If you want to know the three points that I'm going to walk through this morning, they are very simple. I want to talk about God's heaviness towards sin. God never, ever takes light sin in our life. God breaks, he aches over it. He's heavy over sin. The second point is God's heart toward sin and how he handles it. When he looks at your sin, how does he look at your sin and what does he do with your sin? The third point is God's hope in dealing with sin. How does he deal? What is God's hope when he confronts you about sin in your life? What does that look like? Those are the three things I want to hit this morning. Heaviness, God's heart, God's hope for sin in your life.
How many of you know that there is nothing that explains life better than a song? There's nothing that explains God's heart like a song. I love preaching but music is a creative force that God has placed into our world to communicate something about life that nothing else can. We love music because we enumerate our life by music, right? We vibe to music, we emote to music. We remember certain seasons of our life to music. We remember the relationship we were in and then we broke up and we remember the song that we played during that season, and any time that song comes on the radio it takes you back to a time. That's what music is. It expresses our deepest moods and deepest pains in our life. In this passage God is composing a song against Israel.
It says in verse one, "Hear the word, O house of Israel, this lament." What is a "lament"? A lament was a dirge. It was a mournful song used in ancient times when someone was dying. It was to aid mourning in a person's life. If you can imagine, this is a shocking, tragic, confusing season of Israel's existence.
750 years before Christ, God raises up Amos. Amos lives in the southern kingdom. The southern kingdom has a little bit of money but it doesn't have the money of the northern kingdom. The northern kingdom is run by a king called Jeroboam II. The southern kingdom is run by a king named Uzziah. Amos is just a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees. He's not a man of means, of much influence; he's not notable, he's not reputable, he's not much of anything. He doesn't even come from a priestly or prophetic pedigree. He's a shepherd, a dresser of sycamore trees. These sycamore trees were unique because when he would pick them, they were usually a certain grade of fruit only given to the poor. So if you can imagine for Amos, Amos was really connected to what was happening to the poor, the oppressed, the marginal lines of the nation. So God uses Amos. Amos means "burden bearer," meaning God put a burden on Amos' heart to go up to the most opulent, ostentatious, rich, affluent country in the world, that just happened to be God's people.
Abuse of power
Now, that begs another question. How did God's people become the richest, most ostentatious, reputable people on the planet? Well, at this particular time just north of them was Syria, and Syria prior to Israel taking them down was the richest, most opulent, ostentatious country in the world. God raises up Israel, they go into Syria and they take them down. Not only does Israel take them down but they take down the capital city of Syria, which was Damascus. Damascus was the sprawling metropolis. It had money, it had paper, it had loot. It was living extra-large. God takes Israel up there and they knock down Syria. The Israelites take all of Syria's money, resources, all of their means, and they annex it down to Israel. For the first time, God's people have resources.
Now, I'm not a prosperity preaching guy and I'm not a poverty preaching guy. I don't think you're more righteous if you have money. I don't think money is a sign of God's blessing in your life. I do not believe that you ever define your self-worth in God by your net worth. I'm not a prosperity guy at all. Nor am I a poverty guy, meaning I don't believe that God loves or accepts you more based on how much you are willing to give up. I see fundamental flaws on both of them. The gospel is nuanced, and it doesn't let the rich or poor off the hook. But at this particular point you can imagine Israel with a lot of means. Guess what happens. They become what they probably thought they would never become.
There's the oppressed and the oppressor. Usually when the oppressed come into something and assume power, they end up becoming the oppressor. It's sort of like when Christianity was persecuted for the first three to four centuries and then Constantine won at the Milvian Bridge and for the first time Christianity became the power in the Greco-Roman world. From that point on, Christianity to a certain degree became the oppressor. It happened in the Inquisition, it happened in the slave trade, it happened in Manifest Destiny. You name it, this is how it happens.
So it is when God's people are doing the unthinkable that God raises up Amos. Israel was exploiting their own. There were class distinctions. They were selling the poor for a pair of sandals. Injustice ran rampant and these were God's people and they were oblivious to it. So God is angry.
How do we know they were oblivious to it? Well, verse 14 says this: "Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is." Israel was religious, they were going to church, they were tithing, they had means, and they thought that was a sign of God's blessing in their life. They assumed that just because they came into power, somehow that was a signature that God was signing off on their choices. Yet what they did in church never matched what they did in the streets, and therefore God is upset.
God's heavy heart
Now, what were the things that God's heart was heavy over? Well, the first one is this: Their walk with him. Now, God calls Israel a virgin in verse two. A fallen virgin with no one to lift her up. Now, why in the world would God consider Israel a virgin? Was it because they were living pure and holy and righteous? No, absolutely not. Virgin meant innocent. Let's look at what God has done in Israel's history. They were a lowly people, they were inconsequential. They weren't powerful; they were powerless in fact. Then God decided to set his affections on them. Out of his love and concern and affection, God decided to take this lowly group called Israel and raise them up to be his people.
