Before we came to St. Thomas’, Sarah and I were at Deep Creek. It had been Sarah’s home church for about 12 years and after we were married I started a student placement there. So when Deep Creek decided to sell their old pews to buy new seats, we leapt at the chance. We had grand plans for it, but the pew sat in our garage for a couple of years until this past summer, when we finally got around to restoring it. Now to be fair, we’d tackled a number of other projects in the meantime. Over the years we’d restored two cabinets, a dresser and two cots. (Not to mention having three kids!) So we kind of knew what we were doing.
I wonder if you’ve had any experience restoring or rebuilding something? Taking something that was broken, or worn, or used and bringing new life into it. Maybe you’ve tried tackling something bigger than a piece of furniture, like a house. Or maybe just seen it on TV.
But what does it look like to restore a Kingdom? It’s a question that’s been asked in Scotland this past week. If the vote for independence had passed, they’d need to write a new constitution, establish their own central bank, renegotiate treaties, build their own army, and the like. It would be a big job, much bigger than restoring a pew!
Well, as we saw last week the Kingdom of Judah needed a bit of work. The majority of the priests and prophets in Jerusalem had been preaching peace and prosperity, proclaiming that God’s favour rested upon them. But God saw things a little differently. So God sent Micah to:
8 But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the spirit of the LORD,
and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
and to Israel his sin. (Micah 3:8)
God sent Micah to expose the corruption in Israel and Judah’s, to expose the greed that ruled in people’s hearts, to highlight the absence of mercy and compassion. We get a sense of how bad things are at the end of chapter 3:
9Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob
and chiefs of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice and pervert all equity,
10who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong!
11 Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,
its priests teach for a price,
its prophets give oracles for money;
yet they lean upon the LORD and say,
“Surely the LORD is with us!
No harm shall come upon us.”
God’s verdict was that his kingdom, which had meant to be a light to all the nations, had become a pit of darkness. God’s kingdom had been defiled; it was in desperate need of work.
Our pew was in desperate need of work. They weren’t the nicest of pews to start with, and the fabric that held the cushioning was probably dated a week after they were made. Of course, being kept in our shed hadn’t helped! So the first step of it’s restoration felt more like a demolition! I had to strip off the old padding and get rid of the ‘festy’ cushioning! It was so bad we actually had to ditch the entire seat and backboard. Once we’d removed and replaced those, I then had to pull the seat apart and completely sanded down the frame.
God’s first step in restoring his kingdom is kind of the same. It needed to be stripped down:
12 Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height.
The kingdom was in such bad shape it needed to be flattened, reduced to rubble, plowed as a field. Similar things are said of Samaria and the surrounding countryside in chapter 1. As we read through the judgments on Judah, it’s obvious that people hadn’t been treating each other with respect, let alone love or mercy. The people of Jerusalem hadn’t been treating each other as human, so God’s decree is that the city is no longer fit for human habitation. The mountain of the house is to become a wooded height. It’s to become a complete wilderness, a place where wild animals roam.
But God’s kingdom is more than a place, more than a building. It’s the people that really make up the kingdom. And God’s verdict is that they need work too. Through Micah, God foretells the pain of the coming exile. God is about to scatter his people throughout the earth. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone though. Moses had warned the people that after they entered the Promised Land, if they became complacent, if they turned from the one true God and started following idols, there would be consequences, including the threat of being scattered and driven into exile. And as any parent here knows, the threat of consequences with your children only works if you’re prepared to follow through with them. It’s no use saying, “If you don’t eat all your dinner, you’ve got to go straight to bed”, unless you’re prepared to back that up. God had warned his people of the consequences, of the curses that would fall upon them if they turned away from him. Now he was simply fulfilling those promises.
There are dark days to come. Things will actually get worse before they get better. The people had defiled his Kingdom, and so the first step in it’s restoration was actually to flatten all that they trusted in and to drive the people away from the land that they had abused.
When it came to restoring the pew we couldn’t just stain over the top of it, or just put a throw over the festy backing. Tearing it apart, sanding it down was necessary. But it was only the first step. After that it was Sarah’s turn. When we restore things, it’s her job to do the staining!
