18 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. 19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. 20 You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.
He was scared of God. Night and day, he lived in fear of a God who knew every thought, heard every word, and saw every action. God’s demands were oppressive and cruel to him. He was hopelessly lost in a cycle of trying to earn God’s love, but his love always seemed out of reach. That’s the way Martin Luther lived the first half of his life. He saw God as an angry and holy Judge.
It’s not surprising that Luther had this understanding. It was readily accepted in his day because that is how the church was portraying God. Yes, he was the God who loved the world and sent Jesus to save it. Yes, he was the God who died for the sins of the world. Yes, he rose from the dead to give eternal life to all believers. But, in order to be a believer in Jesus, you had to work for it. You had to show God how much you loved him with your good works, and then he would respond with his love and mercy. With that kind of view, people thought God was always looking for good works and not really doing much for his people.
A lot of people still have that kind of viewpoint today. They think of God this way for a couple reasons. Number 1, if people don’t read the Bible, they won’t know who God is and what he is like. Instead, they will listen to others talk about him or they’ll watch shows and movies about him to see what he is like. Because that is how so many people are hearing about God, they don’t have the right view. And the second reason people think about God like a judge who is always watching is that it makes human sense. It makes sense to us that people are watching us and that when we do good they reward us and when we mess up they do not reward us. We see this kind of thing happening all around us. If you get good grades, then your teacher likes you and your parents give you more privileges or games (or whatever kids are asking for nowadays). If you do your job well, then your boss likes you, your coworkers can depend on you, you might get a raise, and if you are really good, you might get that promotion. If you are kind, honest, humble and giving, then you won’t go to jail. Instead, your neighbors will like you, do nice things for you, and you will be a respected member of the community. This is how people naturally think. It’s what we see every day. And so why wouldn’t people think about God this way?
Micah poses this question for us today: Who is a God like you? If someone answers that question by thinking in human terms, then they are making God way too much like all of us. And when people think God is like us, when people think he decides things based on what we do, then do you know where that leads? Sinful people are left in despair trying to earn a relationship with a holy God. It turns into high school dating where there is no certainty, just a frenzy of worried people who try to grab attention and get what they want, sometimes by any means necessary.
A relationship with God does not exist when you look at God like that, because you cannot earn God’s love. We don’t have enough perfection to earn it. In fact, we have a big fat ZERO in the perfection column. And because of that, we don’t deserve anything from God. There is no reward for trying hard, for sheer determination, or for not getting caught. Are you starting to realize why Martin Luther was so afraid? He knew and believed that Jesus had died for his sins and risen from the grave for his eternal life, but he wasn’t able to make God happy enough with him to get those blessings. All he could do was continue to try to work for them. A sinful person was trying to live without sin in order to get forgiveness of sins. How’s that going to work?
But, your identity as a Lutheran is not based on human reasoning, viewpoints or terms. That’s what freed Luther from his fear of a holy, judge-God. As we studied last week, you and I stand on the solid foundation of God’s Holy Scriptures. We have a God who reveals himself in the Bible. And so when Micah poses the question today – who is a God like you? – the answer is so clear. There is no other God, because no god that originates in human minds could be one:
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance. You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.
Who does that? Who is like that? Who gives and gives and gives? When you think about it, this makes no sense whatsoever. God pardons sin. Why would he do that? What’s in it for him? Why would God just take all your sins and all your guilt off your shoulders? Why would he carry them away from you, removing them from your past and future? There’s no good human logic here, unless it’s because he loves you so much that he doesn’t want to see your eternity ruined. Unless he has so much compassion that he cannot bear to see you struggle or see you lost and alone. That and only that is the reason.
Micah says we have a God who forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance. Let’s unpack that a little bit. The Hebrew word used for “forgive” is a word that means to pass over. Think of the Passover in Egypt. Those doors that were painted with the blood of a lamb were passed over by God. He was killing every first born from every house that night but he passed over the ones that were marked with blood. God marked you with the blood of Jesus so that he passes over you instead of giving you death.
