Friday, September 14, 2018

Lesson 11. Arrest in Jerusalem

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of Acts
Lesson 11. Arrest in Jerusalem

 

One can easily imagine how it must have felt for Paul to be among his own brethren when they repeatedly refused to understand the good news he was trying to give to them. What a frustrating situation! No matter how he changed the way he approached his presentation of the truth, it slammed up against the brick wall of preconceived opinions (Acts 13:42-45; 14:2; 19; 15:1, 2; 17:5, 6; 32; etc.). Then along comes a trusted confidant who advised him to "just compromise a little, no one will think it matters in the long view." How often are we tempted to compromise truth for the sake of convenience or political correctness? We see it taking place all around us in the church today.

Because of pride and the stubbornness of preconceived opinions, compromise and its resulting confusion have plagued God's church from the beginning, and will continue until finally a faithful few will wake up, wipe the fog from their spiritual glasses and repent of their Laodicea blindness.

"Because of a failure to appreciate the 1888 message, far back in the 1890s there was a tendency to confuse Quaker author Hannah Whitall Smith's The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life with true righteousness by faith, (cf. General Conference Bulletin, 1893, pp. 358, 359). ... Through the decades there have been prominent examples of this confusion over Roman Catholic concepts of piety and the 'interior life.'" [1]

Most of us have heard the adage: "a drop of arsenic will poison the whole cup of tea." Several events in our history have contributed their drops of arsenic to our collective thinking. The "drop of arsenic" that the Jewish Christians were attempting to add was that circumcision, or any "works of the law" had merit.

"It is a grave mistake on the part of those who are children of God to seek to bridge the gulf that separates the children of light from the children of darkness by yielding principle, by compromising the truth." [2]

Even though the early church, under the power of the Holy Spirit's work on their hearts, in its first "general conference" session in Jerusalem, had come to a consensus on the issue of the "how" of salvation—through faith alone (see Acts 15:20-29), it remained a major point of dissension between the Jewish and Gentile believers. The Jewish followers of Jesus had been admonished to not put the burden of circumcision (or any "works") upon the Gentile converts.

Ancient Egyptians, Ethiopians, Syrians, and Phoenicians all practiced circumcision. Why did God command Abraham to circumcise the males in his household? The purpose of God was not to mimic the pagans, but to put a spiritual purpose on a common practice. God's intent was to forever remind Abraham and his descendants that the works of the flesh can not fulfill the promise of God, and in fact, will produce only more unrighteousness. Abraham listened to Sarah and thought he could produce the "child of promise" through a slave woman. Just as his descendants did at Sinai when they thought that through their own efforts they could do "all the Lord commanded," Abraham rashly took the whole responsibility upon himself to produce the child of promise. That one miscalculation resulted in a disaster that we are still experiencing to this day.

From the entrance of sin into this world, for the most part, mankind has depended upon "self" to create a shield from sin's results. Adam's nakedness was covered with the work of his own hands in fashioning a fig-leaf garment. Cain thought that the works of his hands in tilling the soil should have been sufficient as a sin offering. Abraham thought that he was man enough to produce the promised child without exercising faith in God's creative power—just give him a fertile woman and he could accomplish the fact.

"Whoever trusts in himself is worshiping the works of his own hands instead of God, just as truly as does anyone who makes and bows down to a graven image." [3] But "to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt" (Rom. 4:4). "If we worked for righteousness, we would be exercising only our own sinful human nature, and so would get no nearer to righteousness, but farther from it." "So, then, we see that relying on the works of the law does not mean that one is doing the law." [4]

By the time Christ came to our world, the Jews had lost sight of the true meaning of circumcision. It had become nothing more than a religious tradition, a rite signifying entrance into the tribe of Israel. They supposed that it set them apart as God's "chosen people." They assumed that circumcision and the "works of the law" made them a special people in the eyes of God. But "God gave circumcision as a sign of faith in Christ. The Jews perverted it into a substitute for faith." [5]

The apostle Paul's referral to circumcision in his letter to the Galatians and elsewhere, was used "as the symbol of all kinds of 'work' done by men with the hope of obtaining righteousness. It is 'the works of the flesh,' as opposed to the Spirit." "That which was to be only the sign of an already existing fact was taken by subsequent generations as the means of establishing the fact." [6]

The argument in the early church, as it still is for many today, is the "how" of salvation. "The question is how to obtain righteousness—salvation from sin—-and the inheritance that comes with it. The fact is that it can be obtained only by faith—by receiving Christ into the heart and allowing Him to live His life in us." [7]

Genesis 15:6 tells us that Abraham "believed in the LORD; and He counted it [Abraham's faith in God's promise] unto him for righteousness." It was only when Sarah also surrendered herself and came to live by faith in the promise of God, that she was able to conceive—when she finally believed that God was faithful to fulfill His own promise to them. "By faith even Sarah herself, when she was unable to have children, received power to conceive offspring, even though she was past the age, since she considered that the One who had promised was faithful. Therefore from one man--in fact, from one as good as dead--came offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as innumerable as the grains of sand by the seashore" (Heb. 11:11, 12, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

God gave Abraham circumcision as a sign of the fact that "we have nothing and are nothing, and He has everything and is everything and gives everything." [8] Circumcision "had a special meaning to Abraham, continually reminding him of his failure when he tried by means of the flesh to fulfill God's promise. The record of it serves the same purpose for us. It shows that the 'flesh profiteth nothing' and is not therefore to be depended on." [9]

