Saturday, September 15, 2007

Does God Care? The Message of the Prophet Amos

Sermon Introduction:

6 years ago and one day our nation was attacked by terrorists. Osama Bin Laden has still not been brought to justice. Does God care? Two days ago in St. Louis a man was shot in the face, his vehicle stolen as well as his 4-month old baby girl. The man was left for dead; thankfully the little girl was spared and found in a hospital. Does God care? Each day children die from preventable causes such as starvation, even more are orphaned by parents who have died from AIDS. Does God care? Hurricanes, earthquakes, bridge collapses, car accidents, floods. Does God care? What about me? Does God care that I have been taken advantage of sexually? Does God care that sometimes we suffer from other people’s self-indulgence and we are left ignored? Does God care? Does He care about the way you are treated? Does He care about your relationships? Does He care about your broken heart? Does He even care what I do? Does He even care that I am here? Does God care when other people don’t? Does God care what I eat? Does God care about what movies I watch? Does God care when I suffer from someone else’s pride? Does God care that my car is breaking down? Or even the most emotional question you can ask, “Does God care about me?”

The book of Amos is going to attempt to answer that question. Does God care? Specifically does God care about justice? As we begin to listen to Amos’ message I want you to imagine that you are among Amos’ people, the Israelites. And ask some of your, “does God care”, questions. Because these are the answers to that question in Amos’ time and it will serve as an answer in our own time.

What about Damascus, Lord? Do you care about the time that they made our POW’s lie down on their backs and a threshing sledge was driven over our backs? God’s voice booms out as a lion and says, “I remember”! I will break them. What about Gaza, Lord? Do you remember their cruel slave trades? Do you care about slavery God? What about Tyre? We had made a covenant with them, God, and they broke it and sold us off as slaves to the Edomites. Do you remember? Do you care? And what about the Edomites? They have been a thorn in our side forever. From the beginning they have been cruel to us and constantly have been pursuing us. Will you judge them? Do you remember their anger and how they burned with jealousy? Do you care that we suffer from the pride and bitterness of another? I care! They will be judged. What about the Ammonites? Do you care that we have had to suffer because of their self-indulgence? Do you care that they have even gone so far as to rip open the bellies of pregnant women, and all of this for land? They are ruthless, do you care God? I care. They will be devoured. What about those who have vengeance God? What about those who are so bitter and burning with hate like the Moabites. They wanted to make certain that the king of Edom would not be resurrected, so they went so far as to dig him up and burn his bones until they turned to lime. They too will be judged.

Are you noticing anything yet? You might not notice it, it’s kind of subtle. Did they notice that each of these nations is getting closer to home? It is swirling closer and closer. If they did not they certainly would have paused for a moment when this man from Judah (Israel’s sister nation) began prophesying against his own nation—Judah. And notice that as it gets closer to Israel the judgment becomes more religious in nature. I remember even the sins of your sister. I am going to judge them too. Did Israel know what was coming next? For three transgressions of ISRAEL.

Does God care? Yes. Nothing escapes Him. All injustice will be judged. The Israelites should have known this, we should know this. This is who God has revealed Himself to be. When God’s glory was passing before Moses he proclaimed, “The Lord, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation”. God is saying, I am loving! I do care, I care about you. I am merciful, I am slow to anger, and I am full of love and faithfulness. But I am also a God of justice and I will not leave sin unpunished. Therefore, Israel know this. I care. I know what people have done for you and it will be punished. But, hear this O Israel, I know what you have done too.

Israel, had forgotten the God of justice and their land was filled with sin. They were crying out for God to be just, and to execute justice on their enemies but all the while they were not looking at their own sin that God was going to judge. So, tonight we are going to look at what the prophet Amos says to this. We are going to try to answer the question, Does God care, but at the same time we will be answering, what happens when we forget the God of justice and what hope do we have?

