Are you bowled over with the gospel?
If you are not, you will always have problems with living the Christian Life. Contentment will be something you see in the lives of others but it will always seem to remain just beyond your reach. When others are rejoicing and full of joy you will find the duties of the Christian Life irksome and burdensome. While others are at peace in the most trying of circumstances you will be weighed down by anxiety.
What you believe and how you believe it has a tremendous impact in your life. I don’t mean by that there your circumstances will always automatically improve if you believe the right things but you and your attitude will improve and you will cope better in every circumstance. However, if you don’t think much or often of the gospel, don’t be surprised if the gospel has little positive influence on you and your daily life.
A believer’s faith is meant to have a positive and beneficial influence upon the way he lives his everyday life. Bible faith is much more than a collection of truths to believe, real Bible faith includes putting those truths into practice and allowing them to bear fruit in our lives. The way forward, however, is not to establish a list of rules and regulations and then try desperately to follow them. No, the way forward is to be caught up with the God who gave them. And Micah shows us how to do that.
This morning, as we complete our studies in the book of Micah, we’re going to see how he brought his work to a close. He did so with an outburst of praise and adoration to his God, leaving us with a good example to follow. Do you want the gospel to have a profound influence upon your life? Then follow Micah’s example, for Micah was indeed a man who was bowled over with the gospel.
A One-of-a-Kind God
Micah had begun his prophecy with the fury of God’s wrath but now as he closes the book he does so in a very different manner speaking now of God as the fountain of mercy. Let me read to you again the wonderful words with which Micah brings his book to a close and then we will look at them more closely.
Mic.7:18-20 "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 under foot.
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."
In these verses Micah both speaks about God and to God:
The truths that Micah knows about this God have impressed him and given him a firm basis for being confident with regards to the future.
Micah is in relationship with his God – his words are addressed in the first part of v.18 directly to the Lord – did you see that? "Who is a God like you?" he asked.
Can the same things be said about you? What do you know about this God? Are you amazed at him? Do the things that you believe about him have any significant influence upon your attitude and behaviour? Do you take time to think about him? Do you take the time to speak to him, pray to him?
We all struggle with this at times so let Micah help us. One of the reasons his example is written down in Scripture is just that, that his experience might help us too. So then if Micah allowed what he knew about God to lead him into praise and personal worship – we should do the same.
Micah began with a wordplay question. You’ll maybe remember that Micah’s name meant "Who is a God like you?" and that is the question he asked. It wasn’t a question that really called for an answer and Micah was not about to wait for one for he knew that there is no God like Yahweh! Effectively he was saying to the Lord:
"You are incomparable, totally without compare! You are unique, one of a kind!"
Micah was not the first to express his admiration of the Lord in such terms as a careful examination of the OT will make clear; he was following in the footsteps of others:
The Song of Moses recorded for us in Ex.15 contains these words:
Ex.15:11 "Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?"
In Deuteronomy the same Moses would later remind the people of what the Lord had done for them and how he himself had prayed for them at a difficult moment in their history:
Deut.3:24 "For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?"
We find the same sentiment expressed in the Book of Psalms:
Ps.89:5-8 "Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him? O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you?"
Ps.113:5-6 "Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
In these different parts of Scripture the uniqueness of the Lord is celebrated with regard to his holiness, his exaltation, his might and power as well as his faithfulness.
A Pardoning God
As Micah quickly hastened on to explain just why he considered the Lord to be so exceptional he had another of the Lord’s attributes in mind, he was thinking of pardoning grace. With a sense of awe and wonder Micah knew that his God was a God who saved his people from their sins. He had thought carefully about these things and we would do well to follow his example. This is what he had to say:
v.18a "Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression..."
The Lord was unique in:
pardoning iniquity (or sin). Wrong-doing of all sorts is in view and the associated guilt that accompanies it
forgiving transgression (or rebellion).
This wasn’t some new revelation that had just come to Micah; it was, if you like, old truth for it was truth that the Lord had revealed some five centuries previously to Moses. Do you remember how Moses once prayed that he might see the glory of the Lord? Well the way in which the Lord responded is recorded for us the Book of Exodus:
Ex.34:6-7 "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."
As soon as Moses heard this he fell down and worshipped.
And yes, 500 years later, it was this old truth that thrilled Micah’s heart and gripped his soul and this old truth is capable of thrilling yours too for the truth of God does not change, it is forever new and fresh; it is exactly just such truth that sets men and women free to live the kind of lives God always intended.
