Christmas According to Matthew #2
What It Takes To Make Small Things Great
Matthew 2:6 | Sam Taylor | December 9, 2012
Central idea: Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem:1) identifies Him as the Messianic Son of David; 2) proves that God gives little places on earth big places in His plans; 3) shows that significance comes from a connection to Christ!
Introduction: Approximately 2000 years ago, at the time of the birth of Jesus, there lived a group of wise men who studied the stars at night. They were known as magi. They lived far away from the land of Israel—off in the east, somewhere on the opposite side of the Arabian Peninsula, probably Babylon. And one evening as the magi stared up into the darkened sky, they saw something they had never seen before—a very unusual star appeared. Its appearance was so striking that they took it as a sign that a new king had been born in Israel.
That star was so remarkable it inspired the magi to go and see with their own eyes the One whose birth had been announced in such a spectacular way. So they gathered together their provisions for a long journey, packed valuable gifts to be delivered as tribute, assembled a convoy, and set off on a quest. It would be an expedition that would take them about 8 to 10 months to complete.
Finally, several months after the star first appeared, the wise men crossed into Israel. Curious faces of young and old alike watched and stared at them as they passed through the villages along the road that led them up to the capital city, Jerusalem. Once inside the city gates, as they approached the royal palace, they began to inquire, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews?”
Word of their arrival and of the quest they were on quickly reached the ears of King Herod. And their question made the king and his royal advisers very uneasy. Sure, they knew that the prophets had predicted that a Messiah would come one day. And they knew about the prophecies that promised that when He came, the Messiah would deliver God’s people from their oppressors. . . But obviously they had no inkling at all that the Messiah had actually arrived. And, truth be told, they had no desire for Him to come. You see, as a puppet king, elected by the Romans, Herod was highly sensitive to anything that would stir up a spirit of nationalism and rebellion among the Jews. If any hint of that got back to Rome, Herod could easily lose his place of power. If anything would rally the people against the Romans it would be them having a Messiah. The birth of the Messiah? Not on my watch, mused Herod.
So, having an ulterior motive, the conniving Herod assembled the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the Messiah would be born. And of course they knew the answer. It is recorded in Matthew 2:5-6: "In Bethlehem of Judea," they told him, "because this is what was written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah: because out of you will come a leader who will shepherd My people Israel." (Matthew 2:5-6)
Of course, it was no coincidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Certainly God planned for it to happen that way; but why? By working it out for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, God was revealing to us some profound truths about Jesus.
I. First, by being born in Bethlehem, Jesus met one of the primary qualifications that point to Him as the Jewish Messiah.
A. Long before the time of Jesus, Ruth and Boaz lived in Bethlehem. They had a grandson named Jesse. Jesse owned flocks of sheep and had 8 sons. One day the prophet Samuel visited Jesse and asked to see his sons. All the sons of Jesse passed before Samuel. Finally his youngest son came in from watching his father’s sheep. Then Samuel rose and anointed Jesse’s youngest son, as Israel’s king. That youngest son was David. So, Bethlehem became known as the City of David because it was the place where David, Israel’s greatest king was from.
B. Now, with remarkable frequency the Hebrew prophets foretold of a future Messiah who would be a descendant of King David and who would come and deliver God’s people:
(Isaiah 9:6-7) For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. . . The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness . . . forever.
(Ezekiel 34:23-24) I will appoint over them a single shepherd, My servant David, and he will shepherd them. . . (24) I, Yahweh, will be their God, and My servant David will be a prince among them. . .
So, by arranging history so that His Son was born in Bethlehem, God was showing that Jesus was a descendant of David, Israel’s greatest king. And as a consequence of that, Jesus fulfilled the Scriptural qualifications to be the Messiah, the promised coming King of Israel.[i]
II. But there is something else God is showing us . . . By working it out for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, God shows us that He gives little places here on earth a big place in His plans.
A. Bethlehem was such a small, insignificant village when Jesus was born. It is estimated that the population was only a few hundred people. And it has remained that way for most of history. Population records show that in 1867 only 3-4,000 people lived there.[ii] Here is a picture of pilgrims entering Bethlehem in 1890:
B. Contrast the little town of Bethlehem with Jerusalem and we will see the point. The royal city of Jerusalem was located only 6 miles away. Not 400 but 40,000 people lived in Jerusalem and many times that during festivals. Jerusalem was beautifully situated among the hills. It was the home of the magnificent and famous Herod’s Temple built with stones that gleamed like a spectacular white mountain. How easily it would have been for God to work it out for His Son to be born there. And I suppose we would have all expected that very thing. Even the wise men expected to find Him there! But, no! God passed over the great city of Jerusalem and chose instead the lowly little town of Bethlehem to be the place to welcome His Son into this world! Oh what a profound lesson that is for how God works—God gives little places on earth big places in His plans!
