Thursday, May 07, 2020

In The End, Faith Is What Matters

In The End, Faith Is What Matters

In the Movie "Secret Garden," a boy is kept hidden because he is allegedly very sick. The Doctors say his legs are too weak to walk. The boy believes the Doctors. A girl visiting finds him. She challenges the boy by telling him, "You do look sick, but it is nothing a little sunshine, and good food will not help. And your legs could walk if you exercised them." The boy refuses to listen to the girl. However, the girl eventually convinces him to try to walk. The boy, of course, struggles to walk a few steps, assuring the boy that he could walk. The girl saw beyond what the Doctor saw. She followed her conviction that the boy's body atrophied because of disuse. She saw a body that worked fine, but that the owner had refused to make work. However, in the end, it boiled down to the boy believing that he could walk. The girl could have given him evidence and proof that he could indeed walk, but unless the boy thought he could, he would have never walked.

Faith is, at times, defined as belief. All the proof and evidence in the world – whether internal or external - cannot replace faith. It is by faith that the just lives (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11). It is by faith that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8). Hebrews 11:6 says that, "… without faith it is impossible to please him." In John 14:8, 9 Phillip asked Jesus for evidence, Jesus in essence answered "I am your evidence." In Matthew 12:38-40 some Scribes asked Jesus for a sign, Jesus replied similarly. Jesus did not believe that evidence would be useful in making people believe unless they chose to exercise the faith given to them.

Let us consider what it says in Hebrews 11:1- 3,

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.

Hebrews 11:3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

This statement was true in Paul's day, is true in our day, and before the Bible text was first written. Verse 3 says that our understanding of the world we live in comes through faith, not just evidence from history, archeology, social or physical sciences. Trying to prove that the written narrative of the Bible is reliable has its place. However, how do you explain that from fallen Adam to the writing of the Pentateuch? Those who believed in this era did so without a written narrative of the history of redemption. This is not to say that the Bible is not necessary. It is, however, important to say that the Bible is an instrument in God and men's hand to lead men closer to God. The Bible informs us of how we are saved in Jesus, the Word of God incarnate. 

In the end, you must believe that what the written Word says is true. Romans 10:17 says it clearly, " So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." The Bible is perhaps the most important way to hear the Word of God. However, without faith, the Bible is nothing more than a collection of exciting stories that paint a historical picture of how things were more than 2000 years ago. Let us read Hebrews 11:4:

Hebrews 11:4 By faith [and without the benefit of a Bible] Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

The same is the case of Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses (Hebrews 11: 7-11, 22-24.) This is the case of those mentioned in Hebrews 11: 32. They had the benefit of Written Scripture. Were these latter ones better off because of the Written Scripture? They believed by faith that what we know today as the Bible is the Written Word of God, without the internal or external proofs we have today. It is by faith that they pleased God and were saved. The same is true for us. Nothing can replace faith effectively.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Foundation

The Foundation

The contractor hired a few young men to help build a small house in a low-budget residential area. It was a small budget project. So, the contractor hired these inexperienced young men – to whom the contractor would pay low wages - to dig the footings rather than renting the power equipment to do the job. On the first day, they began digging a ditch with a pickax and a shovel. Hour after hour as the sun beat down, blisters developed, grew, broke, and grew again as these young men dug this trench, a foot and a half wide with straight sides and a flat bottom. When the foreman returned hours later to inspect and help with his finishing touches and grade stakes, in came a concrete truck to fill in the hard-won space.

