Thursday, March 27, 2008

Patterns of Discipleship

During my long life, I have known many pastors and evangelists, but I have never known any that have been privileged to do all the wonderful things that Jesus told His disciples to do:

(1) “Heal the sick.” We pray for them, we give them treatments, we take them to doctors and clinics—thank the Lord we can do something. But we lack the wonderful healing gifts that Jesus gave His disciples.

(2) “Cleanse the lepers.” That gift we also lack.

(3) “Raise the dead;” that gift for sure we lack.

(4) “Cast out devils.” Yes, thank the Lord, the ministry of the pure gospel of Jesus does accomplish this wonderful work. The gospel if proclaimed purely, does it.

Heart compassion for suffering humanity—that’s a gift we can all experience if we will open our hearts to the teaching of the Holy Spirit. That is where Jesus and we have a close bond of fellowship together—a bond that can never be broken.

The love of Christ (agape in the New Testament) brings with it the same compassion that Jesus felt for suffering humanity. Our prayers for the Lord to do something to help suffering people do not move Him to compassion He has not already felt for them; but seeing that we have that compassion makes the Lord happy. The Psalmist says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul ...” The word “bless” means to make happy; but how can we make the Lord to be happy? When we share His compassion for suffering, it does!

In the Lord’s prayer we pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Forgiveness is a gift from the Holy Spirit; for us to receive forgiveness of our sins is the lifting of an enormous burden from us; by His sacrifice on His cross, the Lord Jesus has effected a forgiveness for the world (but many don’t know it yet).

Some object; they say it is not fair that the Lord should give the gift to everyone; but His giving the gift does not mean that they have received the gift. It’s not a matter of being fair—if the Lord were strictly fair with us we would all perish; but His much more abounding grace (cf. Rom. 5:20) goes way beyond being fair; He has already died the world’s second death. That is a store of abounding grace that is infinite!

It’s our blessed privilege to minister that abounding grace to sinners: tell them that the Lord has already forgiven them by virtue of His cross. Don’t worry that this will encourage them to go on sinning; the Lord has told it, let us not fear to tell people what He has done. He will take care of them if they misuse His grace. We must not fear; we must proclaim the grace.

Is it possible that in the one true “remnant church” of Bible prophecy (cf. Rev. 12:17) we should be ostracizing or marginalizing some pure and true servants of the Lord? We wish we could answer with a resounding “No!” but the Lord’s servant tells us frankly that when “the Lord in His great mercy sent to His people a most precious message” 120 years ago, the facts are that “we” corporately did ostracize the messengers (who had “heavenly credentials,” Ellen White said!). Over a hundred times she said that “we” in that corporate sense treated them as the Jews treated Jesus.

Let the Lord give you and me the courage to stand up unashamed for the ostracized and marginalized who are loyal to Him when the majority despise them! Ellen White stood up bravely for A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner in the 1888 era! (And some of the elders thought she was losing her sense of direction.)

Our Lesson 13 reminds us of something very important: Israel was never a pure DNA progeny of Abraham. The true Israel was always “by faith.” The lesson for us today is this: of the millions, yes billions of the world today who appear not to care for Christ, we have no idea how many will step forward and be loyal to that fourth angel who lightens the earth with the glory of Christ’s closing message (Rev. 18:1-4). Time for us to be humble!

We have been trying to preach the message for a long time; let’s not forget that God’s word will not “return unto Him void”(Isa. 55:11). Let’s not be like Jonah who doubted that his preaching had been blessed by the Lord! He is “not unrighteous to forget” what we have done for Him, even though we may forget (Heb. 6:10). Especially should those who have labored unselfishly to proclaim the glorious truths of the message the Lord gave us 120 years ago must not doubt His loving care; their work will never be in vain.

Robert J. Wieland


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Friday, March 21, 2008

“Mission and Commission”

With joy we find that “The Gospel” is the most prominent feature of this week’s lesson! The author set a clear lesson goal for the week in the last sentence of the Sabbath afternoon section: “This week we will look at the gospel in the context of the Great Commission.”

The Gospel is the revelation of Jesus Christ in men: Romans 1:16, 17 says that the gospel of Christ is the power of God to save everyone who believes, and that in this powerful gospel, the righteousness of God is demonstrated in the believer. This is “by grace ... through ‘the faith of Jesus’ (Rev. 14.12), and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2.8).

Paul was very clear about how he received the gospel. The gospel which he preached was not according to man, neither did he receive it from men, nor was he taught it by them, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ when it pleased God to reveal His Son in him (Gal. 1:11, 12, 15, 16).

The Gospel is the law in Christ. The Gospel is Jesus Christ Himself.

One of the 1888 messengers, who Ellen G. White said carried credentials from heaven, wrote: “So we are fully assured that the Gospel is the making known of Christ in men. Or rather, the Gospel is Christ in men, and the preaching of it is the making known to men of the possibility of Christ’s dwelling in them. ... The mystery of God is God manifest in the flesh. When the angels made known to the shepherds the birth of Jesus, it was the announcement that God had come to man in the flesh; and when it was said that this good news should be to all people, it was revealed that the mystery of God dwelling in human flesh was to be declared to all men, and repeated in all who should believe Him” (E. J. Waggoner, The Present Truth, May 5, 1896).

The Gospel is always a present salvation: So it is that “every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God; and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God” (1 John 4:2, 3). Note again the present tense. It is not enough to confess that Jesus Christ did come in the flesh; that will bring no salvation to anybody. We must confess from positive knowledge that Jesus is just now come in the flesh, and then we are of God. Christ came in the flesh eighteen hundred years ago, to demonstrate the possibility. That which He did once, He is able to do again. He who denies the possibility of His coming in the flesh of men now, thereby denies the possibility of His having ever come in the flesh.

So our part is with humbleness of mind to confess that we are sinners; that in us is no good thing. If we do not, then the truth is not in us; but if we do, then Christ, who came into the world for the express purpose of saving sinners, will come and take up His abode with us, and then the truth will indeed be in us. Then there will be perfection manifested in the midst of imperfection. There will be completeness in the midst of weakness. For we “are complete in Him” (Col. 2:10). He has created all things by the word of His power, and therefore can take men who are but nothing, and can make them “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6). “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Rom. 11:36)” (Waggoner, The Present Truth, May 18, 1893).

The Gospel creates disciples through the cross: “For the love (agape) of God constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14, 15). “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

The Gospel equips the disciples by agape (2 Cor. 5:16, 17, 20, 21):

Verse 16: Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.” We learn to see others with “agape eyes.”

Verse 17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; ... behold, all things have become new.” The Bible means exactly what it says—we become a new creation and it is now just as natural to walk in the Sprit as before it was natural to walk in the flesh. This power that recreates us is the agape of God. It creates in us what wasn’t there before. We are His workmanship (Eph. 2:10) and His faith working by love, does the works of God in us (Gal. 5:6).

Verse 20: We are made to be “ambassadors for Christ,”

Verse 21: That “we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

The Gospel commissions the disciples: Jesus sums up the Gospel and commission simply in His prayer to the Father found in John 17:

Verse 6: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world.”

Verse 11: “Now I am no longer in this world, but these are in the world ...”

Verse 14: “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

Verse 18: “As you sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”

We are called out of the world, yet we remain here. We are no longer of the world, yet we are sent back into it.

Discipleship at the end of time will be no different than discipleship at any other time, because discipleship is always the following of a present Savior at the present time.

Daniel Peters


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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

“More Lessons in Discipleship”

Our lesson addresses two issues: fear of persecution, and the danger of the teachings of the Pharisees. At first glance these topics might not seem related. Understanding the Jewish leaders will shed light on our study of the fears held by Jesus’ disciples. It will help us understand the fear that affects us all, and show us the need for a message that will deliver us from those fears so we can truly live by faith.

The disciples had left all—their work, their families, the security of anonymity—and followed Jesus. Given all that they were privy to—His teachings, miracles, and everything that comprised His ministry—we would think that the disciples would be mature in the faith by these experiences. But they were fearful. Whether it was the storm on the sea, or a demoniac, or the pressure to conform to the Pharisee’s authority—these situations reveal that the disciples were not settled in the faith. Their experience is reminiscent of ancient Israel during the Exodus. They had experienced so much, but remained hard-headed and insensitive to God’s leading, Why?

When Jesus gave His final instructions to His disciples (John 13-16), the questions He was forced to address summarize the disciples’ lack of mature faith. Look at the questions asked by Peter (John 13:36-14:4), Thomas, (14:5-7), Phillip (14:8-21), and Judas, not Iscariot (14:22-31). They expose a lack of clear knowledge about Jesus and His mission. If the disciples had spent so much time with Jesus, why did they exhibit so little spiritual knowledge and confidence?

