What Does the Lord Require of You?

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“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The Lord presents His case before the mountains and the hills. They are to serve as the judge and jury because they have witnessed both the Lord’s goodness to Israel and Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord. Mount Sinai saw the Lord and heard His words as He established His covenant with Israel (Exodus 19:1-7). Through thousands of worship services on Mount Zion, the Lord drew near to His people and drew them near to Him. And the many hills in Canaan blushed as they watched faithless Israel practicing idolatry on their high places (1 Kings 14:23).

The Lord’s covenant with Israel could be summarized simply: He promised that He would be their God and that they would be His people, no matter what. Although the Israelites had forfeited His love and mercy by repeatedly breaking His covenant, the Lord still calls them “My people.” He refuses to turn His back on them. He simply can’t. They are His covenant people. From them, in the fullness of time, the promised Messiah will come. But now, because He loves them, He has to bring charges against them, that they might be convicted and repent.

The Lord begins His speech as if He were the defendant, questioning His people “What have I done to you? How have I wearied you?” The Lord does not accuse them of crass idolatry or of false dealing with one another, transgressions which He condemns elsewhere. Rather, His complaint is that they have raised a complaint against Him. They have called His actions and motives into question. The people have failed to trust the Lord, the God who had brought them out of Egypt (Micah 6:4), as their God. The First Commandment is at stake here.

It is a case, then, of God’s faithfulness versus His people’s unfaithfulness. Israel stands mute before the mountains and hills because she cannot answer the Lord’s charge. Accordingly, the Lord presents evidence of His faithfulness. He calls them to “remember.” As He had promised, He had delivered His people from bitter slavery in Egypt. In addition, through the Passover celebration that began the exodus journey, the Lord had given them a beautiful preview of their spiritual deliverance from sin by Christ, the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7).

Furthermore, God had provided His people with three excellent leaders during their 40-year wilderness journey. Moses was God’s spokesman and their leader; Aaron was the high priest and His brother’s spokesman to the people; their sister Miriam was a prophetess for them (Exodus 15:20).

But that’s not all the Lord had done! As the Israelites drew near to their promised homeland, King Balak of Moab tried to harm Israel by hiring the heathen prophet Balaam to curse them. The Lord, however, commanded Balaam to bless the Israelites—four times in fact, and one time, he even proclaimed a messianic prophecy (Numbers 22-24). According to His promise to protect His people, the Lord had delivered them from the hands of evil men like Balak and Balaam.

And could Israel forget Shittim and Gilgal? It was Israel’s last camping place before cross the Jordan and entering Canaan. Here the people had committed sexual sins with the Moabites and joined in their idolatry. Although the Lord punished them for these sins, He did not reject them. He still brought His people home, into the Promised Land, just as He had promised. The Lord did all this so that Israel might know “the saving acts of the Lord” (Micah 6:5).

As the defendants in God’s courtroom, the Israelites do not present much of a defense. Really, they can make no defense. They stand convicted. They have been unfaithful repeatedly. But do they come before the Lord on bended knee asking for mercy and forgiveness? Do they make even the faintest plea? On the contrary, in a tone of self-righteous pride, the Israelites ask God what they must do to get back in His good graces. They still think they can earn God’s good will. They are willing to bargain with God as though He is one of their own corrupt judges who can be bribed to overlook their failings (Micah 3:9,11).

And what do they propose to offer to the Lord? The best of their possessions, year-old calves for the burnt offering. Or, if quantity is what God wants, how about thousands of rams and ten thousands of rivers of oil poured out on God’s altar? And, if that is not sufficient, will God perhaps accept the sacrifice of their firstborn, the most precious of their possessions?

The sacrifice of children was an evil practiced by the ancient heathen peoples, especially by the Moabites and Phoenicians (2 Kings 3:26,27). Those Israelites like wicked Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3) and godless Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6) who resorted to human sacrifices were following the practices of their heathen neighbors. There is no record of the Israelites engaging in this practice as a regular course. (Note, however, Ezekiel 20:25,26). In God’s eyes, human sacrifice is an abominable sin forbidden under penalty of death (Leviticus 20:2-5).

