Advent: the arrival of a notable person or event. Conspiracy: a secret plan to do something harmful. The advent conspiracy: the arrival of a notable person who has a secret plan to do harm, to do harm to the way of life that people accept as normal. The wisdom that people accept as normal.
701 B.C. The city of Jerusalem. A city that is facing a refugee crisis. It’s a crisis that began years before when the nation of Israel fell to the nation of Assyria. Large numbers of panicked people ran from the Assyrian onslaught, because they knew what was coming their way: either death or deportation. So they ran, looking for refugee in their southern neighbor: Judah. The influx or refugees put a severe strain on Judah in terms of finances, places for people to live, and the other trauma the refugees carry with them. Added to this was the increased defense costs that Judah had to keep the Assyrians at bay. That was the first refugee crisis, now there is a second. As Assyria makes its way through Judah city after city is falling and people are rushing out of places like Moresheth, Addullam, and Lachish. They are rushing out and rushing to Jerusalem and one of the refugees rushing toward Jerusalem is a prophet by the name of Micah.
It’s the refugee crisis of 701 B.C. How do you handle, think about the refugee crisis? A bit of the unexpected: you don’t start with the refugees; at least that’s not where God wants the people of Jerusalem to start. He has a different spot. Take out your Bible and turn with me to Micah 6. God is speaking to the people of Judah,
“My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.” Micah 6:3–5 NIV11
It doesn’t start with refugees, it starts with an encounter with God. Here’s what we need to know: when we are dealing with a refugee crisis, when we are dealing with any crisis in life the best place to begin is with an encounter with God.
So in this refugees crisis what does God want us to encounter about him? God points out two Acts in particular. The one is from Numbers 21-23 where the people of are making their way to their new home. As they do they are going through the land of Moab where Balak is king. The second one God talks about is the people as they enter the promised land, as they get ready to enter into their new home. In both of these places this wandering people encounter God, encounter his righteous, his saving acts on their behalf.
Let’s step into that God encounter by heading to Shittim first. Listen to these words from Joshua,
…Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.” And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites… Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. …when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.” (Josh 3:7–13 ESV)
Here’s what we need to know. The people of Israel are going to cross the Jordan during the spring when the Jordan River is at flood stage. There is no time during the year when the Jordan runs faster, higher, stronger. But it is not just about the Jordan being at flood stage, it is about the god who is behind it. The god is Baal. Baal is a nature god. The people of Canaan look to him for bringing fertility, crops, renewal of life every spring. Baal is not only a nature god he is the god who controls the waters–including the Jordan. So what we have as the people of Israel stand on the East shore of the Jordan is the time of year when Baal is at his greatest power. This is the time when no other god should be able to challenge him. But just the time when Baal is at his most powerful Yahweh stops the waters–and from the account he stops the waters without breaking a sweat.
When God stops the waters, he moves his people forward, he brings them closer to their salvation when they possess the land. But is more than that: God’s message to all of Canaan that Baal is no god at all, that Baal doesn’t control all the earth, that Baal is not king of the earth, God is. And that whatever wisdom Baal would tell people they have to live by, it has no true power to bring life. It is the ways and wisdom of the saving God that triumph.
An encounter with God: God brings salvation to his people he declares: “I am the Lord of all the earth.” I care for and rescue my people, there is no God like me. An encounter with God in the book of Numbers where no matter how hard Balak tries to get Balaam to curse the people of Israel, God will not allow it, he will not allow his people to be cursed, he protects them, rescues them and as he does these words come from the mouth of the prophet Balaam
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth. Edom will be conquered; Seir, his enemy, will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong. A ruler will come out of Jacob and destroy the survivors of the city.” (Numbers 24:17–19 NIV11)
It is an amazing promise of a great king who will save God’s people. But as so often happens, the battle field where all of this takes place looks so different than was imagined. 1500 years pass, it is a darkened darkened Friday afternoon as Jesus hangs like a lamb in a butcher’s shop. As one surveys the scene it is hard to imagine that this is a battle ground. If anything it looks like the place where the battle has already been fought and what you see is the execution of the prisoners. Be that as it may, a battle is going on. The powers of darkness are doing their worst to destroy Jesus, destroy the hope that he brings of renewed life for people and renewal for all the cosmos. Apparently the powers of evil believe if they can kill Jesus they can win the day, that God’s plans will come to an end. Isn’t that how it works, after all. Power, visible power is what wins the day. No victory could possible be won by surrender, by giving yourself away. The powers of evil believe that they will have won the day, won the war, that they will be secure once Jesus is dead.
