Lord v. the People

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Hear what the Lord says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the Lord has an indictment against His people, and He will contend with Israel” (Micah 6:1-2).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Hear ye, hear ye. Court is now in session. Calling the case of the Lord God versus the People. The Honorable Hills and Mountains presiding.
Your Honor and ladies and gentlemen of the jury: the defendants have been charged with the breach of covenant. The evidence presented will prove the defendants are guilty of apostasy and countless acts of unfaithfulness.
Through His prophet Micah, the Lord challenges His people to a public hearing before the mountains and the hills of the Promised Land. The high places serve as the witnesses, judge, and jury because for centuries they have witnessed the Lord’s goodness to Israel and Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord. Mount Sinai saw the Lord establish His covenant with Israel. On the mountain of the Lord, Moses received God’s holy Law that taught them how to live as God’s holy people. Through thousands of worship services in the temple on Mount Zion, the Savior drew near to His people. And the many hills in ancient Canaan blushed with shame as they watched faithless Israel practicing idolatry on their high places.
But notice this: Although the Israelites have forfeited any claims to God’s love and mercy by repeatedly breaking His covenant, the Lord still calls them “My people.” He refuses to turn His back on them. He simply can’t. He loves them. They are His covenant people. From them, in the fullness of time, the promised Messiah will come. But because He cares for them, He must bring charges against them, that they might be convicted of their sin and return to Him in repentance.
The Lord’s lead-off questions are pivotal to His case: “O My people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” Knowing very well the people cannot answer this charge substantially, the Lord goes on to present evidence of His faithfulness throughout history. Exhibit A is the exodus. As He had promised, the Lord had delivered His people from bitter slavery in Egypt. Nevertheless, the Israelites had not gone far before they longed for the “good old days” in Egypt.
Furthermore, God had provided His people with three excellent leaders during their 40-year wilderness journey. Moses was God’s spokesman and their leader; Aaron was the was high priest and his brother’s spokesman to the people; their sister Miriam was a prophetess for them. Sadly, time and again, Israel had rebelled against their God-given authority and caused them great grief.
Yet there was more! As the Israelites drew near to their promised homeland, King Balak of Moab tried to harm Israel by hiring the heathen prophet Balaam to curse them. The Lord, however, commanded Balaam to bless the Israelites—four times in fact, and one time he even prophesied of the Messiah (Number 22:24).
And could Israel forget Shittim and Gilgal? Shittim lay east of Jericho, across the Jordan River. It was Israel’s last camping place before crossing the Jordan and entering Canaan. Here the people had committed sexual sins with the Moabites and had joined in their idolatry. Although the Lord punished them for these sins, He had not rejected them. When the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River and set up their first camp in the Promised Land at Gilgal, they rejoiced because at last the Lord had brought His people home.
Your Honor: The Lord rests His case.
It is time for the people to speak on their own behalf. But let’s be honest: As the defendants in God’s courtroom, the people of Israel do not present much of a defense. Really, they can make no defense. They stand convicted. They have been unfaithful to the Lord time and again. But do they come before the Lord on bended knee asking for mercy and forgiveness? Do they make even the faintest plea? On the contrary, in a tone of self-righteous pride, the Israelites ask God what they must do to get back into His good graces. They still think they can earn God’s good will. They are willing to bargain with God as though He is one of their own corrupt judges who can be bribed to overlook their failings (Micah 3:9, 11).
And what do they have to offer the Lord? The best of their possessions like year-old calves used in the burnt offering? Or, if quantity is what God wants, how about thousands of rams and ten thousands of rivers of oil, poured out on God’s altar as an offering? If that is not sufficient, will God perhaps accept the sacrifice of their firstborn, the most precious of their possessions?
The sacrifice of children was practiced by ancient heathen peoples, especially by the Moabites and the Phoenicians (2 Kings 3:26, 27). Those Israelites, like wicked Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3) and godless Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6) who resorted to human sacrifice were following the practice of their heathen neighbors, not God’s command or instructions. There is no record of the Israelites engaging in this practice as a regular course. In God’s eyes, human sacrifice was an abominable sin forbidden under penalty of death (Leviticus 20:2-5).
