Monday, April 15, 2013

"A Holy and Just God (Joel)"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Major Lessons From Minor Prophets
Lesson 3: "A Holy and Just God (Joel)"

Our Seventh-day Adventist world church is experiencing a "revival and reformation" in seeking a preparation of heart for the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus Christ. Sincere people are pressing their petitions upon God's "throne of grace" (Heb. 4:16). It is increasingly being recognized that the last-days' developments are taking place before our eyes.
There is a promise in the little book of Joel that has been in effect since almost the beginning of time: "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered [saved]." The Lord goes on to promise that "deliverance" shall be "in the remnant whom the Lord shall call" (Joel 2:32). That's the gospel invitation, speaking of these dangerous last days when people's hearts are "failing them for fear."
As the Book of Joel opens, the prophet, relaying the "word of the Lord" that came to him, warns of terrible judgments, and he tries to wake the people up (1:5). His call to the "priests" and "ministers" is to "sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord" (1:14).
Why fasting? You long to understand what God is trying to say to you. So you pray; but is that enough? Joel helps understand the reason for fasting. In Joel 2:12 God says, "Turn ... to Me with all your heart, and with fasting." In other words, genuine rock-bottom sincerity is what the Lord wants to see, and you can't blame Him. You yourself are disgusted when people talk to you insincerely. When you pray, the Lord has a right to ask, "Do you really mean business or are you just playing?" It makes sense for Him to ask, "Are you in earnest enough to go to the next stage, 'fasting'?"
It was in times of great emergency that Israel would not only pray for "help," but fast. In our modern era, we must not forget that we are living in the great antitypical, cosmic Day of Atonement, anciently, the one day in the year when God asked Israel to fast (Lev. 23:27). We can't fast all the time, of course, but we can live humbly in the presence of the Lord, in self-denial, and not feast while fellow humans as dear to Christ as we are, starve.
One of the most beautiful verses in Joel for us, as Seventh-day Adventists, is in chapter 2: "Be glad ... and rejoice in the Lord your God: ... He will cause to come down for you the rain, ... the latter rain" (vs. 23). But some people are perplexed: what exactly is the "latter rain"?
The story of the "former rain" (see Joel 2:23) will help explain what is the "latter rain." It was at Pentecost that God's true people (those who believed in Christ) received the outpouring of God's true Holy Spirit. Now, after two millennia, we expect the gift of the Holy Spirit to be given again as the complement of the "former" blessing.
The "former rain" was the light of truth that was given as a gift--it was the perception of the truth that God's professed people had rejected, murdered, and crucified the Lord of glory. That blessing was not a loud noise so much as it was bright light: Peter proclaimed that those people present there had crucified the Messiah, the Son of God. "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart" (Acts 2:36, 37).
The "latter rain" is the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It will empower God's people to be His witnesses in the last conflict of the ages. Although the "former rain" at Pentecost was glorious, we are told that the final outpouring will be far greater in scope. Ellen G. White identified the 1888 message as "showers of the latter rain from heaven" (Special Testimonies, Series A, No. 6, p. 19). This is the message "The Lord in His great mercy sent" as "the beginning" of the loud cry message of Revelation 18:1-4 (Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 91-93).
It was God's plan that the 1888 message of Christ's righteousness should go both to the church and to the world (ibid.; Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 234, 235). Revival, reformation, and repentance are essential to the church before the light of the fourth angel can shine clearly to the world at large. Therefore a message of much more abounding grace, which Ellen White declared to be the "beginning" of the latter rain must, in the providence of God, be brought to the church first. Such work is the purest soul-winning evangelism.
Rather than an old covenant message that is self-centered, the 1888 message revealed a new and higher motivation--a concern for the honor and vindication of Christ, as a bride feels for her husband. It transcends her own selfish desires. Faith is revealed as a heart-appreciation of the great love revealed at the cross, irrespective of our desire for reward or fear of hell. All self-centered motivation is transcended. No motivation possible can lead His people to overcome selfishness and sin except a concern for the honor and the integrity of His throne. But this motivation is all-powerful. It is New Testament faith!
The latter rain will therefore be a gift of the Holy Spirit that will bring the true and ultimate conviction of sin that only He can bring to human hearts: the guilt of the crucifixion of Christ is our sin. But that is a truth that we don't comprehend clearly, as yet. According to Zechariah 12:10-13:1, when God's people do grasp that reality, there will come the greatest repentance of the ages. It will become the "final" experience of reconciliation with Christ. This will make possible a movement, a second "Pentecost," a message to be proclaimed worldwide that will "lighten the earth with glory," and prepare a people for Christ's return.
The latter rain will be a clearer revelation of the gospel of righteousness by faith than we have yet discerned. The meaning of the Hebrew phrase in Joel 2:23 ["the early rain moderately"] is "a teacher of righteousness," linking the latter rain to the message of righteousness by faith.
The righteousness which our High Priest ministers to us from the second apartment of the heavenly sanctuary goes beyond a legal pardon for our sins. If it's merely a matter of adjusting our record of sin in the books of heaven, then we haven't advanced beyond the first apartment ministry and followed Christ into the most holy, and it will set us back centuries with the Evangelicals who have the "reformation gospel."
Rather, righteousness by faith since 1844 from the second apartment is seeing God's pardon of the sinner accomplished at the cross; and then "being justified by faith" (Rom. 5:1). "We have now received the atonement" (Rom. 5:11). It's a heart that has been captivated by God's divine agape which now motivates faith which is obedient to all the commandments of God.
Here is the key truth that is almost totally overlooked today--the initial showers of the latter rain were manifested in the "most precious message" of righteousness by faith which the Lord sent to this people in 1888. Further showers of the latter rain must necessarily include a recovery of that message, because Heaven's intent can never be defeated.
The second coming of Christ is the ultimate validation of the Seventh-day Adventist message. Our very name expresses our confidence in His soon coming. If Christ should never return, we have had no reason to exist as a people, and our 150 plus years of history are a delusion. As Paul says, we would then be "of all men most miserable" (1 Cor. 15:19). And even if His coming is certain, but is to be delayed for many decades or even centuries, we still have no reason to exist, for we have said repeatedly that His coming is near, because he has said so. Not our honor, but His is at stake.

--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland
(Compiled by Carol A. Kawamoto)
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