Israel in the Lion’s Mouth (Part Two)

Amos 3:7-15

The second motive to speak boldly for the Lord is the theme of God’s message.

The Lord pointed out through Amos two ways that his people were engaging in evil. First, the sin of materialism (3:10, 15). It had so captivated them that they did not understand anything else. This is an example of being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13). We must guard our hearts. Since we have a material aspect to our being and live in a culture that is openly and overly materialistic, we can be tempted to seek satisfaction in material things.

Second, the sin of false religion (3:14). Notice the reference to Bethel. We should immediately think of how Jeroboam I led the northern kingdom into deep sin there (cf. 1 Kings 12:25-13:6). God calls his people Israel to account for their religious error. It was their glaring sin because it was against their covenant relationship with God. This was a root sin of many other sins in Israel.

We must find “root sins”; for example, For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:10 CSB) and strike at these root sins. (Another root sin is old unbelief.) This also requires us to make sure that we have correct beliefs from the Scriptures and seek to practice them. Notice God’s complete seriousness at this point. Amos uses the longest form for God’s name (3:13) in any place in the Scriptures!

We must learn from Israel’s errors. Time goes on, but the human heart remains in the same swamp of evil. “Progress” in humanity is merely “further declines” in the way we sin, either in the manner of our sinning or in the objects of our lusts. Hardness of heart is shown in the refusal to hear God’s warning.

The third motive is the judgment in God’s message. 

Other nations are summoned to see Israel’s punishment (3:9). We should learn from the sins of others and not repeat them. But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning (1 Timothy 5:20 NIV). Notice how low the people had sunk. Others are called to witness their oppression of their own people. All knowledge of how to please the Lord had left them.

The judgment would come through the agency of a conquering power (3:11). Amos didn’t name this power, but it was Assyria. It was fulfilled within fifty years from the time of Amos’ ministry. God may use one group of godless people to punish another group (Isaiah 10:10-19). We must “get into” the Bible as a life situation. How would you react if God suddenly announced that our country was to be destroyed?

There was mixed news: Only a remnant would escape, but thank God for the remnant, not only for mercy for those people, but for the whole world (3:12; cf. Rm 9:27; 11:1-6). For from that remnant came the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. God works mercifully even in the most difficult times. Put your hope in God today!

Grace and peace,
David

Israel in the Lion’s Mouth

Amos 3:7-15

In the book of Amos, we have the written record of his prophetic ministry in which he proclaimed God’s judgment on the northern kingdom of Israel. Have you thought about how difficult a task this was? People want to hear good news, especially about their future! But Amos was charged with delivering a very unpopular message.

We, too, have an unpopular message to deliver. People in our culture don’t want anyone with religious views telling them what to do, especially if they speak for the true God. (But they will allow anyone in the media to tell them how to think!) Yet we must speak. How can we speak up in the face of determined resistance? Obviously we need some motives that spur us on. Let us learn from Amos at this point.

Let us think first of the power of God’s message (3:7-8).

The source of the message is the Lord and not the prophet (3:7; cf. 2 Peter 1:16ff). This is a recurring theme in this section (3:11, 12, 13, 15). God’s authority is the bedrock on which every ministry for the Lord rests. Unless you know that you are telling people God’s message, you will not speak up in the face of opposition.

The judgment that would come on Israel would arrive because the Lord planned that judgment. He let people know this by telling it to his prophets. The actions that God is doing in our age are a fulfillment of prophecy. The Lord told us what the last days would be like, so we should not be surprised when history looks like prophecy. But know this: Hard times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people (2 Timothy 3:1-5 CSB; cf. 2 Peter 3:3; 1 John 2:18-23). 

By the way, we do not have to be confused about what God’s will is. It has been revealed for us in the Bible. The question is “do we search the Scriptures intently to find out what God’s will is?”

The imperative behind the message—it must be delivered (3:8). Compare 1 Corinthians 9:16; Ezekiel 2:5-7.

We must deliver God’s message because we are his servants. A servant does what his master desires (cf. Luke 6:46). I think that this is the first time that this idea (of the prophet as God’s servant) was used in redemptive history. When we come to the New Testament Scriptures, it is an important concept. Think of Paul, James, and Peter; they called themselves servants or slaves of God and Jesus Christ.

