Category Archives: Amos

Amos 9: Renovation Rescue

Australians love their home renovation shows. Whether it’s The Block, Burkes Backyard, DIY Rescue, Room for Improvement or Renovation Rescue.

We love to see the transformation from a white ant-infested, crumbling, leaking dump into a stylish, well-crafted and comfortable masterpiece. We love to see the good design ideas, and the hard work, and the clever construction tips. A few arguments between husband and wife, and a few tears doesn’t hurt ratings EITHER.

We love those shows because they’re about the things lots of us LOVE. Aussies love to be self sufficient. And we love to have a go. And we love to improve our HOMES. Because our home is our castle. Home renovation is probably the closest thing we have to a national pastime. Even bigger than fishing or golf.

The latest series of The Block has pushed the concept of home renovation pretty much to the limit. The four houses don’t even have ROOFS. The whole BACK OF HOUSES is MISSING. No walls, or floor or piers. It looks like they’re almost starting from SCRATCH. Which, in SOME ways, would be EASIER, because they wouldn’t have to fix up what’s already there.

Renovation Rescue (11)

But as extreme as THAT renovation is it’s NOTHING compared to the renovation rescue GOD was promising to do for ISRAEL, here in Amos Ch 9. See it there in v11?

11 “In that day I will RESTORE David’s fallen tent. I will REPAIR its broken places, RESTORE its ruins, and BUILD IT AS IT USED TO BE,

We’ve seen over the last few weeks what THE PROBLEM had been. Israel’s idolatry and greed and disobedience had white-anted the whole nation. It was a ruin! Falling to pieces. Nothing like the holy nation of priests God had CALLED them to be.

Back in Ch 7 God had held his plumb line up against Israel. And even though he’d BUILT it square, the footings had sunk, and the building was leaning dangerously to one side.

And even though God had WARNED AND WARNED AND WARNED them. Nothing had changed. The people just shrugged their shoulders, and continued on oblivious. Complacent and comfortable.

And so God had promised he was going to bring in the big machinery. And flatten everything to the ground. And cart it all away. Like that demolition company whose motto is, “All we leave is a memory.”

And the wrecking ball from Assyria was looming large to Israel’s north. Threatening. And God would use them to bring defeat and death and slavery and exile.

“It couldn’t happen to me!” (1-10)

And at the start of Ch 9, we see more of the same. God’s threatening warnings. And he’s got a word for those who think it won’t happen to them.

It’s like those ads for skin cancer on at the moment. The young guy. Fit, active, loved the beach. But didn’t overdo it. Never got burned. Didn’t think it would happen to him. But the little spot was melanoma, and before long, it had spread through his body, and taken his life. Far too young.

And Amos has a word from God for people in Israel who think it won’t happen to them. V1.

9:1 I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and he said: “Strike the tops of the pillars so that the thresholds shake. Bring them down on the heads of all the people; those who are left I will kill with the sword.

This is a vision of God IN THE TEMPLE. Which means there’s NOWHERE safe. He promises to bring the pillars of the temple crashing down on everyone seeking refuge there. He’ll find the guilty EVEN IN THE TEMPLE.

You can’t escape, says Amos, v2, if you dig down to Sheol – the place of the dead. Or if you climb to the heavens. God will drag you back down, and take you.

Mountain tops, or ocean bottoms (v3). Nowhere’s safe. V4 even in EXILE, I’ll find you and slay you. Foreign nations won’t help. God’s eye will fix on you, and disaster will follow.

Or jump down to v7. Don’t expect any special favours because you’re God’s covenant people. God works for ALL sorts of people.

7 “Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?” declares the LORD. “Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the PHILISTINES from CAPHTOR and the ARAMEANS from KIR?

All the same to me, says God. Just because I’ve brought you up out of Egypt doesn’t guarantee you’re safe from danger.

And the section finishes in v10 with God’s declaration,

10 ALL the sinners among my people will die by the sword, ALL those who say, ‘Disaster will not overtake or meet us.’

Hope for a remnant (8-9)

And yet, despite the finality and certainty of that word, God promises HOPE FOR A REMNANT. A small faithful fraction who’ll be SPARED.

We see it so often through the Bible. Side by side with God’s just judgment is his UNDESERVING MERCY. Look there at v8.

8 “Surely the eyes of the Sovereign LORD are on the sinful kingdom. I will DESTROY IT FROM THE FACE OF THE EARTH- yet I will not TOTALLY destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the LORD.

It almost seems a contradiction. Like God can’t make up his mind. Back up at the end of v1 he says, “NOT ONE will get away. NONE WILL ESCAPE.” And in v10, he says, “ALL the sinners will die by the sword.” But here he’s saying he WON’T totally destroy the house of Jacob.

So what’s going on? I reckon the answer is in the picture in v9. Have a look at it. God says he’ll shake the house of Israel AS GRAIN IS SHAKEN IN A SIEVE, and NOT A PEBBLE WILL REACH THE GROUND.

It’s a picture from farming. When harvesters had finished collecting all the grain, they’d put it through a sieve. And the tiny grains – the GOOD stuff – would fall through to the ground. But the rubbish – the rocks and sticks and insects and droppings. All the BIG stuff would get trapped. And WOULDN’T reach the ground.

And that’s what God’s doing with his people. Give them a good only SIFTING. The GOOD grain – and it’s not much of a harvest – will fall THROUGH God’s judgment. But the RUBBISH will be trapped. NOT A PEBBLE WILL MAKE IT THROUGH. Every one DESERVING judgment will cop it. NO ONE will escape.

And that’s the way I think you need to take the other verses about NO ONE escaping. He means no one WHO DESERVES IT will escape. No one who IGNORES GOD’S WARNING. No one WHO’S COMPLACENT will survive.

But there WILL be a faithful remnant.

And THEY’RE the ones who are going to benefit from God’s renovation rescue.

Restore David’s fallen tent – Jesus (Acts 15)

And what a renovation it will be! And it’s going to begin with a NEW KING. V11.

11 “In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be,

The idea of David’s HOUSE is actually one about KINGSHIP. The kingly LINE. Back in 2 Samuel 7, David wants to build God a temple. A HOUSE. But God says, instead, that he’s going to build DAVID a house. A family line. 2 Sam 7 v12. God says

“…the LORD himself will establish A HOUSE FOR YOU: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up YOUR OFFSPRING to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. …16 Your HOUSE and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'”

A family line – a HOUSE – that will endure forever. That’s some impressive construction! We’re looking forward to exploring some old buildings in England. Thousand year old castles. But even those are NOTHING compared with King David’s house!

But by the time we get to Amos’ day. And to King Jeroboam. Things aren’t looking that impressive. It was such a mess, God calls the house A TENT. So fragile, a stiff BREEZE could blow it over.

And yet, God’s promise to David STILL STANDS. And he’s going to RESTORE David’s house into a magnificent structure again. What he’d CURSED Israel with, he’s going to TURN AROUND, and give BLESSING INSTEAD to the remnant.

Beginning with the king.

God had CURSED King Jeroboam. The one in charge of the whole crumbling mess. “With my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam,” he said.

But over the faithful few who survive he’s going to put a NEW king. A king in King David’s line. A new, stronger king over a new, stronger KINGDOM.

Curse becomes blessing. V12. He’d sent foreign nations to INVADE. To push IN the boundaries. But he’s going to turn it around. And this new King David will push BACK the boundaries instead. (v12) (I will restore David’s fallen tent)..

12 so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,”

To bear God’s name means that the nations BELONG to God. That they are his people. That they name his name. And God’s promising that he’ll push back the boundaries until ALL nations are his people.

And while he’d sent FAMINE as curse for disobedience. The faithful remnant are going to experience the very RICHEST OF ABUNDANCE. V13. The harvest will grow so quickly, it will be time to reap again by the time the planter is beginning to sew.

