Gathering without masks has always been a problem for the church.

Pastor Jeff Struecker

I’ve got a confession for you today. I have this love/hate relationship face masks. It has nothing to do with COVID; it has nothing to do with health. It actually has everything to do with privacy. 


You see, I kind of love these masks whenever I’m out in public, because I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but I’ve got a ginormous mole on the side of my face, which is like a neon light. When I’m in public, people look across the room, and they can see that mole. 


Sometimes, I’m at the grocery store, and I’m just trying to get in, get something, and get out really quickly. But there’s that lady. I recognize her from halfway across the room, and I’m hoping she doesn’t recognize me. Y’all know what I’m talking about. You know that lady. She’s the long talker, which means there is no such thing as a two-minute conversation with her. If she recognizes you, you are going to be in the store for two hours.


I’m thinking to myself, Oh no, she is going to recognize me. So when I walk in with that mask, and dark sunglasses, and a giant sombrero, I’m hoping that the long talker doesn’t know that I’m there. I kind of love the fact that the mask lets me hide a little bit whenever I’m wearing it in public. 


But I’ve also got this hate relationship with the mask, because this weekend I was flying back and forth to Texas. And we have federal laws now that basically say from the moment you get into a public transportation system to the moment that you get out, you had better have this mask on. And I wore a mask so much this weekend that I’m pretty sure there’s a giant blister on the bridge of my nose.


Here is what the safety announcements sounded like: “If you dare take that mask down to even scratch your nose, we’ve got a Sky Marshal on this plane, who is going to put you in a chokehold and flex-cuff you to make sure that you keep this mask on your face.” I kind of hate the fact that I have to wear this mask all the time. 


Sometimes it prevents me from being recognized… but sometimes it prevents me from being recognized. Sometimes it helps me avoid things that I don’t want people to recognize, and sometimes I can hide some things that probably need to be brought out into the open. And that mask is the way that I hide from people from time to time.


I don’t even need to know you to know that you do this, too. You see, we’re going to talk about this today. The gathered church, when we come together, oftentimes people will show up wearing masks. Now, they may not show up wearing a face mask. They show up wearing a different mask. There’s something inside their heart that they don’t like, something that’s not right inside there. And they don’t want anybody else in church to know about it. 


So they show up with a smile on their faces, acting like everything is okay. And I just want you to know something. This has nothing to do with COVID. Gathering with masks on has been a problem for the church for 2,000 years, ever since Jesus came and created his church. People tend to hide their sins from one another.


We get embarrassed and ashamed, and we put a mask up, so that nobody can see the real us. And that mask is a kind of defense mechanism. I get it; it’s human nature. But that defense mechanism also makes sure that nobody can actually, really see the real you and help you when you really need help. 


I want you to pay close attention to the word gathering, because the scattered church, when Jesus’s church is in the community, it is hands down the most powerful force that has ever existed on planet earth. There is nothing that has accomplished more in 2,000 years of human history than the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, when it gets outside of the walls and when it gets into the community.


I can prove it to you by hospitals, schools, orphanages, women’s shelters, addiction recovery centers, and thousands more things that God’s people have used to try to help folks let their masks down, help them get real with one another, and introduce them to the glorious God we serve. There is nothing more powerful on planet earth than the scattered church. 


But at the same time, there may be nothing more problematic on earth than the gathered church, because this has probably been you too, right? People have problems, and any time you get people together in a group (it can be at work, at school, a hobby, or a ball team), they are going to show up with problems. And in the gathered church, you are going to have problems.


And the way that people protect themselves from others’ problems, the way that they protect themselves from being honest about their problem (and you may have done this before) is you put a mask on. It may not be that face mask; it’s a mask that protects people from seeing the real you. What we’re going to do today is, we’re going to look at how our great God wants us to just get real and get vulnerable with him. And if we’ll get real, and if we’ll get vulnerable, not just with him, but with his people, he will do incredible, amazing things in our lives. 

Gathering without masks has always been a problem for the church.

We’ve been studying through the book of Amos. Today is the grand finale. It’s chapter nine, the end of the book of Amos. And what you’re going to read from this one chapter in the Bible, is a beautiful, a vivid picture of God’s salvation.


But it all hangs on the idea of God’s people pulling their masks down. Here’s what I want you to hear: When there’s sin in your life (and I didn’t say if. I said, when there’s sin in your life), instead of running away from Jesus, I want you to run TO him. You’re going to see three very natural things from the Bible, from the book of Amos. I think you’re going to see the gospel in vivid color. 

