Friday, May 27, 2016

Sheep In The Mall

Sheep In The Mall
Originally published in 2007.

Commentary To The Sabbath School Lesson 

At first glance, the picture in this week's lesson seems to depict a city or town. But, no, upon closer examination, the buildings all have steeples-church steeples. So what is depicted is not a city or town, but a grouping of religious structures or houses of worship. Something about the illustration was unsettling to me, and that's when I noticed that there were no steeples of mosques or temples. Why I wondered is that? Is the lesson trying to suggest that "Christ's Other Sheep" are all Christians, and that they are to found in other churches? Have you ever seen a sheep in a church? 

I haven't. But neither have I seen one in the Mall either. Of course, we know that Christ is using sheep to illustrate human characteristics. He uses several texts to demonstrate our nature, and describe our typical behavior- that of wandering (and perhaps wondering too) away-- to us. Through the prophet Isaiah, God says: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Is. 53:6) So by nature, we tend to go our own way. We wander away from where we're supposed to be, and we get lost. But Jesus says that the one defining characteristic of His sheep, 'whom He knows,' is that " 'they hear His voice, and they follow Him.'" 

So it's possible isn't it, for Christ's Sheep to be anywhere, in any religious organization, as long as they hear His voice, and listen to Him with a willingness to do His bidding. If they do, they will be following Him wherever He goes, and not wandering away. Christ said, "I came to do the will of Him who sent Me." How about us, do we hear His voice, do we listen to Him with a willing heart and mind, or are other pastures greener? 

Christ is calling His human sheep out of Babylon—out of confusion, and unbiblical thinking. After all to be in a false church (synagogue or temple) and hold false doctrines, is to think wrong thoughts. Is it possible to have a false belief system, and yet be in the 'right church'? Is it possible that we, individually, might be in Babylon? 

A secular sociologist discussing World War II stated that it changed the face of America. He stated, "there was a brain drain in Europe, more Europeans migrated to the United Sates, women stayed in the workforce, more people had more jobs in government, and the Religion of America became consumption." Imagine that? The religion of America's no longer Protestant, but Consumption. 

Apparently, the Religion of Consumption is composed of these elements: 

- Hyper-consumption 

- Shopping and Entertainment Centers with a magical element to attract or draw large numbers of people 

- Buildings modeled after churches, synagogues, or cathedrals 

According to the sociologist, more Americans are more likely to go to a mall on the weekend than to church. And thus, Malls are the churches of Consumption. And so the question is, are there Sheep in the Malls? Have we inadvertently become Sheep in the Malls? Through John the beloved, Jesus states in John 9:31: 

Now we know that God doesn't hear sinners (those with iniquity hidden in their hearts- Ps. 66:18): but if any man be a worshipper of God, and does His will, him He hears. 

Jesus also states in John 10:14,15: "I Am the good shepherd, and know My sheep, and Am known of mine. And other sheep have I not of this fold, them I must bring, and they shall hear My voice and there shall be one fold and one shepherd." 

When the rich young ruler came to Jesus, he asked what he should do to have eternal life. You probably remember the story. He approached Jesus calling Him, "Good Master." Jesus answers him with the question "why do you call Me good—there is none good, save God." Do we often find ourselves saying "so and so is a good person, he does…? The young ruler equated goodness with doing too. But here we see Christ equating goodness with God's character of love. 

Let's look at the text together. In John 19:18-26-- Jesus says, "if you will enter into life, keep the commandments," and then He recites them. The young man says, "this I've done from my youth." Then Jesus says, "if you'll be complete in Me, go and sell all you have, give to the poor, and you'll have treasure in heaven. But, hearing this, the young man went away sorrowful." How about us, do we become sad hearing this message too? Do we find loving others too difficult to do? Are we relying on our strength? 

Jesus said in Matt. 13:22 "… the deceitfulness of riches (and possessions), choke the word, (choke love out of the heart) and the follower of Christ becomes unfruitful (unloving). In Mark 10:22, Jesus states- those who trust in riches shall not enter into heaven. I'm sure that we've all said, then who can be saved? Jesus answers that in Mark 10:27… "With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible." In other words, being His sheep, hearing Him speak, following Him, loving as He loved is possible with Him. 

