A steep path with Jesus is better than an easy path without him.

Pastor Jeff Struecker

We are now on the third week of a sermon series through an Old Testament book by the prophet Amos. I just want to give you an update on how we’ve gotten to Amos chapter three, which is where we’re going to be today. 

Amos was a regular dude, just a businessman going about his day. He loved Jesus, and he loved his community. God started to speak to his heart and then God started to speak through this man, Amos. Now, what we learned last week is, if you really want to hear from God, you have to put away the distractions, and sometimes you have to be able to focus on the still, small voice of God. 

The first sermon in this series, when we looked at Amos, we said we serve a God who loves to speak, longs to speak to his children. He wants us to hear his voice. And today, here’s what I want you to understand: We desperately need to hear from God. We live in a city that desperately needs to hear from God. I don’t even need to know where you are at, I don’t even need to know where you live; your community desperately needs to hear from God.

Let me tell you about my community. Last year, in the year 2020, we set a record that you don’t ever want to set because last year, this community had the highest number of murders in history in our community. And the numbers are on the rise. In fact, in the last 12 days, there have been six murders in our community. At the rate that we’re on right now, it’s going to blow last year’s record out of the water. 

We want desperately to see a city change, but we also realize that murder is because the human heart is twisted, and if you really want to stop the murder rate, you have to address the human heart. There needs to be more police; you need to have tougher laws. All of those things are awesome, but they won’t change the end result until the twisted heart of men is fixed, until it’s straightened out.

What God really longs to do is to speak to a community. What he does to the prophet Amos is, he speaks to a community. In order for God to speak to a community, a godless city, he uses his own people. Now of course, the living God speaks through prayer, he speaks through his Holy Spirit, he speaks through Scriptures. And those are some of the ways that he speaks to us. But to godless people who don’t turn to prayer, don’t look to the Bible, don’t listen for the Holy Spirit, he speaks through his people. 

He doesn’t use the stars at night. He doesn’t make the clouds put messages in the sky for people who don’t know King Jesus. He uses us. And in order for him to speak through us, we have to be listening, which means we have to be close enough to hear from our savior.

Amos was living in a really rough time in Israel’s history. Amos was just a simple businessman, doing his life, living life and following King Jesus, when God got ahold of his heart and started to burden Amos for what he was seeing around him and then started to use Amos as his mouthpiece to talk to the city around him, the communities around him. There is one verse in Amos chapter three that I want you to hang on to today. This is going to be the anchor verse. In fact, this is a good verse for you to commit to memory. In Amos chapter three, verse three, God is speaking through the prophet Amos, saying this:

 Amos 3:3 ”Can two walk together, without agreeing to meet?” 

Basically, can two people, can they have a close relationship and be step-in-step with one another if there’s not some common agreement? And I just need to remind all of us, Christianity is not a religion! Christianity is a relationship with your creator. And that relationship means walking with him through some good times and some bad times, walking with him day in and day out.

I want you to hear from the prophet Amos today. In fact, I’ll just tell you where we’re going to go with this whole sermon. I’ll give it to you right up front and make it easy for you: A steep path with Jesus, when you’re walking step in step with Jesus, a steep path with Jesus is better than being on an easy path without him. 

A steep path with Jesus is better than an easy path without him.

Right now, it may feel rough walking with Jesus, but I assure you; in the end, in the long run, it’s always better to walk the hard trail with Jesus than to go through life walking the easy trail without him.

The people of Israel started to look for an easier path and started to follow an easier path. Honestly, they made a mess of things. We need to walk with God daily, and we need our God to walk with us. And then we need, as a community, the city that we live in, we need our God to move in great power and to make a difference in a godless age.

We are a church that doesn’t mind if you talk back. So, you’re welcome to say, “Amen.” You’re welcome to say when you agree with something or even if you disagree, you’re welcome to say it. But don’t just sit there like you are catatonic. Walking with Jesus is about a relationship; religion is a set of rules like, “Do this. Don’t do that. And maybe one day I’ll let you get close to me.” A relationship is, “I will walk close with you as long as you will walk close with me.”

And what happened in Israel’s history is, they started to walk down the wrong path. That’s when God poked on the chest of a businessman by the name of Amos and said, “Amos, I need you to go talk to my people, and I need you to go call them back from this dangerous path that they’re walking down. It looks easy and it looks like it’s the path that they want to be on, but there’s a cliff down that road. And if they’re not paying attention, they’re going to go right off the cliff.” That’s what God does through his prophet, Amos.

Don’t forget where you came from

Today, we’re going to look at chapter three, the entire chapter, and you’re going to see four things, these four principles about walking with King Jesus. The first principle is, don’t forget the start point. Don’t forget where you came from, because in Amos chapter three, the chapter begins with God reminding these people who they are, whose they are, and what he has done for them in the past. 

