He stepped across the stars. . .to the planet Earth.
EPHRATHAH is a tongue-twisting word. It is mispronounced every year by tens of thousands of children and not a few adults. Usually the time of the year for this phenomenon is December, the occasion is the Lord’s birth and the event is a Christmas program.
The children, in all of their beauty, warmth and innocence, stand before the assembled crowd. Sometimes they are smiling, often they are talking, and always they are shuffling their feet and moving their arms — an organism of perpetual motion.
And then it happens. On signal from the teacher, amazingly they begin to speak,
But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, 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 (Mic. 5:2).
And as they stumble gloriously through their recitation, proud parents watch their offspring, hoping that the hair is still groomed, the shirt tucked in, the dress still ladylike, and all the while praying silently that they won’t forget their lines.
And someone thinks almost out loud — “Did that word EPHRATHAH really have to be in that verse of Scripture — I mean, did it really? After all, it was so hard for the children to pronounce.”
The answer is not too obvious but of tremendous importance. At the time of the birth of Christ, there were two villages bearing the name Bethlehem. One was five miles due south of Jerusalem in a region known as EPHRATHAH. The other was in Galilee seven miles northwest of Nazareth in the region of Zebulun. Had the inspired penman left off the word EPHRATHAH and simply described the birthplace as Bethlehem, how great would have been the loss to mankind. Men might still be debating whether it referred to the Bethlehem in EPHRATHAH or the Bethlehem in Zebulun, and one of the Bible’s most important prophecies might be forever uncertain.
So go ahead, lovingly smile at the children when they mispronounce EPHRATHAH, but be exceedingly glad that God placed it in His Word.
But why did He come at all? Why did the eternal God step across the stars to be born on the planet Earth in an insignificant village, Bethlehem, among a lowly people, Israel? Why did deity clothe Himself with humanity?
Why did the self-existent God, who is the only uncaused cause in the universe and therefore no man’s debtor, leave Heaven’s glory to come to the earth?
Why did the eternal God, who is from everlasting to everlasting, limit Himself in bodily form to the dimensions of time?
Why did the immutable God who, because He is perfect, cannot change for the better and because He is perfect will not change for the worse, choose to dwell for thirty-three years among sinful humanity?
Why did the God who possesses immensity and therefore dwells within every inch of an infinite universe, choose to dwell in a special and localized sense among Adam’s fallen race?
The answer is so startling, so amazing, so contrary to human nature that finite man is hardly able to grasp it. Jesus Christ for a time laid down the prerogatives of deity and clothed Himself with the limitations of humanity. He did so because He placed the needs of others ahead of Himself. The Apostle Paul put it this way: God became a man, became a servant, and died the death of a common criminal — He esteemed others better than Himself. But let the great apostle speak for himself:
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; And, being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:4-8).
Jesus Christ Stepped Across the Stars to the Planet Earth to be a Prophet.
Beginning with Moses and continuing throughout the Old Testament, God spoke to Israel through prophets. These were men who first received a word from God, and in turn, with divine authority and power, thundered that word to a needy people. Their message came in different ways and was always incomplete.
In contrast, Jesus came with a message from His Father to sinful man which was consistent in method and complete in message. He spoke for God to men in completeness and with finality. Jesus spoke for His Father both through what He said and by how He lived. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way, “God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spoke 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” (Heb. 1:1-2). Because He was a prophet He thundered, “. . . He that hath seen me hath seen the Father . . .” (Jn. 14:9); and again, “I and my Father are one” (Jn. 10:30); and again, “. . . I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14:6); and again, “. . . whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst . . .” (Jn. 4:14). He was God’s spokesman to humanity.
In a world of confusion, turmoil and strife, in a world where ten thousand voices are calling for your time, energy, possessions — your very soul — the question arises, is there any objective truth upon which I can rest the destiny of my eternal soul? Is there truth for today that won’t be found to be untrue tomorrow? Is there eternal, objective reality? And the informed answer is yes, a thousand times yes!
Hear the message of Jesus the Prophet. For that reason He was born in Bethlehem EPHRATHAH.
Jesus Christ Stepped Across the Stars to the Planet Earth to be a Priest.