Jesus' Sheep, wherever they are right now, are listening to hear His voice. They are willing to be made willing to do His bidding. They may not have all the truth, but they are following Him, and He is leading them in the paths of Righteousness for His name's sake. All the law hangs on two principles: love to God supremely and to others as He has loved us—Matt. 22:40, John 13:34. In verse 35, Jesus says, " … by this unconditional, self-denying love, all men shall know you are My disciples. Jesus' Sheep hear His voice, and like Him, they depend on their Father for the power, and they lay down their lives in love. Are you in the Mall listening to Jesus? 

Maria Greaves-Barnes 

Ps. Most of us know the unfortunate ending to the story.  What we do not know is what Ellen White says inspired this man to run to Jesus, kneel down and ask Jesus the question. 

At first the rich young ruler was just observing the scene of the disciples, mothers, and children. But the tenderness Jesus showed with the children and mothers touched his heart. "He saw the love that Christ manifested toward the children brought to Him; he saw how tenderly He received them, and took them up in His arms, and his heart kindled with love for the Saviour. He felt a desire to be His disciple. He was so deeply moved that as Christ was going on His way, he ran after Him."—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 518.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Insight: Christ’s and the Law of Moses

Our Lesson States:

"Though all Jews were required to pay the temple tax, priests, Levites, and rabbis were exempt. So, this question about whether Jesus paid the temple tax was also a challenge to His ministry.

Ellen G. White writes that Peter missed an opportunity to testify on this occasion to the absolute authority of Christ. "By his answer to the collector, that Jesus would pay the tribute, he had virtually sanctioned the false conception of Him to which the priests and rulers were trying to give currency … If priests and Levites were exempt because of their connection with the temple, how much more He to whom the temple was His Father's house."—The Desire of Ages, pp. 433, 434.

We can learn much from Jesus' gracious response to Peter. Rather than humiliate him, Jesus gently explains his error. Moreover, Jesus adapts to the course Peter had taken in a most creative way. Rather than simply paying the tax—thereby acknowledging His obligation to it—Jesus gets the tax elsewhere: from the mouth of a fish."

A previous insight deals with this subject.  Let us read it.

Christ's and the Law of Moses
(Posted originally on 4/12/2014)

The introduction to our lesson states that the emphasis of the quarterly is the Moral Law, in other words, the Ten Commandments.  But, the memory text for last week's seems to downplay the importance of knowing these laws.  Why?  Let us read our memory text,

Romans 2:14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves,

This verse says that it is possible to do the law, without knowing the law.  For the Bible student, this should not come as a surprise.  As we read in Galatians 3:6, "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."  The word used for righteousness in Greek is the same word for justice.  So, that the righteous are just.  The just are doers of the law, and they live by faith (Romans 1: 17; 2: 13).  Now, faith comes through the hearing of the Word (Romans 10: 17).  Abraham heard God's word; Abraham believed it, therefore, was reckoned a doer of the law.  Did Abraham know the Ten Commandments?  No, he did not.  Abraham knew the Gospel, but not the Ten Commandments.  These were not given more than 400 years after.  It begs the question, what Law did Abraham keep?

Even angels did not know there was a Law until they learned it from God.  Ellen White says, 

But in heaven, service is not rendered in the spirit of legality. When Satan rebelled against the law of Jehovah, the thought that there was a law came to the angels almost as an awakening to something unthought of. In their ministry the angels are not as servants, but as sons. There is perfect unity between them and their Creator. Obedience is to them no drudgery. Love for God makes their service a joy. So in every soul wherein Christ, the hope of glory, dwells, His words are re-echoed, "I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart." Psalm 40:8. {MB 109.2}

No one will deny that the angels are doers of the Law, but these were doers of the Law even when they did not know there was a law.  So then why was the Law given?  Paul says in Galatians,

Gal 3:19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, …

Here the word added has a connotation of being spoken, declared.  The word transgression in Greek has a connotation of stepping aside the path.  So, the Law is declared because of our stepping aside the path of Christ.  This concept is evident in the following Ellen White's quote,

"If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept God's law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses. {PP 364.2}"

What our quarterly intends to uplift was given because the people failed to cherish God's covenant to them.  Anytime the 10 Commandments are lifted up it is a reminder that the belief in the Covenant has been abandoned.  Should we then keep the Ten Commandments or the rest of the law hidden? 

Romans 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

When I was growing up, a 15-year-old had to wait until he was 16 to take the driver's license test.  Should he hate the law because he is 15?  Or, should he wait a few more months until he turns 16?  Even those who are displeased with the law will likely wait until they fulfill the requirements.  What does the Law require?

