Monday, April 20, 2015

A Refined People

My Sunday School lesson for April 19 ...

Back in 1990, Iben Browning received notoriety for his erroneous prediction that a major earthquake would occur on the New Madrid Fault around December 2 and 3, 1990.

His prediction freaked a lot of people out. I remember having earthquake drills specifically for this prediction.

Of course, no earthquakes occurred.

The Jehovah's Witness cult is popular for their specific dates for the end of the world and Jesus' return, especially in 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975.

The book The World's Worst Predictions lists some of history's all-time prophetic goofs:

--- King George II said in 1773 that the American colonies had little stomach for revolution.

--- An official of the White Star Line, speaking of the firm's newly built flagship, the Titanic, launched in 1912, declared that the ship was unsinkable.

--- In 1939 The New York Times said the problem of TV was that people had to glue their eyes to a screen, and that the average American wouldn't have time for it.

--- An English astronomy professor said in the early 19th century that air travel at high speed would be impossible because passengers would suffocate.

Prophecy is hard. And false prophecy is punished harshly.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** After two weeks in Luke to talk about the resurrection, we’re back to study the minor prophet Zechariah.

*** Zechariah was a priest, a member of the Great Synagogue, a council of 120 originated by Nehemiah and presided over by Ezra. Zechariah was born in Babylon and was part of the group of 50,000 exiles who first returned to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. when the Persians allowed it.

*** Zechariah chapters 1-8 were written about 520 B.C., while chapters 9-14 are thought to come from later, about 480-470 B.C.

--- Up til now, Zechariah prophesied about the coming Messiah. Today Zechariah reveals the Lord’s cleansing and restoration. No matter what the Israelites have done, God is still a God of forgiveness if the people will go to Him.

THE FOUNTAIN THAT CLEANSES (ZECH. 13:1-6)

1 “On that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the residents of Jerusalem, to wash away sin and impurity.” 2 “On that day”—this is the declaration of the Lord of Hosts—“I will erase the names of the idols from the land, and they will no longer be remembered. I will remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land.” 3 “If a man still prophesies, his father and his mother who bore him will say to him: You cannot remain alive because you have spoken falsely in the name of Yahweh. When he prophesies, his father and his mother who bore him will pierce him through.” 4 “On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies; they will not put on a hairy cloak in order to deceive.” 5 “He will say: I am not a prophet; I work the land, for a man purchased me as a servant since my youth.” 6 “If someone asks him: What are these wounds on your chest?—then he will answer: I received the wounds in the house of my friends.”

*** “On that day.”

--- Used 20 times in Zechariah. Chapter 13, verses 1, 2 and 4 all begin with that phrase, and it indicates the fullness of God’s judgment of the world and the final salvation of His people.

--- God has in mind a wonderful day coming for Israel. Zechariah calls it the cleansing of Israel, for the wealthy and the everyday people alike. In chapter 13 and verse 1 he says, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness."

--- Wednesday night in 180, Daniel talked about Jesus as the living water, pouring ourselves out and filling up with the Spirit. He then played the Casting Crowns song “The Well”. My favorite part is near the end, when the lead singer sings "Leave it all behind," and the woman sings these lines between:

Your pursuit of perfection
Your fear of rejection
Your temporary pleasures
All of your earthly treasures
Dried up empty religion
Rusty chains of addiction
All that guilt that weighs you down

--- The picture of a cleansing fountain indicates forgiveness of sin and impurity. Ultimately we find that abundance of forgiveness in Jesus and his blood shed on the cross, as he said in John 7:37–39 - 37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

*** What are the two sins singled out to be cleansed?

--- False idols and prophets did a lot of harm to the Hebrews. They seemed to fall for it hook line and sinker over and over again.

--- The Bible provides us with several instances of false prophets who misled the Israelites. The people too often loved to hear the lies promised by the false prophets (see Jer. 5:31).

For example, during the days of King Ahab and his pagan wife Jezebel, the queen hired 850 false prophets—450 devoted to the male god Baal, and 400 devoted to the female deity Asherah [uh SHEE ruh] (1 Kings 18:19). These and other false prophets were ultimately discredited and dealt with severely (1 Kings 18:40).

*** “On that day,” the false prophets will shrink into the background and try to hide his shady past.

--- “Oh no, I didn’t say that. I’m just a farmer. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”

--- These pagan prophets would even lacerate themselves to gain favor with their false gods. But in the day of cleansing they'll have to pretend that they ran into a wall at a friend's house or something else.

