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Third Quarter 2016 (July–September)
COMMENTARY ON THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN THE COMMUNITY
Week 5: July 23–29
COMMENTARY ON "JESUS ON COMMUNITY OUTREACH"
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).
This week’s lesson moves from using the Old Testament to describe caring for the community to the New Testament, and it presents the idea of Jesus being the example of how to reach out to the community by ministering to people’s felt needs.
Saturday’s introduction ends with this directive: “Jesus’ teaching, which He modeled in His own earthly ministry, provide powerful instructions concerning how we, through Him, can poke holes in the darkness.”
The problem with this use of Jesus as our example of a community servant is that it misrepresents His ministry. He was the world’s Savior. His service was an outpouring of His intrinsic righteousness and love for His fallen creatures; it was not a method of gaining attention and “selling” his message.
Moreover, His “message” was the cross. He called people to believe, and His ministry and miracles were all for the purpose of demonstrating that He was the fulfillment of prophecy. Only God could do the things He did, and the Jews all knew that fact. He offended them by demonstrating that He was God. The Jews wanted a different kind of Messiah; when they saw that He was doing what only God could do, they rejected Him.
His death on the cross was Jesus’ ministry. His becoming sin so we could become the righteousness of God in Him was the reason He came.
Jesus did not come to demonstrate how to prepare and soften a community to receive our “message”. In fact, the message Adventism wants to sell the community is a message that yields not life and hope but despair and death. It is “another gospel” that adds requirements and behaviors to the pure gospel. Even worse, it presents Jesus primarily as an example, not as a substitute. Unless the emphasis is on Jesus and His shed blood as the only necessary thing for us to share with people, the promotion of community service will be ultimately useless. It may have a palliative effect that wears away with time; it will not yield eternal results.
Caring for the community must be the overflow of a born again life in order for it to truly help anyone.
Today’s lesson presents Jesus’ reading from Isaiah 61:1,2 in the synagogue in His hometown, Nazareth. Luke 4:16-29 recounts this moment:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
The lesson points out that Jesus stopped reading the Isaiah passage just before the phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God,” and it asks why He stopped there. Answering its own question, the day’s lesson continues by speculating that perhaps Jesus did not want to announce His ministry in association with the Jews’ idea that the Messiah would be a conquering hero who would vanquish Roman armies. The lesson states,
“That was a false conception that would, unfortunately, keep many of His fellow countrymen from seeing Him and His ministry for what it really was. Instead, He focused on what He would do for those who needed what He had to offer right then and there, regardless of the political situation of the time.”
This interpretation is speculation and is not based on anything in the text. Moreover, it ignores the fact of what Isaiah actually prophesied. Jesus read the section of Isaiah 61 that announced the “year of the Lord’s favor”. This phrase was Messianic in that it foretold the period when salvation would be proclaimed. It was a prophecy of the Messianic age, and Jesus stood in His spiritually resistant hometown and announced that in Him Isaiah’s words were fulfilled. He was the One foretold to preach and heal God’s people.
This reference to the “year of the Lord’s favor” is an allusion to the year of jubilee described in Leviticus 25:8-55. Every 50 years, Israelites were to free their slaves, cancel their debts, and return ancestral properties to their original families. This 50-year festival was a shadow for Israel foretelling God’s redemption of them from captivity in Babylon and ultimately from the otherwise inescapable bondage of sin. Jesus proclaimed that day that God’s promised of sending them release from bondage—the reality of the year of jubilee—had finally come! It had come to them in Him—not primarily in His miracles, although they were evidences of His identity as God—but in Himself who came to be the Sin Bearer and to remove sin from all who believe. The year of jubilee has arrived.
Jesus’ ending before the prophetic announcement of the day of God’s vengeance had nothing to do with not associating His ministry with vanquishing armies. It had to do with actual reality that will play out in time. Jesus first advent fulfilled the prophecy of the day of jubilee. He brought salvation and release from sin to the world.
There will be a day of vengeance of our Lord, however. At His second coming, Jesus will arrive as the Judge of the earth. There will be an outpouring of God’s wrath on unrepentant sinners. Before He establishes His eternal kingdom on the new earth, He will judge the wicked and sentence them to their eternal punishment in hell. The day of God’s vengeance is coming—but it had not arrived that day in Galilee when Jesus announced His ministry on earth. That day He fulfilled the shadows of the day of jubilee. When He comes to reign He will usher in the day of vengeance of our God. He will be the judge of the living and the dead, and the wicked will receive their eternal sentence from the One whom they refused to trust.
Because the wicked refuse to place their trust in Jesus and His finished work alone, they will receive not eternal blessing but the eternal consequences of incurring God’s wrath against sin. As unrepentant sinners, they will be the object of God’s wrath. Because they refused the Sin Bearer on His terms, they will carry their own sin into hell.
This lesson completely ignores the reality that God punishes evil, and the Lord Jesus did not come primarily to bring social justice and physical relief for suffering. He came to fulfill prophecy, to let His people know that God had come to them to save them, and He came to carry the imputed sin of humanity in His flesh to the cross and to break death wide open so those who trust Him will never die
The Good Samaritan parable did expose the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders who had no love of God and man in their hearts. It did reveal that people who are not part of the identified religious elite may have hearts softened with the love that comes from God, a love that is sacrificial and selfless.