It should be forever settled that mankind's attempts to produce righteousness through any amount of "works of the law" can only result in a self-centered sense of achievement assumed to merit reward. Such has been the idea of paganism from the building of the tower of Babel. However, the biblical truth is vastly different. "If you would gather together everything that is good and holy and noble and lovely in man and then present the subject to the angels of God as acting a part in the salvation of the human soul or in merit, the proposition would be rejected as treason." [10]

Many today argue that "faith is my work"—it is human effort put forth in believing the promise of God to save us from sin. Is this true? "There is danger in regarding justification by faith as placing merit on faith. When you take the righteousness of Christ as a free gift you are justified freely through the redemption of Christ. What is faith? ... It is an assent of the understanding to God's words which binds the heart in willing consecration and service to God, Who gave the understanding, Who moved on the heart, Who first drew the mind to view Christ on the cross of Calvary. Faith is rendering to God the intellectual powers, abandonment of the mind and will to God, and making Christ the only door to enter into the kingdom of heaven." [11]

Please understand what this says: It is God who gives understanding; it is God who moves the heart and draws the mind to the grasp the reality of what took place on Calvary's cross. Like Abraham, all we can do is surrender our will and say, "Amen"—we believe and agree with God that salvation is all of Him and none of us.

--Ann Walper

Endnotes:
[1] Robert J. Wieland, The Knocking At The Door, p. 73 (1983).
[2] Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, July 24, 1894.
[3] Ellet J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 94; CFI ed. (2018).*
[4] Ibid., p. 56, emphasis in original.
[5] Ibid., p. 110, emphases in original.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., p. 109.
[8] Ibid., p. 71.
[9] Ibid., p. 109.
[10] Ellen G. White, Faith and Works, p. 24.
[11] Ibid., p. 25.
______________________           
The Glad Tidings, a verse-by-verse study of Galatians, presents a beautiful demonstration of the power inherent in a pure Scripture message of righteousness by faith. To order your copy, please go to: http://www.cfibookdivision.com/ 

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/FhrBdDz7JuI

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: http://1888message.org/sst.htm

 



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Friday, September 7, 2018

Lesson 10. The Third Missionary Journey

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of Acts
Lesson 10. The Third Missionary Journey

 

If some pagan who had never heard of Christ or His gospel should have heard the Apostle Paul preach at Ephesus, his heart would have been warmed. And unless that soul had resisted the seeking grace of Christ, he would have been won to the faith. Paul's evangelism in Ephesians did play a large part in the phenomenal spread of the Christian faith in that early century.

And now today, the Good News Paul preached is more up-to-date than tomorrow's media news because it pulsates with the life of Christ's urgent message He wants to go to the world. Here is that glorious gospel which "is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16).

We live in these last days of earth's history when the world's great High Priest is doing something never done in previous ages--preparing a people to be ready for His second coming. Our study will follow Him into His Most Holy Apartment of the heavenly sanctuary where He is accomplishing this very special work.

The water of life flowing out of Paul's heart comes from a hidden spring deep in his soul. His work is incomparably greater than that of any mere theologian or philosopher. He loves people as Christ loves them! He specializes first in declaring the objective gospel--what Christ accomplished for the world even before we were born; then he zeroes in on the subjective gospel--how this objective truth of what Christ did for us motivates us subjectively to devote our lives to Him.

All the great cities of the Roman Empire were much the same as Ephesus. Pagan people were bored with life except for sensual pleasures of gourmet food, alcoholic drink, violence, and sex. They would feel right at home if they could be resurrected and set down in our modern cities with our sports, games, Internet, and TV amusements. As a public evangelist, Paul was challenged by these pagan people to win their attention, and then to win their hearts. He met the challenge with the message of the cross of Jesus.

When Paul pleads with the Corinthians, "we pray [implore] you in Christ's [behalf], be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20), we know that was also the burden of his heart in writing Ephesians. Now he is appealing beyond Corinth and Ephesus to all the people out there in this world.

Simply substitute modern amenities, clothing, and language, and Ephesus is transformed into a modern New York, Tokyo, or Bejing. People are identical. There are the poor serfs or slaves who today are technically "free" but they are still caught in dreary boredom; there are the wealthy, as always, obsessed in making more money, and there are the masses in love with violence and sports. The ancient and modern worlds are virtually identical!

Ephesus had its huge amphitheater and arena, as modern cities have today. Archaeologists have unearthed the ancient theater which seated about 25,000 people bent on the same pleasures many gravitate to today. The temple of Diana was the center of idol worship in the city. Four times the size of the Acropolis in Athens, it had columns 66 feet high, as impressive to the ancients as St. Peter's is to us today. Huge crowds attended the feasts of the goddess whose statue was believed to have descended from heaven.

Further in presenting a challenge to the lonely evangelist of Christ, Ephesus boasted the great banking business of Asia Minor because the worship of Diana fueled the economic life of the city. Let Paul touch the economy, and will they ever hate him!

On the north side of the city stood the stadium where the races and gladiatorial combats were held. The people were drawn to watch men kill each other. The more violence the better the people loved it (aren't even our video games often based on a secret fascination for killing people?). The Odeum in Ephesus was another theater seating 1500. Self-indulgence and pleasure were all the people knew to live for. Can you imagine--prostitution was a religious duty! How could Paul ever get through with the gospel effectively to people such as these!

