Friday, January 10, 2020

Daniel and his Friends

Daniel and his Friends


How do we develop the enduring kind of patience? Our lesson quotes James 1: 2 – 4 to give us the answer, 


"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and com­plete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2–4, NKJV).


The word patience here is from the Greek hupomone, which means endurance, steadfastness, and courage of every affliction that one confronts on one's spiri­tual journey. The word Paul uses in Galatians 5:22 is macrothumia – translated as longsuffering - which essentially means "long tempered" as opposed to short-tempered. 


Although hupomone is not part of the fruit of the Spirit, it is nevertheless essential in our walk of Faith. According to James, it is through trials that we develop the endurance to overcome unbelief continually and remain faithful to God. Our lesson states about this,


'The Greek word for "trials," sometimes translated "temptations," is the word peirazo, which has the broader significance of "proving" or "testing." The devil tries us or tempts us to do evil. The tests and trials that God allows to come into our lives are to develop our characters.' Ellen G. White talks about this,


"The trials of life are God's workmen, to remove the impurities and roughness from our character. Their hewing, squaring, and chiseling, their burnishing and polishing, is a painful process; it is hard to be pressed down to the grinding wheel. But the stone is brought forth prepared to fill its place in the heavenly temple. Upon no useless material does the Master bestow such careful, thorough work. Only His precious stones are polished after the similitude of a palace."—Ellen G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 10.


The previous quite doesn't mean, however, that every trial is in God's providence. Often we bring suffering upon ourselves through disobedience; often, too, trials and suffering are just the results of what it means to live in a fallen, sinful world where we have an enemy who hates us (1 Pet. 5:8). What this does mean, however, is that through a complete sur­render of ourselves to the Lord, to grasping hold of Him in faith and obedience, no matter what we go through, we can come out better or more refined if we allow God to work in us. No one said it would be fun. Life here often isn't fun, but God gives us this wonderful promise: "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).


One good example of how trials help develop endurance is Daniel and his friends. It was through trials that they develop the enduring patience that gave them the victory. Now, when we think of Daniel and his friends going through trials, we probably immediately think of the fiery furnace and the Lion's den. And, these were moments in their respective lives when their faith was tested, and they were victorious by the grace of God. But, this trial was not there first one. The first trial was actually while still in Jerusalem. In Jeremiah 38: 17 – 21, Jeremiah tells the King of Judah to surrender to the King of Babylon and "it shall be well unto thee, and thy soul shall live" (Jeremiah 38: 20). Those who did as God asked to surrender to the Babylonian King, it went well with them. Those that did not were either injured or killed. Daniel and his friends surrendered to the King of Babylon. 


You could argue that Isaiah prophesied the second trial. Isiah states that this happened after Hezekiah failed to give God glory for his miraculous healing, and instead took the glory for himself and showed the Babylonians all that was in the house. Isaiah predicted in 2 King 20:17 – 18,


 2Ki20:17 Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.

2Ki20:18 And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the King of Babylon.


Put bluntly, Daniel and his friends were castrated. Daniel then narrates how he and his friends refused to eat out the King's table. The foods were luscious and sacrificed to idols. They did not want their appetite to lead them astray. Reluctantly, the prince of the eunuchs agrees to make a deal give them a ten-day trial.  


Our lesson states that, "God honors the loyalty of the four Hebrew captives, and at the end of their ten-day testing period they look healthier and better nourished than the other students who have eaten from the royal table. So, God gives His four servants "knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom," and to Daniel alone, God gives "understanding in all visions and dreams" (Dan. 1:17, NKJV). " 


Furthermore, After three years of training in the "Babylonian University," the four Hebrews are brought before the King for the final examination. They are not only healthier than the other students, they surpass them in knowledge and wisdom. The King immediately hires The four.

Ellen White states, 

"Daniel and his companions in Babylon were, in their youth, apparently more favored of fortune than was Joseph in the earlier years of his life in Egypt; yet they were subjected to tests of character scarcely less severe. From the comparative simplicity of their Judean home these youth of royal line were transported to the most magnificent of cities, to the court of its greatest monarch, and were singled out to be trained for the king's special service. Strong were the temptations surrounding them in that corrupt and luxurious court. The fact that they, the worshipers of Jehovah, were captives to Babylon; that the vessels of God's house had been placed in the temple of the gods of Babylon; that the king of Israel was himself a prisoner in the hands of the Babylonians, was boastfully cited by the victors as evidence that their religion and customs were superior to the religion and customs of the Hebrews. Under such circumstances, through the very humiliations that Israel's departure from His commandments had invited, God gave to Babylon evidence of His supremacy, of the holiness of His requirements, and of the sure result of obedience. And this testimony He gave, as alone it could be given, through those who still held fast their loyalty". — Ellen G. White, Education, p. 54.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

A Brand New Seed

The following insight - published previously - reveals how there is a deeper lesson in the fact that Abrahan paid tithes to Melchisedec.  

