Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Heaven's Best Gift (Zechariah)"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Major Lessons From Minor Prophets
Lesson 12: "Heaven's Best Gift (Zechariah)"
The last half of Zechariah's book deals with the concepts of war and peace on this earth and Who is going to end war and usher in peace. When Christ died and was resurrected, He won the war with Satan in that He met the law's demand that the soul that sins, it must die. But He accomplished more than that by living a sinless life in sinful flesh, He obtained a righteousness that He gives to us if we consent. This is what gives us peace even though the world remains in chaos.
The elderly exiles who remembered the glory of Solomon's temple complained that the new one being built would not be as wonderful. God gave Zechariah a new definition of glory. The new temple would see the true Immanuel. God incarnate in human flesh would walk the courts of this structure. This should have thrilled the exiles if they understood the implications.
True peace comes from God and can only be established in hearts that are in harmony with God. Harmony with God is achieved only when human hearts are not at enmity with God and His law. In human strength, this is impossible, but when we yield our hearts to Him, He has promised that if we do not resist, our lives will become lives of continual obedience as if carrying out our own impulses. [1] Why did Christ have to come "in the likeness of sinful flesh"? Why couldn't He simply have worked a miracle to fix everything? By assuming our fallen, sinful nature, carried us in Him to the cross and thereby the entire human race obtained a verdict of acquittal. But that wasn't enough. Christ lived a sinless life which produced a righteousness in sinful flesh which He is ready to give us if we are willing. No wonder Ellen White said, "The humanity of the Son of God is everything to us. It is the golden chain that binds our souls to Christ, and through Christ to God. This is to be our study." [2]
Until the 1940s Seventh-day Adventist scholars and leaders were united regarding the nature of Christ. In the Preface of Jean Zurcher's book,Touched With Our FeelingsA Historical Survey of Adventist Thought on the Human Nature of Christ, Kenneth H. Wood wrote in 1996:
"Because Adventists from the beginning have held that Jesus took human nature as He found it after more than 4,000 years of sin, ministers and theologians of other churches have distorted this belief and used it to turn people away from the Sabbath truth and the three angels' messages. ... In the early 1930s an article challenging three Adventist teachings, including the nature of Christ, appeared in Moody Monthly. Francis D. Nichol, editor of theReview and Herald (now Adventist Review), responded to the charges by writing a letter to the editor. Regarding the teaching that Christ 'inherited a sinful, fallen nature,' he said: 'The belief of the Seventh-day Adventists upon this subject is definitely set forth in Hebrews 2:14-18. To the extent that such a Bible passage as this teaches the actual participation of Christ in our nature, we teach it.'"
"The position set forth by Elder Nichol was precisely the belief that the church, as well as many respected non-Adventist Bible students, had held throughout the decades. It certainly was the view held by Ellen White, who wrote: 'In taking upon Himself man's nature in its fallen condition, Christ did not in the least participate in its sin. ... He was touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and was in all points tempted like as we are. And yet He knew no sin. ... We should have no misgivings in regard to the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ.' (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 256)" [3]
Wood went on to say that in the 1950s when he was editor of the Review he "heard some church leaders say this was not the correct view--that it was the view of only the 'lunatic fringe' in the church."
Our early church fathers came from various churches, and brought their views with them. "Of those pastors who joined the Advent movement in 1844, 38 believed in the Trinity, while five were semi-Arian, including James White, Joseph Bates, Uriah Smith and, later, Joseph H. Waggoner," father of Ellet J. Waggoner, one of the 1888 "messengers." This belief was that Christ was the divine creator of heaven and earth, but he was a created being. White later changed his position. In 1872 the church produced 25 articles of faith which declares: "that there is one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father, the One by whom God created all things, and by whom they do consist; that he took on him the nature of the seed of Abraham for the redemption of our fallen race; that he dwelt among men full of grace and truth." [4]
When he was appointed assistant editor of the Signs of the Times, E. J. Waggoner's first article published in 1884 states: "Christ was sinless; the law was in His heart. As the Son of God His life was worth more than those of all created beings, whether in heaven or earth."
Alonzo T. Jones (the other 1888 "messenger") agreed with Waggoner's Christology: "The figure is ... 'that garment that is woven in the loom of heaven, in which there is not a single thread of human making.' Brethren, that garment was woven in a human body. The human body--the flesh of Christ--was the loom, was it not? That garment was woven in Jesus; in the same flesh that you and I have, for He took part of the same flesh and blood that we have. That flesh that is yours and mine, that Christ bore in this world--that was the loom in which God wove that garment for you and me to wear in the flesh, and He wants us to wear it now, as well as when the flesh is made immortal in the end!" [5]
This gives some background not only on the views held by our pioneers, but also emphasizes the importance of an informed understanding of why the nature of Christ is so important to sinners. There was no need for Christ to work out a perfect character for Adam before he fell, so Christ took the nature of the fallen Adam who now needed redeeming.
Zechariah uses the metaphor of sheep, both lost sheep, because of worthless, uncaring shepherds and protected sheep, protected and cared for by The Good Shepherd, when the sheep cherish the protection. Then in Zechariah chapter 12 the reader's mind is directed forward to "that day." And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him. ..." (vss. 10-11).
There is much hope for us in these verses. The Good Shepherd will gather both the leadership of Israel and the inhabitants together at the end of time. A spirit of compassion is poured out of God's agape and a spirit of supplication which lightens the earth with a demonstration of God's glory and how it changes people. Because of the compassion they have been given, the message of supplication is given. What is the supplication? It is nothing less than the final Elijah message that pleads with mankind to make their decision. Do they want to remain in the protection of the Good Shepherd, or will they resist?
Why is this end-time demonstration dependent on a proper understanding of the nature Christ? The pre-fall nature Adam enjoyed before sin entered was defined by a bright line: On the day that you eat thereof (the tree) you shall surely die. As long as they did not "eat thereof" obedience came naturally. But that nature, if it didn't change, needed no redeeming. Jesus had laid the prerogatives of divinity aside, so He could not determine day by day that He had lived a pure life. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, He withstood the most severe temptation both in Gethsemane and on the cross in our fallen, sinful nature. This is the faith of Jesus. He was not using His divine nature to help Him, so He demonstrated to the watching universe that Satan was wrong. It is possible for God through His Spirit to produce a sinless character in sinful flesh. He gives this victorious righteousness to those willing to accept and begins to change our characters even before He comes.
"Before the end comes, and at the time of the coming of Christ, there must be a people on earth, not necessarily large in proportion to the number of inhabitants of earth, but large enough to be known in all the earth, in whom 'all the fullness of God' will be manifest even as it was in Jesus of Nazareth. God will demonstrate to the world that what He did with Jesus of Nazareth He can do with anyone who will yield to Him." [6]
This demonstration will finally end the war between Christ and Satan, who opposed Christ's plan to save mankind asserting it was impossible to keep God's law. As our characters become more like Christ's through the fire of suffering, we find peace in trusting that God will do what He says He will do, that is finish the work He started in us until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).
--Arlene Hill
Endnotes:[1] cf. Steps to Christ, p. 27, and The Desire of Ages, p. 668.
[2] Selected Messages, book 1, p. 244.
[3] Jean Zurcher, Touched With Our Feelings, pp. 16, 17.
[4] Ibid, p. 47, quoting from Review and Herald, Jan. 2, 1872 (italics supplied).
[5] General Conference Bulletin, 1893, p. 207.
[6] E. J. Waggoner, as quoted in Zurcher, p. 73.
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