Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Prophets do not seem to be receiving much appreciation in this Sunday’s readings! They announced judgment because of the moral failings of their audience. Apparently, they were not well-received. They were perceived as a threat to the leadership, whether it be the mighty Herod or the local priest of Bethel, Amaziah. It’s easy to sit back, read these texts, and assume that we won’t be Herod or Amaziah. When God’s Word comes to us, we like to think that we will hear it, receive it, and act upon it. But, we are always the most upset at our preachers when they start questioning our way of life, not when they confront the actions of those with whom we disagree. So, this morning we’re going to look at the reading from Amos and the warning it gives us today.
An Adamantine Wall
The passage selected for today from Amos is the third of three visions of judgment against the Northern kingdom of Israel. Amos saw the Lord, and in his hands was a block adamant, an indestructible metal. The Lord was building a wall made from this metal. He told Amos that he was going to place this adamantine wall among his people.
Now, you might be sitting here and thinking, what on earth does that mean? Metallic walls were symbolic of strength and protection. God told the prophet, Jeremiah, “I have made you like a … strong bronze wall against all the kings of Judah and its rulers and the people of the land. And they will fight you, and they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord.” (Jer. 1:18-19 LXX) Amos was like an indestructible wall that God was placing among Israel. He could prophesy against the kings and priests of Northern Israel. When he was opposed, Amos could stand his ground because God was strengthening and defending him. God had placed Amos exactly where he wanted him, and God had his back.
So, Lord gave Amos his message. “No longer will I pass by Israel.” The Lord had shown mercy above and beyond what Israel deserved. He had repeatedly held back destruction.
Despite many warnings, Israel refused to worship God in the way he directed and instead worshiped him the way they wanted. They wanted to worship God like their pagan neighbours worshiped their gods. And the ruling dynasty, the house of Jeroboam, supported their idolatry. The punishment against the places of worship and the king highlight the exact elements within Israelite culture that had become bent and distorted. But now, the Lord says enough is enough. Three strikes, and you’re out. Consider that for a moment. God said that he would no longer have mercy upon Israel. God was cancelling his mercy. The Lord does not forgive then. God’s judgment was unavoidable. But why?
Amos tells us a story to explain why God would no longer show mercy to Israel. The false priest Amaziah had reported to king Jeroboam II that Amos was treasonously conspiring against him. Amaziah didn’t tell king Jeroboam about what Amos said about their false worship. No, he only told him the part about sword and exile. Amaziah does not think the things reported to Jeroboam are “the word of the Lord”; instead, he claims, “this is what Amos says.”
So, Amaziah, the priest, takes matters into his own hands, and confronts Amos, “Go away! Go back to Judah! No longer prophecy at Bethel.” But, like an indestructible adamantine wall, this didn’t affect Amos. He remained courageous in the face of the entire Northern regime. Amos responded by telling Amaziah that he was just a lowly farmer whom the Lord himself sent to prophesy to Israel. It was not “Thus says Amos,” as Amaziah said it was. No, it was “Thus says the Lord.” By rejecting Amos and his message, Amaziah and Israel had rejected God. So, Amos said, because you have said, “No longer prophecy in Israel,” then the Lord says, “I will no longer show mercy to Israel.” And that’s precisely what happened. Amaziah’s future is bleak and without hope. Jeroboam’s son was assassinated, and within 30 years, the Assyrian armies came and utterly annihilated the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Assyria wiped them off the face of the earth. The Lord said, “No longer” and he meant it.
Confronted by the Word
When we see a passage like this, where God’s judgment is front and centre, it may come as a shock to us. God takes our sin very seriously, a sin which is rebellion against God. We’re guilty of high treason. But the thing we need to keep in mind is that God’s anger is intimately related to his love for humanity and creation. A great artist might be rightly angered to see that his paintings were defaced by the very people who were supposed to be looking after them. Like that artist, God’s adamant rejection of evil is the natural result of his love for what he has created. God’s anger against sin comes from his determination to put things right again, to get rid of the corrupt attitudes and behaviours that have ruined humanity and the world around them. God is adamantly opposed to sin because he loves the world he has made, and that includes you. He is wholly determined to put everything right again. That means every injustice will be corrected and each wrongdoer brought to justice.
That is why we must see God’s intimate and persistent presence with the Israelites. God still called Israel “my people” in verse 8. That detail gives us a brief glimmer of hope. It suggests that restoration may be possible. God is not offering a warning of impending doom out of some sadistic glee. No! He wants them to repent! That’s why he sends the prophets so that some will heed the warning and repent! God will no longer show Israel mercy because they will no longer listen to his Word. They can’t even stand to have it preached anymore.
The judgment that Amos declares shows us God’s intimate and persistent presence in our lives. We are no better than those in that Northern Kingdom. We have our own gods and idols which strive to replace the one true God. Like Israel, God has given us his Word. He has called us by his name in Holy Baptism. God has sent us messengers, pastors who declare his Word to us. Through pastors, Christ our dear Lord deals with us Himself. They are his ambassadors, his uniformed deputies. Those pastors proclaim to you that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. We have God’s Word to read and hear. We have the Lord’s own Body and Blood. These things demonstrate that God is with you and that he has mercy upon you!
Sometimes though, those pastors tell us things we don’t want to hear. Sometimes, the Bible points out a sin, and we don’t want to deal with it. But the example of Israel is a warning to you. This is a call for us to examine our willingness — or unwillingness — to listen to God’s Word. “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and his word but hold it sacred, gladly hear and learn it.” If you say, “I will no longer listen to God’s Word,” then God will tell you, “Then I will no longer have mercy on you.” God doesn’t want just lip service. He wants us to listen to his Word and those messengers of his Word. That means God desires you to repent of sin and return to Him and amend your sinful ways. Most of all, he wants us to fear, love, and trust in him above all things.
Our God takes your sin seriously, but he also delights in showing mercy to those who do not deserve it. Our God is loving, tender, gracious, and compassionate. He delights in forgiving sin and in giving grace that brings salvation. God does not want any to perish. He has sent his own Son, the stone that the builders rejected, into the midst of his people. In Jesus Christ, we have redemption. That comes through his shed blood, and it offers you the forgiveness of your trespasses. This is the Word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.
Do not presume on the mercies of God. Do not say we have tomorrow and the next day. Now is the time. Now is the day of your salvation. Now is the moment of repentance. This is your day and moment when the God Incarnate seeks you out and proclaims forgiveness to you. Everything that God has done from all eternity and everything He will do to all eternity, He delivers here and now through his Word.
The Word calls for a response. Repent and believe in the Gospel. Don’t ignore the Word. Instead, heed it. Repent – change your mind, come to a new way of thinking about yourself and God. “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” So, turn from unbelief to faith, from idolatry to God, from sin to righteousness, from death to life.
Today, now, this moment is a saving moment for you, in which Christ comes to you and forgives you, feeds you His own body and blood, keeps you in the faith. Now is the time to listen to his voice. If we listen to God’s Word and act upon it, we will never hear God say, “No longer” to us. One day, it may be too late to repent. But today is not that day. Today, the Lord comes to you, not with wrath, judgment, and hell, but with forgiveness, life, and salvation won by Jesus’ blood. He reaches out to you in love to give you the gifts of repentance and faith.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your heart and mind through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen