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Walk Humbly (Micah 6:8; 2 Chron 26)

There were some technical difficulties, so the sermon audio is broken into two parts: Part 1, and Part 2


Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. Marc opened the sermon with the example of Icarus and Yertle the Turtle as examples of pride ending in destruction. Can you think of any contemporary examples where you have seen pride leading someone to destruction?
  2. 2 Chronicles 26:4 tells us that Uzziah "did what was right in the eyes of the LORD," yet his story ends tragically. What does God want us to learn from this story?
  3. We are told that 2 Chronicles 26:5 tells us that "as long as [Uzziah] sought the LORD, God made him prosper." What does it mean to seek the Lord? See Matt 6:33.
  4. How did Uzziah's weakness serve him early on? How can weakness serve us? See 2 Cor 12:9-10. What does that mean?
  5. Where do you see yourself must vulnerable to pride? (The three diagnostic questions from the end of the sermon: "Where do you feel like the rules don’t apply to you? What makes you look down on others most? What are you most sensitive about?")
  6. If 2 Chronicles 26 shows us the help God gives the weak, and the danger of strength, what does the gospel tell us about our weakness and the danger of strength? See Rom 5:6


Sermon Manuscript:

The classical myth of “Icarus” has become synonymous with the concept of human arrogance, a defiance of natural limitations, and the ensuing consequences that come with it. Icarus and his father, Daedalus, are trapped on an island and together create a pair of wings out of wax and bird feathers. Icarus ignores his father’s warning of not flying too close to the sun and soars higher and higher, causing the wax on the wings to melt. Icarus falls out of the sky and crashes into the sea, causing him to drown and perish. The myth has become a cautionary tale of the danger of foolish pride, of thinking the limitations that apply to others shouldn’t apply to you. We may soar for a moment, but when we lift ourselves higher than we ought, we tumble downwards.


If classical Greek isn’t your thing, there is another more fanciful illustration of this found in the children’s book Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Suess. “On the far away island of Sala-ma-sond, Yertle the turtle was the king of the pond.” Yertle, hungry for more power, decides that the small stone he sits upon for a throne is too small; he wants a higher throne so that his kingdom can expand, so he commands the other turtles to stack themselves into a throne he can stand upon. The turtles dutifully obey and create a turtle throne for their turtle king. Despite the pleas from other turtles to let them go free, he continues to command more and more turtles to come to him to make his throne higher and higher, gleeful that now his kingdom expands as far as his eye can see. Until he sees the moon in the sky. “‘What’s THAT?’ snorted Yertle. ‘Say, what IS that thing that dares to be higher than Yertle the King? I shall not allow it! I’ll go higher still! I’ll build my throne higher! I can and I will! I’ll call some more turtles. I’ll stack ‘em to heaven! I need ‘bout five thousand, six hundred and seven!’” However, as soon as Yertle issues this command a small turtle at the bottom of the stack burps which shakes the whole throne and causes Yertle to fall into the mud and brings a shameful end to Yertle’s reign. The story is cute because it is written for children and Dr. Suess is a master of whimsical rhyme, but Dr. Suess later explained that the Yertle was based off Hitler and his lust for power and eventual downfall. 


It is a story that we find repeatedly throughout history: try to raise yourself up to heaven and you will find yourself humiliated and cast down.


I want to examine today the deadly danger of fame, power, and self-importance. We have spent the last two weeks looking at Micah 6:8 and its threefold command: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).


It is the final phrase, “walk humbly with your God” that we want to consider today. The word used to for ‘humbly’ is not the normal word used in the Bible for “humility” (used only one other place, Prov 11:2). The word specifically means to acknowledge human limitations, to avoid presumption towards God, and to live modestly in light of that. I want to examine this concept more deeply by looking at a story from the book of 2 Chronicles, so look with me at 2 Chronicles 26:


And all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah. He built Eloth and restored it to Judah, after the king slept with his fathers. Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.

He went out and made war against the Philistines and broke through the wall of Gath and the wall of Jabneh and the wall of Ashdod, and he built cities in the territory of Ashdod and elsewhere among the Philistines. God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabians who lived in Gurbaal and against the Meunites. The Ammonites paid tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong. Moreover, Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate and at the Valley Gate and at the Angle, and fortified them. And he built towers in the wilderness and cut out many cisterns, for he had large herds, both in the Shephelah and in the plain, and he had farmers and vinedressers in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil. Moreover, Uzziah had an army of soldiers, fit for war, in divisions according to the numbers in the muster made by Jeiel the secretary and Maaseiah the officer, under the direction of Hananiah, one of the king's commanders. The whole number of the heads of fathers' houses of mighty men of valor was 2,600. Under their command was an army of 307,500, who could make war with mighty power, to help the king against the enemy. And Uzziah prepared for all the army shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows, and stones for slinging. In Jerusalem he made machines, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong.

Uzziah's Pride and Punishment

But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God.” Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him. And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king's household, governing the people of the land.

Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, from first to last, Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz wrote. And Uzziah slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the burial field that belonged to the kings, for they said, “He is a leper.” And Jotham his son reigned in his place.

-       2 Chronicles 26:1-23


Weakness (26:1-5)


Uzziah begins to reign at the young age of 16. His father, Amaziah had recently been deposed as king. Amaziah had begun his reign mostly well; He establishes the kingdom and leads Israel to military victory, but eventually succumbs to idolatry (2 Chron 25:14-16). Finally, he arrogantly challenges the northern half of Israel to battle for no reason which leads to Jerusalem being ransacked, leaving 600 feet of its wall torn down, the temple being plundered, the king’s treasury being emptied, and many hostages being kidnapped and taken away to Samaria (2 Chron 25:17-24). The remaining residents of Jerusalem are understandably angry at Amaziah and eventually put him to death (2 Chron 25:25-28), then make his son, Uzziah, king. 


So, around the time you got your driver’s license, Uzziah is now responsible for leading a nation. And not only that, but leading a nation that has just been gutted by a humiliating and avoidable military blunder—they now have no defenses, they have no resources, and the temple has been defiled. And, not to forget, the people who have just put him into power just finished executing his father for his failure and foolishness. If you were in Uzziah’s shoes, how would you feel? Likely, you would feel a great desperation: I need help! 


Fortunately, Uzziah isn’t alone but receives instruction from the priest Zechariah: “He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper,” (2 Chron 26:5). What does it mean for Uzziah to seek the Lord? It means to recognize that though he is king over Judah he ultimately answers to the King of Kings. Uzziah must conform his life to what God requires of him; he is not free to simply to do whatever seems intuitively right to himself, but must submit to God’s Law. A very important concept for someone with the kind of power a king has. 


But not only this, seeking the Lord does not merely mean a conformity to God’s Law but also, much more importantly, seeking the Lord means a relationship. Uzziah is to long for God Himself, to love Him, to desire Him—Uzziah was made, as we all are, to know God, to behold Him, to commune with Him. So, there is a young, scared teenager thrown into an unparalleled position of power, required to lead Judah at its most confounding and weakened state, when it is at its greatest need for sage wisdom and stately governance. The people are groaning from the heavy costs of his father’s sin, the city lay in ruins, its defenses levelled, the city is vulnerable to invasions from foreign nations, and the king’s coffers are empty. What is a young Uzziah to do? 


Seek the Lord. That is the first thing, that is the main thing. And, wonderfully, as long as he does that, he prospers. Jesus teaches us something similar when exhorting us not to be anxious about our food or clothes or anything else we need for life, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” (Matt 6:33). Friend, do you want a fool-proof plan for your life? Young people, do you want a guarantee that your life will be prosperous and meaningful? Seek God, seek His kingdom, seek it above anything else, and God will take care of you. This means that you let God set the standards for your life, you aren’t in the driver’s seat anymore. When we seek God’s kingdom first, we let His priorities become our priorities, what He says is “good” becomes what we say is “good.” Are there commands from God that you chafe at? Have you considered that your resistance to it flows from a proud heart that thinks it knows better than God does?


This is the gift of weakness. The weaker you are, the easier it will be for you to see that you need God’s help, and the easier it will be to submit to Him. Uzziah went into his position with a profound understanding of his need, of his weakness, of his limits. And because of that, He sought the Lord. 


If we are to walk humbly with God, we must begin with seeing our weakness and seeking the Lord. Friend, I wonder what weakness you are experiencing in your life right now. Do you see your weakness as an opportunity to turn to God in a way you maybe haven’t yet?


Strength (26:6-15)


The chronicler begins detailing the military conquests of Uzziah, showing his victories over Jerusalem’s enemies, which is a rather surprising turnaround from the situation when Uzziah became king. The kingdom had been devastated, but now Judah is winning battles, and not only that but this section reminds one of Solomon’s reign and the nation’s prosperity. Uzziah constructs large towers and fortifies Jerusalem (26:9); he has large flocks and herds, farms and vines (26:10); and he has an impressive army in both size and armaments, constructing war machines to defend the city (26:11-15). Verse eight summarizes the rule of Uzziah: “The Ammonites paid tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong,” (26:8). How could this happen? How could a nation at such a weakened, humiliated state achieve such feats? 


Verse seven subtly clues us in, “God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabians who lived in Gurbaal and against the Meunites,” (26:7). Uzziah sought the Lord, and he prospered. And it was Uzziah’s weakness that led him to seek the Lord the way he did, and God helped. If there is one theme we see repeated over and over again, it is that God delights in pouring out His help to the most helpless and dire of situations.


God is not limited by what we are limited by. You and I are limited by our resources, by our time, by our energy, by our ability. And when we are clear-eyed about life, we admit that when we look at the storehouse of our resources and the enormous price tag on the responsibilities and duties of life, of the calling of a Christian, we can despair. How am I going to raise godly children, be faithful to my spouse, work hard at my job, put my sin to death, evangelize my neighbors and co-workers, stay current on news of the day, read books, stay healthy, have a consistent devotional life, be a good member and serve at church, and not overextend myself? Just thinking about all of that makes you want to have panic attack! So what do we do?

Seek the Lord. Bring your weakness to Him, and there find strength. 


This is what Paul discovered when asking God to deliver him from his weakness: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong,” (2 Cor 12:9-10). Paul views his weakness as a portal into strength. This isn’t because there is some kind of a weird mechanism in the universe that automatically transfers weakness into strength or that we should pursue weakness, necessarily. No, Paul sees that weakness leads him to depend on God in a way that strength doesn’t. And when he depends on God he finds strength.


If we are to walk humbly with God, this means we not only acknowledge our weakness, but we bring our weakness to the Lord and look to Him to provide the strength we need. In our prayer gathering last week we had four or five people share with us ways that God had answered prayers that we had been praying for. Prayer is one of the supreme ways we get to acknowledge our weakness and simultaneously proclaim God’s abundant help.


Destruction (26:16-23)


You catch that subtle warning at the end of verse 15: “And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong.” He was marvelously helped till he was strong. Verse 16 transitions to Uzziah’s tragic end: “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction,” (26:16a). What a sad twist to the story. Uzziah was put in the position of receiving abundant help from God and this led him to grow strong and famous. But rather than humble Uzziah at God’s abundant kindness, the strong liquor of fame, wealth, and power, however, sadly go to Uzziah’s head, to his own destruction. Uzziah attempts to burn incense at the alter of incense in the temple, something only priests are to do (Num 16:40), something no king had ever done. He is confronted by Azariah the priest and eighty other priests, but rather than repenting and humbling himself, Uzziah stands his ground and grows angry. Immediately, God intervenes and strikes Uzziah with leprosy, forcing Uzziah to immediately leave the temple since he is now unclean. Uzziah then spends the rest of his days quarantined off from everyone else and is relieved of his royal duties.


Why would Uzziah do that? What would make him think he could offer incense on the altar? Surely, he knew that kings were not permitted to do such a thing. Yet, his pride had blinded him. The leprosy that appeared on his forehead was simply a physical representation of the sickness within his heart. Uzziah no longer regarded God’s law, no longer thought that he too was subject to its strictures. This is the fatal destruction of pride—the rules no longer apply to me. The circumstance for Uzziah’s pride was his strength, it was “when he was strong, he grew proud.” Well, hold on, you may think, wasn’t it God who made him strong, who gave him this position of power? Why punish him then? The strength and help God had given Uzziah should have humbled him even further, should have made it clear to Uzziah that all of his strength was given to him by the sheer grace of God. God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Rom 2:4). But Uzziah’s heart became haughty and unfaithful to the Lord. 


Friend, where do you feel strong? Our strengths, of course, are not inherently bad. God made Uzziah strong. Perhaps God has given you strength; we should rejoice over that. The issue is what that strength leads you to—does it make you praise God for His kindness to you and lead you to deeper reliance on Him, or does it lead you to think that you don’t need the Lord’s help? What buoys your inner sense of self-reliance and independence that makes submission to God hard? It could be your job, your parenting, your politics, even your appearance. It could be your intellect, your friends, it could even be your morality—the Pharisees were very proud of how moral they were. If you want a quick test to see where your heart is, where you are tempted to pride, look at: (1) where do you feel like the rules don’t apply to you? (2) what makes you look down on others most? and (3) what are you most sensitive about?


If we are to walk humbly with our God we must acknowledge our weakness, seek the Lord, and repent of our pride. 


The Gospel


We are now in the Christmas season where we are celebrating the arrival of Jesus, which is really just a giant reminder that God’s heart is so inclined towards the meek and lowly that He himself incarnated as one who was meek and lowly, to the point of becoming an infant. This was how much God associates with the weak. And not only that, Jesus lived and died precisely because we weren’t only weak, but sinful through and through. The good news, the heartbeat of Christianity is that human beings could do nothing to make themselves right with God, we were totally incapable. So God took on flesh to become a substitute, to take the guilt of our sins and to pay their penalty, to absorb their debt, and then credit to those who believe in him, His righteousness.

Read more
Love Mercy (Micah 6:6-8)

Sermon Audio: Love Mercy (Micah 6:6-8)


Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. What stood out to you most?
  2. If someone were to ask you what hesed meant, how would you explain it to them? Can you think of an example of in your life where you have seen hesed practiced? Can you think of an example of it displayed in the Bible?
  3. In Exodus 34:6-7, what does the distinction between the "to thousands" (meaning, to the thousandth generation) and the "to the third and fourth generation" reveal to us? See also Lamentations 3:32-33.
  4. What does it look like for us to show hesed to one another?
  5. Read Psalm 103. Share what this reveals about what God's hesed offers us.


The story of Ruth in the Bible is a story of God’s kindness displayed in the midst of difficult circumstances. Naomi is blessed with a husband and two sons, but there is a great famine in the land of Israel, so they sojourn into the neighboring land of Moab. But there, Naomi’s life begins to unravel. First, her husband dies. Then, she sees her sons marry Moabite women—something that was frowned upon, but would have given Naomi the opportunity of welcoming grandchildren into her life, and so preserving their family line. But ten years of marriage go by, and there are no children. Finally, in a final hammer blow, both of Naomi’s sons die. Naomi is now rendered utterly destitute and is left embittered towards the Lord. She instructs her daughter-in-laws to return to their people as she intends to return to Israel. But Ruth, one of her daughter-in-laws, refuses to leave Naomi. 


But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” – Ruth 1:16-17


Ruth obviously loves Naomi, perhaps is concerned that Naomi will likely die if she is left abandoned. So she commits to sticking with Naomi and becoming her caretaker. Despite herself being a widow, she chooses to care for another widow in a land wholly foreign to her. The text earlier identifies this kind of radical loyalty and love with a specific word: hesed.


May the Lord deal kindly (hesed) with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. – Ruth 1:8


There is no one English word that conveys the concept of a relationship marked by loyalty, faithfulness, love, kindness, compassion, mercy, grace, patience, commitment, all that leads to concrete actions. But, in Hebrew that word is hesed (חֶסֶד). There is no one good translation of this term in English, which is why sometimes it is translated as mercy, kindness, faithfulness, lovingkindness, or steadfast love, depending on the translation and verse.


"It expresses the moral bondage of love, the loving discharge of an admitted obligation, the voluntary acceptance of a responsibility." – H.W. Robinson, Two Hebrew Prophets, p. 47


This concept is what Micah tells us we are to love in Micah 6:8: 


With what shall I come before the LORD,

and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness (hesed),

and to walk humbly with your God?

-       Micah 6:6-8


Love Hesed


What does Micah mean when he tells us to “love hesed”? We were told that we should “do justice”, but here we are to love this characteristic. But, this characteristic is at times translated as “love”—so we are to love love? The first word for love is different than hesed and is the common word translated for “love” in the Hebrew Bible and refers to what we would generally associate with the word “love”—affection, desire, commitment. Hesed is a much bigger concept than this—which is why it is often translated as steadfast love. It is one of the four repeated pillars of God’s character in Hebrew Bible: justice, righteousness, faithfulness, and steadfast love. In fact, 75% of the times hesed occurs in the Old Testament, it is being used to describe God. 


So, for us to love hesed, we must understand who God is. And this is what we are being invited to consider today: what is God like? What is God’s posture towards the world? What is His commitment to His people?


We see how central God’s steadfast love is to His character in looking at the most quoted passage in the entire Bible: Exodus 34:6-7. Here, Moses has asked God to reveal Himself to him, for Yahweh to show Moses His glory. God promises that He will make all of His goodness pass before Moses and will proclaim His name, Yahweh—which is just a way of saying: I am going to reveal who I really am to you, Moses. And here is what we get:


The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation. – Ex 34:6-7


When God pulls back the curtain and reveals who He is, what do we see? A God full of mercy, grace, patience, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He keeps hesed for a thousand generations (cf. Deut 7:9), forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin. The final section may catch us off guard—God won’t clear the guilty, but will visit the iniquity of His people to the third and fourth generation? How can God both be gracious and forgiving but also “by no means clear the guilty”? 


