People have many different hobbies. As you know, my hobby is model railroading. Some people collect items like coins. Some like to fish or hunt. For many, their yard or garden is a hobby. Certainly, following your favorite sports teams can be considered a hobby.
Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft has a hobby as well. It’s just on a larger scale than most of us. His hobby is finding sunken warships. In the last few years he has found in the Pacific Ocean the USS Indianapolis that was sunk by a Japanese submarine after delivering components for the atom bomb, as well as the Japanese battleship Musashi which along with her sister ship the Yamato were the largest battleships ever built.
Just recently, Allen’s hobby produced some amazing images as he found the U.S.S. Lexington, the U.S. aircraft carrier that was sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942. The Lexington went down with planes on the flight deck. Two miles down below of surface of the ocean, Allen discovered that some of them had settled on the sea floor upright near the Lexington. They were preserved in remarkable condition. Among the images produced by Allen, there was a F4F Wildcat fighter and you could clearly see the Japanese flags on the side of the cockpit indicating aerial kills along with the squadron insignia.
When the Lexington and her planes sank into the ocean, no one expected to see them again. That’s because when things go down into depths of the ocean, they are gone. You can’t see them. There is no sign of where they went down. Even if there were, under normal circumstances you could never get to the bottom to see them.
In the Old Testament lesson today, the prophet Micah ends his book by saying that our God is a God who forgives. He shows love and compassion toward sinners. In order to emphasize this fact, Micah uses the metaphor of God casting all of our sins into the depths of the sea where they are gone forever, never to be seen again.
The prophet Micah served God in the eighth century B.C. He is unusual in that he spoke to both the northern and southern kingdoms. Micah’s book has some really amazing stuff. Yet you probably aren’t very familiar with him. In large part, that is because he was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah overshadows all of the writing prophets because of the size of his book and what he wrote. Micah is kind of like all of those star NBA players during the 1990’s who had great careers but never won a championship because they had the misfortune to play at the same time as Michael Jordan.
Like Isaiah, Micah announced that Yahweh iwaz bringing judgment against his people. He was going to do this because they were worshipping idols – the false gods of the surrounding nations. They were not walking in faith. They were not living according to the Torah that God had given to his covenant people – the instruction that described how they were to live because Yahweh had taken them as his own. They were coveting the possessions of others, and acting in order to get them. They cheated their neighbor by using deceitful weights. They lied, in order to get what they wanted.
It’s not hard to see how these same accusations apply to us. We too have false gods; we covet; we don’t always do what is right at work; we lie in order stay out of trouble and to get what we want.
Yet the thing we really need to pay attention to is that God’s people didn’t want to hear about their sin. They said everything was going to be fine. Micah complains, “‘Do not preach’--thus they preach—‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’” The prophet lamented, “If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ he would be the preacher for this people!”
Micah’s words raise the question regarding whether you are willing to be confronted about your sins. The world won’t do this. Instead, it will often affirm your actions. In fact it will provide a sinful example to follow. Are you using the Gospel to give yourself a false sense of security thinking that you can do what you want and everything will be ok? As Micah said of Jerusalem in his own time, “Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the LORD and say, ‘Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us."’”
They were wrong. Yahweh did send judgment in the form of the Assyrians, and then finally, the Babylonians. Just as our sins can have very real consequences that we are unable to avoid, so it was for God’s people. They experienced destruction and exile.
Yet in our text, Micah offers hope that this will not be the final word. In fact it cannot be, and the reason for this is to be found in the nature and character of God himself. The prophet says in our text, “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.”
God is the One who pardons and overlooks our sin. He does not remain angry. Why? Because instead, he delights in steadfast love. People like to contrast the Old and New Testaments. We are told that in the Old Testament God is angry, wrathful and full of judgment, but in the New Testament he is loving, merciful and forgiving. Yet in our text we hear a portion of what can be called a creedal statement of the Old Testament as it says again and again that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
Because this is so, Micah describes the future of God’s people … including you. He says in chapter four, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’”
Micah and Isaiah provide this same description of God’s salvation and peace. We are told that God “shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
How can this happen? How can this forgiveness and peace become ours? Micah tells us in words that you will certainly recognize when he writes in chapter five, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”
Yahweh sent Jesus the Christ, the descendant of King David, to be born in Bethlehem. He was born as a baby and laid in a manger, but he was more than just a baby. He was God in the flesh, the One in whom all the fullness of the Deity dwelt bodily. He is the One about whom Micah went on to say, “And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”
Jesus Christ is our peace. He is because God delights in steadfast love. He has acted in Jesus so that his anger against our sinfulness is not retained. He had compassion on us, and that is why he sent his own Son to die on the cross. In our text Micah says, “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” God had compassion on us when he cast our sins on Jesus. At his baptism in the water of the Jordan River Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit as he took on the role of the suffering Servant described by Isaiah. God’s anger against our sin; his wrath and judgment were exhausted as Jesus suffered and died in our place.
Yet God’s steadfast love could not be stopped by death. Instead, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead through the work of the Holy Spirit. In his resurrection he began the new creation. He has begun the peace that will encompass all of humanity and creation when he returns in glory on the Last Day.
The same life giving Spirit who raised Jesus is now at work in you. He has made you a new creation in Christ. He is working in you the mind of Christ so that now, like God, you are not to retain anger. Instead you are to delight in steadfast love and have compassion on others, just has God has had compassion on you. Because of Jesus we seek to live Micah’s words when he wrote: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
When through the power and work of the Spirit we are able to do this, we rejoice. We give thanks to God. And when instead, we stumble in sin, we repent. We confess our sin. We return in faith to the words of our text: “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
God has given us this forgiveness in Holy Baptism, to which we return daily. We now know that even ships sunk two miles down in the depths of the sea can be found and seen again. Yet in the font we possess a water in which those sins are gone forever. This is so because in that water we have shared in the saving death of Jesus Christ. By his death he has destroyed sin. It is nowhere to be found because God has pardoned our iniquity and passed over our transgression. And in that water we have the promise that we will share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the Last Day, when sin will be no more and the peace of Christ will reign forever.