Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Book of Luke
Lesson 8: The Mission of Jesus
This week's lesson includes one of the best-loved stories in the Bible, and one that is a prominent part of the 1888 message--the story of the Good Shepherd. Luke's account of this story (chapter 15, verses 4-7) touches the hearts of adults and children alike, and also represents the "mission" of Jesus.
The 1888 message concept, summarized, says: Christ is a Good Shepherd who is seeking His lost sheep even though we have not sought Him. However, a misunderstanding of God's character causes us to think He is trying to hide from us.
Our quarterly rightly says, "God loves us so much that He Himself will come after us, in order to bring us to Him. We often talk about people seeking God; in reality, God is seeking us" (lesson for May 17).
How did this misunderstanding about God's character begin? It's our natural human love which thinks it must search for God. Heathen religions are based on the idea of God being elusive. People imagined that God is playing hide-and-seek and has withdrawn Himself from human beings. Only special ones are wise or clever enough to discover where He is hiding. Millions go on long journeys to Mecca, Rome, Jerusalem, or other shrines, searching for Him. The ancient Greeks outdid all of us in building magnificent marble temples in which they felt they must seek for God.
But God's love (agape) proves to be the opposite. It is not humans seeking after God, butGod seeking after man: "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). The shepherd left his ninety-nine sheep that were safe and risked his life to find the one that was lost. The woman lit a candle and searched her house until she found the one lost coin. The Spirit of God searched for the heart of the prodigal son and brought him home. There is no story in all the Bible of a lost sheep that must go find his shepherd!
Jesus saw that His mission was to help downcast and despondent people: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel [good news, glad tidings] to the poor [for example, those who can't afford medical treatment]; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised" (Luke 4:18).
But does God's Word contradict itself? Jesus devotes an entire chapter (Luke 15) to say that He is seeking lost sinners, not vice versa. But there are passages in the Old Testament that seem to contradict Him, implying He hides, awaiting the sinner's choice to seek and find Him.
Jesus actually sought out people to heal and resurrect. For example, there was the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:13ff); the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda (5:2-9--He asked him could He heal him!). Note His fervent appeals seeking the hearts of the leaders of the Jews (5:17ff); and there's the bereaved widow of Nain whose funeral for her son He interrupts and raises him (Luke 7:11). None of these came to Him seeking Him; He came to them seeking them. Jesus said His Father even is seeking our fellowship as though He is lonely without us (He is! It hurts Him when we leave Him; John 4:23).
But the Old Testament has commandments to seek and find Him, as though He is hiding from us. For example: "Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought His judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord's anger" (Zeph. 2:3). And, "Thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye Me, and ye shall live: ... lest He break out like fire ..." to burn you up or send a tsunami to wash you away (see the threats in Amos 5:4, 6).
And there is Jeremiah 29: "Ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart" (vs. 13). If we read the context, we will see that the Lord is not contradicting what Jesus said: the people have come home after 70 years of captivity-exile; at last they are tired of idolatry and Baal worship and are now eager to come to the Lord. It is not a command; it's simple future tense. It's not a threat. In close context, the prophet tells them that the joy of New Covenant living will come instead of Old Covenant fear (31:31-34).
Amos had to speak to Old Covenant-minded people with the only appeal he knew at the time: fear. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had deeply apostatized and were soon to be exiled permanently, lost to history (722 B.C.). But now at last here comes Jesus of Nazareth "to give light to them that sit in darkness" (Luke 1:79). He is the New Covenant. He seeksthe lost sheep "until He find it."
A. T. Jones, one of the 1888 "messengers," caught the idea of Christ taking the initiative. "It has always been Satan's deception to get people to think that Christ is as far away as it is possible to put Him. The farther away men put Christ, even those who profess to believe in Him, the better the devil is satisfied; and then he will stir up the enmity that is in the natural heart ...
"He will prepare us; we cannot prepare ourselves. ... No master workman looks at a piece of work he is doing, as it is half finished, and begins to find fault with that. It is not finished yet. It would be an awful thing if the wondrous Master Workman were to look at us as we are half finished, and say, That is good for nothing. He goes on with His wondrous work. ...
"As we have confidence in Him, we will let Him carry on the work. ... You can go outside of this [Battle Creek] Tabernacle and look up at that window (referring to the window at the back of the pulpit). It looks like only a mess of melted glass thrown together, black and unsightly. But come inside and look from within, and you will see it as a beautiful piece of workmanship. Likewise you and I can look at ourselves, and all looks awry, dark, and ungainly, only a tangled mass. God looks at it from the inside, as it is in Jesus ..." (General Conference Bulletin, 1895, pp. 478, 367-368, condensed).
Ellen G. White summarizes this lesson on the Good Shepherd: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. A lost sheep never finds its way back to the fold of itself. If it is not sought for and saved by the watchful shepherd, it wanders until it perishes. What a representation of the Saviour is this! Unless Jesus, the Good Shepherd, had come to seek and to save the wandering, we should have perished. The Pharisees had taught that none but the Jewish nation would be saved, and they treated all other nationalities with contempt. But Jesus attracted the attention of those that the Pharisees despised, and He treated them with consideration and courtesy. ... " (Signs of the Times, Nov. 20, 1893).
"So when the lost sinner is found by the Good Shepherd, heaven and earth unite in rejoicing and thanksgiving. For 'joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance'" [Luke 15:6, 7] (Gospel Workers, p. 182).
Remember, the Hebrew word often translated as "seek" means "inquire of," "pay attention to." Thus Isaiah 55:6 really says, "Pay attention to the Lord while He is available, call upon Him while He is near." In this solemn Day of Atonement, it surely is time to "pay attention to the Lord." That He is still "available" is tremendous Good News.
--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland