30 Oct 2013 by Jason Law CM –
No one likes to hear messages of judgment. It brings to mind, whether correctly or not, suffering and condemnation, and things like conflict, diseases, huge natural disasters, poverty, and eternal damnation in Hell. It disturbs the mind, and even sometimes brings doubt to people about the nature and existence of God. The fact remains, however, that our God is ultimately the quintessence of Goodness and Holiness. And where Goodness exists, evil and sin cannot abide.
We have to recognize that our God is not a cheap and superficial God. He is not some sort of celestial Santa Claus, dispensing gifts in an irresponsible and inane manner. Each blessing from God is given through grace, but is also meant for a good purpose and should not be wasted. They are either meant to help us grow in our faith and relationship with Him or so that we can bless others.
Conversely, we also have to recognize the fact that God does dispense judgment but not for a petty, vindictive purpose. The judgment of God is always meant for a good purpose, not to harm us, but to warn, correct, and save us from destruction.
I have often heard people express concern about the increasing dilution of the Gospel message, through the spread of what is known as the prosperity gospel. So I have chosen to write up about a message preached last Sunday at DUMC. This article is for those people, but also for all serious Christians, and even to non-Christians who are serious about their lives. I felt that the message, preached by Rev Dr T Jayakumar, the president of the Methodist Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC), was powerful, relevant, and timely. It helps to bring a proper perspective about the judgment of God.
1. Privilege Requires Responsibility
Rev Jayakumar based his sermon on Amos Chapter 3, and he spoke about three main points we need to consider when speaking about God’s judgement. The first was that the privilege of being called God’s people requires responsibility (Amos 3:1-2).
Amos 3:1-2: 1 Hear this word the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel–against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: 2 "You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins."
The book of Amos took place within the context of an Israel at the height of its power and affluence. If we study the history of Israel at that time, the Bible tells us that the people’s prosperity had reached a pinnacle with many possessing summer houses as well as winter houses, and within those houses they had many items made of ivory (Amos 3:15). To put this into perspective, Rev Jayakumar shared that even King Solomon, in his entire splendor, had only one item made of ivory. The sad thing was the Bible also tells us that the people of Israel had lost sight of God; they were incapable of doing what was right, pride had entered into their hearts, justice was being ignored, and the poor were being oppressed. ‘Amos comes into the scene and find that spiritually and morally, the people of God were bankrupt,’ Rev Jayakumar pointed out.
Rev Jayakumar imparted that it was comforting to the people of Israel that of all the peoples of the Earth, God had chosen them. ‘Look at the way God addresses them very fondly; My family. The people are referred to as the family of God (Amos 3:1-2). The fact that they were chosen were such a delight to the people but they had mistook one thing; that God were showing them some form of favouritism. And therefore, they thought they could do anything they like. They thought they could commit sins blatantly.’ God had to warn the people of Israel through Amos that being the people of God did not make them immune to judgment. ‘On the contrary,’ Rev Jayakumar pointed out, ‘the point is so clear that because they were the chosen people, therefore God would punish them (Amos 3:2). So, even Israel, the Chosen One was not spared from judgement.
A certain measure of goodness and holiness is vital for God’s people. If we are part of God’s family, we carry God’s name, Rev Jayakumar reminded. As Christians, we belong to the family of Christ. God’s family must reflect God’s attributes. If God is holy, we need to be a holy people. If God is caring and loving, we should be caring and loving. If God is concerned about justice, we should be concerned about justice. ‘If God is a good God, how can the people who are carrying His name be bad people? We who have the Scriptures, who know more about the commandments of God, who are in a relationship with God, are called to [a higher standard] than anybody else. We must walk our talk,’ Rev Jayakumar exhorted.
God is still continuously working in us. The way Christians can be agents of transformation and bring thousands and millions to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, is not through our technology or ability. Only if we live accountable and holy lives will we bring people to Christ. In the midst of all the ungodliness and unholiness that’s all around us, it’s the holiness of God’s people that will become a testimony to people around.
2. Warning Precedes Judgement
The second thing we have to take note is that warning precedes judgement (v3-8).
3 Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment?
4 Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey?
Does a young lion growl from his den unless he has captured something?
5 Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground when there is no bait in it?
Does a trap spring up from the earth when it captures nothing at all?
6 If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble?
If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?
7 Surely the Lord God does nothing
Unless He reveals His secret counsel
To His servants the prophets.
8 A lion has roared! Who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?
In this passage of the Bible, we see a list of 8 cause and effect questions, but the earlier questions all leads up to the final question; When God speaks, can His people remain quiet? ‘[No one likes the message of judgement but what] Amos is saying, because God has spoken, he has no choice but to bring the message. Underlying all these questions, the point Amos is trying to raise up is this: when the cause is sin, the effect is judgement.
