Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"The Prodigal's New Clothes"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Garments of Grace: Clothing Imagery in the Bible
Lesson 10: "The Prodigal's New Clothes"
"And the younger of them said to his father. 'Father, give me the share
of the estate that falls to me.' And he divided his wealth between them."
(Luke 15:12, NKJV)

We look at the parable of the prodigal son and ask "Why did the father do this?" The story is a series of contrasts in how God acts compared to how humans act. To us, it makes no sense, but for God, it is who He is.

"The history of the great conflict between good and evil, from the time it first began in heaven to the final overthrow of rebellion and the total eradication of sin, is also a demonstration of God's unchanging love" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 33).

Like the father of the prodigal son, God the heavenly prodigal was extravagant with his love in pleading with Lucifer, to consider the folly of his ideas. There was even war in heaven, but ultimately God gave Lucifer over to his demands. The parable only tells us what the father did, not the conversations that took place before. No doubt, a loving father would do all he could short of force to convince his son of the folly of his plans, but in the end, he gave his son over to his demands. Why?

What might have happened if the father in anger sent the son away penniless? The rebellious son would have blamed his father for all the calamities. What if the father had set up a trust fund to dole out money each month? This would have bought the son's loyalty, at least until the money ran out, postponing the inevitable lessons the son needed to learn. The father, in wisdom, simply gave his son over to the desires of his heart, and gave him his portion of the inheritance.
Likewise, God finally gave Lucifer over to his desire to prove himself greater than God. God continued to sustain the life of Lucifer and the angels who joined him, and even allowed them access to other worlds. Like the wicked in Romans 1:18, "they became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (vs. 21). The prodigal son speculated that the world offered more fun, no longer seeing that his father's house was the most loving and fulfilling place for him. Because of this blindness, he was as inert and unaware of his true condition as the coin in the parable (Luke 15:8-10). Even the lost sheep was in a better position because it would eventually perceive something was wrong (Luke 15:4-7).

Why did the prodigal father not go to retrieve his son? He had nothing short of force to convince him to return. The son knew the love at home and had rejected it in favor of the world. While parents need to set boundaries for their children, doing this in love demonstrates the seeking love of the Father and the self-emptying love of Christ. The earlier this begins in the child's life, the more likely the child will avoid an empty outward profession based on fear; it's the heart that must be won by the truth of His love.

We should not think comparing home with the pigpen brought the prodigal to his senses. The realization was much deeper because it was prompted by the Holy Spirit. He recognized his actions as sin (Luke 15:18), against both his heavenly and earthly Fathers. Such discernment is never the result of self-centered calculation, but it is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

"It is impossible for us, of ourselves, to escape from the pit of sin in which we are sunken. Our hearts are evil, and we cannot change them. ... Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but here they are powerless. They may produce an outward correctness of behavior, but they cannot change the heart; they cannot purify the springs of life. There must be a power working from within, a new life from above, before men can be changed from sin to holiness. That power is Christ" (Steps to Christ, p. 18).

At the moment the prodigal accepted this change, he expressed the repentance placed in his heart by the words "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before Thee'" (Luke 15:18). The fact that he states the same words to his father when they meet indicates that his repentance and confession in fact occurred back in the pigpen. He received the washing of regeneration immediately. Only the confession needed to happen, the heart change had already occurred. The son would never have said "I will arise and go to my father" unless the seeking love of the father that he knew from before had drawn him (cf. John 12:32, 33).

God gave His Son to this world not because a few humans repented and confessed their sins hoping to induce God to save them. The Godhead, because of their self-sacrificing love made this gracious Gift to the human race not because of some old covenant contract where the prodigal race repented, confessed, and made promises to induce its Father God to take them back, but an everlasting promise made by God to the fallen man. True repentance and confession are never the means to manipulate God into accepting us. It is always a response to the love of God demonstrated by His Gift of His Son. "Christ was to identify Himself with the interests and needs of humanity. He who was one with God has linked Himself with the children of men by ties that are never to be broken. Jesus is 'not ashamed to call them brethren'" (Steps to Christ, p. 14).

