December 21, 2021 Marc Sims

Final Vindication (Micah 7:11-17)

Final Vindication (Micah 7:11-17)

The Great Day of His Wrath, John Martin (1851)

Sermon Audio: Final Vindication (Micah 7:11-17)


Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think some Christians today feel uncomfortable talking about the judgment of God? Do you struggle with the idea of God's final judgment?
  2. "There are two places where sin will be judged: an eternity in Hell, or at the Cross." What does that mean?
  3. Read Romans 12:19-21. How does a knowledge of God's vengeance affect our ability to "overcome evil with good"? Can you think of an example of what an application of Romans 12:19-21 would look like today?
  4. Read 1 John 2:15-17. What does this mean? Are there non-Christians in the world that you are envious of, or eager for their approval?
  5. Take time to consider who the most powerful, influential, significant, and popular non-Christians there are in the world today. Now read Revelation 6:14-17 and Philippians 2:10-11.


Sermon Manuscript:


Christmas is a celebration. When I was a child my parents would spend Christmas Eve blowing up balloons to put around the Christmas tree so that when we woke up it looked like we had far more under the tree than there really was and, of course, there are few things small children love more than a pile of balloons. Christmas is a celebration. We enjoy family, we enjoy food, we enjoy music and laughter and all the festive traditions. We, of course, above all celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the light breaking into the world, the happy invasion of heaven to earth. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when the spirit of Christmas Present travels around to the various homes he visits with Scrooge, he carries with him a horn of light from which he pulls out handfuls of seasoning to sprinkle on food, on conversations, on dancing parties that makes everyone enjoy them the more. Christmas is a celebration.


At least, it is for most of us. For some of us, however, Christmas isn’t a celebration but a kind of bruise. A reminder of sadness and loss. For others it is a painful reminder of all the things they have never had. And for some it is a frustrating season marked by overwork and exhaustion. And this is what Christmas is like for us in the relative peace, safety, and comfort of the West. What is Christmas like for the Christians today who suffer under persecution? What is Christmas like for the children whose parents have been taken from them? In what ways is Christmas a celebration for them?


It would do us all well to remember that the first Christmas was not celebrated in the same setting of warmth and jollity we usually associate with Christmas. Of course, there was the poor setting of the birth itself: born to poor peasants in a manger, laid in a feeding trough where donkeys and cows eat for a bed. But zoom the lens out one degree. Israel had now diminished, had become an emaciated shell of her former self. For nearly 600 years now, Israel was not free but had passed from one foreign overlord to another and had suffered terribly. Just think of this: when Herod, the king that Rome had put in charge of Israel, found out that Jesus was born in Bethlehem he was able to order that all male children under 2 years old be put to death (Matt 2:16-18). No Jewish parent was able to complain that this was murder, that their rights were being violated, that Herod had no right to do such a heinous thing. Like the Pharoah of the Exodus, Herod could order the boys to be killed because Israel had again become like what they were prior to the Exodus: slaves (Ex 1:22). But like Moses of the Exodus, the baby who survived Pharoah’s slaughter, Jesus escapes Herod’s slaughter (Ex 2:1-10) and like Moses grows up to be Israel’s deliverer. 


The first Christmas was not filled with lightheartedness. There was no Frosty the Snowman or Buddy the Elf or Ebenezer Scrooge. There was no tinsel, no stockings, and no chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Rather, Jesus’ birth was a pinprick of light in a sea of darkness; in the words of Luke, He was “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,” (Luke 1:79). What does Christmas mean to those under the sentence of death? Those in need of deliverance? It is not a cheap joy, another frivolous entertainment in the ocean of distractions, but a deep sigh of relief, an exhale of hope: finally, light. This is what our text in Micah looks forward to: a hope of salvation, a hope of God’s enemies to be judged and finally dealt with, a hope of a new Exodus.


A day for the building of your walls!

In that day the boundary shall be far extended.

In that day they will come to you,

from Assyria and the cities of Egypt,

and from Egypt to the River,

from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.

But the earth will be desolate

because of its inhabitants,

for the fruit of their deeds.

Shepherd your people with your staff,

the flock of your inheritance,

who dwell alone in a forest

in the midst of a garden land;

let them graze in Bashan and Gilead

as in the days of old.

As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,

I will show them marvelous things.

The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might;

they shall lay their hands on their mouths;

their ears shall be deaf;

they shall lick the dust like a serpent,

like the crawling things of the earth;

they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;

they shall turn in dread to the LORD our God,

and they shall be in fear of you.

