Justice - Jesus = Junk

Pastor Jeff Struecker

A couple of weeks ago, some brave souls from our church went knocking and did this practical survey in a low-income housing development in our community. The reason I said that they were brave souls is because it was really, really cold. But they showed up, and they just asked a quick three question survey: “Hey, what do you think is the greatest need in your neighborhood? We’re a church that wants to be doers of the Word of God, so how can we meet that need, that very practical need, in your neighborhood?” We got some really interesting, and actually pretty awesome, responses.

Where is the greatest inequality in your community? Where is the greatest disparity or difference between groups in your city? Maybe you don’t live in our community. Maybe you don’t live in our country. I’m asking you, where you live, where is the greatest inequality? Is it financial? Is it access to high paying jobs? Is it the ability to build wealth that some people have, but others don’t?

Or would you say that it’s racial and that there are some groups of people, because of the color of their skin, because of their ethnicity, that are marginalized, and there is a huge power imbalance where you live? Would you say that it’s social, and some people have access to healthcare or education but others don’t? Or maybe you would say it’s judicial, meaning that there is crime in one neighborhood but not another. There are convictions on one type of person, but not on another. There is an incarceration rate that is way out of proportion in your community.

I’ll just tell you upfront, every society on Earth has problems, because there is no such thing as perfect people. Societies are made up of people, and as long as there is no such thing as perfect people, there is also no such thing as perfect societies. If you and your family went down in an airplane and landed on a desert island and it was just you and your family, there would be problems in that society. In fact, if you were to run for governor and it was just you and your family, you might not get elected. That’s just how it is in human relationships.

Today we get a chance to hear from Amos chapter five, this prophet of the Old Testament. Amos is going to deal with two terms today. Amos is going to deal with the term justice from the Bible and the term righteousness from the Bible. I need you to hear something from Amos right up front: Justice and righteousness are two factors that God has joined together. They are like a married couple. And because God joined them together, only God can undo justice and righteousness. What I’m saying is that there really is no such thing as justice in a society if you also don’t have righteousness in a society.

This statement is probably going to offend some people. In fact, what I say today might very well offend you. Please don’t put a quote on social media out of context, because we’re going to deal with justice today, and we’re not going to hold back. We’re not going to hide anything. Here’s the quote that I want you to hear, and I believe this with every fiber of my being. “If you just pursue justice in a society but do not bring Jesus into the equation, what you’re going to get is junk.”

Justice – Jesus = Junk

Now, let me explain what I mean by the word junk, because some of you may have just gotten your feelings hurt a little bit. I don’t mean rubbish or garbage. What I mean is, something that doesn’t work the way that it’s supposed to work. It might be shiny junk to you. It’s really appealing, really enticing, but it’s still junk. You see, real justice changes for a lifetime. Real justice impacts the whole society.

See, what Amos tells us today in one verse is what justice and righteousness look like together. Would you make a commitment that you will memorize this verse this week, Amos 5:24? Listen to this powerful verse in the Bible:

Amos 5:24  But let justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream.

This is God speaking about what’s going on in Israel, and God is saying, “What’s happening in Israel is not the way it’s supposed to happen. What’s going on is not the way it’s supposed to go. And I’m ready to fix what’s wrong in Israel, but it’s not going to be just through justice. It’s going to be when justice and righteousness are married back together again. Then you have real change. Then you have lasting change.”

You see, what righteousness talks about is a life that is free from self-interest. What Jesus says about real justice is found in the second greatest commandment. He says, “Love the Lord, your God.” This is the first and most important commandment by a landslide. But number two is just as important: “Love your neighbor like yourself.” 

When you do that, you have righteousness, and it will always result in justice. But justice pursued, social justice pursued for just the sake of justice does not lead to righteousness.

We’re going to look at a couple of verses. Actually, we’re going to look at all of Amos chapter five today, and we’re going to see how justice and righteousness work together. And because we call ourselves 2 Cities Church, we’re a church that is passionate about the city of light, the city of God. That’s city number one for us; that’s righteousness. But we’re also a church that is passionate about the city of here, the city of darkness, and we want to make a practical difference. That’s the city of darkness; that’s justice. So we’re a church that is all about both around here.

We are helpless without Jesus (V. 1-3)

If you were to break Amos chapter five down, you can break it into three categories. The first category is relatively short, and here’s what the first couple of verses from Amos chapter three say: We are helpless. You are and I am. We are helpless to fix society without Jesus. Amos chapter five, starting in verse one, goes like this (and listen to what’s happening in Israel. Maybe this sounds an awful lot like what’s happening in your neighborhood wherever you live right now).  