Get candid with Jesus   V. 1-6

So here is what the Bible challenges us to do first: Get clean, or get candid, with Jesus. That word candid means taking your mask off and just being vulnerable and just being real with Jesus.


Now, you have this picture, three-step process of salvation. It always works like this in the Bible; it always works like this in a human’s life. The first step is that you get to the point where you recognize, “Ooh, there’s something ugly inside of me that I can’t fix.” It’s admitting your dependence on God, and you can’t get to that point until you get honest with what you’re seeing in the mirror. That’s what God challenges his people to do right out of the gate. Amos, chapter nine, starting in verse one says. 


I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said:Strike the capitals of the pillars so that the thresholds shake; knock them down on the heads of all the people. Then I will kill the rest of them with the sword. None of those who flee will get away; none of the fugitives will escape. 2 If they dig down to Sheol, from there my hand will take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. 3 If they hide on the top of Carmel, from there I will track them down and seize them; if they conceal themselves from my sight on the sea floor, from there I will command the sea serpent to bite them. 4 And if they are driven by their enemies into captivity, from there I will command the sword to kill them. I will keep my eye on them for harm and not for good. 5 The Lord, the God of Armies— he touches the earth; it melts, and all who dwell in it mourn; all of it rises like the Nile and subsides like the Nile of Egypt. 6 He builds his upper chambers in the heavens and lays the foundation of his vault on the earth. He summons the water of the sea and pours it out over the surface of the earth. The Lord is his name.

Amos is trying to tell people how sovereign our God is. Church, I want to tell you something that you already know, but I need you to remember this. The promises of God are only as good as the power of God. And if there was a place that you could run to, that God wasn’t, or didn’t have power over, then his promises couldn’t reach you in that place. Amos is trying to say, “Listen Israel, you’ve made some mistakes. You’ve messed up. God is going to deal with you. And by the way, before this is over with, God is going to rescue you back to himself. But don’t think that you can run away and hide from him, because there’s literally nowhere in the universe that you could go. You can’t run far enough to escape Him.”


And I would also add, you can’t run far enough to escape yourself and your own sin. So I’m saying it again: Instead of running from Jesus when you’ve messed up and made some mistakes in your life, get candid with him and run to him. 


The Bible says that God is going to cause an earthquake. This is the earthquake with a prominent pronoun there, the big THE, the earthquake that hits the land of Egypt about 762 BC. And here’s what he says: “The capital pillars are going to shake.” And what you see is the capital of a pillar, this giant part at the top of a large pillar [image shown]. And the Bible says, “Not only is it going to shake, but it’s going to fall down.”


What Amos is describing is total destruction, because when it falls from the top, and there’s going to be nothing left as it makes its way down. The capital pillars are going to shake, and this thing is going to rumble. And there is nothing that anyone can do to survive the destruction. You can’t run far enough. You can’t hide anywhere to survive the destruction. So instead of running away from God, really what Amos is saying is, “Why don’t you just run to him?” 


This is a giant earthquake that Amos describes, and it happens not long after he writes this book. In the Christian calendar, all over the world, people are celebrating what’s called Palm Sunday, a week’s worth of preparation leading up to Easter.


One of the prominent events in the Bible that happened on what’s called Good Friday is another earthquake. It’s an earthquake that was very localized and very specialized. And God uses this earthquake to strip away everything that Israel has been trusting in. Israel went and built temples on mountaintops and worshiped false gods there. And God says, “I’m going to make the earth rumble, and those temples are going to crush in on themselves. And everything that you’ve been trusting in, except for me, is all going to become rubble around you.” 


The same thing happened the very moment that Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday. The Bible describes an earthquake. It’s a very unusual earthquake, because this earthquake affects God’s temple in Jerusalem.


And inside the temple, there is this large, very thick, very heavy curtain that separates what’s called the Most Holy Place, the place where God is thought to dwell personally, and then the rest of the temple. Even the priest couldn’t go behind that curtain. Only one man, one day a year, could ever enter behind that curtain. He would go into God’s presence, and he would ask God for forgiveness for the sins of his people. Only the High Priest on the day of atonement, could go behind that curtain. 


And on the moment that Jesus dies, God himself causes an earthquake to rip the temple curtain open. I think what the Bible is describing is God stepping out from the Most Holy place. And now he makes himself available to you because of the blood of his Son, the death of his Son on the cross. Now, sinful men like me, now somebody who’s made some mistakes in their life, like you, can be made clean.


And I’m begging you, when you’ve messed up, don’t run from him; run to him. It starts by pulling your mask down and just getting real, just getting candid with Jesus. 

Get clean by Jesus  V. 7-10

And then let me tell you what happens next from the book of Amos, and this is what happens in the life of anybody who comes to faith in Jesus Christ. You go from getting candid with Jesus to getting clean by Jesus. You see, this is the moment where you recognize, “I can’t clean myself up. I can’t be a good person and earn my way into heaven. I need God’s forgiveness.” And so God steps in and what we would call this in Bible language, is repentance. It’s the moment of you saying, “God, I’ve messed up so badly that I can’t fix it. God, I need you to fix what I’ve done wrong.” I want you to see what repentance looks like in Amos, chapter nine. We’re going to pick up in verse seven. 

 

7 Israelites, are you not like the Cushites to me? This is the Lord’s declaration. Didn’t I bring Israel from the land of Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor,[a] and the Arameans from Kir? 8 Look, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom, and I will obliterate it from the face of the earth. However, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob— this is the Lord’s declaration— 9 for I am about to give the command, and I will shake the house of Israel among all the nations, as one shakes a sieve, but not a pebble will fall to the ground. 10 All the sinners among my people who say, “Disaster will never overtake[b] or confront us,” will die by the sword.


Now, can we pause for just a second? You know those chapter numbers and those verse numbers in the Bible? Those came many hundreds of years after your Bible was written. Guys put those in the Bible to just help you find specific passages. And I’m pretty sure the guy who was putting chapter and verse numbers in the book of Amos was drunk when he got to chapter nine, because really, he should have stopped at the end of that verse and started a whole ‘nother verse on the next word.


The word however in the Bible is probably, now I’m just going to say it, it is the most important word in the entire book. The first part of chapter nine is telling you all of the mistakes and all of the failures that Israel made. And there is nothing they could do to fix it. And then you have one word where God all of a sudden steps in, and the word however tells you what God does next, and it is amazing! It is spectacular! 


God is describing what he is going to do next, and he is going to do something that, frankly, the people don’t deserve. The word however is now God saying, “I’m going to step in; I’m going to intervene. There is still hope, even though you have broken every rule with me, Israel.” And he uses this word sieve.


Now, anybody who bakes a lot uses a sieve, most of the time for some kind of powdered sugar or some kind of dessert topping. But, if you’ve been out in a wood shop or if you’ve been out working outdoors with your hands, maybe you’ve used a sieve to put a lot of material in and shake it back and forth. And the stuff that you don’t want to remain in the sieve, it just works its way through as you shake it. 


Imagine God shaking Israel with an earthquake, like he has a sieve in his hand. And what he promises is, everything good remains in that sieve. I will not let one pebble, one good thing, fall to the ground. All of the bad stuff in your life, I’m going to shake it out of your life. It’s going to fall to the ground, and what’s going to be left in that sieve is pure. What’s going to be left in that sieve is perfect, it’s going to honor me, and it’s going to glorify me.”


God says, “I’m going to fix your mess, Israel, because it’s so bad, you can’t fix it yourself. And by the way, Israel, it’s going to hurt a little bit. But after the pain is over with, it’s going to be much, much better.” All of you guys and girls who are trying to work on your beach body because the weather’s starting to warm up, and you’re in the gym, you’ve been working out, you have heard this phrase before: No Pain, no gain.


That pain that you experience after working out again for the first time or the first time in a long time, is lactic acid that’s building up in the muscles. You’ve put some stress on that muscle, and the muscle is sore. It is trying to repair itself, and you have this buildup of lactic acid. And the worst thing that you could possibly do for yourself is to say, “Ooh, my muscles hurt after working out. I’m just not going to work out anymore.” 


No, the hurt that’s in the muscles says you’re doing something that is going to make the muscle stronger; it’s just going to be a little bit painful at the beginning. And if you will keep working through the pain, it will get better, and you will get stronger, or you’ll look beautiful in that bikini at the beach. 


God says, “I’m going to shake my people, and it’s going to hurt a little bit. I’m going to make the stuff that doesn’t need to be there, go away. And what’s left in there is pure; it’s perfect, and I can’t do it without it hurting a little bit. So don’t run away from me when it starts to hurt. When it starts to hurt, I’m starting to work. And if you will hang in there, if you will genuinely repent, it’s going to be painful to look in the mirror and to say, “I’ve messed up so bad, that I can’t fix it,” but if you do, now you’re in a position where God can do the third and the final thing that we see from the book of Amos.


This is where it gets good. Amos really did save the best for last. I don’t know if you love a happy ending, but this is about as good of an ending as you are ever going to read about in the Bible. You see, it goes from getting candid with Jesus and taking your mask off and saying, “Jesus, I’ve messed up,” to getting cleaned by Jesus. He shakes you and gets rid of all of that stuff because you genuinely repented. 