A Brand New Seed

Some farmers from the same area decided to have a business meeting. Of particular issue in the discussion, was a group of fruit trees which had failed to yield the expected crop. It wasn't that the trees produced pears or even apples instead of peaches. No, the trees yielded peaches alright, but they were consistently sour. Nope, nobody was happy, and everybody wanted something done -- right away. So, the farmers were all meeting this day, to decide the fate of their peach trees. You see, they were all concerned because collectively, year after year, the farmers had attempted various things to remedy the problem with their trees but to no avail. Now, every farmer was fed up, and each came to one conclusion -- they had all purchased the seeds of sour peach from the same shop.

A traveling consultant, having heard of the farmers' dilemma, offered his services. He indicated that if allowed, he would study the situation and present his findings at the end of a specified time. Hopeful, all of the farmers agreed, and the consultant began his analysis. Today, however, was presentation day, and the farmers were eagerly awaiting the results of the study.

At the opening of the meeting, the consultant stood to speak and said, "after analyzing your situation, I have determined that all of you have utilized sour seed." Irritated because they knew this, the farmers urged the consultant to tell them something they didn't know. Unfazed, the consultant continued, "there are several remedies available, and each is pricey." "One is to treat the trees with additives to increase the fruit size, which will probably change its taste." "Another is to uproot the trees and sow new seeds." At this point, one of the farmers asked, "If we go for the first solution, would we have to do this every year?" The consultant nodded and answered, "Yes, sir, you would."
Looking at their copy of the report, the farmers silently estimated how much the intervention would cost them. Then another stated, "but if we uproot the trees, wouldn't that mean we would have to replant?" "And if we do that, there won't be a harvest for several years -- that doesn't sound good to me --you know what they say, 'no harvest, no produce, no produce, no money." Frustrated, the farmers began talking amongst themselves. After they quieted down, the consultant answered, "Yes, what you've said is true -- but.." Just then, another farmer asked the question they had all been thinking. "What guarantee do we have that the new seeds will not be sour?" Simultaneously, all of the farmers started talking again. After they quieted down, the consultant responded, "unfortunately, there are no guarantees -- you know about that more than I do." "Apparently, not as much as we should," said another farmer joking. They all laughed. Suddenly one of the quietest farmers said softly, "I think what we need is brand new seed -- from another source." Slowly the laughter subsided, and all agreed, a brand new seed is just what was needed.

In this story, human beings are the trees that produce sour fruit, having come from bad seed. The seed's name was Adam. When God created Adam, He created all of us in him. The Bible says in Genesis 2:7, "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." In the original, the text says that God breathed the "breaths of life into man." Surprisingly, the plural form of the word is used, and not the singular. So, the text reads "breaths" and not "breath," as is written in most of our bibles. From this, we can understand that God breathed into Adam the breath of lives -- all of humankind's lives. So the lives of the whole human race were created in one man: Adam. (Adam in Hebrew means Mankind.) Acts 17:26 confirms this thought: "And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation." So it is no surprise that if God created all human beings out of one man when this man sinned, we all sinned. Romans 5:12 says, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:" This is the basis of the biblical principle of "Solidarity" or "corporate oneness." The book of Hebrews illustrates this principle is when Paul speaks of Levi paying tithes to Melchizedek, even though Levi was not yet conceived (Hebrews 7:1-10.) How did unconceived Levi pay tithes to Melchizedek? Let's take a look at Hebrews 7:

Hebrews 7:9 And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes to Abraham
Hebrews 7:10 For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.

How does this fit our situation today? How does the concept of "corporate oneness," or "solidarity" affect us? Well, although we were not yet conceived -- we were in the loins - inside - of Adam -- so when he (Adam) sinned, and his nature changed, all he could bequeath to us was his nature of Sin. Therefore we created sinners. Because of this, we suffer the consequences of Sin and must pay the penalty of the second or eternal death, which, as we know, is not sleep. This death is eternal separation from God.