God has caught Israel in its sins, and was going to deal with Israel the way a lion deals with its prey (v8). But the thing [we] have to remember is this: that the God of grace does not send judgment without first sending warning. Warning precedes judgement. God sends warning so that judgement can be averted. If we don’t heed warning, judgement will be carried out. So I want you to know, judgement is not a bad word at all. God never threatens us with judgement with the sole purpose of bringing condemnation to us. [They] are always for the purpose of helping us to repent. If Israel had repented, God would have forgiven them,’ Rev Jayakumar encouraged.
‘The fact that God sends a messenger with a warning means that mercy is available. Judgement is only a bad word to those who do not know the God of grace and mercy. Judgement is a bad word for those who refuse to stop sinning and repent. But for those who would want to repent, judgement is actually good news. God is calling us to repentance. ‘The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?’ God’s people must speak God’s Word. We who have heard God’s Word have a responsibility. We must be a voice to the Church and to the nations. All of us have this calling on our lives.’
3. Spirituality Calls For Evidence
The third thing to consider is that spirituality calls for evidence (V9-15)
9 Proclaim on the citadels in Ashdod and on the citadels in the land of Egypt and say, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria and see the great tumults within her and the oppressions in her midst. 10 But they do not know how to do what is right,” declares the Lord, “these who hoard up violence and devastation in their citadels.”
11 Therefore, thus says the Lord God,
“An enemy, even one surrounding the land,
Will pull down your strength from you
And your citadels will be looted.”
12 Thus says the Lord,
“Just as the shepherd snatches from the lion’s mouth a couple of legs or a piece of an ear,
So will the sons of Israel dwelling in Samaria be snatched away—
With the corner of a bed and the cover of a couch!
13 “Hear and testify against the house of Jacob,”
Declares the Lord God, the God of hosts.
14 “For on the day that I punish Israel’s transgressions,
I will also punish the altars of Bethel;
The horns of the altar will be cut off
And they will fall to the ground.
15 “I will also smite the winter house together with the summer house;
The houses of ivory will also perish
And the great houses will come to an end,”
Declares the Lord.
The thing to take note over and over again in this passage is the lack of concern of the people of Israel at that time for the law and the poor. Over and over again, there was a highlighting of the tumult and oppression amidst the people of Israel (v9) and the hoarding of violence and devastation within their citadels (v10). When the judgement of God fell on the kingdom of Israel, all the people of Israel left behind and had to show were the nice sofa sets and ivory, and nothing to show about their spirituality and walk with God. Rev Jayakumar pointed out that the religion of Israel had become so corrupted by this time (v14). Their wealth and corrupted religion cannot save them.
The question God wants us to consider is ‘What do we leave behind? What legacy do we want people to inherit from us?’ ‘It is not shameful to leave no huge estates, but it is tragic to leave no legacy’. ‘If the coming generations cannot see or comprehend our spirituality, then what are we leaving behind? The message of judgement is not a comfortable one, but God is yearning to save us not to destroy us. God Himself became a man to die for us on the cross, to save us, and God is yearning continuously to save us. He does not want us to perish in our sins. God is yearning to reach out and to save us. Those of us who have come to know God and struggling in our sins, God’s Word to us is I am yearning to give you full freedom; freedom from sin, to live a holy life, pleasing to God. Every time we do something that is not right, it pains God’s heart, but as much as we pain God’s heart, God is still yearning to save us,’ Rev Jayakumar closed.
God did not say our Christian walk would be easy. Temptations and challenges will still come, and sometimes we will still fall into weakness. I believe that if we take our faiths seriously, there is bound to be struggles and questions about our faith, particularly over difficult issues like sin and suffering. In fact, many of the great theologians like Paul, St Augustine, Martin Luther, and Soren Kierkegaard have walked precisely the same paths.
God did promise, however, that His yoke would be easy, meaning that we can trust that His ways are always just, and that every decision that He takes is meant for our good. Despite judgment, He still loves us with an immeasurable love, and if we repent over our sins, is sure to bring compassion and restoration to us. Sin is not so much right or wrong in the legalistic sense of the word, but something that hinders our relationship with God and it is this relationship with us that matters the most to Him. If we have faith in this promise of God, we shall not be troubled more than is fittingly about issues like these, but rather do our best, through the guidance of God, to live the lives that God wants us to. The questions may still come, but as Christians, it is this promise of God that is our confidence. It should mean the world itself to us.
Matthew 11: 29-30 …29 "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30"For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
References for Pictures:
Note: Picture of Rev Dr T Jayakumar Property of DUMC