|Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
|Preparing to Meet God
|Amos ch.4 v.12
Links to Bible chapters open in a new window.
"Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel" (Amos 4, 12).
Especially I want to look at these words: "...prepare to meet thy God..." (text). Some people don't like warnings; they say that warnings are scary things. When you hear the fire alarm go off, you say, "That's a horrid sound." When you hear some warning sound going through the streets, like these wailing, howling, hooting noises that police cars and ambulances and fire engines make, it's a ghoulish sound; it sends a shiver down your spine. You say, "I'd rather not hear it." But I want to say to you, dearest friends, it's a blessing to get a warning in life. If you're going down the road in you motor car and you accelerate, let us say to 60mph, and you hear a banging sound somewhere in the engine, it might just save your life for you to stop before something very serious happens and you end up with the car upside down and you inside it. Like a lady I once met who wanted chips for tea so she put the chip pan on, and she put full heat underneath it. She was heating up the fat when she heard the doorbell ring; it was a neighbour who came to talk to her. For a moment she forgot the chip pan. The fat was getting hotter and hotter. Then she heard the noise of the smoke detector. She ran in just in time to turn the heat down before the whole kitchen went up in smoke. I say again, a warning, though awkward and difficult to receive, is a blessing, a blessing, perhaps you say, in disguise.
Not everybody takes a good warning. I was a boy at school and one of my companions in class - I won't call him a friend - somebody in the class, took very seriously ill. I noted that boy; he had been a terrible swearer and his conversation was pretty rotten. I used to keep away. I wasn't a believer at the time but even in those days I didn't like what he talked about. He swore and cursed and so on. He took very seriously ill and was admitted to hospital. He came back to school after about nine months in hospital and at home. I noticed with horror, when he came back to school he still swore, he still cursed God. I thought: that boy has learned nothing. He got a warning! Next time when he fell ill, I'm afraid it was fatal. He got a warning, but he didn't heed the warning; he didn't listen to the warning.
In another town where we lived, my wife and I had a neighbour, an older lady, who began to drag her foot as she walked down the street. This was a warning sign that the tumour on the brain, which she had had removed, was growing again. Her foot dragging got worse, you could see it from week to week. She got slower and more difficult with her walk. So, we went round to see her and we said to her, "Dear friend, do you know there is a place called heaven and a place called hell? We would like to say with love to you, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ so that you may never enter hell." It was a Lord's Day and she was reading one of these stupid magazines that women for some reason buy. She was turning the pages unconcernedly as we spoke. "Oh," she said, "I believe that God is so full of goodness and kindness and love, He wouldn't punish anyone." That's not what my Bible says; that's not what the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God says. Alas, alas, she didn't listen to the warning. Her tumour grew and soon she was gone, she was dead.
A warning is necessary because we are all very much at risk. You boys and girls don't know this - you didn't live through it as some of us did - but in the Second World War, enemy planes used to come over our cities: Glasgow, London, Birmingham, Coventry, and Clydebank. You could always tell enemy planes by the sound of their engines. Their noise was different from our British planes; they seemed to have a special ominous kind of hum. As these planes got near the cities, the city authorities switched on a siren, which made a fearful noise. When you heard the siren, whatever you were doing, you stopped and you went to the nearest shelter, underground or wherever it was. Many a time I remember being woken up as a young child and taken into these shelters and then 'Bam!' the bombs came, and houses disappeared and streets vanished. The people in them, of course, went to eternity in a moment. London saw it on a tremendous scale. These flying Doodle Bugs came down out of the sky and hundreds of people died in a moment. But we tried to give a warning; these sirens were a warning! I dare say many people said, "I hate these warnings, I wish there weren't these warnings," but we need warnings to prepare us for the trouble to come.
It's a sign as to whether you're a wise man or a fool, the way you think of warnings. A fool thinks of warnings as a bad idea; he would never have warnings, he would rather just go on happily doing his own pleasures; he doesn't want the interruption of warnings. But a wise man realises that if there are no warnings then you have no time to prepare. That's what is being said here by Amos, "Prepare, prepare!" What for? Amos, what are we to prepare for? "Prepare to meet thy God!" When? In the day of death, and in the day of judgment, because we shall meet God twice in that way. "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9, 27). That's the private judgment for the soul. Then in the resurrection day at the end of the world, when Christ returns in heaven and glory, all the bodies will rise from the dead and everyone will then appear before God. So God is telling us here, in the words of Amos, we are to prepare for that. Dearest friend here this evening, what a pleasure to see you! Let me ask you: Are you preparing for the day of death and judgment? Are you preparing to meet your God? This is what Amos is saying to everyone who has ears to hear.
Three things I want to say: first, I want to tell you that God is gracious to warn us in this way; second, I want to say why some people do not listen to warnings; and third, I want to tell you how you can know if you are prepared.
First of all then, I say to you that God is very kind and very gracious to give us warnings. It is one of the evidences of the love of God, and one of the signs of the grace and favour of Almighty God that He gives warnings to men. I don't say that everybody listens to His warnings, but God does give these warnings. Did you ever hear of that thing called the Titanic? Of course you have - it was a great big ship. It was setting off from France, as I remember on its journey to America. The year was 1912 - I think it was the April of that year. A lady rather nervously said to one of the sailors who was to sail on the ship, "Excuse me sir, could this big ship sink?" And the answer she got was this, "Madam, God Almighty couldn't sink that ship!" It was the biggest ship in the world, huge, with watertight bulkheads and who knows what. So they didn't pay much attention to the iceberg did they, as they were going along in the cold waters of the month of April in the North Atlantic. When the radio signal came down to the bridge saying, "Sir, iceberg ahead," they paid no attention. It didn't really matter; the Titanic would probably go straight through an iceberg. Anyway it wouldn't make much difference; supposing it scratched the surface of the metal work? The Titanic could not be sunk by Almighty God! ... Or could it? In the next few hours there were people in the water, hundreds drowned. Why? They did not take the warning.
Well Amos is saying to us here something which is gracious on God's part: God gives warnings to men. He gave a warning to Adam, do you remember in the garden? "Now," said God to Adam our first father, when he was still innocent of any sin, He said, "Adam, this garden is your home. You can eat of any or all the fruits of the garden to your heart's content, but... of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden you may not eat. In the day you eat thereof you will certainly die, you will certainly die." It was a warning. Adam could never say to God, "You never told me." He did tell him; God did tell him.
I'll take the case of the flood. How long was Noah building his ark? Do you remember the warning he was to the people alive at that time before the flood? It took him 120 years to build this huge ship, and all that time he was warning the people and telling them that if they didn't come into the ark when the appropriate moment was ready they would perish in the flood. They laughed him to scorn. Only eight people went into the ark: he, his three sons and all their wives. Eight persons were saved by the grace of God, and all the rest were swept away by the flood. It was a gracious warning of God. Hundreds could have gone into the ark. It was one of the biggest ships ever built up to the middle of the nineteenth century, a huge barge; it would have taken thousands of people probably. Only eight people went in. They got their warning.
What about Sodom and Gomorrah that were destroyed by fire coming down as brimstone from the Lord from heaven and burnt up these lewd, lawless, godless and evil cities? Did they get a warning? Oh yes. Lot lived among them. Lot sat in the gate. He was a sort of public dignitary, a kind of magistrate, a politician if you like, and they knew very well he was different from the rest. Lot "vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds" (2 Peter 2, 8). Even though he was there - and that wasn't creditable to him that he was - but he was there, and his life bore witness to the fact. He was a God-fearing man and they didn't like it, but they had their warning.
Jesus Christ gave a warning to the Jews of His day, didn't He? He said, "Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming..." (Luke 23, 28-29) - when armies will encircle Jerusalem and take you away captive. It will be the most terrible persecution the world has ever heard of. They didn't bother listening, they didn't believe Him. They didn't take the warning. It happened in AD 70 when the Roman armies came and they slaughtered the people wholesale. They took away probably half a million or more of them into captivity as slaves in Rome, to build these great amphitheatres and the Coliseum in which to throw them to the lions for sport. That's what happened to these Jewish people. They didn't listen, they didn't heed the warning. They didn't take to heart what Amos says, "Prepare to meet thy God" (text).
Dearest friend, I am sure you have heard many sermons in your day, and I'm sure that you have listened with interest to many of the things that preachers have said, but could I ask you this friendly question? Are you tonight, here and now, preparing to meet God? Are you prepared to meet God? Do you have faith in His Word? Do you believe His warnings? Are you fleeing from the wrath to come, or is religion just like a sort of tiepin? You know what you do with a tiepin? You can live without a tiepin, it's not life-threatening if you leave your tiepin aside. You can pop it in and keep your tie straight or you can leave it on the dressing table; you don't need to have a tiepin. Life can go on, and the world can still go on without a tiepin! So, you treat religion like that. God is like a tiepin in your estimation: it's nice to have it, it adds a little bit to life. Is that the way you think of religion? God, gospel - is that the way you treat your own immortal soul? "Oh," says God, "prepare to meet Me". You had better meet a lion in his fury rather than meet God in His absolute strict justice. God, I say, loves to give warnings because God is gracious. He would far rather that people heeded his warning and listened to His voice and that they did not enter into judgment with God unprepared. It is the love of God that bids Him warn men and women to do so. That's why the Bible is given to us. The Bible is full of warnings, it's a warning book, it's a book to prepare us for meeting our Maker; it's our Maker's Book, it's His Word, it's His Word of truth. He did not give us this Book for entertainment; it's not like little fairy stories to make us smile. Oh no! This Book is to prepare us to meet our God. I say, that's why God has given it to us; He would far rather that we'd repent and turn to Him.