Paul's gospel was an inescapable equation: all belong in the grave! All would be dead if One had not died for them, instead of them. That puts "all men" under a common obligation, and Paul simply recognized the truth of it.

From the day of his conversion on that road to Damascus, he has reckoned that he does not belong to himself. He has no idea that self-sacrifice is involved on his part; he deserves no compliments or praise. What he realizes he deserves is only the grave, so everything he has that is better than a grave has to be a gift of God's grace occasioning joy and gratitude.

Paul inspired and trained other fellow-laborers in Ephesus. None were jealous of him and he never shows the slightest envy of their success. For once, in the story of his labors in Ephesus, we see a clear demonstration of what the special love of Christ, known as agape, did for a group of workers. There was Apollos, himself "mighty in the Scriptures" and "an eloquent man," but Paul worked with him smoothly and in love (Acts 18:24). There were Priscilla and Aquila who were also imbued with the same spirit that motivated Paul (vs. 26).

Apollos was from Alexandria, the second most important city in the Roman Empire. Highly educated, a Jew converted to the baptism of John the Baptist, he was an eloquent preacher. But he knew nothing of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and he needed to be instructed in the way of Jesus.

Then dear Aquila and Priscilla, in a kind and courteous way, told him what he needed to know, and thank God, Apollos listened! Sometimes we ministers may not be deficient in the same way that Apollos was, but there are also empty places in our knowledge. The Lord then sends someone to correct us and instruct us and fill in the gaps.

But we are painfully aware that sometimes our dear ministering brethren in a past era were not like Apollos: they may have been "mighty in the Scriptures" and could argue, and like him had gaps in their understanding so that "the Lord in His great mercy sent" in 1888 His messengers (A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner) to fill in, but unlike Apollos they were not ready to listen and learn. In a great degree, history has told us, they resisted and even rejected the light that God would have them accept.

Now we have come collectively to the very end of time, and where "we" have corporately failed in past times we must now overcome. Time is getting short.

--Paul E. Penno

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at:
https://youtu.be/2Ky-nhKXMqc

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: http://1888message.org/sst.htm


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Friday, August 31, 2018

Lesson 9. The Second Missionary Journey

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of Acts
Lesson 9. The Second Missionary Journey

 

Paul, God's faithful servant, suffered a humiliating rebuke in his evangelism crusade in the great city of Athens. He made the mistake of trying to match philosophy with philosophy, trying to meet the Athenian scholars on their own ground. The result: near failure in soul-winning, although a few did respond.

When he came to the immoral city of Corinth, he says he "determined not to know anything among [them], save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). The Holy Spirit, "through the grace" of God, moved the apostle of the Lord to urge all of us ("everyone that is among you") "to think soberly" (Rom. 12:3).

Thinking that way is the essence of life on this great Day of Atonement in world history--just before the final judgment and the second coming of Jesus. Selfish fun and comedy are inappropriate now in this special "time of the end" (Dan. 12:4). That means that "everyone" whose heart is moved by that "grace" will find that worldly pleasures and comedy do not satisfy the deep yearnings that the Holy Spirit has placed in our hearts just now.

"Atonement" means in very simple words, "at-one-with," or reconciliation of heart with God; and we can know God only through knowing Christ, for He alone can reveal God to us so we can understand the Father. That means that one interest is henceforth paramount with us: the "Christ and Him crucified" idea that possessed Paul when he came from Athens to Corinth (1 Cor. 2:1, 2).

"God hath dealt to every one [of us] the measure of [genuine] faith," adds Paul, so we can think seriously, "soberly," in a world of pleasure seeking (Rom. 12:3). It's a gift of that much more abounding grace of God. We repent in behalf of those who do not know about this Day of Atonement.

In going through the four Gospels, only once did Jesus say we "must" experience something, and then it turns out to be something we can't "do." He told Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7). And in only one other place in the New Testament are we told we "must" do something, and that is Hebrews 11:6 where we are told, "He that cometh to God must believe that He is, ..." And when the jailer asked Paul and Silas, "What must I do to be saved?" they answered, "Believe ..." (Acts 16:30). Were they teaching the heresy of "only-believism"?

The reality is, John 3:16 does not list all the things we must "do" in order to "have everlasting life." It plainly says, "Believe." So, was Jesus teaching "only-believism"?

Then, when Hebrews 11:6 says we "must believe" it is stating the one and only thing Scripture tells us we "must" do. "The Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). We can't force the Bible to teach salvation by faith and by works; it teaches salvation "by grace through faith," "faith whichworks" (Eph. 2:8, 9; Gal. 5:6).

Finally, when Jesus says we "must be born again," He is not talking about a program of works. Can't be; nobody can "born" himself--or give birth to himself. We must be born, passive voice of the verb. And who does the conceiving and "giving birth"? Jesus says in John 3, verse 8, as you can't tell where the wind comes from or goes, "so is everyone that is born of the Spirit." It is He who conceives in you the new life and gives birth to the new heart; you welcome the new birth, you let it happen, you stop the abortion practice you've been doing all your life. Call it cooperation if you wish, but please don't think of it as being 50 percent your own Saviour. You cooperate by letting Him do His blessed will in you. And when all is done at last, to Him alone will you give all the glory.

It's shocking but true: as you read the New Testament, there is only one thing that we are told we must do: and that is "believe." It's clear in John 3:7-16, and in Heb. 11:6, as well as Acts 16:30, 31. And the New Testament does not teach the heresy of what is known as "only-believism," that is, that a mental assent and confession is all that is necessary--without obedience. Romans 10:10 says that "with the heart [we] believeth ... unto salvation."

