Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE GREAT DIFFICULTY OF GETTING THERE”

Micah 5.2

 

I am delighted to see you back this evening. You will remember that I told you this morning that we would deal with those two passages in the Old Testament related to the important questions surrounding Christmas, the what (which we dealt with this morning) and the where (which is the focus of our attention this evening).

The virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is what was predicted by the prophet Isaiah, with the where will this miracle take place being the second of the important questions. Turn in your Bible to Micah 5.2, where our second item of curiosity is addressed: 

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” 

If you look carefully at our text, you will see some indications that point to that dusty little village a few miles South of Jerusalem where young David, who would be Israel’s shepherd king, was also born a thousand years before Christ’s birth. That the village is identified as “Bethlehem Ephratah” and described as “little among the thousands of Judah” clarifies which of the two Bethlehems or houses of bread is referred to by the prophet Micah. He speaks of the one located in the South, within the territory of Judah, also called Ephratah, not the Bethlehem farther North in the region occupied by the tribe of Zebulun. The word Ephratah has to do with fertility and fruitfulness, indicating how productive that region was throughout its history.[1] That is until the Muslims invaded in the 6th century after Christ and despoiled the region like they have done everywhere else, resulting in the neighborhood becoming a desert like Iraq has become, as Egypt has become, and like the rest of North Africa has become since their arrival.

In the second half of the verse, Micah proceeds to describe the One Who will be born there. He is described in two ways, one dealing with His future and the other dealing with His past: First, He Who comes forth is to be ruler in Israel. That has not yet happened, but it will happen when the Lord Jesus Christ returns in power and in great glory to establish His millennial kingdom here on earth. Second, Micah writes, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” C. F. Keil, a great Hebrew scholar in days gone by, translates this “and his goings forth are from the olden times, from the days of eternity.”[2] This, of course, speaks to the Messiah’s eternity, not a difficult concept to grasp when you realize the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the Second Person of the Triune Godhead.

Our text very obviously speaks directly to the Christmas event, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Virgin Mary one afternoon and the angelic choir that sang and the shepherds who rushed into Bethlehem to see the Christ child come nightfall. But I would like to take a couple of steps back to take in the bigger picture. Of course, we focus our attention on the birth of Christ, and the Virgin Mary, and the shepherds who kept watch over their flocks by night.

Let us also include in our considerations the wise men who arrived on the scene a couple of years later, but who seem to figure in every contemporary Christmas story, and rightly so, and what would seem to us to be the great difficulties of all of them getting there: 

First, THE DIFFICULTY OF THE SHEPHERDS GETTING THERE 

For this we turn to Luke 2.8-20: 

8  And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. 

The shepherds were outside one night watching their flocks of sheep. Our question is how they got to where the Savior was born in Bethlehem. We know they weren’t very far away, perhaps a few hundred yards all total. Nevertheless, consider what it took to get those two or three or four or five shepherds away from their flocks of sheep and into the dusty little village of Bethlehem to the Babe who had been born hours before, the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. It took two things:

First, it took a miracle in the form of an angel of the Lord appearing to them and the glory of the Lord shining round about them to make them fearful, so that when the angel announced the birth of the Savior, which is Christ the Lord, and how to find Him in Bethlehem, they would listen. Then, also the appearance of the first angel there appeared a multitude of other angels praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. It was after these two miraculous events, following the appearances of the angels, the one angel and then the other angels, that the shepherds left their flocks to find the Christ child. Thus, it took two miracles to get the shepherds to Bethlehem that night to see the Christ child. 

Next, THE DIFFICULTY OF THE WISE MEN GETTING THERE 

Please turn at this time to Matthew 2.1-11: 

1  Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

2  Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

3  When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4  And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5  And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

6  And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

7  Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

8  And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

9  When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

10  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. 

I mention the wise men coming from the East at this time, though I am persuaded that they did not arrive in Bethlehem until a year or two after the birth of Christ. My reason for supposing this is the attempt by Herod to murder the Christ child by slaughtering all the children in Bethlehem aged two and younger, Matthew 2.16. Two-year-olds look much different than newborns. Therefore, I think the wise men arrived when the Christ child was at least a year old, perhaps approaching two years after His birth. Still, consider the difficulty in getting the wise men from so far away to the East in what is today Iraq all the way to Bethlehem. There are two factors involved in getting them there:

First, there was the guiding star in the sky. What would it take for star gazers from Mesopotamia to be distracted from their nighttime observations but something miraculous appearing in the sky, not once or twice but again and again so that they might follow it from the East where it first appeared, Matthew 2.2, and yet again upon their arrival in Bethlehem, Matthew 2.9? Call it what you want, but I call it a miracle. But that is not all.

How would significance be attached to the appearance of the unique star in the sky? Why did the wise men follow it rather than just stare at it night after night? For that, we must turn to the Hebrew Scriptures. Consider the prediction of the wicked prophet Balaam during Moses’ time during the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites in Numbers 24.17: 

“I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.” 

And who would connect the prediction of Balaam some 1,400 or 1,500 years before the birth of Israel’s Messiah to the timing of the miraculous star’s appearance around the time of Christ’s birth? I would say that would be a Jewish star gazer living in Babylon by the name of Daniel, who predicted the approach of Israel’s Messiah six centuries before He was born, in Daniel 9.24-26. Both the prediction by Balaam and the prediction made by Daniel were recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, with more Jewish people living in Babylon at the time of Christ’s birth than were living in the Promised Land. Thus, the wise men from the East were star gazers who saw the miraculous light in the nighttime sky, but they doubtless had access to God’s Word through Jewish associates living nearby who made sense of everything for them from their study of God’s Word.

