Friday, October 23, 2015

“Rebuke and Retribution”

Fourth Quarter 2015 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

"Rebuke and Retribution"

For the week of October 17-23, 2015


     In Jeremiah 17 several things are written about the human heart. Consider first of all verse 9 – "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" The answer to the question is found in the next verse – only God knows. It is from within the heart or mind that "evil thoughts … proceed" which lead to "murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, [and] blasphemies" (Matthew 15:19). God will cut off sin in the thoughts if there is a willing mind.

     It is within the heart or mind that evil thinking develops gradually and is established before it is seen in the conduct of a person. This is true of the believer as well as the non-believer. At times we are ambushed from the inside – from within the heart. The heart seems to be able to entice us while waiting to entrap us. This is why we must be kept by the power of the Holy Spirit at all times.

     The Hebrew word from which the English word "deceitful" is translated, in Jeremiah 17:9, means "to seize someone by the heel, to betray" or to "supplant." It is the root from which the name "Jacob" comes and is so stated in Genesis 25:26 when he grabbed Esau's heel as they were in the process of being birthed. Years later, after being deceived by Jacob, Esau said "Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright, and now look, he has taken away my blessing!" (Genesis 27:36). In one verse Hosea brings out two things about Jacob – "He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and in his strength he struggled with God" (Hosea 12:3). Both reveal that the flesh wants to be first and it fights God.

     Our hearts, by nature, make us Jacob-ites or "deceitful." But there is good news! Jacob's name was changed to Israel which literally means "a Prince with God" (Genesis 32:28, margin). He overcame after a night of wrestling with God. He overcame not by fighting but by clinging to the neck of God after being crippled by God's touch to his hip socket putting it out of joint (Genesis 32:24-28). From that conflict Israel limped away having been changed in heart and consequently in behavior. The last glimpse we get of Jacob is found in Hebrews 11:21 as he worshipped God while he "leaning on his staff." Crippled for life, but changed for eternity.

     Our hearts may be changed in the same way –stop fighting God and cling to His promises as Jacob did in his hold upon God that refused to let go until God's blessing was received.

     Jeremiah has more to say about our hearts. A curse comes when we depart in our hearts from God and trusting our fallen flesh, making it our strength, rather than God (Jeremiah 17:5). However, there is a blessing waiting for the one "who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord" (verse 7). This trusting and believing in Christ alone brings His righteousness and justification, the effect of which is "peace," "quietness and assurance forever" (Romans 5:2; Isaiah 32:17).

     There is another verse that addresses the heart and along with the temple altars: "The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with the point of a diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of your altars" (Jeremiah 17:1). As mentioned above the heart can be changed. Even though sin is etched in the heart as with a diamond pen, God is in the business of cleansing and healing the heart if allowed to do so. He will cast "down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). 

     When we let God shape our hearts, amazing changes take place: Sin is no longer being engraved on the stony tables of the heart as with an iron chisel, but the Holy Spirit sculpts our hearts with Christ and His righteousness (2 Corinthians 3:3).

     Jeremiah wrote of sin engraved in the heart. Much earlier Moses wrote regarding confessed and forgiven sins being fingerprinted with blood on the horns of the tabernacle altars (Leviticus 4:17, 25). One altar was in the first apartment; the other in the courtyard (verse 40). The one typified the death of Christ; the other the incense of His righteousness. The fingerprint in blood was recorded evidence of sins forgiven and removed from the repentant and believing sinner.

     The manifold problems which Jeremiah suffered was because of the hardness of the hearts of his people. His hometown people plotted to kill him. Even his relatives conspired to murder him (Jeremiah 11:18-23; 12:6). Jeremiah hoped that his family, his brothers and the priest would support him as he rebuked the sins of Judah. But God showed him that those near him were the ones desiring his death. When Jeremiah realized this, he understood the attitude of those who refuse to repent.

     Although Jeremiah was doing God's will, sinners thrived while he suffered and it bothered him just as it does us today. How can we learn to trust God despite all the injustice and evil that surrounds us? God answered Jeremiah. His answer may seem harsh to us, but it is actually a promise. If you will trust God, He will give you strength to resist even greater difficulties. See Jeremiah 12:5. This calls for the "faith of Jesus" which believes not only in the absence of feelings, but against them. We need to let retribution come from the Lord. It comes because of the rejection of God's rebuke through His prophets and delegated messengers. Retribution came in Jeremiah's day and it is coming in this our day. We need the faith of Jesus to enable us to endure.

     Jeremiah felt like he was as a lamb "brought to the slaughter" to be "cut off from the land of the living" (Jeremiah 11:19). This is precisely what happened to Jesus. "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter" and "was cut off from the land of the living." (Isaiah 53:7, 8). He was "cut off, but not for Himself." (Daniel 9:26). It was for you and for me.

     Like Jeremiah, Jesus was hated by, and crucified His own people. This has been the case since the beginning of Earth's history, starting with Cain and Abel. This is will continue until Jesus comes again to gather His people. The carnal heart refuses submition to God. 

     The carnal heart shuns repentance toward God and despises faith in Christ alone for righteousness. This is a problem in Laodicea. She would rather be "lukewarm" than hot or cold. This is what makes Jesus physically affected with nausea, feeling queasy in His stomach, causing Him to feel like throwing up. This is brought out in the message to Laodicea as recorded in Revelation 3:16 which literally says "I am about to vomit…"

     It makes Jesus nauseous when His delegated messengers are restricted, ridiculed and rejected. As it was during the time of Jeremiah, so it has been in the days of all His prophets, including the one for the end time – Mrs. White. Not only prophets but all delegated messengers sent from God including Jones and Waggoner who brought heaven's end time message of righteousness by faith in Christ alone. That message is specifically directed to us in the message to Laodicea. This is the message that knocks continually at the door of our hearts, both individually and corporately. Following are quotations from Mrs White regarding the message to Laodicea.

     "The message given us by A. T. Jones, and E. J. Waggoner is the message of God to the Laodicean church…" (1888 Materials, p. 1052 – Letter from Mrs. White to Uriah Smith, September 19, 1892).

     "The Saviour's voice is heard, 'Behold, through my delegated messengers I stand at the door and knock.' " Letter 30a, September 5, 1892, from Mrs. White to S. N. Haskell.

     "Through His holy Word, through His providences, and through messages sent to you by His servants, Jesus is daily saying to you, 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with   me.' " (The Youth Instructor, April 26, 1894).

     The message for today is not unlike that of Jeremiah. It is one of rebuke with the call to repentance and to the faith of Jesus. Twice Jeremiah wrote of "THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS" along with a call to repentance. The first time was about the name by which Christ would be known (Jeremiah 23:6). The second time is about what God's people will be called: "This is the name by which she will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS" (Jeremiah 33:16). The meaning of the name "The Lord Our Righteousness" has to do with character and as recorded in Exodus 34:5-7 – His name and thus His character is 6"merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, 7keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty…" but He wants to remove the guilt.

     In closing we want to end with hope and not retribution. There is much hope for Laodicea: "[T]he counsel of the true Witness does not represent those who are lukewarm as in a hopeless case. There is yet a chance to remedy their state, and the Laodicean message is full of encouragement; for the backslidden church may yet buy the gold of faith and love, may yet have the white robe of the righteousness of Christ, that the shame of their nakedness need not appear. Purity of heart, purity of motive, may yet characterize those who are halfhearted and who are striving to serve God and mammon. They may yet wash their robes of character and make them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Review and Herald, August 28, 1894).

~ Jerry Finneman


Saturday, October 17, 2015



 Most of the prophets studied in a previous quarterly were sent to prophecy against Judah and surrounding nations.  The words to Judah are as strong as, or stronger than, to the other nations.  Zephaniah's message is no exception.  Zephaniah is speaking to the people of Judah and the nations surrounding them. What were the conditions in Judah at the time? It was an Idolatrous nation according to 2 Kings 21-25 and 2 Chron. 33-36.  How had the nation gotten to this point? After Hezekiah's death, Manasseh became king and led the country so far into idolatry so that "they did more evil than the nations" they had displaced in Canaan. (2 Chron. 33:9).

Who was the king when Zephaniah was prophet? Josiah. Our lesson states that Josiah was the sixteenth king to rule in the Southern Kingdom; his dates were 640-609 b.c. He became king at the age of eight, after more than half a century of moral and spiritual decline under his father (Amon) and grandfather (Manasseh), two of the most evil kings in Judah. Josiah's reign lasted for thirty-one years. Unlike his ancestors, however, Josiah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord (2 Kings 22:2), despite an environment that worked against him.

