Growing up in a pastor's house, maybe we came up with some unusual games. I remember "playing church" with my sisters when I was 6 or 7 years old.
They would all line up with their "babies" on the steps from our basement, and I'd stand at the bottom preaching. I'd love to have a recording to hear what kind of things I was saying.
Apparently, they weren't all that fascinating, because it never took too long before all my sisters felt the need to take their babies out into their imaginary "mother's room."
And I'd find myself preaching to an empty church. For some reason, I don't think that our going through those religious looking actions was doing a whole lot of good. We were playing church.
Sadly, too many people haven't grown out of that. That's God's beef with the people of Israel in our text. He tells them that they are just going through the motions, just doing those religious-looking things without their hearts in it.
In fact, he tells them that while they are outwardly worshipping, he knows their hearts are only thinking about how much longer they have to go through this, and about all the "more important" things on their minds. They are professing to be God's people, but their hearts aren't in it and their lives aren't showing it.
Does that sound familiar? In fact, that's one of the biggest reasons I hear people give me for why they don't want to be a part of a church - too many people just going through the motions. What about you?
I'm sure you've found yourself letting the opportunity to be growing in God's word take a back seat to a whole bunch of things. I'm sure there's been a time when you've done something for tradition, or appearance's sake, instead of from the heart.
Look at what God says about those sins: "The Lord has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: 'I will never forget anything they have done'" (Amos 8:7).
He won't forget about this sin of thinking or acting like anything is more important than he. It will be paid for - to the very last drop of blood that each sin demands. The Lord will not forget it until it is completely reconciled.
That is God's Law. But wait, look at that verse again, do you see the gospel in there?
"The Lord has sworn by the Pride of Jacob." What a spectacular oath. This is the Lord - "the faithful to his promises of free and faithful love" God. That name itself would be enough to be the gospel that overshadows all of God's terrifying and condemning law.
But there is even more. Look at what the Lord is swearing by - the pride of Jacob, real literally - the exalted, the lifted up thing of Jacob. Think about that for a minute. What does that mean?
Jacob was not exalted because of his honor and dignity (He deceived his blind dad by dressing in goatskins). He wasn't something to swear by because of his morality (just ask one of his two wives or two concubines he played off against each other, or one of his murdering, deceiving, brother-selling kids he couldn't control). What was it that made Jacob special?
One thing - God's promise. God promised this man without a home an entire nation. He gave this deceiver the truth that could not be broken. He brought through his sin-stained bloodline the one pure and holy child ever born: Jesus.
The exalted thing about Jacob, the pride of Jacob was God's promise, and Jacob held him to it. Remember how Jacob was the one who wrestled with God in prayer and wouldn't let him go until he kept his promises. So the Lord swears he will not ignore our sins, and as he does, with those very words, he reminds us that he didn't. He dealt with them, by keeping his promise to Jacob and to us.
He punished the descendant of Jacob, God's own son, Jesus. Every stinging memory of every rebellion of those people of Israel all the way down to you and me, every breaking of the first commandment - was all punished in Jesus.
And he died, because God could not forget the guilt of those sins. And then he rose, because God could not forget his promises, to put our sins out of his mind since now, they are paid for. So we don't have to play church.
We get to be the church - God's workers here for his glory. So let's praise God that he makes it possible by never forgetting his promises. Let's hold him to them.