And the grape vines will give so much fruit, new wine will drip down from the mountains themselves.

And v14. Even the EXILE will be turned around.

14 I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. 15 I will plant Israel in their own land, NEVER AGAIN TO BE UPROOTED FROM THE LAND I HAVE GIVEN THEM,” says the LORD your God.

They’re wonderful promises. Stability, security, satisfaction. At least for the faithful few. But there well off into the future. Because Amos brings those promises at the same time as he announces the certainty of judgment, invasion and exile.

Living in better days

So what happened? Well… exactly what God had SAID would happen. Assyria DID invade. 722 BC. And Israel was carried off, and scattered among the nations. Those few who weren’t slaughtered in the invasion.

And years passed. But then, just as God had PROMISED in v14, remarkably, some DID find their way back to Israel. And they began to rebuild. And, just like God promised in v15, they were planted SECURELY. And while things weren’t the paradise that’s pictured here. They SURVIVED.

In fact despite Assyria falling by the way, and Babylon replacing it. And then Greece after THAT, and finally ROME coming on the scene. Those faithful few were STILL there hundreds of years later. Hundreds of years later when THE PROMISED KING finally arrived. The ETERNAL king to rule over David’s house. Jesus, the descendent of the son of the son of the son of the son of King David.

And it was THEN that the renovation rescue for David’s fallen tent REALLY kicked into gear.

He came preaching a similar message to Amos. About repentance and judgment. A message that the Kingdom of God was near.

And while most of Israel reacted just like they had with Amos, there were some who HEARD Jesus’ message, and REPENTED. Like a group of fisherman on Lake Galilee who left their nets and family to follow him. Who quit earning a living to catch MEN instead. And to work at building David’s fallen tent with their NEW king.

Or a tax collector, Matthew, who left his money box and spreadsheets, and followed him. Quit ripping off the poor, to HELP them instead.

And that rag-tag faithful few follow him all the way to Jerusalem. All the way to death on a cross. All the way to a body bag in a sealed tomb.

And then it was that faithful few who witnessed God RAISING his king from the dead. And God’s new renovated house REALLY took on a shine and a sparkle. And that victorious news SPREAD. Spread by those faithful few who took the news not just within the borders of Israel. But, just like God had promised here in v12, BEYOND the borders.

And the trickle became a STREAM. The remnant became a crowd. Because it wasn’t just JEWS who chose to follow the new and improved King David. But GENTILES. NON-Jews. From nations all around. They began naming the name of Jesus. And turning their life of complacent greed and abuse into a life of obedience and service instead. And, just like God had said in v12, all the nations were bearing God’s name.

And then the stream became a FLOOD. SO MANY Gentiles began following Jesus. That the Jews didn’t know what to DO about it. What it should LOOK LIKE to be God’s people.

In fact the Jewish leaders of the church in Jerusalem had to have a conference to work it out. It’s recorded in Acts Ch 15. And it’s worth listening to what they conclude. About why so many non-Jews are turning to follow the Jewish King Jesus.

They hear all the evidence. And then James stands up to conclude. Acts 15 v13. He says

“Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles A PEOPLE FOR HIMSELF. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: 16 “‘After this I will return and REBUILD DAVID’S FALLEN TENT. Its ruins I will rebuild, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, 17 that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’  18 that have been known for ages. 

Did you recognise what James was quoting? Amos! And his point was that if all the Gentiles were streaming into God’s people then you know what TIME it is! It’s God’s promised time of renovation rescue. The last days. “It’s happening now,” says James.

And it’s all coming about because God’s restored the house of David. He’s put David’s descendant, the true King, Jesus on the throne. And all the rest of the blessings are flowing from THAT.

We’ve seen THAT BIT, ALREADY. David’s fallen tent restored.

And we’ve seen the NEXT bit happen, TOO! The news about the Great King David’s GREATER Son Jesus spreading to the nations so that people EVERYWHERE bear God’s name.

No discrimination. Every colour and creed and people and place. All serving King Jesus. All bearing the name of God. All belonging to him. The Lord OUR God. God’s kingdom growing to fill the whole world.

And we’re beginning to see the REST of those blessings flow AS WELL. Blessings of EQUALITY and JUSTICE. Of SECURITY and STABILITY and ABUNDANCE.

Rather than God’s people ROBBING each other, abusing and suing each other. All over the world, God’s people SUPPORT each other. Money and resources and time and prayer criss-crossing the globe as we look after the church WORLDWIDE. No more US and THEM. But BROTHERS.

And all over the world God’s people are right in the middle of the worst of places. Like Paul and Cathy Sampson in the slums of Nairobi. Or Christians working among the prostitutes and street kids in Bangkok. Providing the gentle, no-nonsense, non-judgmental practical help for people from EVERY level. Doing the work that others won’t do. LIVING OUT the character and compassion of King David’s greatest Son. The SERVANT king.

But even closer to home. God is building his kingdom blessings through King Jesus reigning in people’s lives. Within OUR church, Amos would REJOICE to see people looking after each other. Sacrificially and cheerfully giving up their time and money and energy to help out. No fanfare, no marching bands. Just meeting the needs of the saints.

And we’re beginning to see the blessings of SECURITY AND ABUNDANCE flow too.

With NORMAL kings and kingdoms, there was always the risk. The risk that disobedience and sin would bring it all down. Paradise LOST. But when God restored David’s fallen tent – when he sent King Jesus as the ETERNAL king of David’s house. He DEALT with the uncertainty. He dealt with the performance anxiety. He dealt with the disobedience and the curse. He dealt with the oppressors and invaders.

And, through Jesus, God is able to promise us TRUE forgiveness. Intimate fellowship with our God that CAN’T be lost. Eternal stability that can’t be shaken.

Even if EARTHLY tremors shake our foundations. Which is the reality for MILLIONS of Christians worldwide. Even for some of YOU.

But through it all, God promises security EVERY BIT as solid as that pictured here in Amos 9. In Romans 8:35 Paul rejoices

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? …37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And God promises that the security and intimacy and abundance we’re only seeing GLIMPSES of NOW will one day be SO MUCH BETTER. When we get the FULL INHERITANCE Jesus is working out now. When we get the new heavens and the new earth for eternity. When pain and famine and tears and sickness are all gone. When war and injustice and disappointment  and fear are no more.

Is that the security and intimacy and abundance you’re living in confident HOPE for TODAY? Is the presence of God’s Holy Spirit as the deposit guaranteeing that inheritance a real comfort as you long for that day? As you live out those kingdom values as you sacrificially serve his people?

God’s promises are sure and certain. They can be relied on. SHOW your trust in them by WORKING OUT the qualities of God’s eternal kingdom NOW. In our relationships and churches. In our homes. In our dealings with friends and strangers. In our communities. Work out justice and compassion. Work out acceptance and security and stability and abundance. Work out generosity and love.

Do it all because that’s who King Jesus is. The king you love and serve. That’s what his KINGDOM is like. It’s beginning NOW. And we can begin to GLIMPSE it.

But ONE DAY it will be PARADISE.

13 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills. 14 I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. 15 I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,”       says the LORD your God.

Amos 6-8: Bad News

John is house sitting for his brother Jeff – feeding the cat, watering the plants, collecting the mail. Jeff phones to check in, “How’s everything going?”

“Fine,” says John, “except your cat died.”

“What do you mean the cat died? What a shock! You could have PREPARED me for the bad news,” says Jeff.

“How was I supposed to do THAT?” asks John.

“Well,” says Jeff, “FIRST you should have said, ‘The cat’s on the ROOF, but don’t worry, we’re calling the FIRE BRIGADE. They’re doing everything they can and not to worry.’

Then the next time I called you could tell me the cat had FALLEN, but not to worry – the VET was doing everything she could to resuscitate him.

Then, finally, you could have told me, ‘The injuries were too severe, and the cat died.’”