They were "virgins" not because of anything innately in and of themselves, they were virgins in the sense that their lives were now hidden in God, that when God moved in their life and provided for them and defeated their enemies for them and did stuff that they couldn't do in and of themselves, the rest of the nations would take note of that because God was going to use Israel as a witness to the world around them. Therefore, God raised up these people and did incredible exploits. But as soon as they came into power, as soon as they had resources, God was no longer lifting them up. They no longer looked to the Lord to lift them up, they looked to other stuff.
Now, what does that mean for us? We struggle in all of our hearts with an issue called idolatry. We look to other stuff to lift us up, to gain a leg up on other people. We exchange the true Savior for a false savior. We exchange the Creator for the creature. Once we are brought into this life, something goes off in our heart where we have all these values and these values in our heart are very precious and important to us. But over time something in our heart takes center value. In other words, that thing that becomes the most important thing in our life—we have to have it—it is the source of our identity. Many times whatever that thing is that we exchange for him becomes what the Bible calls an idol. It's the exchange of the true Savior for false saviors. It is the thing that is lifting you up. For Israel at this particular point they had always looked to God and then they came into means and they took their eyes off of God and started looking to their stuff. That was the stuff that was lifting them up, their resources, their mansions, their vineyards, their means. As a result, they became a shell of who they are.
Do you see that anything that you make your bottom line other than Jesus does not humanize you, it dehumanizes you? If you make money your god then it destroys you. If you make power your god then your master becomes power. It ends up dehumanizing you. This is exactly what happened to them. Their walk had gotten feeble, it had gotten weak. They had begun to struggle because they no longer looked to God who became the source of everything. Once your walk weakens, the next thing that weakens is your worship.
In verses four and five God told Israel there was only one place for them to go worship and it was Jerusalem, Mount Zion. That was the only place they had to worship as a country, and they were supposed to journey there three times a year. Well, Jeroboam came into power and Jeroboam said, "Well, let's make it easy on them, let's put temples in Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba so they don't have to walk as far. Let's accommodate their worship, let's make their worship easier." So they constructed synagogues and temples in these particular areas just to make their worship easier.
This is where the American church is. We have made worship easy. We have accommodated people. You can lay in your bed on a Sunday morning and click on a nice Vimeo video from some church and have church right there in your bed. You don't have to be connected at all. Worship for Israel wasn't this individual personal thing that we do as Americans, it was communal. You had to be in community, where God designated for worship to be. God wants each of us to be plugged in to a community. You cannot grow on your own. If you think you can, give it a shot. It's just not going to happen. If you say, "God, work on my patience," how are you going to work on your patience without someone trying it? You say, "God, expand my perspective." You've been living in the south, you come here to the Northwest, God is going to expand your perspective because you have to get around someone of a different perspective to free you of your perspective.
You can't grow without being in a community. You can't grow without somebody giving you the reality. In Hollywood to be specific, I'm around entertainers all the time and do you know they are the craziest people on the planet. The reason they are crazy is because they surround themselves around a community, but it's a false community because that community is what? It's nothing more than people around them that tell them what they want to hear.
Proverbs 27:6 says this, "Faithfulness is the wounds of a friend but deceitfulness is kisses of an enemy." Meaning if you have true friends you know it because you guys have gone to the mat with each other. If you've never gone to the mat with your friend, you don't have real friends. Because you're a sinner, they're a sinner, and when you get two sinners together they sin against each other. Right? You need to be adjusting, challenging, confronting each other. If you haven't had that in your life, and you've got friends around you that have never had a real conversation, have never got in your face about anything, you are not living and experiencing real, true, authentic Biblical Christianity. You have made worship easy on yourself.
This is the problem with Israel. Jeroboam accommodated them. If you've been around the gospel and read it enough, the gospel is not about accommodating you. It takes you to the mat and God uses an instrument to take you to the mat. It's other people that you are called to be in community with. Sure, we're saved by faith alone, but no true saint is ever alone. That's what Martin Luther said. You've got to have other people to grow. Yes, you're justified, and yes, that's a personal thing. But the collective piece of sanctification always happens in the context of the ecclesia, God's chosen people brought together. So their worship grew anemic. When your worship is anemic, your witness is anemic. They are oppressing the poor. Their witness to those around them is absolutely a mess. And it all stems from their worship.
Worship has two components to it. The first component is delighting and declaring God's worth in your life. Delighting meaning that you see and savor God, that there is nothing like him, that he totally has hit your heart and has transformed your being, and you're willing to declare him because of it.
