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Sermon Message


"Who Is a God Like Ours?"

Micah 7:18-20
Theme: Our God is praised and exalted above all others as a God of pardoning grace toward His sinning people.

(Delivered Sunday, April 20, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

This morning, I invite you to read with me from a wonderful prayer. It's found in the last three verses of the Old Testament book of Micah:

Who is a God like You,
Pardoning iniquity
And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?
He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights in mercy.
He will again have compassion on us,
And will subdue our iniquities.
You will cast all our sins
Into the depths of the sea.
You will give truth to Jacob
And mercy to Abraham,
Which You have sworn to our fathers
From days of old (Micah 7:18-20).

"Who is a God like You . . .?" That's the opening question that Micah asks rhetorically; and then, in profound worship, goes on to answer.

And that answer constitutes very good news to sinners such as you and me!

* * * * * * * * * *

To appreciate Micah's question at the close of his book, you need to know something about the things that preceded it.

Micah was a prophet who ministered in Judah from the mid-eighth century to the late seventh-century before Jesus was born. And the book that bears his name was written at that time in the history of the Jewish people when the judgment of God was about to fall upon them. Throughout the book, God makes a case for the wickedness of His disobedient people. The wealthy were exploiting the poor, the rulers were oppressive lovers of evil, and the prophets and priests were self-serving teachers who spoke falsehood for personal gain.

Because of these sins, God warns that His hand of judgment was coming upon them. And it did! But what's fascinating is that, at the same time as God was describing His charges against His people, and the just punishment He would soon bring upon them, He also describes the future glory He would one day bring upon them.

Though they were wicked and sinful, He nevertheless calls them His "heritage". He had set His love upon them once for all; and would never take that love away. God makes the promise in this little book that, in the later days, the people of Israel would be exalted above the nations of the earth (4:1-3); and that His appointed King—born from Bethlehem—would one day come forth from them (5:2); and that the remnant He preserves from among them would one day stand in the midst the Gentile nations as "a lion among the beasts of the forest" (5:7).

When you read the whole book together, you get a picture of two remarkable things: (1) the righteous anger of God over His people's sins; and (2) the grace of God that assures them that, in spite of their sins, He will one day wash them clean, cause them to stand forgiven, and fulfill every good promise He has made toward them. And the thought of those two realities is what inspired that question of praise at the end of the book. "Who is a God like You?", Micah asks?

And think of it: When Micah goes on to describe God's greatness and supremacy, it's not His power that he points to, or His holiness, or even His dreadfulness in judgment—as great as all those things truly are. Rather, what he points to is God's pardoning grace.

In other words, our God is a God to be praised and exalted above all others as a God who remains faithful to His people, forgives them, shows lovingkindness to them, and keeps all His promises to them—even as unfaithful and unworthy as they may so often be.

Truly, when it comes to His pardoning grace, who is a God like our God?

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, I believe that someone here today particularly needs to hear this.

It may that you have come here today with a sense of unworthiness and shame because of sin in your life. It may be that you have some dark stories in your life—things that you have kept from the knowledge of others, but that are very well known to you and to the God who made you. And it may be that these things make you feel too ashamed and unworthy to dare to draw near to God. Perhaps you're too ashamed to even lift your face toward Him. Or perhaps there may be some sins and sinful practices you are holding on to in your life right now that are causing you to harden your heart against God's love, because you don't believe God could ever forgive you for them or deliver you from them.

Whether you are in that condition this morning or not, I invite you to join me in taking a look at this wonderful prayer in detail; and to think about the grace of God—a grace that has expressed the fullness of its pardon toward sinners through the gift of His Son on the cross. I invite you to "taste" with me, and see that the LORD is good; and that "blessed is the man who trusts in Him!" (Psalm 34:8).

* * * * * * * * * *

Note that Micah asks, "Who is a God like our God . . ."


". . . [P]ardoning iniquity", he says, "and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?" (v. 18a).

God wanted the people of Israel to know that, though they sinned against Him, He still looked upon them as His "heritage"; or as it is in the original language, His "inheritance". When He called them out of bondage in Egypt, He had pledged Himself to them by a binding covenant (Exodus 19:5). He told them, “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth" (Deut. 7:6).

There was nothing that made Israel worthy to be His inheritance. Rather, they became His inheritance simply because He first chose to place His love upon them. He told them;

“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt." (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).

