Third Sunday After Epiphany January 23, 2000
130, 391, 370, 50
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offering, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. This is the Word of God.
In Christ Jesus, our Righteousness and our Ransom Price, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Do you remember back when you were a teenager, looking for summer jobs? I do. Going around from business to business, filling out applications, sweating my way through interviews—I hated that more than anything in the world. …Well, almost! There was one thing that was worse, and that was—after I got hired—the first few days working at a new job. That was really frustrating. I wanted to do good, but I didn’t know where anything was yet. I wanted to work hard, but at first I never knew what I was supposed to do.
To me, that’s the most uncomfortable feeling there is—being in a position of responsibility, but not knowing exactly what’s required of you. Maybe you’ve had the experience. Some folks have that problem with their religion. Sad to say, there are a lot of people who are uncertain about just what God requires of them as Christians. Maybe you’ve felt this from time to time: the nagging uncertainty of wondering whether God is pleased or angry with you…wondering whether you’ve done enough for God in your life, or whether He expects much more from you than what you’re currently doing. Well, today you can solve that uncertainty. Our text leaves no room for doubt. God’s Word very clearly answers the question that forms the theme of our message today:
Micah was a prophet to the people of Judah during the reign of King Ahaz. To say the least, those were very dark days for God’s chosen people. They had completely turned away from the Lord, and were worshipping the idols of the Canaanites, notably the false god, Baal. There were even many who were making human sacrifices of their own children to an idol known as Molech. Micah became a prophet of terror to them, warning them of the destruction that would certainly come upon them if they didn’t turn back to the Lord.
Well, some of the people listened. They realized their wickedness, and wanted to get right with God again. But how to do it? They’d been away from the worship of Jehovah for so long, they were uncertain what the true God required of them. How should they live? What kind of sacrifices should they offer? What gifts should they bring, so that the Lord would be pleased with them?
-It was the same question that sinners have asked throughout the ages: “What must I do to be saved? Just exactly WHAT does God require of me?” And Micah answered them in no uncertain terms…first, by telling them what wouldn’t work. In the first place, he said, don’t try to pay for your own sins!
The people were used to giving up their personal property in an effort to appease their false gods. They sacrificed precious livestock, valuable grain and oil products, in an effort to cover their own sin. Don’t try that with the true God, Micah said, it won’t work! “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offering, with calves a year old?” No, Micah said, that’s not enough to please God. Well, what if we up the ante? “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or ten thousand rivers of oil?” Not even that would pay for your sins, said Micah. Well, what about a human sacrifice? What if we gave our own children to pay for our sins? “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
No, said Micah, it won’t work. There’s simply nothing you yourself can give that is valuable enough balance the account of sin against you. Don’t even try it. In Isaiah, the Lord says, “What is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me? I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls or of lambs or goats.” Is 1:11.
You know, 99% of the people around us still don’t get that! So many people—even folks who call themselves “Christians”—still think that you have to do something to pay for your own sins. If you can’t pay for all of them, well, you should at least help out by doing enough to pay for some of them. And that’s where this awful uncertainty comes in: “Have I done enough? How much does God expect me to do? When I face God on Judgment Day, will I have done enough to go to heaven?”—I can answer that question; the answer is NO. No matter what you do to try and please God, it won’t be enough. God’s Law requires a perfect life, not just “the old college try.” God requires a perfect bullseye; unfortunately, our shots aren’t even on the target! The Apostle Paul says, “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Rom 3:20.
I remember one time, when I was driving through Chicago on the interstate; I was flipping through the radio channels and I ended up listening to one of those old-timey radio preachers. They’re usually out in right field somewhere, but this guy made some sense. He said, “You know, at almost every church I visit, they ask me the same question: ‘Do you love the Lord? Do you love the Lord?’ But that’s not really the right question, is it? The real question is, “Does the Lord love me?”
—It’s true. God doesn’t require a certain amount of love on your part for salvation…you could never give it. He doesn’t require a certain number of good works as payment for your sins…it’s a payment you just couldn’t come up with. You could never in a million years supply your own salvation. It would never work. And the good news of the Gospel is that despite your sinfulness, God has opened to you also the way of salvation. No, you didn’t love God…but God loved you. So many times you have been faithless toward God—but He has remained faithful toward you. On many occasions you may have turned away from God and given up God—but God never gave up on you. Your good works could never get you into heaven. So, in His love, God supplied a different way for you to be saved. What does God require?—That you give up trying to pay for your own sins, and that you receive the salvation revealed in Jesus Christ!
To the people of Judah’s question, “What is good? How can we stand accepted before God?” Micah answers, “The Lord has showed you, O man, what is good.” God has very clearly demonstrated what justice and mercy and goodness is. He did it by giving His Son Jesus Christ for us!
Even the most hardened unbeliever has a conscience that tells him that God requires punishment for sin. But—praise the Lord!—rather than require that punishment from us, He required it from His innocent Son, Jesus. On a dark Friday afternoon, on a desolate, skull-shaped hill outside Jerusalem, the terrible punishment for all the sins of the world came crashing down upon Jesus Christ. Hanging on that cursed tree, Jesus suffered all the torments of hell in your place. He became your Substitute, paying the price of your sin for you. What a thousand animal sacrifices couldn’t do…what ten thousand rivers of oil couldn’t do…what no sacrifice on your part—however large—could ever do…the precious blood of Jesus DID FOR YOU.
“He has showed you, O man, what is good.” The Lord has shown what mercy is, by having mercy on your soul. Because of Jesus’ cross, your sins are gone. Because of His perfect obedience to God, you stand fully accepted before God, with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness wrapped around your shoulders. Jesus did it, and it’s done. And that, as they say, is that!
One chapter later, Micah rejoices, “Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” 7:18-19. Do you realize what this means?—You don’t have to have any doubts or fears about what God requires of you—everything God requires for your salvation has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ. What a relief! You don’t have to do anything. It’s all been done for you. All that remains is to receive this salvation by faith…and don’t worry, God gives you that, too!
Oh, there is one more thing—God would appreciate a thank you. Micah concludes, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” In view of His great love for you, God would like you to show your gratitude with a life that reflects His love. It’s not very much to ask!
It’s that time of year again, and I see that Publisher’s Clearing House has their sweepstakes in full swing. I think it’s amusing that there’s a “condition” to the contest—if you win, you are required to let them use your name and photograph in future contests. Some “condition”! If I won the ten million dollars, I’d say they could have all the photographs they want! Well, God has publicly announced that, in Jesus Christ, everyone one of you is a winner of eternal salvation. His only requirement is that you be grateful. Some “requirement”! The fact is that, for a believer who finds himself freed from sin and death forever, gratitude just comes naturally. How can you help rejoicing in your Savior? Micah’s “requirements”, that you act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God—these are all things that flow naturally from your faith. It’s like “requiring” you to be grateful when someone hands you a thousand-dollar bill! How can you help but serve your Lord with a life that is just and honest? After God has been so merciful to you, how can you help but show mercy, and kindness, and forgiveness to the people around you? After Jesus humbled Himself even to death on the cross for you, how can you help but to bury your pride, and walk humbly before the God who saved you?—You can’t. These are the natural fruits of your faith in Christ. And the closer you get to Him, the more abundant will be the fruit. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit.” Jn 15:5.
For now, we await the Day when Jesus will receive us into the heavenly paradise that He has earned for us. In the meantime, though, let’s allow our thanks to shine in a grateful life of service to our Savior. And listen—don’t let yourself be bothered with doubts and fears about what God requires of you. In Christ…you’ve already met every requirement there is! AMEN.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.