Who is a God Like You?

Text: Micah 7:18-20

Who is a God like you,” the prophet Micah asks, “pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression…[for] You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”[1] These beautiful words were spoken through the prophet Micah some 700 years before our Lord took on flesh. In his ministry he prophesied that Jerusalem and the surrounding country would fall as punishment for their sins. But, then he also preached these wonderful words – and more like them. The Lord will not retain His anger forever or always punish, for He delights in showing mercy and steadfast love. In His great compassion, He will take all His peoples’ sins and cast them into the depths of the sea. This, He would do by the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

I love this imagery – something being cast into the depths of the sea – because, even though I haven’t done that, I have dropped things to the bottom of lakes. Maybe you have, too. The idea is that, once it sinks, it’s gone. Of course, you can hire a diver and such – but for most things, we wouldn’t bother. Once something sinks to the bottom of a lake, it’s gone. Such has happened to our sins through Christ. Though we deserve, for our sins, to be cast ourselves into the depths of hell, the Lord has shown His steadfast love to us by casting our sins into the depths of the sea in Christ.

I.

Micah is a prophet we don’t hear too much from over the course of the Church Year. We have this text today, and then we’ll hear from him once again toward the end of the year. Micah prophesied around the same general time as Isaiah, some 700 years before the birth of Christ. Other than that, we don’t know too much about him. What we do know about him is that he preached both Law and Gospel. Like Isaiah and like Jeremiah – who, a hundred years later, cited Micah’s sermons – much of Micah’s preaching is devoted to the Fall and Restoration of Jerusalem.

After the Exodus, God led His people for generations through Moses and Aaron, and then Joshua and Caleb. There were some rough spots during these times, but generally they were okay. Then, for centuries God led His people through the Judges. These were times of feast and famine. The people would abandon God, and He would allow them to be conquered. Then they’d pray, and He’d rescue them. But after a while, Israel asked for a king – and God knew that this would lead them down the wrong path. Still, He granted their wish. With few exceptions, as each king rose and fell, Israel grew farther and farther away from the Lord. They embraced sinful lifestyles.

Micah preached the Law to God’s people. It’s hard to hear his preaching and remember that Israel had further still to fall before its destruction. You don’t have to go far into the prophet to hear the chief source of Israel’s sin: idolatry. They had learned idol worship from the surrounding nations and embraced it. And, like we’ve learned before, transgressions against any Commandment are ultimately transgressions against the First. It’s also true that if you have the First Commandment wrong, the rest will follow. And so, they did in Israel. During Micah’s time, the people of God were promiscuous, covetous; they worked injustice toward each other, and, as a whole, had a general disregard for the Lord and His Word. Because of these things, Jerusalem would – and did – Fall.

But Micah is not a prophet of doom; he also preached the Gospel, as in our text today. The Law Micah preached was that, for their sins, Jerusalem would fall. The Gospel was that the Lord would return them from exile. He wouldn’t be angry at them forever. But, then it goes further. We heard these words, “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love.” That’s the returning part. Then it goes further, “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”[2] Not only would the Lord not retain His anger against His people, but He return them from exile, He would also make their sins plain disappear – like treading them underfoot and casting them into the sea.

II.

The thing is, we shouldn’t hear the preaching of the Law to God’s people in the Old Testament as if it’s something alien from us or has nothing to do with us. The same things which happened among Israel and led to the Fall, are present and continue in our lives. We do the same things. Maybe we think we’re better than they were because we can more easily sin in secret. Let’s examine ourselves for a moment and see where things really stand. A few minutes ago, I mentioned the sins that were prevalent among the people of Jerusalem; let’s compare ourselves.

The people of Jerusalem committed idolatry. They built idols and worshipped them. In our lives, what do we value above all other things? What do we spend our money doing, improving, and protecting? Be honest, if the answer isn’t Jesus and the forgiveness of sins, we’re committing idolatry and we are idolaters. Have we been as faithful to our spouses and as supportive of God’s institution of marriage as we could be? If not, we’ve broken the Sixth Commandment. Have we returned to the Lord in our offerings as regularly and as much as we should? If not, we have been covetous of the money and possessions that really belong to the Lord. That’s Commandments 7, 8, 9, 10, and 1. The same things which God’s people did then, the same sins they committed, we also do. That’s the second function of the Law. The Law first says what we should and shouldn’t do, then it shows that we still do them. We are sinners.

