Captivity Beyond Damascus

Sermon preached on Amos 5:18-27 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/26/2017 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Amos 5:18-27

“Captivity Beyond Damascus”

God wants his people to have assurance of their salvation. He wants all who have put their hope in Christ for grace and mercy to know that their hope is in the right place. He wants every repentant sinner who has fled to Jesus for refuge to know they have come to the right place. God wants his people to have assurance of salvation, and to grow in that assurance. Genuine assurance is a good thing.

On the other hand, false assurance is not. There is a kind of assurance that is not actually assurance. If you have put your hope and trust in the wrong place, then that assurance is faulty. If you have thought you are right with God when you are not, then that is a wrong kind of assurance. This passage raises this concern today. This is a very common concern. It was common back then and it is still common today. This passage shows us that there can be people who are fully convinced they are saved. They go to church, they give when the plate comes around, they sing worship songs with gusto, and they can’t wait for Jesus to come back. Yet, this passage shows us that there are such people that are totally deceived. They have not really known the Lord. Their false assurance is presumption based on a false religion. And so, this passage calls us to examination. Because this passage shows that with such people, there is clearly fruit in their life that would speak against the religion they think they have. And so today, I don’t mean to disturb Christians with a tender conscience to plague with them doubt about their salvation. Yet, this passage teaches us that we must examine our faith from time to time to see that we have a lively and true faith. If we do, then we should ultimately be encouraged with more assurance. But if we examine our find and find it failing, then there is yet time to address this with true repentance and true faith.

So then, we’ll look in the first half of our sermon today at verses 21-27. Here we find that God was not pleased with Israel’s worship at that time. This raises the topic about worship that is not acceptable to God. You might recall back in chapter 4, verse 5, that the people love to give all their offerings. The people there surely thought they were being religious in a good sense. They surely assumed their worship was pleasing and acceptable to God or otherwise they wouldn’t have kept doing it. But Amos challenges the people here. He confronts them in their worship and essentially says they are wasting their time because God doesn’t accept it.

Look at how Amos develops this. Let’s walk through his comments. Starting at verse 21, God says that he hates their feast days and their sacred assemblies. The feast days would have included particularly Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. The feasts had sacred assemblies associated with them, but there were also other occasions where the people would gather for sacred assemblies. For example, when Solomon dedicated the temple, the people held a sacred assembly. Or in Joel, when the people needed to repent, God called them to come together in sacred assembly for fasting and repentance. These special times of worship were supposed to be a good thing. They were supposed to be highlights in the people’s worship of God and in their relationship with him. We just had Thanksgiving, and of course people usually really look forward to such special times. But God says here about these feasts and assemblies that he hates them. It’s not that he hates them in general. He hates how these Israelites are engaging in them. God won’t receive these people’s feasts and assemblies. It’s not the feasts and the assemblies then, it’s the people coming to worship in them.

Next Amos speaks against their offerings in worship. This is verse 22. Three specific offerings are mentioned: burnt offerings, grain offerings, and peace offerings. Those are the first three of the five main offerings mentioned in the book of Leviticus. What is telling is that the other two not mentioned would be the sin offering and the trespass offering. Those other two offerings particularly emphasize the sin of the person giving the offering and are seeking atonement from God. The fact that these other two are not mentioned, certainly suggests that Israel didn’t think they had sin that they needed to deal with. It seems like they just assumed they were right with God and could carry on with these other sacrifices as acts of worship. Yet, God says these do not please him. Similarly, when verse 21 speaks about God not savoring their worship, it is about “smell.” These three kinds of offerings are described in Leviticus as giving a pleasing aroma to the Lord. But verse 21 says that these aromas do not please God. Actually, they are offensive to him.

Next, he addresses their singing and music in verse 23. Basically, it’s like God covering up his ears and saying he doesn’t want to hear it. It’s like he’s saying, “turn it off,” or “get that noise away from me.” It’s like he’s disgusted by the very sounds of their music.

