Monday, July 30, 2012

"The Apostolic Example (1 Thess. 2:1-12)"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
1 and 2 Thessalonians
Lesson 5: "The Apostolic Example (1 Thess. 2:1-12)"

Jesus spoke the well-known words that have become the most loved verse of the entire Bible: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16, NKJV). These words of healing were spoken to Nicodemus. But how can believing or appreciating God's act of loving and giving do anything to change sinful hearts?
One of Christ's followers made it clear how it worked for him. He expresses it as a principle that operates in everyone who will look and say, "Thank You," for what He accomplished. The apostle Paul was defending himself against the charge that his all-out devotion to Christ was virtual insanity. He was going through incredible hardships and persecutions for Christ's sake, but almost, unbelievably, he sang for joy as he went along.
The idea that he was sacrificing anything seems not to have crossed his mind. On and on he went through scourgings (and one lethal stoning!), imprisonments, fastings, cold and nakedness, shipwrecks, hunger, weariness. His career as a missionary went on for decades, even into old age. Why not restrain his self-sacrificing devotion, and settle down and enjoy a well-earned retirement? Wasn't it time for Paul to begin looking out for "number one"?
No, not for him. He says, "If we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died [that is, all would be dead of He had not died for them; and so closely are we identified with Christ that when He died, we died too]; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 Cor. 5: 13-15).
Here we see what has seemed impossible to understand. Paul was not a better person than we are, nor more heroic. He simply saw something that made all his sacrifices easy: (1) he saw that he would be in a hopeless grave if that "One" had not died in his place; (2) he saw that even his next breath he owed to Christ's sacrifice on the cross; (3) he saw that he himself was a slave bought by love, responding to the blood shed there; (4) he saw that nothing he possessed he could count as really his.
As easily as the believing Israelites were healed of their fatal snake bites, so easily does the new birth occur in the heart of anyone who "sees" the cross like Paul saw it. Of course, he did not see it literally--he was not one of the original Twelve. He saw it by faith, and his experience is therefore an encouragement to us who also have never seen it literally. What he saw by faith seems to have made a more profound impression on him than the actual event made on those apostles who did see it. None of them seems to have caught its meaning as vividly as Paul did. That means something special for us who never saw the physical happening as did the Eleven. We are especially fortunate because that same faith-inspired devotion can be ours. Faith has far sharper discernment than our physical eyes.
There is a little phrase in Paul's Letter to the Galatians that opens a door into a room filled with light: "the hearing of faith" (3:2, 5). These people were worldly, hard to reach, materialistic, probably given to sensuality; they were Gentiles. But Paul's ministry had captured their attention, and their conversion was phenomenal. They gladly suffered persecution for their faith; their heart gratitude to Paul was so great that he says they would gladly have torn out their eyes to give to him if they could (4:14, 15).
What sort of truth-presentation accomplished this wonder? In Galatians 3:1 Paul lets us catch a glimpse of it: the Holy Spirit enabled him to tell the story of the cross so vividly that the people forgot who they were or where they were--they saw Christ portrayed so graphically that He was crucified in their midst.
Ellet J. Waggoner, one of the 1888 "messengers," had a similar experience. Ron Duffield, in the Foreword to Waggoner's The Everlasting Covenant writes: "At twenty seven years of age, the young physician had an experience that he would later describe as the turning point of his life. As he sat under a campmeeting tent listening to the gospel presented, suddenly a light shone about him, and the tent seemed illumined, as though the sun were shining. He describes the incident thus:
'I saw Christ crucified for me, and to me was revealed for the first time in my life the fact that God loved me, and that Christ gave Himself for me personally. It was all for me.' The light that shone upon him that day from the cross of Christ became the guide in all his Bible study. He resolved that the rest of his life would be devoted to discovering the message of God's love for individual sinners found in the pages of Scripture, and making that message plain to others."
Paul wrote, "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:31, 32). How can we who appreciate such love not also freely give Him all things? Wouldn't such devotion include keeping all of His commandments, including the Lord's true Sabbath, even if the world disregards it? Any vestige of a self-caring truth cancels out faith. For one who accepts God's Good News, obedience that once may have seemed impossible becomes now a joyous principle.
God wins us by learning our language. God became Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. In Christ, God became man, one of us; came close to us; reconciles us to Himself, wins our heart, not with terrifying threats, but as Psalm 18:35 says, "Your gentleness has made me great." Paul says to the Thessalonians, "We were gentle among you" (1 Thess. 2:7). The church on earth is to represent Christ to the world; if we were to understand sinners, we could win more of them. The Good News is that it's our privilege to share the joy of the Lord in winning them!
--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland,
unless otherwise cited

