søndag 28. april 2013

Amos 8:1-9:4 The Holy God speaks

Amos 8:1-9:4 (click the link to read the passage)

My daughter speaks: I will not do this. But her words have no power. Dad speaks, and my word has power. My will be done. I have authority. I am the Dad.

Here we see words of authority, terrifying words. 3 I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!. The LORD there is YHWH “I am who I am”. He is the God who is there. He is the God who has spoken. He is the one who spoke the Universe into existence: there was nothing, then he spoke, and there was…everything!

And today he speaks to us, through his word to Israel. Speaks words of power, words of warning, words of forgiveness, words of judgement. It would be foolish to ignore his words.

And his words raise some important questions.

Who will be judged? (Wicked people)

Those whose actions and life reveal that they reject God in their heart. So familiar, we’ve heard this again and again. 4 Listen to this, you who rob the poor and trample down the needy! 5 You can’t wait for the Sabbath day to be over and the religious festivals to end so you can get back to cheating the helpless. You measure out grain with dishonest measures and cheat the buyer with dishonest scales. 6 And you mix the grain you sell with chaff swept from the floor. Then you enslave poor people for one piece of silver or a pair of sandals. 7 Now the Lord has sworn this oath by his own name, the Pride of Israel: “I will never forget the wicked things you have done!

Where is their heart? Their passion is in their business, instead of the Lord. In money, accumulating wealth, getting enough to protect the family, maintain our lifestyle - however we seek to define it.
Anywhere but the Lord!
Interestingly, the history books tell although there were religious festivals in the surrounding countries, only Israel was commanded to obey the Sabbath law and stop all work once a week. This restriction on trade caused friction and probably contributed to corrupt business practices as a way of “making up” the losses. Oh how that rings true. How often we justify something underhanded because we deserve it. I’ll leave this off the tax form because I’m owed it. I’ll lie about this because they cheated me out of that. How easy that sort of reasoning flows from my own heart.

How easy it is for we who are in business, or a trade, or working in local government to take the easy path. Dishonest measures – like increasing a quote because it’s a government contract or it’s for insurance. Or low-balling – coming with a quote lower than the actual price and then coming up with loads of extras and “this was not in the contract”. Or putting clauses in contracts that unfairly favour you at the expense of the other party. Or making the bid process for government contracts secrets and then accepting gifts from the various companies involved. And so on and on and on. You don’t have to be in the business world for very long to discover that v5 could describe us very well. Yes, even here in Norway. Our Christian heritage is being eroded, eaten away, by the secular ideals. Like Israel, we replace the true God at the centre of our life with something else at our peril. Israel replaced God with a small God, a tame God, a God they could control, a God they could pay lip service to on a Sunday and then ignore for the rest of the week while they went about the REAL business of life: making money.

“You fools!” Amos would say to us! The real business of life IS glorifying God. He is the be all and end all for all eternity. In the blink of an eye we will be old and frail, at the end of our life, facing the huge black mouth of eternity. Where will you spend it? Because if you despise God and his Word now, you will find God and his Word is absent, withheld from you, just like Israel: a famine in the land for the words of God.

Maybe business, making money, isn’t your thing. Maybe it’s power, influence, recognition? Serving the community so that everyone can see you and praise you? Or maybe it’s leisure – you live for the weekend, for the evenings. You want church to be over so you can get back to that computer game or that movie or that sport or hiking up the mountain, or chopping logs whatever it is. Or perhaps it’s your children, your family, your husband – that’s what gives you your identity, your purpose, rather than Christ. Or maybe even it’s the church. You love the church, but not Jesus, the head of the church. Be warned!

Anything that takes your passion instead of the Lord Jesus reveals a serious danger to your eternal soul. What does your passion reveal about your relationship to the Sovereign Lord?

Being on the wrong side of God is serious!

How will they be judged? (The Exodus reversed)

Remember the story of the Exodus – the great rescue of God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, lead by Moses. Well, now it seems that Israel now has become as bad as Egypt was then: oppressing people, slavery, cheating the poor and the needy and the weak and the foreigner. 2 the Lord said, “Like this fruit, Israel is ripe for punishment! I will not delay their punishment again. the underlying Hebrew phrase “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them.” At the Exodus, God passed his judgment by the Israelites – but no longer. The Israelites have become the Egyptians. Their land will heave up and sink again like the Nile (v8). Darkness will cover the land (v9) and they will mourn like they have lost a son (v9) – the final two great plagues (judgements) against Egypt. Oh Israel, how you have fallen!

