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First Quarter 2014 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON DISCIPLESHIP
Week 7: February 8–14
COMMENTARY ON JESUS AND THE SOCIAL OUTCASTS
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
All bible quotes are taken from the ESV except where noted otherwise.
The Quarterly lesson for this week focuses on the special attention Jesus gave to those who we have a tendency to label as Social Outcasts. The memory text sets the intended theme by drawing attention to the well-known account of the Samaritan Woman Jesus meets at the well:
So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people,·“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”·They went out of the town and were coming to him. (John 4:28-30)
This is an excellent place to develop the lesson theme since Jesus was talking to someone who was a social outcast twice over, being both a Samaritan and an adulterous woman.
The opening paragraph of the lesson tells the story of what appears to be a modern day true story of a woman who has ‘an unbelievably sad and horrible background’. The problem with the lesson isn’t about how terrible her life was. It is implied that her life has been totally changed for the better without telling us what was changed or how change came about. The Quarterly lesson tells us nothing more about this woman.
A much more appropriate introduction might have been to draw attention to the ‘living water’ Jesus spoke of to the Samaritan woman in John 4:7-15 by which she would never thirst again. Furthermore, from God’s point of view we, as sinners dead in our sins, are all born into this world as ‘social outcasts’, Rom. 3:23, and fall infinitely short of the glory of God. Another approach could have been to explore what Jesus meant when he said worship would no longer be about where to worship. Then, as she spread the words of Jesus to those she knew, could her story could be tied in with the intended theme of discipleship.
Summary (of the Samaritan Woman’s encounter with Jesus):
In the lesson for today the very lowest in society ‘such as prostitutes, substance abusers, criminals, the homeless’ along with ‘lepers and tax collectors’ during the time of Christ here on earth are ‘Bottom Dwellers’. The use of the expression ‘Bottom Dwellers’ for an Adventist is an obvious allusion to the Health Message, with the Bottom Dwellers being the worse of the unclean animals. In-other-words this is the most extreme of insults an Adventist could bestow upon a person.
The lesson asks that we read two very excellent passages, Matt. 21:28-32 and Luke 15:1-10. The message is that sinners who believed the message preached by John the Baptist and repented of their sins go into the Kingdom of God long before the self-righteous Pharisees and others like them who did not believe.
Rather than focusing on something as subjective as our social status, the foundational question that each of us should be asking is; what were those such as the Pharisees doing or not doing that was keeping them out of the kingdom of God?
A close study of this paragraph in the Quarterly lesson suggests a profound misunderstanding of biblical truth:
‘What happened that propelled the social outcasts ahead of the self-righteous? What did the bottom dwellers discover that the social elite often missed? Why was Jesus apparently more effective in reaching the bottom strata than He was with the upper echelons?’
Regardless of whatever our social status may be all unregenerate sinners are dead in their sin, Rom. 3:10. When we study Romans chapter three we come to this passage:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:21-25)
God does not, never has and will never view the condition of a person via their social status because we all are dead in our sins. Not until a person believes through faith in Jesus Christ has that person been “propelled” ahead of the self-righteous. Social status had nothing to do with it.
‘What did the bottom dwellers discover that the social elite often missed?’ is a wrong question because the Bottom Dwellers, being dead in their sins, had no way of knowing how to escape their bondage. They simply believed in faith that Jesus was their promised Messiah:
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.·But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe… No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:35-36, 44)
The question of ‘why was Jesus apparently more effective’ (in reaching the ‘Bottom Dwellers’) approaches the danger of being heresy because it implies he might have been less than perfect in all that he did. As the Son of the Father his authority, powers and holy attributes were equal to that of the Father, John 16:15. We should not even seem to suggest that anything Jesus does or has ever done is anything less than foreknown, foreordained and totally perfect.
What keeps anyone out of the kingdom of God has nothing to do with their social status. It is because we are all sinners and sinners are born with a dead human spirit, John 3:1-21. The effectiveness of Jesus’ preaching is not the issue. Some are willing to believe, ‘Bottom Dwellers’ or not, and are drawn by the will of God and some are not willing. In the eyes of God social status is not the defining attribute that sets one person apart from all others.
