The Third Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 8-9, 2008
Text: Amos 5:18-24
Dear Friends in Christ,
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have prophets around today and we could go to them and they would tell us what God’s will is? Actually, no it wouldn’t. First we don’t need a prophet. We just need to open the book. The sad reality is that the more commonly available the Bible becomes, the less people actually read it and know it. Just under fifty percent of Americans are “churched”. Yet, a book called “Shocked by the Bible” by Joe Kovacs was recently published. It recounts all the misconceptions people have about the Bible. Most of these fall into the category of duh, have you ever read it? The very fact that Kovacs book was seen as necessary really should be an embarrassment to American Christians. So going back to our original statement, we don’t need a prophet to tell us right and wrong. The Bible already tells us. Second, prophets only come when there are problems. Prophets come to tell people that they are sinning and that they need to stop. Further, they typically warn that bad things are going to happen. Sometimes it’s conditional. If you don’t knock it off, this will happen. Sometimes, it not conditional. You didn’t knock it off, now here it’s God is going to do, and you aren’t going to like it. So no, we really don’t want to have prophets around. Genuine prophets are bad news.
Amos was just such a genuine prophet. He was from Judah. He was a shepherd. God plucked him from watching his flocks in Judah and sent him to the other kingdom - Israel - to warn them of God’s coming wrath. This was the high water mark of Israel. King Jeroboam II had rebuilt Israel as a regional power. They were wealthy. The nobles lived in luxury. They even prided themselves on their loyalty to Yahweh. King Jehu, the great-grandfather of Jeroboam II, had purged the worship of foreign gods from Israel. Jehu did this by tricking all the worshipers of Baal to gather in one place, then killing them all. So they looked at Judah and how they still worshiped Baal, and they would beat their chest with pride. See, we’re not like those idolatrous people down in Judah. We only worship Yahweh. The problem was something called the sin of Jeroboam, named after Jeroboam I, who was the first kind of Israel, when Judah and Israel divided after the death Solomon. Jeroboam I set up golden bull calves Bethel and Dan. These were idolatrous images to represent the true God. By the time of Jeroboam II, a little more than 150 years later, the knowledge of Scripture was so poor that people actually thought it was acceptable to worship God through the golden bull calves.
Amos was sent from Judah to Israel to tell the people that God was ticked and that was no bull. God says to Israel: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” Why? Because they were worship God through the golden bull calves. That is why God would not accept their offerings. God would not accept their worship. So Amos warns them that it will be bad for them when God comes. God will come to them in anger and wrath. God will come and bring them to destruction.
The end would come swiftly. It was only about thirty years later, that the kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyrians. They fell from the height of their power and wealth to nothing, in thirty years. I know that many of you are elderly and you may not see thirty more years. But some of us most likely will. It is a chilling warning. The Assyrians took those they did not kill and broke apart families and marriages. They forced the Israelites to marry foreigners so that they would lose their identity as Israelites. Those who were allowed to remain in Israel would eventually become the Samaritans. This name comes from the Israelite capital city, Samaria.
The warning of Amos is not only for the Israelites in 750 B.C. It is a warning for us as well. Christ is coming. There are two ways that He is coming. He comes to us in our death. He also comes with the end of the world. Either way, everyone of us will come face to face with Christ. Amos is reminding us that Christ’s coming is not a good thing if we are at odds with God. We should all be filled with terror at the thought of Christ’s return. He will judge the living and the dead. We confess that in the creed. That means we will stand before Christ’s judgement.
I want you to think of this phrase, judge the living and the dead, in a new way. It is not only talking about the physically dead. It is also speaking of the spiritually dead. I can remember one particular funeral where the living one was in the casket. I have no doubt that this person is alive in Christ, and now is numbered among the saints of heaven. But the dead ones that day were sitting in the front pew. Christ will judge the living and the dead. When one judges they divide. So Christ will divide between the living and the dead. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of that divide.
Now how does Christ judge? What is His criteria. This is where one needs to learn how to read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. The Old Testament often doesn’t talk about saving faith. It speaks of the results of saving faith. If one is alive in Christ they will seek justice and righteousness. This includes justice for the widow, the orphan and even for the unborn. This is what saving faith looks like in practice. To understand this more deeply we need to look to the New Testament, where saving faith is more clearly defined. There we learn that we can be judged by our works or we be judged by Christ’s works on our behalf. Since we are poor miserable sinners, we don’t want to be judged upon our works. Our works would send us to hell. We must trust in Christ and His death and resurrection. Only Christ’s works can save us. So we place our trust in Christ and are judged according to His works.
The day is surely drawing near. Christ will return for each one of us. In the words of Ernest Hemingway, ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for you. Scripture warns us that Christ will judge and Christ will punish. We must trust in Christ for our salvation. Trust in Christ changes who we are. If we are in Christ, we share the mind of Christ. We seek His will through His Word. We seek justice and righteousness. We must not pull back from these things. Our works are the proof that faith is living. As it is often noted, we are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone. Grace and faith are the causes of our salvation, but grace and faith lead us to act for our neighbor. We must not forget these things. Our eternal lives depend upon it. Christ is coming for each of us. The question is not if Christ will come. He will. The question is whether Christ is coming to damn us to hell or coming to carry us home to heaven. We should rightly fear Christ’s condemnation. But we should also welcome Christ in faith. For if we are in Christ, then we are judged upon Christ’s works. This is a certain foundation. For it based upon the perfect promises of our perfect God.