The Bible often tells us to seek the Lord. "Seek the Lord while He may be found" (Isa. 55:6). But the Bible also tells us that the Lord is seeking us: "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). He says He is the Good Shepherd, who seeks His lost sheep. Jesus told how the Good Shepherd left the ninety-nine sheep and sought the one lost sheep (15:4-7). He is like the woman who searched and found her one lost coin (vss. 8-10). Even the parable of the prodigal son tells the same truth: the son did not create love in his father's heart--he walked home only because he knew there was love in that father's heart for him.

The great truth of the 1888 message is that our salvation does not depend on our skill, our strength, our savvy, in finding an elusive God who is hiding from us; it depends on our believing, realizing, comprehending, appreciating, what it cost Jesus to seek and find us. If you work hard trying to find Him, you will naturally be proud of your accomplishment, especially when you consider how few people succeed. But if you realize that "from first to last," it has been Christ's seeking love trying to find you, then your proud heart is melted. And that is the beginning of a genuine Christian experience.

The older brother who continued working for his father did not rejoice at his brother's return. His reaction reveals his misunderstanding of his father's love. It was unconditional. He loved his prodigal son as much as the son who stayed and did the "right" thing. The older son thought this earned for him a special place with his father's. But father's agape took the initiative--loving the selfish, vain boys.

The truth of the Gospel teaches agape which saves the poor and the unfortunate, rather than condemning them. This is shown in the whole work of Christ for us. Those who are "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" as was the prodigal are the very ones whom He came to save. The older brother was just as blind as his brother but for different reasons. The spirit of Satan and of the world is selfishness,--to think only of oneself. In the last days this spirit will become more pronounced in those who refuse the blessings of the Gospel. There will be an even greater necessity for relief of those in distress. The father saw a reason to help his wayward son, but the older brother resented this and probably would have left him in the pigpen.
At the end of time, God will continually use those who have accepted the Gospel blessings to minister to those who are in the pigpen, as well as to those in the position of the older brother. Both were motivated by self-interest. Only their father ministered to both because he was motivated by love, not self.

--Arlene Hill

Please forward these messages to your friends and encourage them to subscribe. 

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: http://1888mpm.org

To subscribe send an e-mail message with "subscribe" in the body of the message to sabbathschooltoday@1888message.org

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

“A Brand Plucked From the Fire”

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Garments of Grace: Clothing Imagery in the Bible
Lesson 9: "A Brand Plucked From the Fire" 

Another week has gone by while the world watched in amazement as several influential men came on center stage where their inner "secrets" and misguided predictions were revealed. Possibly the most well-known is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former powerful head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), described as the "world's wallet," was paraded before TV cameras in a "perp walk" in New York City as a common criminal. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hollywood actor and former governor of California, admitted to fathering a child out of wedlock, destroying a marriage and possibly the lives of his children. One magazine said his actions, and those of the others, "suggest an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust." [1] Is there hope for a world appearing to be "shutting down" in scandal, disgrace, deceit, and corruption? Is there hope for "us," individually and as a corporate remnant church?

Zechariah's prophecy (ch. 3:1-3) says, Yes! Our lesson title, taken from verse 2, is really a question: "Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" Zechariah had just been shown in vision Joshua the high priest who represents the people standing before the Lord with Satan at his right hand. By asking that question the Lord rebuked Satan.