Can you imagine the shock as realisation dawns on people? We have become Egypt! We are corrupt like our great enemy. It’s like Norway realising we are corrupt like Syria, or Afghanistan, or any other country we like to look down upon and feel superior to. But actually, are we so much better than them? With all our wealth and our power and our abundance of good gifts, what are we doing? Prosperity (wealth) can be a curse – instead of thanking God we thank ourselves – as Christian said two weeks ago, we act like we made the oil ourselves, rather than luckily finding it! We are ignoring God, seeking pleasure and wealth, uninvolved in the church, uninvolved in family, uninvolved in anything that doesn’t benefit me directly. We are consumers! Like big fat cows munching our way through people, through time, through money, serving our appetites. To serve, to lead your family, to set aside your own pleasure for the needs of others – that is gone. Commitment, loyalty to the Lord Jesus. Naah.

I feel that pull in my own heart. The easy way. The selfish way. We are made for greater things my friends, than being fat cows! We are made to glorify God! We are made to lead our families, to lead our churches, to plant churches throughout Notodden and beyond which proclaim the greatness of our God. We are to be honest businessmen, just judges, fair bureaucrats, hard workers. Our lives should proclaim “glory to God, glory to God, glory to God”. That’s what we were made for, that’s our purpose. And then one day the veil will be ripped aside, and we will see our Lord face to face, and the world will be made new, and all the glories of this world will be taken into the next, all the wonders of the world preserved for eternity, and we will spend our time working and shaping the world to the glory of God forever. That’s our destiny, if we are in Christ.

Why would we settle for a less than ordinary life? When we feel we are made for greatness. And we are. We are made for greatness. We are made to be the people of the living God, the Sons of the Almighty Father. Why would we choose anything less?

What happens to people who ignore God?

I think that verse 11 is the most terrifying verse in this book. The final judgement: God gives them what they want. The neglected word becomes the absent word. God withdraws his favour.

11 “The time is surely coming,” says the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord. 12 People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from border to border searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it. 13 Beautiful girls and strong young men will grow faint in that day, thirsting for the Lord’s word.

Do you remember back in school days the “silent treatment”? When you were cross with someone and pretend they didn’t exist. Oooh, it got so annoying. They were basically saying I wish you were dead.
My kids have tried that a few times with me – believe me it doesn’t last long! “Listen to me!”

It’s childish, but when people do it as adults it’s quite serious. “He’s dead to me”. Deep hurt, deep heartache, particularly in families. Many a convert to Christianity has been heartbroken as their family turns away from them and refuse to speak to them – or worse tries to kill them to restore their family honour! Many Jehovah’s Witnesses find themselves cut off when they embrace Christ and leave the Watchtower organisation. All their friends and family GONE. (By the way, that’s why it is essential that we recognise that WE now are family, and look after each other, particularly new Christians).

Can you imagine running up to your father with your arms outstretched saying “Dad I love you” and he looks through you as if you weren’t there, and then walks away without saying a word.

Well, that’s what we do to God. To God! This time it is the Father with the outstretched hand: “Come, come and experience the ocean of my love”. And we simply ignore him, don’t even acknowledge his presence. “I wish you were dead.”

So what happens when you continue to ignore God? The famine of His word – the day will come when you cannot find him, cannot know him. One day God will give you what you ask for: independence from Him. And that is terrifying, for He is the source of life. Without him, everything goes dark. It’s like the Earth trying to be independent of the Sun! Without the Sun, we die.

Can anything save us?

Can other religions, worldviews, safety nets save you from the Lord’s anger? The answer is: No. 14 And those who swear by the shameful idols of Samaria— who take oaths in the name of the god of Dan and make vows in the name of the god of Beersheba— they will all fall down, never to rise again.” 9:1 Then I saw a vision of the Lord standing beside the altar. He said, “Strike the tops of the Temple columns, so that the foundation will shake. Bring down the roof on the heads of the people below. I will kill with the sword those who survive. No one will escape!

Samaria is the land of Israel, Dan and Beersheba its farthest points. The whole land is corrupt, worshipping other gods, idols, instead of the one true God. Worse, as we’ve seen, on the surface their religion seemed to be directed to God – it looked like they honoured God. The problem was that they ignored His word on how they should worship him, and made up their own ways – like setting up a golden calf in Dan and saying “this is your God”.

And not even Christian religion can save you, if it is just a ritual. Going to church will not save you. Only trusting in Christ and living with him as Lord and Master of ALL of life – only He can save you. Religion cannot save: One day the Lord will stand by your altar and command the pillars to fall down on your head.

Playing the silent treatment game with God is foolish. Ignoring his word, doing things our own way – it is dangerous. His patience will run out, and he will move in righteous judgement. We have been warned!

Is there any escape from God’s judgement?

