Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Pillar of Mission: The Apostle Peter

“It was through self-sufficiency that Peter fell; and it was through repentance and humiliation that his feet were again established. In the record of his experience every repenting sinner may find encouragement. Though Peter had grievously sinned, he was not forsaken. The words of Christ were written upon his soul, ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.’ Luke 22:32. In his bitter agony of remorse, this prayer, and the memory of Christ’s look of love and pity, gave him hope. Christ after His resurrection remembered Peter, and gave the angel the message for the women, ‘Go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him.’ Mark 16:7. Peter’s repentance was accepted by the sin-pardoning Saviour” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 155; emphasis mine).

“The loud cry of the third angel has already begun in the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer” (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1073; 1892; emphasis mine).

God’s love (agape) as well as His righteousness is revealed in Jesus, the “sin-pardoning Redeemer/Saviour.” The exchange of words between Jesus and Peter recorded in John 21 demonstrates the difference between human love and God’s love (agape). In this incident, Peter demonstrated that he recognized that agape comes only from God. Man can not generate agape. Peter finally recognized that human love could fail and was not dependable.

God’s love (agape) is the heart of the pure New Testament gospel and it is the core of that “most precious message” that came to “us” in 1888. It is heartening to know that Jesus is “working” as hard to save us as He did (prayed) for Peter.

Monday’s lesson: Peter’s confession: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 6:16), was divinely inspired. It too is a demonstration of a God of love revealing Himself to fallen humanity. This confession is the foundation of God’s Christian Church. It is the “key” that opens the “gates of heaven” to us and allows the Holy Spirit to fill us with agape. As we allow God’s love to flow through us to others, God’s church grows and is strengthened.

Tuesday’s lesson: As Peter humbled himself and allowed agape to flow to others, he became a very effective missionary and pillar of the church. It is only through the mighty working of the Holy Spirit that Peter’s shadow could effectively heal anyone.

This same Holy Spirit worked through others for the “building up” of the “Church.” The events in this section demonstrate the Spiritual Gifts of administration, management, and leadership along with the importance of these gifts in Church growth. We should note that the “members and leaders” expounded the Gospel while the Holy Spirit brought the “growth” and supplied the gifts to manage it.

Wednesday’s lesson: Later, Paul would write: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye [be] Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal.3:28, 29).

Peter must have matured considerably in his Christian experience to be trusted with the vision that revealed Jesus as the “Saviour of the world,” not just the Jewish nation. Peter must have understood the “wideness” of agape to accept this wider vision of his mission and the mission of the church. Peter must have experienced a genuine death to self to accept this very important tenet of the Gospel.

This principle (Jesus as Savior of the world) is an integral part of the 1888 message given in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, many cannot “see” or accept it. Could the reason be that we do not have a clear picture of God’s unconditional agape? Perhaps we have not experienced a genuine death to self and find ourselves unable to give up pre-conceived opinions.

Peter’s leadership skills were an important factor in bringing the church to accept the concept that non-Jews could become Christians and enjoy the benefits of God’s grace. Perhaps some of us will have to accept leadership positions to bring this to the modern day church.

Thursday’s lesson: The incident recorded in Galatians 2:11-14 is an illustration of the failure of human love. In this case it was a failure of Peter’s human love. He lost sight of the “wideness” of God’s love. He was not filled with agape on that day and he mistreated his brothers in Christ who were not Jews. At the same time he was a poor witness to his fellow Jews as he revealed a very poor picture of God’s loving face.

“Those who wait for the Bridegroom’s coming are to say to the people, ‘Behold your God.’ The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love. The children of God are to manifest His glory. In their own life and character they are to reveal what the grace of God has done for them” (op. cit, p. 415).

“If you have received the grace of God, the light is in you. Remove the obstructions, and the Lord’s glory will be revealed. The light will shine forth to penetrate and dispel the darkness. You cannot help shining within the range of your influence.

“The revelation of His own glory in the form of humanity will bring heaven so near to men that the beauty adorning the inner temple will be seen in every soul in whom the Saviour dwells. Men will be captivated by the glory of an abiding Christ. And in currents of praise and thanksgiving from the many souls thus won to God, glory will flow back to the great Giver” (ibid., p. 420).

