*December 22 - 28
I CAN IMAGINE when Christ said to the little band around Him, 'Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel,' Peter said, 'Lord do you really mean we are to go back to Jerusalem and preach the gospel to those who murdered you?' 'Yes,' said Christ, 'go, hunt up the man that spat in my face, tell him that he may have a seat in my kingdom. Yes, Peter, go find that man that made the cruel crown of thorns and placed it on my brow, and tell him that I have a crown ready for him when he comes into my kingdom, and there will be no thorns in it. Hunt up that man that took a reed and brought it down over the cruel thorns, driving them into my brow, and tell him I will put a scepter in his hand."Dwight L. Moody, adapted.
This week, as we study God's promises of restoration, see how Moody's scenario of Christ exemplifies the God we serve.
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE: What images of the new earth are presented in Scripture? In what ways was the return of the Jews from exile symbolic of the new earth? Why is the hope of this final restoration so crucial to what we believe? Does the world, in and of itself, offer anything that hints to this final restoration, or must we take it on faith? What did Christ accomplish on the cross that gave everyone (even those implicated in His death) the possibility to live in the new earth forever?
MEMORY TEXT: "The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isaiah 35:10).
*(Please study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 29.)
Sunday December 23
"In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old" (Amos 9:11).
Someone once asked famous evangelist Billy Graham if he were an optimist or a pessimist. "I'm an optimist," he answered. "I've read the last page of the Bible."
He ought to be. And we, too. And it's not just the last page of the Bible, either, that should give us reasons to rejoice in our God, to trust in His promises, and to be optimistic about the future. In various places, both Testaments, in poetry and prose and in songs and letters, present wonderful promises of a new existence, a restored earth where all things become righteous, holy and true because all things unrighteous, unholy, and untrue will no longer or ever again be.
Look up these texts and write down the details each one gives regarding what the ultimate future holds for God's faithful:
Isa. 25:8 ___________________________________________________________________________
Isa. 65:25 __________________________________________________________________________
Mark 12:25 ________________________________________________________________________
1 Cor. 15:52-55 _____________________________________________________________________
Col. 1:5 ____________________________________________________________________________
2 Pet. 3:13 _________________________________________________________________________
Rev. 21:4 __________________________________________________________________________
Rev. 21:1-7 ________________________________________________________________________
Rev. 22:1-5 ___________________________________________________________________
|Using the above verses (and any others you can think of), write a few paragraphs describing what we can piece together about our future reward. Contrast this existence with the fate of the lost. Can you think of anything an this life so worthwhile that it's worth losing eternity over? If so, share it with the class (no doubt, everyone would be interested in hearing what it is).|
"After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up" (Acts 15:16).
The immediate context of the last verses in Amos (Amos 9:11-15) deals basically with God's promise, given in numerous other places in the Hebrew Bible, that though the Hebrew nation would go into captivity because of disobedience, God would restore them to their land.
Yet, it doesn't end there. Centuries after Amos wrote, Acts 15 has James quoting Amos 9:11. The scene was an early church-council dealing with a crucial issue in the newly formed Christian church.
Read carefully Acts 15. Look at the context of James's use of Amos. What is he talking about? Reading Amos 9, particularly verses 11 and 12, can you see that they mean more than just a restoration of the Jews back to their land? How does James use those verses? What message is he giving?
"When there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:7-9).
Amos was predicting, not just the return of the Jews to the land, but the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, a work that began with the early church and which will culminate in the final proclamation "to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (Rev. 14:6)a work that we as a church have been called to engage in.
God plans to ultimately restore the world, cleanse it from sin, and recreate it into what He had originally planned for it, only better. Yet He isn't going to do that until everyone, somehow, has an opportunity to hear the wonderful news that their sins have been paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ and that through faith in Him a place is waiting for them in this newly restored world. Think about what it means that we, as a church, have a crucial role to play in that proclamation.
|Read John 14:2, 3. Think about what it means that Jesus is preparing a place for you personally. How do you understand what that means? How should that impact your relationship to Him now?|
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the trader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt" (Amos 9:13).
