Friday, June 26, 2015

“Crucified and Risen”

"Crucified and Risen"
For the week of June 27, 2015

Have We Been Persuaded?

This week's study is on the resurrection, so let's look together at a story which will hopefully help us to deeply consider how it relates to the resurrection as well as how it applies to us today. 

Remember the story of Peter Rabbit? You know, the one where Mother Rabbit encourages Peter and his siblings to go outside and play, but cautions against two things: losing or destroying their clothes and entering into Mr. McGregor's garden. Mother Rabbit had her reasons for warning against entering Mr. McGregor's garden, as Mr. McGregor had killed Father Rabbit in that very garden. (Father Rabbit had also gone there to eat some of Mr. McGregor's vegetables). So, off Peter Rabbit and siblings went, with Mother's warning ringing in their ears. Peter's siblings were determined to follow Mother's admonition, but Peter wasn't. He decided to go into the garden anyway. And at first, all was well as he feasted on all sorts of fresh produce such as carrots, lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, and the like. Munching happily away, Peter sniffed the cucumbers and boy did they smell good. Allured, he hopped over to the cucumber patch, when all of a sudden, he and Mr. McGregor came face to face. Surprised and irritated, Mr. McGregor immediately picked up his rake and pursued Peter round and round through the cucumbers, the tomatoes, radishes, lettuce and the carrots. What mayhem they caused in the process. But try as he might, Peter could not find the entrance into the garden, nor a place to hide from Mr. McGregor. Frantic now, Peter kept looking, until at last, up ahead he saw a light. At last he'd found the garden entrance. Hopping as fast as he could, Peter squeezed through the small opening and was free. Momentarily relieved, Peter sat down to catch his breath and that's when he noticed that he had lost his clothes hopping madly through the garden. "Now, I'm in big trouble," he thought, "mother is going to be so mad at me." "Why didn't I listen?" he asked himself.

Did Peter really not listen? Did he not hear his mother's words? Of course he heard, after all he could repeat what was said. So what went wrong? Apparently there is a difference between hearing and listening. In our story, it is evident that Peter did hear his mother, but since he desired to do other than his mother admonished, he did not actively listen to her, lest he be persuaded to change his mind. That Peter resisted being persuaded is evident by his cavalier attitude.
It is obvious that this story was written about obedience. In the English language (and in many others), the word obey is typically translated "to do what you're told" (despite dictionary references stating the contrary). According to the common definition, Peter Rabbit was disobedient the moment he did not do what his mother told him to do. But is this really getting at the heart of obedience? The word rendered obey originates from a compound word meaning to actively listen. You cannot do as you are told unless you have listened carefully as to what to do. And furthermore, you cannot do so cheerfully and joyfully unless you trust the person you are listening to, implicitly. You see, Peter trusted himself more, he trusted his knowledge of his abilities, while underestimating that of Mr. McGregor's. This distrust of His mother led to his unwillingness to listen to her.

At its core, obedience is about hearing from the one who has your heart; it will not matter if the One communicating with you speaks to you with an inward, silent persistent thought, or an audible external voice. What matters is, will you, through trusting and confiding love, choose to heed what you have actively listened to? A wise man has said, "First there is the mental creation, (the mind involves the emotions) then the action is taken." So obedience involves not only our outward actions, but our motives and attitudes prior to the doing. Interestingly, a literal translation of the word "obey" in the Hebrew and Greek, is to listen willingly, eagerly, attentively, leaning in to the speaker, straining to catch the slightest nuance. Its opposite meaning would be, hearing while preoccupied, resisting the one who is speaking, reluctantly paying attention, and finally, listening to find the disagreeable. The latter are all things Peter Rabbit engaged in.

The Apostle Paul says, "Faith comes through the hearing and hearing through the Word of God" (Romans 10:17).  The Greek term used for 'faith' means to be persuaded. Referring to our story, Peter Rabbit heard his mother's words; but he did not actively listen. Furthermore, he refused to be persuaded by them. In contrast, his siblings chose to be persuaded by those very same words. Their respective actions revealed their respective choices. Paul knew exactly what this meant. He, too, lived for a long time refusing to be persuaded by the Word of God. And, his actions revealed his choice of resisting persuasion. Ellen White speaks of Paul's experience.  She says:

