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Archive for September, 2011

The Gospel in Galatians Lesson 1: “Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles”

Sabbath School Today

The Gospel in Galatians

Lesson 1: “Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles”

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Have you learned to love the Book of Galatians? Or is it dull, boring, confusing? It has been the spark that has ignited glorious reformations in people’s lives since the time of Martin Luther. So you should learn to make friends with it, to love it, to let your heart revel in its powerful good news.

How does a lukewarm, sensual, half-worldly, half-cold, half-hot person get to be “on fire” like Paul? The answer is Galatians. People wonder why Galatians could have such gospel dynamite in it that it one time turned Europe upside down.

The statement of the “acceptance theory” of the 1888 message of righteousness by faith is made in the quarterly with these words: “Through the study of Galatians, E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones helped the Adventist Church in the 1880s and 90s rediscover the truth of righteousness by faith” (The Gospel in Galatians, p. 2 [2011]). The word “rediscover” is the operative word. This cannot be maintained in view of what Ellen White wrote: “An unwillingness to yield up preconceived opinions, … [occurred] at Minneapolis against the Lord’s message through Brethren [E. J.] Waggoner and [A. T.] Jones. By exciting that opposition Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longed to impart to them. … The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world” (Selected Messages, book 1 pp. 234, 235 [1896]).

The church has yet to identify justification by faith with the sanctuary truth of at-one-ment with God. To date justification is viewed, as do other denominations, with a mere legal transaction which doesn’t affect the heart alienation with God. The church would be turned upside down if it captured the “big ideas” in Galatians that explode in people’s hearts like sticks of spiritual dynamite. We must study and learn the message of Galatians–what Christ accomplished for us by His sacrifice on the cross, the good news of the atonement, what is the new covenant.

The one who wrote Galatians was the former Saul, a murderous “thug,” the end-product of Israel’s old covenant unbelief. How ironic that Saul should participate in the stoning of Stephen, the prophet, which event signaled the end of the 490 years of grace extended by God to His people (Dan. 9:24). God’s patient forgiving mercy terminated for the “Jewish church.” Its national apostasy in the worship of “self,” manifested in its ceremonialism (Acts 7:48-50), drove away the Spirit of God (vs. 51). This resulted in national ruin with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Romans. But Christ plucked a brand from the fire,–the Pharisee Saul,– before its collapse.

Saul was a microcosm of the centuries-long old covenant unbelief of the ancient Israelite church in which they promised God to do everything just right (Ex. 19:8; cf. Heb. 8:7, 8). Christ Himself had instituted all the rites and ceremonies after they made their old covenant with God at Mt. Sinai, in order to lead them back to “the faith” in His promise of the everlasting covenant. But the leadership and scholarship of that day did not know the meaning of these types and shadows, and failed to identify their Messiah–the suffering crucified One–when He came into their midst.

The significance of Stephen’s defense speech before the “council” and “high priest” was God’s last warning and appeal to the leadership of His church to repent for their idolatrous history culminating in the murder of “the Just One” (Acts 7:52). The “council” had accused Stephen of teaching lawlessness (6:13), but they were the idolaters cherishing murder in their hearts (7:53). Stephen proclaimed the law and the gospel of the cross of Christ which pricked their hearts; and they chose to reject the Spirit’s gift of repentance and instead took up stones. The leadership’s decision sealed their fate as a nation. They would no more listen to the still small voice of the Spirit. They committed the unpardonable sin by attributing the work of the Spirit to the devil (Matt. 12:22-32).

The young Saul was part of the council which participated in the stoning of Stephen by acting as the “coat check” for the judge, jury and executioners. The shining face of Stephen and his forgiving spirit toward his executions made a profound impression upon Saul (Acts 7:60; Acts of the Apostles [AA], p. 116). Jesus had prayed for them all, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34; Acts 6:15-7:60). But that was Stephen’s last sermon–the benediction he pronounced was in his dying. We have the sermon recorded; no self entered in. No “prophet of Baal” could preach such a sermon.

Saul, too, resisted the Holy Spirit, and gave in to the “group think” of his superiors within the Sanhedrin. He concluded with them that Stephen was a blasphemer and that Christians were followers of an imposter Messiah. Saul believed Stephen was a libertine, destructive of the law of God.