Add to all this critique what he says about their worship in verse 26. They had idols as part of their worship. Sikkuth and Chiun were Assyrian dieties. Ironically, as verse 27 alludes to, they’re going to eventually be destroyed and exiled by Assyria. When that happens, they’ll surely be forced in Assyria to worship these false deities. Yet, to their own shame, they are already starting to worship Assyrian false gods. Somehow, they’ve mixed that idolatry into their worship of the LORD.

So, it is obvious that their worship is not accepted. The question is, “Why?” Why is their worship not accepted, besides the obvious idolatry they brought into it? Well, the answer is implied in verse 24. “But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.” God is calling them to repent. You see, we’ve been seeing in Amos that these people had been afflicting the poor and needy among them. They’ve perverted justice by bribing judges as a part of how they afflicted the poor. How they can come and worship God like this, when the rest of the week they are living in such evil? This is hypocrisy of the highest sorts. They live in unholiness, and so how can they think they’ll be able to come before the all holy God in worship and have that worshipped received? No, he will say “depart from me you workers of iniquity.”

You see this is the issue. A sinner is not accepted by God in his own merit. Sinners should not expect that they can come before God in worship and think they will have any sort of fellowship with God. For example, you can’t just come before some long-standing enemy and suddenly act like you are good friends. Things don’t work like that. So then, how is that such sinners could be accepted by God? They need to be first reconciled to God. How can they be reconciled to God? How can an sinner whose become an enemy to God be forgiven and restored in his relationship to God?

Well, that’s of course why God had sin offerings and trespass offerings under the old covenant. It was to tell that people that before they could start doing things like peace offerings which were supposed to celebrate their peace and fellowship with God, they had to first become at peace with God. They had to first have their fellowship with God restored. They had to have their sins and trespasses atoned for. These were the very offerings that aren’t even mentioned here in this passage as what they were offering. And yet it is especially these offerings that look to the atoning work of Jesus Christ. I love what Ephesians 5:2 says, that Christ gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. That is an offering God does accept. That offering does please God. These offerings for atonement under the old covenant looked forward to a better offering and atonement that would come in Jesus Christ under the new covenant. By his sacrifice, we can have peace and fellowship with God.

That is how we must then approach God in worship. This passage is not saying that God doesn’t want worship services and only wants his people to do ministries of social justice. Sadly, that’s how some take this, at least to a degree. But that is not what this is saying. It’s not saying religious acts of worship are inherently wrong. But it is boldly challenging hypocrites who go through the motions of religion when they haven’t repented of their sin and sought forgiveness and grace. So then, the call today is to repent and believe in Jesus. Part of this repentance will be to seek justice and righteousness. And yet it certainly does including worshipping God. But we can have confidence then that our worship is received because of Jesus. It’s like what Paul told the Philippians after their gift of financial support for his ministry. Paul said their gift was a “fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).

So then in our second half our message today let’s look at verses 18-20. Let’s consider how the day of the Lord will surprise many people. Start with me in verse 18. It’s says that there were some of these wicked Israelites who were genuinely desiring for the Lord to come. They thought that God’s coming would be a good day for them. Interestingly, this might be the earliest written prophecy of the Day of the LORD in the Bible. There are a lot of references in the prophets to the coming Day of the LORD. Yet, if this is the earliest prophecy written down, it would sure suggest that this was already a clear expectation of the people. They already expected there was a day when God would come to his people. Clearly, from their minds, this would be a good day for them. Surely, they assumed that it would be a day of victory and vindication. All their enemies would be destroyed and they would enter into some blissful victory and reward in the presence of their God. That was surely their hope and expectation.

But Amos dashes that hope here. It’s not that the Lord isn’t coming. It’s that his coming won’t be good for them. See the word that starts verse 18. “Woe.” Woe to these Israelites and their mistaken hope. They’ve misjudged whose side they are on. They assumed they were on God’s side. But they weren’t. So, when the LORD comes, they too will experience the terrible judgment of God. This day would be the darkness of judgment not the light of a new, glorious start for them. They will think they are escaping one enemy only to run into another: see the analogies with the bear and the snake. Those analogies say that any direction you go, there will be trouble. I thought of the old Atari game of Pitfall when I read this. The game starts and you have the choice to go several different directions in the game. But the reality is that whichever direction you take, danger awaits. That’s like the day of the Lord for them. Israel may be running away from their enemies when the Lord comes; they might run away from the enemies toward the Lord who comes, thinking they are running to safety. But in reality, they would be running into an even worse danger when they do that.

