Amos: The Nation to be Destroyed and then Restored / Paul: Death through Adam, Life Through Christ

Amos 8:1-9:15

God showed Amos a basket of ripe fruit that indicated that ‘the time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer’ (Amos 8:2). The Israelites would suffer for trampling the needy, doing away with the poor and cheating people with dishonest scales. God doesn’t like greed and injustice.

God would send a new kind of famine – not of lack of food or a thirst for water – but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11). Many people in this country choose to live in a faith famine during their spiritually empty, hedonistic lifestyle. Until something terrible happens to them and they experience illness, addiction or the death of someone close to them they won’t search for the word of the Lord.

God is very angry at the Israelites and is going to ruthlessly hunt down all the sinners throughout the kingdom, no matter where they try to hide. God definitely has a hard edge and we don’t want to annoy him. When we are friends with God we find comfort that he is omnipresent and with us to the ends of the earth. Unrepentant sinners are terrified to find out they cannot escape the clutches of God. ‘I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good’ (Amos 9:4). The relationship between God and evil is a difficult topic. Some pastors gloss over this with a childish ‘God is good’ and ‘devil is bad’ simplicity. However, the devil is not allowed to do anything unless God has permitted him to do so. God is in charge of everything that takes place. The devil is constrained in his actions (or we would all be dead already) and so if something bad is happening in your life, it is because God has loosened the restraints on the devil to allow it to take place. Allowing something to take place or neglecting to stop it when you have the power (and God has all the power) is the same as doing it yourself. So we can safely conclude that God allows both good and evil events, even though he wants us all to live in love and peace. When God allows evil to happen it is because he wants a greater good to come out of it.

We can see the horrors of the holocaust in Amos 9:2-4 with the Jews driven into exile and slayed by the sword. Wherever they hid, the Jewish people were hunted down and slayed. It is a terrifying prophecy.

God was going to shake Israel as grain is shaken in a sieve to remove the rubbish. All the complacent sinners would be sifted out to die by the sword.  

Eventually, God would restore Israel and bring his exiled people back – as he demonstrated in 1948. The Israelis rebuilt cities, planted vineyards and ate their own fruit (Amos 9:14).

Shepherds play a key role in the history of Israel. Amos, a shepherd turned prophet, predicted exile followed by restoration. Jeremiah prophesied that the bad shepherds of the Israelites would be punished and that God himself would gather the remnant of his flock from exile. God would place good shepherds over them to tend them until the ultimate good shepherd, Jesus, would be born (Jer.23:5). As soon as baby Jesus had been born, the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem were called by the angels to pay homage to the king of all shepherds.  

No matter how hostile their neighbours are, aggression against Israel will always be pointless as God has replanted his holy people in their own land, that he had given them ‘never again to be uprooted’ (Amos 9:15).

Romans 5:12-21

Sin entered the world through one man, Adam and we all retain part of his damaged nature, a tendency to choose sin. Death came through sin and reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, when the law was given. We were all condemned by the single sin of Adam but we have been redeemed by Jesus, the new Adam.

God’s gift of grace came after millions of sins and brought justification (Romans 5:16). Death was able to spread through the whole human race by Adam’s sin, but Jesus’ death gives us abundant life through God’s endless provision of grace and gift of righteousness. We are no longer guilty and condemned in God’s sight once we are baptized and believe in Jesus. Through God’s priceless gift of grace, he has made us his adopted children, co-heirs with his son and he remains pleased with us.

The people of the world are no longer condemned to death as we were due to Adam’s sin. Our justification by the blood of Jesus has brought eternal life to all people through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

Proverbs 17:15-24

God detests injustice (Prov.17:15). We should never accept bribes to pervert the course of justice (Prov.17:23).

We won’t prosper if we have perverse hearts and deceitful tongues (Prov.17:20). After becoming baptized, we need to ask the Holy Spirit living within us to sanctify us, to day-by-day gradually drive the perversity out of our hearts.

True friends are exceedingly precious and may be more help in adversity than many members of our family. True friends can be rare and often we can only count our married partner as a true friend.  Men often have acquaintances rather than ‘friends’. They share a hobby or pastime together and this might just be football or drinking. It is very rare to have a friendship like David had with Saul’s son, Jonathan. They were friends that loved at all times (Prov.17:17). David was a man after God’s own heart and so would have avoided picking quarrels with his friend (Prov.17:19).    

Foolish people do not bring joy to their parents and they waste money. They have no desire to get wisdom. We should pray the Holy Spirit each day to receive wisdom and to esteem it more than gold. ‘A discerning man keeps wisdom in view’ (Prov.17:24).

