Jonathan David Faulkner
You can listen here:
Reading of the Text:
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 coming forth 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.
6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
May God Bless to our hearts this reading of His Holy Word.
Introduction: This morning I want to once again peel back the curtain for you, to give you just another glimpse into the pastor’s tool bag and show you another of the tools they equip us with in Seminary. I have told you about the tool of Biblical Theology, searching the full council of scripture one a topic and hopefully have demonstrated that to you. Now I want to tell you about the tool of what is called “Cultural Exegesis” The tool of Cultural Exegesis. What Cultural Exegesis is for the pastor, his ability to read what is happening in the culture and interpret the popular ideas and even, as C. Gene Wilkes puts it in his book “Jesus on Leadership” see the future in a manner of speaking. It is, as Karl Barth put it, preaching with: “The Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Cultural Exegesis shows us too things, 1. What the trends and changes in the culture at large are and 2. The tools which God is using to reach the culture at large. In our time we have been blessed with incredible Cultural Exegetes such as the Barna group and Pew Research Center who give us a fairly clear picture of both of these things. Many of you have heard me talk about statistics like 98% of people who come to church, and stay are invited by a church member and only 2% are invited by the pastor. That is cultural exegesis. It is also from cultural exegesis that we learn that there has never been a bigger difference between the oldest generation in the work force, and now the second youngest, my own generation and the reason for that is the internet and smart phones. But it also shows us the unique ways God is using the tools of the day to reach the younger generation and gives us a good blueprint for how to join in Him in that task. That is why you should read books like David Kinnemen’s “You Lost Me” or James Emory White’s “Meet Generation Z” Or look at what a mission we support, Network Beyond is doing in Fort Collins to reach their neighborhood, I can tell you after talking to Steve a few weeks ago, it is pretty exciting and all of it is applicable here in Buffalo Center, believe it or not.
God Reaching the World: Now, many of you may be wondering what any of this has to do with Christmas and especially with the Christ Child and our text for today. Well, there is no better time to talk about how God is reaching the world than when we celebrate the season when God’s plan for reaching the world was unveiled through the incarnation of Jesus Christ as a Baby. In fact, it says in verse Micah 5:3: “He will 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.” Jesus coming was meant to be one that reconciled God to man and man to each other. And our text this morning gives us a closer look at that, so let’s dive in.
As we come to the book of Micah we are dealing with a contemporary of Isaiah, in fact, there are a lot of parallels between Micah and Isaiah, Isaiah the court prophet and Micah the wilderness prophet, both preaching in the time of Hezekiah and both witnessing the carrying off into exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They both speak of Israel and Judah’s sins and the coming punishment for those sins, they also speak of the way to renewal that God himself has laid out for them and is laying out for them. We all know the famous parallel passage to our text this morning, Isaiah 7:14 where Isaiah tells Ahaz, “The Lord Himself shall give you a sign and Behold, a virgin shall give birth and you shall call his name Emmanuel, God with Us, Mighty Counselor, Prince of Peace and the Government shall be upon His shoulders.” In Micah 5 then God reveals where that counselor will be born, Bethlehem Ephrathah, the city where the great King David had been born and lived and where Solomon even ruled for a time in 1 Kings 3. Yet by the time of Jesus birth it would become the “least of the cities in Judah” so small it likely was not even counted among the tribe of Judah. Matthew Henry writes this about Bethlehem: “having down how low the house of David should be brought and how viley the shield of that mighty family should be cast away as through it had not been anointed with Oil. To encourage the faith of God’s people who might be tempted now to think that His covenant with David and his house had been abrogated he add an illustrious description of the Messiah and His Kingdom, in whom the remnant should be established and the honors of that house should be revived, advanced and perpetuated.” Bethlehem, which had become so low it was nothing more than a hamlet, Mary and Joseph, from a family that had been so humbled they may as well have never been kings. All of this because of the breaking of the Covenant and disobedience of God’s chosen people. Yet, through this humbled family would come the Great Shepherd, the one Servant King of Isaiah 53, the one who would lead God’s people back, the one from whom the remnant would be formed. He would rule with the strength and name of the Lord, bring glory to God, in Him they would dwell secure and be at peace. God would continue his work of lifting up the lowly as he had done time and time again form the raising of a lowly shepherd boy from Bethlehem as king, to the choice of a poor virgin girl in Galilee who proclaimed in Luke 1:52 “God lifts up the lowly.”
Peace with God: But Judah had a problem, a problem that comes out again both in the book of Isaiah and in our second passage for today, that is they kept trying to attain peace with God through their own sacrifices. They kept seeking peace in the blood of one year old calves, in the blood of thousands of bulls, Micah even goes so far as to suggest in verse 7 that they were offering their children as the Pagans did, the fruit of their wombs, all to achieve peace with God, to get on His good side. It is interesting because if you look at the sins of Israel it is very clear that they were not just sins against God, but sins against others, against one another and against the foreigner. Or they were sins of misplaced trust, turning to Egypt as Ahaz did in Isaiah 7 for protection from the Assyrians instead of trusting in God for peace and deliverance. Now they had turned to the daily slaughter in the temple, the blood of bulls and goats and lambs and even the fruit of their wombs, burning incense, thinking that this was the way to stay the wrath of GOD. Yet God himself says both in Isaiah and in Micah that these are not the way to renewal and are in fact an abomination to him as He says in Isaiah 1. One of Micah’s key concepts is that Spiritual Renewal begins not with the spilling of blood or burning or incense but with the ending of ones unjust treatment of others. This is not all there is of course, but it is the essential first step. Micah concludes his section on renewal that starts in 5:2 with 6:8 “He has told you oh man, what is good, to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” This should take us all the way back to God’s first promises to Abraham in Genesis, before the sacrificial system was enacted at Sinai under Moses, that his descendants are to be a light to the nations not through sacrifices but by their obedience to GOD. Yet by the time Micah was prophesying they had abandoned obedience to the word of God in favor of seeking wealth, hording up for themselves the riches of this world, even boasting in it, they mistreated and abused the sojourner, refusing to care for those who came in the midst, indeed, even refusing to care for their own poor, turning to the might of the king instead of the greater might of God. Everyone was out to get his own and it did not matter who got in the way. That is why Micah appeals here to the two tables of the covenant in reverse order: “Love people” “Do justice, love mercy” and “Love God” “And walk humbly with your God.” God does not desire sacrifices but right relationship. It is the horizontal and vertical beams of salvation that we talked about a few weeks ago, out of their relationship with God Judah should become a just and upright people who because they walk humbly with God do justice and love mercy and kindness.