No. 2 “Even if they dig down to the place of the dead, I will reach down and pull them up. Even if they climb up into the heavens, I will bring them down. 3 Even if they hide at the very top of Mount Carmel, I will search them out and capture them. Even if they hide at the bottom of the ocean, I will send the sea serpent after them to bite them. 4 Even if their enemies drive them into exile, I will command the sword to kill them there. I am determined to bring disaster upon them and not to help them.

So what do we do?

There is only one place left to run. And that is to God himself. Have you not heard the roar of the Lion? He roars to shine the light on our wickedness, to help us see our own corruption. We don’t believe it. We don’t believe we are sinners. And why not? Just watch the news! Bombers in Boston, bombers in Iran, Syria has killed 70,000 of its own citizens, murders, theft, rape, abortions, people cheating and selling horse meat as beef (dishonest scales!) – why do we still blame everything else except ourselves. Oh it’s society – society is made by people! Oh, it’s religion. Religion is made by people. No, there’s something wrong with people, with US.

Boom, boom, goes the deep truths of the Bible, again and again. We are sinners. We need to repent. We must understand that we are darkness matched against unspeakable light. The bright sun of God’s holiness burns fierce against us, and will destroy us.

Why so many chapters on sin? Why so much on wickedness? So that we can repent. So that we cry out to God!

We have seen throughout the book of Amos that God has been calling his people back to him again and again. He is lovingly warning them of the danger they are in. “Come back to me and LIVE” he says.

You see, the way for them to be saved is already prepared. Their sin is already paid for. Their judgement taken. And ours. King Jesus on the cross, his blood paying for our sins, for theirs. King Jesus on the cross, restoring Israel to their glory – if they would just accept. And some do: Israel will be shaken like grain, we read in chapter 9, but not one true kernel will be lost. And for Israel, also for us. King Jesus, offering forgiveness, offering pardon, offering restoration. Come and take your place in the Kingdom of God, brother. Come and take your place at the family feast as a son of God. That is our destiny. That is our calling.

Will you take it?

There are three responses to this passage.

One is to ignore it. And that is your choice. But you have been warned. Israel was given 50 years to repent. They did not take it. They were completely destroyed. Learn from their folly.

Two is to accept it. Accept with joy and gladness the forgiveness of God! Confess you sin before him, your need for him. Thank him for his goodness to you, and accept him as King over all of life.

Three is for those who have accepted him as King. Don’t grow weary of living for the King. Don’t grow weary of hearing his word. You belong to him. Don’t forget your identity. In everything you do remember that you are a beloved son of God. At work, beloved son of God. With your wife, beloved son of God. With your children, beloved son of God. Watching TV, surfing the Internet, beloved son of God.

The Holy God speaks. O Lord, in your mercy, help us to listen!

søndag 21. april 2013

Amos 7: the advocate

Amos 7:1-17

Christian did a fantastic job last week on chapter 6, a difficult passage, and clearly brought out the message of the text: Israel, the people of God, have sinned terribly, judgement is deserved and is looming, and they must repent. Chapter 7 carries on from chapter 6, showing the Heavenly courtroom, with the judge seated on the throne considering his judgement. Is all lost for Israel? Is there any hope? Well, tonight we see the answer is yes, there is hope for Israel, and there is hope for us. We have an advocate, a representative in the courts of Heaven: Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
3 points tonight:

1. The right judgement
2. The merciful advocate
3. Accept the advocate, or die

1. The right judgement

Picture the courtroom. Here we have the accused, Israel. The evidence has been presented of their failure to obey God – time and again we’ve seen over the past couple of months in Amos 2-6 how they have disobeyed him, rejected him, tried to make him in their own image (make a new God, a god more like us) – and then worship that God, the God of their imagination.
And the consequences have been devastating. Injustice, sexual immorality, slave trading, dishonest judges taking bribes, the rich exploiting the poor, entertaining themselves on their ivory beds, crying “bring us a drink!” while their land lies in moral ruins- and they don’t care.

We’ve seen that time and again God has warned them to repent. Time and again he has spoken, the Lion has roared from Zion. In chapter 4 we saw how He has used natural disasters to get their attention. But they were as hard-hearted as Egypt during the Exodus. He has allowed sin to run its course, allowed them to taste the fruit of their sin and see that it is bitter, poisonous. They have rejected God, and the fruit of that rejection is bitter. The fruit of their beliefs is the immorality of Israel. The tree is rotten, and so the fruit is poisonous.

How much does this ring true of us, of our own nation? How rich we are, in our “ivory beds” shouting “bring us another drink”, “entertain me!” And we care nothing of the ruin of our nation.

