Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sabbath School Insights No. 8, Qtr 4-06

Special Insights No. 8

Fourth Quarter 2006 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Beginnings and Belongings”

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

“Faith and Frailty”


It must be God’s foresight that we are given this particular Sabbath School Lesson right now on this weekend—the greatest shopping days of the year in America, after Thanksgiving. We can hardly wait to be done with Thanksgiving so we can plunge into the orgy of Christmas, in fact it’s now overtaking Halloween.

Now we have set before us along with our shopping spree (in God’s love), the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sobering.

Jesus is concerned for us; wild pagan winter solstice holidays are encroaching on our remembering that we live in the cosmic Day of Atonement. (Some churches go wild with Christmas decorating and parties.) Jesus reminds us again that “as it was in the days of Lot: they ate [Thanksgiving feasting], they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built [all harmless ‘occupy ‘til He come’ activities]; but on the day ... it rained fire ... from heaven, ... even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:26-30).

Our Lesson lets Ellen White say a few words. She links “us” together with our worldly neighbors (note the italicized us): “The world is largely given up to the indulgence of appetite; and the disposition to follow worldly customs will bring us into bondage to perverted habits,—habits that will make us more and more like the doomed inhabitants of Sodom. I have wondered that the inhabitants of the earth were not destroyed, like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah” (the last page of your Lesson 8; Billy Graham said the same publicly some years back).

We could say that Lot’s family were the “Seventh-day Adventists” of that day; the analogy fits well. Lot was the son of Haran, brother to Abraham himself (who, let’s say, was the General Conference of that day); Lot was “the church” set as a missionary agency in the great urban areas of the day, Sodom and Gomorrah. He thought of himself as we do in following the “Blueprint” in the book Evangelism, as he understood his duty at the time; he could well have assured Uncle Abraham, “You evangelize Canaan; I’ll evangelize the big cities in the Jordan valley; pray for us as we go there as missionaries to win souls.” Uncle A did pray; he even prayed with Christ personally and directly, begging Him to spare the wicked cities if “ten shall be found there” who are reconciled to God (Gen. 18:32). But “just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked [like our TV actors], ... that righteous man dwelling among them” (2 Peter 2:7, 8), did not succeed in his missionary enterprise. When the test came, Lot saw no good fruitage from his labors. Sobering!

There’s nothing wrong with the book Evangelism; but careful reading reveals that missionary activity is not good enough—there must be a clear understanding of the “everlasting gospel” itself which is to be preached in the great cities. Paul says that “God ... preached the gospel to Abraham” (Gal. 3:8) but says nothing about Lot understanding it. Lot was entranced with the money-making opportunities in those prosperous cities. If Abraham could pay tithe to Melchizedek, so could Lot; he would contribute to “the church” of the day by paying his better tithe he could pay down there where the money was more plentiful.

The “father of the faithful” had to learn how to believe!

So did his wife, Sarah. The Lesson recognizes that what they both did regarding the Hagar affair was wrong, yet seeks to understand how they might reasonably have concluded this was God’s will. A tricky problem we often face—how to understand what’s right when you could so easily reason yourself out of duty. But considering the terrible agony that has followed this act of unbelief on their part all these millennia (including the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians), their move in inviting Hagar in to their married intimacy was always dead wrong. When God promised that Abraham should be “the father of many nations,” that promise meant him and his wife Sarah, because God had made the two “one,” and he never ceased to regard them as one.

Even though at the time God did not specifically mention Sarah, in Genesis 17:19 He cleared it up by saying “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son indeed,” even “when she was past age” (Heb. 11:11). Sarah was always his wife in God’s sight, as Malachi tells us that “the wife of your youth” is always your wife (see Mal. 2:14-16).

The Lord’s quiet assurance that He would give Abraham a son by Sarah was an example of the Lord’s favorite way of doing things: calling “those things which do not exist as though they did” (Rom. 4:17). Sarah’s experience of her growth from unbelief to faith is a forever example of how the new covenant works. She was bitter; decades of disappointment had left their mark on her soul. She blamed God directly for her infertility (Gen. 16:2). She laughed in unbelieving derision when she heard the divine Visitor say that “according to the time of life” (nine months later) she would bear a son (18:10,12).

Her bitter unhappiness is seen in the harsh way she treated poor Hagar after Ishmael was born (vss. 5, 6). But Hebrews tells us that she experienced a genuine conversion somehow; “through faith” she “received strength to conceive” (11:11), faith being understood in its New Testament sense as a heart response of appreciation for the love of Christ. Her bitter unbelief had affected her physiologically; the mysterious factors that govern our reproductive system had been shut down by this unbelieving bitterness of soul; when she repented and the heart was melted, a change in her body took place. (It’s common knowledge that often today when a wife is barren, the couple’s adoption of a baby unseals her matronly instincts of love to allow a previously impossible pregnancy.)

The lesson the Lord sought to teach her is one we need to learn today: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (18:14). Our Lesson is not concerned with the practice of gynecologists today; we face a world alienated from God, “destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). How to give them the “knowledge” they need but they so often resist, is the problem of the ages. The gift of repentance which the world church needs so desperately in order for Heaven to renew Pentecost to us seems as elusive to us as pregnancy was to poor old Sarah; but the problems of the world church are not too “hard” for the Lord of today.

Sarah is our heroine as Abraham is “our father.” We are called to identify with Him; now let’s identify with her, and join her in letting our hard hearts be melted.

Robert J. Wieland


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