What they were working on was called the foundation. A foundation is an underlying base or support; in other words, a body or ground upon overlays a built structure. It is the lowest load-bearing part of a building, typically below ground level. This foundation is to be sound. It should rest on firm undisturbed soil or bedrock so that it can provide reliable support for the structure. The type and quality of the foundation required will, of course, depend on many factors.  Some factors include the size and weight of the structure to be built.  Other factors are the kind and stability of the soil. Foundations for homes are usually no more than one or two feet deep. But if you build a skyscraper, tower, or massive bridge, the foundation will need to be much more substantial. For example, the twin Petronas Towers soaring above Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was situated on soil that couldn't support the weight of the 1,500-foot skyscrapers. Hence, the foundation had to rest on solid bedrock. Imagine how deep the massive hole for the 394-foot-deep concrete and steel foundation, to date, this is the deepest foundation for any building. For comparison, in January 2010, the world's tallest building, rising 2,717 feet above the desert of Dubai and known as Burj Khalifa, has a nearly half-million-ton concrete and steel foundation that extends down only 164 feet. While the foundations may vary, they still need to have the capacity to bear the structure's weight, and keep it standing; this implies that the foundation precedes the building.

The Bible speaks of a "rock" that served as a foundation for the temple of Solomon. Christ identified with this rock. Ellen White tells the story,

"In quoting the prophecy of the rejected stone, Christ referred to an actual occurrence in the history of Israel. The incident was connected with the building of the first temple. While it had a special application at the time of Christ's first advent, and should have appealed with special force to the Jews, it has also a lesson for us. When the temple of Solomon was erected, the immense stones for the walls and the foundation were entirely prepared at the quarry; after they were brought to the place of building, not an instrument was to be used upon them; the workmen had only to place them in position. For use in the foundation, one stone of unusual size and peculiar shape had been brought; but the workmen could find no place for it, and would not accept it. It was an annoyance to them, as it lay unused in their way. Long it remained a rejected stone. But when the builders came to the laying of the corner, they searched for a long time to find a stone of sufficient size and strength, and of the proper shape, to take that particular place, and bear the great weight which would rest upon it. Should they make an unwise choice for this important place, the safety of the entire building would be endangered? They must find a stone capable of resisting the influence of the sun, of frost, and of tempest. Several stones had at different times been chosen, but under the pressure of immense weights they had crumbled to pieces. Others could not bear the test of the sudden atmospheric changes. But at last, attention was called to the stone so long rejected. It had been exposed to the air, to sun and storm, without revealing the slightest crack. The builders examined this stone. It had borne every test but one. If it could bear the test of severe pressure, they decided to accept it for the cornerstone. The trial was made. The stone was accepted, brought to its assigned position, and found to be an exact fit. In prophetic vision, Isaiah was shown that this stone was a symbol of Christ. He says:

"Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. And He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken."

The prophet is carried down in prophetic vision to the first advent,  and shown that Christ is to bear trials and tests of which the treatment of the chief cornerstone in the temple of Solomon was symbolic. The prophet declares: "Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste." Isaiah 8:13-15; 28:16."

So, Christ told the Jews that they were treating Him as others treated this stone. He says to them in Mat 21:42, "Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?"

Paul picks up on this theme in Ephesians 2. He calls us the building and Christ the foundation. Let us read,

Eph 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
Eph 2:21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:

The above quote gives us two implications. On the one hand, if Jesus is the foundation, then not one of us is as important as Jesus (and we do not have to dig the footings). The only reason we can stand is because He bears our weight and holds us. On the other hand, we need not worry about how we can stand and not fall. Jesus carries and keeps us all; if only we let Him. Both extremes are dangerous. They are both treating Him as the "stone that the builders rejected." It is letting the stone fall on you. By, faith bring forth the fruit of landing on the stone and being broken (Matthew 21: 44 - 45).

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Testing the Prophecy

Testing the Prophecy

There once was a shepherd boy who was bored as he sat on the hillside watching the village sheep. To amuse himself, he took a great breath and sang out, "Wolf! Wolf! The wolf is chasing the sheep!" The villagers came running up the hill to help the boy drive the wolf away. But when they arrived at the top of the hill, they found no wolf. The boy laughed at the sight of their angry faces. "Don't cry 'wolf,' shepherd boy," said the villagers, "When there's no wolf!" They went grumbling back down the hill. Later, the boy sang out again, "Wolf! Wolf! The wolf is chasing the sheep!" To his naughty delight, he watched the villagers run up the hill to help him drive the wolf away. When the villagers saw no wolf they sternly said, "Save your frightened song for when there is really something wrong! Don't cry 'wolf' when there is NO wolf!" But the boy just grinned and watched them go grumbling down the hill once more. Later, he saw a REAL wolf prowling about his flock. Alarmed, he leaped to his feet and sang out as loudly as he could, "Wolf! Wolf!" But the villagers thought he was trying to fool them again, and so they didn't come.

