Sabbath School Lesson for November 25-December 1, 2023

Overview of Lesson 9, Mission to the Powerful

Memory Text: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:26 NKJV

What to expect from this week’s study:

  • Sunday: Nebuchadnezzar–how did God and Daniel work with this king
  • Monday: Naaman–how did God and Elisha work with this captain
  • Tuesday: Witnessing to the Learned–Nicodemus–how did Jesus treat Nicodemus
  • Wednesday: Mission to the Rich–how did a rich, young ruler and Zacchaeus react to Jesus’ message
  • Thursday: Mission to the Powerful–how did Joseph of Arimathea help fulfill prophecy
  • Friday: Our Challenge–how can we join God’s mission

Last week our eyes were opened to the many kinds of needs and groups of people Jesus worked with in His public ministry. Often we fail to recognize that these same needs, whether they be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, are many times left unmet for rich and powerful people in society.

God, whether it be in the Old or New Testament, did not believe the upper class were unreachable, however. He made every effort to reveal Himself to this smaller segment of the population through His appointed prophets and witnesses. It’s helpful to study ways we can minister to wealthy, powerful individuals, who are often isolated and hurting. Without expecting anything in return from them, we can serve them a measure of God’s love.

We’ve seen that being attuned to witnessing opportunities to reach the elite have sometimes resulted in great blessings for many people. These powerful people have influence and resources that can benefit God’s mission in ways only available to them. That, on the other hand, should be secondary to our goal of saving them personally, by simply allowing them to feel the love of God through our efforts.

Sunday: Nebuchadnezzar

1 Timothy 2:4 and 1 John 2:2 tell us that God “desires all men to be saved”, and He sacrificed Himself for the sins of “the whole world”. But, surely, that wouldn’t include a pagan, ruthless leader like Nebuchadnezzar, would it? Daniel and his Jewish friends may not have thought so at the beginning of their forced service in the king’s court. But events would prove otherwise when the king began receiving dreams from the Lord, and the Lord showed Daniel their meaning.

Chapter four of Daniel revealed an unusual story of how God brought down the haughty, proud monarch. After Daniel interpreted the meaning of the king’s strange, new dream, all were astonished at how the prediction actually came to pass. For seven years, Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and wandered about as an animal, before the Lord brought him to his senses, causing him to praise His Creator anew, instead of himself.

God is often willing to use unusual ways to humble us, too, when we begin to feel boastful and proud and forget to give God the glory for our accomplishments. God cares about all of us enough to bring us down a notch or two, as the saying goes, when we need it. Let’s remember to thank Him for it by sharing our experience with others who struggle with similar problems.

Bible Verses:

Daniel 4:19-37

  • Why did Nebuchadnezzar need this humbling experience?
  • What might have been the purpose of God in giving him a dream about it beforehand?

2 Chronicles 32:24-26 and 1 Kings 14:21-31

  • How did God try to reach these kings, and what message was He trying to bring them?

Monday: Naaman

The popular narrative of an unnamed captive girl being responsible for healing her master’s leprosy is told in 2 Kings 5:1-19. Captain Naaman served in the Syrian army that had taken the girl  far away from Israel, where she became a servant of Naaman’s wife.

Through her shy witness, Naaman’s leprosy was thus healed, and so much more. Just mentioning that there was a prophet in Israel who could heal him led to events that ultimately saved Naaman and many of his household.

There are some lessons in this story that might get missed, however. At the end of the passage, when Elisha refused the gifts Naaman offered, the captain made two requests of the prophet that revealed his limited understanding of God.

Naaman asked that he be allowed to take back with him two mule-loads of Israel soil, indicating that he would offer sacrifices on it, rather than to the gods in his own land. Of course, Elisha knew this action was unnecessary, but he didn’t question it at the time.

The second request was for God to forgive him for bowing down in the pagan temple of Rimmon, because it was required for all those in the Syrian army. Once again, Elisha didn’t try to set him straight on the exact kind of worship God would or wouldn’t accept. He knew that Naaman would grow in his walk with the Lord, if his heart remained sincere in his gratitude to the One who had healed him.

Bible Verses:

2 Kings 5:1-19

  • What can we learn from both the captive girl and Elisha in how to witness and later how to treat new converts?