First, this doesn’t mean that God will punish children for things their parents did that the children didn’t do. “Rather, it describes God’s just punishment of a given type of sin in each new generation as that sin continues to be repeated down through the generations,” (Stuart, NAC, Exodus). Ezekiel 18 makes it clear that children will not be judged for their father’s sins. But, children do learn sins from their fathers. We see this all around us. Children grow up seeing mom and dad do certain things, and they copy them. Here, God is demonstrating that children shouldn’t think that just because God judged their parents for a sin, now they can participate in the sin and not worry about being judged themselves, as if God’s storehouse of punishment has been emptied. No, God will judge them and continue to judge “to the third and fourth generation.” This doesn’t mean that after the “third or fourth” generation, God stops judging people for a certain sin. The enumeration is intended to simply show that God will continue to judge each generation for their sins.


But similarly, just as we are told that God’s hesed extends to a thousand generations, we shouldn’t assume that means at generation 1,001 God’s steadfast love ceases. No, the “to a thousand generations” is just another way of saying what the Psalms repeatedly tell us, “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations,” Ps 100:5. So both the language of “to the third and fourth generation” and “to the thousandth generation” reveal perpetual continuity—God is both just and gracious. And this is critical to understand, otherwise we may confuse God’s mercy and graciousness for mere permissiveness, for moral leniency, which actually cheapens God’s forgiveness. No, God is perfectly righteous, perfectly just, who will not bend on His standards. His forgiveness does not come because He has lowered His bar for holiness.


So why does God emphasize hesed over against His judgment? Why is it to the thousandth generation? Because if we look again at Ex 34:6 we see it is hesed, steadfast love that God abounds in, overflows with. Nowhere in the Bible are we told that God abounds in wrath and judgment. Exodus 34:6 doesn’t open with “The Lord, the Lord, angry and wrathful” but “merciful and gracious.” If God’s posture towards judging sin can be measured to the “third and fourth” generation, then what the to a “thousand generations” reveal about His posture towards bestowing His steadfast love upon us? God will judge sin, but in some way, His mercy will supersede and swallow our sin up. You can sense this tension elsewhere in the Bible between God’s anger at sin, but commitment to His people:


In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer. – Isa 54:8


but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. – Lam 3:32-33


This is what led to the puritan Thomas Goodwin to calling God’s judgment His “strange work” but His steadfast love His “normal work.” Goodwin notices that in Jeremiah 32:41 we are told that God displays His mercy “with His whole heart,” but here in Lamentations God does not afflict “from his heart.” God afflicts, He causes grief, He punishes sin. But there is something within Him that must be overcome to do it—He doesn’t afflict “from His heart.” The prophet Ezekiel simply tells us that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ez 18:23; 33:11). God will put the wicked to death, He will judge them, for all eternity. We cannot make it sound like God is unwilling to execute justice—He will consign the wicked to the eternal punishment of Hell for their sins. But, we must let the emphasis of the text stand. God abounds in hesed, or as the very conclusion of Micah tells us: 


Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity

and passing over transgression

for the remnant of his inheritance?

He does not retain his anger forever,

because he delights in steadfast love.

-       Micah 7:18


Remember, hesed is “the moral bondage of love, the loving discharge of an admitted obligation, the voluntary acceptance of a responsibility,” (H.W. Robinson, Two Hebrew Prophets, p. 47). This is what God abounds in; which is to say, He is committed to you because this is just who He is.


In the Gospel of John, John takes the story of Exodus 34:6-7 and maps it onto Jesus Himself by showing that the glory that Moses desired to see is now revealed in Jesus who dwells with us. John takes the two key characteristics of God’s character in Exodus 34 “steadfast love and faithfulness” and translates them into their Greek equivalent: “grace and truth”


“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth,” John 1:14. Take the diffuse rays of light we have seen across the Old Testament about God’s steadfast love, His faithfulness, His grace and mercy for His people, and bend them all into the prism of the incarnation, and there you got a concentrated beam of light of what the hesed of the Lord looks like. Jesus’ commitment, His bondage of love and voluntary acceptance of responsibility takes Him to the point of death, even death on a cross, to pay for His people’s debts, to secure their everlasting joy.


God’s Hesed isn’t about our worthiness


Jacob, the deceiver: “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant,” Gen 32:10.


“What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away,” Hos 6:4.


And yet, God pledges that He will betroth Himself to Israel in “hesed” (Hos 2:19).


God’s Hesed leads Him to deliver His people (Ps 107)


Psalm 107 is this catalogue of stories of God’s people over the years and how they repeatedly find themselves in dire situations—often because of their own sin—but God continually, every time rescues them. Each time, the psalmist calls God’s people to, “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!” (Ps 107:8).


When they are diminished and brought low

through oppression, evil, and sorrow,

he pours contempt on princes

and makes them wander in trackless wastes;

but he raises up the needy out of affliction

and makes their families like flocks.

The upright see it and are glad,

and all wickedness shuts its mouth.

Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;

let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

-       Ps 107:39-43


God’s Hesed never ends


the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; - Lam 3:22


For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. – Ps 100:5


26x in Psalm 136 we are reminded that God’s “steadfast love endures forever.”


“The Christian life, from one angle, is the long journey of letting our natural assumption about who God is, over many decades, fall away, being slowly replaced with God’s own insistence on who he is.” – Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly, p. 151.


God Expects Hesed from Us


For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

-       Hos 6:6


Hesed directed towards God, directed towards others.


And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:10-13


External religious observation, devoid of the hesed of God is the Pharisee’s religion. 


How then can we show hesed? (This will look different depending on what relationship we are in)

-       Be merciful and gracious to others

-       Slow to anger, longsuffering

-       Keep your word, even at your own expense—fulfill your vows

-       Commit yourself to other’s good—take action, don't simply "feel" love, but act, especially towards the least of these.


Psalm 103


Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and all that is within me,

bless his holy name!

Bless the LORD, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits,

who forgives all your iniquity,

who heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit,

who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

who satisfies you with good

so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

The LORD works righteousness

and justice for all who are oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,

his acts to the people of Israel.

The LORD is merciful and gracious,

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

He will not always chide,

nor will he keep his anger forever.

He does not deal with us according to our sins,

nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

As a father shows compassion to his children,

so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.

For he knows our frame;

he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;

he flourishes like a flower of the field;

for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,

and its place knows it no more.

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,

and his righteousness to children's children,

to those who keep his covenant

and remember to do his commandments.

The LORD has established his throne in the heavens,

and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the LORD, O you his angels,

you mighty ones who do his word,

obeying the voice of his word!

Bless the LORD, all his hosts,

his ministers, who do his will!

Bless the LORD, all his works,

in all places of his dominion.

Bless the LORD, O my soul!

-       Ps 103






Read more
Do Justice (Micah 6:6-8)

Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/838544--do-justice


Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think conversations about "justice" have become so controversial lately?
  2. Read Amos 5:21-24. Why was God so displeased with Israel's worship?
  3. Where does our standard of justice come from?
  4. What does the image of God have to do with justice?
  5. Read Deut 10:17-19. How can we reconcile the idea that justice is both impartial, but turns a special eye towards the most vulnerable?
  6. Read Job 29:12-17. What did Job do when he was clothed with "justice and righteousness"? What would it look like for you to "do justice"?


Our culture is incredibly serious about justice. While every culture is serious about justice—you’ve never seen someone out protesting because there was too much justice—it seems like our culture today has elevated it up to the stratosphere. We now have the ominous phrase batted around commonly today: this is a justice issue. Everything from what businesses you support, to what kind of flag you have waving in front of your house, to what kind of response you have the moment a national tragedy strikes—all of these now are commonly filtered through the lens of “justice.”


This week we have witnessed one of the most fascinating examples of how fraught conversations about justice have become in our country. Kyle Rittenhouse is on trial for shooting three men, killing two of them, last Summer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse, who was 17 years old at the time, claims he was acting in self-defense—that he was being attacked by a group of people (one of whom was armed with a gun) and feared for his life. Thus, to charge him with homicide, which could put him in prison for the rest of his life, his attorneys argue would be unjust. On the other side, the prosecutors claim that Rittenhouse travelled across state lines to come to Kenosha, illegally possessing an AR-15, with the intent of shooting protestors, thus the act was premeditated, deliberate. They claim that Rittenhouse was the aggressor, pointing his rifle at protestors, that this wasn’t merely self-defense, and thus to acquit Rittenhouse would be unjust.


But zoom out one degree and you’ll see even more confusion. Rittenhouse claims he travelled to Kenosha to protect property from being looted or destroyed. A few days prior, Jacob Clark was shot by police officers, fueling city wide protests, riots, and looting. To Rittenhouse, wanton destruction and looting of property by rioters and protestors was wrong, was unjust. So unjust, that he believed he should go out of his way to stop it. But, to the protestors pouring into Kenosha after the shooting, another example of white police officers shooting another black man—when the summer had seemed to be nothing but one African-American being shot or killed after another—standing idly by while more George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s continued to happen was unjust. So unjust, that it warranted them sending a message that as long as there was “no justice” there would be “no peace.”


And the deeper you continue to push into this issue, the more of a divide you see. There are those who defend the police officers in the shooting as being those who upheld justice, who believe the shooting of Clark wasn’t only permissible but right. And there are those who believe with just as much certainty that it is a prime example of injustice, that it demonstrates that our society is undergirded by systems and structures that are unjust. I am not attempting to wade into the details of those arguments or evaluate what is happening in the court room this week, I only want to demonstrate the complexity of this issue for us today. Here we have two groups of people, both of which claim to be motivated by justice, and yet arriving at completely opposite conclusions. This is because “justice” in many ways is an empty concept, meaning it cannot be appealed to without definition. Everyone believes that they are motivated by justice.


So what are we to do? In the book of Micah we have seen how the nation of Israel, particularly its leaders, have been perpetrators of injustice, and this has warranted God’s judgment. What has been particularly heinous is that these prophets and priests and judges have been crushing the vulnerable underneath them, ignoring God’s commands to act justly, but still patting themselves on the back because they continue to make offerings at the temple, so God must be happy with them, right? Wrong. God is not pleased by perfunctory religious acts while Israel’s hands are stained with blood. Let’s turn to Micah and see if God’s Word may provide some guidance to us to discern what a Biblical vision for justice looks like.


With what shall I come before the LORD,

and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

-       Micah 6:6-8


Temple worship is worthless if devoid from justice, kindness, and humility. God is not interested in our spirituality, our religiosity, if it is separated from the weightier matters of the Law. A passage that has been immortalized in our country’s mind from the reverend Martin Luther King Jr. details this:


“I hate, I despise your feasts,

and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them;

and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,

I will not look upon them.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

to the melody of your harps I will not listen.

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

-       Amos 5:21-24


Micah tells us what is “good,” what the Lord requires from us, and part of that is to do justice. But if we are to pursue justice, this requires us to ask, what justice is.


Justice Defined


One of the reasons there is great confusion today is because, like I said, the term “justice” is an empty concept. There is a fairly shared assumption that justice is “giving someone what is due them.” But the sticky part comes when we try to decide what, exactly, are people due?


This is the dilemma our society is in today: we assume that what people are due is immediately obvious to everyone, but it isn’t. Michael Sandel, a Harvard Law Professor, in his book Justice, explains that in modern society today there are basically three competing visions of justice. One could be called the “Maximizing Welfare” view, and it believes that justice is whatever maximizes the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. Another view would be the “Individual Liberty” view, which believes that true justice is permitting the greatest amount of freedom to the individual, so long as they don’t impinge on the freedom or rights of others. Lastly, there is the “Virtue Ethic,” which explains that justice occurs when people act as they ought to act, in accordance with what is moral or virtuous. Each of these different visions of justice lead to sharply different conclusions about what is just, about what different persons are due. 


For instance, if a woman is contemplating lying to her husband about an affair, the Maximizing Welfare view will weigh the consequences of the action itself—will lying lead to the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people? Perhaps she believes it will, so she decides not to tell him. But the Individual Liberty view looks at the dilemma differently—does lying impinge on her husband’s freedom and respect his rights? And the Virtue Ethic looks at it even more differently; it doesn’t matter about the consequence of the action, is the action itself right? The dilemma underneath all of this, of course, is the need for a definition of what is right, what is good. 


This is why in the Bible the understanding of what is just, what is right, relies not on human speculation but on divine revelation. Look back again at Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” He has told you. What does that mean? It means that God has laid out in His Word what “good” is, so if we want to understand how to do justice, we need to look at what God has said.


In the Old Testament the word for justice is the word mishpat. It is a holistic term that can sometimes simply refer to a rule or law, sometimes to a judgment or a verdict, and sometimes to what is correct or right. It often has the sense of the common understanding of justice: rendering to someone what is due them, giving them what they deserve. But there is a more abstract meaning—when Micah tells us to simply “do mishpat,” it doesn’t refer to doing the act of judging or practice what is technically correct. It is referring to a grander notion of what justice holistically looks like. Let’s look at God’s Word to illuminate this for us.


Justice Begins with God


Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” – Gen 18:25


This is a foundational text. This is where Abraham hears that God is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and he pleads with the Lord to spare those in the city who are righteous. Abraham is confident that the Judge of all the earth shall always do what is right, what is just, what is mishpat. So here we see obviously that to put the righteous to death with the wicked would be a violation of justice, but more importantly we know that whatever God does is just. And His justice is displayed in rendering to each what is due—which meant the sparing of the righteous, Lot and his family, and the destruction of the wicked (Sodom and Gomorrah). 


The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. – Deut 32:4.


If we are to know what justice is we must find that in God and His ways. His character is the perfect disclosure of what is right, of what is good. So we shouldn’t think of justice as something arbitrary that God has chosen, the way you may set up rules for a gamy on a playground—the rules of the game aren’t just in themselves, they are just the rules you have chosen. God has randomly set up certain laws and rules as just; they are rather a disclosure of His own goodness. And on the other side, we shouldn’t imagine there being a standard of “justice” above God that God conforms His laws to, the way you may look at a object as you attempt to trace it on paper. God’s laws, His standards for justice are not just because there is a standard God is tracing—they are a disclosure of God’s character, His ethical and moral purity, His own goodness. This is the answer to the classic Euthyphro dilemma that confronts Socrates. Is an act pious or good because God has arbitrarily chosen it to be so, or is it good because God has conformed His Law to a higher ideal of "goodness"? God has not arbitrarily chosen what is just and He has not conformed His notions of justice to some higher ideal which He has submitted to. Rather, God's standard for justice is a disclosure of His own character as it is revealed in His Word. Thus, a more expansive definition of justice could be: God’s goodness in response to a fallen world, rendering to each person what they are due in punishing wickedness and rewarding righteousness.


Justice and the Image of God


Obviously, God is our Creator, we are His creatures, so we have an asymmetrical relationship. We shouldn’t think that since everything God does is just, that means that whenever we do exactly what God does, it too is just. While it is just and right for God to receive praise and worship, it would be profoundly unjust, unrighteous for you or I to try to do the same. So, justice for God is a disclosure of His goodness in rendering to each person what they are due in punishing wickedness and rewarding righteousness. We obviously cannot practice justice in the exact same way that God does—we do not have the authority to reward and punish in the same way God does. But what then does it mean for us to “do justice”? If justice is displayed in God’s character, then we should expect our efforts of justice to mirror God’s ways to some degree. In fact, there is precisely a kind of mirroring, or imaging of God’s justice found in the doctrine of the image of God. We are told in Genesis that all humans are made in God’s image (Gen 1:26). The image of God is both an inherent quality that each person has, and an inherent vocation that all people are called to.


“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image,” Gen 9:6. Why is it wrong to commit murder? (1) Because we are made in God’s image, and God does not wrongfully take life (murder)—so when we murder we are not imaging God, we are not reflecting His mishpat. (2) Because the one murdered is made in God’s image, so when we do violence to other image bearers, we in some way do violence to God Himself. When David sins by sexually assaulting Bathsheba and then murdering her husband, Uriah—serious, serious sins against both Bathsheba and Uriah—when David later repents and writes Psalm 51, he explains: “Against you, you only, have I sinned,” (Ps 51:4). Of course, he sinned against both Bathsheba and Uriah, but in his sin against them David sees that by sinning against these image bearers He has sinned against the One whose image they bore. So, if justice is a disclosure of God’s goodness in giving people what they are due, either in rewarding the good or punishing the bad, and we are made in God’s image, this means that we should render to each one what they are due, either in rewarding the good or punishing the evil.


This is why one of the most significant indicators of true justice in the Bible is impartiality. True justice is rendering what one is due—good or bad—in accordance with God’s own goodness, His own standard. But if are partial we do not let God’s standard, His goodness serve as our guide, but our own preferences. Listen to Deuteronomy’s warning:


You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you. – Deut 16:18-20


Justice can be perverted, which means that image bearers are deprived of what is due them, which means God is sinned against because we sin against image bearers and we because we fail to rightly mirror God’s own character. “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe,” Deut 10:17. 


Justice for the Vulnerable


The supposed impartiality of justice we see presents an apparent problem with what the rest of the Bible tells us about God's particular care for the most vulnerable. For instance, the rest of Deuteronomy 10 says:


For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. – Deut 10:17-19


Does this contradict the idea of God being impartial? Why does God so often speak about justice for the vulnerable? “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit,” Ex 23:6. Or, even more strongly, “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen,’”  Deut 27:19.


Shouldn’t we be worried about perverting justice for all people? It is common sometimes today for people to believe one of two opposite extremes. One, they can believe that any inequity of outcomes are necessarily evil and must be remedied. This is the view that understands any minority must be a victim who has been oppressed and therefore needs special, preferential treatment to tilt the scales in their favor—this view really cares about minorities, but seems to contradict the idea that justice should be impartial. The other opposite extreme denies that minorities or marginalized people groups aren’t at a disadvantage in society or are not necessarily prone to be victims of injustice anymore than anyone else. Therefore we shouldn’t be giving any preferential treatment to minorities, or the socially disadvantaged. This view really cares about impartiality, but seems to lose sight of the emphasis the Bible places on the vulnerable.


