Tuesday, August 28, 2012

“Final Events”

Insights #9 Sept. 1, 2012
Third Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Final Events
For the week of Sept. 1, 2012
Final Events – Enduring to the End

Many know Condoleezza Rice as an American political scientist and diplomat.  She served as the 66th United States Secretary of State, and was the second person to hold that office in the administration of President George W. Bush.  Rice was President Bush's National Security Advisor during his first term. Before joining the Bush administration, she was a professor of political science at Stanford University where she served as Provost from 1993 to 1999. Rice also served on the National Security Council as the Soviet and East European Affairs Advisor to President George H.W. Bush during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and German reunification.

Few know that she is an accomplished pianist.  Rice began to learn French, music, figure skating, and ballet at the age of three. At the age of fifteen, she began piano classes with the goal of becoming a concert pianist. While Rice ultimately did not become a professional pianist, she still practices often and plays with a chamber music group. She even accompanied cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing Brahms' Violin Sonata in D Minor at Constitution Hall in April 2002 for the National Medal of Arts Awards.  Why then, did she not become a professional pianist? When Rice recognized that it took her at least twice as long to learn musical pieces as her collegiate classmates, she realized she did not have the talent to play professionally and would need to change her career aspirations.  She understood that if she could not compete at the college level, she certainly could not at a professional level.  Jeremiah 12: 5 comes to mind: “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?”

During the time the apostles spent with Jesus, He often referred to them as having little faith.  Despite His example, and all His teachings, the disciples failed to grasp the true nature of His mission, thus they failed to equip themselves with the faith required to endure His death.  “Many things I want to show you,” Christ would tell them, “but you will not endure it.”  When Christ died, the disciples lost all hope.  They were crushed with despair and sorrow.  It is no wonder that Christ uttered the words, “When the Son of Man returns will he find faith in the earth?” (Luke 18:8).  If those closest to Him did not “get it” in times of relative ease, how could they withstand the days to come? 

Christ was very clear and emphatic in Matthew 24 that the days to come would be troublesome: “All these are the beginning of sorrows” (v. 8).  Christ added that there will be a great tribulation as never has been, and unless the days are shortened no flesh will survive (Matthew 24: 21–22).  In Luke 21, Christ is quoted as saying that the nations of earth will be distressed with perplexity, the sea and waves will roar, and men’s hearts will fail them for fear (Luke 21:25–26).

There is an old Puerto Rican maxim which says – loosely translated – that when people have been warned of war, no one should die.  Yet many manage to do just that.  We have been warned of the coming day of trouble, yet many will find themselves unready.  We know this is true because Christ has warned us in Luke 21:34-36,

“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

 Paul seems to echo those words in 1 Thessalonians 5:

"For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, “peace and safety,” then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief." (vv. 2-4)

Paul tells the Thessalonians to “be sober,…putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8).  Earlier in the letter, Paul commended them for their faith, and encouraged them to continue to grow in faith.  Although the Thessalonians had suffered persecution, they must not give up, but instead learn to increasingly depend on the Lord for all things. A lesson we too have to learn. This is the kind of faith Christ described in the sermon on the mount when he said not to worry about where our clothes and food will come from, as God knows we have need of these things (Matthew 6:31-32).  This dependence on the Father for everything is the very faith Christ lived by, which was revealed to us in His wilderness temptation. His constant theme – the underlying principle by which He was victor – is revealed in His reply to Satan when tempted, “man shall live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).  Do you depend on God for even little things, such as what to wear, what to eat, or what route to take?  Many find this level of dependence strange, yet when you are in the military those decisions are made for you.  Are we not in the midst of a spiritual war?  Is Christ not the Captain of the host?  Consider Daniel’s friends.  Refusal to eat the king’s provisions led them into the very jaws of certain death (Daniel 3). 

