Tag Archive for: Third Sunday after Trinity

Click here for the reading: Luke 15:1-10.

The grumbling of the Pharisees and the scribes is emblematic of the self-righteousness into which the religious can easily fall. If the wanton and wicked fail to apprehend God’s wrath over sin, the self-righteous misappropriate God’s wrath. They are pleased to have God’s judgment against that sin of which they themselves feel they are innocent. And they imagine that God will enforce their manmade standards for righteousness. They condemn Jesus, and so condemn God, for they believe that anyone less scrupulous than them must be against religion. But it is not a difference of degree, as they suppose. It is a difference of kind. It is not because Jesus imagines that the sinners are righteous that he eats with them. He eats with them precisely because they are sinners who need to receive life from their savior.

To misunderstand God’s wrath over sin, which is to misunderstand his righteousness, means also missing his mercy all together. Mercy remains abstract and without application if there is no one to receive it or to benefit from it. The Pharisees and scribes can make no sense of Jesus because they reject the prerequisite for knowing him: repentance. In their appraisal of the world, there are sheep in the fold and sheep outside the fold. The former have always been there and the latter may never enter in. There is no room for repentance – not for the sheep who have strayed, nor for themselves, since they think they are safely in the fold.

Jesus speaks plainly to his purpose in the flesh: to seek and call the lost. To gather up the straying. To bind the injured. To raise the dead. He has nothing to do for the self-righteous who would deprive the wandering of God’s mercy and who think they have no need of it themselves. He has no joy to share with the well, who have no need of a physician, for his joy is all spent in celebration over sinners who repent. If you think that you are religious and do not rejoice to see a sinner receive mercy, then you deceive your heart and your religion is worthless. If, on the other hand, you have drawn near to Jesus because he is gracious and abounding in steadfast love, then your joy will be full.

The wandering sheep may not presume on the kindness of the shepherd to seek him out. These are not parables about the security that the renegade or independent-minded may feel in the presence of an indulgent master. These are parables about the concern of the Lord for his lost children. They are parables about how the righteous should understand the Lord’s mercy toward sinners. They are parables that show all who believe that their salvation depended entirely on the goodness and loving-kindness of God.

Click here for the reading: 1 Peter 5:6-11.

It is the will of God to exalt sinners. It is their stubborn refusal to receive exaltation that gets in the way. It is their stubborn refusal to humble themselves, to acknowledge that they are that lost coin or lost sheep that keeps them from receiving grace. And so Peter admonishes Christians to begin with humility. This is not the same degree of humility that he expects of Christians towards one another just before our pericope, for this is humility under the mighty hand of God. This humility is the prerequisite for self-denial in love for the brothers.

But the mighty hand of God does not oppress the Christian, as it does the sinner who keeps silent (Ps. 32:4). Rather, the mighty hand of God is over the Christian to shield him from all that would make him anxious. He cares for you, and so you can put your hope in him and not be ashamed. He means to exalt you, and so you can submit to his yoke and receive his burdens, for he has made them easy and light.

Being humble under the mighty hand of God enables the Christian to resist temptation and endure suffering. The devil is an active and constant adversary, but he can only strike where the guard is down and divine protection is set aside. Hence Peter’s call for sober-mindedness and watchfulness. It is not the fearful watching of one who does not know what lurks in the shadows or whether he is outmatched. It is the confident watching of one who knows his enemy and has the weapons to defeat him. It is a watching of one who is eager to remain sharp and attentive, sober and circumspect, because it could only be a self-inflicted tragedy to fall to such an enemy. That confidence and eagerness are rooted in faith, which believes in Christ’s suffering and death for the forgiveness of sins and judgment of the devil.

It is also a faith that unites the Christian to a brotherhood throughout the world. We watch and pray and suffer and endure not because we are alone and fearful, but precisely because we are not alone and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers in the ranks of a mighty force.

Click here for the reading: Micah 7:18-20.

These final verses of Micah’s prophecy are the faithful response of the Israelite who has seen the salvation of God. The injustice of God’s people and their wanton disregard for coming disaster prompt the remnant to cry aloud to their God. Promises abound, including the promise of a ruler in Israel from ancient days. But before those promises are fulfilled, the Lord’s case is made against his people. They are cut off and the wicked are rooted out. Anger and wrath are prepared and delivered. The mounting turmoil and destruction discipline the faithful to put their trust in God, to wait for his salvation.