The guilty Israelites of Micah’s day are willing to do anything to please God—except what He wants. He desires “mercy not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). He wants the sacrifice of “a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17). Therefore, Micah answers Israel, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

The Israelites should know what is good, what the Lord requires of them for a right relationship with Him. He has shown them through His prophets. First, “do justice,” that is, act according to God’s standard of justice as laid out in His Law. Worshiping God alone and not idols, trusting in Him alone and not in weapons or in man is acting justly toward God. Acting justly toward one’s fellowman is showing others no injustice or cruelty in word or deed but treating them like oneself. Do you recognize the Ten Commandments here?

Second, “love kindness,” show steadfast love. This is God’s kind of love, a forgiving, compassionate, unselfish love. The father of the prodigal son had it; he welcomed his son back with open arms. The good Samaritan showed it to the hapless victim along the road. Do you recognize the Ten Commandments again?

Third, “walk humbly with your God.” God-pleasing humility is found only in the presence of the holy and just God. When people see themselves as God sees them, as sinners deserving death, as imperfect creatures of dust; then they will humbly seek God’s forgiveness in Christ and gladly seek His help to live godly lives according to His will. Again, do you recognize the Ten Commandments?

Micah 6:8 is really an epitome of the entire Law, which shows our duty to God and our duty to our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). Some people think Micah 6:8 presents the essential elements of religion. But unless they realize that these requirements of God’s Law are impossible for the unregenerate to fulfill, they end up actually promoting a religion of work-righteousness. We need the Gospel! Penitent faith in the Savior is the true basis for showing justice, mercy, and humility as God requires. The Gospel of Jesus Christ gives us the reason and strength to love the Lord our God above all else and our neighbor as ourselves.

So, where do we find the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this text?

It might surprise you. Remember one of the desperate solutions the people in our text propose to get right with God? “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” God rejects their proposal, of course, for God cannot be bought off, and the remedy for sin requires nothing desperate or herculean on their part anyway. That is, God rejects their proposal as their remedy for their problem. But He does not reject it as His remedy for their problem. For this was ultimately God’s solution to the problem of the Israelites’ apostasy—and our own. He gave His body, His firstborn Son, for the sin of the world. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

How ironic! The desperate solution proposed by the sinful people of our text and rightly rejected by God becomes the very cornerstone of God’s solution to save us from sin and death. What matters is that it is His solution, not ours.

The exodus, wilderness journey, and entrance into the holy land typify the way that people “walk with God” (Micah 6:8) not only in the Old Testament but also in the New Testament. Israel’s journey is—at its root—the same spiritual journey that the Church is called to walk. By “remembering” their journey, we gain insight into our own.

When the firstborn of Egypt perished (Exodus 12), Israel, the Lord’s “firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22-23), was spared through the sacrificial blood of the Passover lamb. All of us together have been spared “the second death” by the sacrifice of Christ, “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29,36), “our Passover” (1 Corinthians 5:7). No other redemption price is named for the Lord’s rescue of Israel from Egypt (cf. Exodus 13:15), but the redemption of mankind came at the cost of the death of God’s only-begotten Son (John 1:14,18; 3:16,18), who purchased us with His own precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19).

We people of the New Covenant, no less than our brothers and sisters in the Old Covenant, have been fed with the spiritual food that sustains us in the journey. While they received this gift in types, the manna (Exodus 16) and the water from the rock (Exodus 17:6), Christians receive Christ sacramentally as we eat His body and drink His blood (Luke 22:20). For while Israel was fed with manna from heaven, believers on this side of the resurrection of Jesus Christ receive Him, who offers His body in, with, and under the bread and the wine in Holy Communion, nourishing faith for the pilgrimage through the wilderness of this life.