We are living in troublesome times.  Some countries have it worse than others, yet much of the world lives in relative ease.  The days to come, however, will be far worse than anything we can, or ever have, imagined.  If we find it hard to endure by faith now, we will not have sufficient stamina to endure in the future.  There is no human resource, organizational or otherwise, that we have learned to look to or count on in the past that will be adequate for this conflict. This is not to cause fear, but is a timely call for self-examination under the wonderful light of the Holy Spirit, who is our Comforter and Sustainer.  A warning to the wise is sufficient. Unlike our world’s military, where supplies can run short and communications be interrupted, God never runs short of supplies, and nothing but our unbelief will obstruct the path of communication between us and Him.  This He has promised, and in His goodness He keeps His promises. The question is, are we learning to confide in, trust, and depend on Him now
-Raul Diaz

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

“The Dead in Christ”

Insights #8 Aug. 25, 2012
Third Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
The Dead in Christ
For the week of Aug. 25, 2012
The Assurance and Security of “The Dead in Christ.”

Not only in Paganism, but even within Judaism there were divergent views on the subject of the dead, their fate, and what was in store for them. Such differences became the basis for various Jewish sects, movements, and religious divisions ---  all professing to embody the true religion or faith of Abraham. Acts 23:8 confirms this specifically on the resurrection:  “For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both…”

It was foundational to Paul that Christ was crucified and had risen.  He writes in I Corinthians 15:  “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised.  And if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain, ye are yet in your sins…But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept.”  I Corinthians 15: 17,18, 20. Paul is confident. Christ was crucified on Passover; Christ risen on the day of the feast of First fruits. Looking ahead, Paul was confident the Scripture established that He was coming again.  But what became of those who died before His return. What assurance did they have? Two passages help us through their clarity:

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”  I Thessalonians 4: 16, 17
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. And we shall be changed.”  I Corinthians 15: 51, 52
As conqueror, Christ exercises authority and dominion over all realms of existence, history, and life experience, even the grave.  This is the “All power given to (Him) in heaven and in earth” Matthew 28:18. Through faith, having assumed fallen humanity, Jesus lived a holy life, resisting temptation by faith.  Through the Spirit he let the Father work in Him, and never yielded to temptation while facing all the conspiratorial assaults and powers of Satan and the fallen angels, the world, and the governmental and religious authorities.  Jesus conquered the powers of darkness, laying down his life at Golgotha. He condemned sin in the flesh, even “in the likeness of sinful flesh” and brought life and immortality to light. His resurrection confirmed the holiness of his life, his performance, his obedience, his character, and his submission to the will of His Father and His God. 

The Blessed Hope of the Christian therefore stands out distinct from all others.  Unlike many Pagan views of Paul’s era, the dead who knew Christ, who believed in Christ, did not pass hopelessly into oblivion.  Upon dying, they entered into a rest where there life is hid with God in Christ. This blessed hope of the second coming includes the resurrection of the believer in Christ.  It is the third part of the main elements of the gospel; those three aspects being 1) the historical facts of the gospel planned from the foundation of the world and fulfilled in the incarnate Christ (I Corinthians 15: 3,4) ; 2) the fruit of the gospel in the life of the believer (including the peace, the rest for the heavy laden,  and new birth of justification by faith, and the sanctified life by faith);  and 3) the blessed hope of the gospel (the second coming of Jesus Christ, the finishing of the mystery of the God, Rev. 10:7.)

So we see that much of the clarity needed in regard to the dead in Christ is derived from a clear understanding of the cross of Christ. Paul believed that Jesus Christ’s resurrection served to establish the faith and hope of those seeking a true deliverer. He was indeed the Messiah fulfilling the words of the prophets. Beyond political deliverance, he established that He was the “Resurrection and the Life” (John 5). So when Paul writes to the Thessalonians concerning those who are asleep, he says that he does so on sound authority, “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (or come before)  them which are asleep….”  I Thessalonians 4: 15.

John wrote later in Revelation,  “I am He that liveth, and was dead, and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell (the grave) and death.” Revelation 1: 18. We must note the exceeding greatness of His power: Christ not only had the key --- through his holy life, His death, and His resurrection --- but he used the key that he might lead captivity captive or as stated in the NIV “When he ascended on high he took many captives…” Ephesians 4: 8.

