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Isn’t it amazing how the same words can have such different meanings, depending on our tone?  We all know about the kind of “fine” that means “it isn’t fine, and never will be fine.”  And then there’s “Bless your heart.”  In the South, it tends to mean “You’re too dumb to know better, and now I know what I’ll be talking about for the next several weeks, always prefaced by ‘Bless his heart, but…’”  But with another tone, “bless your heart!” expresses gratitude, humble thankfulness, even awe at another’s kindness.  And as Peter writes his first letter to Christians scattered through what is now Turkey, this awe-filled gratitude is exactly the tone he has as he considers all that the Father has given His people in Christ: an awe that leads us to praise the Father whole-heartedly, and a joyful gratitude that leads us to trust and obey the Father constantly in Christ, come what may.

In the opening verses, Peter calls his readers “elect exiles” (1 Pet. 1:1, ESV)—chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”—we’re not in this strange, sometimes hostile place by accident, but by the wise, loving, all-sovereign plan of the Father, which moves us to confidence.  Christians are chosen “in the sanctification of the Spirit”—set apart for a life of service and worship, which moves us to Christ-like holiness.  And we are chosen “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood”—brought into Christ’s new and living covenant through trusting the gospel message, marked as Christ’s by his own blood, which moves us to ongoing obedience to our King.

And as we reach the main body of the letter in verse 3, Peter calls us to think on the greatness and goodness of the God and Father of Jesus Christ, and to bless the Father who has blessed us with a living hope, a lavish inheritance, and a lasting salvation.

First, bless the Father who has blessed us with a living hope (v. 3)!  Notice that he did so “according to his great mercy.”  He didn’t rescue us out of obligation—we who were made to know and love God instead have rebelled against him, and the only things we deserve are death and hell.  If he has rescued us at the cost of his own Son, it’s not because of us, but because of the kind of Father he is.  He is full of abundant mercy, and there is none beyond his reach—if you are far from him, don’t despair, but come and trust his promises!

And he has “caused us to be born again.”  Peter reminds us how we got here—we didn’t give birth to ourselves.  As the apostle John put it, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).  If we are in Christ, he has given us life, just as surely as he first gave us breath and a heartbeat!  And that’s good news—because we can be sure he didn’t birth us only to abandon us!  As the Lord said through Isaiah, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb?  Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.  Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands!” (Isa. 49:15-16).  And so he has—with iron nails driven into olive wood!  He will not forget and abandon those whom he has bought as long as his scars remain.

He has caused us to be born again “to a living hope,” making rebels into sons and daughters forever.  Where before we had only the promise of death and judgment, we have been given life and family (Eph. 2:12-14, 19; see also 1 Pet. 2:9-10).  And he has done so “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  Is it easy to come to Christ?  In one sense, yes: “Whoever comes to Me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).  In another sense, it is impossible—“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  We didn’t want to see!  It is only when the same Lord who spoke into physical darkness and created light speaks into our spiritually dark, God-rejecting hearts and creates light so that we see him as he is that we turn and follow him (2 Cor. 4:3-6).  And the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead makes us spiritually alive and guarantees that we are welcome in God’s presence (Eph. 1:18-2:7).  Do you know this life-giving, hope-giving Father?  Praise him!

Second, bless the Father who has blessed us with a lavish inheritance (v. 4)!  He has made us to be coheirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  This is an imperishable inheritance—it will not rust, will not rot, will not ruin.  It is an undefiled inheritance—it is pure and holy, and he is remaking us to be pure and holy to receive it.  It is an unfading inheritance—when we see him face to face, it will not be for a short time, but forever!  This inheritance isn’t simply heaven, as good a gift as heaven is.  This eternal, pure, unending inheritance is Christ himself—his presence and his love for us forever!  Jesus says it’s safe not to worry, not because there’s nothing scary in our lives, but because the Father is a good, generous Father, who knows our needs, provides for our needs, and delights in giving us what we never knew we needed until he came to us—himself (Luke 12:22-34)!  Do you know this generous, lavish Father?  Praise him!

And it is a reserved inheritance—held onto by the Father for us, kept in heaven where none can steal or ruin it.  And that brings us to our last point: bless the Father who has blessed us with a lasting salvation (v. 5)!  Who is this inheritance reserved for?  Notice that v. 5 doesn’t describe the inheritance being kept—“who are” refers back to v. 4, “for you.”  If we belong to the Father through Christ by the work of the Spirit, we are “protected by the power of God.”  Our confidence that we will finish well doesn’t finally rest on how good and faithful we are.  And if that doesn’t strike you as astonishingly good news, might I suggest that you don’t know yourself very well?  We’re still weak, prone to stumble, prone to let our eyes drift from Christ to the dying, deadly delights of this world.  But as our brother Jude says, he is “able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 1:24)!  He will not let us fall and stay down—the indwelling Spirit will convict us of sin, but also restore us and urge us on through the Word and through brothers and sisters.