Tuesday: Witnessing to the Learned–Nicodemus

Nicodemus was a highly-educated leader of the Jews. He, therefore, had a good understanding of the Scriptures, and the fact that he came looking for Jesus one night shows that he also had a spiritual hunger for God. All his power and wealth in such a respected position, however, was just surface evidence of his true desire to know God on an intimate level.

Jesus instantly recognized the pride that also existed in the heart of Nicodemus. Coming to see the reputed Teacher alone, under the cover of night, told Him so. Nicodemus, like most Jews of the time, wanted to believe that his lineage, combined with his knowledge and obedience of God’s teachings and commandments, would surely be enough to save him.

The eye-opening dialogue that he had with Jesus that night, however, discovering the need for him to be reborn, must have sent him away with renewed desire to learn more from this Master Teacher. He was so impressed by their conversation that he later tried to protect the Savior from his Jewish colleagues when they wanted to destroy Him. He even honored Jesus after His death by donating spices for His burial. See John 7:50, 51 and 19:39.

Bible Verses:

John 3:1-12

  • How do you understand the concept of a new birth, and how, why, and when would you share that explanation with others?

John 7:43-52 and 19:39

  • What does this information tell us about how Nicodemus benefited from his conversation with Jesus about being reborn?

Wednesday: Mission to the Rich

Some people become powerful through their political and educational attainments. But there are those whose rise to power lies solely with the wealth they possess. Jesus conveyed to us that this class of the powerful are particularly difficult to reach with the gospel (Matthew 19:23, 24). We are given two narratives that demonstrate this.

First, there was a rich, young ruler who came to Jesus with basically the same question as Nicodemus. He wanted to know how to inherit eternal life. After confirming the importance of obeying God through His commandments, Jesus, sensing his selfish clinging to his wealth, suggested he give all he had to the poor and come and follow Him. Instead of responding to such a gracious invitation, the rich, young ruler went away sorrowful that he couldn’t take such a drastic measure, even if it meant gaining eternal life. The loss of everything valuable to him was too overwhelming for the young man to consider.

But then, we learn of another wealthy individual named Zacchaeus. The Holy Spirit had been working on this tax collector’s heart, even before He met Jesus in person. Without being asked, Zacchaeus’ enthusiastic offer to dispose of most of his wealth impressed those who heard about it. It revealed the genuine change of heart that we know is possible when even the wealthiest are touched by the love of God.

Bible Verses:

Matthew 19:16-24

  • Why was it so difficult for the rich, young ruler to give up his wealth?

Luke 19:1-10

  • How does this story prove that the wealthy aren’t always lost?
  • What is needed for the wealthy to be saved?
  • What part does the Holy Spirit play in all our witnessing efforts?

Thursday: Mission to the Powerful

It’s easy to miss the story of Joseph of Arimathea. The gospel narratives only mention his contribution briefly at the very end of Jesus’ life. But the details provided by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give us enough information about this powerful man to know and love him for what he did.

Joseph was a rich councilman, who was evidently a secret disciple of Jesus. He voted against the Jewish council’s decision to kill Him, but even more importantly, he later had the courage to ask for the Savior’s body to be laid in his own, freshly-dug family tomb.

This action of Joseph provided just one out of many evidences of Jesus being the Messiah. It fulfilled the prophecy given in Isaiah 53:9 that said they made His grave “with the rich at His death”.

Sometimes, the most insignificant deeds we do for the Lord reap manifold blessings for untold numbers of people. And that applies to both rich and poor. We can all do something in God’s vast mission field.

Bible Verses:

Matthew 27:57-60, Mark 15:43-47, Luke 23:50-53, and John 19:38-43

  • What may have been the reason(s) for Joseph to become a secret follower of Jesus?
  • Why do you think he wanted Jesus’ body for burial? What was going through his mind?

Isaiah 53:9

  • How did Joseph help fulfill this prophecy?
  • How did his action help establish Jesus as the Messiah in the minds of later generations?

Friday: Our Weekly Mission Challenge

Add someone to your daily prayer list who is in a position of power, is not a believer, and is someone you could come in contact with from time to time.

Address a letter or email to someone in a position of power–even if it is someone you may have never met–and tell that person that you are praying for him or her.

For discussion: What kind of people have power in our society today? Besides praying for them, why should we sometimes let them know we are praying for them? How does it make you feel when someone tells you they are praying for you?

Next Week: Mission to the Unreached, Part 1

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