“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,…”
This is a part of the opening sentence of the classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. Written to indicate the opposing factors of the author’s subject, this line could aptly describe the tensions that existed during the period of this week’s study on Crucified and Risen.
To close out this quarter on the book of Luke we take a high-level look at important events in the days leading up to and post the crucifixion. In each instance we can clearly see the forces of evil arrayed against the Son of Man.
As our Savior prayed earnestly in the Garden, the backstory would be His disciple’s inability to enter into sympathy with Him during this difficult phase. Although they walked and talked with Him each day and listened to lesson after lesson about the Kingdom of Heaven, they could not see beyond the popular misapplication of scripture of their generation. And they slept while He prayed.
And while Jesus prayed and the disciples slept, one of their own, Judas, was in the process of betraying his Master. Evil men involved in this conspiracy of murder were surely gloating over the defection of a trusted disciple. Now they would be able to gain the upper hand over the target of their jealously and envy.
To all appearances it would seem that this would be a disastrous combination – the disciple’s spiritual denseness and Judas’ betrayal. For years Jesus made this select group of men the depositories of the richest teachings man has ever known. He had carefully guided them, both by example and precept, but it appeared to be all for naught.
Finding Him in the garden, an unruly mob bound and took Jesus away. Treating Him as a danger to society, they conducted a kangaroo court to find some cover for their dastardly act. Their persistence paid off and they were given the green light to fulfill the darkest passions of their hearts.
“And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.” Luke 23:24-25
To the onlookers this was either the best of times or the worst of times. For His haters they thought they were entering the best of times. They imagined once Jesus was removed they could regain their power and influence over the masses. Their love of admiration was so blinding that they could justify murdering the innocent.
To those sympathetic with Jesus, this was the worst of times. Many had hoped that He was the Messiah. They had hoped that it would be He who would deliver them from their national foes. They hoped it would be Joseph’s son who would make all things right again for their nation. But now it appears they were wrong and their hope was about to be extinguished. This was a dark, dark day for many.
Hanging upon a criminal’s cross, Jesus was paying the cost for man’s sin. While it appeared that the worst day imaginable was underway, the truth was that this would prove to be the best day possible. Jesus was redeeming man.
Although the crowd misread the magnitude of the moment, there was one who was able to see clearly Who was hanging upon the cross. He had witnessed the abuse heaped upon Jesus and the remarkable manner in which He endured. No doubt the news he had heard about Jesus, His love and compassion, His concern for the least, was now validated before his eyes.
This man, only known as a “thief” was at the seemingly the worst day of his life. Hanging upon a cross himself, he had no chance to redeem his name or restart his life. The events of his life that led to that moment were unchangeable (so it seemed).
Now looking upon Jesus hanging beside him he saw the Hope of all ages. He discerned in the bloodied face a King’s countenance. He sensed, no he knew, that this was indeed the Messiah, and his soul in sincerity cried out to his only hope for redemption.
“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” Luke 23:42
Over the roar of taunting shouts he heard an assurance that he has made peace with God. His fate was now in the hands of God and his future was sure. What started as the worst of days had now become the best of days. He had been saved.
Friend, draw comfort knowing that our God is drawing us and freely offering to change our worst days into our best days. Although clouds may often hide Him from our view, keep faith that His promises are sure and they are for you.
“Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” Deuteronomy 31:6
Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:
- *Following are personal reflection questions*
- Have you ever gone through dark periods in your Christian walk when you thought God was not with you? What experience is most prominent?
- Looking back on those experiences, do you now see that God was with you? How so?
- What lessons did you learn from going through difficult times?
- Do you have any practical advice for a fellow believer who is going through dark times? If so, what would it be?
- Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: The closer I follow Jesus the less dark or difficult days I will experience. Explain your answer.
We close this quarter’s lessons on Luke with some of the final words of Jesus as recounted by Luke. They are applicable to each one of us and encourage our continued study into the sacred word:
Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Luke 24:44-45
Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!
Critics of Christianity will often argue that Jesus knew beforehand that, though He would die, He would be resurrected to life. Thus, they ask, what was the big deal about His death when He knew it would be only temporary?
My mother knows that flying in an airplane is safer than traveling by car. She knows the sad statistics that people are killed every day on the highways, while a rare jet crash makes headlines around the world. Knowing all this, when my mother gets on an airplane she sure does not feel that it is safer! There is a difference between knowing and feeling. Jesus died as a man, not as God.
As a man, this is what Jesus experienced;
“In that thick darkness God’s presence was hidden. He makes darkness His pavilion, and conceals His glory from human eyes. God and His holy angels were beside the cross. The Father was with His Son. Yet His presence was not revealed. Had His glory flashed forth from the cloud, every human beholder would have been destroyed. And in that dreadful hour Christ was not to be comforted with the Father’s presence. He trod the wine press alone, and of the people there was none with Him.”-Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 753, 754.
“The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God.” -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 753.
Foxe’s book of Martyrs tells us John Huss was singing songs of praise as he burned at the stake for his faith. We wonder if John Huss, a mere mortal man, could be singing songs of praise as He died at the stake, why couldn’t Jesus sing songs of praise instead of crying out “My God My God why have You forsaken me?”
