Who Is a God Like You? (Micah 7:18-20)

The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.

*Originally preached in December 2021*

Sermon Audio: Who Is a God Like You? (Micah 7:18-20)

It was time to evolve. The church’s teaching could no longer be understood in light of new discoveries. The teachings didn’t make logical sense and, frankly, were offensive. How would the church fulfill the Great Commission if she was burdened down with this superstitious, backwards, and degrading doctrine? Surely, it would turn away the sophisticated, the cultured, the elites of the day. Doesn’t this make God seem diminished? In fact, did the gospels even really teach this? Or was this just an addition? A tradition that had grown alongside the gospel like a barnacle on the hull of ship, needing only to be scraped off and removed, deconstructed. Jesus could not be a human.

After an influx of the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who believed matter to be inherently inferior, had begun to sweep through the church, a group of Christians in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries rejected the incarnation and taught that Jesus only appeared to be a human, but really was a spirit (Docetism). They saw two truths in the story of the gospel–Jesus is God, and Jesus became a man—but could not see how these two truths could be reconciled together. They simply didn’t have the mental framework that included both realities, so they decided to hold on to one (Jesus is God) and reject the other (Jesus is Man). 

This dilemma is something that has happened all throughout the history of Christianity. People are drawn in by something that they really like in the Bible, but then encounter something they don’t have a category for.

The recent trend in evangelicalism called “deconstruction” is just another iteration of this. Or, at least, sometimes it is. When a Christian explains that they are “deconstructing” their faith, they may be just evaluating whether the Bible actually teaches something they have always assumed the Bible teaches. And there is a healthy place in the Christian life for this kind of critique and evaluation. Things can adhere onto our faith that really have nothing to do with what the Bible teaches.

Often, however, what has happened is that they have encountered something taught in the Bible that is difficult to accept and lack the framework for understanding how it can be reconciled with the rest of the Bible’s teaching or what they intuitively assume to be true. So, if we are modern Westerners, one dilemma we wrestle with is: How can a loving God judge people? What do we do with all the violence in the Old Testament? Or, if we are a traditional ancient culture, How can a just God pardon the guilty? What do we do with all the commands to love our enemies?

I firmly believe the Bible provides help we need to our questions, it is not a book of enigma meant to confuse you so profoundly that you are left to pretend you understand it (when you really don’t) or to simply abandon it out of frustration. But, if you are currently in the process of wrestling with doubts, if there are teachings in the Bible that you struggle with deeply or don’t know how to square them with something else you believe to be true about the world, then I want you to consider a different route to take when wrestling with your doubts. I want to take the approach that has seemed to work on Peter in John 6. 

John 6 is where Jesus seems to go out of His way to be offensive and unclear. Five times in one brief paragraph Jesus tells a crowd of thousands, “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood” (John 6:51-59), but doesn’t explain anything about what that means, offers no clarifying comments about metaphor, what the Lord’s Supper will one day symbolize, the meaning of His death—nothing. So, naturally, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him,” (John 6:66). So Jesus turns to the twelve and asks, “Do you want to go away as well?” and, “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God,” (John 6:68-69). How do you get to that point? How do you have that kind of faith? What I want for my own soul, for my children, for this church is to have this kind of faith—confronted with something that seems baffling, offensive, maybe even hearing ourselves wonder, Are you sure you believe this? but to be so tethered to Jesus that the second voice we hear ourselves say be, Where else would we go? He alone has the words of eternal life.

Doing the hard work of theology and study to answer these questions plays a vital role in the Christian life. We need to understand how to answer difficult aspects of the Bible, how to respond to contemporary challenges to our faith—one day, Peter will finally understand what Jesus meant in John 6. But, what we first need is to see is what Peter saw, experience what he experienced—words of eternal life.

Our text in Micah provides a tight distillation of the essential truths of Christianity that provide that safety tether we need to explore our other questions of faith, by providing us a picture of what God is like. 

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
from the days of old.

