People look at God in many different ways. To some God is good news, to others bad news. I am not comparing myself to God, but as a pastor I remind some people of God. To some my presence makes them feel guilty, or uncomfortable. To other people they make me feel like a million dollars.
God says you are a sinner. Is that a description or a prescription? You can deny it. You can water it down. You can fight it. You can accept it. You can learn something about yourself. You can learn something about God.
Amos first word to Israel is to talk about the kingdom to the north of Israel, Damascus: "For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath..." (Amos 1:3-5). If you are Israel, and you feel God is on your side, your response is to rejoice for just a moment. Pretend you are Israel, and when you hear God is going to punish Damascus, your reponse is to cheer.
For Israel, Amos words are justification as he condemns all the nations around Israel, one after another (see Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13, 2:1). At last comes the crescendo, because now it is Judah's turn. Judah is Israel's brother. Remember that Israel sees themselves as blessed by God, and now, when they hear Judah called out as sinners, this is justification for them, that Israel has chosen the right path even over Judah (see Amos 2:4).
Only one country left: and this time, instead of cheers, I imagine stunned silence. Amos cries out these words: For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath (Amos 2:6-8).
There are many ways of looking at the same thing. There are many ways to look at God. A God of judgment, a God of love. He’s really both. His judgment is bathed in love. His love has high expectations. He’s tough on Israel, I believe, because he loves them so incredibly much.
For a moment, forget Israel, and consider yourself. One way to build yourself up is to compare yourself to others, and I look pretty good compared to the guy down the street, and my neighbor to my right, and come to think of it, my family is pretty awesome compared to yours. And then the Lord says, “wait a minute,” you aren’t that great yourself Buddy. You are no better. You, too, are a sinner."
You know how Israel responded to Amos? “Get out of here you seer, go back to Judah and prophecy there. We don’t want to hear your doom and gloom. Come back when you are ready to pat us on the back and congratulate us. Come back when you have something good to say” (Amos 7:14). There are many ways to look at God. I love the book of Amos, but unfortunately, in many ways, the book is an example of how NOT to respond to God. I guarantee you are not going to win if you argue with God, get mad at God, deny God’s truth and judgment. You cannot win. Amos faithfulness is an example of obedience, but the response of Israel is to let pride and denial get in the way.
Some people respond to God with defeat, anger, denial, doubt, arguing, or not feeling good enough. Israel tells Amos to go away. When confronted with sin, there are many ways to look at God. Amos’ litany of countries that will stand before God’s judgment, until finally getting to Israel herself and lumping her with the guilty nations, sounds very much like another verse I know in the New Testament: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Israel rejects Amos’ words, but I believe the better way to see God is to recognize that we are all unequal before the Lord. Salvation begins with an understanding that we are all at fault. As a pastor, I sometimes have to work hard to let my head get too big. People are sometimes so generous and complimentary, and they somehow see me as holy, but I am no different from you. We are all equally unequal before God. Two days ago I sat with a family in preparation for a funeral next week. The man that died was incredibly gifted in certain areas, but he was also incredibly abusive of himself. I summarized at the end of our discussion my attitude I would take into the service: I am no better than this young man, I am only better at hiding my faults. We are all imperfect. We are all sinners. We are all unworthy of the Lord. Salvation begins with an understanding that none of us deserves the love of God. The mistake Israel made is that when they heard the words of Amos, they wrongly thought that meant there was no hope. That is wrong, that is not how God sees sin. Amos is preparing the people of Israel to begin the process of salvation by recognizing that we are all sinners. None of us is better than another. Israel is no more worthy of God’s love than Damascus. I am no more worthy of God’s blessings than my unrighteous neighbor. If anything, like Israel, some of us are only better at hiding our sins. And the problem comes when we start to believe our own spin.
Israel made a mistake in that they did not ask Amos what can be done. Amos did not know Christ, but he did know God, and I am certain he would have assured them that God will find a way. We know Christ, we know the cross, and we know the truth as described in 1 Peter 3:18 (and many other places): “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” When Amos announced all those years ago, “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath,” the people of Israel did not understand that God had a plan. They liked their plan better. The wrath of God would be paid all right, but the wrath would come upon Jesus Christ.
Amos calls the people to repentance: “Come Back to the Lord and Live”. The pronouncement to Israel that they are sinners does not have to be the pronouncement of the end of Israel, it's an invitation to begin a new relationship with God. There are many ways to see God.
We are all sinners. Some hear the words and deny, reject, accept but see no hope, or think it means personal condemnation they will never amount to anything. But the better response: come back to the Lord and live. This is your opportunity for a new beginning. I believe in new beginnings. I believe the Lord is inviting each of us to an awesome journey of salvation. No matter what you have done or the mess in your life, there is hope, there is salvation, anthere is the Lord Jesus Christ.