Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"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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