Monday, April 22, 2013

"Lord of All Nations (Amos)"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Major Lessons From Minor Prophets
Lesson 4: "Lord of All Nations (Amos)"
In many respects Amos is a sad book to read. The reality of ancient Baal and idol worship was the worship of sex. "Everyone and his brother sleeps with the 'sacred whore'--a sacrilege against my Holy Name" (Amos 2:7, Peterson*). It was gross paganism imported into the sacred culture of Israel, God's true people on earth. It became so pervasive that eventually the nation was swallowed up by pagan nations and ceased to exist.
Why study Amos? Because the love of God inspired him to leave his home in the Southern Kingdom and go up to Israel as a missionary to try to turn them back to the worship of the true God (but only a few of the people responded to his earnest appeals to repent). The story of ancient Israel is uncannily similar to the professed religious culture in which we all live today. As you read Amos, you get the eerie feeling that he is God's messenger for our time.
Why, oh why, were God's true people, so unloving, so worldly, so apostate in the days of Amos? Why did they so often slide down into the alluring sexual immorality of the pagans? Through Amos God told Israel how in love He had afflicted them over and over, yet they "did not come back to Me." His discipline was virtually useless (4:8-11).
This painfully sad history was the direct fruitage of the old covenant pattern of thinking about God. It all began at Mt. Sinai when the people themselves rejected God's new covenant and embraced the "bondage" of the old covenant (Ex. 19:4-8; Gal. 4:24). Amos is "present truth." Those "ten tribes" were lost to history; it's healthy for "us" to ponder and tremble before God! Isn't it time that we learned the lesson?
The church of Laodicea is "lukewarm," unconscious of a vast poverty of Spirit in this hour of crisis (Rev. 3:14-21). Should we not learn lessons from history?
The prophet Amos pleaded with king and people to repent of their flagrant injustice, luxury, extravagance, and gross licentiousness--moral corruption flaunted in the face of God while the nation stood at the very brink of irredeemable disaster. Said Amos, "They hate him that rebuketh in the gate, and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly" (Amos 5:10). The priests tried to expel Amos from the nation (7:10). But he hung on and told them, "I'll tear down the winter palace, smash the summer palace--all your fancy buildings. The luxury homes will be demolished, all those pretentious houses" (3:15, Peterson). "Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land" (7:17). "Time's up, O Israel! Prepare to meet your God" (4:12, Peterson). That's the promised Elijah message. [1]
As in John the Baptist's fulfillment of the Elijah message, so the message that comes "before the great and dreadful day of the Lord" will "make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). It appears that "the third angel's message in verity" (Rev. 14:1-12) and the "Elijah message" are the same: repentance permeating the "body of Christ."
The great Protestant Reformation of justification by faith has prepared untold numbers of precious souls to come up in the "first resurrection" (see Rev. 20:6). They can be happy in the kingdom of God forever. Now we've come to the time when the Holy Spirit will reveal a clearer understanding of truth that prepares people for translation at the second coming of Jesus (see 1 Thess. 4:16, 17)--something to do with the "Elijah message." This means even deeper, clearer understandings of justification and righteousness by faith.
Such "turning hearts" is what the word "atonement" means; here is God's prophecy of the greatest ministry of heart-reconciliation the world has ever known since the days of Jesus. Elijah's message is the solemn call of the great antitypical Day of Atonement that closes the work of Christ as the world's High Priest. It's the "Loud Cry" of the angel of Revelation 18.
But the one heart that most needs "turning" is that of the Heroine in the drama of Revelation 19:7, 8--the alienated "Bride-to-be" of the Lamb, whose "marriage" has been long delayed due to her heart coldness toward Him. It's a world church that hasn't yet learned to recognize her own identity, to see herself as she appears pathetically on the stage of the universe.
The scholars and leaders of such a world church have long debated how the heart of such a massive corporate "body" can be "turned" and melted in personal but also corporate contrition. Let's not be unbelieving; unbelief here becomes the sin of the ages. "Elijah" will do what seems impossible.
Everything comes together: the "Elijah message" is that of the great "other angel" of Revelation 18:1-4; it's the final "everlasting gospel" of 14:6-15; it's the powerful repetition of "the fall of Babylon" of verse 8; it's the "witness" of the Lord Jesus [the 1888 message] [2] to "the angel of the church of the Laodiceans," the last of the seven churches of history (3:14-21); it's the call to "be zealous therefore and repent"; it's the appeal of the Disappointed Lover in the Song of Solomon to His Bride-to-be to consummate the long-delayed "marriage of the Lamb" (19:7, 8); and Elijah reconciles her heart to Him! And that means "atonement"--the cosmic Day of Atonement ministry centered in the sanctuary's Most Holy Apartment.
Elijah had no patience with the "prophets of Baal," but he had enormous patience and tenderness for the people. The people were sheep who had been led astray by their shepherds who had been supported from the national treasury. (Anyone who gains his livelihood administered from the sacred tithe should tremble before God.) Elijah's indignation was inspired by the Holy Spirit. It was the "righteous indignation" God expresses in Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 22 and 34 where He says "Woe be unto the pastors," the "shepherds," who are "profane," "who do feed themselves." Self-worship disguised as the worship, the ministry, of Christ! That is the essence of Baal worship. God hates it. "The lion has roared--who isn't frightened? God has spoken--what prophet can keep quiet?" "The fact is, God, the Master, does nothing, without first telling his prophets the whole story" (Amos 3:8, 7, Peterson).
But His heart yearns toward the people who are led astray, especially the youth and the children. "Elijah's" message will heal alienated hearts. Hardness will be melted. Through "the grace of God," not through harsh legalism, buried "roots of bitterness" will be exposed for what they are and a people will realize a precious oneness with Jesus (Zech. 13:1; Heb. 12:15). And, of course therefore, a precious oneness with one another! "Elijah's" message will do for God's people what it did for him--it prepared him for translation. Don't kid yourself: Satan will oppose that message hell-bound. But "the grace of God" will be much more abounding. God's people will respond to their High Priest.
--Paul E. Penno
The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, Eugene H. Peterson.
[1] "In this age, just prior to the second coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven, God calls for men who will prepare a people to stand in the great day of the Lord. ... In these last days the Lord is giving messages to His people, through the instruments he has chosen, and he would have all heed the admonitions and warnings he sends. The message preceding the public ministry of Christ was, Repent, ... Our message is not to be one of peace and safety. As a people who believe in Christ's soon appearing, we have a definite message to bear,--'Prepare to meet thy God'" (Ellen G. White, "In the Spirit and Power of Elias," The Southern Watchman, March 21, 1905).
[2] "The message given us by A. T. Jones, and E. J. Waggoner is the message of God to the Laodicean church, and woe be unto anyone who professes to believe the truth and yet does not reflect to others the God-given rays" (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1052).
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