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Micah 6/Justice

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Introduction

Micah 6:1–8 NLT
Listen to what the Lord is saying: “Stand up and state your case against me. Let the mountains and hills be called to witness your complaints. And now, O mountains, listen to the Lord’s complaint! He has a case against his people. He will bring charges against Israel. “O my people, what have I done to you? What have I done to make you tired of me? Answer me! For I brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery. I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help you. Don’t you remember, my people, how King Balak of Moab tried to have you cursed and how Balaam son of Beor blessed you instead? And remember your journey from Acacia Grove to Gilgal, when I, the Lord, did everything I could to teach you about my faithfulness.” What can we bring to the Lord? Should we bring him burnt offerings? Should we bow before God Most High with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

God has been good to us

The text begins with a court case. Micah is the prosecutor. God is the plaintiff. The mountains are the jury. The people are the defendants. God is bringing a charge against the people. And what is the crime?
If you do a survey through the book of Micah of all the things Israel is doing wrong, it paints a pretty rough picture: idolatry, violence, fraud, corruption, murder, extortion, cheating the poor out of their bread and homes, evicting women and children, event stealing the clothes off the backs of the poor. There a section in chapter three where God uses cannibalism as a metaphor for the way the leaders have acted. It’s bad. It’s really bad.
So, God brings this charge against them, and he pre-empts their defense. He asks a rhetorical question: What have I done? Maybe the people will say, well, we did this God, because you didn’t care about us! You didn’t keep your end of the deal, so we didn’t have to keep ours. But no, way, God says, look at what I’ve done. I saved you from Egypt. I gave you leaders to help you follow me. Even when your enemies tried to curse you, I transformed their curse into a blessing! I brought you into the land, and I showed you what real faithfulness was like!
God was good to the people, but they had forgotten, or intentionally rejected his goodness. I do this too. I stand around and I think, Man, God doesn’t care about me. What has he done for me lately? Our worlds are confusing and filled with sin, and that starts to take over our vision, so that we can’t see God working in our lives. If we’re going to come back to God, we have to regain our vision of God’s goodness. We have so many things that we can see that God has done for us. Focus on these.

God doesn’t care about your fake repentance

So, there’s a transition in the text, and now a representative of the people wonders aloud about what to do. Maybe, he says, we can do a sacrifice. That’s a good idea, he thinks. God wanted us to do sacrifices in the law to cover our sin. Then, he thinks, well, maybe let’s raise the stakes. Let’s do a sacrifice of a pure, young calf. God will like that more. No, no that’s not it. We really need to show that we’re committed to this. Let’s sacrifice a thousand rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil. Maybe God doesn’t want a pure sacrifice, maybe he wants just a ginormous, over-the-top, quantity of sacrifice. Then, the final jump here: Maybe we should sacrifice our first-born children.
Now, this is important, because you might be tempted to think that this whole scenario is genuine repentance. You might think, well, the people really want to turn around and do things right. They want to come back to God and show their commitment to him with everything they have. But then we get to the final sacrifice and we realize that they don’t care about repentance and following God, they just want it to look good. Child sacrifices were something that the evil nations around them did, and shows them continuing down the same path of violence they were already on. In fact, God specifically told them in not to do this. So, they want to make their repentance look as good as possible without it actually changing their hearts.
In the following verse, Micah explains that no, this is not the way to repent. God doesn’t care about this fake repentance.
You know, as Christians, with 2,000 years of reflecting on the cross of Christ, we talk a lot about forgiveness. And rightfully so. God’s grace in Jesus is incredible and life-changing and the absolute basis of our entire faith. But we cannot forget the cost of this forgiveness. The Bible is clear: We cannot shortcut repentance. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about this in his famous quote on cheap grace: “Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance.”
Recently, Rachael Denhollander spoke at the trial of Larry Nassar, the US gymnastics doctor convicted of abusing over 250 women and girls. I want to read you some of the transcript of her speech at length, because it’s incredible:
In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.
You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.
If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.
The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God's wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me -- though I extend that to you as well.
You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.
If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.
God does not care about your fake repentance. God does not care about your apology, or your tears, or your adamant shouts that you’ve changed. God cares about your changed heart, which shows up in your changed life.
The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God's wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me -- though I extend that to you as well.

God wants you to reflect his justice, love, and humility

Look at verse 8: God cares that you do what is right, that you love mercy, and that you walk humbly with him.
When it says, to do what is right, that’s the word for justice. God wants us to be just. Now, when we think of God’s justice, we have a tendency to think of retributive justice. Like, we think of Batman swooping in, bashing some dude’s heads in, tying them up, and leaving them for the feds. Or, maybe even more accurate would be the Punisher. In fact, when ABC was ready to produce the show, they billed The Punisher as one who is “a vigilante seeking justice for those failed by the court system.” So, what does the Punisher do? He shows up and kills everybody who has done something wrong. The question is: Is that justice?
When the prophets talk about justice, this is not what they mean.
Lexham Bible Dictionary says this: “In the Old Testament, the concept of justice refers to divinely ordained actions that promote the well-being and equality of all humanity. Whether justice is served by punishing oppressors or by vindicating the oppressed, there is always the concept of returning humanity to שָׁלוֹם (shalom), an equilibrium in which wrongs have been made right and the impoverished have been restored to prosperity.”
So, the people of God should not be focused on how they can put on some show of worship, they should be focused on how they can restore peace, shalom, to those who have been oppressed. They should love mercy! This means showing God’s love to the world with joy, out of a heart that truly cares. They should walk in humility with God.
I want to ask you, then, is that you? Do you do justice? Do you love mercy? Do you walk humbly with God? Maybe today you need to repent. I need to repent. I need to repent of the unjust ways I speak to my wife and my son. I need to repent of the unjust ways I spend my money. I need to repent of the unjust political systems I align myself with. I need to repent of cowardice. And I need to work to end oppression, to work justly in the world for God’s peace to reign.
Jeremiah K. Garrett, “Justice,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
I’ll end with this: my wife and I do foster care, and we regularly talk about how overwhelming the issues are. Because, at a basic level, there are kids who need homes. And foster care works as a safety net to protect kids and provide them a safe, stable place until permanency can be achieved. But, then you step back and say, well how can we prevent kids from needing foster care in the first place? But now you have to start to deal with systemic and generational issues that are all interconnected—issues of poverty, education, and racism that stem from hundreds of years of injustice. And I start to wonder how in the world I can do anything? And I start to realize that doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God is actually really hard in practice.
But, the good news of the Gospel is that we do not do this work alone. We do it with the church. We do it empowered by the Spirit of God. And we do it with Jesus, who has already done the heavy lifting. Jesus, when he showed up in the synagogue in , said, I’m bringing good news! I’m restoring justice! And he did the hardest work of going to cross, and he defeated the biggest obstacle of sin, and he paved a way for the Spirit of God, through you and me and the whole church to make actual change in the world.
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