Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Lesson 5: Exiles as Missionaries
In our lesson on the prophetic book of Daniel we focus light on the special message of Christ's righteousness which the Lord sent to us in the 1888 era. We demonstrate that the "most precious message" which "the Lord in His great mercy sent" to us is indeed worthy of the name Ellen G. White gave it--"the third angel's message in verity," ultimate practical godliness.
Since the message was intended by its Divine Author to prepare that generation to meet the final issues of the mark of the beast, the seal of God, and the close of human probation, it is clear that it embraces the entire life of those who receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
The contribution which the 1888 message makes to our lesson is to see that making Jesus Christ our Lord in missionary service is not only a duty imposed upon us, but it's far more than that--a joy, a commitment that is constrained upon us by the motivation of love (the agape of Christ). In other words, in this special Day of Atonement when the heavenly High Priest is closing His work as High Priest of our souls, Christ as our Lord is also our Friend.
To recognize Jesus as the Lord of our missionary life is to surrender our will, our choices, to Him, and that's what we Laodicean Christians squirm at. Yes, we'll keep Saturday as our rest day, and we'll pay tithe, and we'll dedicate a year or so of our life to be a foreign missionary somewhere, and we'll give offerings; and then, we having done our duty, He won't mind if we spend all we have left of means or time in enjoying our wonderful economic heritage. We've done our duty, haven't we? So, yes, we recognize Jesus as not only our Savior, but as our Lord in missionary service. Can we do better than that?
The 1888 good news is Christ capturing our hearts in our service for others. He is nudging His disciples awake in "Gethsemane." It's the agape of Christ as a kind of love wholly different from what we think of as "love," for it motivates those who believe in Him to a totally selfless life of service to Him as Lord. Neither fear nor hope of reward enters into the picture. It's a measure of devotion to Christ that is parallel to the unique experience of living in the heavenly Day of Atonement, the time of the final cleansing of the sanctuary (Dan. 8:14).
That's not merely a theological quirk that our pioneers had for their day; it is vital truth in living for Christ as Lord in these last days. There are trials that will beset God's people before the close of probation and the pouring out of the seven last plagues; we'd be foolish to dismiss their reality into Adventist oblivion. Ellen White says it will not be possible for anyone to meet those final tests coming on the human race of which Daniel the prophet wrote, apart from this knowledge of Christ as High Priest in His sanctuary ministry in the Most Holy Place. It's in His work there that His Priestly ministry finally coincides totally with His Lordship for those who believe in Him.
It becomes obvious that this is "Christian experience" that is unique. If our attention is fixed now on Christ as our Lord in service, this requires the revelation that the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation define what "the time of the end" means (Dan. 12:4). The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been raised up by God to proclaim to the earth His final message of reconciliation, that is, of atonement. At last at the end of human history, a people is to be prepared who are truly at-one-with God, as close in relationship to Christ as a bride is related to her bridegroom. It's not a new works program; it's a new faith program. Christ's role as Lord is actually welcomed as a bride welcomes her wedding day--not as our famous "Runaway-Bride" of recent notoriety. (The truth is that the church in her role as "Bride" has been on a runaway jaunt for over a century!)
Getting acquainted with Jesus as our Lord in service is a preparation for meeting Him when He returns the second time. It is thus a unique Adventist idea; all through history true Christians have recognized Christ as their Lord, but in this particular time of final Day of Atonement judgment, we are privileged to know Him as our Savior, our heart-cleansing High Priest, our Lord of our obedience, our Friend and our Lover of the ages.
We explore our relationship with Him as subjects of His Lordship in missionary service. This is a fresh spiritual experience appropriate to the crisis of world life today. The servant of the Lord assures us that all Heaven is deeply concerned for the spiritual condition of the church of the Laodiceans today. This contribution of the 1888 message, the unique Adventist idea of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary of which Daniel wrote, is the grand truth that makes the missionary service of Christ become so totally received that His church will glorify Him as never before. The church will make possible His being crowned King of kings and Lord of lords. Forget about getting your own crown; pray to have a part in crowning Him.
Jesus especially singled out Daniel for our attention: "Whoso readeth, let him understand" (Matt. 24:15). That "let" embraces within itself a promise: if you "read" the book, that is, give it honest attention, the "understanding" will for a certainty be given to you. Your goal of course is not only your personal enrichment, but you want to learn how to "let" someone else "understand," for his good.
We often have a restricted idea of how to "give Bible studies." We need printed lessons that tell all the historical details that we aren't diligent enough to remember; educated "scholars" will have prepared the material, and we faithfully pass on to someone second hand this mass of information (that is, of course, until he gets too bored to continue).
Our goal is different: we want to do exactly what Jesus said--"read" and "understand" Daniel so we can ourselves personally lead someone else through the book, verse by verse. You don't want to impress someone with your acquired wealth of historical knowledge (God forbid!); what you want is to grasp the "gospel" Good News that is embedded in Daniel and let it grip someone's heart. Then that heart-thrilling reward comes in chapter 12: even now, before "forever and ever" comes, your happiness will "shine as the brightness of the firmament," and you will "turn [someone] to righteousness" (Daniel 12:3). The Holy Spirit will fill in the gaps and when you "read" with someone else, you will be surprised how He will "bring all things to your remembrance." You'll be conscious of His alerting you (John 14:26; that's a thrill nothing can surpass).
Daniel is a lesson book in corporate repentance. Note how he and his young friends who did not rebel against God (as did the kings and people of Israel) have to suffer innocently for the nation's corporate sin. God is forced to back off and allow Babylon to conquer them (Daniel and his friends get castrated in a foreign land; see Isa. 39:7). But there is no bitterness. Finally Daniel writes a chapter fully explaining corporate repentance (chapter 9).
The same principle is incumbent on the Seventh-day Adventist Church to appreciate: our "fathers' sins" of resisting the Holy Spirit are corporately "our sins" as well (Dan. 9:3-19; compare what Ellen White says about our own "1888" history and its effect on us today).
Daniel is a precious lesson book in Day of Atonement health reform. We can easily forget why God has given us health reform: it came precisely in tandem with our pioneers' incipient understanding of Day of Atonement living. Christ as our great High Priest in 1844 had entered His ministry in the second, "Most Holy," apartment of the heavenly sanctuary. While He is busy there "cleansing" it from the sin of His people, they on earth are permitting Him to "cleanse" it from their hearts. No way can the heavenly "books" have our sins "blotted out" there until first of all they are erased from our hearts down here. Health reform is a vital part of this special ministry--never before accomplished so completely for the corporate body of God's people.
--Paul E. Penno
Note: "Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at: 1888mpm.org