January 20, 2016

January 17, 2016 - Micah 3:5-12

Theme: The Herd Mentality Can Protect or Endanger
1) It depends on what you see as an enemy
2) It depends on what you see as justice and equity

Oh the depth of the riches of God’s knowledge, how unsearchable are His judgments and how untraceable are His ways. That portion of His knowledge that is revealed to us this morning comes from Micah 3:5-12:

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who make my people stray; who chant “Peace” while they chew with their teeth, but who prepare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths: 6 “Therefore you shall have night without vision, and you shall have darkness without divination; the sun shall go down on the prophets, and the day shall be dark for them. 7 So the seers shall be ashamed, and the diviners abashed; indeed they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer from God.” 8 But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin. 9 Now hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, 10 Who build up Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with iniquity: 11 Her heads judge for a bribe, her priests teach for pay, and her prophets divine for money. Yet they lean on the Lord, and say, “Is not the Lord among us? No harm can come upon us.” 12 Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of the forest.

In the name of Jesus, the One to whom we confess our sins and the One who offers us free forgiveness, dear fellow redeemed:

Lions have always been my favorite animal and I especially enjoyed shows that revealed their lives and habits on the African plain. It can be fascinating to watch lions operate as the supreme predators that they are. They move with agility, speed, and power, yet they are also smart in what they do and who they choose to attack. On the outside the prey that lions hunt seems to be greatly outmatched. As a child I often wondered why a lion would scheme and plan so much in a hunt. Why not just attack immediately? The answer is that lions have to be cunning as well as powerful. The prey that they seek, while often inferior to the lion on their own, have great strength in numbers. No matter what animal you’re imagining, whether zebras, gazelles, buffalos, elephants, or hippos, they congregate together when a lion is around. They stay together for protection, and when they do, a single lion cannot attack them and survive.

If you’ve ever seen similar shows on lions or other predators, you know well that because of the herd mentality of many animals, lions go after the weakest. If an animal is injured or young, you can sure be that a lion will be smart enough to target it. The fact that is, that animals that are hunted, stick together as close as they can, for protection. When it comes to the ruthless life of the wilderness, there is strength in numbers.

The Holy Spirit would have us keep in mind this same principle as we think of our lives. God has provided a way for us to have strength in numbers through the blessing of Christian fellowship. Fellowship protects us from the attacks of Satan, whom the Spirit tells us operates like a ravenous lion, seeking to devour our souls (1 Peter 5:8). Yet, in order for us to thrive under the protection of fellowship, we need to first understand what we’re up against. For the herbivores on the African plains, the enemy is well-known. For us, although Satan is as dangerous as a devouring lion, recognizing the danger isn’t always easy. Satan is far more cunning and deceptive than any other predator, and many times people have a hard time seeing his traps.

When things in life are going well on the outside, there’s an increasing danger to get lazy and complacent with in life. We can easily fall into a false sense of security and become numb to the unique ways that Satan tries to get at us. It’s important that we ask ourselves if we have reached this point in our lives. Do we genuinely treasure everything that Jesus has done for us? Do we take advantage of every opportunity to grow in the grace and knowledge that God freely offers? Are we busy building defenses against sin or are we partying in the freedom we have through the gospel? Micah brought a message of judgment upon Judah and Israel because they had become complacent and lazy when it came to the security of their faith.

To examine ourselves, we must first figure out what we see as the enemy. Do we let God speak through His Word about right and wrong or have we allowed others to decide for us? Micah describes how the prophets, seers and diviners claimed to have the right message, but led the people astray. They chanted
“peace” when danger was at the door.
Obviously, these teachers carried the majority of the blame for this. But the people were also at fault for allowing it to come to this point. God’s judgment would be upon them because they allowed others to dictate where the danger was, instead of listening directly to God. The result of this foolishness was just as Micah described; like the plowing of a field. Israel and Judah’s spiritual lives were ready to be ripped up.  

In this case, the herd mentality ruined God’s people. They joined into what was popular even though it was void of the truth. The titles of “prophet, seer, or diviner” or our modern day equivalents of “pastor, priest, or elder” mean nothing if the message doesn’t come from God. Human credentials play a very minor role in determining whether or not their words should be heeded. The same is true of how the message makes you feel. I’m sure the majority of Israel and Judah felt pretty good about the proclamation of peace. But that feeling alone didn’t change reality. In truth, it probably made things even worse because they were on the cusp of God’s judgement, when that’s the last thing they expected.