They are not. In something that we do not fully understand, perhaps because of our addiction to power and might, it is on the cross, through the suffering of the cross, and his death on the cross that Jesus defeats the powers and principalities. It is on the cross that he stops the waters. And in his resurrection it is made clear that he is Lord. As we read in Romans
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets… concerning his Son, who was… declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord… Rom 1:1–4 ESV
Jesus who was crucified is the one who rescues, who saves his people. Who sets them free from sin and death and opens the door for them to be part of his advent conspiracy. And by the way, when he is raised from the dead it shows that what he has taught, the way he calls us to do life is in fact the wisest and best way to do life, no matter what the powers of this world and the powers of darkness tell us. This is so true that Paul writes to the church of Colossae and says,
“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2:2–3 NIV11
A God encounter. An encounter with the righteous acts, the saving acts of God. A God who cares so deeply for his people, who is so committed to keeping this promises to his people that he stops the waters, dies on a cross. Both of which amazingly show he is king of the earth, that no other power or authority can stand up to his wisdom, his ways or his power. Both of which all out a response by those who say they are his people.
Before we move on this is place we need to stop. We need to stop and pick up two words from Micah 6. The two words: “Remember” and “Know” Look at verse 5
My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.” Micah 6:3–5 NIV11
Remember. To remember means something significant, it means that you are making a commitment to the God who has done these saving acts, you are saying, “He is my God, I am his child, and I am part of his people who are learning to live his ways of wisdom in the world.” To remember is not just a nod of the head, saying, “yep that happened”, no, it is a commitment of your life to the God who made these things happened, who is the Lord of all the earth, the Lord of all wisdom.
Know: To know is to say that this reality of the God who has carried out his righteous acts is not some head knowledge, but he has made his way into my heart. He is imbedded in my life.
Remember and know are so important because what comes next is built on the foundation of remembering and knowing the righteous acts of the LORD. If we don’t remember and know then what he tells us will make little sense. If we don’t remember and know then we will not be moved to respond how he tells us to respond.
So here is that important question: do you truly remember and know the righteous acts, the saving acts of the LORD? Do you remember and know those acts in the way the Bible speaks of so that it leads to an anticipation right now of discovering what the God who saves tells us what it means to live a wise life?
So the people of Jerusalem are dealing with a refugee crisis. As they deal with that refugee crisis God tells them the place to start is not with the refugees but remembering what was the truth of their life and his saving work in the desert and as they crossed the Jordan into the promised land. With that God encounter in their hearts, now they can move forward,
“With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6–8 NIV11)
The response of the people to what God has done is to offer him really great worship. To bow down, to bring burnt offerings, to go so far as to offer their child to God. God’s response: no, that’s not at the heart of how you response to my righteous acts. The way you respond to my righteous, saving acts is by bring people who are a people of righteous, saving acts, who walk in the ways of my wisdom. As the writer of Proverbs says,
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” Proverbs 3:5–8 NIV11
Righteous, saving acts that are marked by justice. Something we need to know about justice it is not just an add on in our lives. No, justice is central to everything we do, every part of life. With every good endeavor of our lives from our relationships to our work to our hobbies—none of these can be pursued without incorporating justice. Ken Wytsema in his book, Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things writes,
One of my fellow pastors once stated that it was fine for me to preach about justice, as long as I started giving equal time to other areas of the Christian life, such as marriage and spiritual growth. I realized I’d failed to communicate that justice is universal We can study justice by itself, but we must also incorporate it when we study nearly every other subject, from marriage to spiritual growth—for justice is what ought to be. Justice involves harmony, flourishing and fairness in every part of life. It flows from the image of God in each person.
So when I living responding the the righteous, saving acts of God I ask in my marriage: what is justice? What should my marriage be like? I ask in my job, what is justice in my company? What does it mean that each person here flourishes, is treated as an image bearer of God? Justice is not just a sideline, it informs all we do. I ask in my neighborhood: what does justice, flourishing look like for my neighborhood?