There are four areas in which the disciples were spiritually ignorant. (1) Forethought: Even though Jesus had warned them of what was to come, they never seemed to think it would happen; (2) A clear perception of the truth: Their idea of the Messiah and His mission was clouded by their own expectations (like the Pharisees); they kept looking for a Messiah that had never been promised; (3) Knowledge of their true selves: Although not all were as vocal as Peter, they showed ignorance of what they were in character; (4) Discipline of experience: Yes, they had responded to Jesus’ call, they had sacrificed many things, and they had seen and participated in many events of saving grace, yet they lacked the faith to endure when faced with opposition. Notice the pattern: the disciples were committed to the Man, but struggled with their expectations and personal agendas, which were out of sync with Jesus’ words.

Consider the Pharisees. They began as a group during the Maccabean Wars when foreign oppression of Hellenistic and pagan Roman culture attempted to overpower the truth that had been entrusted to Israel. Because they stood for the truth as found in the Torah, the group became known as the “pious ones” (Pharisees in English). They dedicated themselves to God and assumed the responsibility of leading Israel back to Him. Their teachings were calculated to exalt the Law and fulfill the mission that God had wanted Israel to achieve. Many of their beliefs were in common with Jesus’ teachings. They taught that God loved His people and expected them to live a life of obedience. Everyone had the power to choose good or evil and the Torah (the Bible) must be their guide.

Why then would the Pharisees be so opposed to Jesus? The short answer is that Jesus was not keeping the law as they understood it. They were so caught up in the details (legalism) that they failed to see the bigger issues of faith. They saw obedience to the law as a person’s duty in fulfilling the covenant between God and Israel. Simply put, they had never gotten past the Old Covenant. Because of this, the Pharisees perceived that Jesus was destroying everything they had worked to uphold, and was undermining their “calling” to guide the people to the “truth” of righteousness through works.

The connection between the fears of the disciples and the leaven of the Pharisees can now be seen. Both groups were restricted by their previous learning. Their expectations kept them from seeing reality as Jesus was presenting it. Preconceived ideas were blinding them to the truth that would change their lives. The difference between the disciples and the Pharisees was only in how they saw themselves in relation to Jesus, as friend or foe.

The disciples were drawn to Jesus because they were hungering for righteousness. Their fears began when they became unable to interconnect what they thought they knew with what they were observing and experiencing in Christ’s presence, especially when it involved teaching about His rejection and death. This led to an unsettling of their lives, but though confused, they stayed because there was no place to go. They had tasted truth and nothing could take its place. The same was experienced by the Millerites at the Great Disappointment.

The Pharisees responded differently to Jesus with their preconceived ideas because, at least in part, they feared possible loss of honor and authority before the people. How could they give up this power? Jesus must be rejected because He threatened to destroy everything the Pharisees believed. Jesus pointed out the mistaken course of their “mission” to make Israel obedient to the law of God through old covenantism, but they refused to see it. This was the experience of more than a few of us when the beginning of the Loud Cry and Latter Rain began in 1888.

The Pharisees wouldn’t allow themselves to submit to Jesus. As Caiaphas put it: “It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (John 11:49, 50). If the people believed Jesus, the Pharisees thought that they would lose their authority and ultimately their nation. The “promised land” had become their purpose for living. The God of promise who led them and sustained them was forgotten, rejected, and then crucified. Thus, if allowed to influence them, the leaven of the Pharisees would have blinded the disciples to the one thing that would give their hopes true fulfillment.

It is most interesting that on the eve of His crucifixion Jesus spoke clearly to His disciples of believing, but not so much of “doing.” The “right doing” would come as a result of believing. Jesus kept His disciples focused on believing Him, not just believing facts about Him, but believing HIM, as a person they could have confidence in. Even in their confusion there was the overwhelming knowledge that they had never seen or heard anything like Jesus. They were eye-witnesses to His life and ministry. Those were real facts! It took the shattering of the disciple’s false hopes and dreams of their Messiah to develop faith and confidence in Him as a person. Then, nothing would stop them, because love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

Robert Van Ornam


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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Discipleship Under Pressure

This week’s lesson asks some powerful questions under “The Week at a Glance” section. “What warning should we take away from the disciples’ bid for political power? What lessons does Judas have for us? What was behind James’s and John’s willingness to destroy those who rejected Jesus?”

These questions strike at the root of the sin problem that resides in each of our hearts. Each of these questions, at their root, deal with the same problem: self-exaltation. Using force or the power of position, whether political or religious, through manipulation of individuals and situations to achieve one’s own design or to support one’s personal opinion is the very heart of Lucifer’s problem (see Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 35-41).