In Matthew chapter twenty-three Jesus teaches us what sets anyone apart from “the scribes and the Pharisees” Jesus was contending with:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,·so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,·and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues·and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. (Matt. 23:1-7)
We should also ponder the words of Jesus and understand what God declares the two categories of sinners in this world are (Matthew 18:1-5; Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17):
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”·And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them·and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,·but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matt. 18:1-6)
Either you are a repentant sinner whose sins have been covered by the blood of Jesus Christ or you are someone still dead in your sins.
Today’s lesson centers on the well know account of the woman who was caught in adultery and brought before Jesus who was teaching at the temple as recorded in John 8:1-11.
This account is a good example of just who Jesus is and reveals his love for the oppressed without overlooking their sin. However, the shortcoming of this lesson is that it is developed around a series of undocumented assumptions which a good student of Scripture would want to search out for themselves to see if they are true in the same way the Berean’s searched Scripture to see if the Apostle Paul’s preaching was true, Acts 17:11.
The statement ‘having refreshed himself’ excludes without justification other possibilities as to why Jesus spent the night at the Mount of Olives and is something our theme text simply doesn’t say. If we read the preceding verse we learn that the others Jesus was with spent the night in their homes. It could have been that Jesus simply had no other place to spend the night if you consider what Jesus said about himself in Luke 9:58. Moving on, why say ‘dragged’ when Scripture simply says the woman was brought before Jesus? In the lesson we are told in detail how the purpose of the scribes and Pharisees was entrapment whereas in our theme text we only learn that it was a test so they could bring a charge against him. While this seems likely true saying so should have been supported with creditable references. Then, the lesson says the woman was ‘unfamiliar with Jesus’ ministry, she could not have known His merciful nature’. Really, on whose authority can it be said what the woman knew about Jesus? Why say sinners are ‘obligated’ to be merciful when it is in the very nature of sinners to sin and not have mercy? That would be like declaring that criminals must exercise good moral ethics when committing a crime? Finally, when Jesus spoke to the woman he didn’t tell her to “live a better life” which would have placed the focus on her behavior. What Jesus said was to “sin no more” without revealing to us in this passage how that is possible.
In Mark 5:1-20 we read the story of when Jesus and his followers came into the country of the Gerasenes and were confronted by an uncontrollable demon possessed man living in the tombs. We quickly learn it is the demon speaking to Jesus instead of the man himself.
In the lesson the claim is made that the ‘crucial point’ is that ‘no one, no matter how deranged…..is to be ignored’. While it is true that a person in such a condition should not be ignored, it is not the main point of Jesus’ encounter with this man and the demons which possessed him. Instead of getting sidetracked by generalizing this topic by including what is thought to be related adverse mental conditions many are suffering from, it would be better to focus on what this passage of Scripture actually says and is teaching us.
The critically important point we learn here in this text is that only a holy, loving and righteous God in the person of Jesus Christ has the authority, understanding and power within his own self to confront demons. None of the others here in this account could physically control this man much less deal with the source of his torment. Later, we learn where Jesus empowered his disciples with his own authority and power.
Jesus used his power and authority to directly confront the demons within this man. When Jesus commanded the demons, the name of which we learn is Legion, they had no choice but to obey. Jesus gave them permission to inhabit a herd of pigs which immediately drowned. Having lost two homes in quick succession one has to wonder where the demons ended up next. A point of more significance to us is that demons really do exist.
In Mark 5:19 Jesus is speaking to this man who is now clothed and his right-mind. Jesus instructs the man to tell his friends “how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you”. Let’s consider what this means by turning to Matthew chapter twelve where an unclean spirit (demon) has been cast out of a person only to return and find his former home empty:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.·Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order.·Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” (Matt. 12:43-45)
When Jesus the Son of God performs a miracle in a person’s life it is a complete perfect work. While important to do so, Jesus didn’t just restore the man to his ‘right-mind’ or see to it that he had clothes to wear. Jesus made sure the demons could never return. When God has mercy on you it is perfect mercy. You can no longer be possessed by demons. The man wasn’t just someone who was cleaned up on the outside and inside. No demon could return and call him ‘home’. The mercy Jesus speaks of is that the man went from demon possession to now being a disciple of Jesus and in the kingdom of God with instructions to tell all his friends how much the Lord has done for him.
