*December 15- 21
Vision FiveNo Escape for the Lost
IN SHAKESPEARE'S HAMLET, young Hamlet sneaks into the king's bedroom with the intent of avenging his father, whom the king had murdered. Approaching the king, who was on his knees prayingHamlet suddenly changes his mind, thinking that he doesn't want to kill a man when he's praying and thus is "fit and seasoned for his passage to heaven." "A villain kills my father," Hamlet muses, "and for that I, his sole son, do this same villain send to heaven"?
Whatever Shakespeare's theological inadequacies (not to mention his lack of knowledge regarding the state of the dead), the bigger point here isrevenge. All of us, at times, like Hamlet, have harbored feelings of revenge, because all of us, at times, have been unjustly treated or have seen or known of great and terrible acts of injustice that have gone unpunished.
As you read this week's lesson, however, realize that in the end God sees and knows all things, including (maybe even especially) those terrible acts that have not yet been answered for and that, in the end, we have to trust Him and His perfect justice for what we, or any human system, can never do.
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE: Does God tolerate sin, or is He merely patient with it? What comfort, if any, can we draw from the promise that the Lord will, in the end, execute final judgment? What happened at the Cross that can spare us the punishment that we deserve for our sins?
MEMORY TEXT: "Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you?" Amos 5:18.
*(Please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 22.)
Sunday December 16
"I saw the Lord standing upon the altar: and he said, Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: and cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword: he that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered" (Amos 9:1).
The Lord is standing at the altar. Which altar? Though commentators aren't in total agreement, more than likely, it's the one at Bethel, where the Israelites centered their idolatrous worship. Whichever altar, however, one thing is sure: God's righteous judgment is about to fall on an unrighteous people.
What point does the Lord seem to be making in Amos 9:1?
One truth that comes through while reading the Bible is that God does not, in any way, tolerate sin. How could a perfectly righteous and holy God tolerate it, or even accept it? He, of course, does neither.
InsteadGod is patient with sin. That's a crucial distinction. Patience is not the same as toleration or acceptance. On the contrary. Ultimately, God will utterly obliterate sin from the universe forever. His problem, however, is how to get rid of sin without getting rid of those who have committed it. Here is where the Cross comes in, for at Calvary God was able to punish sin without punishing the sinner.
What happened at the Cross that will enable God to, ultimately, destroy sin but not sinners?
Unfortunately, not every sinner will be saved from his or her sins. The situation in Amos hints at this sad but stark reality. In the end, every sin will be punished; the crucial question is, Who ultimately faces that punishment? Through the Cross, God made a way for us to escape that punishment ourselves, but only if we accept it. If not, punishment will fall upon us. This is what's happening here in Amos, at least on a small scale. Despite repeated attempts to turn sinners away from their sin, they have chosen to remain in that sin. Thus, in the end, when sin is destroyed, they will be, as well.
|Read Matthew 25:41. What does Jesus tell us here about whom final punishment had originally been created for? Was it for humans? If not, what does that tell us about God's desire for us to be saved?|
"Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down" (Amos 9:2).
However frightening these words, in one sense they should also bring relief, because they reflect a crucial idea: In the end, justice will be doneGod's justice. Thus, however much iniquity abounds, however much injustice we see now, those who perpetrate it will, if not now, one day have to answer for it. This promise should give us hope and comfort, particularly those who have suffered under the hands of oppressors who seem not to have faced any consequences for their deeds.
What do the following verses all have in common?