–       Micah 7:18-20

An Overview of Micah:

These verses serve as the conclusion of the book of the prophet Micah. Micah has been prophesying to Israel during her rebellion, sin, and complacency. Chapter one described the coming destruction upon Israel for her idolatry. Chapter two zoomed in to see what the idolatry looks like in practice in Israel through the curses pronounced on the oppressors who exploit women and children. Chapter three turned to the judges, leaders, and false prophets who had led Israel astray with false promises of peace while those in power devoured the weak and practiced injustice—God promises that He will transform Jerusalem into a desolation in response. But chapter four then looks ahead to the future—God will not be angry with His people forever and will take the desolate Jerusalem and transform it into this cosmic mountain that will draw in peoples from all nations to come worship the true God when He redeems His people from their exile. Chapter five promises that Israel’s ruler, the Messiah, will be born in Bethlehem who will deliver a remnant of Israel from their oppression and purify them of their sin. Chapter six raises another indictment the Lord has with Israel: she has abandoned what God has required of her, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with her God. God promises that He will punish her for her sins by striking her with a grievous blow. Chapter seven concludes with Micah’s lamentation that all of Israel has fallen into darkness, but then turns in hope to confess that though he sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to them, the Lord will plead their case and will vindicate them. God’s people shall be restored and all of God’s promises to them shall be fulfilled, and the enemies of God’s people who taunted them will be judged.

And all of this leads Micah to ask: Who is a God like you? 

There is something that Micah has seen in God woven throughout his book that leads Micah to wonder out loud—who is like God? Where else would I go? There is something that the living God has that I cannot find anywhere else.

What God Remembers

You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
from the days of old.

–       7:20

In the Bible “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” are a word-pair used together to describe what God’s essential character is. Steadfast love, hesed, if you remember is God’s loyal loving commitment He has made to you, His covenantal, binding love that compels Him to act for your good. Faithfulness means God’s commitment to do what He has said He will do, His trustworthy character, His truthfulness. Usually in the Bible “steadfast love” appears first before “faithfulness,” but here Micah switches the order around, probably to end on the note that he thinks is most important (steadfast love). 

God had made many promises to Abraham and Jacob–promises like there would be a land they would inherit, that God would bless them and all nations of the earth would be blessed through them, and that they would become as numerous as the sands of the seashore, as the stars in the sky. Jacob and Abraham, of course, have been fed for several hundred years by the time of Micah. But here we see God’s commitment He has made to Jacob and Abraham is not a dead issue for Micah. It is a ground of great comfort—God has made His promises to Abraham, the father of faith, and Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Micah is confident that God is going to continue to stay faithful to those promises, which is good news for us.

Although most of us here are not ethnically descended from Abraham, the Bible teaches that if we have faith in Jesus, we can spiritually become children of Abraham. This is what Paul understands in his letter to the Galatians:

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Gal 3:7-9

Therefore, we Gentiles (non-Jews) are now inheritors to God’s promises to Israel. We have been “grafted in” (Rom 11:17) to the people of Israel. Therefore, we can be comforted that God will keep His promises He has made to Abraham, to Jacob, because we receive the benefits of those promises.

What God Forgets

He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.

–       7:19

God will have compassion on His people—Micah has detailed the many ways that God has chastised them, but His main point (which we will see next) is that God’s anger towards our sin is temporary. We may experience the rod of loving discipline for a moment, but like a beach ball bobbing among the waves, God’s compassion for us will always be there. 

Here we are told that “He will tread our iniquities underfoot.” God will somehow trample our sins underneath His feet the way grapes are crushed under the winemakers feet. This passage actually should remind us of the great first promise that Satan will one day be trampled underfoot:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

–       Gen 3:15

God will judge our sins the same way He will judge Satan; He will treat our sins the way Satan will be treated. But, wonder of wonders, God will somehow be able to crush our sins without crushing us. God has created a way by which He can peel our sins off of us, unload the entire storehouse of His wrath upon it, and leave us unscathed.

Next, we are told that: “All our sins will be cast into the depths of the sea.” As in, God will ball up our sins and heave them into the place that they can never be retrieved from. This is one of the basic promises of the New Covenant: “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more,” (Heb 8:12). This is what Psalm 103 looks forward to: “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities,” (Ps 103:10).

Heaven is not going to be an eternity where God holds our sins over our head or where we walk around with a sheepish sense of impropriety, having all our sins play on a loop in our head. Jesus is not going to welcome you into the New Creation on a technicality, but look down on you for being so wretched and so vile. No, He does not treat us according to our sins; our sins He will remember no more. No more! The sins that you cannot forget, God cannot remember.

