Thursday, May 24, 2007

Special Insights No. 8, Second Quarter 2007 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

Revelation of Hope

This week’s lesson is about hope. In what do we place our hope? For what do we hope; why do we hope for it; what makes it worth hoping for?

Working in the medical field I have had occasion to care for people who had no hope. Their bodies were ravaged with disease for which there was no cure; or they were psychological wrecks as a result of emotional pressures that exhausted their coping mechanisms. It seemed that there was no help for them from any source.

Some facing death who claimed to “know God” but were unsure of their standing before Him were perhaps the most miserable. Often I have listened to an individual, feeling the burden of personal guilt for sins committed, lament that even though he had “done his best” he had no assurance that God accepted him. He hoped to attain heaven, but was never certain that he’d done enough to secure eternal life. Such “hope” brought no consolation for him. Why?

E. J. Waggoner spoke of the same situation. “How often we hear someone say, ‘I am so sinful that I am afraid the Lord will not accept me!’ Even some who have long professed to be Christians often mournfully wish that they could be sure of their acceptance with God” (The Glad Tidings, p. 12).

Perhaps these individuals were troubled because they depended upon their own righteousness instead of the true righteousness found only in Christ. Or perhaps their focus was not in the right place, being centered upon what they thought they should have accomplished, instead of focusing on what Christ has already accomplished for them. Whatever the reason, these persons needed some good news.

The 1888 message supplies the good news: “But the Lord has given no reason for any such doubts. Our acceptance is forever settled. Christ has bought us and has paid the price” (ibid.).

Our lesson for May 20 states: “At the cross, Jesus, the One through whom all things were made (Col. 1:16), bore in Himself the penalty for our sins. Jesus died in our place, suffered in our stead, all for us.”

Scripture tells us that Jesus didn’t just die instead of us, but that as the “Last Adam” He died corporately as us. “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead” (2 Cor. 5:14). Acknowledging this fact motivates us to serve Him in love.

The loss the first Adam caused for all humanity through his rebellion against God, the Last Adam redeemed for all humanity (see Rom. 5:17-18). The debt already has been paid, once for all humanity, in the life and death of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. This is astonishing good news, and is what the hopeless in the world are yearning to hear. God already loves them and has already forgiven them.

Monday’s lesson comment tells us that “through Jesus we have forgiveness.” Our loving Father has “blotted [our sins] out or swept them away” and “will remember them no more.” Isaiah 44:22 says: “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto Me; I have redeemed thee” (past tense). God’s forgiveness is so complete and extensive that it removed our guilt as far as east is from west. This, too, is powerful good news.

However, after giving us such good news, Monday’s lesson goes on to state that “your sins can be forgiven by God if you just claim His promises of forgiveness for yourself,” thus turning hope into uncertainty. Has God actually forgiven you, or not? Are your sins “blotted out,” or not? Are you sure? Is His forgiveness waiting upon some action on your part?

By inserting an element of uncertainty, one of the most powerful aspects of the Gospel to motivate change in people’s hearts is thus diminished in strength. If God’s forgiveness is waiting on me to do something first, then the focus is shifted from the promise of God to my own dubious action.

The “blessed hope” is founded on the promise of God to redeem His people from their sin (Matt. 1:21). “It was the oath of God that ratified the covenant made to Abraham. That promise and that oath to Abraham become our ground of hope, our strong consolation. They are ‘sure and steadfast,’ because the oath sets forth Christ as the pledge, the surety, and ‘He always lives.’ He upholds all things by the word of His power. Heb. 1:3. ‘In Him all things hold together.’ Col. 1:17. Therefore, ‘when God ... interposed [Himself] with an oath’ (Heb. 6:17), [which] is our consolation and hope in fleeing for refuge from sin, He pledged His own existence, and with it the entire universe, for our salvation. Surely a firm foundation for our hope is laid in His excellent Word” (p. 72).

“The blessing has come upon all men. For ‘as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.’ Rom. 5:18, KJV. God, who is no respecter of persons, ‘has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.’ Eph. 1:3. The gift is ours to keep. If anyone has not this blessing, it is because he has not recognized the gift, or has deliberately thrown it away” (p. 66).

“‘Do you mean to teach universal salvation?’ someone may ask. We mean to teach just what the Word of God teaches—that ‘the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men.’ Titus 2:11, RV. God has wrought out salvation for every man, and has given it to him; but the majority spurn it and throw it away. The judgment will reveal the fact that full salvation was given to every man and that the lost have deliberately thrown away their birthright possession” (pp. 13-14).

The “birthright possession” is part and parcel of the everlasting covenant promise. To Abraham God promised land and the righteousness to possess it. “This gift of eternal life is included in the promise of the inheritance, for God promised the land to Abraham and to his seed for ‘an everlasting possession.’ Gen.17:7, 8. It is an inheritance of righteousness, because the promise that Abraham should be heir of the world was through the righteousness of faith. Righteousness, eternal life, and a place in which to live eternally—these are all in the promise, and they are all that could possibly be desired or given” (pp. 70-71).

Scripture tells us that even though God promised Abraham this wonderful possession, Abraham had “not so much as to set his foot upon” in this earthly life (Acts 7:5). Did the promise of God fail? By no means. It is an eternal promise with eternal fulfillment. God cannot lie. The everlasting covenant promise assures to us that “by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us” (Heb. 6:18).

Our hope is based on nothing less than the promise of God to redeem us through the work of Christ, our Saviour, High Priest, and soon coming King. God knows that our promises “are as ropes of sand.” All He asks is that we believe His promises to us, then respond appropriately.

A true heart appreciation of the cost of salvation will transform the most vile sinner into a faithful commandment-keeper (see p. 56 and Rom. 6:16-23). This is the powerful good news that the world is hungering for—the 1888 message of Christ and His righteousness. It is learning that through the gift of Christ you have been forgiven of your sin even before you know enough to ask, that brings hope and consolation to the hopeless. May we endeavor to spread this good news far and wide. (For further study, review the parables in Luke 15.)

—Ann Walper