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A Small Town: A Great King

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
December 16, 2022 12:01 am

A Small Town: A Great King

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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December 16, 2022 12:01 am

The Messiah was laid in a manger in an unassuming town, yet angelic hosts filled the skies to announce His arrival. Today, R.C. Sproul reflects on the overlap of humility and glory that characterized Jesus' birth.

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You would think that the Messiah would have been destined to be born in Jerusalem, at Mount Zion, in the holy city, the place that David had established as the central sanctuary and the capital of the whole nation. Instead, it's Bethlehem. It was a town of no consequence.

No one famous lived there, and no one famous was from there. Yet Bethlehem was the small village that God chose to be the birthplace of the long-promised Messiah. Welcome to Renewing Your Mind. On this Friday, I'm Lee Webb.

Today, R.C. Sproul will take us on a guided tour through Scripture to introduce us to this inconspicuous place that became the host to a great king. We've been looking at some of the more famous Old Testament prophecies that look forward to the birth of the Messiah and thinking about them as we rapidly approach the celebration of Christmas itself. And one of my favorite Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah is one that's found in a somewhat obscure portion of one of the lesser known of the minor prophets. It's found in the book of Micah. Let's turn to Micah now today to the fifth chapter, beginning at verse 1, the book of Micah, chapter 5, verse 1.

We read these words, "'Now gather yourself in troops, O daughter of troops. He has laid siege against us, and they will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek.'" Here, this chapter opens with an announcement of doom, an announcement of judgment that is coming upon the land where the land will be attacked and afflicted and smitten. But in the midst of this prophecy of judgment comes a clause that is an exceptive clause, that is, it pronounces a kind of however, a little breath of fresh air, and a brief statement of good news. It says, "'But you, Bethlehem Ephrata, though you be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the one-to-be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.

And therefore he shall give them up until the time that she who is in labor has given birth. Then the remnant of his brethren shall return to the children of Israel, and he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord. In the majesty of the name of the Lord his God, and they shall abide, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth, and this one shall be peace.'" Again, we see the theme that we've seen so frequently with respect to the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah. He is the one who will come as the King like David. He is the one who will rescue his people.

He is the one who will redeem the remnant that remain faithful to the promises of God. Remember that one of the functions that the prophets in the Old Testament served was to be the prosecuting attorneys for God. The task of the prophet was to serve a summons or a subpoena to a guilty people who had violated the terms of their covenant, of their contract with their covenant God. And so God would sue them, and he would send his prosecutors to call these people into account and to pronounce his judgment upon him. And yet at the same time, when God would pronounce these verdicts of judgment against his people, he would temper that justice with mercy and always have that however, that promise that was contained within the threat of the ultimate work of redemption that he would perform.

And so in the context of this prophecy, we have that same sort of thing going on in the prophetic tradition, where Micah is the spokesman for God announcing his prosecution against his own people. But in the midst of this, he says, But out of you, Bethlehem Ephrata, though you be small among the princes of Israel, out of you will come the one who will be your king. Now, it's an astonishing thing to me that centuries before the birth of Christ, the town that is specifically mentioned in the Old Testament as the birthplace of the Messiah King is a tiny, apparently insignificant village called Bethlehem.

How like God it is to bring the mighty out of the small, how he doesn't do things the way Cecil B. DeMille does them. You would think that the Messiah would have been destined to be born in Jerusalem, at Mount Zion, in the holy city, the place that David had established as the central sanctuary and the capital of the whole nation. Instead, it's Bethlehem. And we know where Bethlehem is. Bethlehem is about four and a half miles south of Jerusalem.

And people could actually make the trip on foot, and certainly by riding their donkeys and so on, without having to travel for several days. But even to this day, the town of Bethlehem is a small village, and if you were to go there, it would be like stepping through a time warp and going back to life as it was in the first century, apart from the tourist attractions and so on, where you will still see the shepherds herding their sheep in the fields in and around this little village. But the village seemed to be somewhat insignificant, but had been already known as the city of David. And the meaning of the name Bethlehem meant city of bread. And it's an extraordinary thing how these names come into play in the whole scope and intricacies of redemption, where the one who is the bread from heaven is born in the city of bread. And he is born as the successor of David in the city of David. And yet we read in the New Testament that Bethlehem was not the place where his parents resided. We recall the strange set of circumstances over which the providence of God ruled to ensure that this biblical prophecy be fulfilled to the letter, and the means by which God brought this to pass was working as putty or clay in his hand over the most powerful ruler in all of the earth at that time, Caesar Augustus, Octavians, one of the most powerful Caesars that ever ruled over the Roman Empire.

