Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Cost of Discipleship


Sabbath School Lesson
March 29, 2014

Presented by Larry R Evans


Jesus faced a problem, a crisis that few seemed to recognize.  His time on earth was short.  The creation He had formed at the beginning of time was deteriorating before His very eyes. Those created in His image now presented but a faint picture of who God really was.  He knew that their distance from God and His plan for them would ultimately lead to their destruction. Sin was contagious and rampant. Prophets before Him had been rejected and many had been killed at the hands of those whom God had hoped would be saved.  Jesus now came in Person yet what was He to do? How could He possibly reverse the momentum of sin?  Sin, He knew, would crescendo to such a point in His own lifetime that He would be executed by those whom He came to save.  Three years seemed short and it was!  Could He effect a change, a lasting change, that would continue after His departure from earth?  Where should He begin? 

He began by choosing a band of undisciplined but teachable disciples.  It was a motley group and each had his own agenda and unique background.  Eventually, however, with His mentorship others would describe His disciples as unschooled, ordinary but courageous men (Acts 4:13) who with Christ’s on His abiding Presence turned the world upside down! (Acts 17:6) How did He do it? It began with a cost that He was willing to bear and one they, His followers, would choose to bear as well.  We refer to this life changing experience as “The Cost of Discipleship.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book bearing the name of this week’s Sabbath School lesson, The Cost of Discipleship.  In April 1945 Bonhoeffer was hanged after an imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp—just 23 days before the German surrender.  Bonhoeffer recognized both the fundamental difference between Jesus and the disciples and the challenge Jesus faced:

“Between the disciples and the better righteousness demanded of them stand the Person of Christ, who came to fulfill the law of the old covenant.  This is the fundamental presupposition of the whole Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus manifests his perfect union with the will of God as revealed in the Old Testament law and prophets.  He has in fact nothing to add to the commandments of God, except this, that he keeps them.” (p.137)

But Bonhoeffer doesn’t stop there, however. “It is not enough for man simply to recover right ideas about God, or to obey his will in the isolated actions of his life.  No, man must be re-fashioned as a living whole in the image of God.  His whole form, body, soul and spirit must once more bear that image on earth.  Such is God’s purpose and destiny for man.  His good pleasure can rest only on his perfected image.” (p.338)

So with these thoughts in mind, the question remains:  How did Jesus go about preparing His disciples for His departure and for continuing His ministry on earth?  In answering this question we must keep in mind that the life of Jesus was a constant demonstration that there were only two things that really mattered in his life—God and people!

Reflective Questions

1.     A focus on family can be a deterrent to true discipleship?  (Gen. 12:1-3; Lk 14:25-27)  True or False?

It became necessary in order for Abraham to be separated from the association of his early life as they would interfere with the training the Lord proposed for him.

What Abram Left       (Gen. 12:1)
What Abram Received (Gen. 12:2,3)
Great Nation
Great Name (Recognition)
Father’s House
God’s Blessing Upon Family Lineage (Legacy)

There was a danger with his dependent love upon Isaac. The test with Abram and Isaac was a continuation of the Lord’s testing and refinement of Abram.  The lurking danger of “idolatry” was always near. It forced Abram to make a decision and it allowed him to bring God back to the center.  Otherwise, Abram may have loved his son even more than God.  By trusting in God, Abram not only saved his own life but Isaac’s as well.

2.     The cross that Jesus tells His disciples that they must bear is different for each person? (Lk 14:26; Lk. 18:18-30)  True or False?

Note the text references.  In one case it is family.  In another it is money.

3.     Being disciplined is where the hard work of a disciple begins. (Matt. 11:28-30) True or False?

The struggle is not in doing but in yielding, in “coming” to Christ.  See Bible passage.

4.     The real cost of discipleship is the “surrendering of self.” (Gal. 2:20) True or False?

It may be the “cost” but it is also the reward.  Instead of trying to tack-on good behavior to an old world view value system and new beginning offers a new basis and new orientation for a believing and trusting faith.

5.     Does the Creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 have any relationship with the discipleship Jesus sought to establish on earth? (Compare Gen. 1:1,2 with Jn 1:1-13 and Heb. 11:1-3, 5-6).  Yes or No?

In Genesis 1:2,3 we are told that “In the beginning was God” and the “earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the deep . . . “ To that “darkness” God brought forth light and separated the light from the darkness.

In the Gospel of John it is as though we have another creation account.  This time it begins with “In the beginning was the Word.”  John identifies the Word as Jesus (v.14) and through Him “light shines in the darkness.” (v.5)  John then adds the same hope we find in Gen. 3:15 when he says, “and the darkness has not over come it [light].”  Here we find the hope, victorious hope, over the darkness.  These words depict the struggle of every person (light vs darkness) but they also are the assurance to every would be disciple that they cn overcome the darkness in their lives!  The Creator is the Redeemer and the power of creation is also the power for recreation!