And if you believe with the heart, there is certainly a change in the life that leads you to obey all of God's commandments. Put all those texts together and let them speak, and it becomes clear that the Bible meaning of the word "believe" is quite different from the usual idea held by Roman Catholic and Protestant evangelicals. To "believe" is not an exercise of selfishness, like buying a lottery ticket in the hope of winning a bonanza.

But Bible faith is not centered in winning something, even if it is a heavenly fortune instead of an earthly jackpot. Bible faith is a heart appreciation of the love of the Father in giving "His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

According to Jesus, this is the one thing you must do. But someone says, wait a minute--doesn't He say that if "you love me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15)? Yes, but please notice: the motive is love, not fear or hope of reward! And Jesus prefaces that remark with this: "believe ... in Me" (vs. 1). He is talking about receiving the atonement, the reconciliation (Rom. 5:9, 10). Paul pleads with us, "Be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20). Why, and how? The next verse answers: because Christ was "made to be sin for us, who knew no sin."

Let your small heart contemplate what happened on that cross; then as David says, your heart will be "enlarged" (Psalm 119:32). In such faith is everlasting life. And the message about it today is--"the third angel's message in verity" (Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, April 1, 1890).

--Paul E. Penno

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/hQzDNQFK0yw

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: http://1888message.org/sst.htm


Friday, August 24, 2018

Lesson 8. The Jerusalem Council

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of Acts
Lesson 8. The Jerusalem Council

 

The parallels between the Jerusalem Council and the 1888 General Conference are uncanny. Both events were prompted by controversy over what is required for salvation. Historians date the Council as taking place in A.D. 49 or as late as 51, about two decades after Christ ascended to heaven, after beginning His church on earth.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church developed out of the Millerite disappointment in 1844. About two decades later, in 1863, the church was formally organized. By 1864 Ellen White had received several visions which guided the fledgling believers into a recognized group, although light was still developing. Like the early Christian church, disagreements arose and the issues needed to be resolved to preserve unity.

Jesus had predicted that wherever the true gospel was preached, it would cause division, even within families (see Luke 12:51-53). Not surprisingly, the issue in both situations concerned keeping the "rules." Humans tend to feel self-righteous when they see others not keeping the rules as conscientiously as they think they do.

In the early Christian church there were "Judaizers" who were claiming that in order to be saved, converts to Christianity needed to be circumcised "according to the custom of Moses" (Acts 15:1, New American Standard Bible). In essence, they wanted Christians to become a kind of subset of the Jews rather than simply followers of Jesus. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary describes these dissenters as  "'Jews that would not be persuaded.' The word translated 'unbelieving' has the idea of an unbelief breaking out into rebellion, and so describes well the character of these Jews who persecuted Paul and Barnabas." [1]

The fact that they were demanding that converts become circumcised "proves what is not elsewhere plainly stated in Scripture, that Paul and Barnabas had not required their Gentile converts to be circumcised. Here opens the account of the first major controversy in the Christian church." [2]

"These apostles [Paul and Barnabas] were at the center of the dispute, for the demands of the Judaizers presented a direct condemnation of the work that these two missionaries had done … They had proclaimed salvation through faith in Christ. Now they could not stand by silently while their converts were told that the acceptance of God's grace through faith was not sufficient, but that external rites must be performed in order to obtain salvation. ... The fact that the early church referred the vexing question of circumcision to a council of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem is a highly significant precedent for church organization. It stands against the theory that a final decision in ecclesiastical matters should be made by one man acting as an autocrat." [3] The final decision made by the brethren at Jerusalem apparently was unanimous (Acts 15:22).

How does this parallel the General Conferences held in the late 1880s and 1890s? Like the early Christian church, Seventh-day Adventists were winning converts with their message that the return of Christ was soon. We also were teaching how important God's moral law remained as a standard of Christian living, and the role of the Sabbath in the last days. The Adventist evangelists easily won the arguments against the need for keeping the seventh-day Sabbath rather than Sunday. As a recognized entity, we had organized and were guided by the special revelations given by God through Ellen White.

Paul was the special messenger to the early Christians through whom God gave revelations. Both the Adventists and the early church began by preaching the joyful gospel of righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Both began to experience criticism and fights for supremacy several years after the beginning of their existence.

Ironically, the early Christians' issue was whether circumcision should be required by honoring the laws given by God through Moses. The Adventists' issue was whether keeping that same law was required for salvation. Both groups sought to add an act done by the believer to merit salvation. In both situations, the messengers of the Lord strongly opposed such a perversion of the gospel but were persistently challenged by those who were pushing their own agendas.

"During the summer of 1884, E. J. Waggoner wrote ten articles on the law and gospel and their relation to one another. In his September 11, 1894 Signs article he dealt more specifically with the law in Galatians and departed from the accepted Adventist position that the law in Galatians referred to the ceremonial law. It was during the 1884-1885 school year that E. J. Waggoner began to present the same views at Healdsburg College. Although some were pleased with Waggoner's writing and teaching, others became very concerned. Uriah Smith, Chief Editor of the Review, and G. I. Butler, President of the General Conference, were the most outspoken in their concerns." [4]

President Butler pressured Ellen White to settle the matter, expecting her to "'call our good Signs brethren to an account' at the upcoming [1886] General Conference ... for their 'minority' views, and their 'much vaunted doctrine of justification by faith.'" Later, W. C. White remembered that "there has been a desire on the part of some, that Elds. Waggoner and Jones should be condemned unheard." [5]

Ellen White finally recommended that the matter be openly discussed, which was to take place some two years later at the 1888 General Conference. This was wise advice, but unlike the Jerusalem Council did not achieve unity on the issue. Did the church accept the message discussed at the 1888 Conference?

