Justice


I will turn your feasts into mourning

   and all your songs into lamentation;

I will bring sackcloth on every waist

   and baldness on every head;

I will make it like the mourning for an only son

   and the end of it like a bitter day.

Amos 8: 10

It seems to me that God actually enjoys a good party. He wants His people to feel joy and to express it through laughter and in gathering together to celebrate the faithfulness and the goodness that the Lord has poured out upon them. I think that this appreciation for a celebratory spirit in people is a part of why God called upon His people, the Israelites to plan and schedule several feasts and festivals as specific occasions when they would gather to remember all that God had done for them and to enter into acts of atonement for their sins and ones that sought to solicit the Lord’s guidance and direction for the future. Although for the most part we do not adhere to the same formal schedule of special events, people still do celebrate and remember that which is good in our world at specific times on our calendars. To this day, we are a people who enjoy the goodness with which the Lord has graced us.

Despite God’s desire for His people to celebrate His presence with them, He informed them through the words of the prophet Amos that their actions would lead Him to turn those festivals into wakes. Their sinfulness was leading them into destruction, and their disobedience to God’s will for them to be honest and just people was forcing the Lord to withdraw His protections from their land. This would be a drastic step on the Lord’s part, and He was not quick to take such a radical action. God would have preferred to see the Israelites recognize their sins, repent of them, and turn to doing the Lord’s will than to bring about punishment in the form of destruction, death, and captivity at the hands of another nation. Yet, that is what happened.

It seems to me that there are lessons for us to learn from what happened so long ago in Israel. None of us today live in a nation that was formed by God’s hand with the same specific intent as was Israel. That is to be a country that was governed and ruled by God’s Word alone. That sort of thing was, in reality, an example of why we needed Jesus. Israel’s failure as a holy kingdom was writ large across the history of the world. Jesus brought with Him an entirely new concept of nation under God’s authority that no longer has boundaries that can be drawn upon maps or be governed by people. Still, the nations of this earth are granted their existence by God, and they are intended to bring order to the world’s chaos and to promote justice for all people. These human-crafted and God ordained entities operate under a mandate to be peacemakers in the world. So, it seems to me that the warnings that were set out for Israel have pertinence to us today. We must be people who live honestly, promote justice, and seek to be peacemakers, or we too may find that all of our party décor will become blackened and our festivities will be converted to times of mournful wailing.

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Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,

   but he who has a hasty temper exalts a fool.

Proverbs 14: 29

Our culture’s ultimate source of knowledge, Wikipedia, defines anger in this manner,

“The emotion anger, also known as wrath orrage, is an intense emotional state. It involves a strong uncomfortable and hostile response to a perceived provocation, hurt or threat.”

Well, I agree with this except that it seems as if the part about provocation, hurt, or threat no longer applies, for people today become demonstrably wrathful without any sort of real provocation beyond what should produce mild irritation or slight annoyance. Today anger is a tool that is used to overwhelm, to oppress, and to defeat others. Although the use of this powerful emotion in this manner is prevalent today, I submit for consideration that it has always been employed in a similar manner. The writer of this proverb was speaking about something that was both cultural observation and probably personal experience. Almost all people from the dawn of creation have given in to anger’s ugliness and destructive presence.

Yet, that is not how it needs to be. There is another way to engage with people, even with people who really do tend to cause our blood to boil. Jesus certainly felt anger at the way that people were corrupting their worship of God and at the oppressive actions of those in power. God has expressed His anger at the disobedience and selfishness of people. Throughout the long history of Christ’s church, our ongoing disregard for God’s call to live in a just, loving, and other-focused manner has caused a form of anger to well up in numerous righteous followers of Christ. God’s anger, whether displayed by Him or by Jesus is tempered by a desire to bring about redemption and reconciliation to God’s way of truth and righteousness. Thus, the Lord demonstrates His understanding of the people with whom He is angry and with the circumstances that have caused their sinful actions. The Lord knows each of us as an individual, and He enters into our lives with our specific and personal identities in view even when He is displeased with what we are thinking, saying, and doing.

