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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:With What Shall I Come Before the LORD?
Text:Micah 6:6-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Worship
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-05-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 67:1,3                                                                                               

Ps 24:2,3

Reading – Micah 6; Matthew 9:9-13

Ps 50:5,6,7,11

Sermon – Micah 6:6-8

Ps 116:1,3,7,9

Hy 6:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation in our Lord Jesus Christ, it could be that you have a favourite Bible passage: words that you’ve memorized, or hung on the wall, or have on a coffee mug. Maybe there’s some text that you’ll often go back to—one of the Psalms, a piece of Romans, or part of the Sermon on the Mount.

Someone once said that the Lord Jesus had a favourite text, too. There’s no question that his whole life and ministry were shaped by Scripture—the four gospels show us that. Yet it isn’t often that Jesus quotes the Bible directly. Still, one text does stand out in his ministry, because He quotes it twice. The passage is Hosea 6:6, where the LORD says through his prophet, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”

On one occasion Jesus has to defend himself against the Pharisees, who were scolding him for eating with tax collectors. Christ quickly turns the criticism around, and says to the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matt 9:13). In other words, Jesus says, for all of their criticism, the Pharisees have problems of their own—namely, they have a fine outer crust of religion, while their inside is hollow and loveless.

On another occasion, the Pharisees rebuke Jesus for how his disciples plucked some grain on the Sabbath. After defending the twelve, Jesus turns attention to how it was actually the Pharisees who were living out of sync with God’s law: “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless’” (Matt 12:6).

Maybe a couple of references aren’t enough to make Hosea 6:6 his favourite text. But it does show us a key idea for Christ’s ministry: He seeks true faith. He emphasizes the need for a holy and merciful life. God had commanded Israel to do sacrifice and ceremony, but if it never touched the inner part of a person, then it lacked all value.

For this theme, Jesus could just as well have quoted from another of the minor prophets, Micah, from 6:6-8. For there the same truth shines brightly. What does God really want from his people? Is it Israel’s burnt offerings and oil? Does God desire merely our prayers, our money, and Sunday psalms? Or something more? I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

With what shall I come before the LORD?

  1. the reason for the question
  2. the wrong answer
  3. the right answer

 

1. the reason for the question: This morning’s text is well-known. And at first it sounds so positive, but here—as always—we have to consider the context. More exactly, why is the prophet saying this? And the reason is not so nice. Micah was a prophet from the countryside of Judea, and he was called to address especially the people who were living in Jerusalem. For him it might’ve been intimidating to face the crowds and bring this message. But uncomfortable though his words might be, he simply has to speak! As he says in 3:8, “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.”

Chapter 6 is part of that message. This chapter has been called a covenant lawsuit. For it’s as if the LORD is taking his people to court, and He’s arguing against them: “The LORD has a complaint against his people, and He will contend with Israel” (v 2). In this lawsuit, the LORD is the plaintiff (the one suing), Micah is his spokesman, and Judah is the defendant. And the people of God are accused of idolatry, injustice, and false worship.

It’s a fair trial. The people are even given the chance to make a counterargument: “O my people, what have I done to you?” says the LORD, “And how have I wearied you? Testify against me” (v 3). In other words: Did God give them a reason to stray? Had He been unfaithful, or was it his doing that they’d become bored with holiness? No, their disloyalty has no excuse, because for so long now his people have received his grace! The LORD stands up in court and He gives testimony of this: “For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage” (v 4). He delivered them from the very worst of misery.

And that was just the beginning! Led through the wilderness, sustained with bread from heaven, defended against all their foes, shepherded by Moses, brought into the land of promise… In chapter 6 God calls on them to remember all his mercies. He calls on them to count every reason why they should give their attention to worshiping God truly, genuinely, lovingly.

It’s the same way that the Ten Commandments begin. They remind us of our blessed redemption, our deliverance in Christ: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex 20:2). Hearing those words every Sunday, we know that God’s law isn’t meant as an impossible burden on our lives, but as a joyful duty. A person who’s been saved through none of his own contribution, rescued graciously from death—such a person has a world of reasons to come to God with thanksgiving. That’s the core of Micah’s message to the people.

Beloved, isn’t it even more so today? For the Father sent his one and only Son to this earth. By the cross He delivered us from our sin and condemnation, and by his resurrection He gave us life and glory. Today we know how God’s “covenant lawsuit” was brought against Christ. It was Christ who was judged and cursed and killed as the covenant breaker. He took upon himself all our charges and all our guilt: “He who was without sin was made to be sin.” He did it so that we can go free, so that now we can walk humbly with our God.

“With what [then] shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the High God?” (v 6). Isn’t that always the question of one who’s in covenant with God? Isn’t that the response you’d expect from one who’s been saved by grace? “What should I give to the Lord for all his mercy towards me? How shall I bow before him? How can I honour him more?” Because of the Lord’s goodness and grace, it’s what you and I should ask every day of our lives.                                           

Micah asks the question, but really, Judah knew the answer already! They had the law, they’d heard the prophets. This book is only seven chapters long, but Micah’s been warning them for decades. Yet they haven’t been listening. They still thought God was happy with them, happy with their perfect church attendance and their generous contributions. But they had forgotten the kind of response that God is seeking.

 

2. the wrong answer: So had Judah rejected God? Did they no longer believe in him? Not at all! They wanted to have God in their corner. Especially with the Babylonians making noises about going to war, they wanted God as one of their allies! This is what they said in chapter 3, “Is not the LORD among us? No harm can come upon us” (v 11). God had become like the life insurance policy that we have in a filing cabinet: the LORD was there, just in case the unthinkable happened. The people want to preserve that security.

So what did God want from them in return? With what should they come before the LORD, and what will keep him happy? And in answer, the people pay very high, but they do not pay right. They focus on excessive giving, and on elaborate displays of worship. They think that God is interested especially in the cost or beauty of what they bring.

And isn’t that how people have always thought of it—from the days of Micah, to the days of Jesus and the Pharisees, to today? Many a person finds a sense of satisfaction with his various activities in religion. After all, he’s done what was expected! She’s kept to a certain standard: “I was at church, wasn’t I? Didn’t I pray for my meals, and put money in the bag, and send the kids to a Christian school? Didn’t we have a good homevisit last month?” I’ve done my bit.       

But what’s the real reason we come before the LORD with our sacrifices and tithes? Why have you come to the temple, to the house of God? This is what Judah forgot. Or what’s the purpose of our prayers and songs, what’s the motivation for our gifts? We could forget this, even as we sit in church this morning. What’s it for, and who are we trying to please? The elders? Our parents? Ourselves?

The LORD teaches us that true sacrifice has a special character. Right worship is marked by something simple, yet essential. It goes back all the way to Moses. Think about what he asked the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 10:12, “And now, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul?”

Do you hear the clear echo of that passage in the words of Micah? What does the LORD require of you? He wants the heart, the soul, the very being of a person—offered in love. Sure, the LORD commanded that sacrifices be brought to the temple. That was in his law. But strip it all away, and what is a true offering? An acceptable sacrifice is one with a genuine motive: the urge to glorify God. It arises from a heart that has repented from sin. A right prayer is offered by the person who relies on God’s grace, because that person knows that God’s grace in Christ is his only hope.

But in their blindness, the people were offering everything except the one thing God wants. Which made all of Judah’s answers to the question that is asked so fundamentally wrong. “Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings?” (v 6). That’s what you’d expect. God’s requirements in the law began with offerings in which the sacrificed animal is consumed by fire.

And if you wanted to go one better, you’d bring “calves a year old” (v 6). The law permitted the sacrifice of calves that were as young as eight days—pretty small. So if you brought a yearling, this was a bit more of a sacrifice. By one year, with all your time and attention, this had become a valuable animal.

Maybe you can tell where this is going. There’s a progression in these gifts—from a simple “burnt offering,” to one a little more expensive, a calf “a year old.” The people wanted to do better than the law prescribed, to be sure it was enough. But is that really what God wanted? They could read Samuel’s words to King Saul, “Has the LORD as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed [better than] than the fat of rams” (1 Sam 15:22).

As King Saul knew, it’s always easier to meet the outward expectations, than to truly walk in God’s ways. Just like it’s easier for us to keep doing what we need to: Monthly Donation, Bible Reading at Supper, Prayer at Bedtime, Holy Supper Attendance... You can do all that and still have a life that isn’t being walked humbly with God.

Never mind, the people say, how about more rams, and more oil? “Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil?” (v 7). The escalation of gifts continues—because a person seeking to do right for his own security is never sure when he’s done enough. Imagine that whole herds of rams were slaughtered at the temple; would this be sufficient? Or shall we add endless gallons of oil?

Or what if you never have a moment’s rest because you’re on every committee possible? Or what if you work seventy hours a week so that you can double your contributions to church and mission? What if you only read the Bible, and nothing else? What if you never swear, and never steal, and always speak politely to others? What if no one can ever find fault with your public conduct, or the behaviour of your children? Surely that will be enough for God!

The people of Judah were probably frustrated at Micah’s words. What more could they have done? Why wasn’t God satisfied? But they’ve missed the point. No gift, no habit, no tradition can substitute for a sanctified heart, or for a life that’s been reformed. If you don’t love the God of heaven and earth, then nothing else counts. If you’re not motivated by his glory, then checking off all those boxes is an empty exercise.

After all, aren’t these things already God’s? As the LORD said in Psalm 50, “The world is mine, and all its fullness. [So] will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God your thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High” (vv 12-14). Does the LORD really need our time, or our talents, or our ten percent? He doesn’t. But when they’re offered in gratitude to Christ, these things are precious. When our lives are committed to him in love, the Lord counts them a real treasure. He gladly receives what we give—imperfect as it all is—when these things are given in faith.

But first the rest of Judah’s answer. It goes from the exaggerated, to the depraved: “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (v 7). This was a pagan practice, where they’d sacrifice a firstborn child to secure the blessing of the gods. It even happened in the land of Israel.