"However, the important issue is not whether the church accepted the message. Ellen White says that "Satan succeeded in shutting [it] away from our people, in a great measure" (cf. Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 234, 235; 1896). The church never had a fair chance to consider it undistorted and unopposed. The issue is whether the leadership accepted it." [6]

For many years our church has based many arguments in favor of the seventh-day Sabbath on the demands of the Ten Commandment law. We rarely hear preaching or teaching on the other unique tenant of our faith, which is God's solution to the sin problem, collectively referred to as the "cleansing of the sanctuary." We are in danger of becoming a single-issue denomination with most of our people thinking the Ten Commandment Sabbath is the church's only real issue. (There are other denominations who believe as we do regarding the Sabbath and the state of the dead).

The message given in 1888 was a unique understanding of the heart change God wants to give us who are willing to consent. Once we realize salvation is indeed a free gift for us to accept, the Holy Spirit will work in our hearts a cleansing that is thorough and genuine, not us going through the motions of keeping God's law.

"Israel had been told to build the tabernacle that the Lord 'may dwell among them' (Exodus 25:8). But they had come to consider that what really counted was the doing of the sundry services. This same mind-set of the Jews can be our peril. If we merely transfer what they did on earth to a similar routine carried out in heaven and forget that sin is the problem, we remain under the old covenant without hope. They failed to understand that the services had been given because of the sin problem. God and sin could not abide together. One or the other had to go. Thus there was war in heaven and thus it became evident that the real sin is the will to exterminate God." [7]

--Arlene Hill

Endnotes:
[1] The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 295.
[2] Ibid., p.305.
[3] Ibid., p. 306.
[4] Ron Duffield, The Return of the Latter Rain: A Historical Review of Seventh-day Adventist History From 1844 Through 1891, p. 60 (2010 ed.).
[5] Ibid., p. 62.
[6] Robert J. Wieland and Donald K. Short, 1888 Re-examined, p. 26 (1987); emphasis in the original.
[7] Donald K. Short, "Then Shall the Sanctuary Be Cleansed," p. 49 (CFI ed., 2018); emphasis in the original.

This new edition of Donald K. Short's timely book is now available from:
http://cfibookdivision.com/TSSBC/TSSBC-sales.html

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/HUUIicc-NQQ

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: http://1888message.org/sst.htm


Friday, August 17, 2018

Lesson 7. Paul's First Missionary Journey

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of Acts
Lesson 7. Paul's First Missionary Journey

 

If you are thoroughly human, no doubt you have at times wondered if God has elected you to be saved. You know you need a Saviour; and you know that lots of people are going to be lost. There are sincere Christians who actually believe that God elects some to be saved and others to be lost. A text that appears to support that idea is Acts 13:48. Paul has been preaching the gospel on his first missionary journey to Antioch. Then Luke says: "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (King James Version). The New International Version says the same: "All who were appointed for eternal life believed."

It sounds like discouraging bad news for those who are not so "appointed" or "ordained." Some dear people actually give up in discouragement; they tell themselves, "It's too hard; youth say, temptation is too strong; I am sure God has not ordained me to be saved; He hasn't 'appointed' me." Calvinists actually use this text to support their doctrine of double predestination.

But the Greek verb doesn't say what the KJV and NIV say. It is tetagmenoi which is a reflexive form of the verb for "appoint" which means that the translation should read, "As many as appointed themselves for eternal life believed." In other words, they heard Paul preach the good news; they said to themselves, "Hey, I want that! That's for me! I'm going to latch on to this preaching of Paul!" Once they made that decision, then immediately their hearts began to be melted, they learned to appreciate the cross of Christ that Paul was preaching, "they believed."

This has to be the correct understanding according to the context. In verse 46 Paul addressed the Jews who chose not to believe: "Seeing you put it from you, and judge yourselves as unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." What they did was the opposite of what the believers did. It's the same idea, only in reverse. Those who believed were not acting out a preprogrammed agenda determined for them before the foundation of the world (Calvinist "predestination"); they took the truth to themselves, grabbed it, "judged themselves" to be favored of God with the gospel.

So, grab every ray of light that comes your way; don't wait a moment; "I made haste, and delayed not," says David (Psalm 119:60). If you're smart, you'll always grab a bargain the moment you see it. The idea is not that God preaches the gospel indifferently, or only once in a while. The problem is that your own heart can become dull and dilatory and unresponsive. Believe the good news now; everything that God has promised is for you.

The gift is given to "whosoever will" receive it (Rev. 22:17). It includes the forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38-39), and the faith to believe that they have been forgiven. God's forgiveness is not a temporary "pardon" which says that He doesn't mind if we sin again--no; if God forgives us a sin it means that we will never do it again.