I. Characteristics of those who forget the God of justice

God is going to begin leveling charges against the Israelites who have forgotten the God of justice. God is displaying that He does indeed care and that He does take sin seriously and that it will be punished—and He is going to display this profoundly in His judgment against His own people Israel. They have become comfortable. The picture of society that Amos paints for us is that two classes have developed: rich and poor. The poor were oppressed and even sold into slavery. The rich had summer and winter palaces crammed with ivory-inlaid art and furniture, great vineyards, choice wines, and precious oils and perfumes. The women were fat and pampered, and drove their husbands to injustice to continue providing for them. The Israelites were serving other gods and their religion and become empty yet the people had become disgustingly prideful. They had forgotten justice. But what about us? Are we similar to the people of Israel? Have we forgotten the God of justice? We will look at a few of the characteristics here briefly and try to answer that question.

A. You become inaccurately judgmental

As the Lord begins his judgment against Israel he starts with one of the most prominent sins of the people of Israel—their injustice towards others. “They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted”. That was the character of these people. They were quick to cry out for justice against foreign nations. Yet they themselves were full of greed and injustice. They were saying, “God do you care about the way we suffer for the self-indulgence of these greedy nations like the Ammonites?” And all the while they were stealing shoes from homeless people.

This is what we see in 5:18-20. The people are crying out for justice and the day of the Lord when people will be judged, and God says to them, are you sure you want to see my justice. “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”

I wonder if we understand this in our nation. It seems like every other day that someone in the media is calling for justice and/or the resignation of someone. They must pay! If you say a hateful word on television, it’s your job. Dog-fighting—prison sentence. In no way am I condoning sin or saying we should be nice and just let guilty people go. That too is an abomination to God. What I think we miss however is the horrible condition of our own hearts and the pride that is in such statements. If God is to be fully just then you and I both should be dead and in hell this very moment. We forget to realize that every sin is a capital offense and the second that we sin God should strike us dead.

The people of Israel had forgotten this, and so do we. It is because of this that death, the Old Testament, and the judgment of God strikes us as too much. We so often ask the wrong question. We might ask things like, “Why is Bin Laden still free, why has God not destroyed him?” Why is it that all of those innocent people died on 9/11? Now, granted we know that people aren’t innocent—but do they deserve to die so brutally? Where is God when little babies get murdered? As RC Sproul helps us see, “The issue is not why does God punish sin but why does He permit the ongoing human rebellion? What prince, what king, what ruler would display so much patience with a continually rebellious populace?” So what naturally happens when God so often exerts his mercy instead of justice is that we begin to think that God either doesn’t care or that He is powerless to punish us. More than likely it is the former that the Israelites were thinking. It had been so long since God had brought his wrath upon the Israelites, certainly they were in a time of favor. Look at their wealth. Look at their prestige. Look at all of the blessings that they had been given. Certainly, God was shining on them. Why would He judge them?

So, we figure if God isn’t going to judge people then we need to. And we use ourselves as the standard of right and wrong and we seek the justice of others. This is precisely what Jesus was saying when he said, “Judge not, that you be not judge. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you”. The principle underlying what Jesus is saying is, “You are not the Judge, so do not sit as judge on others but entrust them and all of the evil done to you to a holy God (as well as the authorities He has set in place). God will Judge. Do you find yourself quickly pursuing justice and revenge on other people? Perhaps you are forgetting the God of justice.

B. Unrighteous and oppressive

Being oppressive and unjust is one fruit of forgetting the God of justice. But so often it also leads to being unrighteous. We think, “If God is not going to judge the nations, if He is sitting idly by, then certainly He will not judge me.” Amos does not get extremely detailed but the one sin that we see continuing to occur is that of oppression. The attitude behind this is one of, “If God is not going to do anything about my sin then I will do what I want”. And honestly the person with this view has quite a bit of evidence to back it up. Who are the wealthiest people in our nation? Who seem to be leading the “best lives”? Who are the people that are celebrities, and people that we look up to? Who are the “idols” of many little kids? How often do you see these people seeing justice? I can’t remember times whenever someone has committed an open and obvious sin and at that very spot God struck them dead. Therefore, we take the grace and mercy of God and turn it into an excuse to sin as much as we please.