The Saviour had spoken to Saul through Stephen, whose clear reasoning could not be controverted. The learned Jew had seen the face of the martyr reflecting the light of Christ's glory--appearing as if "it had been the face of an angel." Acts 6:15. He had witnessed Stephen's forbearance toward his enemies and his forgiveness of them. He had also witnessed the fortitude and cheerful resignation of many whom he had caused to be tormented and afflicted. He had seen some yield up even their lives with rejoicing for the sake of their faith. All these things had appealed loudly to Saul and at times had thrust upon his mind an almost overwhelming conviction that Jesus was the promised Messiah. At such times he had struggled for entire nights against this conviction, and always he had ended the matter by avowing his belief that Jesus was not the Messiah and that His followers were deluded fanatics (Acts of the Apostles, p. 116).

It was not that Saul did not hear the Word. It was that he did not make space in his heart for it, and therefore refused to be persuaded. After, Saul's conversion his actions revealed his persuasion. The same could be said of the disciples. Christ told them many times of His impending death and resurrection, but they refused to be persuaded. Ellen White elaborates thus:

"After the death of Christ the disciples were well-nigh overcome by discouragement ...Jesus had several times attempted to open the future to His disciples, but they had not cared to think about what He said. ... When Christ was crucified, they did not believe that He would rise. He had stated plainly that He was to rise on the third day, but they were perplexed to know what He meant. This lack of comprehension left them at the time of His death in utter hopelessness. ...If they had believed the Saviour's words, how much sorrow they might have been spared!" (Acts of the Apostles, p. 26)

Three times in Luke 24 the disciples and others were reminded, "remember how He spake unto you when He was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again" (Luke 24: 6 -7). The disciples had all the evidence they needed to believe, but, preoccupied with who would be the greatest among them in the kingdom, they reluctantly paid attention to Christ's words, resisted considering them, and thus refused to be persuaded. Yet, Mary Magdalene, with less evidence, believed, and, her later action of anointing Christ, revealed her belief.

In our day, those who profess Christianity believe in Christ's resurrection. But, do they believe in His soon and imminent return? In Luke 12, Christ tells the Parable of the Unwise Servant. This servant believed his master would take a long time to return. So, this servant said, "… in his heart, my lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken" (Luke 12:45). This parable references those who, in our time, having heard the Words of Jesus regarding His return, refuse to be persuaded that His coming is imminent. How do we know they believe that Jesus is not coming soon? Their actions reveal what they believe. They are preoccupied with eating, drinking, marrying, and being given in marriage; they buy and sell, plant and build (as if there is no eternity to reckon with -- Matthew 24:37 – 39; Luke 17:28 – 30). With hardened hearts, they think highly of themselves, and look down on others, and consequently abuse and mistreat each other. These have heard the Words of God, but they resist their import and refuse to be persuaded by them. Friends, let us not be resistive to God's Words, but joyfully receive them, letting them persuade us while there is still time. Let the world see by our agape-ing others that His Word has found its home in our hearts. As the scripture says, "those with ears, let them hear" (Revelation 3:13, 22).

Raul Diaz

Friday, June 19, 2015

Whose image will they see?

The Following commentary was about the incident described in Luke 22: 20 – 26 as told in the book of Matthew.  I hope it is helpful.

Whose image will they see?

In the past people most transactions were bartering.  I'll give you 4 of these for 6 of those.  But now most transactions are done with money.  Most countries today have their own currency, or money; although, many countries in Europe have a common currency.   Typically, money has two ways of existing: one is through electronic transaction, i.e credit cards, debit cards, etc.  The other way – the old way - is by using paper or coins.  Paper and money have distinct ways of identifying them.  Yes, most countries have different size, shape and color paper and coin money.  But, also within the country, the money whether paper or coins have their distinct identifying marks. 

Here in the United States there are different amount denominations for both paper and coins.  Our paper currency is all the same shape, size, color, and similar design; they have different images drawn into them.  For the connoisseur, looking at the image can tell them the denomination of the paper bill.  All images however, tend to be of important characters of American history, such as dead presidents.  The coins also are distinct.  They have the same shape, but different sizes and different colors on some cases.  Also, like their paper counterpart, the also have different images.  Each respective size is a respective denomination.  In some coins, however, the image can tell you the year they were minted.  With all the differences in the coins, there is no way of mistaking it for the currency of another nation.  Anyone that sees it can identify it as American money.   The coin and paper represent a value of money that is yours as long as it is in your possession.  However, the coin and paper themselves are owned by the United States Government (Some would argue this point). 