"The law requires righteousness,—a righteous life, a perfect character; and this man has not to give. He cannot meet the claims of God's holy law. But Christ, coming to the earth as man, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character. These He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them. His life stands for the life of men. Thus they have remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. More than this, Christ imbues men with the attributes of God. He builds up the human character after the similitude of the divine character, a goodly fabric of spiritual strength and beauty. Thus the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in the believer in Christ. God can 'be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.' Rom. 3:26."—The Desire of Ages (1940), p. 762

The law is a reminder that we do not believe God's promises, and that we are not keeping His covenant.  And, it is by believing the promises that we become righteous.  Since, the righteous are the doers of the Law, and love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13: 10), then it follows that by believing God's promises we become loving. 

Now, Jesus is very clear; He came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5: 1).  However, being that Jesus is God, and therefore love, He is the fulfilling of the law.  He not only gave it or kept himself subject to it, but He also fulfilled it.  We need to add here that the word Law in the New Testament refers to the books of Moses.  Jesus said that these books, indeed Moses, spoke of Jesus (John 5:46).

The reason Jesus made Himself subject to the Laws, is evident on Wednesday lesson.  Although, the author of our lesson uses the story to push his agenda.  Let's read the passage in question,

Mat 17:24 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?
Mat 17:25 He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
Mat 17:26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
Mat 17:27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.

This incident was a trap to discredit Jesus as much as was the incident with the adulterous woman.  Priests and prophets did not pay the tribute.  If Jesus did not pay, they could accuse Jesus of being subversive.  If He paid, Jesus was saying that what the leaders were saying of Him was true.  Ellen White elaborates,

" If Jesus had paid the tribute without a protest, He would virtually have acknowledged the justice of the claim, and would thus have denied His divinity. But while He saw good to meet the demand, He denied the claim upon which it was based. In providing for the payment of the tribute He gave evidence of His divine character. It was made manifest that He was one with God, and therefore was not under tribute as a mere subject of the kingdom." (DA 434).

According to the author of our lesson Jesus gave money to the ungodly church leaders, therefore, so should we.  But, Jesus did not give money from neither Peter nor Jesus' pocket or from the purse that Judas held (John 13: 29).  He sent Peter to catch a fish, open the fish's mouth take out a coin in the mouth and give it to the tax collector.  Peter could have kept the fish to eat it.  Also, the verse tells us why Jesus gave the money, "less they be offended."  Jesus did object to giving.  But, He gave regardless not to offend the leaders, for whom He longed that they would accept Him as their Savior.  Jesus expression "less they be offended," reminds us of when Paul wrote, "to me all things are legal, but for the sake of the weak, I refrain…"  Offending the leaders, unnecessarily, would mean to place Himself beyond a place to reveal His love for them.  Again from Ellen White,

"While Jesus made it plain that He was under no obligation to pay the tribute, He entered into no controversy with the Jews in regard to the matter; for they would have misinterpreted His words, and turned them against Him. Lest He should give offense by withholding the tribute, He did that which He could not justly be required to do. This lesson would be of great value to His disciples. Marked changes were soon to take place in their relation to the temple service, and Christ taught them not to place themselves needlessly in antagonism to established order. So far as possible, they were to avoid giving occasion for misinterpretation of their faith. While Christians are not to sacrifice one principle of truth, they should avoid controversy whenever it is possible to do so." {DA 434} 

We are to pick our battles prayerfully.  

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Insight: The Faith of a "Puppy”?

