A New King - Micah 5:1-6

This is a sermon by Chris Hobbs from the evening service on 28th November 1999.

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There are many things in life which we cannot live without.  One of them is leadership.  We're surrounded by leaders of one kind or another.  Prime minister.  Leader of the Opposition.  Manager.  Head Teacher.  President. Mayor.  Union leaders.  And the same goes for the church.  Home Group Leader, Children's Leader, Music Group Leader, Choir Leader, Vicar and so on.  Leadership is part of life.  It's a myth to believe that we can live without leaders.  If we try to do so, we only create a vacuum which is soon filled by a new leader who thrusts themselves upon us if we don't choose them.  If we don't have good leadership, we'll have bad leadership.

Good leaders are a blessing to the people they lead, while bad leaders are a curse to them.  We only need to think of some of the people cursed by corrupt, power-hungry, self-serving and irresponsible leaders to see the truth of that.  We may not be altogehter happy with our leaders in this country, but we've not known what it's like to live in Amin's Uganda, or Ceaucescu's Romania or Soharto's Indonesia -  the list is almost endless. Alan Coren once quipped that he was proud to live in a country where former leaders could retire in safety, without facing exile or the firing squad.

God's people need leaders, too.  God has always intended for us to have leaders.  Here, too, good leaders are a blessing and bad leaders a curse. Only in the last few weeks I have learned of three diferent Anglican churches which have suffered from bad leaders (and none of them is this one!).   In one, the previous vicar had steadily sold off all the church's assets and no-one quite knows whre all themoney went to.  In another, the present vicar is the first to have stayed longer than five years since the
first world war.  There was one scandal after another.  In the third, the vicar before last was given three months to leave because he was having an affair with a parishioner.  Who can tell how long it takes for people to recover from the curse of such leadership?  Those men lived for themselves and their own comfort, rather than the good of their people.

God's people in Micah's time had suffered long enough from bad leadership - above all their kings.   Here, in Micah 5, God promises them a new king. Here, at last, will be a leader they can have confidence in, a leader they can trust and follow, a leader who will bring blessing upon blessing rather than curse upon curse.

Wnenever I read this passage in Micah, I can't help remembering a Carol Service when I was at school.  It was one of those formal occasions, with all nine lessons, each with its traditionl introduction.  The boy who read this passage should have introduced it with the words:  "The prophet Micah foretells the birth of the Christ."  What he actually said was this, "The prophet Formica tells the birth of the Christ."  To this day, I still don't know whether he did that deliberately - if so, he was one of the bravest people I know to try that in the school carol service.  He certainly became
an instant hero to all the other would-be rebels there.  Or was it an accident, because he was so nervous?  Either way, the Headmaster was not amused.  This boy was not going to be the first to be made Prefect.

But the proper introduction is exactly right.  That is what Micah is doing. He is foretelling the birth of the Christ.  He is promising a new king for God's people.  And when Jesus was born, it was to this passage that King Herod's advisers turned to find out where he would be born.  Herod wanted to destroy him, of course, but this was the passage that told him where to find the infant Jesus.

Before we get to grips with Micah, though, I need to say a word about prophecy in the Old Testament.  All prophecy has a double fulfilment - in Christ and in heaven.  Not two different fulfilments, but one partial and one complete.  That means that we are both like and unlike the people of Micah's day who heard the original prophecy.  We're unlike them because Christ has come.  He was born in Bethlehem and we have seen him ruling as God's chosen king - for alost 2000 years now.  But we're also like them because we're still waiting for the final fulfilment in heaven.  That'll help us as we move back and forth between Micah and today.

1.  Why a new king is needed (v1)

Why do they need a new king?  What's wrong with the one they've got?  Why mend it if it's not broken?  Verse 1 tells us how broken it is....  The city of Jerusalem is in big danger.  It's under siege - probably from Sennacherib, king of Assyria.  He attacked when Hezekiah was king in Judah. [Certainly Micah prophesied during his reign, and the details seem to fit].  If so, the threat is serious.  Under their previous king, Assyria has already laid waste the northern kingdom of Israel and removed its people into exile.  Since then, Senacherib has attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them.  The most important of these was Lacish. Excavations there have uncovered a mass grave.  [We're sadly used to those from Bosnia and Kosovo].  In this huge pit, they found some 1500 bodies dumped by the Assyrians and covered with pig bones and other debris - presumably the army's rubbish.  This same army now threatens Jerusalem. Seeing what's coming, Hezekiah has tried to buy off the Assyrians.  But they're too ruthless for that.  They've taken the money and still attacked. And to add to the indignity, Sennacherib he taunts the king with his past victories.  Nno-one has yet been rescued from his hand.  What makes Hezekiah think he's any different? 

