Amos 3

Amos 3

Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet? Does a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey? Does a young lion cry out from his den, if he has taken nothing? Does a bird fall in a snare on the earth, when there is no trap for it? Does a snare spring up from the ground, when it has taken nothing? Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?” Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria, and see the great tumults within her, and the oppressed in her midst.” 10 “They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord, “those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.” 11 Therefore thus says the Lord God: “An adversary shall surround the land and bring down your defenses from you, and your strongholds shall be plundered.” 12 Thus says the Lord: “As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who dwell in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed. 13 “Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord God, the God of hosts, 14 “that on the day I punish Israel for his transgressions, I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground. 15 I will strike the winter house along with the summer house, and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end,” declares the Lord.

We have all watched with heavy hearts this past week the fires in Maui, Hawaii. The death toll continues to climb. The extent of the devastation is truly terrifying. But did you see the story of the Maria Lanakila church in Lahaina, in western Maui? All around it is destruction where the flames swept through, but the church has apparently survived relatively unscathed.

A lot of people are calling it a miracle. A lot of other people are offended that others are calling it a miracle. And a lot of folks—and I would put myself in this group—are being pretty cautious about labeling it one way or another. After all, lots of other churches did burn, so what exactly would this being a miracle say about those churches? But, of course, it could just be a miracle!

I suppose one question that comes to my mind is this: What if God had allowed that church to burn? If God had burnedthat church, had sent fire upon it, would it have meant that He failed to work a miracle? Or might it mean something else? How about this: If God sent fire against a church might it mean that He actually loved that church and that is why He sent the fire? Now there is an interesting question!

It is interesting to see this news story out of Hawaii right now as we are working through Amos and, particularly, as we are reading Amos 3. For here, in Amos 3, and again later in the book, the Lord is essentially saying this: “Because I love you, I am going to send fire on your sanctuaries. Because I love you, I am coming after your buildings and your altars.”

Let us consider the loving, disciplining hand of God.

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Matthew 22:41–46

Matthew 22

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, 44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? 45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

In a 1957 article in Christianity Today entitled “I Believe: The Deity of Christ,” Andrew W. Blackwood wrote:

At Yale in 1955 a distinguished bishop of a major evangelical denomination delivered the Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching. In the midst of much sound material about God’s Good News came a paragraph that seems to have escaped public attention. The brilliant lecturer voiced dissent from a recent statement by the World Council about “Jesus as God.” That statement may have originated on the Continent, where the majority of leading theologians believe in Christ’s Deity. Not so the bishop.

The statement does not please me, and it seems far from satisfactory. I would much prefer to have it say that God was in Christ, for I believe that the testimony of the New Testament taken as a whole is against the doctrine of the deity of Christ, although I think it bears overwhelming witness to the divinity of Jesus (p. 125).

Blackwood, commenting on the bishop’s words, wrote:

If this were the teaching of many New Testament scholars today, and if I had to follow them, I should exclaim: “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him!”[1]

I should as well! Why? Because the deity of Jesus Christ is taught in numerous different ways in the scriptures, our passage being one of the more important ones.

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Amos 2:6–16

Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted; a man and his father go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined. “Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars and who was as strong as the oaks; I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. 10 Also it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite. 11 And I raised up some of your sons for prophets, and some of your young men for Nazirites. Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?” declares the Lord. 12 “But you made the Nazirites drink wine, and commanded the prophets, saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’ 13 “Behold, I will press you down in your place, as a cart full of sheaves presses down. 14 Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not retain his strength, nor shall the mighty save his life; 15 he who handles the bow shall not stand, and he who is swift of foot shall not save himself, nor shall he who rides the horse save his life; 16 and he who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day,” declares the Lord.

At one time, there was a saying among the Jews of Poland that was used when they wanted to say that a man was not a good man. They would say, “He lives like a Christian.”[1] I repeat: “He lives like a Christian” was synonymous with “He is a bad man.”

How did this come to be?

A reading of the New Testament will show that the church has always struggled with sin. There is no perfect church, because even the redeemed people of God struggle with sin and need forgiveness. But one does wonder if this fact has been used as a cover for us no longer trying to be good.