It is because John Huss died a totally different death than Jesus died. John knew he would be resurrected. He knew he was at peace with the Father. But on the cross Jesus was being treated the way we deserve to be treated so we can be treated the way He deserves to be treated. Think about this, Jesus always called God His Father.
“In my Father’s house are many mansions.”
“I always do those things that please my Father.”
“I and my Father are one.”
But when Jesus was on the cross being treated the way we deserve to be treated He could not call God His Father! He did not know that He would be resurrected. Instead He cried out, “My God! Why have you forsaken me?” This fulfilled the prophecy of Psalms 22 of Jesus dying the second death.
Jesus was not crying out, “Why have you forsaken me till Sunday morning?” You don’t forsake someone when you leave them for the weekend. When I tell my Sabbath School class I will be preaching at another church next Sabbath, none of them ask me why I have forsaken them. They know I will be back the following week. When Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” He felt abandoned forever. He felt what the wicked will feel.
Obadiah 1:16 says the wicked will be as though they had never been. Jesus was not facing a mere six-hour pain endurance marathon. A lot of cancer patients would gladly trade their years of battling cancer for six hours on a cross. The physical pain is not what made it the supreme sacrifice. What Jesus was facing was going into total oblivion and being as though He had never existed! While Satan was willing to sacrifice anyone who got in his way of being number 1, Jesus was willing to go into total oblivion if He could just save even one of us.
Hebrews 2:9 tells us Jesus tasted death for everyone. Jesus and Paul both refer to the first death as sleep. Jesus did not save us from that death, as we plainly experience that death ourselves. Paul did not say Jesus tasted sleep for every man. No, He tasted death, the death of the wicked. Yes, He prophesied of His own resurrection, but that was while He still felt the presence of His Father. When Jesus felt the Father turn His back on Him, He felt, as a man, that the promise of the resurrection had left with the Father. Jesus became the God-forsaken God.
Some say, how could Jesus have died the second death while He never lost faith in His Father? Remember Jesus had no sense of self-preservation. The sense of self-preservation belongs to Satan. Jesus had faith, but His faith was not that He would be saved but that you and I would be saved!
Some have a hard time wrapping their minds around this awesome love. Some refuse to believe that Jesus would be willing to die forever to save us. In that case they have made Moses more loving than Jesus. In Exodus 32:32 Moses is willing to be wiped out of eternity in order to save the children of Israel. Do you think Moses loved them more than Jesus loves sinners? Of course not! Only when Moses experienced the self-sacrificing love of God could he express such love. If you don’t believe that Jesus was willing to say good-bye to life forever in order to save us, then you believe that Moses demonstrated more love than Jesus.
Since the Jews were accusing Jesus of blasphemy they could have just stoned Him to death. According to Leviticus 24:16, blasphemers were to be stoned and not crucified. Yet Jesus was crucified. Why? Because Deuteronomy 21:22-23 tells us those who are hung are cursed by God. Someone could plead for mercy and have the hope of salvation, just like John Huss had, even though they were stoned to death. However, being hung was a sign you were cursed by God. Joshua 10 tells the story of five kings who refused to accept Israel’s God and were hung from five trees, telling the world they had rejected God and so there was no salvation for them. It was good-bye to life forever.
Friend, does this help you understand how much Jesus loves you? He could have come down from the cross and returned to heaven where He could wear His kingly Crown instead of the crown of thorns. He could have left the road to Calvary and walked on streets of gold. He could have left the mocking mob and returned to hear angels sing His praise. He could have returned to His mansion. Why didn’t He do just that? Because the thought of going back to heaven without you did not appeal to Jesus. Heaven would not be paradise without you, as far as Jesus is concerned.
There is nothing I would rather be preaching than this message here. It is the everlasting gospel in the three angels’ messages. This kind of love changes everything. It changes how we look at the cross and how we look at sin. Most of all it changes our hearts. The disciples were just a bunch of self-ambitious men until they saw this love displayed on the cross. After they saw this love they were willing to give everything – even their own lives. Revelation 15 tells us there will be a multitude singing the song of Moses and the Lamb. They will be filled with this self-sacrificing love just like Moses and Jesus. They will hate sin more than they hate death and they will love God more than they will love their own lives or self preservation.
Jesus’ love for you goes deeper than the nail scars. He loves you more than He loves life itself. He was willing to go into total oblivion and be as though He had never existed if that is what it took to save you!
Standing before Pilate under intense pressure, Christ stands calm and self-controlled. Unknown to the courtroom is a divine power, a focused mission and ministry they have never seen nor can they comprehend. Standing before worldly power, Jesus Christ unequivocally states to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” (John 18:36)
If you are a Christian, the assertion of Christ having a kingdom, thus making Him a king, is a gratifying one. But while humans are awe-struck by the lives of the powerful, wealthy, and nobility, everything about Christ was counter to human practices and human values. He appeared as the antithesis of human nobility. He was always poor, often hungry, without permanent address and disconnected from the aristocracy of His times. Yet He said He was a King.
But Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world. . .”
Being not of this world, we could easily think that Jesus was speaking of His origin or heavenly home. But this does not explain why He responded to a ruler with defined authority as He did. A King is a King because he has subjects and his subjects and lineage recognize his royal title.
