Friday, October 31, 2008

“Atonement Announced”

We want to remember as we study these Sabbath School lessons on the “Atonement,” that the word is not a Latin term that is muddled in meaning. It’s pure, simple Anglo-Saxon that ordinary people can grasp immediately: it means to be “made one.”

And the alienation that it heals has been one-sided—we humans are the ones who were separated, or isolated; it’s “the carnal mind [that is] enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7).

He has always been reconciled to us, no “enmity” on His part. It was the Father who “so loved the world” that He “gave His only begotten Son” to demonstrate His one-ness with us (John 3:16). The giving was total, the emptying of Himself in so doing (see Phil. 2:5-8; “the death of the cross” was the death in hell itself—the second death).

“Enmity” is exceedingly painful to endure, especially when it separates two people who once loved each other and once were “one.” A divorce for example can be worse than death; if hatred has entered in where once only love ruled—the human spirit knows no bitterness worse.

The loving Father wants the whole universe to know that He is already reconciled to us sinners, and that His reconciling love heals the wounds such alienation brings.

When this News breaks on to the darkened alienated human heart, if the heart is honest it is melted with contrition: “Does He care about me? Is His divine heart wounded by my willful alienation from Him? Oh, I repent of my alienation from Him!”

The response of the believing heart is a million miles from being self-centered: fear of hell doesn’t enter in, and hope of reward is forgotten. The sublime words describe this joy: “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

By Him “we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.” No joy in the wide universe can equal this! The weight has been lifted. At last we realize that His “yoke is easy, and [His] burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

From “henceforth” we serve the One who died for us not because of fear of hell or hope of reward in heaven, but solely because His love [agape] “constraineth us.” It’s the joy that is supreme in God’s universe.

The scholars can describe it as “atonement announced,” and that is good; the “announcement” is the Good News that Paul says “is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16).

Its joy is just indescribable.

May you, dear reader, know it first hand; that’s a prayer offered for you from one thankful heart.

Robert J. Wieland


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Atonement and the Divine Initiative

Our Lesson emphasizes correctly that long before sin arose in God’s universe He had made a plan to deal with it when it should arise.

But let us remember that even though a “plan” had been devised, still the rise of sin brought immeasurable grief to the heart of the Father.

For example, the suffering that sin has brought to human beings is immense, beyond words.

That’s reason enough to long for the Lord to come back, to put an end to sin.

But the Lord Himself wants to come back soon, for we down here never suffer alone: “In all their affliction He [the Lord] was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isa. 63:9).

Even among those whose hearts are not in unison with God, who suffer in darkness, those too are included in the suffering of the Lord. Even we, who are sinners by nature, can sympathize with the suffering of other people and also with the brute creation in their suffering. Paul says, “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, and not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:22, 23).

And if the “whole creation” groans in pain, what about the Father? How He must suffer!

The key word that we need here is “appreciation,” one of Ellen White’s favorite words. There is no word for “appreciation” in our Greek New Testament, but its absence is an amazing revelation: its absence is very eloquent because the idea permeates the Letters of Paul.

Paul was obsessed with what happened on the cross of Jesus. Even though there was no one word to express it, his grasp of what the cross means needs the words “heart-appreciation.” He felt that his heart wasn’t big enough to express the idea he wanted to say; doubtless he would read Psalm 119:32, the prayer of David, “when Thou shalt enlarge my heart,” and long for his own shriveled up little worldly heart to be “enlarged” to appreciate “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love (agape) of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that [he] might be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19).

Christ took the initiative in coming to save us and in dying our second death on His cross. There is nothing we can do to repay Him; but it pleases Him when He can find a people who “appreciate” what He sacrificed for us!

Perhaps, even on His cross hanging there in the darkness just before He screamed, “My God, why have You forsaken Me,” the Father permitted Him to have a brief glimpse in prolepsis of the multitudes who would “appreciate” what He had done. Psalm 22, you remember, is the prayer that Jesus prayed as He hung on His cross, as though a stenographer took it down: He was permitted to know that “all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord ... A seed shall serve Him. ... They shall come, and shall declare His righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that He hath done this” (Psalm 22:27-31; in the Hebrew, that last clause is one word only—the Hebrew word for “It is done!”).

Is your heart big enough to “appreciate” it?