Through the water of the Red Sea, the Lord drowned Pharaoh and his army, leaving Israel free and safe on the other side of the journey to the land of promise. Through the water of Holy Baptism, Jesus sets sinners free from Satan’s tyranny, putting to death the old man and raising Christians to a new life by the power of His own resurrection (Romans 6:4-10), creating a new man (Colossians 3:10), placing us on a pilgrimage to the heavenly promised land.

As we receive Him and the fruits of His redemptive work—the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation—we are called, as Israel in Micah’s speech, to “remember” (Micah 6:5), to “do this in remembrance” of Christ (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). Our faith is directed to these words, the words of Christ’s new testament, the Sacrament in which He offers His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. In this present remembrance, Jesus delivers the benefits of His past act of redemption at the cross and empty tomb. It strengthens us for sanctified life in the present and gives hope in the Lord’s promised future redemption, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

The people of Israel did not journey without mediators between them and the accompanying Rock. The Lord sent His servants before them—Moses, Aaron, and Miriam—each with his or her own vocation, but also to mediate, reflect, and point to the God of redemption (1 Corinthians 10:4). God still calls pastors to conduct the ministry of the Word that He instituted with the apostles. These servants are His gifts to the Church (Ephesians 4:8,11-16); their divine purpose is to preach (2 Timothy 4:2), to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; 4:11; 2 Timothy 2:2,24), and to administer the Sacraments (Matthew 28:19-20; John 20:21-23; 1 Corinthians 4:1). The Lord’s called and ordained servants are His representatives (Luke 10:16; John 20:21-23; Acts 20:28; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21), speaking and acting on His behalf, though whom He forgives His people and sustains their faith through Word and Sacrament on their journey through the wilderness of life.

For us, as for ancient Israel, there are hindrances and snares that would cause us to lose our way in our journey to the promised land. Balak hired Balaam to curse Israel because he did not want God’s people to pass through the land (Micah 6:5). Satan (2 Corinthians 2:10-11; Ephesians 6:11; 1 Peter 5:8-9), the world (James 4:4; 2 Peter 2:20; 1 John  4:1-9), and our own sinful nature (Galatians 5:17; James 4:1); 1 Peter 2:11) have joined forces to curse us in order to keep us from attaining the goal of our pilgrimage to the heavenly land, which is the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come (Romans 8:21-23). Indeed we would be under such a curse were it not for the fact that Christ took upon Himself the curse so that we might inherit and receive the blessing of God for His sake (Galatians 3:13-14). Jesus promises that the gates of hell will not overcome those who confess that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16-18). He has overcome all the enemy’s forces that would keep us from His kingdom.

What does the Lord require of you? To repent. To turn from your sinful ways and to trust in Him. What you could not do, He has done perfectly in your place. By the sacrifice of His beloved Son, He has redeemed you from the slavery of sin and death. He has forgiven your transgressions by the shedding of His blood. His great mercy and salvation lead you “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly” with our God (Micah 6:8).

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Winning or Waning Light?

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When [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth He went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:12-16).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The ministry of Jesus seems to be filled with ups and downs, highs and lows. In Matthew’s account (as in our lives), it’s not always easy to tell if the Light that has dawned on God’s people is winning or waning?

In the verses immediately preceding our Gospel, Jesus emerges victorious from His battle in the desert with Satan (Matthew 4:1-11). Our Champion stands toe-to-toe with our greatest enemy and utterly defeats him with nothing but the Word of God. And what does Matthew mention next? The arrest of John, God’s end-time voice in the desert! How shocking! John is the one spoken of in Isaiah 40, who cries, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord” (v. 3). He is Elijah foretold in the prophet Malachi (3:23). He announces the coming of the Mightier One (Matthew 3:1), and he participates with Jesus in fulfilling all righteousness in the Baptism of our Lord (Matthew 3:15). But now he is imprisoned and within a year Herod Antipas will put him to death to fulfill a rash vow (Matthew 14:1-12).

