The First Church of Holiness met each Sunday at The Sanctified Sanctuary. People came from near and far, all across the city, to be a part of the most talked about worship going on. Their music was heavenly. It was electrifying. Many of the people who filled the sanctuary described it as “anointed.” The worship team led the congregation in singing the most passionate, spirit-filled songs that people had ever heard. It was not uncommon to see people all over the sanctuary weeping as they lifted their hands and their voices to the King of Glory. The pastor at The First Church of Holiness had served the congregation for many years. He had charisma oozing from every pore. When he stood to speak people listened. His preaching focused on the love and tenderness of God. His messages on Sunday morning left all of those in attendance feeling better about themselves and secure in God’s grace and mercy as they exited the doors and headed back to their homes.
Once each Spring the First Church of Holiness held a special one day conference in the Sanctified Sanctuary with a guest preacher, normally someone who was a friend of the pastor. The conference was designed to encourage the body of believers and challenge them to pursue a more passionate walk with God. The church had been sponsoring the conference for several years and each year the conference had grown in attendance.
On the morning of the conference the capacity crowd filled the sanctuary in anticipation of a mighty move of God. The songs of worship filled the sanctuary as a young man with an angelic voice tenderly sang of the mercies and glory of God. Then a young woman testified about the how the Lord had delivered her from years of depression and self-destructive behaviors before she led the congregation in singing another moving melody. If “feeling” God’s presence is a validation of one’s faith, then those who filled the Sanctified Sanctuary were some of the strongest believers on the planet.
After the worship team faded out of their final song the lead singer led the congregation in prayer. He prayed, “Lord, you have told us that You inhabit the praises of Your people so we thank You for your presence among us this morning.” He went on, “Lord prepare the hearts of all of those here in Your sanctuary for the message that You have given to Your mouthpiece who will speak to us this morning. May he open his mouth and Your Word pour forth.” Then he took his seat.
The guest preacher, a young man no more than 30 years old, but maybe as young as 25, stood at the pulpit and without a word of introduction, no warm and fuzzy story, no joke to get the crowd into it, read from the prophet Amos.
18 Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light. 19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. 20 Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light– pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? 21 “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! 25 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the desert, O house of Israel? 26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god– which you made for yourselves. 27 Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is God Almighty. (Amos 5:18-27 NIV)
The preacher spoke as if he was Amos himself. He preached as if the Sanctified Sanctuary was the temple in Bethel or Gilgal. He told them that God despised their worship. He was unapologetic when he stated emphatically that their songs were nothing but noise in the ears of God. He almost broke down when he urged the congregation to forsake their self-indulgent lifestyles and pursue justice and righteousness for the poor and oppressed. The congregation sat dumbfounded, in utter disbelief, as the preacher spoke for God. They looked at him like the people in Bethel must have looked at Amos, and thought to themselves, “Who does this guy think he is?” They didn’t get it. During his sermon some of the people in the congregation whispered to their friends, “This guy is a downer. How much longer is he going to go on?” The Word of God went forth, but it fell on deaf ears.
After the conference was over the leadership team at The First Church of Holiness got together to evaluate the day and make suggestions for next year’s conference. Everyone loved the moving time of worship. The testimonies were so transparent, so authentic, and so powerful. The prayer time following worship was electric. Many on the leadership team said that the presence of the Holy Spirit was more evident than any other conference they had ever had. As the pastor asked about the speaker, it was unanimous…he would never be invited back to speak again.
The people who called The Sanctified Sanctuary “home” had more in common with the people of Bethel than they could have ever imagined. One startling similarity was their unwillingness to hear the piercing Word of God that called their moving times of worship into question.
What is it that makes our worship pleasing to God? Is it a pastor with charisma? Someone who can stir the emotions of the people? Is it emotion-filled times of worship where we “feel” God’s presence as the worship team transports us from the mundane into the presence of the Holy? Is it making sure we practice the “right” liturgy, the proper rituals of worship? What is it that makes our worship pleasing to God? I want us to think about that question this morning.
God announced through the prophet Amos that He was coming to visit the people of the northern kingdom and His visit would be all together different than what they anticipated. Read along with me from Amos 5:18-20.
