December 23 – Bethlehem: City of Kings?

December 23, 2021 Randy Bushey

~by Randy Bushey

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me One who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

 

Octavian Augustus was one of the greatest Caesars – and the first with the title Emperor – of the Roman Empire.

 

Ironically, most know him today as simply a footnote to the Christmas story. (In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree…Luke 2:1).

 

But his edict created a major headache to the common people of his day: tremendous uprooting of daily routine, heavy traffic volumes, inflated prices for food, accommodation – all to update tax rolls.

 

This was particularly repugnant to the Jews – a unwanted reminder of their continuing loss of autonomy; their continued languishing under the boot of this Gentile authority.

 

Mary and Joseph were looking at a trip from Nazareth of at least 150 km. For reasons of safety and support, most people were travelling in caravans; but Mary’s reduced mobility probably caused them to travel largely alone.

 

Bethlehem is one of the oldest cities in the world, tracing its history back 4000 years. And although this town of 27,000 boasts as being the birthplace of 2 of history’s most impressive figures (including King David), when I was last there it struck me as being dingy, colourless, with ubiquitous graffiti, and hundreds of torn and weathered posted notices hanging off of buildings and fences.

 

Considering this was Joseph’s hometown, it is staggering to think that the young couple could find absolutely no reasonable accommodation – particularly when the baby’s birth was imminent! Clearly the town was overflowing with visitors – but the stigma attached to Mary’s pregnancy outside of marriage likely resulted in shame and rejection in his own small-town, conservative, Jewish community.

 

So why Bethlehem?

 

The whole arduous ordeal to get there was all about a prediction from a relatively insignificant minor Jewish prophet from the 8th century BC.

 

Micah, a contemporary of the great Hebrew prophet Isaiah, ministered during the reigns of kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah. He was active during the fall of Samaria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC.

 

One of the statements for which he is most well known is this:

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)?

 

Micah’s prophetic ministry is crystallized in 3 messages he preached to Judah. Buried in the second of the 3 is the special promise for Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah.

 

And so when the Magi turned Jerusalem into a pressure-cooker by inquiring as to where they could find the baby, the One born King of the Jews, they were directed to the village just south of the Holy City. The Jewish elite knew the ancient prediction.

 

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” (Matthew 2:3-6).

 

Takeaway: the birth narrative of the Lord Jesus – including His birth in a feeding trough located in a coarse stall in this obscure village – reminds us of His great condescension which was the hallmark of His incarnation.

 

But His humility is contrasted with His exaltation. Philips translation capture is this way:

 

For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his privileges as God’s equal, but stripped himself of every advantage by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born a man. And, plainly seen as a human being, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, to the point of death, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal.

 

That is why God has now lifted him to the heights, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus “every knee shall bow,” whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why “every tongue shall confess” that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:6-11).

 

…photo by Pat Bushey

*versions of this post have appeared previously in my blog.