A "brand" is defined as "a log," "a stump," or "a bent stick used to stir up the fire" (Heb. 'ud). It relates to "the scorching fires of the Captivity [which] would have eventually consumed the chosen people had not God moved on the hearts of heathen kings to show favor to His scattered children and had not some of them been willing to respond to the call of God to flee out of Babylon." [2]

Does this ancient story of "plucking a brand out of the fire" apply to us today? According to Ellen White: "Zechariah's vision of Joshua and the Angel applies with peculiar force to the experience of God's people in the closing up of the great day of atonement." [3] "Here we find a representation of the people of God of today. As Joshua stood before the angel, 'clothed with filthy garments,' so we stand in the presence of Christ, clothed in garments of unrighteousness." [4]

Quoting Zechariah 3:3 Ellen G. White wrote: "Although they have sinned, He has snatched the race as a brand from the fire. By His human nature He is linked with man, while through His divine nature He is one with the infinite God. Help is brought within the reach of perishing souls. The adversary is rebuked." [5] Christ, not only our Advocate, but our Judge, rebukes Satan by pronouncing a judicial verdict of acquittal upon the race. "And the Lord said unto Satan, the Lord rebuke thee, O Satan" (Zech. 3:2). The evidence is clear from Scripture, and from Ellen White. [6] How else could they come before "the Angel" Judge in "filthy garments" unless He had granted them a temporary legal pardon?

Christ's Object Lessons, p. 169 includes two of the "most precious" truths of the 1888 message:

(1) Christ has already accomplished something for every human being (the entire human race); He has elected "all men" to be saved and has died the second death for "every man" (1 John 4:14, John 4:42, Rev. 2:11, Rev. 20:6). Because Christ gives a pardon to the race of sinners they are all represented by Joshua as coming into the investigative judgment, before Him as "the Angel of the Lord", clothed in "filthy garments". It's not our works that we bring to the table. Now we see His true character in the "hour of His judgment" (Rev. 14:7).

(2) Christ, in His human nature, has taken upon Himself "the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3). He was "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). Thus He is a Savior "not afar off, but nigh at hand." [6] But sinners have the freedom to refuse Him and reject Him.

But is there more Good News for humanity and the remnant church? "The promise made to Joshua [in Zech. 3:7] is made to all the remnant people of God." [7] It becomes clear that this "change of raiment," this "rich robe" is purely a gift from God, emanating from our Father's agape love for His children. "The fact that the acknowledged people of God are represented as standing before the Lord in filthy garments should lead to humility and deep searching of heart on the part of all who profess His name." The [corporate] remnant church, with brokenness of heart and earnest faith, will plead for pardon and deliverance through Jesus their Advocate.
In this "courtroom scene" shown to Zechariah, "Satan's accusations against those who seek the Lord are not prompted by displeasure at their sins. He exults in their defective characters. … His accusations arise solely from his enmity to Christ … and with fiendish power and cunning he works to wrest from Him the remnant of the children of men who have accepted His salvation." [8] Satan, the adversary is accusing them for their sins. In the great controversy Satan's prosecution of those names written in the Lamb's book of life is an attempt to take down the character of God. Satan uses their defective characters to get at Him. God is on trial!
As in the ancient Day of Atonement the people followed their High Priest "afflicting their souls"; likewise the whole world is to follow their High Priest into the holiest of all led by 144,000 Elijah's who lighten the earth with "the cleansing of the sanctuary" truth. "If ... we live up to all the light that shines upon us, that light will continue to increase, and we shall have a clean record in heaven. The third angel's message is to lighten the earth with its glory; but only those who have withstood temptation in the strength of the Mighty One will be permitted to act a part in proclaiming it when it shall have swelled into the loud cry." [9]

The key comes in the next verses (3 and 4): Joshua was wearing "filthy garments," representing the corporate sins of the Israelites. The Lord said, "Take away the filthy garments from him." He "removed the iniquity" from Joshua. He clothed him with a "change of raiment" ("rich robes" NKJV). Note that the Lord did not just cover up his filthy garments; He replaced them with "rich robes" after removing the iniquity ("filthy garments"). "But Jesus our Advocate presents an effectual plea in behalf of all who by repentance and faith have committed the keeping of their souls to Him [willing to respond to the call of God to flee out of Babylon]. He pleads their cause and vanquishes their accuser by the mighty arguments of Calvary." [10]

The ultimate meaning of the cross is the cleansing of the sanctuary. Finally, the sanctuary truth comes into its own as every living soul on earth clearly understands the righteous garments which Christ gives to all. Individual choices are made either for "the seal of God" or "the mark of the beast." Yes, even the Dominique Strauss-Kahns and Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the world have an equal opportunity with the 144,000 to receive Christ's garments of righteousness in our cosmic Day of Atonement.

