The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
You know those times when you explain something over and over and over again, and just when you think it’s all ironed out and there couldn’t possibly be any questions because it’s so crystal clear and simple and to the point, and then some donkey who’s been absorbed in their phone inevitably pipes up and asks a question that has been clearly addressed and answered multiple times already? You know those times? It’s frustrating, isn’t it? “Um…I’m sorry. What? I don’t understand.” [Pinching my sinuses in frustration]: We’ve been through this already…multiple times!
It’s this type of frustration—frustration that I KNOW everyone here can relate to—that we get a glimpse of in our Old Testament lesson for this morning. That may seem a bit harsh to some of you. Looking over the text, it doesn’t immediately appear that anyone should be frustrated by the questions that are asked. If asked out of genuine ignorance, these are, in fact, good questions, right? After all, it’s man’s natural inclination to want to do something to earn God’s favor. By nature man knows that he’s a sinner. He knows that there’s something bigger than him, and he also knows that that something bigger isn’t happy. By nature man knows that there’s a problem. So…by nature man also knows to try and fix the problem; to mend the fracture and make things all better. “What do I need to do? What can I do to make things right?” So, to hear these very natural questions being asked: “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” there is a well-meaning tendency to think, “Well…go easy. The folks asking these questions don’t know. How can they know? They only know what comes natural. They don’t know the Gospel.”
Ahh…but here’s the thing: This is Israel asking these questions! They most certainly do know better! In fact, God Himself has made the answers to these questions abundantly clear….again and again and again. And don’t be deceived into thinking that these are rhetorical questions either, as if they already know the right answer. “What shall I do to get in good with God? Nothing, because it’s all by grace!” This is true, of course, but that’s not what these folks are asking. There’s nothing rhetorical about their questions. This is just stubborn, obstinate, foolishness and stupidity on full display. It’s enough to make God very frustrated and angry!
And this is where it is important to lay out the entire context of the conversation. You see, Micah was sent by God to the Israelites in the southern kingdom (Jerusalem and Judah). He was on the scene the same time Isaiah was preaching, ca. 735 – 710BC. In fact, Isaiah and Micah were preaching in the same place at the same time to the same people, preaching the same divine message of repentance. But…Israel didn’t want to listen to any of them; not to Isaiah, not to Micah…not to God. Israel had better things to do. They knew better. Besides, following God was bad for business. It was a drag. It wasn’t “contemporary and hip and cool.” Maybe Abraham and Moses and David and all those old fuddy-duddies did things this way, but that’s just not how it is now! This isn’t grandpa’s church anymore! As a faithful Israelite, there just wasn’t the fame, the fortune, the fun and excitement that all the Baal-worshipping neighbors were experiencing. Israel wanted the emotional and exciting “worship experiences” that their neighbors were raving about.
O…and it gets worse. You see, in the verses immediately preceding these questions about what they need to do to get back in good with God, God Himself is speaking to Israel, and He’s not happy. In fact, Micah gives us the image of a courtroom, and God Himself is the prosecuting attorney, questioning the criminal defendant Israel. “O my people, what have I done to you? Why are you treating Me this way? Why are you behaving in such a foul, sinful manner? You’re weary with My Word and My grace? How have I wearied you? Answer me!” God then proceeds to lay out just a couple of examples from their miserable past where He has saved them and delivered them, not because they deserved it or earned it, but precisely because they were poor and miserable, and in spite of them He loved them, and they were in need of the mercy and grace and deliverance that only He could give. “Exhibit A: I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery. Exhibit B: I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, because I am with you always. I have never forsaken you. Exhibit C: Consider also the wicked Moabite King, Balak. Remember how I turned his wicked plans into your good blessings? Do I need to go on? Do you need any more proof?! Why do you keep doing what you’re doing? Do you not hear Me? Do you not care?”
This is when Israel looks up from their phones and asks Micah, “Man…God sounds angry. What do we need to do to get back in His good graces? Should we give Him the best burnt offerings? Will that help? Maybe the livestock isn’t good enough. How would God feel about us offering up our firstborns to Him as sacrifices? Our neighbors do the same thing to Baal, and things seem to be going pretty good for them. How do you think God would feel if we did that? Our firstborn children as sacrifices…that’s heavy! That shows we mean business! That should count for something, right? That should do the trick, right?”