Think about our attitude to church. How important do we think it is, really? How desperate are we to hear the word of God? How do we think about time and money and relationships – as OUR time, OUR money, OUR relationships. I get angry when God challenges me to give more time to the church, more time to people, more time to prayer, more time to studying the Living Word. I get angry, my grubby little hands trying to hold on to MY TIME.

What a fool I am! I am not my own. I belong to God – twice. Once because I am made by Him, I am his creation – and then bought back by His blood on the Cross. What a fool I am when I say this is mine, this money is mine, these relationships are mine. I am like Israel in 760BC, showing the poisonous fruit of sin and selfishness.

If we are happy to disobey God what kind of God are we worshiping? Certainly not the God of the Bible!! Like in Israel, when “Christians” are happy to lower their moral standards, and ignore the Bible’s teaching on sexual immorality – all around us we have Christians moving in together, sleeping together. In the church! How can we introduce people to the Living Holy God if we are living filthy unholy lives. And that’s just our public sins! What about all that we do in private thinking that the Almighty does not see, does not know.

Like Israel, we have decided to worship God our way. We are under judgement because we are wicked adulterous rebels against the Almighty. We have decided to put ourselves on the throne and declare what is right and acceptable, and ignore his words.

What we deserve is utter destruction. 1 The Sovereign LORD showed me a vision. I saw him preparing to send a vast swarm of locusts over the land. This was after the king’s share had been harvested from the fields and as the main crop was coming up. 2 In my vision the locusts ate every green plant in sight.

And again in verse 4 Then the Sovereign LORD showed me another vision. I saw him preparing to punish his people with a great fire. The fire had burned up the depths of the sea and was devouring the entire land.

That is what we deserve. Utter, complete, judgement. That is justice. That is the sentence of a just God over an unjust people like Israel, like us.
Remember back in chapter 1 when we saw the sins of the surrounding nations? How they treated people like garbage, mowed them down with machines of war, sold them like cattle, like products to be disposed of, and pregnant women ripped open simply to gain a few more acres of ground. God warned them that justice was coming for them – and come it did. In 732BC, Damascus was wiped out. In 734BC Gaza was destroyed, followed by Ashdod in 711BC and Ekron in 701 BC. Tyre and Edom were swallowed up by Assyria; Moab and the Ammonites simply disappear from history. All the nations surrounding Israel – gone.

Utter, complete destruction. Like an evil stain being erased from the world.

Now you might be thinking at this moment: But we’re not like them. Norway is kind and considerate and we help people. We’re not like Israel: I am not unjust. I don’t cheat the poor. I give to charity. I am righteous in my own eyes.
And that’s exactly the problem. We don’t want to hear God’s thoughts on the matter, but our own. Aw, it’s not so bad, I’m not so bad. How often do you find yourself explaining away your own bad behaviour, your own lies, your own failures, and painting over them?

We must ask ourselves why Amos has 6 or 7 chapters out of 9 on judgement. Why Isaiah is about 40 chapters out of 60 of God saying “they have sinned. they are wicked. They will be judged. (if they don’t repent). Why has God written the Bible this way?

Why? Because we don’t think that we are wicked and in need of salvation. And we don’t think we are wicked because we don’t think God is Holy and Perfect, but just a little bit better than us.

Reading the prophets, reading the Old Testament is to hear the great bass notes of the Gospel. It’s the deep truths, the driving rhythm for the glorious news of a Holy God who loves his people. You see, if we don’t understand that we are wicked, we will not understand God’s judgement. And so we will change the great and frightening truths of the Bible, until we have a melody with no power, a church of weak knees and feeble arms, so thin and weak it cannot stand.

We must understand it, must feel it. Do you feel eternity?! Do you sit with the burden of our friends, our neighbours who in the words of 6:3 push away every thought of coming disaster, but [their] actions only bring the day of judgment closer.

That Day will not be a big party, but will be terrifying. Remember 5:18–21 That day will bring darkness, not light. 19 In that day you will be like a man who runs from a lion— only to meet a bear. Escaping from the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house— and he’s bitten by a snake. 20 Yes, the day of the LORD will be dark and hopeless, without a ray of joy or hope.

A terrible Day is coming. Are you ready? Are you weeping on your knees for your loved ones, your neighbours, your friends, yourself? Are we before God pleading for Notodden? Please God, move in mercy, not in judgement. We are so small. Please don’t wipe us out.

What we deserve is utter destruction. But we have a merciful advocate.

2. The merciful advocate

The key to understanding this chapter is in verse 1. The Sovereign LORD showed me a vision. This time he did not say “and he said” “thus says the Lord” or “hear this word” There is no roaring from the Lion. This is not a message for Amos to speak, but a message for Amos to respond to, to plead on behalf of his people.