Perhaps a little bit of church history will help us here. Fifteen-hundred years into the Christian story, Martin Luther called for a great work of reformation, what we now know as the Protestant Reformation and what some Catholics call the Protestant revolt. Luther nailed his 95 theses to the castle church door in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517. However, amazingly, five years later, in April of 1522, Luther would complain that the lives of the Protestant Christians were just as worldly as before the Reformation: “We who at the present are well-nigh heathen under a Christian name, may yet organize a Christian assembly.” As Luther began thinking about this problem—the worldliness of the church and how to have a true church—he toyed with an idea, as Harold Bender explains:

Between 1522 and 1527 Luther repeatedly mentioned his concern to establish a true Christian church, and his desire to provide for earnest Christians (“Die mit Ernst Christen se in wollen”) who would confess the gospel with their lives as well as with their tongues. He thought of entering the names of these “earnest Christians” in a special book and having them meet separately from the mass of nominal Christians, but concluding that he would not have sufficient of such people, he dropped the plan.[2]

What Luther was essentially toying around with was the idea of ecclesiola in ecclesia, a “little church within the church,” a separate group of serious Christian within the otherwise corrupt larger church.

But here is the problem: the New Testament does not know of a separate and serious church within the larger compromised church. It simply knows of the church. And the standard and call is the same for all: If you are a born-again follower of Jesus Christ it is your calling and responsibility and privilege to actually follow Jesus in the living of your life.

In Amos 2, beginning in verse 6, the Lord speaks to His own children through the prophet. He is going to name their sins. He is going to announce the coming of discipline. And He is going to call upon them to remember who He is and what He has done for them. In short, the Lord will be giving the answer to Luther’s struggle by saying this, in essence: “My people are to follow Me. My people are to be a holy people.”

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Amos 1–2:6

1:1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. And he said: “The Lord roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of Carmel withers.” Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron. So I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael, and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad. I will break the gate-bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven, and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden; and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir,” says the Lord. Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they carried into exile a whole people to deliver them up to Edom. So I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza, and it shall devour her strongholds. I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod, and him who holds the scepter from Ashkelon; I will turn my hand against Ekron, and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,” says the Lord God. Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they delivered up a whole people to Edom, and did not remember the covenant of brotherhood. 10 So I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre, and it shall devour her strongholds.” 11 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity, and his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever. 12 So I will send a fire upon Teman, and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.” 13 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead, that they might enlarge their border. 14 So I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, and it shall devour her strongholds, with shouting on the day of battle, with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind; 15 and their king shall go into exile, he and his princes together,” says the Lord.

2:1 Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom. So I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth, and Moab shall die amid uproar, amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet; I will cut off the ruler from its midst, and will kill all its princes with him,” says the Lord. Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have rejected the law of the Lord, and have not kept his statutes, but their lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked. So I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.” 6a–d Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment…

In March of 1964, two young singers, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, went into Columbia Studios and recorded a song. It was released on the duo’s first album on October 19, 1964. The album bombed, the band disbanded, and the two singers went their separate ways. The next year, however, the album’s producer, Tom Wilson, remixed the song, adding electric guitars and drums, and, in January of 1966, it hit number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. That song was “The Sound of Silence.”

The closing stanza of the song is powerful and haunting and evocative. It stays with you. Here is how it goes:

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence[1]

I have always been fascinated by that line: “The words of the prophets are written on the subway halls.” Whatever else it means—and people, of course, debate the meaning of this song—it seems to mean that the great truths are not confined to ivory towers and academies. In fact, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls. That is, the prophets are often common men and their truths are not hidden from the masses.

The prophet Amos fits the bill. He was no professional prophet! Verse 1 tells us:

1:1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

So Amos was a shepherd in a small town called Tekoa. In fact, Amos, in chapter 7, will stress his humble origins even more:

14 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. 15 But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.”

And, yet, God can do great things through a common man, a man of the fields, a man of subways. In verse 2 of Amos 1 we read:

And he said: “The Lord roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of Carmel withers.”

Ah! See? It is not the social status of the prophet but rather the power of the prophet’s God that matters. We are reading this book these many years after its writing not because Amos was powerful but because the Lord roared like a lion through him, and so great was the voice of the Lord through Amos that “the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of Carmel withers.” “Amos may be the prophet,” writes Mark Dever, “but he is only the prophet. The primary actor here is the Lord himself.”[2] Indeed!