And did you know, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that that's how He also refers to you and me—we who have been called to Himself by faith in His Son? We too are called His "inheritance"—sinful and unworthy as we may at times be. The apostle Paul once prayed that His believing friends would have the eyes of their understanding enlightened; "that you may know what is the hope of His calling" and "what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" (Ephesians 1:18).

And what's more, His Son also looks upon us as His own inheritance as well! Jesus came to this earth to purchase us for Himself with His own blood. And as He prepared to return to His Father, He expressed how much He looked forward to taking us to Himself. He said, "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me . . ." (John 17:24). Our eternal presence with Him in glory is that "joy" that was "set before Him"; a joy that moved Him to "endure the cross, despising the shame" (Hebrews 12:2) in order to take away our sins so that we can be there with Him!

* * * * * * * * * *

And so; because God chose to preserve a remnant of the people of Israel to Himself, who were His "inheritance", He set Himself to pardon (or "forgive") their iniquities, and "passover" their "transgressions".

It wasn't because He chose to ignore their "iniquities" and "transgressions". In fact, the whole book of Micah is filled with promises that He would punish His disobedient people because of them. But rather than "ignore" them, He Himself did what was necessary to make it possible for Him to "forgive" them and "pass over" them. He looked ahead to the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross;

. . . whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25-26).

He is justly angry at sin. His just anger is demonstrated most of all on the cross, where His own Son bore the death-penalty for our sins. But, as Micah tells us, "He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy" (v. 18b); or, as the New American Standard has it, "unchanging love".

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, I ask you: Who is like our God? Who else pledges Himself to a people by calling them His "heritage"—His "inheritance"—before they were ever a people? And who else then sets Himself to forgive the iniquities and pass over the transgressions of those He has chosen for Himself? And who else does so for His own sake—so completely and so willingly, and all because He "delights in mercy"?

This is a God you can safely and freely come to and confess all your sins to! He has done everything that is necessary to take those sins away! He delights in mercy so much that He is more ready to pardon our sins than we are to ask for the pardon!

Who is a God like our God, who so completely and willingly pardons our sins for His own sake?

* * * * * * * * * *

Furthermore, who else is like Him . . .


From the standpoint of the people who read Micah's prophecy, and read of all the punishment that He was bringing upon them, it must have seemed as if God had turned away from them because of their sins. But Micah goes on to tell them, "He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities" (v. 19a).

In the original language, it says that He will "turn". To the Jewish people, it appeared that He had turned away from them in judgment. And indeed He had; because a holy God who cannot look upon sin. I believe this is illustrated to us in the most horrible "turning away" that ever occurred—that is, when our Savior Jesus so bore our sins upon Himself on the cross, that He cried out to the Father, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46).

But the promise is that this same God—who justly judges sin, but who also delights in mercy—will "turn again" to His people in favor. And when He turns to them again, He will come to "have compassion" on them; that is, He will be tender-hearted toward them and embrace them to Himself with piteous love. That's why the translators of the King James version have—I believe rightly—translated this passage in this way: "He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us . . ."

But it's not just that He will turn again to the people whose sin had separated them from Himself. He will also fully conquer that which caused the separation in the first place. Micah goes on to say that God "will subdue [or "tread under foot"] our iniquities" (v. 19b). That is, He will conquer them completely. (How grateful I am that God delights in mercy! That means that He will tread my iniquities under foot; and not tread me under foot for having committed them!)

* * * * * * * * * *

When God spoke at a later time to His covenant people, He made this promise through the prophet Jeremiah—a promise that is fully realized for us in Christ:

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Under the old covenant—that is, at the time that Micah's words were written—a man or woman's standing before God was on the basis of law. If they broke God's law, they broke the covenant with Him. Under the strict terms of that old covenant, a man or woman could not be anything before God but "condemned" by the law.

But as Hebrews 9:14-15 tells us, Christ, "through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God"; so as to now "cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God". And now, "for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance."

Through the death of Jesus on the cross on our behalf, God fully "subdued our iniquities" by forever removing the law's power to condemn us. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1a).

* * * * * * * * * *

It's on this basis that Micah affirms a promise before God that's very precious to me personally. He says, "You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea" (v. 19b).

