that you went to a buffet that served only the very best food. This would not be a matter of what you find
in many settings like that - lots of food that is just “ok” or above
average. Instead, every dish is of the
quality that you would find in the very best setting where it is served.
buffet you find New York strip steak, crab legs, lobster, prime rib, filet
mignon, Texas barbecue, Memphis barbecue and our own area’s 17th
Street barbecue in all their varities of pork, beef and sausage. Every one of them looks absolutely
delicious. However, here is the catch:
at this buffet you are only allowed to choose and eat one of them.
That’s all. You can only choose one.
how I felt on Tuesday morning when I looked at the assigned Scripture readings
for today, the Third Sunday after Trinity.
They are indeed a veritable “Gospel buffet.” Now all texts are God’s Word, but all texts
are not the same. There are texts where
the Gospel rings through so clearly that they just beg to be proclaimed. And today,
we have three of them.
Gospel lesson we have the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin –
parables that describe God’s intense love and desire to save us and his joy
when people repent of their sin and believe the Gospel. In the epistle lesson the apostle Paul describes
himself – the former persecutor of the faith -
as the greatest example of the fact that Jesus Christ came into the
world to save sinners. And then in the
Old Testament lesson the prophet Micah emphasizes the compassion and steadfast
love of God – a God who forgives and removes our sins.
How do you
choose just one of them in this amazing “Gospel buffet”? I really couldn’t decide. So I let past
history choose for me. I looked to see how
much time has passed since I had last preached on that text. It turned out that the Old Testament lesson
from Micah was the winner since it had been the longest. So that is the
Scripture for our consideration this morning.
prophet Micah wrote in the eighth century B.C. He was a contemporary of the
prophet Isaiah. Micah worked at a time
after the nation had split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern
kingdom of Judah. He is unique among the prophets in that he spoke to both the
north and the south.
book directs a strong word of Law to the two nations. The very first verses of his prophecy
describe God coming dramatically in judgment. He writes: “Hear, you peoples, all
of you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it, and let the
Lord GOD be a witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. For
behold, the LORD is coming out of his place, and will come down
and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains
will melt under him, and the valleys will split open, like wax before the fire,
like waters poured down a steep place. All this is for the
transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel.”
Micah condemns the sins of Israel
and Judah. But while his words address
the people of the eighth century, they speak directly to us as well. As always, the fundamental problem was
idolatry. Micah says, “All her carved images shall be beaten to
pieces, all her wages shall be burned with fire, and all her idols I will
To be sure
we don’t have carved images, but false gods are not hard to find. Let me choose just one: sports. This past week, did you spend more time watching
sports, attending sports, reading about sports and thinking about sports than
you did in attending the Divine Service, reading Scripture and praying?
Micah condemned those who coveted and devised ways to
take from others. He wrote: “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.” We too covet what our neighbor has – their
bigger house, better car, more frequent vacations, their success in school,
work or sports.
The people didn’t want to hear the
truth. Micah reported that they said, “‘Do not preach’--thus they preach—‘one should
not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.’” The leaders, priest and prophets were sinning,
and yet they convinced themselves that everything was ok. Micah says, “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.’”
This is a great danger that faces us. As the world turns further and further away
from God’s will and ordering for life, will we continue to listen to the truth
of God’s Word? Or will be we carried away with the world’s sin? Will we ignore what God says but convince
ourselves that everything is ok, because after all, “Is not the Lord in the
midst of us?”
Micah announced that judgment was coming. It arrived against the northern kingdom
during his lifetime when the Assyrians conquered them in 721 B.C. and took the
people into exile. Michah also
prophesied that Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed when he wrote, “Therefore
because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall
become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded
height.” This didn’t’ happen until the
sixth century B.C. at the hands of the Babylonians. But at that time the book of Jeremiah
referred to Micah’s words.
Our text is the very end of Micah’s prophecy. Just before this he has said, “But as for me,
I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God
will hear me.” Micah declares that he
looks to Yahweh, and waits for him, the God of his salvation. We learn in our
text that this hope is grounded in the very character of God himself.
Micah says: “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.” The prophet tells us that the amazing character of God of is
one in which he pardons iniquity and passes over transgression. God does not
retain his anger forever. Why is this
so? It is because he delights in steadfast love.
Micah’s words echo what Yahweh revealed to Moses when he
said, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and
abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” This statement becomes a
kind of “creed” in the Old Testament. Yahweh is merciful and gracious, slow to
anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
The prophet goes on to say in 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. You will show
faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to
our fathers from the days of old.”
God forgives, but God is also just.
How could both be maintained at the same time? In our text, Micah mentions
Yahweh’s steadfast love to Abraham. God
had promised to make Abraham into a great nation and to give his offspring the
promised land. He had also promised, “and in you all the families of the earth
shall be blessed.” He had promised that the Savior would descend from
Abraham. In the unfolding of his
revelation, Yahweh had made known that the Christ descended from David would
bring his salvation.
It is in Micah chapter five that the prophet writes, “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.” As we celebrate at Christmas, Jesus the
Christ was born in Bethlehem in fulfillment of God’s Word. His coming forth was indeed from of old, from
ancient days for as the Son of God he was begotten of the Father from all
eternity. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary he entered
into our world because God is merciful and God is just.
In God’s grace and mercy, the Father sent Jesus to die on
the cross in order to win forgiveness for us.
In God’s justice, the Father sent Jesus to die on the cross where he
received the judgment against the sins of every person. Jesus the Christ was condemned by God – he
was damned by God and cut off from him as he cried out, “My God, my God, why
have you forsaken me?”
By receiving God’s judgment in our place Jesus has won
forgiveness for us. But God’s saving
work in Christ could not end in death.
On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead. He vindicated Jesus as the Christ and began
in him the resurrection of the Last Day.
He began the resurrection that we will receive when the ascended and
exalted Lord returns in glory.
Micah is right: “Who is a God like you, pardoning
iniquity and passing over transgression?”
In his grace and mercy God loved us so much that he gave his Son as the
sacrifice to win forgiveness. God
pardons and passes over our transgression because he has condemned them in his
God gives us forgiveness, and he does so in ways that
leave no uncertainty. Micah says in our
text, “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” God has used water to remove your sins in
baptism, for the baptismal font has become the place where your sins were cast
into the depths of Christ’s saving death for you. Paul told the Romans, “Do you not know that
all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into
his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in
order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of
the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Because of your baptism into Christ,
you know that your iniquity is pardoned and your transgression is passed over.
This action by God – so objective that the Church actually gives you a
baptismal certificate confirming that is has been done – is there for you to
grasp in faith every day. What was done once in the water of the font continues
to provide every day the assurance that your sin is forgiven.
The Spirit gave you new life through
baptism. The same Spirit who raised
Christ from the dead continues to enable you to walk in newness of life. And
the Micah’s prophecy provides a classic statement of what this looks like when
he writes: “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?” This is the language of the God’s
covenant with Israel, which in the new covenant means that we fear, love and
trust in God above all things; that we love and care for our neighbor; that we
show forgiveness and mercy just as God has given us in Jesus Christ.
In Christ God has demonstrated that
he is the One who pardons iniquity and passes over transgression. He has had compassion on us and tread our
iniquities underfoot. He has cast our iniquities into the depths of the sea –
he has removed them from us forever by the water of our baptism and his Word.
We give thanks to God for this, and we respond to his steadfast love as we love
our neighbor in word and deed.