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

Jonah Flees before Preaching to the Ninevites / God’s Righteous Judgement: 14th July 2021

Jonah 1:1-4:11

Today, we have the entire entertaining book of Jonah. This feels like light relief after 2 Kings even if God was threatening to unleash his full wrath on a mighty Gentile city.

God told Jonah (meaning ‘dove’) to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, and preach to its people on account of their wickedness (Jonah 1:2). Nineveh was notorious for its cruelty, idol worship and prostitution.

MacArthur (2021, 1161) notes that a ‘unverifiable Jewish tradition says Jonah was the son of the woman of Zarephath whom Elijah had raised from the dead’ (1 Kings 17:22-24).  

The wickedness of the city had ‘come up before’ God. This reminds me of the angel saying to Cornelius: ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God’ (Acts 10:4). This implies there is a threshold quantity of good deeds or wickedness that alerts God to a person or place and prompts him to intervene directly.

Jonah promptly ran away, which is seriously underestimating the reach of God. There is nowhere in the heavens or on earth where we can escape from God’s presence. We might alternatively try to escape from God by using mind-bending drugs or alcohol but He will always keep calling us to Him. Perhaps Jonah thought that God was confined to the temple in Jerusalem. He was wrong.

Jonah embarked on a ship to Tarshish and so God sent a violent storm. Each of the sailors cried out ‘to his own god’ in vain to save the ship from breaking up. While the storm raged, Jonah was fast asleep. Jesus slept through a storm at sea due to his faith in God (Mark 4:38). Jonah shows that the wicked can mimic the actions of Jesus. We need discernment to see if an action is good or evil.

The sailors cast lots to find out who was responsible for the calamity and pinpointed Jonah. The Old Testament has several stories that show that ‘casting lots’ can give a correct answer such as Lev.16:8 and Num.26:55. When humans cast lots on the instruction of God, he intervenes to show his divine will and purpose.

The sailors had previously been told that Jonah was ‘running away from God’ but they became terrified when Jonah told them that his God had made the sea and the land. Jonah admitted his guilt and told them to throw him overboard. Jonah had put other lives at risk by trying to hide from God as can we if we try to hide by means of drugs, crime or alcohol. There is no such thing as a private sin. All sins affect other people.

The sailors were reluctant to do this but rowing was ineffective and the sea grew even wilder. They threw Jonah overboard and the sea became calm. This converted the sailors who feared the Lord, offered a sacrifice and made vows to him. Through their frightening ordeal, they had discovered the one living God with power over creation.

God will rescue us from anything if He has an unfulfilled purpose for our life. Jonah was swallowed by a ‘great fish’ and had to live in the fish for three days and three nights – the same period of time that Jesus’s body was in the grave, prior to his glorious resurrection. It was interesting to see that a man survived being briefly swallowed by a whale a few weeks ago but the Bible does not use the Hebrew word for whale, it definitely states fish. Scientists have identified teeth of a giant extinct shark (Otodus megalodon) which appears to be extinct now. It was an enormous relative of the great white. Maybe God created this enormous shark for the sole purpose of swallowing Jonah whole. https://www.news.com.au/technology/science/animals/man-reveals-what-it-was-like-to-survive-being-swallowed-by-a-humpback-whale/news-story/778d2566919e1ef279bcc03a1f21462d

While inside the fish for three days, Jonah prayed in distress and God answered! Being hurled into the sea, swirled by the currents, surrounded by the deep and engulfed by the water had made Jonah remember and turn to his creator. God had saved Jonah from drowning when his life ‘was ebbing away’ (Jonah 2:7). Jonah acknowledged that ‘salvation comes from the Lord’ (Jonah 2:9).

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs’ (Jonah 2:8).

At the Lord’s command, the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land. Being a prophet isn’t a glamorous affair. Maybe he washed himself in the sea before staggering into the city, but there is a legend that the acid in the fish’s stomach had dramatically bleached his clothes, skin and hair.

As the Ninevites worshipped both the fish goddess, Nanshe, and Dagon, who was depicted as half man half fish, being vomited onto the shore by a giant fish was quite an entrance. God does have a great sense of humour.

Now that Jonah was obedient, God told him again to go to the vast city of Nineveh. On the very first day he entered the city, the Ninevites listened to his proclamation of doom and responded. They declared a fast and all put on sackcloth. They must have been aware of their own depravity and sin and it took just one person (vomited from a giant fish) to push them into repentance. Even the king humbled himself and issued a proclamation to fast, wear sackcloth and pray.

