Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "Christ in the Crucible"

We have been reminded all through these thirteen weeks of helpful Bible study that we are all “in the crucible” of trial and suffering for the sake of Christ. “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Act 14:22). The apostle Paul said this because he was encouraging the believers in Asia Minor not to be dismayed because they met persecutions in their walk with Jesus.

Our lessons have emphasized how we all, without exception, must endure these trials. The authors use the idea of a “crucible” to illustrate their point: the precious metal, gold, or silver, is safe inside the vessel while it (the crucible) is heated over the fire to an even nearly-destructive (it seems), temperature. Paul says that this “much tribulation” is necessary for the development of our character.

This is a distinctly unique Seventh-day Adventist idea: our entry into heaven or our exclusion therefrom will not depend on some whim that “Saint Peter at the gate of the New Jerusalem” will have concerning us (this popular idea is totally unbiblical). “God is love” is true all the way through, because even in the end if He has to exercise a condemnatory judgment, He remains “love.” Whether He admit or has to exclude someone from eternal life will be an act of love, for in the case of the lost, they could face no greater misery forever than to be forced to spend eternity in the presence of God and His people whom they detest. The Lord gives them what they want. Thus “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Admission to heaven depends therefore on character—one’s fitness for its companionship.

Hence the supreme importance of developing a Christlike character, here and now. And the message of righteousness by faith which “the Lord in His great mercy sent” to Seventh-day Adventists 120 years ago is totally concerned with developing such a character.

Must Christ have to endure the same hot “crucible” of trial as we must endure? Is He not already “perfect”?

Behold and see:

Has any other human on planet earth had to endure the “crucible” that He was forced to endure? The answer is clear: “In all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:17, 18).

”We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). The double negative emphasizes the positive truth: in His incarnation, the Son of God knew exactly how you have felt in your most sinful moment: even your alienation from God, for He cried out in the total darkness, “My God, why have You forsaken Me?”(Matt. 27:46). No human can get any lower or in any greater darkness than that!

Therefore it is an eternal truth to be trusted forever: Christ is with you as you endure your crucible! We could pinpoint a few of our crucibles:

Enduring cancer (or some other fatal illness)—whether it is physical pain and suffering or whether it is that nameless dread that combines all our fears: your Savior, not only One who would like to be your Savior if you will let Him be, but the One who is (present and future tense) already your Savior—is with you intimately, personally.

The horror of divorce: Christ has endured that; He has a particular fellowship with us in that He has been “despised and rejected” by the one corporate “woman” whom He loves above all on earth: no heartache has been as severe as His. The Song of Solomon sings for eternity about His heartbreak; it will yet be the song of humanity when the earth will be “lightened with the glory” of that “fourth angel” of Revelation 18:1-4. It’s the human heart that we talk about in this Lesson 13.

The pain of human guilt: He never sinned, but He has had the experience of bearing guilt for sin, even “bloodguiltiness,” for He “was made to be sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). Not only will the Hindus rejoice: Christ bore the karma of the entire world (yours, too). Galatians will comfort your heart: henceforth you walk “at liberty” for you know and you believe yourself to be under the “New Covenant” (5:1; ask us for our little tract entitled “The New Covenant Contrasted With the Old”).

Thank God for a wonderful 13 Lessons (keep your old Lesson Book, it’s worth saving in your library). And may you know forever a closer intimacy with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

—Robert J. Wieland

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 13 now in MP3 format. To listen as a podcast click here. To stream click here.