The Bible doesn’t teach that anyone who is a minority is inherently more righteous or deserving of a special partiality where justice is bent to favor them. “You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God,” Lev 24:22. But the Bible does teach that all people are made in God’s image, and the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant are most likely to be treated as if they are not made in God’s image, are most likely to be victimized because they lack the power, wealth, or social station that others may have. 


How you treat those at the bottom of the social heap reveals what you believe about whether or not you believe people are made in God's image. This is why Proverbs tells us:


Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. – Prov 14:31


A righteous man knows the rights of the poor. – Prov 29:7


How you treat those at the bottom of the social heap reveals whether or not you really are just. You don’t need to believe people are made in God’s image to treat the wealthy and powerful well, but you do for the poor. So, the Bible does not provide a vision for justice that is lopsided towards giving preferential treatment towards those who are disadvantaged to the detriment of others, but rather puts particular emphasis on those who are far down the social ladder so that they may be protected from the most common and worst abuses of injustice that happen, to keep them from being treated as if they are not made in God's image.


Justice and Grace


“You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow's garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this," 24:17-18.


Israel is to recall that they were once slaves set free, and this is why they are to “not pervert” justice to the immigrant, to the fatherless, or the widow. It is the past display of God's grace towards them that motivates them to pursue justice. Likewise, Paul tells us, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly," – Rom 5:6. Jesus teaches us that it is the poor who are blessed, it is those who hunger and thirst who are filled. We are to remember our own poverty, weakness, desolation and look at how God responded to us--He welcomed us in, paid our debts, and made us a part of His family. And in light of the abundant grace, we now are to go out to the most socially disadvantaged, the poor, the homeless, the single mothers, and we are to draw from our own experience of receiving grace as a means by which we then extend justice and aid to those around us.

Read more
Forgetting God (Micah 6:1-8)

Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/835034--forgetting-god


Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. How is God's experience of frustration different than our own? Why is it significant that God experience frustration with His people?
  2. In verses 3-5, what is it that God's people had forgotten? Why is it important for us to remember what God has done for us in the past?
  3. What does this quote from CS Lewis mean to you: "Nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, [greed], lust, and ambition look ahead." Do you agree with it? Why or why not?
  4. Read James 2:14-17. What does real faith produce?
  5. At the end of the sermon, Marc made the argument that the "problem beneath our problems" is that we struggle to believe that God can be trusted, so we take things into our own hands. Where are you currently struggling to trust that God is for you?


Sometimes parents get frustrated when children don’t respond the way they hope they do. Parents can go to a great deal of trouble to try to set their children up for what they believe will be the child’s best interest, only to have the child choose an entirely different path. So you pay money for violin lessons or diligently bring them to every soccer practice and send them to camps that will hone their skills, hoping that these will form them into better people, maybe even open opportunities for scholarships down the road. But they grow bored with the violin, or become frustrated with their lack of soccer skills, or resist attending camp. You want them to pursue engineering in college, only to find that they have chosen a philosophy major. Maybe as your children grow older you even hope they may date particular people, knowing that this young man or young woman displays excellent character and ambitions, only to find that they have no interest in your favored suitor, and bring home someone instead that you has a less than stellar track record in your estimation. Parenting can be full of frustrations: Can’t you see I am trying to help you! I am trying to do what is best for you!


But, of course, parents can be wrong. One needs only to think of the overbearing parents who live vicariously through their children’s athletic or educational lives, heaping unrealistic expectations on their children. But, imagine for a moment that you were a perfect parent. Every opportunity you provided for your child you knew with 100% certainty that it would result in their benefit, that they would flourish and thrive. How frustrating then would it be for you to labor to provide these opportunities that were perfectly tailored for the good of your children, only to have them roll their eyes at you and ignore the opportunity?


We find a similar situation to this in our passage in Micah, where we hear the Lord present His case against Israel about how He has labored to provide every good opportunity for His children, only to have them ignore and forget Him.


Hear what the LORD says:

Arise, plead your case before the mountains,

and let the hills hear your voice.

Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the LORD,

and you enduring foundations of the earth,

for the LORD has an indictment against his people,

and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?

How have I wearied you? Answer me!

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt

and redeemed you from the house of slavery,

and I sent before you Moses,

Aaron, and Miriam.

O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised,

and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,

and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,

that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.”

-       Micah 6:1-5



God experiences frustration


Micah opens chapter six like a prosecutor standing before a court: Yahweh is pleading his case “before the mountains,” bringing His “indictment against his people.” Now, why is the Lord turning to the mountains to testify against His people? It could be that now only inanimate objects are left to listen to God’s words; the people of Israel have grown so hard of hearing that the Lord must now turn to the mountains to find a listening ear. Or it could be that God is testifying to the most enduring objects in Israel’s day (the mountains) to serve as a lasting witnesses who will stand till the end of time as memorials of what Israel has done.


So, what has Israel done? What is God’s indictment? All throughout Micah God has been exposing Israel’s sin. In chapter one God called out Israel for her idolatry. In chapter two it was her greed and exploitation of the poor, and in chapter three it was the perversion of justice by the powerful at the expense of the most vulnerable in society. Obviously, there is a variety in the particularities of the sins, but what have they done here?


They have forgotten the righteous acts of the Lord. 


“O my people, what have I done to you?

How have I wearied you? Answer me!

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt

and redeemed you from the house of slavery,

and I sent before you Moses,

Aaron, and Miriam.

O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised,

and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,

and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,

that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.”

-       Micah 6:3-5


Israel here apparently views God like a burden, a weight holding them back. How, God asks, have I wearied you? What have I done to make your life so difficult? Has my unconditional mercy that I have repeatedly poured out on you, my unmitigated blessings I have bestowed on you been too much of a downer for you? You can sense the frustration of Yahweh with the repeated vocative addresses “O my people” in verses 3 and 5 and the exasperated response to his own question in verse 3, “Answer me!” God experiences frustration. We see something similar in the book of Isaiah:


I spread out my hands all the day

to a rebellious people,

who walk in a way that is not good,

following their own devices;

a people who provoke me

to my face continually,

sacrificing in gardens

and making offerings on bricks;

who sit in tombs,

and spend the night in secret places;

who eat pig's flesh,

and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels;

who say, “Keep to yourself,

do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”

These are a smoke in my nostrils,

a fire that burns all the day.

-       Isa 65:2-5


So here God is standing with His inviting arms wide open to His people, but they are a rebellious people. Rather than running into God’s arms, they are running towards every evil and wicked thing, “following their own devices,” plunging themselves and their community and children into gross sin. And there God stands, arms open “all the day.” But even after walking down the paths of unrighteousness, they do not come back to the Lord chastened and humbled. No, their response to God is, “Leave me alone—I’m too good for you.” They throw God’s invitation of mercy back in His face. So, God says that these people are like smoke in His face “all the day.” “All the day” God holds His arms out to them, and “all the day” they blow smoke in his eyes. That’s a frustrating scenario to be in, is it not?


We need to be careful here. When we say that God experiences frustration, we do not mean that He experiences frustration the way you or I experience frustration. You and I most often experience frustration because we are sinners. Just yesterday I was waiting to get gas and all the pumps are filled, so I line up behind these two cars and wait. In reality I probably waited maybe 5-6 minutes. But, after waiting maybe 1 minute, the person ahead of us does the thing where they put the nozzle back onto the holder, close the gas cap, and walks back into the car. So I thought, naturally, They must be finished, time to move forward. But they moved nowhere. They just sat there, parked. Maybe they just enjoyed the ambiance of the Costco gas station and wanted to soak it all in, have a little meditative moment; maybe they thought this was a good place to pick up a book and start reading. I don’t know. At that point, I can see that if I had chosen a different lane I would have been finished by now. You know what I did? I just sat there. But, inwardly I was just seething with anger, how dare they make me wait??!


Point is, we get frustrated over things that shouldn’t frustrate us because we are impatient and selfish and touchy. God isn’t like that, so His frustration isn’t like ours. His frustration is a righteous frustration that is angered at what is truly worthy of anger: unrighteousness. 


Further, we shouldn’t imagine God’s frustration isn’t a frustration that is born out of inability. We often get frustrated because we want to do something and are incapable of doing it. God isn’t like that. “Our God is in the heavens, He does all that he pleases,” Ps 115:3. There is no check that God’s will writes that His power cannot cash. He always is capable of doing what He wants. Of course, that leads us into a bit of a quandary—what about all the places where the Bible talks about things happening that are contrary to His will? Doesn’t God say that He does not desire the wicked to perish? And yet, they perish. Theologians reflecting on this have discerned that there are two types of God’s will, His will of command, and His will of desire. So, while there are things that happen in the world that He does not desire, nothing happens apart from His sovereign will. So, God does not delight in the death of the wicked, and yet God will judge the wicked. So, when we say that God experiences frustration we are not saying that He is frustrated the way I was frustrated at the gas pump, where my ability to solve the problem was limited. Rather, it is a frustration that comes when what He desires is flaunted.


Okay, if that tells us what the frustration of God isn’t, then what is it? What does it tell us? Very simply, it shows us God’s affection for His people. He really cares for them. I am not frustrated when a complete stranger fails to take my advice; but if my children refuse to listen to me? If I can push all my sinful frustration aside, there will still be a right frustration there because I care for my child; I want what is best for him, and I know that if he refuses to listen to me, his life is going to be so much more difficult. God’s frustration is a sign of His care, His affection for His people. He is not emotionally inert, He is not an impersonal force indifferent towards you, He is not same faceless, distant deity who created this world long ago, and is now off doing other more important things. He deeply, profoundly, and personally cares for His people. 


What’s most amazing, friends, is that God’s frustration does not overwhelm His affection for His people. There will be a day, to be sure, when the opportunity for salvation will end. If you blow smoke in God’s eyes long enough, eventually He will walk away. But while you still have breath, today, His arms are still open towards you. His affection has not cooled and is available. 


God brings deliverance


For I brought you up from the land of Egypt

and redeemed you from the house of slavery,

and I sent before you Moses,

Aaron, and Miriam.

O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised,

and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,

and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,

that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.”

-       Micah 6:4-5


Verses 4-5 serve as a kind of summary of redemptive history of the people of Israel. The people of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years when God raised up Moses to deliver His people. God sends plagues on Egypt culminating in the death of the firstborn, which becomes the first ever celebration of the Passover, where the people of Israel slaughter a lamb and cover the doorposts of their home with its blood, identifying them as God’s people and sparing them from the angel of death. God then miraculously delivers His people from their bondage and brings them to through the Red Sea, to Mount Sinai, and there constitutes them as a nation, giving them His Law. God promises that He has a promised land set aside for them on the other side of Jordan River, a land flowing with milk and honey. They wander through the wilderness for forty years, but God provides everything they need—food, water, and shelter. Shittim is the last place that Israel camps before crossing the river and Gilgal is where they set up their first permanent camp after they cross the Jordan. 


This is stunning because God takes Israel when they were at their weakest—in slavery to the world’s most powerful nation—and delivers them and protects them from other warring nations. Israel had no standing army, most of them didn’t even have weapons, and yet as soon as they leave Egypt and begin travelling in the desert, foreign nations begin attacking them and somehow, miraculously, they defeat these other armies that are larger, better equipped, and stronger than they are. Remember: this is warfare taking place in the Bronze Age; if you are not an experienced soldier, you are most certainly going to lose. And yet, this untrained band of slaves are able to displace professionally trained armies over and over again.


The story of Balak and Balaam is a fascinating one—the king of Moab, Balak, hires a pagan soothsayer, Balaam, to curse the people of Israel. Balak has heard how Israel has been defeating all of these other armies and is eager to get a leg-up on them before meeting them in battle. So, he does what any ancient king would have done in his shoes; he attempts to harness the spiritual forces of the gods to curse his enemies, and to bless him. Apparently, Balaam had a reputation for being able to provide these services, because Balak tells Balaam, “I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed,” (Num 22:6). Unbeknownst to Balak or Balaam, that is the exact phrase that God uses to describe the people of Israel all the way back in Genesis 12: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” (Gen 12:3). 


Three times Balaam attempts to curse the people of Israel, but instead of a curse, blessings pour out of his mouth! On his final attempt, he not only speaks a blessing over Israel, but curses Moab—fulfilling the promise of Genesis 12:3. Every time evil works to set itself up against God and His people, God is able to take the evil and turn it into an even greater good. Pharoah refuses to let the people of Israel go, so God displays His power and wonder through the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. The nations see that Israel is weak and seek to destroy them, only to find that God Himself fights for them and provides a promised land for them. Here in Micah, the people of Israel are told: “O my people, remember…that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord,” (Mic 6:5).


What was Israel to remember? That they were slaves under the sentence of death who took shelter under the blood of the lamb and were delivered by the miraculous grace of God, who defeated their enemy and brought them into a covenant relationship with Him, receiving His Law, and then sent to the promised land. What do we need to remember? That we were once slaves of sin under the sentence of the death who have taken shelter under the blood of the lamb of God, Jesus Christ. He has miraculously delivered us by grace, not by works, and brought us into a covenant relationship and gave us His law, and we are on our way to the promised land of the New Creation. These are the righteous acts of the Lord we must recount.


God expects obedience


We will look at these passages in greater detail next week, but the next couple of verses show how we are to respond to these righteous acts of the Lord:


“With what shall I come before the LORD,

and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

-       Micah 6:6-8


Again, we will drill down into the specifics of this passage next week, but here is what is plain to us now: the righteous acts of God, His great works of deliverance are intended to create in us a desire to obey God, to respond to Him. James warns us, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,” (James 2:14-17). We are not saved by our works, but we are saved to work. If our faith has no fruit, if our faith causes us to ignore God’s commands, James tells us that faith is dead—as in, it isn’t real faith. 


The problem with Israel in Micah’s day was that they were paying lip service to believing in God, when in reality they didn’t care about Him. God could be paid off at the temple by giving Him a token offering and then going and doing whatever you want. But Micah says, No, offerings at the temple are pointless if there isn’t also a pursuit of justice, a love of kindness, and a humility before God attendant with them. Micah summons Israel to remember what God has done for her to inspire them to obedience. People apparently had begun to view what God was asking of them as a burden, which is why God sarcastically asks back in verse 3: O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” They are treating God as if He is opposed to them, restricting their joy, so God says, What exactly is it that I have done that is so burdensome to you? How have my righteous acts of saving you been wearying to you? And, of course, when you think about it that way, you realize: Oh yea, God isn’t against me; He has always been for me. Why do I feel like He is against me now?


We need to remember what God has done in the past, to help us face the temptations of tomorrow. As we look ahead to the future and all its uncertainty, we are met with many temptations. “Nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, [greed], lust, and ambition look ahead,” Lewis, Screwtape. 


Let me just give one example: I think it’s safe to say that a good majority of us feel like we are living in some uncertain times. When we think ahead of what may happen to our family, our businesses, our country in the next few years. Here is what our heart tells us: What if this happens, or what if this happens…And, depending on who you are, you will generally have one of two responses. You will either think:


-        I need to take charge of this situation, I alone can be trusted, and you will throw yourself into a great deal of work, labor, and frantic energy to guard against what you’re afraid of. You’ll be tempted to become overbearing, and exacting. People who get in the way won’t just frustrate you, they will infuriate you. The uncertainty of the future threatens your sense of control. So, when God tells you to not worry about tomorrow, and to trust Him, it will feel like God is against you. Or you think…


-       I can’t do anything about this, and you will throw yourself into things that take your mind off your fears. You will plunge yourself into entertainment, or distractions so you don’t think about all the things you should be doing. People who challenge you on your laziness don’t motivate you to be more industrious, they make you feel profoundly ashamed and resentful. The uncertainty of the future threatens your sense of comfort, so when God tells you to work diligently and be faithful to what He has called you to, it will feel like God is against you.


In both of those, it is tempting to treat the problem only skin-deep. So the person who is leaning into being controlling will be told that they should be more patient with others and relax a bit, and the person who is leaning into comfort and laziness will be told that they should be more diligent and hard working. And both of those are true, as far as it goes.


But what’s the deeper issue? Neither of these people trust God. At their heart of hearts, the problem beneath the problem is that they ultimately do not believe God can be trusted for their good.


Read more
Justified By Faith (Romans 3:19-31)

Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/831590--justified-by-faith


Sermon Discussion Questions

  1. What was the two-fold purpose of the Law in Romans 3:19-20?
  2. What were the three options for what people can do to try to get out of the Law's condemnation? (Redefine God's Law, Compare themselves to others, Try to do good/religious things to outweigh their sin)
  3. What is the difference between being "declared righteous" and being "made righteous"? How can we be simultaneously sinners, but also "justified"? See Rom 3:22-24
  4. What does Romans 3:25 mean?
  5. Read Romans 3:28--how would you explain to someone what it means to be "justified by faith apart from works of the law"?
  6. What are some of the consequences of believing we are justified by faith alone?


On November 10th, 1483 Hans and Margarethe welcomed their firstborn son into the world. The following day was the Roman Catholic feast day honoring St. Martin and the day their son was being baptized, so they decided their son would share the saint’s name. St. Martin of Tours had been famous for his piety, asceticism, and charity—at one point famously cutting his own cloak in two to share half with a naked beggar. Hans and Margarathe Luther hoped their own little Martin would share the saints devotion to God. But Hans was also a shrewd businessman who had worked his way out of poverty and now owned a small copper mine. He had great ambitions for his son to go to university and become a lawyer and so avoid the grinding poverty he had just lifted their family out of. So, once Martin turned 18 Hans paid for Martin to enroll and study law at the University of Erfurt where Martin spent the next seven years in study. He proved to be an excellent student and had a promising future ahead, only to suddenly—much to his father’s everlasting shame—abandon his pursuits of becoming a lawyer.