The city's under siege.  The king is humiliated.  This isn't just an immediate and temporary  crisis.  The problem runs deeper.  In chapter 3, the beginning of this section of the book, Micah castigates the leaders of the day:  3 v1-3, v8-11a.  Nor is the problem limited to the present generation - as if the people can hanker after a former golden age when everything was perfect.  It's a long-term, intractable problem.  God's people have never had the leaders they should have had.  It had been
better, but it had never been as good as it should be.  Even under king David, and his son Solomon.  If there had been a golden age, that was it. But David abused his power to satisfy his appetites, sleeping with one of his sodier's wives and then arranging his death to cover his tracks.  And he'd called for a census of all his fighting men, even though expressly forbidden by God and warned by his general.  There were times when he thought he was accountable to no-one but himself, and that his strength lay in his armies rather than in God.  And he was the greatest and most godly king they had had.

God allowed his people to have a king when they asked for him, even though it was an act of rebellion on thir part, becaue he intended to install his own king over them one day.  All the kings failed in one way or another. They had to - until God's king was appointed.  The very best of them were a dim shadow, a pattern of what God would do one day.  The very worst were a grim contrast, feeding the longing for God's new king to come.

2.  What the new king will be like (v2-4)

In the midst of the siege, with their king insulted, the Lord speaks. Verse 2 is the only one spoken directly by Yahweh.  It's addressed to the little town of Bethlehem.  He's telling the great city of Jerusalem - that is where their hope now lies.  This is the first hint of what the new king will be like.....

The one word which sums him up is humility.  He will be humble in his origins, coming from this nowhere place.  Behtlehem was too insignificant even to get a mention in the book of Joshua when a list of towns in the region was being compiled.  [It was never going to have a premiership football team or a world-renowned symphony orchestra].  It's like the weather forecast on ITV.  They have a map which shows two tiny places no-one's ever heard of.  I can't give you an example, because I can't remember any of the names.  In any case, someone here might come from one of them and I don't want to be rude.  As a result, I always miss the actual weather forecast because I'm thinking about these obscure villages. Bethlehem's that kind of place.  Mary and Joseph were too insignificant to be able to get any decent zccommmadation when they arrived in Bethlehem. They were too poor even to offer the proper sacrifice after Jesus' birth - they had to make do with a pair of doves or pigeaons.  This is God's way of doing things.  Out of nothing, great things.  That way  it's clear to everyone that he's done it - so he gets the glory,  all the credit. 

And this new king will be humble in character.  Have you noticed that nowhere in this passage is he acutally called 'king'.  It's not that he isn't king and that he won't rule his people.  He will.  but he's not to be confused with their previous kings.  Here is a new kind of king, or rather the fulfilment of all that's been promised and hoped for in their leader. He's new in that, for the first time, he'll do the job properly, from start to finish, as God intended.  Verse 4....  

I was driving to Durham the other week.  As you get close, there's a sign beside the road welcoming you to the land of the Prince-Bishops.  The bishops there have ruled from castles and palaces for centuries.  There's even a brand new, very smart car park in the city called Prince Bishops - they're proud of their heritage.  I can't help thinking, though, how far that is from the kind of king God has in mind, the kind of ruler he wants for his people.  This king will be a shepherd.  He will care for his people.  He will protect them from their enemies.  He will lead them for their good, not for his comfort. Here will be no exploitation, no harsh tyrrany, no irresponsibility. 

Have you discovered this sheperdly rule of Christ yet for yourself?  Isn't that what you've found if you're a Christian?  You've submitted to the rule of this king, but you do so gladly, knowing that he's your shepherd and that you're a sheep in his flock.  And if you're not yet a Christian, and you haven't yet submitted to him, please know that this is the kind of rule he wants to have in your life.  He's not a wimp, but nor is he a tyrant. He's the shepherd, whose job it is to bring peace and security to his flock.  You can trust him.

