Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"The Jonah Saga"

Insight #4 July 25, 2015
Third Quarter 2015 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

"The Jonah Saga"

For the week of July 25, 2015

There are many vital lessons to be learned from the story of Jonah.  God cares not just for His chosen or special people, but He cares for the whole world.  Two books of the Bible are devoted completely to the preaching of the gospel to non-Jewish nations.  One, the book we are studying this week, Jonah, and two, the book of Obadiah, written to Israel's cousins – the Edomites.
We learn from this that God has His people throughout the world.  In fact, we are called to be preachers of the three angel's messages.  These messages are re-echoed in the Loud Cry message of Rev. 18, and a major theme of that Loud Cry message is, "Come out of her, my people."

We are called, as members of what is to be a last generation movement, to be sounding the call for repentance to all the nations and churches around us.  Calling them out of a false system of worship, to the worship of God in His true character, is our mission.  Just as Jonah called the Ninevites, and Obadiah called the Edomites, we are to call God's people out of Babylon – and to make sure that Babylon is out of us.
The story of Jonah validates the truth that, God is no respecter of persons – with God there is no partiality.  We are called to the same gospel standard.  With us there is to be no partiality – no "respect of persons" – meaning no favoritism based on income, attractiveness, personality, education, etc.

God's ministry to the world is hampered and stunted when we take God's blessings – the "oracles" of God – and keep them to ourselves, revealing that in the keeping of the truth to ourselves, we have failed to live out that truth.
A.T. Jones understood this clearly from the story of Jonah, and published it in the Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald of 1900.  Notice how timely his counsel is today.  The issues have not changed in over 100 years.  May these wise words, which have their origin in the Bible, reignite our desire to be faithful stewards of the many gospel blessings that God has shared with us.
". . . God gives nothing to anybody to be shut in to himself, but only that it shall be passed on to other persons . . . "

"Why was it that Daniel or many others of Israel were in Babylon?—It was because they had confined to themselves the things that God had given them for all the nations. Everything that God gave to Israel when they came out of Egypt, or at any other time, was that they might pass it on to all the nations who did not know God. But they made the mistake of thinking, and acting thoroughly upon the thought, that God gave these things to them because they were much better than all the other people in the world. And since He gave these things to them because they were much better than everybody else, the other nations could not have any of these things unless they became as good 'as we are.'"

"And since, in that conception, Israel separated herself from all the people of the nations, and despised them, all the nations, being so much like Israel, simply said, All right; you can separate yourselves from us if you wish to; you can despise us if you wish to; what do we care? And the result was that all the nations despised Israel. And that will always be so. Just as certainly as you are like me, and I despise you, you will despise me. Just as certainly as you are like me, and I separate myself from you, you will say, All right; do it, I don't care. And you will separate yourself from me."  
"That was Israel and the nations. But where was the separation? By whom was it made?—Not by the nations, but BY ISRAEL; not by the heathen, but BY THOSE WHO KNEW GOD. And by that they lost all the knowledge of God, to such an extent that when He came into the world, and presented Himself to them in all His fullness, they did not know Him, and crucified Him out of the world."

"That is why Israel was in Babylon. It was because they would not pass on to the nations, in the light of God, to the glory of God, that which God had given to them in light and glory. They had shut themselves away from the nations, and by that means had become worse than all the nationsYet they had the truth: God had given it to them. Even though they had shut it away from the nations, and had abused it, and had trampled it underfoot, yet they had the light, and by them it must be given to the nations. And as they would not give it freely as God gave it to them to give, as they separated themselves from the nations, and thus hindered all the nations from having it, God scattered them among all the nations, in captivity, in distress, in bondage, in slavery; and thus He caused them to give to the nations that which He had given to them to give to the nations. But how infinitely better it would have been for Israel and all the world if Israel had given to the nations the truth, in the light, the blessing, the joy, and the peace in which God gave it to her."

"And when those people found themselves scattered among the nations, they were actually surprised to find there were persons among the nations, even kings, kings of the mightiest empires of the world, who were hungering and longing for the truth, and were ready gladly to receive it as soon as it came to their attention."  

"Israel had thought all the time that those people were so bad, so hard hearted, and so much in the dark, that they did not care for the truth. But the Lord had given them, all the way along, lessons that that view was not correct. He called Jonah, and had him go that long, long journey to Nineveh,—that great city, so wicked that it was about to perish,—to tell its inhabitants of their danger. And even Jonah, the prophet of the Lord, raised objection; and when he had really gone there and preached, and the Ninevites had repented, he thought strange that the Lord should forgive such persons as they. Butthe Lord taught Jonah the truth that He cared for other people as well as for Israel. And then that whole experience was written out, and was put into the literature of Israel as a living lesson that God cared for the other nations just as He did for Israel; and that Israel was in the world to take to the nations round, dark as they were, heathen as they were, that which God had given to her."  