Let us see what God says through the words of the prophet!

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Matthew 22:34–40

Matthew 22

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Recently, I saw someone online pointing out how often Jesus asks questions, even when answering the questions of others. This point has been made more than once on Twitter, for instance. Here is one example: “Jesus asked questions in 75 of 89 gospel chapters. Embrace his approach to human interactions and ask more questions. Listen more, talk less.” It is an interesting point, though one does get the feeling in reading some of these comments and the comments they invite that some seem to think this does not mean Jesus ever really answered any question at all! For instance, it is debatable that the primary point of Jesus’ own questions was to “listen more, talk less.”

The fact of the matter is that (1) yes, Jesus often asked questions and even answered questions with questions (in order, I would add, to help the questioner journey toward a deeper truth than they were ostensibly searching for or to uncover some motive the questioner thought they had sufficiently hidden from Jesus) and (2) Jesus did, in fact, answer questions that were asked Him…even if His answers were in the form of questions!

Our text is a case in point. Here, Jesus is asked a question and He does not answer with a question. He simply answers it. But not simply, after all. For then He appears to over-answer it. And we see that Jesus is answering questions on a deeper level for the good and conviction of the questioner. Once again, we see the challenge of trying to press Jesus into a corner.

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Joel 3

1 “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it. “What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border. Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on your own head. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away, for the Lord has spoken. Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. 10 Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” 11 Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O Lord. 12 Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. 13 Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the winepress is full. The vats overflow, for their evil is great. 14 Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. 15 The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. 16 The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. 17 “So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it. 18 “And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the Valley of Shittim. 19 “Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the people of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. 20 But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations. 21 I will avenge their blood, blood I have not avenged, for the Lord dwells in Zion.”

In 1963, Bob Dylan wrote his song “Seven Curses.” In the song, a young lady is trying to save her father’s life. He is scheduled to be hung for stealing a horse. The lecherous judge makes a deal with the young lady and promises to free her father. After she meets the judge’s demands she awakens the next morning to find that the judge did not free her father but, instead, after having used her, he commenced with the hanging. The girl, upon seeing her father’s broken body and realizing the wickedness of the judge, pronounces seven curses upon the judge. Here are the curses:

These be seven curses on a judge so cruel:
That one doctor will not save him
That two healers will not heal him
That three eyes will not see him
That four ears will not hear him
That five walls will not hide him
That six diggers will not bury him
And that seven deaths shall never kill him[1]

Bob Dylan was pretty adept at biblical imagery. He knew that seven was the number of completion. The point, then, is that the girl pronounces devastating, exhaustive, and complete judgment upon the judge for his wickedness and cruelty. He is cursed seven times. That is, he is cursed in totality.

This comes to mind when reading the first verses of Joel 3, which are verses describing the Lord’s judgment upon the wicked nations. But then these terrifying words of judgment for the world give way to words of mercy for God’s people. It is a fascinating way for Joel to end his book, and it is a message we desperately need to hear: devastating judgment is coming…but also lavish mercy.

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Joel 2:28–32

28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. 30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

What if I told you that the first portion of scripture to be quoted in the first ever sermon after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus was our text here at the end of Joel 2? And what if I told you that, in part, the end of Joel 2 was quoted in the first post-resurrection/ascension sermon to prove that the disciples were not drunk? And what if I told you that when Peter needed to describe what it meant that the Holy Spirit had come upon the church, he turned to the end of Joel 2 to do it? And what if I told you that God used Peter’s sermon and this passage from Joel 2 to bring “about 3,000 people” into the Kingdom (Acts 2:41)?

In Acts 2, the Spirit of the living God falls upon the gathered church the people heard these early disciples speaking in their own tongues Then the critics accused them of being drunk. So Peter responded.

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

That Peter quotes Joel 2 in the first post-resurrection/ascension sermon should give us pause then compel us to a very careful consideration of this amazing passage. What is happening at the end of Joel 2? When we turn to it we find a synopsis of the day of the Lord in three movements: the pouring out of the Spirit, the coming of judgment, and the completion of salvation.