Get close to Jesus        V. 11-15

And finally, now you’re at the point where you can get close to him, and he can get close to you. He can restore what you or I have broken. There are three words that I want you to see in this last passage from the book of Amos, three beautiful words that describe what happens after a man or a woman runs to Jesus and not from him with sin in their life. Those words are restore, repair, and rebuild.


11 In that day I will restore the fallen shelter of David: I will repair its gaps, restore its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old, 12 so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name[c]— this is the declaration of the Lord; he will do this. 13 Look, the days are coming— this is the Lord’s declaration— when the plowman will overtake the reaper and the one who treads grapes, the sower of seed. The mountains will drip with sweet wine, and all the hills will flow with it. 14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel.[d] They will rebuild and occupy ruined cities, plant vineyards and drink their wine, make gardens and eat their produce. 15 I will plant them on their land, and they will never again be uprooted from the land I have given them. The Lord your God has spoken.

For some of you who are a little bit older, you saw these verses come to pass with your own eyes, right after World War II, when the United Nations recognized the Nation of Israel again, and people from all over the world who had been displaced (some of them for almost 3,000 years) returned back to their land and started planting and growing again. 


I need you to understand that God’s grace is greatest when your sin is ugliest. Then, when you are most in need, when your sin is most difficult, that’s when God shows off with his power. He steps in, and he moves in a sovereign way to restore you and to rebuild what’s been broken in your life. 


You see, the pastor/author, Paul Tripp, said it this way: “Jesus is our sovereign savior. And if Jesus isn’t sovereign, then he doesn’t have the power to save. But if Jesus is sovereign, then He has the power to save anything that’s going on in your life.” If you will run to him, if you will bow before him, and if you will take down your mask and just say, “Jesus, I’ve messed up,” and get candid with him, he says, “You’re not hiding anything from me. I hear you, and I’m standing ready to clean you up, if you’ll let me.” 


And when you genuinely repent (That just simply says, “God, I admit it. I agree; I’ve made a mess. And not only do I admit I’ve made a mess, but I’m not going to live like this anymore. With your help, by your power, I’m going to live different.”), Jesus says, “Now I can get close to you, and you can get close to me. And now, through my spirit, I can give you the power to live the kind of life you were supposed to live all along. But you were just trying to do it on your own. And it’s never going to work that way. And now I can restore. Now I can rebuild. Now I can repair the mess that you’ve made in your life.”


It may get a little bit painful, but don’t let the pain cause you to run away both from God and from his people. I think what we’re reading about in the Bible is God’s painful, but needful, scalpel of surgery. See, there is something in your life, and it’s not good. It’s so embedded in your life that he is going to have to cut it out. And cutting it out is going to be a little bit painful; it might even leave a scar. But you’re going to be infinitely better off after it’s gone.


This weekend I met a guy who had an injury at work. Get these numbers. He broke an arm, went to the doctor, and it took (no kidding) five metal plates and 29 screws to put one arm back together. The doctors didn’t want to put a hard cast on his arm because they said, “You’ll completely lose your range of motion if we do that. The best thing that we can do is, we’re going to put this little medical sleeve on your arm and you’d better be really, really careful that you don’t touch it on anything because it’s going to be like a hot poker digging into your skin.” 


I saw him yesterday, and he said, “Hey, do you want to see the scar?” I was like, “Heck yeah, I want to see a scar! I want to see what it looks like when you’ve got five plates and 29 screws in your arm!” He gently pulled down the sleeve and he showed this gnarly scar. Basically, as long as you trust in the surgeons, as long as you take good care of it, you will get most, if not all, of your strength back. But if you try to just hide that and act like it isn’t there, you will struggle and never get strong for the rest of your life. 


And I call this God’s painful, but his needful, scalpel of surgery, where he’s cutting away the gauze and showing us what it looks like after he’s done surgery on an area of our life. And yeah, it hurt a little bit while he was doing it, but we’re infinitely better off because he has done some surgery on some stuff that doesn’t need to be in our lives.


I want to just summarize everything that you’ve heard from Amos, chapter nine. Here’s the way that this played out in the Bible. Now that you’re candid with Jesus, he can make you clean. Now that you’re starting to get cleaned by Jesus, he can draw you close. Now that Jesus is drawing you close, he can start to restore or he can start to rebuild what’s been broken in your life. I don’t know anybody on the planet that doesn’t need to hear this. I’m not just talking about somebody who is far from Jesus and never stepped across the line of faith. I’m talking about every Christian on the planet, who sometimes messes up. We have this natural tendency to run from him, instead of running to him.