Saul now sought to gain the favor of his colleagues by following their example in the murder of Stephen. By obtaining letters of recommendation from the high court in Jerusalem he could go out to synagogues and with their support persecute the followers of Jesus. This was Saul’s purpose when journeying to Damascus.

But the Lord Jesus arrested him on the road with the blinding vision of His exalted position in heaven as a result of His crucifixion (Acts 26:13). The Lord Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (9:4). “Christ here identifies Himself with His people” (AA 117). Saul was sincerely deceived by Satan. In doing the work of Satan he thought he was doing the work of God. He was actually re-crucifying the Son of God afresh in the person of His saints.

Christ said to Saul: “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 26:14). The Lord put obstacles in his path to make the wrong way seem like kicking against the goads. Yes, the Lord made it “hard” for Saul to be lost! This is one of the “good news” ideas of the 1888 message. It’s easy to be saved and hard to be lost if you know this truth: You live because One died in your place; love (agape) now motivates you. “All along the road that leads to [eternal] death there are pains and penalties, there are sorrows and disappointments, there are warnings not to go on. God’s love has made it hard for the heedless and headstrong to destroy themselves” (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 139).

Saul asked: “Who art thou, Lord? And He said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (Acts 26:15). This was Jesus’ self-revelation of the ever-present cross to Saul. “In the glorious Being who stood before him he saw the Crucified One” (AA 115).

The point is that conviction came to Saul’s heart by means of the cross of Christ. It was a heart-melting appreciation that his Messiah was “the crucified One.” Now all the prophecies, types, and shadows of the ceremonial system came alive for him as pointing to “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29; AA 115).

Saul received the laying on of hands by Ananias thus commissioning him as Christ’s “chosen instrument to carry [his] name before the Gentiles and their kings before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Above all, Paul was called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. In his speech before Agrippa, the call to a Gentile mission constitutes the center of the conversion account. Paul is sent forth as the servant and witness of Christ (26:16).

The old covenant never leads to the cross. It cannot produce genuine conversion. It never produces genuine revival and reformation. It always leads to dependence on “self” and the people’s promises to “trust and obey.” It, indeed, genders to bondage and slavery in a continuous spiral into sin.

It was the revelation of the cross to Saul that opened up to him the whole reason for Israel’s history of ups and downs in revival and reformation. The only true religion is the religion that derives from the self-denying love of God revealed at the cross. It alone produces new covenant faith. It produces genuine revival and reformation. If the “Golden Boy” of the Jewish Church could repent of missing the Messiah, then the Laodicean Church can “be zealous … and repent” of missing her “latter rain” (Rev. 3:19).

Paul E. Penno

Worship Lesson 12: “Worship in the Early Church”

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Sabbath School Today

Worship

Lesson 12: “Worship in the Early Church”

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound? If the Holy Spirit is poured out and no one hears it does it make a sound? “For as the rain cometh down, … and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, … so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void. …” (Isa. 55:10, 11).

Peter explained the meaning of Pentecost from the prophet Joel: “I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17). God pours out His Holy Spirit upon everybody in the world, but it doesn’t mean that everybody receives Him. Christ “was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). The ancient Jews didn’t believe this. They thought they were the only enlightened ones.

Jesus helps us understand: “when He [the Holy Spirit] is come, He will reprove [convict] the world of sin, … because they believe not on Me” (John 16:7-9). The Holy Spirit sheds light on every human heart; that person may not receive the light, but in the last great judgment day, no one can accuse God of not letting some light shine upon his pathway, some evidence on which that soul could make a choice. In every human heart the Holy Spirit has brought a conviction of sin, a sense of right and wrong. And blessed are those who respond to that conviction the Holy Spirit gives.

Something bigger than the worship on the day Pentecost happened in 1888 and there was minimal reception and maximum rejection. Does that mean that nobody heard it and therefore it never happened? Ellen White pled with “men” to “give up their spirit of resistance to the Holy Spirit, … The Holy Spirit has been insulted, and light has been rejected” (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1494, Feb. 6, 1896).

“We” have “Pentecostal envy” because they have “light and much power.” There is pop “christian” music, dramatic presentations, comic monologues, and light heartedness, mega churches, but they have not followed Jesus into the holiest; consequently, “Satan would then breathe upon them an unholy influence; … but no sweet love, joy, and peace” (Early Writings, p. 56).

