The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost July 13, 2014
2 Timothy 4:1-8
360, 392, 353, 53
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
You who are named the house of Jacob:
“Is the Spirit of the LORD restricted?
Are these His doings?
Do not My words do good
To him who walks uprightly?
Lately My people have risen up as an enemy—
You pull off the robe with the garment
From those who trust you, as they pass by,
Like men returned from war.
The women of My people you cast out
From their pleasant houses;
From their children
You have taken away My glory forever.
Arise and depart,
For this is not your rest;
Because it is defiled, it shall destroy,
Yes, with utter destruction.
If a man should walk in a false spirit
And speak a lie, saying,
‘I will prophesy to you of wine and drink,’
Even he would be the prattler of this people.
I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob,
I will surely gather the remnant of Israel;
I will put them together like sheep of the fold,
Like a flock in the midst of their pasture;
They shall make a loud noise because of so many people.
The one who breaks open will come up before them; They will break out, Pass through the gate, and go out by it.
Their king will pass before them,
With the LORD at their head.”
“God’s Winning Team.” That is the theme of a Vacation Bible School and it comes from one of the Apostle Paul’s favorite illustrations. Paul was fond of picturing the struggles and glorious finish of a Christian’s life as a race or some other athletic contest.
The Bible accounts studied during a week of Vacation Bible School demonstrate the winning team concept:
Today we will follow the illustration one step further into the team locker room—where the game plan is laid out, where the coaches encourage the team, and where the team prepares for the contest. In the locker room, the team is all “fired-up.” The team is ready to take on whatever its opponents can throw at them. But then comes the time to go out and actually face the other team. What was unquestioning confidence in the meeting may begin to waver a little in the actual face of the opposition.
Our worship services and your private devotions are the team meetings. In these meetings God gives us the game plan in His Word. He encourages us and gives us strength. Each Sunday worship is a team “recharge.” The day-to-day struggles of running God’s race wear us down, but by gathering with our fellow-teammates we are encouraged and strengthened to once again open the door and face the world outside. Each message from God’s Word is a message from God to His team. We are gathered to hear what God has to say as He sends us out for another week in the world. Today, it is A PROPHET’S MESSAGE TO GOD’S WINNING TEAM. I. Team Conduct, II. Team Mutiny, and III. Team Victory.
Micah is one of the lesser known prophets of Scripture. The most familiar passage from Micah’s preaching is his prophesy that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. Micah lived and worked at the same time as Isaiah and Hosea. Micah preached to both Israel and Judah. As the other prophets, Micah also exposed the people’s sin, announced God’s coming judgment if they did not repent, and gave the hope of promise to the faithful. Like the other prophets, Micah was little heard or heeded by the people.
Micah addresses the people, “You who are named the house of Jacob” [v.7]. The people had been given a great family name. They were the “House of Jacob” — God’s nation and His own special people. They were called the people of God. “Called” is the key word because although Israel was called “God’s people” they were not acting like it.
A team gains a reputation based on its conduct. Is it a team with good sportsmanship even when they lose, or is the team known for its unsportsmanlike conduct? Is it a team that plays well together, or is it a group of over-paid individuals? Similarly, parents desire to have their children honor their family name and live up to a good reputation. Israel as a nation was failing to conduct themselves as “the house of Jacob.”
Israel’s poor conduct was evident in the society’s corruption. Micah observed, “You pull off the robe with the garment from those who trust you, as they pass by, like men returned from war. The women of My people you cast out from their pleasant houses; from their children You have taken away My glory forever.” [v.8b-9] The people were taking advantage of others with no care except for themselves. God commanded that widows and orphans be given special care but instead the other people were doing everything they could to exploit them!
In the next chapter, Micah continues, “You who hate good and love evil; who strip the skin from My people, and the flesh from their bones; Who also eat the flesh of My people, flay their skin from them, break their bones, and chop them in pieces like meat for the pot, like flesh in the caldron” (Micah 3:2-3).
The leaders of the people stripped the people instead of caring for them and giving them leadership as God had commanded. Micah makes another charge, “Shall I count pure those with the wicked scales, and with the bag of deceitful weights?” (Micah 6:11). The businessmen cheated in the scales and robbed their customers.
The people may have been called the house of Jacob, but their conduct was filled with idolatry, cheating, selfishness, pride, self-seeking, greed, lust, and an attitude which simply didn’t care. Micah warned against this corruption and the decay from within. It was a decay which also robbed the next generation. The blessings which the Lord intended for the children were being taken away by the wicked people, and the children too would suffer with their parents when the Lord’s judgment came.
