Friday, February 12, 2016

Jesus’ Teachings and the Great Controversy

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February 13, 2016
Sabbath School
Larry R Evans, SS Teacher

Getting rest is good.  We all need it. This week we will be looking at the teaching of Jesus and the cosmic conflict between Jesus and Satan.  What is amazing is that when the enemy’s influence and activity was everywhere and seemingly gaining ground, Jesus tells his disciples to rest not to fight harder . . . or did He?  Maybe we don’t see what Jesus saw because we are looking for a conventional battlefield.  Note what Jesus says in Mk 6:30.

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mk 6:30)

It appears that the extraordinary and ongoing battle between good and evil cannot be fought as an ordinary battle. It is important to note that Jesus did not just only say, “rest” but rather to “come with me . . . and get some rest.”  He realized that the kind of rest that was needed by His disciples was a rest that only He could supply. Only then could they fight “this battle” successfully.

That word “rest” is not a new word.  It is what we find God doing after He had created the world (Gen. 2:2,3).  As mankind departed from God’s plan and “the wickedness of the human race” had become so great that “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5), God acted by calling Noah who became a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5).  Isn’t it curious that at a critical time such as this that God had a prophet whose name meant “rest.”  Do you really think this was a coincidence?

Then later, in a time of crisis, as God’s people were leaving a long bondage in Egypt and headed to a Promised Land, He put in writing not only 10 Commandments but at the very center He put the Sabbath commandment that stresses the importance of “rest”  (Ex. 20:8-11).

Today, we again find the world in a state of turmoil--wickedness and fear are everywhere.  While politicians offer their own solutions and enshroud their dreams of a new world order with descriptions of a “new hope,”  we find God describing His people with a different focus.  They are following “the Lamb wherever he goes” (Rev. 14:4).   He calls not for more armies, more economic sanctions, rather He calls His people to “worship the One who created rest in the first place. (Rev. 14:7, Gen. 2:3).  Substitutes offer no relief and actually compound the problem.

“There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.” (Rev. 14:11)

Is it any wonder, then, that the last message to the world is all about Jesus,

“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth –to every nation, tribe, language and people.” (Rev. 14:6)

Over and over again throughout Scripture we see God intervening in the affairs of man to bring “rest.”  The rebellious reject the one hope they have, yet God presses on.  Philip Yancey puts it this way, “Jesus, the Great Physician, sees our sins not as disqualifiers but as the reason for his journey from another world to ours.  Rescue is God’s business.” (Rumors of Another World, p.156). In reality, God’s determination to “rescue” us at a great cost to Himself is a validation of His character. 

Questions for Discussion

1.              Why do you think Jesus associated “rest” with a “yoke”? (Matt. 11:28, 29)

2.              Why is hearing truth not enough? What are some interferences that weaken the influence of God’s Word? (Matt 13:19)

3.              True or False:  “The greatest deceiver we have to face is our self?”  Why do you agree or disagree with this statement? (Matt. 7:21-23)

4.              Name at least two dangers that are inherent in faultfinding.  (Matt. 7:1-5)

5.              In Matt. 7:1-5 Jesus speaks negatively about being judgmental and about the abuse of truth (v.6).  We are left with a lot of questions but among them is, “How” then are we to fight wrong if we don’t judge it?  How then are we to standup for the right when hypocrisy abounds?  If verses 7:1-6 raises these questions then what follows is an explanation.  What do we see in the following verses that tell us “how to fight this cosmic battle.”  What connection, if any, do you see with the concept of “rest”?

6.              What is the most encouraging thing that Jesus could share with His people when they are victims in the cosmic conflict with evil (temptation, discouragement, illness, unfair treatment by others, etc.)?  (Matt. 28:20)


Some Insights to the Above Discussion Questions

1.             Why do you think Jesus associated “rest” with a “yoke”? (Matt. 11:28, 29)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28,29)

“The last three verses of the chapter contain many echoes of the invitation of Jesus Ben Sira in the appendix to his wisdom book (Ecclus. 51:23–27; cf. also Ecclus. 6:24–31) to men to come and learn from him and take up wisdom’s yoke, so that they may find rest. No doubt Jesus and his hearers knew and valued this book, but Jesus’ invitation reveals a higher authority: it is his own yoke that he offers, and he himself gives the rest which Ben Sira had to win by his ‘little labours’.” (Tyndale Commentary)

With the words of Jesus promising  to give rest, He identifies Himself as the One who offered Moses rest: 

Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me. ’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Ex. 33:12-14)

Note how receiving rest is linked with “Come with me” and how that echoes the assurance given to Moses that the Lord’s presence would lead to rest. Here He declared that true discipleship can be enjoyed only by those who come to Him in childlike faith.

