Just Like New – Micah 7:11-20
“Just Like New”
November 22, 2015 – Christ the King
It’s Christ the King Sunday and Christ the King Catholic Church in Woodlawn, Illinois is worshipping for just the second Sunday in their new home. Their church building burned down last month. So they looked across the street to First Presbyterian Church which let them have their old gymnasium at no charge. Members of both congregations worked together to move in pews and an altar and a rescued 300-year-old statue from Spain of Christ the King. In eight days the new space looked very much like their old burned sanctuary. Their priest Matthew Talarico said, “The fire was not the end of the story. The true story is one of resurrection.”
God is in the business of resurrection and restoration. That’s how His kingdom comes into this world. In our text from the end of Micah today, we hear him predicting and promising the day of rebuilding, and he bases that promise on what God has already done, His faithfulness to His people “from the days of old,” as the last verse says.
In verse 11, Micah’s prophetic vision looks over the present threat from the Assyrians and the future and worse threat and destruction brought by the Babylonians. His eyes of faith fly past fifty years of exile and zoom in on the true story that’s going to be told at the end of decades of heartbreak and homelessness. “A day for the building of your walls!” You can read the marvelous story of Jerusalem’s walls rebuilt in the book of Nehemiah. But here Micah is predicting and rejoicing in it a hundred and fifty years before it happened.
Micah’s spirit-led eyes saw even farther than the next couple centuries. The second half of verse 11 says, “In that day the boundary shall be far extended,” and goes on in verse 12, “In that day they will come to you from Assyria to Egypt, and from Egypt to the River, from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.” He sees a time when his tiny, beleaguered country, his city of Jerusalem that’s been whacked back and forth like a ping-pong ball between the superpowers of the world will suddenly and miraculously be the center of things, the place to which everyone looks, to which everyone comes.
We believe that miraculous re-centering of the world has already happened. When our Lord Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem and stood before Pilate, as we heard in the Gospel today, He was bringing the kingdom back to that city. He was becoming its king by dying there and then rising there to restore it to new life. And all who look in that direction, to the crucified and risen King of Jerusalem are saved and raised to new life themselves.
Att the end of his book Micah comes back to the promise in chapter 4, that the Lord’s mountain, Mount Zion the hill of Jerusalem, will become the highest and most important mountain in the world. That’s where salvation happened, that’s where everyone was saved.
Yet as we also heard from Revelation this morning, not everyone on earth views that salvation from Jerusalem with joy. They look in that direction and refuse to see a Savior. They reject the restoration offered to them. Micah 7:13 says, “But the earth will be desolate because of its in habitants, for the fruit of their doings.” Revelation 1:7, “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.”
Last Sunday runners gathered for a half-marathon, 13 miles, in Bangkok the capital of Thailand. But the folks who organized it made a mistake and had runners make a turn in the wrong place, in the wrong direction. So they ended up running nearly 17 miles instead of the thirteen they expected. It turned into an ordeal for athletes who had trained for the shorter distance. The racing community complained and wailed bitterly.
That’s what happens when the world turns people in the wrong direction, away from Jesus, away from the mountain of His Cross and the garden of His resurrection. They end up running an ordeal, running away from their goal of life and joy. That’s what happens in any country where people run toward money or power or security or pleasure instead of toward faith in the Savior who died and rose again for them.
So Micah calls on God in verse 14 to bring his people back together, to shepherd them like His own precious flock. Take these poor sheep who are wandering alone in the forest and point them back to the green pastures, the grassy valleys where they will be fed and safe. And in Jesus God has done that for everyone, for anyone. He became the Good Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep. Now He leads them back toward life.
There’s a historical truth when Micah says, “let them feed in Bashan and Gilead.” Those were places on the east side of the Jordan River, on their way back to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon, from what we call Iraq. In 538 B.C. God used the Persians to free Jewish people from exile and let them travel back to their own country once again.
The larger, spiritual truth Micah also expresses is that freeing exiles and bringing them home is God’s plan for all people, for anyone who will turn toward Jerusalem, turn toward the Savior who died and rose again on that mountain in the Mideast.
What we need to remember as we listen to and engage in all our talk about what to do in regard to refugees is that from Micah’s perspective, from the Bible’s perspective, from God’s perspective we are all refugees, living in countries where we don’t belong and which are not our final and real homes. When we talk about citizenship and rights, followers of Jesus Christ can never forget that we have a higher, deeper, more lasting citizenship than any ethnic or national identity on earth.
That’s why Micah goes on in verse 16 to say, “The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might.” He talks about them being struck deaf and dumb, about them licking the dust like reptiles crawling on the ground. Notice that he says “the nations.” It not just those nations, or a few nations. It’s all the nations, all the tribes of the earth, like Revelation says. That includes, friends, the United States of America. We will see the Lord and be ashamed of our might, be ashamed of all the power we thought we had.
Instead verse 17 says, “they shall come trembling out of their fortresses;” out all those secure places protected by walls and fences and armed patrols, and “they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God, and they shall stand in fear of you.” “Every eye will see him… and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.”
