Friday, December 26, 2014

'The Everlasting Gospel'

SST #13 | 'The Everlasting Gospel' | Paul Penno:

Lesson 13: "The Everlasting Gospel"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Book of James
Lesson 13: "The Everlasting Gospel"

As we come to a close of thirteen studies of the book of James, we are reminded that "the everlasting gospel" is taught throughout the Bible. It is a joy to share in these few paragraphs the 1888 perspective of salvation throughout the Scriptures.
Surely at some time in your life you have worked for wages. You know what it is to toil all day long. And all the while you kept thinking about the wage your employer had promised to pay you for your hard labor. When you got it, you knew you deserved every dollar, and probably more because you had worked so hard. What your employer paid you was not a gift, but a debt. A wage is something that is paid since you earned it.
But grace is just the opposite. Suppose that you do not work for your employer at all. He owes you nothing. And suppose, that in addition to the fact that you have done nothing to deserve anything from him, you have actually wronged him, perhaps stolen something from him. He could be angry with you if he chooses. But then suppose that he shows kindness to you by freely giving you a precious gift, in spite of all the evil you have done to him. Such a gift would be grace.
Now let us suppose that Christ is our employer. Does He award salvation and eternal life as wages to those who work hard to earn them? Or does He give salvation freely as grace to people who don't deserve it at all? And if He does, how can He be fair if He doesn't save everybody alike?
And, further, if He saves people by grace alone, what is the point of anyone needing a change of heart? People asked that same question in Paul's day, "Let us do evil that good may come?" (Rom. 3:8). These are some of the questions for which we need answers.
If good people can earn salvation, they have every right to be proud of themselves. And if nobody can earn it, why should anyone want to be good?
About 1900 B.C. the Lord called a man out of Ur of the Chaldees to become an example of salvation by grace. His name was Abraham, and Paul calls him "the father of all who have faith." All who believe in Christ are Abraham's spiritual "children." When the apostle Paul "turned the world upside down" with his gospel teaching, it was Abraham whom he put forward as proof of his teaching. Abraham's experience in finding salvation is a perfect example of how we too may find it. Did he earn it? Or was he simply saved by the grace of God?
Paul answers the question, "What shall we say, then, of Abraham, the father of our race? What was his experience? If he was put right with God by the things he did, he would have something to boast about--but not in God's sight. The Scripture says, 'Abraham believed God, and because of his faith God accepted him as righteous.' A person who works is paid his wages, but they are not regarded as a gift; they are something that he has earned. But the person who depends on his faith, not on his deeds, and who believes in the God who declares the guilty to be innocent, it is his faith that God takes into account in order to put him right with himself." (Rom. 4:1-5, Good News Bible).
If God saved Abraham simply by his grace, because Abraham believed, then it follows that you and I are saved in exactly the same way. The gospel was preached to Abraham just as it is preached to us today (see Gal. 3:8). God requires no more from us than He required from Abraham--faith. He has always had only one way of saving the lost--through faith.
This is still a new idea to mankind, 4000 years later! You don't see "grace" in the world today, unless it has come by Jesus Christ. Nobody gives you anything for free, whether a nice house, a piece of property, or a car. Nobody even brings you food for free. You have to earn everything you put into your mouth. The world operates strictly on the principle of "works." You get what you earn, and what you don't work for you don't get.
So completely are mankind given over to the idea of "works" that they imagine that God operates on the same plan. They suppose they must do something in order to earn salvation from God. They must give Him something. They treat God as though He were a retailer. You never feel ashamed of yourself when you go into a shop to buy something. You have your money, you pay it to the retailer, and take what you have bought and you walk out proud and happy. You may feel you have done the retailer a favor, for you know he has made at least some profit on what he sold you.
But when someone gives you something freely as an act of grace, you don't know how you ought to feel. He has done you a favor, and it makes you feel humble. In some way you sense a debt to him.
People like to think that God keeps a business and "sells" salvation to those who will pay Him with their goodness. They like to bargain with Him, to feel like they have something they can give to God--their works. It makes them feel a little proud. They consider themselves somewhat on a level with Him; they give Him something, and they receive something from Him.
But God pays no wages whatever. All He gives is by grace, a free gift. The reason is that there is really nothing we can do to earn salvation, anymore than a baby can earn the food his parents provide him. They feed their baby "by grace." They love him, that is all. And that is the reason God saves us. "It is by His grace you are saved, ... it is not your own doing. It is God's gift, not a reward for work done. There is nothing for anyone to boast of" (Eph. 2:8, New English Bible).
You would think that the world would receive the news with joy. But most people reject it. Why? They are too proud to come to God humbly and to hold out both hands in faith to receive from Him. To receive the "grace of God," we must humble our hearts, and acknowledge that we are nothing, that we have nothing, and that we deserve nothing, and that He gives everything.
There are many people living in this world who in their hearts want to be right with God. But they have been taught to believe something that is wrong, which separates them from God. They have been taught to believe that God loves only good people and that He restricts His mercy to those people who think they find it easy to obey Him. But many know that they have an evil heart that loves to do wrong; so they imagine that God is angry with them or has turned away from them.
But if the sunshine and the rain fall on the evil and the good alike, surely anyone can see that God's grace comes likewise to every man, woman, and child on the earth. Have you done bad things? Do you feel yourself unworthy of the kindness of God? You are the very person to whom He gives His wonderful grace!
There is nothing you can do to earn it any more than you can earn sunshine or rain. You simply receive it with thankfulness. And this thankful receiving is what the Bible calls "faith."
The work that grace accomplishes in every heart that believes is "to set us free from all wickedness and to make us a pure people ..." The grace has "dawned" upon all alike and the changed heart is the experience of those who believe (see Titus 2:11-14, New English Bible).
Christ redeems us to a new life of true, happy obedience "under grace." Sin actually loses its "dominion" when grace is appreciated, for grace is the stronger master. It "emancipates" us more effectively than Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves.
--Paul E. Penno
Note: "Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sabbath School Today, Lesson 12, Quarter 4-14