In Mark 6:7-13 and Luke 9:1-6 we find the account of where Jesus gave the original twelve disciples authority over unclean spirits and where they were to go out preaching that the people should repent. Additionally they were to anoint and heal the sick along with the casting out of demons. By this we are to understand that all the power they exercised was Jesus’ own power, certainly not that of themselves. Again, in Luke 10:1-20 Jesus sends out seventy-two others who have been given similar authority. What is of even greater significance than that of casting out of demons is what Jesus then says to them when they also return:
And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.·Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20)
We learn two fundamental and astounding things here. The first is that these returning seventy-two disciples were eternally saved with their names “written in heaven”. The second is that it was more important to rejoice over their names having been written in heaven rather than the authority Jesus had given them over the demons.
This brings us to one significant passage of Scripture that actually applies to all Christians but is especially important for anyone who would venture to reach out and bring freedom to a demon possessed person. In Eph. 6:10-20 we are implored to have on the full armor of God for the very real warfare that all Christians have against the devil and his cosmic powers. This armor includes the ‘sword of the Spirit’ which is the word of God which can only be found in the Bible. Vital to understand is that salvation includes having the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which is part of the full armor of God. And because of this you can know that your name is written in heaven as Jesus says in Luke 10:18-20.
Today’s text, John 4:5-32, is the account where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman ‘at the well’. Since this was the theme passage introduced on the Sabbath and where commentary has already been made, we will restrict our attention to question #4 in today’s lesson concerning the making of disciples:
‘Though obviously impressed by the fact that Jesus knew she had been sexually promiscuous, what did the woman say in her witness that showed she still had some questions about who Jesus was? What lessons can we draw from this about our own need for patience when it comes to the making of disciples?’
A recognized definition of ‘disciple’ is ‘someone who accepts and helps to spread the teachings of a famous person’. Within the context of this lesson, this ‘famous person’ can only be our Savior Jesus Christ with eleven of his original twelve apostles becoming the nucleus of his early disciples.
THE GREAT COMMISSION GIVEN TO THE DISCIPLES TO MAKE MORE DISCIPLES:
Jesus gave his authority to the original eleven disciples to make disciples of ‘all nations’. Since Jesus only gave this authority to his disciples to make other disciples of his it is important to understand just who is a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.·And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.·And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:16-20)
A DISCIPLE OF JESUS CHRIST HAS ETERNAL LIFE:
When Jesus originally sent out his disciples to go on ahead of him, they on their return to him were excited that even the demons were subject to them in his name. Jesus told them to rejoice rather in that their names were written in heaven.
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”·And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.·Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)
DISCIPLES ARE TOTALLY COMMITTED TO FOLLOWING THEIR LEADER:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.·For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?·For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.·But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:23-27)
DISCIPLES ONLY PREACH THE TEACHINGS OF THEIR LEADER:
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,·but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,·but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.·For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor. 1:22-25)
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.·For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor. 2:1-2)
As modern day disciples of Jesus Christ we learn in Scripture that there can be no prophet that comes after our Savior because he is the final word. There can be no modern day prophet whose words have equal authority with the Bible.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,·but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Heb. 1:1-2)
The book of Revelation is the final words of prophecy from Jesus Christ. There is a curse directed towards anyone who would add to or take away from this final revelation of Jesus Christ.
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book,·and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (Rev. 22:18-19)
DISCIPLES TEACH THE WORDS OF JESUS INCLUDING WHY HE CAME INTO THE WORLD:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Tim. 1:15) ·And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) ·And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.·For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10) “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,·and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,·even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:26-28) “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46) “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17)
JESUS DID NOT COME INTO THE WORLD TO VINDICATE THE CHARACTER OR GOD:
Not even a righteous person can successfully question or challenge the purposes of our holy God.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:·“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. (Job 38:1-3)
And the Lord said to Job: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:1-5)
Then Job answered the Lord and said:·“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ·‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’·I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6)
Those who believe God’s character must be vindicated should repent in dust and ashes or face the wrath of our Almighty Sovereign God.
