This weekend our thoughts and prayers have been with the relatives of the passengers of the Malaysian Airline flight shot down over the Ukraine. A similar number of civilians have been killed by Israeli shelling in Gaza this week but they wont receive the same level of media coverage. We wont see their photos or learn their names. There wont be interviews with their grieving relatives because they are not Europeans.
Ten years ago Garth Hewitt and I were on a concert tour of churches in Israel and the Occupied Territories. While he stayed in Jerusalem on Sunday, I traveled to Gaza to preach at the Anglican church meeting in the home of a dentist. It was very tense even then, and on the Monday we decided a short break would be good. I offered to show Garth the beautiful scenery of the Golan Heights. It was February, and by mid afternoon the light was fading as I drove a borrowed church minibus up the winding road past Mount Hermon and into the snowy slopes of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Above the snow line we encountered a group of young Israeli army conscripts on a training exercise. They were cold, wet and tired and wanted a lift. We nervously ignored them and carried on driving up into the darkness.
With hopes of showing Garth the isolated UN post at Quneitra fading and the snow on the road mounting, we nervously turned the car round and headed home. As we turned a corner our headlights caught the shape of one of the young soldiers lying in the road, his companions attempting to revive him.Wet and cold he was suffering hypothermia. Garth helped them lift the semi-conscious soldier into the mini-bus and we continued to descend before being met by an army vehicle that took the soldier to hospital. Despite my anger at the arrogant Israeli settlers and aggressive soldiers I had encountered in Gaza the day before, I realised that these young 17 year old conscripts were as vulnerable, needy and human as my Palestinian friends in Gaza. I became an unwilling participant in a re-run of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Forgiveness is often dressed in the clothes of Mercy. Although it usually isn’t an enemy in uniform we are challenged to forgive, we have plenty of opportunities to show mercy every day. Family members, friends, colleagues and neighbours, even strangers we meet, need mercy. How do we know? Because you and I do too. In our series ‘Christ in all the Scriptures’, we have come to the Prophet Micah. Micah was a contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah. He prophesied in the days of Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Micah predicted the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians and warned the Judeans that, unless they repented and changed their ways, they too would come under God’s discipline for their sins.But Micah also predicted the coming of the Lord Jesus the King – the King of Mercy in chapter 5. In Micah 5:2-4, a passage we read every Christmas, Jesus is portrayed at the King, the bringer of God’s mercy.
1. The Personification of God’s Mercy in Jesus
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:1-6)
You see, while Herod was ignorant of the messianic prophecies, the teachers of the law were not. They knew precisely what the prophet Micah had predicted and of all people they should have been expecting him. Three things we can learn about the Lord Jesus from Micah’s prophecy:
1.1 The Divinity of the Lord Jesus
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)
Micah reveals that the Messiah existed before he was born in Bethlehem. His coming was planned by God from all eternity. That is why Jesus insisted “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58) taking not just the very name of God but assuming the very nature of God to himself. The divinity of the Lord Jesus.
1.2 The Humanity of the Lord Jesus
“Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.” (Micah 5:3)
The miracle of the incarnation reveals nothing less than that God became a human being.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
“who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man.” (Philippians 2:6-7)
The divinity of the Lord Jesus, the humanity of the Lord Jesus.
1.3 The Majesty of the Lord Jesus
“He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.” (Micah 5:4)
Justice and mercy are in short supply in this world. But Jesus came to demonstrate God’s grace and mercy – grace in giving us what we don’t deserve – mercy in not giving us what we do deserve by dying on the cross in our place, and rising again to give us hope for the future. Over the centuries, his greatness has indeed reached the ends of the earth. But one day – one day soon, the King will return and reign. He will stand and shepherd his flock and peace will at last reign on earth as it is in heaven. The Personification of God’s Mercy in Jesus. How should we live in the light of this? Micah summarises his message in a question and answer:
“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).
2. The Source of God’s Mercy in History
“In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:1-2)
The Bible tells us that the problems of our world will not be solved in New York at the United Nations. They will not be solved in the Hague at the International Court of Justice. They will not be solved in London as the centre of the business world. They will not even be solved in Geneva by the World Council of Churches.
The answer lies in Jerusalem and specifically the Lord’s Temple. Micah predicts that people from many nations of the world will stream into Jerusalem to encounter God. In the centre of the Temple, in the Holy of Holies lies the Mercy Seat – the lid or cover of the Ark of the Covenant was described as the footstool of God (Hebrews 9:5).
This was where, once a year the High Priest could atone for the sins of the people. This was where mercy was received. Now when Micah speaks of “The last days” he is not referring to the end of time. He is not predicting, as some Christians believe, the rebuilding of a Jewish Temple to which the nations will come to worship God. Animal sacrifices? No, Micah is referring to a much more important event – the turning point in history when God would accomplish his purposes for the world in Jerusalem.
How would the nations stream to meet with the living God? How could the nations stream to encounter a terrifying, holy, unapproachable God? In John 12, Jesus explains when and how this was going to happen.
