Seeing It As It Is

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Back in Amos 1v2 we read:

The LORD roars from Zion
and thunders from Jerusalem (1v2)

The Lord wants us to sit up and take notice. The awesome God who governs the nations in righteousness and judgment is speaking through Amos, not only to outsiders but chiefly to God’s people, exposing pride and complacency which deserve judgment. In chapters 7&8 the Lord showed Amos. What did he see? What are we to see? I don’t know about you but my eyesight is getting worse, especially at a distance. I can’t make many of you out this morning and I’m going to need at least two different sets of lenses to help me. And in a similar way to see things as they really are, to see it as it is, to see reality, to see things as God sees them we need help too – we need his Word. God’s Word opens eyes to reality. So are we sitting up and taking notice, ready to see it as it really is? As we shall see there’s no room for pride or complacency. But first we must remember the context of chapter 6. So

1. The People’s Pride and the Appalling Punishment

They say pride goes before a fall. Actually the book of Proverbs in the Bible says this (16v18):

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

And Amos chapters 6-8 show just how true this proverb is. Chapter 6 shows the pride and complacency of Israel under King Jeroboam II. Have a look at chapter 6. “ Woe to you who are complacent…” Amos begins.

There was wealth and a life of ease for many. They were wasting their lives idly sitting around singing songs and drinking heavily, covering themselves with expensive oils and perfumes while texting on their iphone 5s and watching the HD TV! Well I say watching the TV - the only reason they weren’t sitting around all day watching TV was because TV hadn’t been invented yet! But you get the picture. There was no sense of working for the common good of the people of Israel, for the less fortunate or for the next generation. No light to the Gentiles. No time for God beyond the superficial. No they were just for themselves. Self satisfaction was the order of the day. As long as they were safe and secure (v1). And the Lord abhors their pride (v8). They say don’t mention the name of the Lord (v10). Keep him out! We can do it all in our own strength (v13). They turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness (v12). Their perversion of justice flies in the face of even common human wisdom about the right order of things. Evil is glamorised and those who stand for God’s righteousness are pilloried. Therefore Amos tells them (v7) you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end. All your gains will be lost (v14).

Does that not all sound rather like this nation, a nation already under judgment for the greed of the last decade? For turning our backs on God and our Christian based laws. While those who still hold to them and to God’s Word are called bigots. Do we see it as it is?

This year we’ve been celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. For Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897 Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem ‘The Recessional’ with its famous phrase ‘lest we forget’. So what are we not to forget? Well the poem’s about Britain and, rather like v2 of ch 6 which tells of great cities that fell to Jeroboam’s campaigns to remind Israel of the dangers of their own arrogant complacency, Kipling is saying if we forget God, if we as a nation forget God as indeed this nation is doing, if there is rule with pride and arrogance and complacency then the nation and its influence will fall. Pride goes before destruction.

And what about the church? What about God’s people today? And therefore even ourselves? Are you, am I becoming complacent, perhaps facing what we might call ‘issue fatigue’, or prideful, thinking we can do everything in our own strength rather than relying on the Lord? Don’t waste your life or the money God has given you to steward. If you’ve just arrived in Newcastle as a student or for a job, don’t forget God. You see, are we really concerned about those less fortunate or do we just say that we are and do nothing? Are we being a light to those around us whatever the cost, or are we giving up and giving in when suffering comes or is a possibility? According to 1 Peter 4v17: “it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God”.

Israel was facing appalling punishment. And from what we see in chapters 7&8 that’s just the beginning of God’s judgment. So secondly

2. The prophet’s God given visions of judgment and the prophet’s prayer

Look first at chapter 7v1-6:

This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: He was preparing swarms of locusts after the king’s share had been harvested and just as the second crop was coming up. 2 When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
So the LORD relented.
“This will not happen,” the LORD said.
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. Then I cried out, “Sovereign LORD, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!”
So the LORD relented.
“This will not happen either,” the Sovereign LORD said. (7v1-6)

I don’t know if you’ve seen a locust swarm and its devastating effect on crops. It is terrifying. This vision of locusts is not a natural disaster but the Lord’s judgment. I’ve not seen a huge forest fire first hand but I’ve seen the impact. Such a fire must be terrifying too, burning up everything in its wake. It points towards the overwhelming wrath of God destroying the whole created order on the last day as 2 Peter 3:10 and Revelation 20:11 tell us. It’s a reminder that the whole of creation is in the Lord’s hands. No power in heaven, earth or hell can stand against him.