Unlike the characters in our story, God is neither a farmer nor a consultant. He foresaw our Adam's Sin and, therefore, ours, and before there was a need, he formulated a solution. We needed Brand New Seed in the form of Adam the 2nd. Among the many places in the Bible in which we find the answer to Sin, Romans 5:18 is one of them. It reads: "Therefore as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life." God solved the Sin problem by putting us all human beings in Christ. The whole of the human race, you and I and every human being from Adam to the last person, were put into Christ. Christ became the second or the last Adam. Just as we were in Adam, God, by His act of incarnation through the Holy Spirit, put us into Christ so that we were corporately in Him. In bearing us -- our corporate human nature, He bore our Sin /s.

How does this help us? Since we are in Christ, all that He did we did. His life's history has become our history. So when He died the second death, we died with Him, and as He was resurrected on the third day, so were we. Christ has accomplished Salvation complete and final and has given it to us. This Salvation is God's gift to Mankind. Why? So that none would perish. For in John 3:16 it says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." God the Father desires that none should be lost. He has made Abundant provision, and if we at the end are lost, it will be because we have fully and finally rejected His gift of love. So yes, Christ objectively justified and saved the whole world, but only your and my full and personal acceptance His gift (subjective Salvation) will allow us the reward of being the new fruit from the incorruptible seed. Receipt of this Truth (by faith) sanctifies us from Sin's consequences and fits us for Eternal Life. In the personal knowledge of truth is power, for "you shall know the truth, and it shall set you free." (John 8:32)

This expression of "In Christ" is used in Hebrews 1:3-14 approximately ten times. Let's read this passage:

Hebrews 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
Hebrews 1:4 According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love:
Hebrews 1:5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,
Hebrews 1:6 To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved.
Hebrews 1:7 In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace;
Hebrews 1:8 Wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;
Hebrews 1:9 Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself:
Hebrews 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him:
Hebrews 1:11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will:
Hebrews 1:12 That we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ.
Hebrews 1:13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your Salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise,
Hebrews 1:14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory.

Based on this passage we can conclude that in Christ were are not: cursed, left to ourselves, to prove ourselves worthy, we are not lost and forlorn, hopeless, aimless, and excluded from God. On the contrary, we are in Christ: blessed, chosen, predestined to adoption, redeemed through His blood, forgiven of Sin, given wisdom and understanding, purposed to know the mystery of His will, first to hope, and included. Christ has justified all Mankind and qualified us for eternal life. So, Jesus is near us -not only in proximity and in sympathy but - because He has chosen us in Himself. Now, He wants to be "in us," to make us fit for Heaven. If we decide to accept Him, one day, we will be living with Him eternally.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Cosmic Conflict Over God's Character

The Cosmic Conflict Over God's Character

In Matthew 25: 14 – 30, we find the Parable of the talents. We read that two of the servants improved on what the Master gave them. But, the last servant hid the talent and did not improve on it. This man based his action on what he thought of the Master,

Mat 25:24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
Mat 25:25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

We could imply that the other two servants thought the opposite of their Master. Ellen White seems to tell us that Eve had a similar problem,

The tempter intimated that the divine warning was not to be actually fulfilled; it was designed merely to intimidate them. . . . {CC 15.5}
      Such has been Satan's work from the days of Adam to the present, and he has pursued it with great success. He tempts men to distrust God's love and to doubt His wisdom. He is constantly seeking to excite a spirit of irreverent curiosity, a restless, inquisitive desire to penetrate the secrets of divine wisdom and power. In their efforts to search out what God has been pleased to withhold, multitudes overlook the truths which He has revealed, and which are essential to salvation. . . . {CC 15.6}
Eve believed the words of Satan, but her belief did not save her from the penalty of Sin. She disbelieved the words of God, and this was what led to her fall. In the judgment, men will not be condemned because they conscientiously believed a lie, but because they did not believe the truth, because they neglected the opportunity of learning what is truth. {CC 15.7}

Eve doubted God's integrity; thus, she judged God's character incorrectly. Eve's thought of God provoked her downfall. She now needed to restore her trust in God.

Did you notice that Ellen White says that Eve's experience applies to all men? What lie are men choosing to believe that leads them away from trusting God? We read from Ellen White,

In the opening of the great controversy, Satan had declared that the law of God could not be obeyed, that justice was inconsistent with mercy, and that, should the law be broken, it would be impossible for the sinner to be pardoned. Every Sin must meet its punishment, urged Satan; and if God should remit the punishment of Sin, He would not be a God of truth and justice. When men broke the law of God, and defied His will, Satan exulted. It was proved, he declared, that the law could not be obeyed; man could not be forgiven. Because he, after his rebellion, had been banished from heaven, Satan claimed that the human race must be forever shut out from God's favor. God could not be just, he urged, and yet show mercy to the sinner. {DA 761.4}

Our lesson has made it clear throughout the quarterly that this is what our denomination believes: Sin must be punished. And, it is God who must punish it. Is it not disturbing that we think of God what Satan says of Him?