It’s repulsive to think that this is what the living God requires, but why not? It’s the logical extension of the same idea. If it’s important to impress God, then you better give up the very best you have, the most valuable thing you can imagine: your son, your child, or your own life. But it’s all so wrong. God’s grace is free, and his love cannot be bought. And so the LORD simply desires our response of grateful worship, and sacrifices we make in love.

Once more, we should understand this better than Judah. For we know that God has already arranged for the full price to be paid: He presented his one and only Son! To borrow the words of our text, God gave his “firstborn” for our transgression, He presented Him for the sin of our soul! By that one sacrifice, He’s made it possible for us to have a true and lasting peace with God our Father.

So let’s be clear every day on what motivates our lives as Christians. Let’s know what should be behind our proper worship, our good behaviour, our devotion to the Kingdom and service in the church. Our inspiration is Christ. Our reason in all of this is the perfect gift of God’s love in the Lord Jesus! We do it for him.

 

3)     the right answer: So we’re back to that question, “What does God require?” Or, “With what shall we come before the LORD?” For our answer, we could show how each and every passage in Scripture applies to our lives—it’d be an enormous list. Besides the Old Testament, we’d have to add the teachings of Jesus, and the words of the apostles. All together, it’d be an overwhelming set of requirements!

But remember they all come back to a couple basic laws: the greatest commandment, and the second one like it. Indeed, Micah’s simply calling the people to return to what they know. And what is it? The good that God requires is real thanksgiving. Those in covenant with God must have a true and living faith, a faith that shows itself each day by an active love.

This is exactly what “He has shown you, O man,” says the prophet (v 8). That Hebrew word translated “man” is significant. It’s the word adam, and it’s used in Genesis to describe Adam, the one formed from the dust of the earth. It’s a word that speaks of our lowliness before God. We’ve got nothing original or valuable to offer, because we’re only his creatures, made from clay. What can we ever give to God, that He should repay us?

Yet God has shown us what is “good” (v 8). He’s shown us the better way to live. We can try to find our own way, only we’ll meet with disappointment. But God’s way is good. And God will confirm that his way is “good.” He’ll crown obedience with blessing.

With that in mind, let his people “do justly” (v 8). When you look through the book, you’ll see this is a key theme in Micah. The people of Jerusalem were taking advantage of the poor, they were robbing each other, and trampling the weak. But our God is a God of justice, and He wants to see justice done on this earth. That is, He wants every relationship between us to be shaped by his Word.

From day to day, we’re surrounded by people—we have relationships with so many of them. The question is: If we believe in God, do we always strive to treat others fairly? Are we fair to our co-workers? Do we treat our spouse with understanding? Are we fair to our children, gracious with our brothers and sisters in the church? Do we seek their good—do we even put their interests ahead of our own? Do we have an eye for those who might be suffering, and who need our defense? Do we do justly?

And so let God’s people “love mercy” (v 8). That word mercy is much more than having compassion for the weak. Literally, it speaks of a “loyal love,” most often describing God’s covenant faithfulness to his people. He’s attentive to the promises He’s made, and He fulfills them all in his grace. He is merciful—so what should his people be like? We should be people of loyal love. If we’ve made promises to others, we must strive to keep them. If the LORD’s given us a responsibility, we must strive to honour that commitment.

Yes, what does the LORD require? “[That we] walk humbly with our God.” That’s the broadest of these requirements, and it’s such a rich image for our communion with the Lord—walking. Picture going on a nice walk with a loved one, along the river, or through the bush. When you walk with someone, just the two of you, you’re constantly attentive to him or her. You listen when he speaks. You’re mindful of where she steps. You both stay on the path that’s been chosen. You might even join hands and walk together.

So for us and the LORD. He’s in heaven, and we’re on earth, but Micah says we can walk with him. That means having a constant awareness of where God is leading you. It means being always attentive to God’s voice in the Word. What does He want you to do? Where does He want you to go? Is your hand resting in his? Beloved, would you say that you’re going with God? Or have we left him behind, wanting to do our own thing? Have we forgotten the sound of his voice? The thing He requires is that we walk with him.

And do so “humbly.” Micah emphasizes once more the need to have a knowledge of our smallness. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:16-17). Humbly we walk with him, but expectantly. For He is “our God,” says the prophet. The prophet’s been challenging his audience: “You know this God. So often you’ve enjoyed His aid. He’s redeemed you from Egypt, He’s made you His own.” Now the prophet says it again, “Walk with your God! For He’s yours, the One you can depend on. Don’t try to make it alone. But walk humbly with Him.”

It’s quite simple: this is what God requires. This is what life in covenant looks like: “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Simple, yet no one in Judah should think that they can meet this standard. Nor should any of us think that we can meet this standard. The answer is not to try harder, to do more, or to get busier, because that’ll never be enough. Yet there’s good news! The one, true sacrifice has already been presented. All of the requirements of the covenant have already been met. Jesus Christ came before the LORD his God and He presented himself in perfect obedience. With his precious blood, He’s atoned for every sin, He’s covered every failing.

So one more time we can say it: Christ gives us every reason to come before God with thanksgiving. Christ gives us every reason to make Micah 6:8 our life’s work, a text we often return to as our calling, our purpose, our privilege. In Christ, and for Christ, let us fulfill what is that good requirement of the LORD: doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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