The righteous person must have an understanding of God’s indignation over sin. He cannot imagine that God’s steadfast love and pardoning compassion have overridden his righteousness and justice. These are not at odds as they appear to be among men. Rather, God’s mercy impels him to seek justice in some other way than by vengeance against his children.

As God passes over the transgressions of his remnant, as he treads them underfoot and casts them into the depths of the sea, he is also in the land bringing judgment. That means that Jacob and Abraham must trust that there will be shelter in the midst of the storm. Just as the children of Israel trusted that their first-born sons would be spared even as the cry went up in Egypt, so also must the faithful believe that there is blood that has been shed to cover their sins while wrath is poured out on the sons of disobedience. They must believe that they are the ones whom God has sought, whom he has called, and for whom he seeks vindication against the wicked.

Their security rests on the pledge of God to their fathers from days of old. The oath that he swore to their father Abraham is the cord that holds their history and future together. If he is not a God who keeps his word, then they of all people are to be pitied for having trusted and been put to shame. But if He is a faithful God, who keeps his word and fulfills his promises, then they are blessed among men, for God has shown them favor. There can, however, be no uncertainty about which is true of God. He has already demonstrated his faithfulness to promises even as he displayed his glory before the nations. He kept his word, risking his name by offering it to a people who would be wayward and impious. He has held nothing back, sending judges and prophets to keep his people within the bounds of the covenant. He is the good shepherd, whose goodness is manifest in his will to lay down his life for his people.

The prophet Micah was more or less a contemporary of Isaiah.  Micah 1:1 notes that his ministry stretched from the reign of Jotham to Hezekiah in Judah.  His time was a turbulent one.  While Jotham and Hezekiah were both good kings in the sight of the Lord (2 Kings 15:32-38 and 18:1-8), Ahaz was not (2 Kings 16).  If things had been improving when Micah began, they certainly took a hard turn not long after.  On top of that, the northern kingdom of Israel fell during his days (2 Kings 17:6).  It is a period of turbulence and upheaval everywhere.

Micah initially directs his rebuke against the people in general, warning them of their coming destruction because of their sins.  The people were complacent and distorted the promises of God to mean something entirely different.  “’Do not preach’—thus they preach— ‘one should not preach of such things; disgrace will not overtake us’” (Micah 2:6).  God will surely not destroy His chosen people, right?  But they were carnally secure, thinking that the promises applied to them even if they did not walk in the ways of the Lord.  “If a man should go about and utter wind and lies, saying, ‘I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,’ he would be the preacher for this people” (Micah 2:11)!  The Lord does not promise to save the faithless or the rebellious.  Was that the case, who would ever be condemned?

Micah also rebukes those in command, because they in particular were “eating up” the people through their sins (Micah 3).  The prophets were preaching lies and crying “peace” when there was no peace.  They were promising that the sinful people would remain in the land, though in our own day many say that God does not actually hate sin.  Manifest sinners are part of the Church, right?  Nor is it right to say that we are all sinners, which is true enough in itself.  No one deserves grace.  But to say that someone who refuses to repent of a sin, declaring it to be natural or that God has made them this way, is to declare peace when there is no peace.  “Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without divination. The sun shall go down on the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God” (Micah 3:6-7).

But the Lord promises to His faithful remnant that “out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Micah 4:2).  If the day of destruction is surely coming, then the day of peace is also coming in Jesus Christ.  Bethlehem Ephrathah, being too small to supply men for military service, will be the place from whom the Ruler shall come (Micah 5:2).  Jesus, born in Bethlehem, will be the one to bring peace to the land.  There will be no more war or idolatry in the land anymore.

Micah 6-7 forms the final section of the book.  The Lord brings an indictment against His people:  why have they turned away when He has done so much for them (Micah 6:1-5)?  It will not do to offer thanksgiving without atonement, so to speak.  Sin must be atoned for, and rivers of oil will not cover over it (Micah 6:6-8).  The wicked will come to an end for their sins, especially seen in the sins against their own brothers (Micah 6:9-16).

Yet even though the righteous man suffers much, especially at the hands of the wicked, the Lord will not fail him.  He is not righteous because of anything he has done, but because the Lord “pleads my cause and executes judgment for me.  He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon His vindication” (Micah 7:9).  After all, God pardons iniquity and passes over transgression for His faithful remnant.  Casting our sins into the depths of the seas, the Lord shows that promised faithfulness.  Abraham and our fathers have not been cast off, and God does not cast us off because of His Son.