At sunset, everyone wondered why the shepherd boy hadn't returned to the village with their sheep. They went up the hill to find the boy. They found him weeping. "There was a wolf here! The flock has scattered! I cried out, "Wolf!" Why didn't you come?" An old man tried to comfort the boy as they walked back to the village. "We'll help you look for the lost sheep in the morning," he said, putting his arm around the youth, "Nobody believes a liar...even when he is telling the truth!"  From the story, we can imply that liars can tell the truth. So there is a danger in judging what is said by the person who says it. Perhaps we should spend more effort testing what is said instead of testing who says it.

This seems to be the emphasis of 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 NKJV,

20 Do not despise prophecies.
21 Test all things; hold fast what is good.

It does not say test the prophets but test the prophecies. This also seems to be what on Isaiah 8:20 NKJV stresses,

20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

The emphasis here is on what they say, if it does not agree with "the law and the testimony," then there is no light in them. (This text also tells what the criteria are for testing the prophecy.)

Someone gave a prominent Rabbi a copy of Patriarchs and Prophets by Ellen G. White to read. He knew nothing of the author, but after reading the book, something about the book convinced the Rabbi that God inspired Ellen White. He believed that Sister White had to be led by God to write this book because she wrote the book in an ancient style that was unknown in her time and only discovered years after her death. For this Rabbi, only God could do something like that. This Rabbi knew the "law and the testimony." He tested Sister White's writings against this standard. He found that it was good – therefore of God, so he held fast to it.

As with this Rabbi, many recipients of prophecy in the Bible did not know the prophet and heeded his message believing it was the Word of God. (Consider the Ninevites with Jonah). Others who knew the prophets all along rejected the message. As Jesus said in Matthew 13:57, "… A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house." So, as we can see in the end is not about the prophet, but about who sent the prophet. It is not about the life of the prophet, but about the death of Christ.

In the end, no matter who God sends the issue is, do we believe the message? Do we have the faith, belief, and trust in God as the Ninevites had? They knew nothing of Jonah, but they did not despise the prophecy, they tested it, found it good, and held fast to it and repented. Are we?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Law and the Gospel

The following commentary was published a few years back for another subject. However, I think it applies to this week's lesson. Let us read.

The Law and the Gospel
 Memory Text: "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:3, 4, NKJV).

This verse presents a dilemma because depending on how you read it, the emphasis could be on knowing Christ- (which would make keeping the Law a fruit of knowing Him) or on obeying the Law (which would make knowing Him a consequence of keeping the Law). Which one is it?

We could try looking at the verse closer and see where it leads us. Let us start within the expression, "that we know Him."  In John 17:3, Christ stated that knowing Him (and His Father) is eternal life. In John 6, Christ says that eating His flesh and drinking His blood gives life. When we eat and drink, we assimilate the food and drink - it becomes part of us. So, although we do not think about it in this manner, there is an intimate relation between food and us. What we eat and how we eat will eventually be revealed: this is akin to knowing someone, the more time you spend with them, the more the two assimilate each other. It will be evident that the two spent much time together. To those around Peter, it became apparent that Peter was with Jesus; Peter now spoke like a Galilean (Matthew 26:73). Peter, in many ways, acted like Jesus. So, Peter's speech was evidence that he was with Jesus. Peter did not go around speaking like Jesus to prove that he was one of them. It just came out. When the disciples preached, many said that it was evident that they had been with Jesus. There was a transformation.

