Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Lesson 1: Son of David

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of Matthew

Lesson 1: Son of David

The theme of our lesson in this new quarter of studies from Matthew dwells on the genealogy of Christ. In other words, Jesus learned from His earthly, ancestral heritage. By taking upon His divine nature, the fallen, sinful human nature of His earthly ancestors, He gathered up in Himself, the lessons of the ages, and overcame sin, where they had fallen.
As man is since he became subject unto death, this is what we "see Jesus" to be. Death could not have touched Him had He come in the sinless nature of Adam before the Fall. He is "the son of Abraham" (Matt. 1:1). That is, He took upon Himself the full heredity imposed by the genetic line from Abraham, that He might minister to them, not to the unfallen angels.
We can never suggest that Christ had a sinful nature. He had a sinless one; but He took our sinful nature. [1] This is the glorious gospel of hope that many have been hindered from seeing. But the Lord gave it to Seventh-day Adventists, and Ellen White said that "God commanded [it] to be given to the world." [2] It presented a Christ who knows how the sinner is tempted and can save Him from the lowest hell.
It has been generally assumed that getting serious about overcoming means only hard, boring work. But 1888 had good news. Here are samples from the two 1888 "messengers":
Writes A. T. Jones: "Jesus came to the world, and put Himself in the flesh, just where men are; and met that flesh, just as it is, with all its tendencies and desires; and by the divine power which He brought by faith, He 'condemned sin in the flesh,' and thus brought to all mankind that divine faith which brings the divine power to man to deliver him from the power of the flesh and the law of sin, just where he is, and to give him assured dominion over the flesh, just as it is." [3]
Writes E. J. Waggoner: "He who takes God for the portion of his inheritance, has a power working in him for righteousness, as much stronger than the power of inherited tendencies to evil, as our heavenly Father is greater than our earthly parents." [4]
If a people were to receive such a message wholeheartedly, would it not prepare them for translation at the coming of Jesus?
We are not the first people to have misunderstood a message God sent. The ancient Jews brought grief to the Messiah because they were certain they understood—but they didn't. His unheeded call to repent could hardly have brought more heartbreak to the Saviour than the lukewarm, unknowing response He has received from the last of the "seven churches" of history.
The Jews were expecting the Son of David to take the throne and rule in splendor. Their national rejection of Him must surely parallel our letting Him remain outside the door, still knocking for admission. The history of our spiritual forefathers demands clear understanding.
Some ten times Matthew speaks of Jesus Christ as "the son of David." This is spoken of in two senses: (1) Christ's legal, linear, unbroken genetic descent from David, and (2) His personal spiritual experience that was identical to David's as revealed in the Book of Psalms.
The marks of identification are numerous: It is obvious that in an anticipatory sense David foreshadowed Christ's experience on the cross: the piercing of His hands and His feet (Psalm 22:16), the parting of His garments among the soldiers, the casting lots for His "vesture" (vs. 18), the ridicule of the bystanders (vs. 7), the taunts of the priests and rulers (vs. 8), Christ's cry of dereliction (vss. 1, 2). All these details were literally reduplicated in Christ's experience. David wrote intimate prophecy.
Now can we as believers in Christ "adopt" David's experiences as ours, too? If Jesus did, why can't we? When Christ became "Emmanuel, ... God with us," His humanity required Him to pray. He could not have lived without prayer. Neither can we!
Identification with Christ is an essential aspect of the 1888 message. If Christ was "the son of David," identifying with David's experiences, then we too can identify with David "in Christ." We are "crucified with Christ," we "abide in Him" which means we live in Him. We identify with Christ; His experiences in battling with temptation become our experiences. Even if you have never known a moment of pain or sorrow, you can "grow up" "unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" by identifying with Him in Matthew. Then when you at last meet Him face to face, you will not feel like a stranger in His presence.
The good news is that Jesus Christ has already identified with you. He knows what you inherited, he knows what you grew up learning, doing. He even knew your heart, lungs, arms, legs, and other organs that were put together in your mother's womb (Psalm 139:13).
That is not all He has written about you. He has rewritten your history, He has redeemed you and all the human family from the pit, or more literally a grave in Hell. God chose every one of us to be in Him before the earth was ever formed that we should be without blame before Him in love. He has already felt in His own person our sicknesses and pains. We will not turn our faces from His kind of love, we will not abandon Him. He for our sakes became poor that we might through His poverty become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).
In view of Daniel 8:14, it is time to "overcome" where past generations failed. The entire sweep of ancient history to modern times is taken in by the 2,300 years from 457 B.C. to 1844 A.D. It wasn't until after 1844 that God's people could take in all the ups and downs of Christian history and learn from it. Only then the church with the discernment of the gospel/sanctuary truth could learn to overcome the mistakes of previous generations. God's people must learn from her history.
Paul E. Penno
[1] "He took on Him the seed of Abraham" (Heb. 2:16).
[2] The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1337.
[3] A. T. Jones, "Studies in Galatians. Gal. 5:16-18," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Sept. 18, 1900.
[4] E. J. Waggoner, The Everlasting Covenant, 1900, p. 66.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Lesson 13: Rebellion

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Rebellion and Redemption
Lesson 13: Rebellion
We are well into the 21st century and the new millennium. Millions of Christians all around the world are convinced that it was God's original intention that what we now call this "new millennium" would have been those "thousand years" of Revelation 20. Something has delayed the finishing of Christ's gospel commission when He said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). There is a "little" issue named the great controversy between Christ and Satan that must be squarely faced by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, before it can truly proclaim the good news to everyone. This is the unmentioned "back story" of this quarter.
Revelation 10 says that it was God's intention that with the blowing of the seventh trumpet, when the pre-advent judgment was to begin, that "the mystery of God should be finished, as He hath declared to His servants the prophets" (vs. 7). In other words, God's solution to the sin-problem with Laodicea, and His victory in the great controversy with Satan is the gospel-sanctuary truth in all its clarity, understood and appreciated by His people. God's intention cannot be forever nullified.
The millennium is the final judgment. The second coming of Christ comes before the thousand years when the first resurrection of believers and the translation of the living takes place. He takes us to be with Him where He is. The joys of the place that He has prepared for us will delight and inspire the senses. Those who overcome even as Christ overcame are given thrones to sit upon in Heaven as promised (Rev. 3:21). We will take an active roll in the judgment process of the dead left behind along with the devil and his angels.
Satan has sought to keep humanity enmeshed by sin. Satan has claimed that they have proved that he is the victor in the great controversy, and untold numbers of humans have felt they must agree with him: sin is too strong for sin-natured and sin-nurtured humans ever to "overcome," they think. The 1888 message asserts that in human flesh Christ "condemned sin in the flesh" 2000 years ago; but now comes the undisputed evidence that the human race can also "condemn sin" in their human flesh. The great controversy will be declared an unqualified victory for Christ, for His professed people will no longer be childishly content to remain "lukewarm."
At the conclusion of the thousand years our space ship city will transport us back to this old earth where we will witness the unbeliever's resurrection. Inspired by their leader, Satan, they will take right up where they left off, in opposing the Lamb and his kingdom city. When they are arraigned before the throne of God, they will acknowledge the justice of God's ways and desire to be put out of their misery with the death penalty.
Far from death being a friend to mankind, it is an enemy along with the grave called "hell" (Rev. 20:14). Says Paul, "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:26). The death penalty has never been vacated by the law of God. It is the punishment for sin. God had decreed that it be only for the devil. Jesus said, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41).
The Lord is deeply saddened that anyone else must be abandoned to this fate. The prophet Isaiah calls this His "strange act" (Isa. 28:21). It is not in God's nature to destroy those whom He loves. He gives them up to their choice.