The wonderful thing, though, is that it’s not just the Law that Micah preached that also applies to us, but the Gospel, too. “Who is a God like You,” Micah asked, “pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression.”[3] Though we deserve God’s anger and wrath, because we have transgressed against God’s Commandments, He has made His anger pass from us. Rather than demand our deaths for our sins, the Father placed His anger, wrath, and the punishment we deserve on His only-begotten Son. Jesus bore our sins and the sins of the whole world most willingly, because He knew that His death and His resurrection would bring this result, “our sins [are cast] into the depths of the sea.”[4]

In Christ’s death, all our sins were cast as into the deepest, darkest, and furthest depths of the ocean. There is no sin that He did not die for, no transgression for which He did not atone. By nature of His being God, His death covers all sin, even our own. By His grace, through faith in Him, we are spotless in God’s eyes. Through Christ, God looks down upon us with only His Fatherly, divine, goodness and mercy. He does not wait and watch to use our sins against us, but He delights to show His steadfast love toward us. He has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west.

In this, God has made good on His promises. He has shown His faithfulness to Jacob and His love to Abraham. In Christ, God has tread our sins and Satan underfoot, just like He promised in Genesis 3. In this the love of God has been shown to us: He has taken our sins and thrown them into the depths of the sea. Instead of anger, He shows us only compassion and steadfast love. And, just like when we drop something in the lake, once it’s gone, it’s gone. So, also, our sin and guilt. Thanks be to God.


[1] Micah 7:18-20, English Standard Version.

[2] Micah 7:18-19.

[3] Micah 7:18.

[4] Micah 7:19.

The Parable of the Great Banquet

Text: Luke 14:15-24

What do you do when you’ve prepared a large party and no one comes? Hopefully, this is a hypothetical question and you’ve never had this happen. Still, it’s sometimes a fear people have. You put together a meal; you put up decorations. For weeks, you procrastinate cleaning the house – and then you finally do it. But, what if nobody comes? Do you just quietly take everything down and pretend it never happened? This is the question the master of the house had to face in today’s parable. He put together a feast, sent out the invitations, and no one came. But, instead of calling off the party, the master called those who were night previously uninvited so that his house would be full.

In this parable, God is the master of the house. The great banquet is the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. Those originally invited are the children of Israel who were audience to preaching of the prophets. The poor, crippled, blind, and lame are the tax collectors and sinners who received the preaching of John the Baptist and our Lord. The ones out on the highways and hedges are the Gentiles; they are us. So that His house may be filled, our Lord calls those who were previously uninvited – even us – to His wedding feast.

I.

Our text today was preached by our Lord on a Sabbath evening. It was His custom to teach in a synagogue during the day – after all, He was a rabbi. Then, in the evening, He would often times be invited to a meal in someone’s house. For example, we know He ate in Matthew’s house, and also in Zacchaeus’. In our text, Jesus is eating in the home of a ruler of the Pharisees. This was an interesting evening, because by this point Jesus had already healed a man – which one was not supposed to do on the Sabbath. Jesus pointed out that if any of them had an ox or son that had fallen into a well, they would totally pull him out – how much more so, then, for the man who was suffering from dropsy?

Over the course of the evening, Jesus noticed how everyone there was trying to choose places of honor to sit in and told a parable about humility. Then, when someone tried to justify himself, our Lord told the parable we have today. The parable goes like this: there was “a man who once gave a great banquet and invited many.”[1] When everything was ready he sent out his servant to call those who were invited, but one-by-one they all made excuses. One bought a field, one bought oxen, another was married and just wanted to stay home. The servant went back and told these things to the master, who became very angry.

Instead of calling off the party, the master had another idea. He sent out his servant again. This time, the master said, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”[2] Now, the servant went out and did that. The servant came back later and said, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.”[3] One last time, the master sent out his servant – this time to the people outside of the city, the ones on the highways and hedges. The master told his servant to compel them to come in because in that culture an unexpected invitation must always be turned down. The master wants his house full, but, he said, “I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”[4] And with that, the parable ends.

II.

To understand this parable, it’s important for us to remember the context and the occasion Jesus gave it at. Remember, it was a Sabbath evening meal in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. In other words, Jesus spoke this to a group of religious leaders and elite. These were the same sorts of people that had a deep animosity toward Jesus, who would later demand His crucifixion. They and their fathers before them resisted and killed the prophets, and they would continue their evil work with some of the Apostles and early leaders of the Church. Jesus was telling this parable about who’s going to be in the kingdom of God, and it wouldn’t be them. The religious leaders and elites, the ones who claimed to be sons of Abraham but did not share Abraham’s faith – these are the ones represented in the parable by those who made excuses.

