Monday, June 13, 2016

SST #12 | Jesus' Last Days | 1888 Most Precious Message

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Book of Matthew

Lesson 12: "Jesus' Last Days"

Our lesson this week uses a unique approach to understanding the cost of the cross in focusing on the lesson of "freedom and free will." Without the proper understanding of the nature of Christ as developed by the 1888 message pioneers, the cross can never be properly understood.
While there were many people making choices during the week preceding Calvary, none were more critical than the choice Jesus had to make. We can sometimes be tempted to think Christ's nature was so different from ours that He serenely floated through what is called "passion week" with no doubts, reservations, or concerns. We make a mistake if we think Jesus used any of His divine powers to get through the rough parts of that week. One of the key points of the 1888 message is a proper understanding of the nature in which Christ lived during His time on this earth. Without that, it is impossible to understand the cross.
Ellet J. Waggoner, one of the 1888 "messengers," wrote: "The humiliation which Christ voluntarily took upon Himself is best expressed by Paul to the Philippians: 'Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being originally in the form of God, counted it not a thing to be grasped [that is, to be clung to] to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, becoming in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross' (Phil. 2:5-8, Revised Version, marginal reading). ...
"It is impossible for us to understand how Christ could, as God, humble Himself to the death of the cross, and it is worse than useless for us to speculate about it. All we can do is to accept the facts as they are presented in the Bible." [1]
Some can accept this only if the nature Christ assumed was that of sinless Adam. "A little thought will be sufficient to show anybody that if Christ took upon Himself the likeness of man in order that He might redeem man, it must have been sinful man that He was made like, for it is sinful man that He came to redeem. Death could have no power over a sinless man, as Adam was in Eden; and it could not have had any power over Christ, if the Lord had not laid on Him the iniquity of us all." [2]
Having properly understood this, we can begin to understand the reality of the choice Christ was required to make in Gethsemane. The decision Jesus had to make was not from the vantage of His divine as well as human natures. He had laid aside the divine ability of knowing the future (foreknowledge), so He did not know for sure that His sacrifice would be accepted. How Satan must have gloated, urging Jesus to doubt whether His life had indeed been perfect so He could continue the path to the cross without compromising His mission. He had lived His entire earthly life completely dependent on His Father, through the Holy Spirit to direct His thoughts and conduct. Now, He was to be separated from that power. The temptation to doubt must have been tremendous, and his disciples offered no encouragement because they were sound asleep.
Yet during the week before Calvary, Jesus had been given a precious gift in the actions of Mary Magdalene, a woman who in many ways represents His wayward corporate church. She was plagued by the spirit of seven demons which Jesus cast out of her, and she yielded her heart to Him completely when she saw the agape that Jesus unconditionally gave her. Her outpouring of gratitude must have been a memory of comfort that the Holy Spirit could bring to Jesus' mind during His suffering.
We know that she was not a theologian, but only Mary out of all Jesus' followers had some level of understanding that His mission required Him to die for her sins. The disciples' self-centered notion of Christ's mission prevented them from believing that He was to die in disgrace. They firmly believed He had come to overthrow the hated Romans. They missed that the lesson of all those sacrifices was that the Gospel promises involve a cross from which all the benefits of the plan of salvation flow. The nation of Israel had come to believe that by bringing their sacrificial animals they were reinforcing a bargain with God. They believed that God was obligated to save them if they performed the rituals He required. They had lost sight that salvation has always been by faith in the saving grace of the cross of Christ.
Waggoner saw this: "All the misunderstandings of the promises of God to Abraham and his seed have arisen through a failure to see the Gospel of the cross of Christ in them. If it be continually remembered that all the promises of God are in Christ, to be gained only through His cross, and that consequently they are spiritual and eternal in their nature, there will be no difficulty, and the study of the promise to the fathers will be a delight and a blessing." [3]
In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus asked that, if possible, the cup pass from Him. The imagery here is that of the sanctuary services. When the repentant sinner brought his lamb, he was required to slit its throat; the priest then caught the blood in a cup or bowl and symbolically transferred it into the Most Holy Place by sprinkling it on the veil. We know that the life of the animal is in the blood. Jesus had been taught the significance of this since childhood, and the time had come for Him to become the ultimate type of all the sacrificial antitypes. The humanity Christ had assumed at the incarnation shrank from the task, especially since it meant separation from His Father.
The struggle Christ was going through was real because the integrity of the Godhead hung in the balance before the watching universe. He could not use His divine foreknowledge to literally see through the portals of the tomb. The separation from His Father was wrenching His soul. In the same nature that we must fight the battle of faith, Christ chose to grasp the promises of God, and hold on to them by faith in His word. His faith triumphed when He finally could say, "Into Thy hand I commend My spirit." When we understand that He went through that struggle and separation for each one of us individually, like Mary, our hearts will be melted in gratitude, unless we refuse. Judas was disappointed that Christ would not fulfill his plans for an important position in the new government Judas coveted. Ironically, the gratitude Mary showed from her humble heart, is what tipped the indecision in Judas' heart. He decided that he would not believe in Christ since He allowed this woman to honor Him.
Peter's problem was different. He was blind to his true condition; he believed he would be loyal to Christ regardless of what happened. God later told His Laodicean church that He rebukes and chastens those He loves. Peter was given a simple test to help him see his true condition. What made the difference? Peter humbled his heart and let the rock he fell on break it. Judas must have felt a pull when Jesus responded to his betrayal kiss by saying, "Friend, do what you have come for" (Matt 26:50, NASB). Why didn't Judas repent like Peter? It's simple, he hardened his heart. It isn't more complicated than that.
May God give us humble hearts to receive His wonderful grace.
Arlene Hill
[1] Ellet J. Waggoner, Christ and His Righteousness, pp. 29-30 (Glad Tidings ed.).
[2] Ibid, p. 31.
[3] Waggoner, The Everlasting Covenant: God's Promises to Us, p. 41 (Glad Tidings ed.)