Texts for the Week: Mal. 4:5, 6; Matt. 11:14, 15; 17:10; 1 Kings 16:29–17:24; 1 Kings 18:20–45; Matt. 3:2
Memory Text: “ ‘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 heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; lest I come and smite the earth with a curse’ ”(Malachi 4:5, 6, NKJV).
Opening Question: What will turn the Hearts of People toward God?
We come now to the last lesson of this quarter, one in which we are invited to think about a very significant question: “What will turn the hearts of people toward God?” This question is directly linked to a rather well-known scripture passage in the Book of Malachi where God says that, before the great and terrible Day of the Lord, a prophetic voice will arise – named Elijah in the text – that will that focus on turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children toward God, all within the context of faith.
Behind this question are a host of events in history past that involve a group of people who have wandered far from God, returning to follow after him. One notable example is the story found in 1 Kings 18:20-45, the story of Elijah up on Mt. Carmel in the show-down with the prophets of Baal. That was a time of great idolatry for the Israelite king had married a pagan wife who had engineered the practice of the fertility religions of her society into the middle of Israelite life. This resulted in a considerable departure from following after the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But there came the day when, by the intent of God, there was to be a day of reckoning when issues of worship would be clearly laid out in a way the people would be confronted with a decision. The place of the showdown was the top of Mt. Carmel where there was a great display put on by various priests who were supposed to prove the ascendency of Baal who was, after all, the God of thunder and lightning, among other things. But their proceedings, though carried on throughout the day, produced nothing. As the day waned, Elijah stepped in putting a halt to their antics after which he prayed and fire came down from heaven consuming not only the sacrifice but even the stone altar and all the water in the moat around it. There followed a great turning toward God much to the anger of Jezebel, the pagan queen.
We could look also at the experience that unfolded under the preaching and ministry of John the Baptist. For 400 years, there had been prophetic silence. Then, out of the desert, of all places, there came a simple, ordinary peasant who quickly established himself as one who was fearless and blunt. With fire in his eyes, he announced to the idolatrous world in which he lived that a new era was dawning, that God was going to put the axe to the root of their religious tree to bring it tumbling down. Of course, the message of John was shocking, so shocking that some got angry while others repented and turned to God. In the pages of Scripture, we see that John became a very busy man, preaching and baptizing people as they returned to God.
The memory text for this lesson seems to point to another day, yet in the future, when, before the great and terrible Day of the Lord, there will be another turning toward God, a time when, out of the rank idolatry of the age that is ending, a call from God will be heard that will draw people through repentance toward the rightful worship of God again. When that will be, or how that will be, is not divulged. But it leaves a certain longing in the hearts of believer’s to see that day come, to wonder what humans might do to be able to hasten the coming of that day at last.
- Do you think it is possible for humans to delay the coming of the Day of the Lord?
- Do you think it is possible for humans to hasten the coming of the Day of the Lord?
- What do you think prevents people from following after God?
- Can you think of a time in your own life when there was perhaps a time when you did not follow God with considerable intention? What brought that about? What caused you to change course, if you did, to follow once again?
- What other times of turning toward God can you think of, that are found in the Bible? What lessons do they have for us?