Two events upended Martin’s life. First, while he was studying at university he found a Bible in the school’s library and began to read it. He had never seen a Bible before and only ever heard snippets of it read in Latin at Mass. The Bible fascinated him and led him to begin to ponder more seriously questions of faith. Shortly after this, a close friend of his suddenly died. He began to ask himself, “What would happen if I were to die suddenly?” Then, later that Summer while travelling home on the open road Martin was overtaken by a violent thunderstorm. Suddenly, a lightning bolt struck nearly at his feet. He collapsed to the ground and prayed that Saint Anne would save him. Martin knew that his life was marked by sin and immorality and a holy God would be just to judge him. He promised God that if He would spare his life, he would change his life, that he would strive to become holy, that he would become a monk.


His father was furious, his friends were puzzled—what a foolish waste of a such a promising life. His father told him that he was breaking the fifth commandment, failing to honor his father and mother. His friends warned him that he was abandoning any hopes of a respectable life by throwing himself into a monastery. But Martin didn’t care—he realized that his biggest problem he now faced was his sin before a holy God. He would do whatever it took to solve it.


And so Martin gave himself over to the most strict form of asceticism he could. In order to punish himself for his sins he would starve himself, pray through the night and deprive himself of sleep, visit every shrine and relic of the church, and even whip and scourge himself. He spent countless hours confessing every sin he could think of and would dutifully follow whatever penance the priest would give him, till the priests themselves grew annoyed at Martin’s own sensitive conscience. He later wrote, “I kept the rule of my order so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery it was I. All my brothers in the monastery who knew me will bear me out. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, readings and other work.” 


And yet, despite his superhuman religious efforts, with every attempt Luther made to finally scour the last bit of sin out of his soul, he would find more hidden pockets of darkness; the more serious he became in adhering to God’s Law, the more despairing he grew. No matter how much he confessed, no matter how much penance he did, no matter how severely he punished himself, Luther could not find peace. Later, he confessed, “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.”


How could a man so serious about his religion come to hate God? Luther, as we will see, had profoundly misunderstood what the gospel was, what God was like. Like a man who recoils in terror at the sight of a doctor’s scalpel and syringe, certain that he is here to harm not heal, so too did Luther flee in terror before God’s righteousness, confused about what God’s righteousness meant for sinners like him. In the book of Romans we will find the kernel of truth inside Luther’s great fear, but we will also find the remedy and examine what led to the great Protestant Reformation 504 years ago. 


For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17


Unrighteousness Condemned


 “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin,” (Rom 3:19-20). Here we are told two reasons the Law was given: (1) to silence mouths and (2) to expose sin. 


What does it mean that the Law was given to “silence mouths”? Paul has been building an argument for the past three chapters that all mankind stands guilty before God. What are they guilty of? They have failed to uphold God’s Law. Much like our laws work today, God’s Law puts a moral obligation that restricts and compels our behavior, but unlike our law God’s Law is also set to govern our heart. It dictates what we are to love. In its most basic summary, Jesus says that the whole of God’s Law can be summarized into two commandments: Love God totally, with everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself. Our civil laws may restrict us from harming or robbing our neighbor, but we would find it very odd for there to be a law on our city ordinances that requires us to love our neighbor. But since God is our Creator, He has the authority to dictate what every aspect of life should be like—what we love, what we hate, what we do with our bodies, what we do to others. But Paul is explaining that all of mankind has failed to follow these Laws, to live in accordance with our Maker’s design.


Gentiles who don’t have God’s Law, but have the knowledge of God given to them through conscience and creation have failed. Jews who have been given special revelation of God’s Law through Moses at Mt. Sinai have failed. And this failure has incurred judgment, as Paul explains, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed,” (Rom 2:5). So mankind stands guilty, judgment is coming, and this leads Paul to then consider what the purpose is then of God’s Law. Let’s take them in reverse order:


To expose sin


Paul says that it is through the Law that we gain a “knowledge of sin.” If you have ever gone into a gym to exercise and not really known what you are doing, it can feel kind of intimidating. But you can fall into a rhythm and start to think you are doing okay. But then along comes some fitness guru and they show how you are actually supposed to use the machine and what the correct posture is supposed to be while lifting that weight, and you know what happens? You suddenly realize just how bad you are at working out! The clear instruction exposed your weakness. Now take that analogy and stretch it to the depths of infinity to get an idea of what God’s Law is intended to do in exposing sin. Before I was a Christian I considered myself to be generally a pretty good person. I was usually polite and kind and didn’t go out of my way to be cruel; I could certainly think of a lot of people who were waaay worse morally than I was. But I remember when I began investigating Christianity I heard someone once confess that they had been using their time very poorly and I thought: Wait, being a Christian imposes restrictions on how you use your free time? The idea of my time not being my own made me incredibly uncomfortable—I liked having free reign over my time. But then along came God’s Law and shined a flashlight in my heart and exposed sin.


Let’s just take one command and grade ourselves: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That command tells us we are to pursue the good of other people around us with the same energy, creativity, passion, and priority we put on pursuing our own desires. How well can you keep that? If someone were to take every minute of your life, evaluate it, and then give you a grade based on the sincerity of your heart and the amount of time you spent pursuing that command, what grade would you get? Now, let’s imagine that you are standing before a holy, perfect God, and you must submit that report to Him at the judgment day—would anyone in this room feel confident? And that is just with one command! What of the scores of others commands? Paul gives this bleak assessment of humanity: “None is righteous, no not one” (Rom 3:10). 


This is why anyone who thinks that they basically are a good person simply hasn’t tried hard enough yet. The demands of the Law exposes the sin of our heart.


To silence mouths


When the Law exposes our sin, its intended result is to make us quiet. Have you ever had a moment where you have been caught in some shameful thing, your wrongdoing is laid out in the open and there is no excuse to be made. What do you do? You hang your head in silence. What else can you do? 


Well, here is what some people do: 

1.     They try to redefine what God’s Law is. Maybe I feel guilty for no reason? Is this really so wrong? This is probably just some cultural addition from fundamentalism that I don’t need to worry about.

2.     They point to other people who are more sinful than them. Sure, I am not doing good here, but at least I’m not as bad as those guys. They become like the Pharisee in Luke 18, “God, I thank you that I am not like those other people over there.”

3.     They create a fake religious system to get out from under their guilt. This is what happened in Luther’s day. The Roman Catholic church had wandered greatly from the Bible and had lost sight of the gospel. They created rituals and systems that sought to make things right between men and God, like performing acts of penance as a way to atone for your own sins, praying to saints and visiting relics and sacred sites (none of this is taught in the Bible.. They created doctrines like purgatory (which, again, is taught nowhere in the Bible), a holding place for people after they die where they can suffer and be purged of their sin, be made perfect, and then finally be admitted into heaven. This is what Luther threw himself into vehemently, but regardless, Luther could not help escape his guilt. People do this today through thinking they can make up for their own faults through their own good deeds, through hoping their morality will outweigh their immorality. But this will never work.


This is because God’s Law is intended to expose our sin and silence our mouths. 


Righteousness Declared


But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Rom 3:21-24).


Let’s move through the verse slowly and glean as much as we can. First, we are told that the “righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” God’s righteousness has always been manifested through the Law because the Law is a reflection of God’s own righteous character. He is morally perfect. But now, something else has come to reveal the perfection and goodness of God “apart from the law.” Which is good news for us, because the law has come and exposed our sin and left us silent. 


But, second, this righteousness is not contrary to the Law, in fact, “the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.” We should not think that this righteousness that is offered to us in the gospel is somehow different or alien to what has been laid out in the Old Testament. It is not as if people in the Old Testament were saved in some fundamentally different way than we are. No, the Old Testament itself pointed forward to this new manifestation of the righteousness of God.


Third, this righteousness is revealed “through faith in Jesus Christ, for all who believe.” So, God’s moral perfection, His right-ness is in some way revealed through “faith in Jesus.” What does that mean? Of course, Jesus is God in the flesh. So, naturally He manifests the righteousness of God. Ah, we might think, this must be what Paul is talking about. God’s righteousness that is revealed “apart from the law” just means that Jesus came and lived a righteous life. His works, His teaching, His miracles, etc. show the moral perfection of God. Faith must mean that we follow Jesus’ path and try to live like He did. It is obviously more complicated than this brief sketch, but this represents the core of what the popular Roman Catholic teaching was of Luther’s day and what Luther himself understood.


But then, the next point provide a serious puzzle, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Rom 3:22-24). Here is the dilemma that Luther was puzzled by. How can Paul admit that we are sinners, but then say that we are “justified”? The Roman Catholic church understood that “justification” is the process by which a sinner is made righteous through their good works, through the religious systems of the Church, through the sacraments, and through their suffering in purgatory. It was a process by which one was made righteous. But the problem, Luther realized, was that the word “justification” didn’t mean “to make righteous” but “to declare righteous.” A declaration is not a progressive act, but instantaneous. When a judge bangs his gavel and declares that the defendant is “not guilty,” he is not subjecting the defendant to a process by which they then are transformed into one who is innocent—the judge is recognizing that the defendant is innocent, and so makes a formal, legal declaration of that innocence. That is what justification means. Which creates a problem for us. How can a righteous God justify unrighteous sinners? How can God be just and a justifier of sinners?


Here is what Luther began to see: whatever it means, we know that justification comes by “grace as a gift”—grace is undeserved favor, and a gift is something freely given, not earned. So our justification is not something we earn or work for. Rather, it comes through someone else’s works, namely “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” What is “redemption”? Redemption is the language used of the slave market; you would “redeem” someone by purchasing them. God is described as the “Redeemer of Israel” because He set them free from their bondage in Egypt. And here, we are told that in Jesus there is redemption—a price paid to set slaves free. But what is the price?


…Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith,” (Rom 3:25). The price Jesus paid was His own blood which served as a “propitiation.” What does that mean? A satisfaction of divine anger. It is the same term used to describe the place in the Holy of Holies where the high priest would go in on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle blood to atone for Israel’s sins. But now Jesus has shed his own blood to serve as a propitiation for our sins to be received by faith. 


So let’s put the argument all together now. Through the Law of God, no human being will be justified—declared righteous—in God’s sight because it is through the Law that knowledge of sin comes. Our sin is exposed, and we are left without an excuse or defense, totally silent. But, God did not leave us in our desperation, but revealed a new way for His righteousness to be made manifest on earth. Jesus comes to reveal the righteousness of God, not only as an example, but as a means by which God’s righteousness wouldn’t only be held up as the standard that we all aim for but fail at—but in some way to give God’s righteousness as a gift. So Jesus’ righteous life ends in a horrifying death where he, like the animal sacrifice whose blood is sprinkled on the altar, dies in the place of His people, absorbing their punishment for their transgressions, for their law-breaking. And then, wonder of wonders, God turns to these sinners whose debt has now been forgiven, and sins atoned for, and bangs the gavel of heaven and booms, “Righteous!” Here is how Paul summarizes it elsewhere, “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” (2 Cor 5:21). 


What remarkable acts of piety or devotion must we do to receive such a gift? Look again at the text, we are told in vs. 22 that this comes “through faith” and then in vs. 25 that it is “received by faith” and then finally, in vs. 28, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” It is by faith and faith alone. So that means that if you have been brought to a point where God’s law was exposed you, left you without an excuse, and you know that you deserve God’s judgment, but you trust that Jesus’ work can save you, forgive you, and deliver you and make you right with God, then you will be saved. You will be declared righteous. Upon realizing this truth, Luther was transformed and said that he felt as if he had walked through the gates of paradise.


Friends, because we are saved by faith alone, that means that anybody can get in on this. There is no moral equivalent of “you must be this tall to ride” to be declared righteous. All that is required is a simple trust in Jesus.


Second, this means that we desire to obey out of love of God, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law,” (Rom 3:31). One of the biggest criticisms that Luther faced when he began teaching the doctrine of justification by faith alone was that it would result in moral laxity and licentiousness. If you tell people that they are already made right with God, what motive would they have to obey God then? But Paul doesn’t see that as the result, rather, Paul understands that those who have been justified by faith alone, not by works of the law, then become those most serious about now upholding the law. Why is that? Well, if your obedience of God’s Law is dependent on you earning your salvation then that shows that your obedience has always been motivated by fear or a desire to get something from God. If your salvation is already secure, then your desire to obey comes out of a simple love of God.


Lastly, this means that our acceptance with God is not contingent on our performance. On good days and bad days, when our spiritual disciplines are soaring and when they are failing, when we feel like the greatest Christian and when we feel like we are just barely limping along, our standing before God is the same because our standing is found in the righteousness of Christ.



What though the vile accuser roar

Of sins that I have done;

I know them well, and thousands more;

My God, He knoweth none

Read more
An Unexpected Deliverance (Micah 5)

Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/823145--an-unexpected-deliverance


Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. What stood out to you most from the sermon?
  2. Read Matthew 2:1-6. Why do you think God made Israel wait 700 years to fulfill the promise of Micah 5:2? Is there anything you feel like God is making you wait on right now? (Read Psalm 25:3)
  3. In what ways is Jesus a good shepherd?
  4. What ways is the expansion of God's Kingdom different from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant?
  5. Read Micah 5:7-9. How can the church be an "unmitigated blessing and an implacable force against evil" at the same time?


Sermon Manuscript:


What is the purpose of life after conversion? Why doesn't God simply kill us after we become Christians? That may seem like an odd suggestion, even off-putting. Yet, consider what it would be like if we didn't have to deal with sin, deal with temptation, deal with suffering, but were just immediately whisked into God's presence as soon as we were saved? That would be nice, wouldn't it? Why does God decide to leave us here for a good while till we return to heaven? God does this because He is not only wanting to save us from hell, but He is wanting to restore what was lost at the garden.


71 years ago, yesterday, CS Lewis released the very first edition of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the book, four regular school children (the Pevensies) stumble into the magical land of Narnia, populated by talking animals, tree nymphs, and other mythical characters. But they quickly discover the wicked White Witch has transformed the land into a frigid and joyless “always Winter, never Christmas.” But, the gracious and just creator of Narnia, the Lion Aslan, has returned to conquer the Witch and her armies, to restore Narnia, and “make the rivers run with sweet wine.” But the four Pevensie children, much to their surprise, are told that they are the ancient, foretold rulers of Narnia, “Sons of Adam, and Daughters of Eve,” who will sit on the thrones to rule Narnia for the true King, Aslan. When the they protest this and attempt to escape, Aslan assures them, draws them in, is even willing to die for them.


Narnia is a very a thin veil for Lewis’ Christianity. Lewis knew that the story of Creation was a story of men and women being designed to rule and reign over God’s world as viceroys under His sovereign Lordship, but that a wicked serpent had usurped that plan and sought to overthrow the plan. But Jesus, the true King of the World, came to conquer the serpent, to die for sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, so that we might be restored to the original design of serving as Kings and Queens of the earth. If that sounds too grandiose, too fantastical, then let me attempt to show that to you from the Bible.


In our text today we are going to see Micah promise Israel that God is going to deliver them, to send them the long awaited for Messiah. But this deliverance will be a surprising, unexpected deliverance in many ways. He will rule His people like a King, He will care for His people like a shepherd. This Shepherd-King will come and deliver His people and transform them into shepherd-kings themselves. 



Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;

siege is laid against us;

with a rod they strike the judge of Israel

on the cheek.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me

one who is to be ruler in Israel,

whose coming forth is from of old,

from ancient days.

Therefore he shall give them up until the time

when she who is in labor has given birth;

then the rest of his brothers shall return

to the people of Israel.

And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD,

in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.

And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great

to the ends of the earth.

And he shall be their peace.


When the Assyrian comes into our land

and treads in our palaces,

then we will raise against him seven shepherds

and eight princes of men;

they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword,

and the land of Nimrod at its entrances;

and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian

when he comes into our land

and treads within our border.


Then the remnant of Jacob shall be

in the midst of many peoples

like dew from the LORD,

like showers on the grass,

which delay not for a man

nor wait for the children of man.

And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations,

in the midst of many peoples,

like a lion among the beasts of the forest,

like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,

which, when it goes through, treads down

and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.

Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries,

and all your enemies shall be cut off.


And in that day, declares the LORD,

I will cut off your horses from among you

and will destroy your chariots;

and I will cut off the cities of your land

and throw down all your strongholds;

and I will cut off sorceries from your hand,

and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes;

and I will cut off your carved images

and your pillars from among you,

and you shall bow down no more

to the work of your hands;

and I will root out your Asherah images from among you

and destroy your cities.

And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance

on the nations that did not obey.

-       Micah 5:1-15


Waiting for The Shepherd-King


Verse 1 of chapter 5 gives us the dire setting that Israel is in. Israel is besieged and being called to summon her troops, and the “judge of Israel” is being struck on the cheek with a rod. This could be a reference to God being mocked by the pagan armies, but it likely refers to the king of Israel (likely Hezekiah, see Isa 36-38; Micah 1:1). Being “struck on the cheek” wasn’t just a physical assault, but an assault on someone’s dignity, a way to degrade and belittle someone else. So the King of Israel is being mocked, degraded, and belittled while Israel is besieged. What does God do in response? He promises to send a deliverer.


God promises to raise up a “ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient of days,” (Micah 5:2b). This “ruler” is none other than the promised Messiah. Starting all the way back in Eden, when God cursed the serpent He promised that from the offspring of the woman a deliverer would come:


“I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.”

-       Gen 3:15


This offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, even as it bruised His own heel. This theme of expectation of a serpent-crusher is woven through the whole of the Old Testament. Over time the identity of this promised deliverer becomes more clear: He will descend from the family of Abraham, from the tribe of Judah, and eventually, the promised deliverer begins to take on royal tones—He will be like a King (Gen 17:6; 49:10; 2 Sam 7). Now, God again promises that His Messiah is coming. But here we find the first surprise of God’s deliverance: the Messiah will come out of Bethlehem, from the region of Ephrathah.