Micah described a pitiful society. It is a description which might make us wonder if it came out of a daily newspaper of our time. We read of crime of every sort. Cheating in business is widespread and we’ve grown accustomed to corruption among our leaders. People will do anything and everything for a quick buck. Dishonesty becomes a “norm” and many will trample over anyone so they can get to the top. The level of care and concern for one another has gone so low that it is possible for one person to watch another be beaten without doing or saying anything because he doesn’t want to get involved.
For all the corrupt activities in the society of Micah’s time and our own, there is something even more disturbing. The most disturbing thing is the silence with which these things are met. So many are either themselves involved with the sin or else they just keep quiet. Micah and other prophets were lone voices speaking out against all that they saw. The voices speaking against sin are still few. Christ’s Church on earth remains a lone voice. Just as Israel’s faithful were “loners” in a nation of sin, so we find ourselves in much the same circumstance.
Micah’s words apply also to the faithful. Faithful believers, both then and now, find coveting in their hearts, selfish actions, cheating, taking advantage of circumstances rather than doing what is right, and the like.
We are called the “house of Jacob” through faith in Christ and we find that our conduct falls short of our name. We do well to ask ourselves, “When the world practices its wickedness does it offend us or do we accept it?” I have to admit that some sinful words and actions simply don’t offend me as much as they once did or as much as they should. We are constantly exposed to these things and the affect is that we aren’t repulsed by sinful conduct anymore. As members of God’s Team we need to continually stand guard so that we aren’t drawn into the theory that conduct doesn’t matter, because it does!
Micah’s words instruct us to keep our team conduct in mind. People know that you profess to be a child of God. Jesus says that we are “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15).
What kind of image of God’s family do we give? Do people see you as someone who keeps the Law only when there is a good possibility of getting caught? Do they see you as someone who is no different than the rest of the crowd except you go to church now and again? Do they see you as someone who will join with them in anything? What is the conduct that the world sees in you? What will be their impression of God’s Team when they see you?
Micah shows that it is possible to be called the house of Jacob but not live in it. The team’s conduct will tell much about the team itself. Paul wrote, “Let your conduct be worthy of the Gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). Use this as your guide. You are a redeemed sinner bought back from sin and death by the holy precious blood of Christ. You have been chosen to be on God’s Team as His beloved child. As you conduct yourselves, ask, “Does this reflect my Savior to the world?” Go out and glorify your family name—make the team proud!
The woes in society which Micah observed were only a symptom. At the root of the problem was rebellion. The team, God’s people, had forsaken Him. “Lately My people have risen up as an enemy—” [v.8a] Literally, Micah says, “Yesterday…” As recently as just the day before, the people had risen up against God.
Rebellion against God and what He says is sin. God demands judgment on sin. God tells the people what His judgment would involve, “Arise and depart, for this is not your rest; because it is defiled, it shall destroy, Yes, with utter destruction.” [v.10]
God intended the land of Canaan to be a place of rest and prosperity for His people. It was their inheritance (Deuteronomy 12:9). Israel had enjoyed wonderful years in God’s gift, Canaan, but now God would drive them out. They had polluted the land with their sin it would no longer be their rest. In Leviticus, God speaks of the land vomiting out those who disobey His Word (Leviticus 18:25-29).
God gave other warnings as to the judgment He would bring on Israel. “Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of ruins in the field, places for planting a vineyard; I will pour down her stones into the valley…her wounds are incurable…You shall sow, but not reap; You shall tread the olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil; and make sweet wine, but not drink wine” (Micah 1:6, 1:9, 6:15).
None of this “non-prosperity” and judgment could be blamed on the LORD. God said, “All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel” (Micah 1:5). In the text, God says, “Is the Spirit of the LORD restricted? Are these His doings? Do not My words do good to him who walks uprightly?” [v.7] God is not restricted to what people think of Him—not in judgment nor in blessing. He is not restricted so that sinners should think they can do as they please. He is not limited in blessing. Israel would have continued receiving abundant blessing from the LORD had they not rejected His blessing by their rebellion.
A sure sign of rebellion is shutting the ears to God and refusing to hear what He says. The people told Micah and the other prophets to be quiet and “do not prophesy.” In the verse just before the text, the people told the prophets to literally, “stop driveling.” The words of God were useless drivel to them. God declares, “If a man should walk in a false spirit and speak a lie, saying, ‘I will prophesy to you of wine and drink,’ even he would be the prattler of this people. [v.11] The people didn’t listen to what God had to say but if someone came and promised them the pleasures of life, drink, party, and enjoyment—they would listen to him. He could be their prophet.