If this is what we believe, then we believe that something must be done to avoid punishment. God needs appeasement. The previous statement states the core belief of every pagan religion; hence, the practice of sacrifices. Only "the smell the blood" would appease the angry god. Christians have adopted this understanding of God. Christians understand that "Christ died to reconcile the Father unto us." You will find no such thought anywhere in the Bible. The Bible is very clear,

2 Corinthians 5:19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

We read in John 3: 16 that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son – the Lamb slain from the beginning of the World to away its Sin (Revelation 13: 8, John 1: 29). It was the Father Who wanted – and still wants - reconciliation. We read from Romans,

Romans 5:6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 5:7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Romans 5:10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

In Christ, while we still saw God as the enemy, we were reconciled to God and not God to us. Christ says in John 14,

John 14:7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.
John 14:8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.
John 14:9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?

Many read the story of Jesus and realize that their concept of God differs from Jesus. Jesus Himself tells us that He and the Father are One. Jesus is a perfect representation of His Father. Any idea of God that differs from Jesus is wrong. Ellen White says,

There stood in the world One who was a perfect representative of the Father, One whose character and practices refuted Satan's misrepresentation of God. Satan had charged upon God the attributes He himself possessed. Now in Christ he saw God revealed in His true character—a compassionate, merciful Father, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to Him in repentance, and have eternal life. (1 SM, p. 254).

A good surgeon cuts into the body of its ill patient, thus inflicting pain.   He does it not to punish her for having a harmful health condition, but to get rid of what is ailing the heart. God intervenes in our life, not to punish us, but to get rid of the Sin, which will kill us otherwise. Those whom He loves, He chastens. "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby (Hebrews 12:11). "…weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning"(Psalm 30:5).

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Narrative

The Narrative


Most Latin American Countries gain their independence during the 19th century. Puerto Rico was one of the few that did not. Most Puerto Ricans were afraid of independence, partly because of Haiti. Early in the 19th-century slaves in Haiti revolted against their French masters, and took over Haiti. Some of those French ended up in exile in Puerto Rico. Of course, they told their stories. After this, independence was equated with slaves subverting against their European masters and taking control of the territory. Puerto Ricans, who owned slaves, did not want that happening to them. This narrative lasted for years.


When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, any talk of independence was shut down with, "Do you want us to be like Cuba?" In 1959, the Cuban revolutionaries entered Havana, marking the end of the revolution and the success of Fidel Castro and his forces. Many Cubans were forced to leave the Island. Some landed in Puerto Rico. Soon after that, Castro declared Cuba a communist country. So, somehow, independence now became equated with the Cuban experience. The belief mentioned above brought Puerto Ricans to believe that the Communist would take over and force everyone else to work in the sugar cane field. Puerto Rico had long since transformed from a sugar cane economy to a more industrial one. The prospect of going back to cutting sugar cane to Puerto Ricans was terrifying. This narrative still exists. 


Whether the narrative ended up being true or not, it did not matter. It accomplished its purpose: to instill fear in the masses so they would not pursue that option. Paul went through something similar in Thessalonica. 


Paul spent three weeks in Thessalonica reasoning and proving the Jesus was the Christ from the scriptures. Many accepted Christ, but his success incited opposition from local religious leaders and a gang of thugs. The city council finally expelled Paul and sought to prevent his return. When someone preaches new teachings, and people get excited, the leaders and teachers of other religious groups may become jealous.


People placed the attention upon them toward others. As a result, they may behave in irrational ways to try to reduce the influence of the new teacher.


According to Acts 17:5, Paul's success in Thessalonica infuriated some of the Jews who were not persuaded by his message. Jealous of Paul's success with the Gentiles, and indeed not very happy that some of their fellow countrymen had joined him, they decided to enlist the help of "some wicked men of the rabble" (ESV) to stir up trouble. In Greek, the phrase "wicked men of the rabble" literally means "men of the marketplace." It refers to a group of unemployed ruffians who hung out in the marketplace looking for something to do. 


The wicked men of the rabble contrasted to the people who responded to Paul's gospel. According to Luke, these hooligans barged into Jason's home to drag Paul out to the crowd (17:5). The Greek word translated as "people" or "crowd" (demos) can also refer to the public assembly of citizens who had authority over local legal matters. Unable to lay their hands on Paul, they decided instead to haul Jason and others before the local magistrates. When they arrived, they laid two accusations against Paul: (1) Paul was an itinerant troublemaker with a track record of causing problems in other cities; (2) Paul was guilty of treason for claiming that Jesus, not Caesar, was King.


According to the Roman historian Suetonius, shortly before the events described in Acts 17, conflict arose among the Jews of Rome over a man Suetonius calls "Chrestus." This term probably reflects a Roman misunderstanding of the Jewish concept of the Messiah or, in Greek, "the Christ." Someone's preaching of the gospel had just split the Jewish community of Rome. To Roman officials, the debate over the Messiah sounded like preparation for the installation of a new king on the throne of Rome (see Acts 17:7). Probably for that reason, the emperor expelled all Jews from his capital city (Acts 18:2). Some of these exiles probably settled in or passed through Thessalonica, bringing knowledge of these events to the city. Because the gospel had turned the world of Rome's Jews upside down, religious leaders in Thessalonica were determined to prevent something similar from happening there. Notice that it was not their primary concern. They used that story to drum up the charges against Paul and gain favor with the rulers of the city. Sufficiently alarmed by these charges, the magistrates banned Paul and Silas from their city and required Jason to pay a fee to ensure that the two men would not return.


A city council of perhaps five or six "mayors" who made decisions as a group ruled Thessalonica. This arrangement allowed for a considerable amount of independence from Rome, which they would be reluctant to give up. So, the behavior of the city officials in this matter was quite impressive under the circumstances. The similarity to recent events in Rome could have led to severe physical punishment for the new Christians. Instead, the city leaders responded evenhandedly (contrast Acts 16:22–40). They took a significant amount of money from the new Christians as security so that they would not be the cause of further disturbances. Then the leaders let everyone go. The narrative worked. 


We see those who professed to be defending the law of God, breaking it to accomplish their goal. Could we be caught in the same trap? When we are dealing with accusations, we should ask ourselves: is there something else? Is the immediate allegation being used to cover the real reason for the attack? Why is God allowing it? Nehemiah is an excellent example of how we can handle these situations. Ellen White states about Nehemiah,


"In Nehemiah's firm devotion to the work of God, and his equally firm reliance on God, lay the reason of the failure of his enemies to draw him into their power. The soul that is indolent falls an easy prey to temptation; but in the life that has a noble aim, an absorbing purpose, evil finds little foothold. The faith of him who is constantly advancing does not weaken; for above, beneath, beyond, he recognizes Infinite Love, working out all things to accomplish His good purpose. God's true servants work with a determination that will not fail because the throne of grace is their constant dependence" (Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 659-660.)  May we learn from Nehemiah.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Nehemiah: "The New Covenant."

Nehemiah


In his prayer, Nehemiah refers to the Lord as one keeps covenant (Nehemiah 1: 5.) What was Nehemiah referring to? The following insight may answer that question. It was initially published on March 6, 2003, for that week's quarterly, entitled: "The New Covenant."  


This week's Sabbath School lesson's topic for discussion is the new covenant. Much confusion exists regarding the old and new covenants. The objective of this quarter's lessons is to clarify the confusion and bring us to a greater understanding of God's plan of salvation. To accomplish this, we need to come to grips with some basic concepts.


* When did the old covenant end?

* When did the new covenant begin?

* Another valid question that we often overlook is: When did the old covenant begin?

* Is there a difference between a "covenant" and a "contract"?


Contract and Covenant Contrasted

Many confuse the meaning of the word "covenant," thinking that it is the same as a "contract." When a man enters into a contract with someone, it is for the mutual benefit of both parties. "I will do thus and such if you will do so and so." A contract is negotiated and is "thing" oriented. We want something that the other party has, and we feel that we have something to offer in return. A contract is self-centered--what can "I" get out of the deal?

Once both parties agree to the terms, the contract is signed and made legally binding on both of them. Each participant must keep his side of the bargain, or some a penalty or forfeiture will occur as a result. A contract is, therefore, a mutual affair, but are we on equal terms with God? Can we make bilateral agreements with God based on equal terms? "The carnal mind is enmity against God." "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 8:7; 3:10). God is righteous; we are unrighteous. God is holy, divine; we are unholy, carnal.

Where is there any basis of equality for us to begin our bargaining with God? What have we to negotiate with when we come to God to make a contract? Only our "filthy rags," our sins, our "works of the flesh." Of ourselves, we cannot offer obedience to a single commandment because the carnal mind will not let us obey God's law (Rom. 8:7). We cannot make a contract with God because we have nothing to bring to the bargaining table except our sinful selves--which is worthless.

