The Day of the Lord
Sermon Text: Amos 5:18-27
Sermon Theme: Doing the ‘right things’ does not equal being right.
Woe unto those that desire the day of the Lord’s judgments, that wish for times of war and confusion; as some who long for changes, hoping to rise upon the ruins of their country! But this should be so great a desolation, that nobody could gain by it. The day of the Lord will be a dark, dismal, gloomy day to all impenitent sinners. When God makes a day dark, all the world cannot make it light. Those who are not reformed by the judgments of God, will be pursued by them; if they escape one, another stands ready to seize them. A pretense of piety is double iniquity, and so it will be found. The people of Israel copied the crimes of their forefathers. The law of worshipping the Lord our God, is Him only we must serve. Professors thrive so little, because they have little or no communion with God in their duties. They were led captive by Satan into idolatry, therefore God caused them to go into captivity among idolaters.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- What is the meaning of the expression “the Day of the Lord”? This is a term that was used by Old Testament prophets and by New Testament apostles to signify an event in which God intervenes, either directly or indirectly, as an act of judgment and/or salvation in order to change the present world to accomplish some specific aspect of His plan. The “the Day of the Lord” is eschatological in the sense that it brings an end to the present world order, but in doing so it can either be within the flow of history or in an absolute and final sense at the end of all history. Also, this term is often closely associated with the phrase “that day.” The prophecy of Isaiah 13:9-11 shows an event of God judgment only: “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.” In other words, there will be a great and dramatic judgment, manifest in the physical world, which will interfere with the light of the sun, moon, and stars. God will put down the proud and deal with the sinners. It is a time of judgment. But the “the Day of the Lord” can also be a time of deliverance and blessing for Christians and a judgment for a Christ-rejecting world as see in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5: “Now about the times and seasons, brothers, we do not need to write to you. For you are fully aware that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and security,’ destruction will come upon them suddenly, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in the darkness so that this day should overtake you like a thief. For you are all sons of the light and sons of the day; we do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” Have you considered what side of “the Day of the Lord” is your inheritance for the life you have led? For that day will be fearful for some and for others, a day of rejoicing.
- What are justice and righteousness? Justice is right behavior in relation to others, whereby they “taste” or experience what is good and pleasant. We may compare Amos 5:15, where loving good leads on to the establishment of justice. The good man wants the good for his neighbors as a guaranteed element in social life, and equally his hatred of evil means that he wants society to guarantee the purging out of evil through the due processes of the law. Righteousness is depicted as an upright thing or person thrown to the ground, suggesting a standard or norm rejected. This matches the evidence of Amos 6:12, where two expressions lie in parallel, justice turned into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood. According to this, justice is the fruit of righteousness. Therefore, justice is correct moral practice in daily personal and social life, and righteousness is the cultivation of correct moral principle for both self and society. Justice is mainly outward, righteousness inward. Of course, for the Bible righteousness always has the connotation of “right with God,” “what God thinks right” and therefore when the Lord desires that the outflow of religion should be justice and righteousness, He is calling for the establishment of principles and practices of daily living which conform to His word and law.
- What was the use of consecration offerings which did not issue in the consecration of the life to righteousness, or of fellowship offerings which did not issue in a fellowship of justice? There is a wealth of religion in Israel: festivals, sacrifices and music are all evidenced in abundance. There is no doubt that they went in for religion in a big way at Gilgal. They took their religious duties seriously, the feasts at which attendance was by law obligatory, and the solemn assemblies; they entered fully into their religious privileges, bringing burnt offerings, cereal offerings and peace offerings symbolic of their status as God’s people and their fellowship with Him and with each other; they gave full expression to their religious joys, singing songs to the accompaniment of harps. One can almost hear the singing. But God could not! All He heard was noise! There cannot be a passage in the Bible more deliberate in expressing divine distaste than this: I hate … despise … take no delight … will not accept … will not look upon … Take away from me the noise … I will not listen. Their religion was dutiful, exceedingly costly — think of the outlay on animals for sacrifice — apparently whole-hearted, emotionally satisfying, but if religion does not get through to God it has failed. Where did it fail? Yes, you have been to Gilgal, but there is an action you have forgotten, the action of justice and righteousness. Here again is the picture of a religion that is going nowhere. They went to Gilgal to be religious, but they left religion behind when they returned home. Pilgrims came to the festivals, but justice and righteousness failed to roll out into the flow of daily life and relationships. Therefore, their religion stank as far as God was concerned. It was all pointless because it stopped short at the gate of the sanctuary; it did not come back into the home; it did not enter the place of business (cf. Amos 8:4-6).
