Insights #9 August 30, 2014
Third Quarter 2014 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
For the week of August 30, 2014
Our corporate mission as Christians comes as a command from Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20. He predicted its end-time fulfillment earlier in Matthew 24:14. These two passages share the "all nations" extent of the task. Mark's version of Jesus' command shares the "Go" of the command in Matthew, and the "preach" and "gospel" of the prediction. The prediction adds as well the "witness" that such preaching is, more than raw spoken or printed words. But the prediction is often quoted without its supporting context, which alone defines for us the bare-bones parameters of what "this gospel" is. And that will be our focus this week on "Our Mission."
Our first premise will be that this "witness" is simply an echo of that which Jesus spoke of in John 3:11, which the Godhead gives. What is that? A word study of "witness" takes one to John 18:37, where Jesus confessed, "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth." And this truth is so important that it is usually called "the truth." Jesus stated that His very identity was wrapped up with it (John 14:6), and He made it clear that it was the truth about the Father (14:9) in contrast with the lie of the devil (John 8:44; compare verses 32, 36, and 40).
We are told the reason the Jews rejected Jesus' witness was failure to learn the lesson of the story of Job. (See Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 471.) In Job, Satan expressed the lie by accusing God of buying Job's allegiance with familial and material blessings (selfishness appealing to selfishness). And Job's friends echoed the lie by holding that Job's losses were God's punishment because of Job's sin (selfishness retaliating against selfishness). This selfish and arbitrary picture of God was the lie Jesus came to dispel. And His commission to the church is simply to join that witness--to embrace the denial of self (Luke 9:23), the unselfish love that defines the essence of who God is in His character (1 John 4:8, 16).
It is thus that "this gospel" in Jesus' prediction of the final success of the witness going to "all nations" is couched in Jesus' description of the final showdown between the lie and the truth--abounding lawlessness versus enduring love (Matthew 24:12, 13). Only love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). So what is the danger Jesus described in the end-time, when "the love of many shall wax cold"? The key to this is found in the command later in Matthew, the necessity "to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded" (28:20). From our tendency to view things from a "legal religion" viewpoint, we think these are things we must do in some checklist fashion. But the verb Jesus used is better rendered, as it usually is, as "keep." It is the same verb used for the final picture of God's holy people (not holy in themselves, mind you) having endurance (noun of the verb in Matthew 24:13) because they "keep" two things--"the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Revelation 14:12). One cannot keep something he has not been given. So what is the giving behind the commanding? In John 15:17 Jesus simply stated what He commanded (same verb), "These things I command you, that ye love one another." So how do you keep that command? How did Jesus give that command--by some solitary verbal order? No, this command is simply a repeat of what He stated five verses earlier, "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." (15:12). Can we see it? Our love waxes cold when we don't keep the love Jesus gave us.
So the command to "make disciples" is simply an expression that flows from such keeping--valuing what He has given us so highly that we are constrained to pass it on to others. The lesson points out that the primary command in Matthew 28 is "make disciples" ("teach" in KJV), with the other three actions (participles) supporting that goal. I believe they fit well a family model, which most clearly embodies the love our heavenly Father is. Thus we must see adding to God's family as the goal of such love:
"Going" (the "Go" in KJV) directs a process of meeting people where they are, not waiting for them to come to us. There is a witness implicit in the going. "They were not to wait for the people to come to them; they were to go to the people with their message." (Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles, page 28). This is reaching out to people (remember "every creature" in "all nations"), seeing each as God sees him, as he "might become through redeeming love" (Ellen White, Christ's Object Lessons, p. 118). Paul had grasped this perspective. I am sure it is what made his evangelism so effective (2 Corinthians 5:16). Remember, these are people that have not yet been born into the family! But we value each as Christ values him, and ask God to give us wisdom to know what that person needs to nurture the "gestation" that Christ conceived in His death and resurrection.
"Baptizing" reflects the point in the process which is that of birthing. As Jesus told Nicodemus in their nighttime "mission" (evangelistic) encounter, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). One has to "come out" to experience what God has in the rest of the process. So we serve as spiritual "midwives" gently encouraging those we nurture pre-birth to acknowledge publicly, when the time is right (full term), Jesus' baptism for them.
