What do Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller all have in common? These NBA basketball players were all stars during the 1990’s. They all played on successful teams. However, none of them won a championship, and this was largely because of one man: Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls won six NBA championships during the 1990’s. His greatness eclipsed them all, and left them to remembered as really good players who never won a championship ring.
The prophet Micah is rather like these basketball players. Micah lived and wrote in the eighth century B.C. He is unique in that he addressed both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. His book contains great stuff that addresses the conditions of people in his own day in very practical terms. His prophecy is only seven chapters long, yet this includes two dramatic sections about the Messiah and God’s reign. Micah can be described as the minor prophet who majors in Messianic prophecies.
However, Micah worked and wrote at the same time as Isaiah, the Michael Jordan of the prophets. Micah’s seven chapters are overshadowed by the sixty six chapters of Isaiah. And of course, it is not just the volume of material that makes Isaiah stand head and shoulders above everyone else. There is a reason that Isaiah has been called “the fifth evangelist.”
Micah may be overshadowed by Isaiah, but this morning we have the opportunity to listen to the prophet. He speaks to us with words that remind us about how the salvation of God received in Christ produces lives that share his love.
Micah wrote a time when the rich and powerful were oppressing the poor in the land. He said, “Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.” They cheated and lied, and Yahweh condemned them through Micah as he said, “Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales and with a bag of deceitful weights?
Your rich men are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.”
The people did not want to hear the condemnation of the law. Micah tells us of their response: “’Do not preach’--thus they preach—‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’” And this disease went all the way to the top. Micah declares: “Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity. 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.’”
These basic problems are not foreign to us. We know the strong pull of money and wealth. We want a bigger house, a better car, more toys and gadgets, and more travel. We look around and see others who have all of these things and we covet what they have. Why can’t my life be like that? We view money and wealth as the way to have security and peace.
And much like ancient Judah, we want to view God as our “get out of hell free card.” We want him as the guarantee against the big problem, but really don’t want him taking up time in our daily life. We want our devotional life – if there is one – to take the minimal amount of time necessary. We are too busy during the week to read and study Scripture on our own. We certainly aren’t going to come to Bible class, because we are already giving God an hour on Sunday morning at church.
In our text this morning, Yahweh is responding to this situation among his people. He has raised an indictment against them that is grounded in the covenant as he says through Micah: “Hear what the LORD says: Arise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against his people, and he will contend with Israel. ‘O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.’”
How were the people to respond to this? We hear in our text: “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?”
Yahweh’s response was very simple. On the surface it seems to ignore the sacrifices that he had given to Israel. But this was only because sacrifices were never meant to be done apart from true faith in Yahweh – a faith that guided the life of the individual. And so Micah answer, “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?” To do justice, and love kindness and to walk humbly with God was to live in the covenant Yahweh had made with this people.
Our text is framed within setting of the first covenant – the covenant God made with Israel at Mt Sinai. But Micah’s prophecy points to fulfillment that this covenant would have in Yahweh’s end time action – an action that would draw in all peoples. In chapter four he wrote: “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 speaks of a time of peace that Yahweh will bring as he writes, “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He 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 was this going to happen? Yahweh was going to fulfill his promise to David – the promise of the Messiah who would rule and bring peace. And so in chapter five we hear words that make us think of Christmas: “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 promised about the Messiah born in Bethlehem, “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 the Messiah was born in Bethlehem. He is our peace because he was faithful to the Father’s will as he made his way to Jerusalem to suffer and die on the cross. He died as the atonement for your sins. He died to redeem you from sin – to free you from the condemnation it held for you. And then on the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead. He vindicated his Servant as the Messiah who now reigns at God’s right hand.
Through Holy Baptism God has washed your sins away and caused you to be born again. The Spirit has worked faith in Christ, and made you a new creation. You are now included in the new covenant established by Jesus – a fact demonstrated every time you receive the true body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar.
You are part of the new covenant – the covenant of the end times. But God’s will has not changed, and so what it means to live in this covenant is not different from what it was in the first covenant. Micah says in our text, “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?”
Because of faith in Jesus Christ you now seek to do justice. You are guided by our Lord’s words to do unto others as you would have them to do unto you. You act in fairness towards others, and work to see that they are treated fairly.
Because of the kindness you have received from Christ, you now act kindly towards others. You seek to support and encourage those around you. The love of Christ moves you to help and assist others.
And because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for you, you walk humbly with your God. We see the ongoing struggle against sin and the ways we fail. In humility we confess these before God. But in confidence we also return to our baptism for there we have shared in Jesus’ saving work for us, and have God’s promise of forgiveness. More than that, when we turn in faith to God’s gift of baptism it is the means by which the Spirit renews and strengthens us so that new man can go forth to live in ways that are true to God’s will.
We do this while living in the living hope that the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ has given to us. For the Lord, the Messiah, will return in glory on the Last Day. And he will bring the final and complete peace of which Micah speaks. On the day of judgment he will destroy all who do evil. He will raise his saints to live in the new creation where swords will have been beaten into plowshares and nation will never against not lift up sword against nation. Instead the people of God – the Church – will live forever with our Lord as eternally we do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.