Sermon Briefs: Micah 5:2-5a
James W. White, Jr., St. Giles Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, N.C., preached a very good and timely sermon on Micah 5:1-5 on the Sunday before Christmas in 1982. He added Micah 4:1-5 to his reading so that he could talk about both Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The title of the sermon was Not Yet.1
He begins with a lengthy complaint against the "Hold" button on our telephones, saying how much he dislikes being put on hold and having to wait when he makes a call. The message of the "Hold" button, he says, is "Not yet." But it is not "Not ever." "I am in line and on the line. What I desire will come, just `Not yet.'"
This is a very effective introduction to his main thought, that "on this final Sunday in Advent, the season of anticipation, the central message of the church is `Not yet.'" The purposes of God are being worked out in history, but they have "not yet" been fulfilled. Turning to the text, the Raleigh preacher says: "Micah affirms that God rules the world. He affirms that God cares about the well-being of the world. He affirms that men and nations sin. He affirms that sin leads to destruction. And he affirms, therefore, that hope resides only in the power of God to overcome sin. The basic reason for the `not yet' is human sin."
White proceeds to discuss the two cities, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Jerusalem, he says, is the "Hold" button which signifies " the hopelessness of the human condition and the proud pretensions of human endeavors." Jerusalem is where the Lord was crucified. People still fight over it; it has never succeeded in being what it was meant to be.
Bethlehem, on the other hand, reminds us that "Not yet" is not "Not ever." Bethlehem --"a place to be from, not to go to, a place not of pride and power but of humility and simplicity." White goes on: "Bethlehem speaks of the patience of God, along with the humility necessary to counteract the proud pretensions of human sin."
Elizabeth Achtemeier makes a similar point in her book The Old Testament and the Proclamation of the Gospel. She writes: "In the event of Christmas it is announced that the Son of God is born, that all those promises of God remembered in the Old Testament have come to pass, and it is therefore this fulfillment which the Christmas use of the Old Testament must surely emphasize, the fact that Christmas is a celebration of the faithfulness of God." She includes this passage from Micah among those appropriate for making this point.2
The prophet declared that God would break into history with a new word, a new people, a new ruler. Micah said of him that he would have a mysterious origin: "of old, from ancient days"; that he would get his strength and name from Yahweh; and that he would share in Yahweh's universal rule over the earth. This is a future "which only Yahweh can create and in which Israel can only hope."3
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) has two sermons on this Micah passage, neither of which would probably meet the standards of modern exegesis, for they make no effort to put the texts into context. Spurgeon is great fun to read for his zeal, his imaginative and stirring language, his passion, and his historical allusions; but it is hard to imagine a preacher today developing this text the way Spurgeon did.
He preached on it March 20,1864, and again on December 2, 1866. The first sermon was used to initiate a crusade "against the sin and vice" of London. The text was verse 4. The title: Christ Is Glorious--Let Us Make Him Known.4 His points were: The perpetual reign of Christ ("he shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord"); the perpetual continuance of the church ("they shall abide"); and the greatness of our King ("he shall be great unto the ends of the earth").
It is interesting to note under the second point what Spurgeon says about church government: Episcopacy, presbytery, or independency all have their virtues and faults; "forms of government have very little to do with the vital principle of the church, ... the presence of the Lord in the midst of her; and while Christ lives, and Christ reigns, and stands and feeds his church, she is safe."
Spurgeon makes a passing allusion to the Civil War "in the land of our American brethren" and describes the kingdom of God as "the fifth great monarchy" which "shall be co-extensive with the world's bounds and everywhere the Great Shepherd shall reign."
Two years later this master pulpiteer returned to Micah 5 for a sermon entitled Our Lord's Transcendent Greatness.5 This time he took just one part of verse 4 for his exposition: "Now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth." Spurgeon applied the text to Christ: Jesus Christ deserves to be great; God has decreed that he shall be great; now, in God's strength, will you make him great? The final point is an evangelistic peroration to drunkards, blasphemers, and backsliders to become Christians and useful servants to the Lord Jesus.
An interesting historical allusion in this sermon is to the laying of the transatlantic telegraphic cable and the knighting by the Queen of "those who had bound two lands together." But Christ has established a communication which is swifter than the telegraph," bridging the gulf between "the mountains of our sin" and God.
George Laird Hunt
1. Received by request. 2. Elizabeth Achtemeier, The Old Testament and the Proclamation of the Gospel (Westminster Press, 1973), p. 131. 3. Ibid, p. 71. 4. Spurgeon's Sermons, Vol. 10, pp. 157-168. 5. Spurgeon's Sermons, Vol. 59, pp. 565-574.