-   Micah 7:11-17

 

Last week we explained that verses 8-10 serve as Micah’s personification of the nation of Israel, confessing their sin, but also confessing their confidence that God will restore them. Though Israel lies in a pit of darkness, they will not remain there. God “will bring [Israel] out to the light and [God’s people] shall look upon His vindication,” (Mic 7:9). God’s people will, in the final report, be vindicated. What is vindication? It comes from the same word as “righteousness” in the Bible, which simply means to be in the right. 


Sometime after Hillary and I were married we were eating cereal and she saw me start to sprinkle sugar on my Rice Krispies. Rice Krispies, of course, are unsweetened and therefore disgusting by themselves, so, like any good American, you put sugar on them; something I have done since I was a kid. But you would have thought I was sprinkling cocaine on my cereal with the way my wife reacted to it. “WHAT are you doing??” I tried to explain, but Hillary was convinced that what I was doing was utterly bizarre—no one, she confidently asserted, puts sugar on their cereal—that’s like eating ice cream for breakfast. So confident was she that she decided to take a poll on Facebook and, much to my extreme satisfaction, nearly everyone took my side. I was vindicated! I was proved to be in the right, and Hillary was proved to be wrong. Now, whenever I put sugar on my cereal, I just lock eyes with her and say: What you going to do about it? ….(just kidding).


Vindication happens when others who had been opposed to us are proved to be wrong, and we are right. A dispute over cereal is a silly example, of course. The vindication Micah is talking about here is no small thing. The enemies of God’s people had been gloating over their fall, laughing at their demise and mocked them with the taunt “Where is the Lord your God?” (7:10). The vindication is the restoration of God’s people through proving those enemies wrong. And notice that verse 9 specifies that this is “His vindication.” This is a salvation that God alone works. The only thing that God’s people contribute to this vindication is their own helplessness and trust in God to act. 


Understanding this setting of verses 8-10 is critical for understanding what follows in verses 11-17. God is going to vindicate His people through restoring them and judging their enemies. Or, to put it another way, God’s salvation of His people comes through the judgment of His enemies. One of my main aims in this sermon is to demonstrate for you that salvation and judgment are really two sides of the same coin—you cannot have salvation without judgment.


Salvation and Judgment: A Promise (11-13)


“A day for the building of your walls! In that day the boundary shall be far extended.” – Micah 7:11


This “day” is the day of Israel’s vindication. City walls in the ancient world are the most basic form of a defense system. Without city walls, any band of marauders can come along and take and plunder whatever they want. Thus, the city walls are an image of security, stability, and peace.


But not only will Jerusalem’s walls be erected, but the boundary markers of God’s people shall be far extended. In other words, Israel is not merely going to recapture what it once was in its glory days, but it will expand beyond—far beyond—its original territory. This is amazing because, if you’ll remember, Israel has been on the “losing” side of things for quite some time. Ever since Solomon’s reign ended, Israel had been dwindling in power and prestige, like a shrinking ice cube, so one can imagine what this must have felt like for Micah’s original listeners to hear. God’s people will not always be shriveled and shrunk by their sin, by the other nations. In fact, Micah looks forward to what this future day will be like for the other nations:


In that day they will come to you, from Assyria and the cities of Egypt, and from Egypt to the River, from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain. – Micah 7:12


Here Micah describes the enemies of God’s people coming to Israel. Those from Assyria (Israel’s current enemies) and Egypt (Israel’s ancient enemies), and even all nations, “from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain” will be drawn to Jerusalem. Why? Earlier, Micah promised that when the mountain the temple rested on, Mount Zion, was exalted all peoples and all nations would flow to it to worship God (Mic 4:1-2; cf. Isa 19:25; 56:6-7). Is this what Micah is referring to? To the drawing in of all nations, Gentiles being welcomed into the promises of Israel? That is entirely possible and fits within the rest of the book of Micah. However, we are then told:


But the earth will be desolate because of its inhabitants, for the fruit of their deeds. – Mic 7:13


As the nations stream into the gathered Israel, the earth is left desolate because of the inhabitants, because of their actions. Back in chapter six we were told that Israel was going to be struck by God with a grievous blow and so be left “desolate” (6:13). Desolation doesn’t just mean it is empty, but that it is under God’s judgment. 


So here either God has drawn all nations into Israel as an act of salvation, but it results in judgement on those who remain behind, or God is gathering the nations into Israel to be judged. This is what occurs at the end of the book of Revelation when the nations of the earth gather in the valley of Armageddon where they are all destroyed by Jesus (Rev 16:16; 19:17-21). Either way the result is the same: salvation comes to God’s people and judgment comes to God’s enemies.