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The Apostolic Example: Pastor Stephen McCandless.m4v

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Special Event

Elder Mark Duncan, co-author of the newly printed book by Review and Herald, "The Message of the Latter Rain" - Removing the Fog that Obscures the Love of God, will speak at the Broadview Seventh-day Adventist Church, 3101 S. 25th Ave, Broadview, IL on Sabbath August 4 at 11:00am.  In the afternoon, he will do two presentations - 2:30pm and 4:15pm to discuss the content and significance of the book.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Joyous and Thankful: (1 Thess. 1-1-10): Pastor Paul Penno 4v

Joyous and Thankful: (1 Thess. 1:1-10): Pastor Paul Penno.m4v

"Joyous and Thankful"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
1 and 2 Thessalonians
Lesson 4: "Joyous and Thankful"
"Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2). Notice that the word "our" is not a part of the original verse. This truly adds to our understanding that faith is begun and finished by Christ. The Revised English Bible states it this way: "He is the pioneer and perfecter of faith." Faith is His, therefore it is the faith of Jesus.
This makes faith a gift, not a natural part of the flesh from birth. Romans 12:3 says, "God has dealt [given] to each one a measure of faith." The faith "dealt" to us by God is activated when we hear the gospel and thus it is said "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Where there is no word of God there can be no faith.
Paul preached Christ and Him crucified to the Galatians and they received the Spirit by the hearing of faith. Like Abraham they believed God and were accounted righteous. (Gal. 5:1-6). "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they" (Acts 15:11).
This was the experience of the Thessalonians. When they heard that "Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that is God's proof of His love towards us" (Rom. 5:8, REB), their hearts responded with the humble joy of appreciation! Their response was the "the hearing of faith" and this faith worked in them the fruit of the Spirit. This was the reason for Paul's thanksgiving!
"The Bible so clearly teaches that righteousness is by faith. Therefore the only element that God's people need in order to prepare for the second coming of Christ is genuine faith. … Faith is understood in its true biblical sense--a heart appreciation of the agape of Christ" (Ten Great Gospel Truths, #9, Robert J. Wieland).
So why is it that Paul says "work of faith" and not your works and your faith? Why does he reject human contribution in addition to faith? Well, here is what he said about works and the nature of faith: "If we are in union with Christ Jesus, circumcision [human contribution/works] makes no difference at all, nor does the lack of it; the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love [agape]" (Gal. 5:6, REB).
Isaiah says, "All flesh is grass, … all nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted as less than nothing and worthless" (Isa. 40:6, 17). Paul follows up on this truth of scripture by declaring, "For I know that in me (that is in my flesh) nothing good dwells" (Rom. 7:18).
So the question is this: "How can a man, who is grass and nothing, and less than nothing, and worthless, with no good dwelling in him at all, contribute anything to his salvation--especially since God demonstrated His love to us without our help and before we even existed?"
E. J. Waggoner, one of the two 1888 messengers with heavenly credentials, wrote: "The offense of the cross is that the cross is a confession of human frailty and sin and of inability to do any good thing. To take the cross of Christ means to depend solely on Him for everything, and this is the abasement of all human pride. Men love to fancy themselves independent. But let the cross be preached, let it be made known that in man dwells no good thing and that all must be received as a gift, and straightway somebody is offended" (The Glad Tidings, p. 113).
The working of faith in the Thessalonians produced the labor of love and the patience of hope. They themselves did not do this. One may ask, "Well then, how is it that Paul can be so joyful over them?" Because they did not resist the Spirit that came to them through the hearing of faith, and faith worked in them through the love of God--God's own agape was now being demonstrated in the Thessalonians--apart from any human contribution of their own.
One might ask, "What about obeying the commandments of God then?" Obedience to all the commandments of God "springs from his faith, and therefore there is no chance for him to be lifted up, since the act of obedience is not his personal action, but is the action of his faith, and credited to him as his own. The man whose soul is lifted up in him, is the man who thinks that he can of himself do all that is required, and who as a consequence does nothing. Thus, "pride goeth before destruction" (see Waggoner,Signs of the Times, Feb. 4, 1889).
Righteousness is obedience to the law of God; righteousness is by faith which works in man by the love of God; obedience is solely by the faith of Jesus; so righteousness and obedience are both Christ's doing through the Spirit that also came into us by the hearing of faith--it is all of faith, or it is all of grass and nothing.
All the Scriptures teach that faith works. "Faith which works by love" (Gal. 5:6) is declared to be the one necessary thing. The Thessalonian brethren were commended for their "work of faith" (1 Thess. 1:2, 3). "So the case of Abraham is used as an illustration of the working of faith. God had made a promise to him; he had believed the promise, and his faith had been counted to him for righteousness. His faith was the kind that works righteousness. ... The work that Abraham did was a work of faith. His works did not produce his faith, but his faith produced his works. He was justified, not by faith and works, but by faith which works" (see Waggoner, "The Call of Abraham. The Test of Faith," The Present Truth, July 2, 1896, emphasis in the original).
Without faith not an act can be performed that will meet the approval of God. The Bible teaches this by saying that "whatever is not from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23).
"Faith, being the gift of God, coming by the word of God, and itself working in man the works of God, needs none of the work of sinful man to make it good and acceptable to God. Faith itself works in man that which is good, and is sufficient of itself to fill all the life with the goodness of God, and needs not the imperfect effort of sinful man to make it meritorious. This faith gives to man good works, instead of being itself dependent upon man for "good works." It is not expressed by "faith and works;" but by "faith which works" (A. T. Jones, "Editorial," American Sentinel, May 31, 1894). And we are to take the words of Jesus just as He said them, and He said this: "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:29).
Faith comes by hearing and then faith itself works by the power of agape, the love of God which creates in man a new heart, places within him the mind of Christ, thus making him a new creation altogether.
Any man or group of men that teach that salvation is by faith and works is teaching a method of forgetting God, which passes as a method of remembering Him.
Suggesting that salvation is by faith and works is adding to the word of God that which it does not say or teach. Hear the warning: "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you" (Deut. 4:2; see also Rev. 22:18).
Patience comes as a result of the "works of faith" and because it is the faith of Jesus, the commandments of God are kept perfectly.
Now here are the just that have lived by His faith, the saints in whom the work of faith has been obedient to all the commandments of God and produced endurance to the patience of hope. Here is joy!
--Daniel H. Peters

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Monday, July 16, 2012

SS Lesson 3: Thessalonica in Paul's Day: Pastor Paul Penno.m4v

"Thessalonica in Paul's Day"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
1 and 2 Thessalonians
Lesson 3: "Thessalonica in Paul's Day"

