Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Lesson 1: The Missionary Nature of God
The important question we have to settle is not "Is there a God?" but "What is He like? What is His character?"
Many traditional religions of the world, and yes, so-called "Christian" religions, do not have a clear idea about God except what is dimly seen in the face of nature.
Some look toward the heavens during a thunderstorm, for they thought that the thunder is the voice of God and they might just see Him by accident. Others consider that God is manifest in dangerous places in nature or in animals such as lions or buffaloes. The idea was that God will harm you if you are not careful. Then others see God's presence in the sexual act between husband and wife, bringing conception. It comes close to equating God with sex, and this is not surprising, for sex is indeed a mystery. And because nature sometimes wears a smiling face, many recognize that God is kind, merciful and generous.
Many believe that even at His very best, God is a problem, and you can never really be sure of how He feels towards you. You must keep Him happy somehow by pleasing Him or placating Him. He is unpredictable, and His moods change easily. If He is the Giver of life, He is also the One who can get angry and take it away from you. Some believed that God told the first men to come to Him for everything they needed, but when they did so, He got tired of them and quietly sneaked away while they slept. Many believed that God has withdrawn Himself from fallen man. Apart from the Bible, mankind nowhere has any clear idea about God.
In contrast to these many uncertainties, the Bible teaches that God has revealed Himself openly to man. In fact, He has nothing to hide. He is trying to unveil Himself, pleading with man to look and see. "I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not, ... Seek ye Me in vain." "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else" (Isa. 45:19, 22).
The Bible teaches that the original man was created perfect in the Garden, but he sinned and lost his innocence and eternal life. Many traditions echo this same story, but the great difference between them and the Bible teaching is that in all of these, "God withdrew Himself from the first men."
But the Bible says that the "missionary" God immediately came searching for the lost man who had withdrawn himself.
Here we see two amazing opposites beginning to shape up: Sin makes man feel guilty and ashamed so that he mistrusts and dislikes God; sin makes God's love shine all the more brightly. We can see this clearly in the Bible story. When the first man and woman sinned, "Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?" (Gen. 3:8, 9). No sooner had man fallen than the Lord God came looking for him!
Ever since then, God has been seeking us. This is one of the good news ideas of the 1888 message. He is the "Good Shepherd" who suffers infinite pain and weariness in searching for man, His "lost sheep" (Luke 15:4-7). He is also like a Bridegroom seeking the runaway woman whom He loves (the church) and who is indifferent toward Him (Rev. 19:7, 8).
No people on any continent of the earth have ever been able to "see" a God like this in the dim revelation of nature. This tremendous idea of God's seeking love could come only as a revelation from heaven. In fact, no other religion in the history of the world has approached anywhere near to this idea of God as found in the Bible.
Another 1888 Idea Is the Revelation of God's Character
While the Bible teaches us that God has revealed Himself to mankind, it is not in the form of a mountain, or tree, or rock, or desert, that this revelation is to be seen. We do not need to take a journey to Mecca or to Rome to find Him. He has revealed Himself in a Person. Nature may dimly reveal His power and His majesty; but only Jesus Christ can reveal God's missionary character of sacrificing, seeking love. "A virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (Matt. 1:23). Jesus said, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father. ... Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me" (John 14:9-11).
You may say, "Why haven't I seen this person? Why hasn't He come to my town and knocked on my door and shown Himself to me personally?" The answer is that He has come to your home and knocked on your door through the Holy Spirit. God was in Christ, and Christ in the Holy Spirit. The Three are one. When Jesus ascended to heaven, He said, "and I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth ... I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." "The Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things" (John 14:16-18, 26).
You see, if Jesus had remained on this earth personally, He would have retained all the limitations of our humanity. Imagine millions of people trying to crowd into His office to have a visit with Him. If you wanted to talk to Him you would have to make an appointment with His "secretary" and perhaps wait for years just to get five minutes in His presence, but through the Holy Spirit, He comes to everyone on earth who is willing to welcome Him. You don't have to wait even one minute.
But you may say, "If this is so, why doesn't everybody know about this? What has kept this revelation of God from being given to the whole world?" The answer is that God has graciously shared with us the thrill of giving the "Good News."
The Nation That Was Called to Tell Everybody
God's willingness to let us share in spreading the good news is seen in the choice of Israel. After sin had caused man to run away from God, He called a man who was willing to listen to His voice, Abraham: "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing" (Gen. 12:1, 2). God's everlasting covenant is a mission-focused idea of the 1888 message. The whole purpose of this special call was to make Abraham and his "nation" to be a blessing to the whole world: "And in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (vs. 3).
This was the beginning of Israel, the nation that was to have been the original Missionary to the whole world, taking the good news everywhere. But in their pride they failed to do what God called them to do. That is why the traditional religions of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, have all lacked so much truth. Just a very little light has shown through, a faint reflection, in some instances, of the truths committed to Israel. The full light, however, has been shown in Christ, "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9).
Now His church is to do the work that Israel failed to do. "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). Before God's work is done, "the earth [shall be] lightened with His glory" (Rev. 18:1).
--Paul E. Penno
Note: "Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: 1888mpm.org. Due to travel, there is no video this week of Pastor Paul Penno's Sabbath School class.