When it comes to restoring his Kingdom, God’s got a lot more planned than just reducing the city to rubble and driving his people away. If the immediate fate for Jerusalem is that it will become a heap of ruins, in days to come:
1In days to come the mountain of the LORD’S house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised up above the hills.
Although the people will be scattered by God, in days to come:
Peoples shall stream to it,
2 and many nations shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
Back in chapter 2:12-13, and a little further on in chapter 4, in verse 6, just beyond what we read this morning, God says that he will gather his people. They won’t come back of their own volition, but it’s God who will go out and gather them up.
Which is why, although in Micah’s day people have been heaping up teachers that let them do what they want, in days to come people will flock to Jerusalem in order to be taught by God:
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
People will no longer live the way they want to, following their own desires. When God restores his Kingdom, his people will follow him, they will obey his word, with their whole lives. They will worship God in spirit and truth, as Jesus says in John 4.
What’s more people won’t only flow into Jerusalem to hear the Word of the Lord, but
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
From Jerusalem, God’s word will flow out into the whole world! God’s word will spread around the world as his Kingdom spreads around the world.
And as God’s word spreads, as God’s Kingdom spreads, so to will peace. Nation will no longer take up arms against nation. What a welcome word this would have been to the people in Micah’s day. Israel had never been a super power, certainly not after the kingdom was divided. They were only a tiny player on the international scene. Israel, and Judah, were constantly at threat of being overrun by any of their more powerful neighbors, the Egyptian, Assyrian or Babylonian Empires. They eventually did fall to their enemies, though as we’ve seen that was only at God’s bidding. But, in days to come, when God has restored his Kingdom, and as it spreads, peace will come to reign throughout the world. There won’t even be a need for the instruments of war:
3they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
And in days to come, not only will the people know peace they will also know prosperity.
4 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.
The land will once again be flowing with milk and honey, or figs and grapes! But not only will the earth produce crops and fruits in abundance, people will also be content with what they have! Everyone will have their own vine and fig tree and not want for more. They will be able to sit and enjoy the fruits of their labors, to rest to sit, all while not being afraid!
When God restores his Kingdom, all the empty promises of peace and prosperity that the false prophets had been uttering, would actually be fulfilled! Do you see how completely God will reverse the current situation? Greed will be replaced by satisfaction and contentment, war and enmity will be replaced by peace, fear will be replaced by joy, all because the Lord of hosts has spoken.
When Sarah was finished staining the pew, it was my turn again, as it’s usually my job to put things back together. That old pew now looks like this. We were so excited when we brought in into the house. We had plans to use it at our dining table. But when we brought it in, we discovered that even with extra cushions it was too low! So now it sits in Jacob’s room, waiting. The restoration hadn’t quite turned out the way we’d intended.
It’s true that after the exile, the people did return to Jerusalem. If you remember our sermon series on Nehemiah from 2012, they were able to start rebuilding the city’s walls and the temple. But despite all this, they didn’t come close to the glorious picture Micah presents of God’s restored Kingdom?
So was God not able to live up to his promises? Was the restored Kingdom really not that better than the defiled Kingdom? NO! Because the reality is, that day to come was further off than the people realised. The restoration of God’s kingdom was waiting for God’s King! Where was the King to come from? From Bethlehem of course, from the birth place of King David. Who was the King to come from Bethlehem? It was Jesus, God’s own Son, God the Son, who was born of Mary in Bethlehem.
It’s Jesus who ushered in God’s restored Kingdom, it’s Jesus who restored the Kingdom! It’s Jesus who gathers people together, calling them to join the Kingdom. It’s through Jesus that God:
13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:13-14)
It’s Jesus, the Word of God, who reveals God’s Word to us, who shows us how to live. It’s only Jesus who enables us to worship God in spirit and truth.
It’s Jesus who sends his people out into the world, to proclaim the gospel to the world. It’s through Jesus that God’s kingdom spreads throughout the world.
It’s only Jesus, the prince of peace, who will bring peace to this world.
And it’s only in Jesus that we can be made sons and daughters of God, to come and share in the inheritance of God’s kingdom.
What a glorious picture of God’s restored Kingdom. What a great Kingdom to be part of. And how much should we thank God that he chooses us to be part of his kingdom not on the basis of how good we are, but out of his rich mercy:
18Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your possession?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in showing clemency.
19 He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and unswerving loyalty to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our ancestors
from the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20)