What does this keeping look like in practice?  We’re kept “through faith.”  Being kept by God looks from our side of fence like someone clinging to Christ in faith and obedience.  Saving faith (which itself is a gift of God, Eph. 2:8) is the means by which God keeps us to the end.  When you’re tempted to give up, to despair, to go back to your old life, don’t expect the Father to keep you by physically dragging you out of bed to gather with the church, by making the computer blow up at the critical moment, or by making you suddenly feel a certain way.  His keeping will be as you put one foot in front of other, as you stand firm by the power of the Spirit when you feel like running, as you obey when you don’t want to.  It will be by intentionally spending life with brothers and sisters who will remind you and be reminded by you.

And notice we are kept “for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  This is what we were made for, what we were saved for, and what we will be given!  We’re already saved from sin’s punishment, brought into the Father’s love.  But we’re still in a broken, messed up world, and we still experience reality of sin—as Romans 8 puts it, we who have firstfruits of the Spirit, who are adopted, still groan as we wait for our full adoption and redemption.  But the living hope within us reminds us that the day will come when there is no more sickness, no more sin, no more death, no more weeping, no more fear.  He will finish what he has begun.  Do you know this keeping, saving Father?  Praise him!

So what are we to do, seeing how the Father has given us life, has given us an inheritance, and is keeping us to the end?  Peter tells us—from v. 6 to the end of the book!  Seven big ideas, very briefly:

  • Rejoice in the face of all kinds of trials, knowing that the Father will use them to bring us into our inheritance when Christ appears as He has promised (v. 6-12).
  • Imitate our holy Lord, recognizing that he has given us new life and new hope (v. 13-2:3).
  • Live as monuments to the Father’s grace, living stones and priests in Christ’s temple (2:4-12).
  • Fearlessly, joyfully honor and submit to those in authority, even when they fall far short of the God they were created to reflect (2:13-3:6).
  • Fearlessly, joyfully love and be patient towards those whom Christ has put around us, even when they are difficult and wrong-headed (3:7-12).
  • Be prepared to suffer as Christ suffered, living out our living hope in hard places, ready to tell all who ask why it is we can face the unthinkable (3:13-4:19).
  • And finally, live out this good news of hope, enjoy this inheritance, together—humbly serving and being served within the body of Christ, bringing our fears and our temptations to the one who loves us and who will bring us safely home (5:1-14).

 

The audio of this sermon, which was preached at Grace Chapel Baptist Church, Kingwood, on Sunday, August 21, 2016, may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.

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Think about what it would be like to be a refugee, far from home, moving from place to place, nothing permanent.  There’s a sense of loneliness, because it’s clear to everyone else you aren’t from here.  And there’s a sense of lostness—everything’s different from back home, and even a trip to the grocery store involves a learning curve.

Now picture being a refugee, but knowing the situation is temporary.  In fact, imagine knowing your refugee status was imposed to prepare you to rule wisely as a prince or princess when you get home.  Sound like a movie?

According to Peter, that’s the truth about every follower of Jesus Christ.  In fact, if we had to sum up the first two verses of Peter’s first letter, we could say that we are chosen refugees—hand-picked outsiders—chosen ahead of time by God the Father, set apart by the Holy Spirit, and brought into obedience to Christ’s new covenant.  Peter writes “to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:1-2, ESV).

Notice, first, that Peter calls Christians to expect to live as elect exiles (v. 1).  When he calls his readers exiles, he speaks of resident aliens, those who live in a land that isn’t theirs.  It’s the word Abraham uses to describe himself when he had lived in Canaan for over half a century, but didn’t even have a place to bury his wife (Gen. 23:4).  Peter’s readers may have owned homes and lived in one place their whole lives, but they needed to realize “this world is not our home, we’re just a-passing through.”  They weren’t a special interest group or a political powerhouse; they were outsiders scattered to bring the gospel wherever they went.

Yet with these references to being foreigners—refugees, far from home, scattered across the globe—Peter says they are also chosen: “elect exiles.”  We are not where we are by accident, but by God’s good plan for His good purposes.  Peter tell us more about that in v. 2, and in the process tells us how to live as hand-picked refugees.  First, we live out our exile in confidence, because we are elect exiles by our Father’s knowledge and plan (v. 2a).  As Ephesians 1:4 puts it, the Father “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.”  He didn’t merely know about us (that’s true of all people), but He knew us intimately.  It’s the same word Peter uses when he says that Jesus “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1:20); the Father didn’t merely know that Jesus would come; it was His plan that He was bringing about.

So what is this plan that the Father has for us?  The Father is creating a family, causing us to be born again, giving us living hope and an unending inheritance in Christ (v. 3-5), and He will use every circumstance to accomplish this.  And remember, we didn’t jump into this plan because we understood it and wanted to sign up.  We were by nature opposed to God, aiming to live our lives for ourselves.  And if we are now living for Christ, loving Him and imitating His love for His Father and for those around us, that’s only because He has given us new hearts and new eyes that see Him for who He really is.