In John 18 today we heard Jesus before Pilate. The Roman governor made fun of the fact that Jesus’ followers called Him “King,” asked Him if He really thought He was the “King of the Jews.” Listen again to what Jesus told Pilate. He said, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting… But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Some of us have been misled by the King James Version which had Jesus saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.” That sounds like Jesus meant His kingdom was somewhere else, a place beyond and outside this world, maybe in heaven. But even the King James understood correctly does not mean we should look for Jesus’ kingdom in some spiritual place or inside ourselves or someday in heaven. No, no, no. Jesus said that His kingship, His authority doesn’t come from any kingdom in this world. It doesn’t come from guys like Pilate or the Emperor or the president of the United States or the speaker of the House.
Jesus the Good Shepherd is King in this world because His kingdom cuts across and through and over every national boundary on earth. The people ruled by Jesus Christ are those who do just what He told Pilate they do. They listen to His voice instead of to the voices of all the governments and authorities of the world.
And all those governments, all those nations, all those people are going to be ashamed of how they treated the Lord and treated His people. People who follow Jesus know to be ashamed of how we’ve treated others, even other Christians. That’s why we need so much to hear the last three verses of Micah’s book, his prophecy of just how God’s kingdom works, how God rules over those who turn toward Him and His kingdom.
In verse 18 Micah asks the Lord a rhetorical, beautiful question, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession?” No other king, no other government authority behaves like God. Kings and presidents, city councils and police, are pretty much in the business of punishing transgressions, making folks pay for their crimes. But God rules in a different way, with a different kind of authority. That’s why Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from here.”
The kingdom of Jesus Christ comes from a place of love. God is like we hear in the rest of verse 18, “He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing mercy.” Our King we celebrate operates like that, not just by rigorously enforcing His laws, but by forgiving and being merciful to all of us who fail, all the time, to obey those laws.
Let me say it a different way. Our Lord’s kingdom is not from here, but it is definitely here. Jesus’ kingdom does not come from this world, but it will be and already is in this world. Verse 19 tells us God does not just forgive our sins in Jesus, He gets rid of them. Micah promised the people of Judah that God would again have compassion on them and “he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depth of the sea.”
You could read the first part of the verse and hear about God “passing over” our transgressions and imagine He’s just going to ignore our sins, to pretend somehow that we haven’t lied and cheated and stolen and hurt each other. But God’s forgiveness is not just a hand wave saying all that doesn’t matter. It’s a deep and powerful Atonement by the blood of Jesus which takes away our sin and transforms us into new and better people.
The kingdom of Jesus has no national boundaries because it exists wherever people receive the forgiveness Jesus gave His life for and are changed by that forgiveness. The kingdom of Jesus appears whenever you and I look more like Jesus and less like the sinners we are without Him. His kingdom is a kingdom where all our hatred and fear and anger has been ground to powder beneath His feet and drowned in the deepest ocean.
Last weekend I was on a bus riding around the Northwest on Journey to Mosaic, exploring what our denomination calls “racial righteousness.” I was particularly impressed with the stories of Japanese and Native American experience. I heard how both those groups got cruel deals by American government. Loyal American citizens from Japan were hauled away to internment camps during WWII. Native people were shut away on so-called “reservations” of some of the worst land on the continent.
Then I learned one remarkable way in which both groups responded to their mistreatment by America. A year or so into internment, when Japanese Americans were given the opportunity to serve in the armed forces, thousands of them went and fought for the same country which had locked them up. Last Saturday night we attended a “veterans Pow Wow,” where Native people celebrated and honored those among them who had gone to fight for the government which stole their land, murdered millions of them, and took children from those who were left. Somehow, miraculously, they rose above all they had suffered and offered loyalty and service to the rest of us.
And, at that Pow Wow, when the leaders learned that one of our white women was the mother of a soldier who had died in battle, and another white man on our bus was a Vietnam vet, they called them up front in an honor dance, then gave the mother a handmade blanket and the veteran a service pin. There was no grudge in sight, no sign that the mother and vet and all the rest of our group were anything but welcome and accepted.
That Japanese and Native response is like the kind of miraculous transformation God looks for and offers in His kingdom, that you and I and everyone who knows Jesus become something new, someone able to forgive and offer love and respect and service to others in His name.
It won’t come from this world by itself. We know all too well from the news that the usual, the ordinary human response to hatred is to hate back. But the change from hatred to love, from sin to service, does come from God. He gets rid of the hatred. He buried our sin in the grave of Jesus and raised Him up, so He could raise us up to something different. And He is faithful to that promise.
Mary the mother of Jesus quoted the last verse of Micah here as the last verse of her own song in celebration of God’s promise to send the Savior through her. She knew that in Jesus God was keeping the promise He made to her ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants. Despite all the unfaithfulness of her people, He remained faithful. He still is. The promise still stands. Turn toward Jesus, go in His direction, and God will faithfully and unswervingly make you, and eventually this whole world, just like new.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2015 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj