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).
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).
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).