What does this mean? Does this mean that we need to relocate to the city of Jerusalem so that we will be saved from judgment? No. God’s people are not defined by geographical location but by their submission to Him. The expansion of Israel’s boundaries and the drawing in of the various nations into Israel show us that God is not primarily concerned with a particular land. We don’t even have to be ethnic descendants of Abraham to participate in the blessings promised to Abraham’s descendants—we are, in the words of Paul in Romans 11, “grafted in” to the people of Israel so that now the promises made to Israel apply to the Church, to us. God is using the geography of Israel to illustrate a spiritual truth that is universally applicable to all peoples: God will draw His people to Himself, and will judge His enemies “for the fruit of their deeds.”


I wonder what you think of God's judgment--does it strike you as something to be embarrassed by? Do you feel like discussing the wrath of God smacks of an antiquated, puritanical picture of an angry God damning sinners to Hell? Consider this:


Have you been wronged?


Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Rom 12:19-21


What does this verse mean? God will balance all wrongs, He will avenge. So, let Him do that. You are not God and your responsibility is not to dole out judgment. You should so trust in God’s final vengeance that even when you have been wronged by an enemy, you should feed him and give him something to drink. Not because you deny that what he has done is wrong, but because you trust that God will pour out His wrath on him.


If you feel uncomfortable with the concept of God's justice, my guess is that it is likely because you feel like it presents a problem with being able to love one's enemies. But here in Romans 12 we see that there is no contradiction between acknowledging God's justice and the requirement to love and care for one's enemies. In fact, it is the very admission that God has vengeance that frees us from taking up the sword and striking back in vengeance, leaving room, rather, for us to feed our enemies, to overcome evil with good.


Salvation and Judgment: A Prayer (vs. 14-17)


Micah, in light of this promise that God makes, prays to God:


Shepherd your people with your staff,

the flock of your inheritance,

who dwell alone in a forest

in the midst of a garden land;

let them graze in Bashan and Gilead

as in the days of old.

-       7:14


Here Micah asks God to be a shepherd of His people who know dwell alone in a desolate forest. Back in 3:12 God’s promised judgment on an unrepentant Israel was that the temple would become a “wooded height.” It is there, in Israel’s desolation and judgment that Micah pleads with God to again come and be their shepherd. “Bashan and Gilead” were two of the first territories that God gave Israel when they first entered the promised land (Deut 2:26-3:4). In the same way that God cared for His people directly out of the Exodus and entering the new land, Micah now asks for God to again be that same caretaker, that same shepherd. And God responds:


As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them marvelous things. – 7:15


In the same way that God delivered His people from Pharoah, from their slavery in Egypt, and displayed marvelous things in the ten plagues, in the pillar of fire and smoke, in the parting of Red Sea and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, once again God will deliver His people through marvelous displays of power and might. There will be a new Exodus. As we alluded to it in the introduction, Jesus is depicted in the gospels as a new Moses, the One who has come to bring about the New Exodus. So, what happened in the first Exodus? God graciously delivered His people from the sentence of death, transforming them into His prized possession, giving them His Law, and setting before them a promised land. What happened in the New Exodus through Jesus? Jesus graciously delivered His people from the sentence of death, transforming them into His prized possession, giving them His Law, and setting before them the promised land of the New Creation. This is what Micah is promised. And what does this bring? In the Exodus, God’s people are granted salvation because their enemies are judged. In the New Exodus, salvation is granted and God’s enemies are judged, but we are now left in this interlude of waiting—the verdict has been decided, we are just waiting for the sentencing that will come at Christ’s second coming. But Micah turns to describe what that sentencing will look like at the second coming:


The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might;

they shall lay their hands on their mouths;

their ears shall be deaf;

they shall lick the dust like a serpent,

like the crawling things of the earth;

they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;

they shall turn in dread to the LORD our God,

and they shall be in fear of you.

-       7:16-17


Picture this: God’s enemies have encircled Israel and are bullying her. They laugh at how weak she is and the more they push her around, the more they spit on her and mock her, the stronger they feel. Just as one of them is about to kick her again, her mountain of a Father grabs him by the scruff of his neck and tosses him backwards like a twig. He steps into the circle, in front of his daughter, and His eyes are blazing with anger. Suddenly, the bullies don’t feel so strong anymore. Suddenly, they don’t have anything to say. When God intervenes and displays His awesome power, the nations look at what they thought was once so impressive—all their power, all their strength, all their confidence—and realize that it is pitiful and shameful. 