Ps. 37:10 ___________________________________________________________________________
Ps. 37:38 ___________________________________________________________________________
Luke 13:28 _________________________________________________________________________
Heb. 10:30 _________________________________________________________________________
Rev. 20:13-15 _________________________________________________________________
Our God is a God of justice; justice may seem delayed, at least to us, but that's only because we are so limited in our understanding of how God is working through all the issues in the great controversy. For now, though there is much we don't understand, we need to daily surrender ourselves to the Lord, who has given us so many reasons to trust Him in the things that now appear so hard to comprehend. No doubt, too, the more we dwell on what we do understand, the more we concentrate on what is clear, we will better be able to endure and trust Him in the things that, for the moment, seem so unfair and unjust.
|Hector's family had suffered great persecution for their faith Often he thought about revenge. Only after he, himself, made a total surrender to Christ did those feelings start to dissipate. In fact, over time, he even found himself starting to pray for those who had treated his family so badly, even praying that they would be spared the judgment that God would eventually bring upon them because of their sins. Why must we learn to leave the final judgment to God?|
"The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry" (Ps. 34:15).
Isaac Newton, as a young man, formulated one of the most basic laws of motion: "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." In other words, no matter how hard you push your hand against the ground, the ground is pushing back against your hand just as hard.
This principle, in a sense, applies to the spiritual realm as well. Amos 9:1-4 shows that the wicked cannot escape the judgments of God; that no matter where they go, the Lord, who is all-knowing and all-seeing, will find them.
Yet this works in the reverse, as well, like Newton's law. God knows us, knows our particular situation, knows our pains, our sorrows, our fears. If those who want to hide from the Lord can't, how much more can those who seek Him, His help, His promises, and His assurances be sure that the Lord, though we can't see Him, sees us in our trials?
Look up these verses. What promises are contained in them? Ask yourself how you can, even now claim them as your own and, even more importantly, how you can live your life as if you really believe them?
Matt. 18:20 _________________________________________________________________________
Matt. 28:20 _________________________________________________________________________
Rom. 8:38, 39 ___________________________________________________________________
Some of the most amazing stories about faith have been told by Richard Wurmbrand, who suffered many years in prisons. Wurmbrand recounted, for instance, how even in prison many Christians would tithe. "When we were given one slice of bread a week and dirty soup every day, we decided that we would faithfully 'tithe' even then. Every tenth week we took the slice of bread and gave it to the weaker brethren as our 'tithe' to the Master."Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured For Christ (Diane Books, 1967), p. 45. Only those who believe that God was with them, even there in these terrible circumstances, could do such things for their Master.
|What can we do, even now, even before great trials come, that could help make these promises the foundation of our Christian life?|
This section begins with a statement about "the Lord God of hosts" and concludes with "the Lord is His name." What special attributes of God are emphasized in these verses?
God is independent in will and power (see Ps. 115:3)omnipotent. He not only rules the hosts of the heavenly bodies but is the rightful Ruler of all created beings. He has all authority in heaven and earth and is the One "who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him" (1 Pet. 3:22). These verses clearly depict His might, majesty, and power, which will be revealed in a stunning, awesome manner at the time of the judgment of Israel.
What vivid imagery demonstrates what happens when God's power "touches" the land and the sea? Amos 9:5, 6.
God's fire melts the land as wax before the fire (see Mic. 1:3, 4). Along with the other natural catastrophes used to destroy the earth at the Second Coming, there may be many active volcanoes spewing forth magma from the interior of the earth. In some ways, these verses could represent, at least symbolically, what happens when Christ returns.
Notice, too, the interesting contrast in verses 5 and 6 of Amos 9. Verse 5 talks about the Lord melting the earth, making it rise up like a flood; yet, verse 6 talks about His creative power, His putting His layers in the sky and His strata upon the earth. In one part He's seen as the Builder, in other the Destroyer.
What a contrast for the same Being!
In many ways, this contrast fits with God's role as depicted in Scripture. Though we like to view God as the Creator, that's not His only role. God is both Creator and Destroyer.
The crucial point is to understand just what it is that God creates, and what it is that God destroys. Insight into this gives us great insight into just what our God is like.
Look up these verses. What do they tell us about what God creates and what God destroys? Gen. 6:13; Ps. 51:10; Rom. 6:6; 2 Cor. 5:17; 2 Thess. 1:8, 9; Rev. 21:5. By looking at what God creates and destroys, we can learn something about the character of God. What do these verses tell us, and how can we relate this to our own understanding of God?