Again, though the immediate context is the idea of a repentant Israel brought back to the land after years of captivity, the symbolic message is of the final hope of all humankind, the great redemption that God wrought for us through Christ on the cross (Rom. 8:23; Eph. 1:14; Heb. 9:12).
In verse 13, Amos tells of the day when the plowman will catch up with the reaper and the trader of grapes with him that soweth the seed. In this scenario, the harvest is so abundant, so rich, so plentiful and fruitful that it cannot be gathered in before the next round of sowing. In other words, the one who plows the field will come across the one who is still reaping the harvest because it is so big. And though, of course, the language is figurative, the point is that through Christ we have the promise of something so wonderful we can't even begin to imagine it. "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (1 Cor. 2:9).
Why would the Bible use the return of the Jews from exile as a symbol of ultimate redemption at the end of the age? What was it about that return that could make it a type or a symbol (however faint) of the final deliverance of God's people? See also Revelation 18:1-4. On the lines below, list a few parallels:
|The promise of a whole new existence is the final end of all our hopes as followers of Christ. Anything short of that is insufficient. Review in your mind just what Christ did on the cross that makes this promise of eternity certain as long as you, despite your faults and shortcomings, remain in a saving relationship with Him.|
"I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them" (Amos 9:14).
Look at the beauty of these sentiments, the wonderful idyllic scene they present. What an incredible conclusion to what has been almost nothing but word after word, line after line, verse after verse, and chapter after chapter of warnings about sin, apostasy, idolatry, oppression, perversion, and punishment. Little of what preceded this end gave hint that it could lead to this [conclusion]. Only divine intervention could bring about such a finale, only someone inspired by the Spirit could have dared predict such a possible outcome. Indeed, left to themselves, the Israelite nation would have vanished long ago, along with the Edomites, the Moabites, and the Jebusites and other people who disappeared on the dust heap of history.
In the same way, when we look at the world around us, there's little if anything within it itself that would give us hope for the future. Only the most blind optimist after the twentieth century could still hope for some sort of man-made utopia, especially when all previous attempts to make a utopia created, instead, nothing but hellish totalitarian systems that never lived up to their promises but, in fact, contradicted them in almost every point.
And, even if mankind could build a better, or even a good world, scientists predict that, eventually, the sun will blow up; such an event, of course, would leave the race, and whatever utopia it managed to create, with nothing to look forward to.
Fortunately, God's Word promises us such an unlikely ending that, given all that precedes it, only a powerful, loving God could bring it aboutand He will, because He has promised, and He has sealed that promise with, literally, His own blood.
In Thus Spake Zarathustra, German Frederich Nietzsche has his character, Zarathustra, say to his followers: "I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes!" As Christians, in contrast, our only real hope is "otherworldly," in that the final point of our faith isn't in a better world but a brand new one so unlike what we have now it might as well be "otherworldly." Though, of course, we have to live now in this world, with its daily toils and struggleswhat can we do to keep this final "otherworldly" hope always before us in a way that will give us strength to press ahead in a world that offers little hope and encouragement now?
"And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God" (Amos 9:15).
The last verse of Amos deals with the immediate context of the promise of restoration after captivity. And though it presents a beautiful and hopeful promise, that promise was conditional, even if that conditionality is not specifically stated here (see, for instance, Jer. 18:7-10). Though Israel had, indeed, been brought back to the land, they were, centuries later, plucked up from the land the Lord had given them. All of which proves the point that the type, the symbol, only faintly represents the ultimate truth that it teaches, for in the new heavens and the new earth that God createswe, certainly, will never again be pulled up from what God has given us.
Read Daniel 7:14 and Daniel 7:27. What do these verses say about the nature of the kingdom that God will ultimately restore?
There's no question, thanks to Christ and what He accomplished on the cross, that God will establish His everlasting kingdom. There's no conditionality, no equivocation, no question on this issue: It will come. Christ's death guarantees that.
Instead, the only variable, the only conditionality in the formula, is ourselves, our will, our choices. Will we be there, part of this unconditional and eternal kingdom, or do we face a death just as eternal and unconditional?