The people here are described like the serpent in Genesis 3. When Satan is cursed, God pronounces: “dust you shall eat all the days of your life,” (Gen 3:14). These nations have allied themselves with Satan and so have inherited the curse of Satan and likewise will share in his crushing (Gen 3:15). Hell itself is described as a place “prepared for the devil and his angels,” (Matt 25:41). So, those who go to Hell are quite literally receiving the punishment that was prepared for Satan. The ones who boasted of such great power and prestige now are reduced to trembling and slithering and crawling like reptiles and insects. The ones they used to bully and intimidate (God’s people), they now are fearful of, and the God they once mocked, they once doubted even existing, stands before them, and they turn in dread to behold Him. Here is how the book of Revelation describes it:


The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” – Rev 6:14-17 


The final judgment on sinners is “the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,” (2 Thess 1:9).


Do you love the world?


Do you fear what non-Christians think of you? Are you desperate for the approval of your classmates or teachers or bosses or friends who have allied themselves against God? Friend, why? All their power, all their influence, all their allure that you are so desperate to “get in” on, will one day be nothing but shame. One day, every non-Christian you know, every one that provides such eloquent arguments for why your faith is foolish, every one that treats you as benighted and childish for believing in the Bible, every one that thinks you are backwards and regressive for holding onto a Christian sexual ethic, every one that seems to have all the popularity and access to levers of power—all of them will one day drop to their knees in silent terror of the everlasting God and confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil 2:10). Oh friend, the world is a band of deluded sailors boasting of their skill as their ship sinks. Don’t long to hop on the boat with them. You will one day be vindicated.


Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:15-17


The earth shall be yours, you shall put on stars for clothing and shall enjoy the New Creation with King Jesus—what does the world have that you could possibly envy?


Do you struggle with God’s justice?


I wonder what you think of this idea of God’s judgment of His enemies. We have spoken often about how God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ez 18:23), but we should not get the idea in our heads that God doesn’t have the stomach to judge. God will execute total justice. We live in a remarkable time where we have been sheltered from the injustice and cruelty that most people across the globe and across time have experienced. We, on average, don’t know what its like to be crushed under the boot of oppression, and so when we hear of God’s justice we struggle in a way that most people do not struggle. I wonder if the thought that God judges His enemies sounds like something that diminishes God’s goodness or love. 


Jonathan Edwards once preached a sermon called “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners.” In it he explained, “Though eternal damnation be what you cannot bear, and how much soever your heart shrinks at the thought of it, yet God’s justice may be glorious in it…If you think otherwise, it is a sign that you do not see yourself, that you are not sensible to what sin is, nor how much of it you have been guilty of.” In other words, just because the thought of God’s justice bothers you, it doesn’t stop it. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t make it untrue. “I really don’t agree with this” will not suffice as an excuse on the Last Day.


But the last sentence from Edwards is more significant. If we struggle with understanding how God could be just in eternal damnation Edwards thinks it is only because we do not really know ourselves, that our understanding of sin is small, and we have no idea of how guilty we really are. If we really could see ourselves, we would admit that the only thing worth sinning against an infinitely glorious, infinitely beautiful, infinitely holy, infinitely wise, infinitely good God would be an eternal banishment from Him. When we fight against that, when we argue that we don’t deserve that, we haven’t seen ourselves fully. We were not the righteous victim assaulted by God’s enemies—we were the enemy. Christianity is not about there being a division between good guys and bad guys and God is just on a mission to find the good ones and then destroy the bad ones. We all are bad, we all have rejected God, we all have turned away. But Christ came to bring about an offer of salvation for the enemies of God. Paul tells us that “while we were enemies” of God (Rom 5:10) Jesus sacrificed Himself for us. Even more than that, Jesus was willing to take the eternal judgment that His enemies had earned, so that His enemies could become His friends, could be forgiven.


God is just, so judgment must occur. Sins will be paid for and God will be vindicated. Judgment will either take place on the final, awful day—or it will take place 2,000 years ago at Golgotha, at the cross.


Your salvation comes through judgment.


No, it was not the Jews who crucified,

Nor who betrayed you in the judgment place,

Nor who, Lord Jesus, spat into your face,

Nor who with buffets struck you as you died.

No, it was not the soldiers fisted bold

Who lifted up the hammer and the nail,

Or raised the cursed cross on Calvary’s hill,

Or, gambling, tossed the dice to win your robe.

I am the one, O Lord, who brought you there,

I am the heavy cross you had to bear,

I am the rope that bound you to the tree,

The whip, the nail, the hammer, and the spear,

The blood-stained crown of thorns you had to wear:

It was my sin, alas, it was for me.

-       Jacob Revius, “He Bore Our Griefs”