"Teaching" fits best the process of raising the children. We should start talking, no doubt, to them pre-birth, but how much can really be taught then compared to what God has in store for them as growing children? This is where we are enjoined to teach each "to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded." What does love look like in its multifaceted expressions in life? A child is not born inherently knowing that. Just as we have been taught by the Spirit, we are to value those lessons by passing them on, as deep as they are conceptually, and as broad as they are practically!
Is the mission becoming clearer? But, as Paul exclaimed, "who is sufficient for these things"! (2 Corinthians 2:16). It takes the supernatural power of the Spirit to begin the process and carry it to completion, both in us and through us. We can learn much from the disciples' experience. They "forsook all" to follow Jesus (Luke 5:11), but were limited and blinded by selfish plans in the "mission" (Luke 9:46; 22:24). Because of this, "all forsook him, and fled" in the crisis hour (Mark 14:50). But the trial and crucifixion of Jesus accomplished a vital goal in the process those that "endured" had to experience--the death of all their selfish plans. Of course, an unselfish future did not yet dawn on their darkened minds. That took the resurrection of Jesus, His meeting with them, and leading them through a Bible study, unfolding, if you please, how "the truth" was victorious over "the lie"--that giving defeats taking in their ultimate encounters. As Messiah, this was what His mission was all about, and theirs. Would they embrace it? He "breathed on them" the Spirit to assist them in the practical aspects of embracing it, things that involved the removal of sin (John 20:22, 23). After years of contention, rivalry, and anger, there were a lot of wrongs to make right. Would they submit to the process? They did! And the results were wonderful. Let's list them--
(1) They had "great joy" shown in "continually ... praising and blessing God" (Luke 24:52, 53).
(2) They were able to "become witnesses of these things"--not just Jesus' death and resurrection but also "the repentance and remission of sins" that His giving was all about (Luke 24:46-48).
(3) They "all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication" (Acts 1:14). Unity was finally realized!
And then--what? God could combine the installation of Jesus as High Priest at His right hand (Acts 2:33; Hebrews 8:1) with an outpouring of His Spirit upon the waiting disciples, amplifying supernaturally their witness for their mission.
Can we see any parallels to us? "Our mission" is impossible without a similar imparting of the Spirit. But can we see that the Spirit cannot come without a preparation similar to the early disciples? Adventism has yet to come to face what it needs, what our own history teaches us, in a negative sense. Read the books The Return of the Latter Rain and Wounded in the House of His Friends, by Ron Duffield. Read the article, "Why the Lord Waits" (Ellen White, Review and Herald, July 21, 1896). The needs for the mission are clearly described there--
Every truly converted soul will be intensely desirous to bring others from the darkness of error into the marvelous light of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The great outpouring of the Spirit of God, which lightens the whole earth with his glory, will not come until we have an enlightened people, that know by experience what it means to be laborers together with God. When we have entire, whole-hearted consecration to the service of Christ, God will recognize the fact by an outpouring of his Spirit without measure; but this will not be while the largest portion of the church are not laborers together with God. God cannot pour out his Spirit when selfishness and self-indulgence are so manifest; when a spirit prevails that, if put into words, would express that answer of Cain,--"Am I my brother's keeper?"
Adventism is stuck somewhere in Luke 22. We have not yet experienced a death to our selfish plans that a cross-type confrontation causes. It could have happened as early as the 1850s or 1860s (Ellen White, Evangelism, page 694). Minneapolis was God's marked attempt to lead us through that. But instead, "Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longed to impart to them. The enemy prevented them from obtaining that efficiency which might have been theirs in carrying the truth to the world, as the apostles proclaimed it after the day of Pentecost. The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world." (Ellen White, The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, page 1575). Numerical growth cannot indicate success in "our mission" in the face of multiple statements that it could have been finished generations ago (for example, see Ibid., p. 1129), and of the fact the world's population is growing faster than we are "going, baptizing, and teaching."
Will you join me in praying for a willingness to allow God to take us from Luke 22 to Acts 2?