Not one person, no matter how wicked, has ever as yet endured what the Bible calls "the second death" (cf. Rev. 2:11; 20:14), with the sole exception of Jesus.
The second death will come only at the end of the thousand years ("millennium"). When it happens at last, there will be "silence in heaven" for a "space" of time (Rev. 8:1), God and the holy angels grieving for the death of all who have chosen to end their existence by the second death. They have chosen it!
Ellen White declares that at the end, the lost will welcome their death by the lake of fire—so the common picture of the lost being cast screaming and yelling in protest while being thrown in is incorrect. Let us look: "A life of rebellion against God has unfitted them for heaven. Its purity, holiness, and peace would be torture to them; the glory of God would be a consuming fire. They would long to flee from that holy place. They would welcome destruction, that they might be hidden from the face of Him who died to redeem them. The destiny of the wicked is fixed by their own choice. Their exclusion from heaven is voluntary with themselves, and just and merciful on the part of God." [1]
The Lord Jesus Christ has done something for every man, woman, and child in the earth. The 1888 message says Christ has died the second death of everyone! "We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Heb. 2:9).
That "death" that Jesus "tasted" cannot be the first death, which is only a dreamless sleep. Therefore, it can mean only the "second death."
That's why the Samaritans said that Jesus is already "the Saviour of the world," and Paul says that He "is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe" (1 Tim. 4:10). That's two ways that Jesus is "the Saviour of all men"—He is practically, literally, the Saviour of those "that believe." But in a judicial sense, He is also "the Saviour of the world" in that He has died the second death of every man. "His love is bestowed alike upon all; to all he comes as a Saviour; but only those will be saved who will accept salvation." [2]
This is made clear in Romans 5:15-18: "God's act of grace is out of all proportion to Adam's wrongdoing. For if the wrongdoing of that one man brought death upon so many [everyone], its effect is vastly exceeded by the grace of God and the gift that came to so many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ. ... The judicial action, following on the one offence [of Adam], resulted in a verdict of condemnation, but the act of grace [of Jesus], following on so many misdeeds, resulted in a verdict of acquittal. ... It follows, then, that as the result of one misdeed [of Adam] was condemnation for all people, so the result of one righteous act is acquittal and life for all" (Revised English Bible).
There can be only one response from us if we have honest hearts that can appreciate the agape of Christ: "henceforth" we are totally dedicated to Jesus, His love (agape) ever constraining us to bear our cross with Jesus, the cross whereon self is crucified with Him!
As so we conclude this quarter of lessons asking ourselves the question: Am I ready for God's new world? He is ready for you. Your name has been written on a dwelling there. Your place is assured by the side of the Lamb.
—Paul E. Penno
[1] Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 543.
[2] E. J. Waggoner, "Goodness Leading to Repentance. Romans 2:4," The Signs of the Times, June 23, 1890.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Sabbath School Lesson 12 | "The Church Militant" | Pastor Paul Penno