We must deliver the message because of the nature of the message.  It is like the roar of a lion in the preacher’s ears! Listen to what Jeremiah also said about being a prophet. I say, “I won’t mention him or speak any longer in his name.” But his message becomes a fire burning in my heart, shut up in my bones. I become tired of holding it in, and I cannot prevail (Jeremiah 20:9 CSB).

The clarity of the servant’s perception of the message will show itself in the urgency of his presentation. Casual, light-hearted words free from a zeal to persuade people to turn from their own ways and follow the Lord will make all that the speaker says to be trite and “take it or leave it, it’s up to you.”

“I find, and this is somewhat of a confession as well as an exhortation, that my own words mock me too often when I preach – when I can say the word ‘hell’ and not feel the horror of it; when I can speak of heaven and not be warmed with a holy glow in the light of the fact that this is the place my Lord is preparing for me.” (Martin, “What’s Wrong with Preaching Today?” p. 10)

Let us be motivated by the power of God’s word (Romans 1:16-17)!

Grace and peace,
David

Teaching by the Lake

Luke 5:1-3

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat (5:1-3 CSB).

Years ago when we were young and our children were younger, two very good friends paid for our way to a Christian camp located on Kelly’s Island on Lake Erie. The camp was next to a beautiful bay on a narrow peninsula, and it was a great place to see tremendous sunsets. It would be very easy to talk a lot about the wonderful times and the fellowship we enjoyed there. But to keep our blog post to a readable length, I’ll only mention one thing. The chapel of the camp was located a stone’s throw from the shoreline, and as you listened to the message with your ears, your eyes could survey the beauty of the lake.

When I read these verses, I can easily picture what it was like to listen to Jesus as he stood by Lake Galilee (Gennesaret is usually called Galilee.) Yet, this scene was different from our blissful days at camp. Jesus was near Capernaum, where he had been doing good works (Acts 10:38) of miracles. The people of the area were very excited about the miracles and his teaching. So, they looked for Jesus and when they found him, they crowded around him. Think of the excitement of that day! People crowded around Jesus and wanted to listen to him! They longed to hear Jesus tell them words of life!

During my sophomore year of college, I was a new follower of Jesus Christ. It was quite a remarkable time in the early 1970s. Many other people became believers in the Lord in those years. I attended a church on Sunday evenings in the next town from where the college was located. We had to get to the evening service forty-five minutes before it began to get a seat. Thirty minutes early merely to get into the building. And we sang for joy while we waited for the meeting to begin, and then we sang some more. We all were eager to hear more about the Lord Jesus, the gospel, and his saving grace. I doubt that few of you have seen that week after week after week. 

About five years later, I taught a Bible study on a secular college campus near where I lived. We met in a room in a college building at eight o’clock on Friday nights for two hours. Yes, you read that correctly. Eight o’clock on Friday nights for two hours with college students, who preferred to gather to hear God’s word rather to go out partying. I worked for a general contractor during those days and would start work early on Friday, work hard on the job, get cleaned up, and go to the Bible study. I was tired out by ten at night, even as a young man. The students kept asking questions about the Scriptures well after ten. At times, I would be walking down the steps from the third floor to go to my car, and they would still be asking me questions on the way. Thank you, Lord, for such hunger for your Word.

Jesus experienced that constantly in his earthly ministry. It got so crowded as he taught, that it made it difficult to teach. For this reason, he got into a boat (Simon Peter’s) and asked him to move out a little bit from shore. There, he could more easily teach and the people listen. He loved to tell them the good news of God and his kingdom, and they loved to listen.

My friends, what has happened to people who claim to love the Lord and Savior? We have lost the excitement to hear about Jesus Christ. I do see this in some people, as I did in my Bible study this morning when we looked at Isaiah 53. However, many church buildings are nearly empty from fear. Please don’t excuse yourself because you’re afraid of Covid-19. Early Christians in Rome hid among the catacombs so that they could meet together and worship. They hungered for the Word at the risk of death! Plus, I seriously doubt that you can catch Covid-19 through an online, remote meeting! Yet far too many claim that they are “Zoomed out”. But they will still watch endless shows on their television or other digital devices, and that requires them to look at a screen.

My dear friends, I think we all need to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). Our current decline is not because of Covid-19. Nor is it because we are “Zoomed out”. I think there is another reason. Let us listen to the words of Jesus to the church in Ephesus. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place (Revelation 2:4-5 NIV).

Do not fret about persecution closing churches. Christians are doing a more than adequate job of closing churches by their own laziness and indifference.

May God restore us!