Being cheerful makes us healthy. If our spirit is crushed, an evil spirit of trauma can latch onto us and prolong our grief. Evil spirits want us to destroy ourselves and those around us. We need to attend a Spirit-filled church to praise and worship God and to receive prayer for inner healing.

Amos: The Cows of Bashan / Paul: Righteousness through Faith: 16th July 2021

Amos 3:1-4:13

God chose the Israelites, out of all the people on the earth, to be his holy people Their favoured status did not exempt them from punishment. They had betrayed him so must face righteous justice and answer for their sins (Amos 3:2). I have heard some pastors say that God does not bring hardship, that is the work of the devil. However, the devil can do nothing without the permission of God: ‘When disaster comes to a city has not the Lord caused it?’ (Amos 3:6).

Amos predicted that an enemy would overrun the land (Amos 3:11). The Assyrian exiled the Israelites in 722 BC. Just a small remnant was saved – like a piece of a sheep’s ear prised from the mouth of a lion. Amos was called to testify that God would destroy the altar at Bethel where the Israelites had worshipped their golden calf idol. Their fancy houses and mansions would be destroyed.

I rather like the expression ‘you cows of Bashan’ (Amos 4:1) referring to the women of Samaria living it up, oppressing the poor and needy and ordering their husbands to serve them in their luxurious mansions. Bashan was a prosperous fertile region with lush pastures. It reminds me of how people are desperate to go on foreign holidays at the moment to lounge by the pool and sip cocktails while coronavirus cases are surging and hospital services are starting to become strained again.

Amos criticised the Israelites’ religious practices with withering sarcasm. Amos 4:4 is like us saying: ‘Go to church and sin, go to the cathedral and sin yet more’. Their religion had become meaningless rituals about which they bragged to their neighbours. They had turned two of their most important holy sites, Bethel and Gilgal, into centres for idol worship. Bethel was where God had promised Jacob he would bless all the peoples on earth through him and his offspring (Gen.28:14). The Israelites had made a fresh start with God at Gilgal – after forty years in the wilderness – by circumcising themselves prior to the assault on Jericho (Josh.5:1-9).   

The Lord had tried many strategies to get the Israelites to return to him: from starvation to drought, pestilence, plague, war and violent insurrections, yet they still would not turn to him. They made a show of going to their heathen places of worship and bragging about their offerings but their hearts were far from God.    

I know God has snatched me from the fire on more than one occasion. I was the burning stick that was miraculously saved from a near certain fate (Amos 4:11).

The Lord God Almighty was preparing to unleash his wrath on his people and so they should prepare to meet their maker (Amos 4:12).

Romans 3:9-31

We are all the same under the skin no matter what race or religion we are (Rom.3:9).

None of us can be righteous in the sight of God by our own efforts. We are made righteous by repenting of our sins and believing in God’s son, Jesus Christ. Laws and regulations just make us aware of our shortcomings in complying with them – and our sin.

Most humans look after their own interests rather than seek God. It is only when the Holy Spirit acts on our hearts that we start to search for God.

Rom.3:12-18 is still applicable to us today. We live in a world of cursing and bitterness. Our feet are swift to shed blood. Many people live in ruin and misery. Many of us have no fear of God and have tongues that practise deceit as we speak foul, poisonous words revealing the decay of our hearts. We do not live in a peaceful world. There is endless conflict between nations over power, territory and resources.   

Some companies maintain expensive quality systems with procedures on how work should be carried out. Periodically, auditors are sent around the company to check how employees are complying with these rules and regulations. No-one ever achieves 100% in these audits. The auditors always find some nit-picking error even if they have to fabricate one to justify their jobs. Cunning employees leave a minor task undone to distract an auditor from digging deeper into more major failings. Rather than ensure the quality of the product, an over-complicated quality system just makes everyone a failure.

Many people today have mouths full of cursing and bitterness (Rom.3:14) and have no fear of God (Rom.3:18). Everyone has God’s law written on their hearts and so we have no excuse for not knowing him. We have to keep churches thriving as welcoming places of light, so that when the Holy Spirit convicts an individual of their sins, they have somewhere to go to teach them the gospel.

Christians are made righteous outside of the Jewish law. The law and the prophets testified that this would eventually happen. ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe’. As I am using the NIV Bible translation, we miss out on the classic word ‘propitiation’, which the NIV translates as ‘a sacrifice of atonement’. MacArthur (2021) points out that ‘propitiation’ is crucial to the significance of Christ’s sacrifice with the word carrying the idea of appeasement or satisfaction ‘in this case Christ’s violent death satisfied the offended holiness and wrath of God against those for whom Christ died (Rom.3:25).

The wrath of God was satisfied’ as in the song ‘In Christ alone’.

Paul wrote that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom.3:23). However, Jesus didn’t sin until he became sin as he died on the cross. His mother, Mary, was sinless from the time of her conception but, as this revelation wouldn’t be officially recognised for another 1,800 years, we can let Paul off.  Jesus could not have come from a sinful egg or undergo his gestation in a sinner’s womb.

God justifies us freely and his justification is an unearned, pure gift from him (grace) through faith in the blood of Jesus that was sacrificed for our redemption (Rom. 3:24-25).

God had to sacrifice his son because of heavenly justice. When we lived in sin, we were at war with God. Someone had to pay the price for our unpunished sin and so God decided to do it himself because he loves us. Jesus paid the ‘ransom price’, the debt, that the courts of heaven had set out for our sin to be redeemed (Mark 10:45). By Jesus’ sacrificial death we were set free to be friends with God, restored back to a living relationship with our loving Father.  

Jesus was the only perfect man, the perfect sacrifice who could reverse the curse of original sin that Adam’s rebellion had blighted us with. ‘We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the holy body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (Hebrews 10:10).

We are justified by our faith in Jesus and how does faith come? Faith comes by hearing the gospel message, listening to and understanding about Jesus in the Word of God! (Rom.10:17).

Psalm 85:8-13

God’s salvation is near to us when we respect his awesome power, righteousness and might (Ps.85:9).

When we are made righteous with God through our faith in Jesus we experience God’s love and faithfulness and eternal peace (Ps.85:18).

As faithfulness springs forth from the Christians on earth, righteousness comes down to us from heaven (Ps.85:11).

When we stop rebelling and invite Jesus into our hearts as our personal saviour, the Lord will indeed give us what is good (Ps.85:12).

We may still face painful trials but they will be good for us, to train us and refine us like gold so that we can yield a precious harvest.

Once we are made righteous with God through faith, our heart is prepared for the Holy Spirit to take up residence within us (Ps.85:13).

Image: Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit: May 24th 2021

1 Samuel 14:24-15:35

Saul had bound his army under a curse and stipulated that no-one was allowed to eat anything until evening. This seems very unreasonable as an army ‘marches on its stomach’. No-one told Jonathan, Saul’s son, about this and so when he came across some wild honey he ate a little ‘and his eyes brightened’ (v.27). When told about the curse for eating, Jonathan denounced it as a bad idea.

Other solders started to eat some of the livestock they had plundered from the Amalekites, together with its blood – which is strictly against God’s rules. Saul pointed out their error: ‘You have broken faith’ (v.33). He made them butcher the animals in accordance with Jewish law and set up his first altar.

Saul asked God if his army should continue to raid the Philistines. God was silent on the matter. Sin was blocking communication. Saul prayed to God and cast lots to find out who in his whole army had sinned. He found out that it was his son, Jonathan.

Jonathan thought it was very unfair that he should be sentenced to death for innocently eating a little honey and all of the army agreed. Jonathan had been the hero who had initiated the victorious assault on the Philistines. The loyal army rescued Jonathan ‘and he was not put to death’ (v.45).

After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he successfully inflicted punishment all the nation’s enemies on every side. He drafted mighty men into his service.

Samuel gave Saul God’s instructions to attack the wicked Amalekites and destroy everything that belonged to them (15:3).

Saul assembled a massive army and conquered them but he spared Agag, the Amalekite king, and the best of the livestock. God was sorry that he had made Saul king because he had not carried out his instructions. We might say: he had not carried out his instructions ‘fully’. However, nearly is not good enough for God. We have to comply with his requests to the letter.

Samuel was troubled by God complaining about Saul’s disobedience and rushed off to visit him. Saul was oblivious to his sin and jubilantly said: ‘I have carried out the Lord’s instructions’ (v.13). Samuel pointed out that the bleating of the Amalekite sheep and the lowing of their cattle indicated that he hadn’t. Saul then made the excuse that they had spared the best animals to sacrifice them to the Lord. However, the Lord demands obedience not sacrifice. ‘Rebellion is like the sin of divination and arrogance like the evil of idolatry’ (v.25). We must always heed God’s word and never dare to think that we know best.

