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Third Quarter 2015 July–September)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF LUKE
Week 9: August 22–28
COMMENTARY ON PETER AND THE GENTILES
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).
Day 1: Saturday, August 22, 2015
“Do: Resolve to find opportunities to move outside the Christian community to share God’s love with those who may never set foot in a Seventh-day Adventist church.” (Teachers Edition Page 119)
Sharing Jesus with people who are not like me. There is nothing more challenging to our presuppositions, biases and judgmental attitudes than this. And yet, it is central to the Gospel and one of the core themes of Acts.
I commend the author for this focus, and I warn myself not to allow my own bias to miss the point.
I'll start my commentary by asking a question: Is there any bias in the sentence I quoted above?
It's in the final phrase: “...who may never set foot in a Seventh-day Adventist church.”
Why is this phrase biased? Because it equates Seventh-day Adventism with the Christian community.
Fear not, most similar Sunday School lessons in other denominations merely substitute Baptist, Church of Christ, etc. for Seventh-day Adventist.
In short, all of us are biased. All of us are most comfortable interacting with others who are just-like-me – same education, same socio-economic status, same marital status, same children's ages, same ethnicity, same fashion sense, same political leanings, and, most important of all, same religious beliefs. As the author points out, this bias is a normal part of being human. I'd just like to read an SDA lesson that is not biased towards the church, but focused solely on Jesus.
Saturday, August 22, 2015 continued
“Like all pioneer missionaries, Peter had to discriminate between unchangeable divine absolutes and those practices that are cultural and relative and of no important consequence in the life of the believer, whether Jew or Gentile.” (Standard Edition Page 72)
I don't usually write two commentaries for one day, but this quotation is very important. The issue of divine absolutes versus cultural and relative practices has plagued the body of Christ since the very beginning. This is where biases are revealed, where legalism of many kinds rears its ugly head.
For example, in many Charismatic churches speaking in tongues is treated as a divine absolute, and it is used as a club on all who have been drawn to the local congregation to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you must speak in tongues in order to be saved, and you haven't spoken in tongues, by definition, you cannot be saved.
Some churches even have classes to help converts learn how to hold their tongues just so, choose from approved syllables to use sort of as a mantra, and so on.
I've talked with more than a few people who simply faked it in order to be accepted. Later, after they grew tired of the facade, they simply left.
As a good Adventist, you should be saying, “Clearly, they've gotten Spiritual gifts all wrong. What a tragedy that Jesus has been lost in their performance orientation!”
I could point out similar issues – baptism (Church of Christ); altar calls and “short accounts with God” (Baptist); cultural relevance (Methodist and, to a fault, Presbyterian) – that I've dealt with in my job at Basic Gospel over the past few months.
I ask you to look at your own Adventist beliefs and practices. Is there anything the church does in its context that is similar? Are there things you believe or do that are similar?
This question of divine vs. human is critical to living the Christian life and to interacting with the world around us.
Sunday, August 23, 2015: Peter at Pentecost
“What does the story of Pentecost reveal about our utter need of the Holy Spirit in our lives? What choices can we make in order to be more attuned to the Spirit’s leading?” (Standard Edition Page 73)
These are excellent questions. No one exemplified the answers better than Peter.
Peter had spent his entire life within the gospel accounts as an arrogant (fear-driven pride), foot-in-his-mouth failure. Even in his most successful interaction with Jesus (“You are the Christ!”) he was a loser. Remember, immediately following his triumphal statement he swore that he would not allow Jesus to go to Jerusalem to face death.
When is success actually failure? When Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan.”
Suddenly, Peter becomes the leading spokesman for the Gospel.
The difference can be attributed to one thing alone: The indwelling Holy Spirit. Peter was as dependent upon the Holy Spirit to preach on Pentecost as he was dependent upon breathing to stay alive.
It is exactly the same with us. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, of importance that we can do in our own strength, based on our experience and education.
Let me put it more starkly. Anything we accomplish on our own, and especially so the marvelous privilege of leading someone to Jesus, will be met with, “Get behind me Satan.” The indwelling Spirit is the source and impetus of what we do, or we simply do not belong to Christ (Romans 8:9).
Monday, August 24, 2015: The Conversion of Cornelius: Part 1
“What are some of the traits of Cornelius, even in his ignorance, that we all would do well to follow in our own spiritual lives?” (Standard Edition Page 74)
I'm afraid the answer to this question involves devotion, praying regularly, giving offerings to the local church and obeying God.
But it is so much more than that. Cornelius and his family were followers of the one true God. Some of his soldiers were as well.
God already had accepted them, but he needed to make a point with Peter (and the rest of the church in Jerusalem).