Listen to this message that I am singing for you, a lament, house of Israel: She has fallen; Virgin Israel will never rise again. She lies abandoned on her land with no one to raise her up. For the Lord God says: The city that marches out a thousand strong will have only a hundred left, and the one that marches out a hundred strong will have only ten left in the house of Israel. 

Israel was going through this great period of idolatry and rebellion against God. And God is singing. God is telling Amos, “Amos, I want you to go, and I want you to read an obituary to Israel. I want you to go preach a eulogy at a funeral. I want you to go sing a funeral song, and I want you to sing Israel’s funeral song because I’m about to pass judgment on them. And when I do, there’s no army that can save these people. Israel, you have turned away from righteousness and because you’ve abandoned righteousness, you’ve also lost judgment or justice in the process.”

Almost 200 years ago, the brilliant English author, Charles Dickens (You know, A Christmas Carol?) came to the United States. He spent six months traveling through North America in 1840s, and he wrote down his thoughts on our country. He said, “I’ve heard so much about America. I wanted to spend some of my time here.” Now, you may not know that Charles Dickens was incredibly passionate about helping the country that he lived in, his nation, become a more just and a more holy society. Dickens traveled to some of the largest cities in America, and he said, “It’s fascinating. I saw the exact same thing in America that I see in my country. I saw big cities that had some good men there, and they had some evil men there. And wherever I go, I see the same thing. They look a little bit different, but at its core, the cities are exactly the same. You have some good and you have some evil.”

If we were to admit it (I don’t even need to know where you live right now), if we were to admit it, in your city, you would have to say, “There are some good people, and then there’s some evil people in my city. And my city is a mess.” In fact, maybe you would say, “It’s more of a mess today than it was a few years ago. I’m not sure we’re getting better. It may be actually getting worse in my country.”

If we’re not careful, when you look at the mess around you, what you will try to do, unfortunately what some Christians have already attempted to do, is you will look to government to fix the mess around you.You will look at government instead of grace. What grace says is, “God, I can’t fix this mess around me. God, it’s too much of problem. I can’t even fix the mess that’s in my own home. God, I can’t fix the mess that’s in my heart. God, I am desperate, and I need you.” Grace says, “Only you are big enough, God, to fix the mess around us. Government can’t fix the problems of the human heart.” 

It’s totally natural, I think it’s completely understandable for people who don’t know King Jesus to look at the society around them and say, “It’s a mess, and I don’t want to live like this anymore, so I need a politician to fix the mess around me.” That’s totally natural. I completely understand where they’re coming from. It’s just not going to work. It’s not going to fix it. You see, real lasting change can only happen when hearts are changed, and that’s why we look to grace, not the government, to fix what’s wrong in our country.

If you are reading from another country, let me tell you a little bit about our history. About three decades ago, almost four now, there was a massive social movement in churches. It was called the Moral Majority. What the Moral Majority set out to do was noble, but what it really accomplished actually failed miserably. You see, what the Moral Majority said is, “As Christians, we can’t abandon government. We have to be involved. We have to care deeply about what’s happening in society.” All of that is true, and I agree. But the Moral Majority took it a step too far, and this is where the wheels came off of the Moral Majority bus.

We started hoping that the President would fix the problems in our country. Christians started to put a lot of energy and a lot of money and a lot of hope in the next politician to fix the problems of our country. That’s okay, but we stopped looking to King Jesus to fix those problems. When we made that mistake, we divided, or divorced, justice and righteousness. A righteous country will always be a just country, but justice pursued for the sake of justice will not lead to righteousness.

So here’s what I am going to ask you to do. I have some challenges for you today, 2 Cities Church, and here’s one of them: Get involved in the political process. Be active in the society. Become a voice. Write a blog. Send letters to the editor. Engage people by email. Reach out to your elected officials. Do everything that’s in your power to try to engage the injustice in your community. But don’t look to politicians alone to fix it. It’s only through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s grace and not government, that will eventually lead to a righteous society. And a righteous society is always going to be a right or a just society.

We should learn to hate like Jesus (V. 4-17)

We are helpless. What Amos is saying is, we are absolutely helpless without Jesus. If that was hard for you to hear, it’s going to be even harder for you to hear what I say next, because what Amos challenges Christians to do next (and it’s right there in black and white; I didn’t make this word up), is to learn to hate like Jesus hates. 

