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