—J. B. Jablonski

Friday, August 15, 2008

From Folly to Faith: The Apostle Peter

Our lesson this week is about how Jesus was able to transform raw disciples into powerful church leaders and witnesses for the Kingdom of heaven. The focus is on Peter but I would wish to beg your indulgence and include more of the disciples. Not everyone identifies with the personality of Peter as they might with other disciples. More importantly, Jesus’ method of developing missionaries applies to all types of characters, thus allowing our insights to include not only Jesus’ ability to transform individuals but diverse groups as well.

Just who were these disciples that Jesus called to become His leaders? Peter clearly is the most well known. He is described as “brash, presumptuous, and prone to violence, collapsing under pressure” (adult lesson, p. 66; teachers’ edition, p. 92). The other disciples were just a colorful. James and John had quite the temper and the mouths to go with it. Phillip was an earnest inquirer after truth that led him to study the scriptures for the promises concerning the Messiah. There is Nathaniel who was without guile, was not double-minded, and who was of a gentle and meditative spirit. Thomas was known as the one who had a hard time believing, yet had a warm heart and was ready to die with his Lord. Then there was Matthew the tax collector, who thought nothing of the consequences of having a feast to celebrate his conversion and to invite his publican friends to meet the Savior. Surely he and Simon the Zealot had their moments, the first being a former tax-“lover” and the latter a tax-“hater”! To round out the group there was Andrew, Peter’s brother who seems to be the first to bring others to see Jesus. James the son of Alphaeus and James the Lesser, are not characterized in the Bible. That leaves Judas the Traitor. What differing individuals! What a group as a whole to transform into effective missionaries! How will He do it?

To answer the question we need to notice that although this group seems too divergent to develop into a cohesive, supportive missionary band, they held several values and desires in common. This was a group of pious men who sought the fulfillment of God’s promises and the hopes of devout men. The fact that they were with John the Baptist suggests that they hungered for real righteousness, being sick of what they saw in God’s house of worship. John’s exposure of hollow worship, and a desire for revival, reveals they wanted to put right those things that were wrong among God’s people. Such character would not be afraid of sacrificing all, giving up convention, and accepting correction.

So how does Jesus begin the transformation of these men? His first words to the disciples were, “Come and see.” Challenging this group of seekers, given John’s identification of the Messiah, was enough. Notice there is no sermon per se. Jesus is confident that (1) He is the Truth they seek, and (2) they will recognize that Truth when the Holy Spirit brings it to their hearts. Thus when it is done each man can say with personal conviction as did Phillip, “Come, we have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45) Even with Nathaniel’s query, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?,” Phillip will respond in the way of the Savior, “Come and see.” The first step in transformation was that Jesus drew each man to observe Himself as He was promised in scripture and how He fulfilled those promises.

There is a gradual knitting of the disciples to Jesus. In the beginning, the disciples occasionally accompanied Jesus, later they devoted their attention full time to following Him wherever He went. Finally, in approximately the last year of His earthly ministry, Jesus actively recruited the twelve for specific instruction. All this comprises the general framework of the disciples’ education. But this only accounts for their exposure to the principles of the Kingdom of God and not their personal transformation of character.

If these men are to witness to the world of Jesus’ power to save from sin, they need a personal experience. This Jesus gave them as He ministered to the needs of others. Whether it was healing the sick or discussing with the Pharisees, He used the opportunity to teach, comparing and contrasting the misconceptions of truth of His kingdom with its realities. Here is where Peter learned about the true mission of the Messiah (Matt. 16), where the disciples saw what true faith in God could do in a violent storm (Matt. 14), and where their cherished expectations of the Messiah were far from being true when Jesus responded to their final questions (John 13:36-38). Given all this, one might think they were prepared to go to all the world but they weren’t. They needed one experience that would seal their education.

The one thing that distinguished true followers of Jesus was that they were willing to be corrected. This led to repentance. Many heard Jesus gladly and were impressed and inspired but they were not willing to give up what was holding them back from receiving the blessings of salvation. The disciples had given up all it would seem, and yet they were mystified in the upper room as to what the kingdom was truly like. It was not until the cross, where they saw their Messiah die, that they were ready to see the truth, including all their cherished expectations of grandeur. In the room on Sunday evening Jesus appeared to them in a totally different way because all their presuppositions were gone. When He repeated what He and taught them in the past THEN THEY GOT IT! In forty days they were out preaching with power because Jesus had replaced their misconceptions with the truth and the truth made them free to share with others what He had modeled and what He had done.