We read in the birth narrative of Christ that a decree, an edict, a fiat went out from Caesar Augustus that all of the world should be enrolled. So all of these masses and multitudes of people in the conquered territories of Rome were scrambling to their birthplaces or to their legal residence where they might hold property and so on to register for this census. And it came at a most inconvenient time in the lives of Joseph and his now pregnant wife. And here she is in the ninth month, and he has to make the 90-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to sign up for this tax.

I don't know how you are, but I remember when I moved to Florida from Pennsylvania, it was such a hassle to go to City Hall and change your driver's licenses and get registered for this and registered for that, and it was such a pain in the neck to go through all this bureaucratic stuff that we have to go to. But I didn't have to walk 90 miles with a pregnant wife in order to do it. And yet, in the midst of this hardship, these apparently insignificant peasants are forced to make this arduous journey by the decree of the emperor. But the emperor's decree was issued by a higher decree, the decree of Almighty God, who decreed from the foundation of the earth that His beloved Son would be born in the city of David, would be born in Bethlehem, even as He had revealed to Micah so many centuries before the event.

And Octavian had no earthly idea that his decree for this enrollment or this census had any significance to redemptive history or to Western civilization whatsoever. And yet, the reason why more people know of Caesar Augustus than for any other reason in this world is because his name is mentioned in passing with respect to the birth of the great King in Bethlehem. Let's take a moment to jump to the New Testament and look at the narrative that talks about this one who will feed his flock like a shepherd as we read the account in chapter 2 of Luke's Gospel. We read in verse 4 of chapter 2 of Luke's Gospel, Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth into Judea to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem because he was of the house and lineage of David to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. One of the things we notice here that it says he went up from Galilee. And remember that Galilee is in the north and Jerusalem is in Judea, which is south of Galilee. And when we speak of geographical movement in our culture, we talk about going up north or down south. That's not the way the Jewish people talked about it because to go from Galilee to Jerusalem was to go up in terms of topography, in terms of elevation. And this was in the higher level, above sea level, in Jerusalem than was Nazareth. And one of the interesting factors about that too is if you ever go to Jerusalem and maybe you want to take a little trip to the Dead Sea, I forget how long it takes on the bus, a half hour, 45 minutes, it's not very long, to go from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea. And yet the climatic difference in the middle of winter would be similar to going from Chicago to Miami.

What's so great is the change in temperature in this very short distance because of the difference in elevation. Now, let's look back then at the text where we read in verse 6, So it was that while they were there the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. Now, we've heard this Christmas story many, many, many times, and we've seen the creches and the depictions of the nativity scene. Some churches even now have live nativity scenes where people come and they see the animals crowding around. In all likelihood, there weren't any animals around the cradle of Jesus.

They would have been out in the fields. Now, we are told, however, that he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. And a manger was a feeding trough that was used to feed the cattle. Now, this doesn't mean that Jesus and Mary and the baby stayed in the barn. In all probability, at least from terms of the earliest references we have in church history, to the traditions of the birth narratives of Jesus, that Jesus was born in a cave right outside the home or the inn, a cave where sometimes animals were kept for shelter from the elements. And in this cave, there probably would have been a little portion, a shelf in the rock hollowed out that could be used to put in foodstuffs to feed the livestock. And so we can picture now Joseph and Mary seeking shelter in this small cave because they can't get in the inn.

There's no hotel room available for them, no private residence in which to dwell. And the promised king of Israel is born not only in this small village of Bethlehem Ephrathah, but in a cave and laid in a manger. And the circumstances of this birth obviously call attention to one of the dimensions that marks the whole character of the life and ministry of Christ. When theologians examine the life of Christ, they notice that there is a basic progression in His lifetime that we say moves basically from humiliation to exaltation, from the nadir of affliction and again humiliation to the extolled position of glory that He receives in His ascension. Now one of the things we have to notice when we say that there's this movement from humiliation to exaltation, that it's not simply a steady one-dimensional upward movement where the lowest point of His humiliation is in His birth and His highest point of exaltation is in His resurrection.

But it's kind of erratic. It jumps up and down in the midst of His period of humiliation where Jesus is walking around masking His divine glory. In the form of His humanity, having given up His reputation and so on, where He's walking the sands of Palestine, there are moments of breakthrough where His glory penetrates this outer covering of His humanity. I wrote a book once called The Glory of Christ. It was one of the most fascinating books I've ever written.

Fascinating not in the sense of the finished product, but in the sense fascinating for me doing the research. It's called The Glory of Christ, and all I do in that book is look at those episodes in the life of Jesus where His glory shines through, where His glory becomes manifest, like at the transfiguration, for example. Of course, the lowest point of Christ's humiliation was on the cross.

