"In Pursuit of the Master"
We're now into December and the Christmas season is in full throttle. Our Christmas tree is up—it's not decorated yet, but it's up—we went to Shera's work party yesterday, and most of us are frantically trying to buy all the gifts we need to get while not going bankrupt in the process.
It's also the time of the year that we tend to focus on the a couple passages in particular in the Bible... the fist couple chapters of both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. It's there that we read about the angel Gabriel visiting a young virgin named Mary, about the incarnation, about Mary and her fiancé Joseph's journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, about them finding a place to stay among the livestock because there was no room available at the local inn, about the shepherds in the fields tending their sheep who heard the news, and about the wise men who travelled from some land to the east following a star to find Jesus. All of that is packaged up in just a couple short sections in the Bible. And most of the songs we'll be singing here over the course of this month are based on those chapters.
There were, however, Scriptures written hundreds of years earlier about the birth of Jesus... prophecies from the Old Testament. One of the key ones is found in the book of Micah...
[NOT IN NOTES, BUT IS IN POWERPOINT]
Micah 5:2 (NLT)
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.
Clearly a reference to Jesus. So who recorded those words? Who did God use to deliver this prophecy? A man named Micah, after whom the book is named.
Micah was an Old Testament prophet who lived around the same time as some other famous prophets... Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos. So what was a prophet? Well, on occasion, a prophet would be someone that God would use to relay information about a future event. That's probably what you think of when you hear the word prophecy. More often, though, a prophet was a person that was used as a spokesman for God to speak to the issues of the day. A prophet would be able to see with clarity the state of society and could warn people about what was in store for them unless they changed.
Take Jonah, for example. Jonah was a prophet, sent by God to the people of Nineveh to point out their wickedness and to warn them that unless they did something about it they would be destroyed. Sad but true. And as a direct result of Jonah’s message, the people of Nineveh changed their ways and God relented, deciding not to destroy them.
So here we have Micah, a prophet in his own right. His mission? Well, beyond that prophecy about the birth of Jesus, his mission was to deliver a message to both Samaria and Jerusalem.
Now, just for a little bit of history, after the death of King Solomon in 931 B.C. (he was King David’s son), Israel split into two separate Kingdoms, mostly because of forced labour disputes and high taxation. Here’s a map… [PowerPoint] There was the Kingdom of Israel in the north (which had Samaria as its capital) and the Kingdom of Judah in the South (which had Jerusalem as its capital). And these two Kingdoms were still divided when Micah arrived on the scene around 740 B.C.
Over this period of time both cultures had gone downhill, incorporating false religions, political corruption, oppression of the poor, and all sorts of immorality. And this is the setting into which Micah spoke was a message warning the people of imminent destruction.
Now, the society of the day had plenty of problems, but not being religious enough wasn’t one of them. The people were plenty religious. They attended services in their Temple, they observed special holy days, and they participated in numerous ceremonies and sacred rites. They were very religious. They were not, however, Godly. They thought that going through all the religious motions was enough and that it didn’t matter what their life was like outside of the Temple…. A viewpoint, by the way, which is still very popular today. There are lots of people even today who are very religious but far from Godly.
So how did Micah confront this situation? Well, he asked them a question. He asked them…
Micah 6:8 (NIV)
And what does the LORD require of you?
“What does the Lord require of you?” A fair question, don’t you think? I mean, don’t you like to know what’s required of you? In school, don’t you like to know what assignments you need to complete in order to get a good grade? Don’t you like to know what you need to have done by when in order to keep your job? When you buy computer software, don’t you like to know what the system requirements are so you can know whether you computer can run the program or not? Not a bad question… “What does God require of you?”
How do you think they would answer? You would probably have some ideas come to mind, just as the people in Micah's day would have had their ideas… make sure you keep all the ritual sacrifices…. sheep, goats, calves, first-fruits... attend all the temple services, observe all the holy days, pray before every meal. There are all kinds of things they may have said. The rabbis themselves identified 613 specific commands that they expanded into an encyclopedia-sized set of books known as the Talmud about what they expected God would expect.