The story here is that the Spirit indwelt Cornelius and the others before Peter even got started. It is an indication of Cornelius' faith and patience that he didn't throw Peter out of the house when Peter “explained” that he was there under duress. “God made me come here.”
And the point was made! All people receive the Holy Spirit equally and therefore are sealed for eternity. There is no difference!
Who was ignorant, Peter or Cornelius? Both. Who was acting like a pagan? Peter, because he still was stand offish. (I say this because Peter was so susceptible to peer pressure, as we see in Galatians 2. He could fall back into his old, fear-driven ways at the drop of a hat.)
Cornelius did nothing more in bowing to Peter than John did in bowing to the angel in Revelation. Yes, it was inappropriate, but it is what humans do when we are overwhelmed with a sense of our own unworthiness in the context of God's grace. Part of the beauty of the body of Christ is that those to whom people bow down pick them up and embrace them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Cornelius was thankful and humble, not idolatrous.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015: The Conversion of Cornelius: Part 2
Overview: Three Important Questions
Things were going so well, and then Adventist bias is revealed.
First, this story is not about Cornelius' ignorance. It is about Peter's ignorance. If anyone understood obeying a command, it was Cornelius. If anyone understood giving commands, it was Cornelius.
We also see that of the two key actors in this drama, Cornelius also understood humility. Peter was dragged kicking and screaming into the story.
Yes, Peter was learning, but he was utterly unprepared for this quantum leap. After all, even as much as Jews hated Samaritans, at least Samaritans were shirttail relatives. Therefore, the Spirit held off in Acts 8 when Philip brought the gospel to Samaria until Peter and John could get there to witness Samaritans receiving the Spirit.
Sharing Jesus with Gentiles was positively distasteful, unimaginable. It mattered not that Jesus had told them they would be his witnesses “remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NASB). To the disciples, “remotest” probably meant Jews living around the Mediterranean. There is no way they imagined not only sharing the gospel with Gentiles, but eating with them, staying in their homes, touching them.
Second, I find it interesting that Luke never records Cornelius saying, “and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household” (Acts 11:14 NASB). In Chapter 10, God simply tells Cornelius to send for Peter. When Cornelius relates the story to Peter he uses the same language, and then says, “Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (Acts 10:33 NASB).
I think what we're dealing with here is more of Peter's learning. He's covering himself among his peers in case the story isn't well received.
Assuming Peter was sent to give Cornelius words that would save him is an example of denominational bias.
“We [insert your denomination's name here] have the truth. Therefore, we need to go to others, including even other godly men and women, to share our truth, because they can't be saved without our truth.”
Need I say that this is not proper evangelism?
Third, the author completely misses the point of Romans 1-3 by referencing this part of Romans 2. Here is the referenced passage:
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16)
According to Adventist theology, one must keep the Law. Pulling this passage out of context is used as proof of the need, indeed the possibility of keeping the Law.
The point of Romans 1-3 is this:
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus... (Romans 3:21-24)
No one ever has or ever will keep the Law to salvation. The best the law can do is demonstrate our utter hopelessness apart from Christ.
Paul's sub-point in Romans 2:14-16 is that God has sheep not of the Jewish fold. These Gentiles actually are living the New Covenant life. Therefore, Jews, who sin every bit as badly as Gentiles, need to stop judging other people, need to give up the Old Covenant. In fact, Jews need to learn from Gentiles.
Could it be that Adventists need to learn from other Christians? I'm not talking about copying aspects of the Willow Creek Association or other “successful” churches. I'm not talking about bringing in different forms of worship.
I am talking about learning the gospel from people who know Jesus, regardless of religious background and affiliation. I am talking about hearing about, believing and living in the power of the risen Jesus; about realizing that there is nothing to be added to his death, burial and resurrection. You don't need the Sabbath. You don't need the Investigative Judgment. You don't need Ellen White. In fact, adding these to the gospel destroys the gospel.
The fact is, Adventism sees itself as the true Israel. Until it rids itself of this false identity, and all of the trappings associated with it, it will never be a fully Christian belief system.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015: Peter’s Vision
“Peter’s call to witness to Cornelius implied that, although all people are acceptable to God, not all religions are equally acceptable.” (Standard Edition Page 76)
I disagree. There are no religions that are acceptable to God.
Remember, our mission is not to help people join our religion or denomination. Our mission is to bring people to Jesus.
Religions are a curse on the world, and Satan's counterfeit to keep people confused. Denominations are a curse upon Christianity and an extension of Satan's counterfeit. The rampant disunity celebrated in our churches of various stripes is a clarion call to unbelievers to avoid Christians like the plague.
Please know I'm not talking solely about Adventism. People in the 18-40 age group are leaving churches or all kinds in droves. They are more and more likely to identify as non-Christian, agnostic, or unbeliever than at any time in the last 50 years.
