The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached in December 2021*
Sermon Audio: When I Fall, I Rise (Micah 7:8-10)
In every family there are those stories that are retold over and over again so often that, while it takes on mythic proportions in the parents’ minds, the children eventually roll their eyes every time it is mentioned. In my family, there is a story like this involving myself as a two-year-old the evening of Easter. That morning I had received a large, chocolate Easter bunny from my parents, but was only allowed to have a small portion—an ear, or something like that—before my parents put the bunny on top of the fridge. Apparently, I believed this was a grave injustice. So, in the dark of night I slipped my two-year-old self out of bed and crept towards the kitchen. I pushed the dining room bench over to the counter, climbed up, pushed the bread box up to the edge of the fridge, climbed up, and strained and reached for the bunny. Sometime later, my mother came out to the kitchen for a glass of water and found me sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, looking like a hyena enjoying their kill. My face, my hands, my pajamas—all of me was covered in chocolate like I had used it as sun block on my way to the beach. I don’t know what was going through my little mind when my mother asked me if I had gotten into the Easter chocolate–maybe because I had eaten the entire bunny I thought that all incriminating evidence had vanished–but I looked up at her face and confidently said: “Nope.”
My mother, picked me up and then took me to the bathroom and placed me on the counter so I could see the chocolate all over myself in the mirror. “Okay Marc, I am going to ask you one more time: did you get into the Easter chocolate?” And, so the legend goes, I responded with a very diplomatic: “Maybe.” That is the toddler equivalent of the politician’s: I can neither confirm nor deny said allegations.
Children have no guile, they are not experts in deception, but that doesn’t stop them from attempting to fabricate excuses to get out of punishment. It certainly didn’t stop me. And as cute as it is to see a two-year-old spin his wheels when he is dead-to-rights guilty, you know what is amazing? No one taught me how to do that. It just happened.
Of course, there are many ways one can respond when they are caught doing something they shouldn’t—you can lie about it, deny it (what I did); you can get angry and try to blame it on something else, give a justification for why it was okay for you to do it; or you can accept it and become sullen and depressed, turn inward and isolate yourself from others. We can see all of those happen in our young children just as we see it happen in adults. No one teaches us this, no one pulls their child aside to give them lessons on how to lie or use emotional manipulation to get what they want. We come into the world pre-programmed to be touchy, defensive, and manipulative when our sin is exposed. This is what the Bible calls our “sin nature”—it is something that, ever since Adam’s sin, we are born with. This is what gives us that natural defense mechanism when we are caught (and, for that matter, is what gets us into the troubling situations in the first place). It feels natural and easy to respond to exposure in ways that gets out of it simply owning up to what we did wrong and apologizing.
In our text today, however, we are going to see a pattern that accepts the reality of our sin, doesn’t try to wiggle out of it, doesn’t try to shift blame, but has the resilience to not turn to anger or moping. But how can you do that? How can you be honest and not freak out? Honest, but not despair? Turn with me to Micah 7:8-10
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the LORD will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the LORD
because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall look upon his vindication.
Then my enemy will see,
and shame will cover her who said to me,
“Where is the LORD your God?”
My eyes will look upon her;
now she will be trampled down
like the mire of the streets.
There are two ways of understanding what is happening here. One is that Micah, after detailing how sinful all of Israel has become in verses 1-6, he then turns to confess his own sin and hope in verses 8-10. Another option is to view Micah here as speaking in the place of the collective whole of Israel, for Israel. Either interpretation is possible and doesn’t significantly change the meaning, but I am inclined to think that Micah is likely speaking for all of Israel at this point, confessing that they have fallen seriously from what God has called them to, but also holding out the hope that God is not done with His people but will still fulfill His promises to Abraham and David, and will vindicate Israel after exile.
Whether this is referring to Micah personally or to Israel collectively, the conclusion is the same. What this passage shows us is the proper response God’s people should have when they fail. The sermon last week served as a warning to alert us to the danger of sin, the cost of sin, and my hope was that it sobered us from plunging into sin. But what if this last week you totally ignored that sermon and submerged yourself into a sink of sin? What do you do now?
