This week, a colleague told me a story about something that happened at her church last Sunday. A basket had been passed around the church to collect pieces of papers on which people had written their prayer requests. They don’t do joys and concerns like we do. She was reading the prayer requests and she came across a concern that concerned her. A woman had written a note to the pastor about something she had experienced that morning during worship.
When the woman who was a visitor sat down, she sat in front of 3 teenage girls. The girls made fun of her for her clothing and the way she smelled. The woman was so upset that she left the note about these girls bullying her in the prayer request basket and left the sanctuary. This woman had come to experience God in worship in the fellowship of Christians who she supposed shared her values of justice and kindness and humility. However, this visitor did not feel the welcome one might expect of a church of believers in the One who is peace and mercy, the One who is the love.
These teenage girls who did this were in church every Sunday. They attended Sunday school and youth group, but had somehow missed the message of God’s welcome of everyone to experience His steadfast love. These girls, after being spoken to by their parents and the pastor, were remorseful for how they treated the woman, but the damage had been done. The woman would forever associate bullying with that church. She had not experienced justice, mercy and humility.
That’s what the prophet Micah had a word from God about, justice, mercy, and humility.
The prophet Micah was a prophet of the southern kingdom, the kingdom of Judah during the 8th century BC. He was part of the southern kingdom which had been torn apart from the rest of the kingdom because of the transgressions of those in power. The king was part of the corruption that was rampant among the power brokers in Jerusalem. The northern kingdom was also guilty in their own corruption.
Micah’s main concern was the religious leaders, including with the king. The people were allowed to worship at the high places which were places apart from the Temple where worship included the worship of pagan gods and unsanctioned offerings. There is evidence that these unsanctioned offerings may have included the sacrifice of first born children.
In addition to the unholy worship at the high places, religious leaders paid a lot of lip service to the covenant and will of God, but had little or no regard for the poor. The religious leaders were self-righteous and made grand public show of their piety, but had no personal devotion to God’s justice. The poor were taken advantage of. Elsewhere in the book of Micah, the prophet tells us that “those with power have taken away land and inheritances from the poor (2: 1 – 5), evicted widows from their homes (2:9), fixed the scales and weights to cheat customers (6:10 – 11), taken bribes (7:3), and more…The worship of the pagan god Baal [was] officially endorsed by the rulers (6:16).”
God had had enough! He would not allow His people to continue to act like pagans. He wanted His chosen people to act as people of the covenant and within the bounds of the Law. God demands justice for His people and the rulers of Israel and Judah would suffer the consequences for their sins.
These texts from Micah are about what the Lord expects and requires from His children and what the Lord will do about this current state of religion in Israel and Judah. Micah asks, You want to know what God requires? Do you want to bring Him burnt offerings, rams and oil, your firstborn? Do you think that will atone for your sins? Micah answers his own questions: the Lord requires justice, mercy and humility. Micah’s message is the same as the prophet Isaiah who was prophesying at the same time. The Lord doesn’t want your empty rituals or showy offerings – God wants true worship.
I’ve quoted James 1:27 before about true worship. James tells us true devotion to God, the kind that is pure and faultless before God is to care for the orphans and widows. Micah’s message is that taking advantage of and abusing the poor and widows is unacceptable in the eyes of God, as is the worship of pagan gods.
Micah’s prescription is the prophesy of a Savior. Micah’s promise of a Savior from chapter 5 is echoed by the Magi who come seeking the king in Matthew 2: 5 – 6: “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote: You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah, because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.”
The Savior would be a new kind of ruler and usher in a new understanding of God. The Savior will not be a mighty, powerful figure. He will not be like one would expect of a Savior. He would be a new kind of ruler, more than a king, more than a prophet, more than a priest.
The Savior will set up a new way of relating to God. There will no longer be a need for sacrifices to atone for sin; there won’t be a need to keep track of your offenses and figure out what will appease God’s anger. This sacrificial system of worship won’t be necessary, because they aren’t pleasing God as it was being done. The sacrificial system had become transactions instead of worship.
The Savior will be a new kind of leader and teach a new way to worship. Jesus was a new leader who was misunderstood even by those closest to Him. He was more than a prophet, more than a priest. He was not the civil king of Israel; He didn’t restore the kingdom and nation of Israel. He was, however, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the great high priest (Hebrews 2).
Jesus would teach His followers that the act of sacrifices was displeasing to God. In Matthew 21: 13, Jesus says that the Temple is called a house of prayer, but it has become a den of robbers. He drove everyone out of the Temple courts who were buying animals for sacrifice and overturned the tables of the money changers. He was angry at what His Father’s House had become. It was still, centuries after Micah, the Temple was still facilitating sacrifices that were displeasing to God. God was still not pleased with sacrifices offered as a transaction for a debt to be forgiven.
Jesus would die because of our sin. He would suffer the consequence of being a new kind of leader preaching and teaching a new way to relate to God. All of our sin would be forgiven once and for all as God overcame the power of the grave by the resurrection of Jesus. No more need for sacrifices. Sin was forgiven for all those who believe in the Savior.
Only those who are humble will be able to participate in this new way of relating to God. Jesus said, in Matthew 9, that he came for the sick, not the healthy. That means He came for those who recognize they are sinners and will humbly come before God with true remorse. Jesus came for those who recognize mercy, not sacrifices, as the way our sins were atoned for. Jesus would teach that God forgives the humble hearted, not the self-righteous. Jesus would teach that God wants justice and service, not sacrifices.
I was reading about the Civil War recently and came across the story of a man who modeled true worship of God. John Brown was an abolitionist who had once hoped to be a minister and serve the Lord in Christ’s church, but he would serve God in a different way. In a prayer meeting in 1837 at First Congregational Church in Hudson, Ohio, John Brown vowed to dedicate his life to abolishing slavery. That’s the kind of worship that pleases God. John Brown humbly consecrated his work in Christ’s Church to be an advocate for justice.
All that we do on Sunday mornings is for God. We sing. We pray. We read His word. It is all for Him. God doesn’t want us to just show up. God wants us to participate in true worship which extends into our daily lives when we seek justice, promote mercy, and act humbly. Our worship begins here every Sunday and carries us through the week inspiring our actions and speech.
Next week, we will consecrate our 3-year ministry plan that we have been praying about and discerning over this past year. Our vow to fulfill God’s calling through the plan is the type of worship that is pleasing to God, pure and faultless, because our plan is to help the widows, the poor, the children. For them, we will do justice, promote mercy, and walk humbly with our God.