Christmas: and that brings me to Christmas, a time when we like to quote from Micah 5, Isaiah 7 and many other passages but we never really stop to think of them in their context. Yet when you combine Micah’s words in 5 and 6 you end up with this: God has made a way for Peace with Him and that is through the lowliest of babes, from the lowliest city and a once great family brought so low they were unrecognizable compared to their former glory. Yet from this family would come Emmanuel, God with Us, Mighty Counselor, Prince of Peace, and He would shepherd God’s people with the might to the Lord and those who dwelt in Him would dwell secure and be at peace and because they did this, because they were in relationship with Him they would do justice and love mercy as a natural outpouring of their relationship with the coming baby foretold and who has now come, lived, died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day. The one who is coming back to judge the living and the dead and who through the Holy Spirit who dwells inside us, makes it possible for us even today to walk humbly with God and to do justice, love mercy.
Application: Now, I have heard it said in this church, by some, that what we need is a big revival, one along the lines of the tent revivals of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to bring people back to Church. We gather everyone in and they come and hear the dynamic evangelist preach and souls will be saved and boom, we will turn back the tide of secularism. Yet this is where cultural exegesis helps us because it tells us that those kinds of tactics do not work on the younger generations. In fact, the opposite is true, most younger people will not darken the doors of a church until they have had a lengthy relationship with its members. Now, there are obviously exceptions to this, but in most cases people want nothing to do with a Christianity where people think if they go to church on Sunday they are all set, they want to see that we live what we believe and they want to see us live what we believe in the public square. Many young people, and this is true of both young Christians and Non-Christians alike look at the church and see a parallel with the sins of Israel. They see us clamor for political power, putting our trust in man’s government rather than God, even at times conflating the two. They read op-eds written by prominent theologians and pastors against foreigners of any kind, they see us pursue wealth and the power it buys us and they see us act as if that has given us peace with God. They see us acting out of fear of what might happen when we lose our position of power rather than trusting in God and going to more and more unjust and immoral means to achieve that. Brothers and Sisters, this is not the way to have peace with God, this is the way to enmity with God, this is the path to our downfall, it always has been and it always will be and I tell you that with the authority of the Holy Word of God and the testimony of History behind me. You want peace with God, you want to see His blessings follow this church, you want to reach your town? Stop worrying about who is in power and start listening to the one in your heart. Have a relationship with God that, out of gratitude draws you to care for your neighbor, no matter the ramifications. You want to see this church grow, start reaching out to your neighbors, invite them to your table, get to know them, connect with them on a deep level, support them, whether they are a believer or not. Stop bemoaning how the times have changed and do what God has put before you to do. Don’t just bring people to church to hear me preach, be the church to them. Do Justice, Love mercy and walk humbly with God. God is not reaching people through big revivals but through small gatherings at your dinner table. Depoliticize your faith and search again the baby in the manger, the lowly, servant king. Oh, brothers and sisters, I beg of you, as one who has a heart for both my generation and yours to hear the Gospel, please hear what I am saying. We think we are on the path to peace, but we are on the path to destruction, please hear me.
Jars of Clay calls these things Small Rebellions, and the best example in history I can think of is the original St. Nicholas the bishop of Nyrsa who, when he still lived in his home town of Patara, after losing his wealthy parents to the plague heard of a father of three girls who had fallen on hard times, so much so he could not afford to pay dowries for his girls. Hearing this, Nicholas took a bag of gold and threw it through the window at night, when the family awoke they found the gold, paid off some of the family debts and paid the dowry price for the first girl. This happened two more times before the father finally caught Nicholas after he placed the third bag. Throughout his life he was known for his exceeding generosity and care, especially for the poor. So much so that when three Roman Generals were freed because of the work of Nicholas and came to bestow gold and treasures on them, he distributed to the poor. That is how the legend we know today of Santa Claus began. He trusted GOD more than man, he cared for others more than he cared for himself, he did justice and he loved mercy because he walked humbly with God. These are the small rebellions we can commit year-round, not just at Christmas time, but every day. Like Scrooge at the end of A Christian Carol who kept Christmas well by his care for others, Dicken’s writes: “All year-round.”
Brothers and Sisters, I love you, you who are made in the image of God and have been called into relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ who came as a baby to the lowliest place to lift up the lowly. May you daily commit small rebellions against the world through choosing to live as Christ in this world reaching this world with love, by doing justice and loving mercy as you walk humbly with God. Lifting up the lowly, caring for the widow and the orphan and the refugee, the single mother and the abused and trafficked women, the homeless man who comes to your door or who you see on the street. May you care for the least of these for in doing so you will have done it to Christ. May you follow the greatest rebellion of Christ, who came into the world as a baby and died for you so you could live.
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.