Thursday, September 20, 2007

What if I stumble--The Message of the Prophet Micah

What if I stumble?
The Message of the Prophet Micah
A Great Savior for Great Sinners

Scripture Introduction:

When we looked at the prophet Joel we asked the question, “Will you be saved?” When God comes in His judgment will you be able to stand. We spent much time looking at this locust invasion and the coming day of the Lord—when none will be able to stand before the Lord. Extra heavy on judgment—leaving us crying for a Savior. In Amos we asked the question, “Does God care?” Our answer was a resounding yes. Which is both comforting and terrifying; comforting because it means God sees the injustices done to us, but terrifying because it means he also sees our sin. We saw that the Israelites, along with us, so often forget that God is a God of justice. Extra heavy on judgment—leaving us crying for a Savior. Micah prophesied around the same time as Amos, but he did so to the nation of Judah. But we read the book of Micah through the eyes of the community that has been hit with the judgment of God. They have experienced the judgment of God against them—they are feeling the weight of their sin and are asking the question, “now what do we do?” They are asking the same question that we are going to ask tonight, “What if I stumble?”

DC Talk asked this same question in a song quite a few years back. The song begins by saying, “The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today, are Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle”. To this quote they ask the question—but what if I stumble? Is my witness ruined? Is my relationship ruined? So, we are going to ask tonight along with DC Talk and the prophet Micah (where we will find the answer) what happens when we fall? What are we to do?

Tonight we are going to actually start at the back of the book of Micah. Turn with me to Micah 7:7-9, where we will focus much of our attention tonight. And as we read this notice the action of the man (the “me” and “I”: statements) and notice the action of God.

I hope you noticed in this passage that Micah is saying of himself. He is in darkness, he has fallen, he is broken, he is bearing the punishment of God, he’s taking the spanking because he knows and is embracing the fact that he is guilty of sinning against God. And therefore God is not only chastising, punishing, spanking, but he is also at the very same time pleading our cause. At the very same time that He is executing His judgment he is also vindicating us and being light to us. Therefore, Micah says, “I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me”.

Tonight, is dangerous. It’s dangerous because I am going to tell you along with Martin Luther to “sin boldly”. I think that is what Micah is saying here, but I think he means something different than you might think he means at first, that is why it is dangerous. We are going to say along with Spurgeon that if our sin is small we have a small Savior, but if our sin is great [and it is] then we have a great Savior. And that is the format that we will follow tonight. First of all we will look at the truth that our sin is great. But I don’t want you to look at this as if it’s bad news and therefore you have to cover up and run. I want you to look at your sin straight in the face and embrace every bit of it, accept it, own it, and call it yours. Because then we are going to look at our great Savior. And in so doing this I believe we will see that we have a great Savior.

So, the first thing that we will see is that our sin is great.

I. Our sin is great

If you have not already got this point then you either missed the last two weeks or you shut it off, our sin is great before God. We are going to look at this again briefly tonight by asking a question from Micah, “What does God require of us”?

If you turn with me to Micah 6:6-8 we will find the answer to this. “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?” 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?”

We see from this passage first of all what God does NOT require of us; or rather we see from this passage what it is that we can bring to God which does not please Him. God is not pleased with the blood of rams or oils. Even if we were to give the ultimate sacrifice of our firstborn, it would not be enough, it is not required. Then what does God want? What will please God? What will allow us to be in his glorious presence?

I think it is here that many Christian preachers sell this message short. We look at the offerings and sacrifices and we say nothing man has to offer God will be acceptable. And that is right and true, none of our good works can merit favor before God. And then we rip the message in half by taking our self-righteousness to verse 8. He has told you, O man what is good. And we figure because verse 8 seems to be a contrast that we can do this. This seems to be the faith side. We can do this. But we will look at verse 8 a little more closely.

To do justice. Let us not undercut the text as if the Lord does not actually require these things though. He really does require us to do justice. He is sincere when in this verse he says, Mike do justice. Therefore, we must strive to do justice. We talked a little bit about justice last week—that is one of the primary message of Amos, that God is a God of justice and we should be a people of justice. We should not sit idly by while injustice is running rampant in our nation. We should not sit on our hands when babies are slaughtered daily. We should not sit on our hands when poor people are being taken advantage of. We should not allow for racism. We should not stand idly by in a world of injustice. We ourselves should seek to be just. We should be fair in all of our business dealings. We should be honest. We should not cheat people. All of these should be a passion of ours; to do justice.

