The Confident Believer
Are you ever tempted to think that the church is on the way out? You know that, as an institution it has had a long innings, but now, in the 21 st century, all that seems to be coming to an end. When you look at some areas of the world it seems that the church is in a bad way and perhaps even in terminal decline. And of course there are plenty of people in the world who would just love that to be the case and how they rejoice when the latest church scandal hits the headlines!
Well, it is true that the condition of the church might appear to be bleak to the casual observer but it has been like that before and you know what the church is still here.
The immediate prospects of the people of God in Micah’s day looked anything but promising and as we have seen his book does contain several predictions of immanent judgment. And yet, as we come towards the end of Micah’s prophecy, we simply find him brimming over with confidence. How can that be? How is that possible?
Well that is what we going to consider this morning as we look together at these verses in Micah ch.7. As we come to appreciate Micah’s understanding and outlook I hope we will all realise that the true believer has every reason to be confident and that includes us. However serious the church’s predicament might be, the Lord hasn’t finished with us yet. Yes the church may experience its troubles but its enemies should not be too quick to rejoice for the church is not done for, because the Lord delights to intervene in favour of his people and for the glory of his name.
The Problem Confronted Head On
No one could accuse Micah of living in a fantasy world. No one could make out that he was simply in denial when it came to assessing the harsh realities of real life. Micah didn’t pretend that things were better than they really were and the confidence he demonstrated was not due to a dubious reading of carefully selected facts. Not a bit of it! Micah did not ignore the harsh realities that his nation was experiencing and he recognised too that the immediate future would be decidedly uncomfortable. And despite it all that he remained confident and hopeful. He has left us an example that we would do well to follow.
As we look at Micah’s example we are, or should be, struck by his realism. The Bible does not encourage us to shut our eyes to the facts nor does it encourage us dream up some sort of idealised world and try to live there. Bible truth is truth for the real world; it is truth for the world in which you live. Micah did not bury his head in the sand and pretend not to see the dangers that surrounded him but then again neither did he limit his vision to exclude the spiritual reality of God himself.
There are three things that characterised Micah’s outlook at that difficult time in the history of God’s people.
A. Recognition of enemies
Look at verse 8:
v.8 "Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;"
Firstly, Micah knew that he and his people had enemies and these enemies were only too ready to rejoice in any calamity that might come his way. Micah did not live in a make believe world which was only inhabited by nice people, he knew that there were others who certainly did not have the best interests of his people at heart.
We too need to realise that the church throughout its history has been surrounded by people who do not want it to succeed in its God-given and spiritual mission. Their hostility has been expressed in different ways at different periods of history and that hostility is still being expressed today. How they would love to see the church somehow neutered and domesticated if not totally annihilated!
One of the ways in which that hostility is expressed is when the church is called upon to take a particular moral stand on the political and social issues of the day. This call usually comes for the church to use its influence to support a cause that others in society have already decided is the right one. Such people have their own agenda and they want to impose it on the church, they have decided what tune they are going to play and they want the church to dance along, but they have no interest in allowing the church to be faithful to the agenda God has given it in the preaching of the gospel.
When the church has the courage not to play ball we mustn’t be surprised when the mockery and derision kicks in.
However, in the light of the NT we also need to realise that the principal enemies of the church are not these misguided men and women; there are spiritual forces that lie behind the scenes manipulating all that opposition to the true church of God. We must be careful not to misidentify our real enemies but neither must we forget that the enemies that confront the church are real. Micah knew he lived in the presence of enemies.
B. Recognition of Sin
Again and again, in the book that bears his name, Micah has warned of coming judgment that would fall upon his own people and he has repeatedly explained why such judgment would come about. The nation had turned away from the LORD God and got involved in all kinds of wrongdoing. Micah had denounced the spiritual wrongdoing of idolatry, false religion and false teaching but he had not stopped there he had also denounced violence, greed, covetousness, oppression, injustice, bribery and corruption.
Now Micah confessed that the mess the nation was in, the mess that was seemingly giving others reason for mocking them, was self-inflicted!
Micah spoke of falling, of sitting in darkness, of bearing the indignation of the LORD – he wasn’t shutting his eyes to the harsh realities of life he was recognising and accepting them. And he recognised that it was sin that was responsible:
vv.8-9 "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..."
This is the response of a believer and how different it is from that of the non-believer! The judgment that was about to fall was a just judgment and Micah made no attempt to try to diminish the importance of the wrong doing that called for it, nor did he try to make excuses or to shift the blame onto others. He confessed the wrongdoing and called it what it was – sin.
It can perhaps be tempting when things seem to go catastrophically wrong to simply give up and to throw in the towel. Some might say at such a time "I’ve tried religion, but it doesn’t work for me". But that is not what Micah did and it is not what the Christian does. And it is not what you must do. The way of the believer is to front up and simply confess his sin:
1Jn.1:8-10 "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."
Have you done that in your life? Are you still doing that each time you are made aware of those shortcomings and failures that others ignore but which you know offend your God? We don’t have to pretend with God – he knows all about us anyway – but we do need to come clean and own our sins confessing them that we might be forgiven.
C. Recognition that God is Involved
Enemies were real to Micah and so was the judgment and the blackness of the coming Babylonian disaster and he was not about to pretend otherwise but neither was he going to forget that the LORD was also involved and would be involved.
Already in speaking of sitting in darkness Micah had spoken of the LORD being a light to him there now he continued to look to the LORD fully expecting him to take up the cause of his people and to vindicate them and to bring them anew into the light:
v.9b "until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication."
The God who judges is also the God who pleads and delivers!