"For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth" (Amos 9:9).
During one of the religious wars in Europe, a general about to besiege a village asked the king how his troops would be able to distinguish between those who were on their side and those who were the enemy's. The king replied, "Kill them allGod will sort them out in the judgment."
However cavalier and brash those words, there is some truth there. "The Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Tim. 2:19), so that even during this time of crisis as depicted in Amos, God will distinguish between those who are faithful and those who aren't.
What did the Lord mean when he said that "not the smallest grain shall fall to the ground" (NKJV) during this sifting time?
In the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:25-30), Jesus made it clear that both "the good and the bad" would grow together and that only in the final harvest would they be separated, and that would be His work alone. What the Lord seems to be saying in this parable is, simply, Don't judge others; leave that to Me.
List some texts that give the same message about not judging:
Of course, one could argue that these verses could have been cited to tell Amos to keep his mouth shut and mind his own business. After all, who was he to judge these people so harshly?
Though we are told not to judge others and that God is the final judge, are there circumstances where, as a church body, we need to make some judgments regarding the actions of individuals within the church? How do we respond when situations like these arise? What is the difference between judging a person's actions and judging that person himself or herself? How do we make this crucial distinction?
FURTHER STUDY: Study the following to learn what one question will be raised in the final judgment: "When the nations are gathered before Him, there will be but two classes, and their eternal destiny will be determined by what they have done or have neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and the suffering.
"In that day Christ does not present before men the great work He has done for them in giving His life for their redemption. He presents the faithful work they have done for Him. To those whom He sets upon His right hand He will say, 'Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.' But those whom Christ commends know not that they have been ministering unto Him. To their perplexed inquiries He answers, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."The Desire of Ages, p. 637.
Maria Antonieta de las Muhecas
A sense of relief swept over Celedonio as he lay on the narrow sandbar. For the moment, at least, he was safe. He thanked God for saving his life and asked God to forgive him for all his wrong deeds. He felt utterly unworthy of God's forgiveness, but he prayed, "God, Your will be done. But if You save my life, I will follow You."
Celedonio realized that the sandbar could disappear any moment under the rising water. He slipped into the water and let the current carry him along as he swam toward the shore. He could feel his strength ebbing. Just as he thought he could go no farther, his foot touched the river bottom.
Celedonio returned home to his family, determined to keep his promise to God. He learned about a Bible class being offered by Adventists and decided to attend. The Bible studies thrilled him. He accepted the truths of God and was baptized. As his wife saw the difference Christ made in Celedonio's life, she joined him. With his family united in God, Celedonio answered God's call to preach the gospel.
The family moved to a small town where no Adventists lived. They visited their neighbors and talked about Christ. But their efforts met with rejection. In time discouragement threatened to overwhelm Celedonio. He asked the local church headquarters for help. With a promise that someone would come to help him, Celedonio returned to his work with new courage. He continued visiting and praying, and a few people began to show an interest. One man, after listening to Celedonio explain God's claim on human hearts, closed his liquor store and converted it into a meeting house for believers.
Encouraged, Celedonio announced evangelistic meetings. But the promised evangelist did not arrive, and Celedonio prepared to hold the meetings himself
Late that day a lone woman walked into town. Someone pointed her to the former tavern where Celedonio was preparing for the meeting. She was Maria, the promised Bible worker. She gave Bible studies to 24 people. Of these, 17 have been baptized. Celedonio built a mud brick house that serves as a church for the new believers in the little village in Bolivia where God has called him to work.
When people ask him when he decided to become a pastor, he tells them it was during a long swim across a swift river.
Celedonio Flores Yujra is a lay pastor in Bolivia. Maria Antonieta de las Muñecas is a Global Mission worker in Portachuela, Bolivia.
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