Wednesday, January 13, 2016

“Global Rebellion & the Patriarchs”

Insight #3 January 16, 2016
First Quarter 2016 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"Global Rebellion & the Patriarchs"
For the week of January 16, 2016

          Our lesson this week looks at several stories between the time of the Fall in the Garden of Eden, and the time of Joseph.  The first story is the story of Cain and Abel.  Many have looked at the story of Cain and Abel and wondered if God is a picky controlling deity.  Does it really matter what one brings as an offering as long as it is some of their best?  And after all, isn't a beautiful platter of fruits and nuts a better offering than a dead and bloody animal – especially from a vegetarian perspective!
           Is the lesson of the story of Cain and Abel that God is really serious if He asks for a sacrifice to be done in a certain way, and so don't try and change it?  God is sovereign and if He says to do it a certain way then who are we to question – right?  God said it – just do it – right?  If that is our thought process, then we are offering the same sacrifice as Cain, even if we happen to get the actual substance of the offering correct.

          God called for a certain sacrifice, because that sacrifice represented something that the sacrifice of Cain in bringing his fruits and vegetables could never represent.  The point of the sacrifice was to teach us a lesson, to give us a reminder, to help us understand and comprehend something that any other type of sacrifice would not accomplish.
          The point of offering a lamb was to teach us two very important lessons.  One, that sin is a destroyer.  When Abel slew the lamb, it was to remind him that sin kills – and in that reminder, that lesson, to be moved to avoid sin and its consequences at all costs.  And two, that the ultimate demonstration of sin as a destroyer was going to be made by God Himself in the person of His Son.  When Abel killed the lamb, he would understand, he would be reminded, that God's Son was going to demonstrate in His own life, that sin is in fact a killer, a destroyer, and that we are the cause of that death.
          So God's choice of a sacrifice was not arbitrary.  It wasn't the manifestation of a picky, controlling God.  It was God using a learning tool most adapted for the lesson to be learned.  The killing of a lamb demonstrates the self-sacrificial nature of God's character and the destructiveness of sin, in a way that no fruit and vegetable offering never ever could.  The symbolic sacrificial service fits perfectly the lesson to be learned.
          God is not in the business of picking random tests for us to see if we will do them no matter what.  Everything God asks of us is for our own benefit – including when He sets up a sacrificial service.  That's why Abel's sacrifice was acceptable to God, and Cain's wasn't.  Cain's sacrifice wasn't acceptable to God because it didn't in any way help Cain understand the nature of sin and how God was working to deliver us from the sin problem.
          Cain's sacrifice taught the lesson that we just need to bring something to God to satisfy His demands.  Cain's sacrifice represented all the systems of self preservation and self-salvation that have existed since then.  And all these sacrificial systems are based on one premise, and that premise is that someone besides God, or outside of God, does something to cause God to relate to them in a more favorable manner.
          The whole premise of all false religion is that when we "miss the mark" in our moral lives, the God(s) are upset with us, and in order to make things right, we, or someone else, need to do something to cause the God(s) to relate to us in a better way, to assuage their hostility.  This false religious construct can take many forms, some of which are more obviously false like human or animal sacrifice for the sake of appeasement, or sometimes they can take a more subtle form – including the idea that Jesus is the one who makes God look more favorably towards us.
          By contrast, the true gospel says that God loves us and accepts us no matter what our failures may be.  And that it is in that unconditional love and acceptance that we are motivated to leave behind every weight and the sin which so easily besets us.  The sacrifice of Christ then becomes not a method of changing God's attitude towards us, but it is God's method of revealing to us what has always been in His heart towards us.  The death of Jesus doesn't cause or allow God to forgive or love us more, it reveals that He always has and does love us with all the love that He has.
          The death and sacrifice of Jesus isn't to change God's attitude towards us, the death of Jesus was to change our attitude towards God.  Sin is the dangerous and lethal entity in our universe and it is sin that needs to be run away from – not God!  God is not the one we need to be afraid of or cautious around, sin is the one to be afraid of.
          In the story of Cain and Abel, we see two systems of theology – two pictures of God.  One is a God who provides a sacrifice to appease us, and one is a system where we provide a sacrifice to appease or satisfy God – or in its more subtle form, Jesus provides a sacrifice to appease or mollify God.
          In the 1888 era of our own SDA history, we have these same two systems at work.  Notice the following profound, amazing, and disconcerting statement by an inspired observer:
"The danger has been presented to me again and again of entertaining, as a people, false ideas of justification by faith. I have been shown for years that Satan would work in a special manner to confuse the mind on this point. The law of God has been largely dwelt upon and has been presented to congregations, almost as destitute of the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His relation to the law as was the offering of Cain. I have been shown that many have been kept from the faith because of the mixed, confused ideas of salvation, because the ministers have worked in a wrong manner to reach hearts. The point that has been urged upon my mind for years is the imputed righteousness of Christ. I have wondered that this matter was not made the subject of discourses in our churches throughout the land, when the matter has been kept so constantly urged upon me, and I have made it the subject of nearly every discourse and talk that I have given to the people."  {FW 18.1}
          Imagine, as we look at the offering of Cain and think how naïve he was, our own inspired prophet is telling us that we are in danger of repeating the offering of Cain in our understanding of God's work in justification by faith!  The 1888 message of the righteousness of Christ was meant to correct this trend in Adventism to present truth without Christ – if there even could be said to be such a thing as truth without Christ.  But we were and have been trying.
          No matter what the church problem or conundrum – youth leaving, women's ordination, jewelry, fundamentalism, liberalism, etc, etc, all of these challenges find their root in a misunderstanding, and a lack of understanding of the truths of righteousness by faith.  When we as a denomination, truly fix our eyes on Jesus, as the 1888 message was meant to move us to do, we will move forward not struggling as Cain did, but living in the peace and joy and security that Abel did.
          I would encourage you, dear reader, take the time to study this most precious message of the righteousness of Christ.  Any experience short of this, will lead to an experience and worship that will always be tainted with the offering of Cain.  The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message through His servants, Elders Waggoner and Jones – let's receive that gift.

~Bob Hunsaker