But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me

one who is to be ruler in Israel,

-       Micah 5:2a


Rather than raising up in the capitol of Judah, Jerusalem—which is what one would think would happen—the Messiah will come from the “little town of Bethlehem” where, as the old Christmas hymn puts it, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” We see two more aspects of the surprising, unexpected nature of God’s deliverance in the next verse:


Therefore he shall give them up until the time

when she who is in labor has given birth;

then the rest of his brothers shall return

to the people of Israel.

-       Micah 5:3


What’s unexpected here? First, God’s Messiah doesn’t not descend out of heaven like an angel or materialize on earth as a full-grown man. He must be born. So, He comes first as a helpless infant. Second, God will “give [Israel] up until the time.” The NIV and CSB translate that as God will “abandon” them until the time. In the gospel of Matthew when Herod hears of the wise men coming to worship the Messiah, he asks the scribes and chief priests where the Messiah was to be born, and they quote Micah 5:2 (Matt 2:1-6). So we know without a shadow of a doubt that the deliverer, the Messiah that Micah is prophesying of is Jesus. But what is surprising is that Micah is writing this 700 years before Jesus is born. So when Micah says that God will “give them up until the time,” what does that mean? It means that God is going to send His people into exile, He is going to let them reap the consequences of their covenant breaking for 700 years. They will be dominated and oppressed by foreign nation after foreign nation after foreign nation. God is going to make Israel wait for a long time.


There are many things we could glean from this, but one thing we see is that God is a God who does not operate on the same time table we do.


It could be that God makes Israel wait another 700 years for the Messiah as a form of punishment—but we aren’t explicitly told that. The New Testament describes Jesus’ arrival to simply be when “the fullness of time had come” (Gal 4:4; cf. 1 Tim 2:6; Mark 1:15). The mysteries of God’s providence are hard to discern. Peter actually explains that God’s perceived “slowness” is His merciful patience: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance,” (2 Pet 3:9).


I don’t know what you are currently waiting on God for; maybe you are waiting for God to intervene in what has felt like a dead spot in your marriage, to crack open the stony heart and bring repentance of someone you love, to give the gift of faith and conversion. Whatever it is, what I want to encourage you with is that waiting on the Lord is not an unusual aspect of the Christian life. 14 times in the book of Psalms alone we are exhorted to “wait on the Lord,” and Psalm 25:3 promises us that, “None who wait for you shall be put to shame.” Your waiting may actually be a means of God’s love towards you.


When Jesus hears that Lazarus is sick, His first response is to wait. John explains, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was,” (John 11:5-6). An odd response for Jesus, the wonder-worker and healer, upon hearing of his dear friend being ill. In fact, Jesus waits so long that Lazarus dies. Now, Jesus goes on to raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44), but this shows us that sometimes God’s love and His mysterious providence look like Him being inactive, waiting. 


Receiving From the Shepherd-King


What will this promised ruler from of old do when He arrives? What will happen when Jesus shows up on the scene? Micah 5:3 already explained:


…when she who is in labor has given birth;

then the rest of his brothers shall return

to the people of Israel.

-       Micah 5:3b


So, first we see that when the Messiah comes “the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.” First, is it not astounding itself that those who return to Israel are considered “brothers” of the Messiah? Like a magnet drawing iron-filings to itself, when Jesus shows up He draws men and women to Himself, but not only the way a celebrity draws fans to themselves. Jesus does not draw you to Himself in order to have a distant, superficial relationship with you, where maybe you are fawning all over Him but He doesn’t even know your name. No—Galatians explains to us “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons,” (Gal 4:4-5). And because we are adopted as God’s sons and daughters, we are now inheritors of the promises of Israel, we are part of God’s family. That’s the first thing we receive from the Shepherd-King, Jesus. But not only that:


And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD,

in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.

And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great

to the ends of the earth.

And he shall be their peace.

-       Micah 5:4-5a


This is why I am referring to Jesus as the “Shepherd-King” here, “He shall stand and shepherd his flock.” So, we are not only brothers and sisters of Jesus, we are also His sheep. Jesus refers to Himself as the “good Shepherd” who lays down His life for His own sheep (John 10:11). In the strength and majesty of Yahweh, the name above all names, Jesus will shepherd His sheep. So, what does a shepherd do? He leads them and guides them to green pastures and still waters (Ps 23). He cares for them and mends them when injured; He leaves the 99 to seek out the one that is lost and rejoices over the recovery (Luke 15:3-6). He protects them from the wolf and bear. The shepherd sometimes cracks the rod over the head of a vicious enemy who wants to devour the sheep. 


Of course, wonder of wonders, our good Shepherd not only defends the sheep at the risk of His life, but defends the sheep at the expense of His life. He dies to save His sheep. Satan in the book of Revelation is described as “the accuser of the brothers” (Rev 12:10)—that’s what Satan does, “accuses [the brothers] day and night before our God,” (Rev 12:10). In fact, that’s what “Satan” literally means, “Accuser.” Satan’s greatest desire is to expose and point out all of your flaws to the Father, to show all of the reasons why you deserve to be condemned. But Jesus steps in between us and the Accuser, He speaks another word--a word of pardon sealed in blood. He is willing to lay down His life to pay the debt our sins had deserved so that the Accuser is left silenced—we overcome him by “the blood of the lamb,” (Rev 12:11).


So, the people “dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. He shall be their peace.” It is a terrible thing when a sinner, a created being, exalts himself to some kind of megalomaniacal platform, craving greatness and fame and status. History has shown us that when you an individual amasses great deals of power and craves the adulation of the masses, terrible catastrophes occur. We cannot trust that kind of power to be vested in a sinner. But what about in someone who isn’t a sinner? What about when it is in a sinless Messiah, God in the flesh? Well then the exact opposite happens. Rather than the earth suffering and peoples lamenting, the earth flourishes and people dwell secure. The great malady of our world, deeper than any other economic, ecological, sociological, or political problem, greater than any pandemic, any war, any famine, any natural disaster is that many people do not yet see Jesus as great. They ignore and sideline and trivialize and mock the King of the Universe, the Good Shepherd. They do not realize that security and peace are bound up in His person—you cannot have a world free from suffering and selfishness and sorrow apart from Him.


Becoming Shepherd-Kings


My argument is that the main message of Micah 5 is the that the Shepherd-King will come and bring deliverance and transform His people into shepherd-kings themselves. We won’t have the time to explore how this flushes itself out through the whole chapter, but let’s take brief fly-over of the rest of the chapter:


When the Assyrian comes into our land

and treads in our palaces,

then we will raise against him seven shepherds

and eight princes of men;

they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword,

and the land of Nimrod at its entrances;

and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian

when he comes into our land

and treads within our border.

-       Micah 5:5b-6


When the Assyrian comes into the land, what will Israel do? They will raise up “seven shepherds, and eight princes of men” who will “shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword.” “Nimrod” is the ancestral father of both Assyria and Babylon (Gen 10:8-11), both are the biggest enemies Israel is facing during Micah’s time. So, when the biggest, baddest enemies come knocking on Jerusalem’s door, looking to eat their lunch, what will these people do who have been redeemed by the Shepherd-King?  They will raise up their own, mini-shepherd-kings. The formula of listing “seven…and eight” isn’t referring to a literal seven and eight, but the sequential numbering is a common Hebrew pattern of just referring to a multitude. But notice how verse 6 shifts away from the plural “they” back to the singular “he”? “He shall deliver us…” So, the people of God are raising up their own shepherd-kings, but it is ultimately the Shepherd King who will deliver them, save them.


But how are we to apply something about using the sword to us today when God’s people no longer a nation-state like Old Testament Israel was? Does this mean that we are to use physical violence to overcome our enemies, to expand God’s Kingdom? That is unlikely because last chapter, when the promise of the Messiah was again foretold Micah explicitly stated that the age of the Messiah was an age where swords are beaten into plowshares (Micah 4:3; cf. Isaiah 9:5-7). And a few verses later in chapter 5, when Micah is describing God’s cleansing of Israel from her sin, He also specifies:


And in that day, declares the LORD,

I will cut off your horses from among you

and will destroy your chariots;

and I will cut off the cities of your land

and throw down all your strongholds;

-       Micah 5:10-11


Horses, chariots, fortresses and strongholds are all used in warfare, and all of these in the day of the Messiah will be cut off from God’s people. I don’t have time to navigate all of the issues this brings up, but suffice to say I am not attempting to make an argument of pacifism or anything like that. Rather, I am limiting myself to understand how this promise applies to us New Covenant Christians. As we transition from the Old to New Covenant, we see God’s Kingdom transition from being bound up with a demarcated land-mass in the Middle-East, and being transformed into a diffuse, spiritual Kingdom that saturates the whole of the earth. And since God’s Kingdom is no longer displayed through a land with borders, this is why there is no New Testament equivalent to the conquest commands given to Joshua and the Kings of Israel. 


We make disciples of all nations, we do not drive out nations the way Joshua did. We fight a battle, but not against flesh and blood but against spiritual enemies (Eph 6:12). Jesus shows us how the kingdom advances par excellence: it is not through killing others, but through our own suffering, our own deaths. So, Micah is using the threads of current events of his day (the Assyrian invasion) to make a prophetic tapestry of what the future, Messianic age will look like. There will still be enemies that need to be conquered, but they will not be enemies that we use the weapons of the world against. 


With that in place, what does it mean for us to be “shepherd-kings”? That is a title of authority; in what way do we have authority like that?


We could speak of the authority we have been given as members of the church to welcome in new members, and dismiss unrepentant members (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5); we could speak of our authority to recognize true doctrine and reject false doctrine (Gal 1:6-9); we could speak of the authority give to us to spur one another in the faith, to exhort one another and so be spared from the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:12-14; 10:23-25). But let’s look at what Micah emphasizes:


Then the remnant of Jacob shall be

in the midst of many peoples

like dew from the LORD,

like showers on the grass,

which delay not for a man

nor wait for the children of man.

And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations,

in the midst of many peoples,

like a lion among the beasts of the forest,

like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,

which, when it goes through, treads down

and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.

Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries,

and all your enemies shall be cut off.

-       Micah 5:7-9


Notice, the final phrase that Israel's enemies shall be "cut off", but then in verses 10-15 we have the repeated phrase that God will "cut off" Israel's military prowess and their idolatry (vs. 10-13). That is an interesting contrast--as Israel "cuts off" her enemies, she is simultaneously experiencing a purging herself--a cleansing where her sword and her idols are being removed from her.


Here, in verses 7-9 we see that the renewed people of God are two very different things at the same time: (1) they are an unmitigated blessing to the nations (“dew from the Lord…showers on the grass” is always used as a picture of divine blessing in the OT). This is what God's people are going to be--in the nations, bringing life and refreshing to the world. They are fulfilling what Adam and Eve were intended to do in Eden; they are to be an unmitigated blessing to the nations. (2) They are an implacable force against evil among the nations. They are both of these things at the same time.


So, if you have a community with a church in it, that church is going to be a blessing to that community. A church is a community of people who have been humbled by the overwhelming grace of the gospel; it is a place where the root of our pride and arrogance has been cut, so we do not walk around thinking we are better than anybody. Rather, we are so stunned by the undeserved grace we have received that we desire to help and bless and love other people with no strings attached. So we love our neighbors, we work hard at our jobs, we strive to make our neighborhoods and communities better places to live. We try to do what Adam and Eve were supposed to do in the garden: cultivate beauty, protect goodness, and bring life. We are an unmitigated blessing to the nations, dew from the Lord.


But, we are also an unmovable object when evil rears its head. So, you put a church in a community, while it is an unmitigated blessing it also is an implacable force against evil. Christian churches should be remarkably frustrating to evil and wicked rulers, but also totally baffling. We do not resist their evil devices the way the world does--we do so while simultaneously working for the benefit and the good of our community. We do not buck the authority of rulers just because we don't agree with what they are doing or it makes our lives uncomfortable; rather, when they attempt to make unrighteousness reign in our community, when they attempt to exploit image bearers, when they attempt to pervert justice, we, God's representatives, stand in the gap and say, "No." We will resist.


Daniel serves as an excellent model for us. Daniel was a blessing to the nation of Babylon, to king Nebuchadnezzar--a wicked nation, no doubt. Babylon had exiled God's people! And yet, Daniel serves the king and make Babylon a better place to live in. But, as soon as Nebuchadnezzar institutes evil and requires disobedience to God, Daniel is as unyielding as iron. He would rather die before sinning against God. That is what we need to be, friends. Blessing, and frustration, at the same time. Paul himself later explains that Jesus' disciples are supposed to be so saturated with Jesus that people smell heaven on them. And for some people, that aroma will be an aroma of life, and to others it will be an aroma of death:


But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. – 2 Cor 2:14-16


But it is Jesus that is to be our aroma, nothing else. We should be wary of letting ourselves be saturated in anything else that may be turning people away--not our politics, not our cultural traditions, not our pet projects. It is Jesus who both draws and repels. And it is our job to so saturate ourselves with him, to submit to him.


We are being restored as Kings and Queens of the earth, guarding, protecting, cultivating, bringing life. We will bring life and we will bring death, at the same time; life to life, and death to death.

Read more
Why Does God Let Us Suffer? (Micah 4:6-13)

Sermon audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/819704--why-does-god-let-us-suffer


Sermon Discussion Questions

  1. What stood out to you most from the sermon?
  2. Do you know of someone who has walked through suffering in life well?
  3. Have you seen ways in your own life that God has used suffering to deepen your faith in Him?
  4. What was the source of Israel's suffering in Micah? What does this show us about the consequences of sin? Read Hebrews 12:3-11. What does this tell us about God's discipline?
  5. How was Jesus' kingdom strange and paradoxical? What does that have to do with the topic of suffering?


Sermon Manuscript:


Why does God let us suffer? There are times in life where we see that we are suffering because of our own sin and folly (think of David), there are times where we can see how God used suffering for a good cause (think of Joseph), but there are also times where God leads us into suffering that we are totally baffled by (think of Job).


George MacDonald, the Scottish minister and author, in his 1872 children’s novel The Princess and the Goblin, writes of a young princess living in a castle next to a mountain that is inhabited by goblins. The young princess however has a fairy godmother who lives in the tower of her castle and gives her a magic ring and attached to it is a magical invisible thread. Whenever the princess feels frightened she could take the ring off and place it under her pillow, and then follow the thread to the fairy godmother and then be safe. She is promised that so long as she follows the thread she will be safe and led to her fairy godmother.


One night, while the princess is sleeping she awakes and hears the sound of a goblin snarling in her room. So, she does exactly what she is told: she takes the ring off, places it under her pillow, and then begins to follow the thread out of her room. But, to her surprise, instead of leading her up the stairs to her fairy godmother’s room, it leads her downstairs to the backdoor of the castle. Even more alarming, as she apprehensively follows the thread she finds that it goes outside of the castle grounds; it leads up the mountain; it plunges into a pitch black cave, right where the goblins live. Terrified, alone, and unsure how this could lead to safety, she pauses. 


But she reminds herself that her fairy godmother promised that if she followed the thread she would be safe, she would be okay, so with trembling fingers she continues to follow the thread. But after journeying deep into the black cavern, she finds that the thread eventually runs right into the middle of a giant heap of stones. It’s a complete dead end. The princess then tries to follow the thread backwards to lead her out of the cavern, but as soon as she moves her hand backwards up the thread, it disappears. The only way she can go is forward, through the giant pile of rubble. So she collapses and begins to cry, feeling utterly betrayed and forsaken by her godmother.


Why does the thread of God’s will sometimes lead us into the dark pit of suffering? Why is it that even when we are trusting the Lord and seeking to follow Him we are bent over with sorrow? Loved ones get sick; hopes and aspirations for a career or relationship fizzle out; a family member severs all contact with you. At times we can feel like the heroine in MacDonald’s story: forsaken.


In our text today, we will see God’s people suffer for their sins, but we will also see God’s plan of deliverance through it. 



In that day, declares the LORD,

I will assemble the lame

and gather those who have been driven away

and those whom I have afflicted;

7 and the lame I will make the remnant,

and those who were cast off, a strong nation;

and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion

from this time forth and forevermore.

8 And you, O tower of the flock,

hill of the daughter of Zion,

to you shall it come,

the former dominion shall come,

kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.

9 Now why do you cry aloud?

Is there no king in you?

Has your counselor perished,

that pain seized you like a woman in labor?

10 Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,

like a woman in labor,

for now you shall go out from the city

and dwell in the open country;

you shall go to Babylon.

There you shall be rescued;

there the LORD will redeem you

from the hand of your enemies.

11 Now many nations

are assembled against you,

saying, “Let her be defiled,

and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.”

12 But they do not know

the thoughts of the LORD;

they do not understand his plan,

that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor.

13 Arise and thresh,

O daughter of Zion,

for I will make your horn iron,

and I will make your hoofs bronze;

you shall beat in pieces many peoples;

and shall devote their gain to the LORD,

their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth.

-       Micah 4:6-13



Future Glory


We are entering into the middle of a prophetic oracle that Micah is giving concerning the “latter days,” as we saw a few weeks ago (see 4:1). Micah has spent the majority of his time thus far foretelling judgment upon Israel for her sin, for her wretched abuses of injustice—in a short while God will empty out His storehouses of wrath on His people and send them into exile. But at chapter four, Micah’s eye shoots even further into the future and looks to a day when God will restore His people and refresh them, He will exalt the temple so that it draws all nations to itself, and all war and conflicts will cease; all people will stream to God to learn His Law. That is the glorious future that awaits God’s people.