Understand Your Enemy
Verse 8 opens with Micah addressing his enemy, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy.” Why would the enemy rejoice? Israel’s enemies (Assyria, Babylon, the other nations) would rejoice when they saw that their kingdom was tottering, hungry to devour and despoil another nation in the kill-or-be-killed world of ancient warfare. God had warned Israel for centuries (centuries!) that if they continued to ignore and reject God, scoff at His law, and think that they could practice injustice under God’s nose, there would be tragic consequences. They would be ejected from their land, become slaves again, and lose their inheritance. And this is precisely what was happening. Israel’s sins had led them to lose their kingdom, and this led the enemies to rejoice.
But, of course, behind these pagan armies is a greater enemy: the enemy, Satan and his demons.
And here, Micah speaks to them: Rejoice not over my, my enemy. Satan wants to gloat over your fall, your sin. That’s what he does. Look at this pitiful Christian, she can’t go a few days without caving in. And if we are clear eyed about our life, we have to admit that there is good reason for the enemy to rejoice—is there not? John Newton, the 18th century pastor, abolitionist, and hymn writer, at the age of 51 wrote in a letter to a friend, “The life of faith seems so simple and easy in theory, that I can point it out to others in a few words; but in practice it is very difficult, and my advances are so slow, that I hardly dare I say I get forward at all.” You know you shouldn’t be anxious about anything, that you have no good reason to, but you still worry, you still fear. You know that the lie isn’t going to solve the problem, but just create new ones, you know that sitting and numbing your mind with hours of Netflix won’t fix the problems you are ignoring. And yet, we still struggle. Our progress in godliness is often slow. So why would our enemy not have good reason to rejoice?
Why are Christians so often stuck in a pit of despair? Why are they so often prone to putter through life with so little zeal, so little joy? Here is a sketch of many Christians today: At one point, earlier in life, there was a great awakening in their hearts to the reality of God. They found suddenly the love for God to be something that swept them up and whisked them away. But, slowly over time, like air leaking out of a balloon, their passion and fervor begin to diminish. They look back fondly on the earlier times of tenderness to the Lord, but feel now hemmed in by besetting sins they thought had gone away, by concerns of the world that seem too important, and by a desire to appear a certain way to others. And like ivy growing up an old wall, sins begin to creep over their life, flowering into guilt and shame that cloud their mind and lead them to become more guarded, more isolated from others. And maybe they begun compromising in ways that they are deeply ashamed of, ways that surprise them, and plunge them into deeper isolation. They long to experience the Lord afresh, they long to shed their spiritual malaise, but like an old engine trying to turn over on a cold day, they rev, but find no ignition. And add to all of this that in the meanwhile Satan is striving to lure their hearts into an icy slumber, to spiritually chloroform them to the hope of the gospel. What can those people do?
“I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him,” (Mic 7:9a). Micah recognizes for himself and for his people the reality of their sin. He has fallen, he is sitting in darkness—he has sinned. Every sinner in this room knows what Micah is talking about here, knows what it is to experience the darkness of your soul that comes from sin. But notice the simplicity of his confession. He has not “messed up” or “made some mistakes,” or “struggled,”—he has sinned. As in, broken God’s commandments, transgressed the line. There is no spin, no public relations expertise—he simply admits that he is a sinner. Friend, can you confess sin? Can you accept the reality that you are a sinner? If you are not a Christian here today, I wonder what you think of this? Perhaps you have thought of Church as some kind of moral gym where people go to improve themselves, or, more cynically, maybe it’s more like a moral beauty parlor where people go to have thin veneer of goodness pasted over them. If you want to know what it means to be a Christian, it first begins with admitting that you are not good and then trusting that Jesus is so good that the sacrifice of His life alone could make up for our great lack. While we indeed hope to see ourselves grow in our life, in our faith, we never graduate from this simple pattern of confessing our sin, and turning to Jesus.
