternal dimension to His reign as well - “Your throne shall be established forever”(16).

This is one of the many prophecies that has a double fulfillment. Of course, it refers to Solomon, David’s natural son, who would come after him and build a “house for the LORD,” the physical temple. And Solomon would sin and God would discipline him. But Solomon wouldn’t establish David’s throne forever. There would be another King to come - one out of the lineage of David - who would establish David’s “house” in a different, eternal sense.

This is really what 2 Samuel 7 is all about. David won’t be the one to build a physical house for the LORD. He wanted to, but another, Solomon, would come after him to do that. And part of the reason was God wanted David - especially David - to understand his pivotal role in the coming of the Messiah. God says to David, “Listen David, you aren’t the one to build a house unto My Name. I don’t want you to confuse the issue here. The issue isn’t you building a house for Me. The issue you need to understand is I am building a house out of you!”

And this is what scared Herod to death. Everyone knew the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem because He would be of the “house” of David. And Herod’s scholars had just pointed out Micah’s prophetic words about Bethlehem. One was coming who would be David’s offspring. And Bethlehem was the sign to all that God keeps His promise! And the amazing thing about Micah’s prophecy is he asserts God’s faithfulness and covenant, not when Israel was in a period of spiritual ascension, but when they were facing spiritual and physical oblivion. The Northern kingdom was already destroyed and the Southern kingdom was about to be judged as well.

It will be 700 years before the light of hope will go on in Bethlehem. Micah won’t be around to see it. But some people have the faith to treat God’s future promises like they are present reality. God bless the people who don’t have to eat the apples in order to faithfully plant the orchard! Herod is scared because, in his heart, he knows if this is what he thinks it is, if this is God’s Messiah, then everything is going to change.

Sure, he has the timing and style of the Messiah’s delivering work all mixed up - probably seeing it as an immediate threat to the might of the empire of his day. But he still knows there is something unstoppable about the coming of this Messianic King. Even the sinister plans of the king to kill all the babies won’t stand in God’s way. The Christ’s birth in Bethlehem means God promise always stands.


Micah 5:4-5a - “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. [5] And he shall be their peace.”

“....He shall be great to the ends of the earth!”(4). Listen to me church. No government on earth, no religion - no matter how violent and dark - and no power in Hell is ever going to stop Jesus Christ from being “great to the ends of the earth.” What a pleasure it is to read these words at this Christmas season! Receive them with a joyful, prayerful heart of faith. These are strong, irreversible words of promise. They will come to pass in fuller ways than we can even picture right now.

a) Messiah will “shepherd his flock” - We’re meant to think of David, caring for his sheep. The One “of the house of David” will give the same care and protection over His flock. Ultimately, no need will go unmet in Jesus Christ.

Think about that for a moment. Situations come and go. Trials can feel eternal, and they hide the face of God. But we never see things here in their ultimate condition. Our present world never reveals that. O, how I love those thundering words from Handel’s Messiah as he quotes the prophet - “And He shall reign forever and ever....!”

b) Messiah will do everything He does in the “strength of the LORD” - I have so many good intentions that I’m unable to fulfill. There is such a gap between my wishes and my ability. But the One born in Bethlehem will not have any of His plans fail for lack of strength. He comes in the “strength of the LORD.” No one will stand against His will. No one will be able to fight against the peace He has for His people.

This is something about God we just cannot relate to. There is absolutely no difference between what God wants to do and what He is easily able to do. His intentions and His accomplishments are one and the same thing.

c) Messiah will be “great to the ends of the earth” - This will not be some tribal deity. His rule won’t be limited to the Jewish people. He will reign to the “ends of the earth” and will never again be one of among many objects of worship. Every knee will bow and confess Him as Lord. The Bible says the “whole earth will be full of His glory!”

Mark it well, church. The day is fast coming when we will see the fulfillment of a Christmas carol we only sing in faith right now: “He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove, The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love.”

The Messiah - the One Micah prophesied about - the One born in the little town of Bethlehem - still has much work to do. It is far from complete and many doubt and mock it for that reason. But it is firm and certain. All of those blessings are for those who love Him and His future work.

For those who resist His will by asserting their own, for those who are consumed by their own agendas, for those who, like Herod, see the Messiah’s rule as a threat to their own, there is nothing but terror. The Bible says He will come with a “rod of iron.” He will eternally beat down all opposition. Nothing will stand in His way. That’s why we’ve been given the historic proof of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem against such incredible odds.

Christmas is all about what you do when all you have in the face of incredible need and hope is the promise of a might God. We sing about is almost every Christmas - “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee, tonight!”