How trivial all other questions seem before this one.
The great news, however, is that Jesus, on Calvary, died that eternal death for us (Heb. 2:9) so that we can have a part in His eternal kingdom. What He did at the Cross was unconditional, universal, and all-sufficient; it was for all humankind, everyone, no exceptions, and it sufficed to cover all our sins. No one was left out, no one was overlooked, no one was skipped, even those who hung Him on the cross. His death encompassed all humanity (Rom. 5:15-19), evenand maybe especiallythe worst among us. This is the essence of the Cross of Christianity, of all that we believe as Christians.
What remains, then, is the human factor: How do we respond to what God has, unconditionally, accomplished for us? Do we accept it, or do we reject it? Through the word of Amos, as through all God's prophets, from Moses to Ellen White, canonical and noncanonical, the message is the same: "Seek Me and live."
FURTHER STUDY: Study the following passages to gain an understanding of what other Bible writers have to contribute to our understanding of the events associated with the day of the Lord: Isa. 25:9; Zeph. 1:14, 18; Mal. 4:5; Matt. 16:27; 25:32; 1 Thess. 4:16, 17; 2 Pet.3:10-13.
"Soon I heard the voice of God, which shook the heavens and the earth. There was a mighty earthquake. Buildings were shaken down on every side. I then heard a triumphant shout of victory, loud, musical, and clear. I looked upon the company, who, a short time before, were in such distress and bondage. Their captivity was turned. A glorious light shone upon them. How beautiful they then looked! All marks of care and weariness were gone, and health and beauty were seen in every countenance. Their enemies, the heathen around them, fell like dead men; they could not endure the light that shone upon the delivered, holy ones. This light and glory remained upon them, until Jesus was seen in the clouds of heaven, and the faithful, tried company were changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, from glory to glory. And the graves were opened, and the saints came forth, clothed with immortality, crying, 'Victory over death and the grave'; and together with the living saints they were caught up to meet their Lord in the air."Early Writings, pp. 272, 273.
Daniel Banu lay on the ground. Pain tore at his leg, which lay at an odd angle. He knew it was broken.
The Banu family had left their home in Romania and come to Spain in search of a better future. Daniel found work as a builder. The pay was not high, but they could live on it as long as nothing unexpected happened. Then, two weeks later, Daniel fell from the second floor of the building on which he was working and suffered a compound fracture of his leg.
At the hospital, a surgeon put a metal plate in his leg. When Banu awoke, his wife stood tearfully beside him. "Where was your angel when you fell?" she asked. He answered that if his angel had not been there, the fall might have killed him; but God saved him.
Daniel returned home to recuperate. Without his income, the family faced a serious crisis. Then Daniel noticed that the wound looked infected. The doctor ordered antibiotics, but the infection spread through his body. Doctors feared he might not live.
Daniel's wife worked an hour a day as a housekeeper when someone could stay with Daniel. This was the family's only income. She went to buy Daniel's medicine but did not have enough money to pay for it. She returned home crying. But the couple claimed God's promise in Psalm 46:1, "God is our help in trouble." They prayed that God would not let them down. When three different people, virtual strangers, offered them money, their faith was strengthened. Another organization paid their rent for six months and provided food.
The doctor advised surgery to remove the metal plate to save Daniel's life, but the family could not afford the surgery. The doctor said, "If you believe in prayer, you'd better pray. Only God can save you now." The couple refused to give up hope that God would heal Daniel. As they prayed, their faith grew stronger.
Slowly the infection subsided. After several months Daniel's leg healed without surgery. When he was out of danger the doctor told him that he thought Daniel would not live. "Only God saved you," he confided. "I could not."
Six months after the accident, Daniel returned to work. "God has brought us closer together and closer to Himself," Daniel testifies. "When the earthly doors are closed, we still found that God's heavenly windows are wide open."
Daniel Banu is a builder. He and his family live in a suburb of Madrid, Spain. Charlotte Ishkanian is editor of Mission.
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