Again, they had assumed they were in fellowship with God. They assumed they were God’s people, his own; his friends. But in reality, they were his enemies. Their unrepentant and unforgiven sin had separated them. The day of the LORD has this interesting dual aspect to it. To God’s people, it is going to be a good day. But to God’s enemies, it won’t be. It will be the day of God’s judgment upon them. These people had false assurance thinking they were right with God, when they weren’t. As verse 27 says, they would have a sort of day of the Lord experience coming for them. But it would not be good. They would be expelled from the land of promise into captivity beyond Damascus. And yet as bad as that would be, it would only be a type and shadow of the final day of the Lord that would yet come at the end of history.

As an application, don’t miss how people can be deceived even though they are making use of some biblical revelation about things like the day of the Lord. Likewise, too many today go to a church that teaches parts of the Bible even, but are not leading the people into a real saving relationship with the Lord. There are false churches that make use the Bible in some way, even to give false assurance. Such people are sadly not right with God, even though in some sense they might make use of the Bible in their false religion.

So then, how could such sinful people be made right with God? How can any of us be right with God? This is important because the final day of the LORD is yet ahead of us. Well, the good news is that sinners can be reconciled to God through Jesus. It’s what we already said in the first point: repent and turn to the cross of Jesus Christ to be reconciled to God. But think about this in context. The final day of the Lord comes at the very end. When Christ returns. But God already came before when Jesus came. God came in Jesus Christ some two thousand years ago. That was an initial day of the LORD. And that day of the Lord also had a dual nature to it. How you relate to Jesus’ first coming tells you if it is good or not.

Listen to how 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 speaks of this. I love how it combines this notion of the dual nature of the Lord’s coming to the previous point about acceptable, fragrant offerings. Speaking of us telling about Jesus to the world, it says this, 2 Corinthians 2:15-16, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.”

Do you see the point? Christ Jesus came in an initial day of the Lord to save sinners. If someone repents and puts their faith in Jesus, then they can have assurance that the final day of the Lord will be good for them. It will be life and light for them. But if you reject Jesus Christ and his first coming, then the final day of the Lord will be terrible for you. It will be the seal of judgment. It will be darkness and death.

My friends, both parts of today’s passage bring us to the same conclusion. There is a way people can think they are right with God when they are not. Some can worship him and desire his coming who really are deceived and under God’s condemnation. Their sin, their idolatry, their affliction of others, these fruits should help them to see that their heart is really far from God. What God calls us to do is to examine ourselves and see our sins. He calls us to humbly confess our sins, and mourn over them, and seek his grace and forgiveness. He calls us to turn from a life of sin and unrighteousness and seek his ways as his disciple. He offers all this in Jesus Christ. So, today has helped show how we can be deceived with false assurance. But we’ve also seen again today the way of certain assurance.

If you put your hope in Jesus, you can have a real, genuine assurance. You can in fact desire the day of the Lord and it will be a good day for you. You can and should worship God and know that your worship is accepted. You can live a life seeking righteousness and trust God to give you grace in such pursuits; to grow you in living in justice and holiness.

So then, as that 2 Corinthians passage said, we now as Christians herald Christ to the world. We let the world know that there is another day of the Lord coming. We let them know how this day can be a good day for them. For it’s what we see in the New Testament. Don’t let that day catch you off guard. Don’t let it be to you like a thief coming in the middle of the night. We share the gospel now so that people can be prepared for God’s coming. That they can truly desire it as we do.

In other words, I hope this passage today has encouraged you to have a true assurance of salvation. But may it also spur us each on to tell others how they too can have such assurance. Let us then continue in our worship now, knowing that for Christ’s sake it is acceptable and pleasing in God’s sight. Amen.

Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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