Sermon for Sunday, January 29th, 2023, the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
The Lessons: Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 37:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12
The Text: Micah 6:1-8
“The only thing that God requires from us is to enjoy life – and love,” said singer Paul Simon in a February 2001 interview with Rolling Stone. “It doesn’t matter if you accomplish anything. You don’t have to do anything but appreciate that you’re alive. And love, that’s the whole point.”
By contrast, the Old Testament prophet Micah wrote, ‘And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
– David Slagle, “Paul Simon: What God Requires,” PreachingToday.com
The prophet Micah’s ministry was exercised during the reigns of three kings of Judah: Jotham (740-732 B.C.), Ahaz (732-716 B.C.}, and Hezekiah (716-687 B.C.). that is, in the late eighth century B.C. until the early seventh century. As a young prophet, Micah would have seen the end of the kingdom of Israel or Ephraim in the north, when King Shalmaneser of Assyria destroyed Samaria in 722 B.C. and deported its citizens to Mesopotamia. This destruction is prophesied in Micah 1:6-7.
Our First Lesson today depicts a court case between God and Israel. The mountains and the foundations of the earth, God, who is the plaintiff, calls to witness his testimony of how he has treated his people Israel.
THE QUESTIONS THAT CANNOT BE ANSWERED
God asks his people, the defendant in this case, what he has done to them and how he has wearied them. He calls them to testify how God has wearied them:
O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.
(Micah 6:3, KJV)
I call these questions that cannot be answered, since God has never done any wrong to his people. The defendant cannot produce any evidence that God has wearied his people or mistreated them at any time. Instead the plaintiff now tells the court the good he has done for his people. Firstly, he led them up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed them from the bondage of slavery to Egypt. Then he sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead them on their journey to Canaan (Micah 6:4). Then the Lord recalls how Balak, king of the Moabites, consulted Balaam after he had heard how Israel had defeated the Amorites. He summoned Balaam to pronounce curses on Israel, but Balaam was led by the Lord to bless them three times (Numbers 24:10). God’s own testimony shows his blessing of Israel and his great purposes for them, and these prove God’s righteousness in his treatment of Israel.
THE UNSATISFACTORY RESPONSE OF THE DEFENDANT
In Micah 6:6-7, the defendant, the nation of Israel, by implication admits guilt before God and asks what must be done to restore a good relationship. Will burnt offerings and offerings of year-old calves be enough to atone for their sin? Will thousands of rams or tens of thousands of rivers of oil be enough? Or will they even have to offer a human sacrifice, their first-born son, to atone for the sin of their soul? These are rhetorical questions, but they show the inadequacy of Israel’s response, and the inadequacy of the traditional rituals of animal sacrifice to atone for ongoing, intentional sins. The people assumed they were pleasing God with all their sacrifices, but God saw their unrepentant and stubbornly sinful hearts.
THE RIGHTEOUS LIFE GOD REQUIRES OF HIS PEOPLE
God dismisses the questions Israel asks and recalls his people to the basic requirements of his Law:
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
(Micah 6:8, KJV)
The sacrifice God requires is a changed life, a life that is good, in which one does what is just and right, loves mercy, and shows it to others, and walks humbly with God. It is interesting that in the Vulgate, the Latin version of “humbly” is “sollicitum,” which means “carefully,” or “in a wholly concerned way.” These are three important requirements God has made for the way his people should live: treating people justly, showing mercy, and living humbly in God’s presence daily.
Though today Christians do not offer animal sacrifices, the verses referring to these remind us of religious rituals that do not themselves bring reconciliation with God. Our Lord Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that reconciles man to God. Today we must not imagine that all sorts of services, rituals, and events held in churches or elsewhere will cause God to love us more or add people to the church. It is not that that matters ultimately, but whether we treat people justly, show kindness, and walk humbly with our God.
 p.405, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.