A Concluding Thought

"Nothing is apparently more helpless, yet really more invincible, than the soul that feels its nothingness and relies wholly on God." -- Ellen White, Prophets and Kings, p. 175

“We are justified by faith. The soul who understands the meaning of these words will never be self-sufficient. We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything of ourselves. The Holy Spirit is our efficiency in the work of character building, in forming characters after the divine similitude. When we think ourselves capable of molding our own experience, we make a great mistake. We can never of ourselves obtain the victory over temptation. But those who have genuine faith in Christ will be worked by the Holy Spirit. The soul in whose heart faith abides will grow into a beautiful temple for the Lord. He is directed by the grace of Christ. Just in proportion as he depends on the Holy Spirit's teaching he will grow (MS 8, 1900).”  {6BC 1109.1}

Saturday, December 21, 2013

What a Mess and How to Get Out of It! [The Cosmic Conflict Over God’s Character)

What a Mess and How to Get Out of It!
[The Cosmic Conflict Over God’s Character)

December 21, 2013

Sabbath School Lesson
Presented by
Larry R Evans


We sometimes make things more difficult than necessary especially when it comes to the gospel.  So let’s begin by asking a “simple” question:  “Is the antidote for being bad being good?”  This question and its implications are at the heart of our studies.  But first a story and unfortunately a true story!

When I was young I liked to go fishing.  A friend and I would grab our fishing poles and head off to a lake.  To get there we had to walk across about half a mile of dry cheat grass.  On this particular day we decided to also go swimming.  When we got out, despite the hot weather, we thought we were cold – cold enough to start a fire.  We gathered some rocks and put them in a circle.  To make things easier we brought along some lighter fluid.  We lit the match and threw it on the pile of cheat grass and twigs.  We were unprepared for what happened next!  There was huge puff of fire that reached out of the rock circle and grabbed hold the surrounding grass.  We did our best to stop the spread of fire.  We poured on the grass the little water we had but it was no match.  The fire spread quickly.  The rest is history.  Fire trucks came and eventually the fire was put out but only after burning many acres of dry cheat grass.  Fortunately no one was hurt nor buildings damaged.  I tell you this story because of what happened the next day. 

I was outside with my father when a car drove down the lane to our home.  It was the fire chief.  Before he could say anything, I blurted out “It’s not my dad’s fault!  It’s mine!!.”  The last thing I wanted was for my dad to receive the blame for my actions.  Why should he be blamed?  My friend and I were the ones who started the fire.  “Keep dad out of it,” I thought.  I’ll take the blame! But for the fire chief that was not possible.

Generations ago a similar story happened. There was no fire but there was a Father and two of his children. Everything was designed to be perfect but it all changed in a moment.  As in my own story, the Father got the blame and a real “blame-game” developed that not only threatens His reputation but our future as well.  In fact we find in Rev. 14:7 that there is even a time called “the hour of his judgment.” I realize we give emphasis to it being a time of our judgment and that it is a time when God judges but I believe there is more to the story than just our well being.  (See Heppenstall in Christ Our High Priest, pp. 187f).

This week we will quickly review three stories and the questions that arise from them
1.     What really happened in Eden and why was it such a big deal?
2.    Is it true that even our motives for doing what’s right can be detrimental to our Father’s reputation?  Why?
3.    Finally, do we correct the problem by being good instead of being bad?

Believe it or not, this quarter’s Sabbath School lessons on the Sanctuary have been addressing all three questions.  They are at the heart of the Sanctuary services and the gospel.  Basic to this overview is the biblical insight that the conflict that began in heaven (Rev. 12:7-9) –one that was initiated by Lucifer when he desired to be as God (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:1-19).  He found a new battleground to carry out his attack on God in the Garden prepared for a new creation.  This creation was created in the image of God and became the object of Satan’s wrath.
I.  One Day in Eden

We don’t dare propose to deal with all that happened that day but we will focus on Eve’s response to the insinuations of “the serpent” expressed in Genesis 2:6.
What 3 responses did she have when she ate of the forbidden fruit?

So when the woman saw that the tree 1was good 2for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree 3desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” (Gen. 2:6)

1.    Eve concluded that the fruit of this tree was “good.”  Up to this point declaring what was good was God’s declaration.  We must not read those words in Genesis 1 and 2 lightly.  Once the serpent is introduced we see that the serpent and Eve have taken upon themselves the prerogative of pronouncing their own verdict as what is “good.”  As with Lucifer/Satan in heaven, so Eve now assumes a divine role.  “Good” is no longer God’s verdict.  Eve attributes good to what appeals to her.
2.    Eve redefined creation’s role. God had told her that the tree was NOT good for food but she declares it otherwise.  The purpose for that tree was not for “food” to nurture them but to highlight their freedom.  She now assumes a divine prerogative and assigns to it a new role and that it would enrich her life.
3.    Eve concluded that the tree “was desirable for gaining wisdom.”  Her search for wisdom was independent of God.  Compounding the problem was that the search came from perspective of greediness.  Subtly but nevertheless real was the beginning of substituting a part of God’s creation for God Himself.
(See Angel M. Rodriguez in Spanning the Abyss)
One application:  With regards to the Sabbath
1.              Any day is good. (Who decides?)
2.             Any day can be used as “a” Sabbath. (Purpose disguised or changed—What was God’s design>)
3.             Tradition, society or our work schedules can determine when we worship (What is the source of instruction or wisdom?)

The subtleness of the serpents attack disarmed Adam and Eve.  Little did they realize that the road they were going down would take them farther and farther away from the One who created them and who had a unique plan for them.  The plan God had for them had to be put on hold.    Their distrust of the Creator derailed their future.  Was God to blame? This question was not just one for Adam and Eve.  It was the question insinuated by Satan before he was cast out of heaven.

II. Our Motives & the Father’s Character

Critical to the story that began in Eden is a question that surfaces in the account of Satan confronting God about Job’s reasons for being faithful. If God is the kind of person the serpent made Him to be, then those who obey Him must be doing it out of fear or in order to persuade Him to do what they want.  . . . and not because Job really trusted or loved Him. The question is found in Job 1:9 -- "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied.  According to verse 6 the whole universe witnessed this conversation between the Lord and Satan.  The question not only doubted Job’s reasons for living as he did but also the very basis for God’s governing of the universe.  Satan attributed his own characteristics, the one’s that got him thrown out of heaven, as being normal and in fact in the very heart of God.  Behind the question was a much bigger one and no doubt one Satan was asking of all whom he could get to listen:  “Why should I, be forced out of heaven when you accept people like Job who do what they do because they are afraid of You or in order to get from You what they want! How are they any different than me?”

It is no wonder that Jesus addresses a deeper “righteousness” than one motivated by personal gain when giving his Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5-7.  Could it be that Jesus was addressing the very accusations of Satan when He said,

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)

[How does this verse address the question of motives?  In light of the experience of Job and Satan’s accusations of him and of God what implications do the words of Jesus have?]
Trust & Obey

The song says, “Trust and obey for there is no other way” but there is another way and it has been tried by all of us. Sin in all of its forms is a distrust of God. Standing in midst of a moral chaos are those who resemble Job.  Of him it was said, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”? (Job 13:15).  Trust is difficult enough when you can see where you are going and why but such was not the case with Job.  He could not understand why all of this was happening to him.  He saw no future yet he trusted.

So How Do We Get Out of This Mess?

We go back to our original question:  Is the antidote for being bad just being good? No it is not and this approach has been tried and each time it is short-lived.  This is not to suggest that “being good” is bad. It’s just that a more radical solution is necessary.   And once again the Sanctuary services illustrate this.  For our purposes now, we refer to Ezek. 36:22-38.

1.     See God’s holiness (v.23)
2.    Put corruption behind (v.24) 
3.    Allow God to cleanse and to remove all impurities and idols. (25)
4.    Be willing to receive a new heart. (26)
5.    Allow Spirit to lead in obedience. (27)
6.    Live the promised life with the blessings of God (28)
The sanctuary services all point toward to the fulfillment of Ezek. 36-28  -- A changed “heart” and not just changed behavior.

All of this is possible because the Father paid the price.  His character has been vindicated at the cross and is being vindicated by those whose lives bear the kind of trust of Job demonstrated-- despite the accusations of Satan.  (See Rev. 12:11 – Overcome by (1) the blood of the Lamb and (2) the word of their testimony.

Returning to Eden

As we’ve said before in class the entire Bible can be summarized into 4 basic insights:

1.     [The Plan] God had a plan for each of us that beyond anything we’ve experienced.
2.    [The Fall] Sin entered and messed up God’s plan and we’ve all sinned.
3.    [The Redemption] In order to correct the problem of sin God sent His Son to pay the penalty and to make it possible for God’s ultimate plan to be reached.
4.    [The Restoration] – God seeks to restore His image in us and with it is the restoration of the plan He had begun in the Garden sanctuary called Eden.

Read the Bible from cover to cover and you will see these four parts being repeated over and over again.  We see God setting out His plan, then His people falling away from it which leads into chaos.  This chaos is met when God intervenes with the purpose of restoring His people to His original plan.

“The message of the Bible is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home.  The parable of the prodigal son is about everyone of us.”  (Tim Keller in The Prodigal God, p.109) The good news is not only that the Father is waiting for us but also that He is coming for us!!
As in the case of the story of the prodigal son, so it is with those who are redeemed:  The Father is found with His redeemed.  The tree of life is once again present among His people and its “medicinal effects” are for the “healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2).  The tree of life, of course, was in the Garden of Eden.  God’s original plan resumes.  The deep yearning to be “home” is realized.  It has been a costly journey and the price of freedom beyond comprehension but now the fulfillment of the Christmas story is once again summarized in one word:

“Immanuel”—God with Us!