Imagine that in your past you had committed some heinous crime. And you were to come to find out that there was a video recording of you committing the crime. If the authorities get their hands on that evidence, you will be done for, you will pay–it doesn’t matter how bad you feel about it now, justice must happen. How would you then feel if someone were to grab that video evidence, tie it to a rock, and drop it into the deepest part of the ocean? Take that and multiply it by infinity to see what God has done for you in Christ.

What Makes God Happy

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?

In the last of the ten plagues of the Exodus, God instructed His people to sacrifice a spotless lamb and paint the doorposts of their homes with its blood. When the angel of death descended on Egypt, when he saw the blood painted on the doorposts he would “pass over” that home and go on to another. That event became known as the “Passover”, and was commemorated through a feast celebrated every year. But the blood on the doorposts shows us that the families inside their homes were just as liable to judgment as the families who didn’t put blood on their doors. It was not simply the fact that the people were ethnically descendant from Abraham that preserved them—they couldn’t say, Well, I’m part of the chosen people, so I don’t need to worry. No, God’s people were just as sinful as anyone else, they just took shelter under the sacrifice of another to preserve them from judgment. It was the blood of the lamb that spared them.

And that is what God does here—He does not permit iniquity; He pardons it. He “passes over” transgression for the remnant of his inheritance. But “pardoning” and “passing over” still imply payment. If you steal thousands of dollars from me, and I pardon you, I don’t require you to pay me back, I have just paid, lost thousands. In other words, when God pardons our sins, He isn’t pretending our sins don’t exist, He “passes over” them because the punishment for our sins is transferred to another—a Lamb’s blood is shed so ours won’t be (John 1:29).

An old hunter was out in an open field when he heard reports of a brush fire quickly approaching him. Knowing he would not be able to outrun the blaze, he pulled out his lighter and carefully burned a wide circle around him, and sat down. When the flames came close, the fire burned right over him, but he was left untouched. There was nothing it could burn. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Rev 5:6). If you trust Him and follow Him, He will take your sins into Himself and bear them away to the cross. Then, when the fires of judgment burn, you will be left untouched, passed over; a part of the remnant of God’s inheritance, His people.

He does not retain his anger forever,

because he delights in steadfast love.

Here Micah taps into the foundational teaching of Exodus 34:6-7 where God reveals His glory to Moses and is summarized well in the 103rd psalm, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever,” (Ps 103:8-9). God’s anger is real, but limited—but not His steadfast love. And His steadfast love will last forever. 

But consider what we are told here: God delights in steadfast love. It makes God happy to show steadfast love. This little line is showing us the motivation that God has for all He is doing here. Everything we are reading about in verses 18-20 are fueled and motivated by this: why is God pardoning our sin, why is He forgiving iniquity, why is He casting our sins into the sea? Because it makes God happy to show His steadfast love towards you. He delights in steadfast love.

Consider this: If God is all powerful, is sovereign, if “Our God is in the heavens and does whatever He pleases,” (Ps 115:3), then that means that God will always do what makes Him happiest. You always do what makes you happiest—you will even submit to things that make you unhappy for a time for a greater happiness that comes in the end. God, who is infinitely more capable than you are at satisfying His own desire for happiness, does this perfectly, and will even go through what is unpleasant to achieve His highest end of happiness. Which we see in Hebrews, “…Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God,” (Heb 12:2).

The cross was shameful, it was painful, the burdens of taking on the sins of all the elect across time and space was not enjoyable for Jesus—He asks the Father if there is any other way to be spared from it! But, “for the joy that was set before him” He endures. What joy? What made Jesus happy? The joy of showing steadfast love to His people, the joy of forgiving their sins, the joy of showing faithfulness to His elect, to the remnant of his inheritance. It makes God happy to forgive your sins. Are you ever tempted to feel like you cannot bring your sins to God? Like every time you go to confess you are burdening God?

God does not delight in sin, but God delights in showing you He is committed to you no matter what and He has sent His Son. So bring your sin, bring your guilt, bring your bedraggled and sleepy soul to Him. We dare not refuse. Who are we to deprive God of His joy?

When you see this, when this sinks down into your heart, you will ask: Who is a God like this? Where else shall we go? 

Friend, perhaps you are struggling with serious doubts; perhaps there are questions you have about the Bible that you don’t know what to do with. You should explore those questions, you should read good books, and you should listen to faithful teaching. But if you don’t first begin with an experience with who God is for you in Christ, if you don’t “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8), then no amount of study or resources will help.

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