Jesus at Nazareth (Part Seven)

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”  “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:23-27 NIV).

Next, we should listen carefully as Jesus taught the truth of sovereign grace, that the salvation of people depends on the Lord (cf. Jonah 2:9), and not on anything in the individual or in groups of people. Admittedly, this is hard teaching, because we like to assume that “we’re something special”. We see ourselves as basically loveable and that God should do us favors, in spite of the clear teaching of the Scriptures that God does not show partiality. For God shows no partiality  (Romans 2:11 ESV). It humbles our proud hearts to hear that salvation, and all benefits we enjoy, are completely from God’s grace. God does not owe us anything; instead, all comes from him and is for his glory. And who has ever given to God, that he should be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:35-36 CSB).

Jesus taught this truth to the people of his hometown of Nazareth by two examples from the narrative of the Old Testament. The Lord Christ has been speaking about prophets not being accepted in their hometown, and these two incidents would have provided the hometown of the two prophets (that is, Israel) enough from their biased viewpoint to reject both Elijah and Elisha. These men were the greatest of the miracle working prophets in Israel’s history. The Lord God did signs and wonders through them to testify that he was again speaking to Israel through the many prophets that would follow them.

God did not send Elijah to help any widow in Israel. Instead, Elijah helped a widow from a nearby nation, a Gentile! We read the Bible too casually, which is the reason we overlook such actions by God. To the people of that time, Israel was God’s favorite people, so he would surely care for them, not a Gentile. The concept was repulsive to their minds.

Jesus doubled down with the next example to make sure they got the point. Israel had many people sorely afflicted with leprosy in Elisha’s time. However, none of them were healed by Elisha or by anyone else. The only one healed was a Syrian, another Gentile, named Naaman, who also happened to be a general in the Syrian army that was oppressing Israel. It was twice as nauseous to people who thought that God owed them care and healings and other goodies. Their hostile reaction in the next paragraph in Luke was easy to predict.

The sovereign God is not in debt to anyone. He is not obligated to give us and our people group nice things. We cannot demand healings or financial bailouts or new cars or fabulous vacation trips or a multitude of other pleasures. Everything good is a gift from God (Acts 14:14-17). Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created (James 1:16-18 NIV).

The people of Nazareth could not demand signs and wonders from the Lord Jesus. Neither can we. God is sovereign, in control of grace, and he gives grace to whomever he chooses to do. Let us humble ourselves before the Lord.

Grace and peace,

Israel’s Folly of Rejecting God (Part Two)

Amos 2:6-16

This is what the Lord says:“For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent” (Amos 2:6a NIV).

Israel sinned by despising God’s grace (2:9-12). Think of the grace that they looked down on. God had protected them (2:9). The Amorite tribe was one nation among many of the Canaanite peoples. Though they were skilled and strong warriors, the Lord easily defeated all of them for his people. The Lord had provided for them (2:10; cf. Psalm 78:9ff). Many times God called his people Israel to remember what he did for them in their release from Egyptian bondage. In the same way the church is to recall and reflect on Christ’s greater Exodus. As a song has said, “Lead me to the cross, where we first met; draw me to my knees so that we can talk.”

Even more, God had spoken to them. The means was prophecy (2:11-12). Yet Israel did not want to hear these men whom God had sent to them. The same thing happens today. Many church goers do not want to hear God’s word; most want it diluted to a formless, powerless slop of mushy words. Faithful ministers are blessings from the Lord to his people. See Ephesians 4; 1 Corinthians 12. We should pray that God would continue to call men to preach his word.

Some ideas about the terrible nature of the sin of despising God’s grace: When a person despises God and his grace, the God who alone can help them, his or her case is truly desperate. People are in a dangerous condition when they reject, suppress, or even merely ignore God’s message to them (2 Corinthians 5:20). We should be careful to remember the mercies that God has given to us. This was important for Israel (Deuteronomy 8:2, 18; 15:15; 24:18, 22), and it remains important for the church (Luke 22:19).

What were the consequences of Israel’s sins (2:13-16)? How awesome their judgment was! (2:13) God would crush them. This finally fell on them when they rejected Jesus the Messiah. Their house was left to them desolate (Matthew 23:38). Human strength would completely fail as a means of escape (2:14-16).

However, praise the Lord, hope continues! There is one who was crushed for us, in order that we might not be crushed (Isaiah 53:5). Seek the Lord while he may be found.Grace and peace,

Israel’s Folly of Rejecting God (Part One)

Amos 2:6-16

This is what the Lord says:“For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent” (Amos 2:6a NIV).

In the previous section (1:3-2:5), we learned of God’s judgment on the nations surrounding Israel. All except Judah were Gentile nations, and God called them to account on the basis of what they should have known about God. But Judah was judged according to God’s law.

As we read these verses, we must remember that it is God who is speaking through his prophet. The covenant Lord spoke against the covenant breaking of his people. Relationships bring with them responsibilities. Yet the nature of the human heart is to think only of the benefits that we get from a relationship with another, especially being related to God. In this context God announces judgment on his people (2:6), and as he does so, he calls them to account for their failures in this covenant relationship.