The culture of the Mediterranean world when Paul went to Thessalonica had sunk into a frightful depravity. Watching people die in violence was as much fun to crowds as a football game is to us. The sight of naked political outcasts writhing in agony nailed to crosses attracted spectators like stock car racing now. Little wonder that many, jaded by their pleasures and sadism, coveted suicide as much as many today want to win a lottery jackpot.
Onto such a world stage came this new idea of agape, a love embodied in the life and death of an obscure Galilean. What He brought to view was an idea that overturned all human values, because it revealed dimensions of God's character no one had ever dreamed of. God's Son actually died as a cosmic Outcast, nailed on a Roman cross. Did He, could He, love this evil world? People couldn't get over it.
He had revealed a love that went as far as hell, and came out the other side, redeeming the whole of lost humanity. God Himself was seeking man--not vice versa as everybody thought--and the price He was willing to pay was infinitely individualized. That is, each human being personally was the object of the sum total of His love. Slaves, outcasts, and despairing lords and ladies alike, discovered a new basis for healthy self-respect.
And with it came a new sense of humanity toward man. Attendance at the gladiatorial combats fell off; crucifixions lost their appeal; gluttony was forgotten; slavery became passé. The once-despised Man of Galilee became widely known as the world's Savior, and His cross its most honored symbol. No other religion or philosophy had ever embodied an idea like agape love. The world itself became a more pleasant place in which to live. As the idea ofagape penetrated beyond the Christian church itself, it became the secret source of stability for the human race--although often unrecognized.
Now we're there--the time Christ spoke of, "Because of lawlessness, the love [agape] of many ["most" KJV] will grow cold" (Matt. 24:12). Christ's word wickedness (anomia in Greek) means rebellion against the holy law of God, a cynical irreverence for agape, a hatred of His commandments, all with an arrogant flaunting of divine judgment.
What we view nightly on TV is a cultural love affair with death. This anomia shows up today in our ability to make sport of sexual infidelity, materialist greed, sensuality, and even crime. Hollywood glorifies it. Where once such things aroused outrage and righteous indignation, today we have an open tolerance. Most of the nightly TV shows make fun of purity and fidelity, and revel in anomia. What we are viewing is actually a cultural love affair with death.
Christ said people of today would be like those of Noah's day: "They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all" (Luke 17:27).
Can our downward spiral of lawlessness be averted before global suicide occurs?
Our only hope is to discover a heart appreciation for God's agape. The apostle John declared that "God is love [agape] (John 3:16). In agape is found "all the fulness of God" (Eph. 3:19). That one word, rightly appreciated, would put an end to wars, crime, selfishness, and corruption--what all the scientists and politicians in the world are powerless to do. But the Bible declares that the present world, as a whole, will never accept this solution.
But as individuals, we can. To believe that God loves us with this special kind of self-sacrificing agape gives us a true sense of our importance in the sight of Heaven--we are expatriate citizens of God's unfallen universe. We see ourselves as allies with Heaven, members of His "whole family in heaven and earth" (Eph. 3:15), who "may be partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). That experience is what the New Testament means by the word "faith."
Finding the solution to selfishness is not something that we do so much as something that we see. Paul explains: "[I pray that you] ... may comprehend ... what is the width and length and depth and height--to know the love [agape] of Christ, which passes knowledge" (Eph. 3:17-19). The person who has grasped doesn't have to grit his teeth and force himself unwillingly to turn away from sinful allurements; agape motivates him to do so. The evil becomes distasteful.