Now can you begin to see why such questioning is SO frustrating? I can just picture Micah standing before these people, pinching his sinuses and trying not to scream. “Folks: God has already told you, again and again and again, in many and various ways through many and various faithful prophets, what is good and God-pleasing. What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? What does the Lord require of you but to simply live faithfully; to be just and right and to simply call “sin” sin and “righteousness” righteousness; to rebuke sin and praise righteousness? What does the Lord require of you but to simply love as you’ve already been loved by Him? What does the Lord require of you but to simply love your neighbor as yourself? What does the Lord require of you but to simply walk humbly and faithfully in Him, trusting in Him above all things all the time?”
“So…what do I need to do?” They just didn’t get it. And as we look throughout Scripture, this was a recurring problem. We see it in Peter, who asks how many times he has to forgive someone. Answer: As often as God forgives you! We see such ignorance recounted in the parable Jesus tells of some schlepp who really had no concept of grace and mercy and forgiveness. He paid no attention to the unbelievable mercy and grace shown to him. It had no effect in his life. We see this same thick-skulled, self-absorbed foolishness in such overt and explicit questions like, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That comes up more than a couple of times with Jesus, and it comes from people like hotshot young Pharisees and teachers of the Law, who really should know better. There are also the people at Pentecost who heard Peter proclaim that they had crucified the Lord of glory. We’re told that they were cut to the heart and terrified. “What must we do to be saved?” What do we need to do to fix this? What can we do to make things right? Of course, this question isn’t just a New Testament, post-Pentecost question, is it? It’s as old and universal as it gets! Ever since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden, man has been trying to figure out the answer. “Hey! We’re naked! This isn’t good! What have we done? How can we fix this? What can we do to make things better? Let’s stitch together a couple of these leaves. Maybe God won’t notice.” It’s been all downhill ever since.
Dear friends: We’re not immune to this foolishness either. Don’t look down your noses at those foolish rubes. We ask some pretty stupid questions too. “What can I do to make God smile and get a little good karma headed in my direction? What can I do to get back on God’s good side and get some of this bad luck turned around? If I put more in the offering plate, do you think that would win God over? Do you think He’d answer my prayer then? How can I know God’s purpose for my life? What do I have to do in order to be a good Christian? What do I need to do in order to get a little peace and joy in my life? Am I going to heaven? I hope I get to go to heaven when the Lord says my time is up. Why is this happening to me? Don’t you care, God? Don’t you see?”
Folks: The answer to such foolish questions—the singular answer—is so simple, and I know you already know it. After all, I’m speaking to a bunch of Christians. I’m not speaking to a room full of ignorant pagans or Atheists. You may not like the answer, precisely because it’s so simple, but this is the answer. Look here! Look to the cross of Jesus Christ! Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Behold! God so loved you so much that He gave His only-begotten to die and rise again for you! In Him and because of Him, it is finished! You are saved by His grace, His mercy, and His unconditional, cruciform love.
“Okay, amen, praise God…but what do I need to do now? What’s God’s will for me? What should I be doing? Tell me what I need to do!” [Pinching my sinuses]: The answer is right here! Here is all of God’s wrath against sin, and here is God’s unconditional love for you. Here is God’s love for all the world. What is God’s will? God tells us rather plainly. Do you not listen? “I desire the death of no one, so turn and live!” What’s God’s will for you? “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” Listen, turn, and live. Go and share and proclaim this life-giving Word to anyone who has ears; to anyone who is a sinner who Christ loved enough to die for! Go and tell all that Christ has done for you!
Folks: If at this point you’re still looking for some specific directions or coaching on what you should do or need to do, then you just don’t get it! A faithful understanding of God’s grace escapes you, and works-righteousness and pride own you. Here is God’s peace; a peace that surpasses all understanding. This all-surpassing peace comes only from God and His Word; Word that He feeds you and nourishes you with this very day, not just in your hearing, but in very real and tangible ways. “Take and eat; take and drink. This is My body; this is My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin. Now depart in peace.” Freely receive and fill up on this peace of God, and then depart and go in this same peace, and in your going; in your daily, mundane, everyday, God-pleasing, God-serving, God-given vocations, tell and show and point to all that Christ has done for you. Give the reason for the hope and joy within you. [crucifix]
Folks: It’s that simple! And praise God that it is! May He grant us the wisdom and humility of faith to simply believe Him, hold fast to Him, and proclaim His Truth in all our daily thoughts, words, and deeds.
To Him alone be all glory, all praise, and all honor. AMEN.
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