I live between two opposite addresses: between that of the worm and that of the eagle. I have this soaring eagle-confidence because I know my Saviour lives and that his grace is sufficient for me, that he is all I need!, and yet I daily experience this grinding worm-contrition that must acknowledge my own sin and failures.
What a strange mixture of polar opposites.
Micah expresses something of it (7: 7-9): “I will watch for the Lord; I will wait confidently for God, who will save me. My God will hear me. Our enemies have no reason to gloat over us. We have fallen, but we will rise again. We are in darkness now, but the Lord will give us light. We have sinned against the Lord, so now we must endure his anger for a while. But in the end he will defend us and right the wrongs that have been done to us. He will bring us out to the light; we will live to see him save us.”
I have sinned against God! And I cannot defend myself or in any way lessen my guilt. And consequently, I will “bear the indignation of the Lord”. He is right to be angry with me. I have sinned against the Lord of glory, and I am ashamed. But then look at the next two lines of verse 9: “. . . He will defend us and right the wrongs that have been done to us. He will bring us out to the light; we will live to see him save us.” There’s confidence there too—”God will plead my cause. God will execute judgment for me.” I have sinned against him, and so I am broken beneath his holy indignation. But this very God—this very same angry God—will soon plead my cause, he will take my side and vindicate me, and so I am bold in his grace.
Broken under his indignation, bold in his grace.
What is so remarkable and helpful about this verse is that it keeps these two things so close together. Many of us feel that we can’t live this way—keeping these two things so close together. If we think of God as angry with us, we collapse in despair. If we think of God as gracious to us, then we feel there is no place for brokenness and remorse. And so today we tend to separate what the Bible keeps together.
But that’s it: they are brought together! The two addresses, so to speak, are brought home into one. When we sin, we must accept the indignation of God and not deny it or hide ourselves from it. But not only that: when we sin, let’s be bold and believe that this very God will plead our cause and vindicate us in justice—brokenness and boldness.
The context is that of a nation facing imminent invasion from without, from the destructive force of Assyria, but the prophet is saying that the real enemy is within, from the sin of the people, “God’s people.” And so God sent Micah to call the people to repent and to warn them of coming judgment.
What is the nature of this sinful behaviour? It sounds strangely familiar. In 2:1–2 he says, Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil upon their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields, and seize them; and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.
In 6:11–12 he cries out for God against dishonesty in business: Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales and with a bag of deceitful weights? Your rich men are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.
But it’s not just the businessmen and women that are corrupt. The religious leaders are phoney and driven by the love of money. Look at 3:5: Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry “Peace” when they have something to eat, but declare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths.
In other words they preach for hire—they say what the rich people in the congregation want to hear so the building gets built faster. It was an evil day. Micah had the unpopular job of warning people that the corruption in business and commerce and religion and politics was going to bring terrible judgment from God if there was no repentance: Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail; for now you shall go forth from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. (4:10)
How do they respond? First answer this: how do WE respond? We face the same judgement. Why is the divorce rate as high in the church as it is in the world? Why do the vast majority of Christians never introduce anyone to Christ? Why are our churches loaded with people who want a part-time, convenient, weekend Christian experience and who show no serious interest in spiritual growth? Why do pastors have to twist people’s arms to give, to serve, to get involved in the work of the ministry? Why are church splits so common? Why are so many professing Christians barren, empty, hurting, confused, and in spiritual bondage? Why is the world so utterly disinterested in what we have to offer?
So when you contemplate Micah’s situation, think of your own! We are sinners and the church is in great need of repentance and reform and cleansing. Micah shows two kinds of response to his preaching. Both are based on grace, but one is right and the other is wrong.
First, let’s look at the wrong one—the wrong way to depend on grace in the face of Micah’s exposure of our sin. Look at 3:11. Micah speaks to the judges and the priests and the prophets of Jerusalem: Its heads give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for hire, its prophets divine for money; yet they lean upon the Lord and say, “Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No evil shall come upon us.” This is the response of False Security. They think they are ok: “We are secure because the Lord is in the midst of us! There is his temple! There is the Ark of the Covenant—the covenant! We are the covenant people! We have Abraham as our father (Matthew 3:9). We are leaning on the Lord! Leaning on the everlasting arms of grace! We have a God of grace! Turn your preaching of judgment to the nations, Micah, not to us. Look at 2:6. What do they say to Micah? “Do not preach”—thus they preach—”one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us.” Here is one way to lean on grace. And if we do, it will kill us. It is a false security.
Have you read of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German theologian? He was hanged on April 9, 1945, by a special order of Himmler at the concentration camp in Buchenwald. He wrote a little book called THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP. What Bonhoeffer attacks in his first essay in this book is this response to Micah’s preaching. He calls it “cheap grace.” Listen and see if this doesn’t ring true to Scripture and nail the problem of these people.
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. (p. 45)
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. (p. 47)
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. (p. 47)
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. (p. 55)
Cheap grace was rampant in Micah’s day. It was rampant in Bonhoeffer’s day in Germany. (“We Lutherans have gathered like eagles round the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ” [p. 57].)
And it is rampant today. And it is the wrong way to lean on grace. And if the church doesn’t change, there will be judgment—there was in Israel. The church is sterile and it needs to reproduce.
That other way is that worm meets eagle approach! In Micah 7:7–9 Israel has learned to respond the right way to the preaching of sin and judgment. Four steps:
1. Unshakable Solidarity with God: v 7, “My God will hear me.” This is what happens when a person turns from depending on self and begins to depend on God.
2. Acceptance of Indignation When We Sin: We don’t minimize its ugliness. v9: “I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him.”
3. Confidence in the Grace of God: I am confident that the very God who is indignant at my sin, is also my saviour. He pleads my cause v9. “He will defend us and right the wrongs that have been done to us. He will bring us out to the light; we will live to see him save us.” Another translation puts is thus: “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy! When I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me . . . He will bring me forth to the light; I shall see his deliverance.”
4. Hope of Deliverance: v 7. “But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. When you sin, you bear the indignation of the Lord in brokenness, and that in this brokenness you boldly believe that this very God will plead your cause, and that you look to him and wait for him with this confidence: “My God will hear me.”
Can you call God your God this morning?
Is there an unshakable solidarity between you and him?
This is not inherited. It is chosen by an act of forsaking all other gods
and swearing allegiance to the one true God, the Father of Jesus Christ.
“Choose today whom you shall serve.”
Let him break you. Let him bless you. Let him make you strong.