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The Advance of the Gospel (Phil 1:12-18)

Sermon Audio: The Advance of the Gospel (Phil 1:12-18)

Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Phil 1:12-18 together. What stood out to you from the sermon the most?
  2. As you read Phil 1:12-18, what are the hardships that Paul is facing here? What are the things that Paul is grateful for? If you were in Paul's shoes, what would your reaction be?
  3. "God has sovereignly ordained that His gospel will advance, that His church will be built, and the gates of Hell shall not overcome it." (See Romans 8:28 and Matthew 16:18). What does that truth have to do with Phil 1:12-18?
  4. How is Christian courage contagious? Can you think of an example of this that you have seen?
  5. Is there any area in your life where God is currently calling you to display courage?
  6. What had the opponents in Phil 1:15-17 misunderstood about the purpose of ministry/preaching?
  7. How was Paul able to rejoice in Phil 1:18? Read 1 Cor 4:3-4 and Gal 1:10.

Sermon Manuscript:

Optimists are people who tend to look on the bright side, notice that the glass is half full, make lemonade when given lemons. They are positive and uplifting. Pessimists tend to be gloomy, noticing that the glass is half empty, always ready to poke holes in what looks like a good plan. The worst case scenario is always the most likely scenario; the thing we dread is likely going to happen; getting our hopes up only leads to being disappointed. Optimists and pessimists are polar opposites, Tigger and Eeyore; entirely different creatures with entirely different perspectives on life. (And, for some reason, almost always they wind up marrying each other).

No one likes being called an optimist or a pessimist. The terms imply that you don’t see reality rightly—you either are blind to the negative or positive aspects of life. Everything you say must be qualified with your dour or naïve perspective. Yes, but you’re an incurable optimist, or, you’re just saying that because you’re a pessimist. The implication of both of those sentences is: we cannot trust what you say to be an accurate rendering of reality. Christians, arguably, have good reason for being either optimists or pessimists. We believe in the doctrine of total depravity and original sin, thus seem to have good reason to have a fairly negative outlook on life, but we also believe in an overcoming Savior and a sovereign God who is returning to establish His kingdom in its fullness, so we have a pretty good reason to be optimistic.

Was Paul an optimist? At one point Paul explains: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed,” 2 Cor 4:8-9. Notice the duality in what he says. He acknowledges his great suffering, yet maintains that he is not abandoned to despair—it is neither optimism or pessimism per se. In fact, just one verse earlier he states, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us,” 2 Cor 4:7. The treasure there is the gospel, and he thinks of himself as a fragile jar of clay—easily broken. But the cracks only let the light of the treasure shine out more clearly. There are things that make Paul sad, yet he always finds reason to rejoice (2 Cor 6:10).

In our text today Paul is going to detail a set of circumstances that are incredibly frustrating and limiting, but will resound with Paul’s confidence that God is always on his side.

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. – Phil 1:12-18

-       Paul most certainly was not a pessimist. Is Paul an optimist?

o   Paul is a man who believes in a sovereign God who especially uses what we wouldn’t expect to accomplish His good purposes.

§  For instance: our suffering/weakness

§  “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 12:10

§  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

§  “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matt 16:18

o   God has sovereignly ordained that His gospel will advance, regardless of what man may do to stop it. This should make us very bold. This should make us humble.


“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” – Phil 1:12-13

What has happened to Paul? We know from the end of the book of Acts that Paul was imprisoned in Rome because of his ministry, and this is likely where he is writing this letter (note: the “imperial” guard, a Roman “praetorian” guard; most likely found in Rome). His ministry had led him to face persecution often. In his farewell address to the elders at the church in Ephesus he explains to them:

“…the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God,” Acts 20:23-24

So, the Holy Spirit had specifically informed Paul that in whatever city he would be travelling to, there he would face persecution. Which is a pretty alarming reality. If you or I were travelling missionaries and were informed that the next city we intended to visit had hostiles present, intent on hurting us and throwing us in prison, my guess is that most of us would likely skip that city? Or if we were to go into that city and be promptly thrown in jail, we would likely consider that a dramatic set back. But Paul has a different set of goalposts than we do. He does not count his life of any value or precious at all. The only thing that matters to him is that he finishes his race, that he testifies to the gospel of the grace of God. 

And Paul wants the Philippians to know that his imprisonment has actually served as a means of advancing the gospel because it has now became known “throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ,” (1:13). Paul is a travelling missionary, so one would think that preventing him from travelling would put an end to his missionary work, only it hasn’t. It has led to Paul spreading the gospel among his jailers, among the guards, spreading to “all the rest.” Remember: Paul is confident that there is a sovereign God who has willed that His gospel will advance, that His church will be built, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it, so Paul is just unyieldingly confident. And his confidence and boldness in the face of trials has a salutary effect on those around him:

“And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear,” Phil 1:14.

This is a counter-intuitive truth to consider: Paul is saying that the Christians around him who have observed his imprisonment, seen what it has cost Paul to be obedient to Christ, are now becoming more confident and less fearful to follow his example. That seems like the opposite of what should happen, right? That is the intended societal effect of imprisonment and punishments—it disincentivizes the rest of society from participating in that act. But, it leads the rest of the followers of Jesus around Paul to become more confident, more fearless. Examples of Christian courage are contagious. 

Many of you know that recently Adam Diaz from Abide Church and myself gave a lecture to the faculty CBC regarding a Christian perspective on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Adam is also a professor at CBC, so he brought me in to give the lecture, and we together taught different sections of the lecture. While we said nothing in the lecture that was inflammatory and conducted ourselves throughout the lecture and the Q&A time with gentleness, the response from the faculty was fairly negative. To a smaller degree, some of the people in the Q&A time were rude to us, but more importantly both beforehand and afterwards there have been individuals who have responded by threatening lawsuits, by filing formal complaints with the college for allowing us to give the talk, filing formal complaints with accreditation board over the college, and other formal actions to make sure that nothing like this happens again. Adam, of course, is putting his job on the line by doing this. After the lecture and Q&A time, Adam and I were walking back to his office debriefing what happened. We were frankly discouraged at the reception and interaction with the faculty, but we felt a simultaneous hope that perhaps other Christians at the school would now feel emboldened to be more confident in sticking to their convictions, but also a fear that maybe those same Christians felt even more intimidated by seeing how we were treated for our modest push against the current culture.

But Paul gives us a helpful perspective: Christian courage is contagious. Note: I am not pretending to hold up what I did as a great act of courage. It was really Adam who was the courageous one of the two of us because he is legitimately putting his job in jeopardy. But still, when we compare that level of opposition compared with what Paul faced himself, what our brothers and sisters are facing today in closed countries like China and Afghanistan and Iran, it just doesn’t compare. But, what I am saying is that the path of the Christian life is a path where we should regularly expect resistance and difficulty. Paul later in Philippians is going to remind us that, “…it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,” (Phil 1:29). Jesus taught, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” (Matt 5:11-12). 

It’s a feature of the Christian life, not a bug. And when other real Christians see someone model courage it awakens something inside of them that says, Yes, I should be willing to lay it down on the line like that. There will be plenty of false believers who, when push comes to shove, will choose their own security and comfort over Jesus. But those who have God’s Spirit dwelling in them will see and will be emboldened, will be less gripped by fear to declare God’s Word.

Friend, I wonder where Christ is calling you to be bold today? Perhaps in your workplace? Perhaps with your neighbor? Is there something that world is requiring you to buckle on that compromises the truth of the gospel? Maybe in your friend group there is a culture where it is normal to make racist or crude jokes and you know that if you take a stand against it, everyone will think you to be a spoil-sport, maybe even assume you think you’re better than them. Maybe you have been asked to sign a document at work that says that you will affirm and approve any and all sexual and gender identities in the workplace, and you know if you refuse to sign it at worst you could lose your job and at best you will be seen as a benighted fundamentalist who is motivated by hatred. 

Maybe you are fearful to stand for Christ because you think that you will be less effective, less influential if you “out” yourself as a Christian at work, or maybe even put your job in jeopardy. Consider this: God has sovereignly ordained that His gospel will advance, His church will be built, and even when His path leads you into a place that you cannot understand, that you can’t see how it leads to more gospel-advancement, you can trust that God knows better than you do, so you stay the course. 


Paul’s understanding that God’s sovereign purpose to advance the gospel doesn’t only make him bold and others bold, it paradoxically also makes him humble.

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice,” Phil 1:15-18.

There is a group of preachers laboring in the world alongside Paul—these are the people who have been emboldened by Paul’s model in vs. 14. But there is a mixture of motivations behind these preachers. Some are motivated by a sincere love of God and of Paul. They know that Paul was put in jail for defending the gospel, so they are going to carry the torch. Others, however, are motivated by “rivalry and envy.” They preach Christ out of “selfish ambition, not sincerely.” They actually are hoping to hurt Paul while he is in jail! How does that work? It could mean that these individuals are hoping that by spreading the gospel more, Paul’s punishment will become more severe—the guards will take it out on Paul in anger that the gospel is still being proclaimed. John Calvin in commenting on this passage says that he personally knows of men in his own time who do something like this—preaching the gospel only to afflict pious pastors. However, it seems more likely that these men, being motivated by “rivalry and envy…and selfish ambition” are more interested in growing their own platform at the expense of Paul. They have begun to think that ministry is a competition and now that Paul is in jail, now they have their shot to stand in the spotlight. And they are hoping, at least Paul assumes, that Paul knows he isn’t in the big times anymore, that he has been surpassed by these “super” preachers (cf. 2 Cor 11:5). 

The work of a preacher can be a tempting environment for selfish ambition, for vanity, for conceit. Being put up on a platform and teaching others from a position of authority can be a strong drug that inebriates the preacher into thinking that he must be something special. But as soon as a preacher makes the proclamation of the gospel finally about his own image and vanity, then he necessarily views other preachers as adversaries. They are not co-laborers working alongside you for the same goal. They are the competition vying for the same pool of attention. 

This is a mindset that Paul strongly rejects. Later, Paul will explain to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” (Phil 2:3). There could not be anything more anti-gospel than using the gospel as a platform for yourself. In the gospel Jesus, the Son of God, becomes a servant, becomes a man, despite being the one Being in the universe worthy of all praise and glory and accolades. He goes from the heights of heaven, to the depths of the earth, and not only that, but then dies for the people who are sinning against Him. And then resurrects and ascends to the throne of Heaven so that now those who follow Him, sinners who have trusted in Him, can be with Him forever. When you really see that, how low Jesus was willing to go for you, how asinine do you have to be to then take that message and say, “Man, I can sure use this as a great platform for myself.” 