Verses 6-7 show us who God is inviting into this new world He is making: it is the “lame” those who have been “driven away” and “afflicted” who are then transformed into a “strong nation.” God does not go to the valedictorians of society, but the dropouts and says: You, will be the kings and queens of the new world. Why would God do this? To drive home the point that we are saved by grace, not by works—it is not our impressiveness that earns our spot in heaven, it is rather the admission of our need, and it is the lame andafflicted who are quickest to admit that need.


In verse 8 Micah is going to again try to project an image of the glory of what this renewed day will look like:


8 And you, O tower of the flock,

hill of the daughter of Zion,

to you shall it come,

the former dominion shall come,

kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.


Micah is writing around 700 BC, a time where the monarchy had fallen from the heights of grandeur it once had stood on. Israel had fractured into two separate, warring nations (Israel in the north, Judah in the south), and much of the northern half of Israel had already been overtaken by foreign nations and exiled. But Micah harkens back to the “glory days” of Israel’s past, “the former dominion shall come.” Micah is likely thinking of the kingdom under the rule of David or Solomon when Israel was at its height of influence and prosperity. When Solomon was king, Israel had subdued all of its enemies so there were no great wars, the temple of the Lord was constructed, and the nations of the world streamed into Jerusalem to marvel at God’s people and their king. In 1 Kings 10 we are told of the Queen of Sheba traveling a great distance just because she has heard of Solomon’s kingdom and must see it for her own eyes. When she does, it literally takes her breath away and she blesses the Lord God as the true God (see 1 Kings 10:1-10; see also 10:24). Micah is promising that Israel, diminished in its glory at the time, will recapture that kind of previous glory.


Jesus has worked to fulfill this promise in a surprising way. When describing the spiritual dullness of the generation Jesus was in the midst of, He explains, “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here,” Luke 11:31. Something greater than Solomon? Jesus is a modest carpenter, a travelling homeless rabbi with no official training, whose band of disciples are untrained fishermen. To be greater than Solomon one would need substantial wealth, influence, military might, and conquest.


But Jesus amazingly teaches that service, lowliness, even His own death will be what ushers in the glorious, greater-than-Solomon-like kingdom. The gospels portray the crucifixion of Jesus as His exaltation to His kingly throne (see Mark 10:35-45). But this shouldn’t surprise us, this is the normal upside-down pattern that Jesus’ teaching has exhibited all along: if one wants to be the greatest, he must make himself a servant of all (Mark 10:43-44); the first will be last, and the last first (Matt 20:16); it is the poor in spirit who are given the kingdom, it is those who mourn who are comforted, the meek who inherit the earth (Matt 5:3-5). Jesus’ kingdom does not come in the ways that we would expect—this is key as we consider the next point.


Present Darkness


Micah now transitions from his distant far-off prophecy and speaks of what is right about to happen.


Now why do you cry aloud?

Is there no king in you?

Has your counselor perished,

that pain seized you like a woman in labor?

10 Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,

like a woman in labor,

for now you shall go out from the city

and dwell in the open country;

you shall go to Babylon.

There you shall be rescued;

there the LORD will redeem you

from the hand of your enemies.

-       Micah 4:9-10


Now, Micah comes crashing back to the reality that Israel is under. Now Israel is wailing aloud in pain like that of childbirth. Micah’s questions are meant to be a kind of dark satire: What’s wrong? Are your kings and wise men not working out for you? Micah’s main target in his book has been Israel’s leaders (prophets, priests, judges, etc.) who have led the nation astray into further and further wickedness (cf. Micah 3), and now the nation is experiencing the consequences of this evil. But Micah has little comfort for them: “Writhe and groan,” he tells them, “like a woman in labor, for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon.” God had warned Israel back from the time of Deuteronomy with Moses that if they gave themselves over to other gods and abandoned their covenant with God, then He would expel them from the land (see Deut 28:15ff). And that is exactly what happened. 



Later, the apostle Paul will somberly warn the Galatians: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap,” (Gal 6:7). Friends, we shouldn’t be fooled—there is no such thing as a sin that comes without a cost. When we think that we can sow the seeds of sin and hope for the fruits of righteousness, we are mocking God. We are thumbing our nose at Him. When the teacher warns you that this isn’t a test you can just cram for at the last minute so you need to study, and you inwardly think I am definitely going to cram at the last minute, you are basically thinking: Teacher, you don’t understand how smart and clever I am, the rules that apply to other people don’t apply to me. I know better than you do. You might be able to get away with that while in school, but you won’t get away with that with God. Whatever sin you are currently justifying or downplaying: your gossip, your stinginess, your greed, your anger—do not be deceived, God is not mocked; you will reap what you sow.


Redemption of Suffering


Micah’s promise of salvation in Micah is interesting in that it is wedded with Israel’s judgment. Look again at verse 10:


Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,

like a woman in labor,

for now you shall go out from the city

and dwell in the open country;

you shall go to Babylon.

There you shall be rescued;

there the LORD will redeem you

from the hand of your enemies.


Notice that the pain that Micah compares to Israel’s suffering is that of birth pains. While I can’t say I have much personal experience with birth pains, I can testify to you on credible testimony that birth pains are pretty bad. But what happens after the birth pains cease? You are given an incredible gift. Paul uses this same analogy in Romans 8 to describe the suffering and pain we experience in this world, as if the whole of creation, ourselves included, are in the pain of labor, awaiting the future glory that is to come in the New Creation (Rom 8:22-23). So Israel is crying out in the pain of childbirth, but something wonderful is going to come out of that pain. What is the pain? They are going to be besieged, embattled, and humiliated. The city of David will be conquered, and its inhabitants will be transformed into slaves, carted off like cattle through the long journey to Babylon where they will be dominated by pagan overlords. It’s hard to imagine, aside from the physical and emotional turmoil itself, just how deep of a psychological bruise this would inflict on a people, how profoundly this would have deflated any sense of superiority or ego they had. But notice, it is there that God is going to redeem them. “There you shall be rescued; there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies.” It is when Israel is at her lowest, her weakest, her feeblest, that God redeems.


But here is the question I am interested in as I examine the text: why does God do that? Why does He wait till Israel is at her lowest before He redeems her? If God has the ability deliver Israel from Babylon, why not just keep her from going there in the first place? Couldn’t God have figured out a way to humble his people, fix their hearts in a less painful way? A similar question could be asked of verses 11-13 where the nations surround Jerusalem to desecrate the city, only to discover that God has heaped the nations together around Jerusalem to be desecrated themselves. God will transform Israel into a bull with iron horns and bronze hoofs; they will trample the nations like they are sheaves of wheat. While this is an amazing testimony to God’s power to take the weakness of His people to overcome the strong, why not just spare Israel the terror of being surrounded by foreign nations? If God has the strength and power to rescue His people from the most dire of situations, couldn’t that same power and strength be used to keep them from the dire situations in the first place?


If you look back at verses 6 and 7 we get a bit of a clue. Who is that God assembles into the new creation He is making? “In that day, declares the Lord, I will assemble the alme and gather those who have been driven away and those whom I afflicted; and the lame I will make the remnant, and those cast off a strong nation.” It is only when Israel has been brought low, humbled, made aware of her need that she can finally be receptive to the Lord. 


That’s why it is in Babylon, not Jerusalem, that Israel will be redeemed. It makes me think of the case of church discipline on the sexually immoral brother in 1 Corinthians 5 who is removed from the church, and Paul explains, “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord,” (1 Cor 5:5). The church moves the man out of the domain of Christ (the Church) and moves him into the domain of the world (Satan), they tell the man: If you don’t want to live like a Christian, then fine, we will stop treating you like a Christian. And it is that act of loving discipline that Paul hopes will actually destroy the man’s sinful flesh and lead him to be saved. It is when the prodigal son fills his belly with pig slop that he finally realizes that he has a father who loves him. And here, God is handing his son Israel over to Babylon to experience His chastising love. But He will not leave His children there. On the other side of their exile, when they have been chastened and humbled, He will come to redeem. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives,” (Heb 12:6). 


Friend, has your sin found you out? Has your gossiping led to others not able to trust you? Has your neglect led you to not have the kind of relationship with your kids you had hoped for? Has the underhanded dealings at work been exposed? If you are there, if your secret sin that you thought you could indulge in with no consequences now has the consequences falling on you, I want you to remember two things:

1.     God loves you and wants you to be free. Just he promised to redeem Israel when they were at their lowest, so too will He redeem you at your lowest. “Redemption” is the language of slaves being set free. Jesus taught, “Everyone who practices sin is slave to sin…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” (John 8:34, 36). Jesus has paid the debt for your sins through His death on the cross and His resurrection has decisively broken the power of sin in our lives, so we are not only forgiven but have been set free from sin. Jesus wants you to be free from sin, so trust that His discipline in your life is not against you, but radically for you. God loves you and wants you to be free from sin.

2.     There is a unique jewel of faith that can only be found in the dark mines of suffering. There is a kind of hope, joy, rest, and humility that can only be forged through difficulty—and were we spared of difficulty, of suffering, we would have less joy, hope, rest, and humility. We would be complacent, bored, anxious, fearful, and arrogant. God is wanting to forge an indestructible faith on the anvil of difficulty so that you may shine all the clearer.


Now, I want to draw a careful distinction about causes of suffering: you could be suffering because of your own sin, or you could be suffering from other people’s sin, or you could have no idea why you are suffering. Israel here is obviously suffering for their own sin; it is not a mystery. But I think the principles of God's intention in using the suffering of Israel to produce something good applies not only to the suffering that comes from sin, but all suffering in the Christian life.


Let’s return to the princess left crying in the cave. Eventually she decides that maybe she could try to remove some of the rocks from the giant pile that is burying the magic thread. As she removes each stone she becomes more hopeful, and eventually she finds that behind this massive pile of rubble is a jail cell where he friend has been held captive by the goblins. And she realizes that her fairy godmother sent her there to rescue her friend. From then on, her faith in following the thread becomes infinitely stronger, infinitely more resolute—she can trust her godmother. There is something now forged inside of the princess that never would have been there had she not been led into danger and darkness of the cave. And friends, when God is leading you into what looks like darkness, He is not doing so without reason. He is wanting to produce good in you that could not be produced any other way.


Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

Read more
You Are the Body (1 Cor 12:12-27)

Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/816094--you-are-the-body


Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. Give a brief recap of the sermon. What did you feel most encouraged to go do after the sermon?
  2. "You can unsay with your culture what you say with your doctrine," - Ray Ortlund. How can a church do that?
  3. How do we create a culture in our church where everyone who trusts in Jesus belongs?
  4. What are some ways someone can feel like "I am not needed; I don't belong at this church"? Look at 1 Cor 12:14-23. How does Paul respond to someone who feels this way?
  5. What would it look like for our church to grow in making 1 Cor 12:24-26 a reality? How do we do that?


Sermon Manuscript:


What makes a church attractive? What draws people into a church the way water is drawn into a dry sponge? Could it be a church’s programs? Their aesthetic, vibe, or music? Or maybe it is gifted, relevant, and concise preaching that makes them attractive? Of course, those things are important; some more than others, but those are important. But as we walk in from the blizzard of sin and discouragement and suffering in the world, are those the things that provide the create the warm fire that make us say, “Ah, this is what my cold soul needs.”


I can certainly think of churches that had very gifted communicators, very talented musicians, and excellent children’s programs, but something is off. There is something about the culture of the church that is cold, that leaves us feeling excluded, exhausted, even hurt. Maybe the church is very impressive in many ways, maybe they even boldly proclaim the truth of God, but something is amiss, artificial even. An attractive church is not first and foremost a church that has everything that has as many conveniences as possible, but is ultimately a church that has been set ablaze by the grace of the gospel. It is a place where God has lobbed a Molotov cocktail of gospel inside and grace has exploded everywhere, making people honest, humble, relationally open, and secure without being self-righteous. It’s a place where you feel like you can relax but be compelled to repentance and godliness; it is a place where you can have your soul be reoxygenated by the good news of Jesus.


What makes church unattractive? What causes people to spiritually stiffen when they walk into church? An unattractive church is a place where the grace of Jesus is spoken of, maybe even passionately trumpeted, but not embraced as a reality in the lives’ of the people. It is a place, “Where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance and everyone lives the deadly serious passion of envy, self importance, and resentment.” That sounds so awful because that is actually CS Lewis’ description in his Screwtape Letters of what Hell is like. I think of Diotrephes in 3 John:


I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. – 3 John 9-10


What do we need instead?


Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. – Rom 15:7


What is being described here is what makes a church attractive: the welcome of Jesus. Pastor Ray Ortlund has helpfully explained the distinction between “gospel doctrine” and “gospel culture.” Gospel doctrine is the content of the gospel, the message of Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross, so that sinners could be saved by grace through faith, not by works, and become a part of the family of God. “Gospel culture” is what that doctrine creates. What happens to an individual when they believe that gospel truth? 

First, they are peeled down like a switch; they are humbled by the ugliness of their sin, the holiness of God, and the immensity of the grace and forgiveness that is offered them in Jesus. They know that they are here on someone else’s dime, so they don’t walk around with a swagger or sense of entitlement. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling, is their motto.


Second, they are raised to the Heavens. While the gospel does remind us that we are sinners who are only saved by the grace of God, it also tells us that we are so loved by God that God was willing to send His own Son to die in our place. That makes us secure and stable, that keeps us from falling into weird inferiority complexes or self-loathing. We are truly loved by God.


Third, they are brought into the community of faith, the Church. It is in the church where this ecosystem of gospel culture is cultivated. It is here where we hear gospel doctrine preached, where we speak gospel doctrine to one another, and like water on a garden, that doctrine creates a culture that trumpets the grace and welcome we received from Jesus in the gospel. 


There is a necessary relational consequence to the gospel—you cannot receive the welcome of Jesus and not extend that welcome to others. John explains it this way, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen,” (1 John 4:20). If we create a culture in our church that does not mirror our doctrine of the gospel, if we are grumpy and bitter and condescending and snooty, if we are repulsed by sin out there while indifferent towards sin in here, we compromise the doctrine of the gospel. Or, as Ray Ortlund puts it, “You can unsay with your culture what you say with your doctrine.” Gospel doctrine creates gospel culture, and gospel culture helps preserve gospel doctrine.


So, today we are going to read what a church should look like that has swallowed the gospel, hook line and sinker, we will see the culture this should create.

 

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. – 1 Cor 12:12-27


Everyone Belongs


For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor 12:12-13)


Paul uses his favorite metaphor to describe the church here: the Body. We are the body of Christ, and just as a body is composed of many distinct parts, so too is the Church. Previously, Paul had been discussing the variety of spiritual gifts God has given the Church, but emphasizes that despite the variety of gifts, they all are given by the same Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:1-11). Here, Paul is doing the same thing of emphasizing the diversity in unity, but instead of different spiritual gifts he draws attention to the different walks of life we come from: Jews or Greeks, slave or free. Despite our backgrounds, our ethnicities, cultures, socioeconomic status, education, whatever—we all have been filled with the same Holy Spirit, and all have become members of the same body.


This means that here, every blood bought, Spirit filled Christian belongs. There may be churches that create subtle walls and barriers that tell certain groups of Christians that they are unwelcome at their church, that to really belong at the church they need to fit into their little niche, be that one of age, political preference, ethnicity, education, whatever. Could you imagine in the 1st century church what the dynamic would have been with slaves and freemen being members of the same church? There would have been a massive cultural difference between Jews and Greeks, and a great temptation to create an “us” vs. “them” mentality. But since we are all filled with the same Holy Spirit and all are apart of the same body, everyone belonged. 


CS Lewis, in describing the essence of friendship in his book The Four Loves does a good job of describing what the community within the church is to be like:


In a circle of true Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself. No one cares … about [what family he came from], profession, class, income, race, or previous history…That is the kingliness of Friendship. We meet like sovereign princes of independent states, abroad, on neutral ground, freed from our contexts.



Everyone is Needed


14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? (1 Cor 12:14-17)


Self Assessment is not sufficient grounds for determining whether or not you deserve to be a part of the Body. It may be tempting to look at others and think: I am not like them, I am not as gifted as they are, I don’t belong here. Paul strongly disagrees. The diversity of the body is not a weakness, but a strength. Further, Paul understands God Himself to be sovereignly orchestrating who is in the Church:


But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Cor 12:18-20)


God has chosen who will be a part of this church. Earlier in chapter twelve Paul, speaking of the different spiritual gifts given to the church, explains: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good,” (1 Cor 12:7). There is a gift that God has given each member of this church for the purpose of the good of the Body, and God has placed each person in the body for a purpose. Therefore:


The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Cor 12:21)


Back in verses 14-17 the problem was an individual looking at other people and telling themselves, “I am not like them, I don’t belong here.” Here, the dilemma is someone telling someone else, “You are not like us, you don’t belong here.” Paul says that is as ridiculous as an eye telling a hand that it is unnecessary. If one church member cannot say to the other “I have no need of you”, do you know what that means? Everyone is needed. We need each other. We simply cannot do Christianity on our own. 


Perhaps, you are thinking, I can see how other people are needed here, but not me. I don’t bring anything to the table. Paul disagrees:


22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, (1 Cor 12:22-23).


Are you tempted to think you are so weak that you are dragging others down? Do you wonder what would happen if you were honest with others about your needs, about your suffering, about your sin-struggles? Are you afraid that your burdens are simply too heavy and think that perhaps you would help everyone else out by quietly walking away from the church? Paul says, “Don’t think that for one minute—the weakest member in this church is the most necessary; you are indispensable.” 


Charles Spurgeon, one of the most famous and effective preachers who has ever lived, struggled his entire life with depression. In one sermon titled “The Tenderness of Jesus,” Spurgeon opened with:


This morning, being myself more than usually compassed with infirmities, I desire to speak, as a weak and suffering preacher, of that High Priest who is full of compassion: and my longing is that any who are low in spirit, faint, despondent, and even out of the way, may take heart to approach the Lord Jesus. . . . 