Not long ago Kate Middleton married royalty – Prince William, grandson of the Queen of England and heir to the throne. Marriage can do many things, but make Kate a princess, it could not. Her official royal title is Duchess of Cambridge. Marriage into a royal family changed her status in many ways, but it did not make her princess or immediate heir to the throne. Christ did not need a relationship to claim His status. His claim is without mention of lineage or kinship. Linkage with David connects Him to Israel’s monarchy, but His status and universal rank supersedes that.
Additionally, Christ said “His servants would fight” if His kingdom were earthly. Servants are involved in a negotiated and mutually beneficially relationship. Like Abraham’s servants, Christ’s servants are of His house and are cared for by His hand. They are willingly with Him and He takes care of their needs. It is also significant that Christ, the non-violent leader, uses a term which implies conflict and struggle. Kingdom battles always result in a war to the death. Kingdom battles are for the kingdom and all it involves.
In this one statement Christ bridges what was with the not yet. God Himself came to this earth in flesh to bind the lives of creatures to their Creator. The God of the Universe wanted His creation back in fellowship with Him after they were torn from His hands after a short-sighted response to an appeal to self-exaltation.
An angel from the throne of God told Mary, “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33; see also, Luke 4:42-44, Matt. 4:23-25 and Luke 18:29, 30).
From this pronouncement, the kingdom motif is established. To prove lineage and purpose, Christ is connected to an earthly monarch. God the Holy Spirit planted God the Son into a human being to connect mortals to God the Father in heaven.
Christ fought for His right to reign over His kingdom on His knees in submission to the will of our Heavenly Father. With holy anticipation Christ also spoke of the ‘not yet.’ Before the Jewish elders, Jesus speaks very differently of what His kingdom and authority will be. “Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God.” (Luke 22:69).
The emphasis of the kingdom of Christ was not nor ever will be power and glory as it is pursued by humanity. His power, His majesty was attained by His victory over sin, death, and the grave. Christ’s kingdom is centered on building adherents to His cause and His mission – the eradication and final victory over sin. These followers are kingdom builders.
Are you a Kingdom builder?
Kingdom builders know that sin is the problem that ails all humanity. Kingdom builders are sold out to Christ and turned off by sin in all its forms. Kingdom builders are interested in humanity, because humanity is the focal point of the Christ’s mission and ministry. Salvation and redemption are processes of transformation. Kingdom builders know this world has nothing to offer but misery, pain, suffering, difficulty, and ultimately death. Kingdom builders know the good news of salvation on a personal basis and share their Christ, their king with everyone. “. . . the kingdom of God’s grace [that] is now being established, as day by day hearts that have been full of sin and rebellion yield to the sovereignty of His love.” (E. G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 108)
Kingdom builders live Christ’s mission, ministry, and mandates. He is King. He is the victor. By faith in Him, we go from victory to victory, overcoming as we abide in Him. “The kingdom of God comes not with outward show. It comes through the gentleness of the inspiration of His word, the fellowship of the soul with Him who is its life. The greatest manifestation of its power is seen in human nature brought to the perfection of the character of Christ.” (Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 36)
The kingdom of Christ is not of this world. If He is our Savior and our King, neither is this world our kingdom.
NEWSFLASH! – THIS JUST IN!
“The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center.” 1
With all of the additional outlets of evangelism spawned by the technological advancements of the last half century it appears that Christianity is declining instead of advancing, at least in the U.S. To arrest and reverse this alleged decline in numbers I have 7 simple solutions.
1) Celebrate the greatness of man rather than the humility of Christ. Everyone loves to hear that they are great or at the least have the potential to be great. Nothing strokes the pride more than envisioning one as superior or a champion in all areas of life. By simply deemphasizing that the greatest, most gifted should be the servant of the least we can instead announce that the higher a positon one has in life, the more we will celebrate them within the church.
2) Make honorable the relentless quest for money. Instead of quoting that one cannot love God and mammon we can simply tweak that to say you CAN love God and mammon. Just think about how many people we could attract by showing them how to obtain more money. Instead of the rich young ruler being used as an example of misplaced priorities let’s celebrate how he was able to have the best of both worlds – money and morals. People love money and if being a member of the church increases their likelihood of attaining riches, we will certainly gain new converts.
3) Don’t require purity of speech and thought. Instead of the bible teaching that as a man thinketh in his heart so is he, let’s emphasize only the outward moral code. The challenge to develop a life of prayer and Bible study that fosters a change of thinking may be a cause of concern for some. Let’s no longer talk about clean hearts, right spirits and pure speech. Make the outside the only point of concern.
4) Become champions of vengeance. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m talking about justified vengeance. We’ve said for too long that God will repay. The command to forgive seventy times seven we could simply reduce to seven. That’s it – just seven times and then you can bear a grudge and conduct yourself accordingly. Can you imagine the vast number of people who have been wronged and who are stuck in the mire of unforgiveness? Let’s give them a voice and demand retribution from everyone they deem culpable. We certainly could attract a crowd with this.