The parable, however, is not another “example” of good behavior. It was, rather, a a story designed to convict people and to reveal to them the sin in their own hearts. No one with a heart hardened toward God and His truth can “fix” himself or please God by adjusting his behavior. We cannot ease our guilty consciences by doing good deeds. Good deeds done from unregenerate hearts and guilty consciences are deeds that have no lasting value.
Jesus came to reveal the sin in human hearts—even in the hearts of those who proudly claimed to have the oracles of God and the one true religion. This parable is not about hindering prejudices; it is, rather, about seeing one’s lack of love and being convicted that one must repent and allow Jesus to cleanse his heart and carry his sin away in His blood. Only then can we truly care for those in need; only then can we offer them the true solution to their problems: forgiveness and eternal life that nothing—not even death—can take away.
Jesus’ metaphor that “you are the salt of the earth” (Mt. 5:13) was a figure of speech illustrating the effect of God’s people, true believers whose hearts are alive and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, function in the world.
Today’s lesson takes this parable and focusses on behavior again instead of on the nature of the “salt”. It makes the point that “we” can’t stay in the church and fraternize with each other if we are to fulfill the idea of being salt. On the contrary, we must go outside into the world and mix with unbelievers to be a transforming agent.
Once again, the lesson misses the point. The third paragraph says, “We can, in every which way, be moral in that we don’t smoke or drink or carouse or gamble or engage in rome. All that is important. But the question isn’t just What don’t we do? Rather it is What do we do?”
The lesson asks the wrong question. Living in the community isn’t about “what we do”; it’s about who we are and who we know. As one preacher once said, “The most dangerous man is a highly moral man who doesn’t need Jesus.”
In other words, morality is not defined by what we don’t do; in that one point the lesson is correct. Where it errs, however, is that godliness is not defined by what we do.
Moral people do not become “salt” or “righteous” by doing good. On the contrary, we become “salt” by knowing Jesus, by trusting in His blood, by being washed by His Word and being born again by His Spirit.
A person cannot be salt in the world unless he or she is born again and knows Jesus. Simply knowing and accepting the Sabbath and other Adventist doctrines (like soul sleep) does not make us righteous or qualified to be salt. We need to know the real gospel and to submit to it and to the Lord Jesus who became sin for us.
Only when we know Him and are alive in Him can we be salt in the world. Only then, in fact, do we have the energy to BE salt!
Today’s lesson focusses on how to prepare “hard ground” for evangelism so the “gospel” will take root. Once again, the lesson is discussing how to prepare the crowds to receive Adventism. In fact, the lesson advocates “see-planting activities, such as seminars, Bible studies, and small groups; and praying for the rain—the Holy Spirit.”
Community programs such as health clinics and benign-appearing outreaches that never call themselves Adventist do soften the people—but falsely. It is illegitimate to go into a community and pretend to offer hep and medical care with the apparent purpose of simple altruism when in reality, the real motive is to get people to become Adventist.
When true Christians go into a community, they may not overtly evangelize at first; nevertheless, their purpose is not to make a denominational member; it is to actually see people saved for eternity. Softening up a community to receive Adventism is deceptive and cruel because Adventism does not offer eternal security to anyone. It puts members back under the law.
Our job, as Christ followers, is to know Him first of all and secondly to do whatever He brings to us that is the “next right thing” to do. Deceptively attempting to bring people to be receptive to us by hiding our true identity is NOT a biblical practice.
Today’s lesson begins with a question about why Jesus sent His disciples out into the surrounding towns without any resources. It takes off from this question by supposing that Jesus intended for them to trust God and to build relationships with the people they met. From there the author tells the story of the way an Adventist pastor planted a church in a new town by visiting business and community leaders and asking questions about what they needed and valued. He became known and eventually brought in a health team to offer health-screening programs and follow-ups.
The point of the lesson is that if people make friends in the community, the doors will eventually open for branch Sabbath-schools, church services, and so forth.
Again, this conclusion is not the purpose of the account of Jesus sending His disciples into the cities of Judea to preach the kingdom of heaven. That account showed several things: Jesus sent all of His disciples, even Judas, out with His power to heal and cast out demons. They took the good news of God’s kingdom with them…the news that He had kept His promise and had sent the One whom He had promised. It taught the disciples to trust God when He asked them to go and work for Him. It demonstrated that they didn’t come up with a good idea for “serving the Lord” and go out and do it; on the contrary, they went only when their Lord Jesus told them to go, and He alone provided for them. In fact, He cared for them even when people spurned them.
That story isn’t about “church planting”. True church planting involves the real gospel, not a false gospel, and God provides everything that’s needed when it’s needed. He doesn’t bring His provision a minute early, and He doesn’t give us a formula for how much to accumulate and save, how many people we have to flatter, and He doesn’t ask us to precede our bringing the gospel with health clinics or other forms of a health message. He alone is The Message, and His entire provision is what He knows is needed at any given time.
Friday ends with quotes and questions about how to live in the great controversy, interfacing with the world, without compromising “our gospel commission”. Again, Adventism is not the gospel. I challenge anyone reading this to read the book of Galatians every day for a month. Ask God to show you what you need to know, and He will faithfully teach you the truth and reveal Himself to you.