Micah uses the language of the law courts and he expects the LORD to speak up winningly for him! In the NT we find the same ideas and similar language:
1Jn.2:1-2 "if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."
This is the reality vision that we need – yes, we need to recognise the problems and the difficulties, yes, we need to realise the role of our own sinful responsibility, but oh how important it is that we remember that the LORD is part of our reality too! What an impact such recognition had upon Micah as he confronted the world of his day and what an impact it will have on us and on our world too!
Micah expected to be vindicated, justified, and what a cause for rejoicing that would be! At the same time those who mocked the Lord’s ability to save, his willingness to save, would be humbled.
v.10 "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."
When the Lord intervenes on behalf of his people the effects are impressive.
Later Micah will further allow his convictions to direct his practice and behaviour for later we will find him turning to the Lord in serious, confident prayer. But before we get to Micah at prayer he has something else to teach us.
Micah has already spoken of his vindication and of the humbling of those who mocked and in the following verses he expanded on what he meant explaining more of just what this would look like. And he began with the peace, prosperity and expansion of the kingdom of God:
vv.11-12 "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."
Micah envisaged a bright future as the LORD justified his people. The walls he spoke of were not the walls of a defensive stronghold necessary when the opposition is to be feared but rather they were the walls of sheep-pens and the walls of vineyards necessary when prosperity and peace abounds. The kingdom would grow as the boundaries would be pushed further and further away and the population too would increase with a great influx coming from those previously hostile nations of Egypt and Assyria and they will come to the LORD – the conversion of the nations is coming into view.
This confident message that Micah proclaimed about the growth of the kingdom finds its NT equivalent in the teaching of Jesus. Do you remember what Jesus said to his disciples?
Mt.16:18 "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
The church began in hostile circumstances and it has continued to experience opposition from without and corruption from within but the church has not disappeared and gone away instead it has grown and grown just as Micah and Jesus said it would:
Rev.5:9-10 "And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."
If you are a believer you should surely be encouraged to know that the kingdom of God will grow and grow. At times we might look out on our world and with our limited view and our limited understanding be tempted to think otherwise but we must listen to what God has to say and take our lead from him and not from our own all too often faulty feelings.
Similarly we can be tempted to look on the lives of the godless and admire them for the apparent prosperity and ease of their lives but in reality they are on a very slippery slope and one which, without repentance, will end in disaster. As Micah explained:
v.13 "But the earth will be desolate because of its inhabitants, for the fruit of their deeds."
These verses make it very clear that there is a great difference between being a member of the church and being an opponent of it!
Confident Prayer for the Future of the Church
In the final verses that we are going to look at this morning Micah shows us that being confident of the safety of God’s people and of the certain increase of the church that Christ has promised to build should not lead us into a passive inactivity.
Having just affirmed his confidence in the work of God in protecting and building up his people Micah turns immediately to prayer.
v.14 "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."
What does Micah mean us to understand by this?
Well, in his prayer Micah called upon the LORD to abundantly provide for his people – specifically he asked the LORD to protect his people (rod) and to provide for them (let them graze). All of the imagery used points to lavish fertility and not to economic hardship or shortness of provisions. Bashan and Gilead were situated to the east of the Jordan and were so rich and fertile that some of Israel’s tribes were so enamoured by their richness that they didn’t want to have their inheritance to the west of the Jordan.
Micah’s prayer was no small prayer – he knew that he was coming to the Lord with his prayers and large petitions were the order of the day when coming to such a great king.
In the NT the apostle Paul followed in Micah’s footsteps and prayed big prayers – think for example of how he prayed for the Christians at Ephesus. He wanted them to know the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge; he wanted them to be filled with all the fullness of God!
And Paul, as Micah before him, knew that God is always able to do far more abundantly than whatever we might we ask or think! What do we know of praying such big prayers?
God’s people are said "dwell alone" or apart – that is, they are, and are meant to be, a holy people, different from the rest of the nations with their very separateness being designed to promote God’s glory and to make him known among the nations. And if that is the case then surely big prayers are just the kind we should be praying concerning God’s people, the church.
There are times when prayer seems to go unanswered for a long time but that most certainly wasn’t the case here. Micah has barely got the words out of his mouth before the Lord speaks to encourage and reassure him.
v.15 "As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them marvellous things."
Micah’s contemporary Isaiah helps us understand such a rapid response:
Isa 65:24 "Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear."
And Jesus spoke in similar fashion too during his Sermon on the Mount:
Mt.6:8 "Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."
In answer to Micah’s "big prayer" the Lord promised "big answers". And every such promise ought to encourage us with our prayers.
The miraculous works which the Lord promised to perform in response to Micah’s fervent praying would serve not merely to bless his people but also to humble his enemies causing them to be ashamed of their past rebellion. Perhaps some of those who would turn in dread to the Lord would do so as a genuine act of repentance as they came to faith.
The church may have to go through difficult times as it is disciplined for its own sin but discipline does not mean destruction for God’s people however grievous at times that discipline might appear. The believer can look forward with confidence – a fall will be followed by a new rising and to a renewed experience of walking in the light. The Lord does not begin a good work only to abandon it part way through. No, he completes and will complete what he has started and it will be finalised in the day of Christ Jesus.
So don’t give way to the hostility and mockery of those outside the church for Jesus is thoroughly committed to building his church. Your bold prayers for the church of Jesus Christ and for his glory in his church are prayers that God delights to hear and to answer. You have every reason and every encouragement to be a confident Christian for our confidence is in Christ and Christ alone!
Remember John Newton’s words and do what he says:
Thou art coming to a King,
large petitions with thee bring,
for his grace and pow'r are such,
none can ever ask too much.
And to God be the glory.