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:31-33)
When Jesus was lifted up on the cross he literally drew all peoples to himself. On another occasion he insisted “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Jesus is the only mediator because Jesus is the temple Micah is speaking about – He is our Great High Priest. He is our Ransom Sacrifice. As he stretched his arms open wide on Good Friday Jesus drew people of all nations back to the Father heart of God. Hebrews says, “Let us then approachthe throne of grace with confidence,so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16).
The cross draws people back to God. The richness of God’s mercy is found supremely in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians,
“Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:3-5)
How can a just and holy God, have mercy on those who deserve only his wrath and judgment? Only in the one who was God and man, the sinless one for sinners, who was literally “pierced for our transgressions.” (Isaiah 53:5) This is how the wrath of God and the love of God were both satisfied. We experience God’s mercy in the cross and nowhere else. This is how the Apostle Paul describes the impact of God’s mercy in his life. “But for that very reason I was shown mercyso that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patienceas an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)
The personification of God’s mercy in Jesus. The source of God’s mercy in history.
3. The Vision of God’s Mercy in the Future
Imagine a world where mercy has become the common currency. Imagine a world where poverty is history. Imagine a world in which war is a distant memory. No armies, no weapons, no fear, no greed, no need. Imagine a world in which every infectious, every treatable, every curable disease was eradicated years ago. Imagine a world in which every child lives to old age. Imagine a world with no missing children. No child abuse. No domestic violence. No paedophiles. No bullies. No prisons. No detention centres. No torture. No death squads. No tyrants. No despots. No dictators. Imagine a world in which the rights of the weak and vulnerable are protected. Where justice is universal. Impartial, objective, compassionate, merciful. Imagine a world where peace reigns. Imagine living in such a world. That was the vision behind the League of Nations, born out of the ravages of the 1st World War. Established in 1919 under the Treaty of Versailles, the aim was “to promote international cooperation and so achieve peace and security.”
The League of Nations was unable to avert a Second World War. But on January 1st, 1942, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt brought together representatives of 26 countries to affirm a “Declaration of the United Nations” pledging their Governments to continue fighting together against the Axis Powers. Two years later, the United Nations Charter was drawn up by representatives of the eventual victors – China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States at Dumbarton Oaks in 1944. The Charter was signed on 26 June 1945 by representatives of 50 nations and the United Nations officially came into existence three months later on 24 October 1945.
The vision for the UN is best expressed in a sculpture found in its garden. A gift of the Soviet Union and presented in 1959, the bronze statue is of a man holding a hammer in one hand and, in the other, a sword he is reshaping into a ploughshare. It symbolizes the universal desire to put an end to war and convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of all humanity. Naïve? Idealistic? Fantasy? Although the UN has not been able to deliver peace in the last 60 years, one day, God will. What will it look like? Micah tells us in verses 4:3-4.
3.1 No more War
“He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Micah 4:3)
What do the nations fight over? What are most disputes about? Territory. Raw materials. Assets. When Jesus returns there will be no need of armies, weapons or military training. Jesus will rule the nations with justice. No more war.
3.2 No more Poverty
“Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree.” (Micah 4:4)
When Jesus returns there will be no more want. There is sufficient food in the world to feed everyone. All we lack is the will. When Jesus returns no one will lack for needs. No more war. No more poverty.
3.3 No more Fear
“and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.” (Micah 4:4)
When the Lord Jesus returns, the apostle John says “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
That is one of the greatest promises in the Bible. Hang on to it. Memorise it. Cherish it. Live it. No more war. No more poverty. No more fear. Let me ask you, do you believe such a world is coming? You better, because “the LORD Almighty has spoken.” (Micah 4:4).
The personification of God’s mercy in Jesus. The source of God’s mercy in history. The vision of God’s mercy in the future.
4. The Practice of God’s Mercy in the Present
“All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:5)
Micah says, the rest of the unsaved world may continue to walk in the name of their false gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever. Do you see how verse 5 encourages a response to the source of God’s mercy in the past and the vision of God’s mercy in the future? Jude puts it like this, “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you waitfor the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them;to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” (Jude 21-23)
Notice how Jude uses the word ‘mercy’ three times. As you trust in the reality of God’s mercy and await is ultimate fulfilment, show mercy today. Mercy is simply an attribute of God. It is a sign that we are his children. What would a week of merciful acts look like? When someone at work says a harsh word… when someone criticises you, when someone humiliates you or denigrates you, what will loving mercy look like? What will the effect be on work colleagues? On your boss?. And at home – this week when you are ignored, under appreciated, taken for granted, or when voices are raised, what will showing mercy look like? What will the effect be of showing mercy toward a spouse, toward your children, your parents? This is our homework. To fill your week with little acts of mercy. Loving mercy, giving mercy, showing mercy.
The personification of Gods mercy in Jesus. The source of God’s mercy in history. The vision of God’s mercy in the future. The practice of God’s mercy in the present. Micah’s vision of God’s mercy is not only revealed in the Lord Jesus our King, God’s mercy is experienced through the Lord Jesus our Saviour. If you have experienced that mercy, will you give the rest of your life to showing mercy?
Then let us read Micah 4:5 as our response. Lets make it our own. Lets say the verse together as an act of dedication. “All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:5) And they all said … “Amen!”