But that is what these people were doing, these people that Paul had himself taught and labored with. But notice Paul’s response: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice,” (Phil 1:18). Try to enter Paul’s experience as much as you can. You have sacrificed your whole life for this cause. You have been beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned, starved, stoned, reviled, whipped, and abandoned—all to spread the gospel. And you have poured your heart and soul into teaching a group of men, and then once again been thrown into jail because you won’t stop preaching. But along comes a group of these guys who know think that you being thrown in jail is an opportunity for them to shine? Thinking that the preaching ministry is a kind of beauty pageant where they get to win the applause of others? Whispering to other people that you are on the outs, that they are the new hot commodity? How would you feel? What would you do? What does Paul do?

He rejoices. Paul is just glad that the gospel is being preached, even if the people preaching have impure motives. Of course, he condemns such motives (cf. Phil 2:3-4). But again, Paul has a different set of priorities. The gospel is going out, and that is all that matters to Paul. 

Paul has somehow been able to so separate his own pride and ego and sense of self-importance from the equation, that even though these dopes are intentionally trying to hurt Paul, Paul doesn’t care. “What does it matter? All that matters is Jesus.” You can’t hurt Paul. Why? Because the gospel has sunk down into his heart. It no longer matters to Paul what other people think of him (cf. Gal 1:10), it doesn’t even matter what he thinks of himself--all that matters is what God thinks, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me,” – 1 Cor 4:3-4

And in Christ, Paul knows exactly what God thinks of him. So who cares about these knuckleheads—God will sort them out. Tim Keller often says that there is nothing more relaxing than humility. What would your life look like if I could suck all of your anxiety about your ego and what other people thought of you out of it? Probably pretty relaxing.

But isn’t it amazing that God can even use preachers and churches with impure motives to still proclaim his gospel? The sovereign God has willed that the gospel will advance, the gates of Hell will not be able to stop it. 

This should make us bold, should make us confident—but it also should make us deeply humble. It isn’t about us. The gospel doesn’t create naïve optimists or dour pessimists. It gives us humble confidence that our God wins.

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The Love of God's People (Phil 1:1-11)

Sermon Audio: The Love of God's People (Phil 1:1-11)

Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. Start by reading Phil 1:1-11 together.
  2. Why does Paul begin all of his letters with "grace and peace"?
  3. What was it about the Philippians that made Paul so grateful for them? What does it mean to have fellowship with one another? (see Acts 2:44-46)
  4. Is it possible for someone to have fellowship with Jesus and not have fellowship with other Christians?
  5. Look through Phil 1:1-11 and take note of how often Paul speaks words of encouragement and affection to the Philippians. Are you someone who is quick to give encouragement to those around you?
  6. What does Phil 1:6 mean and what does it have to do with our ability to give encouragement to each other?

Sermon Manuscript:

Power is an unstable foundation to build a relationship on. Power, like authority, used wisely is a wonderful blessing from God. Power can get you many things in life, but raw power alone cannot get you a friend, it cannot get you what matters most. Power can get you enemies, it can get you allies, or sycophants, but not real relationships. Towards the end of Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin’s life, he would require his top advisers from the politburo to daily come to his house to have dinner, watch movies, and converse with him till 5 or 6 in the morning because he would become terribly depressed when left alone. And they dutifully came, but not because they loved Stalin, but because they knew that if they did not they would immediately be put on Stalin’s extermination list as a potential conspirator. There were arguably few people who had power to compare with the likes of Stalin in the 20th century, yet when he had a fatal stroke, whether out of fear of repercussions from him if he recovered or an eagerness for his quick demise, after finding him collapsed on the floor, soaked in his own urine, his “friends” simply covered him with a rug and waited three days before calling a doctor. He died a few days later.

Our contemporary world is no different from the ancient world in its obsession with power. Ever since Cain killed Abel, mankind has assumed that an exercise of power, rather than love, was the best way forward.

It is something that men like Julius Caesar assumed when he thought that by exalting himself as the first emperor of Rome, ceasing power from the Senate, he would be beloved, only to find himself assassinated by his closest friends. And it is something that the assassins, Brutus and Cassius, misunderstood when they assumed that after killing Caesar they would then be beloved, only to find they were reviled. Devious power grabs and the use of overt force always leads to more brutality and similar repercussions. 

Brutus and Cassius were hunted down by the Roman generals Marc Antony and Octavian, and on the battlefield outside a little Macedonian town of Philippi, Brutus and Cassius were defeated. Eventually Octavian turned on Antony and defeated him, and the wheels of man’s pursuit of power carried on. One hundred years later, a Jewish missionary arrived in that same town to preach a message that the King of the Jews, the one who had all power and strength, voluntarily set that power aside and became a servant, taught people to love their enemies and become servants like Him. He was willing to even die so that He could make His enemies His friends. And now anyone, even the Roman citizens of Philippi, could themselves become disciples of this Jewish Messiah and receive His friendship, His acceptance, His love. But if they did, they would then become like Him—they would prefer the needs of others over themselves; they would become servants, they would prioritize love of others over their own selfish gain. When Paul the missionary preached this message in Philippi, he was met with the same brutality of the world—he was beaten and thrown in jail. But when an opportunity for escape presented itself, he didn’t take it. Rather he remained and his faith led the very jailer who had kept him in prison to have faith in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ.

We are beginning a study of the book of Philippians, a book that has much to say about the upside-down kingdom of Jesus and the value of becoming a servant, of eschewing the normal patterns of the world, and emphasizing love and service over power and prominence. So let’s turn there now:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. – Phil 1:1-11

You can read about Paul’s first visit with the Philippians in Acts 16 and the harrowing details of his preaching, persecution, and imprisonment there. Philippi was a city of about 10,000 people in Macedonia, but since the battle between Brutus, Cassius, Antony, and Octavian, it had formally become a colony of Rome and all its citizens were granted complete Roman citizenship, which exempted them from taxes and secured certain judicial rights (a right they were very proud of). The town had become a military outpost of Rome and lay right at a critical road that connected Rome to the Eastern section of its empire. There was a small Jewish population, but no synagogue, so the church in Philippi likely was comprised mostly of Gentiles who had converted to Christianity under Paul’s visit or shortly thereafter.


The letter opens with a greeting from both Paul and Timothy as, “servants of Christ Jesus.” Paul doesn’t use the title of “apostle” in his letter here, but simply refers to himself as a lowly “servant” or “slave” of Jesus.  The letter is addressed to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons,” (Phil 1:1). The “saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi” just refers to the members of the church, while the “overseers and deacons” refers to the elders and deacons of the church. This shows us right away two things: (1) Paul cannot conceive of an identity for a Christian that is not bound up in their union with Christ, and (2) we see from the earliest evidence in the New Testament that Paul assumed each church had multiple elders/pastors in it—churches did not have one leader who presided over them, but a plurality of leaders. He writes to the “overseers” another term for an elder in a church (cf. Acts 20:17; 20:28).

In typical Pauline fashion, Paul opens with: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Phil 1:2). But Paul concludes his letter with 4:23, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Paul opens all his letters with “grace to you” and concludes almost all of his letters with “grace be with you.” Why does he do that?  I think that Paul opens each letter with the greeting “grace to you” and concludes with “grace be with you” because Paul understands that his letter itself is a word of grace (cf. Acts 20:32). So, when he says “grace to you” Paul understands that what he is about to write is itself a means of grace.

You’d be hard pressed to find a tighter summary of the gospel than "grace and peace." The fundamental message of the gospel is a message of grace and peace, not wrath and judgment, not self-love and acceptance, not improvement and technique. Just “grace and peace.” 

What does grace mean in the Bible? Grace is a holistic term that describes God’s generous disposition to do you good despite you deserving the opposite. Grace excludes human merit or worthiness, it is just the overflow of God’s love and commitment to you. It acknowledges your sin, it acknowledges your failure, it doesn’t turn a blind eye to them or pretend they don’t exist—but God’s grace, in spite of your sins, is God’s love directed for your good.

What about peace? If grace is God’s generous and loving disposition towards sinners who deserve nothing but Hell—something that describes God to us—then peace is what grace creates in us. A man sentenced to the gallows may receive grace when his sentence is suddenly commuted by the king, but it is peace that is created inside the man who thought he was about to die. We were likewise under the sentence of death, but God’s grace has secured our pardon. Therefore, we have peace, peace with God. 

Paul’s letters are messengers of grace and peace, proclaiming the startling news that God has extended undeserved grace so we have access to inexplicable peace.


“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,” Phil 1:3-5. 

Paul is thankful for the Philippians, really thankful. Every time he remembers the Philippians, he just stops and thanks God for them. And it makes him happy to do so; he makes his regular prayers for them with joy. Why? Because of their “partnership in the gospel” from day one, up to now. The word used for “partnership” there is the word κοινωνίᾳ, the word commonly used for the fellowship of Christians with one another. Paul thanks God for the Philippians fellowship, koinonia in the gospel.

I wonder what comes to your mind when you hear “fellowship”? Christians today usually use the word “fellowship” to refer to simply hanging out together, spending time with one another. And the term is not less than that, but much more. 

In Acts 2:42, the followers of Jesus are said to be devoted to the “apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” but then just a few verses later we read, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,” Acts 2:44-46. Their fellowship involved spending time together, but it also included a willingness to care for the needs of one another. There are several places in the New Testament that use the word koinonia in reference to financial gifts that churches have raised to help other churches that are currently struggling (see 2 Cor 8:3-5; 9:13; Rom 15:26; cf. Heb 13:16).

The fellowship, or partnership, that the Philippians have in the gospel has led them to not only have a share in Jesus, but causes them to want to share with others who have also had fellowship with Jesus. When we enjoy fellowship with Christ it makes us become committed to the fellowship of other believers in Christ. We see this clearly in verse 7, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel,” Phil 1:7. 

The Philippians have drunk from the same well of God’s grace Paul has and it has caused them to stand by Paul’s side, even through opposition, even through suffering. It is easy to have lots of fair-weather friends stand by your side when you’re on top, when you’re winning. But it is a precious thing to have friends who will stand by your side when you lose, who will suffer with you, who will care for you when you are down and out. Prisoners in the ancient world didn’t have the state to provide them food or anything, so prisoners would only survive from the generosity of people caring for them. The Philippians cared for Paul as he was imprisoned for his ministry, even when no one else would, as we see later in his letter:

“Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again,” Phil 4:14-16.