Amos has seen and sees so well that he prays, indeed he begs for forgiveness after the locust vision. How can Jacob survive? He is so small! Here is some humility after Israel’s boasting. And the Sovereign Lord is compassionate in response to Amos’ prayer. He ‘repents’ as the Authorised Version translates it or ‘relents’. And that’s not God being inconsistent but rather exercising his sovereign freedom and a willingness to show mercy to his people. We too are to pray for God to show mercy but we must not presume. Here the judgment is deferred not annulled. After the vision of fire Amos again is moved to pray. This time he simply asks God to stop. He throws himself on the mercy of God asking him to show compassion. And again God relents and shows his patience (v6). Do we see it as it is? Are we moved to pray in such a way? God’s judgment and his mercy are real.
But in v7-9 the Lord is no longer willing to relent.

This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”
“A plumb line,” I replied.
Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.
“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.” (v7-9)

His people had been built according to his standards and were expected to be true to those standards. But when they were tested they were found to be completely out of plumb. The wall was crooked. There was no evidence of repentance. And so the centres of religious and political pretension and of self righteous pride would be wiped out.

And what about his people today? What of the centres of church and political power today in this nation? Is there a desire to repent and go with the truth of God’s Word? The consequence of where we’re being led from those centres at present is surely disaster. And what about you and me? Do we see it as it is? How plumb are you and I? Are we guilty of self righteous pride? Do we need to repent? The good news is that there is forgiveness for all who repent trusting in Christ. Christ in his death on the cross fully met the demands of the law. He took the test for us. So as Paul writes in Romans 3v27:

"Sinners are justified by God, not through obeying the law but through faith in Christ".

But we’re still to obey God's commands not because obedience leads to salvation but because salvation leads to obedience. Christian freedom is freedom to serve, not freedom to sin.

But how did the leaders of Israel respond to Amos’ prophecy? Well that brings us to my third heading:

3. Preaching the pure Word of God will encounter opposition

And don’t we know it perhaps especially regarding education at present. So what should we do when opposition happens? Give up and give in? No. Look at the encounter between Amos and Amaziah the priest in v10-17:

Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. For this is what Amos is saying:
“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword [that is Jeroboam’s house or dynasty as Jeroboam died of natural causes whereas his son and successor was assassinated], and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”
Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”
Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now then, hear the word of the LORD. You say,
“‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
and stop preaching against the house of Isaac.’
“Therefore this is what the LORD says:
“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up,
and you yourself will die in a pagan country.
And Israel will certainly go into exile,
away from their native land.’” (v10-17)

Amaziah accuses Amos of treason and of being a seer - a kind of prophet not to be taken seriously. But in fact Amaziah and Jeroboam were the real traitors – traitors to God and Israel who were only helping Israel to stray. The one under God really addressing the needs of Israel was a shepherd and tender of sycamore fig trees from remote Tekoa. He wasn’t a professional prophet who was in it for the money! He’d been called by God to prophesy to Israel and he’d simply and fearlessly obeyed. Amaziah served king Jeroboam first and not the true heavenly King. So he wouldn’t allow Amos to preach God’s message to the king. How often it is that church leaders can prevent people hearing God’s message. How we need to pray for those in authority in this country. For the Queen, for the appointment of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, for the Prime Minister.

