Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly - Part 3

Series: Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Sermon by David Strain on Jun 9

Micah 4:1-13

Well now do take your Bibles once again in hand and turn to the prophecy of Micah, chapter 4; Micah chapter 4. We’ve been considering Micah’s message on Sunday mornings. You’ll find it on page 778 in the church Bibles. And if you’ve been with us in the previous studies in Micah you will have noticed that things are not going well in Israel the northern kingdom, Judah the southern kingdom of God’s people, and Micah has rebuked his generation, particularly the powerful and the wealthy and the elite, for the oppression and the injustice that characterized their society. But now we are going to see chapter 4 take a turn toward hope and towards good news.

If you look at chapter 4 for a minute, you’ll see it falls into two sections, each section distinguished by the time in which it takes place. In verse 1 and again in verse 6 you’ll notice that this first section takes place “in the latter days.” That’s how verse 1 is introduced. Verse 6 continues, “in that day.” So, 1 through 8 is the first section of the chapter and that’s “in the latter days,” and then beginning in verse 9 and repeated in verse 10 and again in verse 11, in the English translation three times you see the word “now” - now, now and now. So there’s the first half of the chapter that’s focused on “the latter days;” the second half on “now.”

If we’re going to understand Micah’s message, we need to understand what he means by “the latter days.” Do the last days refer, as some suggest, to some golden age that’s still to come, perhaps to the millenial reign of Christ on earth just before the very end of human history? Or perhaps Micah is describing actually the new heavens and the new earth in these verses. I wonder if it would surprise you to learn, despite what the sort of end-times mumbo jumbo you can find on too many Christian bookshelves these days, that the New Testament writers use the words that the phrase, “the last days,” and uses it in a way that doesn’t refer to any of those things. The New Testament uses the phrase, “the last days,” to refer to the entire period between the first coming of Jesus and His final return to judge the living and the dead at the end of the age.

Let me give you a couple of quick examples. We don’t have time really for a survey, but a couple of quick examples. You remember Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 when the risen Christ gave the Holy Spirit to the church. How did Peter, when he stood up to preach to the crowd that gathered, how did Peter explain what was taking place? He said, “This is what was promised by the prophet Joel, that in the last days God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh.” What’s interesting about that quotation from Joel chapter 2 is that that’s not what Joel says; actually, it’s what Micah says - “in the latter days.” And Peter is borrowing this expression from Micah, combining it with Joel chapter 2, and saying that, “What Joel saw, what Micah spoke about referring to the latter days is now taking place as I preach, as the Holy Spirit is given. Since Christ was raised from the dead, the last days have begun.”

Another example, Hebrews chapter 1, verses 1 and 2, famously says, “In the past, long ago, God spoke to our fathers by the apostles. But in these last days, God has spoken to us by His Son whom He has appointed heir of all things.” So with the revelation of God, the climactic Word of God to the world that was Jesus Christ, His coming marks the beginning of these last days. So the last days have to do with the church age, the whole period between the first and final return of Jesus. Not a few years before the very end or even a thousand years before the very end, but the whole age between the first and final coming of Christ.

Now if that’s true - and it is; trust me, it is! Forget your Hal Lindsey, late-great planet Earth nonsense, leave that - or maybe, Left Behind - ditch that! That’s nonsense. The last days, that means they’re happening right now. Micah is talking to us about today. He’s talking to us about right now. That has huge implications for how we read and apply these words. These words speak to us not about some longed for, distant golden age that’s still to come sometime down the line. No,these are words to live by right now, words for us, that actually give us a perspective that sometimes the spiritual gloom and the moral decay of our society causes us to lose sight of. They help us to remember Gospel hope. They help us, they remind us that the good news about Jesus is going to reach the ends of the earth and nothing, nothing can stop it. They give us hope.