This shows us that Christian fellowship is more than just an affection for one another or more than just the time we spend with each other—it is a willingness to take the burdens of each other and make them our own. This is why in our membership vows here the congregation stands and vows to care for the new members and open our lives, homes, dinner tables, and resources to them. 

When we look at the teaching of the New Testament we repeatedly see the assumption we see plainly here in Philippians: to become united to Christ is to become united to others united to Him. To join His body is to join every other member of the body. To be adopted into His family is to now gain brothers and sisters. This is why Paul often ends his letters the same way he ends Philippians, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you,” (Phil 4:21). Every saint, every Christian you meet, you should be open to and willing to engage in relationship. In other words, we are commanded by God to have a unique openness to relationship with the fellow Christians in our life.

Here is another way of putting it: the Bible has no category for someone having fellowship with Christ and not also having fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is one of the reasons why our church practices church membership—it is a way for us to try to practice the kind of committed concrete fellowship and love that is to be an organic outgrowth of believing the gospel. It is one thing to claim to love other Christians in general, but the rubber meets the road when you have to be committed to and love Christians in particular. It is particular, real Christians who can offend us, who have different interests than us, who we may not get along with. Real commitment is proven when it is difficult, when it isn’t easy. It was the fact that the Philippians continued to support Paul when he was embattled that made him so grateful for them. 

You choose your friends, but you don’t choose your family. What a great opportunity to get to put the rubber on the road when the family God has placed you in requires you to love people who are different than you! If you aren’t a member of a church, how do you know you aren’t just choosing relationships of convenience, never needing to exercise the muscle of commitment and fellowship we see here? If you are a member, are you living out your membership vows? Is your life marked by the kind of costly fellowship in the gospel we see the Philippians practicing, that we see Paul thanking God for? If Paul were to write a letter to our church, would he be thanking God for our fellowship in the gospel?

But Marc, I’m introverted—relationships are taxing. My life is busy! I don’t think I can practically make this work. I understand. Few people like making new relationships or relationships with people who are different than them. And life is busy, we tend to fall into the ruts of the immediate needs we have. Here is what I am encouraging you towards: make church one of the ruts of your life, one of the immovable commitments you have that displaces other ones. You’re going to be at church on Sunday, you’re going to be at small group, you’re going to be at coffee Friday morning with that brother or sister. 


One thing that sticks out as you read this section, and the entire book of Philippians, is just how encouraging Paul is towards the church. In verses 3-5 Paul said that he always thanks God when he prays for them, with joy. I don’t know how you picture Paul in your mind’s eye, but I have always viewed him as a bit of a bookworm, a guy who was really serious about study, an intellectual—maybe he was kind of a dry person to be around, but really serious about theology. But the emotive language here breaks that picture up. Listen to verses 7 and 8 again, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus,” (1:7-8). 

It is hard to read this and not be struck by the fact that Paul seems to genuinely love this church. Read that passage again slowly. It is right for Paul to feel this way about them, because he holds them in his heart, he yearns for them with the affection of Christ. There is a love and affection for the Philippians that Paul has received from Jesus, and Paul tells them as much. Later, Paul tells them, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved,” (Phil 4:1). 

Do you want to create a community here marked by fellowship in the gospel? Speak words of encouragement to one another. Tell one another that you appreciate each other, tell someone what it is about them that you are grateful to God for. 

We see the bullseye of Christian encouragement in verse 6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Phil 1:6). Philippians 1:6 may be one of the most encouraging verses in the entire Bible. If you are at all worried that being an over-the-top encourager may run the risk of inflating people’s egos or make you bend the truth slightly to make someone feel better, look no further than Philippians 1:6. This turns our attention off of the person we are encouraging as the source and onto God, to praise and thank Him for what He has done in the life of the person. Notice, it is God who begins the good work and it is God who finishes it. In other words, God is the one who saved you, God is the one who redeemed you, He is the one who started this whole thing, so He is the one who will see it through to the end. Jesus loves His own to the end (John 13:1). And this is something that Paul is certain of. This tells us what Markus Bockmuehl reminds us of: “Christian assurance rests not in the Christian-ness of our Christianity but in “the God-ness of God.” 

So, there you have a discouraged Christian in front of you. She is deflated by her sin, by her own deficiencies. She feels like an airplane that has lost power and is slowly gliding closer and closer to the ground. It’s just a matter of time before she crashes. And left alone, she likely will. But put that same sister into a church that takes the ministry of encouragement seriously, and she will have others around her communicating the very love of God to her that they have received in Jesus. They will speak words of encouragement, they will tell her that she is loved, and they will remind her of the great truth that her Christian faith was a gift God gave her and it is something He will not take away. She is not about to implode, not about to crash, but God upholds her faith with His loving providence. One of the ways we can cultivate a fellowship in the gospel at our church is through the ministry of encouragement—telling one another of our love, of our gratefulness for each other. 

And, in the mysterious providence of the Lord, that will create a feedback loop effect where the love and affection we have for one another will be amplified. In the same way that peevishness and criticism amplify short tempers and bad moods and creates a culture where its easy to dislike people, so too does affirmation and encouragement amplify love and affection for one another and creates a culture of grace.


One other way we can create this kind of fellowship here at Quinault is through prayer. After thanking God for the Philippians and encouraging them, he then turns to pray for them even more: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God,” (1:9-11).

He prays that their love would increase even more and would be coupled with knowledge and discernment to approve what is excellent. Knowledge and discernment are not antithetical to love, they sharpen it. We do not want a love at our church that comes at the expense of our knowledge of God and our discernment. When we couple love with knowledge it leads us to be pure and blameless on the last day, filled with fruit of righteousness, probably another term for what Paul labels the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5.

Note the confidence Paul has here that his prayer will be answered. His prayers will result in them being filled with the fruit of righteousness. Note also his certainty and confidence earlier in verse 6: "And I am sure of this..." One of the greatest tools in our toolkit of encouragement is the certainty of God hearing our prayers, the certainty that God will fulfill His promises, the certainty that God Himself will accomplish what we know we cannot accomplish ourselves.

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Who Is a God Like You? (Micah 7:18-20)

Sermon Audio: Who Is a God Like You?

Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Micah 7:18-20. What stood out to you most from the sermon?
  2. What did Peter believe about Jesus in John 6? (See 6:68-69) Did the sermon alter anyway you would help someone struggling with doubts? If so, how?
  3. In what ways are we children of Abraham? See Gal 3:7-9.
  4. What is the connection between Get 3:15 and Micah 7:19?
  5. What does it mean that God "passes over" our transgression?
  6. What would change in your life if you fully believed that God delighted in showing His steadfast love to you?

Sermon Manuscript:

It was time to evolve. The church’s teaching could no longer be understood in light of new discoveries. The teachings didn’t make logical sense and, frankly, were offensive. How would the church fulfill the Great Commission if she was burdened down with this superstitious, backwards, and degrading doctrine? Surely, it would turn away the sophisticated, the cultured, the elites of the day. Doesn’t this make God seem diminished? In fact, did the gospels even really teach this? Or was this just an addition? A tradition that had grown alongside the gospel like a barnacle on the hull of ship, needing only to be scraped off and removed, deconstructed. Jesus could not be a human.

After an influx of the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who believed matter to be inherently inferior, had begun to sweep through the church, a group of Christians in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries rejected the incarnation and taught that Jesus only appeared to be a human, but really was a spirit (Docetism). They saw two truths in the story of the gospel--Jesus is God, and Jesus became a man—but could not see how these two truths could be reconciled together. They simply didn’t have the mental framework that included both realities, so they decided to hold on to one (Jesus is God) and reject the other (Jesus is Man). 

This dilemma is something that has happened all throughout the history of Christianity. People are drawn in by something that they really like in the Bible, but then encounter something they don’t have a category for.

The recent trend in evangelicalism called “deconstruction” is just another iteration of this. Or, at least, sometimes it is. When a Christian explains that they are “deconstructing” their faith, they may be just evaluating whether the Bible actually teaches something they have always assumed the Bible teaches. And there is a healthy place in the Christian life for this kind of critique and evaluation. Things can adhere onto our faith that really have nothing to do with what the Bible teaches.

Often, however, what has happened is that they have encountered something taught in the Bible that is difficult to accept and lack the framework for understanding how it can be reconciled with the rest of the Bible’s teaching or what they intuitively assume to be true. So, if we are modern Westerners, one dilemma we wrestle with is: How can a loving God judge people? What do we do with all the violence in the Old Testament? Or, if we are a traditional ancient culture, How can a just God pardon the guilty? What do we do with all the commands to love our enemies?

I firmly believe the Bible provides help we need to our questions, it is not a book of enigma meant to confuse you so profoundly that you are left to pretend you understand it (when you really don’t) or to simply abandon it out of frustration. But, if you are currently in the process of wrestling with doubts, if there are teachings in the Bible that you struggle with deeply or don’t know how to square them with something else you believe to be true about the world, then I want you to consider a different route to take when wrestling with your doubts. I want to take the approach that has seemed to work on Peter in John 6. 

John 6 is where Jesus seems to go out of His way to be offensive and unclear. Five times in one brief paragraph Jesus tells a crowd of thousands, “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood” (John 6:51-59), but doesn’t explain anything about what that means, offers no clarifying comments about metaphor, what the Lord’s Supper will one day symbolize, the meaning of His death—nothing. So, naturally, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him,” (John 6:66). So Jesus turns to the twelve and asks, “Do you want to go away as well?” and, “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God,” (John 6:68-69). How do you get to that point? How do you have that kind of faith? What I want for my own soul, for my children, for this church is to have this kind of faith—confronted with something that seems baffling, offensive, maybe even hearing ourselves wonder, Are you sure you believe this? but to be so tethered to Jesus that the second voice we hear ourselves say be, Where else would we go? He alone has the words of eternal life.

Doing the hard work of theology and study to answer these questions plays a vital role in the Christian life. We need to understand how to answer difficult aspects of the Bible, how to respond to contemporary challenges to our faith—one day, Peter will finally understand what Jesus meant in John 6. But, what we first need is to see is what Peter saw, experience what he experienced—words of eternal life.