The joy of sin definitively dealt with and of sin forgiven should thrill us. We must take care not to allow ourselves to grow blasé about it. How terrible it is to take such a magnificent grace for granted as though that is merely what God is there for! And yet we are capable of doing just that if we don’t think often and deeply about just how extraordinary this grace of God actually is. Let’s follow the advice of well-known hymn which urges us to:
"Take time to be holy, speak oft with your Lord"
Micah was amazed that the Holy God who was quite prepared to pour out the fury of his wrath upon his own recalcitrant people was also the God who pardons sin! He certainly wasn’t blasé about it – this truth Micah found staggering!
In Israel’s history there was a practice that helpfully illustrates this – I wonder, do you know anything about the scapegoat which is described in Leviticus 16?
Aaron, the High Priest, was told to take a goat and, while laying his hands on the goat’s head, he was to confess the sins of the people over it. This gesture signified a transfer of guilt from the people to the goat. This goat was then driven off and thus it carried up and away into the wilderness the sin and guilt of the people. That is the type of language that Micah used to speak of the Lord pardoning sin. The word Micah used meant to lift up and carry away and it refers to the removal of both the burden of sin and the guilt that goes with it.
When we turn to the NT similar language is used to describe the death of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ:
1Pet.2:24 Christ "himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed."
Christ bore our sins, that is he carried our sins away, he carried them up to the cross and there he dealt with it once and for all!!
This is glorious stuff! Never has a God done so much for a totally undeserving people. No other god has dreamt of providing such a free and complete pardon. Here in the death of Christ the wonders of the uniqueness of our God are most clearly to be seen. As one hymn-writer put it:
In His highest work, redemption,
see His glory in a blaze;
Micah was busy contemplating that ‘highest work of redemption’ as he celebrated the wonders of a Holy God who freely dealt with sin. His was a God who forgave sin and what is more he was prepared not merely to pass over small mishaps and misdemeanours but also to pass over and forgive acts of deliberate and serious rebellion, acts of treason if you like. When God forgives sin he freely provides everything necessary for sinners to be saved.
If such truths do not stir you and amaze you then there is something wrong with you or with your understanding or both.
Other religions may perhaps talk about how to deal with sin but they will all lay the responsibility for that upon the guilty party: not so with our God! He provided Abraham with a ram caught in a thicket that he could offer in place of his son Isaac and with astounding generosity he has provided his own Son, the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, to be offered in our place.
Take time to think about these things and don’t let yourself become so used to the truth that it fails to move you. Woe to any of us who come to think that our salvation is an ordinary thing, something we can take for granted and quickly move on to something more interesting. The grace that saves us is truly amazing grace and we should consider it the sweetest of things to hear about and to think about.
This grace is truly astonishing, bigger and more impressive than we will ever fully know but we must at the same time be careful to note that this grace is not a generalised grace that everyone without distinction benefits from in the same way. Our text continues with the words:
v.18b "for the remnant of his inheritance"
This grace, then, is, according to Micah, for the "remnant of God’s inheritance" – and this expression refers to those who believed in the Lord, to those who repented of their sins and who put their trust in him, to those who sought to walk in obedience to his commands, to those who looked to him for the fulfilment of his promises.
A little later in the text Micah makes the same point as he about describes some more of the personal blessings that would be experienced by God’s people and God’s people alone – his use of more personal pronouns in v.19 makes that clear. Micah was convinced that God would have compassion "on us", that he would tread "our sins" underfoot and that he would cast "our sins" into the depth of the sea.
Given that proviso that saving grace is personal grace, how do things stand for you? Can you employ personal pronouns too? Are you a beneficiary of God’s grace? Are your sins forgiven and dealt with?
Micah continues to rejoice and celebrate – yes, he belonged to a people who had turned away from the Lord and offended him, yes, they were now exposed to the angry discipline of the Lord, a discipline that would prove to be painful during 70 long years of Babylonian captivity – but Micah also knew that the anger of the Lord was not something the Lord was going to retain forever towards his people.
v.18c "He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love."
The wrath of God is real and it is the right reaction for God to have when confronted by sin but wrath is not an essential aspect of his character as love is. In a world without sin God would be without wrath. But in all situations God is and always will be a God of love. The Bible never says ‘God is wrath’ but it does affirm loud and clear that God is love!
And Micah in his own way celebrates that here too! The just anger of an offended God will come to end because God himself prefers to act in love. If you are a believer you can find the reason for your salvation right here: it is because he delights in steadfast love! And by that he refers to his own love not ours for him. You just can’t get any further back than that. If you are a believer God loves you quite simply because he delights to do so and his love for you will prove to be a faithful, persevering, steadfast love! Amazing!!
These are some of the things that Micah has been reflecting upon and his reflexion has led him to this outburst of joyful, climactic praise. Will you not join him in your own thoughts, in your own meditation, until you too are bowled over by the amazing grace of God?