Saul finally admitted his sin. He had ‘violated the Lord’s command and your instructions’ (v.24). He said he had been ‘afraid of the people and so I gave in to them’ (v.24). Saul begged Samuel to forgive him and go back with him and even tore the edge of Samuel’s robe in desperation. Samuel refused to listen. He said that God had rejected Saul as king over Israel and ‘he does not lie or change his mind’ (v.29). However, in the book of Jonah, God does relent from destroying the great city, Nineveh, after the Ninevites proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth. He proved then that he is a gracious and compassionate God.

Saul humbly declared he had sinned and begged Samuel to come back to Gilgal with him so that he could worship the Lord. Samuel agreed but he himself put Agag, the king of the Amalekites, to death. Samuel and Saul then separated and did not see each other again. Samuel mourned for Saul and ‘the Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel’ (v.35).

The main point of the story seems to be that we should practice total obedience to God. Praise the Lord that we now have the Sacrament of Reconciliation / Confession that allows us to ask for God’s forgiveness when we have been less than perfect. Our righteousness has been granted to us through the precious blood sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.

John 14:1-31

Jesus told us not to let our hearts be troubled (v.1). We should trust in God and trust in Jesus. Jesus will prepare a place for us in his Father’s house, which has many rooms. Jesus will come back and take us to be with him.

Jesus is ‘the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me’ (v.6). The disciples had seen Jesus and so had also seen God the Father. The Holy Trinity are all enmeshed together: Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus and the Holy Spirit proceeds from both of them.

If we have faith, we can carry out the miracles that Jesus did and we can ‘do even greater things than these’ (v.12). Jesus returned to God after three short years of public ministry and we have our entire lifetime to carry out miracles for the glory of God.

Jesus will do whatever we ask him in his name (v.13-14).

The Holy Spirit, the Counsellor and the Spirit of Truth, will be with us forever after we have been baptized. He will live in us and be with us. The secular world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. The Holy Spirit gives us supernatural power and love. The entry gift to unlocking that power is the gift of praying in tongues, which edifies us, building up our spirit within us to work for God.

Jesus also lives in us and we should become more like him every day by obeying his teaching / his commands of love. When we love Jesus, we are also loved by the Father. Jesus will show himself to us (v.21).

The Holy Spirit ‘will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you’ said Jesus (v.26). This passage is at odds with some Christians who will only take their teaching directly from the words of the Bible. There has been almost two thousand years since Jesus died and in that time the Holy Spirit has gradually taught humans thousands of things that are only hinted at in the Bible. Jesus did not want us to set the Bible in stone and for the Holy Spirit not to evolve his teaching as we became more ready for it. Of course, scripture is the supreme authority and we should never believe something that is in opposition to it. The most famous example is the belief that Mary, Mother of Jesus, was within sin from the moment of her conception. That wasn’t confirmed as the truth until 1854. It is a logical deduction from scripture that someone can’t be the mother of the sinless son of God, unless she is herself within sin. This has long been the belief of lay people because it’s obvious. However, the Holy Spirit had to work on the head of the church for eighteen hundred years before it was finally confirmed as the truth. If you don’t believe this because it isn’t explicitly written in the Bible, you are eighteen hundred years behind the rest of us. Mary is also a very valuable ally. She is our powerful and compassionate friend and intercessor whenever we are fighting the devil. Demons are terrified of her and she will always come to our help. As Mother of God, she is mother of us all.

Jesus gave us his peace. The world tries to give us stress, worry and anxiety. However, we should not be troubled or afraid (v.27).

The ‘prince of the world’ (v.30), the devil, was on his way to fall into God’s trap by ensuring Jesus’ death on the cross. The devil had no hold on Jesus because Jesus never sinned. To remain out of the devil’s clutches we have to remain in a state of grace. As soon as we commit the smallest sin, we should pray to God for forgiveness so we keep ourselves from being soiled by the world. Small sins can become habitual and give a legal right for the devil to set up camp within us. We need to nip sin in the bud and ask God to forgive us on account of the precious blood of Jesus that wipes all sin away.

Jesus lived in total obedience to God even up to willingly accepting his death on the cross because: ‘the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me’ (v.31).

Proverbs 12:28-13:9

Jesus made us righteous in God’s eyes through his death on the cross. The light of the righteous shines brightly (v.9). Jesus is the light of the world.

We can never be wholly righteous through our own efforts but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. There is life in the way of righteousness, ‘along that path is immortality’ (v.28). ‘The righteous hate what is false’ (v.5).

If we are wise, we heed instruction (13:1). If we are gracious and loving with our words, we will enjoy good things. We should guard our lips and not speak rashly.

Image: Monchelsea, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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