Lesson 12: The Church Militant

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Rebellion and Redemption
Lesson 12: The Church Militant
"And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: "I know your works, that you are neither cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm,
and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth."'" (Rev. 3:14-16)

Our lessons for this week touch on descriptions of each of the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3. However, because the author of these lessons stated that "we shall study them from the perspective of the original recipients," there is no discussion of the importance of the last church, Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22), as it applies to the time in which we are living, and Christ's message to that church. Therefore, this essay will address the "last church," and its connection to the 1888 message.

Just as the word "Amen" always comes at the end of a prayer, so this message is the closing appeal of Jesus' seven letters to His churches. The message applies to the church today, in the very last days of this world's history. There is no eighth church yet to come!

"Laodicea" means "the judging of the people," or "the vindication of the people." This church lives on the earth during the time of the preaching of the three angels' messages: "Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come" (see Rev. 14:6-12).

The time period of contemporary Laodicea is the same as the work of "judgment" or "cleansing of the sanctuary," which began in 1844 when Christ entered the Most Holy apartment for His final work (see Dan. 8:14). Thus the church of Laodicea covers the period from 1844 to the end of human history, when He will return the second time.

Although it is true that "the Laodicean message, like a sharp, two-edged sword, must go to all the churches" [1], over and over again Ellen G. White applies it primarily and especially to the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. Further, when the Seventh-day Adventist Church understands and receives that message, she says, "the loud cry of the third angel" will no longer be delayed. We acknowledge that the Latter Rain and Loud Cry have been delayed for many decades. The only possible conclusion is that there must be something in the Laodicean message which we have not understood or received.

Consider this significant statement: "I was shown that the testimony to the Laodiceans applies to God's people at the present time, and the reason it has not accomplished a greater work is because of the hardness of their hearts. ... When it was first presented, ... nearly all believed [correctly, it is implied] that this message would end in the loud cry of the third angel. ... It is designed to arouse the people of God, to discover to them their backslidings, and to lead to zealous repentance, that they may be favored with the presence of Jesus, and be fitted for the loud cry of the third angel." [2]

For over a hundred years, probably more sermons have been preached among us and more words written about the Laodicean message than any other single topic. Yet, for some strange reason, the change the message calls for seems never to have taken place. Has the familiar language of Revelation 3:14-21 become so common to us that it is blasé? When will the last sermon on the Laodicean message be preached that will result in action that fulfills the "counsel" given by the True Witness?

When we look at our Lord's message from an uncommon perspective—that of the 1888 message of Christ's righteousness, the familiar words of Jesus to the seventh church take on a new and startling significance in the light of our post-1888 history. They become "present truth."

It is God's plan that truth shall bring His people into a perfect working unity, so that we can learn to glorify our Lord both as individuals and as a body, and truly act upon His "counsel" in the Laodicean message. Strident voices tell us there is no hope for the church; but there is hope—if we will do what our Lord says: "Be zealous therefore, and repent" (vs. 19).

In sacred history Nineveh stands out like a beacon to show that a nation can repent. The whole corporate body can repent, "from the greatest of them even to the least of them" (Jonah 3:5). The Lord Jesus longs for the repentance in the Laodicean message to spread from the top to the bottom throughout the worldwide church. The Holy Spirit will make effective the message once the "angel" of the church accepts it.

There is a profound and mysterious link that relates the 1888 message to Christ's appeal to His beloved Laodicea. We see many times that Ellen White tied these two together. For example, the following taken from a letter written in the context of the 1888 message and the reaction against it (righteousness by faith is the subject):

"The Laodicean message has been sounding. Take this message in all its phases and sound it forth to the people wherever Providence opens the way. Justification by faith and the righteousness of Christ are the themes to be presented to a perishing world." [3]

The divinely appointed remedies for the Laodicean condition of pride are "gold tried in the fire," "white raiment," and "eyesalve," essential themes of the 1888 message. With the passage of time it becomes increasingly apparent that the remnant church has never clearly understood the dynamics of this message. Dare we deny that this pointed rebuke penned in 1890 is applicable today?

"How can our ministers become the representatives of Christ when they feel self-sufficient, when by spirit and attitude they say, 'I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing'? We must not be in a self-satisfied condition, or we shall be described as those who are poor, and wretched, and miserable, and blind, and naked.

"Since the time of the Minneapolis meeting, I have seen the state of the Laodicean Church as never before. I have heard the rebuke of God spoken to those who feel so well satisfied, who know not their spiritual destitution. ... Like the Jews, many have closed their eyes lest they should see; but there is as great peril now, in closing the eyes to light, and in walking apart from Christ, feeling need of nothing as there was when He was upon earth. ...

"Those who realize their need of repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, will have contrition of soul, will repent for their resistance of the Spirit of the Lord. They will confess their sin in refusing the light that Heaven has so graciously sent them, and they will forsake the sin that grieved and insulted the Spirit of the Lord." [4]

If the Laodicean message is designed that the church "be fitted for the loud cry of the third angel," and "the state of the Laodicean church" "since the time of the Minneapolis meeting" is said to be perilous "as never before," it is obvious that here is a field of study deserving our closest attention. In the simple fact that the Loud Cry has not yet gone forth as it should, history demonstrates that here is "present truth." Our concern for finding the real cause for the long delay must lead us to a restudy of the message of Christ to the Laodicean church.