"Yet, for all this, Israel would not learn that lesson. And the Lord had to pick them up bodily, and fling them out as seed in the wind, to fall where they might among the nations."

"Then, in their distress, in their loneliness, with no temple of worship, no sacrifices, no offerings—with all these taken away, they sought God without them, and found Him, as they ought to have sought Him with them, and found Him. And when they sought Him without them, and found Him and His blessing, then they became a blessing to all those where they were scattered."

"Now that is the philosophy of Israel's being in Babylon. And the book of Daniel is a last-day book, you know. It says so over and over. Then the book of Daniel is written to teach the people in the last days—the people of God, to whom God has given His truth—that unless they pass this truth on to all the nations, in peace, in quietness, in light and blessing, they will do it in distress, in poverty, in the confusion and contention of the nations as the curse falls upon the earth and spreads over it everywhere."

"And all this teaches to the people of God in the last days that there are persons in the world, in the darkness of heathenism, everywhere outside of the circle of the people of God, who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness; who long for the knowledge of God; who have hearts just as honest as any saint's heart,—only they have not the knowledge. They have not yet received the light. But they long for it, they wait for it. And if it shall not be given to them by the people who now have it, and who are dwelling in undisturbed peace, prosperity, and happiness, under their own vine and fig tree, then these honest souls among the nations will get the light and truth by means of these people who have it being scattered to the ends of the earth, and doing in poverty and distress what they would not do in peace and quietness."

"And when that time comes, there will be found again among kings, the greatest of earth's kingdoms, of mighty world empires, those who long for the truth, and who will welcome it when it comes. This, in order that all the peoples and languages may know the truth: even as it was before. For what was done with the truth when Nebuchadnezzar received it? Why was it given to him?—First, of course, it was given to him because he longed for it, because he desired to know what was the way of light and truth in the world. But when he had received it, immediately it was spread to all the nations. It was given to him to be spread to all the nations. And the last thing in Nebuchadnezzar's experience was that experience recorded in the fourth chapter of Daniel, in which King Nebuchadnezzar confessed his pride and his foolishness, and what came of it in judgment to him, and also what came out of it in blessing and glory to him, from God. And that experience was published to every nation and language and people in all the world as it then was, of which Nebuchadnezzar was the ruler."

"Thus, these people outside of Israel, when they received the truth of God, did with it exactly what Israel ought to have done with it when she received it; and which if she had done with it, Israel would not have gone into captivity to the nations,—would have been blessed instead of being cursed."

"Nebuchadnezzar is only one. Darius was another; Cyrus was another. These mighty rulers, all heathen to begin with, were all the servants of God to end with; and all this, through the instrumentality of the people of God who were scattered in the kingdoms which these men ruled." {February 13, 1900 ATJ, ARSH 99.12-100.7}

---Bob Hunsacker

Friday, July 17, 2015

“The Unexpected Missionary”

Insight #3 July 18, 2015
Third Quarter 2015 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"The Unexpected Missionary"
In this week's reading there are lessons of vital importance for those who are endeavouring to promote the 1888 message at this time in earth's history. We are all "unlikely missionaries". Time is running out and God will use all the help He can get. Ellen White writes that "few great men" will be engaged in the last work. It will be the "common people" whom God will use to finish the work.

"Those who have trusted to intellect, genius, or talent will not then stand at the head of rank and file. They did not keep pace with the light. Those who have proved themselves unfaithful will not then be entrusted with the flock. In the last solemn work few great men will be engaged. They are self-sufficient, independent of God, and He cannot use them." (E. White, Testimonies, Vol. 5, p. 80.)

"He will raise up from among the common people men and women to do His work, even as of old He called fishermen to be His disciples. There will soon be an awakening that will surprise many. Those who do not realize the necessity of what is to be done will be passed by, and the heavenly messengers will work with those who are called the common people, fitting them to carry the truth to many places." (E. White, Manuscript Releases, p. 312.)

As demonstrated in the instance of Naaman, a Syrian captain, human pride is not easily overcome. Note how strongly his servants needed to reason with him. All that was required was for him to take a bath in an obscure river! Yet it took painful submission. When Christ came to the Jews, He testified to their religious pride and bigotry by relating the story of Naaman, a heathen man who was cured while the lepers in Israel perished. The Israelites prided themselves as being "God's chosen people", saying in their hearts, "We are rich, increased with goods and have need of nothing." There was no sense of need which would cause them to abase themselves to do whatever God required of them. Isaiah describes the whole nation as leprous: "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment." (Isaiah 1:5-6.) Yet they deceived themselves as whole, and had no need of a physician. Not being "needed" in Israel, the blessing was given to a heathen man who would abase himself and confess his need.

