Turning Hearts in the End Time
Our lives are lived in stages. Sometimes those stages are going well; sometimes not. Sometimes families are intact and strong; sometimes they are fragile or even shattered.
Whatever the phase, whatever the stage, whatever the condition of ourselves or our family at the moment, we can and must live in the light of God’s promises, clinging to them with all our heart and soul and might because, in the end, they are our only hope. But what a great hope they are. The Word of God exudes promises, promises that, whatever stage our life or our family is in, we can claim for ourselves, our loved ones, our family, and our church.
In this, the final week of the quarter, we are going to look at some Bible stories, promises, and experiences from a variety of contexts. As we do, we will seek to draw lessons for ourselves today, whatever our context happens to be. For, most likely, whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever the phase of your life, you have struggles, fears, worries. Fortunately, we worship a God who not only knows what we face but who is, we can be sure, ahead of them all, as well.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, June 29.
In the days of Malachi, God’s appeal to the nation, “ ‘Return to Me, and I will return to you,’ ” met with the arrogant response, “ ‘ “In what way shall we return?” ’ ” (Mal. 3:7, NKJV). The frustrated prophet announced that one further opportunity for revival would be given. Recalling the heart-turning reform begun by Elijah (1 Kings 18:37), Malachi predicted his coming again to “ ‘turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers’ ” (Mal. 4:6, NKJV).
A Jewish tradition developed that Elijah would appear personally as the herald of the Messiah (compare Matt. 17:10, Mark 6:15). However, the New Testament presents John the Baptist as a fulfillment of the prophecy (Matt. 11:14, 15; Luke 1:17).
Several applications are possible for this phrase: It refers to the reconciliation of the people of Israel with the Lord. God as Father (Isa. 63:16) has turned from His wrath toward His children (Mic. 7:18, 19) and calls them to return to Him (Isa. 44:22, Mal. 3:7). It refers to the reconnecting of later generations with their faithful ancestors through covenant renewal. The prophetic call for God’s people to follow the faith of the patriarchs was given repeatedly in the Old Testament. Whether the land continued as a blessed dwelling place was directly related to covenant faithfulness (Deut. 4:29–31). It refers to the restoration and renewal of family relationships. Parent-child relationships are a practical expression of covenant faithfulness with God. Here, too, fulfillment of responsibilities to parents and children are interwoven with continued inheritance of the land and God’s blessing (Prov. 2:21).
The introduction of Baal worship into Israel by Jezebel, the Sidonian wife of King Ahab, hastened the nation’s downward moral slide. The teachings of God that uplifted marriage, family, and sexuality were overshadowed by such practices as incest, prostitution, and other sexual perversions. Into this arena of conflict over worship stepped Elijah, whose very name, “Jehovah is my God,” rebuked Baal.
Elijah was a marked man after announcing the curse of drought upon the land. God sheltered him in an unlikely place—at a poor widow’s dwelling in Zarephath of Sidon, near Jezebel’s hometown. Elijah greeted the widow with a grim test: to use her last bits of kindling, oil, and flour to feed him and to trust God for her future. Her faith became legendary. Jesus Himself would later commend her (Luke 4:26). As her oil and meal stretched out over many days, the woman came to understand more about Jehovah. Then, tragically, her only son fell sick and died. In expressing her grief to Elijah, she reflected the familiar religion around her, the perverted beliefs that now engulfed Israel, in which one’s sin could require child sacrifice (1 Kings 17:18; compare Jer. 19:5, Mic. 6:7).
The mother’s response reveals the effect of the Elijah message. Faith in God and His Word arises in the heart as, by His power, life is restored and the family is reunited. Many today may give assent as doctrines are preached but are lukewarm in their spiritual experience. However, when the truths of God’s Word are experienced personally and revival and restoration occur in home relationships, conviction comes ever so much more powerfully upon the heart.
On Mount Carmel, Elijah longed for covenant renewal on the part of his nation, a turning back to the faith of their fathers that would bring healing to their lives, their homes, and their land.