In contrast to this idea, a covenant would adequately be defined as a promise or a pledge. It is "person" oriented, made TO someone BY someone. The stronger individual always makes it to a weaker individual. A covenant involves loyalty, care, and concern from the individual who made it to the other person. Genesis 15 clearly illustrates the concept stated above. The covenant God made to Abraham was intended to be one-sided. God promised to give Abraham a child that would be born of his wife Sarah when both Abraham and Sarah were well past child-bearing age. There was nothing Abraham or Sarah could do to make this promise a reality in their lives, except believe that God was able to fulfill what He had told them. Abraham's faith in God's promise (he could only say "amen"--verse 6, Hebrew) was as "new covenant" as it gets!


A Biblical Illustration

Perhaps starting the lesson off with a cartoon illustration has set our feet headed down the wrong path. We must investigate Bible truth through an inspired lens. Paul gives us an excellent illustration of the two covenants.

"For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh, but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants" (Gal. 4:22-24).

Paul explains what the two covenants are, using the illustration of the two women, Sarah and Hagar. Hagar was an Egyptian slave woman, servant to Sarah. The children of a slave woman are slaves, even though their father is free. Hagar could only bring forth children that were under bondage. Scripture tells us that, "They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed" (Rom. 9:8).

These two covenants exist today. "The two covenants are not a matter of time, but the condition of the heart. Let no man flatter himself that he cannot be under the old covenant, thinking that its time has passed." So long as we try of ourselves, in our own strength to keep those promises which God Himself has made to us, then we are under the old covenant. (E. J. Waggoner, Glad Tidings, pp. 99-100). It is only when we wholeheartedly believe God, that we are set free to live under the new covenant.


Where Does the "Old" End and "New" Begin?

If the new covenant is not tied to the New Testament, where does it begin? The "new" covenant has been with us since Eden. God promised the fallen pair that He would place enmity between them and the serpent who had led them into sin (Gen. 3:15). The "new" covenant and the "everlasting" covenant are one and the same thing. It has always been God's promise to save us without any works of our own. The new or everlasting covenant was put in place first--before the old.

Then where does the old covenant first come into view? At the very gates of Eden. The "old covenant" has been in existence in the heart of humanity since sin entered. It existed long before God gave the ceremonial laws at Mount Sinai. It has nothing to do with "time" and everything to do with the condition of our hearts as we strive to save ourselves.

When God instructed Adam to bring the sin offering, it was to be a lamb without blemish from his flock. God instructed Adam that this animal symbolized the Messiah that was to come (see Rev. 13:8; 1 Peter: 18-20). Through faith in the promise of God, Adam taught his sons to do the same.


"And in the process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock . . . And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect" (Gen. 4:3-5).

Why did the Lord "not respect" Cain's offering? Because "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin." (Heb. 9:22). Cain was trying to save himself by his own methods. He thought that his offering of fruits should be just as good as the required offering. Had he not worked to produce them? Was this work of his hands not sufficient for the Lord? Cain would not believe God's promise and took the burden of his life upon himself. His subsequent history is the lesson of the results of the old covenant way of doing things.


What is the "Better" Covenant?

This week's lesson also discusses the "better covenant." While persisting in its misunderstanding of the old and new covenants, it rightly states that the "problem" was the people's failure to "grasp" God's promise by faith. There has never been a failure or deficiency in God's promise to humanity.

The "better" covenant Paul tells us about in Hebrews 8:6 is God's everlasting covenant made from the foundation of the world. This covenant is "better" than man's promises to obey God. Why? Because it is "established upon better promises"--the promises of the Godhead to save humanity from sin. "The salvation of human beings is a vast enterprise, that calls into action every attribute of the divine nature. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have pledged themselves [promised] to make God's children more than conquerors through Him that loved them." Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, January 27, 1903 (emphasis supplied).

The Gospel is called the "good news of God's salvation." It is God's promise to us that He will save us "from our sins," not in them (Matt. 1:21). He has told us through the Word that He will "provide a way of escape" from every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). When we believe that this is so, then it becomes a reality in our lives. "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16).

What is the "new covenant" God wishes to "make" with us, of which Jeremiah speaks in 31:31? God has always had only one objective for His creatures--that we would believe His "better" promise to save us from our sin. He longs for the day when His people will heed His loving call to turn around, leave their folly, and believe wholeheartedly in His power to save "to the uttermost" all who will believe His promise. Instead of relying on our sadly deficient promises to obey, when we believe God's word to us and by faith allow Christ to live in us, we will be living under the better promise of the new and everlasting covenant (see Glad Tidings, pp.57-60).