There are only two classes in the world – they that are sick, and they that are whole. Christ's healing is for all they that are sick, no matter what their station in life. The drowning man clutches at straw – he is in a desperate situation and will reach out for anything that will give him hope. Likewise, it is the "sick" - those who will confess that they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked, AND do not know it – that will grasp every ray of divine light.

We have each been blessed with some shades of the spectrum of truth. What will we now do with it? Shall we permit it to reside only in the holy place of our intellect, or shall we draw aside the curtain of our hearts that its truthfulness may flood into our practical lives? The young maiden in Naaman's home was respected and loved because she lived up to the light that she had. Even though her religion was entirely different to theirs, the fact that she could not be called a hypocrite was more powerful in influencing Naaman's decision than anything else. If we want others to take us and our message more seriously, we must be very careful to practise what we preach. It is interesting to note that the little girl's advice was taken to and received by the very king of the country!

Elisha did not come out and meet Naaman, but sent him a message by his servant. "God is no respecter of persons," (Acts 10:34) and he will prove it in these last days. It will be the meek and lowly, the broken and contrite, the poor and afflicted, those that sigh and cry that He will use to finish the work. He will overlook those made haughty by pride of position of influence. The higher you go the further it is back down again. In this time when the first angel's message will be repeated, and the same sacrifices will be called for as in the few years previous to October 22, 1844, "few great men" among the ministry will be willing to give up the comforts of their homes, their churches and retirement assurances to engage in the work. Ellen White is clear that the Minneapolis experience will be repeated. There is no new thing under the sun. But heaven will be cheap enough for those who realise everything they have been given is given them for but one purpose – the proclamation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ before the entire world. All that God has given us, belong to Him – "for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee." (1 Chronicles 29:14.)

Naaman's desperate condition caused him to swallow his pride. How often God permits calamities to arouse us to our need of Him! How often do we fail to learn the lesson? The homeless man pushing his cart down the street – no home, no job, no family. Who knows his story? From what height may he have fallen – God entreating him every step downward to look to Him for salvation? To what lengths will He need to go with us before we "let go and let God"?

Seven times Naaman plunged beneath the water. Had he ceased at the sixth, he never would have been healed. Seven times Elijah prayed for Israel upon Mt Carmel, confessing their sins and claiming the promised rain. Had he become discouraged and ceased his intercessions after the sixth time, the entire nation would have perished from the drought. And perhaps the story of Sodom and Gomorrah would have been different had Abraham persevered just one more time with Christ beside his tent. We may never know how much more would God have done for us and those whom we pray for had we not stopped praying.

Each of us are accountable before God individually. "No man can believe for another" (E. White, Christ's Object Lessons p. 411). We must ourselves walk in the light that is shining upon our path if we would lead others to Jesus. We cannot wait for others to act. The prophecies are written because of individuals who made the choices that brought about its fulfilment. Are we going to make these choices, or leave it up to others? As Mordecai said to Esther, "Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). When we make the decision to lay hold of Christ's right-doing for ourselves and to share its blessing with the world, regardless of station, talent and means, or even who else is running with it, what the whole world will see is described by E. J. Waggoner after quoting the words of Isaiah 52:11-15:

"Here is the arm of the Lord revealed in the sight of the nations as power, so that all the ends of the earth see the salvation of God; so that nations shall be astonished, and kings will simply shut their mouths in wonder and amazement. What has not been told them, what they could not dream of even, they will see. They will see a power, without seeing the source of power. They will see a mighty power, and yet no great appearance or show of power. They will see perfect unity of action, and yet no man possessing or claiming authority." (E. J. Waggoner, 1897 General Conference Bulletin, p. 249.)

One final thought in closing. Naaman said to Elisha, "Thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the LORD. In this thing the LORD pardon thy servant, [that] when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon thy servant in this thing." Elisha replied, "Go in peace." (1 Chronicles 5:17-19.) God would not condemn this man. He is a personal God and meets each and every individual where they are at. I am certain that today we would be inclined to condemn such an act, but God never changes (Malachi 3:6.) When we go forward with this message, let us remember to give each other the space to find who we really are in Jesus Christ. We are not to be like tin soldiers, but each one of us are a unique creation, created for a special role in the final work. When God takes the reins in His own hands, don't be surprised when He works "very much out of the common order" of your expectations. "The spread of the gospel will be an easy work, and it will be as the voice of a mighty angel enlightening the world, when God's people proclaim liberty among themselves." (S. N. Haskell, The Story of Daniel the Prophet, p. 127.) Righteousness by faith and liberty for every man to serve God according to the dictates of his own conscience go hand in hand. I pray that we will follow them all the way to that wonderful sea of glass. Amen.

