1st Sunday of End Time
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins with his own blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father- to him be glory forever and ever Amen! In the name of Jesus, who has forgiven all our sins, dear friends in Christ, the followers of Islam believe in a god who will give them paradise in exchange for a life of submission adherence to the 5 pillars of Islam, which include: reciting a creed, giving a certain amount of their wealth, praying 5 times a day, fasting from dawn to dusk during the month of Rhamadan, and if they are able, making a pilgrimage to Mecca. The followers of Hindu have 3 paths to bliss: the first is by self-awareness meditation becoming “one with god,” another is through gaining more and more knowledge, and the last is through works of service. The followers of the god of prosperity believe that if they just trust in wealth, it’ll keep them wanting more and more, and eventually they’ll have a few comforts for this life, which expire in this life, or at least they’ll die trying to get them. The followers of the substance abuse god are promised a short time of ease or thrill in exchange for a massive physical, emotional, or material cost. The followers of Baal an Asherah are promised rain and other necessities of life in exchange for a life of prayer, acts of service and sacred prostitution. None of those just don’t even come close to a comparison, do they? It was this incomparableness that the prophet Micah was pointing out in our text for this morning.
Well, who was Micah? Micah was a prophet of God from the southwestern part of Judah, that is, the southern kingdom. He lived during the 700s BC (so about 700 years before Christ, same time as Isaiah). What was going on in the world at this time? Well, remember that back in about 930 BC the kingdom of Israel split in two with a northern kingdom that quickly became a spiritual mess and a southern kingdom that was kind of mix of good and bad. The northern kingdom pretty much ditched God for earthly stuff, mixed worship to God with worship of false gods like Baal or Asherah. Well, it happens that the location of Israel was right on a major trade route connecting the eastern world with Egypt. Which was both good and bad. Good in that it brought a lot of people and their wealth through Israel, bad in that every other nation wanted control over the land. Well, first God used the Assyrians to invade the northern kingdom in order to wake them up from the spiritual laxity, the northern kingdom was then forced to pay Assyria tribute. Then the northern kingdom wanted to ally itself with the southern kingdom in order to rebel against Assyria, but instead, the southern kingdom decided to ally itself with Assyria, which brought Assyria to their doorstep and resulted in them having to pay tribute to Assyria as well.
Along with all this political intrigue going on was the result of the few years of economic prosperity that Judah, the southern kingdom had experienced. And what typically happens during a time of economic prosperity? A selfish materialism set it – people were only concerned with getting more and more stuff, the people became complacent toward worship and religion, the religious leaders told the people what they wanted to hear in order to earn a salary – in fact Micah even says, “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, “I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer, he would be just the prophet for you people!”, and personal, social, and moral values declined. We’re told about Ahaz, a king of Judah during Micah’s time, who sacrificed his children in the fire to false gods, he set up altars to false gods in the temple, let injustice prevail, when God sent a foreign nations to oppress them and wake them up, they turned not to God, but to a different foreign nation for help, which forced them to have to pay tribute to that other nation. Just a mess!
So, Micah’s prophecy focused on all these abuses. His message was consistent with Moses’ message in Deuteronomy: If you obey God and walk in His ways, you will live long in the land, if you disobey, you’ll go into exile. And since they didn’t stay faithful to God, they would face a humiliating destruction. Micah prophesied both the destruction of Samaria (the capital of the Northern kingdom) and the destruction of Jerusalem “Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble.” He preached God’s righteous judgment on those who rebelled against Him.
So, you can imagine trying to live as a faithful Israelite in this mess. God’s judgment through the oppression of foreign nations is not a big surprise to you. After all you have seen, why should God spare anyone? And sure it might be easy to point out the sins of your fellow Israelites, but you also recognize the sin and corruption that lives right inside of you! You’re not exactly a model Israelite believer either! How much has the corrupt society in which you live have an influence on you? So, as Micah foretells, God’s judgment is coming, devastation and destruction are on their way and it would make perfect sense if God came and just decimated everyone for their sins and took back His promise of a Savior.