Now, that word is very intentional because it comes directly out of Amos chapter five. -to hate what Jesus hates and to hate it like Jesus hates it. Now, we’re going to read a long passage of Scripture. What I’m going to do is just try to be a tour guide, and I’m going to point out a few things along the way, and you can see how God feels about the unjust society that Israel has become. Listen to God’s anger and his hatred for what’s happened to his nation, to the nation of Israel. We’re going to start in verse four of Amos chapter five:

For the Lord says to the house of Israel: Seek me and live!  Do not seek Bethel or go to Gilgal or journey to Beer-sheba, for Gilgal will certainly go into exile, and Bethel will come to nothing. Seek the Lord and live, or he will spread like fire throughout the house of Joseph; it will consume everything with no one at Bethel to extinguish it. Those who turn justice into wormwood also throw righteousness to the ground. The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns darkness into dawn and darkens day into night, who summons the water of the sea and pours it out over the surface of the earth—the Lord is his name. He brings destruction on the strong,, and it falls on the fortress. They hate the one who convicts the guilty at the city gate, and they despise the one who speaks with integrity. Therefore, because you trample on the poor and exact a grain tax from him, you will never live in the houses of cut stone you have built; you will never drink the wine from the lush vineyards you have planted. For I know your crimes are many and your sins innumerable.They oppress the righteous, take a bribe, and deprive the poor of justice at the city gates. Therefore, those who have insight will keep silent, at such a time, for the days are evil. Pursue good and not evil so that you may live, and the Lord, the God of Armies, will be with you as you have claimed. Hate evil and love good; establish justice at the city gate. Perhaps the Lord, the God of Armies, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. Therefore the Lord, the God of Armies, the Lord, says: There will be wailing in all the public squares; they will cry out in anguish in all the streets. The farmer will be called on to mourn, and professional mourners, to wail. There will be wailing in all the vineyards, for I will pass among you. The Lord has spoken.

The word Bethel literally means the house of God. What’s happening in the original language is a play on words. The house of nothing is Beth-aven. God is saying, “I’m going to take your Bethel and turn it into Beth-aven. Your house of God is going to become a house of nothing, because you’ve turned to foreign idols. You’ve looked to something other than me.”

Do you know that the word wormwood in the Bible is a reference to poison? He’s saying, “You left the pure drinking water of God, and you exchanged it for poison. You started taking poison when you started turning to foreign idols. When you turn to anyone or anything other than me, it’s actually a poison that will destroy you on the inside.”

Circle Pleiades, and circle Orion, because in Israel today, just like in Amos’ day, when you could see the constellation Pleiades in the morning before the sun came up, it was a sign that spring was on the way. It’s guaranteed to be on the way. When you could see Orion at night right after the sun goes down, in Israel today, it is a promise that winter is on the way. And listen to this: No one and nothing can stop winter from coming. No one and nothing can stop spring from coming. Amos is saying, “Just look up in the stars at night. You can’t stop the seasons from changing and you can’t stop what’s going to happen to you next.”

Israel had this sophisticated tax system where the very wealthy could get out of paying tax, and the poorest of the poor would have to pay more than their share of tax, and they thought that they were getting away with it. And Amos said, “Oh, no, you didn’t fool God with this. God knows what you’re doing, and he sees how heavy you’re taxing the poor so that you can live in fine houses cut out of stone. And you may have gotten away with it with the government, but you didn’t get away with it with God.”

Please underline the words, “Pass among you,” in your Bible, because what you just heard, if you were in Israel listening to Amos, is the very opposite of God’s Word when he said, “I will pass over Israel, and I will send my angel to attack the nation of Egypt and I will deliver my people.” Now he’s using the exact opposite language and saying, “I’m no longer going to pass over you, Israel. Now I’m going to pass among you, and I’m going to do to you what I did to Egypt because your sins are just as bad. You’re as unrighteous, perhaps more unrighteous, than the nation of Egypt was when I delivered them out of Egypt’s hand.”

God is challenging his people to love like he loves, and that means you have to hate to the same degree the same things that God hates. I’ll tell you, your faith is weak and watered down if you don’t have this passionate hatred for evil and what it does to God’s people, the way that God hates evil and what it does to his people. 

So now, I’m going to get real political for just a second because just this week in our country something evil happened in the Capitol building and a bill was passed. It’s called the Equality Act. In this bill, the bill itself represents what I believe is just pure evil.