It's impossible to be afraid of the judgment when we know the love of the One who is to vindicate us. And it's impossible not to love Him when we understand what He has done for us on the cross. "Love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment. … There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:17, 18).

Probably none of us have a tiny fraction of the wealth and influence of this week's newsmakers; but we have a new day, a new opportunity, to honor God with the little that we do have. And that is a solemn duty, and also a joyous privilege, for us to devote another day of our lives to honor Him who gave Himself for us. Let us live this new day we have been given in such a way that we shall be able to be happy in that day when we all shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). [11]
--Carol A. Kawamoto
[1] TIME, May 30, 2011.
[2] SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 1093.
[3] Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p.472.
[4] Historical Sketches, p. 154.
[5] Christ's Object Lessons, p. 169.
[6] "Christ as high priest within the veil so immortalized Calvary that though He liveth unto God, He dies continually to sin, and thus if any man sin, he has an advocate with the Father. … He took in His grasp the world over which Satan claimed to preside, … and by His wonderful work in giving His life, He restored the whole race of men to favor with God" (Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 343).
[7] Historical Sketches, p. 156.
[8] Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 470.
[9] Historical Sketches, p. 155.
[10] Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 471.
[11] Excerpts from Robert J. Wieland, "Dial Daily Bread," and article, "Judgment Day."
Please forward these messages to your friends and encourage them to subscribe.

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: http://1888mpm.org

To subscribe send an e-mail message with "subscribe" in the body of the message to sabbathschooltoday@1888message.org

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Garments of Splendor"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Garments of Grace: Clothing Imagery in the Bible
Lesson 8: "Garments of Splendor"
There's a recurring nightmare that some children have of appearing in public naked. It's possible that Christians can "walk naked" (Rev. 16:15) if they do not "watch" lest their natural-born selfishness is exposed through dishonesty, anger, or infidelity to colleagues, family, and friends. It's possible for a self-confident Laodicean church to be spotted publically "naked" (Rev. 3:17), according to "the Son of man" who holds "the seven stars" in His "right hand" (Rev. 1:13, 16). Evidently it will take some terribly embarrassing public self-revelation that will eventually cause her to "abhor herself" and repent (Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, p. 250).
Isaiah thought he could devote his life to the ministry until one day he wandered into the temple and saw "the Lord ... high and lifted up" (Isa. 6:1). He saw the character of God, "holy, holy, holy" (vs. 3), and it flattened him on his face. "Woe is me" for I am "a man of unclean lips" (vs. 5). He had a heart-humbling appreciation of the love of God. It was a revelation of the cross. He could never have written chapter 53 without the experience of chapter 6. Uplifting the cross he became a soul-winner.

Sin has left man exposed naked. Will there be in these last days "rebellious children" that seek to "cover with a covering" (Isa. 30:1). There is a subtle counterfeit righteousness by faith which has become a popular cover for sin which is a spider's web for protection in the great and dreadful day of the Lord. "Their webs ["works"] shall not become garments" (Isa. 59:6).
The false christ has set up shop in a first apartment ministry of mere legal righteousness to cover sin. "Satanappeared ... to carry on the work of God" (E. G. White, Early Writings, p. 56). Such evangelical concepts of righteousness by faith are a "cover [for] themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity" (Isa. 59:6). Theologically manufactured, substitutionary garments, will never stand up to the "gold" standard "tried in the fire" (Rev. 3:18).