Born of a wicked king, beset with temptations to follow in his father's steps, and with few counselors to encourage him in the right way, Josiah nevertheless was true to the God of Israel. Warned by the errors of past generations, he chose to do right, instead of descending to the low level of sin and degradation to which his father and his grandfather had fallen. He 'turned not aside to the right hand or to the left.' As one who was to occupy a position of trust, he resolved to obey the instruction that had been given for the guidance of Israel's rulers, and his obedience made it possible for God to use him as a vessel unto honor.-Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 384.
What was the king doing? He was attempting reform. What was his reformation like? Josiah's reform consisted of two main components: First, it was getting rid, as much as possible, of anything and everything that smacked of idolatry. That is, he worked to remove the evil practices that had arisen in the nation.  He destroyed the high places, "did away with" the false priests, broke down Asherah poles, tore down the shrines of the male prostitutes which were in the temple, desecrated sites and shrines and he tried to get rid of everything else that was dedicated to false gods. The Bible says during his lifetime, the people "did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their fathers" (2 Chron. 34:33.)
But that was only the first step. An absence of evil or wrong practices doesn't automatically mean that good will follow. Second, after hearing the book of the law read to him, the king made a covenant before the Lord to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book (2 Chron. 34:31).
Josiah knew that the kingdom of David, of which he was now the ruler, was virtually on the rocks; their very existence was only a "millimeter" away from national disaster, for God was on the verge of withdrawing His care and protection from them, leaving them to the mercies of the pagan Babylonians.

Hilkiah the high priest had found the book of Deuteronomy in the Temple, and when Shaphan the scribe read it to the king he "rent his clothes" (II Kings 22:8-13). He was utterly sincere in his efforts to avert the national ruin he saw coming. He put his whole soul into a work of repentance as he saw it was needed; what he led the people into was a "national repentance" or one might say, a "corporate repentance." It began in the king's palace, the proper place for any national or corporate repentance to begin.

Jeremiah hopes that there will be no more weeping his eyes out in anguish for the incomprehensible rebellion of God's own people. The evidence indicates that they are repenting and doing what is right, for they are following their king (Jer. 9:1, 2).

But that was exactly their problem--they were following their king. That's what Israel did throughout their history--they followed their good kings like Hezekiah and Josiah and they followed their bad kings like Manasseh and Ahab. They never truly followed the Lord!
Ellen White described this condition: "Depending on man has been the great weakness of the church. Men have dishonored God by failing to appreciate His sufficiency, by coveting the influence of man. Thus Israel became weak. The people wanted to be like the other nations of the world, and they asked for a king. They desired to be guided by human power which they could see rather than by the divine Theocracy, the invisible power which till then had led and guided them, and given them victory in battle. They made their own choice, and the result was seen in the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the nation." [Ellen G. White, Ms. 159, 1899.]

Was Josiah successful? Not really. How do we know? As soon as he was gone, the people returned to their false gods. What does this tell us about the state of their hearts even during the reformations of Josiah? They were hard-hearted…they conformed outwardly, but there was no real heart change.  Josiah's heart was in the right place.  But, the people's heart was not.  Josiah's heart had been transformed by the renewal of his mind (Romans 12: 2), but not the peoples'.  The people did not truly reform, they conformed.  

A survey of our church leads us to conclude that we have fallen in the same trap of the Jews in Josiah's time.  And, the solution to our problem is found in the message to Laodicea combined with the 3rd Angel's Message (Revelation 3: 14 – 22; 14: 6 – 12).  He that hath an ear let him hear and heed.  


Friday, October 09, 2015

Commentary: Are we affair proof?

Commentary: Are we affair proof?

The Commentary for this week was originally published Friday, September 28, 2007.  It was based on the events that led to the apostasy which "the man of God" rebuked.  The Priests fled from Israel to Judah, thus showing their commitment to God.   But, generations later they conspired to kill the Man in whose sanctuary they served.  The idea is that, unless prevented, we can allow our loyalty to switch from one object of affection to another swiftly and imperceptibly.  For the most part, only in the passing of time will it be obvious. 

Are we affair proof? 

Jeroboam was the first king of Israel, after the nation divided in two kingdoms. Fearing the people of his new kingdom would ally themselves with Judah when they went to worship there, he decided to create a worship system just for his new kingdoms. As we read in 1 Kings 12: 28-30. 

1 Kings 12: 28 Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. 
1 Kings 12: 29 And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan. 
1 Kings 12: 30 And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.

He built two golden calves so people would worship them in Israel. He then proceeded to elect new priests for his new religion. This was a hindrance to Israel of course. In 2 Chronicles 11:13-16 we read what happened to the priests that lived in Israel. 

2 Chronicles 11:13 And the priests and the Levites that were in all Israel resorted to him out of all their coasts. 
2 Chronicles 11:14 For the Levites left their suburbs and their possession, and came to Judah and Jerusalem: for Jeroboam and his sons had cast them off from executing the priest's office unto the LORD: 
2 Chronicles 11:15 And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made. 
2 Chronicles 11:16 And after them out of all the tribes of Israel such as set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel came to Jerusalem, to sacrifice unto the LORD God of their fathers.

Jerobaoam's choosing of new priests, meant that the Levitical priests of Israel in were virtually ostracized. Because of this they migrated to Judah, to worship Jehovah.  By the time of Jeremiah, the Priests – whose forefathers had fled idolatry in Israel, had apostatized into idolatry - along with the other leaders –and led others to the same (Jeremiah 2: 8).  
Hundreds of years later, the priests continued to be far from there predecessors. While they continued to work in the temple services, their hearts were far from God. No longer tempted with pagan God's, they now worshiped money and reason. You see, a great number of them were Sadducees. They did not believe in resurrections or miracles, and probably did not believe that God speaks to man; hence, their skeptical stance toward Jesus - a miracle worker who preached resurrection and claimed that God spoke to Him (Desire of Ages 603-604). This would explain Zechariah's – John the Baptist's father – doubting the angel. Yes, he was a man that feared God; however it is possible that Zechariah had adopted some of the Sadducees' beliefs. 

How could a group of people that were once so faithful to God, generations later, while still claiming to love God, kill his Son? The answer is that they switched their loyalty from God to self. While they did not play the harlot with pagan Gods, they played the harlot with gods of their own creation. They flirted with Greek philosophy and thinking. They found themselves liking the company of the Greek theories, and chose to spend more time with them than with God. The Greek system was more pleasing to their senses than was having faith in God. After a while, God's system of delayed gratification did not please the flesh as did the world's system of gratifying the flesh here and now. So much that eventually they started to believe it was impossible to deny the flesh its wants. In other words, they believed a life without Sin is impossible, and thus the sacrificial system was needed to cover for man's inability of keeping God's Law. While they were not as strict as the Pharisees, they created another form of legalism, albeit subtle. You were OK with God as long as you sacrificed an animal. 

Jesus stood against all of the Sadducees beliefs. A Man in every way as they were that lived without sinning, and performing miracles they claimed could not happen (Hebrews 4:15; Desire of Ages, 537-538). 

If this sounds vaguely familiar it is because it is very near to our modern belief. We do not sacrifice animals. But, we have created other requirements to support our theistic and almost existentialist form of Christianity. As the wise man said, "There is no new thing under the Sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). 

Likewise Jesus still stands against us and our beliefs. A Man in every way as we are that lived without sinning, and performing miracles we claim cannot happen. We may not see Jesus in person, but we see how the hearts of men are miraculously transformed after they give their lives to Jesus. They are converted through the work of the Holy Spirit. From proud and arrogant, they become humble and sensitive. From uncouth they become refined. From selfish, braggarts, and self–centered they become God praising and generous.  In time there will be a contrast between those who converted and those not converted.  The Apostle Paul gives us this contrast in Galatians 5: 19 - 23, let us read,

Galatians 5: 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 
Galatians 5: 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 
Galatians 5: 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 
Galatians 5: 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 
Galatians 5: 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 

The Holy Spirit transforms you into a new creature, if you allow Him. This process, by the way, is what keeps you loyal to God.  It is the Holy Spirit that does this, if you let Him.  The moment you block His work in you is the moment you are disloyal.


Friday, October 02, 2015

“The Prophetic Calling of Jeremiah”

Fourth Quarter 2015 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"The Prophetic Calling of Jeremiah"
For the week of October 3, 2015

     Jeremiah's messages were given during times of stress, upheaval, and need. There is a theme of lament running through this prophet's book. The message is rich with its mournful notes offset by some of the purest expressions of hope that are to be found anywhere in the Old Testament.

     The first three verses of Jeremiah chapter one presents information on Jeremiah's family background and place of residence. He descended from the priestly line of Aaron. His hometown was from the village of Anathoth, which was about three miles northeast of Jerusalem. Anathoth was allocated by Joshua to the priests (see Josh 21:15-19). Jeremiah began functioning as a prophet when he received God's call in the 13th year of the reign of Josiah which was 627 b.c. Jeremiah continued as God's chosen spokesman for more than forty years. Jer 39:11–44:30 records events of Jeremiah's ministry that occurred after August 586.