The hour of the evening sacrifice. After the heathen priests’ failure with their sacrifice, Elijah took his turn. He was deliberate. The time of day drew attention to God’s redemptive plan revealed in the sanctuary service (compare Exod. 29:41). The invitation “ ‘Come near to me’ ” (1 Kings 18:30, NKJV) reminds us of the Savior welcoming sinners (compare Matt. 11:28). Parents who are pained at the waywardness of a child can be assured that God loves him or her as truly as He loved the Israelites. God works unceasingly to draw wayward ones to Him.
Elijah’s focus on Jehovah’s altar finds its equivalent in our time when Jesus and His saving grace are uplifted in families. Family worship is an opportunity to talk to Him in prayer, to speak of Him to one another, to receive anew His free gift of salvation, and to give our hearts time to reflect on His teachings.
The response Elijah requested would signal that God had taken them back to Himself. 1 Kings 18:37 says that “ ‘this people may know . . . You have turned their hearts back to You again’ ” (NKJV). We cannot turn our hearts to God; we can respond only to His grace, and that He freely gives.
The all-consuming fire fell, not upon the guilty but upon the sacrifice, pointing forward to Jesus, who was made “sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21, NKJV). Confession and praise burst from the people’s lips. Because they did not respond to God’s call, the false priests were executed. Then refreshing rains ended the curse upon the land.
Alongside Gabriel’s prediction (Luke 1:17) and Jesus’ confirmation of him as the predicted Elijah (Matt. 11:14; 17:12, 13), the Gospel writers affirm that John the Baptist was the “messenger” who would prepare the way of the Lord (Matt. 11:10, Mark 1:2, Luke 7:27; compare Mal. 3:1).
Like a farmer who plows hard ground to prepare it to receive seed, John denounced sin and urged sinners to repent. Human nature is such that, without self-examination, without an awareness of one’s true condition, no need is felt for something better. His message turned people toward the holiness of God’s requirements and their need of His perfect righteousness. Genuine repentance is always marked by humility and looking to God for help to change one’s behavior. By exposing the shallow, self-centered hypocrisy of those who claimed Abraham as their father, he sought to open the deeper meaning of the faith of their fathers.
John had been shown that Jesus was the Lamb of God. When he introduced Jesus this way (John 1:29, 36), he literally turned people to the Lord. Andrew and another of John’s disciples, John, the Gospel writer who wrote the account of that day, left the Baptist’s side and became Jesus’ disciples. Not only does the Elijah message point to the need for repentance; it identifies the One who saves from sin, generates excitement about Him, and introduces people to Him.
In a sense, we as Adventists see ourselves in the role of John the Baptist. The herald of reform and repentance sought to prepare the way for the first coming of Jesus; we, as a movement, see ourselves doing the same for the Second Coming.
Our heavenly Father has turned the hearts of His children back to Himself and has turned the hearts of His children to each other through the Cross of Christ. The Elijah message pleads with families to believe this incredible good news (2 Cor. 5:18–21; compare Eph. 2:11–18) and to be people filled with grace as His Spirit yields a harvest of love in them.
The world needs desperately a demonstration of unselfish, caring, lasting commitment—and unswerving devotion to God. By God’s grace Christian families can provide such a demonstration. Yet, we must remember that the message we have for the world also is for ourselves. Until the principles of gospel, unity, love, and self-sacrifice are made manifest among us, especially in our own families, we will be powerless to share this message with others. All the eloquent sermons, all the logic and biblical presentations, aren’t enough: The world needs to see manifest in our lives, especially in our family lives, the repentance, the turned hearts, the love, and the commitment we preach about. Just as John the Baptist had a power that changed lives and made his preaching effective, we can do the same through the grace of God—but only to the degree that we are willing to cooperate.
We are, through Jesus, part of the family in heaven (Eph. 3:15). Thus, whether we are a family of one or more, we are called to be witnesses for the God we profess to serve, and nothing can make our witness more effective than to show the world what a family, regardless of its size, can be through the power of the gospel.
Further Thought: Ellen G. White, “Carmel,” pp. 143–154, in Prophets and Kings; “The Voice in the Wilderness,” pp. 97–108, in The Desire of Ages.
“Our message must be as direct as was that of John. He rebuked kings for their iniquity. Notwithstanding the peril his life was in, he never allowed truth to languish on his lips. Our work in this age must be as faithfully done.”—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 1184.