The breakthrough insight of the 1888 message is that "through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 13:38). Writing of Jesus' healing the palsied man E. J. Waggoner writes: "They made a change in the man, and that change was permanent. Even so it must be in the forgiveness of sin. The common idea is that when God forgives sin the change is in himself, and not in the man. It is thought that God simply ceases to hold anything against the one who has sinned. But this is to imply that God had a hardness against the man, which is not the case. God is not a man; he does not cherish enmity, nor harbor a feeling of revenge. It is not because he has a hard feeling in his own heart against a sinner that he forgives him, but because the sinner has something in his heart. God is all right,--the man is all wrong; therefore God forgives the man, that he also may be all right." [1]

Forgiveness there is far more than mere pardon; forgiveness takes the sin away. Forgiveness imparts in the place of the sin (that was there) a divine-born hatred of the sin itself.

Included in that most precious gift is heart-reconciliation with the Father; He is now working to effect that reconciliation, for we read in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that "God was [is] in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself."

Forgiveness includes that reconciliation of heart with the Father, "in Christ." That is, we have come to believe (even if we have not yet learned to understand) that we now hate the sin itself; there is no resentment left in the heart against the Father. Even the pain and suffering of a love betrayed and lost (which embitters us) is healed by this "peace" that the Savior gives--not merely offers.

Almost the last words that Jesus spoke to "us" as He was being taken up in His ascension into heaven were: "Peace be unto you" (Luke 24:36). That was not an idle greeting; He gives that peace--not merely offers it. Such "peace" is the opposite of worry or fear; in fact it's an antidote to worry and fear!

Miracle of miracles! A wounded heart is healed by the "peace" that Jesus gave as His last bequest at His ascension. Yes, there has been suffering, for the "peace" that Jesus gives would not be appreciated unless we had tasted it; "unto you it is given ... not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Phil. 1:29).

"Given unto [us]!" Yes! A "gift" of suffering to make you happy in the day when Jesus comes; and you're happy even now thanking Him for it, in advance.

--Paul E. Penno

Endnote:
[1] E. J. Waggoner, "The Power of Forgiveness," Signs of the Times (April 10, 1893), p. 355.

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/iE02Whkw52I

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: http://1888message.org/sst.htm


Friday, August 10, 2018

Lesson 6. The Ministry of Peter

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of Acts
Lesson 6. The Ministry of Peter

 

From the very beginning of the early days of Christianity, there have been conflicts about how good the Good News is. The letter to the Galatians is evidence. The early converts from the Jews had to wrestle against a deep mind-set idea that no one could be saved except Jews, that Gentiles were automatically excluded from the benefits of Christ"s sacrifice. Remember how Peter had to overcome that prejudice in Acts 10:28 when he was sent to Cornelius?

Deeply laid prejudices seemed almost ineradicable. The "faithful" Jewish Christians just felt in their bones that the gates of the New Jerusalem had to be shut against Gentiles, that Christ was Messiah and Savior only to themselves, that their work as apostles was to go to all the Jews in the Diaspora scattered around the world. But Paul's mind had been enlightened with a far brighter view of how good the Good News is! "God ... will have all men to be saved," the Messiah is already "the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe," He has "abolished death [the second!] and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel," and has become the new or second Adam for the entire human race and has given, not merely offered, the "gift" of salvation to "all men" just as Adam gave "condemnation" to them (see 1 Tim. 2:4, 1 Tim. 4:10, 2 Tim. 1:10, Rom. 5:15, 16).

These "big ideas" (all from Paul) stretched the minds and hearts of the early Jewish Christians, and they still challenge our thinking today. Does the Son of God merely "offer" justification to "all men" with the initiative in their hands, or has He on His own initiative given it freely by grace as a "gift" to "all men"? Does He open the gates of the New Jerusalem to "all men" so that in the end the only ones who are outside are those who themselves refuse by unbelief to enter? Could the Good News be that good?

Many people think that we don't really need to study the gospel because we already understand it. In fact, we have understood the gospel for about 150 years. All we really need is more money so that we can turn up the volume control and amplify our present understanding of the gospel so that more people can hear it around the world and then the work will be finished.

But the Lord surprised all of us in 1888 when he sent two young men (A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner) with a "most precious message" about the gospel. Ellen White said it was "new light." Now sometimes she said it was not new light but said it was old light that had been recovered. There were many times in fact when she said, Yes indeed it is new light, it is additional light, it is in fact, "the beginning of the light of the [fourth] angel whose glory shall fill the whole earth." [1] She said that God commanded that this message should be given to the world. Sad but true, many, in fact most of our dear brethren years ago, reacted against the message that has been kept away from the church and from the world.

Calvinism has failed to penetrate the heart of the gospel when it says that Christ died only to provide justification for the elect. Arminianism also failed to penetrate the heart of the gospel for it says that Christ died only to make a provision whereby it might be possible for all men to be justified only if they do something first. The 1888 message broke through the clouds into the sunlight above and said that Paul and the apostle John and the Lord Jesus himself mean exactly what they said, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." "And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). Christ has tasted the second death for every man, he has died every man's second death (see Rev. 2:11, 20:14). There is no reason under heaven why any human being should go into the lake of fire except that he has resisted and rejected what Christ has already done for him.

This leads into another beautiful truth that it is easy to be saved and hard to be lost if you understand how good the Good News is. God's love is a seeking love. He is not waiting for us to find Him. The good shepherd is out looking for his lost sheep.

So the true answer to the question: What must I do to be saved? is not to study your Bible, witness more, pray more, etc. The true Bible answer to that question is just what the Bible says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). And then people say, No, this can't be true because there is something besides believing that is required. 100 years ago our brethren did not like the message because they thought it degraded works or it did not give works proper attention. That is the fear today. The Bible does not teach that we are saved by faith and works. The Bible clearly teaches that we are saved by faith, but it is a faith which works.