5) Foster hate and schisms. If ever there was a time to be negative and tolerate speaking against others that time is now. With the emergence of social media and the ability to comment freely from the anonymity of a computer screen we have become accustomed to hearing wild accusations and the exposure of the sins of others as routine. And even more, when it comes to differences of opinions that are not testing truths, let’s turn them into opportunities to vent, debate and fight. Who doesn’t love a good fight? The more we can ignore 1 Corinthians 14:40, “Let all things be done decently and in order,” the more we can attract those who chafe under discipline and are opposed to compromise (unless it’s the opposition who should compromise).
6) Use the Bible as little as possible. Everyone loves good oratorical skills. If we can have our speakers and teachers talk about good, moral subjects, not necessarily Bible doctrines, we can attract more people. Preaching and teaching the Bible results in conviction, and that can be uncomfortable. I know we like to say, “Step out of your comfort zone,” but we don’t want to apply this to the comfort zone of sin. Let’s give the illusion of godly living without actually teaching godly living. Motivation without sanctification sells!
7) Change the priority of seeking the Kingdom of God. Let’s face it, times have changed. When Christ gave the command to seek first the Kingdom of God, that was in a simpler time and place. Way back then there was no way for the average person to even imagine all that this world has to offer. Satan did, and he took Christ up on a mountain and showed the best of the kingdoms of this world to Him. You can read about in Luke 4.
If we can muddle the plain command of Jesus to “Seek first the kingdom of God” to mean something else, we may have more success in attracting new members. You and I know that seeking first the kingdom of God means that our priorities will be for the kingdom. We know that our gifts and talents will be devoted to His service. We know that as a sacrifice to God we will hold nothing back and give our all to Him. You and I know that the real happiness of man is found when man holds nothing back and is led daily by God. And you and I know that His yoke is easy and His burden is light and that He has come to give us life more abundantly. But let’s keep that secret to ourselves. Let’s get those numbers up and let’s not scare anyone away by thoughts of complete surrender.
These seven suggestions have the potential to increase our numbers.
Will they lead to more faithful disciples and an expansion of the kingdom of God? Absolutely not. The truth of the matter is that we are either building on a rock or we are building on sand. We are either seeking first the kingdom of God, or we are not. Where do you stand today?
Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:
- What does the “kingdom of God” mean to you?
- Is baptism the entrance to the kingdom of God? Why yes or no?
- How does one become a member of the kingdom of God?
- Describe a member of the kingdom of God
- What does it mean to “seek first” the kingdom of God?
- Is it true the membership in the kingdom of God comes with temporal, material blessings? Explain your answer.
- Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: It is difficult to become and stay a member of the kingdom of God. Explain your answer.
We close this week’s lesson on The Kingdom of God with some very sobering words from Jesus.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Matthew 7:21-23
Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!
- http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/ ↩
Lot was a relative of Abraham and accompanied him on some of his travels. His choice of the well-watered Jordan valley brought him into the company of the wicked men in Sodom (Gen. 13:1-13). He was then rescued first by Abraham (Gen. 14:11-16, and later by two angels (Gen. 19).
When Abraham heard that his relative Lot was in trouble, he decided to help him. In rescuing Lot, Abraham headed a military force of more than three hundred men of his own household. Numerous kings were involved in the battle for Sodom, and Abraham came out the victor.
Read Genesis 14:8-24. What did Abraham’s actions say about his character and, hence, about his faith and his God?
To the kings he conquered, Abraham revealed the power of God. Even during this rescue mission, the
father of the faithful did not lose his divine call to be a blessing to the nations.
The worshiper of Jehovah had not only rendered a great service to the country, but had proved himself a man of valor. It was seen that righteousness is not cowardice, and that Abraham’s religion made him courageous in maintaining the right and defending the oppressed. His heroic act gave him a widespread influence among the surrounding tribes. On his return, the king of Sodom came out with his retinue to honor the conqueror. He bade him take the goods, begging only that the prisoners should be restored. By the usage of war, the spoils belonged to the conquerors; but Abraham had undertaken this expedition with no purpose of gain, and he refused to take advantage of the unfortunate, only stipulating that his confederates should receive the portion to which they were entitled.–Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 135.
Think about your dealings with others. What kind of witness do they present to others about your faith?
The LORD had said to Abram, Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Gen. 12:1-3 NIV).
Abram-whose name meant
the father is exalted and whose name was changed to Abraham,
the father of multitudes-grew up in Ur, in what is now Iraq. God called him to separate himself from his familiar social and spiritual context and migrate to an unfamiliar country, where God conducted a 100-year spiritual makeover, turning him into the
father of the faithful. In the midst of personal and family struggles, Abraham became a prototype missionary to several people groups and a respected leader who witnessed to his faith in God.
Read through Genesis 12:1-3. What principles can you find here that could apply to any of us in our own particular situation; that is, what did Abraham experience that we might experience in our own way, as well? See also Heb. 11:8-10.
The patriarch was called to leave his past behind him, to step out in faith, to believe what seemed unbelievable, to do what God had called him to do. And as a result of his faithfulness, all the nations of the world would be blessed.
