Friday, May 16, 2008

The Puzzle of His Conduct

Both Jesus’ words and conduct have today a specific purpose—for us to repent and allow ourselves to be drawn closer to God.

It’s not easy to assign Jesus to a particular category or class, rigid or exclusive. Some are genuinely puzzled by His conduct: Does He expect us to do that, and in the same way? As we study this week’s lesson, let’s try to uncover the underlying principles, aware that two individuals may come away with completely different impressions of what Jesus’ sayings mean.

The teachings of Jesus make wonderful sense to many because they have read them many times or have grown up with them. To a new believer, however, knowing how to be born again, or to be perfect, or to forgive seventy-times seventy can be challenging concepts. What is our responsibility?

In the passage in Sunday’s lesson (Luke 2:41-51) it was clearly Mary and Joseph who neglected to see to it that Jesus was with the group traveling north to Galilee from Jerusalem after the Feast of the Passover. Verse 51 is explicit in its statement about Jesus’ obedience to His mother Mary and to Joseph. This incident had nothing to do with any irresponsibility of Jesus.

The mission of redemption began to dawn in the mind of Jesus as He observed the Passover ceremonies. In answer to His mother’s question as to why He treated Joseph and herself the way He did, Jesus mildly rebuked her by stating that He must be about His heavenly Father’s business. The implication is that they should have known this. The message to Mary and Joseph and to us is the same: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19).

We have a clear historical incident of neglect, irresponsibility, and unaccountability in our not too distant past. Although sharply disapproved of and criticized by church leadership for their beliefs, Jones and Waggoner and Ellen G. White responded to God’s message as supreme. While obedient to leadership, they knew their first duty was to be faithful to God’s special message beginning in 1888. That message was the uplifting of Christ in such a way as to draw everyone to Him, being led to repentance and faith. When the trio was broken up by sending Ellen White to Australia and Waggoner to England, all three remained true to the message from heaven. Although obedient to the voice of leadership, they continued to preach the message of Christ and His righteousness and other teachings connected to that message.

Monday’s lesson is about the anger displayed by Jesus when He went into the temple courts and heard the raucous noise and saw the selling of commodities in that sacred place. Jesus displayed righteous anger, not for Himself but for God, indignant because of the false message of salvation implied by the peddlers and their products. Is Christ’s indignation an example for us? Yes. But we need to be exceedingly careful to understand the difference between a sanctified righteous anger and that which springs from self.

Tuesday’s lesson is about the destruction of property. A question first must be asked: Were the pigs really the personal property of those who raised, ate, and sold them? Another question arises: Did Jesus destroy the pigs? Or did the devil stampede them over the precipice? Should we be left with the impression that Jesus did the destroying? What about today? During destructions such as Myanmar, Katrina, and 9/11, who is blamed? God. In the United States even insurance companies get out of paying money to insured people for destructions labeled “acts of God.”

Wednesday’s lesson asked two probing questions: (1) “Where is God when we hurt?” [We might also ask: “Where are we when God hurts?”] and (2) “How can His behavior during the entire episode with [John] the Baptist help understand the silence of God in our own times of trouble?” God may be silent, but He is not unmindful. He will more than make up for any suffering or inconvenience we may experience because we serve Him.

In answer to the first question we may learn something about God’s suffering as the Father stood alone at the cross when Jesus suffered and died. God’s suffering did not begin or end at Calvary. Today, He hurts for us in silence. As for the second question, we need to consider the lesson learned by John—that suffering for Christ’s sake is a weighty gift from God. “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29). God never neglects those who suffer and/or are persecuted for His sake. As we study the lives of martyrs we learn that most of them died with intense suffering, but they prayed and sang songs of triumph in their agony. No doubt they were encouraged as they meditated on the sufferings of John and Jesus.

The increasing suffering and the number of natural disasters have many people wondering who controls the weather, God or Satan? There are some Christians who believe Satan’s powers to be extremely limited, therefore it is God alone who sends these “natural” disasters. This, they believe, is what the Bible teaches, a notion not unlike the interpretations given to the so-called hard sayings and doings of Jesus. However, there can be no meaningless suffering for the believer, whether it is caused by man or by a natural event. We may not always know why evil acts or natural disasters happen, but we can be assured that in all our trials and tribulations God is working all things together for His glory and for our everlasting good (Rom. 8:18-28).

Jesus mentioned that many natural disasters would be a sad reality throughout history and would build in impact as we approach the end of time. He predicted: “There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines and calamities; this is but a beginning of the intolerable anguish and sufferings” (Mark 13:8, Amplified). Disasters will continue to wreak havoc on countless thousands of people around the globe. But God says, “... the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but My salvation shall be for ever, and My righteousness shall not be abolished” (Isa. 51:6).

The lesson to be learned regarding the so-called hard sayings and doings of Jesus this week (and every week until His return) is this: repent and believe the Good News. When this lesson is learned He will come, just as He would have come shortly after 1888, if His people would have repented and believed His message that God intended to be given to the church and to the world.

—Gerald L. Finneman