The triumph of God’s reign in Christ is certain, but it will not always look like progress in normal human terms. Violent men will seek to snatch away the kingdom of heaven. God’s royal ruling will show itself in strange vulnerability and weakness. Even John will question if Jesus is the Coming One (Matthew 11:2).

When Jesus hears of John’s arrest, He withdraws from the region around the Jordan and heads northward into the region of Galilee. This is not done out of fear, but according to plan. Jesus Himself will choose the times and ways to confront the evil men who seek to destroy or hinder the work of God’s gracious reign.

Jesus withdraws into Galilee and leaves Nazareth, His hometown, in order to take up residence in Capernaum by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali. This happens in order to fulfill Isaiah’s words in 9:1-2: “There will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time He brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time He has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”

Isaiah’s promise of future deliverance and blessing for the northern regions of Israel (the tribal areas of Zebulun and Naphtali), which were ravaged by the Assyrian invaders in the eighth century BC and by others since, has now come true in Jesus. The light of the Christ has begun to shine in Galilee. Jesus is about to begin His public ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing.

Matthew provides a summary of Jesus’ preaching, and it is precisely that of John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John proclaimed such a message as the one who had come to prepare the Lord’s way. Jesus proclaims the same message as the Lord Himself who has come to free the people from their exile in sin and to bring God’s end-time salvation into the present.

First, Jesus, like John, addresses the lost sheep that are the house of Israel. Though there are certainly members of the faithful remnant who have never lost true faith in the God of Israel, the spiritual condition of the nation as a whole is essentially one of “lostness.” The call “Repent!” is then a call to conversion, to move from sin and unbelief to repentant faith and salvation.

Second, when Jesus of Nazareth (like John) grounds His call to repentance in Israel with the declaration that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” He is proclaiming that the royal, ruling deeds of God, expected on the Last Day, are beginning already now on earth. “The kingdom of heaven” is not primarily a place. It is certainly not a group of people or an organization. The kingdom of heaven is the reigning of God, what God the King is doing—in Jesus, in history.

As we see throughout Matthew’s narrative, there is an eschatological “already” and “not yet” quality to God’s reign breaking into history. The reign of heaven has not yet fully arrived, with all its power and salvation. That’s why it is hard to tell if the Light is winning or waning. At the same time, however, Jesus, the Son of God, is already here, and He is bringing a salvation that avails now and will avail on the Last Day. The time is urgent, and those who refuse what Jesus offers will also seal for themselves a judgment on the Last Day. The horizon that defines and looms large over all of Jesus’ teaching and ministry, and His resurrection, is the Last Day. For then all will be seen for what it really is!

That horizon must be the same powerful goal in the work and preaching of the Church in our day. The purposes of God in Christ for the world, for humanity, and for people as whole people—bodies and souls knit together as God intended—these purposes are the scope of the Church’s proclamation and ministry. The return of Jesus at the end of the age looms large. The date truly is unknown, so it cannot be calculated. Yet that the day will come truly is known, so it cannot be ignored.

As Jesus breaks into history today through the preaching of His Word and the administration of His Sacraments, the reign of heaven is here, and God is present to judge and save. As the Church lives out her life under those blessings of God’s present reign in Jesus, with deeds of love empowered by His Word and Sacraments, she ever and always looks forward in longing, fear, and joyful hope to the time of Christ’s return. Already and not yet, the kingdom of heaven is at hand!

Matthew describes Jesus’ ministry in Galilee as one of word and deed. Jesus’ word consists of “the Gospel of the kingdom” of heaven. God has begun to break into history in a new way, a way that links the present to the Final Day of history. God has begun to break into history in Jesus. This is Good News because of what God is doing in Jesus, namely, saving His people from their sins.