We have wondered how the early Christians could endure the privations they suffered in following Christ in those days of tyranny. We misread history if we assume that it was a mere hope of pie-in-the-sky, an "investment" that required foregoing present good for the return of a greater good to come. That would be next door to selfishness, a what's-in-it-for-me religion.
The gospel proclamation in New Testament times was phenomenal. The message went like fire in the dry stubble. Every new convert became an evangelist, himself/herself an effective conveyor of the message to others for the sheer love of it. At Pentecost, the fire in the stubble was so great that 3000 were converted and baptized in one day. While it is true that many rejected that gospel, it met precisely the heart-needs of honest people who seemed to "come out of the woodwork" everywhere.
As the faith of the Thessalonians went forth, so too the Bible promises a last-days' gospel proclamation even greater in scope and success than Pentecost. The only element that God's people need in order to prepare for the second coming of Christ is genuine faith. The message the world needs to hear is the truth of righteousness by faith in the light of the cleansing of the sanctuary--"the third angel's message in verity." Faith is understood in its true biblical sense--a heart appreciation of the agape of Christ. [1]
In the latter years of the 19th century fresh insights came through two young ordained ministers (E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones) who thought through something that apparently no one else had clearly grasped. They simply combined Paul's idea of justification by faith with the truth that we are now living in the great final cosmic Day of Atonement. The world's High Priest, Jesus Christ, had begun His last work of fully reconciling alienated human hearts to God.
It was an antitypical work in the Most Holy Apartment of the heavenly sanctuary that fulfilled the type in the ancient high priest's work when he entered the second apartment of the earthly tabernacle (see Hebrews 9). Christ's objective was not merely preparing people to die and come up in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:6); now His work prepares a people to meet their Lord in person at His second coming (see 1 Thess. 4:16, 17), and be translated. Only when the heart is cleansed can we be in total oneness with the Lord. Only then can it be said in all truth that "here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12).
The earth is to be "lightened" with the glory of a message that will have within itself self-propagating power (Rev. 18:1-4). God's people 2000 years ago were no different than honest-hearted people today. The missing ingredient is not human personality, or organizational efficiency. What is missing is the lost content of the message itself. The apostles' gospel was a self-propagating message because it proclaimed Good News about the cross of Christ and what He accomplished by His sacrifice. The News itself "constrained" those who heard it and believed it.
It won't take a long time for the Lord to "finish the work" once He has a people whose hearts are moved and melted by His agape seen at the cross. That "short work" will accomplish not only the proclamation of "the truth of the gospel" to all the world in one generation (Gal. 2:5; Matt. 24:34), but what we have thought must take decades or even centuries: to prepare God's people to meet Christ when He returns. First Thessalonians 4:16, 17 will be completely fulfilled: they will get ready to be "translated" as Hebrews 11:5 describes Enoch's experience. All done in "a short work"!
Right now is the time when the Lord's "beatitude" is being fulfilled: "Blessed [happy] are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Matt. 5:6). Are you hungry and thirsty? There's nothing the God of heaven wants more than to give you that hunger and thirst. Ask for it!
--Paul E. Penno, and the writings of Robert J. Wieland
[1] See Robert J. Wieland, Ten Great Gospel Truths that Make the 1888 Message Unique, pp. 30ff.
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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Preserving Relationships"