*** QUESTION - The major sins of the Hebrew people were the worship of false idols and following false prophets. There was also an unclean spirit that dwelt in the land. Are these issues of concern today?

THE STRIKE THAT FREES (ZECH. 13:7)

7 “Sword, awake against My shepherd, against the man who is My associate”—this is the declaration of the Lord of Hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will also turn My hand against the little ones.”

*** God strikes His own chosen Shepherd.

--- Jesus called it:

Matthew 26:31-33 – 31 Then Jesus said to them, “Tonight all of you will run away because of Me, for it is written:
I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.
32 But after I have been resurrected, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”
33 Peter told Him, “Even if everyone runs away because of You, I will never run away!”

(Peter, of course, denied Christ three times and then went into hiding.)

--- Jesus used Zechariah’s prophecy to refer to what would happen to Him and predict the disciples’ reaction.

--- Zechariah gave no clear identification of the little ones against whom the Lord would also turn His hand. Since “the sheep” is a reference to Jesus’ disciples, the phrase “little ones” probably foreshadows the early converts to Christianity who also faced trials and persecutions for their faith.

THE FIRE THAT REFINES (ZECH. 13:8-9)

8 “In the whole land”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“two-thirds will be cut off and die, but a third will be left in it.” 9 “I will put this third through the fire; I will refine them as silver is refined and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say: ‘They are My people, and they will say: Yahweh is our God.’”

*** I've got good news and bad news. I’ll give you the bad news first.

*** "Two-thirds will be cut off and die."

--- The judgment sifts the true believers from the untrue.

--- It’s hard to nail this down. Could it refer to Greek or Roman conquest, or Nazi gas chambers? Anyone’s guess. Or, this is still a future event of the Great Tribulation, God’s divine judgment on sin at the end of time.

--- To gain a sense of the scale of this destruction, compare it to the pandemic bubonic plague that struck Europe in the mid-1300s. That massive outbreak of disease was responsible for about 20 million deaths, one-third of Europe’s population at that time.

- In the 1800s Memphis had six outbreaks of yellow fever. The 1878 outbreak was so bad that 30,000 Memphians fled the city (that was half the population), and of the 19,000 left, 17,000 caught the fever and 5,150 of those died. Twelve Catholic nuns, 9 priests, 4 Episcopalian nuns and 10 Protestant ministers died. Survivors had to face the city's bankruptcy and the loss of its charter. It wasn't until 1900 that it was figured out that yellow fever was brought on by evil mosquitoes. Memphis began to recover quickly after 1878. Its artesian water supply was discovered and turned into one of the purest water supplies in the nation in the 1880s. Its charter was restored. Its sanitation and sewer systems became models for other cities. Between 1900 and 1950, Memphis almost quadrupled from 102,350 to 396,000 residents.

*** QUESTION - Why do you suppose there are so many in the two-thirds group?

Jesus was honest about the prospects of saving the majority of the world:

Matthew 7:13-14 - 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Ask yourself, which road do you tend to walk on?

*** The good news: Out of this judgment emerges the true people of God.

--- God uses the fire of adversity to purify us like silver (“as silver is refined”); God uses the fire of adversity to prove us like gold (“test them as gold is tested”).

--- The process of refining silver means that the metal is crushed, melted to nearly 1,800 degrees, cleaned of impurities, heated again (over and over) and removed of impurities until the refiner looks into the pot and sees his reflection.

*** QUESTION - What tools does God use to refine believers? What factors impact how a person interprets God’s use of those tools?

TAKE AWAY POINTS

Think of your favorite shirt that is stained, or those work pants you only use when you are working in the yard.

What would you recommend to remove the stain and clean the clothing?

Why is the stain of sin so resistant to cleansing that it requires God to do such a radical act of sacrificing His Son?

What are some long-lasting effects of sin?

*** The message of God through Zechariah is a message of hope, forgiveness, grace, and refinement for His people.

*** No matter how far you wander from Him, no matter how great your sin is, and no matter how much you have followed other gods, His message today is the same message He gave through the prophet.

*** But don’t be surprised when the fires of refinement come your way. It is the forging of your faith. It is God shaping, cleaning, and testing you in order to strengthen your relationship with Him.

*** Peter said it this way: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

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