Article linked to post for Sunday, November 8, 2020, and drawing on the set readings for that day:
OT: Amos 5:18-24
NT gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
NT letter: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Justice and righteousness
Amos, like Joel before Him, brought a shocking picture of the Day of the Lord, when God reveals Himself in judgment: affirming those who have His heart as sincere worshippers, but coming down hard on the hypocritical ones who profess to worship, while treating others harshly and disregarding the covenant.
“Alas for that day! For the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.” — Joel 1:15
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on My holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the Day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand — a day of darkness and gloom…” — Joel 2:1-2
“There will be a wailing in all the vineyards, for I will pass through your midst,” says the Lord… Why do you long for the Day of the Lord? That Day will be darkness, not light.” Amos 5:17-18.
Why did they look forward to such a day? The Day of the Lord means judgment — and judgment, as in a court of law, means two things: we think immediately in terms of condemnation for the wicked, but it also brings vindication for the righteous. They can occur together.
So Amos also proclaims, setting the context that “the times are evil”:
“Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord Almighty will be with you, just as you say He is. Hate evil, love good, maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy…”.
In this he echoes hopeful words from Joel, who having warned that the Day of the Lord is dreadful and beyond anyone’s capacity to endure, hears God saying:
” ‘Even now… return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.’
The prophet adds: “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing… Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly…” — from Joel 2:11-14.
The problem with reading out a short OT passage is that it offers a kind of sound-bite that doesn’t reflect the whole of the message. When prophets “blow the trumpet in Zion”, Joel 2:1, they are warning of God’s judgment, but with a call to action. God in His mercy always provides a way out. God is slow to anger and very reluctant to send calamity. He just wants us to “get it”.
The Old Testament relates to times and customs very different from our own, and it can take a bit more work to see how it fits with our lives. It all points, in one way or another, to the coming of Jesus, His kingdom order and path of salvation for us, just as the gospel accounts look forward to the promise of the Holy Spirit, God’s enabling for us to live in that new order, and the church learning to put the teaching into practice. Joel also saw this in the Spirit, saying that before the final Day of the LORD, God had promised to “…Pour out My Spirit on all people… my servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days… and everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved…” — Joel 2:28-32. This was part of Peter’s address to the people on the day of Pentecost, explaining to them that what was happening had been foretold in words that would have been familiar to them.
The unprepared bridesmaids
Jesus will come again, and His coming will be both vindication for those living in Him, and judgment for those who have insisted that their way was right.
The story Jesus told about the silly bridesmaids, who unlike their more forward-thinking friends were not prepared for a possible delay in the bridegroom’s procession, is a strong image about the need to be prepared. The ones who weren’t, couldn’t put it right in time and were excluded from the celebration.
This speaks to everyone who has a certain level of faith — perhaps a religious, church-going comfortable kind of believing, but not quite the commitment and readiness the Lord is looking for. When He comes back, will He find faith, is the question in another passage, Luke 18:8.
When Jesus told Nicodemus, “You should not be surprised at My saying, ‘You must be born again’, ” He was expecting more than an intellectual assent to who He is. It is a choice, a commitment and a change of heart — and it brings new life. That releases us into living for Him, and living for Him is living in readiness.
Living or dying, always ready to meet Jesus
Paul’s encouragement to believers in Thessalonica makes some assumptions. At the risk of stating the obvious, it is worth outlining what they are, because this has an important bearing on living in readiness.
He assumes that his readers (or more likely, hearers) have heard and received who Jesus is and what He has done for them. He assumes they have had an encounter with Jesus, and are born again and living empowered by the Spirit of Jesus.
This is important, because they are living in hour-by-hour, day to day awareness of Jesus as Lord of their lives. They are not attending a worship service on Sunday to fulfil their sense of obligation and then living differently the rest of the week. They are taking a living faith into their work as traders or artisans, business owners or bond-servants, and they are as ready for Jesus return as they can be.
Their concern is for some in the fellowship who have already passed from this life to the next. But Paul explains that they died in hope and will be with Him when He returns, to meet up in an extraordinary way with those of us who are still waiting for Him. Keep on encouraging one another, he exhorts them, as those who know that Jesus died and rose again, confident that our own transitions are bound up in His.
Those hearing the prophets several hundred years before Christ, and those living His new life a generation after, both help us grasp Jesus’ teaching in the story about the bridesmaids. Are we ready, and watchful over our hearts and attitudes and treatment of others?
And the vital, fundamental question: Do we know that the door will be open for us as those who are expected — or might the Lord say, “Truly, I don’t know you”. If there is the slightest doubt about that, the remedy is in our hands!
Here’s a short prayer to know Jesus personally
Dear Lord Jesus,
I believe You are real. I can see now that You love me. I know I’m not perfect and I have made some mistakes, but I ask for Your forgiveness.
I believe that You took my place and gave Your life for me. And that You rose from the dead.
I want to stop living my way and invite You into my life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and as my Saviour. From now on my life is Yours and I want to live for you.
There’s a longer version of this prayer on this page The Jesus Prayer