Our text in Micah provides a tight distillation of the essential truths of Christianity that provide that safety tether we need to explore our other questions of faith, by providing us a picture of what God is like. 

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.

He will again have compassion on us;

he will tread our iniquities underfoot.

You will cast all our sins

into the depths of the sea.

You will show faithfulness to Jacob

and steadfast love to Abraham,

as you have sworn to our fathers

from the days of old.

-       Micah 7:18-20

An Overview of Micah:

These verses serve as the conclusion of the book of the prophet Micah. Micah has been prophesying to Israel during her rebellion, sin, and complacency. Chapter one described the coming destruction upon Israel for her idolatry. Chapter two zoomed in to see what the idolatry looks like in practice in Israel through the curses pronounced on the oppressors who exploit women and children. Chapter three turned to the judges, leaders, and false prophets who had led Israel astray with false promises of peace while those in power devoured the weak and practiced injustice—God promises that He will transform Jerusalem into a desolation in response. But chapter four then looks ahead to the future—God will not be angry with His people forever and will take the desolate Jerusalem and transform it into this cosmic mountain that will draw in peoples from all nations to come worship the true God when He redeems His people from their exile. Chapter five promises that Israel’s ruler, the Messiah, will be born in Bethlehem who will deliver a remnant of Israel from their oppression and purify them of their sin. Chapter six raises another indictment the Lord has with Israel: she has abandoned what God has required of her, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with her God. God promises that He will punish her for her sins by striking her with a grievous blow. Chapter seven concludes with Micah’s lamentation that all of Israel has fallen into darkness, but then turns in hope to confess that though he sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to them, the Lord will plead their case and will vindicate them. God’s people shall be restored and all of God’s promises to them shall be fulfilled, and the enemies of God’s people who taunted them will be judged.

And all of this leads Micah to ask: Who is a God like you? 

There is something that Micah has seen in God woven throughout his book that leads Micah to wonder out loud—who is like God? Where else would I go? There is something that the living God has that I cannot find anywhere else.

What God Remembers

You will show faithfulness to Jacob

and steadfast love to Abraham,

as you have sworn to our fathers

from the days of old.

-       7:20

In the Bible “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” are a word-pair used together to describe what God’s essential character is. Steadfast love, hesed, if you remember is God’s loyal loving commitment He has made to you, His covenantal, binding love that compels Him to act for your good. Faithfulness means God’s commitment to do what He has said He will do, His trustworthy character, His truthfulness. Usually in the Bible “steadfast love” appears first before “faithfulness,” but here Micah switches the order around, probably to end on the note that he thinks is most important (steadfast love). 

God had made many promises to Abraham and Jacob--promises like there would be a land they would inherit, that God would bless them and all nations of the earth would be blessed through them, and that they would become as numerous as the sands of the seashore, as the stars in the sky. Jacob and Abraham, of course, have been fed for several hundred years by the time of Micah. But here we see God’s commitment He has made to Jacob and Abraham is not a dead issue for Micah. It is a ground of great comfort—God has made His promises to Abraham, the father of faith, and Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Micah is confident that God is going to continue to stay faithful to those promises, which is good news for us.

Although most of us here are not ethnically descended from Abraham, the Bible teaches that if we have faith in Jesus, we can spiritually become children of Abraham. This is what Paul understands in his letter to the Galatians:

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Gal 3:7-9

Therefore, we Gentiles (non-Jews) are now inheritors to God's promises to Israel. We have been "grafted in" (Rom 11:17) to the people of Israel. Therefore, we can be comforted that God will keep His promises He has made to Abraham, to Jacob, because we receive the benefits of those promises.

What God Forgets

He will again have compassion on us;

he will tread our iniquities underfoot.

You will cast all our sins

into the depths of the sea.

-       7:19

God will have compassion on His people—Micah has detailed the many ways that God has chastised them, but His main point (which we will see next) is that God’s anger towards our sin is temporary. We may experience the rod of loving discipline for a moment, but like a beach ball bobbing among the waves, God’s compassion for us will always be there. 

Here we are told that "He will tread our iniquities underfoot." God will somehow trample our sins underneath His feet the way grapes are crushed under the winemakers feet. This passage actually should remind us of the great first promise that Satan will one day be trampled underfoot:

“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

God will judge our sins the same way He will judge Satan; He will treat our sins the way Satan will be treated. But, wonder of wonders, God will somehow be able to crush our sins without crushing us. God has created a way by which He can peel our sins off of us, unload the entire storehouse of His wrath upon it, and leave us unscathed.

Next, we are told that: “All our sins will be cast into the depths of the sea.” As in, God will ball up our sins and heave them into the place that they can never be retrieved from. This is one of the basic promises of the New Covenant: “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more," (Heb 8:12). This is what Psalm 103 looks forward to: “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities," (Ps 103:10).

Heaven is not going to be an eternity where God holds our sins over our head or where we walk around with a sheepish sense of impropriety, having all our sins play on a loop in our head. Jesus is not going to welcome you into the New Creation on a technicality, but look down on you for being so wretched and so vile. No, He does not treat us according to our sins; our sins He will remember no more. No more! The sins that you cannot forget, God cannot remember.

Imagine that in your past you had committed some heinous crime. And you were to come to find out that there was a video recording of you committing the crime. If the authorities get their hands on that evidence, you will be done for, you will pay--it doesn't matter how bad you feel about it now, justice must happen. How would you then feel if someone were to grab that video evidence, tie it to a rock, and drop it into the deepest part of the ocean? Take that and multiply it by infinity to see what God has done for you in Christ.

What Makes God Happy

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity

and passing over transgression

for the remnant of his inheritance?

  • Micah 7:18a

In the last of the ten plagues of the Exodus, God instructed His people to sacrifice a spotless lamb and paint the doorposts of their homes with its blood. When the angel of death descended on Egypt, when he saw the blood painted on the doorposts he would “pass over” that home and go on to another. That event became known as the “Passover”, and was commemorated through a feast celebrated every year. But the blood on the doorposts shows us that the families inside their homes were just as liable to judgment as the families who didn’t put blood on their doors. It was not simply the fact that the people were ethnically descendant from Abraham that preserved them—they couldn’t say, Well, I’m part of the chosen people, so I don’t need to worry. No, God’s people were just as sinful as anyone else, they just took shelter under the sacrifice of another to preserve them from judgment. It was the blood of the lamb that spared them.

And that is what God does here—He does not permit iniquity; He pardons it. He "passes over" transgression for the remnant of his inheritance. But “pardoning” and “passing over” still imply payment. If you steal thousands of dollars from me, and I pardon you, I don’t require you to pay me back, I have just paid, lost thousands. In other words, when God pardons our sins, He isn’t pretending our sins don’t exist, He “passes over” them because the punishment for our sins is transferred to another—a Lamb’s blood is shed so ours won’t be (John 1:29).

An old hunter was out in an open field when he heard reports of a brush fire quickly approaching him. Knowing he would not be able to outrun the blaze, he pulled out his lighter and carefully burned a wide circle around him, and sat down. When the flames came close, the fire burned right over him, but he was left untouched. There was nothing it could burn. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Rev 5:6). If you trust Him and follow Him, He will take your sins into Himself and bear them away to the cross. Then, when the fires of judgment burn, you will be left untouched, passed over; a part of the remnant of God’s inheritance, His people.

He does not retain his anger forever,

because he delights in steadfast love.

  • Micah 7:18b

Here Micah taps into the foundational teaching of Exodus 34:6-7 where God reveals His glory to Moses and is summarized well in the 103rd psalm, “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,” (Ps 103:8-9). God’s anger is real, but limited—but not His steadfast love. And His steadfast love will last forever. 

But consider what we are told here: God delights in steadfast love. It makes God happy to show steadfast love. This little line is showing us the motivation that God has for all He is doing here. Everything we are reading about in verses 18-20 are fueled and motivated by this: why is God pardoning our sin, why is He forgiving iniquity, why is He casting our sins into the sea? Because it makes God happy to show His steadfast love towards you. He delights in steadfast love.

Consider this: If God is all powerful, is sovereign, if “Our God is in the heavens and does whatever He pleases,” (Ps 115:3), then that means that God will always do what makes Him happiest. You always do what makes you happiest—you will even submit to things that make you unhappy for a time for a greater happiness that comes in the end. God, who is infinitely more capable than you are at satisfying His own desire for happiness, does this perfectly, and will even go through what is unpleasant to achieve His highest end of happiness. Which we see in Hebrews, “…Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God,” (Heb 12:2).

The cross was shameful, it was painful, the burdens of taking on the sins of all the elect across time and space was not enjoyable for Jesus—He asks the Father if there is any other way to be spared from it! But, “for the joy that was set before him” He endures. What joy? What made Jesus happy? The joy of showing steadfast love to His people, the joy of forgiving their sins, the joy of showing faithfulness to His elect, to the remnant of his inheritance. It makes God happy to forgive your sins. Are you ever tempted to feel like you cannot bring your sins to God? Like every time you go to confess you are burdening God?

God does not delight in sin, but God delights in showing you He is committed to you no matter what and He has sent His Son. So bring your sin, bring your guilt, bring your bedraggled and sleepy soul to Him. We dare not refuse. Who are we to deprive God of His joy?

When you see this, when this sinks down into your heart, you will ask: Who is a God like this? Where else shall we go? 

Friend, perhaps you are struggling with serious doubts; perhaps there are questions you have about the Bible that you don't know what to do with. You should explore those questions, you should read good books, and you should listen to faithful teaching. But if you don't first begin with an experience with who God is for you in Christ, if you don't "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps 34:8), then no amount of study or resources will help.

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Christmas Eve: A Weary World Rejoices (Matt 11:28-30)

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matt 11:28-30

Christmas is a time where we gather to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. It is a time where we sit in stunned wonder that the infinite God became an infant. That the God who spoke the world into creation suddenly couldn’t speak any words. That the all-powerful God who holds His scepter over the kingdoms of earth now could not hold his head up on His own. What humility, what condescension! But Jesus did not descend and take on flesh to remain an infant. The little child in a manger grows and becomes a man who will die for the sins of His people for the forgiveness of their sins and then resurrect from the dead. The purpose of Christmas is Easter.

Between Christmas and Easter we get the works and teachings of Jesus, we see His reason for coming to the world, who He came to save, and what His death meant. And in Matthew 11:28-30 we find one of the most sublime pictures of what He has come to offer: rest. Three things we see from this passage: Jesus wants us to come to Him; Jesus wants us to rest; Jesus wants us to know His heart.

