Thursday, August 22, 2019

Lesson 8: "The Least of These"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Least of These:
Ministering to Those in Need

Lesson 8: "The Least of These"


The 1888 message was a discovery of a new kind of love which proclaimed and lived and turned the world upside-down. God's unconditional agapefor the world is demonstrated in the life of Jesus.

Considering that much of Jesus' teaching was addressed to crowds of mostly poor, rural peasants, fishermen, and farm workers who were regularly exploited by their political and religious leaders and oppressed and brutalized by their Roman occupiers, it is hardly surprising that He privileged the underprivileged, offering a different way to be in the world and a distinct method to resist those who would abuse and exploit them. What might seem surprising is that He would command them to do this with agape.

Jesus' kingdom of heaven was markedly different from those proclaimed and sought by so many would-be revolutionaries and messiahs of His time and throughout history. For one, it was resolutely nonviolent, championing humility, kindness, and peacemaking. But this was not a recipe for passivity. Resistance would come in the form of integrity, determination, creativity, and sacrifice.

Living righteously by following Jesus in the ways He taught and lived would be countercultural in the truest and best sense. The kingdom of heaven was introduced by Jesus as a contrast to (and was sometimes in conflict with) the way the kingdoms of our world exercise power. By resisting the many forces, temptations, and ideas that default to the status quo, His followers were to live by different priorities and measure worth and goodness in transformative ways.

Coupled with the reality and power of Jesus Himself, his countercultural life also catalyzes our resistance to the injustice and oppression we see around us. People who believe that God will turn the world upside down with agape--people like Mary with her Magnificat, pulling down the mighty from their thrones and exalting the humble and meek (Luke 1:46-55)--are not going to be backward in getting on with some world-changing activities in the present. The kingdom of heaven is a revolutionary and present reality.

The word "beatitude" is a big word which in the Bible is rendered as "blessed," and that simply means "happy." It means that certain people enjoy a happiness that is the natural result of their faith and obedience; it can also mean that God in a supernatural way gives His love and happiness to such people. But we hasten to add that He does not show respect of persons, favoring one person over another (James 2:1).

Don't let Satan discourage you with his suggestion that you are not one of God's favored ones. You may feel that way, but that doesn't mean that his suggestion is true. Even Jesus as He hung on His cross cried out, "My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" No, because of Christ's sacrifice, you must believe that the Lord lovesyou and has chosen you to be His child. That's what the "believing" in John 3:16 means.

So, who are the "blessed" ones in the Bible? The answer has to be: those who believe God's gracious Good News. Their faith works, and that is why they obey, and the natural result is "blessedness."

There are well over 100 "beatitudes" in the Bible. But when Jesus came, He surprised the Jews of His day with "blessings" that seemed directly the opposite of their ideas: "Blessed are the poor in spirit," "Blessed are they that mourn," "Blessed are the meek," "Blessed are they who are hungry and thirsty," "Blessed are they which are persecuted," "Blessed are you when people revile you and say all manner of evil against you falsely," etc., etc.

Stunning! Those words awoke a class of people who had been educated to feel left out of the kingdom of God! Surely Jesus must have been impressed by that "beatitude" in Psalm 94:12 which says: "Blessed is the person whom you chasten, O Lord, and teach him out of Your law; that You may give him rest from the days of adversity." A happiness to be found in the most unexpected place! And Paul adds, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son [daughter] whom He receiveth" (Heb. 12:6). Do you really want some evidence that He loves and receives you?

The Lord Jesus Christ is generous in His thanks and even generous in His praise to those who have wanted to serve Him, but have felt very unworthy.

To some He says with great enthusiasm, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

But they are surprised; they turn around to see if He is not talking past them to other people behind them; they themselves feel very unworthy of such genuine thanks and praise. He responds, No, it's you I mean.

They remonstrate with Him, "Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?" There must be some mistake here; we are not worthy!

Then they hear the sweetest words anyone can ever hear from the lips of the world's Savior, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me" (Matt. 25:35-40).

The generosity of the Lord Jesus shines brightly through all eternity. He speaks to us a positive word through a double negative: "God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love(yes, the word is agape, not phileo) which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister" (Heb. 6:10, New King James Version).

He remembers every effort you have made to reflect His agapeto others, weak and tremulous as it may be. That double negative is His assurance to you that He welcomes you as His co-laborer with Himself in His work for the world.

--Paul E. Penno

Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at:

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