I know that we are all in this category, so I will not dwell here any further. It is obvious that we are sinful and if we are to be really honest with ourselves our sin is often linked to a lack of belief in the justice of God. Quite frequently we figure we will dabble in sin for awhile and trust that God is a God of mercy and that He will find favor with me. This is dangerous and stupid—but sadly it is where we so often are.

C. Empty Worship

The third thing that we see as a characteristic of those who forget the God of justice is an obvious fruit of forgetting God. Your worship is not going to be vibrant if you are forgetting about the God of justice. If we see God as a pansy that is not going to do anything about the sins of the nations or your own personal sin, then He’s not a very big God and will not cause worship to spring up in you. It just leads to empty habitual worship. This is what has happened in 4:4, “Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel!”

The scene here is rather disgusting. First of all the people were not to be worshipping at these spots, they were places where the Israelites began worshipping false gods along with YHWH. So, at the heart of this is an arrogance and a “we will worship God how we want” type of attitude. But what is even more striking is that they are doing it fervently. Brining a tithe every three days was not mandated by the law, it was going above and beyond what the Law required, yet it was not accompanied by a love and passion for the Lord—it was passionate dead religiosity. And then we notice in verse 5 that even their sacrifices where done in ways that God said not to do, “with leavened bread”. What arrogance. Their worship was so empty. They loved idolatry and rituals rather than God.

And I wonder, is our God big enough to bring about worship in our hearts? Do we serve a God that is big enough to worship? Are we more like people in Amos’ day? Are we wondering whether or not God cares? Are we merely interested in ritual and idolatry and getting a fire insurance policy, “just in case”, but all the while not really thinking God is going to do much? Or do we have a big God, one that we see as over life and death and heaven and hell? Do we have a God that we fear? Do we see God as holding our lives in his hand? Does the bigness of your God move you to worship? If not He isn’t big enough and you are destined for empty worship.

D. Stubborn Refusals to see God and Repent

What usually happens when we forget the God of justice is that it turns into a downward spiral, in which we find ourselves to a point of hard heartedness and unrepentance. I would say that more than likely none of you are here yet, you probably are not old enough to have this rebellion settled in your heart. But you should heed the warnings of the Lord now or else it will be too late. As God said to Cain, “sin is crouching at your door”.

In 4:6-11 God tells of things he had brought to get their attention. Hunger. Lack of Rain. Locust invasions. Pestilence. Losses in War. Being overthrown. At the end of each paragraph the Lord says, “yet you did not return to me”. This is much the story of Hosea, which we will look at in a couple of weeks. Here I want us to see what this has to do with forgetting the God of justice. What happens is that we begin to view God as a big loving teddy bear and we start redefining things. Oh, how close this is to our nation. 9/11. Hurricane Katrina. School Shootings. Flooding. Bridge Collapses. All of these “natural” disasters that strike us, and what we hear even preachers proclaiming is, “this is an accident”. “God has nothing to do wit this”. God is a God of love and certainly cannot have anything to do with these calamities, but He does want to wrap his loving arms around you and hold you while the big boogey man goes away. He really wishes He could do something, it’s just He can’t overcome that darn free will and the sin and effects that we cause from it. The only part that is true in that sentence is that God does want to wrap His loving arms around you. But we should listen to Scripture and prophets like Hosea, who said, “Come let us return to the Lord, He has torn us into pieces, He has wounded us, but He will heal us”. This is the thing Amos is crying out when he says, “does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it”? The answer is NO. And therefore we must repent and turn to the Lord. Let us not start redefining stuff and only see God as a big teddy-bear. He’s a lion. Not a teddy bear. This question is dealt with more fully on our blog; I invite you to check it out.

