"Cities of Refuge"
Refuge. The word conveys a sense of rugged impermeability. Protection. Peace. Safety. Permanence. Today, more than at any other time in earth's history, humanity longs for refuge. As Seventh-day Adventists, we have something immediate and compelling to share with those in need.
Sunday's lesson asks these two questions: "How can we protect ourselves from the negative influences that are always around us?" and "What personal choices must you, and you alone, make for yourself to help limit the negative impact of these influences on you?"
The answer to the first part of this question is that we cannot protect ourselves. But there is One who can protect us. "The story of the cities of refuge is one of the things written aforetime 'for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scripture might have hope.' We find ourselves continually beset by enemies. This is no figure of speech, but an actual fact. Everybody knows that he possesses evil habits and traits of character that are positive enemies to him, often destroying not only his happiness here, but his hope of the world to come. And what is worse, they are stronger than we, so that we cannot successfully fight against them.
"From all these enemies, more dangerous than any earthly foes, we have a sure refuge. 'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.' David wrote, 'The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.'
"This refuge is real. The walls of Shechem and Hebron did not protect a refugee from his enemy so securely as God keeps those who flee to Him from the sins that beset them.
"Try it. When the enemy presses upon you, lay hold upon the promises of God, and they will be to you a wall which no temptation can pierce. Satan himself in person cannot get through them to lay violent hands on one who is behind them. The God of heaven is infinitely more real, although invisible, than all the gods that can be seen; so His Word is a rock infinitely more real and more enduring than Gibraltar" (E. J. Waggoner, The Present Truth, Oct. 10, 1895).
"We know the power of the resurrection of Christ only by experiencing the same power in the forgiveness of sins, and in overcoming sin. Thus we share even now in the resurrection of Christ, and that is the assurance of the future resurrection at his coming" (Waggoner, The Bible Echo, Aug. 1, 1893).
Read the immediate context of this week's memory verse (Heb. 6:17-20). Here we see that our hope is anchored in the high-priestly ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. Everything there reflects what is happening in actual fact in the hearts and minds of God's earthly children. In Revelation 3:20 our Refuge is pictured, ever knocking at the very door of our soul temple (see Selected Messages, book 1, p. 325). The faintest cry of the heart is heard by that persistent Visitor, and He will not fail to answer our invitation to come in. After all, what good is a refuge if it is far away and hard to reach? I have no refuge at all if it is not where I need it, when I need it to be there. Christ, ministering within the veil, "ever liveth to make intercession" for us (Heb. 7:25).
Thursday's lesson asks the question, "In what ways do we find the same kind of refuge and protection in Christ that those who fled to the cities of refuge found?"
A city of refuge was placed within reach of every Israelite. In the same way, faith is given to every human being (Rom. 12:3). "Since faith is the depending upon the word of God only, for what that word says, being justified by faith is simply being accounted righteous by depending upon the word only.
"When he has made the way so plain, the justification so complete, and the peace so sure to all, and asks all people only to receive it all by simply accepting it from him, and depending upon him for it, why should not every soul on earth be thus justified, and have the peace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ?" (A. T. Jones, Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald, Feb. 14, 1899, p. 104).
The second item on Friday's Summary of the lesson states the following: "The one guilty of killing another had no part in preparing this hiding place for him/her self." Another item on the list adds, "We had better just determine that the City of Refuge is our permanent home. We are privileged to stay there forever, hidden in Christ. To leave is to murder our Redeemer and to commit suicide. Freedom from the wages of sin is found only in Christ, the ultimate 'City of Refuge.'"
Consider the following: "Abiding with Christ is choosing only the disposition of Christ, so that he identifies his interests with yours. When you give up your own will, your own wisdom, and learn of Christ as he has invited you, then you shall find entrance into the kingdom of God. Entire, unreserved surrender he requires. Give up your life for him to order, mold, and fashion; take upon your neck his yoke; submit to be led and taught, as well as to lead and teach; learn that unless you become as a little child you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Abide in him, to be and do only what he wills. These are the conditions of discipleship.
"Unless these conditions are complied with, you can not have rest. Rest is in Christ; it can not be found as something he gives apart from himself. The moment the yoke is adjusted to your neck, that moment it is found easy; and the heaviest labor in spiritual lines can be performed, the heaviest burdens can be borne, because the Lord gives the strength and the power, and he gives gladness in doing the work. Mark the points: Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart. Who is it that speaks thus?--The Majesty of heaven, the King of glory. He desires that your conception of spiritual things shall be purified from the fog of selfishness, the defilement of a crooked, coarse, unsympathetic nature. There must be the inward, higher experience. You must obtain a growth in grace by abiding in Christ.
"As these things were spoken, I saw that some turned sadly away, and mingled with the scoffers; others with tears, all broken in heart, were making confessions to those whom they had bruised and wounded. They did not think of maintaining their own dignity, but asked at every step, 'What must I do to be saved?' The answer was, 'Repent, and be converted, that your sins may go beforehand to judgment, and be blotted out'" (Jones, op. cit.).
"We have done mischief. We have sinned. What are the wages of sin? Death. Then who is after us? Death. Who had the power of death? Satan. Then who is after us? Satan. And we fled for refuge to lay hold on that hope set before us. Where is that hope? In Christ. Who is our refuge? Christ. Who is our city of refuge? … Now then, when we are in Christ, our refuge, can Satan touch us? He cannot. How do you know? It says so. Suppose we go out before the priesthood closes, what then? Satan can, and he will smite us, and our blood will be on our head. If we go out before the priesthood closes, we have no protection and he will take us. If that man would remain in the city ten or fifteen years he would have grown strong enough to meet his enemy, wouldn't he? He would have got experience there, and therefore he could say, 'I am strong enough now I am not afraid of any enemy; now I can go out. I can go out now, I am all right. That other fellow has gone away now and forgotten all about this.' But he is not able to meet the enemy, is he? Where is he able alone to meet the enemy? In the city. And in the city he does not have to meet him at all, does he? The walls of the city meet the enemy. That shield of faith that quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked--that shield of faith which is Jesus Christ, is the walls of our city of refuge, and the fiery darts of the enemy cannot get past it at all.
"Well then our strength and our safety forever, is only inside of our refuge, isn't it? And then when the priesthood closes, we can go everywhere in this universe--but not outside of Christ. Then we can go everywhere, and can the enemy do us any damage? No, sir. Let us stay in the City, brethren; let us stay in the refuge to which we have fled, where our safety is. And when we are there haven't we the victory? Yes, sir. In Him we have the victory. We can meet the temptation then with joy. Why, we have the victory before we meet temptation, haven't we? Then cannot we be glad? Wouldn't you rather have a battle when you know you have a victory before you start in, than to have no battle at all? Then let us do some of that kind of fighting. Come on, what is the use of being afraid? The victory is ours" (Jones, General Conference Daily Bulletin, Feb. 9, 1893, p. 205).