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic 

1 and 2 Thessalonians

Lesson 2: "Preserving Relationships"

 Our lesson this week reviews some of the history of Paul's relationships with the church in Thessalonica. The first chapter of 1 Thessalonians shows Paul's heart full of warm concern for the believers there. This concern is nothing short of a miracle when you know his earlier history. There was a time in his life when he would have hunted out these same people and killed them in hopes of eradicating a gospel message direct from God. What he discovered is that in every age, God has protected His gospel and it will never be eradicated. The numbers who accept the message may be few as when God had to tell Elijah there were 7,000 in Israel who had not submitted to Baal, but in every age God has always preserved a remnant.

We know that Paul spent three years in Arabia (Gal. 1:17) learning the gospel message directly from the Lord. It was the message that softened his heart toward fellow believers in the dramatic shift that went from savage killing to pastoral sympathy and concern. The effect of hearing and receiving the gospel message is the same today. Unless the message is allowed to change the heart, outward change of behavior is just that. Jesus used the image of "whited tombs" (Matt. 23:27) to describe the condition of outward goodly appearance, but inside was death and corruption.

Paul's concern for the believers in Thessalonica suggests the purest love of the evangelist concerned for those who heard the message from his preaching. If his personal sense of worth was connected to this, with each conversion his self-esteem increased a little and each rejection diminished his sense of worth. This inserts the element of self into the motivation of the same man who wrote to the believers in Corinth that "the love of Christ [constrains, KJV] us ... and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us ... (2 Cor 5:14 19, 20, NASB). If that had not been his genuine motivation for evangelism, God would not have allowed him to write that.

More likely, we can assume that Paul continued to allow the Holy Spirit create his heart toward a selfless ministry so that he did not consider that the number or quality of the people receiving the message was in any way a triumph attributable to him. He told Philemon, "I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother" (Philemon 1:7, NASB). God never gives us "success" in ministry to boost our self-esteem, because our efforts never bring people to Christ, it is the Holy Spirit speaking to their hearts through us. We are merely the vessel and gratitude that He uses us is the only thing we should feel.

Paul elaborates on this by saying that Christ did not send him to baptize, "but to preach the gospel ... that the cross of Christ not be made void. For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:17, 18, NASB).