But now that our eyes have been opened, we will live out our exile in holiness, because we are set apart by the Spirit (v. 2b).  We usually think of sanctification as that ongoing, lifelong process of becoming more like Jesus—and Peter will get to that later in letter.  But here Peter’s focus is on what we call positional sanctification—the believer being set apart for use in worship, much as the Old Testament temple and altar were.  This is how the Father’s choosing has been carried out; He doesn’t just say, “Okay, Mike is mine, but he can do whatever he wants.”  He declares us righteous only because of Christ’s righteousness, but He also awakens and indwells us by His Spirit.  He makes us His temple, and then starts cleaning house, as our new love and gratitude toward God leads us to live more and more like Him (see 1:13-16, 2:9-11).

And as we live out our exile in confidence that the Father knows and loves us, as we live out our exile in holiness because the Spirit has sanctified us, we will live out our exile in step with King Jesus, trusting and living in His new covenant (v. 2c).  Pastor Tom Schreiner notes that obedience and sprinkling picture salvation from two angles.  First, there is obedience.  Obeying here is not so much our actions, but responding to the gospel message (see Rom. 10:16, 1 Pet. 4:17) by turning from sin to follow Jesus, trusting His promises as our king and the one who paid our ransom.  Second, the sprinkling with Christ’s blood recalls Exodus 24:1-8, as Israel entered into covenant.  The people promised to obey, a sacrifice was made, blood was sprinkled on the altar to deal with sin, and then on the people to mark them as the Lord’s.  Now we have been given a new covenant, with a better sacrifice and better promises, and we are marked as the property of Jesus.  In Exodus 25-31 God immediately told Israel to build a tabernacle and consecrate priests; in this new covenant He is gathering the church to be a living temple and a holy priesthood to show what He is like by the way we love one another (2:4-12).

We’re not home yet—but we’re heading that way.  In the meantime, Christians are elect exiles—outsiders who don’t quite belong, but outsiders who belong to a Father who knows us, a Spirit who sanctifies us, and a Son who brings us into a new covenant sealed with His blood.  That gives us every reason to live in confidence, in holiness, and in step with our King until we see Him face to face.

The audio of this sermon, which was preached at Grace Chapel Baptist Church, Kingwood, on Sunday, August 7, 2016, may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.

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In the previous post, we saw from Micah 6:1-8 that the Lord has made His requirements very clear.  When He says to do justice, to love kindness (faithfulness, mercy), and to walk humbly with our God, recognizing who He is and who we are, and so responding by a life that loves God and neighbor, He is commanding us to be like Himself.  But if there is no problem of clarity, there is still a greater problem: we haven’t done it.

The Problem: We aren’t like God (6:9-7:6).

The problem is, all of us know better than we do.  Micah warns his hearers and us: Don’t ask God to agree with sin!  Does the fact that so far the wicked have survived and prospered mean the Lord doesn’t mind sin, after all?  Can God pretend fraud is okay?  Because fraud and lies are everywhere.  But no; judgment is falling, and none will escape!  Why?  Because they’ve been walking with the wicked kings Omri and Ahab, rather than “walking humbly with your God” (6:9-16).

In the meantime, looking for a godly person is like being a farmer with no crop (7:1-2).  As Titus 3:3 puts it, they are hateful and hating one another.  “Concerning evil, both hands do it well” (v. 3a)—when it comes to sin, they’re ambidextrous!  Everyone’s a crook, out for his or her own gain (v. 3b).  The most trustworthy are still sharp and vicious—trust no one (v. 4)!  You can’t even trust your closest friends and relatives (v. 5-6; cf. Matt. 10:34-39, which quotes Micah).  Have you ever been betrayed by someone so close?

Have you ever been the betrayer?

We tend to read this and identify with the oppressed and mistreated, remembering the times we’ve been hurt.  But remember Romans 3, where Paul takes a selection of the psalms talking about the worst enemies of God and His people—and says they’re about all of us (see especially Rom. 3:9-18).  If we’re honest, we’re no strangers to looking out for Number One, to talking about others behind their backs, to running over others to get what we want most.  Left to ourselves, Micah 7 is talking about us.

But what about those who haven’t heard the gospel?  What about those who haven’t read Micah 6:8, and don’t know to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God?  There isn’t enough space here to answer in detail, but take some time to read and consider Romans 1 and 2.  To summarize those chapters, none of us has obeyed to the extent that we know to do.  All of us have an inborn sense at some level that we owe our Maker our love and obedience—but we run from that knowledge, and instead worship other things, whether official gods or just our own appetites (Rom. 1:18-32).  Those who have received God’s written word know this—but they’ve still disobeyed and are guilty (Rom. 2:1-13).  But those who haven’t heard that written word still have a conscience—but have gone against it are and guilty (Rom. 2:14-16).  How old were we the first time we said, “I know I shouldn’t do this, but…I’m going to do it anyway”?

The standard is clear: be like God.  But we aren’t, and we haven’t really tried to be.  So what do we do?  Where do we turn?

The Solution: Look to the incomparable LORD who judges and forgives (7:7-20).