Perhaps you notice in the reading that again and again and again, in this very chapter, Amos says the same thing. These are his words that he repeats many a time, "You have not returned unto me, saith the Lord." Let me just remind you what he is talking about. God says, "I have been sending signs of my displeasure into your society: I have withheld the rain, and your crops have died; I have cursed you with blasting and mildew, and your fruit has fallen off the tree rotten. I have given you cleanness of teeth [meaning hunger and famine] in your cities. Two or three cities wandered into one city because there was no food enough for them in the other cities." "And yet," says God repeatedly, "all this I have done to you, but you have not returned unto me." What does it mean? It means they did not take notice of God's warning. "I warned you," says God, "but you didn't listen. I gave you a second warning - you were deaf to it. I gave you a third warning, and you stopped your ears. How many more warnings do you want?" says God in effect. "The day will come when I will certainly summon you to Myself. Because you have not listened to Me," says God, "I will do this to you. So," says God, "prepare to meet thy God."
Oh friends, a sinner facing a holy God without preparation is in the most terrible condition imaginable. Let me use an illustration, and this is no exaggeration whatsoever. Supposing, now, you had a strong man came into your house and he walked round the rooms of your house, and there he saw a photograph of you. "Ah," says this man, "I don't like this." So he takes it off the wall and he proceeds to smash it and stamp upon it. The man says, "I don't like the image that I see in front of me; this image is offensive to me," says the man and smashes it. Well that's what God will do to every sinner; He will smash every sinner, his image will be broken to pieces, He will tear up the image of that sinner in the end. This is no exaggeration. Jesus Christ our Lord says this, over and over again. Do you remember His words? No one speaks more about the justice of God than Christ. Christ says, "Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing [the last penny]" (Matthew 5, 25-26). That's a description of the sinner walking along the path of life, and God is the sinner's enemy. "Now," says Christ, "agree with your enemy [that is God] quickly, before the enemy [that is God] lays hold on you and sends you into the hands of the law [and that is His angels]. You shall be put into prison," says Christ, "and you will never get out of there till you pay the very last penny." That prison, of course, is the prison where God puts lost souls who have never believed His Word. Dearest friend, Amos asks this question: "Are you preparing to meet your God?" Oh, the warnings of the Bible are gracious warnings; the warnings of God are kind warnings. Don't turn a deaf ear.
Secondly, let me say this to you: Why is it that people do not really prepare properly to meet God? Well, one reason is that some people are ignorant; they don't know what God is saying to them; they don't read the Bible. That's the condition with people all around us in this world. The devil deceives men and women. The Puritans used to say, "The devil takes sinners to hell by a winding staircase. They don't see the bottom until they have got there." You know these old castles with stone stairs, these spiral staircases? Literally, you can't see the bottom until you get there because they are so tight, so narrow, and so small. That's what the devil does, he deceives people. Each step of the way is a step down - a little bit more fun; wall-to-wall football; a little bit more television; off to the theatre; gambling will do you no harm; entertainment... The devil, all the time, is getting people to put off their preparation to meet God. If the devil can just keep people going day by day, day by day, then he has got them in the end because death eventually will seal their fate.
That's one reason why some people never prepare to meet their God. That is to say, they never read the Bible, they never come to church, they never come to hear the truth, and they never know that Jesus is the Saviour of souls. They don't realise that He died in love for us upon the cross, to give Himself that if we believe in Him we shall be saved - they don't hear that. The devil doesn't tell them that, and so they never know it.
Another reason why some people never come to it is this: It is because they don't want to turn from their worldly style of life. Some people treat religion very much like a little flower in the lapel, something of an ornament you stick on your coat - not very important but it's very elegant. "That's my religion; I go to church and that's enough for me. I don't think it is necessary for me to take religion all that seriously. I am not one of these fundamentalists, you understand, I am a moderate minded person. Just to go now and again to church does nobody any harm, but nothing more than that; don't be too serious." People therefore, in that state of mind, are slowly going down the stone staircase, step by step, step by step. Oh dearest friend, I can tell you, every sinner who has died without Christ would give a million worlds to get back to sit with you tonight, here, in a building like this. Every sinner down in that terrible place where they are suffering because of their unbelief, I say they would give a million worlds gladly if they could have ten more minutes of life, ten more moments of opportunity to repent and believe in the blessed Jesus who is the Son of God.
