Once a great kingdom in West Africa, the Songhai people now survive as sustenance farmers in a harsh climate with little rainfall and a heat index as high as 150 degrees. Among the 20 poorest countries in the world, the Songhai primarily preside in #7 (Niger) and #16 (Mali). The average person in this region of West Africa makes about $2 a day and three out of five children don’t live to see their 5th birthday. Among the great kingdoms of the present age, the Songhai is among the most insignificant.
John Smyth is an IMB missionary to the Songhai and he along with Songhai Christians are praying that once again a great kingdom would flourish among the Songhai—the kingdom of God.
This morning, on the second Sunday of Advent, we light the second candle, commonly called the “Bethlehem Candle”. This candle is lit in remembrance of the birthplace of Jesus: Bethlehem. Bethlehem is a beautiful example of God bringing greatness out of the ordinary.
In our sermon this morning we will reflect on the great love of God the Father in sending His Son Jesus Christ to us and bringing greatness (Christ) out of the ordinary (Bethlehem). Our passage is Matthew 2:6. In this verse Matthew reminds us of the prophecy of the coming Messiah Jesus in Micah 5:2-4. Matthew writes:
And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.
In Matthew 2, wise men from the east have come to Jerusalem to see the promised king of the Jews because they “saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him” (2). The current king of the Jews, Herod, is troubled and “assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born” (4). The advisors told the king “in Bethlehem of Judea” and then quote to him Micah 5:2.
By no means least
It is interesting that Matthew writes that Bethlehem is “by no means least among the rulers of Judah” because in Micah 5:2 we read that Bethlehem is “too little to be among the clans of Judah”. Is there a contradiction? Is Bethlehem “by no means least” among the rulers/clans or is it “too little to be” among the clans/rulers? The answer is Yes. Bethlehem serves as an example of God bringing greatness out of the ordinary.
Bethlehem is “too little to be among the clans of Judah”. From a human standpoint it is an insignificant city in comparison to other cities because it is not a very important city commercially or economically. But while it is true that from a human perspective Bethlehem is an ordinary & insignificant town, God has chosen Bethlehem for great things. God has determined that Bethlehem is “by no means least among the rulers of Judah”.
When we read these two verses in its God-designed context, we understand that while Bethlehem may be a socially and economically insignificant city, God has chosen to bring greatness out of it through the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
From you shall come
We are told that from Bethlehem “shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” (Matt 2:6)
Matthew reminds us of the ruler who will shepherd the Lord’s people. Micah 5:2 says, “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”. Micah 5:4-5 says:
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. And He shall be their peace.
Greatness out of Ordinary
Bethlehem is a great example of God bringing greatness out of the ordinary. For example, consider two individuals: David and Jesus.
David was the youngest son of an ordinary man from Bethlehem. He had an ordinary job of shepherding his father’s flock. After the Lord rejected Saul as king of Israel, Samuel was instructed “Fill your horn with oil and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons” (1 Sam 16:1). By the grace of God, David was taken from an ordinary family and an ordinary profession to become the greatest king of Israel.
Our Lord Jesus Christ came into this world in the little town of Bethlehem. He wasn’t born in Jerusalem or in a palace; rather the events of His birth are very humble. We are told in Luke 2:7, “[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” In other words, shortly after arriving in Bethlehem Joseph rushed Mary to the nearest location for her to give birth (a stable) and after Jesus was born He was placed in a feeding trough for livestock. But it is by the grace and mercy of God that, even out of this humble beginning in Bethlehem, our Lord Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords and God has “bestowed on Him the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:9).
Some might consider Bethlehem, West Africa, and even Scott City to be ordinary places. But let us remember 1 Corinthians 1:27: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong”. The world may consider us ordinary, insignificant, foolish and weak; but God delights in using the ordinary for His great purposes.
 Name changed for security reasons.