If we truly desire to break the distressing cycle of angry engagement in our world today, we can do nothing less than to follow our Lord in seeking to understand where others are coming from when they cause strong negativity to arise in us. We must seek to know them as people and to recognize that even the most troubling of personalities bears the touch of the Creator’s hand in who they are and in how they function. That does not mean that all actions and words are acceptable or that we should allow all of them to exist without comment, response, or rebuke. The righteous, the loving, and the God-honoring thing to do is often otherwise. Yet, even the sternest of responses needs to be tempered by grace, redemptive love, and a form of understanding that comes by and through the Spirit. When we live in this manner by abandoning the destructive tactics of our world, we have chosen to follow Christ in a manner much like the one that He taught us in the seventh beatitude,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5: 9 

And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

Amos 7: 12, 13

The characters and the setting for this drama are important. Amaziah is a priest serving in the unsanctioned temple at Bethel in the northern kingdom, Israel, and Amos is the God-ordained prophet that has been given a message of repentance or destruction for both Israel and Judah, his homeland. The king of Israel is Jeroboam, and he has been continuing to lead his people ever further away from God’s law and into a form of worship that is a blend of various pagan beliefs, rites, and rituals that have been combined with worship of their one true God, Yahweh. Amos has come to Amaziah with a warning regarding the impending destruction that the Lord will cause to fall upon Jeroboam, his household, the people of Israel, and the land itself if they do not turn back to God alone and change their way of living so that it conforms to the Lord’s law of life.

Amaziah responds on behalf of his king with a caustic and dismissive comment about Amos being a seer. This is not a compliment, for the title that God-ordained speakers would be given would be prophet. Thus, labeling and dismissive statements are used to minimize the validity of Amos’ words of warning. Then the king’s advisor priest sends the offending prophet away and tells him to stay away, for these gloom and doom words are unpleasant to the king’s ear, and they tend to interrupt his times of rest and recreation. Jeroboam seems to hold that his own comfort is more significant that taking in the sound advice of God’s emissary. Despite these stern and derisive words of rejection, Amos is not silenced, and he does not go away to his homeland without continuing to deliver the truth that the Lord has revealed to him regarding the future destruction of Israel and the resultant captivity that its people would endure. 

In response to the Lord’s calling to speak the truth, Amos stands up in the face of rejection, dismissal, and even threats of harm, and he continues to proclaim the Lord’s word to the nation. The power and the authority of people, even of kings and of their ordained advisors, is of little to no importance when it comes to the authority that is contained in God’s Word and that flows out of the Lord’s calling to His people to proclaim His gospel message of justice, righteousness, and respect for all of creation. As God’s people we are all commissioned, as was Amos, to go to our kings and to their advisors and the priests of their temples with this same word of truth that comes directly out of God’s Word. We should not continue to ignore the voice of the Spirit as He speaks to our hearts and implores our minds to personally repent of our own wayward ways and to seek the same from our leaders and for our nations. The Lord is calling to us all to turn to Him so that we all “do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) 

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

2 Peter 1: 16-18

We live in a time in world history where there is a striking absence of truly authoritative leadership. We are surrounded by people that wield power and that hold out their wisdom as if it were of supreme value, but the test of truth calls the lie in all of these claims. The voices that demand our loyalty and that attempt to impose their wills upon our nations are speaking out of the shallow depths of their own human reason as they too frequently make demands that are not in any way related to God’s Word of truth and life. This sort of worldly authority is, in fact, fueled by arrogance, and it draws far too many people into its enticing wasp trap of Spirit quenching death.

Peter was present when the one and the only, the singular, Lord God of the Universe proclaimed that Jesus was truly His Son. So, at that time, God was also proclaiming the conveyance of authority to rule over all of the earth as its sole rightful King. Jesus retains the right to pronounce judgement upon all that transpires in our world, and through His Spirit, He also provides all of the wisdom and counsel that we need in order to live as godly people. That is, the Spirit guides us into thinking and acting in a manner that will please God and that will bring the Kingdom of God into view in our world. When we are following Christ justice, mercy, peacemaking, and love for all people prevail. As people in positions of authority submit to Christ, they can do nothing other than promote these same well-articulated Godly characteristics.