The following quotation may be familiar to some. It clearly defines the heart-moving elements of 1888 message. It underscores Ellen White's endorsement of preaching the cross as revealing the concept of justification by faith:

"The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption--the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers. Christ and His righteousness--let this be our platform, the very life of our faith.

"Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel's message, and I have answered, "It is the third angel's message in verity.

"This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Savior, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family. All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel's message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure.

"The uplifted Savior is to appear in His efficacious work as the Lamb slain, sitting upon the throne, to dispense the priceless covenant blessings, the benefits He died to purchase for every soul who should believe on Him. John could not express that love in words; it was too deep, too broad; he calls upon the human family to behold it. Christ is pleading for the church in the heavenly courts above, pleading for those for whom He paid the redemption price of His own lifeblood. Centuries, ages, can never diminish the efficacy of this atoning sacrifice. The message of the gospel of His grace was to be given to the church in clear and distinct lines, that the world should no longer say that Seventh-day Adventists talk the law, the law, but do not teach or believe Christ" (Evangelism, pp. 190-191).

Some day, somewhere, someone, will understand the "everlasting gospel" of Jesus Christ so clearly that "another angel" will come down from heaven "having great power" and will "lighten the earth" with the glory of that full-orbed truth. Multitudes who now sit in darkness will see a great light and will come to it (Rev. 18:1-4; Matt. 4:16).

And it won't be only "some one" who understands; there will be many who are in heartfelt union, around the world, of "every nation, tribe, tongue, and people" (Rev. 14:6). No more theological squabbles!

That unity will be as much a miracle as the insight of that "some one" who will see crystal clear what the gospel is with no contradicting confusion. That unity will be in fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus in John 17:20, 21. "The world" will not believe until they see that "one-ness."

--Arlene Hill

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What is Patriotism in the United States « Audiobooks of the Adventist Pioneers

What is Patriotism in the United States « Audiobooks of the Adventist Pioneers

"The Gospel Comes to Thessalonica" Pastor Paul Penno.m4v

"The Gospel Comes to Thessalonica" Pastor Paul Penno.m4v

"The Gospel Comes to Thessalonica"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
1 and 2 Thessalonians
Lesson 1: "The Gospel Comes to Thessalonica"