Micah understood something of God’s grace and spoke to him praising him for it. He was in relationship with his God, a personal relationship with him. Are you? and do you speak to your God? Will you do so?
I think by now you are convinced that Micah was enthusiastic about his God and his God’s grace and, you know what, he has still more to tell us about him, he has nowhere near finished yet, far from it!
"He breaks the power of cancelled sin"
The God that Micah celebrates and worships is a compassionate God who takes pity of our plight and who acts to deliver us from it. We must take care not to truncate the gospel and limit its scope and effectiveness. It is easy for us to do so. We can put such an emphasis, for example, upon being forgiven our sin and set free from its consequences that we stop there and fail to go on. The gospel is however bigger than that and it does go on; it does more than to simply deal with the guilt and penalty of our sin it also includes a deliverance from the dominion of sin. Wesley rejoiced over this in his famous hymn "O, for a thousand tongues to sing". The fourth verse of that hymn reads:
He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.
If Micah were around today I’m sure he’d be happy to sing that verse! And I say that because Micah had already declared the reality of it some 700 years before the coming of the Christ who did break that power of cancelled sin.
v.19a "He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot."
Before we come to faith in Christ sin reigns over us and dominates us. Until God’s Spirit sets us free we can’t even exercise faith in Christ such is the grip sin has on us. But no longer!! It’s not that we somehow overcome our sin ourselves but because he has trodden our iniquities underfoot – living in union with Christ these sins that so spoiled our lives previously will no longer exercise control over us! The sin that has been cancelled and of which the debt has been fully paid has also lost its power over us – he has broken the power of cancelled sin!!
Don’t you just want to cry out "Hallelujah"!
The sin that so troubled us in the past and which destroyed our relationship with God has been dealt with and dealt with definitively. As Micah continues his description recalls an earlier highly significant event in Israelite history.
v.19b "You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea."
When Israel was brought out of Egypt the Egyptian army was sent to pursue them and bring them back. All night God caused a wind to blow and the Red Sea was dried up allowing Israel to cross over into safety. But the Egyptian army didn’t want to lose them and so pressed in after them. Satan has lost all those who repent and trust in Christ but he’ll still try to do whatever what he can to spoil the believer’s life. Old sins may still pursue just like that Egyptian army. But you know the outcome don’t you? The Israelites crossed over, the Lord caused the sea to come back and the Egyptian army was destroyed never to be seen again. And our sins have been cast into the depths of the sea!! God will remember them no more and their power has been so broken that it will never exercise a damning dominion over us! Micah saw this and rejoiced – and what about you?
Jeremiah took up the idea of sins being completely dealt with, never to be remembered again, and declared that this was to be a characteristic of the new covenant, the new covenant that is bound up with Jesus – don’t you see, we have every reason to shout out our "Hallelujah, what a Saviour!"
Old Promises Kept
Well we’re nearly at the end and I wonder whether you think that the last verse is something of an anticlimax:
v.20 "You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old."
This verse follows the marvellous celebration of gospel truths that are contained in vv.18+19. But why after all should we be interested to hear of promises kept to people like Abraham and Jacob? Surely that happened so long ago that it doesn’t have anything to say to us today?
Well, the reason why we should be interested in the fact that the Lord kept his promises to Abraham and to Jacob has nothing to do with how long ago or how recently those promises were kept. The thing that should encourage us quite straightforwardly is that the Lord did keep his promises to them and as the Lord does not change we can be sure that he will keep his promises to us too!
When Micah wrote Abraham had been dead for around a thousand years but that certainly didn’t worry Micah or make him think it was so long before as to be no longer of any interest and we need to adopt the same outlook. The promises Jesus has made to us were some 2,000 years ago and we can trust them because the Lord has always kept his promises.
At the same time this reminder provides us both with an encouragement and a sobering warning. If the Lord always keeps what we might like to consider as his good promises then when he promises severe and painful discipline – as he had done through Micah concerning the coming exile in Babylon – he will keep those promises too.
Your God is the same God that Micah knew and served. Micah sets us an example of serious reflection, personal engagement and open, exuberant worship. Your task, and mine, is to follow his example in our own day. We mustn’t try to excuse ourselves or ignore the example claiming that our circumstances aren’t favourable or something of the kind – the circumstances weren’t favourable for Micah as he witnessed the terrible decline and decimation of his own nation. He worshipped the Lord because the Lord is always the same and always worthy of our worship. He is worthy of our worship today and the blessings of his gospel are real today and will be forever!
May He be glorified as we seek to respond to him with faith and trust – for there is no-one like our God as the wise King Solomon declared:
1Kings 8:23 "O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart,"
and his Christian name is Jesus!