Amos takes the role of Israel’s advocate, standing in the gap. Like Abraham, like Moses, so Amos pleads for his people. This is not uncommon. Time and time again we are shown this pattern in the Old Testament: God has his chosen agent, the representative for the people.
Why? So when the Bible shows Jesus speaking to the Father in our defence we understand what that means. He is the mercy of God interceding for us against the judgement of God. 1 John 2:1-2 puts it like this My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. 2 He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

Now, finally, we can understand how God can relent, can change his mind and not send right judgement – which our wickedness and Israel’s wickedness deserves - but instead he can forgive, relent. It is powered by the blood of Jesus on the cross.

So remember that. Remember that when you sin, when you feel guilty and dirty and altogether unrighteous, that you have an Advocate in Heaven saying “covered, by the blood of Jesus. Paid for in full.” Isn’t that amazingly good news!!! Our sins are covered!

So when you feel condemned, when you have sinned, when guilt overtakes you, remember Amos 7, and verses 2 and 5
2 Then I said, “O Sovereign LORD, please forgive us or we will not survive, for Israel is so small.” 3 So the LORD relented from this plan. “I will not do it,” he said.
5 Then I said, “O Sovereign LORD, please stop or we will not survive, for Israel is so small.” 6 Then the LORD relented from this plan, too. “I will not do that either,” said the Sovereign LORD.

Daniel has sinned, said the Sovereign Lord, and he deserves judgement. His wickedness is a stench in my nostrils. Behold the vision of his punishment!
Father, please forgive him, says our Advocate Jesus. My body has been broken for him, for his punishment. My blood has covered his sin. And the voice from the throne says “Justified! Not guilty! I will not punish him. His cost is paid in full.”

And Daniel says Thank you God!

This also works when we are about to sin. Remember the cost to save you, remember the glorious grace given to you, remember that you are a beloved child of God, and don’t do it! Call sin sin and turn away from it, for it is evil and destructive!

We must not sin, but when we do sin, we have a merciful advocate, Jesus Christ. Hallelujah!

3. Accept the advocate – or die!

Did you notice as we read through chapter 7 that Amos does not intercede (speak on behalf of) for everyone? He only intercedes for the elect, for the people of faith, for the remnant. Because judgement no. 3 – the plumb-line, which will divide the people of Israel according to their “straightness” (faith in God), is not interceded against. In fact, Amos proclaims this judgement to come! 8 I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins. 9 The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end.

This judgement is discriminating. It divides the country into the faithful and the wicked, those who are for God, and those against. And Amos does not intercede this time. This coming judgement is unavoidable for those who stubbornly remain opposed to God. For them there is no advocate, and they will meet God in fury at their wickedness and not in mercy.

And what a blessing and a relief that judgement will be for those who love God and weep at the ruin of the land, and risk their life to speak up against injustice, and mourn the corruption of the true religion of God. Did you see in verse 9: The evil will be purged from the land, the shrines destroyed, the temples gone, the rule of the evil king Jeroboam is over. Judgment using a plumb-line is discriminating, dividing or revealing the true people within a professing people, the remnant (true Israel) within Israel, the Church within the church. And their beliefs will be reflected in their actions.

Cue Amaziah, in verses 10-17.
Amaziah, the priest, the centre of Israel’s religious life. And we see again that being religious is no guarantee of salvation – if your religion rests on anything other than the free grace of Jesus Christ then you are in serious trouble. We read in the Bible study on wed night in Romans 10:2-4. And we see again the same message here in Amos 7. Religion will not save you. Only Christ can save you.

So Amaziah the religious man is offended when he hears God’s word condemning his idolatry and condemning the wickedness of Jeroboams reign. “How dare you…” he says – instead of falling to his knees in repentance. No, he raises his own feeble voice against the roar of God! 12 Then Amaziah sent orders to Amos: “Get out of here, you prophet! Go on back to the land of Judah, and earn your living by prophesying there! 13 Don’t bother us with your prophecies here in Bethel. This is the king’s sanctuary and the national place of worship!”

But Amos rightly responds by saying these aren’t MY prophecies, but the Lord’s: 15 But the LORD called me away from my flock and told me, ‘Go and prophesy to my people in Israel.’

So just like Korah in the time of Moses, like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus, and like many churches and pastors and preachers today, even here in Norway, Amaziah finds that he is raising his voice not against the voice of a man, but the voice of God.
Friends, never be afraid to proclaim the truth of God. You may be rejected, you may lose friends, you may be ridiculed or thought odd – but God is with you. Look up to Heaven like Stephen the first martyr and SEE Jesus by the throne of the Father, proclaiming the truth of your forgiveness. Don’t be afraid.