     In verses 4-6 God revealed to Jeremiah that He singled him out to be His prophet to Israel and to the nations. However, Jeremiah responded from his inadequacy as a "youth" (probably a late teen or early 20s). He claimed a lack of eloquence and speaking ability required for such a public ministry. God then gave Jeremiah three answers to his objections. First he was told that he was to go to everyone God sends him to and to say whatever He commanded. All that was required was that Jeremiah be a faithful messenger.

     Second, God encouraged Jeremiah with the fact that He would protect him. Evidently Jeremiah feared for his personal safety based on his awareness of the times in which he lived. (Later his people did try to get rid of him). Yet God told Jeremiah not to be afraid of the people, because He would be with him. Lastly, God reached out and touched Jeremiah's mouth assuring him that He would give him the very words to speak. The content of Jeremiah's message was summarized by God in that the message would contain both judgment and blessing (1:10).
     God used two metaphors, mixing them to describe Jeremiah's mission. Comparing Jeremiah to a farmer, God said he would uproot (announce judgment) "and to plant" (announce blessing). Next by comparing Jeremiah to an architect, God said he would tear or "throw down" (pronounce judgment) and "build" (pronounce blessing).

     God next confirmed His call to Jeremiah by giving him two visions. The first (vv. 11–12) focused on the nature of the message Jeremiah would deliver and the second (vv. 13–16) pointed out the content of that message. God caused Jeremiah to see the branch of an almond tree. The Hebrew word for "almond tree" is from the word "to watch or to wake." The almond tree was named the "awake tree" because in Palestine it is the first tree in the year to bud and bear fruit. Its blooms precede its leaves, as the tree bursts into blossom in late January. The branch represented God watching to see that His word is fulfilled. God used a play on words to associate the almond branch with His activity. Jeremiah's vision assured him that God was awake and watching over His word to make sure it came to pass.

     God's second vision given to Jeremiah was that of a boiling pot. The pot tilted away from the north indicating that its contents were about to spill out toward the south. The tilting pot represented disaster to be poured out on those who lived in Judah. The direction from which the pot was facing represented the northern kingdoms whom God summoned to punish the nation of Judah. This referred to the coming invasion by Babylon and her allies (cf. 25:8–9). Although Babylon is located to the east of Judah, geographically, the armies followed the trade routes along the Euphrates River in their march to Judah. The armies approached from the north. Their thrones were to be set up in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, indicating the city would fall and be ruled by the invading armies. Jeremiah recorded the fulfillment of this prophecy in 39:2–3 after the Babylonians captured Jerusalem.
     Judah's fall to Babylon would be God's judgment for her idolatry. Among other things they burned incense to Baal and to other gods (v. 16; 7:9). In the Temple service incense was offered at the time of the morning and evening sacrifices – at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. The times were known as "the hour of incense" (see Luke 1:10). That incense offered to the God of heaven typified the righteousness of Christ. As the incense was being offered people prayed. Their prayers, their praise, their works, their very persons were dependent upon the merits of Christ symbolized by the incense. The people and what they did was to be covered by the righteousness of Christ.

     "The incense, ascending with the prayers of Israel, represents the merits and intercession of Christ, His perfect righteousness, which through faith is imputed to His people, and which can alone make the worship of sinful beings acceptable to God." (PP 353).

     "Man's obedience can be made perfect only by the incense of Christ's righteousness, which fills with divine fragrance every act of obedience." (AA 532).

     "Lift up your eyes toward the heavenly sanctuary, where Christ your Mediator stands before the Father to present your prayers, mingled with His own merit and spotless righteousness, as fragrant incense. (CT 241).

     In offering incense to pagan idols made with their own hands they were simply worshipping themselves with their own self-righteousness. All idolatry is image worship. These images are the product of the imagination of man's carnal mind.

    The term image comes from imagination. Thus we have man bowing down to himself as an equal with God. Thus it was in the days of Jeremiah; so it is in this our day.

     In forsaking God and worshiping what their own hands had created and offering the insulting incense of self-righteousness to Baal, the people of Judah violated the law of God and thus brought about her downfall.

     After explaining Jeremiah's assigned task, God charged Jeremiah to take up the challenge and to get ready (1:17–19.). God gave him the needed grace and strength to stand against the people of Judah. Through God's protection Jeremiah would be as strong as a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall. God's strength to withstand attack would be necessary because all the people would oppose Jeremiah's message. God promised that although the people would fight against Jeremiah, His assurance was that they would not overcome him. "They shall not prevail against you. For I am with you," says the Lord, "to deliver you." (Jer 1:19). May this be our assurance today.

~Pastor Jerry Finneman