Many of us are tested, as was Abraham. Of course, we might not hear the voice of God speaking directly to us, but He calls us by the teachings of His Word and the events of His providence. We may be required to abandon a career that promises wealth and honor; we might have to leave congenial and profitable associations and separate from family; indeed, we might have to enter upon what appears only to be a path of self-denial, hardship, and sacrifice. But if called, how can we refuse?
In Genesis the Hebrew reads literally,
And God said to Abram, He was told to go
Go for yourself from your land. . . .
for himself; that is, for his own sake. How should we understand what that means, and how can we apply it to ourselves?
So also Abraham (Galatians 3:6-8 NIV).
believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham:
All nations will be blessed through you
It’s no coincidence that three of the world’s major faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are sometimes called the
Abrahamic faiths. That’s because all three, in one way or another, trace their roots back to this great man of God.
Though Abraham is admired as the defining example of faithfulness, this week’s lesson will examine this faithfulness from a different angle. That is, we want to view him as a missionary, as someone called by the Lord to go to another land and witness to the people about the true God, the Creator and Redeemer.
God gave Abraham, and his family after him (see Gal. 3:29) a threefold purpose:
- to be recipients and guardians of the divine truth of God’s kingdom that had been lost in the earlier history of humankind;
- to be the channel through which the Redeemer would enter history; and
- to be, as God’s faithful servants, a light to the nations, a light to those who needed to know the Lord.
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, July 11.
At the heart of every useful doctrinal discussion is the seeking for a deeper understanding of the character of God. All doctrines, including the current discussion of the role of female ministers in the church, should reveal God’s love, and lead us to more heartfelt worship, but it seems that this aspect has not yet been considered in the current discussion.
Some have declared that the Godhead—the personification of love—is a hierarchical structure. The most profound model of love in the universe, they say, maintains unity through One having power over the Other. They focus on Jesus’ position of submission under the Father and confidently assert that the Father has, from all eternity, been in headship over the Son. This means that everything Jesus does is done in submission to His Father’s will. He is so in tune with the Father that He instinctively does whatever the Father wishes. This simple, hierarchical pyramid of power is said to descend from Jesus to males and then females, each in subjection to those in higher positions than themselves. Thus, the argument goes, the harmonious order of the universe is preserved. Learning to submit to this structure prepares sinners to live in harmony with the law of love, along with the sinless universe, some day.
The divine Father/Son relationship seen as a hierarchical over/under relationship results in some troubling applications. Is God’s highest ideal of Christian love a matter of submission to higher authority? Must a woman within the body of Christ always have a male over her in spiritual authority? If the law of God is the transcript of His character, does its effective application simply settle us into neat layers of submission?
I propose that, instead of a power-based over/under hierarchical structure at the heart of the universe, there is an alternative model that could give us: a) a richer picture of the character of God, b) a fuller model of application of the law of love in human relationships, and c) a map for leading our church forward in unified focus on spreading the gospel more effectively.
An alternate view of loving, biblical headship
The disciples were delighted to be ordained to leadership in the fledgling Christian movement but were never entirely satisfied that the ceremony gave them adequate power. The gospels tell us the disappointing story of twelve men who struggled constantly among themselves for supremacy. “Who is the greatest?” was the burning question on their hearts. They believed in hierarchical headship, an over/under structure they observed in their culture among both Roman and Jewish leaders. Wholeheartedly committed to hierarchical thinking, they believed that power over others constituted greatness in the church as well as the world—and they craved such authority. Jesus repeatedly confronted them about this attitude so profoundly unlike the principles of greatness in His kingdom. “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3, 4).
The pursuit of hierarchical power instead of servanthood was one of the disciples’ greatest blunders. It prevented them from understanding Jesus’ mission, and from preparing for His crucifixion. It was the root of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. It blinded all of the disciples to the true principle of Jesus’ kingdom—seeking the lowest place, that of servanthood. In commentary regarding this topic, Ellen White says,
“The strife for the highest place was the outworking of that same spirit which was the beginning of the great controversy in the worlds above, and which had brought Christ from heaven to die. There rose up before Him a vision of Lucifer,the ‘son of the morning,’ in glory surpassing all the angels that surround the throne, and united in closest ties to the Son of God. Lucifer had said, ‘I will be like the Most High’ (Isaiah 14:12, 14); and the desire for self-exaltation had brought strife into the heavenly courts, and had banished a multitude of the hosts of God. Had Lucifer really desired to be like the Most High, he would never have deserted his appointed place in heaven; for the spirit of the Most High is manifested in unselfish ministry. Lucifer desired God’s power, but not His character. He sought for himself the highest place, and every being who is actuated by his spirit will do the same…Now the cross was just before Him; and His own disciples were so filled with self-seeking—the very principle of Satan’s kingdom—that they could not enter into sympathy with their Lord, or even understand Him as He spoke of His humiliation for them” (The Desire of Ages, pp. 435, 436).
The display of this spirit of Satan grieved Jesus continually throughout His earthly ministry. On the way to Jerusalem just before the Crucifixion, Jesus again confronted the disciples about it. Evidently He had dealt with them numerous times already, because they had lingered behind Him on the road, competing for position when they thought He couldn’t hear them. That evening, “He asked them, ‘What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest. And He sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:33-35). Apparently, this instruction too was ignored, for shortly afterward in the Upper Room, Jesus again rebuked them, this time by girding Himself with a towel and washing their feet. Once again, Jesus demonstrated servant-leader headship.