Every minority in America should be highly offended. Every woman in America should be insulted by this act. Every scientist in America should be furious, and every Christian in America should be up in arms, which is basically almost the entire population, because the Equality Act ties into the Equal Rights Act of 1964, when we said people based on their race, based on their color of skin, based on their gender, based on their ethnicity, should never be mistreated. 

The Equality Act says that sexual preference, the LGBTQ community, are treated with the same respect using the same broken science that the Equal Rights Act of 1964 is treated with. And now, based on your sexual desires, you are lumped into the same category as your gender, or your ethnicity, or your color of skin, which last time I checked, none of us had any choice in those things.

I’m pleading with God’s people to be angry and hurt by the injustice of this Equality Act, by the evil that it purports, or that it hides under the name of equality. You see, Israel had some sophisticated laws, and they could hide, they could slyly and sophisticatedly slip some legislation through, and everybody in the world felt like it’s no big deal. But God, in Amos’ day, said, “I know what you’re doing, and I’m not going to stand for it anymore.” 

I’m asking that you, your heart, would be as burdened for your society as Amos’ heart was for his. Can I remind all of us, Amos is not a professional prophet? He’s just a businessman. He’s a rancher who feels the weight of the Lord’s heart for his people.

Amos starts to develop God’s heart for his people, and Amos decides, “I can’t keep silent about this anymore. I see how much God hates what evil is doing to my people, and I have to hate it to the same degree.” -which brings me to the third and the final thing today. 

We can’t hide from Jesus (V. 18-27)

You can’t hide. I can’t hide, nobody can hide from King Jesus. You see, the way that these verses end up is, God is now going to tell Israel what he is about to do. “I have sent for hundreds of years people trying to get your attention, and Israel, you wouldn’t listen. And so now let me show you about the day of the Lord.” 

If you don’t recognize this phrase, “the day of the Lord,” it is a reference to the final day of judgment, Revelation chapter 20, the great white throne judgment of God, where every action, every deed, will be laid bare before God, and he will judge the actions and the deeds of mankind. Here’s how Amos chapter five ends: 

Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! What will the day of the Lord be for you? It will be darkness and not light. It will be like a man who flees from a lion only to have a bear confront him. He goes home and rests his hand against the wall only to have a snake bite him. Won’t the day of the Lord be darkness rather than light, even gloom without any brightness in it? I hate, I despise, your feasts! I can’t stand the stench of your solemn assemblies. Even if you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will have no regard for your fellowship offerings of fattened cattle. Take away from me the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream. “House of Israel, was it sacrifices and grain offerings that you presented to me during the forty years in the wilderness? But you have taken up Sakkuth your king and Kaiwan your star god, images you have made for yourselves. So I will send you into exile beyond Damascus.” The Lord, the God of Armies, is his name. He has spoken.

Feast is a reference to a church service. Solemn assemblies is when God’s people get together and go to church. “I hate, I despise your feasts. I can’t even stand the stench of your solemn assemblies. Even if you were to offer me your burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I would not accept them.” God is saying, “Write your entire life savings in a check and put it in the offering plate. I’m not going to accept it.”

God is saying, “Until there’s justice in my country, until there’s righteousness among my people, go to church and pray as hard as you want; I’m not listening to those prayers. Sing as loud as you want; I won’t hear your songs. Give as much money as you want; I will not accept your offering because there’s wickedness in your heart. And until your heart gets changed, those gifts and offerings and songs of praise in worship are not acceptable to me.”

Righteousness is when God’s people place their self-interest aside and start to live for something or someone greater than themselves, when you start to live for the glory of God instead of for what you can get. If you want a just society, if you want people to live right with one another, you’re going to have to change hearts instead of just changing laws, instead of just changing political parties. 

What the Bible is saying today is, if you really want to change your community, then you need to advance the gospel and tell people about King Jesus. I personally believe that you wouldn’t be connected to 2 Cities Church if you didn’t care about justice in your community. We’re the kind of church that talks about it often enough, you would’ve just got mad and left a long time ago.

I’m begging you, if you just try to change politics, if you just latch on to a social justice movement that does not have the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ at the center of it, you are going to spend a lot of energy, a lot of time and a lot of your focus on something that can not fix things long-term. If you really, really want to make a difference, here’s what you do this week: Go tell somebody about Jesus, and that will make a man a just man. When there are enough just men and just women, then you will start to have a just, or a righteous, society.