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Book of James
Lesson 12: "Prayer, Healing, and Restoration"
Our lesson this week mentions Elijah several times, including his "important model of prayer" and "work of calling Israel back to God and true worship" (p. 96, regular lesson). We would like to focus on "Elijah" in this week's Sabbath School Today because his life and "legacy" are demonstrations of what God presented through Ellen G. White, Ellet J. Waggoner, and Alonzo T. Jones as the 1888 message, a message that fully embodies "prayer, healing, and restoration."
Who is this Elijah? He was the man who single-handedly confronted apostate Ahab and wicked Queen Jezebel during gross apostasy in Baal worship (simply defined as the worship of self disguised as the worship of Christ). When the nation's rulers tried to kill him he had to hide in an unknown spot by the Brook Cherith, and later as a guest of a widow in the heathen land of Sidon. Elijah is not dead: he was translated without seeing death, a type of those living today who will welcome Jesus at His second coming.
First we must read the great promise in Malachi 4:5, 6: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers."
Elijah must be someone special, for he was chosen to accompany the resurrected Moses to visit with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17) and encourage Him as He faced the horror of His cross. Elijah is a live human being who never tasted death. Where he is in the universe no one knows. If God has already kept His promise and sent Elijah, and we haven't known it, has there been some modern "Ahab" and "Jezebel" who opposed his coming and tried to slay him again, or at least silence him? Is Elijah II being forced to hide in some modern "Brook Cherith," or as a guest of some foreign "widow of Zarephath" who is outside "Israel"? When Ahab and Jezebel tried to kill him and Elijah found refuge in Sidon, Jesus cited that fact to the acute embarrassment and anger of the true church of that day. What made them angry were these words of Jesus: "'I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon [a pagan land]. ...' All those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath" (Luke 4:25, 26, 28).
Could it be that God has had to entrust the modern "Elijah" with believers outside our ranks? Could our sin be as great as that of God's people anciently? Does modern Israel despise Elijah II as much as ancient Israel despised Elijah I?
Actually, Elijah is good news. He encourages our children, whereas the frightening political situation is bad news. And what the Lord wants to tell the world is good news. He wants a New Covenant motivation to replace our time-honored Old Covenant one.
The common perception some have of "Elijah" is of a fiery-tempered reformer who specializes in chopping heads off prophets of Baal (religious leaders) with whom he disagrees, but that is not a balanced view of his ministry. The Lord may appoint Elijah II to do the equivalent to modern prophets of Baal, but that is not his primary work. His foremost mission is to "turn the hearts" of "fathers" and "children." That is healing and restoration--"reconciliation," the same as "atonement."
According to the prophecy of Daniel 8:14, we are living in the great antitypical Day of Atonement which comes just before "the great and dreadful day of the Lord." In fact, today is that day, the special time of reconciliation, of turning hearts. Therefore it becomes clear that Elijah's work and message will be found in the unique remnant-church truth of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. That raises the question: has our neglect of that truth forced "Elijah's" message to take refuge with what we call "outsiders" like the "widow of Zarephath"? Or hidden as Obadiah hid some prophets of the Lord from Jezebel? We know that the bulk of God's true people are still in "Babylon," but we forget that the three angels' messages of Revelation 14 are primarily directed to the Sunday-keeping churches, where the bulk of God's people are to be found.
You already know the story of the original Elijah. In 1 Kings 17:1 he appears out of nowhere with no designation of "prophet" or evidence that the Lord had sent him. He just suddenly crashes the king's gate and startles him at his desk with the news that no more rain will fall until he agrees for it to come, "except at my word." Face it, this sounds arrogant. He doesn't say, "until the Lord agrees for rain to fall." He says, "at my word." Shocking as it is, Elijah has taken over the administration of the Lord's work in Israel. God has entrusted enormous responsibility to him personally, including control of the elements. Elijah is a forerunner of that group of overcoming people mentioned in Revelation 3:21 to whom Jesus says He will grant to "sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." Just as God gave executive authority to Elijah I, so He will give executive authority to those who overcome even as Christ overcame. Elijah II will have some important part from now on.
James does not say that the drought was the primary will of God; rather, it was His answer to the initiative of Elijah's prayer: "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain ..." (James 5:17, 18).
After the extent of the famine had sobered even Ahab and Jezebel, Elijah suddenly confronts Obadiah. The king is humiliated to meet the prophet, and the appointment is made to call the people to Mount Carmel, where Elijah taunts the Baal preachers and demands that they demonstrate before the crowd the lie of their imported Baal worship. Then he prays a prayer that gives us a clue to what the modern "Elijah" will do when he comes again: "Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again" (1 Kings 18:37).
Did you catch it? "Turning hearts" is Elijah's main concern, and that will be his work for the church and for the world when he comes just before the return of Jesus. And we know that turning alienated hearts in atonement (at-one-ment) is something only the message of Christ's cross can accomplish. Therefore it follows that Elijah's message will be lifting up "Christ and Him crucified." Jesus says something parallel to sending Elijah, "'Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.' This He said, signifying by what death He would die" (John 12:31-33).
As an evangelist, Paul caught the idea. This at last is real "evangelism": "And I, brethren, when I came to you, ... determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1, 2). Paul turned his world upside down with that message. From this we conclude that the message of that fourth angel which lightens the earth with glory (Rev. 18:1-4) will not be a fear-motivated brand of spiritual terrorism. Wherever and whoever "Elijah" is, he is not a spiritual terrorist scaring people into conversion; he is pleading as an "ambassador for Christ, ... we implore you, ... be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20). What is the message he bears? What Christ accomplished on His cross: "For He [the Father] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (vs. 21).
"Elijah" will proclaim nothing but positive "straight testimony." It will be the best Good News the world or the church has ever heard. His message will be the "third angel's message in verity," which will be a clearer concept of "the everlasting gospel" understood since Pentecost's message. The Protestant Reformers of the 16th century understood justification by faith clearly for their time; but they, including the Wesleys, lived too soon to grasp the idea of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary in this Day of Atonement. Even Ellen Harmon failed to grasp it until after the Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844. When she came to her 60s she eagerly welcomed a message brought by two young men, E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones, to the General Conference Session in 1888 that gave a more clear understanding of justification by faith. This was the beginning of the Loud Cry of Revelation 18: it's initial "showers from heaven of the latter rain" (her words; The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, vol. 4, p. 1478).
The "lost sheep" will realize that his salvation is totally due to the seeking love of His Good Shepherd, not his ability to "find" Him. This "turns" the worldly heart in contrition. "Faith" finds its true definition: the "believer" demonstrates it as his or her heart becomes a well from which flow "rivers of living water." This is the "evangelism" which will "lighten the earth with glory" and hasten the return of our Savior.
We appeal especially to young people: give your lives, not just a few days now and then to a mission trip, to cooperate with "Elijah" in this grand work of telling the world this "heart-turning" message! You'll meet him some day, and you'll be happy to have worked with him.
--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Lesson 10: "Weep and Howl!"