Amos began with Israel’s sin of breaking God’s law (2:6-8). Notice that the same opening form was used in the address to Israel as in the address to the surrounding nations.

First, we have an examination of the general ways they sinned.

  • They were guilty of greed and materialism (2:6). God would have us live contented with his gifts and to give thanks for them. Greed shows a basic discontent with God’s providence, which leads to a life of pursuing the things of this world.
  • They were guilty of sexual immorality (2:7b). God’s visible people ought to have been demonstrating a different way of life from the surrounding Gentile nations. The tragedy of the contemporary church is how it grovels in the same cesspool of sexual immorality that the world is in.
  • They were guilty of oppression and the perversion of justice (2:7a, 8a). Servants of the righteous Lord ought to value justice highly, yet Israel had a different attitude.
  • They were guilty of religious corruption (2:8b). This sin is to be traced back to the sin of Jeroboam I, and from him back to the Golden Calf (Exodus 32).

They might have been religious, but it was a religion far from what God intended—showing love for God and love for one’s neighbors. Love is the greatest thing in religion; without it everything else is useless (1 Cor 13:13).

Israel was judged according to the standard of the law for these sins (cf. Romans 2:12). Amos exposed their breaking of the law covenant. Although they had already departed from the Lord, they were still responsible to be faithful to him and the covenant. A desire to want to live our own way does not absolve God’s people from the obligation to believe his word and to follow him.

They sold the righteous for silver, etc.; that is, they sold them into slavery (2:6; cf. Deuteronomy 16:18-19). “Those who will wrong their consciences for anything will come at length to do it for next to nothing” (Henry). Let us hear and remember! People in bondage to sin will eventually want to enslave others. This is a growing evil in our time.

They trampled on the heads of the poor (2:7a); contrast Leviticus 25:35-43; Deuteronomy 15:7-11. God’s standard is equal justice. It would have been just as wrong to pervert justice in favor of the poor. But as a general rule, the poor suffer more from injustice in court than the rich.

Father and son used the same girl (2:7b). This probably refers to the sin of incest (Leviticus 18:6-17) rather than the sin of temple prostitution. God’s standard of permissible sexual relations narrowed from before the law to under the law, and now is even more restricted (ex: a believer may only marry a believer). Involvement in this sin profaned God’s name.

They misused garments taken in pledge (2:8). Compare their conduct with what God’s law required (Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:10-13). To misuse these garments by sleeping on them by an altar to a false god (a supposed way to get a revelation from that false god) aggravated the crime.

They made the Nazirites drink wine (2:12). Consider what God required of the Nazirite during the time of his vow (Numbers 6:1-14). It was another way of corrupting another person’s devotion to his or her God. The true guilt of sin prompts a person to want to lead others away from the Lord.

All of this demonstrated that Israel was far from God, as were her neighbors. Wherever Amos looked he saw departure from the true and living God. He had a hard assignment from the Lord to minister for God in that religious and moral climate. But Amos was faithful! May God grant us grace to continue to walk faithfully with him.

Grace and peace,

The Judging of Israel’s Neighbors

Amos 1:3-2:5

As we start to look at this long section, we need to remember the main purpose of the message of Amos. He was sent to minister God’s Word to Israel. Notice the phrase “concerning Israel” in verse one. Was Amos using this section to gain a hearing among the people of the northern kingdom? That is a possible explanation. People like to hear someone else’s sin exposed and denounced, which is one reason that tabloid journalism is so popular. However, it might be that he was “circling in on them” as a bird of prey might do.

Each of the judgments against Israel’s neighbors is presented according to a set formula.

  • All open with the phrase “this is what the Lord says,” and some close with the reinforcing phrase “says the [Sovereign] Lord.”
  • All contain the phrase “for three sins… even for four….” This seems to be a Semitic expression to stress that the sins of these nations were great. “Is judgment coming on them for just three sins? No, it is coming for much more than that!”
  • All contain a phrase that says something like “I will send fire… that will consume the fortresses….”
  • All present the judgment as coming from the Lord. Israel’s neighbors will not be overcome by some chance or random calamities but by the act of God, regardless of the intermediate agent that he uses.

To help us understand this section, we need to answer three questions.

Who were these people groups?

  • Their location: they surrounded the northern kingdom of Israel. Tyre was northwest of Israel and Damascus (Aram) northeast. Gaza and the other Philistines were southwest. Edom was to the southeast, with Moab and then Ammon north of Edom on Israel’s east, and Judah was directly south of Israel.
  • Their descent: the Arameans, people of Tyre, and the Philistines were all Gentiles. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s older brother, while the Moabites and Ammonites were descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. The people of Judah and Israel were descendants of Jacob.

What were the sins of these nations? First, let us consider the sins of the Gentile people groups mentioned.

