Click HERE for an audio version of the message.
Please turn your attention to our first lesson for this morning. Through Micah God reminds us that whether or not we feel blessed, the fact is that we are.
God’s people had been whining and complaining that God was being unfair. He was expecting too much of them. They felt worn out and burdened by all they thought God required of them.
God’s response is, “OK, let’s go to court. Get up. Plead your case to the mountains. Let the hills hear your voice. “When you are finished presenting your case, I’ll present mine. I’ll be calling those mountains and the enduring foundations of the earth as my witnesses. They aren’t guided by feelings. They will present the facts. They will testify about what I have done for you and how you have responded from the very beginning.”
What had God done to his people? How had he burdened them? Let’s see, when they were enslaved and abused by the Egyptians and called on him for help, he sent them Moses, Aaron and Miriam. He performed signs and wonders on their behalf that humbled great Pharaoh. He rescued them from slavery in Egypt. He spoke to them directly from Mt. Sinai, and then through Moses and Aaron. When Balak hired Balaam to put a curse on them he turned the curses into blessings. Every time Balaam opened his mouth to curse them, words of blessing came out instead. When Balaam then sent Moabite women to lead Israel to sexual immorality and idolatry so that they brought God’s anger upon themselves, they repented, and God forgave them. Despite their many bouts of unfaithfulness to him, God remained faithful and brought them across the Jordan at flood stage, on dry ground, to Gilgal in the Promised Land.
What had God done to his people? Had he not been righteous? Had he not been faithful and merciful? Had he not rescued them from slavery and brought them to the Promised Land even though they had often murmured and complained against him? And in more recent history, had not the kingdoms of Israel and Judah been restored to a position of power and prosperity as they had enjoyed under David and Solomon? The mountains and the enduring foundations of the earth were God’s witnesses that he had done all these things and more for his people. They might have felt burdened and wearied by God, but the truth was that they were blessed!
God’s case against them was airtight. He had been faithful to them. They had been unfaithful to him. He had showered them with blessing after blessing. They were thankless and ungrateful.
How would we fare if God were to call us into court and present his case against us? We might argue that we aren’t as bad as Israel. We have not set up statues of idols next to his altar in our churches. We don’t participate in worship that involves ritual immorality. But that doesn’t mean we would fare any better. We know the sins that lurk in our hearts, the sinful thoughts and desires that we wouldn’t want anyone to know about—but God knows them. We know the times we have grumbled and complained about God, when we have accused him of expecting too much of us. “We have jobs to do, families to feed, TV programs to watch, social media to check, how can he expect us to make it to church every Sunday or to give 5, 10, 15% of our income to him, does he want us to starve, does he never want us to have any fun in life?”
If we are honest as we look into the mirror of God’s holy law, we will have to admit that we aren’t any better than God’s Old Testament people. We too have often let material things become our God. We too have whined and complained that God expects too much from us, that he hasn’t blessed us. But the fact is, God has blessed us with more than any people have ever had since Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden. We have homes and cars and closets full of clothing and restaurants and theaters and stadiums and gymnasiums, and we have the peace and prosperity to enjoy them. Most importantly, we have churches and schools where the word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and the ability and opportunity to share the Good news of Jesus with our neighbors and even to send out missionaries around the world. God has showered us with blessing upon blessing. He remains faithful even when we are unfaithful. All too often we whine that God is burdening us. We are just as ungrateful and unthankful as Israel was.
When God presented his case against Israel and showed how faithful he had been and how unfaithful and ungrateful they had been, how did Israel respond? They had no choice but to recognize their sin. They said, “OK, God, you are right. What can we do to make it right?”
With what am I to appear before the LORD? How should I bow down to God on high? Should I appear before him with burnt offerings, with one-year-old calves? Will the LORD be delighted with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of streams of oil? Should I give my firstborn for my rebellion, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
At first you might think, “Wow, they are truly repentant! They are willing to give God whatever he wants, thousands of rams as an offering, ten thousand streams of oil!” But, their willingness to offer their children as a sacrifice for sin shows that they still didn’t get it. They were trying to deal with God the way you would deal with an idol. They were trying to bargain their way out of trouble with God. That doesn’t work. Even though God commanded offerings and sacrifices, they were never intended to be a way to bargain with God– the more you brought the more God would do for you. No. They were intended to help you realize what you deserved from God and to see the grace and mercy he gave you instead.
Sometimes we try to bargain with God. When we are confronted with a sin, we are quick to say, “I’ll try harder, I’ll do better, just give me another chance.” If things aren’t going well for them I’ve heard some people say, “I better get back in church,” or, “I guess I’d better tithe,” as if their actions will force God to change their circumstances. Such thinking treats God as if he were an idol and makes you feel burdened instead of blessed.
God doesn’t bargain. He is not interested in thousands of rams or tens of thousands of streams of oil. He is not interested in offerings that are brought with the idea that they will placate his anger or force him to respond in a certain way. God doesn’t look at the outward show of religion, he looks at the heart. The Pharisee who bragged to God about all the things he did, his worship and tithing, did not go down to his house justified. The publican who simply said, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” who offered nothing to God, he went home justified. Jesus told the Pharisees, go and learn what this means: `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
Paul says, no matter who we are, no matter how righteous we think we have been, in God’s courtroom we are silenced, humbled. No matter what you might feel, the facts are clear. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The sentence should be condemnation, an eternity of suffering in Hell. But, all are justified, declared not guilty because God offered Jesus as the sacrifice of atonement in your place. You might feel burdened, but the fact is that you are blessed, justified, forgiven. As one who has received mercy, show mercy; as one who has received undeserved love, show undeserved love; as one who has been forgiven, forgive. When you are reminded of all God has done for you these things are not a burden, but a joy, a blessing.
Micah says to Israel, you shouldn’t have to ask what God wants. God sent you prophet after prophet. You have the written word. God has told you what is good. What does the Lord require from you, except to carry out justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?
The last phrase is the most important. God asks that you walk humbly with him as your God. He is to be your God, no one and nothing is to come before him in your heart. He expects that you will walk with him, that you will communicate with him every day, that you will trust that he is with you every step you take, where ever you go, whatever you do. Acknowledge that his is God, not you; that he is holy, and you aren’t; yet he wants to walk with you. Isn’t that amazing! Despite our unfaithfulness and ingratitude, he still wants to walk with us and be our God. When that’s the attitude of your heart toward God, the rest will follow. You will realize how blessed you are. His commandments will not seem burdensome. You will love mercy, God’s mercy shown to you in Jesus. Because of the mercy he has shown you, it will be your desire to show godlike mercy to those around you. And you will carry out justice, you will do the right thing in God’s eyes whether anyone is watching or not.
Are you tempted to whine that God is burdening you? Stop listening to your feelings and look at the facts. Read the word and be reminded how he has showered you with his blessings, the most important of which is the forgiveness of your sins in Jesus. When you see how much he has blessed you, how he has been faithful even when you were unfaithful, your whining will be replaced with thanksgiving. You will be moved to love the Lord you God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and your neighbor as yourself. You will be moved to carry out justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.