. . . Jesus is touched, not with a feeling of your strength, but of your infirmity. Down here, poor, feeble nothings affect the heart of their great High Priest on high, who is crowned with glory and honor. As the mother feels with the weakness of her babe, so does Jesus feel with the poorest, saddest, and weakest of his chosen.


Now, imagine if Spurgeon had never struggled with depression, or imagine that he lacked the courage to be honest with the rest of the church about his struggle—the church would not have been able to receive the gift of this kind of encouragement. There would be an aspect of the tenderness of Jesus that they would have been blind to. But because Spurgeon was willing to be weak, He pointed the rest of the church to their gentle Savior who could bear them up in their own weakness. Friend, your weakness could be the very thing this church needs to see Jesus in a way that we have been blind to.



Everyone is Honored


But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor 12:24-26)


So far Paul has been talking about how necessary the different parts of the body are, and it might be tempting to assume that what Paul has in mind here is a utilitarian argument: the body will be more effective to accomplish its tasks when each member is functioning properly. If your body is missing its hand or foot, it will be less effective. But this isn’t where Paul lands the plane; he doesn’t make an argument about how the Body will be more effective at making disciples or converting the lost or solving problems of injustice or whatever. He doesn’t end in a utilitarian conclusion, but an emotional and relational one. Why has God composed the Body the way He has? “So that the members may have the same care for one another.” To the degree that, “when one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 


This is the intention behind God’s sovereign composition of the Body; that we be so interwoven relationally that we hurt when one of us hurts, and we rejoice when one of us rejoices. What kind of assumptions is this vision of the Body making about the nature of relationships between the members of the church? It is certainly picturing more than the casual, polite relationships which keep other people at arm’s length except for small talk on Sunday mornings.


So, how can we grow in our efforts of trying to cultivate this kind of culture in our church?


1.     You can pray. Pray regularly that the Lord would help us in our efforts to create the “welcome of Jesus” in our church. Prioritize coming to our Discipleship Classes where we pray for one another. Use our church membership directory to pray through the names of the other people in our church. It is difficult to remain relationally distant from someone you are regularly praying for.


2.     You can practice hospitality. Open up your home to the other members of the church. Go out for lunch after church. Meet regularly for small group. Use our membership directory as a way of finding members of our church that you don’t know very well and have them over for a meal.


3.     Lastly, friends you can simply lean in to this vision of church. As you consider how to spend your time and energy each week, what hobbies you spend your time on, what extracurricular activities you sign your family up for, what you do with your weekends—consider leaning in to the community God has given you in the church. Spend the necessary time to invest relationally in the Body so that we can help cultivate the necessary connections to care for one another, to rejoice with one another, to weep with one another.

Read more
In the Latter Days (Micah 4:1-7)

Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/812736--in-the-latter-days


Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. What stood out to you most from the sermon?
  2. Are we in the "last days"? (see 1 Cor 10:11; Heb 1:2) What does this mean for us as we look at passages like Micah 4:1-7? (The now and not yet)
  3. How is the church like an "embassy of heaven"? (see 2 Cor 5:20)
  4. Of the three characteristics of the "latter days" in Micah 4:1-7 (a place of multiethnic worship, delight in God's law, and peace), what would it look like for you to be an effective "ambassador of Christ"?
  5. What aspect of the "not yet" of Micah 4:1-7 are you looking forward to most?
  6. Why does God invite the lame, afflicted, and outcasts into His Kingdom?


Sermon Manuscript:



Sometimes the Bible speaks as if the Kingdom of God is something that arrives in the future:


Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” – Rev 11:15


Other times, the Bible speaks as if the Kingdom of God arrived when Jesus did:


“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20-21; cf. Mark 1:15)


There is a “now” aspect of the Kingdom that has come with the first coming of Jesus—Jesus has ascended to the Father and is now seated on His heavenly throne, all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matt 28:18-20). But there is a “not yet” aspect of the kingdom; the “kingdom of the world” has not yet fully become the kingdom of God (1 Cor 15:24-26). This tension between the “now” and “not yet” is all over the New Testament. The authors of the Bible will speak about the future “not yet” promises of salvation with such certainty that they “now” impact our lives. We could think of a couple of examples of this outside of the Bible that are familiar to us: when a mayor or governor or president wins an election in November, they still have several months before they are formally inaugurated, they are not yet president or governor or mayor, but their future has been determined. Or when the cowboy walks into the saloon and offends the outlaw and is told, “You’re a dead man walking.” The cowboy, of course, isn’t dead, but the outlaw is so confident about his future that he considers it a settled fact that the cowboy is “dead” already. But, for what we want to consider today, I think IKEA provides the best way to understand this.


There are two kinds of people in the world—those who love walking through IKEA and those who are married to people who love walking through IKEA. That’s it, no alternatives. You either cherish every minute of walking the IKEA labyrinth, or you pick up a smoking habit at the end just to deal with the stress. IKEA is such an interesting place because it isn’t only a furniture store but, as anyone who has been in IKEA knows, it projects itself almost as a kind of lifestyle. Before you get the place where you can actually buy anything you walk through all these showrooms where they have created these mock apartment rooms and patios and kitchens, all furnished and decorated with IKEA’s products. It is inviting you in to imagine: What could my living space look like if I lived the IKEA life? 


But once you pass through these shiny showrooms, you then transition to the less glamorous industrial looking warehouse where you grab these long flat boxes that somehow are going to become a couch when you get home. Then you get home to the even less glamorous event where you open the long flat box and you realize that they have magically packed six-thousand pieces of pressed particle-board into this box with two pages of instructions that have no words on it for assembly. They do give you a phone number or website to visit if you’re stuck, but naturally you ignore that and figure you can do it yourself. (If you don’t put your IKEA furniture together wrongly at first, have you even really experienced IKEA?)


But imagine: it is late at night, you’re hunkered over your pile of particle-boards, muttering to yourself, how odd would then be to say to yourself: This pile of boards looks nothing like the couch I want, or, even if I get this couch together my living room isn’t going to look as cool as the IKEA showroom, I think I’ll just give up. The showroom is supposed to inspire you, to show you what your living room could look like, and the pile of particle-boards will eventually be assembled into the couch. 


In our passage in Micah 4 today we are getting a proverbial walk through the showroom of what the world could be, of what the world one day will be when the Kingdom of God is established in its fullness—but rather than incentivize us to inaction, we will see that Micah 4 serves as a summons for us to labor faithfully to showcase as much of God’s Kingdom now as we wait for its “not yet” arrival.


It shall come to pass in the latter days

that the mountain of the house of the LORD

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and it shall be lifted up above the hills;

and peoples shall flow to it,

2 and many nations shall come, and say:

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

to the house of the God of Jacob,

that he may teach us his ways

and that we may walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go forth the law,

and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

3 He shall judge between many peoples,

and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war anymore;

4 but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,

and no one shall make them afraid,

for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.

5 For all the peoples walk

each in the name of its god,

but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God

forever and ever.

In that day, declares the LORD,

6 I will assemble the lame

and gather those who have been driven away

and those whom I have afflicted;

7 and the lame I will make the remnant,

and those who were cast off, a strong nation;

and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion

from this time forth and forevermore.

-       Micah 4:1-7


Last Days / The Messiah Days / Now and Not Yet

What the World Could Be

Who is Invited?


What are the last days?


Last week we concluded with the harrowing words of Micah 3:12, a bleak promise of judgment: 


“Therefore because of you

Zion shall be plowed as a field;

Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,

and the mountain of the house a wooded height.” Micah 3:12


Micah has been detailing the sins of Israel at a time where they had grown complacent with their idolatry and indifferent towards injustice—but all the while they are confident that they will be spared, claiming: “Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us,” (Micah 3:11). So Micah prophesies that unless repentance happens, Jerusalem will be “plowed as a field” and left as a “heap of ruins,” and most alarmingly, the centerpiece of Israel’s worship, the temple, is going to be destroyed and transformed into a wooded desolation. The temple was where God’s presence dwelt with Israel, it was how they communed with God, how they worshipped. And it was likely the temple that the wicked leaders pointed to when claiming, “Is not the Lord in the midst of us?” So God says: You think because this temple is here you will be spared from judgment? Fine, I will destroy this temple.


But Micah then pivots and casts a prophetic vision even further into the future, beyond the desolation of the temple and explains:


It shall come to pass in the latter days

that the mountain of the house of the LORD

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and it shall be lifted up above the hills;

and peoples shall flow to it,

-       Micah 4:1

-       

So what does Micah mean by this phrase “the latter days” or “the last days”? “By the time of Micah this phrase had become a technical term for the age in which God’s kingdom would break into the historical realm and eventually end it (cf. Isa 2:2-4; Jer. 48:47; 49:39; Dan. 10:14; Hos. 3:5),” (Dempster, ESVEC). What is God’s Kingdom? It is where God rules. Humanity threw off God’s rule over them when Adam and Eve rebelled. As God has sought to still maintain a relationship with His people after the Fall, there is some aspect in which He still rules over them, but nevertheless sin still persists in our fallen world. So, the “latter days” are the days in which sin is decisively dealt with so that God may rule and reign unhindered. Micah (and the other prophets) look forward to that day when everything that opposes God will be dealt with and God’s rule will march on without opposition—that is what comes in “the latter days.” 


This is what Jesus understands His arrival to usher in: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,’ (Mark 1:14-15). The author of Hebrews explains that it is, “in these last days [that God] has spoken to us by his Son,” (Heb 1:2) before later explaining that Jesus, “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself,” (Heb 9:26). I know that often when we hear “the last days” in the Bible, we immediately assume that it refers to the final years or moments before the destruction of the world, but according to the Bible that last days arrived with the coming of Jesus. So we have been in “the last days” for about two-thousand years. But when Micah speaks of these “last days” he looks into the future and simply sees all of it being fulfilled when Jesus arrives. What Micah doesn’t see is the gap of time between Jesus’ first coming and second coming, the “now” and “not yet.”


So, there are aspects of the “last days” in Micah 4 that we see fulfilled “now” and there are aspects that are “not yet.” For instance, when Micah explains that:


It shall come to pass in the latter days

that the mountain of the house of the LORD

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and it shall be lifted up above the hills;

and peoples shall flow to it, (Micah 4:1)


Micah is envisioning that after the temple is destroyed (Micah 3:12), the temple will be raised again; the mountaintop that the temple rests on will grow to this immense height and it functions almost like a magnet, causing peoples to “flow” (literally: “river”) up to it—if a river is flowing uphill that means something is drawing it. And it is not simply the people of Israel who are being drawn in, but all nations, all peoples. Jesus taught His disciples that His body was the true temple—where God dwells with man (John 1:14)—and explains that after the temple (His body) is destroyed, it will be raised again (John 2:119-22). Right before Jesus is betrayed and is about to be handed over to be crucified, He is told that some Greeks want to come speak to Him, and Jesus immediately explains that now is the time when He will be delivered over to die (John 12:20-26). He then explains, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” (John 12:32). 


Jesus is the temple that when raised up draws all peoples to Himself, all nations flow to Jesus. After Jesus’ resurrection, He sends His disciples out to the world to proclaim the gospel and invites all people to become a part of His Kingdom. That is happening right now. But, one day, there will be a time where individuals from every tribe, tongue, and nation are gathered around Jesus’ throne worshipping Him (Rev 5:9-10), one day the Great Commission will be completed, one day all people will bow their knee and confess that Jesus is Lord. That has not yet happened. 


So as we read this description of what the “latter days” are like, we will find aspects that are fulfilled for us now, and some that are not yet. But even the “not yet” aspects are not given to us without reason. Like the showroom at IKEA, these final fulfillments provide for us a picture of what the world is supposed to look like, what the world will be when “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,” (Rev 11:15). But Paul describes Christians as “ambassadors of Christ” (2 Cor 5:20; Eph 6:20). What is an ambassador? An ambassador is an individual of a foreign kingdom living in another kingdom as an official representative. The church is the embassy of heaven representing the Kingdom of God here on earth, providing a picture of what the heavenly Kingdom is like. So as we read descriptions of what the climactic consummation of the Kingdom of God is to look like, it is not merely a way to make us hopeful for the future (though it does!), but provides also a picture for how we are to conduct ourselves now as ambassadors of that kingdom.


What the World is Coming To


Multiethnic Worship of King Jesus


It shall come to pass in the latter days

that the mountain of the house of the LORD

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and it shall be lifted up above the hills;

and peoples shall flow to it,

2 and many nations shall come, and say:

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

to the house of the God of Jacob,

-       Micah 4:1-2a


Like iron filings are drawn to a magnet, so too will many peoples from many nations come to worship God. The “mountain of the LORD” is a euphemism for the temple, the place where God dwells, which we know is God the Son, Jesus Christ. More than that, we are told that when we put our faith in Jesus, when we become His disciples, then we become a part of His body, and so we now actually become the temple of God. This is true for us as individuals filled with the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), and for us communally as the church (Eph 2:11-22; 1 Pet 2:5). So, as Jesus, the true temple, is lifted up He draws people to Himself and when they come to Him, they are incorporated into His body, and become a part of the temple themselves. And this is available to all kinds of people.


He shall judge between many peoples,

and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;

-       Micah 4:3a


King Jesus rules and reigns over every nation—even strong nations, which I take to mean nations that do not appear like they would easily submit to Jesus. It may be tempting to think that weaker, impoverished nations would more easily see their need and so respond to Jesus. But even over wealthy, affluent, or cold, hard-hearted nations, Jesus will rule.


So, this tells us that one day we shall see every nation, every race, every ethnicity represented around the throne. There is no people group excluded. But this also informs us now—our church as a heavenly embassy should be a place where we do not overtly or subtly exclude anyone or make it appear as if God’s Kingdom is only for one kind of people group. This also means that we should take seriously the task to carry the gospel forward to the nations. And we today have a unique opportunity that we live at a place in the world that has the nations streaming into us—regardless of what your views on immigration is, friend, we cannot miss the profound opportunity we have now with a large immigrant population coming to our community. If King Jesus is will one day rule over every nation, that means that within each community there are those whom Jesus has already paid for, already chosen. 


A Place that Delights in God’s Law


“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

to the house of the God of Jacob,

that he may teach us his ways

and that we may walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go forth the law,

and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

-       Micah 4:2b


When people are drawn in to Jesus, they are drawn in to a love for His Word, for His Law. One day, the world will be marked by a fascination and delight in God’s Law. Maybe you feel discouraged about how often God’s Law is disparaged in the wider world. Don’t be intimidated by the “wrong side of history” argument—the only side of history we want to be on is the side that matters for eternity, and here we see that eternity looks like every nation and every people group saying: “God’s ways are so wise.” Or maybe you feel discouraged because there are parts of your heart that struggle to delight in God’s Word or find certain parts of God’s Word personally troubling. There are many things we need to do in light of that, but all I want you to consider now is that in the fullness of the Kingdom, your heart will be thrilled with God’s commands. 


So now, what does our church do? We teach His ways. We walk in His paths. We obey His law and listen to His Word. So we read our Bibles regularly, we prioritize attending church to hear God’s Word taught.


A Place of Peace


He shall judge between many peoples,

and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war anymore;

4 but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,

and no one shall make them afraid,

for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.

-       Micah 4:3-4


Jesus will rule over the nations, He is the one who decides disputes, so there will be no reason for war. People will turn their weapons used to shed blood and transform them into farming tools used to cultivate life. Every person shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, a picture of abundant provision for all—every person has their own source of food. The farming imagery here should make us think of the Garden of Eden, where Adam was created to work as a gardener, working and tending to the ground to cultivate life (Gen 2:15). The New Creation will restore what was lost. Further, this will be a place where no one is afraid of anything; no panic attacks, no fear of missing out, no terminal diagnosis, no fear of being exposed as fake, nothing.


Now, Jesus promises blessing to those who cultivate peace, not strife, not violence, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” (Matt 5:9). Anger, violence, condescension, and division—these are hallmarks of the world, not of the Church. While we live in a fallen world that has so many things to fear, we know that with Jesus we have nothing to fear. Consider, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:15). 


Who is Invited?


In that day, declares the LORD,

I will assemble the lame

and gather those who have been driven away

and those whom I have afflicted;

7 and the lame I will make the remnant,

and those who were cast off, a strong nation;

and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion

from this time forth and forevermore.

-       Micah 4:6-7


Who is invited to this incredible new world that God is building? Who does Jesus turn to? The lame, the sinners, the afflicted. Here’s how Jesus explains it, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Matt 11:28. That doesn’t say, “Come to me, all who succeed and are impressive, and I will give you rest,” nor, “Come to me, all who are beautiful and have nothing to be ashamed of, and I will give you rest.” What must you be too come to Jesus? Weary. Burdened. In need of rest. 


If we come to God and admit our need, we will find rest, we will find welcome into the new world that God is creating. 


Why does God do it that way? Why is it the weak, the afflicted, the lame, and the cast out that respond to Him?


Let’s say a very wealthy friend of yours says, “Hey, let’s get dinner sometime! I know of a great restaurant.” This friend is a good, dear friend; time with Him feels like you can really be yourself, let your guard down—there is no awkward silences or tense moments where you scramble for something to say. You love spending time with Him. But, you look up the restaurant and realize that this is not a place that you can even come close to affording—not even your credit cards would cover a meal. You aren’t even sure you own clothes nice enough to just walk into the restaurant, let alone actually order something. 


The poorer you are, the easier it will be for you to tell your friend, “I’m sorry, there’s just no way I could swing that.” But the richer you are, the more embarrassing and difficult that will be—you aren’t used to being put in this position, you aren’t used to having to admit you can’t afford something. Even when your friend slaps you on the back and says, “I’m paying, it’s my treat!” the wealthier you are, the more you will still be left scheming and plotting how you can pay for your own meal so you save face, or how you can just decline the offer entirely.