  • They were guilty of a lack of compassion. They sent some of Israel into captivity and slavery (1:6, 9). Selling them to Edom was especially wicked, because Edom was Israel’s ancient and incorrigible enemy. They were filled with uncontrolled anger and a lack of pity (1:11). In both of these they showed themselves to be most ungodly. God expects people everywhere to reflect his glory as self-controlled and merciful and compassionate.
  • They were guilty of treaty breaking (1:9). Loyalty and honesty are very important to the God of truth and faithfulness.
  • They were guilty of cruelty. They “threshed” Israel (1:3). A threshing sledge had “sharp iron teeth attached to rollers which passed over the sheaves to thresh the grain and to crush and shred the straw” (Laetsch). You can have a nightmare thinking about the pain and death this would cause as people when thrown under the threshing sledges. They ripped open Israel’s pregnant women (1:13). Compare 2 Kings 8:12; Hosea 13:16. As bad as this sin is, it is aggravated by its motive: greed for territory. God examines the motives of the human heart. Both of these demonstrate the perversity of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-22; Romans 1:31).
  • They dishonored the dead (2:1), turning their bodies into simple materials. Since we are made in the image of God, humans are to be treated with respect. Notice that Gentiles against Gentiles committed this last sin. God takes notice of what nations do and judges them for it.

We are watching our world descend back into the pit of cruelty from which the revivals of the Reformation and the First Great Awakening lifted it out of for a time. Only a knowledge of God’s glory in Christ can stop this descent.

Second, notice the sins of Judah, the southern kingdom.

  • They rejected God’s law, both as God’s standard of instruction and in its particular commands. Notice that they are the only surrounding nation judged by this standard. This rejection included their heart attitude and their actions. Not to practice God’s message is to despise it in some way.
  • They followed false teaching. Every person is responsible for the teaching that they listen to (Mk 4:24-25). They allowed their hearts to be led astray (2:4).

What leads people astray today? Many wrong ideas about the purpose of life, like materialism, hedonism, addiction and substance abuse, and false religions.

How were these nations judged?

  • They were judged impartially. God gave no special respect to any group (Acts 10:34). God did not vary from the standard that he had revealed to that group. Each was judged according to what God had made known, whether through creation, the conscience or through the Scriptures.
  • They were judged inescapably. Consider what happened to Aram or Syria (2 Kings 16:9).
  • They were judged by the Lord. The Sovereign God acts in history to rule his creation, including the nations of mankind. Notice the number of times that God says, “I will….” The fate of Tyre, its complete destruction in part by Nebuchadnezzar and then totally by Alexander, is one proof of God’s action. Observe how many times God said, “I will not turn back my wrath.”

This is the message that we need to tell our neighbors (Romans 1:18). You have to start the “Romans road” in the right place. God does judge people (Hebrews 9:27). All people only have hope when they repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace,

The Shepherd’s Message (Part 2)

Amos 1:1-2

The words of Amos, who was one of the sheep breeders from Tekoa—what he saw regarding Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. He said: The Lord roars from Zion and makes his voice heard from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the summit of Carmel withers (CSB).

Next, let’s think about the tone of the prophecy (1:2). Amos speaks as one through whom the Lord was speaking. He is God’s spokesman. “This is what the Lord says.” Amos declares the authority for the message. He speaks the words of God. This is different from the current style of many pastors and Bible teachers, who specialize in cute stories, make fantastic predictions, or speak about political issues from either a conservative or liberal point of view. The voice of the Lord is disregarded, downplayed, and even disputed. We need men like Amos who will boldly declare God’s words to people.

The manner in which God speaks is startling. The Lord roars (cf. Amos 3:9). People want a “feel-good” kind of message in worship services. They want to be pleased, not contradicted. They desire comfort and dislike becoming upset. They like politicians that tell them, “We can fix this to your liking.” They hate preachers of truth that tell them, “Our case is desperate! We need the living God to act for us. Let’s return to the Lord.” This is a warning before judgment, like a lion would give when he is about to strike (cf. Isaiah 5:29). It is very natural for a shepherd like Amos to use this illustration to warn of serious danger. The true God is roaring today. We need ears to hear his roar.

The Lord speaks from Zion, the place of the temple, where God chose to reveal himself (Exodus 25:21-22; Numbers 7:89; cf. 1 Kings 8). The Lord speaks from the place of his choosing. That place was Jerusalem, not Samaria, in Amos’ day. That would have been an unpopular message to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel. Jerusalem is the place of revelation by God. Samaria or Babylon or Athens were places of human opinions, religion, and philosophy. God speaks from the Zion or Jerusalem that is above, not from the political centers or academic institutions that are below. Please ask yourself: “Do I depend more on the wisdom of human ‘experts’ than on the Word of God?”

The reaction that God’s roaring word causes in his creation. God has power over the universe he has made. God acts in history. Even the most remote places (represented by Carmel—the mountains) can’t escape when the Lord extends his hand. The fertile pastures also would be dried up. This judgment would hit hard, producing hunger and poverty.

See how dependent the creature is upon God. He can make our pastures dry up! But even if all others are thirsty, God can satisfy our thirst. On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” He said this about the Spirit. Those who believed in Jesus were going to receive the Spirit, for the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified (John 7:37-39 CSB).

Grace and peace,