I know it’s only September, but it’s never too soon to start thinking of Christmas is it? Remember Charles Dickens’ play, A Christmas Carol? It’s the story of how Ebenezer Scrooge tried to deny a Christmas break to his staff. On Christmas Eve, late at night, Scrooge is visited by three ghosts that night—the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present and the ghost of Christmas future. He sees himself as he really is. He sees the love and kindness of those he has mistreated. He sees the consequences of his wicked life. He wakes up on Christmas morning a changed man. In our passage today we see where Dickens might have got his inspiration. God instructed Amos to preach a lament for the dead, except the people were still very much alive. A lament is a poem of mourning over the death of a loved one. The most obvious example in the Bible is the book of Lamentations where Jeremiah laments the destruction of Jerusalem as they are carried off into captivity. But in Amos, God laments Israel as if they had already died.
Israel was a prosperous country. The economy was booming. The military was strong. They had never had it so good. And here comes this poor, working class outsider, lamenting their death. They probably reacted the same way Scrooge reacted to Marley the first time. This lament is a good example of Hebrew poetry. God seems to love poetry because Scripture is full of it. This particular poem was written with a common Hebrew form called a chiastic structure. Don’t get hung up on the term. Just put an A next to verses 1-3 and another A next to verses 16-17. Put a B next to verses 5-6 and another B next to verses 14-15. Put a C next to verse 7 and a C next to verses 10-13. Finally put a D next to verses 8-9. This is called a chiasm. The first and last are parallel. The next two are parallel, etc. The beauty of a chiasm is that it was written that way to put all the focus of the poem on the middle. Imagine an Oreo cookie and the way the two biscuit halves sandwich the most important crème filling in the middle. Here’s the outline.
1. Destruction is coming (5:1-3; 16-17)
2. Hope is waiting (5:4-6; 14-15)
3. Evil is abounding (5:7; 10-13)
4. God is reigning (5:8-9)
1. Destruction is Coming
“Hear this word, Israel, this lament I take up concerning you: “Fallen is Virgin Israel, never to rise again, deserted in her own land, with no one to lift her up.” This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Israel… “There will be wailingin all the streetsand cries of anguish in every public square. The farmerswill be summoned to weep and the mourners to wail. There will be wailingin all the vineyards, for I will pass throughyour midst,” says the Lord.” (Amos 5:1-3; 16-17)
The first point of God’s funeral for the living dead is that destruction is coming. Look how God pictures Israel. God describes her as a young virgin. There are very few things more tragic than the funeral of a young person. Full of potential. Her whole future ahead of her. Thast is how God viewed Israel. In all their prosperity, they had forgotten God. Well, they hadn’t really forgotten Him, they just tried to remake Him in their image. They wanted Him for what they could get. They wanted Him to make their lives easy. They didn’t want His justice or holiness. And because of that, their destruction was imminent. So much so that Amos laments as if it had already happened.
But what are they crying about in verse 16-17?Were they crying because they were sorry or crying for the things they had lost. The vineyards, the farms, the stuff. The prosperity. They weren’t weeping over their sin. Even in the midst of all the destruction, they were more worried about their comfort and their stuff than they were with their God. And because of that, God said He would pass through them. Those words should have sent a collective shudder through their memories. Over 1000 years earlier, God’s angel of death passed over Israel as He struck down the first born in Egypt. Now, instead of passing over them, He was going to pass through them. The first point of God’s lament is that destruction is coming.
2. Hope is Waiting
“This is what the Lord says to Israel: “Seek me and live; … Seek the Lord and live, or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire; it will devour them… Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.” (Amos 5:4-6; 14-15)
The second point of God’s funeral is that hope is waiting. God will not tolerate sin and rebellion, but He is also gracious. His grace is just as much a part of Him as is His holiness and perfection.
Even as He laid out the curse in Genesis 3, He made a promise to send a Saviour. God always preserved a remnant. Even in the darkest times of human history, God will not leave Himself without a witness. Look at Noah. Look at Elijah. Look at Jeremiah. The testimony of history in Scripture tells us that when a remnant sought God, they lived.
