When I was a senior in high school I went to my Father to try to negotiate a later curfew. At that time my curfew was earlier than that of all my friends and so I went with that as my one argument. I had made an assumption that this would be an easy win, he would hear how everyone else stayed out later and that he would quickly relent giving me the same curfew that they had. I sat down, made my argument and his response was, “I am not concerned about what anyone else’s curfew is, they are not my responsibility, you are and I believe that your curfew is what it should be.” At the time his response and the reasoning behind it was frustrating, it seemed unfair, too rigid and unfair (at 17 you use that word a lot when you don’t get your way). Now that I am a father I have come realize that my Dad was not being overly protective of me, he was being faithful to his responsibility of being my Father. He set a standard for my brother and I. He set it by the way he and my Mother lived their lives, he set it by the way he treated us and others, he set it by the way he served God and he set it by the expectations and boundaries he set for us. What I called unfair at the time I am grateful for today and I look forward to the days when my boys will also be grateful for all the things that they consider unfair now.
God has set a standard for His people. Israel was led by the Law of Moses. It was much more than a book of rules and standards but it was a recording of the heart, mind and truth of God. The Law was not merely a list of do’s and don’t but it was a standard of heart and of living, it was a revelation of the goodness of God and the expectation to walk in that goodness to such a degree that Israel would become priests, doling out the same goodness to all of those around them. In the time of the book of Amos, Israel and Judah had fallen far from the standard that God had set for them. The interesting thing about this time is that they continued to fulfill their religious duties, but in the exact same instance had moved far from the spirit, goodness and heart of God. God spoke through the prophet Amos and declared that judgment was being sent to the nations of Israel and Judah because they had not responded to God’s calls for repentance, they had chosen to become like all the other nations around them and they had chosen to become oppressors of the poor for their own gain. In chapter 7, verse 8 God says, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore.” A plumb line is a simple tool used to determine whether or not something is perfectly vertical, upright. God declares that He is bringing Israel back to the standard that He had set for them but they had abandoned, no longer would He give them room for their own interpretation of what was fair, right or just, He would now hold the standard and He would do whatever was necessary to bring them back to it.
Jesus said that He did not come to condemn the Law but to fulfill it. He was not simply a man coming to live by an already existing standard, He was God, coming as a man to show us an even greater standard than had ever been known before. Jesus came and did not merely do the right things, He lived in righteousness. He did not merely keep the Law, He lived by the spirit of it. He did not merely obey His Father’s Words, He followed His Father’s heart. Jesus came not to show us the way, He came to become the Way. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” He is now our standard. If it sounds like a large task to be like Jesus, it is, but not a task for you to find a way to fulfill. Not only have we been given the command, “Be holy as I am holy”, but we have also been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to live in us, dwell in us and lead, guide, direct, remind and empower us. Paul wrote, “The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in you.” We have not been given a behavioral code to follow, we have been given the God of the Law to lead us, if we will choose to be willing and obedient followers.
I believe that there is a very important prerequisite to becoming a good follower, you have to trust the one leading the way. David wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” David’s words are a declaration that He trusts God, but he is also declaring that he is willing to be a sheep, to be dependent and to trust the path that God will lead Him on. Without trust in the leader we make our own path, we set our own standard and we become willing to abandon that which we don’t understand or consider fair. This is where Israel missed the mark in Amos’ day and where many of us are missing it today. We can not truly accept the standard of someone that we do not know intimately. Going back to my high school curfew (should I mention that the curfew did NOT change when I was in college), I honestly did not like the time I had to be home, but I can say I trusted my father. I knew that he was setting a standard that he believed was right, was best for me and would keep me safe while also fulfilling his responsibility to guide me. I also knew that there was a price for breaking the standard, but, in all truth, I did not keep curfew out of fear of consequence nearly as much as I did out of trust in my Dad’s love.
I have often thought of Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane the night he was betrayed and arrested. Many of us are very familiar with them, Jesus prayed with passion, Luke says that he prayed with such emotion that he actually sweat drops of blood and that angels were sent to minister to him. He prayed His desire, He asked, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” He was not afraid to bear His heart to His Father, but His next words show the extent of their relationship, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” Jesus’ prayer is not nearly as much about God’s will as it is about His trust in God’s love. Earlier in the same night Jesus had told His disciples, “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” Jesus was confident of this one thing, His Father loved Him. Every step, every sermon, every miracle, every rebuke and every word of grace, they were all directed by one thing, He was sure that His Father loved Him. Jesus was willing and able to fulfill the standard of the Law and then set a new standard of His love because He was unwaveringly sure that He was loved by His Father. This is the step that leads to fulfilling a standard, being sure of the love of the one who has set the standard in the first place.
Again, going back to Jesus’ night of being arrested, He told His disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” God is still holding a plumb line up for His people, He is still setting a standard and leading us to fulfill it, that standard is Jesus and His love. Jesus does not command us to do our best, to do what we think is right or to do as much as those around us are doing. He has given us a new commandment, a new way and a new opportunity, to love as He has loved, to trust as He has trusted, and to obey as He has obeyed. The standard is not to push you down so that you see how low you have fallen, it is to lift you up, to bring safety, guidance, love and trust, to propel you to being what you could not be without His Spirit and guidance. There is still a plumb line, it is still in the hands of God and today it is not to bring you to judgment but that we would all believe in God’s love and come to understand that God has chosen to live by His own truth, “mercy triumphs over judgment.”
One last thought as I close. I am writing this on my Dad’s birthday. I grew up not always understanding the rules, ways and standards of my household, but I grew up never wondering whether or not my Dad loved me, loved God and loved my Mom. There are so many things I fought against back then that I am grateful for today, so many lessons that he probably thought were going unlearned, but I learned them, so many words that he thought were unheard, but I heard them. I am so grateful today for my Dad, for the standard he set and lived by and for his love that gave me the ability to follow his example, knowing that he would never harm me, never desert me and never lie to me. I love you Dad, thank you for holding up a plumb line, even when I wanted to be anything but upright.