“Fair enough. That certainly seems a better way to break bad news,” said John, “I’ll take that on board.”

“So anyway, how’s mom?” asks Jeff.

“…She’s on the roof.”

Delivering bad news can be TRICKY.

And, mostly, people don’t appreciate RECEIVING it. Just ask Amos. He was happily looking after the sheep in Tekoa. Down south near Jerusalem. When God sent him to the NORTHERN kingdom of ISRAEL. To Samaria. And he gave him a message to proclaim. A BAD NEWS message. That God was ANGRY at their sin. And that JUDGMENT and EXILE was coming.

And the people he delivered the message to DIDN’T TAKE IT WELL.

We’ve been looking at that message for the last two weeks. And we get a good summary of it there at the start of Ch 6.

Woe to you who are COMPLACENT in Zion, and to you who FEEL SECURE on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!

He’s got the ELITE in his sights. The PRIVILEGED. They’re confident and comfortable and complacent. Down to v4.

4 You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. 5 You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. 6 You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you DO NOT GRIEVE OVER THE RUIN OF JOSEPH. 7 Therefore you will be among the FIRST to go into EXILE; your feasting and lounging will end.

The whole country is going to ruin. And the ones who can do something about it COULDN’T CARE LESS.

But it’s not as though Amos takes ANY GREAT DELIGHT in their outcome. He’s no revolutionary dancing in the street as the regime falls. As we move into Ch 7, we see God showing him a vision. A swarm of locusts he was preparing to strip the land clean of crops.

Amos is HORRIFIED.

“Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”

God HEARS the pleas of his servant. Because he’s SLOW to anger. And he LOVES to show compassion. So he RELENTS. “This will not happen,” the LORD said.

But God is also JUST. And he KEEPS HIS WORD. And so he shows Amos ANOTHER vision of his judgment curses. V4.

4 This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: The Sovereign LORD was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land.

Once again, Amos pleads with God to relent. And once more, God DOES. This will not happen, the LORD said.

But then God has A THIRD vision for Amos. A plumb line. For measuring whether a wall is VERTICAL. V8.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. 9 “The high places of Isaac WILL be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel WILL be ruined; with my sword I WILL rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

Bad news indeed. He built a STRAIGHT wall, but now it’s leaning worse than the house JACK built. And God’s patience has run out.

The images and dreams communicate God’s JUSTICE and HOLINESS to the people. And about how he’s SLOW to ANGER. And QUICK to forgive. All part of God’s strategy for delivering bad news.

Receiving bad news

It’s interesting to listen to. Fascinating pictures. But there’s only so much sugar-coating you can give a “bad news” message like that. Like the cat on the roof.

And it’s a difficult pill to swallow. Especially for people as complacent and hardened as these. They’re not great at receiving bad news.

V10. Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, has had enough. He sends a message to Jeroboam, the king of Israel. “Amos is undermining your authority. He’s preaching REBELLION.”

11 For this is what Amos is saying: “‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.'”

Exactly what Amos had been PREACHING. So he obviously got the message across. Just that Amaziah didn’t like what it SAID.

His view was that Amos was RAISING A CONSPIRACY. That he was undermining the king. He says, in v12.

“Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because THIS IS THE KING’S SANCTUARY and THE TEMPLE OF THE KINGDOM.”

“How dare Amos stand up to the authority of King Jeroboam!” Which is ironic really, because the reality is it’s THE PEOPLE who are plotting against the TRUE king, God. THEY’RE the ones who’ve rebelled.

And Amos’ response is, “I didn’t come looking for this. I didn’t go into it for the money.” (v14)

I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

Amos didn’t really have a choice. He wasn’t doing it for the POWER, or the popularity, or the promotional possibilities. God CALLED him, and he HAD to obey.

If only THE PEOPLE thought the same way about obeying.

And because Amaziah refuses to listen, God’s got a special word of judgment for him, too. V17. His own family devastated, his own lands measured up and divided out. And he himself will die in a foreign country. And the chapter finishes,

And Israel will CERTAINLY go into exile, away from their native land.'”

It’s so easy, for those of us who’ve been hearing sermons for decades, to grow HARD to God’s Word like Amaziah. And we don’t even REALISE it sometimes. God’s Word washes over us like water, but doesn’t SOAK IN. We become MARKERS and CRITICS of sermons, rather than humble, repentant sinners who need God’s Word to cut through us. We talk about how good a sermon was because we were ENTERTAINED. Because it had an interesting introduction, or a memorable story, or because it was emotionally powerful, or it taught you SOME NEW FACT about the Bible.

When what we NEED is for the sword of God’s Spirit – his word to be DOING MAJOR HEART SURGERY on us. Cutting through our attitudes and motives and thoughts and words and actions. Comforting and strengthening and rebuking.

When was the last time you heard something FROM GOD HIMSELF? It was like God jumped out of the pages, grabbed you and shook you? When you forgot about the preacher speaking, or the music of the song, or the people sitting around you, and you JUST KNEW that God was talking TO YOU. And he wanted YOU to change?

That’s MY prayer every week I preach. That God would SPEAK to you, and CHANGE you. And it should be YOUR prayer too.

That’s the right way to be receiving news from God.

But it’s nothing like the way Amaziah received news. Together with the rest of the survivors, he’s headed for exile.

Into Ch 8, Amos provides more evidence of the people’s behaviour. It supports the justice of God’s sentence,. They’re ripe for judgment, like a basket of ripe fruit.

V4. They trample the poor

V5. They can’t wait for their festivals and Sabbaths to be over so they can get back to EARNING MONEY. They worship the mighty dollar while they’re SUPPOSED to be worshipping GOD. They skimp the measure, they boost the price, they rig the scales. Piling the floor sweepings into the bag with the wheat.

ANYTHING to boost their profits.

And God’s HAD ENOUGH. Because he’s not just a SABBATH God – a God for the holy days. He’s A SEVEN DAYS A WEEK GOD. A God who watches people do business. And who watches how people treat those who serve you. Who’s looking at people’s honesty and integrity and greed.

And here’s his verdict for Israel. V7.

I will never forget anything they have done. 8 “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?

The days are coming

And then we get a familiar declaration from God. A declaration announcing a day of power and justice and vindication. THE DAY OF THE LORD. There in v9. “In that day…”

At ONE level, Amos is talking about THE EXILE. About Assyria storming the cities and carrying off the Israelites. Just as God had determined. The day of the Lord.

V9. The events will be so monumental, it will be AS IF THE SUN ITSELF HAS BEEN DARKENED.

V10. It will be a day of MOURNING. Like losing YOUR ONLY SON. The future hope for the family.

And v11, the days are coming, when there’ll be A FAMINE. But not a famine of FOOD. Or a drought of WATER. But a famine of God’s WORD. V12

12 Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it.

Amaziah the priest hadn’t WANTED to hear the Word of the Lord. He’d wanted to send Amos back to Judah. And soon God’s going to give him what he WANTS. Silence from heaven. No prophetic voice. Abandonment. Handing them over to coping on their own.

And all those things were fulfilled – at least in SOME sense- when Assyria conquered Israel and carried her into exile.

There was invasion, defeat, death, captivity and exile.

And there was a drought of God’s Word. Prophets continued to speak through the exile. But with the return from Babylon, Malachi preached about 430 BC. And after that, GOD FELL SILENT.

Because when people stop LISTENING to you, you just stop TALKING. And even God’s patience runs out.

And so, for more than 400 years, there was no word from God. 400 years of God’s people just doing things as they thought best. 400 years of (as Amos puts it) SEARCHING for the word of the LORD, but not FINDING it.

And isn’t that something we’re tempted to TAKE FOR GRANTED? (Finding the Word of the Lord?) Isn’t the privilege of hearing the Bible explained week to week something that’s slipped down our list of priorities?