But how just are we? Do we really plead the cause of the widow? Do you really work to alleviate the suffering of the orphan? Do you seek to see justice served and injustice terminated? Are we really any different than the people of Israel? I want you to catch the visual imagery that the Lord gives us through prophets such as Micah—this is a theme we see all throughout the Minor Prophets. I want you to picture a large group of children. Now picture them crying. See them suffering. Hear their hunger. Let be deafening to you. They are crying out to you for bread. Now, in order to drown it out lets start singing some worship songs. Let’s drown out the sound of their cry with some powerful worship music. That is the picture that God is giving these people. Their hearts are so calloused and their hearts so hungry for personal advancement that they drown out the cries of the hurting in the name of religion. Micah 3:9-11 gives us the picture, “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 head gives 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.’”
Our great passion is not justice. Perhaps it is better, perhaps we are growing in that, praise God. But I know the depth of my heart, and I know what Scripture testifies about your heart. At our core we are not just. We could care less about truth and justice. What I really care about is me. I’m not just. So what is one thing God requires? To do justice. Do I do that? Sometimes, maybe. But not like I should.

To love hesed(mercy)

This one would seem to be easy, I love mercy. Especially when it is given to me! I’m not sure I am so passionate about mercy when it is given to others or whenever I am to be the giver of hesed. But the Lord would require of us to love mercy, to have this type of hesed—steadfast love, love that refuses not to love toward others. Is this how we are? At the core of our being do we really long for other people to be blessed about ourselves? Are we really lovers in such a way that we long for the other person to be the most blessed as possible—regardless of personal sacrifice? Christian, if you are quick to leap up and say that your heart is like this let me ask you a question about evangelism. Does your heart long to share Christ with others—not when it’s easy but when it is uncomfortable? When it could mean great personal loss to you. Do you love other people with the type of love that refuses to let go, so much so that you plead with them on Christ behalf? I know my heart. I want comfort. I might love when its easy—but if I would have my way then I would not have hesed. What does God require? That I do justice, that I love mercy. Do I do that? Sometimes, but if I am to be honest, probably not.

and to walk humbly with your God

And this is the spot that I think many people trip up on. Do you really have a passion to humbly walk with your God? This is probably the most revealing of our heart. If you think you do this then you do not. If you think you’ve got it together and that you are walking with God then you are messed up on that humble part. As Spurgeon said, the more grace a man has the more he feels his deficiency of grace.

Oh, how painful is the truth of my sin concerning walking with God. How many times would I rather do something else than walk with God? How many times does my heart not long for fellowship with God? How often am I deceived by the momentary pleasure of sin, and forsake the love of Christ? Do you really desire God like you ought?

You can look at these three things as a summary of the Law. If I truly walked with God, if I truly loved mercy and did justice then I would follow all of his commandments. I would love Him above all else, I would desire Him more than the choicest things the world has to offer. I would love other people more than myself. But I do not. In my redeemed state I am growing. I do desire God, but not like I ought. I do, long to see justice. I even work for it sometimes, but not like I ought. I really do long to see mercy imparted to others, but not always. Sometimes, my flesh creeps up. I’m not there yet. My sin is still great. I still stumble. Our sin is great friends. So what do we do about that? What do we do about this wicked heart that still resides in us? What do we do in this battle with sin? What happens when we stumble? At is here that we will turn again to Micah 7.

II. Our Savior is greater

I love Martin Luther. I can see much of myself in Luther. I think he was like me in that I so often speak and after the words are out of my mouth and still lingering in the air I sometimes wish I could have them back. Luther had a wicked tongue, so do I. Luther said some shocking things. Luther once said he wished he could poop in the pope’s crown. I wonder if he wanted that one back. Another thing that Luther said that is quite misunderstood, and in fact used by Catholic’s to point out the fact that Luther along with us Protestants are heretics is this:

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly,  but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world]  we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness,  but, as Peter says,  we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.  No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner.”

Be a sinner and sin boldly? What?!?! That sounds like heresy. But I think Luther is saying precisely what Micah is saying, and Spurgeon did some 2500 years after Micah. Our sin is great but our Savior is greater. Let’s look briefly at what Micah, Luther, Spurgeon and myself are not referring to.

If you look back at Micah 3:11, I think you can see the response that we should not have whenever we stumble. In 3:11, the priests are obviously guilty and they seem to even know it, but they say to Micah, “the Lord is in the midst of us”. Turn your judgment elsewhere Micah. To make that modern, “We’re Christians Micah, we’ve been baptized brother…don’t worry about us…remember God is a God of love Micah, He’s our friend, He’s not going to judge us”.