It is the same today. There will always be someone ready to say what someone else wants to hear. Does someone want to believe that it is acceptable to God that he lives as he pleases in sexual matters, marriage (or lack thereof), and other areas of morality? He can find someone who will tell him that. Does someone want to believe that he doesn’t need the Bible or church and that to go out and commune with nature is religion enough? There will be a prophet to preach it. Does someone want to disobey parents and other authorities, does someone want to murder by abortion or otherwise? Someone will always be ready to be the prophet for that desire. These “prophets of the world” may even use the Bible, but they are not presenting the truth.
Today’s epistle reading explained why this is so. People grow tired of listening to God. They find the truth too confining and too condemning of the sinful desires they love so much. So, they don’t put up with the truth anymore. They follow their own desires. Their ears just itch to hear something new and pleasing to them. They find their own teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. They listen to fables instead of the truth. What a contrast: They don’t want to listen to God so instead they listen to fairy tales.
Another part of this fairy-tale chasing is that it robs the children of their heritage. As a society, we worry about the water supply and other resources of the earth so that there is something for the next generation. If we are concerned about the environmental heritage which our children will receive how much more should we not be concerned about their spiritual heritage. If fairy tales are followed now, then it is worthless fairy tales that are passed onto the children and they are robbed of the glory of the Lord which is in His truth. It is crucial that the truth be preserved and that children be instructed in that truth so that the heritage passed to them is of the Gospel—filled with the Lord’s glory and blessing.
God’s message to the team is to guard against rebellion and mutiny. Preach the Word in its truth and stick by it. Stand watchful against the lure of fairy tales. “Be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).
The seed of rebellion infects the faithful too. We have an inborn sinful itch to hear what pleases our desires. As God’s team we need to stand watchful because the potential for mutiny exists within us. While we are here in the “team room” united and encouraged, it doesn’t seem possible that we would rebel against God; but once we’re out there and face temptation it is easy to do. Listen to the Word instead of to yourself. Take time for the Word. Avoid mutiny! Preach and hear the Word!
Even during the worst of times in Israel, there was always a remnant of the faithful. At the time of the prophet Elijah, he thought he was the only one left but God assured him that there were still 7,000 believers in Israel.
The faithful remnant is also guilty of sin but the Lord passes over their sin. “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy” (Micah 7:18). Just as the Angel of Death passed over the homes of the faithful who had painted the lamb’s blood on their door posts in Egypt, so the Lord passes over the sins of the faithful who have been covered by the blood of the Lamb of God—Christ.
The faithful remnant is always going to appear to be the small underdog. Consider how the army of Israel felt when they saw and heard the giant Goliath challenging them. God’s Team, will look the same to the world—an underdog in strength and size. But, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). God’s message to His team of forgiven children is to remember that despite the appearance, you are always the team of victory!
The Lord promised ultimate victory to the faithful in Micah’s time as well, “I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together like sheep of the fold, like a flock in the midst of their pasture; they shall make a loud noise because of so many people.” [v.12] As God had said, He is faithful to His Word and to those who are His. Even though all of the Israelites would experience the pain of judgment, God gave hope to the faithful by promising them that He would also gather them back together.
The Good Shepherd will not forsake His sheep. Through Micah, the Lord promised that He would gather the remnant and it would be a great multitude of men. Jesus said something similar to the disciples, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice and there shall be one fold and one shepherd” (John 10:16).
Even though it appears that God’s team is an underdog on this earth, the Shepherd is working to gather His sheep from every corner. Through Christ we are joined with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the other believers of all time into one big flock under our Shepherd. The Lord gathers us together into one flock around His Word and the size of the flock is large.
It is our Champion, team leader, teammate, and friend who makes us the team of victory and gathers us together. “The one who breaks open will come up before them; they will break out, Pass through the gate, and go out by it. Their king will pass before them, with the LORD at their head.” [v.13] Jesus Christ has gone before us. He has broken down the barriers of sin and death by dying on the cross for us all and rising again to life. He has opened Heaven’s door wide. No matter what we face we know that we are the team of victory when we are on His team. “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
What shall we do then? We will soon break the team meeting for another week and face the world. What are we going to do? The writer to the Hebrews says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” How will we be able to run this race, conduct ourselves like members on God’s team, avoid mutiny, declare our Savior to the world, and rejoice and be confident in victory? The writer to the Hebrews goes on and tells us how: “…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Fellow teammates, Go forth!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.