Jesus Wants Us to Come to Him

Christmas is a celebration of how Jesus has come to us, but in His coming to us, He invites us to come to Him. Many religious traditions invite you to come, so to speak, to them—you adopt their teaching, you participate in their rituals, you keep their rules. And in many religious traditions it is only after you do all of these things (and do them sufficiently enough), that you get salvation, nirvana, or enlightenment. But Jesus offers us something different. He tells us to come to Him, but only after He has first come to us. He has condescended to us, taken on skin and flesh, became touchable, weak, limited—mortal. And He did all of this not merely at the risk of His life, but at the cost of His life. It is one thing for a rescuer to plan some daring escape, knowing that he runs the risk of losing his life in the process; it is another thing altogether for him to know that if he attempts the rescue, he will perish, and still chooses to go in. Jesus came precisely so He could lay down His life to rescue us. Jesus came to us because we, on our own, could never come to Him.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us where we are. He comes to us, but then invites us to come to Him. Which means that Jesus is inviting us to walk away from our own pattern of life and to follow Him. Jesus loves us enough to not leave us where we are. Notice, that when Jesus invites us to Him, He doesn’t invite us to a system, or a contract, or 12 steps to a become more productive—He invites us to Himself, “Come to me.” Christianity is not a welcome to a program, but a person. 

Also, notice in His offer He describes Himself as a teacher: “learn from me.” Jesus assumes that there is truth He possesses that you need to learn. When we come to Him, He is asking us to come with the humility of one who acknowledges that we don’t have everything in our lives together and Jesus has the answers we need. If you have thought that you were clever enough or smart enough or strong enough to make it through life on your own but have found that your best laid plans, hopes, dreams, and ambitions have not given you freedom, but weariness; that the same dullness and guilt and boredom and bleariness is there, then Jesus invites you to come learn from Him today. 

Jesus Wants Us to Rest

Jesus invites us to come to Him so that we can find rest. Jesus looks at us and says, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, (or burdened), and I will give you rest.” Jesus knows that we are burdened. In Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge’s dead business partner visits him in the night and he is wrapped in coils of heavy chain. When Scrooge asks his friend why he wears such a thing, his friend responds: “I wear the chain I forged in life…I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” The chain represents his sins—his greed, his cruelty, and his lack of compassion for his fellow man—all things that Scrooge himself is guilty of. The ghost then asks Scrooge: “Is it’s pattern strange to you? Or would you know…the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself?”

We may not all be Ebenezer Scrooge, but Jesus assumes that all of us carry a burden. We are “heavy laden.” Like the ghost, we carry the weight of our sins that we have chosen, but like Scrooge we are often so distracted with life and our pursuits that we are blind to the chain, only somewhat sensing an imperceptibly growing weight bearing us down. Life keeps going on, but we are slumping more and more. Perhaps you are not religious and one of the things that you dislike about Christianity is that you think it makes everyone feel guilty by talking about sins. And if someone is carrying a heavy burden, it can certainly be irritating for someone to walk by and comment, “Wow, that looks heavy!” and leave them to struggle. But it is another thing entirely for someone to walk by and say, “Wow, that looks heavy,” and then lifts the burden off them. Jesus was not born, Christmas did not happen, and Jesus did not die on the cross just to walk around and say, “Wow, that looks heavy!” Rather Jesus invites the weary and the heavy laden to Himself to take the chains of their sins, their guilt, off them, and onto Himself, he was born to “save His people from their sins,” (Matt 1:21).

What do you fear others finding out about you most? What is the one thing you can’t forgive yourself for? Your anger, your abortion, your greed, your promiscuity, your addiction—maybe you can’t forgive yourself for those things, but Jesus can. Perhaps you cannot let go of your sins because you know that things must be made right, you need to make it up, or you need to punish yourself; atonement must be made. And, in a way, you’re right. No amount of meditation, or good deeds, or exciting distractions will erase what you’ve done. And this is exactly why Christmas happened. So that a Savior could come and He could take your sins, He could take your guilt, He could take your place, and He could make atonement, make it right, pay the debt that your sins had deserved through His death. When Jesus died on the cross, when He looked up to the heavens and said, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” it was because He was suffering the punishment we deserved. And He did, totally. So that now free forgiveness can be offered to all who turn to Him.

“Let our miseries drive us to seek Christ; …he admits none to the enjoyment of his rest but those who sink under the burden,” (John Calvin, on Matt 11:28).

So bring the darkest, blackest, most shameful part of your soul, bring your thousands of failed resolutions to do better next time, bring your embarrassment, bring your doubt, bring your guilt and heave them onto Jesus. You may have unforgivable sins, but there is an unimaginably kind Savior, and He can do what you cannot. He can give rest, sweet rest that comes from total, real, unqualified, complete, unconditional, no holds barred, absolute forgiveness.

Jesus Wants Us to See His Heart

But this isn’t all Jesus offers us. You notice the strange paradox of this passage: Jesus invites us to come to Him to find rest, but do you see what He offers? A yoke. “Take my yoke upon you.” A yoke is a wooden instrument placed on the shoulders of cattle or oxen that harnesses their strength, usually attached to a plow. So Jesus promises us rest, but then offers an instrument of labor? Even more paradoxically, He states, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” One writer comments, “What helium does to a balloon, Jesus’ yoke does to us.” So Jesus offers us His yoke, but promises it is light and easy; Jesus wants us to abandon the heavy yoke of the world and of our sins and replace it with His. This shows us that Jesus is not offering a forgiveness that is disconnected from Himself. If we are to come to Jesus to find rest, we must be willing to learn from Him, to follow Him, to submit to Him. We do not receive help from Jesus the way we receive help from our government—Jesus doesn’t mail us a “forgiveness” check in the mail. He invites us to become a part of His family, to follow His teaching, to join His people. This is what we do when we read our Bible, pray, and gather every Sunday for worship—we are obeying Jesus, and learning together about what it means to follow Him and be His disciple. 

Aha! Maybe you are thinking, I know there would be a catch. If Jesus wants to be our teacher and wants to place a yoke on our necks, why should we come to Him? Shouldn’t we just trust ourselves? How do we know that God won’t exploit us, take advantage of us? Because Jesus shows us His heart: I am gentle and lowly in heart. The puritan Thomas Goodwin points out that this is the only place in the entire Bible where Jesus describes His heart. I don’t know what your conception of God is like, perhaps cold and distant; harsh and calculating; permissive and disinterested? But here we have Jesus Himself explain who He is at the core of His being:

Gentle: not harsh, not brittle; welcoming and warm; the most understanding person you have ever met.

Lowly: not arrogant, not too busy to make time for you, not concerned that you are too unimportant for Him, but humble, kind.

If Jesus is these two things at His heart, then that means His yoke really is easy, really is light. It means that the path He is calling you to really is a path that leads to more rest. Trust Him. Follow him.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,

born to set thy people free;

from our fears and sins release us,

let us find our rest in thee.

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Final Vindication (Micah 7:11-17)

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

Sermon Discussion Questions:

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

Sermon Manuscript:

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

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

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

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

A day for the building of your walls!

In that day the boundary shall be far extended.

In that day they will come to you,

from Assyria and the cities of Egypt,

and from Egypt to the River,

from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.

But the earth will be desolate

because of its inhabitants,

for the fruit of their deeds.

Shepherd your people with your staff,

the flock of your inheritance,

who dwell alone in a forest

in the midst of a garden land;

let them graze in Bashan and Gilead

as in the days of old.

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

I will show them marvelous things.

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

they shall lay their hands on their mouths;

their ears shall be deaf;

they shall lick the dust like a serpent,

like the crawling things of the earth;

they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;

they shall turn in dread to the LORD our God,

and they shall be in fear of you.

-   Micah 7:11-17


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

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

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

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

Salvation and Judgment: A Promise (11-13)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you been wronged?

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

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

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

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

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

Shepherd your people with your staff,

the flock of your inheritance,

who dwell alone in a forest

in the midst of a garden land;

let them graze in Bashan and Gilead

as in the days of old.

-       7:14

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

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

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

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

they shall lay their hands on their mouths;

their ears shall be deaf;

they shall lick the dust like a serpent,

like the crawling things of the earth;

they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;

they shall turn in dread to the LORD our God,

and they shall be in fear of you.

-       7:16-17

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

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

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

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

Do you love the world?

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

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

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

Do you struggle with God’s justice?

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

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

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

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

Your salvation comes through judgment.

No, it was not the Jews who crucified,

Nor who betrayed you in the judgment place,

Nor who, Lord Jesus, spat into your face,

Nor who with buffets struck you as you died.

No, it was not the soldiers fisted bold

Who lifted up the hammer and the nail,

Or raised the cursed cross on Calvary’s hill,

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

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

I am the heavy cross you had to bear,

I am the rope that bound you to the tree,

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

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

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

-       Jacob Revius, “He Bore Our Griefs”

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When I Fall, I Rise (Micah 7:8-10)

Sermon Audio: When I Fall, I Rise (Micah 7:8-10)

Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. What stood out to you most from the sermon?
  2. What are common ways people in general tend to respond to their sin being exposed / getting caught?
  3. Marc repeatedly asked the question "Can you be a sinner?" What did he mean by that? Read 1 John 1:8-10.
  4. Why should we confess our sins to one another? How are you currently obeying James 5:16?
  5. In 1 John 1:9 we are told that God is "faithful and just" to forgive us. How is God "just" when he forgives us? Why does Micah desire God's "judgment" if he admits he has sinned?
  6. What were the two reasons Micah 7:8-10 gives us to rejoice in hope?
  7. What does Micah mean when he says he will "bear the indignation of the Lord" in Micah 7:9?

In every family there are those stories that are retold over and over again so often that, while it takes on mythic proportions in the parents’ minds, the children eventually roll their eyes every time it is mentioned. In my family, there is a story like this involving myself as a two-year-old the evening of Easter. That morning I had received a large, chocolate Easter bunny from my parents, but was only allowed to have a small portion—an ear, or something like that—before my parents put the bunny on top of the fridge. Apparently, I believed this was a grave injustice. So, in the dark of night I slipped my two-year-old self out of bed and crept towards the kitchen. I pushed the dining room bench over to the counter, climbed up, pushed the bread box up to the edge of the fridge, climbed up, and strained and reached for the bunny. Sometime later, my mother came out to the kitchen for a glass of water and found me sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, looking like a hyena enjoying their kill. My face, my hands, my pajamas—all of me was covered in chocolate like I had used it as sun block on my way to the beach. I don’t know what was going through my little mind when my mother asked me if I had gotten into the Easter chocolate--maybe because I had eaten the entire bunny I thought that all incriminating evidence had vanished--but I looked up at her face and confidently said: “Nope.” 