 “Jesus when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom: and the earth did quake and the rocks rent: And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,  And came out of the graves after his resurrection and went and appeared unto many.”  Matthew 27: 50-52
This is the Word of God, and Paul wants the Thessalonians to receive it, believe it, understand it and make it the basis of their hope on the resurrection, the state of the dead, and all of their faith. Similarly, even within the body of believers in Jesus as the Messiah and the Way, after his resurrection, there was a need for clarity particularly among those who were not fully taught.  No wonder a key part of the commission of Matthew 28 was to “teach” and (to continue)  “teaching.” This is what Paul was doing with the Thessalonians.

Those who died before, they too had a hope in Christ. His salvific work in his life, death, and resurrection covers all of humanity, as he took all humanity to himself. He bore our sins in his body on the tree, I Peter 2: 24. The benefits of his death and resurrection did not wait to begin after his death and resurrection, but were ours from the foundation of the world. Since the fall, every human has been able to experience the fruit of the life and the promise of the immortality which Jesus the Messiah brought to light through his gospel as the Lamb of God.

Nevertheless, it is clear that for all these brothers and sisters of the faith, who died in the Lord, including the Thessalonian believers, “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”  Hebrews 11: 40
-Michael Horton

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

“Friends Forever”

Third Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
 “Friends Forever”
 For the week of Aug. 11, 2012 Friends Forever

 This week’s lesson deal with the ultimate fruit of Christianity, the Gospel, The Sanctuary Message, and the New Covenant. 1 John 4:19 We love him, because he first loved us. Our love for Christ and the gospel of grace, the redeeming work He did for the human race at the cross is then, of course, extended out to others, for whom Christ died. The friendship that Paul has for the Thessalonicans is deeper than human friendship. Paul loves this fellow Christians and wants them to be ready for the return of Christ. He wants to spend eternity with them, and for them to spend eternity in a love relationship with Christ.

 Paul is also aware that Satan will continually work to distract and discourage fellow believers from maintaining their true faith. There were Judaizers who dogged his ministry and the lives of those who were responding to the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul recognizes in I Thessalonians 2:16 that God will eventually judge those who knowingly, or unwittingly, are working for satan. Paul wants the Thessalonians to continue in the faith, and not be moved away from the hope of the Gospel, a similar theme he discusses in Colossians 1:20-23. “ If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel,which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven;” Paul’s ultimate motivation shows that his priorities and focus are correct. He has an eternal view in mind. His love and concern for their salvation is so intense that it is painful for him to be removed from them, and his criticism about them should be read in that light. 1Thess. 2:19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? 1Thess. 2:20 For ye are our glory and joy.

 Paul is also concerned about sending a substitute for Him, and does his best to boost Timothy’s authority with the church. He is concerned about the quality of the one he sends, and that shows a deep long term commitment to their welfare. Paul is also trying to encourage them in their suffering, to understand that such is a part of the experience of being a Christian, and to feel the association with Christ that such suffering brings. He does not want his ministry to them to have been in vain, which would be if they lost their faith. Paul’s prayer life is reflective of his faith, love, and deep concern for the new believers. As we have often emphasized, “faith works by love.” He wants them to never forget the source of their new experience, or the motivation for their faith.

 Paul is persistent and constant in his praying for their endurance. 1Thess. 3:12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: 1Th 3:13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

 Paul knows that Christian growth in love, holiness, character is the fruit of living faith, and the goal of Christ, working for us in the Heavenly Sanctuary, as the New Covenant promises the law written in our hearts. True faith trusts wholly on Christ for our righteousness and salvation, but such a faith will lead to holiness and conformity to the law of God, because “faith is manifested in works.”

 Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 101. “The heart of him who receives the grace Of God overflows with love for God and for those for whom Christ died.” My prayer for all today is that we also will endure in our faith, and that our Christian experience is always motivated by love. -Thomas Cusack