In ancient culture, when you held a feast you would send out two invitations. The first, when it was decided you’re having a feast; a second, announcing that the time had come. The feast in the parable is the wedding feast of the Lamb and the first invitation went out repeatedly through the prophets – from Adam on up. When John the Baptist and our Lord came preaching, they were announcing that the feast had started, and everyone should come, but they wouldn’t have it. They made up excuses and reasons not to believe. Therefore, as the master said, they would not taste the feast.

Many of the Pharisees, scribes, chief priests, and elders wouldn’t heed Christ’s invitation, but you know who did? The tax collectors and sinners, the outcasts of Israel. They heard the Lord’s preaching of the Law and Gospel, they were moved by the Spirit to repentance and looked forward to our Lord’s work on the cross. These are the ones in the parable called, “the poor and crippled and blind and lame,” who were in the streets and lanes of the city.[5] Though they were invited, they had been taught that they weren’t welcome because they were sinners. But, that is precisely whom Jesus came to save and call. This is what St. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”[6] Then, when the servant had brought in the outcasts to the meal, and there was still space, the master sent him to those outside the city.

III.

Up to this point, the parable has been about the Jewish people, the children of Israel. Those who rejected Jesus were like the ones in the parable who made excuses not to come to the feast, even though they had been continually invited through the prophets. In place of the religious elite, it would be the tax collectors and sinners eating with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They heard Jesus’ preaching and repented of their sins, looking to Him for forgiveness. So that his house might be totally filled, the master sent out the servant to call those outside the city, which are the Gentiles – people not descended from Abraham; us, even. Jesus showed here that He did not just come for one race or clan or people, but to be the savior of the whole world. Just like He said, when He is raised up He will draw all people to Himself.

We are included in those the master invited from outside the city. Only, our separation from the feast wasn’t just a geographical separation, but the separation of sin. St. Paul wrote in the epistle that we were once alienated and far off away from God. He said earlier in the same chapter that we were, “dead in trespasses and sins,” being by nature, “children of wrath.”[7] That means that, since the Fall into Sin, we are all by nature sinful. We sin in our thoughts and words and deeds. We sin by what we do and don’t do. If there’s any people who don’t deserve to be invited to the joyous feast of heaven, it is us.

Yet, since God is love, He wants the feast to be full. So, although many in Israel fell away, the Lord sent the invitation out into all the world. The invitation is His Word. By the Word of the Lord, He compels us to enter the feast. He shows us by the Commandments that we are sinful and unclean and that there is nothing we can do to gain our way into heaven. Then, by His Word of Gospel He shows us that way into the feast is not through our efforts but through the cross. By His death and resurrection, Jesus made full satisfaction for sin, even for all people, even for sinners like you and me. Like the outcasts and those outside the city in the parable, we are invited in to Christ’s feast; and all this, by God’s grace and mercy.

This parable is one of rejection and grace. Unfortunately, many of those who were invited through the prophets refused to enter the great banquet. But, so that the hall might be full, the master sent out his servant to call the outcasts and the uninvited. Such were we. So, what do you when people don’t come to your party? Apparently, you invite more. Such has God done for us through Christ. Thanks be to God.


[1] Lk. 14:16, English Standard Version.

[2] Lk. 14:21.

[3] Lk. 14:22.

[4] Lk. 14:24.

[5] Lk. 14:21.

[6] 1 Tim. 1:15.

[7] Eph. 2:1, 3.

“Love of God and Love of Brother”

Text: 1 John 4:16-21

Love of God and love of brother: these things go together. Peanut butter and jelly, pancakes and syrup, mashed potatoes and gravy, vanilla ice cream and root beer; these things also go together. When one part of those things is missing, we definitely notice. You can’t have a PB&J without the PB or the J; you might not want to have pancakes without syrup. Mashed potatoes without gravy is plain wrong. With these things, we recognize that two elements go together to give the complete experience. Without both things, you don’t have it. Same with love of God and love of brother.

St. John said toward the end of our text, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”[1] St. John meant to teach his flock that the love of and for God is expressed not just in private devotion and prayer, but also in works of love for our fellow man. And, actually, there is a causal relationship between the two, because the faith and love of God which has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit causes us to bear the good fruits of love. A good tree bears good fruit, our Lord once said. Where these fruits are lacking, where the love for neighbor is absent, there is cause for concern. For instance, we heard about the rich man and Lazarus. In our text today, we learn that the love of God, which He demonstrated for us by sending His Son, causes us also to love those around us.

I.