As the prophet was to be God’s spokesman to the people, the priest was to be the people’s representative before God. The high priest of Israel once a year, on the day of atonement, was to kill an animal. With the blood of that slain animal, he was to go beyond the veil into the holy of holies, sprinkling the blood before him. Substitution was pictured in the death of the animal in the stead of the sinful nation. In this divinely ordained ceremony, the holiness of God was satisfied or propitiated for another year, until it would again be necessary to sacrifice another animal. This annual slaying of an animal only served to underscore the fact that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin (Heb. 10:4). They were stopgaps to avert immediate judgment of sin until “the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29) was slain.
It was during the last week of His life that Jesus entered upon His priestly ministry. Like Israel’s ancient high priest, He offered a sacrifice to God the Father. But then, unlike any priest before or after, He turned around and was Himself the sacrifice that was offered. Inscrutably, He was the instrument of sacrifice and the object that was sacrificed. An infinitely holy God required an infinitely holy sacrifice. And since Jesus alone could meet that requisite, He offered Himself. For that reason He could say of Himself, “. . . the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45); and again, “No man taketh it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again . . .” (Jn. 10:18).
And to Peter who, with good if misguided intention, wanted to intervene in the Lord’s priestly ministry by defending Him from arrest and preventing Calvary, there came our Lord’s gracious rebuke, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how, then, shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Mt. 26:53-54).
In a world of sin and degradation, in a world of humanism and self-deification, the thoughtful, sensitive, searching soul inquires, is there any way that a vile, sinful man such as I can find acceptability before a holy God who is a consuming fire? Most happily, the answer is yes, yes, a thousand times yes — through Jesus Christ, your High Priest, who offered an infinite sacrifice of eternal worth to satisfy once and for all the demands of that holy and just God. Jesus died once and for all, the just for the unjust, that we might be brought to God.
Avail yourself of the ministry of Jesus the Priest. For that reason He was born in Bethlehem EPHRATHAH.
Jesus Christ Stepped Across the Stars to the Planet Earth to be a King.
Man was created with the potential to be king of the earth. He was to rule and reign — to have dominion — to give names to the animal creation. Man was to govern as God’s vice regent over this planet. But in the Garden of Eden, man sinned and the scepter of kingship fell from his now withering hand. Sin brought separation from God, it brought death and disease and weed and rust and pollution and hatred and war and famine and flesh-eating animals and a thousand other ills that have plagued man from the very beginning of his history. Will it be forever so? Is there no hope? Is a day of holiness, justice and righteousness on the earth to ever remain an unrealized dream — an unfulfilled longing? Joyously, the answer to such questions can be given in the negative. Jesus is the second man, the virgin-born God-Man. What Adam lost Jesus will recapture. Jesus came the first time to die for the world’s sin. He is coming the second time to recapture man’s lost destiny as king of the earth. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:
. . . and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Heb. 9:28).
Biblical hope is not speculation. It is certain, sure, absolute. It is the quiet, assured confidence that deliverance of planet Earth will one day come through the Lord Jesus Christ at His return. For that reason He was born in Bethlehem EPHRATHAH.
Our children sing of little Jesus meek and mild, and “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.” And well they should. But men and women of full age should speak of Jesus the self-existent, preexistent, eternally existent, unchanging, all knowing, all-powerful, infinite, holy, just, loving, good, kind, gracious, long suffering and merciful Savior who came to earth one day long ago because He placed the need of fallen, sinful mankind above Himself.
Joseph, the husband of Mary, was commanded to name the still unborn child “Jesus” because He would “save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). Jesus means Savior. And so the name given was to describe what He would accomplish. He would save, so call Him Savior (Jesus). But how would He accomplish this great task? He would be the Christ — the anointed of God. As the anointed Prophet, He would proclaim His Father’s Word. As the anointed Priest, He would offer and be the only acceptable sacrifice for sin. As the anointed King, He will establish a glorious kingdom.
He has not and will not fail in the holy task to which His Father has appointed Him. And in the fullness of time He stepped across the stars to the planet Earth. How blessed are the inhabitants of this terrestrial ball who place their trust In Him.