Even in the darkest times of church history, when a remnant sought God, they lived. Despite the awful persecution from the Roman Empire during the first two centuries, the early church survived as a remnant. Throughout the dark ages of Catholic Church oppression and repression of the Bible, our Reformer forefathers sought God and survived as a remnant. Look at the house churches in China, in Iran, in Iraq. God is never without a witness. Even in the midst of destruction and chaos, His call remains the same—seek Me and live. Even though destruction is coming, hope is waiting. Hope is waiting for those who seek God. But how do we seek God? Well, we don’t seek Him in Bethel and Gilgal. Remember, those are the places where they tried to combine God worship with other worship. We can’t seek God by mixing Him up with the gods of our age. Gods like entertainment, self-fulfilment, personal peace and prosperity. God will not mix. He stands alone and will be worshipped alone, in His holiness. The first point of God’s lament is that judgement is coming, second, that hope is waiting. The third point
3. Evil is Abounding
“There are those who turn justice into bitterness… There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine… There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.” (Amos 5:7; 10-13)
They had so much wealth, they built houses they didn’t even live in. They had so much food, they just dumped it. And they didn’t even consider the poor. Except to steal from them. Sound familiar? Our fast food places waste enough food to feed all of our hungry and homeless. That doesn’t include what we waste in our own homes. But surely we don’t steal from the poor? Well we sure do exploit them. Look at the National Lottery. Who buys most of the lottery tickets? How many lottery tickets do you think the Prime Minister buys? If that isn’t exploitation of the poor, I don’t know what is. And what do the good people do? They keep their mouth shut. They’re not bothering me, so I won’t bother them. The prudent keep silent in an evil time, and become complicit if we won’t speak out like Amos.
God’s lament is pronouncing that judgement is coming, hope is waiting and evil is abounding. Finally,
4. God is Reigning
“He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight 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. With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin.” (Amos 5:8-9)
Remember how Hebrew poetry works? Like an Oreo cookie. All the stuff on the outside points to the most important stuff in the middle. Well, this is the crème filling. Everything points us to the living God. Who He is. His nature. His character. He is the One who created the heavens and the earth.
And this is where we meet Jesus in Amos. At the centre of the chiasm – the cross. For all of our medical and scientific advancement, we still can’t even figure out how to live at peace with one another. We can design chemical, biological and nuclear weapons that can destroy the world’s population many times over but we can’t find peace that will last. We can harness the sun, wind and waves to generate electricity for entire cities. Yet we can’t harness the emotional power of a single tear. But God can. He is the only One who is powerful enough to turn something as tragic as death into something as beautiful as new life.
How do we know? Because he did. On that first Good Friday over 2000 years ago, God poured out His wrath on His only begotten Son. The Lord Jesus willingly endured the pain and death of crucifixion. He endured a cruel death so you wouldn’t have to. And the day was turned to night. But three days later, God turned the shadows of death into morning when Jesus rose from the grave. That’s how powerful God is. God is reigning.
You see the Apostles looked back at the words of the prophet Amos and realised he predicted what Jesus would do. In Acts 15, Barnabas and Paul return to Jerusalem from their adventures and describe with joy how people of many other nations were trusting Jesus.
“When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ things known from long ago.” (Acts 15:13-18)
James is quoting from Amos 9 where we have a vision of the Lord standing by the altar promising to restore his people. But we are not talking about a restoration of the Jewish people to the land from exile. Amos foresees a restoration of people of many nations to the Lord. The place where Amos sees the Lord Jesus standing is very significant. Where is he? Standing by the altar. The altar is the place of sacrifice. Where wrath and mercy meet. Graham Kendrick had a similar vision of Jesus standing in heaven which he put into a song.
We worship at your feet
Where wrath and mercy meet
And a guilty world is washed
By love’s pure stream
For us he was made sin
Oh, help me take it in
Deep wounds of love cry out ‘Father, forgive’
I worship, I worship
The Lamb who was slain.
Man of heaven, born to earth
To restore us to your heaven
Here we bow in awe beneath
Your searching eyes
From your tears comes our joy
From your death our life shall spring
By your resurrection power we shall rise.
This is Amos’ glorious vision of Jesus, reigning in heaven. When you feel like you have wasted your life. When you feel like you have screwed up. When you feel a complete and utter failure. When your life seems to be in ruins. Jesus says I can rebuild your life. I can restore you too. Even though,
1. Destruction is coming.
2. Hope is waiting. Even though,
3. Evil is abounding.
4. God is reigning.
Let us pray.
With grateful thanks to Jim Drake over at sermoncentral.com who did all the hard work in preparing this sermon. I simply refined, pruned and contextualised it.