And that leads us to the cross of Christ, to understand what faith is. Faith is a heart appreciation of the tremendous dimensions of the agape love revealed at the cross. Someone asks a question, "Is it really true that what the world church needs is a revelation of Christ and Him crucified? Shouldn't we be preaching against short skirts, TV, and this and that abomination? Shouldn't this be the burden of our message?" We learned this week that if we believe the Bible, the only answer to the sin problem is the cross where there is much more abounding grace.

We have learned about the two covenants, that we are not saved by making promises to God. We are not saved even by trying to keep our promises to God, but we are saved by believing His promises to us. We learned that Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, came to Israel of old, the early church, when they understood the principle of corporate guilt and corporate repentance. They realized that they were the ones who crucified the Son of God. The Spirit of God fell upon the Gentiles in Cornelius" house when they understood that it wasn't only the Romans and the Jews who crucified Christ but it was they. They partook of that sin even though they were not present at Calvary. The sin of crucifying Christ is the sin of the world.

The apostles are said to have marveled that the Gentiles should experience the same phenomenal response to the cross that the believing Jews did, and thus receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-47). Peter and his followers evidently did not expect this response, because Peter was careful in his sermon in Cornelius's home to tell the Gentiles that it was the Jews who "slew and hanged [Christ] on a tree" (vs. 39). He said nothing about the Gentiles being guilty. The phenomenal reception of the Holy Spirit was due to the believing Jews" phenomenal repentance for the sin of the ages--crucifying the Son of God. How could the "innocent" Gentiles share in this experience?

The Holy Spirit sent His words closer home than Peter expected. His contrite hearers identified themselves with the Jews and recognized themselves as fully sharing in the guilt. Only thus could they have shared the depths of repentance which made possible their reception of the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, they experienced corporate repentance.

The latter rain will come when we realize our true corporate guilt; that the guilt of others would be our guilt but for the grace of Christ. The guilt of others is our guilt because all of us have the same flesh and sinful nature. All of this beautiful truth imparts a motivation that cures lukewarmness. It is impossible for a world church to be lukewarm if that church understands the gospel.

--Paul E. Penno

Endnote:
[1] Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book one, p. 363.

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno"s video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/QpP48RaKAOw 

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: http://1888message.org/sst.htm


Friday, August 3, 2018

Lesson 5. The Conversion of Paul

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of Acts
Lesson 5. The Conversion of Paul

 

As the party descended the winding grade to the fertile oasis, their long, hot journey was nearly at its end. Below them lay the beautiful expanse of green fields and ripening orchards that surrounded Damascus. Suddenly, a light "above the brightness of heaven" shone round about them. The leader of the group, Saul, was overcome by the intensity of the light and fell to the ground.

Saul was a Roman citizen by birth and a Jew by ancestry. He had received the finest education available at the time. He was well versed in the Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic languages. For his education, he sat at the feet of Gamaliel, the illustrious Jewish theologian, and had learned the "perfect manner of the law" (Acts 22:3). He was the "Pharisee's Pharisee," the brightest young lawyer on the Sanhedrin (Phil. 3:5, 6).

His current mission to Damascus was fully backed financially and theologically, by the high priest and the Sanhedrin council. They had given him letters of authority that he might breathe "out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord," to bring them bound to Jerusalem to be punished for heresy (Acts 9:1; 22:5). Now, lying face down in the dust, he heard a voice. "Saul, why do you persecute Me? It is hard for you to fight against your conscience!" (Acts 9:4, 5). He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The same voice answered, "I am Jesus of Nazareth."

These words struck Saul's heart like a thunderbolt. Jesus of Nazareth was dead, dead and buried! Saul firmly believed that it was only lies circulated by His disciples that stirred the people to think that Jesus was risen from the dead. Trembling with fear, he said, "What shall I do, Lord?" Jesus answered him, telling him to go into the city and wait for further instructions. The glory was withdrawn and Saul got up, but he found himself totally deprived of sight. He stumbled on the last few miles of his journey "being led by the hand of them that were with [him]."

For three days Saul was "without sight, and neither did eat or drink." During this time, he closely examined his former beliefs regarding Jesus of Nazareth. He recalled how he had fought against Stephen's witness and consented to his unjust execution. How he had personally dragged many of Jesus' disciples before the Sanhedrin for prosecution. In soul agony, he reviewed the prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. He was certain that the Messiah was to bear the people's sins, free them from oppression, and renew the nation of Israel to its former glory.

But, in a flash other prophecies blasted through Saul's mind. The Messiah was to be despised and rejected, and wounded for the transgressions of the people; made an offering for sin and cut off from the land of the living (Isa. 53:3-9). Saul knew that Daniel foretold that when the Messiah came He would confirm the covenant with the people for seven years, and "in the midst" of those seven years, He would cause the sacrifice and offerings to cease (Dan. 9:27). But the Temple still stood, and the offerings continued to pour into it. All things continued as they had before, except for the small group of men who called themselves "disciples" of that dead Man, who were going about spreading lies about His power over death.

Tormented by his thoughts, Saul cried out, "Oh Lord, have I been wrong? Have I been fighting against You instead of for You? Help me to understand!" Saul was completely alone in his struggle. He could not appeal to the unconverted Jews of Damascus. They would never believe his story. The followers of Jesus shunned him as a deceiver, refusing him all sympathy. Imprisoned by his blindness and rejected by men, his only source of help and comfort was a merciful God. To this source, he appealed with a broken and contrite heart.