It is Indeed a Work of the Heart

Sadly, as we stand at the "foot of the mount" we are prone like the children of Israel to say, "All the Lord has spoken, we will do" (see Ex. 19:7, 8). We promise the Lord when the Lord has not asked us to promise anything. He knows that our promises are as insubstantial as ropes of sand. All He asks is that we believe His promises to us. "If ye will [hear] My voice indeed, and [cherish] My covenant (previously made with their father Abraham), then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people" (Ex. 19:5--literal translation of Hebrew words in brackets).

When we believe that we are the adopted children of God, then we will respond appropriately. Instead of behaving like rebellious heathens, we'll respond as if we were the children of the King of the universe. Not as a servant, will we obey, out of duty or debt, but from the heart will come the desire to follow God everywhere He leads us. Obedience to all the commandments of God is the natural result of this understanding.

What God promises He produces through the power of His Holy Spirit and faith in His word. When we believe God's promises, we are enabled to do those things which we were unable to do previously by our own strength (see Gal. 5:16, 17; and Christ's Object Lessons, p. 333). Faith brings us under the new covenant of God's better promise.

When we truly appreciate all that He has done to save us, we will respond as God wants us to respond. We will see the Ten Commandments as ten glorious promises, not ten fetters that bind us as we toil and struggle to keep them. Commandment keeping will become a heart response to the love of God revealed on Calvary. As adopted sons and daughters of God, we will go forth with rejoicing, gladly willing to obey our gracious Father.

We do not need to live under the old covenant. God's promises are sure. Faith makes all the promises of God a reality in our lives. We need not wait one moment longer. "Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2).

Saturday, September 7, 2019

What is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel?

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, (1 Peter 3:18)."

John was a garbage truck driver in a large suburban city. John's city used the garbage truck as a snowplow during winter.  After every snowfall, John plowed snow in the town roads. Since John's employer added snow removal to John's garbage collection duties, John's company paid him overtime wages. Naturally, John welcomed the extra money. With extra pay in mind, unlike many people who dread the forecast of snow, snowfall to John was good news. Most school children agreed with John that snow was good news but for different reasons. After all, it usually meant outdoor fun and the likelihood that the school officials cancel classes. As expected, parents, however, may not be so happy. Thus, it can be said, snow is only good news to some, not all.

The Greek word translated as Gospel means good news or glad tidings. In Luke 2:10, the angels said unto the shepherds, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." Unlike snowfall which is good news for some people, the Gospel - here referring to the birth of Christ - is good news for all individuals. In contrast, Christ's second return cannot be the Gospel, because it is only good news to those who believe - and expect it - not those who do not believe. Why is this so? Why is the birth of Christ good news to all, while His second advent is not? Does the Bible shed any light on this? Ellen White says that "The Bible is its own expositor. Scripture is to be compared with scripture. The student should learn to view the word as a whole, and to see the relation of its parts" (Ed.190). In that light, let us go to the Scripture to see how the Gospel is defined.

First, we should note that the Apostle Mark introduced his book as the Gospel of Christ; while (Apostle) Paul declared in the first few verses of Romans chapter one that "… the Gospel of Christ: … is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Vs. 16). In Greek, The word power in this text is dunamis, from which we get dynamite.  The Gospel is the explosive power or energy of God.  The energy that God used to create the world in six days.

Now, no less than approximately a dozen times, Apostle Paul relates the Gospel with God or Christ. Therefore, according to these texts, we can ascertain that the Gospel refers to Christ. Paul is not saying here that salvation is only for believers, but that it is only useful to believers. So, it is the power of God that saves. And, this power of God refers to Jesus and his birth. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, 18, Paul goes a step further. Let us read,

"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."

This text associates the preaching of the Gospel with the preaching of the cross, on which Christ died. Furthermore, it equates them by calling them both: the power of God. Therefore, the Gospel is also the preaching of the cross. So, now, we incorporate in this definition of the Gospel the death of Christ on the Cross. Why is the cross so important? We read in Philippians 2:8 concerning Christ,

"And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

The Jews considered the death of the cross as hanging from a tree, of which Paul says in Gal 3:13, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:"

Christ's death was the final death: complete annihilation. But, it is through this death that we were reconciled to God. We read in Romans 5:10,

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

Notice in this verse, that Christ's life is now part of the equation, as opposed to only His birth and death. The Gospel refers to Jesus. It entails His incarnation, birth, life, and death. And, in it is the power of God to save every man. Christ did this for the whole world. We read in 1 John 2:2; and 4:14,

"And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world."