Something must happen in the end of time that has never happened before. Millenniums of defeat must be reversed. This is the only way the cleansing of the sanctuary can be completed. Daniel's prophecy declares it "shall" take place (Dan. 8:14). The infidelity of Laodicea will be cured by denominational repentance. The key to this attainment is the true and pure message of righteousness by faith. The Lord tried to give this to us over 100 years ago in 1888.

As A. T. Jones, one of the 1888 "messengers" put it: "Why should we not honor Him instead of ourselves? Shall I not honor Him instead of myself? It is not individual confession that is wanted so much as a General Conference confession. It is a General Conference clearing of ourselves that is needed." [5]

Does Laodicea need a hearing aid? No! Man-made devices can never do for her what the clear simple call of the True Witness provides. He speaks through the Holy Spirit and even a deaf person can hear this pleading call:

"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto [Laodicea]" (Rev. 3:19-22).

—From the writings of Robert J. Wieland and Donald K. Short
[1] Testimonies for the Church, "After the Camp Meeting," vol. 6, p. 77.
[2] Ibid., "The Laodicean Church," vol. 1, p. 186.
[3] The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 964 (Letter 24, 1892).
[4] Review and Herald, "The Righteousness of Christ," August 26, 1890.
[5] "General Conference Proceedings," The Daily Bulletin of the General Conference (Worcester, Mass.), Feb. 24, 1899, p. 3.

Raul Diaz

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sabbath School Lesson 11 | "Peter on the Great Controversy" | Pastor Pau...

Lesson 11: Peter on the Great Controversy

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Rebellion and Redemption
Lesson 11: Peter on the Great Controversy
What was Peter's teaching regarding Christ's atoning sacrifice? The atonement is the heart and soul of the 1888 message. If we can determine this we will have gone a long way in understanding the resolution of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Peter references God's everlasting covenant as the solution to the sin problem.

It seems like a fantastic idea, but it's like a golden thread woven throughout both Old and New Testaments of the Bible: proud, sinful, selfish, lustful, wicked human hearts (ours!) are changed by simply believing what the apostle Peter says are "exceeding great and precious promises"! (2 Peter 1:4).

And they're not man's "promises." They are the Lord's. Can it really be true that there is power in something as simple as believing God's promises that appear to be so wild and extravagant?

For instance, in the Old Testament we read that He picked up the only monotheist He could find in the ancient world, called him into exile to "a land that [He] would show him," and promised it to him "for an everlasting possession." It was infinitely more than that tiny little strip of land known as Canaan; it meant the whole earth! And no way could the "possession" be "everlasting" for Abraham unless this "exceedingly great and precious promise" included the gift of eternal life, which Abraham couldn't enjoy as a genetic inheritance for he was born a sinner under condemnation like all of us. And further, no way could he be "the heir of the world" unless it became the "new earth." And again, no way could he be "the heir" of such a new earth unless he was given the gift of "righteousness," for Peter insists that only "righteousness dwelleth" there (2 Peter 3:13).

So, it all ends up full circle: God's "exceeding great and precious promises" mean the out and out gift of "righteousness by faith." And that was the meaning of those seven promises the Lord made to Abraham in Genesis 12:2, 3, and then later swore to in chapter 15—staking His very existence and His eternal throne on His keeping them.

Our question is, Does it make sense that we, sinful selfish people by nature can be changed, converted, purified, transformed, even "sanctified," by believing those "promises"? Believe it or not, that is Peter's idea: "His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness, ... exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:3, 4). "Escape" is what we desperately need, for we face the second death without it. The "corruption" of lust surrounds us and would permeate us. Our modern culture is steeped in it.

Our "escape" is only in believing those "promises." The difference between the New Covenant and the Old is simply the difference between salvation by faith and salvation by works. When God makes a promise, there is life in the promise itself. This is astounding news to many: believing a promise of God changes your heart! The Bible says yes! There have been "given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by [through] these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4).

