On August 9th, 2014 Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, was shot and killed by Police Officer Darren Wilson. Crowds gathered in Ferguson, MO for protests and answers. As the crowds gathered they continued to shout, “No justice, No Peace!! No Justice, No Peace!!” The incident sparked a national conversation that spread from living rooms, break rooms to dinner tables about justice. Was the killing justified? Was Michael Brown innocent? Will there ever be true justice? People differed in how they answered those questions, some took the side of the officer, others took the side of the Brown family, while others were on the fence of what to think. There was no clear consensus, but what was clear that both sides were pleading for justice.
In his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. King was a voice for justice for a people who had no justice. The Civil Rights movement was a quest for justice. They argued, pleaded, and fought for justice. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s still beats in the hearts of many in our county who want to know, will there be justice? Will wrongs be put right? Will injustice continue? Where is God in all this?
We all have an innate sense of justice. We desire to live in a society where justice rules. Unfortunately as much as we desire justice “out there” in society, we do not often want that same justice to be demonstrated against us. When people protest and beg for justice and the heavy hand of the law against the oppressors, those same people often beg and plead for mercy when it comes to their own acts of injustice. Jesus shares this parable in Matthew 18:23-29,
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
The man pleaded for mercy. His debt was brought about by his decisions and his actions, but when faced with true justice for his decisions, he wanted mercy. And God graciously gave him mercy, but the story continues,
But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
The servant wanted mercy and patience from this master while he wanted justice from the one who owed him his debt. He withheld mercy towards others. So,
When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
This is human nature. We demand justice when we are wronged by others and mercy when we wrong others. And yet the question remains, “Will there be justice?”
This question causes us to turn to the book of Amos. Amos was a shepherd and fruit farmer that was called to be a prophet to Israel in the 8th century B.C. The biographical information was given in Amos 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 in Amos 7:14-15,
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. But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
Amos was a blue-collar servant. He was like one from the mill hill. He was not called because of his heritage, but by the Lord’s mercy. In this way Amos is like us who as Paul writes, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1 Cor.1:26). Amos is the every-man prophet. And God uses this every-man, blue collar prophet to announce that the Lord will bring true justice.
There Will Be Justice on Rival Nations
Amos starts his prophecy against the nations. He approaches his prophecy with calling out their sins. He uses a common refrain, “For three transgressions of (fill in the nation) and for four, I will not revoke punishment, because…” Amos says because of the multiple sins of the nations I will bring justice. He is not referring to only 3 or 4 particular sins, but to multiple sins that each nation is consistently guilty of committing. The nations have mistreated Israel, rejected God’s ways, and will rightly be punished. God sees all of what they were doing and He will avenge His people. The Lord will avenge His people like a mighty lion. Amos 1:2, “And he said: “The Lord roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem.” It is hard for our cultural blinders to understand the power of this imagery. A lion roars to show his power and his ferocity. We may have watched a lion roar on the Animal Planet, an internet meme or behind the gates at zoo, but we probably have not heard a lion’s roar in the open field of the African plains. Imagine standing under a tree in the plains of African enjoying a beautiful sunset. When off in the distance you see a lion running at you at 40 miles per hour. There is nowhere go so you stand frozen as this ferocious, hungry beast sprints towards you flesh. He stops 5 feet from you and bellows out his ferocious roar. Amos one familiar with roaming free lions paints us a picture that the Lord will execute His Justice with this type of ferocious anger.
As the Israelites heard this prophesy that God was going to roar and execute His powerful justice on the nations, they would have felt vindicated from their oppressors. They had been crying out again and again, “No Justice, No Peace!! No Justice, No Peace!!” before finally God has answers their cries for justice. God’s people have always cried for justice. Judges models this pattern. Israel sins and is conquered by an opposing nation. Time passed and the people cry out for justice and God raises up a judge to deliver them from the people. God loves to hear and answer the prayers of his people.
Before we move on, notice that God will judge all nations not only those nations where Christianity is the dominant religion. God is not a regional, territorial God, but Psalm 24:1-2, “The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” There is One God who created the heavens and the earth. And he will render the same justice on all.
Israel demanded justice against the wrongs of their enemies and they were ecstatic to finally get what they demanded…until that judgment was rendered upon them.
There will be Justice on God’s Nation
Amos turns from the judgment pronounced against the opposing, rival nations towards pronouncing God’s justice upon His own people. God shows no partiality. Listen to God’s judgment against His people:
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.” 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; (Amos 2:4-7)
God shows no partiality. He will judge the nations for their injustice and He will judge His own people for their injustice. The Lord will not all forgive the guilty, but, Romans 2:6-11,
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
This is when God’s justice starts to feel uncomfortable. We are fine with God bringing justice “out there” against the oppressors but we want mercy and grace extended towards us. How did it come to this? How did God’s people become like the nations? They harden their hearts to warnings and rebukes. As they ignored God’s kind and gracious warnings, their hearts became a little harder and so their hearts became harder and harder over time until they lived like the nations.
It can be very hard to hear about God’s justice. It is powerful and it is total. No one is going to stand against the Lord. Amos 2:14-16,
Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not retain his strength, nor shall the mighty save his life; 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; and he who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day,” declares the LORD.
No one will be able to stand against the Lord, but that does not mean that God has not shown His people mercy. Mercy and grace always come before judgment. God gives warning and rebuke and corrections as signposts to repent to turn back to the Lord.