From the manger to the cross, Jesus’ life was dedicated to the seeking of the lowest place. Far from this being a temporary position merely to demonstrate to humans how they should relate, this was the revelation of the character of the Father. The Father had already taken an even lower place by choosing the greater position of suffering, by sending His beloved Son.
Perhaps we can visualize the relationship between the members of the Godhead as a braid. One strand takes top position in the center, but descends beneath the other two, pushing them to the top in turn. Put simply, what binds the three together is each strand seeking the lowest place. Thus in the Godhead, Three achieve unity as One by each continually seeking the lowest place.
Could it be that the power pyramid at the heart of the universe is inverted, so that the highest position in the universe is actually the seeking of the lowest place? This picture of the character of the Father is astoundingly simple, and yet very difficult for the sinful mind to comprehend, because it is the opposite of sinful nature. Sin is the exalting of self.
Could the secret of the Father’s powerful position of headship over the universe be that He instead seeks the very lowest place? Is this why “God alone is fit to take the universe’s throne”? If so, He is safe because He is entirely empty of any thirst for power—and therefore the Fountain of unselfish love (the power of self-sacrifice) for the universe. Jesus is likewise deemed fit to reign by the Father, as expressed in this beautiful passage of Scripture:
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:5-9, emphasis supplied).
Could it be that it is because Jesus sought the lowest place that He is safely exalted by the Father to have a “Name which is above every name”? Could it be that He is Commander in the heavenly courts precisely because in heaven, higher position essentially means deeper responsibility to servanthood? Could angels likewise be serving one another in love, where the higher the position, the greater the responsibility to demonstrate unselfish love to those they command?
I believe Jesus’ seeking of the lowest place was not just obedience to His Father’s commands, but demonstration of His Father’s servant-leader headship—because unselfish love is the deepest principle of the law of the kingdom, and of the character of God.
Seen in this context, headship is indeed a position of great power, but it is unlike what we typically consider powerful in our sinful context. Headship necessitates the power of selflessness—the ability to put oneself last. If the Father is the One who is indeed in the highest position of headship of the universe, it means that He is the first Strand in this divine braid of servanthood—seeking the lowest place. His first move toward the lowest place leads to both Son and Holy Spirit also moving similarly to the lowest place. Likewise, each new being created imitates this model of servanthood, obeying the law of love.
To be exercised successfully, such biblical headship—the imitation of the Father’s selfless approach to power—requires humility and faith. If sin is the transgression of God’s law of love, righteousness is the reversal of selfishness through the cultivation of faith and humility. In other words, just as unbelief and pride were the root of Lucifer’s first sin and every sin since, so faith and humility are the beginning of all righteousness. For a sinner (by nature prone to self-exaltation, unbelief and pride) to follow such footsteps, he or she must believe in a God of love who stoops to the lowest place, and then follow His example of selflessness.
(To be continued.)
Moderator Note: Please note that this discussion is independent of women’s ordination. Thus comments referencing women’s ordination will not be published. Also note that the second installment will address the relationship of Adam and Eve in the Eden. Please keep comments addressing this for the next installment.
By: Max de los Reyes – The Philippines
Fernando Lopez grew up in a town 60 miles south of Manila. Like many in the Philippines, Fernando’s family didn’t have much money. And like many young boys, Fernando quit school to help his parents by selling small items and running errands.
Fernando was active in his church, which helped to ease the boredom he often felt. More than anything Fernando longed for an education so he could serve God better, but he knew that humanly speaking, this wasn’t possible.
Then one day Fernando heard about the 1000 Missionary Movement, a program to train volunteer missionaries who serve God for one year in the Philippines or in one of several countries. Excited, Fernando asked his parents’ permission to join. With their blessing he applied and was accepted.
The training Fernando received helped fill his desire for education and prepared him to serve God somewhere in the Philippines. When the training phase ended, he eagerly awaited his assignment to a territory, but had mixed emotions when he learned that he was assigned to work in an area some 400 miles from his home.
Fernando arrived in his new field and began seeking out those who were interested in learning more about God. Soon he was giving several Bible studies a week. Some of the people taking Bible studies lived in a small settlement in the mountains, a four-hour ride by bicycle from where he stayed.
Despite the hardships, Fernando became so involved in his work that he often spent most of his small monthly stipend to buy materials to build an Adventist church, leaving him without money to buy food. This tested his faith and prepared him for even greater tests that would come to him. But throughout his experience, his faith in God did not waver.
One of Fernando’s converts was Julie Taguinod. She and her sister, Essie, had studied the Bible with Fernando, then attended his evangelistic meetings. Julie and her sister had been baptized recently in spite of the objections of Julie’s husband, Lem.
Fernando knew of Lem’s objections to his wife’s interest in religion. Lem had forbidden Julie to attend church and had threatened to harm her if she continued going. But Julie had stood firm and continued to attend church. Fernando appreciated her sincere desire to honor Christ. And lately Lem began to ignore Julie’s church attendance. Perhaps he realized that his objections would not stop his wife from following Christ.
