Imagine 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.
At this 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.
That is 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.
In the 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.
The 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.
Micah’s 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 lay waste.”
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 own Son.
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.