So, we ask again, “Does God care”? Does He care about those who are judgmental toward others? Does God care about those people who hold up signs that say, “God hates fags”! Does God care about that churches can be more hateful than the world? Does God care that you are judgmental? Does He care about our unrighteous living? Does he care about those “little sins” that we commit? Does He care about what we view on the internet? Does God take sin lightly? Does God take your sin lightly? Does He care about our nations oppression of other nations? Does God care about gas prices? Does God care about our affluence and our beautiful houses while people are starving to death in Africa? Does God care that more money goes to sports every year than to alleviating suffering? Does God care that our worship is empty? Does God care that you don’t care? Does God care that you are talking during the worship service? Does God care that you want to worship Him how you want and really don’t care what He thinks? Does God care about false teachers in the church? Does God care about heresy? Does God care that some of you need to be really listening right now and hearing His call to repent but you have stubbornly closed your ears? Does God care that you are too stubborn to repent? Does God care that we are so often blind to calamities that have been brought to us as grace to bring about our repentance? Does God care? You bet. And that’s both comforting and scary, especially to those of us who are guilty.

II. Fate of those who forget the God of justice

I ask then, if God sees our sin, and God cares about our sin, and God is the same God who said, “I will not leave sin unpunished”, what will be our fate? The book of Amos does not offer much hope. There are glimpses here and there but in a moment we will probably need to turn elsewhere to catch the Gospel message of the book of Amos. Much of Amos is filled with judgment.

From the strong warriors, to the religious leaders, to the fat wives the Lord utters judgment against all. Primarily what Amos is predicting is that the Israelites are going to be taken away into exile. This is ultimately fulfilled in 722 B.C. which would have been roughly 40 years after Amos prophesied. Israel was judged and carried away into exile, but what about us? Not so much as a nation, but as an individual. What will be my fate? What will be your fate? If God says, I will not leave sin unpunished, and I have sinned then what will be my fate?

If we see ourselves as very similar to those in Israel it will help us apply this. Read 6:1-7. What is happening here is that Israel is priding herself on being the choicest of nations. And it is interesting to note that it is because of this very thing that Israel will be judged more harshly. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities”. So, we can’t claim, “I’m a church person—God will deal less severely with my sin”, no God is going to deal with our sin probably more harshly. Turning back to chapter 6, we see that the Lord is exposing the pride of Israel and is saying, you are going to be judged. As it says in chapter 5, “prepare to meet your God”. They want to be first among the nations, they want to be leaders; God is going to make them leaders…leaders into exile.

It will help us to understand the nature of sin, and why it must be punished, and punished with the death penalty. RC Sproul tries to answer the question of whether or not it is unjust to punish sin with the death penalty; p.115-117.

So what hope then do we have?
Our sin will not go unpunished! What hope do I have when I meet God?


III. Hope for those who forget the God of justice

I want to turn your attention again to where Sproul does a few pages later; to the Cross. p121-122. It is here at the Cross that we see the God of justice meet the God of mercy. This is the same thing that Paul testified of in Romans 3:26, that God would be just and the justifier. It is solving the problem of how a loving merciful God can set His love on a sinful people that have transgressed His holy Law and must be punished. The answer lies in the Cross of Jesus Christ, as 2 Corinthians 5:21 proclaims, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.

Sin will not go unpunished. It was punished in the Cross. This is the greatest news that you and I can ever hear. It means that my sin has been paid for. Our only hope is to be covered by the Cross. No sin will be left unpunished, has Christ died for your sin? The benefits of his death are only applied to all those who find refuge in Him. Do you?

To close out our first question, Does God care? I think we can answer with a resounding yes, and if you ever wonder if God cares look at the Cross. It displays both things; that God passionately cares about sin—sin that you have committed and sin that others have committed against you. God hates sin, and all sin will be punished. None will go free. But it also displays the great love of God. Therefore, let us listen to the words of Amos, “Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it…”

1 comment:

Ronda said...

Keep up the good work.