Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lesson 5: The Controversy Continues

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Rebellion and Redemption

Lesson 5: The Controversy Continues

In this short essay it is not possible to do justice to all the people in the Old Testament mentioned in this lesson—David, Goliath, Bathsheba, Elijah, Hezekiah, Esther, and Nehemiah. All faced events in their lives that involved them in controversy—we've often read their stories. However, there is one that is synonymous with a message that will be prominent in these last days of earth's history, a message that will "lighten the earth with glory"—the Elijah message. Therefore, we will focus on the prophet Elijah in this edition of "Sabbath School Today."
Our lesson for Monday says that Elijah "has to be one of the most colorful characters in Scripture." However, much more than a "character" acting out a part in a play, Elijah is the "Next Great Event on God's Calendar." [1]
The prospect intrigues thoughtful people worldwide. Elijah was the man who single-handedly confronted apostate Ahab and wicked Queen Jezebel during gross apostasy in Baal worship (talk about controversy!). When the nation's rulers tried to kill him he had to hide in an unknown spot by the Brook Cherith, and later as a guest of a widow in the heathen land of Sidon.
Elijah is not dead—he was translated without seeing death, a type of those living today who will welcome Jesus at His second coming in glory. God's great promise is given in Malachi 4:5, 6: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, ..."
But why hasn't God's promise been fulfilled? Or has it, and we haven't known it? What is Elijah going to do when he comes? He must be someone special, for he was chosen to accompany the resurrected Moses to visit with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17) and encourage Him as He faced the horror of His cross.
Where Elijah is in the universe no one knows. If God has already kept His promise and sent Elijah, and we haven't known it, has there been some modern "Ahab" and "Jezebel" who opposed his coming and tried to slay him again, or at least silence him? Is Elijah II being forced to hide in some modern "Brook Cherith" or as a guest of some foreign "widow of Zarephath" who is outside "Israel"?
When Ahab and Jezebel tried to kill him and Elijah found refuge in Sidon, Jesus cited that fact to the acute embarrassment and anger of the true church of that day. What made them angry were Jesus' words: "'I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon [a pagan land]. ...' All those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath ..." (Luke 4:25, 26, 28).
Could it be that God has had to entrust the modern "Elijah" with believers outside our ranks? Could our sin be as great as that of God's people anciently? Does modern Israel hate Elijah II as much as ancient Israel hated Elijah I?
Jesus promises, "I will come again," and we believe it; that's why we are Seventh-day Adventists. We must believe His promise of sending us Elijah too! It's the next great event on His calendar.
Actually, what the Lord wants to tell the world is good news, and Elijah's message is good news. He encourages our children. He wants a New Covenant motivation to replace our time-honored Old Covenant one.
Elijah's work and message will be found in the unique remnant church truth of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. That raises the question: has our neglect of that truth (as a people) forced "Elijah's" message to take refuge with what we call "outsiders" like the "widow of Zarephath"? We know that most of God's true people are still in "Babylon." We too easily forget that the three angels' messages of Revelation 14 are primarily directed to the Sunday-keeping churches, where most of God's people are to be found.
Something called "Baal worship." We are inclined to think the people were ignorant to confuse such an apparently clumsy counterfeit as Baal for Him who is the true God. But it was extremely sophisticated and subtle. Don't kid yourself into thinking you are too smart to be misled. Almost everybody got swept in, the elite included.
Who was Baal? Is there such a thing as Baal-worship today that presents a challenge to us as it did to ancient Israel? Ellen G. White has some serious insights. It's a time of crisis in the Lord's work:
"Infidelity has been making its inroads into our ranks; for it is the fashion to depart from Christ, and give place to skepticism. With many the cry of the heart has been, 'We will not have this Man to reign over us.' [Luke 19:14] Baal, Baal, is the choice. The religion of many among us will be the religion of apostate Israel, because they love their own way, and forsake the way of the Lord. The true religion, the only religion of the Bible, that teaches forgiveness only through the merits of a crucified and risen Saviour, that advocates righteousness by the faith of the Son of God, has been slighted, spoken against, ridiculed, and rejected" [2]