There are the glorious fruits of salvation in that one statement. "Through" the promises themselves we become converted. Through the promises we "escape corruption"—isn't that our practical problem of daily living? Yes, by believing these "great and precious promises" we prepare for translation at the second coming of Christ.

It's not by works. But that doesn't mean that the good works are not there—they are there as the result of believing those "promises"! The Bible speaks of "receiving the promises" (Heb. 11:13, 17). That is the same as believing them. Such "receiving" God's promises delivers men and women and youth from addiction to alcohol, cigarettes, pornography, the allure of fornication and adultery, drugs (yes!), for we read, "Having these promises [receiving them], dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1).

Thus the New Covenant is the message of the latter rain and the Loud Cry that lightens the earth with glory. Peter presents the translation message of the cleansing of the sanctuary. This is God's answer to Satan's charges in the great controversy that sinners cannot keep the law of God. It is justification by faith, which is consistent with the sanctuary truth.

Peter is focusing our attention on the second coming of Christ. Has His coming been delayed? Has the Father inexorably fixed the time of His coming so that His people can neither hasten nor delay it? Or, can His people hasten His return as 2 Peter 3:12 suggests, "Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God ..."? The original can be understood as either longing for its coming or as hastening its coming. Those who believe the Father has prefixed the date, believe it means longing for its coming. Those who believe we can delay His coming hold to hastening its coming.

Jesus makes clear that the Father alone knows the time of His second coming (Mark 13:32), but that does not mean that He has fixed the time as Calvinist predestination. He has appointed the time in the sense that it is contingent on the completion of the gospel commission: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (Matt. 24:14). The when is up to us.

The character of God is implicated in this question. If He has fixed the time, then He has deceived His people by repeated messages telling them that it is "near." Some hold that when He says "know that it is near, even at the doors" (Matt. 24:33), He means something different than all human language means by "near," but again that implies deception. If I tell a hungry person that lunch is "near" when I mean next week, I have deceived him.

What clears up this whole question is that the second coming of Christ cannot take place until the "marriage of the Lamb is come" (Rev. 19:7). Revelation makes clear that the only reason that "marriage" has not taken place is that His Bride "hath [not] made herself ready," for when she does make herself "ready," the heavenly Bridegroom will not tarry. Thus this question involves the character of Christ Himself. Does He love that Bride-to-be? Does He want to come?
—Paul E. Penno

Raul Diaz

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Sabbath School Lesson #10 | "Paul and the Rebellion" | Pastor Paul Penno

Lesson 10: Paul and the Rebellion

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Rebellion and Redemption
Lesson 10: Paul and the Rebellion
Before they sinned, God told Adam and Eve they would surely die if they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Satan told them they would not die. In the simplest terms the great controversy between Christ and Satan as it relates to human beings is which of the two we choose to believe and follow. Do we rely on our works to create our own righteousness, or do we humbly accept the righteousness of Christ. This is the controversy. There is no middle ground.

When Adam and Eve fell, Satan told them that God was withholding something desirable from them, the knowledge of good and evil. By their rebellion, they were trying to work their way to what they thought was a more elevated and desirable existence. Their son Cain must have believed this, thinking that his own efforts to produce an acceptable offering were unfairly rejected by God. The results were that the thinking and actions of the people in the pre-flood world were continually evil, so God had to destroy everything but a small remnant.

Ten generations after Noah, things weren't much better, but God again pulled a small remnant out of Babylon in the family of Abraham (called Abram at the time). Abraham's life was a constant lesson in faith, but God was very patient with him, as He is with us. He gave Abraham promises or covenants that applied to his life on earth as well as to his descendants. One of those promises is interpreted by scholars as meaning the Messiah would come in Abraham's lineage: "And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:3, New American Standard Bible).

This week our lesson refers to God's "covenant" people (page 80), but we must be careful in defining who they are. The nation of Israel believed they were the covenant people, to the exclusion of all others. It was a dangerous idea from an evangelism standpoint. Imagine if you were trying to get people to an evangelistic campaign and you told them they would have to be born a Jew in order to be saved. Why would anyone come to such meetings? There would be no hope for almost all of them. But the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 12 included "all the families of the earth."