"Lord, explain to me how Jesus can be the Messiah. The Law plainly teaches that anyone hung on a tree is cursed by You forever" (see Deut. 21:22, 23). "How can Jesus now be the Exalted One, the Consolation and Redemption of all Israel?" (Luke 2:25).

As he reflected on the meaning of these prophecies, Saul's darkened mind was illuminated by the Holy Spirit. He was astonished at his former lack of understanding and ashamed that he had been persuaded by others to reject the truth of who Jesus was. As Saul yielded himself to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, he was able to bow in humility before God and confess his unworthiness. He pleaded the merits of the crucified and risen Saviour, asking forgiveness for his sins. With the simplicity of a little child, he began to comprehend the love of God. He saw that Jesus of Nazareth was the embodiment of all the "law and the testimonies," the fulfillment of every sanctuary service.

Saul left Damascus a changed man. He was as zealous as ever, but now he was compelled by a different Spirit. The love of God exhibited on the cross of Calvary gave him no choice. He realized that Jesus died once for all, as corporate humanity, being "made sin for us," and that if "One died for all, then were all dead" (2 Cor. 5:21, 14). In that one sacrifice, salvation was given to the entire human family (Rom. 5:15-19). The only way anyone can be lost is by rejecting this most precious gift. Henceforth, Saul could only live for Jesus and the vindication of His name.

Saul realized that Jesus died for him, as him. It was no longer Saul who existed, but Paul. Saul and his sins died in Christ on the cross, and how could he live any longer in that old life of rebellion? (see Romans 6:6, 7). Because Christ was risen from the dead, Paul was assured of eternal life. He was alive by the faith of Christ (Gal. 2:16, 20). Forever more Paul could only preach "Christ and Him crucified," declaring the unbounded grace of God toward sinners. The conversion of Saul is a striking evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit to convict men of sin. Saul met the crucified and risen Saviour face to face on the Damascus road and he was changed forever.

In 1888 God sent His message of the risen Saviour to confront His church with their sin of legalism. For forty years, the church had slidden gradually into a spiritual pride that almost excluded the need for faith. We had become Pharisees of the first order. Relying on the power of rhetoric and knowledge of the Bible, preachers could convince a crowd to accept the seventh-day Sabbath and the need to keep the Law of God. But they had preached the Law until they had become "as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain." [1] What was needed by the church to finish the work of God was some much needed rain--Rain sent down from heaven to mature the crop and prepare God's people for translation.

Just as the Jews did while Christ was personally walking this earth, and as they continued to do after the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost upon the spiritually humbled disciples, we corporately have been resistant to the outpouring of the Latter Rain. "A woe is pronounced upon all such unbelief and criticism as was revealed in Minneapolis and as was revealed in Battle Creek [leadership of the church]. By their fruits ye shall know them. Evidence at every step that God was at work has not changed the manifest attitude of those who in the very beginning pursued a course of unbelief which was an offense to God. With this barrier they themselves had erected, they--like the Jews--were seeking something to strengthen their unbelief and make it appear they were right. Therefore they could not drink in the great salvation that the Lord proffered them. The riches of divine grace they refused." [2]

The Holy Spirit was insulted by the way He was treated then and since, and Christ has suffered profound disappointment. "In every church in our land, there is needed confession, repentance, and reconversion. The disappointment of Christ is beyond description. Unless those who have sinned speedily repent, the deceptions of the last days will overtake them. Some, though they do not realize it, are preparing to be overtaken. God calls for repentance without delay. So long have many trifled with salvation that their spiritual eyesight is dimmed, and they can not discern between light and darkness. Christ is humiliated in his people. The first love is gone, the faith is weak, there is need of a thorough transformation." [3]

It was for the same reason as the Jews that the 1888 message of Christ and His righteousness was resisted and rejected--pride of position and preconceived opinions. "An unwillingness to yield up preconceived opinions, and to accept this truth, lay at the foundation of a large share of the opposition manifested at Minneapolis against the Lord's message through Brethren [E. J.] Waggoner and [A. T.] Jones. By exciting that opposition Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longed to impart to them. The enemy prevented them from obtaining that efficiency which might have been theirs in carrying the truth to the world, as the apostles proclaimed it after the day of Pentecost. The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world." [4]

Through prayer and heart searching, Saul came to understand and appreciate God's great love for mankind. He could have rejected the message given to him on the Damascus road. He could have continued on in the power and authority of the Jewish church and climbed to great heights in the society of Jerusalem. He had all the world before him if he stayed with his old convictions. If he followed his new faith, life was, at best, uncertain. Would he trade the certainty of an ambitious life for the surety of persecution? It was his choice.

We too have a choice to make. We can continue on in this world's glory or we can kneel at the foot of the cross. One way gives immediate satisfaction, the glory of position and approbation from men. The other path brings possible condemnation from those who oppose the truth, but it also brings the certainty of eternal life. If the love of Christ compels us (2 Cor. 5:14, 15), we will make the right choice.

Let us be like Saul when he came face to face with God on the road to Damascus--"O, Lord, what would You have me do?" "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19).

--Ann Walper

Endnotes (Ellen G. White):
[1] Review and Herald, March 11, 1890.
[2] The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, pp. 369, 370.
[3] Review and Herald, December 15, 1904.
[4] Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 234-235.

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/QamIzPguffo

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: http://1888message.org/sst.htm