To be continued
We have dealt with some aspects of the missionary nature of God. Mission is an enterprise of the triune God. Mission is predominantly related to Jesus Christ, whose Incarnation is central to Christian faith and mission. By His life and death, Jesus has paved the way for the salvation of all the human race.
We as His followers, His missionaries, have to let people know the good news of just what Jesus has done for them.
The church of Christ on earth was organized for missionary purposes, and the Lord desires to see the entire church devising ways and means whereby high and low, rich and poor, may hear the message of truth. Not all are called to personal labor in foreign fields, but all can do something by their prayers and their gifts to aid the missionary work.-Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 29.
- Think more about the question of origins. Why do origins matter? How does a proper understanding of our origins help us better to understand who we are and what the purpose of our existence really is?
- How does the following quote help us to understand the existence of free will, love, and evil in our world?
Thus, if God wants to create loving creatures (in imitation of his perfect love), God has to create free beings who can cause suffering and evil in the world by their choices. The dynamics of love and freedom require that God allow us the latitude to grow in love through our human freedom. God’s only alternative to allowing free beings to choose unloving acts is to completely refrain from creating loving creatures.-Robert J. Spitzer, New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, Kindle Edition (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010), p. 233.
- The death of Jesus was a single act that occurred in a small nation amid the vast Roman Empire almost two thousand years ago. Yet, this act is of eternal significance for every human being. What responsibility rests on us, who know about this act and what it means, to tell those who don’t know about it? How else will they learn of it if those who know about it don’t tell them?
Mission is God’s initiative to save lost humanity. God’s saving mission is motivated by His love for each one of us. There is no deeper reason for it. God sent Christ on a mission to bring salvation for the whole world. John’s Gospel alone contains more than forty declarations of the cosmic dimension of Jesus’ mission. (See for example, John 3:17, John 12:47.) As Christ was sent by the Father to save the world, He in turn sends His disciples with the words
as the Father has sent me, I am sending you (John 20:21 NIV).
Read Matthew 5:13-14. What are the two metaphors used for mission in these texts, and what do they stand for?
The metaphors of salt and light express core functions of Christian influence on humanity.
While salt operates internally, joining the mass with which it comes in contact, light operates externally, illuminating all that it reaches. The term earth in the salt metaphor refers to men and women with whom Christians are expected to mix, while the term light of the world refers to a world of people in darkness that needs illumination.
The children of Israel were encouraged to live up to the moral principles and health rules that God had given them. They were to be a light, illuminating and attracting-you are
a light for the Gentiles (Isa. 49:6 NIV). Their collective existence in a state of health, prosperity, and loyalty to God’s Sabbath and other commandments would proclaim to the surrounding nations God’s mighty acts of Creation and Redemption. The nations, observing their prosperity, would approach them and learn to be taught of the Lord. (That was the idea, anyway.)
When Christ came, He also talked about salt, another way to witness. By their influence in the world, Christians are to curb the world’s corruption. Unbelievers are often kept from evil deeds because of a moral consciousness traceable to Christian influence. Christians not only have a good influence on the corrupted world by virtue of their presence in it, they also mingle with people in order to share the Christian message of salvation.
Light and/or salt, how good a witness are you and your church to the surrounding world? Is the light dimming? Is the salt losing its punch? If so, how can you learn that revival and reformation begins with you, personally?
You can view an in-depth discussion of “Abraham the First Missionary” in the Hope Sabbath School class led by Pastor Derek Morris. (Adobe Flash Player version.) A Youtube version of this week’s lesson at Hope Sabbath School is below. You can download the video, the MP3 audio, and the lesson outline from the HopeTV Sabbath School Site. You might also want to bookmark the HopeSS Youtube channel.
The Bible shows that after the Fall of our first parents, it was God who came looking for them, not vice versa. On the contrary, the man and woman tried to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord. What a powerful metaphor for so much of the fallen human race:
they flee the One who comes looking for them, the only One who could save them. Adam and Eve did it in Eden, and unless surrendered to the wooing of the Holy Spirit, people are still doing the same thing today.
Fortunately, God did not cast aside our first parents, nor does He cast us aside either. From the time that God first called out
Where are you? to Adam and Eve in Eden (Gen. 3:9, NKJV) until today, He is still calling us.
In the matchless gift of His Son, God has encircled the whole world with an atmosphere of grace as real as the air which circulates around the globe. All who choose to breathe this life-giving atmosphere will live and grow up to the stature of men and women in Christ Jesus.–Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 68.
Of course, the greatest revelation of God’s missionary activity can be seen in the incarnation and ministry of Jesus. Though Jesus came to this earth to do many things-to destroy Satan, to reveal the true character of the Father, to prove Satan’s accusations wrong, to show that God’s law can be kept-the crucial reason was to die on the cross in the place of humanity, in order to save us from the ultimate result of sin, which is eternal death.
What do each of these texts teach us about the death of Jesus?
made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us (NKJV). That is what it took in order for us to be made
the righteousness of God in Him (NKJV). This idea has been called the
great exchange, Jesus taking on our sins and suffering as a sinner so that we, though sinners, can be counted as righteous before God as Jesus Himself.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves (Gen. 3:6-7 NIV).