My mother, picked me up and then took me to the bathroom and placed me on the counter so I could see the chocolate all over myself in the mirror. “Okay Marc, I am going to ask you one more time: did you get into the Easter chocolate?” And, so the legend goes, I responded with a very diplomatic: “Maybe.” That is the toddler equivalent of the politician’s: I can neither confirm nor deny said allegations.

Children have no guile, they are not experts in deception, but that doesn’t stop them from attempting to fabricate excuses to get out of punishment. It certainly didn’t stop me. And as cute as it is to see a two-year-old spin his wheels when he is dead-to-rights guilty, you know what is amazing? No one taught me how to do that. It just happened. 

Of course, there are many ways one can respond when they are caught doing something they shouldn’t—you can lie about it, deny it (what I did); you can get angry and try to blame it on something else, give a justification for why it was okay for you to do it; or you can accept it and become sullen and depressed, turn inward and isolate yourself from others. We can see all of those happen in our young children just as we see it happen in adults. No one teaches us this, no one pulls their child aside to give them lessons on how to lie or use emotional manipulation to get what they want. We come into the world pre-programmed to be touchy, defensive, and manipulative when our sin is exposed. This is what the Bible calls our “sin nature”—it is something that, ever since Adam’s sin, we are born with. This is what gives us that natural defense mechanism when we are caught (and, for that matter, is what gets us into the troubling situations in the first place). It feels natural and easy to respond to exposure in ways that gets out of it simply owning up to what we did wrong and apologizing.

In our text today, however, we are going to see a pattern that accepts the reality of our sin, doesn’t try to wiggle out of it, doesn’t try to shift blame, but has the resilience to not turn to anger or moping. But how can you do that? How can you be honest and not freak out? Honest, but not despair? Turn with me to Micah 7:8-10

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;

when I fall, I shall rise;

when I sit in darkness,

the LORD will be a light to me.

I will bear the indignation of the LORD

because I have sinned against him,

until he pleads my cause

and executes judgment for me.

He will bring me out to the light;

I shall look upon his vindication.

Then my enemy will see,

and shame will cover her who said to me,

“Where is the LORD your God?”

My eyes will look upon her;

now she will be trampled down

like the mire of the streets.

-       Micah 7:8-10

There are two ways of understanding what is happening here. One is that Micah, after detailing how sinful all of Israel has become in verses 1-6, he then turns to confess his own sin and hope in verses 8-10. Another option is to view Micah here as speaking in the place of the collective whole of Israel, for Israel. Either interpretation is possible and doesn’t significantly change the meaning, but I am inclined to think that Micah is likely speaking for all of Israel at this point, confessing that they have fallen seriously from what God has called them to, but also holding out the hope that God is not done with His people but will still fulfill His promises to Abraham and David, and will vindicate Israel after exile.

Whether this is referring to Micah personally or to Israel collectively, the conclusion is the same. What this passage shows us is the proper response God’s people should have when they fail. The sermon last week served as a warning to alert us to the danger of sin, the cost of sin, and my hope was that it sobered us from plunging into sin. But what if this last week you totally ignored that sermon and submerged yourself into a sink of sin? What do you do now? 

Understand Your Enemy

Verse 8 opens with Micah addressing his enemy, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy.” Why would the enemy rejoice? Israel’s enemies (Assyria, Babylon, the other nations) would rejoice when they saw that their kingdom was tottering, hungry to devour and despoil another nation in the kill-or-be-killed world of ancient warfare. God had warned Israel for centuries (centuries!) that if they continued to ignore and reject God, scoff at His law, and think that they could practice injustice under God’s nose, there would be tragic consequences. They would be ejected from their land, become slaves again, and lose their inheritance. And this is precisely what was happening. Israel’s sins had led them to lose their kingdom, and this led the enemies to rejoice. 

But, of course, behind these pagan armies is a greater enemy: the enemy, Satan and his demons.

And here, Micah speaks to them: Rejoice not over my, my enemy. Satan wants to gloat over your fall, your sin. That’s what he does. Look at this pitiful Christian, she can’t go a few days without caving in. And if we are clear eyed about our life, we have to admit that there is good reason for the enemy to rejoice—is there not? John Newton, the 18th century pastor, abolitionist, and hymn writer, at the age of 51 wrote in a letter to a friend, “The life of faith seems so simple and easy in theory, that I can point it out to others in a few words; but in practice it is very difficult, and my advances are so slow, that I hardly dare I say I get forward at all.” You know you shouldn’t be anxious about anything, that you have no good reason to, but you still worry, you still fear. You know that the lie isn’t going to solve the problem, but just create new ones, you know that sitting and numbing your mind with hours of Netflix won’t fix the problems you are ignoring. And yet, we still struggle. Our progress in godliness is often slow. So why would our enemy not have good reason to rejoice?

Why are Christians so often stuck in a pit of despair? Why are they so often prone to putter through life with so little zeal, so little joy? Here is a sketch of many Christians today: At one point, earlier in life, there was a great awakening in their hearts to the reality of God. They found suddenly the love for God to be something that swept them up and whisked them away. But, slowly over time, like air leaking out of a balloon, their passion and fervor begin to diminish. They look back fondly on the earlier times of tenderness to the Lord, but feel now hemmed in by besetting sins they thought had gone away, by concerns of the world that seem too important, and by a desire to appear a certain way to others. And like ivy growing up an old wall, sins begin to creep over their life, flowering into guilt and shame that cloud their mind and lead them to become more guarded, more isolated from others. And maybe they begun compromising in ways that they are deeply ashamed of, ways that surprise them, and plunge them into deeper isolation. They long to experience the Lord afresh, they long to shed their spiritual malaise, but like an old engine trying to turn over on a cold day, they rev, but find no ignition. And add to all of this that in the meanwhile Satan is striving to lure their hearts into an icy slumber, to spiritually chloroform them to the hope of the gospel. What can those people do?

Accept Reality

“I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him,” (Mic 7:9a). Micah recognizes for himself and for his people the reality of their sin. He has fallen, he is sitting in darkness—he has sinned. Every sinner in this room knows what Micah is talking about here, knows what it is to experience the darkness of your soul that comes from sin. But notice the simplicity of his confession. He has not “messed up” or “made some mistakes,” or “struggled,”—he has sinned. As in, broken God’s commandments, transgressed the line. There is no spin, no public relations expertise—he simply admits that he is a sinner. Friend, can you confess sin? Can you accept the reality that you are a sinner? If you are not a Christian here today, I wonder what you think of this? Perhaps you have thought of Church as some kind of moral gym where people go to improve themselves, or, more cynically, maybe it’s more like a moral beauty parlor where people go to have thin veneer of goodness pasted over them. If you want to know what it means to be a Christian, it first begins with admitting that you are not good and then trusting that Jesus is so good that the sacrifice of His life alone could make up for our great lack. While we indeed hope to see ourselves grow in our life, in our faith, we never graduate from this simple pattern of confessing our sin, and turning to Jesus. 

Which brings me back to my original question for the Christians in this room: can you be a sinner? Have you felt yourself to be a sinner? 1 John 1:8 warns us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And again in verse 10, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” So, if we cannot admit we are sinners we are self-deceived, void of truth and God’s word, and most alarmingly, we are calling God a liar! That is not a position any person should be in. Friend, maybe the very thing that is strangling your spiritual vitality is your refusal to see the wickedness in your own heart, to consider it honestly.

Maybe you can admit that you are a sinner but by it you mean the same thing that a non-Christian means when they say, “nobody’s perfect.” But that is a totally meaningless admission. Look at the promise nestled in-between verses 8 and 10 of 1 John 1, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1:9). A theoretical confession of theoretical sins only gives a theoretical salvation from a theoretical Savior. Dear friend, you have real sins that need real confession because the real Jesus has a real salvation to offer. There is forgiveness and acceptance waiting for you in the arms of Jesus on the other side of your confession. He will cleanse you from all unrighteousness, He will wash you. So do not hide behind the paltry fig leaves of your own self-righteousness, do not delude yourselves about any kind of notion of your own moral grandeur or character. Just collapse into Jesus with all your sin.

Notice, that when Micah says he is in darkness, “the Lord will be light” to him. Even in the pit of the well of sin Micah has dug, Jesus is there with him. If you believe that, three things will happen: (1) your prayers are going to start becoming more honest, (2) you are going to start being honest with one another. James tells us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed,” (James 5:16). Whether or not you are honest with others around you reveals what you really believe. Why not find another member of the same gender and see if you can regularly meet to encourage each other, pray for each other, and confess. 

Look to Jesus

Amidst Micah’s confession of sin there is confidence: “…until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me,” (Mic 7:9). This seems like a strange request right after someone has just confessed their own sinfulness and guilt. What cause does Micah believe will be plead for him? And why one earth would he desire God’s judgment?! The justice of God seems like the last thing sinners should be asking for. The language of these lines is the language of a law court. Micah is confident that God himself will serve as His attorney, pleading his cause. But in this case, the defendant has just admitted his guilt—what could there be to defend? Imagine a prisoner on death row sitting down with their attorney and saying, “I want justice!” right after he confesses that he is guilty. But Micah assumes that God is not only the attorney, but also the judge who “executes judgment.” So God is the judge and the lawyer—the one pleading a case for Micah, and the one hearing the case and rendering a verdict. And Micah is confident that, despite his own guilt, that God’s judgment will deliver him, will bring him out to the light (vs. 9). 

Micah, of course, lives about seven hundred years before Jesus walks the earth, but He is enmeshed in the promises God has made to Israel, promises of blessing and redemption and salvation that began with Adam and lead to Jesus and His work on the cross. What Micah looks forward to in hope, we now receive. How can God be both Judge and Attorney? Because Jesus, our intercessor, our mediator, our God in the flesh Attorney, was willing to take up our case, despite us being dead-to-rights guilty. And he stood before the Judge, the Father, and presented His case. We would be pardoned, acquitted, by Himself swapping places with us—He took the shackles off our wrists and placed them on Himself, He, “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,” (Gal 3:13) and marched away to the execution that had been arranged for us, leaving us free, which is why the Bible tells us that, “the righteous live by faith,” (Gal 3:11). Our living, our freedom, our pardon comes not by our own record, not by our own good, but by our trust in what Jesus has done to satisfy the justice of God. In fact, He has satisfied it so completely, that Micah can plead for justice after he has sinned—just as John told us that when we confess our sins, God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9). In other words, Jesus has so totally satisfied the debt our sins owed, that were God not to forgive us, it would be unjust. 