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of James

Lesson 10: "Weep and Howl!"

The Lord impressed James to write a scathing rebuke to "rich" people especially in "the last days" where in we live: "Come now, you rich weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! ... You have heaped up treasure in the last days" (James 5:1, 3). Writes Ellen White: "I saw that these fearful words apply particularly to the wealthy who profess to believe the present truth." [1]

One who discerns at least something of the economic significance of the cross of Christ discerns a deeper recognition: we don't deserve any of what we have--not even our next breath. We are reminded of this by the 1888 message. Only the biblical teaching of the cosmic Day of Atonement in which we are now living just prior to the second coming of Christ can put our modern living in perspective, in relation to the cross of Christ.

Is God telling us and the world something? Yes! If you have $26 million to spend a year, to do what you like, and you live in a palace, and you ride in the safest car in the world, you are not secure. You have nothing that you can call your own; your next breath is only by the grace of God.

Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was the icon of the world, his name on everyone's tongue. God told him in Daniel 4:25, "The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will." Nebuchadnezzar, you are nothing.

This modern world with all its glamour, its pomp, its pleasure, is nothing. So, in mercy, Heaven is telling the world: remember, every moment, your accountability to Heaven and say Thank You, Lord, for this new day. Life in Christ is everything.

"Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!" James 5:1 refers to "Elijah the prophet" whom the Lord is sending with a message of healing and reconciliation for alienated hearts (Mal. 4:5, 6). We have seen in recent years the stock market crash, affecting the world economy. If we already see a spectacular case of judgment being executed on the "rich," can we expect the blessed salvation message from "Elijah" also to come soon? "Elijah the prophet" comes just before "the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (the second coming of Christ, Mal. 4:5).

Ellen White applies the words of James 5 in particular to the Laodicean Church in the last days: "I saw that these fearful words apply particularly to the wealthy who profess to believe the present truth. The Lord calls them to use their means to advance his cause. Opportunities are presented to them, but they shut their eyes to the wants of the cause, and cling fast to their earthly treasure. Their love of the world is greater than their love of the truth, the love of their fellow-men, or their love to God. He has called for their substance, but they selfishly, covetously retain what they have. They give a little now and then to ease their conscience, but have not overcome their love for this world." [2]

A missionary to Africa, Robert Wieland, had a personal visit once with the king of Uganda when it was still a British Protectorate. They met in the private home of one of the king's personal friends. He himself drove his Rolls-Royce to the appointment. During the visit he volunteered to express appreciation for the missionary's gospel-ministry for the Baganda, saying that "our problem is materialism." Later he had to flee the luxury of his palace for refuge in England. Yes, he would have been happier living in secure peace in a mud house with only a bicycle. He was a good man caught up in the "misery" of wealth and power, as the apostle says.

Elijah's main agenda is "turning" hearts in a grand, cosmic ministry of heart-reconciliation. The greatest "heart" that needs "turning": the heart of "the Lamb's wife"-to-be, His church (Rev. 19:7, 8).

The "Lamb" (which means the crucified Christ) loves her and wants to marry her, but she has delayed "the marriage of the Lamb" by remaining un-ready as a Bride, alienated in that deeper conjugal maturity. Egocentric, covetous concerns have been her primary motivation. That means that "she" is holding back from the total surrender of heart appropriate for any bride to give to her husband-to-be.

In other words, the "Lamb's" wooing has thus far been unsuccessful. The greatest "prophecy" of the end times declares that she (His church) will repent as a Bride, and give her heart to Him in a corporate, nuptial love. This surrender of heart worldwide will release the pent-up Hallelujah Choruses of all eternity when she "makes herself ready" for the "marriage" (Rev. 19:1-7).

This being un-ready has involved the Bride-to-be in shameful, painful rejection of the Bridegroom, which has naturally humiliated Him. She, not He, has created a cosmic lovers' split. Thanks to "Elijah's" ministry, a healing of her heart must and will come. It will be the "repentance of the ages."

Those who would be loyal to the Bridegroom-to-be will also in deep contrition remain in the loyal fellowship of the bride-to-be. They will fulfill James's appeal to "Come now" with her (5:1).

"Elijah" will "lift up" "Christ and Him crucified" for sinners, clearly and powerfully, beyond anything in all past history (John 12:32, 33; 1 Cor. 2:1-3).

--Paul E. Penno


[1] Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 245.

[2] Ibid., pp. 245, 246.

Raul Diaz