And how we as God’s people need to obey God and not men today when there’s a conflict. And humbly and fearlessly believe in the authority of God’s Word as Amos did. We need to unleash the living Word, believing in its power to do its work. That’s true whether we have a preaching ministry or whether we share the Word with friends. We must not allow an Amaziah type figure to put us off. All of us have been called by Jesus to play our part in getting the whole gospel out in the power of the Spirit. In Acts 4v18-20 the Jewish religious leaders commanded Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. What did Peter and John do in response? They chose to obey God for, they said, “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

So who did Amos obey? Amaziah or the Lord God? Did Amos run away to Judah as Amaziah asked? Did Amos stop preaching and turn to jelly? No he thought if God has called him who is Amaziah to tell him to stop? And he tells Amaziah the Word of the Lord straight. A word of severe but just judgment on both Amaziah and Israel. Amaziah had made his choice and the Word of God he rejected became his judge.

And this will happen when God’s Word is preached. When we share the gospel. Some will be attracted by the fragrance of Christ and will be saved; whereas others will smell the stench of death and reject the Word (2 Cor 2v 14-17). Each time God’s Word is preached the issues are no less than life and death. Do you see? God’s Word opens eyes to reality. But those, like Amaziah, who refuse to face reality are destroyed by the very Word they despise.

4. A Basket of Ripe Fruit and a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord

The basket of ripe fruit indicates that Israel is now ripe for judgment. The time has come. And v3 shows what the judgment will be like.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!” (v3)

It will be drastic – death instead of life. In Amos the overall message of the Bible is starkly presented. Mercy and grace are offered but if these are rejected, there remains only death and judgment. Israel chose death. And the Assyrian exile would be a preview of the Last Day itself. The Bible urges us to choose life.

V4-7 tells us why they were ripe for judgment, why God would never forget their deeds, and reveal the state of their hearts. Look at v4:

Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land… (v4)

Their religion wasn’t true but false and empty and therefore social injustice was prevalent. Self-centredness characterised the nation. Corruption, greed and exploitation abound and the poor are treated as disposable items. True religion that God accepts as pure and faultless, true faith in Jesus Christ writes James (1:27) will result in looking after orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself from being polluted by the world. So what is the state of your ‘religion’, so to speak, and heart? Is it true or false? Are we characterised by self-centeredness or Christ centeredness? Do we hear the Word of God and act upon it or do we just listen and drift? Rejection of the word will result in withdrawal of the word. V11:

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD,
“when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. (V11)

Amos’ message is starkly simple: abandon the Word of God and you lose touch with him. That message applies equally today. When the life giving Word is lost, the result is spiritual death. We need to see and heed the warning signs of today. After a resurgence of faithful expository preaching in the latter half of the twentieth century by the grace of God there is again a less than firm commitment to the authority of the Bible in fundamental areas such as the work of Jesus on the cross and Christian sexual ethics. Let’s not rob God’s Word of its authority and look to other things to reach the world and build the church.

Conclusion

I must close but let me do so with a word about God’s judgment. Some of you may be asking questions after hearing so much of it in these chapters. Bob Fyall, who preached here back in June, makes three points from Amos 8, in his little book on Amos, which are helpful. First, judgment is fair. Why? Well because the wealthy and powerful deliberately set out to destroy the poor and the vulnerable. In doing so, they place themselves in opposition to God. They ignore God and live their lives purely for selfish ends. Secondly, judgment is inevitable. The Word of judgment is not just an announcement of what will happen but the initiating of that process. Indeed, it’s part of the created order like the basket of summer fruit. And, thirdly, judgment results in the withdrawal of God’s Word. No nation, no church, no individual can prosper when God’s Word is withdrawn. As I say we need to see and heed the warning signs.

And there will be a final day of judgment – the day of the Lord – when Jesus returns as Judge. It is coming. It is inevitable. We will all have to appear before the judgment seat of Christ. So how are we to prepare for that day? How can we escape God’s wrath? Well we’re not to be proud, arrogant and complacent ignoring God. As we’ve seen that leads to eternal punishment and death. 1 Peter 5v5:God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (1 Peter 5v5)

Do you want to be opposed by God? If not humble yourself under his mighty hand and turn to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. Jesus dealt with your sin on the cross and rose from the dead so that you can have peace with God and new and eternal life. If you’ve already accepted Christ as your Saviour and Lord then remember that God’s grace is not cheap grace. Grace, according to Titus, ‘trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions’ (Titus 2v12) and to wait for the day when Christ appears living for him, putting him first. Amen.

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