Or the opportunity to meet with other people every week to investigate the Bible, to challenge and pray for each other. Don’t we sometimes GROAN when Home Group night rolls round again? Or else, we come up with an excuse for why it doesn’t MATTER. Or why we’re not IN one.

Or we have twenty five Bibles on our bookshelf, another three on our iphone. But we never get around to READING any of them. They sit there gathering dust.

The statistics on Christians actually reading the Bibles regularly are depressing. The last Australian Church Life Survey showed that only 19% of church attendees read the Bible daily or most days; 27% occasionally – less than once a week, and 37% hardly ever or never.

Is that really much different from the attitude of Amaziah?

I wonder if we’d only APPRECIATE the privilege IF IT WAS GONE. Perhaps we need to be a little more like believers in North Korea or China. Who memorise scraps of Scripture. Who copy it out, and smuggle it around, willing to go to PRISON to protect it. Who CLING to it like life-giving treasure

Which is JUST WHAT IT IS! And we take it for granted!

So, let’s heed the encouragement of Colossians 3:16.

16 Let the word of Christ DWELL IN YOU RICHLY as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

Let’s SAVOUR the Word of the Lord. DRINK DEEPLY of it. Treasure it. Respect it. Pour it out on each other.

Or we risk failing like Israel. Who endured a FAMINE of God’s Word. Not long after Amos, prophecy STOPPED. God was SILENT. And it stayed that way until John the Baptist came. Announcing that THE LORD JESUS HAD ARRIVED. The one who was the LIVING Word. God’s FINAL and ULTIMATE Word.

And it was IN JESUS that we see ANOTHER aspect of Amos’s Day Of The Lord. There in v9 he predicted the sun would go dark at noon. And it would be a day of distress like LOSING YOUR ONLY SON.

At ONE level, it happened like that when Assyria invaded.

But in the DISTANT future, Amos was seeing ANOTHER day of distress. ANOTHER judgment day. A day so dark, the sun goes down at noon. A day when God would pour out his wrath, without mercy, on the guilty.

Amos saw LOCUSTS. And he pleaded for Mercy. And God relented. But it was worse than THAT.

He’d seen FIRE, and again pleaded for mercy. And God had relented. But it was worse than THAT.

God’s ULTIMATE justice was seen. A day when he NO LONGER relented. When all his wrath was poured out, and there was mourning and bitterness like losing an only son.

But the surprising, incredible news of the Bible is that it wasn’t ISRAEL who lost their only Son. Who MOURNED. It wasn’t ISRAEL who bore the wrath and justice of an angry God who’d had enough.

It was GOD HIMSELF. It was Jesus, God’s ONLY SON who bore God’s wrath on himself. He took the just curse God promised to bring.

But instead of God pouring it onto DESERVING SINNERS. On Israel, or on US. He poured it onto Jesus. And the only truly innocent one died a criminal’s death.

Mark 15:33 describes what happened as he hung there on that day. The Day of the Lord.

33 At the sixth hour DARKNESS came over the whole land until the ninth hour.

Isn’t that what Amos had seen? In Ch 8 v9? He’d seen a day of despair and darkness. A day when the sun would go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. A BITTER day like mourning for the loss of an only son.

And while God had turned his back on Israel. (For 400 years there was silence). On THAT day, God turned his back on his SON. Turned away from the one who BECAME sin for us. Mark records it for us.

34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”-which means, “My God, my God, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” 

What a TERRIBLE day! Jesus, abandoned and CURSED by God. And though Israel DESERVED it, rather than HER mourning the loss of an only son. It was GOD HIMSELF mourning the loss of his only Son.

And even the SKY goes dark.

His JUSTICE and FAITHFULNESS demanded JUDGMENT. His LOVE and MERCY pleaded for SALVATION. And in the cross, he achieved BOTH. Judgment for sin. And salvation for the sinner.

It’s a message that seems CRAZY to most people. “A crucified Saviour? Sin deserves judgment? The ONLY way to God?”

It’s BAD NEWS to most people. They either don’t WANT to hear. Or they’re JUST NOT INTERESTED.

But for those of us who GET it. It’s the most beautiful news in the world. It’s music to our ears. It’s an exquisite banquet for our empty stomachs. It’s a message we need to stand up and deliver FEARLESSLY. DESPITE how people might receive it.

Like Amos, we need to say, “God said to me, Go prophesy to your people. Now then, hear the word of the LORD.”

We need to say, like Amos, “The lion has roared, who will not fear. The Sovereign Lord has SPOKEN, who can but prophesy?”

And don’t forget to join your words with PRAYER. Plead for them, like Amos pleaded for the people. Stand in the gap for them. “Yes, they deserve judgment. But THEY ARE SO SMALL. How can they survive? Please FORGIVE them.”

We need to speak up, whatever we might fear about how the news will be received. Because, while God’s judgment is BAD NEWS. That’s only ONE SIDE of the story. His grace and mercy is the GOOD NEWS.

And we have words that BRING ETERNAL LIFE. Words that can open eyes, and unblock ears, and change hard hearts, and break calloused consciences. Words that bring forgiveness and restoration and eternity.

So, speak up FEARLESSLY. WHATEVER the risk. The Apostle Peter wrote his first letter to people being persecuted for their faith. But he still encouraged them to SPEAK UP REGARDLESS. 1 Peter 3:14-16

14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “DO NOT FEAR WHAT THEY FEAR; do not be frightened.”  15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 

That’s the way to communicate the GREAT news we have in Christ. News of judgment and salvation. Of death and life. To be prayerful. To be ready. To have a CONSISTENT LIFE that backs up our WORDS.

And Peter goes on to give a TRUE PERSPECTIVE on whatever suffering we might endure.

17 It is BETTER, if it is God’s will, to SUFFER for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

When it comes to what we’ve RECEIVED. (The righteous dying for the unrighteous to BRING US TO GOD). Nothing matters MORE.

We need to say, like Amos, “God said to me, Go prophesy to your people. Now then, hear the word of the LORD.”

“The lion has roared, who will not fear. The Sovereign Lord has SPOKEN, who can but prophesy?”

Amos 3-5: When God hates church

Let me ask you a personal question. Were you tempted, even just a little bit, just to stay in bed this morning? Not come to church? Because I know, sometimes, we don’t ENJOY church.

Did any of these excuses make their way into your head? It’s too cold. I’m too tired. I deserve some me-time. Church is boring. There’s no one I can relate to. It’s not meeting my needs. There’s too many children. There’s not ENOUGH children. The music is too old. The music is too MODERN. Nobody notices me. Everybody picks on me. There’s too much prayer. There’s not ENOUGH prayer. The sermons are too long. The sermons are too SHORT.”

The excuses and complaints go on and on.

And to be HONEST, I reckon some of that’s NATURAL. We’re HUMAN, and we’re often tempted to do stuff that’s selfish and not good for us. But YOU’RE HERE!

When God hates church (5:21-23)

But what if GOD didn’t enjoy church? What if the shocking truth might be that there are times WHEN GOD HATES CHURCH?

As difficult as that is to imagine, that’s the scene we’ve got here in Amos. Have a look at these shocking verses with me. Ch 5 v21.God’s speaking.

21 “I Hate, I DESPISE your religious feasts; I cannot STAND your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 AWAY with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.

Here was Israel, doing exactly what God required of them. Celebrating religious feasts, bringing burnt offerings and grain offerings. Singing psalms, playing on harps.

But God says he’s not interested. He has no REGARD for them. Worse than that – he HATES it!

That should RATTLE us. UNSETTLE us. If God’s not interested in people’s worship, WHAT’S THE POINT?

So what’s going on? What’s BEHIND it? It’s important we find out. Or else we risk God thinking the same thing about US and OUR gatherings.

Prepare to meet your God (4:12)

And that’s something you don’t want to do. It’s an awful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.

You see, we make a mistake if we come before God FLIPPANTLY. If we take him too lightly. We play a dangerous game when we think it doesn’t matter to God what we do.

Consider who God is, says Amos. This God you serve. Prepare to meet your God. He’s A ROARING LION. Ch 3:8.

8 The lion has roared- who will not fear?

Fearing God – it’s as logical as a lion roaring because it’s caught something. Or people trembling when the warning trumpet sounds. When God roars, people FEAR!

Prepare to meet your God says Amos. This is the God you’re offending. Listen to HIS NAME. 3:15. The Lord, the LORD God Almighty. In Hebrew, it’s Adonai Yahweh Elohim Tsaba’ot.

Adonai means Master.

Yahweh is God’s NAME. It means something like “I am who I am”.

Elohim means “God”

And Tsaba’ot means Almighty, but it also means Armies. GOD OF ARMIES.

Old versions of the Bible translated the phrase as “The Lord Yahweh, God of HOSTS. He is the Commander in chief of HEAVENLY ARMIES. He’s a God of WAR.

THIS is the God who hates your gatherings.

Again and again in these chapters Amos reminds us who God is.

4:13: Yhwh God of armies

5:14 and v15: Yhwh, God of armies

And again in v16. The Lord, The LORD God Almighty – MASTER Yhwh, God of ARMIES.

And finally, the end of Ch 5. V27. The one who’s said all this is the LORD, whose name is God Almighty.

That’s what he’s CALLED. But look at what he DOES. Back in Ch 4 v12

12 “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD, O ISRAEL.” 13 He who forms the MOUNTAINS, creates the WIND, and reveals his thoughts to man, he who turns dawn to DARKNESS, and treads the high places of the earth- the LORD God Almighty is his name.

Or jump down into Ch 5 v8.

8 he who made the PLEIADES AND ORION, who turns blackness into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and POURS THEM OUT OVER THE FACE OF THE LAND- the LORD is his name- 9 he FLASHES DESTRUCTION on the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin,

Powerful, destructive, controlled and controlling. When someone like THAT comes looking for you – WATCH OUT! PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD! Those are scary words. What an awesome, awful prospect.

Is that what YOU thought as you got in the car to come to church this morning?

The problem: Hypocrisy

So what is it that’s got God so angry? What’s Israel done that makes their gatherings such a stench in God’s nostrils?

It’s HYPOCRISY. Being two-faced. Saying ONE thing, but LIVING ANOTHER.

WE don’t like hypocrites – it’s the dishonesty. And we only catches GLIMPSES of the REAL person. But imagine how GOD sees it. You can’t HIDE anything from God, so he sees the big picture. He sees our hypocrisy, even before we see it ourselves. He sees our THOUGHTS and MOTIVES, as well as our secret actions and public ones.

For Israel, it’s the hypocrisy of bringing their sacrifices and offerings ACCORDING TO THE LAW. But wanting nothing to DO with the law in every other area of life.

And so God HATES their pious pretensions and pontificating. When their hearts are black and putrid. And their consciences are stony cold and dead.

Look at the picture in Ch 4 v4. What God sees when he looks at THE INSIDE as well as the OUTSIDE.

4 “Go to Bethel and SIN; go to Gilgal and SIN YET MORE. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years.  5 Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and BRAG about your freewill offerings- BOAST about them, you Israelites, for this is what you LOVE to do,” declares the Sovereign LORD.

On the OUTSIDE, they’re fulfilling their religious obligation. But ON THE INSIDE, they’re BOASTING. Bragging about their virtue. The reality is their religious observance is nothing more THAN SIN.

That’s their attitude DURING THEIR ASSEMBLIES. But it’s an attitude that shows itself ALL THROUGH THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. It’s only a SYMPTOM of pride and selfishness that’s infected the WHOLE SOCIETY. Jump down to Ch 5 v11.

11 You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain.

Or v12

12 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. 13 Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil.

God had TOLD them how to live. The whole book of Deuteronomy. To LOOK AFTER the poor. To make sure there was JUSTICE.

But instead they DO THE OPPOSITE. They take advantage of the poor. Step all over them as they climb the ladder to success.

And there’s only justice for the ones with the biggest cheque books. It’s all so corrupt, the wise man just keeps quiet. There’s no one to complain to.

And the greatest care people have is where their next drink is coming from. Picture in your mind God’s description of “the chardonnay set”. Ch 4 v1. These “ladies who do lunch”.

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”

Is it any wonder God can’t bear to hear their songs of praise, or watch their offerings? He’s not interested in their attention for ONE DAY, when the REST OF THE WEEK they want NOTHING to DO with honouring him.

He’s not interested in their PICKING AND CHOOSING which bits of his law they want to keep. They’ll keep the OFFERINGS AND SACRIFICES bits , but not the JUSTICE AND MERCY bits.

And so God can’t BEAR the hypocrisy.

You didn’t take the hint (4:6-12)

It’s not as if God didn’t TRY to change their behaviour. Again and again he brought about exactly what he SAID he would in his law. Curses for disobedience. In Deuteronomy – the same place where he spelled out how they needed to live. He promises what would happen if they didn’t DO it.

And then he brings it all to pass, says Amos, But you still didn’t take the hint. Look there at Ch 4 v6.

“I gave you empty stomachs in every city… YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord”

I withheld the rain from you… People staggered from town to town for water.. YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord.

Again and again the CURSES. Again and again the CHORUS. “YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord.”

V9. Struck your gardens with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your figs and olives. V10. Plagues, young men killed with the sword. YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord.

Overthrown some like Sodom and Gomorrah. YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord.

So many HINTS. So many WARNINGS. So many CHANCES. But you’re the ultimate slow learners. With the WORST sort of learning difficulties.

And so V12. The report card comes back. Those dreadful words.

12 “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel, and because I will do this to you, PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD, O ISRAEL.”

And on into Ch 5. Not only the promised CURSES for disobedience. But God will bring the promised EXILE – removal from the land he’d given them.

5:1 Hear this word, O house of Israel, this lament I take up concerning you: 2 “Fallen is Virgin Israel, NEVER TO RISE AGAIN, DESERTED IN HER OWN LAND, with no one to lift her up.” 3 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “The city that marches out a thousand strong for Israel will have ONLY A HUNDRED LEFT; the town that marches out a hundred strong will have ONLY TEN LEFT.”

It’s a DREADFUL message. So many taken off into exile, the towns are left like ghost towns. Complete with tumbleweeds rolling down the main street.

What God wants you to do (5:4)

But, as always, there’s some GOOD NEWS to go with the BAD. MERCY in the face of justice. Even in the face of the dire warning, God’s got a message for what he wants his people to do. 5:4.

4 This is what the LORD says to the house of Israel: “SEEK ME AND LIVE;

The God of life and light is the source of SALVATION. Lean on HIM. Rely on HIM for your future. Don’t go searching for EARTHLY protection. V5.

5 DO NOT seek Bethel, DO NOT go to Gilgal, DO NOT journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will surely go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.” 6 SEEK THE LORD AND LIVE, or he will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire; it will devour, and Bethel will have no one to quench it.

Don’t place your hopes in the sacred places. In the rituals and sacrifices. Place your hope IN GOD.

The NATION might be doomed, but if INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES would seek God, then they might yet survive. Seek HIS way instead of THEIRS. HIS good instead of THEIRS. HIS priorities instead of THEIRS.

Down in v14 we see what it would LOOK LIKE to seek God.

14 Seek GOOD, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. 15 Hate evil, LOVE good; maintain JUSTICE in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.

It’s about LIVING OUT goodness, not just SINGING about it. It’s about LOVING justice, not just doing it so you don’t get caught. Live out God’s character in your relationships. Reflect out his goodness and mercy and justice into the world.