But perhaps we live in a world not too distant to Micah’s world. Do religious leaders today tell people what they want to hear in order to make a salary? Have people grown complacent to worshipping God? Are people more focused on themselves than helping others? Are false gods worshipped on every street corner? And can we say that this hasn’t had an effect on us? Are we children of our times? Have we erected altars to ourselves in our own hearts? Have we grown complacent toward God? Do we trust in human things for our safety and security in an uncertain and tumultuous world instead of God? Perhaps our world isn’t much better than the world of Micah.
But woe and destruction isn’t how God’s message through Micah ends. Our text for this morning is the very last words from the prophet Micah. And what does it say? “Who is a God like you?” God has the attribute of incomparability. God does what no one else does or can do. What is it that makes our God, the one true God, stunningly different from every false god of the human imagination? Our God intervenes in human history as not a Judge or Law-giver, but a forgiving God. He “pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance.” The word translated “sin” really means perversity or wrong-doing and the guilt associated with it- both the wrong deed committed and it’s resultant guilty conscience. And “transgression” is really conscious rebellion against what is right and good. And what does God do? He literally lifts the burden off the guilty conscience and He literally passes over sin. The verbs “pardon” and “forgive” are both participles describing someone in continuous activity. He is the God who “daily and richly forgives all sins to me and all believers.” Who is a God like ours?
And he goes on: He doesn’t stay angry, but delights in showing mercy. It pleases God to love His people. “You will again have compassion on us.” Have pity, sympathy as a mother for her child. Here the Hebrew verb stresses the recurrence of this, in other words, God will again and again and again have compassion again and again and again, just like the waves of a sea roll against the shore again and again, never stopping- that’s God’s recurring compassion! “You will tread our sins underfoot.” Here God is pictured as a warrior going to battle against our sins. Think about all your sins that you have amassed your entire life – the thousands upon thousands, millions upon millions of sins that are standing up to accuse you, that make you doubt God’s full and free forgiveness for those sins, that pester your conscience. Here God is pictured as a warrior taking all of those sins and hurling them to the ground and trampling them under his feet. He will not let them accuse His forgiven children anymore. And if we yet have any doubts, what does he say, “and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Here is the picture of Pharoah’s army charging at God’s people and God washing them under the Red Sea. They’re buried in depths of the sea! God’s so determined to forgive us that He has wiped all of our sins from His memory and He doesn’t want us to even remember them! Spurlos Versenkt is what German U-Boat commanders used to say when they sunk and enemy ship and it means “sunk without a trace” – that’s what God has done with your sins! Who is a God like ours?
Why does God do all of this? “You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.” God is faithful, He cannot lie, when God promises something it is true no matter what. What did God pledge to Jacob and Abraham? Do you remember? “All nations on earth will be blessed through you.” In other words, He would send a Savior through Judah. How has God given us such forgiveness? By doing what no false god of the human imagination would or could ever do: God fulfilled His ancient promise by sending His Son Jesus. For about 33 years Jesus lived perfectly, trusted in God perfectly, never once gave into sin’s temptation. Why? So that His perfection might be credited to your account. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Jesus died on the cross becoming the lightning rod for all of God’s wrath and anger and judgment and punishment for all of your sins and mine. And he did all this while we were still sinners! While we couldn’t earn it or deserve it! Why? All so that your sins may be forgiven and you may live in heaven forever! Who – is – a – God – like – ours?!?!
See what a forgiving God you have!! So what do you do with news like this? First, relish it. Yes it’s true, the Lord could return at any moment as the Sovereign Judge of all the earth, but that’s no reason for you to be scared for you are forgiven and God wants you to know for sure that your sins have been forgiven in full- if you have any doubts, look at what God, who cannot lie, tells you here! Second, reflect it. Yes, we live in a world full of sin and corruption, maybe just as bad as Micah’s day, and yes, as faithful Christians we are a small remnant, as the faithful few at Micah’s time, and yes as such our lives won’t be a bed of roses, we will be wronged, we will be mistreated, we may be harmed, even fellow believers may do us wrong. But remember, who is a God like ours? Who has pardoned all your sins, forgiven all your iniquities, and cast them into the depths of the sea so they’re gone forever? And it’s His amazing forgiveness that allows you and me to reflect it by forgiving and forgetting in our lives! Amen.