We’re going to notice three things very quickly; before we read, three things to look out for - the first two in the first half of the chapter.  Micah says that the success of the Gospel, the success of the church, is guaranteed. God is going to build His kingdom and the nations will come streaming to it. Secondly, he also tells us that the church’s mission is global. The church’s success is guaranteed; the church’s mission is global. We are sent to the ends of the earth with the good news. And the last five verses of the chapter, verse 9 through 13, he’s going to tell us that the church’s sufferings are purposeful. The sufferings of the church are purposeful. If we only had the first two and not the last one, we might be a little triumphalistic. You know, “The mission cannot fail and we are sent to go give the Gospel to the world,” and we might sort of beat our chests and say, “We can do it!” and forget that following Jesus often brings in its wake a great deal of suffering and a great deal of heartache and trial. And so Micah, when he comes back to his own generation and time, reminds them, “Yes, you are suffering right now, but keep your eyes on the purposes of God. Your sufferings, even your sufferings are purposeful for God’s great glory.”

So that’s where we’re going. The church’s future is guaranteed, our mission is global, our sufferings are purposeful. Before we read the passage, let’s bow once again as we pray.

O Lord, please open our hearts by Your Spirit’s mighty work. Pour in the light of Your Word that we may hear Your voice and learn to live in its light for Your glory and praise. For Jesus’ sake, amen.

Micah chapter 4 at verse 1. This is God’s holy, inerrant Word:

“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say:  ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.

 

In that day, declares the Lord, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away and those whom I have afflicted; and the lame I will make the remnant, and those who were cast off, a strong nation; and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time forth and forevermore.

 

And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.

 

Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pain seized you like a woman in labor? Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued; there the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies.

 

Now many nations are assembled against you, saying, ‘Let her be defiled, and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.’ But they do not know the thoughts of the Lord; they do not understand his plan, that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor. Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion, for I will make your horn iron, and I will make your hoofs bronze; you shall beat in pieces many peoples; and shall devote their gain to the Lord, their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth.”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word.

You remember the parable, the famous parable of the prodigal son. We love it because of the extraordinary picture Jesus paints in it of the radical extravagance of grace. The prodigal son has wasted his inheritance on wild living and he comes home tremblingly, expecting to be treated perhaps at best like one of the father’s hired servants working in the field, and instead the father showers upon him his love and celebrates over the return of the prodigal son. And it’s almost shocking to see the extravagance of forgiveness, of grace, of blessing lavished upon this undeserving son.

The Church’s Future is Guaranteed

I suspect that Micah chapter 4 would have landed certainly with Micah himself, if not for his first hearers, with the same sort of stunning force, the sort of shock and wonder at the sheer extravagance of grace that the prodigal son does still for us today. You remember how chapter 3 ended. Look at chapter 3 verse 12 for a moment. “Because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field, Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house of the Lord a wooded height.” There’s going to be nothing left of Jerusalem, the mountain of the Lord, the city of God. The mountains, the hills are going to be covered again not by the city of God but they’ll be reclaimed by the wilderness. The forest is going to grow there again and it’s all because of you. The mountain of the Lord will be laid desolate. That’s how chapter 3 ended. And now look at chapter 4 verse 1. “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains. It shall be lifted up above the hills.” God is going to treat prodigal Jerusalem like the father treats his wayward son in the story of the prodigal son. Sinful, wicked, rebellious people upon whom God will nevertheless lavish extravagant grace and mercy in due course. In fact, Micah is going to show us Zion will become the focal point of God’s blessing for the whole world.

The other end of this first section of the chapter in verse 8 you see the same theme repeated over again in slightly different vocabulary so that verse 1 and verse 8 function like bookends. “And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.” Not just restoration, but glory is waiting for God’s wayward people. Not unlike the language of “the latter days,” we need to understand the New Testament also picks up this language of Zion, the city of God, and transforms the Old Testament prophetic vocabulary in the New Testament context to speak about not a city in a particular geographical location in the Middle East, but about the church of Jesus Christ. So Hebrews 12:22 reminds us that if you have come to know Jesus, you have also come “to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem.” He’s talking about the whole church of Jesus Christ on earth and in heaven. Or Revelation 21:2, you have come to the new Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, the church that comes down out of heaven for God, “adorned as a bride for her bridegroom.”