CONCERNING THE QUESTION OF DISCIPLES HAVING PATIENCE:
When our Savior gave his followers the Great Commission we were not told to read the hearts of sinners or convict them by our own words. We must quote the word of God and have patience because our Savior told us that the role of the Holy Spirit is to convict sinners of their need for repentance:
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:·concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11)
Today’s lesson focuses on the ‘class distinctions, prejudices, and cultural and ethnic boundaries’ that would not exist except that we live in a fallen world and that these conditions will only get increasingly worse prior to the return of Christ. As Christians it is our duty to ‘transcend’ these barriers ‘whom society rejects as the greatest outcasts’.
The theme of today’s lesson is a very noble goal for all who would call themselves a Christian. It is important to remind and stress that before you can take the gospel message of redemption to anyone in this fallen sin infected world the reality of salvation must be true in your own life. To be real it must be founded solely upon the revealed word of God found in the Bible.
It is certainly without question that Christians are compelled, because of our Savior’s command to “love our brother in the same way we love God”, to be reaching beyond the boundaries that divide this world. Today’s lesson however does not focus on and address the root problem that undergirds the various forms of evil we perpetuate upon each other.
In Romans Three we see where the Apostle Paul’s general theme includes our righteousness, or rather our lack of righteousness within ourselves where he mentions the advantages of the Jews because they have been entrusted with the oracles of God. Only God is true and the sole source of anyone’s justification, Rom. 3:1-8, Jew or Gentile.
While the world focuses on various forms of class distinctions, degrees of moral strength or levels of importance God has a much different standard where all sinners utterly fail:
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:9-18)
So, how does one become a person who obeys God and fulfills the Great Commission, Matt.28:18-20, or even the command to love others in the same way we are to love God, Matt. 22:34-40? For that matter, how does one really love God when you consider that the above passage declares that what we all do, as sinners born in sin, is worthless in the sight of God?
Keeping mind none seek after God we come to the question of the law and those who would be justified in God’s sight:
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.·For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)
If you are one who would desire to reach the ‘Publicans and Sinners’ with the biblical gospel message of redemption you must first be justified in God’s sight yourself. For having this happen in your life there must be an answer other than the works of the law because we have just seen that none will ever become justified in this way.
Romans 3:21-31 is the key to understanding the source of our righteousness and justification in the sight of God. There are no class distinctions among sinners because we all fall infinitely short of the glory of God. Yet, through the propitiation of Jesus Christ put forward by his shed blood sinners who come to him in faith are fully eternally justified. Propitiation means Jesus, who is totally holy and righteous, ‘put on’ our sin and paid our penalty of death. He offers the gift of eternal life to those who come to him in faith, Acts 16:30-31.
The need for Christians to reach out to the ‘social outcasts’ of this world is true and important. God’s love, John 3:16, for lost sinners is a message of hope for all no matter how ‘fallen’ they have become in their depravity.
As is the normal practice the lesson for today centers on a Ellen White quote without using Scripture to clarify or support her statements. The intent of this commentary is to reveal the peril of doing so. Phrases taken from the Ellen White quote found in the lesson will be followed by commentary.
Quote: ‘The fallen must be led to feel that it is not too late for them to be men.’
The above phrase is the first portion of the Ellen White quote found in today’s lesson that we will examine.
Referencing back to the full paragraph mentioned in the lesson we find that there is pertinent wording that has been omitted:
Quote: ‘"We are saved by hope." Romans 8:24. The fallen must be led to feel that it is not too late for them to be men’
The question that arises and needs to be addressed is; what is this hope or upon whose ‘work’ do we place this hope?
The lesson Ellen White quote also includes this phrase: ‘placed him on his honor’. The accepted definition of this phrase is to be ‘under a moral obligation’. In-other-words, Ellen White means to say our hope rests on the moral obligation to behave in a certain way.
Now, let’s turn to Scripture and see what the word of God teaches is the real source of our hope:
(It is important for the sake clarity to study the whole of chapter eight in context and not just the few verses quoted here.)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? (Romans 8:24)
Our hope is founded solely upon the steadfast action and promise of our Savior. It has nothing to do with God placing us on ‘our honor’ be behave or perform in a certain way.
This chapter in Romans has a series of ‘for’ statements that progressively builds to this grand finality:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,·nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Our hope centers on the work and promises of our Savior in that nothing can separate us from God’s love.