Live THOSE THINGS out, and God won’t just be with you in NAME ONLY. Just with your IMAGINATION. He really WILL be with you. Living with you in a real way you can EXPERIENCE and ENJOY.

What a society THAT would be! Down in v24 God expresses his vision. (Get rid of your hypocritical songs and sacrifices, he says). BUT LET JUSTICE ROLL LIKE A RIVER, RIGHTEOUSNESS LIKE A NEVER-FAILING STREAM.

Rolling out from the privileged and powerful. Out to the poor and down-trodden. And out TO THE NATIONS. That they might see the righteousness and goodness and holiness of God. Rolling out refreshment and deliverance. Rolling out relief and life. Rolling out like life-giving rainwater floods across the desert. And the desert springs to life.

That’s what God wants to see. That’s what will make God LOVE their sacrifices and offerings and songs.

When God loves worship

And as we consider Amos’ words TODAY. Two and a half thousand years later and from a distance of 12000 km away. Many things have changed.

History tells us that God didn’t just WARN destruction. He BROUGHT it. And the temple was destroyed, along with all the places Israel in the north sacrificed at as well. And the whole nation was carried off into exile. First, Israel to Assyria. Then Judah to Babylon. And only remnants remained.

God had had enough of their imperfect, flawed, make-do sacrifices and offerings. In fact the WHOLE SYSTEM was obsolete and ineffective. And it needed to be REPLACED, not just DESTROYED.

And so, in the fullness of time, Jesus came to judge the REBUILT temple. And he preached WOE against the hypocrites of HIS day. Who, just like Amos’ day, abused justice and the poor. And who prided themselves on their religious practice.

And Jesus called them whitewashed tombs. Pure white on the outside – where people could SEE. But full of rotting flesh on the INSIDE. With motives and desires that were miles from God.

And then Jesus died as the PERFECT sacrifice. The once-for-all sin offering. The once-for-all guilt sacrifice. And the curtain of the temple. The barrier that separated God from mankind. Was torn in two. Destroyed. So that those who trust his sacrifice can enter. And can MEET God. And can offer him the worship he LOVES. Worship on the basis of ANOTHER’S efforts. Jesus’ PERFECT obedience.

And we can be confident that THAT obedience will ALWAYS be acceptable to God. Because God RAISED JESUS FROM THE DEAD. Declared him – vindicated him – as Lord and Christ and Saviour, and Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And it’s on THAT basis we can come before God. On THAT basis that our worship PLEASES him.

Hebrews 10 talks about THE PRACTICAL DIFFERENCE that truth makes. The previous few chapters are comparing the sacrifice of Jesus to the old, obsolete Old Testament sacrifices.

And in v11, it sums up.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, WHICH CAN NEVER TAKE AWAY SINS. 12 But when this priest (Jesus) had offered FOR ALL TIME ONE SACRIFICE FOR SINS, he SAT DOWN at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 BECAUSE BY ONE SACRIFICE HE HAS MADE PERFECT FOREVER those who are being made holy.

That’s the reality. Those of us who’ve accepted Jesus’ sacrifice in our place have been made perfect. Forever! And then down in v19 we see THE PRACTICAL DIFFERENCE that makes.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have CONFIDENCE to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a SINCERE heart in FULL ASSURANCE of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to CLEANSE US FROM A GUILTY CONSCIENCE and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us HOLD UNSWERVINGLY TO THE HOPE we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may SPUR ONE ANOTHER on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us ENCOURAGE one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Confidence, sincerity, full assurance of faith. Cleansed consciences. Holding unswervingly to hope. Spurring others on. Encouraging others.

That’s the attitude of gratitude God LOVES in worship.

When we come before God on the basis of Jesus’ work, when we appreciate the cross, then we come with the right attitude. We come without PRIDE. We come recognising we have NOTHING OF OUR OWN TO OFFER GOD. And we come with HUMBLE GRATITUDE for all God does on our behalf in Jesus.

And that makes our songs and prayers something that PLEASES God. That ENJOYS him, and GIVES him GLORY.

But it’s not JUST about getting our GATHERINGS right. God was turned off because of how Israel spent THE REST of their week. “I hate your gatherings, he said. “Let justice and mercy flow like a river!”

And God hasn’t CHANGED.

He demands that WE be consistent. That we aren’t hypocrites. We don’t just need to get our HEARTS right. We need to get our HANDS right, because that shows our HEARTS are right. It’s about DEED as well as CREED. WALK as well as TALK.

In the Book of James, James is sick of people who just TALK THE TALK, but don’t WALK THE WALK. 1:22 Don’t just LISTEN to the word. DO WHAT IT SAYS.

1:26:

If anyone considers himself religious and yet DOES NOT KEEP A TIGHT REIN ON HIS TONGUE, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 RELIGION THAT GOD OUR FATHER ACCEPTS AS PURE AND FAULTLESS IS THIS: TO LOOK AFTER ORPHANS AND WIDOWS IN THEIR DISTRESS AND TO KEEP ONESELF FROM BEING POLLUTED BY THE WORLD.

Worship that God loves isn’t just about singing the right songs. It’s not even about getting our hearts and attitudes right WHEN WE MEET. It’s about Monday to Saturday. It’s about thinking twice before you say anything. Every hour of every day. Whether you’re relaxed at home with your family. Or at work. Or at church.

It’s about showing mercy to those who don’t have the benefits and advantages and privileges WE have. Doing it ALL WEEK.

It’s about NOTICING the ones everyone else walks past. About stopping and SEEING them. And HELPING.

It’s about being GENEROUS. Generous with our money, but also with our energy and emotions and time and possessions.

And worship that God loves is about working hard to keep yourself from being polluted by the world. Running away from the dodgy influences. Walking away from the conversation. Turning off the TV or computer. Ringing up a friend when you’re tempted to fall.

And that’s all MUCH HARDER than simply thinking about what we do on Sunday mornings.

Paul puts it like this in Romans 12:

12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to OFFER YOUR BODIES AS LIVING SACRIFICES, holy and PLEASING to God-this is YOUR SPIRITUAL ACT OF WORSHIP. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

EVERYTHING we do is pleasing worship when we do it IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCIES. When we do as a sacrifice of thanks to God for his goodness.

Doing it all because God is SO VALUABLE. And his GRACE SO ENORMOUS.

You see, Church doesn’t start at 10am on Sunday, or even ten past depending on when you arrive. CHURCH BEGINS ON MONDAY MORNING.

Because that’s when you begin to LAY THE PLATFORM for your songs and prayers on Sunday. The platform of a living sacrifice. The platform of justice and mercy rolled out like a river through all your relationships and interactions. The platform of holiness and purity in every area of life. Hidden AND public.

That’s the worship GOD wants to see. 24-7. Not just 10 to 11:30. That’s what he DESERVES.

How pleasing to God is YOUR life of living sacrifice? YOUR spiritual act of worship?

Amos 1-3:8: The God who roars

My favourite sports journalist is Peter Fitzsimons. He’s got a relaxed, distinctive way of writing that’s easy to read. The only time I DON’T enjoy reading him is when he starts to harp on about his belief that there’s no God.

And one of his favourite targets is the Australian golfer, Aaron Baddeley, who’s happy to tell whoever will listen how important following Jesus is for him.

But Fitzsimons thinks that’s RIDICULOUS. That there’s no evidence that God exists. In fact, the evidence says God DOESN’T exist. Let me give you a couple of examples I’ve read.

First up, Aaron Baddeley plays poorly in a tournament, and Fitzsimons writes

And so you see, Aaron Baddeley, I was right AND THERE IS NO GOD. I don’t just mean because you didn’t make the cut at the British Open, after yet more pious posturing on your part beforehand about how God gave you the gift of golfing talent so you can spread the Word, etc, etc, etc …

I mean because if there really WAS a greater being up there surveying the scene and deciding who would win the British Open, then there was only one choice. See, I reckon He would have looked down there and seen Greg Norman on that fourth day, and said…, You, Greg Norman, at the age of 53 are holding a two-shot lead on the final day of the British Open, … You, who have so often been denied when right on the edge of victory, are due some of my favour this time. I’ll sort it out.”