The same transformation of the disciples is what Jesus wants to do in our lives. In our recognition that we are as the disciples, both individually and collectively, in need of change, being willing to be corrected and freely repenting of error, the truth that Jesus has for the final preparation of His second coming will be even more glorious than Pentecost.

“Unless he makes it his life business to behold the uplifted Saviour, and by faith to accept the merits which it is his privilege to claim, the sinner can no more be saved than Peter could walk upon the water unless he kept his eyes fixed steadily upon Jesus. Now, it has been Satan’s determined purpose to eclipse the view of Jesus and lead men to look to man, and trust to man, and be educated to expect help from man. For years the church has been looking to man and expecting much from man, but not looking to Jesus, in whom our hopes of eternal life are centered. Therefore God gave to His servants [Waggoner and Jones] a testimony that presented the truth as it is in Jesus, which is the third angel’s message, in clear, distinct lines” (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 92).

—Robert Van Ornam

Friday, August 01, 2008

“Jesus and His Disciples”

What is discipleship to Jesus? It is the call of Jesus to follow Him, the Lamb of God (John 4:36 ); as a life-long learner, “complete” [“fully trained,” Luke 6:40 ]; in service for the Master [“fishers of men,” Matt. 4:19 ]. Discipleship, then, involves: (1) the initiating call of Jesus; (2) the Master teaching students who are open to all the truth unto perfection; (3) whether as one’s full-time profession, or as an avocation; involvement in catching souls for Christ.

Whom does Jesus call to follow Him? “Whom He did predestinate, them He also called” (Rom. 8:30 ). Whom did He predestinate? “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate” (Rom. 8:29 ). Whom did He foreknow? We are shut up to the conclusion that He foreknew everyone. So every last soul who has ever set foot on earth was foreknown by Jesus and predestinated to be called by name to His service.

How does Jesus fully train them in Christian perfection; “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29 )? “Whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30 ). Here is wonderful truth not fully recovered since the time the Apostle Paul penned these words.

Everyone is called by Jesus. Likewise everyone is justified by Jesus. In an objective sense, Christ’s death is an act so extravagantly comprehensive, that it encircles the globe, so that God is able to treat everyone as pardoned for their sin. This wonderful gift is wrapped in the person of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is literally given by God to every individual.

How does justification bring Christian perfection? “And whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom. 8:29 , 30). This gift of legal justification, if unhindered by the recipient, effects the fruitage of sanctifying power in the life, and is revealed in ultimate glorification at the Lord’s appearing. All of this is God’s predestination for every soul. Though the wicked are mercifully granted temporary pardon for a brief lifetime, by their choice of frustrating the grace of God, they unhappily never experience the benefits: the forgiveness of their sins, and its unleashed power in their lives.

How may this wonderful message about Jesus enable Him to use us as fishers of men? Just as Andrew, the former disciple of John the Baptist, followed “the Lamb of God,” and subsequently found his brother Peter (John 1:40); likewise, we have been given a vision of Jesus Christ that is inclusive of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. His love is so extravagant that it embraces every soul with an atmosphere of His grace. We are just an after fragrance that comes along providing an additional incentive for that soul to follow Jesus.

Have you been given a revelation of Jesus Christ? Most certainly. In the unique circumstances in which you are located, Jesus has called you, and given you a vision of Himself crucified for you.

A young woman’s testimony is to the effect that at a critical time in her life, when her mother was terminally ill, Jesus showed Himself to her in a vision. She saw Jesus standing before her extending His hand and speaking to her in her own language and specific dialect. To her this was an invitation to never pull her hand away from the Saviour, but to ever let Him lead in her life. This commissioning for service by the nail-pierced hands of the Saviour, is as much an ordination of the unseen hands as any formal laying on of hands at an ordination service of an elder or pastor in the church.

You do not need to have such a visible manifestation of the call of Jesus to service. You have something equally as authoritative for your call to discipleship. Jesus says to you, “Go ye therefore. ... I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19, 20). That’s exactly where you are right now, “the end of the world.” You are ordained by the unseen, nail-pierced hands of Jesus.

Paul E. Penno

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