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Scripture Memory: Grace for Living.
VERSE : 2 Corinthians 12:9 
"And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

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O Worship the LORD in the Beauty of Holiness

16 December 2012
8 am & 1045am Worship Service:

Rev Charles Seet (Mary and Joseph: Parents of Christ, Luk 1:26-38; Mat 1:18-25)
6:00 pm Evening Service:
Rev Quek Keng Khwang (Why Do the Up-Look? Psa 121)

23 December 2012
930 am Combined English Christmas Service:

Rev Ho Chee Lai (For Unto Us a Child is Born, Isa 9:6,7)
6:00 pm Evening Service:
Rev Charles Seet (Joy to the World, the Lord is Come! Psalm 98)

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WHY WAS JESUS BORN IN BETHLEHEM?

Bethlehem has the unique distinction of being the place where God entered this world in human form and where all the angels of heaven gathered together to praise God for this great event in the sight of some lowly shepherds. The angels’ words, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’ (Luke 2:14) would be very meaningful to its people because throughout its long history, Bethlehem has not enjoyed much peace. In fact, the scars of violence are etched all over the Church of the Nativity which marks the site of Christ’s birth.

Bethlehem has been the subject of much bloodshed, conflict and war. About a century ago, archeologists discovered a 15th century BC letter in which a Canaanite warlord asked Pharaoh for skilled archers to help him reconquer Bethlehem. Although it came under the tribe of Judah through Joshua’s conquest, it became a Philistine garrison during the time of King Saul (2 Samuel 23:14-16) until King David recaptured it. It later came under Greek and Roman control successively. The city was destroyed by the Samaritans during a revolt in 529 and was rebuilt by Justinian. It was conquered by the Persians in 614, the Muslims in 637, the Crusaders in 1099, and the Seljuk Turks in 1187. The British gained control during the First World War, but it fell under Jordanian control thirty years later. Israel occupied the town twenty years later, but since 1995 it has been controlled by the Palestinian authority.

Bethlehem now lies in the West Bank – a land which is under endless dispute between Palestinians and Israelis, which has flared up recently. In 2001, violence engulfed Bethlehem in an uprising which lasted for four years. In recent years it has been used as a hiding place by terrorists to launch attacks in Israel. In 2003 the Israelis built a 9-meter high wall to isolate it from Jerusalem. Its entrance is marked by a security checkpoint where traffic slows down to a crawl. At Christmas when thousands of tourists throng the city, security is so tight that shopkeepers hardly have any opportunity to get business from them. After only two hours of sightseeing, tourists quickly board the coaches and leave the town. A very fragile peace pervades the city where Christ was born.

This raises the question: Why, of all places, was Jesus born in Bethlehem? The answer is found in Micah 5:1,2– "Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek. 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."

This prophecy was given in a context of war and violence – the Babylonian conquest of Judah which was to take place in 586 BC. Many Jews would be taken into captivity and some would be killed. The awful sorrow and pain that this would bring points us to one reason why Christ was born into this world. He comes as the One who fully understands the plight of all who suffer sorrow and pain.

It Was an Appropriate Birthplace for the Man of Sorrows

Bethlehem has been associated with sorrow and pain from ancient times. One of its landmarks is Rachel’s tomb. Rachel was the beloved wife of Jacob. According to Genesis chapter 35, she went into labour as their caravan approached Bethlehem. She experienced a very painful and difficult labour probably with heavy bleeding. And as poor Rachel was dying she gave birth to a son and called him Benoni – which means, ‘Son of my sorrow.’ But Jacob changed his name to Benjamin (Son of my right hand). Rachel’s tomb stands as a solemn reminder of her painful childbirth, and of Jacob’s sorrow in losing his beloved wife.

Rachel’s name is mentioned later on in connection with King Herod’s killing of all babies in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:17-18) – "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not."

How grieved all the bereaved mothers must have been to lose their infant children! No wonder the prophet Jeremiah compares their sorrow to that of Rachel’s – an inconsolable sorrow of unexpected loss. Is there anyone who can really understand such extreme sorrow and pain? Yes, there is – The One who is called, "a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief." (Isaiah 53:3)

The fact that Christ was born in a place of sorrow and grief indicates that He alone can bring an end to all sorrow and grief. And He would do this by dealing with their root cause – the problem of sin. From the moment He was born, Jesus was destined to suffer on the Cross of Calvary to deal once and for all with sin. His death has wrought our salvation, and we are delivered not only from the penalty of our sins, but one day we will also be completely delivered from all the effects of sin in our life including sorrow, grief and pain.

Whenever we are troubled by all the sorrow, grief and pain that sin has produced, let us remember that Christ was born in a place of sorrows to be the Man of Sorrows so that He may bring an end to all our sorrows.

It Marked the Beginning of Christ’s Humiliation

Micah’s prophecy reveals that Bethlehem was chosen to be His birthplace because it was little. It had no importance or significance among the thousands of Judah. There were other more prominent cities in Judah that could have been chosen. E.g. Hebron, where the Old Testament patriarchs had lived before; or better still, Jerusalem, where the Holy Temple was found and where the Kings of Judah had reigned.

What eventually made Bethlehem famous was the fact that David came from it. But before David became king, there was nothing in his origins that he could boast of (cf. 1 Samuel 18:18). David’s humble beginning lies in the fact that he came from a town of no importance. In the same way, the humble beginning of Christ’s life on earth lies in the fact that He was born in Bethlehem. And not just in Bethlehem, but in a lowly stable where donkeys and cows give birth. Out of the thousands of places in Judah where babies were born, God deliberately chose the humblest of places for Christ to be born.

Bethlehem marks the beginning of our Lord’s voluntary humiliation (cf. Philippians 2:7) and of the lowly path that He would take all the way down to the Cross to die a form of death that was reserved for the worst criminals in society. He took this path in order to save even the lowliest of sinners. Jesus did not only want to save sinners from the most learned and privileged level of society. Neither did He merely want to save sinners from the middle class and upwards. He also wants to save sinners right from bottommost level of society – those who are most despised and regarded as outcasts.

And so by humbling Himself to the lowest level, Jesus is able to save all sinners without distinction. This is the good news we must proclaim: No one is ever too small, too poor, too useless, too insignificant or too sinful to be saved.

It Brings the Hope of the Restoration of David’s Throne

Bethlehem was the birthplace of David, the godliest of all the kings of Israel because he was a man after God’s own heart. Though he was not perfect, he was careful to seek God’s directions for everything he did. The psalms he wrote reveal the sweet fellowship he enjoyed with the Lord he loved and his firm reliance on God. As David ruled Israel well, God blessed his people and forged them into a powerful and prosperous kingdom through him.

However most of the kings who reigned after David brought God’s judgment instead of blessing because they led the people into sin and idolatry. Eventually the line of David ceased to reign, and Israel came under foreign domination. The Jews longed for the time when the throne of David would be restored and a king from David’s line would reign over them again.

This hope was kept alive by Micah’s prophecy concerning Bethlehem: "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…" All Jews who lived at the time when Jesus was born recognized this prophecy. When the wise men from the east came to Herod’s court asking where the King of the Jews was born, the chief priests and scribes that Herod consulted immediately cited it as proof that He would be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:4,5).

When Jesus ministered to the people later on, some of them doubted that He could be the Messiah because they mistakenly thought that He was from Nazareth in Galilee. They said, "Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?" (John 7:41-42) To the Jews, Bethlehem was ‘the city of David.’ That was also how the angel who announced Christ’s birth to the shepherds referred to it (Luke 2:11).

However by time of Christ’s birth, not many of David’s descendants would have been living in Bethlehem. How then would the prophecy be fulfilled that David’s throne would be restored only by a descendant of his who is born there? God used a Roman Emperor to make it happen. Caesar Augustus issued a decree that everyone in his empire was to be taxed. In order to ensure that taxes were paid by every person, all subjects were required to return to their ancestral hometowns for registration.

This meant that every descendant of David would have to return to Bethlehem including Joseph and Mary, despite the inconvenience of having to travel over 100 km from Nazareth where they lived. And they did not seem to have any close friends or relatives there who could help them, since they sought accommodation at an inn.

If Joseph and Mary had never been to Bethlehem, they would probably have preferred to have Jesus born at Nazareth where everything had been prepared for His arrival. But the decree must have come with a deadline and a penalty that was severe enough to keep them from postponing the trip to a time after His birth. Perhaps they planned to make a quick trip there and back to Nazareth before the baby arrives.

But with unexpected delays caused by everyone traveling to their ancestral homes at the same time, these plans did not materialize. Mary’s labour pains started soon after they arrived in Bethlehem. And so, even though Bethlehem was not their intended birthplace, that’s where Jesus was born, fulfilling exactly what Micah’s prophecy had foretold. This confirmed that David’s throne would one day be restored through Jesus.

Conclusion

Why was Jesus born in Bethlehem? We have seen that it was an appropriate birthplace for the Man of sorrows who would bring an end to all our sorrows, that His birth there marked the beginning of His humiliation on earth, and that it signified the hope that David’s throne would be restored.

How should you respond to this? Do what the shepherds of Bethlehem did after they learned that Christ was born: They went to find Him and worship Him without delay. Then they went forth to tell many others about what they had seen and heard. May God move our hearts to love our Lord Jesus and honour Him more.

Pastor

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Christmas Carol Service 
24 Dec 12 (Mon), 8.00 pm
"The Response of the Shepherds"
by Rev Quek Keng Khwang

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1) Prayer Meeting this Tuesday will be held at the sanctuary.

2) Life B-P Church is having the Christmas Gathering on 22 Dec 12 at 10 am, followed by a fellowship lunch at 12 noon. All are welcome to commemorate the birth of our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ.

3) Scripture Memory Verses 2013: "Wisdom for Daily Living". Memory verse booklets are available at the front counter.

4) The Korean Church has moved to their new premises. Hence, our neighbour’s car park will be closed at 1pm on Sundays.

5) "Morning by Morning": Daily Devotional by C H Spurgeon, Vol 1 (Jan to Mar 2013). Available at the front counter. The same devotions are available online at http://www.lifebpc.com/devotions.

6) Life B-P Church Calendar 2013. Members who wish to have additional calendars as Christmas gifts for their friends and loved ones may request for up to 2 additional ones from the deacons.

7) The YF and YAF will be celebrating their 59th and 31st anniversaries on 31 Dec 12 at 7pm. Theme: Rise up again. Speaker: Eld Ng Beng Kiong. The event will be held at the MPH in Beulah Centre. Dinner will be provided and all members of the church are invited to join us for this event. Please contact Cornelius (83996638) or Joshua (91529628) for more information.

Preaching appointment: Rev Seet at Johor Bahru Sunset Gospel Hour, 6pm. Rev Wong at Calvary-Jurong BPC, 10am and Thai Grace BPC, 4pm. Rev Quek at Life Evening Service, 6pm.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25