Have you heard about Arnold Schwarzenneger's latest film?  It's called End of Days.  Arnie plays a Manhattan security guard who battles with the devil on the eve of the millennium.  [It's hard to take seriously, isn't it?] Originally, the script took care of the devil's end in traditional fashion, "The big gun blasting away at him continuously and he had to go back to hell because he didn't succeed."  [I told you it was hard to take
seriously].  Then Schwarzenneger says that he realised: "you should not have evil conquer evil...  So we met a lot of leaders of churches to figure out what would be the ideal way of succeeding in this situation from a religious point of view, and it became very clear that it had to be through faith, not force."  [Time magazine, 20 Nov 99].Well, he's on the right track now, but he's not yet arrived.

How does God's new king, the shepherd-ruler, defeat his enemies?  With superior firepower, a bigger gun mounted on the wall of the city?  Through the superior power of faith?  Well, yes, but where does his faith take him?   God's king goes to face his enemies, outside the city wall, to offer himself as a sacrifice, to die at their hands and so set his people free from the fear of their tyranny forever.  God's king rule from the cross and rescues his people there.  He's rightly called the Good Shepherd.

3.  What the new king will do (v5-6)

You announce anything new and someone will say, Why do we need it?  Then someonw will ask, Okay, but what will it be like?  Then someone else will want to know, So, what difference will it make?  What will this new king actually do?  He will bring peace.  Actually, he won't just bring them peace.  Verse 5 says he will be their peace.  Their peace will be found in him.  They will know peace as they know his rule.  A truth Paul later picks up in Ephesians 2.  He himself is our peace.   Christ has made peace between God and us, and so between us and others, through his blood shed on the cross.  He is our peace.

There is a disastrous piece of editing in the NIV at this point.  For some mysterious reason half an inch of white space and a new heading appears in the middle of verse 5.  Why , I cannot understand, because the first three lines of verse 5 are virtually repeated as the last three lines of verse 6.....  That is what the new king will do.  He will bring peace to his people and deliver them from their enemies - by delivering them from their enemie.  The attacks won't end, but we don't need to fear them any more. Security and peace are the two great blessings that come to us when we know
the rule of Jesus, God's shepherd-king, in our lives.  I remember the moving testimony of a teenaged boy who'd just become a Christian.  He was asked what difference it had made to his life.  He simply said, "I now know where I've come form and where I'm going to."  He'd found security in Christ and he knew peace in Christ.

Then, between those two pairs of three lines about what God's shepherd-king will do, there are some very interesting lines. They are about what his people will do.  This is not something different.  This is how the shepherd will bring his peace.  verse 5b-6a: we will raise...  Here the people appoint their own shepherds.  Through them, they won't just secure the land, they will extend the borders, pushing their enemies back and taking their land as well.  What a brilliant picture this is - a clear prophecy of how Christ will extend his rule throughout the earth.  The shepherd will spread his rule through under-shepherds whom God's people themselves appoint.  Oh, he's the Chief Shephaerd - make no mistake.  But he has shepherds, overseers of the flock, working under him.  As they wield the sword of his word, they will slay the enemies of the flock, protecting the sheep and conquering fresh territory for him.

It doesn't sound very impressive.  We sing that "we shall fight with sorrow and sin to set their captives free."  How will we do that?  With the word of God.  It seems so weak.  But that's God's way of doing things.  A little town called Bethlehem.  A ruler who's a shepherd.  Frail men and women with a spoken message.  Can we really hold back the tide of materialism and secularism that way, let alone claim any new territory?   [By which we mean new people.  Human hearts are the territory Christ came to liberate and then to watch over].  Yes, we can.  Or rather, God can through us.

We need to be like Martin Luther.  He turned the ecclesiastical world of his day upside down when he rediscovered the gospel of free grace.  But he calmly claimed that he'd done nothing - just started the Protestant Reformation!   "Idid nothing.  I sat drinking beer with Philip.  The word did it all."  There's a true under-shepherd.  [Not that we have to sit drinking beer, mind you].  He knew what Christ, God's new king, was like. He knew what Christ had done for him.  And he knew how Christ's shepherdly rule would be extended throughout the earth.

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