Cheating the Cheaters (Amos 8)
- Liturgy: Matins
- Hymns: LSB #605, 534, 845
- Location: King of Glory, Blaine, MN
Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end. (Amos 8:4)
Now hear this! Now hear this! Important word from God coming through! Now hear this!
Do I have your attention now? The prophet Amos wants your attention. He wants you to hear and heed the words that he spoke to Israel twenty-eight hundred years ago. We have the same problems today they had back then. People love to cheat. They love to see how far they can stretch the boundaries before they break and snap. Not just the boundaries between people. The boundaries that hold everything together.
People are cheaters by nature. Cheaters only seek to improve their own status. Everyone wants to be seen in the best possible light. We'll go to great lengths to keep our reputation from being ruined. We glory in our cheating. We will even boast about our cheating. We hope that our cheating will make our lives easier.
As in the times of Amos, some people go to church. But we cheat God by being impatient. We're impatient by nature. Life has only made it easier to be impatient. We live in an instant society. We have high-speed internet, microwave meals and on-demand movie channels. The entire world is at our beck and call. We don't have to wait. We don't want to wait. But when God calls for us to wait upon His Word, we turn our ears away.
Oh, we may show up for worship services. We might sit our rears in the pew but our minds are elsewhere. "When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale?" the Israelites asked themselves (v5). Are you asking, "When will church be over? When can I get out of here?" Are you thinking that? Are you sitting in the pew wishing I'd just shut up so we could get on with the rest of service so you can go home and get ready for the Vikings game?
Will your life be any better whether the Vikings win or lose? Will the outcome of the game be different whether you watch the entire pre-game show or not? It won't. The players and the officials on the field will determine the outcome of the game. Sitting here and fretting about how things will go won't change anything. You are simply here making an idol out of your own interests.
Three centuries after Amos' proclamation, his words are still not heeded. God sent the prophet Malachi with almost the same message. But it was worse in Malachi's day. It wasn't the farmers and business people who were neglecting the Lord's work. It was the priests! They simply showed up to do their job and collect their pay check.
In Malachi's day, the priests wondered why God was not blessing their sacrifices. God says that the priests have despised His name. When the priests try to figure out what's wrong with their leading of worship, God answers them, "By offering polluted food upon My altar … By saying the LORD's table may be despised." How similar to Amos' words! "When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain?" The people in Amos' day and the priests in Malachi's day despised the LORD's table for very mundane reasons.
This idolatry goes further than just our relationship with God. It trickles over into our view of our neighbors. The Sabbath can't get over fast enough. We want to get back to "business as usual." What is "business as usual"? "We may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances" (v5). The scales were so false that an ephah (about 3/5 bushel) would be half-bushel. A shekel (about 2/5 ounce) would be half an ounce. They cheated to make sure that they parted with as little as possible to gain as much as possible. A double whammy! They weren't ashamed of their actions. They praised themselves for their ingenuity!
Today, the Church commemorates another prophet. The prophet Jonah. Jonah was another who tried to cheat God. When he was called to preach to Nineveh, he ran the other direction. What happened on his way to Tarshish? God sent a great fish to swallow him. After God delivered him from the fish, Jonah went on to Nineveh to warn them about their impending destruction. When the people repented in sackcloth and ashes, "it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry."
Jonah got angry because his preaching worked! His idolatry was ethnicity. That God should only listen to the prayers of the Israelites. Show of hands. How many of you should God listen to according to Jonah? Yeah, that's what I thought. God cheated Jonah by listening to the prayers of the repentant Ninevites, Israel's enemies. The very people who would invade and destroy the Northern Kingdom in a few decades. God cheated Jonah and the entire Northern Kingdom by showing mercy to their enemies. Enemies only because of ethnicity.
But God condemns their actions. "The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: 'Surely I will never forget any of their deeds'" (v7). God doesn't forget the deceitfulness we show our neighbors. We cheat Him of His glory and of the value of His creatures. We trample on our neighbors--people made in His image. Not just with deceitful business practices. We trample on them because they are of no use and no value to us. "We may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat" (v6). In our eyes, our neighbor has no value. They deserved nothing but to be walked on.
People are cheaters. We cheat because that is what we are born to do. We are reborn and saved because Jesus Himself is a cheater. He played by the rules and cheated at the end. He lived life according to God's Law. He lived it perfectly. Not a rule broken. Not a commandment bent. Not a boundary skirted. But His life was too perfect. His enemies couldn't take any more of His perfection. It made them look bad. They had Him executed for being too Messiah-like. He wasn't the Messiah they wanted. He was the Messiah God sent. God sent the Messiah to redeem cheaters.
To redeem cheaters Jesus had to cheat. In His death, Jesus cheated. His body didn't give out. He didn't die of "natural causes." He didn't even die from crucifixion. He died because He gave up His Spirit. He willed Himself to die. He cheated death. But His cheating wasn't over when the Roman soldiers took Him down from the cross. His cheating continued three days later. He awoke from death--cheating at its ultimate--and descended into Hell. He proclaimed His cheating to the saints and sinners long dead. Once done proclaiming His triumph, Jesus opened Heaven's gates to all who believe in Him. Cheating death once more, He appeared to the women and to His disciples over the next forty days. He taught them what His cheating meant for them. He commanded them to proclaim it throughout all the earth.
And that's what we've done here this morning. Another cheater, Mabel, has been cheated. Her sin was taken away. She was given Jesus' righteousness. His death and resurrection. He died so that she will live eternally. If that isn't cheating, I don't know what is. Not only for her. For each of us who have come to the font and had our sins washed away. He cheated for you as well.
Our God is a cheating God. He has been from the very beginning. When the original sin cast our first parents out of Paradise, God didn't kill them then. Yes, He acknowledged that sin and death had entered into the world. But He also promised life and salvation through a coming Savior. He cheated His own command by promising forgiveness. Forgiveness for all who believe in Him. Forgiveness of any and every sin. He cheated the true ramifications of sin in the world. This He did when He sent Jesus into the world for you. God cheated for you. God cheated to bring you into Paradise with Him. He cheated to redeem cheaters. Cheaters like you and me. Amen.
- Malachi 1:6
- Malachi 1:7
- Amos 8:5
- Jonah 1:17
- Jonah 4:1