There are two main reasons given for this, but really only one reason. On the one hand, they are tired of the show. They see lights and cameras. Sometimes they see stage fog. They hear “relevant” sermons that last all of 10-15 minutes. They are greeted to death with plastic smiles, minimal eye contact and absolutely no interest in relationship.
On the other hand, they are sick to death of being told to be better, do more, give more. They are tired of the judgmental attitudes.
What is the common thread? The gospel simply is not being taught and exemplified in most churches. For the “relevant” churches, the gospel is so watered down in the hope of not offending anyone that they end up offending everyone. For the traditional churches, rampant legalism, with its blinding veil hiding Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 3), is equally offensive.
Here is a painfully true example: What would you do if a person walked up to you and said, “I was invited to visit your church, so I came, but I'm a homosexual witch, so I assume you don't want me to come back?”
Thankfully, the people I know who met this person not only invited him back, but embraced him with open arms. Just as important, they have not “outed” him. He is not saved, yet. He hasn't changed his behavior, yet. But he is listening and studying. He has never before been accepted, warts and all, by people who call themselves Christians. Instead, he has been shunned.
Maintaining a denominational bias results in shunning.
Maintaining a focus on Jesus alone results in love, acceptance and forgiveness.
I'll take Jesus every time, and so will most of the folks out there who are wandering around wondering how to make sense of the senselessness of our world today.
Thursday, August 27, 2015: The Jerusalem Decree
“Early success of the mission to the Gentiles raised some crucial questions for the early church regarding what requirements should be expected of Gentile converts—those grafted into the faith (Rom. 11:17). Tensions always appear when people from other religions and cultures join an established believing community. (Standard Edition Page 77)
As great as was the Jerusalem Council, as described here it should not be seen as the model for dealing with cultural differences.
The lesson presumes that Gentiles were joining the primarily Jewish church. As such, there would be great problems in bringing the two groups together, and the Gentiles would need guidelines for fitting in.
The same problems would occur if we assumed that Jewish believers were joining the Gentile church.
Neither case is true. Instead, both Jews and Gentiles were joining an altogether new thing, the body of Christ. The fact that the “home church” was in Jerusalem is not normative, but explanatory. Jerusalem was “home” simply because they started there – from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
That this “home church” idea continued to be a problem is seen in Acts 21:20-25 NASB.
And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Therefore do this that we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads; and all will know that there is nothing to the things which they have been told about you, but that you yourself also walk orderly, keeping the Law. But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” [Emphasis added.]
The leaders in Jerusalem equated the agreement in Chapter 15 with “keeping the Law.” They had not gotten past Moses. They had not let what was obsolete and aging disappear (see Hebrews 8:13).
In fact, Paul was telling people to forsake Moses and the customs. Although he celebrated his Jewish roots, he never taught that Jewishness, by law or custom, was the path to salvation.
No, the beauty of the Jerusalem Council was that Jews, for the first time, admitted their complete inability to keep the law. If they couldn't keep it, they could not, in good conscience, require anyone else to keep it. That the agreement was not a full statement of freedom merely shows their need to learn and mature.
Again, it was not the Gentiles who needed to learn and mature, but the Jews. Perhaps this is a better way to say it: In order to learn and mature in Christ, both Jews and Gentiles needed to give up their cherished traditions.
This is equally true of anyone who has grown up in a strong religious tradition. All people who accept Jesus in the context of the religious tradition, but who come from a different place, are forced to conform to all the written and unwritten rules that define acceptance in the existing culture. This is not Christianity. This is slavery.
Lest you think I'm advocating an anything goes approach to Christianity, let me assure you that the indwelling Spirit is more than able to change a person's thinking, understanding, choices and behavior. In fact, the Holy Spirit alone can do what the Law can never do. It's time we allow he Spirit to work, instead of trying to help the Spirit by human effort.
Friday, August 28, 2015: Further Study
The usual Ellen G. White quotes. (Standard Edition Page 78)
We are one in Christ. There is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. There is no religious tradition. There is no religion.
There is only a relationship with Jesus that creates and informs redemptive relationships with other people.
In this new kind of relationship, everyone is called to give up everything that once identified them and receive a totally new identity—Child of God.
When a Baptist accepts Jesus, he ceases to be Baptist. When as Adventist accepts Jesus, she ceases to be an Adventist.
Everything that defines Baptist, Adventist and every other denomination is thrown away, because it is useless to living the Spirit-led life.
If you want to impact the world for Jesus, let him impact you, redefine you, fill you to overflowing with himself. Only then will you be able to take the real gospel to another person for whom Jesus died and rose again. Only then will you be able to speak truth into the confusion consuming our world. Without Jesus your witness is pointless, because you have nothing to offer. With him, your witness is powerful and effective, because he is God, and he can't wait to speak and love through you.