Of course the problem with that for someone like me is that I wouldn’t want to read all that. I just couldn’t do it. First of all, I don’t speak Hebrew. Secondly, it would take me forever to get through it and there’s no way I’d remember it all. I’d probably have to get the Reader’s Digest version or the audiobook or get a hold of the Coles Notes version or something like that.
I like things to be short and to the point. I don’t even read e-mails that are too long and complex. Anything more than a few sentences and I just scan it. If you want me to read an e-mail, keep it short. If you need more than one paragraph, keep the paragraphs short. Otherwise, I may just scan it and delete it.
Well, thankfully Micah didn’t write an encyclopedia to answer the question, “What does God require?” He was able to identify three things that summed up everything that’s required. In fact, pastors love this verse because Micah asks a question and then gives a three point answer. Great sermon outline. And the interesting thing is that he didn’t give a checklist of duties and obligations… he gave us three principles that can guide our lives.
So what I want to do for the rest of our time here this morning is talk about these three things. As part of our series, "In Pursuit of the Master," what does the Master require of His followers? You can use the notes provided in your Sunrise Update to follow along.
Three Things God Requires
1. See That Justice Is Done.
That’s the phrase used in the CEV.
Micah 6:8 (CEV)
The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands: “See that justice is done…”
The NIV says to “act justly.” The NLT says to “do what is right.” What was Micah talking about? What does it mean to see that justice is done? Well, it means that you don’t harm or injure or rip-off anybody. It means that you don’t go overboard trying to get your own way. It means you don’t get carried away seeking revenge or trying to get ahead.
I was reading something written by a man named Armor Peisker, and this is what he says…
“We are to be truthful, honest, and sincere toward ourselves, toward God, toward our civil and business obligations, and in all other relationships with our fellowman.”
~ Armor D. Peisker
Beacon Bible Commentary Vol. 5
That's what it means to see that justice is done. As far as it is up to us, we need to act justly in our relationships, we need to act justly with those that we might have some level of power over, we need to act justly in our business dealing. And I’m aware that it’s not always that simple… that there can be all kinds of shades of grey when it comes to acting justly, especially in business. But in all circumstances be sure that you act in good conscience… that your motive isn’t to swindle somebody but is to act fairly. To do what is right. To act justly.
This also means that we need to oppose injustice. We need to stick up for those who are being mistreated. What did this mean in Micah’s day? Well, let’s look at just a few of the other things he wrote. He scolded some by saying…
Micah 2:1-2 (NLT)
What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans. You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out, simply because you have the power to do so. When you want a piece of land, you find a way to seize it. When you want someone's house, you take it by fraud and violence. You cheat a man of his property, stealing his family's inheritance.
Micah was opposing injustice there. He went on to say...
Micah 2:8-9 (NLT)
You steal the shirts right off the backs of those who trusted you, making them as ragged as men returning from battle. You have evicted women from their pleasant homes and forever stripped their children of all that God would give them.
And in the next chapter...
Micah 3:1-2 (CEV)
Listen to me, you rulers of Israel! You know right from wrong, but you prefer to do evil instead of what is right. You skin my people alive…
These were the injustices being done, and Micah spoke out against them. He tells us to stand up for the victims of injustice. Easy to see how Micah earned a reputation as the “Defender Of The Poor,” isn't it? And his words are echoed throughout the Bible.
Isaiah 1:17 (NLT)
Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.
James 1:27 (NLT)
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
Acting justly means that we stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. We defend the defenseless. We care for those who have experienced loss, particularly widows and orphans. And Christians are doing this even now. Every time there's a disaster, Christians are on the front lines providing aid. Every time there's an atrocity, Christians campaign for the victims, often putting themselves in danger to help those victims.
Bobby Kennedy said this:
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”
~ Robert F. Kennedy
(1925-1968, American Attorney General, Senator)
And that’s what Christians do every time they act justly and every time they stand up against injustice. They send forth tiny ripples of hope. We need to do that. God requires it of His followers.
2. Let Mercy Be Your First Concern.
Micah 6:8 (CEV)
The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands: “See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern…”
Maya Angelou had this to say about mercy:
“Nature has no mercy at all. Nature says, ‘I’m going to snow. If you have on a bikini and no snowshoes, that’s tough. I am going to snow anyway.’”
~ Maya Angelou
Just a thought for you as we head toward winter--put your bikinis away.
This is interesting, though... normally, don't we see justice and mercy as opposites? Maybe that's because we tend to define justice as punishing the guilty instead of as doing what is right. Well, according to Micah, it’s important to act justly, but that justice must always be tempered with mercy. Other passages also emphasize the importance of mercy...
James 2:12-13 (NLT)
So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.
Matthew 6:14-15 (CEV)
“If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in Heaven will forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
The message is clear… we cannot expect to experience God’s mercy unless we have also shown mercy. Forgive what others have done to you, don’t hold grudges, give people a second chance, let them make up for their mistakes, and look for opportunities where you can help people and work to their benefit.
Just a few weeks ago, George Gallup, Jr. died at the age of 81. In case you didn't know, Gallup was a devoted Christian with a sincere faith in God, which was his moral compass through life and business and the focus of a lot of his polling and writing. Well, about a decade ago, his organization conducted a Gallup Poll to find out who the most admired people of the past century were. Let me just give you the top 10 names from that poll. Who do you think were on that list? [PARTICIPATION]. Here's the actual list...
10. Winston Churchill
9. Eleanor Roosevelt
8. Pope John Paul II
7. Billy Graham
6. Franklin D. Roosevelt
5. Helen Keller
4. Albert Einstein
3. John F. Kennedy
2.Martin Luther King, Jr.
And who do you think came in as the number one most admired person?
1. Mother Teresa
Isn’t it interesting that someone known for showing mercy topped the list? Some people think of mercy as a weakness, but showing mercy is actually one of the strongest and most respected acts a person can do.
1 Peter 3:9 (CEV)
Don’t be hateful and insult people just because they are hateful and insult you. Instead, treat everyone with kindness. You are God’s chosen ones, and he will bless you.
Now contrast that with what George Eliot said:
“We hand folks over to God’s mercy, and show none ourselves.”
~ George Eliot
Don’t let that be descriptive of you. Let your first concern be mercy.
The third requirement is…
3. Humbly Obey Your God.
Micah 6:8 (CEV)
The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands: “See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God.”
The Hebrew here is literally translated, “Bow low to walk with God.” It talks about a heart attitude of submission, obedience, and reverence for God. And it is out of this heart attitude that the first two requirements actually spring.
“Great beauty, great strength, and great riches are really and truly of no great use; a right heart exceeds all.”
~ Benjamin Franklin
(1706-1790, American Scientist, Publisher, Diplomat)
And what is a right heart? A right heart is one that is humble and obedient toward God.
James 1:21 (CEV)
You must stop doing anything immoral or evil. Instead be humble and accept the message that is planted in you to save you.
James 4:6 (NLT)
“God opposes the proud but favors...”
According to J. David Hoke, this whole idea of humbly obeying God can be broken into three components.
• Understand that God is in control.
We tend to play God ourselves and like to think we are in control, but that is not the case. God is ultimately in control, and we shouldn’t exalt ourselves over Him. Don’t accept the notion that you know better. Don’t accept the notion that you can control your own destiny. Understand that God is ultimately in control. Understand and accept that.
• Understand that we are sinful.
We make wrong choices… we all do. The Bible tells us in Romans 3:23;
Romans 3:23 (NLT)
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
We all need to be humble enough to admit that we make mistakes and to ask for God’s forgiveness whenever we do things that hurt Him.
• Respect the dignity of all human life.
Walking humbly with God means that we are going to treat others right because they were created by God in the image of God. As C.S. Lewis said:
“There are no ordinary people… it is immortals who we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.”
~ C.S. Lewis
We must remember that we are dealing with people that were created by God, regardless of how they have chosen to live. So we treat each other with dignity... with humility.
So there you have it. What does God require of you? Read it with me…
Micah 6:8 (CEV)
“See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God.”
Copyright © 2011 Greg Hanson