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Please turn to our first lesson for today as Micah tells us what the Lord requires.
Israel knew that they were in trouble with God. He had just called the mountains and the foundations of the earth as witnesses against them. More than anyone living at the time, the mountains and the foundations of the earth could witness to the whole history of the way that God had dealt with his people and how they had responded. They were there to witness how God had rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, sending plagues on the Egyptians and dividing the Red Sea for them so they could cross on dry ground, and then destroying their enemies who were pursuing them. They were there to witness how Israel responded, grumbling and complaining and refusing to trust in God’s care and protection. They were there to witness how Balaam intended to curse Israel, but when he opened his mouth, God brought out prophesies of blessing instead. They were there when, later, Israel fell for Balaam’s trap and accepted the invitation of Moabite women to participate in idol worship with them. They were there to witness the fact that God showered them with blessings, bringing them to the Promised Land, defeating their enemies for them, and making them into a rich and powerful nation under David and Solomon. They were there to witness how Israel rebelled, rejected worship at Jerusalem, set up golden calf idols, and more recently, gave up the worship of the true God altogether to worship Baal instead.
Israel had been complaining that God had burdened them. They thought that they were doing all they could for God and that he owed them something in return. Now that he had shown them that this was not the case, that he had been completely faithful to his promises while they had been unfaithful to him, they felt their guilt. They wanted to know what to do.
We sometimes fall into the same trap as Israel did. We look around and see all the evil in the world and we start to pat ourselves on the back. “We aren’t like those people. We come to worship. We give to the Lord’s work. We try our best to help our neighbor.” So, when things don’t go the way we think they should, or when we face an illness or disease, we are tempted to think, “Hey Lord, I deserve better. You owe me, Lord, for all my faithful service.” But when we begin to think that way the Lord calls on the mountains and the foundations of the earth as witnesses against us. They have witnessed our whining and complaining. They have witnessed our lack of trust in God’s promises to provide and protect. They have witnessed our lust for mammon and our trust in government, or medicine, or science, instead of in God and his word. In fact, we don’t need to have the mountains and the foundations of the earth to witness against us. All we have to do is take a good look in the mirror to realize that we are sinners. Our conscience tells us that we have not been faithful. We really don’t want God to give us what is due us because that would mean we would languish in hell for all eternity.
With Israel, with the people in the crowd on Pentecost who were cut to the heart when Peter showed them that God had sent the Messiah and they had killed him, we need to recognize our guilt. When we do, we will be moved to ask the same question they did, “what should we do to get right with God?”
As Israel thinks about this question, they offer a number of suggestions. 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?
What’s the answer? “No!” None of those things can make you right with God. In fact, thinking that any of these things will make you right with God, especially the sacrificing of a child, will do just the opposite. It will only add to your guilt and separate you even further from God. No one can ever give enough to God so that God has to repay them. Everything already belongs to him. There is nothing anyone can offer to God that will pay for even just one sin. Even the sacrifices God commanded didn’t pay for sin. They weren’t something you did to earn forgiveness. They were intended to point you to what God would do for you; how he would sacrifice his Son to pay for your sins and the sins of the whole world.
What does the Lord require? He doesn’t require you to sacrifice something of great value in order to pay for your sins. He doesn’t ask you to do something that doesn’t work. No payment we could make for sin would ever be enough. So what does he require?
He has told you, mankind, 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?
God himself has told you what is good. Only he is good. Only he could do what was required to pay for your sins and the sins of the whole world. He told you what that would be when he promised Adam and Eve that a seed of the woman would one day crush the serpent’s head. There was nothing they could do to pay for their disobedience, but God would send a Savior who would do it for them. Only he, the seed of the woman, Jesus, is good. Only he lived on this earth without sin. Only he who had no sins of his own, could and did offer to take the punishment everyone else deserves on himself. Only he could die a death that paid the price of redemption for all. Only he could rise from the dead victorious over death and Satan.
God has told us what is good. He has told us that Jesus was good in our place. He has told us that salvation is a free gift of his grace because of what Jesus has done in our place. He has told us that through faith in Jesus he considers us good, righteous in his sight and heirs of eternal life. There isn’t anything better than the undeserved gift of forgiveness and eternal life that he has given us in Jesus. It’s a gift to us that is worth more than thousands of rams, or tens of thousands of streams of oil. It’s priceless.
What does the Lord require? Now that you have seen how faithful he has been in spite of your unfaithfulness; now that you have seen how good he is that he gives you forgiveness and eternal life for free because he knows you could never earn it yourself; he simply asks that you humbly acknowledge what he has done and give him thanks and praise.
What does the Lord require from you? To walk humbly with your God. To daily admit that you don’t deserve anything from God, not even the air you breathe. To daily admit that you deserve nothing but punishment. To daily plead, “God be merciful to me a sinner, and forgive me for the sake of Jesus and all he did in my place.” To be in the word daily and to let what God says be the final word even when everyone else seems to be saying the opposite. To make God and his will more important than any one or any thing else. To remember what Jesus said, that everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Then, having been humbled by seeing our sins, and filled with joy and thankfulness that God has remained faithful in spite of our unfaithfulness and given us the gift of forgiveness in Jesus, we are moved to carry out justice and to love mercy in our dealings with others. We strive to do what God calls justice, making sure that we are not lying or cheating or taking advantage of others for our own gain. We are willing to take risks to help those who are suffering injustice at the hands of others, speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves, defending and protecting the fatherless and the widow, those who are easy targets for abuse.
Having experienced God’s great mercy yourself, we strive to show mercy to others. we do your best to take people’s words and actions in the kindest possible way. we strive to be a giver instead of a taker. Instead of wishing that those who hurt you get what they deserve, you pray and work for an opportunity to tell them about God’s mercy and forgiveness in Jesus. As Paul says, we strive to live with all humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love. To make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, especially with our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
What does God require? Really nothing. There isn’t anything we can give him that he doesn’t already have. What does he want? Peter put it this way. Repent and be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He wants our hearts. He wants us to see our sin and our need for a savior. And when he tells us that Jesus is the Savior, and that He did what is just and right in our place and that through him we have received grace and mercy and forgiveness, he just wants us to humbly say, “Thank you Lord.” He knows that when our hearts are filled with humble faith in him, we will worship him daily. We will strive to carry out justice and love mercy, bringing him glory in all we do.