The Faith of a "Puppy"?
Any honest student of the Bible must admit that certain biblical stories seem problematic, especially when encountered for the first time. Yet, upon further investigation, the apparent difficulties vanish and the meanings become increasingly evident. One episode in Jesus' life that has historically been misunderstood by some believers and misrepresented by skeptics is Jesus' encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman. Mark records the episode as follows:
For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him [Jesus], and she came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. But Jesus said to her, "Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." And she answered and said to Him, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children's crumbs." Then He said to her, "For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter." And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed (Mark 7:25-30; cf Matthew 15:21-28).
When the Gentile woman addressed Jesus, she called Him, "Son of David." Her manner of addressing Him indicated both her familiarity with Jewish Scripture as well as her belief in them; this was something that the Jews had a hard time doing (believing).  
Up to this point in our story, Jesus had been speaking directly to His disciples. Now, He talked to the woman and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." By "children" He meant Israelites (Acts 10:36); while "dogs" were symbols of unclean Gentiles, a proverbial expression used by the Jews to represent their sense of national superiority over the nations. Jesus Himself did not call the Gentiles "dogs." He merely used the term here to point out the traditional antipathy between Jews and Gentiles, which His disciples echoed. The word Jesus used for "dogs" actually meant "little dogs" or, "puppies" versus the large, wild dogs native to the area. In fact, what Jesus was really alluding to was the family pet puppy that could often be found under the table at dinnertime, begging for scraps.
To construe Jesus' statement as unkind or wrong, we would need to prove that the illustration or idiom He used to refer to the Gentiles as "little dogs", is indeed derogatory. But, there is nothing to prove that conclusion. In fact, as mentioned above, the term Jesus used for "little dogs" could easily be taken in an illustrative way without any unkind insinuation. In a commentary on Mark, a renowned commentator (R.C.H. Lenski)  the Greek term used by Jesus (kunaria) as "little pet dogs." This scholar further noted concerning Jesus' statement: "In the Orient, dogs have no owners but run wild and serve as scavengers for all garbage and offal.... It is an entirely different conception when Jesus speaks of 'little pet dogs' in referring to the Gentiles. These have owners who keep them even in the house and feed them by throwing them bits from the table" (1961, p. 304). The Commentator goes on to state: "All that Jesus does is to ask the disciples and the woman to accept the divine plan that Jesus must work out his mission among the Jews.... Any share of Gentile individuals, in any of these blessings, can only be incidental during Jesus' ministry in Israel" (ibid, pp. 304-305). Regarding the non-derogatory nature of Jesus' comment to the Gentile woman, another commentator (Allen Black): "The form of his statement is proverbial. And the basis of the proverb is not an antipathy for Gentiles, but the necessary Jewish focus of Jesus' earthly ministry" (1995, p. 137).
Because of her faith and humility, this mother did not take offense at Jesus' comments. Desperate, His words didn't discourage her. Because of her knowledge of His compassion and ability to heal, she was filled with hope and faith. Feeling deeply unworthy, she accepted her place among the dogs, and merely asked for spiritual crumbs; a little crumb for her daughter is all she sought.
Impressed with this mother's answer, Jesus told her to return home and upon doing so, she found her daughter healed. Notice, Jesus did not touch or come near the possessed girl. He merely healed her by His word. This distal healing is one of the few mentioned in the New Testament, and the only one recorded by Mark. (One other such distal healing is also on behalf of a Gentile -- Cornelius, the Roman Centurian. He too also felt unworthy. "Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed," he said. Jesus commended the faith of these two Gentiles, and held them up as paragons of faith for the Jews, and for us.).
According to Galatians 3:26, truly we are all the children of God by the faith of Jesus Christ. And God Himself does not show partiality, for the benefits of the gospel are for all. Regarding the Syro-Phoenician woman, she counted herself a "puppy," and faithfully looked forward to being counted by God as His child. Although she stood outside of the elect family of Israel, she trusted that Jesus' goodness would impart a blessing. By intervening on behalf of her and of her daughter, Jesus showed that the Gentiles' potential for salvation was no less than that of Israelites.
Ellen White's statement elaborates on this concept effectively.  Let us read it,
"Christ … received this representative of a despised race as the Jews would have done.... The woman urged her case with increased earnestness, bowing at Christ's feet, and crying, 'Lord, help me.'
She yields at once to the divine influence of Christ, and has implicit faith in His ability to grant the favor she asks. She begs for the crumbs that fall from the Master's table. If she may have the privilege of a dog, she is willing to be regarded as a dog. She has no national or religious prejudice or pride to influence her course, and she immediately acknowledges Jesus as the Redeemer, and as being able to do all that she asks of Him… The Saviour is satisfied.
In faith the woman of Phoenicia flung herself against the barriers that had been piled up between Jew and Gentile. Against discouragement, regardless of appearances that might have led her to doubt, she trusted the Saviour's love. It is thus that Christ desires us to trust in Him. The blessings of salvation are for every soul. Nothing but his own choice can prevent any man from becoming a partaker of the promise in Christ by the gospel. 
Caste is hateful to God. He ignores everything of this character. In His sight the souls of all men are of equal value. 'For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved' (Romans 10:12, 13)." {Conflict and Courage, 297}
Are we unwittingly discouraging the faith of a puppy? Lord help us!

~Raul Diaz