- A purely ceremonial religion can never safeguard the truth or hold the people to the truth. They had been painstaking in the ceremonies of the shrines but careless of the truth of God. Now, when Amos so unexpectedly lifts the lid off the total religious life of the nation, what do we find? Being socially correct in the religious ceremonies of other gods! The gods of Assyria occupied the hearts of Israel long before the armies of Assyria occupied its streets and towns. Sakkuth, the Assyrian god of war, identified with the planet Saturn, called Kaiwan, was right there in Israel, cultivated by the very people who flocked to Bethel, Beer-sheba and Gilgal. What blasphemy to exchange “Yahweh, the omnipotent, sovereign God” for “king Sakkuth.” What folly to worship a star in the place of the Creator of the stars. What stupidity to exalt as God that which you made for yourselves. But there it all was, and the ritual of the shrines, divorced from the Word of God, heard, loved and obeyed, was no safeguard. Is anything so perilous or so fickle as religious experience isolated from the intelligible message of God addressed to mind, heart and will? Their worship was empty; justice had dried up. All that they had been brought to the land to accomplish was marked by abject failure. For the people who had never really held the title-deeds of inheritance, however much they thought they did, must either come into the place of blessing or forfeit the blessings of the place. However, exile was God’s obvious response to whatever place in heart and mind they had already strayed after false gods. For the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts, “Yahweh, God the omnipotent,” will not be mocked. The evidence of true religion is that it touches all life with the holiness of obedience to His Word and command. He will not endlessly live with the stench of false religion in His nostrils and its noise in His ears. The Lord is looking for lives whose energies are abundantly and perpetually flowing out in righteousness and justice: the cultivation and holding of sound moral principles of life, and the practice of these principles in personal and social behavior. Religion is pointless unless this is its outflow.
- When people are in the dark, they are without God. So, the day of God’s judgment is going to be a day in which those who have not come to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will be separated from him. There are those who would say, “So what! I am separated from God now; I am doing all right! Why should I worry about being separated from God hereafter?” The answer is that while mentally and willfully you are separated from God, in very practical terms you are not nearly as separated from God as you will be. Actually, the presence of God surrounds you. God makes this a world in which you can earn a living, put a roof over your head, feed yourself, and enjoy life. God is responsible for that. If God were not with you now to some degree, life would be more miserable than you can possibly imagine. But imagine a time when you are completely separated from God, from whom all good comes (James 1:17). Name anything you consider good. Then imagine being without it. Friendship? No friendship; that is from God. Love? No love; that is from God. Sex? That is God’s gift. Health? Peace of mind? Self-worth? Laughter? All those things are from God. You must imagine yourself without food or clothing, just existing — apart from God. When you begin to think in those terms, “darkness” becomes a serious matter. Will you live without God now? Then, in a greater sense you will live without God forever. It is a choice you can make. But weigh the consequences. Jesus said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world [now], yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Image what it would be like in eternity being increasingly isolated from God and other people. In The Great Divorce C. S. Lewis pictures hell as a city from which most of the people have withdrawn. It is because they cannot stand one another. In Lewis’s book, hell is increasing isolation in which people spend their time thinking about past hurts and how much they hate one another. They have nobody to talk to, nobody to converse with, nobody to understand them, nobody to sympathize with. That is what it means to be in the dark spiritually. It is to be totally alone without Christ.
- Why would God exile His people into slavery? Did they not go to worship every time they were supposed to? Did they not fulfill all God’s worship requirements as set forth in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers? What had gone wrong? God had a simple answer: I hate, I despise your religious feasts. I cannot stand your assemblies. Worship and ritual must be more than going through the motions, checking the inspired manual to be sure you did not miss anything. Worship can be carried out to the letter of the law and still not be worship. How can that be? The answer is not in the value of the offerings. You cannot pay enough to win God’s favor. The answer is not in the quality of the music program. You cannot sing or play well enough to soothe God’s anger or to guarantee his pleasure. It is the heart of worship that counts, not the quality of the performance. The church without a choir, magnificent instruments, or millionaire givers may please God much more than the modern mega-church with everything it has to offer. God has one requirement for those who worship him: let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! True worship on the Lord’s Day depends on true righteousness lived out during the other days of the week. Only a people who obey God can truly worship him. They cannot take advantage of their neighbor on Monday, cheat on a business deal on Tuesday, tell a bunch of lies on Wednesday, cheat on their spouse on Thursday, get in a fight with their friend on Friday, take off on a drunken tangent on Saturday, and then worship on Sunday. A person’s worship comes directly from his life. Only a life of obedience can bring acceptable worship to God. He demands righteousness before ritual.
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