In the heart of our greatest challenges and trials there is no lasting substitute for God’s presence.  Understanding this is vital to victory during the “great controversy.”

2.             Why is hearing truth not enough? What are some interferences that weaken the influence of God’s Word? (Matt 13:19)

“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.” (Matt. 13:19)

The Message paraphrase:  When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.”  (Matt. 13:19)

“Satan has many helpers. Many who profess to be Christians are aiding the tempter to catch away the seeds of truth from other hearts. Many who listen to the preaching of the word of God make it the subject of criticism at home. They sit in judgment on the sermon as they would on the words of a lecturer or a political speaker. The message that should be regarded as the word of the Lord to them is dwelt upon with trifling or sarcastic comment. The minister’s character, motives, and actions, and the conduct of fellow members of the church, are freely discussed. Severe judgment is pronounced, gossip or slander repeated, and this in the hearing of the unconverted. Often these things are spoken by parents in the hearing of their own children. Thus are destroyed respect for God’s messengers, and reverence for their message. And many are taught to regard lightly God’s word itself.” { COL 45.1}

3.             True or False:  “The greatest deceiver we have to face is our self?”  Why do you agree or disagree with this statement? (Matt. 7:21-23)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? ’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers! ’ (Matt 7:21-23)

Even if they were doing supernatural deeds—prophesying in His name, driving out demons, and performing many miracles, they were not obedient to the Father, continually doing His will (Matt. 7:21). They would be refused admission to the kingdom because Jesus had no personal relationship with them (vv. 21, 23).

How is it that some hypocrites get answers to their prayers and their ministry when some faithful believers pray for healing and never experience it?  Why!


4.             Name at least two dangers that are inherent in faultfinding.  (Matt. 7:1-5)

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matt 7:1,2)

 “Judge” often carries the connotation ‘condemn’, and it is in that sense that it is used here.  It means to bring under question in a condemning way.  This is reflected in the Message paraphrase:

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment.  That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.   It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.” (Matt 7:1-3)

Some dangers would include:
1.     Not seeing our own weaknesses.
2.     Driving others away because by hurting or discouraging them.
3.     Giving truth an ugly face.
5.             In Matt. 7:1-5 Jesus speaks negatively about being judgmental and about the abuse of truth (v.6).  We are left with a lot of questions but among them are: “How” then are we to fight wrong if we don’t judge it?  How then are we to standup for the right when hypocrisy abounds?  If verses 7:1-6 raises these questions then what follows is an explanation.

 What do we see in the following verses that tell us “how to fight this cosmic battle.”  What connection, if any, do you see with the concept of “rest”?

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7-8)



“The three balancing clauses in each of these verses add up to a strong exhortation to persistent prayer. Seek and knock are metaphors for prayer, not separate exhortations (‘knocking’ is found also in Rabbinic sayings as a metaphor for prayer). All three imperatives in v. 7 are present tense, which indicates continuous, persistent prayer. It is such prayer that will find an answer (cf. the parables of Luke 11:5–8; 18:1–8).” (Tyndale Commentary)

“This is not, of course, a guarantee that any prayer we care to offer will be successful; God gives only good gifts, which may not correspond to our ideas of what we should have!” (New Bible Commentary)

EG White:  “It is just as convenient, just as essential, for us to pray three times a day as it was for Daniel. Prayer is the life of the soul, the foundation of spiritual growth. In your home, before your family, and before your workmen, you should testify to this truth. And when you are privileged to meet with your brethren in the church, tell them of the necessity of keeping open the channel of communication between God and the soul. Tell them that if they will find heart and voice to pray, God will find answers to their prayers. Tell them not to neglect their religious duties. Exhort the brethren to pray. We must seek if we would find, we must ask if we would receive, we must knock if we would have the door opened unto us.—The Signs of the Times, February 10, 1890. { DG 83.5}

How does this relate to rest that Jesus promised in Matt. 11:28-29?

6.             What is the most encouraging thing that Jesus could share with His people when they are victims in the cosmic conflict with evil (temptation, discouragement, illness, unfair treatment by others, etc.)?  (Matt. 28:20)

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20)

Jesus sends His disciples out to make more disciples but He does it with the assurance that they will go with “rest” for He will be with them.

Concluding Thoughts

Going forth into the world, Christ’s disciples do so with a new kind of honesty about themselves, about Him and about their mission. Without Him there is no peace, no rest. They have nothing genuine to offer. A politicized religion is distasteful and can drive what truth remains underground.

A disciple must recognize both the cunning evil of Satan and the hope and strength offered by the presence of Jesus.