You may be a bit skeptical that Jewish Bible scholars living in the East would put predictions together with observed phenomena without going to take a look-see for themselves. But think again. The Bible scholars in Jerusalem knew where Christ would be born, but they wouldn’t even take a few hours out of their day to visit Bethlehem to investigate.[3]

What it took to get the wise men to Bethlehem to visit the Christ child were three things: First, the series of miracles of the unique star appearing in the sky in the East and again over Bethlehem. Next, a journey by a caravan of months duration to travel the great distance from modern day Iraq to Bethlehem. Finally, don’t forget the Word of God that preserved with accuracy predictions that had been made fifteen and six centuries in advance, respectively, but were both fulfilled. Was it difficult getting the wise men there? Yes, it was very difficult. 

Third, THE DIFFICULTY OF THE VIRGIN MARY GETTING THERE 

Turn to Luke 2.1-7: 

1  And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

2  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3  And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5  To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6  And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7  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. 

Getting the Virgin Mary to Bethlehem involved both Providence and the miraculous:

It was God’s Providence that brought Mary and Joseph together in a contractual espousal that so happened to bind together in a prospective marriage a man who was the direct physical descendant of Israel’s great king, King David, through his son Solomon, to a woman who was the direct physical descendant of Israel’s great king, King David, through his son Nathan. From His stepfather the Lord Jesus Christ has the legal right to become Israel’s king and from His mother the Lord Jesus Christ has the blood right to become Israel’s king.

God’s Providence is exhibited in yet another way, on the Roman taxation. Roman taxation is to be expected, but the way the Romans treated Jews differently than everyone else they ruled was something to behold, even allowing Jewish subjects to return to their ancestral homes to pay their taxes. That’s right, both Mary and Joseph traveled from their respective homes in Nazareth to Bethlehem, almost certainly with a large group of fellow travelers, to pay their taxes to the Romans.

Then, of course, there is the miracle of the Incarnation, Mary being overshadowed by the Spirit of God by which means the Second Person of the Triune Godhead took up residence in that young woman’s womb. The pregnancy of Mary and the delivery of her child were not miracles, by any means, but were normal and natural processes. It was how she got pregnant that was one of the great miracles of all time.

So, how difficult was it to get Mary to Bethlehem? As hard as it is for God to Providentially arrange for Roman taxes to be paid by Jews in their ancestral homelands, as hard as it is for God to Providentially arrange for a man who is a descendant of David to meet and secure as his wife to be a woman who is also a descendant of David, and as hard as it is to work a miracle whereby the Spirit of God overshadows a young virgin and the Creator and Sustainer of the universe thereby takes up residence in her womb nine months ahead of her delivery date. How difficult is that? Those were the difficulties that had to be overcome to get Mary to Bethlehem. 

Finally, THE DIFFICULTY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST GETTING THERE 

Concerning Sarah’s barrenness, we read the LORD asking Abraham a question in Genesis 18.14: 

“Is any thing too hard for the LORD?” 

Then, in Jeremiah 32.27 the Word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, 

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?” 

The point that is made is that there is no such thing as hard for God. No such thing as challenging. No such thing as difficult. Not really. That said, what about that which seems difficult to us related to getting the Lord Jesus Christ to Bethlehem, where the prophet Micah said He would be born?

The Lord Jesus Christ left heaven’s glory and the adoration of angels that He had enjoyed since the creation of the angels, to be confined to Mary’s womb for nine months, restricted to a baby’s body inside a mother’s body until His birth, and then restricted to a human (though sinless) body.

Let me read a few passages that speak a bit to what had to happen for the Lord Jesus Christ to be born in Bethlehem:

John 1.1-4: 

1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2  The same was in the beginning with God.

3  All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

4  In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 

This passage shows the Lord Jesus Christ to be the Creator, verse 3, Who is the Word and Who is God, verses 1-2, and in Whom is both light and life, verse 4. Hebrews 10.5 seems to record the Savior’s communion with His heavenly Father: 

“Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me.” 

Isaiah 9.6: 

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” 

I can’t bring myself to relate to you how difficult it was, how hard it was, for the Lord Jesus Christ to get to Bethlehem from heaven’s glory in eternity past, for two reasons: First, because nothing is too hard for God because nothing is hard for God. He is God. He can do anything other than violate His Own nature. Second, He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Revelation 13.8. How could He not be born in Bethlehem, live a sinless life, and then die a sacrificial death? Think about the shepherds, the wise men, and even Mary. Getting the shepherds to a location a few hundred yards away took two miracles. Getting the wise men across a vast expanse at great expense of time and money took both miracles and Providence. And getting Mary to Bethlehem took Providence and that which was profoundly miraculous.

So when you and I think of Christmas next year, try to think about the impossibility of the Lord Jesus Christ being born there, the impossibility of the Virgin Mary delivering Him there, the impossibility of the wise men visiting Him there, and the impossibility of the shepherds visiting Him there. Those things do not happen apart from various forms of Divine intervention to make them happen. This is God acting in human history to turn events according to His plan to fulfill His purpose. There is no other explanation.

Merry Christmas.

__________

[1] C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Commentary On The Old Testament, Vol X, (Peabody, MA: reprinted by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996), page 323.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Matthew 2.7-8

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org