It seems the guilt-ridden people of Israel in Micah’s day are willing to do anything to please God—anything, of course, except for what He wants, what He calls for. The Lord desires “mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). He wants the sacrifice of “a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17).
To these pitiful attempts to buy the Lord’s favor, Micah replies: “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?”
To “do justice” is to live according to God’s Law. Worshiping God alone, trusting in Him alone is acting justly toward God. Treating others as you would like to be treated is to do justice.
To “love kindness” is to be merciful. Mercy is the kind of love God shows to us—a forgiving, unconditional, compassionate, giving kind of love. The father of the prodigal son had it; he welcomed his son back with open arms. The good Samaritan showed it to the helpless victim along the road.
To “walk humbly with your God” is to see yourself as God sees you, as a sinner deserving death, as an imperfect creature of dust and clay. Only then, will you humbly seek God’s forgiveness and gladly seek His help to live a godly life.
Micah 6:8 is a summary of the entire Law, of both tables, which show our duty to God and our duty to our neighbor. As the prophet holds up the mirror of God’s Law, it should be clear to all that His people are failing miserably.
In the verses that follow our text, the Lord speaks of the consequences of the people’s sin: The rod of punishment will fall upon them because they have failed to do good. The Lord inflicts a “futility curse” on the people, which prevents them from ever being satisfied or enjoying the fruits of their labors. They will be cursed, not blessed. Whoever breaks God’s laws will ultimately face God’s judgment.
The trial in our text is against God’s people, Israel; but it could just as well be against you, too. What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. So, how’s that going for you? What would happen if the Lord called you to account? There is a day of reckoning, you know. Your sins may not match all that the Lord here condemns, but none of us is innocent in His sight. All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
How then can you be saved? How can you do what the Lord requires?
Ironically, the answer is hinted at in one of the peoples’ desperate solutions to get right with God. Remember how they asked, somewhat hyperbolically: “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” God rejects their proposal, of course, for God cannot be bought off, and remedy requires nothing desperate or herculean on their part anyhow.
That is, God rejects their proposal as their remedy for their problem. But, He does not reject it as His remedy for their problem. For this is ultimately God’s solution to the problem of the people of Israel’s apostasy—and our own. God gives His firstborn on the cross for our transgression. He sacrifices the fruit of His body, His Son, for the sin of our soul. Jesus bears the judgment of God’s righteous wrath for our sin. Jesus dies to pay the wages of our sin.
How ironic! The desperate solution proposed by the sinful people of our text and rightly rejected by God becomes the very cornerstone to save humanity from sin and death. What matters is that it is His solution, not ours.
So, in addition to Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, and the hills of Canaan, we have one more witness to call: Mount Calvary. For it is there on the hill of the skull that Christ’s perfect obedience and righteousness was exchanged for our disobedience and sin. There, even as God’s chosen people carried out the greatest injustice in the history of the world, Christ fulfilled all righteousness. There, even as God’s people shamefully treated His only Son with the utmost cruelty, Jesus demonstrated the greatest mercy. There, as God’s people reached a haughtiness so high they deigned to put the Son of God to death, Christ humbled Himself to the point of suffering death, hell, and grave. Three days later, Jesus rose from the grave, proving His victory over sin, death, and Satan and opening the kingdom of heaven to all who believe on His name.
In Baptism, all that belongs to God’s firstborn becomes yours as are you are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. You receive His Holy Spirit. You are adopted as God’s child, made an heir of His eternal kingdom. Christ’s righteousness is now yours. His obedience is credited to you. As you live in that Baptism through daily repentance, your old Adam is put to death with all sins and evil desires, so that the new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
By grace through faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are one of God’s own holy, chosen people. What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. In other words, repent! Humbly confess your sin unto the Lord, trusting that Christ’s all-sufficient sacrifice covers all your sins, too. Cast away your sins and cling to His grace and mercy in Christ. Go forth and live each day for Him and your neighbor. You are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Solemn Promise from God and before God: A Sermon for the Wedding of Greg & Jessi McCormick

A Wonderful Mystery: An Address for the Wedding of James & Rebecca Dubro

The Lord Is My Shepherd: A Funeral Sermon