As I read this, I note that, literally, he says that God will cast all "their" sins into the depths of the sea. What is the "they" he speaks of? In this context, it seems that the "they" refers to the "iniquities" that he just mentioned. And I also note that the word he uses in the original language can be translated "sin-guilt". And if that's the case, then he is saying that God will cast all the "sin-guilt" of our iniquities far away from us—irretrievably into the depths, as it were, of the sea.

God doesn't simply cast our sins away. Rather, He places them on His own beloved Son who atones for them with His own blood. But now that the debt has been paid on our behalf, the Father casts all the "sin-guilt" for our iniquities far away from us, so that we can no longer be condemned for them. And that's why we read in Romans 8; "Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us" (Romans 8:33-34).

When the enemy of our souls points to our sins and accuses us before a holy God, our Lord Jesus is able to point to His own cross—where those sins were already atoned for. And what's more, our Father has already cast all the "sin-guilt" for our iniquities so far from us that the enemy will never be able to drudge them up and accuse us by them again!

Now again, I ask you: Who is a God like our God; who does not turn from us forever because of our sins? Who else promises to turns toward us in compassion? Who else actually subdues the very sin in us that separated us from Him in the first place? And who else even goes so far as to forever separate the guilt of our sins from us, so that we can never again be condemned in His sight by them?

For us, this is not fearsome Judge we need to run from. This is a loving Father we need to run to! He is the One who so loves us that He makes it His set purpose to forever conquer the sin that separated us from Him in the first place!

* * * * * * * * * *

Finally, who else is like Him . . .


Micah goes on to affirm, "You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers from days of old" (v. 20).

God had made promises to the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob. He called Abraham out of paganism; told him to leave his country, his family, and his father's house; led him to a land that he didn't know; and promised to give it all to him. He told him, "I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:2-3).

God repeated this promise to him (Gen. 22:16-18); then passed this promise on to Abraham's son Isaac (26:3-5); and then again on to Isaac's son Jacob (28:13-15). And finally, the promise was passed on to all of Jabob's offspring—that is, the Jewish people (50:24).

The Jewish people had proven themselves unfaithful to God. They had sinned against Him again and again. But God's faithfulness to His own promises to His covenant people was not based on their faithfulness but on His promise to their fathers. Micah says that God "swore" these things to their fathers; and the word he uses literally means to "seven oneself"—that is, to bind oneself to do a thing with a promise that is 'seven times certain'. It was a promise God had made long before the people of Micah's day—a promise made to the fathers "from days of old".

And so, even though the people had failed, God would not. Even though they had been unfaithful to God, God would not be unfaithful to them. He would punish their sin; but the punishment would only be for a while. He would still "give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham"; or, as New International Version has it, "You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham. . . ." He would still keep all His promises to them.

* * * * * * * * * *

I love what the apostle Paul says to his believing friends in Philippi; "being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).

And what is that good work? In the book of Romans, he writes;

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

Dear brothers and sisters; though there are many times we fail and fumble, we will never be able to blow it so badly that God's final purpose for us will not be fulfilled. The great work He began in us will be completed; and at the end, we will be made to stand "faultless" before the presence of His glory with great joy (Jude 24).

Again, tell me: Who is like our God? Who else sets Himself to the purpose of bringing into full glory His sinful, fallible, unfaithful people? And who else will, in the end—no matter what—prove Himself true and merciful to those who trust in His grace?

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; what do we do with such a God as ours—especially when we realize what poor, needy people we are? How should we respond to Him when we feel His hand heavy upon us because of our sin?

I believe Micah gives us a clue. Faced with the realization of the soon-coming judgment of God on his people, Micah puts the things we've just studied into practice when he writes;

Do not rejoice over me, my enemy;
When I fall, I will arise;
When I sit in darkness,
The LORD will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the LORD,
Because I have sinned against Him,
Until He pleads my case
And executes justice for me.
He will bring me forth to the light;
I will see His righteousness (Micah 7:8-9).

We can come to Him freely and confidently; and admit the truth of our sin. We can even bear His just discipline when it comes upon us—knowing that His discipline is governed by His mercy, and that it will always result in proving Himself once again to be the God who "delights in mercy". "If we say that we have no sin," the apostle John writes, "we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9).

Tell me; who is a God like our God?

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