Righteous and saving acts that are marked by mercy: The Hebrew word is Hesed and it means to show loyalty and lovingkindness. The idea of mercy is rich and powerful in the Bible because our mercy flows not from a feeling, but from loyalty to others who are created in the image of God, it flows from a loving-kindness that comes from our being loved by God. This mercy is about healing. About all kinds of healing. Healing broken bodies, healing broken minds, healing broken spirits, healing addictions that destroy both bodies and souls. Let’s pick up the healing souls piece. People who are merciful care deeply about broken bodies and minds, and they care deeply about broken souls, about people who are alienated from God and who need to find their way back to God through Jesus Christ. They know that helping people find their way back to God is not just a matter of healing for this lifetime but that means healing for eternity. Merciful people are willing to sacrifice time, energy, resources, even some of their reputation to reach those with sick souls.
The advent season can be a rich opportunity to reach out to people whose souls are longing for more, to invite them to one of our Christmas eve services, to introduce them to the God who is merciful. Think for a moment: who do you need to invite here, an invitation that shows that you are person of mercy for a person who needs mercy.
Righteous and saving acts that are marked by justice and mercy. In the context of our passage in Micah there was a particular area they needed to work through as they re facing a refugees crisis they had to ask, “What does justice and mercy look like for the refugee?”
Here is what it doesn’t look like according to Micah,
“The voice of the LORD cries to the city— and it is sound wisdom to fear your name: … Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales and with a bag of deceitful weights? Your rich men are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.” (Micah 6:9–12 ESV)
Notice the first thing: wisdom—what is wisdom? Wisdom is fearing God’s name or putting it another way, wisdom is doing life the way God tells us to do life. Wisdom is living a life of righteous and saving acts that are marked by justice and mercy. Wisdom is not following the ways of Baal or of the powers of darkness, wisdom is not following the ways of Christmas advertisers, wisdom is not being people who are alway hankering for just a little bit more, wisdom is not running after immorality, or the latest new shinning thing. Wisdom is living a life of righteousness and saving acts that are marked by justice and mercy.
Because wisdom is not these things and instead it being a people of righteous and saving acts that are marked by justice and mercy, that means that this is the best way to do life. When we are looking for a life that is truly life, when we are looking for ways to bring healing to our soul, when we are seeking to bring hope into life, we know that the wise way of life, true life flows from belonging to community of people who belong to the God who has carried out his righteous and saving acts on our behalf and now calls us to be a people of righteous and saving acts. That is life.
Notice the second thing. The central failure in doing righteous and saving acts marked by justice and mercy in this instance it about business. A refugees flood the city businesses raise their prices to make a tidy profit and when people call them out, they shout down the complaints, the lie, they deceive.
How different this is than being a people of righteous and saving acts. How different than the way things are supposed to be when it come to business—as it treats refugees, but also in general as those who lead pursue righteous and saving acts . There is this amazing verse in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 11.10 says,
“When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.” (Proverbs 11:10 NIV11)
When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices. Rejoices: celebrates, dancing in the street kind of rejoicing when the righteous prosper. Why does a city shout for joy when the righteous prosper? Because when the righteous prosper, everybody has an opportunity to prosper. Amy Sherman in her book, Kingdom Calling writes,
Because the righteous view their prosperity not as a means of self-enrichment or self-aggrandizement, aggrandizement, but rather as a vehicle for blessing others, everyone benefits from their success. As the righteous prosper, they steward everything-their money, vocational position and expertise, assets, resources, opportunities, education, relationships, social position, entree and networks-for works-for the common good, for the advancing of God’s justice and shalom.
When we learn that we are to be those who bringing rejoicing to the city because we disadvantage ourselves for the good of others, when we learn this we start becoming those who are forever looking for ways through all that we have to be a people of righteous and saving acts marked by justice and mercy.
As refugees streamed into Jerusalem, God was looking for business people who would rejoice the city. A rejoicing that was rooted in their remembering, their knowing their rejoices that God had carried out righteous and saving acts on their behalf. A rejoicing the city that when they stopped and thought for a moment, they knew it was the only wise way to live.
Advent: the arrival of a notable person or event. Conspiracy: a secret plan to do something harmful. The advent conspiracy: the arrival of a notable person who has a secret plan to do harm, to do harm to the way of life that people accept as normal.
We need some harm done to our normal way of doing life, for our normal is not bringing us the life we need and the world needs from us. We need the abnormal in this advent season rooted in an encounter with God,
He has told you…what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6.6-8
How will you switch the normal for the abnormal this Christmas week? How will you first encounter God, the God of all the earth, the God who saves? How will you having encountered him do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?