The greatest hope was given to Moses as he faced the challenge before him as he led a people to the Promised Land:  “The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Generations later, the same One who gave that assurance also gave the same counsel to His disciples and to us:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” And then to make sure we got the point He said:  “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Friday, January 15, 2016

Global Rebellion and the Patriarchs



 January 16, 2015

Larry R Evans
Sabbath School

Introduction

This quarter, as we study and reflect upon the theme of the ongoing battle between Christ and Satan, we find ourselves caught in the middle of this battle.  There are times when we cannot see beyond the smoke rising from the battlefield and we wonder where God is. Does He even know we are here?  Can He hear our desperate cries for help?  These cries for help are not new.  These cries echo through the corridors of history and certainly do so during the time of the biblical patriarchs:  Adam & Eve, Cain & Able, Noah, Abraham, Jacob & Esau and Joseph to name the characters of our study for this week.  In the midst of a struggle to maintain hope, these patriarchs reveal important insights about the battle that Satan has waged against God but their struggles also reveal encouragement to hold on and to trust God.


In her book about “coming along side people touched by disability,” Same Lake, Different Boat, Stephanie O. Hubach identifies three different views of how to see the presence of disabilities in our present world.  They are:

1.              The Historical View:  “Disability is an abnormal part of life in a normal world.
2.              The Postmodern View:  “Disability is a normal part of life in a normal world.”
3.              The Biblical View: “Disability is a normal part of life in an abnormal world.”

It is important to recognize that we are living in a world that is abnormal and therein lies a pillar of hope.  Our journey in the smoke-filled battlefield is temporary.  God has something much better for us and if we look closely even now we can see evidences that He is acting in our behalf which promises better days ahead.  During this time, “we need to teach our despairs to hope” and that is what today’s Bible study is meant to teach us.  Philip Yancey wrote, “We see God best in the same way we see a solar eclipse: not by staring at the sun, which would cause blindness, but through something on which the sun is projected” (Rumors of Another World, p.35).  In our study today, we have the opportunity of seeing God through the experiences of the patriarchs and therefore have the platform for an enduring hope come what may.

Questions for Reflection

1.              When God confronted Adam and Eve and later Cain with their sins, what response did they present that undermined the hope that could have been theirs?
2.              When God created the world He did so by separating light from the darkness, the waters in the sky from the waters of the earth and then waters of the earth from the dry ground (Gen. 1:1-10). The earth was then able to flourish with vegetation, fish, birds, animals, and eventually man himself.  When sin dominated the earth what did the flood do with that separation of the elements of creation?  What was God doing for Noah and how could a catastrophe be a message of hope for him?
3.              Are the recorded experiences of Abraham meant to show us that we will be rewarded for being faithful?  What does his journey out of his comfort zone (his homeland and family—Gen. 12:1), or the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:1-29)or the instructions to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:1-19), teach us?  When Abraham was asked to look into the sky to see stars that God had put there, what assurance was there in that for him  (Gen. 15:1-12)?
4.              This week we have a focus on brothers—Cain and Able, Jacob and Esau and then Joseph and his 11 brothers.  What do these relationships teach us about the ongoing “great controversy”—the battle between Christ and Satan?
a.     Cain and Able? 
b.     Jacob and Esau?
c.      Joseph and his brothers?

Reflective Study

1.             When God confronted Adam and Eve and later Cain with their sins, what response did they present that undermined the hope that could have been theirs?

·      Adam and Even blamed each other which eventually led to blaming God. The promise made to them by the serpent was that they would be like God which ultimately meant that they would first serve themselves.  So Eve saw the forbidden fruit was “good” for food but (1)it was God’s prerogative to decide what was good. (2) Eve found that the fruit was “pleasing to the eye” – the senses had more power than God’s word and (3) the fruit was a means for gaining wisdom and Eve redefined the source of wisdom.  Each of the three named benefits undermined trust and dependence upon God and this becomes a theme throughout Scipture.  When confronted with God’s question, “Where are you?” both Adam and Eve lied and denied they had done anything wrong.
·      Cain killed his brother over an act of worship.  It is not a stretch to see the ambitions Satan at work here.  See Isa. 14:12-14  where Satan is seen as clamoring for worship.


2.             When God created the world He did so by separating light from the darkness, the waters in the sky from the waters of the earth and then waters of the earth from the dry ground (Gen. 1:1-10). The earth was then able to flourish with vegetation, fish, birds, animals, and eventually man himself.  When sin dominated the earth what did the flood do with that separation of the elements of creation?  What was God doing for Noah and how could a catastrophe be a message of hope for him?

·      The fundamental purpose of Satan is to destroy everything God had made.  The flood came as a result of universal corruption.  All that God had separated in the process of creation is now reunited—light and darkness; the water above and the waters below; the sea and the dry land; day and night, the fish of the sea, the birds of the air; and all living creatures that moved on the earth.  All that was outside the ark was combined into a dark and stormy soup. 