This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. Bonhoeffer was actually hanged in April of 1945 for conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer saw cheap grace as plaguing the German churches so much that he wrote:

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Let the Christian rest content with his worldliness . . . Let him be comforted and rest assured in his possession of grace—for grace alone does everything. Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of his grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace.

The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ.

These are powerful words from Bonhoeffer, but I believe they come from a heart that is very similar to Micah’s and one that lived (like us) in a time like Micah’s. Cheap grace runs rampant. So, let us not hear the words of Luther, Spurgeon, Bonhoeffer, and more importantly Micah lightly. We must take sin seriously. But how should we take it seriously? Luther would say by sinning boldly. Spurgeon would say take it to your great Savior. Micah would say, “look to the Lord; wait for the God of our salvation”. Let us look a little closer to the answer to “what if I stumble” found in Micah 7. I want us to see three principles that Micah gives us to answer the “what if I stumble question”. It is what John Piper calls bold brokenness.

1) Bold brokenness starts with being clothed in Christ

If you do not have this then you do not have any of this hope. We cannot finish our sentence for you. All we can say is your sin is great. Christ might be greater but He is not yours. If you are not clothed with the righteousness of Christ then you do not have righteousness. Our answer to sin is only found in the blood bought righteousness of Jesus Christ. That is what Scripture proclaims that we have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ. We are hidden in Christ. We have His righteousness. If you do not have his righteousness then you do not have any righteousness.

Notice in 7:7 that Micah says, “my God”. If you cannot say that the Lord is your God, then you cannot have bold brokenness.

2) Bold brokenness includes trembling at His displeasure

This point is also important. This is the point that separates Luther from false teachers. When Luther said sin boldly he was doing so after battling with sin fiercely. As Bonhoeffer said of Luther, “sin boldly, could only be his very last refuge, the consolation for one whose attempts to follow Christ had taught him that he can never become sinless, who in his fear of sin despairs for the grace of God…Take courage and confess your sin, says Luther, do not try to run away from it, but believe more boldly still. You are a sinner, so be a sinner, and don’t try to become what you are not. Yes, and become a sinner again and again every day, and be bold about it. But to whom can such words be addressed but to those who from the bottom of their hearts make a daily renunciation of sin and of every barrier which hinders them from following Christ, but who nevertheless are troubled by their daily faithlessness and sin?

This is what Micah is saying in verse 9, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord”. Only when we are like Micah and really feel the weight of our sin “against the Lord” does this come as freeing to us. That is what Bonhoeffer is saying. Unless you’ve done battle with sin, and unless you’ve been broken and in despair over sin the freedom of bold brokenness will not be sweet to you. But we must first feel the weight and despair of our sin. There will be seasons of brokenness, because there are seasons of sin. If there are not times of brokenness something is wrong, you do not understand grace. There will be times of brokenness. But what do we do in those times while we are waiting patiently for the Lord to deliver us?

3) Bold brokenness constantly clings to the grace of God

We see this in verse 8, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise”. We are going to get up. The time of the Lord’s disfavor will only be for a season—then the spanking will be over. Therefore, we hope. We finish Luther’s sentence. “Be a sinner and sin boldly,  but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.” This is what we do when we stumble. We quit pretending. We stop acting like we aren’t sinful but accept it, embrace it, and look at the depth of our sin, but do so in light of the Savior. As Spurgeon said, if you sin is small your savior is small but if your sin is great you Savior is greater. That’s not a call to be more sinful so as to magnify grace….that’s heresy. That is a call to love God and passionately pursue Him and not be tortured or crippled by our guilt and our failure.
Our sin is great but our Savior is greater. Bold brokenness gets up.

Closing Application

What then do we do with this? What is the answer to our question, what do we do when we stumble?

First of all, if you do not know Christ then you need to—otherwise like I said earlier you do not have the hope of this message, only the wrath. Your sin is great and your judgment will be great. But if you have Christ you can rest assured that He is greater than our sin. Celebrate that. Live in that. Be broken for sin. Hate sin. Fight sin. But constantly cling to the grace of God in sin. We can probably define what to do more so by saying what this message is telling us not to do.

1) Don’t take sin lightly
2) Don’t run from God and try to clean yourself up and then get back to God. Your only cleansing will come via the Cross. What is it that God requires? Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God. Christ did all of those and His righteousness is given to us. Therefore, let us passionately live in the righteousness of Christ. Don’t run from God run to Him.

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