Our text today from St. John’s first epistle picks up in the middle of a discussion he’s been having about love. In fact, St. John writes a lot about love; perhaps, even more than St. Paul – though we give him all the credit for 1 Corinthians 13. But, rather than talk about love from below – from our human perspective – St. John talks about love starting at the top; He starts with its source – God. After all, as he said in our text, “God is love.”[2] What St. John means is that God in His essence is love – perfect, complete, and total love. Now, God is also other things – Scripture also calls God just, holy, righteous, and good. However, according to St. John, all love finds its source and definition in God alone.

We have come to know and believe the love that God has for us,”[3] he said. Not only is God love in its divine, perfect, and purest sense, but He has demonstrated that love toward us. How? By sending us His Son. St. John said earlier in our same chapter, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”[4] St. John writes of the divine work of God, our justification. For us, and for our salvation, God the Father sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh to suffer and die on the cross. By this we know the love God has for us, and what our understanding of love should be.

The Biblical definition of love is love that is self-sacrificial, that gives without counting cost – even to those who are undeserving and unthankful. For, isn’t that what we are as sinners? Each and every one of us is self-centered by nature, not self-sacrificial. We do what we want, at whatever cost, it sometimes seems. If that means going against God’s Word and will, our sinful nature often says, “so be it.” Then, no sooner do we come and confess our sins – and receive forgiveness – than do we show shallow thankfulness by falling back into the same sinful patterns we were in before. We have neither deserved forgiveness, nor have we earned it – quite the opposite – yet God’s love for us was shown in this way: for us dark and depraved sinners, He sent the Light of the World to die in our place and for our forgiveness.

II.

If God so loved us that He sent His Son to die for us cold and unthankful sinners, and even continues to forgive us when we repent and confess our sins, in the words of St. John, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”[5] He said also in our text today, “this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”[6] This is maybe what we can call the “meat” of today’s text. St. John wrote this because, as we have today, there were many in his time – already – who claimed the name of Christian yet lived otherwise. There were many who were glad and content to hear the Word but resisted the Spirit’s work in their lives. The evidence brought up in this Epistle, was that these people did not live in love. Their lack of love for their brother showed their lack of love for God.

Therefore, St. John encouraged his faithful flock to abide in God’s love, and so abide in Him. To abide in God’s love is to remain connected to the heavenly vine. God showed His love for us by sending His Son to die for us, and that same Son gives that love to us through His gifts of Word and Sacrament. To abide in God’s love is to continue to receive these things faithfully and regularly. But there is another aspect to abiding in God’s love, and that is St. John’s focus today – love of God and love of brother are two sides of the same coin. The rich man from our parable today found himself in Hades not primarily for his lack of love, but for his lack of faith. The fact that he did not lift a finger to help the beggar at his gate was proof that in his heart he did not believe in the mercy of God.

As God has called us to faith by the preaching of the Word and the washing of Holy Baptism, and by the Holy Sacrament, and has continued to sustain and strengthen us in the faith, He now leads and causes us to love those around us. And this love is not a human love, but a perfect love, St. John said. The love that God has given us has been poured into our hearts, and it’s a love that is self-sacrificial. It’s a love without fear, a love that does not count cost. It’s a love that gives without expecting return – even to those who do not deserve it, or who are unthankful. And, why? Because that’s how God has loved us.

III.

Having heard these words of exhortation from St. John, though, we might realize that the love we have received from the Lord, we have not shown to others. At least, not fully, and not all the time. At times, we’ve been plain unloving. We have deemed people unworthy or undeserving of our love. When they’ve been unthankful – or not thankful enough – we’ve felt justified in removing our love from them. Though we’ve been called to love, we have not. We have sinned.

When the rich man called out to Abraham from Hades, Abraham directed him back to the Scriptures. We would do well to heed his advice, for in the Scriptures, we find that God so loved us – undeserving, and sinful as we are – that He sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh to redeem us from our sins. And though we continue to be sinners, He continues to forgive us by sending pastors to absolve us in His stead and by continuing His Sacraments among us. When we find ourselves to be unloving, what do the Scriptures say to do? Repent and confess our sins, be forgiven, and, by the Spirit’s aid, begin again.

Love of God and love of brother go together. Two sides of the same coin, like peanut butter and jelly, mashed potatoes and gravy, green eggs and ham. You can’t have one without the other. So that we might have both, God showed His love for us by sending His Son. By abiding in His love, we are caused to love our brother. St. John said, “We love because He first loved us.” Amen.[7]


[1] 1 John 4:20, English Standard Version.

[2] 1 Jn. 4:16.

[3] 1 Jn. 4:16.

[4] 1 Jn. 4:9-10.

[5] 1 Jn. 4:11.

[6] 1 Jn. 4:21.

[7] 1 Jn. 4:19.