But what about that remnant? What’s that all about? That’s another good history lesson. During Micah’s ministry as a prophet the people of Israel, God’s chosen nation, his inheritance, were exiled by the Assyrian army because God had to discipline his rebellious, unrepentant people. He was trying to wake them up from spiritual slumber. Micah prophesied that it would happen and it did. Well, out of the 12 tribes, 10 were now gone, but there was still hope for the southern 2. They could learn the lesson. They could wake up. And Micah gave them the warning to turn away from sinful rebellion, to get rid of the false gods who were really nothing at all. He warned them that there would be another exile if they did not listen to God. Well, you know what happened, don’t you? The southern part of Judah tried for a while, but they kind of reverted back to bad behavior. God sent more warnings from more prophets, but it didn’t help them. And so the Babylonians exiled Judah. But that’s where this section comes in. God’s undeserved love and compassion are so great that he says he forgives the remnant. Micah says, “You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us…” God is telling his people, “I know how much you messed up. I know how much this discipline hurts you. I know how bad this must be for you, but I still love you. I will always love you. I will watch over you in exile. I will protect you. I will bring you back to the Promised Land to start over. I will keep my promises. I will pass over your wickedness and rebellion because that is how much I love you.”
Brothers and sisters, you are a part of that remnant. No matter what has happened in your life. No matter how much guilt you carry, God carries away your sins and passes over you with the punishment. Instead, Jesus takes the full wrath of God in our place. Jesus is handed all of our sins. Jesus carries them all to Calvary. Jesus is not passed over but given the death penalty in our place. Jesus suffers what we should suffer.
This next part is where Kix come into the mix. Do you know that cereal, “kid tested, mother approved?” I loved those as a kid. Well, we have lots of those at our house. Lute loves them. Issy loves them. And sometimes with an 21-month old and a 3 ½ year-old, they don’t always successfully get all the Kix into their mouth. So when I wake up and it’s still dark or when I come home for lunch or dinner, sometimes these delightful puffs end up under my foot. Do you know what happens to a Kix when it is under my foot? It is crushed to powder! It becomes nothing. It is unusable. It must be swept up and thrown out. Here’s how Micah describes what God does to our sins, “You will tread our sins underfoot.” God makes our sins like those Kix in my kitchen. He crushes them. He makes them unusable. Doesn’t that bring a smile to your face? God loves you so he crushes sin out of your life. He treats our sins like the dirt. He tramples on them. He sweeps them up.
And then he, “hurls all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” God not only makes our sins unusable, but he also makes them nonvisible. See, he doesn’t just take them away from us. He puts them out of sight where we can’t find them again. When God says he forgives you, he means it. He means that his people do not need to get up with pet sins anymore. “But I like that one, and it’s harmless, and I repent of it a bunch.” God says, “Those sins are no good for you. So I am getting rid of them. You don’t need them to be happy. You don’t need them to be secure. You need me. You need my love. You need my peace.”
Micah finishes by saying, “you will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.” God keeps his promises. It’s not an optional thing that depends on how good you are. It’s not a logical thing that we have to understand. God keeps his promises. When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would make their descendants a great nation, he kept his promise. When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would take care of them and protect them, he kept his promise. When he promised to Abraham and Jacob that he would bless the whole world with one of their descendants, God kept his promise and sent Jesus. Jesus kept his promise to forgive us and save us.
I don’t care what happens this upcoming Tuesday, I don’t care about a 108 year-old wait for a championship that just ended this past week, I don’t care about anything like that, it cannot compare to joy and comfort that God’s love gives. We have an eternity with God because he loves us and forgives us.
Brothers and sisters, does any of this sound like something we could think up? Does it sound like something we could do? No. That’s why Luther treasured this so much, because it changed his view of God. No longer was God angry all the time. No longer was God a Judge looking to punish. When Luther read passages like these, the Spirit brought peace and joy because he had a God who loved him. He had a Savior who forgave him completely 100% without any added works.
That’s what gives us our identity still to this day. That we have a God and Savior who loves us with no conditions or fine print. He loves us even though we do not deserve it and have not earned any of these spiritual and eternal rewards. God gives us this gift not because it’s a birthday, graduation, or anniversary and not because you did something great but simply because he really wants you to know what he is like and how much he cares. Do you know what this is? It’s called grace.
Micah and Martin Luther loved it, and so do we, because it gives us the answer to this question: Who is like God? The easy answer is NO ONE, NOTHING, not now, not ever. Because our God gives us… grace.