Summary: Israel missed each opportunity God gave them. Each time Amos interceded, God held off on afflicting them. Finally, He had enough—He afflicted them with almost complete destruction. God is faithful to respond to the intercessory prayers of His people.
1. The first pitch was a fastball of grace.
2. The second pitch was a fastball of mercy.
3. The third pitch was a changeup of affliction.
I think everybody here knows how much I enjoy sports. Mostly football, but I like other sports too. I like watching NASCAR. I’m a frustrated basketball player so I enjoy watching college basketball. I say I’m a frustrated basketball player—I love to play the game, but I don’t play it very well. My brain works like Michael Jordan, but my body works like Michael Moore. Another sport I really enjoy is baseball. As a matter of fact, my wife and I both like baseball. Of course, she wouldn’t have anything to do with it until our son started playing. Probably my favorite part about baseball is watching how good pitchers will work a hitter. I remember when John Smoltz was the closer for the Braves a few years ago. If the Braves had the lead, he would come into the game in the 9th inning. When he really needed a strikeout, you could just about mark down what he was going to do. He would throw a 98 mph fastball right past the batter for the first strike. Then he would throw another 98 mph fastball. Usually, the hitter would begin to catch up to it and foul it away for the second strike. Then he’d throw his strikeout pitch. He’d throw a 75 mph changeup. Of course the batter would swing and miss. The difference in speeds would almost make his strikeout pitch unhittable. No batter in the league wanted to be down two strikes to John Smoltz. It was a terrible position to be in. In our passage tonight, Amos reports three interactive visions he has with the Lord. Each vision begins the same way. God shows him something. Then the differences in the visions come out. In the first two visions, God threatens judgment on His people, Israel. In each case, immediately after seeing what God could do in judgment, Amos interceded on behalf of Israel. And in each case, God responded to Amos’ intercession by staying His hand of affliction. That wasn’t the case the third time. Instead of interceding for Israel, God now asks Amos to be a witness to His standard, their sinfulness and the devastating affliction He was going to bring on them. Israel missed each opportunity God gave them. Each time Amos interceded, God held off on afflicting them. Finally, He had enough—He afflicted them with almost complete destruction. God is faithful to respond to the intercessory prayers of His people. But only up to a certain point. We don’t know when that point is, but when it is reached, He will no longer offer gracious and merciful opportunities to repent. And when that happens, He offers His final opportunity for repentance—He afflicts. In a sense, God offers repentance to His people like a baseball pitcher offers runs to a batter. He throws the ball across the plate in order that the batter might hit it. But if the batter misses the first two pitches—look out. Here comes the strike-out pitch. The analogy isn’t perfect because it breaks down on one point. In a baseball game, the pitcher doesn’t want you to hit the ball. But God wants you to repent. So He sends His pitches right down the middle of the plate. He sets them up so anyone can hit them. So anyone can turn to Him in repentance. All we have to do is swing. But when we don’t swing on the first two, His strike-out pitch is devastating. As we sit here tonight, I don’t want any of us to strike out. I want each of us to make the swing of repentance on the first pitch God gives us. And if you fail to hit the first pitch, I want you to hit the second one. Don’t wait for God’s strikeout pitch. In order to keep from striking out we’re going to do a little scouting report tonight. Anytime a big-league hitter is going to face a pitcher, he scouts him. He looks at the kinds of pitches he throws. So we’re going to do a scouting report on God tonight. We’re going to look at three pitches God uses to bring His people to repentance. The first pitch He uses is a fastball of grace. Look with me at Amos’ first vision in verses 1-3:
God’s first pitch is a fastball of grace. As I said, each of these visions starts the same way. They start with God showing Amos something. He shows him the possible affliction He’s going to bring on Israel. Understand that these were prophetic visions—they were prophetic in the sense that they hadn’t happened yet—at least in the way we look at things. God was giving Amos a glimpse into the possible future. God looks at the past, present and future differently than we do. That’s one of the reasons we have such a hard time understanding things like God’s foreknowledge and things like predestination. You see, we can’t help but look at things from a perspective of space and time. That’s what kind of creatures we are and that’s how we look at things. We have no other frame of reference to go by. But God is outside of time and space. As a matter of fact, He created time and space, so He is certainly not limited by them. So, from Amos’ perspective, the prophesies he receives from God are dealing with the way things could be or will be. But from God’s perspective, those prophesies are dealing with the way things are. Getting a handle on that helps us to understand how God can at one point in time threaten to bring affliction on His people and then at a later point in time relent. And have both actions stated in the past tense as if they’ve already happened. So, the bottom line is, don’t get wrapped around the axle about the whole idea of God repenting. For one thing, the word “repent” here isn’t like we use the word “repent”. It doesn’t carry the idea of repenting from sin. Instead, it carries the idea of relenting. “I was going to do something, but now I’m relenting from that decision.” It’s actually closer to the idea of God changing His mind than it is to our concept of repentance. But that doesn’t quite cut it either. Because God never changes—anything, including His mind. The only way we can hope to understand it is to say that God is using the language of time and space to try to describe an event that happened in His eternal counsel—outside of time and space. Verse 3, and later on in verse 6, are examples of trying to use finite words to describe an infinite God to finite brains. So God allowed Amos to step out of time and space for a moment and showed him a vision of locusts. And it wasn’t very pretty was it? If you think taxes are high now, you should have seen them then. How it would work is this way. Israel had two crop harvests. 100% of the first harvest would go to the king. The people could keep the harvest from the latter growth. But in this first vision, God sent locust to consume their crops as soon as the latter growth began to appear. So, basically that meant that as they were finishing up all the food they had left over in their pantries, they didn’t have anything to replace it with. It meant they would slowly, painfully starve to death. Well, Amos couldn’t bear the thought of that. So he interceded in prayer on their behalf. He with God that He would forgive them. Amos had been telling Israel all the things they had done to offend God. He had told them of their sins. But they had refused to ask forgiveness and repent. Well, Amos knew he couldn’t repent for them. But he could beg God to forgive them. Will God forgive if there is no evidence of repentance? No, but He will extend His grace. And that’s what He did here. Even though Israel showed no signs of repenting. Even though they refused to heed any of the warnings God had given them. Even though they wouldn’t seek God’s forgiveness themselves, God still extended His grace to them. Why? Because one man prayed. One man interceded on their behalf. Amos asked God to forgive them. He wouldn’t forgive them because they hadn’t repented. But He did extend His grace. He lobbed the fastball of grace over the plate in order that they would make contact and repent. But they refused. It wasn’t like they swung and missed. God’s fastball of grace is such that if you swing, you hit it. And when you hit it—when you take advantage of His grace—you turn to Him in repentance. But Israel let God’s fastball of grace go by without swinging. Strike one. So, God delivered His second pitch—the fastball of mercy. Look with me at Amos’ second vision in verses 4-6: