Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Role of the Church in the Community
Lesson 7. Jesus Desired Their Good
By now those studying this quarter's lessons have noticed that for a church to be a soul winning force in the community, it must demonstrate a special kind of love for people. The 1888 message depends on a proper understanding of God's agape love, which is so different from the modern English single word for love, which is used to encompass so many facets of the concept. The word agape is used many times in the New Testament, and looking at a few instances will help to understand its true meaning:
Matthew 24:12: "Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love [agape] will grow cold."
Luke 11:42: "Woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love [agape] of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others."
John 5:42: "I know you, that you do not have the love [agape] of God in yourselves."
John 3:35: "The Father loves the Son [with agape] and has given all things into His hand."
Romans 5:5: "Hope does not disappoint, because the love [agape] of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Bible texts from the New American Standard Bible).
There are many others, but even these few texts tell us that God's true love is given to human beings by God because they do not have it naturally within them. It is shared between the Beings of the Godhead. We humans would be completely devoid of this selfless love if God didn't pour it into our hearts, and even then we have been given the Holy Spirit, who is to direct this love in our hearts and minds.
Genuinely desiring good for others is an impossible standard without God's agape. The dramatic story of Jonah demonstrates someone who believed we should "love one another" in theory, but in actual practice he failed. If Jonah had been willing to see himself as God saw him, he would have realized his colossal selfishness. He actually resented God for forgiving the people of Nineveh when they repented. He was more interested in preserving his reputation as a prophet.
The story of healing the blind man related in Mark 8 contrasts the repentance of Nineveh with Bethsaida's stubborn rejection of Christ. "And taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes, and laying His hands upon him, He asked him 'Do you see anything?' And he looked up [gained sight] and said, 'I see men, for I am seeing them like trees, walking about.' Then again He laid His hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. And He sent him to his home, saying, 'Do not even enter the village'" (vss. 22-26).
Why did Jesus lead him out of the village, and after the healing tell him to go home without entering the village? In Matthew 11:21 we find that Bethsaida was one of the cities upon which Jesus had pronounced judgment saying, "Woe unto thee Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago ..." (KJV).
In a sad contrast to heathen Nineveh's repentance, Bethsaida had rejected Jesus and His message. There was no value in showing them further evidence of Christ's identity. When the blind man was brought to Christ, apparently no one in town was interested enough to follow them when Jesus led him out of the town, thus they missed witnessing the miracle. Rejecting or even slighting Christ's precious message and His blessings means forfeiting them. If God cannot win our hearts with blessings bestowed, He will attempt to make us aware of our blindness by withdrawing those blessings. Bethsaida was unwilling to see, and therefore she shall not see.
In performing the miracle, Jesus began by spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on the man. Not an uncommon practice in medicine of that day, this must be seen to parallel the advice Christ gives to the Laodicean church to obtain eye-salve to anoint those who are spiritually blind (Rev. 3:18).
Surprisingly, when the man opened his eyes, the miracle was not complete. When asked what he saw, he said he saw what he perceived as men, but they were like walking trees. It would be easy to explain this odd perception as simply the initial confusion of the new believer, and that is an appropriate application. But maybe there is something deeper. Why use a tree? The English language has a common colloquialism which describes a frantic and confused person as "running around like a chicken with its head cut off." Why didn't this man see a chicken?
What do we think of when we think of a tree? A tree is something that grows in the ground and it has roots which anchor it to the ground. It is generally expected to produce something beneficial to its environment, whether it is the tree's fruit, nuts, leaves, seeds, shade or just transforming carbon dioxide to oxygen. It provides habitat for birds, small animals and insects. In the Garden of Eden, a tree provided life-sustaining fruit. When they sinned, Adam and Eve chose the leaves of a fig tree to cover themselves. When Christ saw a fig tree that had leaves but no fruit, He cursed it. What happens if the tree decides it wants to be like men and walk around? It is no longer rooted and grounded to its source of life.
Throughout history, God has given humans messages about Who He is and that He loves us unconditionally. As generations came and went, those instructions became distorted by human memories and inclusion of human thinking. The Jewish nation had so distorted the truth about God, their confusion prevented them from recognizing the Messiah when He came. The apostolic church received the true gospel from their exposure to Christ's direct teaching, but the same distortion occurred with the inclusion of satanic inspired human ideas. The reformers began the task of refocusing on the genuine gospel of salvation by faith alone.
Unfortunately, the same deadly cycle happened again and God raised up a little group, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was given the special message for the end time church in the understanding of the Sabbath and the cleansing of the sanctuary. Once again, that message was distorted with concepts of legalism, which took the power out of our arguments regarding the Sabbath and the sanctuary message.
"'When you are laboring in a place where souls are just beginning to get the scales from their eyes, and to see men as trees walking, be very careful not to present the truth in such a way as to arouse prejudice, and to close the door of the heart to the truth. Agree with the people on every point where you can consistently do so. Let them see that you love their souls, and want to be in harmony with them so far as possible.' Then she added, with a touch of sadness, 'Oh that I could impress upon all the necessity of laboring in the spirit of Jesus; for I have been shown that souls here in Europe have been turned away from the truth because of a lack of tact and skill in presenting it.'" 
Once again, God raised up messengers to reinstate the great concepts of revealing the agape of God by the doctrine of righteousness by faith alone, with no contribution by the works of humans as being the only way of salvation. Unless we are rooted and grounded in God's agape love by faith, we will be as men who are trees walking. Those who are privileged to study the message given to the 1888 "messengers," A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner, and to Ellen White, have a serious responsibility that our own repentance is deep, and our understanding is rooted and grounded in the straight testimony of the True Witness. Our own repentance cannot be shallow.
"I write this because many in the church are represented to me as seeing men like trees walking. They must have another and deeper experience before they discern the snares spread to take them in the net of the deceiver. There must be no halfway work done now. The Lord calls for stanch, decided, whole-souled men and women to stand in the gap, and make up the hedge. [Isaiah 58:12-14 quoted.]
"There is a decided testimony to be borne by all our ministers in all our churches. God has permitted apostasies to take place in order to show how little dependence can be placed in man. We are always to look to God; ..." 
The parallel between "seeing men like trees walking" and the lukewarmness of Laodicea is apparent. Jesus appeals to His people to repent. What shall they repent of--legalism? The uprooting of trees from their foundation and the cause of lukewarmness in the church is the condition of legalism. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is legalistic because, for all practical purposes, its understanding of faith, is motivated by an individualistic selfish avoidance of hell and hope of reward in heaven. When there is a convergence of individuals who exchange their self-centered love, for faith's true motivation in God's love, then the True Witness's straight testimony will have accomplished its work, and there will be an evangelism explosion the likes of which the earth hasn't seen before.
Like the tree that is rooted and grounded, it reaches for moisture and nourishment deep within the soil. So must our roots reach to the deep mysteries so readily available to those willing to study God's word.
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