This fact of someone owning the coins is not new.  Even in Roman days, the emperor owned the coins.  No one could doubt that, the image of Caesar – the Roman Emperor – was on the coin.  We know this from sources such as History or archeology.   The Bible also tells us about the image of Caesar in the Roman coins.  Let us read the account,

Matthew 22: 15 Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
Matthew 22: 16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
Matthew 22: 17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
Matthew 22: 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
Matthew 22: 19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
Matthew 22: 20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
Matthew 22: 21 They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
Matthew 22: 22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.

Before this incident Christ had exposed the hypocrisy of the.  So, they sought revenge.   They thought that about trapping Jesus to make Him look bad, even criminal.  They counseled with the Herodians - their bitter enemies who now had their enmity to Christ in common.  The idea was that if Christ said it was legal to pay taxes, then He would be against God's word according to the Pharisees.  But, if Christ said that it was not legal, then they could accuse Him to the Roman authorities.  Their plan failed.  Ellen White says about Christ's reply,

Christ's reply was no evasion, but a candid answer to the question. Holding in His hand the Roman coin, upon which were stamped the name and image of Caesar, He declared that since they were living under the protection of the Roman power, they should render to that power the support it claimed, so long as this did not conflict with a higher duty. But while peaceably subject to the laws of the land, they should at all times give their first allegiance to God. {DA 602.4} 

A Christian writer wrote, 'Give your money to Caesar; it has his image on it, and thus it belongs to him. But give yourselves to God. You bear his image, and you belong to him.'  With this in mind, we see that in verse 22 Christ asked whose image and superscription was on the coin.  They all replied Caesar's.  So, it was evident that the coin belonged to Caesar.  Can people by looking at us say, "You have God's image and superscription on you, you belong to Him?"  To see ourselves as coins is not that big of a stretch.  Christ used a coin to describe us in the parable of the lost coin (Luke 15: 8-10).  If Christ were to hold us up as He did the coin, and asks the crowd, "Whose image and superscription do you see?, What would the crowd answer, "Your own (Christ's) or Caesars."     Christ said to the disciples that others will know that you are my disciples by your love for one another (John 13:35).  Can others say that about us?  Our character is the image and superscription that tells others who do we belong to.  What will it say about us?


Friday, June 12, 2015

The Kingdom of God

The commentary for this week is an adapted excerpt from a Sermon about the Parable of the Mustard Seed.  Ir clearly defines and describes the Kingdom of God, to me.  I pray it will do the same for you.  

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Mark 4:30-32:

Again he said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade."

Among this crowd that came to listen to Jesus were some scribes and Pharisees who had, unfortunately, perverted the whole purpose and mission of the Messiah. They had taken the ideas, the philosophies, the system of the world and applied it to the kingdom of God. Then Jesus came. He was poor, uneducated, and, in their eyes, insignificant. How could He be the One to fulfill that great mission of the Messiah, who was supposed to come as a conquering ruler and get rid of the Romans and establish the kingdom of God? In response to this false theology, Jesus spoke this parable of the mustard seed.

Three of the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, and Luke — record the parable of the mustard seed. We are going to study this parable from Mark. Notice that Jesus began this parable by asking two questions. Mark 4:30:

Again he said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?"

The Pharisees were trying to compare the kingdom of God to a typical kingdom of this world, except it would be stronger, it would be greater, it would be richer. Jesus was simply saying by these questions, "There is nothing in secular history, there is no earthly kingdom with which I can compare the kingdom of God because the kingdom of God is in complete opposition to anything that is human."

Ellen White touched on this in Christ Object Lessons page 77,

"Earthly governments prevail by physical force; they maintain their dominion by war; but the founder of the new kingdom [the kingdom of God] is the Prince of Peace. The Holy Spirit represents worldly kingdoms under the symbols of fierce beasts of prey [you will find this in the books of Daniel and Revelation]; but Christ is 'the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.' John 1:29. In His plan of government there is no employment of brute force to compel the conscience. The Jews looked for the kingdom of God to be established in the same way as the kingdoms of the world. [This is the part I want you to listen to.] To promote righteousness they resorted to external measures. They devised methods and plans. But Christ implants a principal. By implanting truth and righteousness He counteracts error and sin."