Grace and peace,
David

Remarkable Events at Capernaum

Luke 4:38-44

But he said to them, “It is necessary for me to proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43 CSB)

At a later time in his ministry, Jesus referenced the many mighty works he did in towns like Capernaum (Matthew 11:20-25; cf. Luke 10:13-15). In our text we view three kinds of those miraculous signs. Here we see what the people of Nazareth wanted (4:23), yet what did the people of Capernaum no spiritual good. What we long for may not help us but only compound our troubles. The classic witticism about this is “There are two happy days in boat owner’s lives; the day they buy it and the day they sell.” You can plug in your own experience.

Sent by God, Jesus did what the Father directed him to do. Luke continues the account of that busy day in Capernaum. After the synagogue service was over, Jesus went with Simon Peter to his house. Jesus and Simon had met months earlier in Judea (John 1:40-42). Back in Galilee, Simon extended hospitality to Jesus, as he seems to have already become one of a growing number of Jesus’ disciples.  On a human level, it was a difficult time to have Jesus as a guest, since Peter’s mother-in-law was ill with a fever. And Peter’s wife probably had her hands full with her mother rather ill. But our difficulties are God’s opportunities.

Jesus bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her (4:39 NIV). Can you picture Dr. Luke telling this story, thinking of his own bedside posture as he tried to help his patients? But Jesus was a physician with almighty power! He could rebuke a fever and make it leave, just as he had the evil spirit in the synagogue. The woman’s healing was immediate. No recovery period was needed when the fever was gone. She was able to get up and work at once. Notice that the Lord did not tell her to sit down and relax. She was healed and quite capable of immediate service. The Lord wants us to serve him and others.

At sunset when the Sabbath was over (the Jewish day ended and began at sunset), the excited people of Capernaum brought their afflicted family members and friends to Jesus to be healed. They had been spreading the news about Jesus everywhere (4:37), and a large crowd gathered at Peter’s house. Jesus healed people in different ways, sometimes just by speaking a word, even from a distance. Here, Jesus chose personal contact. He healed by laying his hands on them. This personal touch is in dramatic contrast with what he refused to do at Nazareth. It was not because they were better people. (See the references in the first paragraph, where Capernaum is unfavorably compared with Sodom in its spiritual receptiveness.) No, this is another example of sovereign mercy, and this one increasing their responsibility. Jesus tenderly healed these people, but they would not humbly bow before him in trust and thankfulness.

The Lord Jesus also cast out demons from several people. Evidently, the opposition by the spiritual forces of evil against Jesus was strong in this area. He did not avoid such encounters but faithfully carried out the work his Father gave him to do. Let us be strong in the Lord and his mighty power (Ephesians 6:10) and do the same. This is the hour for the church to arise out of her slumber and do what God has commissioned us to do, regardless of the hardened opposition we encounter. Jesus did not allow these evicted demons to talk; he did not their words to lead to wrong ideas about the meaning of his Messiahship. 

Jesus continued faithful on the mission the Father had given him (4:42-44). After a glorious day of ministry, one that most preachers only dream of, Jesus went out alone to pray to his Father in heaven. He longed for solitary time with God. Do we? People were searching for Jesus; however, he had more on his agenda than to minister in one place. He had many places to go, and he had more to do than heal people. (Many of the prayers of the contemporary church are filled with urgent requests for healing; little is asked for spiritual concerns.)  He knew that his primary mission at this time was to tell the good news of the kingdom of God, that God had arrived in his coming to bring salvation. For this reason, he moved on and kept on preaching.

We, Christ’s people, must get involved again in telling people the good news. We’re distracted by far too many temporary matters of this world and neglect the spiritual and the eternal. Can we say with integrity that we are his followers, if we fail to follow him?Grace and peace,
David

Authority and Power

Luke 4:31-37

Amazement came over them all, and they were saying to one another, “What is this message? For he commands the unclean spirits with authority and power, and they come out!”  (Luke 4:36).

Luke next records events from one day in Jesus’ life and ministry. By the leading of the Holy Spirit, he borrows from what Mark wrote in Mark 1:21-39. In his typical manner, Luke has placed this material after something that happened later. This section (Luke 4:31-44) explains the kind of mighty works that Jesus did in Capernaum that he referred to in Luke 4:23. What did Jesus do in his new hometown of Capernaum?

