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Third Quarter 2015 July–September)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF LUKE
Week 7: August 8–14
COMMENTARY ON JESUS: THE MASTER OF MISSIONS
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.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Missions are a core activity of the divine Trinity, according to this lesson, and the divine Words that describe that mission to save humanity began at the Fall in Genesis 3. When Jesus arrived on earth as a man, the full meaning of God’s mission activity became clear and we could see how man’s deepest needs are fulfilled. The divine plan of redemption was “formulated” long ago before time began, and that is why we are given prophecies in the Old Testament about Jesus as the Messiah. Those prophecies also included the Gentiles in the community of the saved, and Jesus’ arrival brought in an age of universal salvation for all peoples.
Friday’s discussion focuses on the problems with setting dates for Christ’s coming, quoting Matthew 24 and Acts 1 where Jesus states that no man can know that day, for only His Father knows. The Lesson also quotes Selected Messages p. 189, where Ellen White warns against speculations about times and seasons that God has not revealed. Date-setting that is repeatedly proven wrong becomes an obstacle to the Christian witness throughout the world.
The Message under the Mission
Missions are all about magnifying Christ (Phil. 1:20). We magnify Him, not in the way a microscope makes little things look big, but in the way a telescope makes very great things look as glorious as they truly are (John Piper, “Why Did God Create the World?”, Desiring God, 2012). Where is God’s glorious grace most clearly shown? In “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2Cor. 4:4), which is all about what Christ has already done to save us, becoming sin for us, then dying and rising for us (1Cor. 15:1-3). That is the message that must drive missions. We may imagine all sorts of other good messages to carry to the world, such as a health message or a social justice message. But good as those may be, they are not what Jesus sent His followers to proclaim. If we are to magnify Christ, we need a firm foundation for faith.
We can agree with this Lesson that God’s “plan” to save Gentiles ancient and that is why the OT includes promises for them also. More than that, however, if the promises of God are to have any power in our lives, we need a rock solid basis of confidence in God’s sovereignty. If God is really the sovereign of the universe, than his original stated purposes cannot be thwarted, no matter what Satan or his followers choose to do. So as we witness to the nations we need to be assured by God that His purposes are certain, even as we face the swords of ISIS, or anything Satan throws at us.
Missionaries are people who are prepared to sacrifice their possessions, their families, their lives, for the gospel. That kind of boldness and passion does not come naturally, but is found in those who know that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). There are many insipid, feel-good gospels that draw the masses, but are powerless to replace our natural selfishness with death-defying passion for missions. The gospel stands out in powerful contrast to those insipid gospels because it presents the radical grace of God:
“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Acts 20:24
The real gospel has power over our timid, comfort-seeking natures because at its core is the radical grace of God. Radical grace means that every single step in our salvation, from beginning to end, is a pure gift of God, unearned by anything we think or do. The Lesson quotes this passage to show how the plan of salvation is ancient. Better than that, however, we can have that spirit of power and love and self control:
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…” 2Timothy 1:8, 9
We are willing to suffer because we are 1) already saved and called; 2) our works were not the decisive factor in that saving and calling; (3) our salvation is owing to His purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ before the ages began. By “purpose and grace,” Paul is referring to the free, unconditional election of God’s people, decided before the world was created. That is a lot of confidence, the kind that we need to face the severe suffering Jesus promised. In contrast, the Lesson does not make a clear statement about our need for passionate assurance while serving Him. Frankly, the Lesson’s explanation of the missionary’s motivations to carry the gospel is not death-defying, but insipid and vague.
The Master of missions made sure that through believing His word, we would be equipped with strong confidence in our eternal life. Jesus and His Father made sure of the life of His children before the ages began. If you are repulsed or frightened by the doctrine of God’s free election of the saved, please consider these Biblical passages with a prayerful, open mind. If I were faced with death right now, would I be confident in my salvation? I pray that I will be like Nancy Writebol, a missionary in Africa who survived a near-death struggle with Ebola. She would say this to young missionaries:
“I would tell them they need to ask themselves, Is God enough? Most assuredly, he must be enough for them before they go. And let me be the first to tell you, even when you are in the darkest struggle of your life, God will be enough for you. Once the question of eternal life is settled, then we are free to suffer for the sake of the gospel. This is what Paul meant when he said, ‘for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.’”
Our preparation for suffering begins with the assurance of a secure relationship with God, founded in His ancient purposes:
“He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:5-6