Robert J. Wieland

Sunday, October 19, 2008

“The Fall Into Sin”

“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. ... For He spoke and it was done; He commanded and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:6, 9). “Christ is primarily the Word of God, the expression of God’s thought; and the Scriptures are the Word of God simply because they reveal Christ” (Ellet J. Waggoner).

John tells us that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

Ellen White keeps it simple by directing us this way: “We are to take the Word of God as it reads, the words of Christ as He has spoken them” (Lift Him Up, p. 265).

God has given His Word to man to be received through the Holy Spirit. This Word of God is but an extension of the thought of God, which is but the expression of God’s mind. Thus man, receiving this Word, would be a constant partaker of the mind of God—fulfilling the Scripture to, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).

“The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. ... Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Gen. 2:8, 9, 15-17).

To man in the garden there came another word—opposite the Word of God. This second word was the expression of a second thought, and this thought was the product of another mind. To receive this word would be to receive the thought expressed in the word; and to receive the thought was to be partaker of this second mind. This second word is always opposed to the simple Word of God.

“Now the serpent ... said to the woman” (Gen. 3:1-5). Here was the second word representing the second mind—here was this “theologian in a tree” trying to explain what God really meant by what He said.

Deception lies in attempting to explain what God means by what He has said. There is never any need for this. God’s Word means what it says, and it says what it means. As a teacher of the Word of God, use any amount of time needed to help people to see what the Word of God says, but never a moment trying to explain what it means.

The two ways were now before her; the two words, the two thoughts, and the two minds. She accepted the second word and the result was a reversal of her own nature. Satan and man now had the same mind.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6). The fact that another mind had been received was apparent, for Eve was now seeing things that weren’t so.

She saw that this tree was not good for food; for apart from it grew “every tree that was ... good for food.” She saw that this tree was not pleasant to the eyes; for apart from this tree, “made the Lord God to grow every tree that was pleasant to the sight” (see Gen. 2:9). And this tree she saw was not “a tree to be desired to make one wise”—this has been demonstrated every minute from then until now!

If Eve had done the “simple thing” of staying with the first Word exactly as it was she could not have sinned. If she had said to Satan: “I don’t know whether the Word that I have cited means what you suggest it means, and I don’t care, but what I do know is what the Word says, and I shall take it for just what it says; and there I stand. I will not eat of the fruit of this tree because the Word says that I shall not.”

In this “simple thing” lies the power of the divine Word to keep the soul from sinning. To every person this “simple thing” is as true today as it was, and as it would have proved itself to be to Eve. The divine Word, simply held by Eve, would forever have kept her from sin. The Lord Jesus, in human flesh, was kept from sinning by simply holding to the divine Word. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Psalm 119:11). “The word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it” (Deut. 30:14).

Eve’s sin was in not believing and holding to God’s simple Word. Her unbelief was made complete by her disobedience in eating from the tree.

Even so today, our Laodicean paralysis stems from the same issue faced by Eve at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—will we do the “simple thing” and hold firmly to the Word of our Creator and thus be kept from sinning, or will we fall for the interpretations, explanations, and “enlightenments” from the “theologians in the trees”?

“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).

“Believe that Jesus means just what he says; take him at his word, and hang your helpless soul upon him” (Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, June 23, 1896).

Daniel Peters

Thursday, October 09, 2008

“Cosmic Crisis: The Disruption of God’s Established Order”

In this lesson Satan levels his charge against God. “God is a liar. God told you that you would die if you ate this fruit, but you will not die. God is withholding information from you that you need to know. That’s why you need to partake of this fruit, for by eating it you will become like God, knowing good from evil.” Man took the bait. Adam, as the firstfruits and father of the human race, sold us “up the river,” so to speak, and gave to this race sin and death in the fallen sinful human nature—both flesh and mind. Thus the bliss of innocence was removed from mankind. Man, who had previously known only good, now learned evil.

As our lesson study presents, this thought was developed in the mind of Satan while he was still in the paradise of heaven. A sinless mind conceived sin—a seeming oxymoron. Yet, obviously, it is possible for a sinless mind to commit sin. The choice is always up to the individual. Christ died that we might have the power of choice even though He, with His sinless mind in the fallen sinful human flesh that He took, could have sinned, but never did. And so the charge was made and the stage is set for the trial of God, the trial of the universe. We call this “the great controversy” and “the plan of salvation.”