18 Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD! Why do you long for the day of the LORD? That day will be darkness, not light. 19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. 20 Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light– pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? (Amos 5:18-20 NIV)
“The Day of the Lord” was a common idea among the prophets. It was the idea that the day was coming when God would return to judge sin and set everything right. The Israelites at Bethel longed for the Day of the Lord because they believed that it would mean God’s judgment on their enemies and blessings for all of God’s people, the Israelites. Amos blows their misguided belief out of the water when he says, “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord!” The Day of the Lord would be nothing like what the Israelites thought it would be. It would be a day of gloom for God’s people and not a day of glory. It would be a day of darkness and not a day of light.
I want to point out another aspect of the Day of the Lord that many people misunderstand in our day. Many believe that the Day of the Lord will come at the end of time when Jesus returns to judge sinners and set everything right. This idea is certainly found in the New Testament. Let me show you a couple of places where this teaching is found. In 2 Peter 3:10 we read,
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (2 Peter 3:10 NIV)
Paul wrote to the people of Thessalonica about the Day of the Lord, or the return of Jesus, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. Read along with me.
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 NIV)
The Day of the Lord will come at the end of time as Jesus returns for His people and at the same time judges those who do not belong to Him. This is what God’s Word teaches, but it is not all that God’s Word teaches concerning the Day of the Lord. There are a number of passages in God’s Word that teach that the Day of the Lord has come, and will come again, before the final Day of the Lord. Let me show you what I am talking about by having you turn to the prophet Zephaniah. You need to know that Zephaniah prophesied to the people of the southern kingdom and Jerusalem between 640-621 B.C. He came to call the people to repentance, to turn back to God. In Zephaniah 1:7 we read,
7 Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited. (Zephaniah 1:7 NIV)
“The Day of the Lord is near.” It is coming at the end of time, but for you people in Jerusalem who have turned away from God, prepare yourselves because the Day of the Lord is near. In the very next chapter of Zephaniah the prophet calls the people to repent and return to the Lord. Read along with me from Zephaniah 2:1-3.
1 Gather together, gather together, O shameful nation, 2 before the appointed time arrives and that day sweeps on like chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD comes upon you, before the day of the LORD’s wrath comes upon you. 3 Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger. (Zephaniah 2:1-3 NIV)
The Day of the Lord did come to the people of the southern kingdom in 587 B.C. and it was a day of darkness and not light, it brought an end to the southern kingdom. The Day of the Lord will certainly come at the end of time, but the Day of the Lord can come at any moment upon those people or nations which turn away from the Lord.
The people of the northern kingdom of Israel, during Amos’ day, were longing for the Day of the Lord, but Amos was bold enough to stand up in their midst and say, “The Day of the Lord is not going to be what you think it is going to be for you. It will be a day of darkness and not light, not a ray of brightness will be found by you on the Day of the Lord.”
This reminds me of some Christians that I know today who long for the day of Jesus’ return. I’m not so sure that everyone who is longing for Jesus’ return will experience what they think they are going to experience when He does return for His own. Jesus even spoke about this when He said,
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV)
There has to be more to this story don’t you think? I mean, it seems to me that the people who were crying out, “Lord, Lord,” were doing good, religious acts, doesn’t it? They were prophesying in Jesus’ name. They were driving out demons and performing many miracles in Jesus’ name, yet Jesus said, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” Let’s keep taking a look at Amos and see if we might learn something. In Amos 5:21-23 we read,
21 “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. (Amos 5:21-23 NIV)
It is important for us to recognize that these people were doing what God had told them to do. They were bringing “burnt offerings,” “grain offerings,” and “fellowship offerings” just like God had told them to in Leviticus 1-4. They were praising God in song just like they had been urged to do in Psalm 98:4-6. Read it with me.
4 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; 5 make music to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, 6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn– shout for joy before the LORD, the King. (Psalm 98:4-6 NIV)
The people of Bethel were doing all of the right things so what could have possibly set the Lord off to the point where He said, “I hate, I despise, I cannot stand all of these offerings and gatherings of yours! And while you are at it, stop the noise of your songs!” Maybe there is more to our worship then what we do in this building. I think so.
