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Not a Famine of Bread or Water, But of the Words of the LORD

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Amos 8:1-14; John 6:53-58; 66-69

July 29, 2018 • Download this sermon (PDF)

Dear Congregation of Christ: Before last year’s Super Bowl Sunday, a survey showed that 59 percent of churches who have Sunday evening services or other activities planned to continue as a normal Sunday. But 36 percent also said that they would adjust their schedules, including watching the game. My first experience of this American phenomenon was in the January 1977 Super Bowl between the Oakland Raiders and the Minnesota Vikings. The pastor of the Methodist Church in Daly City shortened the morning service, including the sermon, so people could go home early. Obviously, in this church and many other churches, the Super Bowl was foremost on people’s minds.

This insincerity towards the Christian Sabbath by many churches today is also seen in our text today. But Israel’s hypocrisy towards their Sabbaths and other feasts ordained by God is for a different reason. Here in Amos Chapter 8, the LORD condemns Israel for two reasons: dishonoring the Sabbath and committing injustice against the poor and powerless. For these two sins, and for idolatry, sexual immorality and ostentatious living, Israel will suffer a terrible punishment of death and destruction. Amos prophesied that this judgment will be the end of Israel’s northern kingdom. When this judgment comes, there will be great mourning and lamentation. And after this judgment, the few survivors will be seeking the Word of the LORD, but they will seek in vain.

So I preach to you the Gospel in three points: first, Sabbath Hypocrisy and Injustice; Mourning and Lamentation Over the End; and second, Seeking and Not Finding the Word of the LORD.

Sabbath Hypocrisy and Injustice

Previously, in Amos Chapter 7, we read about three visions of judgment shown by God to Amos: a vision of locusts, a vision of fire, and a vision of a plumb line. When Amos pleaded to God for forgiveness, God relented from sending locusts and fire to destroy Israel. However, in the plumb line judgment, Amos did not plead to God. The LORD said he would not “pass by” their sins again and will destroy Israel’s places of worship and the kingdom with an invading army.

Here in Amos Chapter 8, God shows Amos a fourth vision: that of “a basket of summer [or ripe] fruit.”  Then God tells Amos, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them.” You see, in Hebrew, the word for “ripe fruit” sounds very much like the word for “end.” In English, we might put the conversation like this: “Amos, what do you see?” Amos answers, “A basket of ripe fruit.” Then God says, “My people Israel is ripe for judgment.” So in this vision, God tells Amos that judgment against Israel is impending.

In previous pronouncements, the LORD condemned Israel’s many sins: idolatry, sexual immorality, injustice against the poor, and ostentatious living. In this vision, God zeroes in on two sins: dishonoring the Sabbath, and injustice against the poor.

What was Israel’s sin against the Sabbath? Their worship was all outward and hypocritical. They were merely going through the motions because their hearts were far from serving God and their minds were elsewhere. They assumed that God would be pleased with their worship, even when they were violating God’s commandments in various ways. In verse 8, what were they thinking when they were worshiping at the temple? “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?” They couldn’t wait for the temple service to be finished so they can do their business.

This happened throughout Israel’s history. In Nehemiah 13:15-18, after the Jews returned from their exile in Babylon, Nehemiah saw many people working on the Sabbath, so he warned them, What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”

What’s worse, they were corrupt businessmen. They used false weights and false measures to make even more profits than normal and enrich themselves more. They would add some chaff to the wheat. They had no compassion on the needy because of their greed. They would love to have so much money that they could buy slaves for their households.

This was common practice in the Philippines. We had to be watchful how the market vendors weighed their goods. Sometimes we thought we picked the very best mangoes, but when we got home, the only good ones were on the top of the bag. The rest were bad or rotten. Today, we read in horror about looters stealing from empty homes in evacuated areas in Redding. We are disgusted when we hear that gas stations are gouging their prices. They’re just like those wealthy Israelite businessmen who make corrupt profits on the backs of the poor and helpless.

And how often are we like those people in the cities whose minds are on the Super Bowl while attending worship services? Some churches even incorporate the Super Bowl in their worship. Last year, a former Super Bowl champion was the guest preacher at a Methodist Church in Georgia. The church told its congregation to wear their favorite team’s jerseys and join a tailgate party before the service! What an irreverent and dishonorable way to worship our Holy Lord!

Are your minds and hearts elsewhere this Sunday morning? When we have a scheduled surgery, or we’re facing financial difficulties or relationship problems, or when someone in our family is in trouble, our minds wander away from the worship service. That’s normal, but it is something to confess to God during the service. But when we can’t wait for the service to end because of our plans, or we have company, or there’s a game this afternoon, then we are not much different from those Israelites in Amos 8. I know of a member of a church in the Bay Area who owned a smog check business. He didn’t attend Sunday services because he said that most customers come in on Sundays. His business lasted only two or three years. God took away his business because of his neglect of the Lord’s Day.

So let me read words of warning and exhortation from Isaiah 58:6-7, 13-14:

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Make the Lord’s Day a delight, and our Father in heaven will be delighted with us and bless us.