Instead of looking to family and friends (v. 5-6), we look to the God who saves and hears and raises and brings us into light.  That doesn’t mean we don’t care what those we love do to us; it does mean our hope is in Christ in such a way that when people fail—or even betray—our world isn’t shattered.  Rather than hiding and protecting our sin, when we look to Christ we will confess our sin, and it will be forgiven (v. 9).  If we’re in Christ, when we sin, we will be disciplined—but not forever, because “the LORD pleads [our] case and executes justice for [us],” rather than against us (remember 6:1-2?).

And as He rescues His people, the Lord will bring shame on those who have mocked, desolation on those who once brought desolation (v. 10, 13).  “Where is your God” (v. 10; cf. Ps 42)?  With His people—forever.

But it is not only a day of judgment as the Lord acts, but also a day of building and gathering—all kinds of people (v. 11-12).  People will swarm from Assyria to Egypt, from Egypt to the Euphrates—from one fullest extreme of the Land to the other and back again.  They come from sea to sea, from mountain to mountain—everywhere.  That could just mean that He is gathering Israel from places of captivity; Micah’s first readers probably took it that way.  But the New Testament shows a bigger picture (and so does 4:2)!  We see Assyrians and Egyptians and Greeks and Romans and Nazis and us being brought into the kingdom of Christ.  Oppressors become the remnant, wolves become sheep.

Because the Lord will shepherd His people (yes, really).  Micah prays: Lord, shepherd Your flock, like You did before (and like You promised in chapters 2, 4, and 5).  Back when You gave Your people peace and made them lie down in green pastures.  Back when Bashan and Gilead were beautiful, hilltop farmlands, rather than Assyrian-occupied war zones.  Back in “days of old” (same Hebrew as 5:2, here pointing clear back to Exodus and Joshua).

And the Lord replies: Oh, yes, I will shepherd you again, just like I did in Egypt, with signs and wonders that will awe the nations (v. 15-17).  I will again deliver you by a dying Lamb’s blood smeared on wood.  I will again deliver you from slavery, feed and guide you step by step.  I will again bring you into a Promised Land that you’re not strong enough to claim.  The nations will be silenced—and so will the serpent (cf. v. 17) that inspires their rage against Israel and Israel’s King.

So look at this Lord (v. 18-20)!  Other, fake gods were said to be incomparable because of their supposed strength or valor.  But this God not only calls everything out of nothingness, not only defeats all enemies, but He forgives like no other God!  He “passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession”—just as He passed over the Israelites in Egypt.  How can He do that?

Because, as 6:7 put it, this Lord really has given His firstborn for our rebellious acts, His only Son for the sin of our souls!  And this Son is the only one who has truly and perfectly done justice, and perfectly loved faithful lovingkindness, and perfectly walked in humble wisdom with His Father—and at the cost of His broken body and poured-out blood we are forgiven!

And so “He delights in unchanging love” (v. 18)—the hesed kindness of 6:8—and will again have compassion.  “He will tread our iniquities under foot”—like Israel threshing enemies (4:13), like a Son of woman crushing a serpent under His heel (Gen 3:15), He will crush our sins into nothingness.  He “will cast all [our] sins into the depths of the sea”—just as He did with Pharaoh’s enslaving army.  Sin won’t be allowed to hold onto us—it is no longer our master.  He has kept every promise, and will keep every promise.  So look to this justice-doing, faithfully loving, all-wise Lord, who kills sin and saves sinners!

The audio of this sermon, which was preached at Grace Chapel Baptist Church, Kingwood, on Sunday, February 7, 2016, may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.  The rest of Micah may be found via the links below:

Micah 1-2
Micah 3:1-4:8
Micah 4:9-5:15

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How often do we get frustrated in life because we aren’t sure what we’re supposed to be doing?  If you get to play board games with a child (and some adults), isn’t amazing how often the rules change?  How do you feel if your boss keeps changing his mind about what your priorities ought to be?  “Why are you working on the project I gave you yesterday?  I want you to do this one instead!”  It’s hard to please anyone if you have to guess what they want, and especially if they play hard to get.

Is God like that?  Has God left us to figure out what He wants, with a high penalty if we fail to read His mind?  Some have accused Him of this: “You mean that someone who’s never heard of Jesus would be sent to hell for not believing in Jesus?  How is that fair?”  For others, and especially for some Christians, it’s more a fear of missing God’s will in the moment: “What if God wanted me to go to that school instead of this one?  What if I marry the wrong person?”

So the question is, “How can I please God?”  And thankfully, He hasn’t left us to guess.

Remember, Micah’s prophecy is written in three cycles, presenting the same themes from three different angles.  Each cycle begins with promised judgment against those who fight against God, and then moves to hope of redemption for the believing remnant.  In the first cycle, the Lord promised that He is coming to judge evil and to gather His people (Micah 1-2).  In the second, we were pointed to Jesus, the perfect King and Teacher (3:1-4:8), and called to trust this perfect King in every circumstance (4:9-5:15).  And in this last cycle, we begin with a summons to the courtroom, where we learn God’s requirement (6:1-8), our problem (6:9-7:6), and God’s solution (7:7-20).