The date gives this startling statement its true context: Ellen White says that the 1888 message of Christ's righteousness was "in a great degree" rejected by "our own brethren," and "kept away from the world":
"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 [Revelation 18:1-4] was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world" [3]
A simple definition of Baal-worship, both ancient and contemporary, is this: the worship of self disguised as the worship of Christ. It's the assimilation of the thinking of "nations" around us in modern "Babylon." The only remedy for it: the crucifixion of self "with Christ," but that becomes possible only as we understand what happened on the cross.
On Mount Carmel, Elijah taunts the Baal preachers, demands that they demonstrate before the crowd the lie that their imported Baal worship is, and he prays a prayer that gives us a clue to what the modern "Elijah" will do when he comes again: "Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again" (1 Kings 18:37).
Did you catch it? "Turning hearts" is Elijah's main concern, and that will be his work for the church and for the world when he comes just before the return of Jesus. And we know that turning alienated hearts in atonement (at-one-ment) is something only the message of Christ's cross can accomplish. Therefore it follows that Elijah's message will be lifting up "Christ and Him crucified." Jesus says something parallel to sending Elijah,
"'Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.' This He said, signifying by what death He would die" (John 12:31-33).
God honored the faith of the honest Jews of Christ's day and sent them "Elijah" in fulfillment of Malachi's promise because they sincerely expected that the coming of their Messiah would be "the great and dreadful day of the Lord." Even the disciples wondered "who" and "where" their "Elijah" was. Jesus told them not to look in their future; he had already come in the person of John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11-14).
But John's day was not "the great and dreadful day of the Lord." That day is now. Therefore we may expect "Elijah" to come as a message in the same way that John's message was the fulfillment of Malachi's promise.
Is there Biblical evidence that Elijah understood and preached the grace of God, that is, righteousness by faith? Was he stern, hard, lacking compassion? We know this:
1. God sent him (1 Kings 17; 18), and "God is love" (1 John 4:8).
2. His message was preeminently reconciliation of alienated hearts in home and national life (Mal. 4:5, 6). That took "grace unlimited."
3. His prayer on Mount Carmel was calm, simple, heart-felt, and gracious.
4. The people's "heart" was "turned ... back again" (1 Kings 18:37).
5. What did it was God's acceptance of the blood sacrifice that clearly prefigured Christ's sacrifice on His cross (vs. 33). It's not too much to say: Elijah preached to the nation a great sermon on the cross that day.
6. The people responded, believed, humbled their hearts before this divine revelation of the abounding grace and forgiveness of God. But the priests of Baal hardened their hearts against it; in hopeless rejection, they would crucify Christ a thousand times over. This demonstration was in miniature the judgment at the end of the millennium (Rev. 20:11-15). To execute the priests of Baal was the people's choice, their unanimous will. It was clear: their sin was the unpardonable one.
7. The fruit of Elijah's ministry? Genuine reformation and revival. And God translated him! (2 Kings 2:11). Pretty good evidence of grace.
It will be the best Good News the world or the church has ever heard. His message will be the "third angel's message in verity," which will be a clearer concept of "the everlasting gospel" understood since Pentecost's message. Even Ellen Harmon failed to grasp it until after the Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844. When she was in her 60s she eagerly welcomed a message brought by two young men, A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner, to the General Conference Session in 1888 that was a more clear understanding of justification by faith, the beginning of the Loud Cry of Revelation 18.
Now, in our time, cooperate with "Elijah" in this grand work of telling the world this "heart-turning" message! You'll meet him some day; you'll be happy to have worked with him.
From the Writings of Robert J. Wieland
[1] The title of an article written by Robert J. Wieland, "The Next Great Event on God's Calendar—The Coming of Elijah the Prophet: Who? And How?"
[2] Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 467, 468; 1890.
[3] Ellen G. White, Letter to Uriah Smith, Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 234, 235; 1896.