April 23, 2018

Good Shepherd Sunday - Micah 7:14-20

Theme: The Good Shepherd is Better
1. In the gift He offered to the Father
2. In the mercy He shows to sinners

Micah 7:14-20 Shepherd Your people with Your staff, The flock of Your heritage, Who dwell solitarily in a woodland, In the midst of Carmel; Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, As in days of old. 15 "As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them wonders." 16 The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; They shall put their hand over their mouth; Their ears shall be deaf. 17 They shall lick the dust like a serpent; They shall crawl from their holes like snakes of the earth. They shall be afraid of the LORD our God, And shall fear because of You. 18 Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy. 19 He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea. 20 You will give truth to Jacob And mercy to Abraham, Which You have sworn to our fathers From days of old.

On January 28, 1986 the Challenger space shuttle exploded over Florida in front of millions of viewers on television. Naturally, shock ensued as the nation questioned, how could something like this happen? As complicated as rocket science can be, the answer was stunningly simple. The night before had reached temperatures as low as 18 degrees fahrenheit and those cold temperatures compromised the O-ring seals that prevented the rocket fuel from leaking to other chambers in the missile.

The most shocking thing of all was that this problem was known before the launch. Five of the engineers who designed the rocket tried to get the launch cancelled over concern of the O-rings. Initially, the message was received and a delay was in order, but top-ranking executives didn’t want to wait the many months it would take to fix the problem. As one engineer put it, the facts were clear, it was politics and pressure that got in the way.

This story represents the astounding tragedy that can occur when experts are ignored. On a smaller scale I’m sure we’ve all had moments where we’ve talked big like we knew something, only to find out we were wrong or someone more knowledgeable was in the room to correct us. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to be a closet expert on just about any topic. Human nature stokes the inner pride that wants to think our way is best and our knowledge is superior. But, when pride goes toe to toe with knowledge, knowledge wins. And for the one proven wrong, shame and fear are the result.

Sometimes, it’s good to have a certain amount of healthy shame and fear. It can humble us and bring us back to level. At other times, though, it can be dangerous – like the Challenger situation.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. We focus on Jesus, a shepherd and leader like no other. As we have witnessed today, the theme of Jesus as our Good Shepherd is given consistently in Scripture, in both Testaments. Our text today from Micah opens by speaking of how the LORD shepherds His people. One of the lessons that sticks out is that the LORD knows what He is doing. He knows how to lead us. He knows how to protect us. He knows how to provide for us. But, amazing as it may be, so many people, even us, doubt the LORD. We have a message today from God – listen to Him for He is the expert. May the Spirit bless the Word before us today.

Part 1: In things hidden and found

Micah tells of a time when the nations would be ashamed and fear God. Why? Because of God’s mercy. He pardons iniquity and passes over transgression. What is there to fear in that? There’s nothing intimidated about it; except when you reject it. The fear and shame come in because Jesus is the only way. As John wrote in the Gospel, Jesus is not only the Shepherd, but also the only door to the sheepfold – all others are robbers and thieves (John 10:1). There’s nothing scary about God’s grace, but those who reject it – those who try to find another way – will face fear and shame. During Micah’s time and even today, those who refuse to believe in Jesus numb this fear and guilt, but they will feel it one day. Hide as they may from the truth, it will catch up to them. There will come a day when they will have to answer before God. Paul wrote that on that day, all nations will bow the knee to Christ and confess His name (Philippians 2:11). The question is if it is done by faith or force.

Micah touches on one of the most troubling things about faith in Christ – that He is the only way. This offends people. This rubs our natures the wrong way. We don’t want to own up to true holiness; none of us ever have. We desire, we long for a different way. But there is only one. Here we think of the shame and fear that was felt during the tragedy of the Challenger. Imagine being those who made the final call to go ahead with the launch even though they had been warned by the experts. Rejection of Christ is similar and leads to an even deadlier result. Jesus knows the way – He traveled it. He is the Good Shepherd. He can handle what needs to be done. But so often we treat Him like the hireling. We treat Christ like the novice who doesn’t know any better. And we put ourselves in His place.

Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, wrote about this attitude. He said of those who rejected God’s will: Isaiah 29:15-16 Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the LORD, And their works are in the dark; They say, "Who sees us?" and, "Who knows us?" Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; For shall the thing made say of him who made it, "He did not make me"? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding "?

Micah himself ran into this same problem, with his own life. In chapter 6 he pleaded to the LORD saying, With what shall I come before the LORD, And bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  (Mic 6:6-7)

Micah, like all people who fully understand their sins, pondered in his heart how he could repay the LORD. Could he offer an abundance of riches? Would it take giving up his own child? Many cultures have tried to do those very things – even resorting to child sacrifice to please the gods. Micah would have been well aware of such things happening in his day – even Israel succumbed to such wickedness. That’s the natural feeling of being a sinner and knowing God exists. You think you have to do something to please Him. And what higher gift could there be than our own children?  

But God says only shame and fear come with that attitude. Why try to do for ourselves what only God can? Who can improve on the satisfaction delivered through the Good Shepherd. Who can do what He has? It is utter foolishness to try to do what only God can. It’s not a popular message in a pluralistic society but it is the truth, and when denied it can have devastating consequences. 

Part 2:

It was only when Micah considered a different question that he found an answer that meant something. Instead of asking what he had to do, He asked who was like the LORD. 18 Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy. Micah boasted that there was no other like God because God, while having the right to be angry over sins, did not hold on to that anger.

How different than the typical human response. We often hold to grudges for years. Anger has destroyed family relationships and changed the entire course of peoples’ lives. And anger without good reason. No sinner has the right to hold anger over another sinner. When we fight against others and compare our goodness with theirs, we might feel better for a time, but it will never offer healing over sin. Only Jesus can do that, because only He had a righteous reason to hang onto anger, but chose instead to let it go. The mercy of Jesus is better than our attempts at self-righteousness (far better in fact). Micah didn’t see this eternal truth until he looked to the LORD. Likewise, we will never find it by looking to ourselves.  
Because the LORD forgave us, there is hope that sin will not hold power over us. Micah goes on to say, He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea. 20 You will give truth to Jacob And mercy to Abraham, Which You have sworn to our fathers From days of old. This holds true for our lives in view of God, but also in view of other. Because of Christ, we can forgive others. We can let go of anger and hate even though others are not deserving – because He did it for us when we weren’t deserving. Only then, is sin buried away, never to be seen again.

Who is like the LORD? Easy answer – no one. No one is better at salvation than the Good Shepherd. Therefore, don’t try to be better than Him. Don’t try to do what He did perfectly. You don’t have to. Listen to Him. What He says about life is the truth – don’t try to play armchair expert with God. Because, this isn’t some trivial game. Lives are at stake – many more than the Challenger. When Christ’s mercy is in your life, the pain, stress, and heartache of this sinful live has a purpose. When you are overcome by limitations and mistakes – you have a living hope.

Some may not like the fact that only Jesus can give this mercy. Some want to believe that it can be found in good intentions, clean living, or just generally being a good person. Wishful thinking doesn’t equal truth though. There’s too much on the line for you to take someone else’s word for it. The Good Shepherd is the Better Shepherd. Follow Him. His greatness is only painful to the dying part of who you are – that sinful flesh which knows its days are limited. There is joy, comfort, and peace in trusting Jesus above all else – for His mercy becomes your strength. Amen. 

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