By becoming slave to a single vice, a cherished sin, Judas gave himself into slavery to Satan, and imbibed Satan’s character. Judas “felt he could retain his own judgment and opinions” and thus he opened his heart to unbelief, “and the enemy supplied thoughts of questioning and rebellion” (The Desire of Ages, pp. 717-718). Just as Lucifer did in heaven, Judas desired a high position in the kingdom of Christ (as he understood that kingdom), so he espoused the cause of Christ, but without surrendering his heart to the Savior. Such dichotomy of thinking bears the fruit of destruction. “A spirit contrary to the Spirit of Christ would deny Him, whatever the profession” (ibid., p. 357). A serious lesson for us as we face end-time delusions.

As Christ’s teachings became more pointed regarding His divine mission to die for the sins of the whole world (e.g., see John 6:22-60), Judas designed plots through which he hoped to bring about his goal, molding the work to his own agenda. “He introduced controversies and misleading sentiments, repeating the arguments urged by the scribes and Pharisees against the claims of Christ.” Attempting to support his position and confuse the mind of the disciples, he brought out “texts of Scripture that had no connection with the truths Christ was presenting” (ibid., p. 719).

Christ was fully aware of all that was taking place around Him. He well knew that Satan was using Judas to influence the other disciples in a negative manner, working contrary to the clear truth He was teaching. Despite this terrible sin against Him, the love of God went out to Judas seeking to draw him into the fold. But Judas would not yield his preconceived opinions and surrender his heart to the Master. The betrayal of Jesus was one of the most horrendous of all sins, yet Jesus died to save Judas just as He died to save you and me from our sins.

In reality, there is not one sin greater or lesser than another. All sin—large or small, venial or mortal, “little white lies” or black-hearted deception—all caused the death of Christ. All our sins have filled the heavenly sanctuary with corruption so atrocious and contemptible that only the blood of the Son of God can cleanse the defilement.

However, the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary must have a beginning here on earth. There must be an end of self-exaltation among God’s people. A properly motivated desire to submit our wills to Christ will at last be manifested in all who claim to be Christ’s disciples, before He can complete His work as our High Priest.

“The cleansing of the [typical] sanctuary, as to the sanctuary itself, was the taking out of and away from the sanctuary all the transgression of the people which, by the service of the priests, had been taken into the sanctuary during the service of the year. And this stream must be stopped at its fountain in the hearts and lives of the worshipers, before the sanctuary itself could possibly be cleansed.

“Therefore the very first work in the cleansing of the sanctuary was the cleansing of the people. That which was preliminary and essential to the cleansing of the sanctuary itself, to the finishing of the transgression and bringing in everlasting righteousness, there [in the typical sanctuary], was the finishing of transgression, and the making an end of sins, and making reconciliation for iniquity, and bringing in everlasting righteousness [cf. Dan. 9:24] in the heart and life of each one of the people themselves” (A. T. Jones, The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, p. 120, Glad Tidings Publishers ed.).

This is the final work of our High Priest in the antitypical Day of Atonement—the cleansing of the hearts of the people.

What is the answer to the three pressing questions mentioned at the opening of our lesson? Only one thing: “Not I, but Christ.” Christ’s longing desire is to cure our “I” disease and purge us of all desire for self-exaltation, for seeking power and position over others, for demanding our own way. Paul tells us: “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). This is true discipleship.

E. J. Waggoner remarked: “Here is the secret of strength. It is Christ, the Son of God, the One to whom all power in heaven and earth is given, Who does the work. If He lives in the heart to do the work, is it boasting to say that continual victories may be gained? Yes, it is boasting; but it is boasting in the Lord, and that is allowable” (Signs of the Times, March 25, 1889).

Earthly armies gained the victory over their enemies by believing that their leaders were invincible. “Well, our Captain is the Lord of hosts. He has met the chiefest foe of all and has vanquished him singlehanded. Those who follow Him invariably go forth conquering and to conquer. Oh, that those who profess to be His followers would put their trust in Him, and then, by repeated victories that they would gain, they would show forth the praises of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light!” (ibid.).

The true calling of discipleship is to “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth” (Rev. 14:4); by faith following Him onward to victory over all sin. Following the Lamb, God’s people not only gain victory over sin in their personal lives, but God is vindicated against the claims Satan first uttered in heaven, that God is unjust and His law impossible to keep. As true disciples of Christ, we have a critical part to play in the final events of earth’s history. Through the faith of Christ, that “gold” which has already been “tried in the fire” (Rev. 3:18), of which He has given to every individual a measure (Rom. 12:3), we may stand firm and true through all trials and persecutions.

Ann Walper


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