Which brings me back to my original question for the Christians in this room: can you be a sinner? Have you felt yourself to be a sinner? 1 John 1:8 warns us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And again in verse 10, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” So, if we cannot admit we are sinners we are self-deceived, void of truth and God’s word, and most alarmingly, we are calling God a liar! That is not a position any person should be in. Friend, maybe the very thing that is strangling your spiritual vitality is your refusal to see the wickedness in your own heart, to consider it honestly.
Maybe you can admit that you are a sinner but by it you mean the same thing that a non-Christian means when they say, “nobody’s perfect.” But that is a totally meaningless admission. Look at the promise nestled in-between verses 8 and 10 of 1 John 1, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1:9). A theoretical confession of theoretical sins only gives a theoretical salvation from a theoretical Savior. Dear friend, you have real sins that need real confession because the real Jesus has a real salvation to offer. There is forgiveness and acceptance waiting for you in the arms of Jesus on the other side of your confession. He will cleanse you from all unrighteousness, He will wash you. So do not hide behind the paltry fig leaves of your own self-righteousness, do not delude yourselves about any kind of notion of your own moral grandeur or character. Just collapse into Jesus with all your sin.
Notice, that when Micah says he is in darkness, “the Lord will be light” to him. Even in the pit of the well of sin Micah has dug, Jesus is there with him. If you believe that, three things will happen: (1) your prayers are going to start becoming more honest, (2) you are going to start being honest with one another. James tells us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed,” (James 5:16). Whether or not you are honest with others around you reveals what you really believe. Why not find another member of the same gender and see if you can regularly meet to encourage each other, pray for each other, and confess.
Look to Jesus
Amidst Micah’s confession of sin there is confidence: “…until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me,” (Mic 7:9). This seems like a strange request right after someone has just confessed their own sinfulness and guilt. What cause does Micah believe will be plead for him? And why one earth would he desire God’s judgment?! The justice of God seems like the last thing sinners should be asking for. The language of these lines is the language of a law court. Micah is confident that God himself will serve as His attorney, pleading his cause. But in this case, the defendant has just admitted his guilt—what could there be to defend? Imagine a prisoner on death row sitting down with their attorney and saying, “I want justice!” right after he confesses that he is guilty. But Micah assumes that God is not only the attorney, but also the judge who “executes judgment.” So God is the judge and the lawyer—the one pleading a case for Micah, and the one hearing the case and rendering a verdict. And Micah is confident that, despite his own guilt, that God’s judgment will deliver him, will bring him out to the light (vs. 9).
Micah, of course, lives about seven hundred years before Jesus walks the earth, but He is enmeshed in the promises God has made to Israel, promises of blessing and redemption and salvation that began with Adam and lead to Jesus and His work on the cross. What Micah looks forward to in hope, we now receive. How can God be both Judge and Attorney? Because Jesus, our intercessor, our mediator, our God in the flesh Attorney, was willing to take up our case, despite us being dead-to-rights guilty. And he stood before the Judge, the Father, and presented His case. We would be pardoned, acquitted, by Himself swapping places with us—He took the shackles off our wrists and placed them on Himself, He, “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,” (Gal 3:13) and marched away to the execution that had been arranged for us, leaving us free, which is why the Bible tells us that, “the righteous live by faith,” (Gal 3:11). Our living, our freedom, our pardon comes not by our own record, not by our own good, but by our trust in what Jesus has done to satisfy the justice of God. In fact, He has satisfied it so completely, that Micah can plead for justice after he has sinned—just as John told us that when we confess our sins, God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9). In other words, Jesus has so totally satisfied the debt our sins owed, that were God not to forgive us, it would be unjust.
Maybe the reason you struggle to be honest about your sins in light of your failure is that deep down you really don’t think that righteous live by faith alone. Sure, Jesus forgives you and helps you out, but there needs to be some contribution on your part. You need to be somewhat good enough to be accepted, to be loved, to be forgiven. So you don’t look at your sin clearly, you don’t confess fully to others—you doctor it up and pretend that it isn’t too bad, you change the subject, you distract yourself with your phone, your friends, your ambitions, anything other than owning up to the reality that you are a sinner. But here is my exhortation to you today: be a sinner, and let Jesus be your Savior. Trust in Him totally and completely.
