Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lesson 9: "The Day of the Lord (Zephaniah)"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Major Lessons From Minor Prophets
Lesson 9: "The Day of the Lord (Zephaniah)"

If you knew that God's Judgment Day was about appreciating "the unparalleled love of Christ," [1] would that change its aspect of terror into good news? This is exactly what the Lord is trying to say to His remnant people in the last days through "a most precious message" which began in 1888.
The theme of the book of Zephaniah is "the day of the Lord." This day involves two aspects:judgment and restoration. The purging judgment will bring the hope of a worldwide remnant.
The reason why God announced judgment day upon His ancient church was that the leaders were chiefly responsible for the ills of society. The government, the judicial system, and the religious leaders were all corrupt and perverse. "Woe to her that is filthy and polluted, ... Her princes ... are roaring lions; her judges are ... wolves. ... Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary" (Zeph. 3:1-4).
Quoting Zephaniah 1:15, 16, Ellen White writes, God "calls upon his people to arouse from their spiritual lethargy and to seek his face with repentance and humiliation." [2] But they sit "it out, fat and lazy, amusing themselves and taking it easy" (Zeph. 1:12The Message, Peterson). They don't feel threatened by God's judgment at all.
They demonstrate pride and arrogance. "This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me" (Zeph. 2:15). Pride of institutional staying power and rapid statistical growth may not be the measure of success for God's people. "It is not wise to open up more fields than can be thoroughly worked." Because there has been "selfishness from the first" in "the hearts of the laborers. ... jealousies, evil surmisings, envyings have built up barriers between you and God, making it impossible for the Lord to do His work. ..." [3]
The great problem with the ancient church was with its teachers, preachers, and scholars. "The prophets are irresponsible and treacherous; the priests defile what is sacred, and twist the law of God to their own advantage" (Zeph. 3:4, Good News Bible). The spirit of prophecy has alerted us that "every variety of error will be brought out in the mysterious working of Satan, which would, if it were possible, deceive the very elect, and turn them from the truth. There will be human wisdom to meet,--the wisdom of learned men, who, as were the Pharisees, are teachers of the law of God, but do not obey the law themselves." [4]
There is just such human wisdom to meet in theories of righteousness by faith which disparage the law of God. In other words, there are "gospels" being taught and proclaimed which are anti-law.
Any gospel which teaches that eternal life is offered to all, but it doesn't do you any good until you believe and have a saving relationship with Jesus, makes faith a human work which initiates personal salvation. The appeal is to individual repentance because there is a heaven to win and a hell to shun. The motivation is to save your own individual soul. But there is no self-interest in God's law of love. If one can be saved in their selfishness, such a gospel is anti-law.
To the degree that this view of righteousness by faith, and variations of it, have infiltrated our thinking through our educational institutions, print media, administrative policies, and evangelistic agencies, the investigative judgment ministry of our High Priest seeks to reveal them to us in order to purify His people.
The only authentic righteousness by faith is the sanctuary gospel. What Christ accomplished on His cross is an effective, life-saving reversal of the condemnation brought upon the human race by the first Adam. Christ has actually given the "acquittal and life" to every one (Rom. 5:18, The Revised English Bible). His sacrificial divine love melts the human heart in repentance for sin so that faith appreciates what it cost the dear Son of God to die the sinner's second death. She receives the atonement which God gives (Rom. 5:11). This means that faith works by love and is obedient to all the commandments of God. [5] This gospel is in harmony with God's law. It is "the truth of the gospel" revealed from the sanctuary.
In an article entitled "The Laodicean Church," Ellen White makes application of the book of Zephaniah to modern Israel. "Those who work in the fear of God to rid the church ofhindrances, and to correct grievous wrongs, that the people of God may see the necessity of abhorring sin, and that they may prosper in purity, and the name of God be glorified, will ever meet with resisting influences from the unconsecrated. Zephaniah describes the true state of this class, and the terrible judgments that will come upon them." [6]
While the message to the Laodicean Church is given, there will be two opposite "confessions of sin:" one genuine and the other spurious: "Confessions of sin made at the right time to relieve the people of God will be accepted of him. But there are those among us who will make confessions, as did Achan, too late to save themselves. ... They despise the straight testimony that reaches the heart, and they would rejoice to see every one silenced that gives reproof." [7]
The dreaded "investigative judgment" is precious good news; the books of heaven are merely faithful reflections of our hearts; their "cleansing" in the sanctuary can not be done until first our hearts down here are cleansed. The Lord will do it, if we will stop hindering Him!
Someone has been starving us of our God-given spiritual nutrition if fear dominates our thinking about a pre-Advent judgment, because John says that "perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment" (1 John 4:18, NKJV). If the fear is still there, then a true understanding of the gospel is absent! It would be impossible for such fear to grip our youth in this 21st century if "we" had accepted "the most precious message" in the 1888 era and since. A special idea, agape (love), is the basic idea of the message, and it's that agapethat "casts out fear."
It will be a long-awaited union of hearts--Christ and His people--His church. The union will be as close as that of a bride with her husband (Rev. 19:7, 8). The pre-Advent judgment that so terrifies many becomes like the joy of a wedding! "Let us be glad and rejoice" is the heart cry of those who open their hearts to the "most precious" message of much more abounding grace. It's what the Holy Spirit has been seeking to impress on our hearts all these many, many decades!
But please remember, this is not "cheap grace." Such more abounding grace motivates the believer to unending devotion, total obedience to God's law (not from fear, but from joy), total heart-reconciliation with Him. Let's stop resisting His grace!
--Paul E. Penno
[1] The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1076.
[2] Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 311.
[3] "What Might Have Been Accomplished If Selfishness Had Been Eradicated." Manuscript Releases, Vol. 11, pp. 80-81. Letter 3, 1892 (Ellen G. White to W. D. Curtis, Jan. 16, 1892.)
[4] Ellen G. White, "Erroneous Doctrines Dangerous," Signs of the Times, March 27, 1884.
[5] Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 91, 92.
[6] Ellen G. White, "The Laodicean Church," Review and Herald, September 23, 1873.
[7] Ibid.
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