When King Herod … had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” (verses 3-6)
David was born in Bethlehem and grew up to be shepherd of his father’s sheep. His hometown was completely inconsequential, yet he became ruler of Israel.
Centuries later, Micah (5:2-4) prophesied that another would rise from this same obscure location, becoming ruler of all Israel, indeed shepherding all God’s people, a congregation more diverse than even Micah imagined.
That prophecy itself was not obscure. It became so consequential in the understanding of the scholars that in Herod’s day they immediately referenced it when asked where Messiah was to be born. They knew. Of course. The long-promised One would be born in Bethlehem.
Matthew pinpoints this prophecy in writing his Gospel. Intentionally, he nails down identity and credentials before Jesus has ever taken a step. He’s to be ruler in David’s line. He will be shepherd of all God’s people.
So, what does it mean for Jesus to be “ruler”? This is not a promise constrained by Middle Eastern geography or confined to one small corner of the globe. No. For Jesus to be “ruler” means nothing less than being King of the Kingdom – and this Kingdom is vast, stretching from heaven to earth, extending to each and every corner so that his will is fulfilled, as in heaven. “Ruler” means Jesus is Sovereign over all. Indeed, he’s the centre of everything.
What does it mean, then, for Jesus to be “shepherd”? The word is used in the scriptures metaphorically as synonym for “ruler” – so it carries the same meaning. But it never loses that tender, watchful, caring stance of the sheepherder in the fields outside Bethlehem. As David, knowing what it meant, embraced the Lord as Shepherd (Psalm 23), so Jesus unabashedly takes the title to himself, prefacing it with the adjective “good” (John 10). For him to be “shepherd” means that with great skill and deep goodness, he will care for our souls, guard our lives, guide our paths, rescue us from harm, and carry us safely in his arms.
This promise from Bethlehem transforms life.
I welcome you now, Jesus, Son of David, as Ruler of my life. I submit my will to your lordship – speak, and I will listen; command and I will act. You are King of the Kingdom into which I have been transferred. Your Kingdom come, your will be done, right here, right now, in this square inch of my life.
I welcome you now, Jesus, good Shepherd. Shepherd my soul. Oh, how I need you. Give me green pastures in which to thrive, lead me to waters of life, restore my soul, guide me to walk firmly in your righteousness. I’m your sheep – I choose to be attentive to your voice this day, ignoring all others, responding to your care and your call.
Thank you, my King. Thank you, my Shepherd.
Reflect: Watch today for the ways Jesus makes himself known as ruler and shepherd, in big ways and small. Keep track and give thanks.