C. It is human nature to be impressed with the big cities in our world and to disregard the little places as if nothing really important ever happens there. After all, the big cities have international airports where politicians, business leaders, and very important people travel back and forth all over the world. The big cities have world-class universities where the brightest minds study and where future presidents are trained. . . The big cities have laboratories where scientists develop new medicines to cure diseases. Right now in a big city somewhere someone is designing the next generation of high-tech computers and cell phones and even bigger and better television sets . . . With all that happening in big cities, who would ever want to live in a small town?
D. But, do you see how out of step we are with the heart of God when we overlook the small places? Listen, Bethlehem proves that God delights to do big things in little places! The same thing is true about churches. Even if our church is not so large, we can know with confidence that God is going to do important things right here. . . Why, in a small place like this might God call out a family to serve Him as international missionaries! Now, that would be big! . . . What if in this small place Jesus would save and radically change an alcoholic father, so that the children, who were otherwise destined to be scarred for life with deep emotional and psychological wounds, grow up instead with a father who loves them? Now, that would be big! You see, God delights in giving little places on earth big places in His plans! Never doubt it! For that is exactly the way God works.
III. And one more thing. . . Because Jesus was born in Bethlehem, we learn that our significance comes from being connected to Jesus Christ.
A. Let’s read Matthew 2:6 once again:
(Matthew 2:6) "And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah: because out of you will come a leader who will shepherd My people Israel."
B. This is a paraphrase of the Messianic prophecy that is found in Micah 5:2. And in Matthew’s paraphrase, he explains that, although Bethlehem was indeed very small in Judah, it was by no means least. Despite its insignificant size, Bethlehem had a place of significance in Judah. And the reason was that out of Bethlehem the Messiah would be born. This shows our significance as people, comes from being connected to Jesus.
C. Yesterday I met with a Korean young man named Ji-Won Choi. Ji-Won is being ordained later today here and will begin to serve as the next pastor of the Han Ma Um Korean Church that meets in our building on Sunday afternoons. Ji-Won told us the story of how he and his family became Christians. And I want to retell the story to you. . . He told us about his sister, a remarkable little girl named is Yoon-Jung. When she was just a child of only 7 years old, Yoon-Jung became the first Christian in their family. At that time, her parents were very strongly opposed to Christianity. However, because of her witness, her parents also became Christians. Yoon-Jung loved to share the gospel with her friends. She took her little brother, Ji-Won to church. And she also brought many of her friends to church. She played the piano in church. She kept a diary and filled it with notes about her walk with Jesus. One day, when Yoon-Jung was only 10 years old she was on her way to church with her little brother. They were standing on a sidewalk at crossing, waiting for the traffic light to change. Suddenly a drunk driver lost control of the truck he was driving. The truck plowed into her, and she was killed. . . Earlier, that very same day, Yoon-Jung had spoken to 2 of her non-Christian friends about Jesus and sent a letter to her school teacher telling her about Jesus. And as a result of that letter, little 10-year-old Yoon-Jung, brought her school teacher to faith in Jesus. Now, the loss of their little girl was a terrible blow to Ji-Won’s parents. They grieved deeply. Finally, they made an important decision. They determined for the rest of their lives to live out the life their little girl would have lived—to follow her example of being fully so fully devoted to Jesus. They established a mission organization that has helped to support a number of Korean ministers and churches continuously for almost 30 years! Not only that, but Ji-Won—who is being ordained this afternoon to serve as a pastor—Ji-Won traces his own faith in Jesus to the influence of his little sister. Yoon-Jung was a little girl born into a non-Christian home, who became a Christian when she was 7 years old and whose life was tragically ended when she was just 10. But because of her connection to Jesus Christ, her short life had enormously significance. Jesus is the One who gives us the greatest meaning and purpose in life!
[i] That Jesus was born in Bethlehem does not prove that Jesus is the Messiah, but it shows how from the very beginning God points to Jesus as the Messiah.
(John 7:42) Doesn't the Scripture say that the Messiah comes from David's offspring and from the town of Bethlehem, where David once lived?"
(Luke 2:4) And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David,
[ii] In the modern era, Bethlehem’s population has grown. By the 1960’s the population was almost 15,000. Today its population is approximately 25,000.