But if you, like Amaziah, are choosing the easy path, the popular path, the path of earthly power and prestige: well, listen to the devastating words of God.
There is massive irony here – humorous if it weren’t so terrible. v16 You say, ‘Don’t prophesy against Israel. Stop preaching against my people.’ 17 But this is what the LORD says: Your wife will become a prostitute in this city, and your sons and daughters will be killed. Your land will be divided up, and you yourself will die in a foreign land. And the people of Israel will certainly become captives in exile, far from their homeland .

Oh, how dangerous it is to set our feeble voices up against the roar of the lion. The church lies in ruins, our country lies in ruins when we ignore what God says. How dare we! How dare we only preach the “easy” passages. How dare we let days go by without studying his word. How dare we go to church and Bible study only when we feel like it. We must meet together, encourage each other, listen to his word, to spend time in prayer, to be with our Christian family. We need each other. What a blessing we have to have a day set aside for meeting as God’s people. Let’s use it! Let our lives show that we love God and obey him. Let the world see our fruit. Let us repent of our sin, and throw ourselves on the mercy of our advocate, Christ Jesus. Revival starts with us.

Let us not be fooled: the Word of God is inescapable, unchanging. Amaziah is religion without repentance before the word of God. May God grant us mercy that we do not fall into the same trap!

And let us like Amos intercede (pray) for our town, our country. Please, Lord, we are so small, please have mercy.

And let us proclaim the great and glorious news that though we are wicked and deserve God’s right judgement, we have an advocate, and he pleads for us with his nail-scarred hands and his pierced side. We deserve judgement, but through Christ we can receive mercy. Let us turn to Him and accept it. Thank you Lord. Thank you Heavenly Father for your mercy.

søndag 7. april 2013

Amos chapter 5: Come back and LIVE!

Amos 5:1-27

As you all know I’ve been quite sick this week. And when you’re sick, really sick, you go through different stages. At one point I wanted to die – I had a deep longing for Heaven and the benefits of living in the new Creation, the new Earth untainted by sin, and its effects like sickness. Thankfully I did not die

But I also felt like packing everything in, packing the church in: it’s too much work, it’s not worth it! The next day I was quickly back to my senses! Of course it’s worth it. Look what we have! An International church filled with people from every land – here in Notodden. A church which preaches fearlessly from the BIBLE, holding out the gospel of grace. That’s remarkable. A family that is starting to grow, people who love each other and care for each other. That’s brilliant. We don’t just pack that in! That’s a remarkable picture of God’s grace in action.
And most of all we don’t pack it in because Jesus never packed it in before the cross. Oh it’s not worth it! He never said that. He went to the cross, took our sin upon his shoulders, and bore it to the depths of Hell and back again.
So, yes, this little church, this little reflection of the grace of God: it’s worth it. So when you’re struggling to get the kids ready for church or you’re tired after a hard day’s work before Bible study, or a church member needs help with something – remember it is worth it. We stand together for Jesus. We belong to Him.

Because the way that we live reflects what we believe. If we are “in Christ” then that will affect the way we live. We will be at church every Sunday. We will be at Bible study every Wednesday, hungry for more of God’s Word. We will be looking for ways to serve each other, praying for each other, taking each other meals and helping practically. We will be hard workers, knowing we work for the Lord and not ourselves, we will be honourable in our relationships, kind and compassionate. We will tell the truth no matter what the cost. If we belong to Jesus then we belong to him.

And that is the resounding theme of tonight’s passage: There is a match between belief and actions. The fruit identifies the tree. A tree producing apples is an apple tree. A tree producing pears is a pear tree. And a people producing injustice, oppression, and the rich stealing from the poor, is a people who have turned their back on God. Because their religion is a dead religion, because they have turned from God, their actions are evil, selfish, rotten. Their fruit shows what kind of tree they are. The fruit is rotten. The tree is dead.

1. Death

The first section of this passage (v1-17) starts and ends with a funeral lament: a song of sorrow for the dead. Listen, you people of Israel! Listen to this funeral song I am singing: 2 “The virgin Israel has fallen, never to rise again! She lies abandoned on the ground, with no one to help her up.”

Israel is fallen. So sure is her demise, her death, that she is a dead man walking – a convicted criminal walking to the electric chair. She is a zombie, the shambling remains of a human, an animated corpse, the appearance of life – but the truth is she is dead. She has the appearance of religion of dutiful devotion to the Sovereign Lord, but the religion is rotten, it stinks, their lives stink like rotten flesh – the shambling zombie remains of the people of God. Fallen, never to rise again, is Israel.

This section is written in what is called a chiastic structure (layers, like an onion). The outer layers are vv1-3 and vv16-17 and are about the funeral lament of Israel, mourning her death.

