Friday, November 15, 2019

The Cosmic Conflict Over God's Character

The Cosmic Conflict Over God's Character

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Narrative

The Narrative


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Nehemiah: "The New Covenant."

Nehemiah


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


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


* When did the old covenant end?

* When did the new covenant begin?

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

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


Contract and Covenant Contrasted

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

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

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

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


A Biblical Illustration

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


What is the "Better" Covenant?

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

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

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

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


It is Indeed a Work of the Heart

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 07, 2019

What is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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