 

But it didn’t happen, Aaron, did it? No, no, no, don’t tell me He moves in mysterious ways. Had enough of that. In that situation, if He existed, He should have, just one lousy stinking time, organised for Norman to get the miraculous victory that he may not have quite deserved, after denying him so many times the great victories he did deserve.

I can see the funny side of that. But behind it, he’s saying that God can’t exist, because if he did he would do a certain thing, or act in a certain way.

Here’s a more SERIOUS comment. Aaron Baddeley’s parent’s house catches fire. And he tweets “2 min to get out. 2 rooms were untouched! Family photos and my golf room with memorabilia! Amazed by God’s protection. 22 years of memories there.”

Fair enough. Aaron can see God’s hand in what was spared and what wasn’t. But he’s Fitzsimons’ cynical response. “Good old God. A pity he couldn’t stop the Christchurch earthquake though, what while saving your photos?”

There’s something IN that, isn’t there?

In other words, if God was REAL, he would have ACTED. He would have STEPPED IN and STOPPED THE DESTRUCTION. Why would he act in something so insignificant, but NOT act to stop something so DEVASTATING?

And it’s the same argument people have ALWAYS used for why they don’t believe in God. “If God really existed, he’d ACT. He’d stop the tsunami! Or he’d end wars. Or he wouldn’t have let my relative die of cancer. Or he would have stopped the car crash. What sort of a God would let stuff like THAT happen?”

If God was real, he’d DO something!

The LORD roars

But what if God DID do something? What if he SEES all the injustice and pain and suffering? And he STEPS IN TO FIX IT?

That’s what the prophet Amos comes to say. That God’s SEEN it all. And he’s HAD ENOUGH.

And he says, “Be careful what you WISH for. Because when God steps in to FIX the mess, he might come looking for YOU!”

He says, “God’s REAL, alright. And he’s SPEAKING. And he’s going to ACT!” Look at his first words, there in v2,

“The LORD ROARS from Zion and THUNDERS from Jerusalem;

You thought he wasn’t REAL. That he’d DIED, or RETIRED, or wasn’t interested anymore. But he’s going to ROAR. And when God ROARS, you better WATCH OUT!

Amos lived around 770 BC. Israel had split into two kingdoms after Solomon’s reign. The NORTHERN kingdom had taken the NAMING RIGHTS. It was called Israel, it’s capital was Samaria. The SOUTHERN kingdom had kept Jerusalem and the temple. It was called Judah.

And that’s where Amos was from. A town called Tekoa, less than 20km from Jerusalem. He’d been a shepherd, but God had given him a message to tell.

It was a message that God WASN’T dead. That he was ALIVE. And WORSE, that he was ANGRY. FURIOUS at sin. And he wasn’t going to overlook it anymore.

The ring of fire

And Amos launches straight into what’s effectively A SONG. Complete with verses and choruses. We could call the song “Ring of Fire.” But it was around a bit earlier than the Johnny Cash version. V3, he begins with the CHORUS. “This is what the LORD says”.

For three sins of Damascus, even for FOUR, I will not turn back my wrath.

And then the VERSE. What Damascus has done that’s got God so angry. She threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth. Some sort of brutal war crime. It might be a farming METAPHOR, or it might be LITERAL. But, either way, because of their violence, God’s going to send FIRE on Damascus.

Then the chorus is repeated, v6.

6 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Gaza, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath].

And then the VERSE. First the SIN. “Because she took captive whole communities and sold them to Edom.” And then the PUNISHMENT. “ I will send FIRE upon the walls of Gaza.”

And again. V9, the CHORUS. This time sung for Tyre.

9 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of TYRE, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath].

For the same sin as Gaza. They sold whole communities of captives to Edom. And the PUNISHMENT. Once again, FIRE.

And the dreadful song continues. “For three sins even for four. I will not turn back my wrath”. V11. Against EDOM for stifling all compassion. V13 against AMMON for ripping open pregnant women of Gilead. Ch 2 v1 Against MOAB for burning the bones of Edom’s king.

And each SIN is accompanied by God’s promised PUNISHMENT. He will NOT turn back his wrath. He WILL send FIRE.

God HATES that sort of behaviour. The hatred and the violence and the callous disregard for human suffering and dignity. And he’s not going to sit back and be silent. Not going to sit on his hands.

All around the people of Israel, God’s promising judgment FIRE. A RING of fire. North, south, east and west.

So much for the scoffers who, like Peter Fitzsimons, say, “Where’s God? If God was REAL, he’d DO something about the suffering!!” Well, God’s GOING to. He WON’T turn back his wrath. He WILL bring FIRE.

And as Israel HEARD Amos’ words, they’d be CHEERING. This is just the sort of action people want to see from their God. Bringing justice on those who deserve it. On the war criminals. On the terrorists. And the murderers. On those who really DESERVE it.

A little closer to home

But then the mood changes. Because God’s attention turns a little closer to home. Ch 2 v4. The familiar chorus, but this time with a sting.

4 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of JUDAH, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath].

And the cheering stops. You could hear a PIN drop. Because it’s ONE thing to judge the nations around. Those who DESERVE it. The war criminals. But ANOTHER THING ALTOGETHER to be angry with THE PEOPLE OF GOD. We’re not sure we want God acting LIKE THAT.

And look at their SINS. It’s ONE thing to get angry for selling whole communities into captivity, or ripping open pregnant women. God gets angry at that stuff no matter WHO does it.

But this is DIFFERENT. It’s PERSONAL. They were HIS PEOPLE. He gave the command: “Stay faithful to me, and don’t follow other gods, or I’ll turf you out of the Promised Land!” That was the deal.

But what had they done? Ch 2 v4.

I will not turn back [my wrath]. Because they HAVE REJECTED THE LAW OF THE LORD AND HAVE NOT KEPT HIS DECREES, because they have been LED ASTRAY BY FALSE GODS, the gods their ancestors followed,

If there’s one thing that gets God hot under the collar. It’s IDOLATRY. Worshipping other gods. When people make “number one”  stuff made out of stone or gold or metal or plastic. Instead of keeping the ONE TRUE GOD as number one.

He HATES it. Because he’s a JEALOUS God. And he can’t stand anything else receiving the honour and worship and obedience that HE deserves. He hates it when his covenant people start to look just like the people around them.

And so God’s going to JUDGE his people JUST LIKE THE REST. “I will send fire upon JUDAH that will consume the fortresses of Jerusalem.”

You can imagine the shocked silence at Amos’ words. But he’s not finished. He sings the chorus, v6. And the people can’t bear to hear it.

6 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of ISRAEL, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath].

And then the charges. It’s not just JUDAH who’ve rejected God and his covenant. It’s ISRAEL TOO. South AND north. The whole divided nation.

And Amos paints the picture in excruciatingly fine detail. Not just the broad brushstrokes of Judah. (“Rejected the law of the LORD”).

Here we get the horrible specifics. From v6 onward.

In Deuteronomy 24 God spells out the covenant. What the people are TO KEEP. But here Amos spells out how they BREAK it. God says in Deuteronomy, “PROTECT the poor, make sure they get justice. If you take their cloak for surety, make sure they get it back by nightfall.”

Israel’s FORGOTTEN it all. Because, instead (v6) they sell the righteous for silver, they deny justice to the oppressed.

And then, in v8, they’re mixing them all up together. Instead of returning the clothes of the poor at night, they heap them altogether right next to the altar they sacrifice on, and father and son take advantage of the same girl right there. Religious, civil and sexual sin – all rolled into ONE.

