Friday, February 19, 2016

“Comrades in Arms”

First Quarter 2016 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"Comrades in Arms"
February 20, 2016
The Great Controversy is founded on the everlasting principle of Agape Love.  This love is both a principle and a practical outworking of the Character of God in His benevolence to man.  Mankind is highly involved, obviously in this controversy, and as we struggle with sin, and as Satan attempts to stop our Christian growth by exploiting our shortcomings, the Good News is 1)  God is greater than Satan; 2) Nothing is too hard for Him; 3) He will never leave us nor forsake us; 4) He is willing to forgive us and to take us through the same tests until we overcome; 5) He is willing, while He does that, to look at us as though we have never sinned; 6) He does so because of the universal redemption that Christ accomplished for all Humanity as the Second Adam, representing all of us as the Head of Humanity. Our peace and assurance of victory are founded on those truths.
 Peter's calling is one excellent example of God's desire to save man, to work in and with cooperative humanity, to be patient and long suffering, and in the process, to reveal His own character of love, grace, and mercy, as well as His faithfulness.  Peter's reaction is remarkable. Maybe it is parallel to Jacob wrestling with the angel—the same realization of Divine Presence, and an overwhelming sense of unworthiness (Gen. 32:24–30). One thing is clear. Peter became aware of his sinfulness because he knew that the Lord was there. His open confession of his sinfulness stands in stark contrast, for instance, to the reaction of some of the religious leaders, who referred to Jesus Himself as a sinner (see John 9:24) instead of acknowledging, even when in His presence, their own sinfulness. We become convicted of our sinfulness by His revelation of His love, for we love, because He first loved us.  We begin to grasp the extensiveness of God's love and the incredible sacrifice He made for us, and continues to make for us. 
 We see these truths further revealed in the calling of all the Twelve.  God picked people whom He knew in their hearts would eventually respond and be faithful.  They had all the faults and weaknesses of humanity, all the confusion about the character of God, all the excuses, fears, reticence, pride, and selfishness, but their hearts were workable. When Jesus called the first disciples on the shores of Galilee, they had already witnessed His power over evil. They had seen Him challenge demons (Luke 4:34–36), heal the sick (Luke 4:38–41), rule over nature (Luke 5:4–6), reveal sin, and then reassure Peter there was no need to fear (Luke 5:10) God always reveals in various ways His character of love, before calling on others to trust in Him and surrender in loving obedience to Him.  One of Satan's greatest ploys in the great controversy has been his ability to co-opt those who claim the name of Christ and to use them to defile that name. 
God is the author and finisher of our faith Heb. 12:2, if we will allow Him full control, not rush ahead of Him, and trust that His love will prevail.  The New Testament is a remarkable testimony to how God worked to grow, heal, use and triumph through the disciples, for they were found faithful to the end, through the most trying of circumstances.  We must learn to be "with Him" and to learn of Him, in His lowliness and meekness, and to totally trust by faith in His righteousness alone.  God draws us to Him, and we finally learn to "abide in Him" by faith, thus to bear fruits of righteousness in a sanctified life.
 The Great Controversy has affected all aspects of life on this planet, including nature itself.  We are told that Satan has some ability to affect nature, and we are also shown that sin has caused the universe to "groan" until the day of its redemption.  Though we don't fully understand the degree to which Satan impacts the natural world, Scripture does reveal that his influence is there, such as seen in the story of Job (see Job 1:18, 19). Ellen G. White also tells us that, "Satan is even now seeking by disasters upon sea and land to seal the fate of as many as possible."—In Heavenly Places, p. 348, another indication of his power in this area. Surely, amid the seeming ceaseless natural disasters that strike the world, we are seeing the reality of the great controversy play out here on earth.  In the story of the storm on Galilee, we learn many lessons about trust and faith. When Jesus calms the storm, the disciples are just overwhelmed with awe. They "feared exceedingly, and said to one another, 'Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!' " (Mark 4:41, NKJV) If Jesus is in control of even nature, we can trust Him with control of our lives.  Though the lessons are many here, with this story we can see the extent of Jesus' power and, thus, our need to trust Him, no matter what.
 The revelation of God in His humility to condescend to die for us, we learn valuable lessons of what His character is, and how proud and selfish our natures are, as a result of having the sinful natures that we have.  The disciples are shown to have serious issues with pride, a trust which is seen every day in our homes, churches, businesses, government, and in every phase of human existence.  This debate among the disciples was no doubt related to their views of the future. They thought that Jesus was going to deliver Israel from the Romans, restore the kingdom of David, and reign as its new king in all the glory that the nation experienced under King Solomon. When that would happen, they no doubt assumed that, as part of Christ's inner circle, they'd have prominent and important roles to play in the newly restored kingdom. But even that wasn't enough: they wanted to know who among them would be the "greatest" in the kingdom. If that doesn't sound like the promptings of Lucifer, what does? (See Isa. 14:14.)  It was Satan who wanted to exalt Himself, and the Laodicean problem is one of "self righteousness", seen within the church as people vying for power and position, or criticizing others and acting superior, instead of praying as Daniel did in Daniel 9, "we have sinned."  The man who cries out, "Have mercy on me a sinner" is the one who goes home justified, not the one trying to prove spiritual superiority.  We have all sinned are continually coming short of the glory of God.  They were on their way to Jerusalem, where Jesus was about to be crucified. He had just explained to them that He was going to be betrayed, condemned to death, mocked, scourged, and crucified, and then rise again the third day (Matt. 20:18, 19). As soon as He finished saying all this, the question of who was greatest came up again. They did not even hear what Jesus had said. It was obvious that they were not listening. Interested in their own small-minded ambitions, they missed the large issues at stake, focusing on false concepts of an earthly kingdom that would never come and missing out on what Jesus was telling them about the eternal one that He was offering them through His own upcoming death.  We need to evaluate whether we are really listening, learning of Him, for He is "meek and lowly in heart", and in Him, we will find "rest for our souls." 
 The event on the road to Emmaeus demonstrates the fact that man needs to fully comprehend the Word of God, and Jesus placed His faith implicitly in the Word of God.  The engrafted Word is able to save our souls, and Jesus repeatedly emphasized "It is Written."  Notice that Jesus' whole emphasis was on the Scriptures. Just as He resorted to Scripture in His battle with Satan in the wilderness, He goes to the Scriptures here in order to push back the darkness that these two were in. Only after He grounded them in the biblical teachings about Himself and His mission did Jesus then give them some powerful experiences to help buttress those biblical teachings: first, He revealed Himself to them, showing that He indeed had been raised from the dead; second, "He vanished from their sight" (Luke 24:31, NKJV). Between the no doubt perfectly clear Bible study on the atoning death of Jesus, followed by these powerful experiences, these two had plenty of reasons for faith.
 Faith, surrender, humility, dependence, trust, listening to the Word of God, believing in His love, these are the lessons to be learned, amongst others, in the Great Controversy.  We need to remember what Jesus did on the cross, and therefore, what He is committed to finishing.  May we follow in His footsteps.

~Pastor Tom Cusack