There are other places in God’s Word where He rejected the worship of His people. As you read these other verses you might get a sense that what I am saying is right on target. Let’s read Isaiah 1:11-17.
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices– what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your evil assemblies. 14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; 16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:11-17 NIV)
The people in Isaiah’s day were worshiping the Lord, but God rejected their worship. He said they lifted hands full of blood in prayer and so He would not hear them. His people were worshipping Him at the temple, but they were doing wrong in their homes, at work, and in their neighborhoods. God said, “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
Let me show you just one more example of God rejecting the worship of His people. In Jeremiah 7:21-26 we read,
21 ” ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! 22 For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23 but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you. 24 But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. 25 From the time your forefathers left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. 26 But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their forefathers.’ (Jeremiah 7:21-26 NIV)
Isn’t that classic! God says, “Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves!” God rejected the worship of their forefathers because they were to do more than just follow the prescriptions for worship, they were to obey God, they were to live set-apart lives that reflected the very character of God. They failed to do so and those in Jeremiah’s day were failing to do so as well.
After Amos announced that God rejected the worship of His people in the northern kingdom and that their praises were nothing more than noise to His ears, Amos says,
24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24 NIV)
How many times in the book of Amos have we read these words, “justice” and “righteousness?” Over and over again right? For the people of Bethel, what they did in the sanctuary was all that mattered, but for God, what they did in their neighborhoods, homes, and work places was equally important. They were to pursue “justice” and “righteousness” for all people.
The Jews in the northern kingdom were mixing their worship of God with worship of other gods as well. This contributed to their downfall, but let me assure you that if they had never bowed down to the gods of the Assyrians and performed all of the religious rituals detailed in the book of Leviticus to perfection, God would have still rejected their worship. “Why?” you might ask? Because they failed to purse justice and righteousness for all of those in their community. They took advantage of the powerless. They used the poor to accumulate even more wealth than they already had. They mistreated the oppressed while demanding special treatment for themselves. They were quite comfortable indulging themselves while others in their community were struggling just to survive. God will not tolerate this kind of behavior. He didn’t tolerate it in Amos’ day and He will not tolerate His people behaving in this way in our day either.
What is it that makes our worship pleasing to God? It is when our worship inside of the sanctuary leads to a godly life outside of the sanctuary. What is it that makes our worship pleasing to God? It is when our worship leads to seeking justice for the least of these, those who have no voice, those who have no one to stand with them, those who are being taken advantage of by those who have the power to do so. What is it that makes our worship pleasing to God? It is when our worship gives us a hunger and thirst for righteousness, a right relationship with God and all people. A true pursuit of righteousness will not allow us to be comfortable with broken relationships, it will not allow us to be satisfied with knowing that we are right with God while there are still many who are not, and the pursuit of righteousness will cause us to throw caution to the wind in seeking the reconciliation of others with God.
Oh, my friends, let me plead with you to take this study and pour over it again and again. This is the Word of God—a word that we, the modern-day church in Oklahoma City desperately need to hear. If the Body of Christ in Oklahoma City counted worship as encompassing not only what happens in sanctuaries all across our city on Sunday morning, but as entailing every detail of our lives and our relationships every minute of every day this city would be different.
Jesus is the hope of Oklahoma City, but His followers are complacent, we are content with simply showing up on Sunday and “feeling” God’s presence. God is calling us to be present, to stand with those in our community who have no voice, no hope, and no chance of knowing anything different than what they know right now. What we must realize is that to do justice and to seek righteousness is worship, worship that is pleasing to God.
Let’s be honest, apart from Jesus, why would you or I care about the plight of anyone else? As long as my family is taken care of then everything’s good. I might feel bad for someone who is struggling, but I’ve got my own family to look after. I understand that, and I don’t expect those who are not followers of Jesus to risk anything for those who can do nothing for them in return. On the other hand, if you are a follower Jesus then a sure sign that you are following Him is that your heart will be broken by the things that break His heart. A sure sign that you are following Him is that you will give your life to the things and people that He gave His life for. Who did Jesus hang out with? The outcasts, the broken, the marginalized, the oppressed, and those that nobody else wanted to be around. And so should we.
Britton Christian Church
April 3, 2011