My grandmother was Jewish and my grandfather was from Guyana. You can imagine this really lily white, really super pale Jewish woman, from San Francisco and this really, super dark chocolate Guyanese man who was from Guyana. There's no hiding that couple. Her family was irate about it. At that time you can imagine the racial tension in the 30s, the ignorance that was there. I mean, don't get it twisted, there's still ignorance today but if you could imagine in the 30s. they decide they're going to move to Mexico City to become educators.
My grandmother was an artist. She painted, she played the violin. Well, she got into the socialist painting and art community in Mexico City and one of her best friends was a guy named Diego Rivera. Well, my grandmother and my grandfather had kids, had my mom, my aunt, and my uncle in Mexico City. My mother was the oldest. When she turned 12 years old my grandmother died of cancer in Mexico City and her family never showed up to the funeral. Diego Rivera, at the funeral, gave my mom three paintings. My mother is 12, she can't wrap her mind around who Diego Rivera is. After my grandmother's death, my grandfather moved the family to Inglewood, California.
My mom had me when she was 23 years old, had my older brother when she was 18 years old, and here we are growing up in Inglewood, California, with these Diego Rivera paintings on our wall. None of us, including my mom, knew the significance of who Diego Rivera was. They were just paintings to me. My mom was known as the Mother Teresa of our neighborhood. She had a bleeding heart. We always had people staying at our house. She was always having block parties and dinners. If she had money she'd give it to you.
So she had this house party at our house and she cooked a big meal and she decided there were some new neighbors that just moved in and she wanted to welcome them to the neighborhood. You've got to remember at this particular point my mom, she didn't have a lot of means, didn't have a lot of resources, in fact she was struggling. So she brings all these people in and cooks them a great meal. The new guy that just moved in on our block happened to be a jeweler and an art appraiser. So he's walking around and he sees these paintings. He's says, "Claudia, come here, is that Diego Rivera, that's not a Diego Rivera?" She says, "Yeah, that's Diego Rivera. He used to be friends with my mom back in Mexico City." He replied, "Do you know how much these paintings are worth?" She had no idea. He says, "Can I take one and I'll appraise it and I'll come back to you." The painting was worth $75,000, just one painting. My mom lost her mind, in a good way. I remember talking to my mom after she sold that painting, and I said, "What did you do from Monday to Tuesday before you sold the painting?" She said, "I locked it in my closet, I got me a gun and I was not going to let anybody touch the Diego Rivera paintings."
The funny thing is that what my mom did teaches us a lot about worship. When I grew up those were just paintings on a wall. I didn't know Diego Rivera from Adam. All of a sudden when an art dealer came in and looked at the painting and told my mom the value of the worth of that painting, all of a sudden how she conducted herself, how she interacted with that painting totally transformed her life. When you have a right appraisal of who God is, when you see the value of his worth, that's when you're doing worship. Your whole life is transformed, it's turned upside down in terms of how you interact with it. What you're doing is worship. Because it has captured your heart, it has transformed your life. Because for the first time your eyes have been opened up and you see the value of who he is. That's what it means to delight in who God is. This is what it means to worship God.
But delighting in God is only half worship. The other half is demonstrating and making God known. When some scribes came to Jesus and said, "What's the most important commandment," what did Jesus say? "Love me with all your heart and mind, love God with all your heart and mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself." The other side of worship is demonstrating who God is. See, the reason why God is upset with Israel is this: Monday through Saturday they lived a life that oppressed the poor. When you oppress the poor—and you can do it aggressively or passively—you communicate something about God that wasn't solved.
God is a God that is just. When we say God is a God that's just what we mean is that God knows how to rightly order power in his life. We live in a society that has nothing but disordered power, rich and poor, connected and disconnected, those at the center of power and those that have no power. God comes onto a planet and because he's just he comes to rightly order power in ways that redemptively transform culture, life, people.
Do you think it was a coincidence when he would match up Matthew, a tax collector that was beholden to the government, and then Simon, the zealot that was anti-government, together? Do you think he's giving a lesson on differences in tolerance here? I mean, those are sub points. The bigger point is what? God is reordering power here. You see, what real worship looks like is when you take the gospel and you allow it to be screwed down at the very core of your heart and you go out in society, worship—this doesn't happen to you on a Sunday morning, it happens out there when you're ordering power rightly in your life.
The biggest problem that we have today is this: The rich hang out with the rich, the poor hang out with the poor, the blacks hang out with the blacks, the whites hang out with the whites, the middle class hangs out with the middle class, and nobody is willing to be a cross cultural missionary that understands that they serve a God and an expression of that worship to him is to rightly order power in their life. That means you have to get people around you that contradict you. If you don't have people around you that contradict you, you are not rightly ordering power in your life. If you're not rightly ordering power in your life, then I'd say you have a half worship. You are not worshipping correct here. Because it should always move you to rightly order power in a way because when you order power in your life you are communicating about who God is.