But is there any hope? We peel off a layer and see: vv4-6 and 14-15: 4 Now this is what the LORD says to the family of Israel: “Come back to me and live! And 14 Do what is good and run from evil so that you may live! In New Testament language we would say repent and believe! Believe that Jesus accepts you as you are, has taken away your sins, and repent of living against him – turn away from your sins and start living for God. Come back to me and live, do what is good and run from evil.

But why is she dying? We peel off a layer and see: vv7 and 10-13

7 You twist justice, making it a bitter pill for the oppressed. You treat the righteous like dirt.

10 How you hate honest judges! How you despise people who tell the truth! 11 You trample the poor, stealing their grain through taxes and unfair rent. Therefore, though you build beautiful stone houses, you will never live in them. Though you plant lush vineyards, you will never drink wine from them. 12 For I know the vast number of your sins and the depth of your rebellions. You oppress good people by taking bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. 13 So those who are smart keep their mouths shut, for it is an evil time.

Not a great place to live, was it, Israel in those day. Corrupt. Unjust. Where those with wealth and power just crush the poor and powerless. Like in Ethiopia, where children are being sold for the equivalent of kr70. The buyers promise the families, rural subsistence farmers, that the children will have a better life, opportunities, schooling. The reality is they work 16 hour days, get one meal a day of corn, and sleep on the floor under plastic bags. And those are the lucky ones, the ones not sold into prostitution. Israel then. Ethiopia now. And many other places in the world. It is an evil time.

And so we peel off the final layer and come to the heart of the “onion”, the chiastic structure of the verses. 8 It is the LORD who created the stars, the Pleiades and Orion. He turns darkness into morning and day into night. He draws up water from the oceans and pours it down as rain on the land. The LORD is his name! 9 With blinding speed and power he destroys the strong, crushing all their defences.

Our heart, our centre, should be the Lord. The heart of our society should be the Lord. That is how he made the universe. Everything was made with Him at its centre. That is how we function best. He created the stars, he sends the rain, he controls the oceans, he of blinding speed and power. The True Superhero!

But Israel! Israel in their great wisdom have swapped out the Lord with… nothing! They have replaced the Creator God, the Father of lights, the Everlasting Father, Almighty God – with images made to look like animals or mortal man.

And because their centre is empty, brittle like a snapped twig, their society starts to crumble. Evil. Corruption. When we throw out the Creator we despise his creation, and start to abuse our environment, and worse, abuse other people.

I read recently about Planned Parenthood in America who have now issued a statement that babies who are born alive after an attempted abortion must not be killed. Because, you know, there was some confusion about that, and some of their doctors were killing the babies after they’d come through the birth canal.
Of course, the staggering irony of their statement did not escape me. The same baby who moments before had no right to life, was actively being KILLED by the doctors, now suddenly has a right to life and is recognised as a human being – because he or she moved about 18cm through the birth canal.

This is not about women’s rights, but the rights of young children, unborn or otherwise, to be recognised as worthy of life.

Do we need any more evidence that our core is rotten?

Why is our core rotten? Because we have turned our back on God and replaced Him with something else. Whether that is atheism, or New Age spiritualism, or ancestor worship, or Bhuddism, Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, or Christianity without Christ (churches which preach moralism, behave yourself, but never the riches of the grace found at the foot of the Cross.)

Israel thought they could worship God without God. God says 21 “I hate all your show and pretence— the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. 22 I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. 23 Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.

God wants to see a flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living. But that’s only possible if they come back to Him and LIVE. But they have rejected him and so the only outcome is death, and the fruit of death: evil, corruption, sin.

We too live in a world, in a society that shows the fruit of rejecting God. Come back and live. Otherwise Amos may well sing a funeral song over us.

You know, as we’ve been going through Amos some of you have asked “Why Amos?” Why are we reading Amos? It seems so gloomy, so much death and judgement, so fixated with the bad things in life. The answer because through Amos we see life as it really is. Pick up a newspaper – there’s very little good news in there. There are wars and corruption and unspeakable cruelty. And if we just pick the bits of the Bible that we like then we miss the fact that God is big enough to deal with a hurting world. In Amos we see that God is not a fool, singing nursery rhymes while the world burns.

We see a big BIG God who can deal with pain of the world. Amos shows us a real God for people in a real world. Many of you are refugees, fleeing from wars, desperate cruelty, child soldiers, evil men doing evil things. Many of you have experienced exactly what Amos has been describing here. And the message is that God SEES. And He roars out his judgement. Those evil acts will not go unpunished. They are not beyond the arm of the Lord. He is not sitting in Heaven, wringing his hands going “oh no, I wish they would stop being so mean”. He is in control. He is the King. He is the Lion who roars. He is the one who allows a limited amount of evil and then says “no more”.