The world that Jesus is constructing is not a world we would ever qualify to be a part of, but Jesus has paid our fare. And it is those who are willing to admit that “nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling” who will be willing to accept this free offer. But if we consider ourselves impressive, decent, upstanding citizens who don’t need to rely on someone else’s charity, don’t need to be forgiven, don’t need help—well, then we will be left outside, unable to share in the heavenly banquet.


Friend, Jesus’ death and resurrection are sufficient payment for you, trust Him with your sin, seek Him and find forgiveness. The new world He is creating is not one we would ever be worthy of participating in on our own merits—but Jesus’ merit is enough for you, for me, for us all.

Read more
Abusive Authorities Judged (Micah 3)

Sermon Audio: https://qbc.org/sermons/809170--abusive-authorities-judged


Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. If you were to take one thing from the sermon and apply it to your life, what would it be?
  2. How would you define justice? Read Job 29:12-17. Do you tend to assume justice is primarily retributive (punishing wrong doing) or restorative (creating a fair society where the weakest are cared for)? How does Job 29:12-17 show both of those?
  3. Read Micah 3:1. What does godly authority look like? (see 2 Sam 23:3-4)
  4. Why does Micah use such alarming and revolting language to describe what the wicked leaders are doing?
  5. Read Micah 3:9-11. What was primarily motivating the judges, prophets, and priests? Read 1 Tim 6:6-10, then read 1 Tim 6:17-19. What are these verses telling us and what does it look like in your life to apply them?
  6. "Jesus did not only come to be an example of social justice, but to satisfy divine justice." What does that mean?


Sermon Manuscript:


Our church has been studying the book of Micah, a book about a prophet who has sought to expose idolatry and injustice. What we are seeing in this book is that God has not designed humanity to take advantage of one another, we are intended to use our power, wealth, status as a means of caring for one another, not as a means of exploitation. 


And yet, isn’t that what we see all the time? Lord Acton tells us that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We see this in politicians, celebrities, the wealthy—anyone who has been given an outsized amount of influence and power in society. This can look like these people becoming rude and arrogant, or it can lead them to believe that the normal rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to them. A few years ago a professor from UC Berkley conducted a study on how power affects the brain. Interestingly, the research indicated that those in positions of power suffered greatly: “Subjects under the influence of power, he found in studies spanning two decades, acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view…And when he put the heads of the powerful and the not-so-powerful under a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation machine, he found that power, in fact, impairs a specific neural process, “mirroring,” that may be a cornerstone of empathy.”


(source: https://www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/528711/?__twitter_impression=true)


One individual who is at the center of much attention now for her abuse of power is described as such: “Her ambition was voracious and it brooked no interference. If there was collateral damage on her way to riches and fame, so be it.” (Bad Blood, John Carreyrou)


How does that happen? How do people get there? In our text in Micah we are going to read of people who have risen to places of power and influence, much like Holmes did, but unlike Holmes they did all of this while claiming to represent God. And this makes their abuse of authority far more wretched, far more sinister, and thus attracts God’s anger in a unique way.


1 And I said:

Hear, you heads of Jacob

and rulers of the house of Israel!

Is it not for you to know justice?—

2 you who hate the good and love the evil,

who tear the skin from off my people

and their flesh from off their bones,

3 who eat the flesh of my people,

and flay their skin from off them,

and break their bones in pieces

and chop them up like meat in a pot,

like flesh in a cauldron.

4 Then they will cry to the LORD,

but he will not answer them;

he will hide his face from them at that time,

because they have made their deeds evil.

5 Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets

who lead my people astray,

who cry “Peace”

when they have something to eat,

but declare war against him

who puts nothing into their mouths.

6 Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,

and darkness to you, without divination.

The sun shall go down on the prophets,

and the day shall be black over them;

7 the seers shall be disgraced,

and the diviners put to shame;

they shall all cover their lips,

for there is no answer from God.

8 But as for me, I am filled with power,

with the Spirit of the LORD,

and with justice and might,

to declare to Jacob his transgression

and to Israel his sin.

9 Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob

and rulers of the house of Israel,

who detest justice

and make crooked all that is straight,

10 who build Zion with blood

and Jerusalem with iniquity.

11 Its heads give judgment for a bribe;

its priests teach for a price;

its prophets practice divination for money;

yet they lean on the LORD and say,

“Is not the LORD in the midst of us?

No disaster shall come upon us.”

12 Therefore because of you

Zion shall be plowed as a field;

Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,

and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

-       Micah 3:1-2


What Authority is For


Notice who Micah has addressed in this chapter: heads, rulers, prophets, and priests. Micah is primarily aiming his prophetic denouncements at leaders, not at the average person. Why is that? One answer can be found in the first verse:


And I said:

Hear, you heads of Jacob

and rulers of the house of Israel!

Is it not for you to know justice?

-       Micah 3:1


It was a leader’s responsibility to “know justice.” Which requires us to ask ourselves, what is justice? A simple understanding of justice could be, “Justice is giving to someone what is due them.” Injustice, thus, is depriving someone of what is due them. Thus, a just society is a society where all persons are receiving what is due them and there are no barriers or systems put in place that deprive them of those rights. But this, of course, requires us to ask: “Who determines what each person is due? What is the basis of our rights?” Western people tend to assume that their definition of “human rights” is universal and thus obvious to all. So, when people call for justice or want to expose a human right’s violation, they don’t worry about defining what their basis for justice is. But if you read broadly enough (or read history) you’ll quickly find out that the definition of “what one is due” differs greatly from culture to culture. So it’s obvious to many Western people today that women should have the same access to education as men do, but that isn’t obvious to many cultures in the Middle-East. 


We need a standard that defines for us what justice is, what “good” and “evil” is, what a person is due. Otherwise, we will all be left to our own cultural standards and ignorant of our blind spots. This is why in the Bible we see that justice is given through revelation. God reveals what the standard of justice is. We are not left to speculate, but God sets down explicitly what each person is due, how they should be treated, through His Law given to Israel through Moses. If justice is “giving someone what is their due” then the Bible explains that because all human beings are made in God’s image they are give basic rights of protection, respect, and fairness. Anything that treats another human as if they don’t bear God’s image is then injustice.


Most interestingly, of the 400 occurrences of “justice” in the Old Testament, the overwhelming majority have to do with care for the most vulnerable in society: the widow, the orphan, the physically disabled, the immigrant, and the poor. Here is a short poem from the book of Job, meant to describe Job’s own just and righteous life:


I delivered the poor who cried for help,

and the fatherless who had none to help him.

13 The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me,

and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.

14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;

my justice was like a robe and a turban.

15 I was eyes to the blind

and feet to the lame.

16 I was a father to the needy,

and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know.

17 I broke the fangs of the unrighteous

and made him drop his prey from his teeth.

-       Job 29:12-17


What happens when Job is clothed in justice and righteousness? He helps the poor and the fatherless, the vulnerable, the widow, the blind, the lame, a father to the needy, even helping those he does not know, and breaks the fangs of the unrighteous so that they would stop preying upon the weak. Why does Job do this? Because this is what God does (see Ps 146:7-9). This is how God has defined justice. This isn’t because God necessarily understands the poor and downtrodden to be inherently more righteous than the wealthy and powerful—rather, it is simply that the poor and downtrodden are more likely to be victimized and taken advantage of. 


And it is the role of the leaders to know God’s standard and to embody it.


Friends, this is one of the purposes of authority. Despite seeing many examples of authority being abused in life, we know that God has designed authority to be a gift for humanity, a way for societies to flourish. King David’s final words recorded in 2 Samuel tell us, “When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth,” (2 Sam 23:3-4). When one rules according to justice people flourish. 


What Wrong Authority Looks Like


If one of God’s purposes for putting people into places of authority is to uphold justice, then the leaders Micah calls out in this chapter are the exact photo-negative of that end. Rather than upholding justice these leaders, according to verse 2, “hate the good and love the evil.” These leaders not only fail to do good, they hate it. They don’t stumble into evil, they love it (cf. John 3:19; 2 Thess 2:10-12). Later at verse 9 Micah is going to explain that these leaders “detest justice.” The word for detest comes from the same root word in Hebrew that abomination comes from; these leaders don’t simply disagree with God’s vision of justice, they find it repulsive; God’s standard makes their stomach turn. A close contemporary example of this would have been the posture of ardent segregationists in the American South when swimming pools were forced to be integrated by the civil rights laws. Many communities in the south decided to just fill their public swimming pools in with cement, because the thought of white children swimming in the same pool with black children was unthinkable to them.


Israel’s leaders had gotten to a point where they found God’s law, His vision of justice morally repulsive, so Micah decides to describe what they are doing in an equally repulsive and embarrassing manner. Here is what these leaders do:


you who hate the good and love the evil,

who tear the skin from off my people

and their flesh from off their bones,

3 who eat the flesh of my people,

and flay their skin from off them,

and break their bones in pieces

and chop them up like meat in a pot,

like flesh in a cauldron.

-       Micah 3:2-3


This is one of the most graphic and disturbing sections in all the prophets—the leaders are described like savage animals, feasting on the people. This obviously is intended to be a metaphor—from what we now, Israel wasn’t practicing cannibalism. Rather, Micah is showing that the ways these leaders are exploiting the people is akin to devouring them, treating the people as nothing more than hunks of meat who are there to satiate their appetites. 


This crude image is carried on when Micah turns to the prophets and describes what they do:


Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets

who lead my people astray,

who cry “Peace”

when they have something to eat,

but declare war against him

who puts nothing into their mouths.

-       Micah 3:5


The false prophets and leaders here are described like mafia dons—rapacious and insatiable with no interest in anything other than what will satisfy their cravings. These prophets will prophesy declarations of peace and prosperity over you…so long as you keep them fed. As one commentator writes, “What comes out of these prophet’s mouths depends on what goes into them.” (Wolff)


What God is trying to do here is to puncture pretensions. Sometimes when we look at those in positions of power--those who are railing against God’s Law, who hate what God loves and love what God hates—though we disagree with them, there can still be something that draws us in aesthetically to these people. These are the people on the inner-circle, these are the elites, the sophisticated few who have access to the levers of power. So, while our mind tells us that we know they are wrong, our hearts can still become envious of them. We want influence like they have, comfort like they have, recognition like they have. But here God is trying to pull the curtain back in the glittering façade. Behind the veil of power, we find something repulsive, something shameful. These are cannibalistic monsters who are slaves to their passions. These are not people to envy or to secretly pine after.


Finally, Micah summarizes the whole elite class as follows:


Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob

and rulers of the house of Israel,

who detest justice

and make crooked all that is straight,

10 who build Zion with blood

and Jerusalem with iniquity.

11 Its heads give judgment for a bribe;

its priests teach for a price;

its prophets practice divination for money;

yet they lean on the LORD and say,

“Is not the LORD in the midst of us?

No disaster shall come upon us.”

-       Micah 3:9-11


Finally we get down to the nub of the issue and Micah’s poetic imagery wafts away and the core of what is motivating the rulers, the prophets, and the priests comes into sharp focus. They love money. So judges will take bribes and deprive people of justice; priests will be motivated to teach in such a way to ensure they get the most financial support; and prophets “practice divination”—that isn’t what Israel’s prophets do, that is what pagans do—but the way the prophets have conducted themselves in their work leads God to describe them like crystal ball readers. 


I seriously doubt any of the leaders addressed here when they were younger thought: You know what, I think I want to pervert justice; I think I want to become a false prophet so I can be rich. And I seriously doubt anyone in this room is thinking: I want to become dishonest and cruel so I can have more money. That isn’t how greed works. It works millimeter by millimeter. Maybe a prophet’s family was in a really tight bind, maybe he had a child who was sick, and along came an individual who offered him a generous donation and hinted at how nice it would be if he could show up at his business sometime to share some encouraging words. Maybe he thought just this once. But then it happened again. And again. And again. Now his family relies on this extra source of revenue. 


Money is a powerful thing, friends. Jesus tells us that money is almost like a curse, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” (Mark 10:25). Or consider Paul’s warning to Timothy, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs,” (1 Tim 6:9-10). Do you desire to be rich? That’s what the leaders in Micah’s day desired and it led to their total and complete ruin.


How do we keep ourselves from becoming controlled by money? There are many things we can do, but one simple one is to be very generous with it. But realize that the more money you have, the harder it will be for you to be generous. A survey done in 2018 found that those making 20,000 a year were eight times more likely to be regularly giving to their church than those making 75,000 or more. So, for most churches you have the poorest members of the church caring more of the financial burden than the wealthy members, while the wealthy use their money for their own comforts. That is not just. 


How God Responds


Amazingly, through all of this they still have the audacity to claim: “Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.” Despite ignoring God, finding His laws to be detestable, and His requirements outdated, these leaders still think: We don’t need to worry about anything, God is on our side! You can be very confident about your spiritual state, and be very wrong.


Micah is here to proclaim the opposite to them. They are not okay, they are not secure. Micah pronounces a series of increasingly dire judgments on the people. 


First, in verse four he explains that God is going to stop answer their prayers. Then in verses six through seven God is going to cast the prophets into darkness and stop speaking with them. Which taken together provide a picture of God simply stepping away from Israel. They have been living like they don’t want God in their life, so God agrees and leaves them to themselves. But that isn’t all God does. God is a just God and He cannot stand back and let the vulnerable be preyed upon without judgment. So He concludes:


Therefore because of you

Zion shall be plowed as a field;

Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,

and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

-       Micah 3:12


Zion (another name for Jerusalem) is going to become like a plowed field, cut open by the blade of a plowshare. Jerusalem, the sparkling city, shall become nothing but a heap of ruins. And most tragically, the “mountain of the house,” that is the hill which the temple rests on, the place where Jews can go to worship God, is going to become a “wooded height.” It is going to be abandoned and desolate for so long that trees, not weeds, not brambles, but trees are going to grow over everything. That is a picture of total and complete desolation.


Interestingly, one hundred years later when the prophet Jeremiah was alive we get to read about how the people of Israel responded to this message. Jeremiah, also a prophet who spoke a very similar message that Micah prophesied, had been arrested after prophesying Jerusalem’s destruction and was about to be executed for it by the wicked authorities of his day. But someone speaks up to defend Jeremiah and explains”


“Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts,

“‘Zion shall be plowed as a field;

Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,

and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’

Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the LORD and entreat the favor of the LORD, and did not the LORD relent of the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster upon ourselves.” – Jeremiah 26:18-19


Jeremiah is then spared from being put to death. But this gives us a window into how people responded to Micah’s message in chapter 3. They listened to Micah! They heard, they repented and God relented of the disaster. Despite momentarily the people turning a deaf ear to Micah’s words, they eventually turn and repent. Which is an encouraging reminder for us all: we shouldn’t be too quick to judge whether or not God’s Word has been effective.


This was the ministry that God had given Micah, to declare His word to Israel so they might turn and repent. Micah, in contrasting himself with the false prophets of his day explains:


But as for me, I am filled with power,

with the Spirit of the LORD,

and with justice and might,

to declare to Jacob his transgression

and to Israel his sin.

-       Micah 3:8


Micah has been filled with the powerful Spirit of the Lord and with justice so that he might declare to Israel his sin. God wants to contrast the injustice of Israel with the justice being embodied by Micah, He wants to expose their sin. But friends, the result we see in Jeremiah should encourage us: God wants to expose our sin—not so that he may shame us, but so that he can lead us to repentance, to heal us. God doesn’t want you to continue to hide in your sin, friend. He wants you to walk in the light. 


This was Micah’s ministry that came from the “Spirit of the Lord”, a phrase used to describe the prophetic activity of other prophets as they gave vent to God’s Word given to them by God’s Spirit (cf. Isa 61:1). Micah’s Spirit empowered ministry fills him with justice and strength. It is this same title that Jesus takes for Himself:


“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

-       Luke 4:18-19


Notice how similar this sounds to Job’s description of justice? Jesus has been filled with justice, which is why one need only look at how Jesus lived His life to get a perfect snapshot of what justice looks like. His life, His teachings, His healings, His miracles all showed what a person should do who desires to live justly and uprightly. He held the powerful accountable and rebuked those who used their power and influence to exploit others. He turned a special eye to care for the downtrodden, the outcast, and the weak. There is no greater example of what justice is than Jesus’ life.


But, that being said, Jesus wasn’t merely an example of social justice. If all Jesus was for us was an enlightened example of how to live, how to be just, as helpful as that may be, it ultimately will not solve our biggest problem. Our problem is not that we lack good examples, our problem is that despite having good problems, we still do what is wrong. And this is why Jesus came—not just to provide an example of human justice, but to also satisfy divine justice. All of our sins are not merely against other people, but ultimately against God. We have deprived God of His rights as our Maker and Creator. We have not lived as we ought to and God’s justice demands that wrong be righted. But God’s justice, shot through with mercy and love, is satisfied by God Himself. Jesus dies in order to take our deepest and most terrifying of punishments—our eternal consequence for our sins. 


And surprisingly, when we receive the grace and mercy available in Jesus Christ, when we receive the forgiveness of all of our sins, rather than making us indifferent towards matters of injustice, it makes us more just. Because now as we turn towards the downtrodden, the poor, the vulnerable, we realize that we were weak, downtrodden, vulnerable, poor in the eyes of God, and yet He helped us. So out of the overflow of that love we have received, we give it to others and we do it without a sense of smug self-superiority, but a humble awareness of our own need. And as we interact with wrongdoers, those who are perpetrating acts of injustice, we don’t do so from a sense of self-righteousness (I would never do such a thing!)—that isn’t the basis of why we are outraged. We seek to correct wrongs and bring about just retributions because we have seen that our God cares about justice so much that He was willing to die Himself to uphold justice’s righteous demands. Wrongdoing cannot go unpunished. But because Jesus took our punishment for us, that means that as we correct injustice we always have an open heart towards the wrongdoer, welcoming them in if they will repent of their sins and turn to Jesus.

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