It’s time for us to awake to the fact that it is only “those who rose up with Jesus [who] would send up their faith to Him in the holiest, and pray, ‘My Father, give us Thy Spirit.’ Then Jesus would breathe upon them the Holy Ghost. In that breath was light, power, and much love, joy, and peace” (Early Writings, p. 55).

The fact of the matter is that Pentecost happened again in 1888. “… The loud cry of the third angel has already begun in the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer. This is the beginning of the light of the angel whose glory shall fill the whole earth” (Review and Herald, Nov. 22, 1892). “… The message of justification by faith … ‘is the third angel’s message in verity‘” (Review and Herald, April 1, 1890).

It was greater “light” on the truth of “justification by faith”–a dynamo of power rushing through the floodgates–as the Holy Spirit came straight from the “holiest” with a message of heart-reconciling agape-love. The message of the forgiveness of sins was God’s declaration of “peace” to the sinner resulting in much “joy”. It was our Day of Atonement message.

This message wins the hearts of a “lukewarm” church and they, in turn, share it with the world. “The message given us by A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner is the message of God to the Laodicean church, … Justification by faith and the righteousness of Christ are the themes to be presented to a perishing world” (1888 Materials, p. 1052, 1054).

These themes are the “much more abounding grace” of God’s love. This is the cleansing of the sanctuary truth. Jesus is ministering the “present truth” of the cross to turn hearts. It is the very “heart and soul” of the Ten Commandments. The “seal” of God’s law is the seventh-day Sabbath. The very foundation of His law is agape. Hence, the Sabbath is the gospel of Jesus’ reconciling love. The Sabbath is the very embodiment of the sanctuary message–the centerpiece of worship.

Our pioneers were divinely directed to choose the name “Seventh-day Adventist.” The Sabbath is the cleansing of the sanctuary truth which prepares a people for translation at His second coming. “At the commencement of the time of trouble, we were filled with the Holy Ghost as we went forth and proclaimed the Sabbath more fully” (EGW, Maranatha, p. 170). Sabbath day worship is now seen in the light of Calvary as the heart-reconciling truth of the heavenly sanctuary.

We are living in the shaking time, when everything is going to be shaken furiously. The basic idea of a “shaking” among God’s people is that the Lord is fed up with the hypocrisy of professed faith that is not validated by appropriate works motivated by agape. “Some will not bear this straight testimony. They will rise up against it, and this is what will cause a shaking among God’s people” (Early Writings, p. 270).

Is there an utterly necessary truth that must be held onto, even at the cost of life? The Bible says yes! Clearly so. We have come to the time when 1 Corinthians 13 itself has become a prophecy!

The apostle John agrees with Paul: he says that “God is love [agape]” (1 John 4:8), and “anyone who loves not [with agape] knows not God.”

Is there confusion? No, not a trace: this is the solid building block of Bible truth. It’s what Paul meant when he told the Corinthians, “I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). In other words, agape.

Obedience to the law is included, for only “agape is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10). So it’s not sentimental emotionalism; love is being crucified with Christ, with joy and gratitude for the privilege of fellowship with Him.

Justification by faith brings the gift of heavenly agape-love “shed abroad in the heart” by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). That means a deliverance from all kinds of fear because “perfect agape casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Fear ceases to be a motive in following Christ, for “the agape of Christ constrains us” to live not for self, but “for Him who died for us” (2 Cor. 5:14, 15).

Such agape produces the most miraculous change in human hearts ever seen in world history, for as Luther wisely said, a full understanding of justification by faith must grow as the world becomes progressively more wicked just before the end. “More abounding sin” will require a clearer revelation of “grace [that] much more abounds” (Rom. 5:20).

In other words, our “latter rain” truth of 1888 is recoverable! And what is the end result? A people prepared for translation when Jesus returns (1 Thess. 4:16, 17).

Paul E. Penno

Lesson 10: “Worship: From Exile to Restoration”

Lesson 10: “Worship: From Exile to Restoration”

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Our Sabbath School lesson for Monday makes a statement that “The fourth commandment, the Sabbath commandment, will be the outward issue in the last days.”