Two Reasons to Rejoice in Hope
#1 The Enemy Loses
Then my enemy will see,
and shame will cover her who said to me,
“Where is the LORD your God?”
My eyes will look upon her;
now she will be trampled down
like the mire of the streets.
Micah tells us “He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication,” (7:9). Micah is confident that God will not only forgive Micah in his darkness and be a light to him there (7:8); He will bring him out of the darkness completely, he will be vindicated. Friend, there will be a day when you will sin for the last time. God has promised you that you will one day be brought home: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Phil 1:6).
This language at the end of verse 10 about the enemy being trampled down in the streets should remind us of the promise back in Genesis 3:15 that tells us that the offspring of the woman (Jesus) will crush the head of the serpent (Satan). That event happened when Jesus died and rose again—Jesus “destroyed the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8; Heb 2:14). When you crush the head of a serpent, it does not immediately stop flop on the ground dead. The body writhes and flops around, coiling around the leg that has crushed it. That is all Satan has left, death pangs. He has been defeated, decisively, totally—he has no authority over you.
#2 God Isn’t Punishing You
“I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned” – Micah 7:9. What does that mean? Does this mean that when you or I sin that God snaps in anger at us? Does it mean that there is still some sin we must “pay back”? So perhaps you were rather promiscuous while you were in college, maybe you had an abortion, maybe you have something that haunts you and when you walk through suffering today you wonder: Is God punishing me for my past sin? Friend, if you are in Jesus, you can rest assured that God is not punishing you. Because Jesus has fully satisfied God’s wrath, because He has made full atonement for your sins, you can be confident that all the punishing that your sins required has already been dealt with.
So what is the indignation of the Lord that Micah is bearing? It is the loving discipline of the Father (Heb 12:6). Because God loves us, and sin wants to kill us, God will do whatever it takes to pull us away from sin—which at times means that He will employ the rod of discipline. Sometimes our sins will bring about severe consequences that will cause us to cry out in pain, to question why God would let such a thing happen. But we can remain confident that the pain is coming from a Father who loves us, not an angry deity wishing to settle a score.
I began the sermon sharing a story of when I was a two-year-old, so let me share a story of when my oldest son was two years old. We lived in Kentucky then and during a muggy Summer day my wife took my son over to a friend’s house for a joint yard sale. The moms set up a little kiddie pool for the boys to all play in to try to alleviate the suffocating heat. One of the boys playing in the pool had a metal watering can to play with and, for some reason, decided to hit Jack in the face with the can. The tip of the spout hit Jack right on his upper lip, seriously splitting it open. The cut ran from the edge of his lip up to his nostril, leaving a deep red gash that would need stitches to heal. So we carted our two year old, face covered in blood, screaming and confused, into the emergency room. Of course, he had no idea what was going on; he didn’t know what stitches were; and he didn’t know that the doctor and nurses were there to help him. The sedative they gave him seemed to have the opposite effect—every time the doctors and nurses would try to hold him down and start closing up the cut, he would scream and writhe and cry. Eventually, Hillary had to hold his head in place while I laid across his chests, pinning his arms down.
I will never forget the fear and betrayal and confusion in my son’s eyes: Dad, why are you letting them do this? Why are you hurting me? Why? I wept as I tried to tell my son that we loved him, that it would be okay, that it would all be over soon, that this had to happen. He thought in that moment that I, his father, was there to hurt him, that I was against him. But the exact opposite was true—I did what I did precisely because I loved my son, because I wanted him to be healed. It is, to this day, one of the most painful memories of my life.
Friend, God is a good father who desperately wants you to be healed, who wants you be whole. He may take through seasons of perplexing suffering, of difficulty, of consequence. But remember that He is not punishing you, He is not there to hurt you needlessly, He is there to heal you, to love you, to ultimately protect you from the further damage your sin wants to rain down upon you.