So Micah, when he talks about the supremacy of Zion one day, he’s talking about the future of the church of Jesus Christ. He’s talking about the Gospel and its triumph in the world. To be sure, in different times and in different places the church has suffered eclipse for a season. It may well be that in our generation in the United States that’s one of those times where there will be some decline and some eclipsing of the church’s glory. But Micah wanted the people of his generation under the gloom and shadow of their own spiritual decline and coming judgment to remember and not to lose hope that the future is bright and the promises of God for His Word will not fall. And so he’s saying to the faithful in his day in our chapter in Old Testament vocabulary what the Lord Jesus Christ says to us in all the clarity of new covenant revelation. He’s saying the same thing as Jesus, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The future for the church is bright. Whatever the pundits and the pollsters may say about the decline of the Gospel and the decline of the church, the Word of God promises that the church will triumph.

If you look at verses 3 and 4 for a moment you get even a little snapshot of the impact of the Gospel, of what it looks like to live your life under the reign of King Jesus. In verse 3, you will see that first of all when the Gospel begins to transform a heart or penetrate a home or a family or a community or a culture it has profound effects. Verse 3 you see first of all one of those effects is justice. Do you see that in verse 3? “God shall judge between many peoples and decide for strong nations far away” - justice. Then the other half of verse 3, there’s also a concern for peace. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” And in verse 4 there’s secure provision. “They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.” Now to be sure, the full realization of this picture must wait for the new creation. Micah’s describing a perfect society where there is no division, no strife, no contention; where there’s security and prosperity and peace under the reign of God.

But he is saying to the people of his own generation that when the Gospel begins to work in hearts and lives and homes and communities and even in nations, it has a profound leavening effect this side of the new heaven and the new earth so that a transformed believer in Jesus, gripped by the Gospel of grace, is concerned about justice. He is or she is concerned to live at peace so far as it depends upon them with all people. They are concerned to live in contentment with their daily bread and security trusting God not only to provide but to care and to protect. The Gospel, Micah is saying, when it has its way with us makes us good neighbors. It makes us good neighbors. You see the picture? Right in the middle of all the gloom of the gathering shadows, first of Assyrian invasion - Assyria will come right up to the doors of the city of Jerusalem and besiege Jerusalem. And eventually, as Micah is going to say in our chapter, Babylon will destroy Jerusalem, leave it a pile of rubble and ruins, and take the people into exile. It’s a pretty gloomy season in the life of God’s people. But he’s saying, “Don’t forget the bright hope that still lies ahead. Don’t let the gloom of today to obscure the glory of tomorrow. Cling to God’s promises.” The church’s future is not in doubt. It is guaranteed.

Our Mission is Global

And then secondly notice what we learn about the church’s mission. These two things are profoundly interconnected. The future of the church and the future of the Gospel and the mission of the church are profoundly connected. Micah says to us the mission of the church is global. In other words, here is how God is going to establish the mountain of the Lord above all others. Here is how justice and peace and contentment will spread. Here’s how the former dominion shall come and kingship for the daughter of Zion. Here is God’s strategy for fulfilling His Gospel purpose. Look again at verses 1 and 2, would you. “The peoples, many nations,” Micah says, “will come streaming up to the city of God.” And look at the vocabulary that they use. “Come,” they say, “let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.” They’re using the language of Israel on a pilgrimage, on one of the great pilgrim feasts as the people of Israel would go up to the temple. The choir sang to us from Psalm 122 earlier - “I rejoiced, I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go up to the city of our God!’” That’s the language of Israel’s pilgrimage, only now this pilgrimage vocabulary is not found merely on the lips of the Jewish people but on people from every tribe and language and nation. And Micah sees vast streams of people, all of them pressing in to the church of the living God from all parts of the world. And they say that they come that “He may teach us His way that we may walk in His paths.” They want to be discipled. They want to know Him and live under His rule and live for His glory.

It’s an extraordinary, it’s an extraordinary picture. I wonder if you saw that little infographic, it’s about three minutes long, I saw it on Facebook a while back - it sorts of graphically pictures the spread of the Gospel around the world. There’s a global map and it’s all in darkness and there’s just a tiny prick of light in ancient Israel at the beginning of the New Testament era and then 2,000 years of history go by in about three minutes. You just see the years clicking past and you see the expansion and occasional contraction but eventually the advance of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. It spanned the world. That’s what Micah is talking about. The Gospel has reached, is still reaching people from every tribe and language and nation. They’re streaming into Zion, you see. That’s why we’re sending a team to Indonesia and another team to Peru. That’s why we are here on mission together to get the Gospel into our community here on the North State Street corridor and in the greater Jackson area and all over the world.

And let’s ask a couple of questions of Micah to help us understand how all of this will take place. First of all, Micah, by what means will this great gathering in of the people’s take place? How will it be accomplished? Look at the text. Micah says, “For” - so here’s how it happens - “For out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” How is this mighty harvest of men and women, boys and girls from every place and every community all over the world, how is it taking place? It’s taking place because the people of God published the good news about Jesus to the ends of the earth. The Word of the Lord goes out from the church. That’s how the nations come into the church. They come in because we go out with good news. There is a Savior for sinners. There is a Savior for you in Jesus Christ. Trust in Him. That’s our message. And as we proclaim it, the nations are brought to bow the knee.

Then secondly, Micah, who does the work? Whose task is it to take the Word of the Lord to the ends of the earth? Look at verses 5 through 7. “For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.” So there’s a godly remnant who still walk in the name of the Lord. “In that day, declares the Lord, I will assemble” - listen to this now. This is his missionary force. What are the special qualifications? What unique skills do they have that make them ideal candidates for the global expansion of the Gospel? “I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away and those whom I have afflicted; and the lame I will make the remnant, and those who were cast off, a strong nation; and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time forth and forevermore.” God will preserve for Himself a remnant of the faithful and they will be the ones who will bring the Gospel to the world. And what are their unique qualifications? They are lame and weak and cast out and afflicted.

It seems as though the main qualification and criterion that God looks for in a servant of His whom He will be pleased to use is an acknowledgement, an awareness of the depth of their own weakness and inadequacy. It’s a profound lesson that we all, I think, need still to cling to. Remember 1 Corinthians 1:26, “Consider your calling, my brothers. Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to shame, to bring to nothing the things that are so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” God delights to take the unlikely candidate, the weak and the broken and the fragile, and use them in mighty ways that all the glory might be His and not theirs.

It’s so counter to the wisdom of the age. Isn’t it? It’s quite counter-intuitive. We want strength and beauty. We want fame and power. We want impressive intellects. We want soaring oratory. We want culture shapers and opinion makers. Those are the ones who are really going to make a difference for Jesus. That’s how we’ll reach the world. No, Micah says. The ones God will use are not the great and the good, the bold and the beautiful. They are the lame and the afflicted, the low and despised. It’s a hard lesson. Even Paul himself had to learn it the hard way. You remember how he prayed three times to be delivered from the thorn in his flesh, this messenger of Satan sent by God to buffet him. We really don’t know what it was, but it was a terrible trial to him and he prayed over and over for relief. And you remember God’s answer? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in” - what? “In weakness.” And so, Paul says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For” - here’s the principle we need to cling to as we seek to serve Jesus and feel the depth of our inadequacy for the task - “For when I am weak, then am I strong.” Not because I am adequate, strong, wise, capable; not because I have gifts and insight. No, but because He is mighty, and the arm of the Lord is not shortened that it cannot save. He is able despite all of my spiritual disability.

Our Sufferings are Purposeful

The church’s future is secure, and the church’s mission is global, and God is going to use people like me and like you to get the good news about His Son to the ends of the earth. We noticed earlier, didn’t we, that the first few chapters of the prophecy of Micah are full of gloom and rebuke. Here is a word of great encouragement. Here is a word of great encouragement for those who seek to be faithful in dark days. Why not step out for Christ? Why not take a risk in His name? God will use you, weak as you are. Isn’t it encouraging to know as you do that the mission can’t fail, that the advance of the kingdom is guaranteed? And that the way the Gospel is going to reach the world is by people like us - weak, fragile, inadequate people as we are, being faithful to the call of Jesus in our lives.

There’s profound encouragement here, but there’s also a wonderfully balanced message. Look at the last five verses of the chapter, verses 9 through 13. Micah wants us to understand yes, God is going to use you if you will serve Him, in all your weakness, your weakness notwithstanding, that the glory might be His and not yours. Yes, the Gospel will advance. Yes, the nations will stream to Zion. Yes, all the ransomed Church of God will one day be saved to sin no more. Praise God that it’s true! But please understand that those who serve the Lord will suffer like their Savior suffered. There is a cost and we need to understand if we’re going to follow Jesus that following Him is hard and sore. And so in verses 9 through 13 Micah sort of comes back to reality with a bump, back to the present. He’s been thinking about the age of Messiah, about the age of the church, about Gospel progress, and now, verses 9 through 13, he comes back to his own time and his own difficult days.

