All Roads Lead To Jesus - Amos

Amos – Jesus Delivers Justice to the Oppressed
Reading: Amos 5, Matthew 25:31-46

It was a great time of peace and prosperity for both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel. Their military might and infrastructure had forced their enemies into quiet submission. The economy was on fire. The land that had been promised had been subjugated and was flowing with riches.  The bills were paid, mouths were fed, and everyone was getting along. Amos was a grunt worker with very little significance. He was a farmer and a shepherd. He was also a loud troublemaker because he wouldn’t just let sleeping dogs lie.

There were cracks in this kingdom just like in every kingdom before it and every kingdom after it. The rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. Larger groups of people were disenfranchised and uncared for. The voices of the powerless were growing quieter and quieter. Those who had plenty had turned their backs on those who were barely surviving.

God has always had a heart for those who have no voice and that find themselves living on the edge of society. Israel did not share the same concern. They had abandoned the weak and the poor.

Yet Israel continued to worship Yahweh with feasts and ceremonies. Their feasts were lavish and hip. Their worship services had become must-see religious experiences with increasing showmanship.  The demands of the Covenant degraded into suggestions and traditions rather than matters of any real importance or significance. Their religion was all hat and no cattle. They were all words and no actions. They were hypocrites. They worshipped God with their mouths while allowing their society to crumble with injustice and oppression.

Amos was sick to the core. He spoke for God when he wrote,
“I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

I remember the first time I heard these verses as a young teenager. I was in the middle of the largest Christian music festival in history back in the late Eighties. The festival alternated between Christian rock bands and popular preachers and speakers. There were tens of thousands of Christian consumers in attendance. We bought the t-shirts. We prayed around campfires. We played in the mud.

During one of the afternoon’s not-so-popular lectures from the main stage, there was a preacher declaring God’s word from Amos. I don’t remember the preacher's name, but I remember what I felt as a 13-year-old teenager when he read these verses to a mostly apathetic and overheated crowd, “God hates your festivals.”

Wait a minute. We were attending “a festival”. We were wearing the rebranded Christian t-shirts. We weren’t listening to the devil’s music. We were listening to the devil’s music with Jesus’ lyrics. Weren’t we? What would cause a prophet during a time of peace to say such a thing to God’s people?

I think if Amos were speaking today, he might say,

“I hate and despise your worship experiences and your lofty theological debates.
Even though you give your time and your money, and you sing your Christian radio tunes, I will not accept them.
Stop playing your loud, over-produced music, and quit performing your epic anthems.
But instead, look around you and see how the world is burning, and how many of you have lit the match.
Instead of working on the show, work on justice, and seek righteousness.”

Amos made it clear to Israel that God is concerned with social justice and righteousness. God hears the cry of the disenfranchised and he has placed His church in a position to seek social justice and righteousness in a world gone mad.

Jesus began his ministry about 750 years after Amos. Like Amos, he too was concerned with social justice. The most powerless people of his time were the heroes at the center of his parables. Whether he was illustrating a point about a poor widow, a Samaritan, or a poor beggar, Jesus was constantly telling a story about the justice and righteousness of the Kingdom of God.

Think about the Sermon on the Mount for a moment. The great reversal of the Kingdom of God is found in the Beatitudes. In these Beatitudes, Jesus says that the most disenfranchised people in the world will find mercy, a reprieve from grief, justice, and righteousness.

The people to which Amos spoke responded in much the same way that many in the church respond today when confronted with their lack of care for the oppressed. The problems of the disenfranchised and the poor were not their problems. They didn’t make these people poor. They weren’t the ones oppressing them. That may have been true, but they also weren’t doing anything to right the injustices.

There are two mistakes that I see Christians making these days concerning social justice. Both of them are extremes and both miss the point that Jesus delivers the oppressed from injustice. On the one hand of failure is the belief that deliverance from worldly oppression is the main goal of the Gospel. This is an under-realized view of the goals of the Gospel. On the other hand of failure is the belief that Jesus as the deliverer of the oppressed really only delivers oppressed people from their sin with no concern for their lives in the here and now. Both views are wrong.

In Matthew 25, Jesus teaches his followers about the day of judgment. He says that all people will be divided into two groups, one on the right and one on the left – sheep, and goats. The sheep are the righteous ones who will inherit the Kingdom of God. The goats, well, they don’t inherit much of anything. Matthew writes the words of Jesus,

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus is concerned with our deliverance from oppression in this world and in our deliverance from sin that oppresses us. Every time a person came to Jesus with a need Jesus would ask, “How can I help you.” Jesus met the physical needs and the spiritual needs of the most disenfranchised and oppressed people of his time. He has commanded us to do the very same. Our concern with the physical needs of others and with justice and equity are important to Jesus. Our concern with these matters is a test of true faith in Christ. Our seeking social justice does not save us, but our salvation will certainly cause us to seek justice.

We have allowed politics and secular ideologies to hijack and divide the church on issues of justice. There is no political party that will provide all of the solutions to injustice. When we seek justice and mercy, we will no doubt have to part ways with political parties and ideologies.

Amos shows us the heart of Jesus and the heart of Jesus is concerned with the oppressed. The lens in which we see the world must be through the same lens that Jesus saw the world – through the Kingdom of God.

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