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Joel 2:18–27

18 Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. 19 The Lord answered and said to his people, “Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations. 20 “I will remove the northerner far from you, and drive him into a parched and desolate land, his vanguard into the eastern sea, and his rear guard into the western sea; the stench and foul smell of him will rise, for he has done great things. 21 “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! 22 Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit; the fig tree and vine give their full yield. 23 “Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before. 24 “The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. 25 I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. 26 “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.

People either loved, hated, or were simply confused by the ending of the Coen brothers’ film, “No Country for Old Men.” The movie was based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel by the same name. The film concludes with recently-retired and world-weary sheriff Ed Tom Bell, sitting at the kitchen table and recounting two strange dreams he had to his wife. You must understand that Ed Tom retires after being unable to save the life of a local man, Llewlyn Moss, who came upon a large stash of drug money and who was being hunted by the ruthless killer Anton Chigurh. Sheriff Ed Tom could neither save Moss nor catch Chigurh. The Sheriff is tired. He is broken. He does not understand the world and how it has become so dark. There is no country for old men like him. Importantly, he tells his cousin earlier in the film that he always thought when he got older that God would come into his life, but God had not come, Ed Tom says.

So we find him seated in his kitchen at the movie’s end. He is telling his wife about his dreams. Both dreams, he tells her, were about him and his deceased father. Here are his words:

I dont remember the first one all that well but it was about meetin him in town somewheres and he give me some money and I think I lost it. But the second one it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin through the mountains of a night. Goin through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin. Never said nothin. He just rode on past and he had this blanket wrapped around him and he had his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it, about the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin on ahead and that he was fixin to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up.

Then, after a quick shot of his wife’s face and back to his own, the movie abruptly cuts to black.

The end.

As I said, people either love, hate, or are confused by this abrupt enigmatic ending.

Put me in the first camp. I love that ending. Why? Because, to me, it is a statement of hope.

In this dark world of pain and judgment and loss and sadness and wickedness and judgment, there is the smallest glimmer of light—the fire in the horn—and the light has gone on before us “somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold” and we can know “that whenever we get there” it will be there.

It is a profoundly biblical image. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Joel 1 and the first half of Joel 2 depict the darkness of loss and of judgment. But our text, beginning in Joel 2:18, depicts light and restoration. Finally in the cold and dark we come upon the light! Here, we see the Lord answer the cries and prayers of His people and turn to respond. And this response gives us great hope! These words are light in the darkness, and they point to the coming of the light of the world, Jesus.

Is this a picture of future restoration or of present restoration for the believer? I believe we should say, “Yes!” to this question. Yes, this is a picture of ultimate restoration and healing that will come in the aftermath of the day of the Lord for His people. But, as George Eldon Ladd famously taught us, the Kingdom of God is “already/not yet.” That is, the future coming of the Kingdom of God can be seen even now. Jesus ushered in the beginning of the end. So this enables us to read a passage like this not only in light of the hope of ultimate restoration, but also in the light of restoration even now on this side of heaven.

What do the mercies of God look like when He turns to heal and bless His suffering people?

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Matthew 22:23–33

Matthew 22

23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” 29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

N.T Wright has shared a wonderfully absurd story from his younger days that powerfully illustrates what is happening in our text. He writes:

I once sat on a college committee where two older members had a regular tactic for stopping any change that might have been proposed. When one of the younger members (myself, for instance) proposed doing something that would really benefit the whole community (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I), one of these two could be relied upon to come up with a ridiculous story of what might conceivably happen if we did such a thing.

       On one occasion, for instance, someone had proposed that by the entrance to the college there should be a system of mailboxes so that every member of the college could collect his or her mail easily from the right box, rather than having, as we then did, a small number of boxes with a large number of letters stuffed into each. Many other colleges had sensible systems; why couldn’t we?

       Straight away one of the blockers went into action. “Ah, but,” he said, “supposing you put in these new mailboxes, they’ll probably have to go right down to floor level. Then supposing somebody comes by with a dog. And supposing the dog decides to lift its hind leg right beside the mailboxes. You wouldn’t like that to happen to your mail, would you?” The picture was so silly it was actually funny; but by the time everyone had laughed, the nonsensical story had had its effect. Half the room had come to believe, without any actual argument, that there were serious problems about the proposal.