And so you see in verse 9, “Now why do you cry aloud?” Verse 10, “Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, for now you shall go out from the city and dwell in an open country. You shall go to Babylon.” Or verse 11, “Now many nations are assembled against you, saying, ‘Let her be defiled and let her eyes gaze upon Zion.’” What is life like now? It’s a veil of tears. Now is a time of trial and of suffering. Now it hurts. Now is a difficult day. But Micah, in the midst of this extraordinary realism, continues to hold out hope. Doesn’t he? Do you see it at the end of verse 10? Yes, you’re going to go into exile into Babylon, but there you shall be rescued. There, the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies. Yes, verse 11, the nations are plotting terrible things against you, but verse 12, they do not know the thoughts of the Lord. They do not understand His plan. God is purposeful, even with your trials. He’s going to keep you and redeem you. He’s going to refine you and use you. He will judge the nations and bless His people even through your trials. That’s how this glorious future is going to be secured. That’s what Micah is saying to his generation. There is a purposefulness to your pain.

That was true then; it’s still true now. Isn’t it? Don’t we need to be reminded of that especially in the midst of our sorrows? That we can press on through them, knowing that your wounds are not aimless things, purposeless things. God has a design in the sorest of them for your good and His glory. Romans 5 verse 3, this is among the most bizarre things Paul ever said - “We rejoice in our sufferings.” How weird is that? “We rejoice in our sufferings” - not because he thinks suffering is a good thing; it’s not! But listen to what he says. We rejoice in our sufferings knowing God’s design, knowing God’s plan, knowing what the nations that accuse and oppose God’s people do not know, knowing that God is at work. He says, “We rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint because of the love of God that has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given to us.” God is refining us by our sufferings. There is a purposefulness in them. God is at work in you by your daily trials to make you like His Son that you might be useful in His hand.

And more than that, Paul will go on in Romans chapter 8:18 to say, “I consider the present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed in us. We groan inwardly” - to be sure, it’s hard now. Life hurts sometimes. “We groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies, but in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see” - suffering now, glory to follow - “we wait for it with patience.” That’s Micah’s counsel to his generation. Wait with patience. You do not know all the ways God is at work, but His plans and promises are sure and you can trust them. “And so wait with patience, even if for now you’ve been grieved by various kinds of trials. You are receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”

He’s saying what William Cowper taught us to sing. It’s such a helpful song. You know it? “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread are big with mercy and shall break with blessings on your head. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.” That was Micah’s perspective. He wanted his generation to see it too. He wants us to see it. Can you see it in all your sufferings and sorrows, in all the wounds that you bear? God is at work in you to make you like Christ that you might be useful in His hand, because it’s not the mighty, not the strong, but the weak and the afflicted and the lame, clinging to His might and strength and grace, that get the good news to the ends of the earth through whom the Word of the Lord streams from Zion so that the nations may stream into her.

Trust in the Lord, even in your sorrows, your sufferings are purposeful, and see how God will yet use you for His glory. Let’s pray together.

O Lord, there are many of us in this room this morning who are like Jacob of old. You have hobbled us and we walk limping. And we confess to You that there have been moments when we have felt it unjust of You. “Why couldn’t my life be like hers or his? They seem so together. They seem so happy. Everything they touch seems to turn to gold. But not my life. My life is sore and heavy and hard.” Help us to remember that our sufferings are purposeful, that You are working in us an exceeding weight of glory, that we are to endure hardship as discipline because You are treating us as a child, as an adopted son or daughter, and You are making us like Your Son - refining us, renewing us, crafting and honing us so that we can be useful. Because it is not the mighty and the strong and the noble and the wise, but the lame and the afflicted that You will use as Your mighty remnant to bring the Word of the Lord to the ends of the earth. To bring Your purposes to full realization, You take the weakest of us and by them display Your glory. Would You show us, even this week in our own lives and homes and families, how that’s true, that all the praise might be Yours, that no one may boast, but all glory might be Your own, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

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