God is now on trial. He is the defendant. He must answer the charge. The plaintiff, Satan, having conquered mankind, now claims to be the representative of the human race. This is why he attends the committee meeting in heaven called by God—and is challenged. See the story in Job 1, beginning with verse 6, where God asks Satan what he is doing there, telling him that he cannot represent the human race because there is at least one non-conformist, for Job follows God, not Satan. So we see that this trial is going to be won on the battlefield of the minds and lives of God’s people—His witnesses. These are the ones on the witness stand, living witnesses of who God really is.

There are four methods of qualifying to represent a group of people. (1) By creating them: the creator has ownership (and also control, should He choose to exercise it) of what he has made. (2) By being the first one: representation is self-evident, for Adam, being the father of the human race, became the first human representative. (3) By conquering them: the conqueror usurps “ownership” and control, which is what Satan did in the garden of Eden. (4) By becoming one of them (and winning their support): the method that Christ used to win back what was lost in Eden. What was lost by a human being was won back and reversed (and more) by another human being.

Only three of these methods are acceptable to God. God created each angel and each human being with a free mind to choose. When man chose to follow Satan rather than God it affected a change in God’s creation, for the race was no longer as God had created it, having taken on fallen sinful human flesh. Therefore, through deception, Satan conquered—and man chose a new representative.

God could have chosen simply to conquer back. He was (and still is) vastly capable of doing it. Instead, He chose to preserve man’s power of choice as God had given him at creation. So the battle lines were set. In order to qualify to represent man in this battle, God entered the realm of man by becoming one of them—100 percent God and 100 percent man. As the human race, by virtue of being a man Himself and the representative of the race, He won back all that was lost by Adam, and more.

In Psalm 76:8, 9; Judges 2:16; and 1 Samuel 24:15 we find that the work of the judge is to represent and deliver the defendant. In this case, let God be the judge, for He is capable of looking after the Defendant. Before the jury of the whole universe, this trial will play out—indeed has been playing out for more than 6000 years. We are in the final arguments of both sides; the judgment hour message is being given even now.

Satan had pointed to Adam’s sin as proof that God’s law was unjust, and could not be obeyed. In our humanity, Christ was to redeem Adam’s failure. ... For four thousand years the race had been decreasing in physical strength, in mental power, and in moral worth; and Christ took upon Him the infirmities of degenerate humanity. Only thus could He rescue man from the lowest depths of his degradation” (The Desire of Ages, p. 117, emphasis added).

“God is Himself on trial before the universe and Satan and evil men have always charged Him with being unjust and arbitrary, but in the judgment all the universe will say, ‘Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints’” (E. J. Waggoner, General Conference Bulletin, 1891, No. 3, page 1).

“He came into the world to demonstrate the unrighteousness of that argument that Satan was presenting in the courts of God, as the prosecuting attorney from this country. That is the thought; it is legal all the way through. ... And He conquered, and thus became, by right, the head of this dominion again, and of all who will be redeemed from it, and of the redemption of the dominion itself. And now that word also in the Greek which says that the accuser of our brethren ‘is cast down,’ conveys the idea of a prosecuting attorney, who comes into court, but he has no case any more, he is repudiated; he has no place for argument. Why?—because now we have an Advocate in the court, Jesus Christ the righteous. Yes; thank the Lord!” (A. T. Jones, General Conference Bulletin, 1895, “The Third angel’s Message,” No. 23, p. 448).

“And the word that was spoken to Jesus at the Jordan, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,’ embraces humanity. God spoke to Jesus as our representative. With all our sins and weaknesses, we are not cast aside as worthless. ‘He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.’ Eph. 1:6” (The Desire of Ages, p. 113, emphasis added).

“I will be your representative in heaven. The Father beholds not your faulty character, but He sees you as clothed in My perfection” (ibid., p. 357, quoting Christ).

Although Jesus Christ has passed into the heavens, there is still a living chain binding His believing ones to His own heart of infinite love. The most lowly and weak are bound by a chain of sympathy closely to His heart. He never forgets that He is our representative, that He bears our nature. ... But exalted ‘to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins,’ will Christ, our representative and head, close His heart, or withdraw His hand, or falsify His promise? No; never, never” (Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 19, 20, emphasis added).

Christ is your representative. Is that OK with you?

Craig Barnes