Eating a little fruit was not a sinful act in itself.
However, we have to consider the circumstances in which it was carried out. Adam and Eve were agents with a free will, made by God in His image. This included the freedom-but also the duty-to comply with God’s expressed will. They ate the fruit, not out of any stern necessity but rather by choice. It was an act of Adam’s and Eve’s own free will in defiance of God’s clear and specific instructions.
Likewise, we must choose for ourselves whether or not to follow God and whether to cherish or to defy the Word of God. God will not force anyone to believe His Word. He will never force us to obey Him, and He can’t force us to love Him. God allows each of us to choose for ourselves which path we will follow. But, in the end, we must be prepared to live with the consequences of our choices.
By eating the fruit, Adam and Eve in effect told God that He was not the perfect ruler. His sovereignty was challenged. They proved disobedient, and as a result, they brought sin and death to the human race.
So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen. 3:23-24 NIV).
Adam and Eve had to leave Paradise. It was a necessary yet merciful consequence. The Lord would not allow rebellious humanity access to the tree of life. With loving care He kept Adam and Eve away from the fruit that would make them immortal and thus perpetuate the terrible condition into which sin had brought them. (Imagine what eternal life would be like in a world filled with such pain and suffering and evil as ours is!) Adam and Eve were driven out from the lovely garden to work the less friendly ground outside(Gen. 3:23-24).
In the context of today’s lesson, read 1 John 2:16. How were the elements warned about in this text seen in the Fall? In what ways do we have to deal with these same temptations in our lives, as well?
Key Thought : God’s nature leads Him to seek us, reveal Himself to us, and draw us into a relationship with Him. He has invited us to become His agents in this effort.
[Lesson plan for The Missionary Nature of God June 29, 2015]
Have a volunteer read Genesis 1:26,27.
Ask class members to share a thought on what the most important point in this text is.
What differences appear between mankind’s creation and the other creatures?
Personal Application: Since we were made in the image of God, how should we reflect Him in our daily living? Share your thoughts.d.
Case Study: One of your relatives states: “What does it mean that God gave man rulership over the creatures of the earth? Does that mean He gave us a responsibility as well?” How would you respond to your relative?
Have a volunteer read Genesis 2:15-17.
Ask class members to share a short thought on what the most important point is in this passage.
What do these texts tell us about the reality of free will in mankind?
Personal Application: What are some of the free moral choices you may have to make this coming week? How can you be sure you are choosing in the right way? Share your thoughts.
Case Study: One of your friends states, “There is no such thing as human free will. God chooses who is going t be saved and who’s going to be lost and then leads the chosen ones to live according to His will. Everything is according to God’s sovereign will.” How would you respond to your neighbor?
Have a volunteer read Matthew 5:13,14.
Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
How can we catch the spirit of revival and reformation in our own lives and in the church’s mission?
Personal Application: How effective have you and your church been in reaching your surrounding area? How strong is the light shining? Share your thoughts..
Case Study: One of your neighbors states, “What is the main purpose for the church? Was the church formed and mission is one of the functions of the church, or was the church formed to better fulfill mission?” How would you respond to your friend?
Have a volunteer read Genesis 3:6,7.
Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
Christ overcame the three temptations that led to mankind’s fall. How does His victory lead us to be more missionary minded?
Personal Application: How are we tempted in the same ways that Eve was tempted in the garden? Share your thoughts.
Case Study: Think of one person who needs to hear a message from this week’s lesson. Tell the class what you plan to do this week to share with them.
(Note : “Truth that is not lived, that is not imparted, loses its life-giving power, its healing virtue. Its blessings can be retained only as it is shared.” MH p. 149.
Embedded in the Creation account is the warning God gave about not eating from
the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9). So, right from the start, we can see the moral element granted humanity, something not seen in any of the other living creatures.
As we said yesterday, the capacity for moral judgment is one way that humans reveal the image and likeness of God.
What does Genesis 2:15-17 say about the reality of free will in humanity?
God could have created humans so that they automatically did His will. That is the way the other created things, such as light, sun, moon, and stars were made. They obey God without any element of choice. They fulfill the will of God automatically through the natural laws that guide their actions.
But the creation of man and woman was special. God created them for Himself. God wanted them to make their own choices, to choose to worship Him voluntarily without being forced to. Otherwise they could not love Him, because love, to be true love, must be freely given.
Because of its divine origin, human free will is protected and respected by God. The Creator does not interfere with the deepest, persistent choices of men and women. Wrong choices have consequences, sometimes very terrible ones, too, but it is against the character of our sovereign Lord to force compliance or obedience.
The principle of human free will has three important implications:
- For religion: an omnipotent God does not unilaterally direct individual will and choices.
- For ethics: individuals will be held morally accountable for their actions.
- For science: the actions of body and brain are not wholly determined by cause and effect. Physical laws are involved in our actions, but free will means that we do have a choice regarding our actions, especially moral ones.
What are some of the free moral choices you have to make in the next few hours, days, or weeks? How can you be sure you are using this sacred gift in the right way? Think through the consequences of the wrong use of it.