On August 16, United States senator Joe Lieberman’s publisher released his new book, The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath. Lieberman, an orthodox Jew, has for many years been very influential in U. S. politics. However, he leaves considerable latitude in when and how to keep the Sabbath. “I hope that when people read this book, in their own way they will accept the gift of rest and bring it into their own lives–maybe just deciding for one day or part of one day not to use their Blackberry or iPads or to watch television, …” (Newsmax). Glowing reviews of the book by various religious and secular leaders are posted on Amazon.com and elsewhere, and Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, says, “Senator Lieberman reminds us that the God-given day of rest–whether we call it Sabbath or Sunday–should be honored by all believers.”

But does this “outward issue in the last days” really get to the heart of the matter? This is the “old covenant” perspective under which Laodicea suffers and, in the end, will cause her to capitulate to the mark of the beast fear issue, unless there are 144,000 which emerge from her. Here’s why:

The seventh-day Sabbath is the “seal of God.” “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” The holiness of the Sabbath is God’s gift of agape-love. It’s His gift to mankind. We are to “keep” what He has given. In other words, faith is motivated by agape. The Sabbath, the gospel, the sanctuary truth, and the cross are intimately interwoven into one.

The old covenant perspective views the Sabbath as obedience manifested in “keeping” the seventh-day. “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” This is exemplified in our Senator Lieberman’s telling about the presidential Inauguration Day in 2001 when he and his wife walked four and a half miles from their home to the Capitol. He said, “We didn’t want to drive. That would have been a violation of the rules of the Sabbath. We walked … and I was glad that we did.”

It’s good for the human psyche and physical well-being to take regular time off. But none of this old covenant observance is true Sabbath-keeping because it is motivated by self-interest. The new covenant observance of the Sabbath is motivated by a “faith which works by love.”

The lesson forthrightly tells us that “even now, all the world is divided into two camps: those who are faithful to the Lord and those who are not. There is no middle ground: either we are on one side or the other.” And for Seventh-day Adventists, there should be absolutely no confusion about the Sabbath.

In reading Wednesday’s lesson one wonders if there is a parallel between the Old Testament “from exile to restoration” and the time in which we are living–the last days? The Bible text quoted in Wednesday’s lesson, “Your fathers, where are they?” (Zech. 1:5), may give us some clues. The lesson goes on to say, ” … learn from the mistakes of those who came before you; do not do what they did; learn from the past, learn from what happened before you.”

In a letter to O. A. Olsen, written from Tasmania in 1895, Ellen G. White had some strong words for the brethren. In quoting Matthew 23, she said:

“‘If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ … ‘Wherefore,’ said Jesus, ‘ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.’ What lessons are here, fearful and decisive! Jesus said, ‘… I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city.’ This prophecy was literally fulfilled by the Jews in their treatment of Christ and of the messengers whom God sent to them. Will men in these last days follow the example of those whom Christ condemned?

“These terrible predictions they have not as yet carried out to the full; but if God spares their lives, and they nourish the same spirit that marked their course of action both before and after the Minneapolis meeting [1888 General Conference Session], they will fill up to the full the deeds of those whom Christ condemned when He was on the earth.

“The perils of the last days are upon us. … Some have been cultivating hatred against the men whom God has commissioned to bear a special message to the world. They began this satanic work at Minneapolis. … They went on in their own spirit, filled with envy, jealously, and evil surmisings, as did the Jews.” [1]

As our lesson says, “… learn from the mistakes of those who came before you.”

Several years later, in 1907, Ellen White, in an article in the Review and Herald, brought encouragement: “[Christ] made an offering so complete that through His grace every one may reach the standard of perfection. Of those who receive His grace and follow His example it will be written in the book of life, ‘Complete in Him,–without spot or stain.’ … He can bring us to complete restoration.” [2]

That “complete restoration” will include restoration of Christ’s true Sabbath by His true church in the closing period before Christ comes again.

Jones and Waggoner, the 1888 messengers, saw that the Sabbath truth is embedded in a full and complete view of justification by faith because the Sabbath is the “sign” of that true faith. Where the Sabbath truth is denied, there has to be either a counterfeit or an immature view of justification by faith. Rightly conceived, with no “mixture of poisonous error,” justification by faith itself becomes the message that will raise up people all over the world to “keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” [3].

Carol A. Kawamoto (with thanks to Paul E. Penno for his contribution)