Maybe the reason you struggle to be honest about your sins in light of your failure is that deep down you really don’t think that righteous live by faith alone. Sure, Jesus forgives you and helps you out, but there needs to be some contribution on your part. You need to be somewhat good enough to be accepted, to be loved, to be forgiven. So you don’t look at your sin clearly, you don’t confess fully to others—you doctor it up and pretend that it isn’t too bad, you change the subject, you distract yourself with your phone, your friends, your ambitions, anything other than owning up to the reality that you are a sinner. But here is my exhortation to you today: be a sinner, and let Jesus be your Savior. Trust in Him totally and completely.

Two Reasons to Rejoice in Hope

#1 The Enemy Loses

Then my enemy will see,

and shame will cover her who said to me,

“Where is the LORD your God?”

My eyes will look upon her;

now she will be trampled down

like the mire of the streets.

-       Micah 7:10

Micah tells us “He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication,” (7:9). Micah is confident that God will not only forgive Micah in his darkness and be a light to him there (7:8); He will bring him out of the darkness completely, he will be vindicated. Friend, there will be a day when you will sin for the last time. God has promised you that you will one day be brought home: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Phil 1:6).

This language at the end of verse 10 about the enemy being trampled down in the streets should remind us of the promise back in Genesis 3:15 that tells us that the offspring of the woman (Jesus) will crush the head of the serpent (Satan). That event happened when Jesus died and rose again—Jesus “destroyed the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8; Heb 2:14). When you crush the head of a serpent, it does not immediately stop flop on the ground dead. The body writhes and flops around, coiling around the leg that has crushed it. That is all Satan has left, death pangs. He has been defeated, decisively, totally—he has no authority over you.

#2 God Isn’t Punishing You

“I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned” – Micah 7:9. What does that mean? Does this mean that when you or I sin that God snaps in anger at us? Does it mean that there is still some sin we must “pay back”? So perhaps you were rather promiscuous while you were in college, maybe you had an abortion, maybe you have something that haunts you and when you walk through suffering today you wonder: Is God punishing me for my past sin? Friend, if you are in Jesus, you can rest assured that God is not punishing you. Because Jesus has fully satisfied God’s wrath, because He has made full atonement for your sins, you can be confident that all the punishing that your sins required has already been dealt with. 

So what is the indignation of the Lord that Micah is bearing? It is the loving discipline of the Father (Heb 12:6). Because God loves us, and sin wants to kill us, God will do whatever it takes to pull us away from sin—which at times means that He will employ the rod of discipline. Sometimes our sins will bring about severe consequences that will cause us to cry out in pain, to question why God would let such a thing happen. But we can remain confident that the pain is coming from a Father who loves us, not an angry deity wishing to settle a score. 

I began the sermon sharing a story of when I was a two-year-old, so let me share a story of when my oldest son was two years old. We lived in Kentucky then and during a muggy Summer day my wife took my son over to a friend’s house for a joint yard sale. The moms set up a little kiddie pool for the boys to all play in to try to alleviate the suffocating heat. One of the boys playing in the pool had a metal watering can to play with and, for some reason, decided to hit Jack in the face with the can. The tip of the spout hit Jack right on his upper lip, seriously splitting it open. The cut ran from the edge of his lip up to his nostril, leaving a deep red gash that would need stitches to heal. So we carted our two year old, face covered in blood, screaming and confused, into the emergency room. Of course, he had no idea what was going on; he didn’t know what stitches were; and he didn’t know that the doctor and nurses were there to help him. The sedative they gave him seemed to have the opposite effect—every time the doctors and nurses would try to hold him down and start closing up the cut, he would scream and writhe and cry. Eventually, Hillary had to hold his head in place while I laid across his chests, pinning his arms down. 

I will never forget the fear and betrayal and confusion in my son’s eyes: Dad, why are you letting them do this? Why are you hurting me? Why? I wept as I tried to tell my son that we loved him, that it would be okay, that it would all be over soon, that this had to happen. He thought in that moment that I, his father, was there to hurt him, that I was against him. But the exact opposite was true—I did what I did precisely because I loved my son, because I wanted him to be healed. It is, to this day, one of the most painful memories of my life.

Friend, God is a good father who desperately wants you to be healed, who wants you be whole. He may take through seasons of perplexing suffering, of difficulty, of consequence. But remember that He is not punishing you, He is not there to hurt you needlessly, He is there to heal you, to love you, to ultimately protect you from the further damage your sin wants to rain down upon you.

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The Cost of Sin (Micah 6:9-7:7)

Sermon Audio: The Cost of Sin (Micah 6:9-7:7)

Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Micah 6:9-7:7. Go around and recap briefly what the sermon was about and share what points stood out most to you.
  2. In CS Lewis' children's novel, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, what did the "Turkish Delight" represent?
  3. Of the three "costs" of sin (exhausting, dehumanizing, and isolating), which have you seen in others or experienced yourself most?
  4. In the sermon, Marc mentioned that "sin is always going somewhere, it isn't inert, but has a trajectory." What does that mean?
  5. What are the two ways to respond to God's warning?
  6. Did you sense the Lord convicting you about sin in your life that you have not been repenting of? What does repentance look like for you?

Sermon Manuscript:

I don’t know about you, but during the Christmas season one thing my family enjoys doing is watching Christmas movies. One of my favorite Christmas movies is A Christmas Story, where we get to see the young Ralphie spend the weeks before Christmas trying to convince his mom and dad to get him the Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. I actually looked it up this morning, Ralphie asks 28 times for a Red Ryder BB gun in the movie. His mother repeatedly tells him that he can’t because he’ll shoot his eye out. Even Santa, before he uses his boot to shove Ralphie down the slide, tells him that he’ll shoot his eye out. To his great surprise, come Christmas morning, Ralphie’s dad (much to his mother’s dismay) gets a Red Ryder BB gun. When Ralphie goes outside to test it out, he takes aim and fires, and the BB ricochets right back at Ralphie, and (were it not for his glasses) he nearly shoots his eye out! What’s the moral of the story? Maybe that sons (or dads) should listen to moms’ warnings. Maybe that you shouldn’t shoot a BB gun at a metal sign. Or maybe it’s that sometimes the thing we want most will actually wind up hurting us.

Which makes me think of another Christmas story. And actually, what is so noteworthy about this Christmas story is the utter lack of Christmas. In CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the White Witch has put a curse over all of Narnia so that it is “always winter, but never Christmas.” There are no feasts, there is no jolly singing, no presents—only interminable cold. Edmund, a young boy, stumbles into this land through a magical wardrobe and immediately runs into the White Witch. Hoping to deceive Edmund into luring his other brother and sisters into the land to imprison them, the Witch acts friendly and welcoming to Edmund, inviting him up into her sleigh to warm himself under her fur blanket and then offers him enchanted Turkish Delight.

As Edmund eats the Turkish Delight, he suddenly realizes that he can’t stop himself from eating—he shovels the Turkish Delight in as fast as he can, rudely gorging himself on the conjured candy, “and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat,” till the box was empty. What Edmund didn’t realize was that this was cursed Turkish Delight, “that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves.” This insatiable craving becomes the means by which Edmund is enslaved to the White Witch, and is what will eventually lead him to shivering alone in an icy prison with nothing but stale bread crusts to eat.  

Sometimes, the things we want most, the things that seem to give us such an instantaneous burst of pleasure, wind up sinking hooks deep within us and yanking us down to depths we never imagined. This was true for God’s people in Micah’s day. They had given themselves over to idolatry, greed, or injustice because it gave them short term pleasure, but, according to Micah, was sowing long term destruction. In our text today, Micah is wanting to expose for his people the severe cost of sin, where their unfettered desires were going to take them. Perhaps you, yourself, have felt the itch of desire for something you know is wrong; perhaps you are caught up in a spiral of addiction; maybe you are like Edmund, and the more you eat, the more you want to keep eating. Our text today is here to clang a loud bell of warning: this is where your sin wants to take you. 

The voice of the LORD cries to the city—

and it is sound wisdom to fear your name:

“Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it!

Can I forget any longer the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked,

and the scant measure that is accursed?

Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales

and with a bag of deceitful weights?

Your rich men are full of violence;

your inhabitants speak lies,

and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.

Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow,

making you desolate because of your sins.

You shall eat, but not be satisfied,

and there shall be hunger within you;

you shall put away, but not preserve,

and what you preserve I will give to the sword.

You shall sow, but not reap;

you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil;

you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine.

For you have kept the statutes of Omri,

and all the works of the house of Ahab;

and you have walked in their counsels,

that I may make you a desolation, and your inhabitants a hissing;

so you shall bear the scorn of my people.”

Woe is me! For I have become

as when the summer fruit has been gathered,

as when the grapes have been gleaned:

there is no cluster to eat,

no first-ripe fig that my soul desires.

The godly has perished from the earth,

and there is no one upright among mankind;

they all lie in wait for blood,

and each hunts the other with a net.

Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well;

the prince and the judge ask for a bribe,

and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul;

thus they weave it together.

The best of them is like a brier,

the most upright of them a thorn hedge.

The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come;

now their confusion is at hand.

Put no trust in a neighbor;

have no confidence in a friend;

guard the doors of your mouth

from her who lies in your arms;

for the son treats the father with contempt,

the daughter rises up against her mother,

the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

a man's enemies are the men of his own house.

But as for me, I will look to the LORD;

I will wait for the God of my salvation;

my God will hear me.

-       Micah 6:9-7:7

Consider Sin’s Cost

Lord Byron, the poet and aristocrat, was the proverbial “bad boy” of 19th century England. He was wealthy, famous, talented, and knew no limits in regards to his sexual appetite. However, on his 36th birthday he wrote this poem:

My days are in the yellow leaf;

  The flowers and fruits of love are gone;

The worm, the canker, and the grief

      Are mine alone!