As God’s character and nature are seldom seen in the words and the actions of many of our world’s leaders, one must surely question whether these people are actually submitted to Christ. For the vast majority of us, those who elect leaders and whose voice they should desire to hear, we should be questioning the sorts of opinions that we express to our elected rulers as we should also carefully consider the Christ-likeness of those for whom we vote. For, if Christ was truly proclaimed to be King and was so granted the authority to rule over this world, as attested to by Peter, then it is His heart-felt proclamation of grace and love for our neighbors that must prevail in the outworking of all of our earthly governance. There is no authority on earth that is superior to Jesus, and there is no rule of law that exceeds the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefor let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.

Hebrews 13: 12, 13

It is amazing the difference that a few feet of distance can make. When the Romans wanted to utilize their ultimate form of torture and public humiliation by way of crucifixion to execute a criminal in Jerusalem, they usually took the convicted person outside of the gates of the city proper in order to carry out that sentence. This process of distancing the crucifixion from the holy city provided a note of acceptability to this barbaric act; so, it kept the temple leaders contented with the appearance of honoring the sacredness of the Jewish capitol city. Yet, in reality, there was nothing honoring or truly thoughtful in the way that a crucifixion was carried out. It was brutal in every aspect of its contemplation and in carrying out its outcome. People died a slow, gruesomely painful, and very public death on those crosses. Their shame was displayed for all of the community to see; yet, the convicted person was taken away and placed outside of the boundary of that same community and its care.

Jesus knew what He was getting into when it came time for Him to go to Jerusalem for that final Passover feast. The Father sent Jesus to a place where confrontation with the leadership of the Jewish temple was inevitable, and Jesus did everything that the Lord’s prophets had set out that the Messiah would do in that time and place. These actions in conjunction with all of the rest of the Lord’s words and deeds that were undertaken while engaging in His short term of public ministry assured that He would be the primary target of the anger and the jealousy that was boiling up in the hearts of those supposedly righteous men. Jesus had already separated Himself from the direction that those in power in His world had taken. He brought love and grace to tortured souls where they tendered control and oppression. Jesus healed the sick and the injured as they complained about the untimely nature of such acts. Jesus provided the heavenly wealth of forgiveness of sin while the religious and governmental leaders sought to drain the threadbare cupboards of those same poor people. 

We live in a world where the safest place to dwell might seem to be found in the center of our cities. At least that safe spot is often found when we move in concert with the culture of our community and as we embrace the tone of its discourse. Yet, Jesus did not do this. He confronted that same form of powerful commentary with the truth that comes from before time and that brings low the mighty and that elevates the oppressed. In our day, we can stand upon that same eternal truth in the form of God’s Word, and this is exactly what followers of Christ should be doing on a daily basis. We are to be a people who deliberately move to a place of dissonance with the tone and the content of our world’s common language when it differs with God’s call to promote peace, to love with generosity, and to provide justice to all people. As we do this, we do move to stand in a place with Jesus that is outside of the safety and the security of the gates of our cultural city. However, in making this journey of faith, we are truly aligning ourselves with Jesus’ heart and will, and we are standing on the holy ground that was consecrated by Christ’s blood of redemption.

“For behold, I will raise up against you a nation,

   O house of Israel,” declares the LORD, the God of hosts;

“and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath

   to the Brook of the Arabah.”

Amos 6: 14

God is the perfect example of the engaged and loving parent and also of a truly good friend. He is willing to enter into those hard conversations and deal with the issues that everyone else tries to avoid. This can be very unpleasant, and it can lead to relational tensions that are monumental in their scale. However, the Lord is fully aware of the fact that we all sin and fall far short of the righteousness that God’s standards set out for us to follow. He recognizes with equal clarity that these times and situations of engaging in the selfishness of sin are harmful to us and to the world around us if they are left unchecked. Departing from God’s path in small ways can start people along a course that grows ever further off track to the point that recovery becomes almost impossible. We can get to a place in our journey of life where there are no visible points of reference left to sight and to turn toward.