First, he taught with authority (4:31-32). Capernaum was a prosperous fishing and farming community on the north side of Lake Galilee. In addition, it was also located on a trade route, and as such, tax collectors operated from there. This situation would provide a springboard for Jesus to call the men who would become the apostles. Look for opportunities to serve the Lord in the places where you live.

The foundation of Christ’s ministry was his teaching, his words. He taught about God and his kingdom (God’s saving reign that had arrived), cf. 4:43. This is quite different from how most churches in the west have done their business for many years. Jesus did not start with programs and people pleasing messages to gather hearers. The Lord Jesus declared the truth to people. He required inward change, a change that required people to think about God in their lives with an eternal perspective. At the same time, he offered hope from the one true God. People in our time desperately need to hear the words of truth and hope.

Second, he acted with authority (4:33-35). As the people remarked about Christ’s teaching, an unclean spirit, a demon, disrupted the meeting with loud shrieks. “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34 NIV). Can you imagine what this felt like? During a time of worship of God, an evil spirit made his presence known. Everyone in attendance, except for Jesus, must have been shocked and disturbed. But Jesus knows the hearts of all in every worship service. He knew the demon was lurking, though others did not.

Jesus also knew the authority given to him by God the Father to set the oppressed free (4:18). He did not hesitate to use it, unlike many political leaders in our country who refuse to act against rioters and looters, because they fear political backlash. (They will answer to God on Judgment Day for their heinous failure to do their duty.) Jesus acted immediately to deliver the oppressed man and to cast out the demon. He had supreme power along with his authority. He ordered the demon out, and also prevented it from harming the man.

Third, the people recognized his authority (4:36-37). People in the west might dismiss demonic oppression and possession as myths of primitive people. People in Bible times did not. Neither do people in other parts of the world who have encountered demonic activity. Neither should people in the west who sadly try to sweep every abnormality under the human made carpet of “mental illness”. Some people sadly do have medical, emotional, and psychological issues that do require skilled treatment and medicine. But that does not rule out the existence of the demonic, unless you are closed-minded and in denial of the supernatural. 

That day in Capernaum, the people confessed the authority and power of Jesus Christ. They also spread this news about Jesus to other areas. What news about the authority and power of Christ have you experienced? Do you spread that news? Restore the supernatural in your world and life view. In the process, may you again find hope in these desperate times!

Grace and peace,
David

Jesus at Nazareth (Part Eight)

Luke 4:28-30

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way (Luke 4:28-30 NIV).

Jesus spoke gracious words (4:22) to the people of his hometown of Nazareth. He read them the Scriptures (4:18-19), announcing the good news of freedom and the Lord’s favor. The hometown folks liked that. But when he spoke to their hearts about their rebellion against God’s ways and the sovereignty of God in the giving of his grace, they didn’t like his message anymore. That is an understatement.

People who are strangers to God and his grace do not like to hear about either for very long. They grow restless, then agitated, and then violent. They willingly forget that the Sovereign God once destroyed a world that was given over to evil (Genesis 6:5-6; 2 Peter 3:6). They refuse to consider that this present world is ready for judgment by God. By the same word, the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (2 Peter 3:7 CSB). 

Let’s consider three outcomes of Jesus’ brief ministry at Nazareth, which includes his refusal to perform signs and wonders for them. We ought to see the last, because his refusal, though according to his Father’s will, definitely stirred them up against him. We need to look at all the scene when we talk about human behavior. Many factors stir everyone. Hopefully, love for God and delight in his grace motivate ours.

First outcome: they were furious and tried to kill Jesus. Though they did not know, and I doubt they cared, their action pictured human hatred for God and the Messiah. Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers conspire together against the Lord and his Anointed One (Psalm 2:1-2 CSB). They hated the message that God was sovereign in his grace. They hated Jesus, the Prophet who had told them the truth, just as their ancestors had hated the prophets who came before Jesus. Follower of Christ, do not be surprised if the world hates you, because it will.

Second outcome: Jesus escaped from them. Every day during Jesus’ life was scheduled by the sovereign God. This was not the time or place or the way for Jesus to die to save his people. He had much to do for God his Father, many words of life to declare, and apostles to choose and to train to carry God’s message of salvation by grace to the nations. We are not told how Jesus was able to escape through the violent crowd, but he did. Later in Jerusalem, Jesus will escape from an angry crowd after he preached God’s sovereign grace to them (John 8:58-59). God had also protected Elijah and Elisha from harm (2 Kings 1:1-15; 6:8-24). The Lord would later deliver the apostles (Acts 5:17-20) and Peter (Acts 12:1-19). As no bird falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father in heaven, so our lives are safe in God’s hands.  

Third outcome: Nazareth, except as part of Jesus’ name (Jesus of Nazareth) disappears from the Biblical narrative. This town gained nothing from its opposition to the Lord. Instead of hatred, they should have fallen on their faces and begged for mercy. But no, they foolishly despised and rejected the God of hope and fell into eternal hopelessness. If you understand, weep!

There are many antichrists in the world today, stirring up hatred against Jesus and his people. They appear to offer hope to people in despair. But the only hope is when people humble themselves, repent, and trust God for his mercy in the Lord Jesus Christ. Is your only hope for the future in Jesus, the Son of God?Grace and peace,
David

Reconsider

Amos 3:1-6

Listen to this message that the Lord has spoken against you, Israelites, against the entire clan that I brought from the land of Egypt (Amos 3:1 CSB)

After his opening announcements of judgment on Israel and her neighbors, Amos begins a section of prophetic proclamations. Notice the phrase listen to this message.

The prophet begins this section with a call to remember their relationship with God (3:1-2). The people addressed were the whole people of God, both Israel and Judah (3:1). God speaks to them as to a “family”. The tone is personal, and it is also redemptive, because God brought them out of Egypt (cf. 2:10).

Although Amos primarily addressed Israel, Judah should also hear (and pay attention to) this message from God. We should look at every sermon as being addressed to us. A quick way to develop a wrong attitude in listening to sermons is to prejudge whether you should listen because “you like it” or “it seems like it might help me” rather than “this is the message God has for me from his word”? Why do you listen? Specifically, the people were instructed to hear what the Lord had against them. It should make a person a very attentive listener when he or she hears that the God of the universe has something against him or her!

Amos described the people (3:2a). They were objects of sovereign love. The words “know”, “choose” and “love” are near synonyms in contexts like this (cf. Genesis 4:1; Exodus 33:12-13,17; John 10:13-15,27-28; Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2). They were chosen by God (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). The doctrine of election is very practical. It is sad that many Christians think of it in a controversial way. God has chosen us; therefore, we should choose him and his ways in response.

Therefore, they stood in a special relationship to God. This is true regarding both the old covenant people (Exodus 19:5-6) and the new covenant people (1 Peter 2:9-10).

The people were responsible (3:2b). The relationship demanded responsibility. Many times in the Old Testament Scriptures Israel is warned of her responsibility to obey the Lord. We also are to obey (Hebrews 8:6-8; 12:4-11). The new and better covenant does not lessen our duty to listen to God and to obey. With the assurance of our high standing in God’s family as adult sons, we should have a heightened sense of our duties. What has been called new covenant theology (I prefer “Christ-structured theology”) does not produce lawlessness, but speaks against it at every point!

Next, Amos called God’s people to right thinking (3:3-6). They needed to know that agreement is essential for fellowship. The kind of agreement referred to here is a “pattern of united living”. Knowing God’s worth and will as his chosen bride, we agree to walk with him in his ways. Four actions were required of them in the covenant relationship with the Lord God:

  • Faithful love – “forsaking all others”
  • Submission – agreement to follow God’s leadership
  • Close companionship – essence of marriage
  • Bear his children – fruitfulness

What destroys fellowship? Sin does! Psalm 66:18; 1 John 1:7

In order to enjoy true fellowship in the church, we must agree around the truth. An engaged couple has to reach agreement on basic issues of family life as they move close to finalizing their union, if their marriage is to be successful. “Unless we agree with God in our end, which is his glory, we cannot walk with him by the way” (Henry).

God has reasons for the announced judgment on his people (3:4-5). These reasons were announced in the preceding section. “The threatenings of the word and providence of God are not bugbears [bogeymen] to frighten children and fools, but are certain inferences from the sin of man and certain presages [predictions] of the judgments of God.” [Henry]

The judgments of God were not the products of chance. People are wise in times of trial, if they reconsider their ways and return to the Lord. Perhaps he will be merciful.

God would be the One bringing this judgment (3:6). The theology of the Bible is neither fatalism nor a reign of chance. God is in control of history. Even the smallest events happen according to his controlling will. The evil spoken of is not moral evil, but it is the evil of disaster. Compare Isaiah 45:7.

How is your relationship with God? Are you walking with him? If you are, you are in agreement with him. Are you?Grace and peace,
David

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,
David

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,
David

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,
David