·      Of special note is Gen. 7:4, “the blotting out” of all life or as the NIV puts it, “wife from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”  This same term is used to describe the actions of the Redeemer in forgiving sin. (Deut. 9:14; Isa 25:8; 43:25).  The good news is that God will indeed step in and bring all evil and suffering to an end—but at a time when He sees it best to do.

·      The new earth described by John in Rev. 21:1-6 says that once sin is dealt with God will bring the “new” earth back.  The new creation is made possible because the sin that destroyed the trust relationship with God has been replaced with a new one where God once again “dwells among His people” (Rev. 21:3).

3.             Are the recorded experiences of Abraham meant to show us that we will be rewarded for being faithful?  What does his journey out of his comfort zone (his homeland and family—Gen. 12:1), or the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:1-29)or the instructions to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:1-19), teach us?  When Abraham was asked to look into the sky to see stars that God had put there, what assurance was there in that for him  (Gen. 15:1-12)?

·      Without an understanding of the ongoing conflict between Christ and Satan it is easy to feel that the Bible’s concern is primarily written to describe our fight for spiritual survival.  What the bigger theme teaches us is that the primary story is how God is working to bring an end to the very nature of sin and its demeaning attitude towards God who should not be trusted.

·      The story of Abraham begins with a call to leave his country, his people and family—everything that represented security. (Gen. 12:1).  In their place God promises to make of him a great nation, a great name and great influence (12:2-3).  So the question is this:  Is the account of Abraham about his rewards for being faithful or is it about the God who is faithful to His word and who blesses those who trust Him.  This is first a story about God and then a story about Abraham.

·      This is seen when Abraham is old and has no children.  Has God missed the opportunity to give Abraham children.  After all He did promise to make of him a great nation!  Then God calls Abraham out to look into the sky.  We normally think this is at night but the context suggests that it is during the day light. (Gen. 15:1-12).  God tells him to count the stars.  At that time of day he may have seen a few but the truth of the matter is Abraham knew there were many he could not see until it became dark.  There are times when we can only see a fraction of what God is doing but that does not mean God is not actively working in our behalf!!

5.             This week we have a focus on brothers—Cain and Able, Jacob and Esau and then Joseph and his 11 brothers.  What do these relationships teach us about the ongoing “great controversy”—the battle between Christ and Satan?
a.     Cain and Able?  Cain is angry, cynical and rebellious.  He lies to God.  He knows exactly where his brother is but sin had turned brother against brother which is reminiscent of Satan’s own turn and his own fellow companions in heaven as well as against his own creator. 

b.     Jacob and Esau?   The foundation of the sin problem lies within the realm of the choices we make.  Choices are often made based on trying to force our intentions (good or bad) upon others.  Jacob wanted the blessing that Esau cared little about—that is, until he lost it.  Esau lost his birthright because he placed ultimate value upon his immediate needs rather than his future heritage—a common temptation today. 

Jacob, with the influence of his mother, chose to use deception to get what he wanted and then suffered by never seeing his mother again and being deceived by his own father-in-law .  Once again, however, we are reminded of God’s patience even with the waywardness of his chosen servants and people.  God’s pledge to Abraham carried the day for Jacob . . . and for us.

c.      Joseph and his brothers?  Joseph was spoiled and his brothers knew it.  You are familiar with the story of Joseph – how he was sold into slavery, betrayed by those whom he helped and eventually was elevated to national acclaim.  Joseph became a changed man and while we may think it is first a story about Joseph it is really first a story about God and the blessings others find by remaining in a relationship with Him during good and bad times.  Joseph:
                                               i.     Avoided taking the place of God. (Gen. 50:19—“Am I in the place of God?”). Something Satan refused to learn (Isa. 14:12-14)
                                              ii.     Learned to take the long view trusting in God (Gen. 50:20—“God intended it for good.”)
                                            iii.     Views the future with hope because he sees it  from God’s perspective. (Gen. 50:21—“I will provide for you and your children.”)

Reflective Conclusion

The philosopher, Simone Weil, wrote: “We see either the dust on the window or the view beyond the window but never the window itself.”  There is much we do not understand because what we see is indeed limited.  The patriarchs we’ve studied in this week’s lesson makes this truth quite clear.  Recognizing these illustrations as first a story about God and His faithfulness to us is critical.  As Luther pointed out,  “There are times when our hope despairs.  Those are the times when we need to teach our despairs to learn to hope.”

This hope is built on the foundation of who God is.  We must begin there and with who we are.  Such a beginning defines who we are and the hope we have.  When all is said and done, the statement by Ellen White summarizes it well,

“And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” Revelation 5:13.

The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.” The Great Controversy, p. 678.