Amos shows how the Lord tried to bring his people back. He sent various calamities and trials to the people so they would be warned of their waywardness, but sadly, we hear the refrain, “yet you did not return to me.” Amos 4:6-12,
“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. “I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither; so two or three cities would wander to another city to drink water, and would not be satisfied; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. “I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. “I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”
All those trials and difficulties were to serve the people so that they would repent of their sin and turn to the Lord. As God used the swarming locusts in Joel’s day to remind the people of a greater day of suffering that awaits them if they do not turn. He used numerous things in Amos’s day and yet the result was the same. They did not turn.
Justice does not come without warning, but it will most definitely come. Friends, what has been God trying to communicate to you? Have you been ignoring the signs of your spiritual health? Are your continuing to drift into sin, because you are ignoring the warning signs? Ask God to break up the rough ground of your hard heart so you would return to him. God wants you back. Discipline does not seem pleasant at the time, but yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. God wants you to return to him.
I pray as a congregation we will grow in our love for warnings. I pray that we would not grow to resent them, but rather cherish them as an act of God’s kindness in our lives. God cares about all nations, but especially cares about those who bear his name.
There will be Justice for God’s Name
God’s people represent God’s Name. Throughout the prophets, there is pronouncement of woe on God’s people because their conduct profanes or dishonors His name. Due to their gross sin and mistreatment of the poor, God says, “my holy name is profaned.” His name is desecrated. The Lord will bring justice for His name, Amos 9:5-6,
The Lord GOD of hosts, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who dwell in it mourn, and all of it rises like the Nile, and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt; who builds his upper chambers in the heavens and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth— the LORD is his name.
And Amos 4:13,
For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!
The Lord will act according to His Name. Lord revealed his name to Moses on the mountain, for when he passed before him, he proclaimed, Exodus 34:5-7,
The LORD, the LORD, 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, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
The Lord’s anger has been slowly building. He must punish the guilty, and yet He will forgive iniquity and transgression. How does God answer this riddle? Punish the guilty and forgive thri sin?
He does this based on His promises. He says that if we turn and seek Him we will live. Amos 5:14-15,
Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
The remnant of Joseph are those under the promise of Joseph’s forefather, Abraham. God promised to bless all the families of the earth through the offspring of Abraham.
The Lord promises that the punishment of Israel will not be final, but will ultimately serve as a blessing to the whole world. Amos prophesied of God’s future restoration of Israel, Amos 9:11-15,
“In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,” declares the Lord who does this. “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them, they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the Lord your God.
God would raise up the booth of David through the Son of David. God would bring justice and mercy through Jesus Christ. God’s mercy towards sinners is extending through the greatest injustice when the sinless Son of God satisfies the Father’s just wrath on the cross. Jesus innocent of all sins and accusations, perfectly holy and righteous, died a sinner’s death. He was crushed for our iniquity. He was punished for our sin. God must punish sin or else he is not just, but God made a way to forgive sin to show his mercy in providing a sacrifice. God accepted the justice of the cross by raising Jesus from the dead. The only way we escape death and God’s justice against our sin is through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Everyone will face justice for their sin. He will render each according to his own work or will count the work of Christ on your behalf. (Rom. 2:6) There are two ways God will provide justice against your sins. You will pay for them yourself when you meet God or you can turn accept the payment of Christ on your behalf. Two choices, you can be punished or you can accept Christ’s punishment for you, the choice is simple. Friends, turn to the Lord and accept the justice of Jesus for our sins.
It is staggering to me how generous God’s mercy is towards sinners. Read the first 18 verses of Amos and meditate on the violence and hatred of the nations. The violence and the hatred we still see in the nations of the world today, but God wants to extend his mercy towards them. The Israelites disobedience opened the way for the Gentiles to be grafted into the kingdom through the Vine, Jesus Christ. The generosity of God’s mercy has always staggering God’s people. Acts 15:11, Paul and Barnabas’ report on the activity among the Gentiles saying, “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of Lord Jesus, just as they will.” And the response? “And all the assembly fell silent, and listened to Paul and Barnabas relate the wonders of God among the Gentile nations. James eventually stood up and said,
“Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, (Quoting Amos 9:12-13) “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’ (Acts 15:14-18)
James saw what Amos prophesied. There was coming a day when God will bless every nation through the promised line of David. That through Jesus Christ, God would bring salvation to the Gentiles and glory to the Name of the Lord. God desires to bring glory to Himself by calling people from every tribe, tongue and nations by the name of the Lord. Glory be His Name!!
Jesus came to answer the question, “Will there be justice?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!!” The Lord will forgive the iniquity and the transgression of the people, but by no means clear the guilty. The guilty must be punished, or someone has to be punished in their place. This was why Jesus came. He came to bring justice to God by paying the penalty for sin and death. He died to satisfy God’s justice against sin. He forgives us by placing our sin upon His Son. Jesus has given justice to everyone who will seek Him. God promises to restore us if we turn and trust in Him, but if we spurn His warnings and do not return to the Lord, He will roar from Zion in His wrath.
We may feel like crying, “No Justice! No Peace!” but there will be justice. It will be God’s merciful justice given to the sinner through the shed blood of Jesus Christ or it will be God’s powerful justice given to the sinner when He roars from Zion. We all want justice and we all will get justice, but the question is which kind of justice will we receive?