Basically: I feel like my life is ending; nothing makes me happy anymore; and the only companions and friends I have now are my grief and venereal diseases. Sin comes with a cost. 

What is Sin?

In the catechism my children use it describes sin as “rejecting or ignoring God in the world He created, not being or doing what is required in His law” (New City Catechism). How has Israel done this in Micah’s day? They have rejected and ignored God by treating Him like He is totally inconsequential. God is in the temple, and as long as we bring Him the right sacrifices, we can keep doing whatever we want. This was how other pagan religions viewed their gods. In fact, they had even begun to pay tribute and worship to other gods besides the One True God. And because they did this, they did not do or be what God required in His Law.

In our section we see Micah detail that they have used “scant measures,” “wicked scales,” and “deceitful weights,” (Micah 6:10-11) to fill their homes with “treasures of wickedness” (6:10). Even further, “the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together” (7:3). These are instances where Israel have twisted institutions or systems to become corrupt, whether those be in economics or the court system. This is the exact opposite of “doing justice” (Micah 6:8) that God requires. They are perverting justice to line their pockets.

Further, Israel is described as being a place where their “rich men are full of violence” and marked by dishonesty and deceit (Micah 6:12), where everyone is quick to stab each other in the back. Micah explains that Israel has “kept the statutes of Omri, and all the works of the house of Ahab,” (Micah 6:16). Omri and his son Ahab are not characters that anyone would want to be compared to. Here is what 1 Kings 16:25 says of Omri, “Omri did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did more evil than all who were before him.” Then, here is what the Bible says about Ahab, “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him,” (1 Kings 16:30)! Omri sets the Guinness world record for sinfulness, only to be quickly outdone by his own son. And now, in Micah’s day, instead of just having one Omri and one Ahab, now there is a whole nation of these guys. Micah finally explains Israel as a land where, “Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well,” (Micah 7:3). This means that Israel is using both of their hands to practice evil the way a tradesmen uses their hands to do a craft. They are excellent, skilled, refined in wickedness. They “make a practice of sin” as 1 John 3:8 explains. That is, they work with intention, effort, and industry to continue on in their sin.

As we look at what is going on here, we see three costs that sin exacts from us. 

My aim in these three points is to do what Thomas Watson encourages us to consider with our sin: “When you shall lie upon a dying bed, and stand before a judgment seat, sin shall be unmasked, and its dress and robes shall then be taken off, and then it shall appear more vile, filthy, and terrible than hell itself,” (Watson, Precious Remedies, p. 35).

Sin is exhausting

In verses 14-15 we read this judgment on Israel:

You shall eat, but not be satisfied,

and there shall be hunger within you;

you shall put away, but not preserve,

and what you preserve I will give to the sword.

You shall sow, but not reap;

you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil;

you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine.

Here, we see what is sometimes referred to as a “curse of futility.” Israel will labor, will work, but will enjoy none of the benefits. 

In the book of Galatians, Paul describes the work of God in a Christian’s life as the “fruit of the Spirit” and contrasts it with what he calls the “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:16-21). Why? Because sin is work. It is toil and labor. More accurately, it is pointless toil and labor. At least in the final analysis it is. It likely does not feel that way, it likely doesn’t feel fruitless, or hollow, at first. It isn’t till the box is empty and all the Turkish Delight are gone that Edmund begins to feel both sick to his stomach and profoundly unsatisfied, desperate for more. 

“You shall eat, but not be satisfied.” Satan’s great aim is for you to throw your life away for a trinket, to fritter it away in anxious toil for that which will never satisfy you. This week I read of a man who had been so caught in his addiction to pornography that he would stay up to 2 or 3 in the morning, searching for the perfect image, the perfect video, then wake up at 6 AM to go to work, he lost his job, lost his family, lost everything. That is an extreme example, but illustrates this principle perfectly? Why was the man spending hours searching every night? Because he was looking for something he would never find, he kept wanting to find something that would satiate his hunger, but never found it. Why? Because when you give yourself over to your sin, you shall eat, but won’t be satisfied. This is what our sin does to us. Give yourself over to your vanity, to your greed, to your anger, to your self-righteousness and watch: the more you eat of it, the more you’ll want to eat. You’ll never have enough.

In C.S. Lewis’ other great book, The Screwtape Letters, a senior demon is coaching a younger demon on how to tempt humans where he explains: “An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.”

Sin is dehumanizing

Woe is me! For I have become

as when the summer fruit has been gathered,

as when the grapes have been gleaned:

there is no cluster to eat,

no first-ripe fig that my soul desires.

The godly has perished from the earth,

and there is no one upright among mankind;

they all lie in wait for blood,

and each hunts the other with a net.

-       Micah 7:1-2

Here Micah laments Israel’s condition. He feels like a fruit picker who showed up to harvest, but there is nothing left on the vine, no “first-ripe fig” available. A “fig tree” is an image God uses to describe Israel in the Old Testament (Hos 9:10), but here there is no fig available. Jeremiah describes the nation of Israel like a basket of rotten figs (Jer 24:1-3), filled with injustice and sin. This is why Jesus curses the fig tree right before he curses the temple in Jerusalem (Mark 11:12-21)—Israel is like a barren fig tree, good for nothing. Here, Micah notes that Israel has no fruit, they are not what they are supposed to be. Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations of God’s goodness and purity and holiness; that was her purpose. But instead, Micah says that there isn’t a single godly person left in Israel. They have become like animals who hunt each other down. Later Micah notes,

The best of them is like a brier,

the most upright of them a thorn hedge.

-       Micah 7:4

Instead of a fig tree producing fruit, they are a bramble of thorns, producing nothing but ugliness and pain. Sin warps us, twists us. We were designed for nobility, for grandeur. We were made to reflect God. We were not made to be bent inward, constantly searching for how to gratify ourselves, how to protect our self-image, our fragile egos, our silly ideas of self-importance. We were made to love God and love others; sin leads us to be centered on ourselves. Every act of sin is an assault on human dignity. 

Have you been alarmed at what you are capable of doing? Has your anger, your selfishness, your desperation for acceptance and approval shocked you by what lows you have been willing to sink to? This is the cost of giving our hearts over to our sin.

Sin is isolating

Micah warns us that within Israel the social fabric has completely unraveled:

Put no trust in a neighbor;

have no confidence in a friend;

guard the doors of your mouth

from her who lies in your arms;

for the son treats the father with contempt,

the daughter rises up against her mother,

the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

a man's enemies are the men of his own house.

-       Micah 7:5-6

If sin is fundamentally a turning inward upon ourselves, then of course the natural consequence of it is that we become distrustful of other people. Selfishness is not a recipe to build a strong community on. 

These are the consequences of sin and like a bucket of cold water dumped over the head, we should let these consequences sober us. A mom was in the grocery store with her young son, standing in the checkout aisle. She noticed her son staring at the cover of a magazine with some provocative image on its cover. The mom told her son, “That’s gross, don’t look at that.” But, of course, it didn’t seem gross to the son. What the mom should have said was, “That will kill you.” Sin comes with a cost.

Friend, that grumbling attitude that wants to complain about everything, that laziness that wants to avoid self-denial, that dishonesty—all of that is going somewhere. Don’t think that you can plant the seeds of sin and not reap its fruit. Perhaps the thin wedge of compromise that you are making now is but the tip of a spike of wickedness that Satan is wanting to pound into your life bringing about consequences that you never imagined you would pay for. Friends, don’t let this sermon today be a moment that you look back on in regret saying, “I knew then that I should have given this up, I knew then, but I didn’t do anything, and now my life is left in shambles and ruin.” Today you don’t have to toil and labor for that which doesn’t satisfy, you don’t have to continue dehumanizing yourself, you don’t have to keep pushing other people away from you. 

Consider God’s Offer

Micah has been oscillating back and forth between warnings of judgment and promises of restoration, but this time he opens with trumpet blast of warning: “The voice of the Lord cries to the city—and it is sound wisdom to fear your name. Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it!”” (6:9). What is God’s offer here? It is an offer to respond. It is an offer to consider that God is not indifferent towards our sin, and He will respond, so we must consider what we are going to do about it. Does God care about what you do with your life? If we are to take the Bible seriously, it would appear He cares a great deal. And here, by sending Micah to announce the danger, the judgment, the warnings of this section, he tells them to consider the “rod” of the Lord. The instrument of discipline. Here is what this means:

There are two ways to respond to the warning of God: (1) to recognize yourself in the warning and admit your fault, or (2) ignore it.

If Israel will but listen to what the Lord says through Micah and his warnings, He will relent. God is a God rich in mercy and abundant in steadfast love. He will assuredly pardon. But if Israel doesn’t respond? If they ignore God’s warning, then He will use the rod. He will strike them with a grievous blow. God is stronger than we are and the consequences of sin we experience now will be but a mere foretaste of the judgment that they will face in the life to come. If our sin is the experience of us moving away from God, ignoring Him, denying Him, and we reap these consequences that will leave our lives unraveled—what will all of eternity be when we are cast away from His presence wholly? Is your sin worth it?

But what if we recognize ourselves in the warning and continue to struggle? What if we are trapped in a cycle of sin it seems like we cannot escape from? What if the more we earnestly try to pursue and follow the Lord we seem to find more and more pockets of sin? You are not working “with both hands” to practice your sin, you are not making conscious plans of how to continue your sin, but there it is. You keep struggling, you keep wrestling. What do you do then? You look to the final verse:

But as for me, I will look to the LORD;

I will wait for the God of my salvation;

my God will hear me.

-       Micah 7:7

Next week we will look at Micah’s pattern of what true repentance looks like, how to turn from sin, but for now you can know that there is a God of salvation here for you. Jesus is a friend of foolish sinners like me. What does Micah do here? He looks, he waits, he trusts that God will hear him. Notice how simple that is, notice how all of that is a look outward and upward to God—not a look inward to his own resources, to his own strength, to his own goodness to deliver him from sin. Dear weary sinner, if you will be cast an upward glance towards heaven, there you will find an abundance of help, an eagerness for pardon, and an abounding love that will swallow up your sin, guilt, and condemnation. There you will find an understanding Savior who is no friend of your sin, but who is so filled with gentleness and compassion that He desires you to be rid of your sin even more than you do. 

Great sins do draw out great grace; and where guilt is most terrible and fierce, there the mercy of God in Christ, when showed to the soul, appears most high and mighty. 

- John Bunyan, "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners"

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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.

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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

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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.

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