We understand that. But what I want us to notice here that even though His birth is in the surroundings and trappings of humiliation, there is one of those episodes of the breakthrough or the intrusion of glory that takes place. Not in the cave, but out in the fields where, remember, this One who is born is going to feed His flock like a shepherd. He is going to be the shepherd king. And it's congruous, it's fitting that the divine announcement of the birth of the Messiah would come first to the lowliest people on the social totem pole of Israel, the shepherds.

And let's look quickly at that record. Verse 8 of chapter 2 of Luke. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were greatly afraid. But the angel said, Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people. For there is born to you, born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign.

You will find a babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And then suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Do you see what's going on here? A sound and light show such as never appeared on the face of the earth before. The Shekinah glory, the blinding, dazzling, refulgence of His glory now breaks out over this field and stuns and terrifies these peasants.

They have no idea what's coming on. They're seeing now this blinding light that is associated with the chariot throne of God Himself. And then they hear the voices of the angels announcing the birth of their Savior. And one of my favorite parts in this whole scripture is, it may sound insignificant, we used to sing an anthem in the choir when I was in high school.

And there was something about this one line that just grabbed me. And the line went like this, let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass. I mentioned the response of the shepherds to the fulfillment of the prophecy of Micah, that out of this tiny little village, this insignificant site among all of the great princes of Judah, there would be born the Messiah. And when His birth is announced to the shepherds in the field, and after they have been overwhelmed by the blazing, dazzling light of divine glory, and their ears hear the announcement of the messengers of God that their Savior has been born, God, through the messengers, tells these shepherds they will find a sign, a sign that would confirm to them the fulfillment of their deepest expectations, their wildest dreams, their most moving hopes.

You will see a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Is it any wonder that after they heard this announcement and saw this blinding light, that they looked to one another and said, let us now, right now, go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass. And that's my prayer for you in this Christmas season. You will go now to Bethlehem and look for the one who was born for you.

The angels' proclamation wasn't just for those shepherds. It's a call to each of us as well. Thanks for listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Friday.

I'm Lee Webb. And all week, R.C. Sproul has shown us the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah. We'd like for you to have this series. Contact us today with a donation of any amount, and we will provide a digital download of all five messages. Just request Coming of the Messiah by R.C.

Sproul. Plus, we'll send you a copy of Dr. Stephen Nichols' book, Peace, Classic Readings for Christmas. In it, Dr. Nichols gives us samples of hymns and the writings of ancient church fathers to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas. This is a beautiful hardback book with wonderful illustrations and artwork. It's a keepsake that my wife and I are pleased to place on our coffee table every Christmas season.

You can request both of these resources at, or if you prefer, you can call us with your gift of any amount at 800-435-4343. I asked Dr. Nichols to talk about his book, and we've been sharing portions of that interview with you all week. He explains the coming of Jesus in three acts—promise, fulfillment, and reflection. And I asked him to explain that third act.

All right. Today we're talking about the reflection. We talked about the promise of Christ's coming. We talked about the fulfillment and the gospels. But then we have the reflection, and really much of the New Testament is a reflection back on the person and work of Christ. And one passage in particular that brings a laser focus to this for us is from Paul in Galatians 4 to 7. Here Paul writes, But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Well, this passage teaches us pretty much everything we need to know about Christmas. It tells us when. No, it doesn't say December 25, doesn't say what year, but it says when the fulness of time had come. And what we know is that Christ's birth was in the perfect timing and planning of God. It tells us what Christmas fundamentally is.

Christmas is God sending his Son. We speak of the incarnation. This is the being enfleshed of Jesus as he becomes truly human, as he is born. Paul tells us that he is born of woman.

This is born of Mary. And we see how crucial that is to this Christmas story, the virgin birth of Christ. And then we see that he was born under the law. Jesus was born under the law because we are under the law. And he was sent not to abolish the law, as he says, but to fulfill it.

And here is the good news of Christmas. Jesus did what Adam did not do. He kept the law. He kept it fully and entirely. And Jesus also undid what Adam did.

He paid for the penalty of breaking the law. That's the beauty of Christmas. That's the joy of Christmas. And this passage captures it so well, because what Paul tells us is that the whole purpose of God sending his Son, the whole purpose of Christmas, is so that we might receive the adoption as sons. And what a beautiful expression, isn't it? You know, Abba is the way of saying, Daddy. It's that intimate expression of a child with their parent. And so, because of Christ, we can say, Abba, Father. That's the meaning of Christmas. Reflecting on our adoption into the family of God, that's one of the beautiful messages of Christmas. You can request Dr. Nichols' book along with Dr. Sproul's teaching series when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries.

Again, you'll find us at, or you can call us at 800-435-4343. Renewing Your Mind is the listener-supported outreach of Ligonier Ministries. Thank you for joining us. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. And I hope you'll make plans to join us again Monday for Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-18 05:00:45 / 2022-12-18 05:09:19 / 9

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