And what does this have to do with our text? Wright explains:

We know from several sources that the Sadducees—the let’s-keep-things-as-they-are party within the Judaism of Jesus’ day—were good at telling silly stories to make the idea of resurrection look stupid and unbelievable. The story they told here is a typical folktale, with the seven brothers like the seven dwarfs in the Snow White story, or the heroes in the The Magnificent Seven. Its purpose is simply to set out a highly unlikely situation to force the issue.[1]

So the Sadducees were obfuscating, creating a fog, under the guise of theological and biblical seriousness. In reality, however, they were indulging in something called reductio ad absurdum, or reducing something to the absurd as a rhetorical tactic against resurrection. But Jesus cannot be rebuffed by the fog or the absurd. He sees right through it and His arrow hits the mark.

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Joel 2:1–17

1 Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations. Fire devours before them, and behind them a flame burns. The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them. Their appearance is like the appearance of horses, and like war horses they run. As with the rumbling of chariots, they leap on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble, like a powerful army drawn up for battle. Before them peoples are in anguish; all faces grow pale. Like warriors they charge; like soldiers they scale the wall. They march each on his way; they do not swerve from their paths. They do not jostle one another; each marches in his path; they burst through the weapons and are not halted. They leap upon the city, they run upon the walls, they climb up into the houses, they enter through the windows like a thief. 10 The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. 11 The Lord utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it? 12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. 17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”


Every so often I read again Shel Silverstein’s wonderfully amusing poem, “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out.” Have you heard it?

Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout

Would not take the garbage out!

She’d scour the pots and scrape the pans,

Candy the yams and spice the hams,

And though her daddy would scream and shout,

She simply would not take the garbage out.

And so it piled up to the ceilings:

Coffee grounds, potato peelings

Brown bananas, rotten peas,

Chunks of sour cottage cheese.

It filled the can, it covered the floor,

It cracked the window and blocked the door

With bacon rinds and chicken bones,

Drippy ends of ice cream cones,

Prune pits, peach pits, orange peel,

Gloppy glumps of cold oatmeal,

Pizza crusts and withered greens,

Soggy beans and tangerines,

Crusts of black burned buttered toast,

Gristly bits of beefy roasts. . .

The garbage rolled on down the hall,

It raised the roof, it broke the wall. . .

Greasy napkins, cookie crumbs,

Globs of gooey bubble gum,

Cellophane from green baloney,

Rubbery blubbery macaroni,

Peanut butter, caked and dry,

Curdled milk and crusts of pie,

Moldy melons, dried-up mustard,

Eggshells mixed with lemon custard,

Cold French fries and rancid meat,

Yellow lumps of Cream of Wheat.

At last the garbage reached so high

That it finally touched the sky.

And all the neighbors moved away,

And none of her friends would come to play.

And finally Sarah Cynthia Stout said,

“OK, I’ll take the garbage out!”

But then, of course, it was too late. . .

The garbage reached across the state,

From New York to the Golden Gate.

And there, in the garbage she did hate,

Poor Sarah met an awful fate,

That I cannot now relate

Because the hour is much too late.

But children, remember Sarah Stout

And always take the garbage out!

Amusing, yes…and not amusing at all. In fact, the poem is fairly terrifying the more you think about it. It is, in fact, a prophecy and a warning: If you do not deal with your garbage your garbage will deal with you.

You are created in the image of God and are therefore called to live lives of holiness and joy that reflect the beauty of God. You are called to live life in relationship with God. But our sin is our garbage. It clutters are lives and we do not want to take it out. In fact, we love our sin until we learn to hate our sin. But sin, undealt with, brings pain and woe into our lives. Until we come to Jesus in faith and are saved, we inevitably meet the same fate as Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout: “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23).

Many years ago, a prophet named Joel warned Israel of this. He told them that the reason their house was falling apart was because they had not taken their garbage out, they had not turned to the Lord God in faith and repented of their sin. In some fascinating ways, Joel tells them the lesson of Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout: Our sin, our garbage, threatens to destroy us. But God is merciful, and He can save us from the mess and the consequences if we will come to Him. He can forgive us. He can restore us. And He will if we will come to Him.

Let us consider the nature of judgment and the nature or that repentance that leads to forgiveness and life.

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