Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Visions of Hope (Zechariah)"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Major Lessons From Minor Prophets
Lesson 11: "Visions of Hope (Zechariah)"
Zechariah and Haggai were contemporaries in Jerusalem and both were concerned with the rebuilding of the ruined Temple. By Zechariah's first recorded sermon, building was already underway, so his first message concerned the symbolism of the temple services.
Zechariah starts bluntly: "The Lord was very angry with your fathers ..." (Zech. 1:2*). Prophets had always been used by God as the conscience of Israel. When they repeatedly turned away from Him, He patiently sent messengers to remind the people of their special calling. It was largely the failure of previous generations that had culminated in the captivity and destruction of Jerusalem. Unless past failures are remedied, it is inevitable they will be repeated. When our church was given the message of righteousness through faith in Christ, our "fathers" resisted and suppressed it:
"An unwillingness to yield up preconceived opinions, and to accept this truth, lay at the foundation of a large share of the opposition manifested at Minneapolis against the Lord's message through Brethren [E. J.] Waggoner and [A. T.] Jones. By exciting that opposition Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longed to impart to them. The enemy prevented them from obtaining that efficiency which might have been theirs in carrying the truth to the world, as the apostles proclaimed it after the day of Pentecost. The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world." [1]
The confusion continues today. Many are sincerely teaching what they think is the message of righteousness by faith, but they misunderstand it and without realizing, insert Old Covenant concepts of works-based righteousness. Others fear to study it because of mixed messages from church leaders, who, if not openly hostile, are indifferent. Until the church's leadership acknowledges the error so the genuine message can be studied, the church corporately repeats the errors of the fathers in resisting the light that is to lighten the whole earth with glory.
"The sin committed in what took place at Minneapolis remains on the record books of heaven, registered against the names of those who resisted light, and it will remain upon the record until full confession is made ..." [2]
Some have become so frustrated with the church they have pulled away thinking things have deteriorated so much that God can no longer bless the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. There must have been some in Zechariah's Israel who suffered from a version of that. In the dark days at the end of 70 years in exile it would be tempting to wonder if God had abandoned His promises to Israel. But God reassures them in Zechariah 1:3: "Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'Return to Me,' declares the Lord of hosts, 'that I may return to you,' says the Lord of hosts." The repetition of the name "Lord of hosts" reminds Israel that though they were a small group of refugees trying to rebuild their lives, God identifies them with the hosts of the redeemed who have gone before and will come after their time in history. The vision of the four horsemen reassures that even during times of correction, God is still in control of earth's events. The vision of a city without walls is reassurance that God will rebuild a city that needs no protective walls.
The vision of Joshua, the high priest in Jerusalem at the time, is a beautiful image of character transformation, but can be misinterpreted. Notice that this is a courtroom scene with Satan as the accuser. When the first Adam sold out to Satan in the Garden of Eden, the entire human race was destined for destruction, as brands thrown into the fire. Christ reversed that when He became the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4 and Rev. 17:8).
Notice also that the clean garment was given to the High priest, Joshua, not Zechariah. The High priest was a type of Christ, representing the intermediary functions Christ provides between sinners and a holy God. But are we to believe that the garments of the spotless Lamb of God were filthy? It is true, Christ never sinned in any way, but He became sin for us (2 Cor.5:21). By assuming our fallen human nature, He took humanity into Himself and on the cross, obtained the verdict of acquittal for the entire human race.
Many believe the ceremony described in Zechariah 3 depicts individuals receiving their robes, and once received, they are invested with their own intrinsic righteousness, and that entitles them to heaven. Humbling as it is, we will be dependent on the righteousness of Christ for all eternity. Those who accept their total dependency on their position in Christ are covered with Hisgarment of righteousness.
The wickedness of Babylon still existed in the exiles' hearts, as represented by the wicked woman who is confined in a container which is dispatched to Shinar in Babylon. In spite of having the "flying scroll" described in Zechariah 5:2, sent to lighten the earth with the glory of the gospel to all the earth, the people had become indifferent to theft and dishonesty. The justice system (administered by the priests) tacitly encouraged this attitude by doing little to prevent or prosecute offenders.
The scroll's proportions (twice as long as wide) echo those of the sanctuary itself, suggesting the subject of the scroll's message. It was not enough that Israel rebuilt the physical temple. God wanted them to allow Him to dwell in the soul temple by allowing Him to cleanse their hearts. The message of the sanctuary cleansing is an essential part of the 1888 Message. Any church that knows the pure gospel of total dependence on Christ for His righteousness, but mixes old covenant works into their teaching joins ancient Israel's wickedness of theft and dishonesty.
Contented Laodiceans resist change, saying God's purposes know no haste or delay:
"It is the privilege of every Christian, not only to look for, but to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Were all who profess His name bearing fruit to His glory, how quickly the whole world would be sown with the seed of the gospel. Quickly the last harvest would be ripened, and Christ would come to gather the precious grain." [3]
Writing to the church in 1900, the servant of the Lord confirmed our role in the delay of Christ's return:
"Had the purpose of God been carried out by His people in giving to the world the message of mercy, Christ would, ere this, have come to the earth, and the saints would have received their welcome into the city of God." [4]
"We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel; but for Christ's sake, His people should not add sin to sin by charging God with the consequence of their own wrong course of action." [5]
The responsibility of church leadership is so serious that Jesus said, "And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea" (Mark 9:42). May God give us wisdom and gentleness to share this "most precious message."
--Arlene Hill
* Bible texts are from the New American Standard Bible.
Endnotes (Ellen G. White):
[1] Selected Messages, book 1, p. 234, 235.
[2] The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1031; letter to O. A. Olsen, Sept. 1, 1892.
[3] Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, pp. 22, 23; 1904.
[4] Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 450.
[5] Letter 184, 1901; Evangelism, p. 696.
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