Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sabbath School Insights No. 6, Qtr 4-05

Special Insights No. 6

Fourth Quarter 2005 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Ephesians: The Gospel of Relationships”

(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

“The Church Without Walls”



The eleventh chapter of Hebrews has been described as the Hall of Faith. The great patriarchs listed there include Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. But amongst these giants, verse 31 records, “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.”


As we study this week’s lesson, the story of Rahab gives us helpful insights central to the gospel story. Please read Joshua chapter 2, which tells us the story in detail. When Rahab told the spies, “I know that the Lord has given you the land..... For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt.... for the Lord your God He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath,” where did this revelation come from?


Waggoner, in The Everlasting Covenant, p. 270 says, “The Gospel is the power of God to salvation, and since God’s mighty power was exhibited in the salvation of Israel from Egypt, it is evident that the Gospel was at that time proclaimed as it has never been since. The effect of that proclamation is shown by the words of a heathen woman, the harlot Rahab. She then pleaded for her life and that of her family and was told to bind a scarlet cord in the window and when destruction came to the city she and her family would be “passed over” and their lives would be spared. Joshua 6:25 says, “... she dwells in Israel to this day.”


The lesson asks the question: “What was the position of the Gentiles before they found Christ?” The 1888 message will clarify this question and give us the answer. Thankfully, the lesson itself gives us two great passages of Scripture to work with: Romans 3:20-31 and 5:12-18, and I will add a third, Galatians 3:8, 9. Where were the Gentiles, and did they find Christ? Romans 1:10-3:20 makes it clear that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin: “There is none righteous, no, not one.... [and] none who seeks after God.” “But now.... the righteousness of God which is through the faith [of] Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace” (Rom. 3:10, 11; 21-24).


Let us stop here and unpack this marvelous truth. First of all the phrase through the faith of Jesus Christ does not appear in my translation (the NKJV); it says in verse 22, “even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ.” Understanding whose faith is referred to is important in appreciating the gospel and the riches we have in Christ Jesus. Verse 21 uses the perfect tense: “the righteousness of God has been manifested in the past, in the faith/obedience of the crucified One.” The main concern of Paul in Romans 3 is to assert the integrity of God. Earlier in the chapter, God’s faithfulness (vs. 3) and righteousness/justice (vs. 5) are called into question. Our faith in Jesus Christ cannot prove God’s justice or righteousness. However, God’s righteousness is made manifest by the faith of Jesus Christ who became “a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy…” (Rom. 15:8-11; see also Luke 2:25, 32).


What glorious good news. The faith of Jesus accomplished something for every person, Jew or Gentile, without a cause. We were not the initiators, God was. So also the Gentiles did not find Christ, He found them. Galatians 3:8 says, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’” Chapter 3:14 clarifies “nations” as Gentiles: “That the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus…” The crucial question in verse 8 is: are the Gentiles justified on the basis of their faith or Abraham’s faith. Paul suggests that the justification of the Gentiles comes as a blessing from God in Abraham long before and apart from any believing on their part. God made a covenant (His one-sided agreement) with Abraham, promising to bless all nations, Jews and Gentiles alike, through him.


In addressing the question posed in the quarterly, “What was the position of the Gentiles before they found Christ?,” we find several answers in the 1888 message:


1. All men were in the same position in the first Adam. All that were in the world were included in Adam. Adam in his sin reached all the world without our consent and without our having anything to do with it (A. T. Jones, 1895 General Conference Bulletin, p. 73).

2. God was the One looking out for us, not the other way around. The text says when we were still without strength, while we were still sinners, when we were enemies, even when we were dead in trespasses and sins, “But God” or “But now” (Eph. 2:13).

3. God in Christ has done something for every person on planet earth through the faith of Jesus Christ, and that is justification of life. Jesus Christ the second Adam, in His righteousness touches all humanity. What the second Adam did,embraces all that were embraced in what the first Adam did (op. cit., p. 73).

4. The cross of Christ (He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world) is everything to us. It reconciles Jews and Gentiles to God and to each other and it puts to death the enmity we have toward God and each other (Eph. 2:14-16).

5. The agape of Christ is a self-emptying, self-sacrificing love that seeks not her own. It breaks down the dividing walls and allows us to deal with our fellow man as He dealt with us.

6. If we don’t resist this good news, but instead respond to the faith of Jesus with an answering faith and receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness, we Jews and Gentiles will reign in life through the One Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17).


One final thought comes from Waggoner in The Everlasting Covenant, p. 271. The background text is Matthew 1:5: “Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse.” Waggoner says, “That the poor heathen woman of disreputable life, who could utter a lie with a composed countenance, and with no consciousness of guilt, had a most meager idea of the difference between right and wrong; yet God acknowledged her as one of His people, because she did not turn away from light, but walked in it as it came to her. She believed to the saving of her soul. Her faith lifted her out of her sinful surroundings, and set her in the way of knowledge; and no stronger evidence can be found that Christ is not ashamed to acknowledge even the heathen as His brethren, than the fact that He is not ashamed to have one of them, a harlot to boot recorded in the roll of His ancestry after the flesh.”


Ephesians 2:19-22 describe the Gentiles as fellow citizens with the saints, members of the household of God joined together, growing into a holy temple in the Lord for a habitation of God in the spirit. Paul later describes this as a mystery. The mystery is the agape of God manifested by the church to the on-looking universe as a final revelation of the character of God. May we allow God to work in us to present this final revelation for His Holy name’s sake.

Lyndi Schwartz


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