The Lord does not want to see any of His people end up on the far side of the world with no means of finding our way home again. So, He intervenes in our lives. This is what He is promising to do in the days of the prophet Amos. At the time when Amos wrote out these words, the Lord was still waiting upon the repentance of His people in Israel and Judah. Now, God was certainly aware of the fact that they would not listen to these pleas, and Amos was not the only human voice that the Lord inspired to speak out about the dangers of continuing to follow their own sinful ways. Still, stubborn is stubborn, and self-serving people can be very set in the path that they have chosen to take. We know that both of these Hebrew nations would be overthrown and the people taken from their homes into captivity and slavery in a foreign land. Sometimes, harsh measures are needed in order to bring wandering people back into relationship with God.

Are we in our world today in a place where this sort of extreme measure is the only thing left for God to do in order to get us to turn away from our self-determined journey and fall upon our knees in repentance before the Lord? I am not a prophet, and God has certainly not provided me with an image of His future plans or of the details of the way that He will work out His promise of redemption for our world. I do know that the Lord has a plan for the restoration of the purity and the glory of His original creative handiwork upon the earth. I believe that I am correct when I look around and see the angry, violent, and unloving nature of so much of what is happening upon the face of our globe that God is more than displeased with it all. For I am convinced that God’s heart is breaking and that His patience must be running out at the sight of our depravity and lack of just treatment of each other. So, the engaged father and the good friend that is the Lord is not likely to withhold His judgement for much longer. It is time for people who know Christ to speak up, to act boldly in love, and to become well known in our world as people who proclaim the truth of the gospel of Christ in order to bring a foretaste of the Lord’s redemptive work into contact with the world that we touch.  

For thus sys the LORD to the house of Israel:

      “Seek me and live;

           but do not seek Bethel,

        and do not enter into Gilgal

            or cross over to Beersheba;

        for Gilgal shall surely go into exile,

            and Bethel shall come to nothing.”

Amos 5: 4, 5

In a strange sort of way one of the markers of humanity’s creation at the hand of God alone is our long-standing ability to ignore the obvious in order to do what it is that we want to do instead. In the days of Amos, God was very real and visibly present with the people of Israel. The history of all that the Lord had accomplished in establishing them as a nation was rather fresh in their national and personal memories. They could name ancestors that were born during the wilderness days and had crossed over the Jordan in that miraculous moment in which God demonstrated His power and His grace. Now, they had moved away from worship of the Lord as their one and their only God as they were regularly going to temples to place offerings upon alters dedicated to various other gods. Thus, God’s own people were traveling to Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba in order to bow down before and to seek favor from these other forms of so-called deity.

Do we not continue to do the same sorts of things today? We may not build elaborate buildings to house stone, bronze, and golden images of our various gods, but we do worship at their altars. The fashion of the day may call them by names such as government, wealth, military might, social power, or career. We can usually make arguments as to the worthiness or even as to the essential nature of the attention that is given to these aspects of life. Yet, the sort of devotion that is often granted to them is much like that which is described by God’s Word as the form of worship that was to be given to God alone. At issue is not the fact that we have devised systems of civil governance, means of earning a living, or even an organized military presence that is tasked with standing up to evil in our world; rather, the issue is the importance that is given to any of these entities and activities. When they become primary in our minds and in our hearts, then they have taken the place of God in our individual and our collective beings.

God is patient with us, and His blessings continue to be poured out upon His people. But this will not continue indefinitely. When Amos wrote his words of stern warning, things were going well in Israel and in Judah. There was wealth and prosperity in that land, and the next great peril in the form of Assyria was a weak and incapable neighbor far to the north. Yet, all of that would change very rapidly, and before too long both Hebrew nations would be overwhelmed and made captive. Our fate today will not necessarily look like that of Israel and Judah; yet, God has promised that a day of reckoning is to come soon. We will each be forced to respond to Christ with an accounting for the conduct of our lives, and He is a judge that knows all and one that hands out true and complete justice. We each individually and collectively as Christ’s church have choices to make. We can reframe our hearts and redirect our minds so that our devotion and worship is focused on God alone or we can expect to answer to Christ for why we chose to leave our best selves upon those pagan altars instead.

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