The fact that Jesus spoke to women, which was foreign in that day, spoke to God's ordering power. The fact that the haves and have-nots loved him was God's ordering power. Do we order power in our life in a way that communicates who God is? That was the problem with Israel. They went to church, but outside of church they didn't order power, they didn't share their means. They didn't use their connections to help other people. They weren't serving other people. They hung out with people like they were impressed—they were oppressing the poor. Their witness was weak.
God's anger and mercy
God gets heavy over sin, but what's God's heart toward sin in your life? Real simple. Verse one says that he laments over our sins, that God gets broken up over our sins. Then in verse 16 and 17, it says, there will be wailing in the streets, cries of anguish in every public square. He's weeping in the early parts of the chapter and then he's judging in the middle piece of this. Now, the interesting thing is this: God is weeping and now he finally says, "I've had enough." Now, if God is lamenting and then he finally says in verse 16 and 17 that he's had enough, if you read this you think from the time that he wept to the time that he judged happened all in the same chapter. Actually it didn't. Our biggest problem is that we read, Abraham and we see God's promise, and then we see nine chapters later some of the fulfillment of that and it only took us five minutes to read that and we think that's how God works in our life. Don't you understand, it took years for that to happen.
Here in Amos' prophetic word to Israel, it took them literally 25 years from the time God lamented to the time God sent the Assyrian army in to take Israel. That's a long song. That's a long lament. What does that mean? It means that our God, even when he judges, even when he puts his foot down, even in his warning there is grace. Which tells you God's heart. The fact that you're convicted right now, the fact that you are challenged right now, the fact that you know God is addressing certain areas of your life. Even though God is ticked off at you, he is ticked off at you in love.
God knows how to put mercy and wrath together in a way that most of us struggle with. We have churches that are either happy God churches or angry God churches. Happy God churches are churches that speak only blessing, not curses. They airbrush truth and reality out of the Bible. Angry God churches are churches that make you think God is up in heaven with a Louisville Slugger ready to pound you as soon as you do something contrary to his Word. Only the gospel knows how to put mercy and yet God's anger together. In fact, you can't even understand God's mercy apart from God's anger, and you won't get anger apart from God's mercy. He's broken over Israel's sin, yet he's being gracious in the process. He's being loving in the process. This is God's heart towards you.
God's hope in dealing with sin
So what's the hope then? Look at verse four, look at verse six, look at verse 14. You probably see a pattern here. "Seek me and live," verse four. Verse six, "Seek the Lord and live." Verse 14, "Seek God, not evil, and live." Here he is, still being gracious. He knows he's going to take Israel down and yet he says, "Alright, seek me and live." What does that mean?
I was reading in the New Testament and I found a little passage that I think gives us a little bit of insight on what it means to seek him and live. In Luke 14:31-32 it says this, "Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won't he first sit down, consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace."
In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything, you cannot be a disciple of his. Here is the point. Two kings are getting ready to go to battle. One king has ten thousand men, the other has twenty thousand. The one with twenty thousand men is going to come down and destroy, and annihilate the one with ten thousand. The king with ten thousand thinks to himself, Boy, I ticked this king off and when I look at my army and I look at his army there is no way I'm going to be able to stand up in battle against them. I don't know what to do, so I guess what I'll do is I'll send a delegation to him and establish the terms of peace because if I go out into the battlefield I am toast.
God is ticked off at you and if you try and go up against God you are going to have a poor ending. You cannot stand up against God's judgment in your life. So what is the only hope? You look at your might and you look at God's might, you look at your ability to fight and you look at God's ability to fight, and if you think you can take God on, you are foolish. But guess what? God in his infinite love and in his infinite grace, though he was coming charging to the battlefield to take you down, God established terms of peace. Just when God raised the sword to take you down, Jesus stepped onto the battlefield and established terms of peace and did what you couldn't do, lived what you couldn't live, became what you couldn't become in your place.
That is the good news of the gospel, that when I give my life to Jesus Christ, when I trust him and put my whole life in him, I'm transformed. Therefore, when God looks at me now, he no longer sees me through the lens of my sins, he looks at me through the lens of his Son because he established terms of peace. I am now a Christian. Not because I live perfect, I'm a Christian because he lived perfectly in my place. So what do you do? You know God's marshalling his resources, he's coming against you. It says, "Seek him and live." Because if he seeks you, you're done.
Eric Knox is a pastor, church planter, mentor, basketball coach, and hip hop aficionado based in Portland, OR.