This is a very large group of people, and can be interpreted as including everyone born, but certainly all the promises God made to Abraham in Genesis 12 cannot apply to "all families." Paul makes this clear: "Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying 'All the nations shall be blessed in you'" (Gal. 3:7, 8).

The Jews cherished the idea that to be an Israelite you have to have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in your physical lineage. Jesus told the Syrophoenician woman that He "was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24). When the woman persisted in her faith saying even the dogs get fed crumbs, he said, "'O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.' And her daughter was healed at once" (vss. 27, 28).

We don't often see the deception of Satan in such things, but it is there. The Jews had the truth, but they had perverted it. Who had inspired them to do that? It certainly wasn't God. In promoting this perversion, Satan hoped to keep the heathen nations surrounding Israel from any interest in the true God since it was impossible to be reborn as a Jew.

The various letters Paul wrote to the new Gentile churches are God's clarification of this misconception of the Gospel. "Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham" (Gal. 3:7). Paul is saying that the plan of salvation does not exclude those who aren't physically descendants of Abraham. In Romans 9:6, 7 Paul states, "For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel [originally named Jacob], neither are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: 'Through Isaac your descendants will be named.'" Like Isaac's birth our rebirth occurs because God promises to do that for those who accept it.

Isaac did nothing to cause his own birth, but he did have to believe the promise God gave his father that he was the promised son, and that he would have children. When Isaac learned that he was to be sacrificed by Abraham, it took faith for him to believe that somehow God would fulfill His promise. If not, he could have resisted his father, who was then an old man. He could have argued that they should postpone the plan at least until he married and produced a child.

Paul gives us the "Hallelujah" chorus of Romans 5 to show that Jesus accomplished salvation, including all the righteousness we will ever need, for all of mankind. The "1888" paraphrase of the chapter might look like this:

A. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that is God's own proof of His agape love towards us. Since all we sinners have been justified by Christ's sacrificial death, we are certain to be saved through Him from final retribution.

B. It was through one man (Adam) that sin entered the world, and through sin death, and thus death pervaded the whole human race, inasmuch as all sinned.

C. God's act of grace is out of all proportion to Adam's wrongdoing.

D. For if the wrongdoing of one man, Adam, brought death upon so many, its effect is vastly exceeded by the grace of God and the gift that came to so many by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, the second Adam.

E. Again, the gift of God which solved the sin problem exceeds the damage caused by Adam's sin, for the death of Christ on the cross accomplished a judicial act, or satisfaction of judgment of the wages of sin for Adam's act. This resulted in a verdict of acquittal for everyone, not just Adam.

F. If Adam's act established the reign of sin, God's gift of righteousness is given in much greater measure so that those who receive His grace will live and reign through the second Adam, Who is Jesus Christ.

G. It follows then, that the result of one misdeed was condemnation for all, so the result of one just act is acquittal and life for all.

H. For as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of the one Man the many will be made righteous.

When a convict in prison receives a pardon from the governor or president, that is wonderful, but all that has happened is a reversal or acquittal of his conviction of his crime. The death of Christ accomplished that for all of us, but much more than that, it rewrote our history. Often, a criminal who is pardoned has trouble re-entering society. People don't trust that they will not return to their criminal ways, and without a change of heart, that may happen. Christ not only pardons us, He places us in Him, so His experience becomes ours. We therefore are restored to life, and we sit with Him in heavenly places. God casts our sins in the depths and remembers them no more. We even reign with Christ as heirs of His legacy. Praise God!

This is what Paul means by how much more God's "free gift" is greater than the damage done by Adam's sin. The "controversy" develops when we forget that this salvation is a free gift from God and cannot be earned by law-keeping, but only through faith in the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. The 1888 message of the cross teaches that its grace extends to all mankind, but, mysteriously, many spurn it and throw it away. It is pride that insists that a person's works count for something.

—Arlene Hill

Raul Diaz