Mourning and Lamentation Over the End

Verses 8-10 describes God’s judgment over Israel. We see natural calamities and cosmic disturbances, and these may be literal or figurative. The land trembles with an earthquake. This was fulfilled two years after Amos’ prophecy (1:). It rises and sinks like the Nile River, which might mean flooding. This earthquake and flood might also be describing the terror and confusion that God would send to Israel through the Assyrian invaders. In sending darkness over the land, the Israelites are being reminded of the plague of darkness that God sent to Egypt 700 years before. This might have been the solar eclipse recorded in ancient Near East documents in 763 B.C, 41 years before the invasion and destruction of Samaria.

The light of day into the darkness of night is one of the reversals described in verses 9-10. When they hold their feasts in the temple, they will not be joyfully celebrating, but will be mourning and wailing and singing funeral dirges. That’s because there will be so much death – dead bodies everywhere – that they will be numbed into silent weeping and wailing. There will be deathly silence. Wearing sackcloth and cutting hair also signify mourning. They will be bitterly mourning as if they had lost their only son.

Often in the Old Testament prophets, judgment, and the fall of nations are described in terms of cosmic upheavals. For example, Isaiah describes the fall of Babylon to the Medo-Persians in 539 B.C.: “For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light” (Isa 13:10). The same description was prophesied about the fall of Edom in Isaiah 34:4, “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll.”

But these cosmic upheavals also describe the end of the world, commonly referred to as the Day of the LORD, or the Day of Christ. Joel 2:31 is one of these prophecies, “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” Matthew 24:29 describes the second coming of Christ, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Peter similarly prophesied the Day of Christ in 2 Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved.”

Therefore, cosmic upheavals may be figurative, as in the fall of Israel and the nations. But they may also be literal, as when Judgment Day comes when Jesus returns from heaven.

Seeking and Not Finding the Word of the LORD

Before Israel entered Canaan the Promised Land, the LORD promised that the promised land would be a land of milk and honey and fruits, where bread and water would be abundant. But the promise was conditional: If they were faithful and obedient to God’s law, they would be blessed and prosper; if they were unfaithful and disobedient, they would suffer curses, including famine and drought (Deu 28). This does not mean that they will be saved by works. They were still saved by grace through faith alone (Rom 4:9, 22), but their tenure in the land is conditioned upon their obedience (Lev 18:24-28).

But there was an even worse judgment than earthquakes, floods and cosmic upheavals. In verses 11-13, the LORD God declares a severe judgment of famine, “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.” A literal famine of bread and drought are two of the most common curses by God on Israel and the nations for unbelief and sins (Deu 28:23; Lev 26:19). During the time of Abraham, Jacob and Ruth, there was famine in the land, but God was testing their faithfulness. God sent a drought to Israel for three years during Elijah’s days (1 Kgs 17:1). During the days of Elisha, the prophet after Elijah, God called a seven-year famine in Israel (2 Kgs 8:1). These were judgments against Israel’s unbelief and disobedience.

But the worst judgment would be a famine and drought of the Word of God. There would be no word from God’s prophets. God’s people would hunger and thirst for his words, but they would not find any. Here’s another reversal. In Amos 2:12, the people rejected the prophets. In Amos 7:13, the high priest Amaziah told Amos to stop proclaiming God’s judgment. And Israel got what they wanted: no more words from the LORD; no more prophets. They will search land and sea in all directions, running this way and that way, but the word of the LORD is nowhere to be found. The LORD himself was nowhere to be found! The saying proved true: Beware what you wish for.

Beloved friends: After Israel worshiped the golden calf at Mount Sinai, God told Moses that he would destroy them. But after Moses pleaded for forgiveness, God said that he is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”

God is loving, patient and kind, but there will be an end to his love, patience and kindness. This end will happen on the day of reckoning when Christ returns from heaven. He is a God “who will by no means clear the guilty” (Exo 34:6-7). All those who have not believed and who have not repented of their sins would not be forgiven and saved. They will mourn and lament their judgment. When this day comes, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:50). They will even look to hear God’s Word, but they will not find it.

When the last book of the Bible was written in the first century A.D., God’s Word was completely revealed to mankind. But on the last day – the Day of the Lord – the Word of God will never be again available to unbelievers. They will hunger and thirst for a word of forgiveness from God, but it is gone forever. When they think they’re lovely and strong, they will see that before the face of God, they are repugnant and faint because they have rejected his Word.

Let us be reminded of God’s exhortation, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! . . . Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isa 55:1, 6). The Word of God, his love and his forgiveness are offered free to all those who seek him. What’s most important in this life is Jesus, the Bread from Heaven and the Living Water. All of you who hunger and thirst for his righteousness alone would be filled and satisfied with his words of eternal life (John 6:68).

He will turn the darkness of your sin into the light of his glory and holiness (1 Pet 2:9). This is why there was darkness when he hung on the cross: darkness symbolizes sin that was abolished by his sacrifice for your sins (John 2:19-20; Rom 1:21). Your mourning and weeping over your sin will turn into songs of joy and thanksgiving for his salvation (Psa 30:11; John 16:20).

But there is an end to his love and forgiveness. That day will be the end of this age. For those who have rejected God and Jesus Christ the Word of God and the only Savior, there will only be darkness, turmoil, distress, weeping and gnashing of teeth. May this be both a sober warning and a great comfort to us.

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