The Requirement: Be like God (Micah 6:1-8).

As the chapter opens, we have the prosecutor, Micah, appointed to bring charges and speak for God (6:1).  The mountains—the land itself—will be the judge and jury (v. 2), and the Lord Himself is the plaintiff, bringing His case against His people.  But notice how He opens: He invites—dares—Israel to take the role of accuser instead (v. 3-5).  “I’m so sorry for mistreating you by rescuing you out of slavery and oppression!  Do you remember when I hand-picked leaders to bring you out of Egypt?  Remember when Balak wanted to destroy you, and I wouldn’t let him?  Remember how I took you from Shittim to Gilgal, crossing the flooded Jordan on dry ground?  Now, why was it you decided you needed better gods?  What was it I did to you?”

Obviously, Israel has no charges to press.  Instead, they have a question: What does God want from them?  We might be inclined to ask the same questions: Shall I make sacrifices?  Bring burnt offerings and calves?  Pay my dues (v. 6)?

Shall I make extraordinary sacrifices?  Vast herds of irreplaceable livestock, washed down with raging torrents of valuable olive oil?  Give ‘til it hurts—or even bankrupts—to show how serious I am (v. 7a)?

Shall I make heart-rending, unfathomable sacrifices—even my firstborn child?  Will that make up for my sin?  Will that show how sorry I am?  Will that get God’s attention?  Do I know God is happy with me by counting how many tears I’ve shed (v. 7b)?

The question sounds pious enough, but there are two really big problems with it.  First, it’s insulting.  They look at God’s astonishing kindness and faithfulness and reach for their wallets.  “Okay, that’s one ‘brought us out of Egypt’ special, forty years of manna, a few dozen enemy kings…what’s the total?”  They’ve seen judges, prophets, and priests can be bought (c. 3)—so what’s God’s price?  Sometimes we imagine that we can impress God—or at least pacify Him.  What’s the bare minimum to make God okay with me—and are bonus points available?  The question asks, “How can I repay Him?” and waits for an answer.

But second, the question has already been answered.  “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (v. 8).  It isn’t that God had changed His mind about the sacrificial system He had commanded through Moses, but there’s something else He wants more (see 1 Sam. 15:22-23, Ps. 51:16-19, and Amos 5:21-24, among others).  He doesn’t want people who think they can pay their obligations and then do as they wish; he wants people who increasingly look like Him.

Micah 6:8 gives three characteristics that God requires.  First, “To do justice”—to do what lines up with what God says is right.  It is the opposite of the wealthy schemers of chapter 2, and the crooked judges of chapter 3.  To do justice means to oppose evil and love what is good.  It means standing up for the weak and helpless—born or not yet born.  It means opposing systematic mistreatment of groups of people based on economics or where they’re from or what they look like.  It means refusing to turn a blind eye when something’s not right.

And who teaches us what justice looks like?  We look to Jesus, who is angry with the uncaring men who want to use a man’s withered arm to discredit Jesus, and so proceeds to heal him on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5), and who takes the side of widows against those who would rob them under a cover of religious-sounding words (Mark 12:38-40).  Because Jesus’s character is the very definition of what is just and right, we follow His lead.

Second, God demands that we “love kindness.”  Other translations render it “to love mercy,” or “to love faithfulness.”  The Hebrew is hesed—faithful, covenant-keeping love, like Ruth to Naomi, like David and Jonathan, but especially like the Lord to Israel.  To love hesed means to keep our word—we will be faithful to our promises.  It means we won’t just tell others not to harm the weak, but we will actively benefit them.  That doesn’t mean we have to favor any one specific program, government or otherwise; we may disagree about the wisest approach to caring for the weak and poor.  It does mean that we look to do good toward those who can’t pay us back—just as Christ has generously come to our rescue.  It means that we don’t just oppose abortion (though we do), but also look to care for unexpected children and their (often overwhelmed) parents.  We are called to reflect God’s faithful, loving mercy, just as Jesus did at every moment.

And third, the Lord requires us “to walk humbly with your God.”  The word here is not the usual word for humility.  It’s more the idea of walking wisely, thinking through what we do.  If we recognize who we are in relation to God, we will pay attention to how we live.  Knowing that we will give account, “we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9).  In other words, Micah says that what God requires is for us to love God (ordering our life in relation to who He has made us to be) and to love neighbor (dealing with others with the same kind of justice and kindness that God has shown to us).  Some of the rabbis of Jesus’s day and before recognized that this summarizes the law given to Moses.  But how much more, when we see Christ Himself perfectly living out this law, fulfilling its every requirement!  Again, Jesus’s example perfectly defines this wise, humble walk.

So now we know—what God demands from us is that we be like Him.  And He hasn’t changed His mind (see 1 Pet. 1:13-19, for example).  There’s just one problem, to which we’ll turn in the next post.

In the meantime, the audio of this sermon, which was preached at Grace Chapel Baptist Church, Kingwood, on Sunday, February 7, 2016, may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.

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What about when things we count on don’t last?  How do we understand the disappointments and hurts that are virtually guaranteed this side of the Garden?  In the first post of this series, we saw that we trust the faithful King and His wise plan, knowing that He will use every circumstance to accomplish His ends.  In the second, we saw that this King does not rely on human wisdom and power, but is God Himself, gathering His people from the ends of the earth, guarding them through the faithful undershepherds He gives to His church, and scattering them through the entire world to bring blessings and judgment through the spread of the gospel.  And now, the Holy Spirit commands us by the prophet Micah,

In the midst of hurting, trust the King to purify His people (5:10-15).

As you look at the verses leading up to this section, you might be thinking, Wait a minute—I thought we were talking about redemption and safety?  What about Jesus gathering and shepherding and keeping?  What about enemies being stopped?  Did the Lord change His mind?

But what had Israel relied on that led to God’s judgment?  Exactly what God promises to destroy in these verses: military power, unholy alliances, and fake gods.  Moses had warned Israel before they entered Canaan, almost four centuries before Israel crowned her first king, that the king “shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses” (Deut. 17:16).  David remembered, saying, “Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God” (Psalm 20:7).  But just a generation later, “Solomon had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots, and 12,000 horsemen” (1 Kings 4:26).  It’s a sign of Solomon’s material prosperity, but it’s also an early sign of trouble.

What about the cities and fortifications in v. 11?  Again, there’s a sense of self-reliance—we’ve got walls, we’ve got our supplies, bring it on!  In the end, we will either trust in the Lord to rescue and protect, or we will look to our own resources (see Prov. 18:10-11).

But if we are in Christ, God will not let us sit comfortably while we place our trust in something else.  “You shall have no other gods” will happen (v. 12-14).  Or put in the other direction, “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).  The Father who made up His mind to give a people as a love gift to His Son, who at the cost of Jesus’s blood has bought a people, and by the Holy Spirit is bringing the spiritually dead to life and making them sons and daughters forever, will not then step back and let us fumble and falter and be content in our sins over the long haul.  He will make us like His Son, just as He planned, using every circumstance to make it so (Rom. 8:28-30).  That process may take us through some very dark places—remember, the context of Romans 8:28-30 is a groaning world subject to futility, and even we as heirs groan, waiting for the final stages of our adoption, hurting so badly that all we can do is groan, counting on the Spirit to groan alongside us and make our prayers align perfectly with the Father’s perfect wisdom (8:17-27).  But He will not stop short of that perfect good, making us increasingly clear reflections of Jesus’s glory and character.

And notice that there are two separate promises in Micah 5:10-15, and there is a vast difference between them.  In v. 10-14, God promises to destroy the things that distract His people and lure them into trusting something else instead.  In v. 15, God promises to destroy the people who refuse to obey Him.  There are finally only two categories of people—sons and rebels, sheep and enemies.

But that, too, raises a question.  If we know ourselves at all, we have to ask: Why would we be among those receiving blessing and sanctification, rather than those receiving vengeance and wrath?  If what we receive is determined by what we have earned, we are doomed!  How is it that we are part of His people?  Mere mercy—mercy that we are shown as we hear the Shepherd, come to Him, believe His promises—and find that He does even better than He has promised.

The audio version of this sermon, which was preached at Grace Chapel Baptist Church, Kingwood, on Sunday, January 31, 2016, may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.

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Biblical Christianity doesn’t encourage us to be very impressed with our own strength.  In the last post, we saw that nothing, not even massive foreign invasions, exists apart from God’s wise plan.  The King is accomplishing His work, and the worst terrors will be used for the good of His people.  So what do we do when we face troubles that are beyond our ability to handle?  The Holy Spirit speaks through Micah, commanding us,

In the midst of weakness, trust God’s perfect King (Micah 5:1-9).

Make no mistake: Israel is weak.  Micah speaks to Judah as the “daughter of troops;” their army can field only small military units; companies gathering to face Assyria’s multi-national invasion force.  The Assyrians will humiliate and mistreat their king (5:1)—and later so will Babylon, and to a lesser extent Persia, and Greece, and Rome…  And Bethlehem, despite being the historic hometown of David, is “little” (5:2)—a word that can speak of physical size, but carries more the idea of someone smaller or weaker.  It’s not so much “awe, isn’t it cute” little; Bethlehem’s too scrawny to be counted on for military power, even for a country in which every soldier counts.

But when Herod’s advisors quote this passage in Matthew 2:6, they recognize Micah’s point: God keeping His promise is not dependent on the greatness of the city or a human king’s planning.  And so they modify the quote to get the point: “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”

It’s not the first time something was brought out of nothing.  The entire Bible traces a theme of God choosing the weak to display His power: Abraham, the father of nations who can’t have children (Gen. 12-22); Israel, the band of slaves from Egypt (Deut. 7:7-8); David, the youngest son, brought out of the sheep fold to shepherd Israel (1 Sam. 16; 2 Sam. 7).  And us: “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

And for those who are in Christ, our expectation isn’t that now He will make us invincible and powerful, but that even now our weakness highlights God’s might.  “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:8-10).

And now Micah says that puny Bethlehem will be the source of a Ruler.  A Ruler who comes to fulfill 4:1-8—to be the Shepherd and Judge that God promised to be.  A Ruler whose “goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”  Micah’s first hearers would likely have taken this to mean that the promised Ruler has roots clear back to when Bethlehem was David’s home town, as opposed to being God’s Plan B.  But when Matthew points back to this passage, we realize, who but God could say, “I was on my way in David’s day…and Abraham’s…and Adam’s…and before that…”?

In the meantime, for Micah’s listeners that promise lay far in the future.  Until then, “He will give them up” (v. 3)—to Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome…only when Messiah comes will David’s line have their promised authority again.  There will be agony like childbirth (4:9), even with the promises.  There will be agony like childbirth that comes from exile and oppression (4:10-11).  But a Child will be born (5:3)—a Child who changes everything.  And when He is born, “The remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel.”  The faithful remnant will grow.  It will include Jesus’s physical half-brothers (James and Jude, at the least).  He will gather His kinsmen according to the flesh (thousands of ethnic Israelites at Pentecost and beyond).  And He will gather millions of us, whom He is not ashamed to call brothers (Heb. 3:11).  “And so all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26)—all those of any ethnicity who trust and obey the true Israel, the true David, Jesus.

And this King not only gathers the remnant, but He shepherds and protects (v. 4-5a).  Jesus fulfills all the promises and hopes and shadows of David as He stands up from the grave to receive authority, as He feeds His flock, as He displays power and glory, as He rules—not just Israel, but to the ends of the earth—and brings peace.

So when enemies come, don’t be afraid (v. 5b-6).  Assyria is the immediate threat in Micah’s day, but it becomes a temporary picture of the enemies of God in all ages.  Much is being said about this year’s election, about the threats to religious liberty that may well come through court decisions and increasingly intolerant legislation.  While we still have such liberties, enjoy them, and make the most of them, but that’s not where our hope—or our fear—lies.  Even if the First Amendment is repealed (whether by law or simply in practice), we look to a King who has overcome death; what more can they do to us?

And Christ has provided undershepherds to guard His flock.  Micah points to “seven shepherds and eight leaders of men”—those who, under Chief Shepherd’s authority, are raised up to lead and protect.  Why “seven…eight”?  The focus isn’t on a specific number, but on the idea of perfect sufficiency, even a super-abundance.  There will not be any shortage of guardians, and these undershepherds bear a sword (v. 6).  For Old Testament Israel, the Davidic kings led armies and physically drove off attackers.  But now, as Waltke puts it, “New Israel [Gal. 6:15] rules by the living and active sword of God’s word,  which is ‘sharper than any two-edged sword…’ [Heb. 4:12, Eph. 6:17].”[1]  This Word cuts to the quick, exposes our rebellion, and either opens our eyes by the work of the Spirit, or else hardens us in our unbelief until it finally destroys us.  The elders of Grace Chapel aren’t called to build a militia or lead small-arms training in the lower parking lot.  But when someone aims to lead the church of Jesus Christ astray, we’ll gladly lead the charge in opening this Word to show what Christ says.  That isn’t a job limited to those the church recognizes as elders—every believer has the privilege and responsibility to grow in grace and knowledge, to know Christ better and better through this Word.  But being an elder, being a teacher, brings a heightened responsibility to be armed and ready to defend the flock—not by burning heretics or false teachers, but by telling and living the truth.

And the day is coming when Christ Himself will appear, when He will destroy His enemies with the “sharp sword of His mouth” (Rev. 19:15).  The same mouth that spoke the universe into being will speak, and rebels will die.

But until that Day comes, the Remnant is strategically scattered (v. 7-9).  We usually think about the scattering of Israel and Judah as God’s judgment on them—and it is.  But here Micah tells us that there is more—this dispersion is for the blessing and judgment of the nations.  Peter picks up this theme in 1 Peter 1:1, as he writes to the church as chosen aliens, residing all over the place.  Like Israel, the people of Christ are scattered “like dew…like showers” that bring life to a desert land (v. 7).  They are a blessing (“to the Jew first, and also the Greek”), as their presence provides opportunities for their neighbors to hear the Gospel.  Think of what happens when the Jerusalem church is scattered in Acts 8—the result is countless churches springing up throughout the eastern Mediterranean, which in turn launch church-planting missionaries to go even further.

But this scattering also brings judgment on the nations.  Israel, and now the church, are not only scattered as life-bringing rains, but also like a lion in its prime turned loose among sheep (v. 8).  If the world will not listen to the good news that brings life, then that same presence ensures a greater responsibility, and a greater penalty.  Unlike a lion though, the church will not fight its own battles.  The enemies will be cut off—not by our strength, but by the Lord Himself (v. 9).

And so we trust our King’s wise and perfect plan.  We trust the King Himself, who, come what may, will gather and protect His flock.  And in our final post we will see, finally, in the midst of hurting, we trust the King to purify His people (5:10-15).

