Bearers of bad news

Earlier in the week it was about breaking bad news in a medical context. On Sunday, it was about prophets being bearers of bad news for God's judgment.

Previously in Amos, we've studied the imagery of God as a roaring lion, warning his people of impending destruction because of their sins. In Amos 7, God gives Amos a series of visions indicating judgment and destruction, and Amos had the task of warning the Israelites.

Prophets were often bearers of bad news. As the preacher pointed out (and as our aged care tutor pointed out), nobody likes to bear bad news. The prophets themselves were often reluctant to carry out the task. When Moses was asked to lead Israel out of Egypt, he said, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." (Exodus 4:10). Similarly, when Jeremiah was appointed prophet to Judah (southern kingdom, Israel the northern kingdom had already been destroyed), he said “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” (Jeremiah 1:6).

What was the response of Israel's priest to the news of judgment to come? Amaziah the priest twisted the words of Amos, slandered the prophet, and reported to the king that Amos was raising a conspiracy against the king. He then said to Amos, "get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there." (Amos 7:12). Oh dear, preaching judgment is unpopular. Would you be offended if you entered a church which preached the bad news - that all will face God's judgment for sin, which will determine if you will inherit eternal life or eternal death?

How about the picture of the holy and wrathful God throughout the old testament who punishes nations with plagues, deaths, destruction, for their sins? Or the same God in Acts, who struck Ananias and Sapphira dead when they lied about how much of their profit they were donating to the church? When we think about "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord," (Romans 6:23) do we fast forward to Jesus' love, and not pause to reflect on how seriously God views sin? I do, often. How important is it to be "saved" when we as the church, are reluctant to tell you about the death you're being saved from?

The old testament God is unreasonable? Would you then happily attend a church which offers blessings, prosperity, an easy solution to all your problems? "God wants you to be promoted! Amen!" (true account from a classmate). Is the God you believe in gentle, meek, forgiving, essentially good? Sin doesn't really matter to him... or does it?

This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you;
they fill you with false hopes.
They speak visions from their own minds,
not from the mouth of the Lord.
They keep saying to those who despise me,
"The Lord says: You will have peace.’
And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say,
‘No harm will come to you.’ - Jeremiah 23:16-17

It's easy, and popular to preach the "good" news. When we were on holidays after high school, I flipped through one of the books mum bought - Joel Osteen's "Your Best Life Now". I remember reading a few paragraphs and thinking, this doesn't sound right. Later I saw that it was a bestseller in the local book shop - how unusual for a Christian book, I thought. I don't have a copy of the book personally, but it's easy to go online and see extracts from the book:

The Scripture promises: “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord.”  If you love God, he’s working life to your advantage, and it will all work out for your good... At first, it didn’t appear that we were going to be able to find a place to park. A half dozen cars were circling the parking lot, waiting for somebody to back out so they could pull in. I was having a good time, cutting up a bit with my family, so I said to everybody in the car, “You watch Daddy. I’m going to get a front-row parking spot. I can just feel it. I’ve got the favor of God all over me!” On and on I went, really making a big deal about it. Then, to everyone’s surprise, just as I steered our car past the front row of parked cars, another car backed out as I approached. It was almost as though we had timed it perfectly; he pulled out, and I pulled right into the open spot. I hardly had to slow down. Better yet, it was the premier spot in that parking lot. (See more.)

Really, can Christianity solve my parking problems forever? Do you know what all things working together implies? Good times, bad times, joy, suffering, laughter, mourning, blessings, persecutions. Yes, God can plan something as small as giving you a parking lot in a particular time and place, should it be his will. But we're not to "name it and claim it", wrongly assuming that it is his will. I've read a similar book that I promptly took to the recycle bin after reading halfway. It was on promises of supernatural physical healing for everyone. In that case, we will never need to see a doctor, never need to be on tablets, never even need to buy a grave site. God can and does heal, and we are to pray for all our concerns, including those about our health. Yet, can we look at examples of healing and deliverance in the Bible, claiming that for ourselves and ignore the suffering and death of say, John the Baptist, Stephen the martyr, or even Jesus himself? I also wish for a smooth life with no sickness or pain - that would be lovely, but believing in God of the Bible doesn't guarantee that at all.

Bad news and those announcing judgment, destruction, suffering are unpopular. But this is as much part of the Bible as the good news is. For those who do believe in the Bible as the word of God, let's be prepared to hear the truth (not the things our ears are itching to hear), and share the gospel message faithfully (not thinking that we need to change it to make it more palatable).

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. - 2 Timothy 4:2-4



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