But why? Why the wars in Sudan? The child slavery in Ethiopia? The unborn children being put to death because of a gap of 18cms? Why? This is God holding up a mirror to us!! See! This is HELL. Flee. Flee to Me and LIVE. This is our hearts, and they are dark and evil.

And when we have seen that - when we have seen ourselves for who we truly are. When we see what we are capable of. When we see the deep need we have for a Saviour, then, THEN we are ready to hear the good news: Come back to me and LIVE.

This is the great and awesome JOY of preaching Amos. Because it is a message to a world in trouble, it is a message from a real God for people in a real world. It is a message for refugees, for those who have seen terrible things. And it is a message of hope. Evil may be great, but God is greater still. Our hearts may be dark, but the blazing holiness of God can reach even our dark hearts and light them up, set them on fire with a blazing joy. We may be like Israel shambling zombies, but when Lazarus, dead for three days, heard Jesus’ voice calling to him – he was no zombie that came shambling out of the grave, but a man, whole and pure and restored, alive! Leaping and shouting and praising God. Come back to me and LIVE says God.

There may be death, but there is also

2. Life

4 Now this is what the Lord says to the family of Israel: “Come back to me and live! 5 Don’t worship at the pagan altars at Bethel; don’t go to the shrines at Gilgal or Beersheba. For the people of Gilgal will be dragged off into exile, and the people of Bethel will be reduced to nothing.” 6 Come back to the Lord and live! Otherwise, he will roar through Israel like a fire, devouring you completely. Your gods in Bethel won’t be able to quench the flames.

Seek me and live! Come back to the Lord. Repent and believe! Turn away from your false gods, your false worldview, the lies that you have told yourself, and turn TO the Living God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Source of Life and Goodness and Love, the Father of lights.

And show what you believe by LIVING it:

14 Do what is good and run from evil so that you may live! Then the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies will be your helper, just as you have claimed. 15 Hate evil and love what is good; turn your courts into true halls of justice. Perhaps even yet the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies will have mercy on the remnant of his people.

Is that not the heartbeat of the Christian message? Repent and believe, and live like the Forgiven People of God. Grace has been shown you, now live with grace towards others. 24 I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.

How can He offer this? How can he forgive such evil people? How can he deal with Ethiopian slave-traders, and Sudanese warlords and Norwegian sinners. Well, we’ve just seen it displayed over these past few weeks: The great message of Easter. Seek me and live, says the Lord, because he has taken our place in death. Seek me and LIVE, for I have conquered death- the tomb is empty, Jesus is RISEN! Hallelujah!

Our sins may be great, but his mercy is all the greater. So Amos cries out to these wretched, idol worshipping, God-mocking, corrupt, poor-stomping, evil people, entertaining themselves to death, fat cows shouting “bring us a drink” and says you, yes YOU can be forgiven, can be made clean, made holy, you can be transformed, given a new heart so that instead of unrighteousness your life becomes a flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.

Amos did not know how God would achieve that forgiveness, that turn-around but we do. Christ on the cross. The King who suffers and dies for his people. The great swap on the cross, where he takes our sins, all our sins past present and future – the sins we don’t even know we’re going to to commit. He takes them upon his shoulders, and says IT IS FINISHED. Our sins are gone! And we hear his voice like Lazarus calling us out of the grave “LIVE”.

We have a new heart, a new nature. So we now start to live righteously. It’s called regeneration. It’s not something that comes from outside “TRY HARDER, BE MORE MORAL!” but from the inside. We want to hear God’s Word, we want to forgive people, we want to love our wives, we want to teach our children about the Lord, we want to pray, we want to forgive our enemies, we want to work hard at work, we want to hold our tongue instead of gossiping. All these changes start to talk place in us – the Holy Spirit, he is at work in us, changing us.

We suddenly are more thankful. We suddenly can love those who we used to hate. Maybe in your home country you were taught to hate people of a different tribe or different religion or different colour. Now you can be like Jesus and love your enemies. Love those who previously persecuted you.
Maybe you are homesick, longing for your country, your family, your friends, familiar surroundings. Take that to the Cross, lay it at Jesus’ feet – those are right feelings, but ask him to turn them into blessings. Be thankful for your family here, start to praise God for this little town of Notodden, your new home, beautiful, safe, with kind people, and lovely nature to remind you of your creator God.

We are different people, we have a different heartbeat –the heartbeat of Christ. Let us obey him with joy, because we who were dead are now ALIVE!

Come back to the Lord and LIVE!