When we take the time to recognize our enemies, let us heed the same message. Take your truth from God, regardless of what others say. Certainly we should develop and build relationships with those that we can trust. But it is God alone that we follow. Leaders are here to help, but they don’t believe the message for us. The blessings of fellowship only exist when the truth takes precedent. And so, when God says, it’s a sin to curse and swear; it’s a sin to have lustful thoughts in your heart; it’s a sin to be disrespectful; and no matter what else it may be – we recognize those things as enemies to our souls, no matter how trivial we may think they are.

Sin never becomes less dangerous just because we feel at peace or because the majority is giving in. Thinking like that is following the herd toward destruction, not protection.

But recognizing the enemy is only the first step toward real peace and life. Micah also says that having a proper handle on justice and equity is important. The lies of peace from the false prophets led to a breakdown of justice and equity. If you look closely in our text, you can see where Micah provides the key. It’s easy to miss it if you don’t read the words carefully. In the middle of describing the Lord’s judgment Micah adds the simple message of Law and Gospel in v. 8: But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin. Micah doesn’t need to dwell on his role or status before God, one quick verse will say it all. His simple task, as it is with all believers, is to preach sin and grace, repentance and forgiveness. That’s the true measure of a Godly preacher, of one who has the Holy Spirit. He must be willing to confront sin and not run from it by preaching an empty peace. This is true, not because of qualities in the preacher or the hearer, but because the message of Christ crucified for sins is the only lasting protection to gather around. This is the herd mentality that saves. Our fellowship is meant to keep individual Christians strong under the power of Christ. This can’t be done by lying about the truth of sin, but it also can’t lead us to any real peace without the promise of forgiveness. For every misstep off the path of God’s moral law, Jesus is there to bring us back. In each moment of doubt concerning our standing before God, Jesus has completed each requirement in our stead so that we can rest in peace. This gospel is what gives us life, and so we gather around it for protection from our enemies.

Micah describes the blessings of the gospel as equity and justice. Israel and Judah abhorred these blessings when they forgot their enemy.

While the world may be scattered in belief about what exactly is dangerous, no one denies that justice and equity are good things. It’s basic human nature to seek justice and equity because we are moral creatures who are aware of right and wrong. America especially prides itself on standing for the ideals of justice and equity. Therefore, when God promises these blessings through His Son, we have a striking point to talk about the gospel.

As Americans, we may feel protected because we have freedom to do what we want but all sin make us slave. True freedom comes only through Christ’s forgiveness of sins. He alone has broken sin’s grip on our lives. He is the Great Physician who came for the sick and the dying. He is the righteous Man who came for the sinners and the unholy. The fact that He is the only Savior demands that those who come to Him are sinners who need help. They are the ones who recognize the real enemy, even when it resides in their own hearts. And so, it is also repentant sinners who feel the protection of God’s grace in the gospel and in a fellowship that keeps that message of grace as the pinnacle of faith.

Fellowship is a gift that is meant to protect us from Satan’s dangers. But a fellowship will only be as strong as that from which is flows. If the basis of fellowship is in the mentality of the world, where each is to his own to determine the truth and to recognize the enemy, then we are more susceptible to attack. By placing confidence in ourselves, we are immediately marked by Satan as one who is weak. But, if the basis of our fellowship is in the Word of God, and primarily of the gospel of Jesus, we have something that Satan can’t defeat. The Word helps us readily determine the enemy and see his tactics they come upon us. And we remain under God’s protection. But, through the Word we also build our defenses and we can get to point that we can take the fight to the enemy.

Some people say the best defense is offense. And that’s the way the Gospel works. It may feel like we’re weak and exposed when we confess our sins. But, then Christ strengthens us by forgiving our sins. He recharges us with the gifts of justice and equity. He empowers to spread the glad tidings of His resurrection victory to further scatter Satan’s ploys. Likewise, we may feel misguided when so much of our faith contradicts the way the majority of the world thinks. So many high profile voices condemn us as foolish and na├»ve. We feel like an insignificant minority as Christians. And yet, when the Gospel has control, none of accusations of the world matter. We have more hope in the simple statement of our Savior, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” than any other person could give us. 

Fellowship creates a herd mentality. But not all gatherings are good. Sometimes, they can put you in danger. The key is in the foundation of your fellowship. God desires to share with you the blessings of repentance and forgiveness. Through that gospel we have hope for real justice, equity, and peace. With God, the threats and danger of our enemies are clear. But, more importantly, the blessing of His free promise is among us and within us. Amen. 

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen. 

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