If this can happen to God’s people in ancient Israel, this can happen to us. I just need us to be honest with ourselves and honest with God. If it can happen to them, after all that God did for them, it can happen to me, too. So I want to be on guard, and I don’t want to go down the wrong path. So, I don’t want to forget where I came from. Here’s how Amos chapter three, verse one begins:

Listen to this message that the Lord has spoken against you, Israelites, against the entire clan that I brought from the land of Egypt: I have known only you out of all the clans of the earth; therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities. Can two walk together without agreeing to meet? Does a lion roar in the forest when it has no prey? Does a young lion growl from its lair unless it has captured something? Does a bird land in a trap on the ground if there is no bait for it? Does a trap spring from the ground when it has caught nothing? If a ram’s horn is blown in a city, aren’t people afraid? If a disaster occurs in a city, hasn’t the Lord done it? Indeed, the Lord God does nothing without revealing his counsel to his servants the prophets. A lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who will not prophesy?

This is God speaking against his own people, those that he has adopted into his family and he’s using an unlikely messenger by the name of Amos to speak. That word known, I need you to understand, it is the word adoption or the New Testament term, election. “I have called you, Israel, out of all of the people on the planet, to be close to me, to walk with me, to be in a relationship with me. I did things for you in Egypt that have never been done before or never will be done again in history. This is what I did for you to make you close to me.”

God is saying, “Israel, pay close attention because I’m trying to speak to you and I’m using my servants, the prophets, to get your attention, and you’re ignoring them. The lion is roaring and it’s about to attack, and you’re just dancing through life blindly like nothing bad is going to happen to you. Israel, a trap is about to be sprung and it’s going to be really bad if you don’t listen now. I’m giving you one more chance. Don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget whose you are. Don’t forget where you came from.”

I wish I could remind people of the desperate state that they were in when they came to faith and Jesus saved them. I wish, many years after the fact, I could take them back and help them to feel all over again just how desperate they were without Jesus, just how much they needed Jesus. Because if we’re not careful, we, like Israel, can start to do our own thing, start to follow our own path, start to live our own life. And pretty soon, Jesus doesn’t matter that much anymore. That’s what happened in ancient Israel, and God is reminding them, “Don’t you remember how much you needed me in Egypt?” I think he’s asking us, “Don’t you remember how much you needed me when I sent my son Jesus to save you? How could you possibly forget where you came from?”

Starting to forget where you came from can put you on a very dangerous path, is really what God is saying to us through this Old Testament book. Be very careful that you don’t forget your desperate need for Jesus. Don’t ever get over it. Don’t ever get past this desperate need for Jesus. I need him as much today, perhaps more today than I did the day that he saved me, because I am much more aware today of how much of a wicked sinner I am. I didn’t realize how bad I was when he saved me. It was only after that, that it started to become really clear how much I really need him.

And I think God is just reminding his people, “I love you, and I long to be in a relationship with you. I will walk with you if you will walk with me. But here’s what we’re not going to do: We’re not going to take your path. We’re going to take my path. And if you want to do your thing, you go ahead and do your thing on your own. If we’re going to walk together, we’re going to walk down my path.” 

Watch where you’re walking

This is why Amos warns Israel next, “Watch what you’re doing. Be very careful where you’re walking, because there is a trap that’s ready to spring. There is disaster if you keep heading down this path.” God is about to proclaim a message through Amos. I’ll just say it one more time. Amos is a simple businessman. He is just like you. And I promise you, Amos doesn’t want to be in Israel announcing the message that he’s announcing right now. But Amos is following Jesus, and Amos wants others to follow Jesus. And Jesus starts to speak to Amos’s heart. 

He does it through the Holy Spirit and then he sends Amos to go speak to the rest of his brothers in Israel. And here’s what he says next to Israel as Amos proclaims the message of God: 

Proclaim on the citadels in Ashdod and on the citadels in the land of Egypt: Assemble on the mountains of Samaria, and see the great turmoil in the city and the acts of oppression within it. The people are incapable of doing right— this is the Lord’s declaration— those who store up violence and destruction in their citadels.

They have been looking down the wrong path, and when he says incapable of doing right, he is talking about straightening out your path. I have this little clothes hanger, this wire clothes hanger to illustrate something. What God is saying is, “You’ve been going down this crazy, mixed up path of life, and what has happened is, it has bent and twisted you.” The language that Amos is using today is quite literal; you cannot be straightened out anymore, meaning, I can try to get this thing back into its original shape, but let’s face it; that is not what you want to use to hang up something in your closet because it’s been so bent and so twisted that I can’t get it back to its original shape anymore. That’s the exact imagery that God is using today from Amos chapter three.