God does not cover sin, but He does cover sinners with His robe of righteousness--"a garment of splendour for the heavy heart" (Isa. 61:3, REB). "I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness" (Isa. 61:10). "This robe, woven in the loom of heaven, has in it not one thread of human devising. Christ in Hishumanity wrought out a perfect character, and this character He offers to impart to us" (E. G. White, Christ's Object Lessons, p. 311). "The loom of heaven" was "His humanity." It is not alone a legal righteousness that He imputes to sinners. It is "a perfect character" He "impart[s] to us." This is the good news of the 1888 message.

Who among God's people is not sick and tired of sin and the world? Who does not long for the coming of Jesus? Yet, our thought patterns have subtly excused sin as a practical nuisance until Jesus comes and makes the great change. In so doing, we have demonstrated an antipathy to the second coming. The Lord diagnoses the problem: They "that take counsel, but not of Me; and that cover with a covering, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin" (Isa. 30:1). Our High Priest in the cosmic Day of Atonement says He ministers His righteous love from the holiest by means of "My Spirit." This is "the seal of God" (Rev. 9:4).

The ultimate meaning of the cross is the unique Adventist idea of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary which stops the flow of sin-pollution from the Laodicean church. Thus "your sins" are "blotted out" in "the times of refreshing [the latter rain]" (Acts 3:19). It is not a works trip program.
However, there is something the bride must "do" in order to participate in "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:9). The "bride adorneth herself with her jewels" (Isa. 61:10). Finally, "the bride makes herself ready" by receiving from her Supreme Lover the message of the Crucified One in a heart-humbling, spontaneous response of repentance from a corporate body of 144,000. They have grown up by learning from the history of the failures of God's people for over 6000 years, including their own "remnant" biography. 1844 was "our" great disappointment, but 1888 was Christ's great disappointment. "The disappointment of Christ is beyond description" (E. G. White, "A Call to Repentance," Review and Herald, Dec. 15, 1904).

Every one of the 144,000 become soul-winners with the message of the cross to bear to the world--the third angel's message of justification by faith, the sin-pardoning Saviour--which lightens the world with God's glory.

The seal of God's Holy Spirit is the intersection of the revelation of God's love in the cross, with the cleansing of the sanctuary truth; which manifests itself in obedience to all the commandments of God, including the seventh-day Sabbath--the "mark" of God's power to restore sinners to the image of God.

"Awake, awake, Zion, put on your strength; Jerusalem, Holy City, put on your splendid garments!" (Isa. 52:1, REB). The beautiful garments of Zion are the beautiful garments of the inhabitants of Zion. What are they?--"To her it was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is therighteousness of saints" (Rev. 19:8). The call, "Put on thy beautiful garments," indicate that they are all prepared.

Rom. 8:3, 4 says that He was "sent ... to condemn sin in the flesh, that the righteousness [imparted, dikaioma] of the law might be fulfilled in us." The word "righteousness" used there means the righteous character of those who "walk after the Spirit." It's the imparted righteousness of saints. "And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness [imparted, dikaiomata] of saints" (Rev. 19:8). Whereas "by the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life" (Rom. 5:18) is the imputed righteousness of Christ.

I give you a check for a thousand dollars and you have the check in your hands; but in fact you don't even have a dime. The money is still in the bank in my name. You only have an imputed $1000, worthless to you until you take it to the bank and "cash" it.

But even the paper money is worthless unless it is backed up by what is of monetary value--gold, silver, or platinum. We could say that only that in your possession is value imparted. Until then money anywhere has had only imputed value.

Revelation 14:1-5 describes a people at the close of time who "are without fault before the throne of God," who "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth." Not part way, but totally. They will 
refuse "the mark of the beast" and will receive "the seal of God" (Rev. 13:16, 17; 7:1-4).

--Paul E. Penno

Please forward these messages to your friends and encourage them to subscribe. 

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: 

To subscribe send an e-mail message with "subscribe" in the body of the message to