It is a ministry of word and deed because Jesus has come not only to forgive sin, but to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). This, in no way, downplays the importance of God’s verbal declaration of forgiveness. That pronouncement through and in Christ Jesus is the heart of the Good News; without it, there is no Good News. However, sin has poisoned God’s creation and God’s people in many ways, as is evident by the list of maladies and infirmities that Jesus is healing (Matthew 4:23-24). Jesus has come to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) and sin’s consequences—disease, disorder, and death. Jesus’ ministry is one of preaching, teaching, forgiving sins, and healing “every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matthew 4:23)!

When God’s kingdom breaks into history, it comes to drive back Satan and to undo all the consequences of his slanders and temptations. Satan’s seduction of Adam and Eve into sin brought physical maladies and death upon the human race (Genesis 3) as well as the breakdown in the vertical relationship of God and man, as well as the horizontal relationship of man with his fellow man. Now, the one who brings the reign of heaven also brings healing and restoration with Him (Matthew 8:17; 11:2-5).

It is important that we remember the end times character of Jesus’ proclamation and manifestation of the kingdom of God. The very reason why there needs to be a Last Day is because of the ongoing conflict between God and His enemies, chiefly Satan himself. Only then will all creation be fully restored in the new heaven and earth. But now the judging and saving power of that Last Day reign has already begun in Jesus Himself. Just as Jesus, the Son of God, immediately engages in “hand-to-hand combat” with Satan in the wilderness after His Baptism (Matthew 4:1-11), so in His Galilean ministry, Jesus heals those who are brought to Him— “the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics” (Matthew 4:23-24). These are afflictions in people that Jesus has come to remove. The salvation that Jesus brings encompasses all human need that finds its origin in sin and Satan.

That nearness of the kingdom, however, is preliminary and limited in scope. Jesus heals only those whom they bring to Him, not everyone in the land. Jesus’ miracles are signs, a foretaste, the anticipation of the great and final deliverance that God will effect in Him when He comes again in glory. At Christ’s return, all the dead shall be raised, and those in Christ shall enter everlasting life in the new creation and never again be susceptible to any bodily affliction (1 Corinthians 15:20-57; Revelation 20:11-15; 22:1-2). Jesus’ healing miracles point to that final restoration. They are miracles in which the Son of God drives back the power of Satan, sin, and sickness for the needy in the land.

You, too live in a land of deep darkness. Culturally, you see an ugly society that has severed itself from the beauty of our Christian heritage. Truth has been exchanged for lies. The exercise of power trumps the rule of law. Secular buzzwords like diversity, equity, and inclusiveness replace biblical virtues like chastity, temperance, charity, and humility. In your personal life, you find the darkness of broken families, addiction, depression, anxiety, illness, anger, unbelief, and doubt. And there is always the shadow of death, where you grieve the loss of loved ones, or you face your own mortality.

But Jesus comes into that darkness preaching, teaching, forgiving, and healing, bringing life and light. In His Word, He proclaims the Good News of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life to you. In His Holy Supper, Christ gives you His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and to strengthen you in body and soul unto life everlasting. Through His means of grace, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps you in the true faith. The fruit of the Spirit grow in you, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and chastity, causing you to live in holy conduct toward one another to glory of Christ’s holy name. And all the while, you look forward to that Last Day when Christ will come and raise you and all who have died in the faith to eternal life—body and soul—in the new heaven and new earth.

The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. The Last Day is nearer than it has ever been. The days are getting brighter and brighter, more and more every day. And though it may feel to you like the darkness is winning, God’s Word reveals the darkness is waning. The Light of the world has come. Every single passing day brings us closer to the great and glorious Day. The Great Dawn is closer now than it has ever been. God’s gracious reign in Christ is hastening towards us.

We wait for it as watchmen wait for the morning, confident that even now, even on us who dwell in the shadow of death and deep darkness, a Light has dawned.[i] The Good News of God’s reign in Christ continues to be sounded in Word and Sacrament. To sinful, hurting people, Jesus gives life, hope, and deliverance.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Gospel: Matthew 4:12-25 (Epiphany 3: Series A), https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-matthew-412-25-epiphany-3-series-a-2023.

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