---Camron Schofield

Raul Diaz

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

“Abraham: The First Missionary”

Insight #2 July 11, 2015

Third Quarter 2015 Adult Sabbath School Lessons "Abraham: The First Missionary" For the week of July 11, 2015         

While we may take exception to the title of our lesson this week that Abraham was the first missionary, he truly was a missionary. His mission was to believe and to spread the gospel. In the memory passage for this week, we observe 5 points:   1. Abraham believed God and He counted it to him for righteousness 2. Only those who believe are children of Abraham 3. Justification by faith for Gentiles 4. God preached the Gospel to Abraham 5. In Abraham, all nations shall be blessed      

Paul references two scriptures in this passage. The first comes from Gen 15:6 which states God's promise of righteousness to Abraham who believed His promise. Later in the same chapter God gave Abraham strong assurances regarding His promise. He told Abraham to sacrifice various kinds of animals. All the animals were cut in half and placed on the sides of a pathway in which God walked as He passed between the animal pieces. In this, God made a covenant with Abraham. Verse 18 states that "the Lord made a covenant with Abram." The word "made" (karat) means to "cut" or to "cut off." God assured Abraham that if His promise should fail He would call death upon himself – the same fate which befell the animals. God pledged His life for the fulfillment of His covenant promise.              

This same word "to cut off" is used of Christ in reference to the prophecy of His crucifixion in Dan 9:26 – "Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself." It was "not for Himself" but for us. His blood is the "blood of the everlasting covenant" shed for us (Heb 13:20; Matt 26:28). In Dan 9:27 the promise was given that Christ "shall confirm the covenant with many for one week." This week is a prophetic week which means one day stands for one year, thus this is the last seven years of the prophecy of Dan 9:24-27.       

Paul wrote that the "covenant…was confirmed before by God in Christ" (Gal 3:17).      

The other scripture Paul referred to in the memory passage is Gen 12:3 in which God promised to bless "all nations" through Abram. This is the gospel of Christ and it is the promise of "justification by faith" to all nations who believe as did Abram (Gal 3:8). When God told Abraham that in his seed all nations of the earth should be blessed, he was preaching the gospel to him (Gal. 3:8), therefore Abraham's faith in the promise of God was direct faith in Christ as the Saviour of sinners. This was the faith which was counted to him for righteousness (E. J. Waggoner, Signs of the Times, Oct 13, 1890).     

 How does this blessing come to us? It comes through the Seed of Abraham, which Seed is Christ: "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'and to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, 'and to your Seed,' who is Christ" (Gal 3:16). Christ is both the Promise and the recipient of the promise to Abraham. And further, Abraham could receive the promise only in Christ. "There was therefore never any promise made to the fathers which was not to be obtained only through Christ, and therefore through the righteousness which is by him" (E. J. Waggoner, Signs of the Times, Sept 10, 1896).      

Monday's lesson teaches us that the righteousness of Christ given to Abraham was not cowardice. When Sodom was attacked and many of its inhabitants were taken prisoners - including Lot: Abraham's nephew - righteous Abraham went after the warlords and their armies who had devastated Sodom and its inhabitants. He won the war, by God's grace, and restored the stolen goods while refusing to share in the "booty" or the spoils of war. "Righteousness is not cowardice … Abraham's religion made him courageous in maintaining the right and defending the oppressed" (PP 135).      

Neither Abraham nor his faith was perfect. But God called him to be the father of the faithful. Developing the kind of faith in Abraham took God about 50 years. This was not because of any lack of ability on God's part, but it was because of Abraham's weaknesses. He was a liar and a bigamist. Twice Abraham lied making his wife, Sarah, lie to two kings by saying that she was his sister and thus not his wife (Gen 12:11–13, 20:2). He did this to save his own hide.      Next Abraham married Hagar, and thus through the works of the flesh, he thought he would help God fulfill His promises. Years later, on Mt Moriah God's faith in Abraham was exhibited as Abraham offered up his son Isaac. Abraham fully and finally believed that even though Isaac should die, God would raise him up from the grave to fulfill His promise (Heb 11:19). Abraham believed not only in the absence of his feelings, but against them.      

Forever after Abraham passed the test of His faith on Mt. Moriah God never brought up his past sins to him. Abraham was then considered by God just as though he had never sinned; just as if he had always believed; just as if he had always obeyed. This is how God looks at you when you accept Christ as your Redeemer: "If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ's character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned" (SC 62).      

Abraham "believed God and it was accounted for righteousness." Through His Seed all the promises were given to the fallen race. Abraham's mission was to proclaim the gospel promise of the righteousness of Christ. This is our mission too. 

---Jerry Finneman

Raul Diaz