Unlike the Ninevites, the Pharisees in Jesus’ time did not repent even when faced with the Son of God (Matt.12:41). Jesus denounced the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida for not repenting in sackcloth and ashes after witnessing his signs and wonders (Matt.11:21).

God heard the prayers of the Ninevites. He saw that they had turned from their evil ways and relented from destroying them.

God can change his mind on occasions.

Jonah dared to be angry at God’s compassion. He didn’t consider that his journey had been worthwhile even though his arrival had catalysed the Ninevites to change heart. He had wanted the pagan Ninevites to suffer God’s wrath in punishment for their grievous sins. He had been rescued by God but didn’t want tens of thousands of Gentiles to experience the same mercy.

God made a vine grow over Jonah’s head which pleased him as it shaded his head. God then withered it with the help of a worm and scorched Jonah with an east wind, which infuriated him.

Throughout the book of Jonah, God shows himself to be the master of all creation using a storm on the sea, a giant fish, a vine, wind and a worm to get his points across. The Ninevites had been softened up to repent by recently enduring two plagues and a solar eclipse (MacArthur, 2021, 1161).   

God pointed out that he had a right to be concerned about the one hundred and twenty thousand people in Nineveh who ‘cannot tell their right hand from the left’ (Jonah 4:10-11). Does this refer to actual children or were all the adults in Nineveh like children in God’s eyes? Jonah had been concerned about a vine, which he hadn’t even planted. God cares for all of us and sent Jesus both to the Jews and the Gentiles to gather us like lost sheep, so we won’t be destroyed.

We need to urgently respond to the Word of God as the sinners of Nineveh did. Gods’ kindness and forbearance should lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Jesus died for us when we were still sinners. The angels in heaven rejoice when a sinner repents. Imagine their celebrations when the entire city of Nineveh was saved (Luke 15:10).

When Jesus returns, the Jews will fulfil their Jonah-esque mission. They will finally preach to everyone to repent. God commissioned the Jews and called on them to spread the Gospel. He has miraculously saved them on numerous occasions despite them trying to evade and disobey him. Salvation will come from them in the end.

Romans 2:1-16

We must not be hypocrites and the easiest way to avoid hypocrisy is to avoid judging others. Let us share the Word of God and we all can judge ourselves against it.

When we pass judgement on others, we often find we will be guilty of doing the same things.   

Many of us have carried on with sinful secular lives with little regard to God, showing our contempt for his kindness, tolerance and patience. Eventually, the Holy Spirit will try to crash into our lives and convict us of our sins. We will then realise how blessed we have been to get away with our dreadful behaviour that warrants death. When we realise God’s kindness and forbearance at sparing our sinful lives, it leads us to repentance.

We need to repent of our stubbornness and unrepentance, which will have stored up wrath against us.

To gain eternal life, we need to ‘persist in doing good, seeking glory, honour and immortality’ (Romans 2:7). If we are self-seeking, reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. The Mother Church teaches that to stand a change of being granted eternal life, we must persist in resisting grave sin right to the end of our lives. It is a sin of presumption to judge ourselves and conclude we are saved.  Other denominations teach that once we have said the ‘sinner’s prayer’, we are saved forever. Our good deeds are the evidence of our salvation and not the basis for it. However, Paul confirms that we must persist in doing good. We can’t rest on our laurels. There will be trouble and distress for every person who does evil and that includes ‘born-again’ ‘saved’ Christians for ‘God does not show favouritism’ (Rom.2:11).

We all have God’s law written on our own hearts, which is why people in the furthest reaches of the world, who have never heard of Jesus, can be saved as long as they follow a good life. The Mother Church teaches that the unreached who would have desired baptism if anyone had told them about it can be saved if they live virtuous lives. Jesus achieved victory on the cross and we can only get to the father through him. I watched a gentleman give a testimony on Sid Roth’s ‘Only Supernatural’ program. He had received a vision of the queue to get into heaven. Jesus asked each person at the gates ‘Did you learn to love?’ That was the requirement to get through him to reach the father.

‘God will judge men’s secret thoughts through Jesus Christ’ (Rom.2.16).

Psalm 86:1-7

God will restore us when we turn to Jesus and believe in him. The Holy Spirit will come into us when we are baptized and revive us.

Jesus’ precious blood did not just cover our sins, it washed them away so that God forgave our iniquities.

When we are baptized, God removes our transgressions from us ‘as far as the east is from the west’ (Ps.103:12).

After I went to my first confession, I could no longer remember my post-baptism sins. God delighted in showing me mercy and compassion.  I had a vision that my sins were chained down in deep water below opaque ice.

God had hurled all my sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).   

Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Jonah#/media/File:Pieter_Lastman_-Jonah_and_the_Whale-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

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