Paul and Silas planted a church in Thessalonica with the message of the crucified Messiah. Paul's mission followed a pattern: (1) Proclaim the message to the Jews first; (2) worship on the seventh-day Sabbath; (3) use the Old Testament Scriptures as the basis for authority to establish that Jesus is the Christ--the Messiah (Acts 17:1, 2). (4) During his sojourn among the Thessalonians, Paul was "laboring night and day" ministering to them "the gospel [the good news] of God" (1 Thess. 2:9).
Paul was a herald simply passing on the words given to him. He was not giving a message of his own devising. He preached good news about the gospel of God's grace.
Paul called it "our gospel" "in word, ... in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." (1 Thess. 1:5). Paul claims of his gospel, "I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:11, 12). These are big claims!
Nobody hates the gospel of God's "grace" like Satan does. So the best he can do is to "frustrate the grace of God," and inject into the idea some poisonous infiltration of legalism cleverly disguised (Gal. 2:21). If an iota of self-seeking pride is mixed in with our "gospel," grace is "frustrated."
Take a sermon, an article, a book, that is 99 percent "gospel" truth full of Christian verbiage, and add one percent of subtle, poisonous legalism, you have the recipe for "lukewarmness," the enervating malady that Jesus says afflicts His last-days church (Rev. 3:14-21). Wherever human pride or self-sufficiency raises its head even a little, there you can be sure the grace of God is being somehow "frustrated." "Righteousness by the law" is the sure result.
Paul defines what he means by "grace": "before [your] eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified" (Gal. 3:1, NKJV). The people in Paul's audience forgot who they were, where they were, for he brought them to the cross and they saw, "comprehended," "the width and length and depth and height" of the revelation of that grace (Eph. 3:18, 19, NKJV), as if they were at Calvary itself. They responded with what Paul called "the hearing of faith," precisely the same as Abraham's response (he "believed" when God "preached the gospel unto" him, Gal. 3:5-8).
Paul and Silas "reasoned with them out of the scriptures" (Acts 17:2). Ellen White writes: "... Paul appealed to the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah" (Acts of the Apostles, p. 221). Paul was "opening and alleging [explaining and proving], that Christ [the Messiah] must needs have suffered" (Acts 17:3).
The popular view of the messiah was a deliverer of the Jewish nation from their Roman oppressors. A suffering messiah who died for the sins of the nation would mean a humbling of Israel. But a conquering messiah would confirm a "righteous" Israel in their impenitence, without the need for repentance.
The apostle Paul was the first biblical writer who clearly discerned the significance of Israel's history in the light of the two covenants. It was the reason why they misunderstood the mission of their messiah. They took it upon themselves to promise: "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do" (Ex. 24:7). Ellen White tells us that these words were spoken "feeling that they were able to establish their own righteousness" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 372). And of course we know that all self-righteousness is essentially sin. Thus unbelieving Israel themselves formed the old covenant.
We may pride ourselves for "preaching Christ," but all too often He turns out to be the mirror image of a popular messiah who saves people in their sins not from their sins. We proclaim a soon coming Christ who will vindicate the "righteous" remnant church and destroy our persecutors with the fire of flaming vengeance in order to set up His visible kingdom, but we do not relish the thought that before Christ returns as a conquering King, He approaches His Bride-to-be with "a most precious message" of love in the cross and the cleansing of the sanctuary truth in order to win our willing consent of repentance for Him to conquer sin within our lives (Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 91).
The result of the ministry of Paul and Silas was the conversion of "a great multitude" (Acts 17:4). Seeing that their influence over various people had diminished, the Jews were jealous, and they resorted to ignoble means to fight the missionaries. They used "some bad characters from the marketplace ... and started a riot" (Acts 17:5, NIV).
The Jews portrayed the apostles as men who have caused trouble all over the world--having "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). Ellen White perceptively writes: "The Jews interpreted the words of Paul to mean that Christ would come the second time in that generation, and reign upon the earth as king over all nations" [The Spirit of Prophecy (1878), vol. 3, p. 391; Redemption; or the Teachings of Paul, and his Mission to the Gentiles (1878), p. 49].
The Jews accused Paul and Silas of teaching the very kind of messiah that they themselves taught in order to take the heat off themselves. The Jews believed that a revolutionary, political messiah was soon to return and overthrow the Roman government.
"God is agape" (1 John 4:16). It's the one little word revealed by the Crucified One. The Jews deliberately distorted Paul's message of Christ's sacrifice when they complained to the magistrates of the city of Thessalonica "these that have turned the world upside down are come hither also" (Acts 17:6).
When Jesus of Nazareth was being crucified, spikes driven through His wrist-bones and ankle-bones, He prayed for the men doing that: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). No other victim of crucifixion, (and the Romans crucified hundreds) had ever prayed for his tormentors' forgiveness. This was news!
People talked about it everywhere. The news catalyzed humanity: there were those who despised the divine Victim; there were others whose hearts were deeply impressed and solemnized.
In the end of time the world will again be lightened with a message that turns it upside down, a message that grips some hearts and reconciles them to God and to His holy law; and that goads others to enforce the "mark of the beast" against them. This will be the message of the fourth angel of Revelation 18:1-4 that brings to a triumphant conclusion the work of Christ's gospel. The message of the three angels of chapter 14 doesn't accomplish that great work; it can't. The three angels need the help of the fourth angel who supplies the dynamic motivation of the cross (John 12:32).
The Adventist Church and the world have waited more than a hundred years to hear that "most precious message"--the beginning of the latter rain--which was rejected because of the resistance of church leaders so imprisoned in legalism that it could not reach them. But there is joyful evidence that the Holy Spirit, whom God's messenger said was "insulted" at that Minneapolis meeting in 1888, [1] is offering the church once more today the pure gospel that in the days of the apostles "turned the world upside down."
--Paul E. Penno
[1] The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1043; letter to Uriah Smith, Sept. 19, 1892.
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