“You have followed the wrong path for so long. You’ve gone down so many wrong turns and so many wrong directions, that you’re so bent and twisted now, the language literally is, I can’t straighten you out anymore. So what I’m going to do is, I’m going to force you off of the path that you’re on. And I’m going to force you back on to the path that you’re supposed to be on. It’s going to hurt, but I’m going to do it because I love you, and I won’t let you keep walking down this really wrong path of life. I won’t let you keep going down this path.” 

As soon as we take our eyes off of heaven, as soon as we start to focus our attention on here, we start to open up the opportunity to start looking down and eventually walking down the wrong path. As long as you and I take the long view, as long as you and I keep our focus on heaven, the path in front of us, God takes care of. But when we take our eyes off of heaven and when we start walking around here, we may end up taking a turn that you and I were never supposed to take. We start looking down a path that we were never supposed to look down because we’ve taken our eyes off of where it belongs and put it right in front of our feet. 

And then we don’t see the danger that’s waiting down the path until we walk off the cliff. And God is saying, “I’m trying to get you to focus your attention back on me, so that you don’t walk off of the cliff and destroy your life. But in order to do that, you’re going to have to put your focus back on heaven.”

I feel it in my heart, perhaps you feel it in your heart, too, that sometimes here and now is screaming so loud for my attention, that it’s hard for me to stay focused on heaven, where my focus and my attention is supposed to be because heaven isn’t screaming with the loud voice that here and now is screaming for. 

And Amos is trying to warn Israel: “You’ve been head down following what’s right in front of your feet and not even noticing, your path got so crooked, it got so bad, twisted and distorted that there’s no way to get you back on the straight path, except a really painful move of God.” 

Don’t look down the other path    

The third principle of walking with Jesus is, don’t look down that other path. Don’t start walking down that other path because you’re focused on what those people are doing across the street or on Instagram, instead of focused on you, instead of focused on what the King of Kings says you and I should be doing.

Can we just be honest? Most of us don’t get off the path with Jesus in one big conscious decision. We don’t just throw our hands up and say, “I’m done with Jesus, and I’m done with faith. I don’t ever want to have anything to do with it again.” For most of us, that’s not what happens. For most of us, it’s a lot of little, small steps and then we all of a sudden find ourselves way down a path that we never expected to be down, somewhere we don’t really want to be. And it wasn’t one big step that got us there; it was a whole lot of little steps that ultimately led to us getting there. This is what Amos says next in verses 11 and 12:

Therefore, the Lord God says: An enemy will surround the land; he will destroy your strongholds and plunder your citadels. The Lord says: As the shepherd snatches two legs or a piece of an ear from the lion’s mouth, so the Israelites who live in Samaria will be rescued with only the corner of a bed or the cushion of a couch.

Those are military terms, “You were trusting in your military might. You were trusting in the strength of your walls and your armies to save you. And I’m going to send an army that is so strong and so powerful, your walls and your military cannot stand against them. He will destroy your strongholds and plunder your citadels.” 

“Israel, you’ve gone down this path so far that I’m going to bring you back, but you’re so far down the wrong path that in order to bring you back, it is going to be tragic, catastrophic, like just a few pieces left in the lion’s mouth.” Amos would understand this imagery, and the people of Israel would understand this imagery much better than you and I do. 

You see, Amos is a sheep breeder, and he has big flocks and sells those sheep to shepherds and sells those sheep to people who are using them for economy, for commerce. Amos has to contend with lions who will attack an innocent sheep, and there’s nothing that sheep can do to defend itself. When a lion attacks, either you kill the lion, or all you’re going to get is what’s left over when the lion is full and starts to walk away, and there are a few pieces left over. That’s the imagery that Amos is using to describe what this is about to be like for ancient Israel.

“You’ve gone down this path so far, Israel. Your God loves you. Your father in heaven won’t leave you down this path. He’s going to rescue you, but man, is it going to hurt.” -because you started looking down the wrong path and you kept on looking down the wrong path and you kept on walking down the wrong path until it was too late. 

Don’t follow a broken compass   

Fourth and finally, do you know why they started to go down the wrong path? It’s because they had a bad definition of success. They were following a broken compass. And as long as you keep following that broken compass, it’s going to take you somewhere that you really, really don’t want to go.

They were watching how people were living around them. And Israel decided, “I want to live like the pagan, atheist, godless nations around me.” So they started to follow this definition of success, this broken compass. And that’s what got their eyes off of heaven and their feet walking down a crooked path, so far down the path that in order to fix this, it’s going to be really, really painful. The third chapter of Amos ends this way:

Listen and testify against the house of Jacob— this is the declaration of the Lord God, the God of Armies. I will punish the altars of Bethel on the day I punish Israel for its crimes; the horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground. I will demolish the winter house and the summer house; the houses inlaid with ivory will be destroyed, and the great houses will come to an end. This is the Lord’s declaration.

