Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "Dying Like A Seed"

Our lesson poses the question, “If we know that God’s will is best for us, why do we have such a hard time accepting it? What example of submission has Christ left for us?” Submission is not an easy thing. Our attempts at being independent get us into more trouble that we can imagine, and yet we continue rather than allow God to direct our lives. I wonder if we are not missing something about submission to God that might contribute to making it seem so hard. Is it possible that that Jesus left us more than just the example that He submitted to the Father? I believe that He revealed another side of submission: how God works from His position to lead us to submit to Him by winning our hearts. He does this by reaching out to us as sinners. Case in point: The Exodus.

Israel was enslaved for centuries. They only knew the ways of Egypt and oppression of the Pharaoh. What did God do to turn the situation around for Israel so they would no longer live as slaves and become His people in thought and action? Notice God’s work in wooing the hearts of Israel.

  1. Even though Israel is in Egypt, they have multiplied from 70 to millions, just as God had promised Abraham (Exodus 1:1-7).
  2. The three attempts of the new Pharaoh failed because Israel, being slaves, were more healthy than the Egyptians, thwarting the plans to stop them from fulfilling God’s promise (Exodus 1).
  3. The means by which God prepared Moses to be the leader is amazing: his rescue by the princess (Exodus 2) and his education in the wilderness (see Signs of the Times, Feb. 19, 1880). Also, God was patient with Moses at the burning bush so that he would be clear on how he could count on God’s leadership and protection, which is truly empowering (Exodus 3, 4).
  4. When Pharaoh was first confronted and forced Israel to work harder, Israel, who had at first believed Moses and Aaron turned on them. Even Moses struggled. Then God clearly told Moses what He was going to do and how He was going to do it. Still Israel did not believe, but God continued (Exodus 5, 6). Notice God’s reference to previous promises to provide connection with Abraham, somebody they would have known about.
  5. The plagues are graduated from strength to strength, and Moses was clear in warning Pharaoh of each plague so that at any time he could stop and submit (Exodus 7-10). Note how each plague is introduced, the dialogue between Moses and Pharaoh, God’s specific statements as to what the plague will show to Egypt and Pharaoh.
  6. In instituting the Passover the people were given time to reflect upon what God had been doing.
  7. God’s leading Israel to Mt. Sinai was masterful. He brought them to situations that would allow them to choose if He was worthy of their trust by providing for their every need as He had promised (Exodus 14-19). Notice how God transfers Israel’s instinctive dependence from Egypt to His leading, and how God provides for them in places unable to sustain them unless He is with them.

The list goes on but I believe a pattern can be seen. God does not ask us to submit to His will “cold turkey.” He addresses our unbelief and unwillingness to submit to His will by making clear His love toward us by first showing us that His promises are trustworthy, His ability to save is overwhelming, His resources are limitless, and His patience is never ending by not just getting us to obey but teaching us to obey. (There is a difference. Too often we assume that God is more interested in obedience than the necessity of our sinful condition requires. His intervention by teaching us to obey reveals a side of mercy and love we forget.)

I believe that Jesus understood well what had taken place not only during the Exodus but throughout the Old Testament. (He was there! John 8:54-58.) The knowledge that He brought to our world was of our God, who is very active in reaching out to us in our sinfulness. So when He fought with doubt and doing His own will, He had insight into the true character of God that we don’t see, being blinded by sin. He overcame sin perfectly, not because His assumed nature was different from ours, but because He knew the Father, whom He came to reveal to us. That is the victory we need, to see the Father as Jesus saw the Father—to have the faith of Jesus. Such a view would drastically change our understanding of submission to God. No more would we be tempted to think how hard submitting to God’s will might be. We instead would focus upon the revealed life of our Father and how He is able to deliver us in our fight with self (as He promised Moses at the burning bush). This does not diminish the struggle we each face when we decide to follow Christ, but it does give us real hope that, “where sin abounds, grace abounds much more” (Rom. 5:22).

On a personal note, I could not have seen what I have just written if I had not learned to read my Bible as I saw E. J. Waggoner as I read The Everlasting Covenant. I was impressed with how he not only brought scripture in a way that appealed to me but also the way he brought out how God interacted with His people. I had never seen that part of the Gospel before. I was inclined to think that Jesus did all the saving at the cross and now “the ball was in my court.” I needed to step up and give myself to Him. When it dawned on me that my Father had worked so hard to win the hearts of the people in the Old Testament, I was moved to ask, “If He did it for them, is it possible that I am not seeing that He is doing it for me too?” The Bible was meant to engender faith, to empower us to live a life we have thought we could never live. By rereading the Bible, tracking the way God helps others to do His will, it change us into believers with hope, hope that is founded on the acts of God in a book that is far more revealing than we have thought.

—Robert Van Ornam

(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 LessonTo listen as a podcast click here.

To stream click here.