What about the resurrection? Paul addresses that also in 1 Corinthians 5:12 -14. Let us read,

"Now if Christ is preached that he hath been raised from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain."

The resurrection of Christ gives the Gospel certainty and makes the Gospel effectual. It guarantees our freedom from Sin. And how exactly are we implicated? We read in Romans 6:3-5,

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:"

Christ took us - the whole world - unto Himself and lived a life of perfect obedience. His life of perfect obedience is ours. His victory is ours. What our Saviour would like for us to do, is, to receive His gift wholeheartedly. In summation, this is the good news to all people: salvation for all men "in Christ."

Friday, August 30, 2019

Faith's Thermometer

Faith's Thermometer
 
The way we typically measure temperature is not a direct measure of heat.  Your typical mercury or alcohol thermometer measures the amount of space displaced by the liquid in the vacuum-sealed cylinder.   Someone figured out that liquids expand when placed under heat.  You can see this every time you boil water in a pot over a stove range.  The hotter the flame, the higher the water will rise in the pan.   The same amount of liquid now occupies more space.
 
That is how a thermometer works.  The hotter it is the liquid inside the cylinder expands, the colder it gets the liquid contracts.  This phenomenon is predictable and reproducible; therefore, we can use these principles they can build thermometers.
 
Faith is also measured indirectly.  Christ told his disciples that a little faith could accomplish great things, we read in Matthew 17:20, "And Jesus said… If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove; Faith's Thermometer
 
The way we typically measure temperature is not a direct measure of heat.  Your typical mercury or alcohol thermometer measures the amount of space displaced by the liquid in the vacuum-sealed cylinder.   Someone figured out that liquids expand when placed under heat.  You can see this every time you boil water in a pot over a stove range.  The hotter the flame, the higher the water will rise in the pan.   The same amount of liquid now occupies more space.
 
That is how a thermometer works.  The hotter it is the liquid inside the cylinder expands, the colder it gets the liquid contracts.  This phenomenon is predictable and reproducible; therefore, we can use these principles they can build thermometers.
 
Faith is also measured indirectly.  Christ told his disciples that a little faith could accomplish great things, we read in Matthew 17:20, "And Jesus said… If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."  Christ established that our faith would be evident to others.  Many quote James famous discourse on faith and works,
 
James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
 
So, to many "works" is the proof of faith.  Paul says works do not save us.  In other instances, Christ seems to agree.  In Matthew 7, Christ tells the disciples,
 
Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Matthew 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
 
The works of the people mentioned here did not show faith.  However, Christ still insists, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20); a concept that seems reiterated in John 15 in connection with a display of Love or agape.  Christ tells the disciples in John 13,
 
John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
 
So, it seems to me that how we measure someone's faith is by His Love in us toward others. In 1 John, we find a connection between faith and Love.  By studying the passage from 1 John 4:12 through 1 John 5: 5 we can arrive at this statement: "By faith we overcome when we are born of God, Who is love, and we cannot see, but He dwells in us (and us in Him) and casts away our fear."  So, we can conclude that where there is faith, there is no fear for Love casts it away.   So, in the presence of self-less, self-denying, unconditional, perfect Love, there is no fear and only faith.    How do we know when this Love is in us?  When 1 John 3: 16 is right about us: "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."  It takes faith to do this.  nothing shall be impossible unto you."  Christ established that our faith would be evident to others.  Many quote James famous discourse on faith and works,
 
James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
 
So, to many "works" is the proof of faith.  Paul says works do not save us.  In other instances, Christ seems to agree.  In Matthew 7, Christ tells the disciples,
 
Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Matthew 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
 
The works of the people mentioned here did not show faith.  However, Christ still insists, "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20); a concept that seems reiterated in John 15 in connection with a display of Love or agape.  Christ tells the disciples in John 13,
 
John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
 
So, it seems to me that how we measure someone's faith is by His Love in us toward others. In 1 John, we find a connection between faith and Love.  By studying the passage from 1 John 4:12 through 1 John 5: 5 we can arrive at this statement: "By faith we overcome when we are born of God, Who is love, and we cannot see, but He dwells in us (and us in Him) and casts away our fear."  So, we can conclude that where there is faith, there is no fear for Love casts it away.   So, in the presence of self-less, self-denying, unconditional, perfect Love, there is no fear and only faith.    How do we know when this Love is in us?  When 1 John 3: 16 is right about us: "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."  It takes faith to do this.