To Implant means to set in firmly, as into the ground; to insert or embed (such as an object or a device) (it could be surgically, implant a pacemaker); to graft or insert (a tissue a tissue) within the body. One of the uses of the word to sow is similar to implant. I think it is important for me to tell you this because we are talking about seeds. So we have here a contrast: the Jews, and most of us, modify behavior, God changes what motivates the behavior, by implanting a principle. To modify behavior the Jews imposed

rules and regulations. Of course, they never worked. So, they found loopholes for failing. And eventually, created more rules to accommodate failing.

Many today still want to follow the same methods as the Jews did: they want to impose upon you rules and regulations and tell you, "either shape up, or ship out." That is a worldly method. A Russian Marxist once told a Pastor, "We don't believe in five day non-smoking programs. That doesn't work. We believe in authority. When we pass a law, 'No smoking,' nobody smokes, because, if they do, they will have to swallow lead." God doesn't use that method. There was nothing in the worldly kingdom Christ could use for comparison.

So what did He do? He took a little seed from among the different spices they used in the Middle East, He took the smallest of the spices, a little round seed approximately one-thirty-second of an inch in diameter, (What this means is that if I took 32 mustard seeds and lined up side by side the line would an inch long.) So, Christ uses the seed to compare the Kingdom of God. Why? It is because the kingdom of God works in a completely different system. It does not work on the basis of rules and regulations. He implants in the life of the believer a new life, a new principal. When that life is released by germination and is allowed to develop, it produces a bush that is bigger than any other tree. (Germination is the process in which a plant or fungus emerges from a seed or spore, , and it begins to grow.) The mustard seed, the smallest of small seeds, Jesus says, produces a bush that is so big compared to the other herbs that the birds can come to rest on it and find shade.

I don't know how many of you have seen a mustard seed. Has anyone here seen a mustard seed? It looks like a grain of sand. Jesus used this seed as an example because there were bushes of mustard all over the area. It was a very common plant. They could see this mustard bush towering above all other herbs because, even though the seed was small, it produced a huge bush, as Jesus says in this parable. Jesus is comparing the kingdom of God with this mustard seed. Christ is saying that the kingdom of God does not begin by force. God doesn't take the kingdom of the world by force. He implants in the life of individuals, in the life of the church, a new life, a new principle. It starts very small then it grows. It starts as a belief and gradually grows into action. As long as that mustard seed sits in a bottle or jar it is useless as far as reproducing. But the moment you sow it, it starts to grow large. … and that's what the parable is talking about —Let turn to verses 3l-32:

It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.

When you sow the mustard seed into the ground something happens, because in that mustard seed is a life principle. There's a germ in it which has life in it. (Germ as in germination - ). That life is dormant until the seed is sown. When does that seed spring to life? That's one of the questions we are going to answer. Because when it does, it begins to grow and it grows it grows so large, Jesus says, that it covers the whole earth. Now Jesus, of course, was primarily referring to the establishment of the kingdom of God as part of the Christian church.

The Christian church began with a very small, insignificant group — twelve disciples. They were fishermen; they were peasants; they had no PhDs; they had no technology behind them; they had no budget; they were poor; they were insignificant; they counted for nothing in the eyes of the Pharisees and the scribes. But when we turn to Acts 17:6, which was only a few years later, that seed had germinated and grown so mightily that the enemies of the gospel accused the Christian church and the disciples of turning the world upside down:

Acts 17:6 And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;

It was a small beginning, but what a great growth.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Cosmic Conflict Over God’s Character

The inclusion of the Parable of the Minas is very appropriate.  Those who follow not believe He is "... an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow" (Luke 19: 21).  This parable resembles the parable of Talents.    Following is a commentary written about the latter parable.  It's teaching apply to the former.  

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 they were given.  We are not told why.  But, the last servant hid the talent, and did not improve on it, but we are told why.  This man's action based 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 really 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.  She judged God's character incorrectly.  This is what 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 believing 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 believe of God what Satan says of Him? 

If this is what we believe then we believe that something must be done to avoid the punishment.  God must be appeased.  This is the core belief of every pagan religion.  This is why they practiced 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 - to be reconciled to us.  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 there concept of God differs from Jesus.  Jesus Himself tells us that He and the Father are One.  Jesus is a prefect representation of His Father.  Any concept 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), not to punish the patient for having a harmful health condition, but to get rid of what is ailing the patient.  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).