Saturday, December 20, 2008

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Massachusetts Bishop Phillips Brooks (1835-1903) of Boston wrote the words to O Little Town of Bethlehem in 1868, following a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was inspired by the view of Bethlehem from the hills of Palestine, especially at nighttime, hence the lyrics of O Little Town of Bethlehem. His church organist Lewis Redner (1831-1908) wrote the melody to O Little Town of Bethlehem for the Sunday school children’s choir. Brooks had been educated at the seminary in Alexandria and was ordained in Virginia.

I. Bethlehem Was a Patriarchal City

A. Bethlehem first appeared in Biblical history when Jacob buried his beloved wife Rachel, the daughter of Laban. “And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem.” (Genesis 48:7).

B. The town was also the home of a concubine who figured in a famous murder during the period of the judges. “And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite sojourning on the side of mount Ephraim, who took to him a concubine out of Bethlehemjudah. And his concubine played the whore against him, and went away from him unto her father’s house to Bethlehemjudah, and was there four whole months.” (Judges 19:1-2)

C. Some 123 men of Bethlehem came with Zerubbabel to restore the holy city after the Babylonian captivity. “The children of Bethlehem, an hundred twenty and three.” (Ezra 2:21)

II. Bethlehem Was the City of David

A. The story of David begins with Boaz and Ruth in Bethlehem. “Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.” (Ruth 1:1) “So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?” (Ruth 1:19) “So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bare a son.” (Ruth 4:13) “And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David. (Ruth 4:21-22) Tradition identified Jesse as a Temple weaver.

B. The royal line of David began with an anointing at Bethlehem. “Now David was the son of that Ephrathite of Bethlehemjudah, whose name was Jesse; and he had eight sons: and the man went among men for an old man in the days of Saul.” (1 Samuel 17:12) “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.” (1 Samuel 16:13)

C. As the passage of time sidetracked Bethlehem, the prophet Micah reminded the faithful of the promises to David to establish the messianic line in the city. “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.” (Micah 5:2)

D. The religious leaders in the time of Herod and the Wise Men acted on the message of Micah. “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, 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. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 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.” (Matthew 2:1-6)

III. Bethlehem Was the City of Jesus

A. Bethlehem or “House of Bread” was well named as the birthplace for the heir of David who would be the “Bread of Life.” “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

B. The entire story of the savior is counterintuitive; only God would have chosen Bethlehem to keep His gracious promises. “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28)

C. Bethlehem was an appropriate starting place for a life of “living in plain sight” where the world could not see the Lord of Glory. “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2) “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:7-9)

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!


Isaiah 35:1-10; Hebrews 9:1-20 / Isaiah 40:1-8

I. God Gave His People Priests

A. The title “priest” was first applied in Scripture to Melchizedek. “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.” (Genesis 14:18)

B. A priest makes offerings to God to satisfy heaven’s justice, reconciles people to God, and intercedes for people with God. “For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” (Hebrews 5:1-4)

C. Originally God called all His people to be priests. “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:6)

D. God granted the Aaronic priesthood at the request of the people when they expressed fear of approaching God. According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken.” (Deuteronomy 18:16-17)

E. Christ is the ultimate gift from God: A perfect and permanent priest. “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10) “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; (Hebrews 10:12)

F. God has given the gift which erases sorrows and guarantees hope. God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;” (Hebrews 1:1-3)

II. Christ Provides Believers What They Need

A. Because believers have the best possible priest, Christians have reason to hold on to hope under all circumstances. “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.” (Hebrews 4:14)

B. Christ guarantees full reconciliation with God; there will be no little surprises on Judgment Day. “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17) “For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9:26)

C. Christ is both uniquely priest and uniquely sacrifice. “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

D. All the old terrors, the bloody sacrifices, and fearful penalties have come together in the priesthood of Christ; the perfect sacrifice has been made. “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebrews 9:28) “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.” (Ephesians 5:2)

E. Christ now lives to intercede for His people. “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12) Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:” (1 John 2:1)

III. The Gift Continues To Give

A. What Christ did restored the priesthood to all God’s people. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:” (1 Peter 2:9)

B. Through the gift of Christ and the gifts from Christ, the holy order for eternity is in place; even now Eden’s curse is passing away. “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:6)

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