In the meantime, the audio version of this sermon, which was preached at Grace Chapel Baptist Church, Kingwood, on Sunday, January 31, 2016, may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.

[1] Bruce Waltke, “Micah,” in Thomas McComiskey, ed., The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 709.

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We live in a world of sorrows and uncertainties.  Sometimes we get the impression that every moment of a Christian’s life should sound like the hymn “Blessed Assurance”:  “Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my Savior am happy and blest.”  So what do we do when life doesn’t feel restful and happy?

As we read through the Old Testament book of Micah, we hear the promises of Micah 4:1-8, that Christ the Lord rules the world, that He teaches and shepherds His flock, yet Micah has also said in the first three chapters that the short-term outlook is very dark—his listeners will face foreign invasions that will end in humiliation and utter ruin.  There will be restoration, but that will be a long time coming.  How were they to think about life in the meantime?

In Micah 4:1, the prophet says the promise of the Lord’s personal rule over His people applies to “the last days.”  The Hebrew phrase for “last days”  doesn’t necessarily refer to the end of time, but the indefinite future (somewhere beyond tomorrow).  And the New Testament tells us that the last days begin with Pentecost.  When the Apostle Peter stands up to explain to a gathering crowd why it is that they are hearing the message of Jesus in a multitude of languages, he quotes Joel 2:28-32, but he starts his quote with wording from Micah 4:1 (Joel simply says “after this”)—he links the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and the  birth of the Church as fulfilling not only Joel, but also this passage (Acts 2:16-21).  So, as we live in these last days, how do we face troubles, and especially troubles brought about by other people?  The Holy Spirit by Micah calls us to trust the King’s wise plan, to trust the King Himself, and to trust the King to finish His perfect work.

First, in the midst of agony, trust the King’s wise plan (Mic. 4:9-13).

The Lord through Micah asks, “Why do you cry out loudly?” (v. 9)—but it seems they have plenty of reasons.  Micah is prophesying to people who will face the armies of Assyria, and whose grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be conquered by Babylon.  The people of Jerusalem and beyond will lose their homes, will be dragged beyond the city walls (those who survive the siege and the final assault), will be forced to watch as the city is leveled, and will be marched off to live in far-off Babylon.

“Is there no king among you, or has your counselor perished?”  The time was rapidly coming when David’s heirs would be cut off—there would be no king in Jerusalem, no one at the gate to give judgment and bring justice.  The last king would be blinded—his last sight would be his own sons, his heirs and hope for future, being executed (2 Kings 25:7).  And what would happen to God’s promises to David?

But the King of verses 1-8 has not died!  As Bruce Waltke puts it, the passage is a call to repentance for forgetting who the real King is,[1] but it is also a call to hope—her Counselor has plans she doesn’t yet know about!  Sorrow will come—agony “like a woman in childbirth” (v. 9, 10), but the Lord promises to come to the rescue, to redeem His people (v. 10b).  For now it’s true that hostile nations are swarming (v. 11), but they have no idea of the final cause behind their invasion.  They’re assembled, all right—but who gathered them?  They gathered against Zion—but in fact the Lord has gathered them to be threshed (v. 12)!  This invasion is not a fluke, not an exception to the Lord’s kingship.  As Micah’s contemporary Isaiah explains, the Lord says He will use Assyria to bring justice on apostate Israel, but then He will judge Assyria for its own sins (Isa. 10).

And the same is true with an even darker moment in Jerusalem’s history, as another Son of David is cut down, as crowds gather to cheer the desecration of the Holy One, the one who described Himself as greater than the temple.  There was agony as Jesus was dragged from the city and exiled from life itself.  But He was rescued out of death, and His enemies crushed.

So when sorrows come—when enemies seem to be getting their way, and things are only getting worse: The King is not dead!  He is still working His wise plan, gathering and keeping us, same as always.  And a day is coming when all of His enemies will be defeated.  That means those who are out to get you will finally be in one of two categories.  If they turn in faith from sin to trust Jesus’s promises, they will be brothers and sisters, fellow heirs forgiven on the same basis as us—because their crushing was accomplished at Golgotha.  But if not, then they will be threshed—broken and destroyed under the feet of Messiah as He executes perfect justice.

In the meantime, for those who do not know Jesus as our King and as the one who makes us right with His Father, we face a far greater danger than any human being ever could—we are not Israel in this story, but the enemies!  Our greatest need is to turn to Him, to be rescued from His anger against our rebellion—and He has promised to welcome all who come to Him.  So don’t despair—look ahead and rest in hope—He will yet rescue, because He has redeemed!

And this hope is personal.  It’s not karma, not “what goes around comes around.”  Micah doesn’t say to trust a plan, but a Planner.  And he shows us more of this Planner in chapter 5, to which we’ll turn in the next post.

For those who don’t prefer to wait, or for those who simply prefer to listen, the audio version of this sermon, which was preached at Grace Chapel Baptist Church, Kingwood, on Sunday, January 31, 2016, may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.

[1] Bruce Waltke, “Micah,” in Thomas McComiskey, ed., The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 693-694.

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