Are you in the condition of those who are half asleep when it comes to these things? Are you one of those who come to church merely out of formality? Have you learned anything by coming to church? Have you taken anything to yourself, personally, by coming to church, or is it all a formality? Only you can answer that question. But I bid you see that something more is needed than simply a formal religion. Every one of us, you and I and all others, need to get right with God if we are to meet Him.
The story is told of a young man, well brought up and often in church. One day he fell ill and the doctor was called. The doctor examined him and the young man said, "Now doctor," he said, "I want you to tell me the truth. How ill am I?" The doctor happened to be a believer, a Christian, and he said to the young man, "You will not live out the night; you will be dead before tomorrow morning." That was an honest doctor with an honest message. So the young man said, "Oh what a pity," he said, "because I've missed it now." The doctor said, "You have missed what?" "Well," said the young man, "I have missed getting right with God. I've often said to myself, one of these days I will get right with God, but now my chance has gone." "No, no it's not gone," said the doctor, "you can repent right now and believe in Christ right here and now." "Oh, I wouldn't want to do that," said the young man, "that really would be cheeky and offensive to God. Why should I insult God by repenting now that I am going to die? I should have done it when I was well." "That doesn't matter," said the doctor, "God will receive everyone if they repent, it doesn't matter what their outward circumstances of sickness or how close they are to death; God will have you." "No," said the young man, "I feel that would be an insult to God." The hours went by, and the doctor continued to try to help him. The young man fell sick in the night, and he was heard to say as he was about to die, "I've missed it now forever."
Wouldn't that be a sad thing for you to have to say, dear friend? If you came to the end of your life and you had to admit, "I've missed it now forever. Bibles I had, sermons I heard, church services I attended, but I have missed it now forever." Oh I wish I could weep to think of the sadness of a person who has been close to God, hearing His word, and yet you have not prepared to meet God. I have given you some reasons why people do not prepare. If I had time I would gladly ask you all individually, those of you who are not believers. I would say to you: "What is your reason for not preparing to meet God, what's your reason?"
Did you ever hear the words in the Book of Proverbs? It goes like this: "A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished" (Proverbs 22, 3; Proverbs 27, 12). That is the difference between a wise man and a fool. The wise man foresees the shadow of trouble, and he hides in Christ, by faith. The simpleton passes on and is punished. What terrible seriousness is in those words, dear friends. How close you are - those of you who are not professing Christians - how close you are to the blessed safety which Christ affords, when all you have to do - in your heart right now, this moment - say to God in the secrecy and privacy of your soul, "Oh God, have mercy upon me, a sinner. As thou didst pity the thief on the cross, oh God, take pity upon me now at this communion season before I have this decision to make as to whether I will profess Christ or not. Oh God, take pity upon my soul - even mine." I can promise you, if you pray to God seriously, earnestly and sincerely with that prayer, He will hear you and He will answer you. Whoever you are, however young you are, however old, whatever your circumstances, however you have been in churches or not in them doesn't matter. If you sincerely plead with God, "Oh Lord, give me preparation to meet thee in that day which will burn like an oven."
Thirdly, lastly, how are you to prepare; what must you know? The thing to know is what the Bible talks about everywhere: to be sorry for your sins, and to put your faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not talking about magic; we're not talking about some recondite form of knowledge which is only found in extremely difficult circumstances. We are talking about the gospel of Christ. What you have to do is nothing less and nothing more than to give your whole life to Christ. That's what you have to do, it is as simple as that, and it can happen in a moment. You don't have to wait three years, or ten, or thirty, or a hundred. No! Like that! A person is converted, can be converted. Take Lydia. When she heard Paul in Acts 16, her heart was open, she believed at once and she welcomed the preachers into her home. Take the Philippian jailer in the same chapter. He was converted to faith in Christ 'just like that', and immediately, from being the prisoner and the jailer, he took the apostles into his own home, washed their wounds after having seen them beaten, and gave them food. His heart was changed, just in a moment. Why then should not every one of us here desire and receive the same blessing? Why not? There is no resistance in God; He will give you these blessings at once if, immediately, you sincerely seek them. But there is what Amos has to say in this serious passage of Scripture.
John Wesley was a great man - not a great theologian but a great Christian. John Wesley said this about his Methodist followers, "You can criticise the Methodists as much as you like, but our people die well." That is the test whether we have real true Christianity or not - those who die well. It's been my great privilege, over some years now, to be at the bedside of several dying Christians. Oh, what a privilege to feel their icy hand touching mine when I speak to them of Christ. Their wizened old faces shake, nod like this to say, "Yes minister, we believe in Jesus, don't worry about us, all is well, I am going there." That's what matters dearest friend; to die well. And here is the preparation you will need, "Prepare to meet thy God." How? By trusting in the blessed Jesus who gave Himself a ransom for our soul, "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3, 16). May that be yours!
This sermon has been downloaded from http://www.bible-sermons.org.uk