Israel started to commit a great sin. It happened right after the reign of King Solomon, David’s son. There was a split in the land and the 10 northern tribes of Israel split off against the two southern tribes of Judah. The King, who reigned over the 10 northern tribes said, “I don’t want my people living in the north to have to go into Judah to worship at the tabernacle in Jerusalem. So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to build a place for them to worship. In fact, I’m going to build two places for them to worship in the northern tribes. We’re going to put up false idols, these statues of bulls, and we’re going to build a temple.” 

This is literally the site of the northern temple in Dan [picture shown]. And that metal structure in there is the altar where you would burn sacrifices to a foreign God in the northern tribes of Israel (or Samaria in the New Testament).

Now, the horns of the altar were incredibly important because somebody who’s on the run could run to the temple and if you see those four little spikes sticking out of the top, they could literally grab a hold of the horns of the altar. If you want a vivid description of this, go read 1 Kings chapter one, when Adonijah is running from his brother, Solomon, and he goes to the temple and grabs the horns of the altar. By grabbing the horns of the altar, you’re asking for asylum. “Will the people of the land protect me? -because I’m in a bad way.”

And the old men of the community are supposed to go do some research and to figure out, “Did you do something wrong? Is that why somebody is chasing after you?” And if you did and you were guilty of murder, they would pull you, physically pull you, off of the horns of the altar and go hand you over to the avenger of blood. An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth. But if you were innocent and you were hanging onto the horns of the altar, the people, the elders of the land would say, “This brother did nothing wrong, and we will protect him with our lives.” 

“Israel,” God is saying, “Ran to the altar of a foreign God instead of running to me. And they grabbed a hold of the horns of the altar, and they asked this dumb, deaf bull, this idle, to protect them. And here’s what I’m going to do, Israel. I’m going to pull you off of the horns of that altar. In fact, I’m going to cut off the horns of the altar, and they’re going to fall to the ground and the things that you were trusting in to make life better for you, so that you would live in fine houses, built with ivory and covered with gold. All of those things that you were trusting in, I’m going to make those things just crumble right around you, because you trusted in this, instead of trusting in me.”

I’m going to say it one more time now. If this can happen to ancient Israel, after all the mighty works that God did in their midst, it can happen to you ,and it can happen to me. And it happens when you start to follow a broken compass, when you start to look at the lifestyle that this lady on social media is living, and you start to decide, “I want her lifestyle, and I want to do whatever it takes to have that lifestyle.” You take your eyes off of heaven, and you start to look at her instead. Then you start to follow this broken path, and there’s no fixing it.

This is literally in the ancient city of Dan in northern Israel today. You can see the sin that Israel committed, that God is criticizing them for in the book of Amos. And God is saying, “There is no place that you can go and nothing that you can grab a hold of and ask for deliverance when I start to correct this broken path that you’re on.” God says, “Either I will lead you and you are my people, or else you will start to look to someone and to something else to lead you. And I want to lead you, if you’ll listen to me.”

Back to Amos chapter three, verse three. “Two people cannot walk together unless they’re in an agreement, unless they’re step-in-step with one another.” If you want to walk with King Jesus, you have to remain step-in-step with him today, tomorrow, and the next day. And if you don’t, you’re going to start walking down a broken path. You’re going to start to follow a broken compass and walk down a bad path. 

There is a woman, and what she accomplished in her lifetime was just flat out amazing. Her name is Mary Bethune. Mary Bethune was raised as the 17th child of two former slaves in South Carolina. She was the first in her family ever to be given an opportunity to go to school. She was taught at a Presbyterian missionary school, and she studied hard. She really wanted to learn and to grow. She did so well at school that she was given an opportunity to go to Moody Bible College in Chicago. She thought God was calling her to be a missionary, and she was going to spend the rest of her life trying to reach people for King Jesus. 

But then she started to see the way that her people were living, especially in Mayesville, South Carolina, where she grew up, and she decided, “I want to really make a difference in young women’s lives.” So when she graduated, she came back to South Carolina, eventually started teaching school in Georgia and Florida. She began a college and attracted a lot of young women to this college. And Mary Bethune started to become a huge influence in women’s lives. 

So much of an influence, that the government and ultimately the President of the United States, started to take notice. She became a close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt. President Truman sent her as the US’s envoy to the founding of the United Nations in 1945. Eventually she would become this huge influence for young women who were just like her when she was growing up. And Mary Bethune said this:”Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, anything is possible. The faith is in a great God. And if our great God can do anything, then faith in him makes anything possible.” But she also taught these young women to have faith in God, and because they were walking with him, to have faith in themselves.

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