More Than a Pardon

Micah 7:18-19 Who is a God like Thee, who pardons iniquity and passes over the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. Yes, Thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

A prisoner who is pardoned is set free from the sentence imposed by society without paying the legal penalties for the crime committed. A pardon may be granted to a prisoner for any number of reasons--including good behavior, family needs or even political pressure. But in every case where a legal pardon is granted, it is not because the offender has been proved innocent--otherwise it would not be a pardon. In a pardon, the guilty party is excused but not exonerated.

When God forgives us for our sins, His forgiveness is more than a pardon. We are not only excused--we are also exonerated. We are justified, that is, made righteous in God's sight. Second Corinthians 5:21 states that in Christ we "become the righteousness of God." To be recognized as having attained to the standard of the righteousness of God is certainly more than a pardon! How is this possible? It is because the perfect Son of God, as our substitute, suffered the death penalty for our sins upon the cross. Romans 3:25-26 declares that because Christ satisfied God's righteous claims concerning our sins, God is both "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Thus Christians receive much more than a pardon from the consequences of their offenses against a holy God. To be excused and forgiven would be fantastic enough, but in Christ our offenses are completely removed and we are declared righteous--just as if we never sinned. How wonderful! How great is our God!

The prophet Micah writes about this magnificent truth in the closing chapter of his prophecies. In two verses of Hebrew poetry, Micah joyfully extols our God, who gives us more than a pardon. In context, the blessings of these verses are specifically addressed to the Hebrew people because of God's unconditional promises to them under the Abrahamic covenant. In verse 20 we read, "Thou wilt give truth to Jacob and unchanging love to Abraham, which Thou didst pledge to our forefathers from the days of old." These promises to the Jewish people will be ultimately fulfilled because of the completed work of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. But these great blessings certainly apply now to all who are in Christ by faith. As Christians, we already have the undeserved position of having more than a pardon from God Himself.

The prophet Micah lived in a day when the majority of the people in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were not following the Lord. In fact, it was during Micah's time that God allowed the northern kingdom of Israel to fall at the hands of the Assyrian empire, in about 722 B.C. The truth of Micah's prophecy of judgment on Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, can still be seen today. "For I will make Samaria a heap of ruins in the open country, a place for planting vineyards. I will pour her stones down into the valley, and will lay bare her foundations" (Micah 1:6). Visitors to the ancient site of Samaria see fulfilled prophecy before their eyes. Grapevines and fruit trees are growing amidst the tumbled stones and ruined foundations of the once proud city.

The southern kingdom of Judah survived about 150 years longer than the northern kingdom of Israel. Micah's ministry spanned the reigns of three of the kings of Judah (Micah 1:1). Although Jotham and Hezekiah were good kings, they were not able to turn the nation back to God. Even though there was a major revival in Judah during the reign of Hezekiah as a result of Micah's ministry (Jeremiah 26:18-19), it was not enough to turn the nation around. The overall effects of the revival were short-lived, and the nation as a whole continued on in paths of immorality and idolatry. Against this background Micah preached his sermons of judgment. Judah finally succumbed to the expanding Babylonian empire in 586 B.C.--about 100 years after the preaching of Micah.

The moral and spiritual conditions are strikingly similar in our own nation today. Although we still have a number of national leaders who believe in biblical principles, and although we still have many godly men and women sprinkled throughout our land, our nation as a whole is moving farther and farther away from God. Although we still pledge allegiance to "one nation under God," and we still use "in God we trust" currency, and we still sing "God bless America," overall our nation continues its rapid drift away from God's moral standards. "The pursuit of happiness" is being interpreted as an opportunity or an excuse for everyone to "do that which is right in his own eyes." As a result, the number of abortions continues to rise. The gay movement continues to make gains in public acceptance. Pagan practices continue to increase. Violence and illicit sex continue to flood our print and film media. We need a major spiritual reawakening in America--a revival that would start at the grass roots and sweep across our nation. It could happen! Let us pray for a great awakening so that the judgment of God against this land will be delayed and many hopeless people will come to know the God who is still willing to give anyone more than a pardon.

Micah was a contemporary of the well known prophet, Isaiah. While Isaiah was very knowledgeable in international affairs and often spoke and ministered to those in high office, Micah was more of a country preacher and prophet. But there is nothing "back-woodsish" or unsophisticated about Micah's prophecies! As the Word of God, it carries the same "punch" as the prophecies of Isaiah. While a good portion of the book of Micah is characterized by denunciation and doom, there are also "grace and glory" passages. God is not only a God who must judge the sins of His people--He is also a God who can graciously deliver and restore His people. The most familiar of Micah's prophecies is one of these messages of future blessing. In Micah 5, Bethlehem is predicted as the birthplace of the Messiah. The emphasis of this prophecy is not on where the Messiah will be born, however, but on what He will do for His people, Israel. He will arise and shepherd His people and deliver them from every enemy. Israel's greatest days are yet to come.

Our text from Micah 7 also comes from one of Micah's prophecies of blessing. It's already been mentioned that the blessings promised here find their ultimate fulfillment in the future. A portion of the nation of Israel, here called "the remnant of His inheritance," will find that the God they refused when they rejected Christ is a God who graciously and compassionately gives more than a pardon. And we who have already come to know Christ as the true Messiah are even now experiencing these "more than a pardon" blessings. We learn from Micah 7 that our iniquities are conquered. In ancient times an enemy was said to be "underfoot" when subdued, and just so our sins have been trampled upon by our victorious Champion. The Lord has not only passed over our sins, He has looked on our sins as His own personal enemy and defeated them. And this defeated foe will not be permitted to hang around the portals of heaven to plague us with bad memories. All our sins are "cast into the depths of the sea." They are completely removed and will never be brought back and used to put us on a guilt trip. And this is as true for the believer now as it will be then! We don't have to wait until heaven for the Lord to forget our sins. "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12). Our sins are already no longer remembered in God's court of justice. The righteous Judge Himself loves us and will never change His mind about our sins. They are gone forever and "He delights in His unchanging love." Forever we will praise the God who has given us much more than a pardon.

While our response to Micah's message is one of overwhelming thanks and praise to God, we must also consider how such a message should affect our relationship with others. We are told in Colossians 3:12-14, "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love." We must forgive as the Lord has forgiven us? What a seemingly impossible command! And yet this is exactly what God asks us to do.

In view of the magnitude of the love and forgiveness God has given us, we must look carefully at our relationships. Is there anyone with whom I have a grievance? Am I holding a grudge--perhaps longstanding!--against anyone? Is there any situation in my life where I feel unable to forgive and be reconciled? God's Word tells us we mustforgive--as God has forgiven us! "But," you may say, "I have been hurt! I was wronged!" That may be true, but how many times has God suffered grief and been wronged by our sins and our failures? And yet His love for us is unchanging and His forgiveness of our failures goes far beyond a meager pardon!

We all have a tendency to make it the responsibility of "the other party" to initiate some kind of action that will move us toward a pardoning spirit and reconciliation. But let's remember that God took all the initiative in our case. Our challenge, then, as growing Christians is not only to have hearts and lips that give thanks and praise to God for what He has done for us. Our lives must also bring praise to Him by mirroring to everyone (including those with whom we may have problems!) His unchangeable, "more than a pardon" love.
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