The following expression is "Keeping the commandments." Who are these that keep them? Paul identifies "the just" as those who keep the commandments (Romans 2: 13). The words just and righteous are the same word in Greek. Abraham was just. How was Abraham just? He believed God's words, and Abraham's belief was counted to him for righteousness (Romans 4:3). Now, if Abraham's faith made him just, and the just keep the commandments, it follows that only those who hear God's words and believe them (since faith comes through Hearing and hearing through the word) keep the commandments (Romans 10:17). The best way to know someone is to listen to what they say and seek to understand them.

What are the commandments? We could argue that they are the Ten Commandments. We typically also call it the Law. The Ten Commandments speak of things we would do for others, not ourselves. None of the commandments say anything about how you are to treat yourself.  On the contrary, they speak about how you are to treat God and others. Christ stated in Matthew 22: 37 - 40,

Mat 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
Mat 22:38 This is the first and great commandment.
Mat 22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Mat 22:40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.

The passage just quoted is a summary of the commandments. It says, in essence, put God and others first. This is what Jesus did; he put His Father and others first; so much that He went to die on the cross so others may live. That is why the Father sent Him (Romans 5:8). So, John put it this way,

1Jo 3:16 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.

In the Gospel according to John 15: 10 – 17, Jesus is quoted saying that this is the commandment He gives to us,

Joh 15:10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love…
Joh 15:12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Joh 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Joh 15:17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.

And we see in this passage how laying down your life is related to abiding in Christ's love. So, is love related to the commandments? Paul answered,

Romans 13:10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.

How do we relate faith to all of these? Sin is the transgression of the Law (1 John 3:4). Anything outside of faith is Sin (Romans 14:23). So, anything outside of faith transgresses the Law. We have concluded that the Law, in essence, says to love God and others above yourself, So, not loving God and others above yourself or loving yourself above others – is transgressing the Law, and it is not of faith. Therefore it is a Sin. So, if love fulfills the Law and does not transgress the Law, love is not Sin. Thus love is of faith; this means that since loving God and others above yourself is laying down your life; then it follows that only those who lay down their life for others, as Christ laid His life down for us, are just or righteous; they keep the Law. So, how do we know you know Christ? Because you willingly lay down your life for others as He laid His down for you.

So, the question remains, why was the Law given?  Romans says it was given to make Sin, sinful, so that Sin may abound (Romans 5: 20). Galatians says that it was given because of transgression (Galatians 3:19).  To what transgression is it referring? Based on this verse in Galatians and what Paul says in Hebrews, the transgression was the unbelief of the Israelites in the wilderness (Hebrews 3). What Paul is saying is that the Law was written on tablets because the Israelites refused to let God write the Law in their hearts. So, the inscribed tablets would be a reminder to the Israelites of what is righteousness, and in contrast, what is Sin. Paul says in 1 Tim 1: 8,

1Ti 1:8 But we know that the Law is good, if a man use it lawfully;
1Ti 1:9 Knowing this, that the Law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
1Ti 1:10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for men stealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
1Ti 1:11 According to the glorious Gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.

So, for who is the written Law, or moral Law, or 10 Commandments? It is for the wicked, the sinner, the trespasser. Why? For who is the MRI? Is it not for those who are sick? Why? It is to diagnose; for what purpose? To condemn so, we can punish? No. It is to convict so the person will go to the doctor for healing.

The commandments were given to expose Sin and lead us to a Savior, to convince us of how terrible our condition is, and how we can do nothing to fix it ourselves, so we will stop trying and surrender to the one who has the remedy! The Lord gave The commandments to make Sin unattractive and grace attractive. Had man been obedient, there would have been no need for the Law to be given. Ellen White says,

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}

Thus, we can define the Gospel as the good news that through Jesus, the Law can be written in our hearts and mind if only we allow the indwelling Spirit of God to do it. This is God's desire. Nothing will please Him more. Will we let Him?