It’s a sad list of offenses. Worse than a credit card statement for an official of the Health Services Union.

And this is God’s HOLY PEOPLE! The sins of the nations – at least they’re all happening in WAR TIME. It’s almost EXPECTED. But to violate YOUR OWN PEOPLE?

It’s not surprising God’s going to act. What’s surprising is that he’s overlooked it all for so long!

And now, finally, the song draws to a close. And the pattern is broken.

“How COULD you?” says God, “After all I’ve DONE for you. V9. Destroyed the giant Amorites who’d lived in the land. V10. Brought you out of Egypt, given you the land. V11. Raised up prophets to SPEAK holiness to them. Raised up Nazirites to LIVE OUT holiness.

And THIS is how you repay me? V11. You command the prophets not to speak. And you force the Nazirites to drink wine. Making a joke of a holy life dedicated to me.

And instead of FIRE. God’s got something DIFFERENT planned for Israel. V13. They’ll be ROADKILL. Squashed flat. Crushed like a cart loaded with grain squashes something. A B-double running over a cat.

No good being FAST (v14). You can’t OUTRUN God. Or STRONG. You can’t out-MUSCLE him. Warriors can’t out-FIGHT him. Archers aren’t safe because they stand at a distance.

I will not turn back my wrath

This is what the LORD says. I will NOT turn back my wrath.

And the reality was these WEREN’T just vain promises. God KEPT his word. He DIDN’T turn back his wrath. Within about 30 years, Assyria would invade the northern kingdom, and carry her off into exile. Never to return.

And then a little over a hundred years later, Babylon would repeat the dose for the SOUTHERN kingdom. And THEY’D be carried off into exile. And even though they returned, they would never again be the same.

And that same refrain rings down through the ages TO US. “I will not turn back my wrath!” God’s character hasn’t changed. And PEOPLE certainly haven’t changed. And God’s judgment still hangs over his world. One day he WILL bring his wrath against people who continue to ignore him. Who choose IDOLS over God. Who choose THEIR way over HIS.

It won’t be military defeat. It won’t be exile. It will be final, definitive judgment. And eternal separation from God.

God WON’T stand back forever and overlook the pain and the injustice. One day he WILL act, and the scoffers of the world will be silenced.

But we stand at a much better place in history than God’s people then. Because we stand this side of Jesus. We saw how God’s wrath WASN’T turned back. How he chose to spend all his anger and justice in the death of his Son.

Jesus died IN OUR PLACE. He took God’s wrath for anyone who would accept it. So that we wouldn’t HAVE to bear God’s just judgment.

And the result is that we can ESCAPE what we rightfully deserve.

And, instead, begin to live the life God CHOSE us for. A life of responsibility, not privilege. A life bearing testimony to the goodness and love of the God who saved us.

You see that’s exactly what ISRAEL were chosen to do. But they FAILED SO MISERABLY.

Chosen for responsibility, not privilege

Moving into Ch 3. Judgment’s coming on Israel. Just in case you think God’s going to relent. Change his mind. That Israel’s special status as his people is going to delay the inevitable?

3:1 Hear this word the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel-against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: 2 “YOU ONLY HAVE I CHOSEN OF ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH; THEREFORE I WILL PUNISH YOU FOR ALL YOUR SINS.”

And it’s THIS FACT that gets to the HEART of why God’s so angry with Israel. God CHOSE Israel. Not for PRIVILEGE, but for RESPONSIBILITY.

In Exodus 19:4-6 God says

4’You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, THEN OUT OF ALL NATIONS YOU WILL BE MY TREASURED POSSESSION. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 YOU WILL BE FOR ME A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION.’

That was God’s design in choosing them. Set apart for the RESPONSIBILITY of being a kingdom of PRIESTS to the nations. To introduce the nations to God by means of their obedient covenant-keeping. By means of their behaviour towards each other and towards God.

And behind all the specific sins, this is the overarching one. NOT LIVING UP TO THEIR CALLING. Treating their election and privileged position with contempt.

Again and again through the song Amos repeated the line, “For three sins and for four, I WILL NOT TURN BACK MY WRATH.”

That was the verdict for the NATIONS. And it was no different for ISRAEL. There was no taking it easy for Israel. If anything the burden was HEAVIER because the RESPONSIBILITY was greater.

Amos is often applied in terms of military violations, and social injustice and immorality. That God’s angry with THAT stuff. And it’s TRUE. And there WILL be judgment for that. But the MAJOR condemnation is for those who FAIL TO LIVE UP TO THEIR CALLING AS THE PEOPLE OF GOD.

From those to whom much has been GIVEN, MUCH will be EXPECTED.

And just like ISRAEL was called to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, so God’s NEW TESTAMENT people are called AS WELL. Called for a PURPOSE. Called to be HOLY.

Listen to how the Apostle Peter describes the Christian church. At the START of his first letter he says. (1 Peter Ch1 v1)

To God’s ELECT, (there’s the “CHOSEN” bit) strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been CHOSEN ACCORDING TO THE FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD THE FATHER, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, FOR OBEDIENCE TO JESUS CHRIST AND SPRINKLING BY HIS BLOOD (there’s the “PURPOSE” bit):

People all over the known world. From every sort of background. But CHOSEN for A REASON. Chosen for obedience to Jesus and for sprinkling with his blood. Elected by God to be washed clean and forgiven. And then called to LIVE THAT OUT in OBEDIENCE to Jesus.

Just like ISRAEL was called to live out their calling.

A bit further on (Ch 2 v9) Peter describes these scattered elect people in a way that’s meant to remind us of how Moses described ISRAEL (back in Exodus 19). And notice TWO THINGS. Their ELECTION, and their CALLING.

9 But you are a CHOSEN people, a royal PRIESTHOOD, a HOLY nation, a people belonging to God, THAT YOU MAY DECLARE THE PRAISES OF HIM WHO CALLED YOU OUT OF DARKNESS INTO HIS WONDERFUL LIGHT.

No different, really, from ISRAEL’S calling. A royal PRIESTHOOD. Standing between humanity and God. Introducing one to the other.

A HOLY nation. Different, pure, distinctive, attractive. Reflecting God’s own holiness to a world that knows nothing about it. But longs for it anyway. Longs for intimacy and honesty and acceptance and love.

And called to DECLARE his PRAISES. Declare it in song. Declare it in word. Declare it in action. Declare it in PRIORITIES. By what we spend our time on. And our money. And our energy.

And he’s called us to declare HIS praises by the things we choose NOT to praise. Choose NOT to honour and worship. By turning AWAY from fortune and success and influence. Turning away from popularity and pay rises and comfort. Turning away from keeping up and getting even.

God had done SO MUCH for Israel. He listed it all. By LISTING it, it made their betrayal EVEN WORSE.

“I destroyed the Amorite before you. I brought you up out of Egypt. I raised up prophets. You only have I chosen.”

And they REFUSED to live up to their calling.

HOW MUCH MORE has God done for US, in the Lord Jesus?

He’s made us his children. Given us a new heart. Given us His Spirit, a down payment of eternity. He’s given us an inheritance. Given us life and forgiveness and a relationship with our Creator. Our heavenly Father.

God has given us SO MUCH. How are we USING that? We’ve been called FOR A REASON. Are we living up to that calling, or are we resting in the comfort and ease of our assurance in Jesus.

Israel was SIMILARLY comfortable. Saved by God’s grace. But chosen for A RESPONSIBILITY. They IGNORED it, and God JUDGED them, and sent them into EXILE.

Don’t let that be YOU!

9 But you are a CHOSEN people, a royal PRIESTHOOD, a HOLY nation, a people belonging to God, THAT YOU MAY DECLARE THE PRAISES OF HIM WHO CALLED YOU OUT OF DARKNESS INTO HIS WONDERFUL LIGHT.