How would you describe the primary focus of your church? Is it focused inward or outward? How about you - are you primarily focused on yourself or on others? This week we study a huge shift in God's work on earth. Instead of being focused on the Jewish nation, the focus turns outward to the entire world. Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn about our personal focus and that of our church!
Discipling the Nations
March 8, 2014
Key Thought : We need to join Christ in overturning the racial, ethnic, and language barriers that hinder the gospel presentation..
Have a volunteer read Luke 4:25-30.
Ask class members to share a thought on what the most important point in this text is.
What was Jesus saying here that made the Jews in the synagogue so angry with Him?
c. Personal Application : Why is it easier to focus on our differences with others rather than our similarities? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : One of your relatives states: “Why would God send Elijah to a Gentile rather than to a woman of Israel? Was this an outreach tactic, or wasn’t there any women of faith in Israel?” How would you respond to your relative?
Have a volunteer read John 12:23-26.
Ask class members to share a short thought on what the most important point is in this passage.
Where does Jesus want His followers to be? What does He mean when He says that where He is, there will His servants be?
Personal Application : What do you love about your life? What do you hate about life in this world? Share your thoughts.
Case Study : One of your neighbors states, “I thought God wanted us to be happy in this life. Life is a gift from God to enjoy and savor. Why would He say that we should hate our life instead of love it?” How would you respond to your neighbor?
Have a volunteer read Luke 10:30-37.
Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
Is there any person or group of people that you wouldn’t want to help under any circumstances? Why?.
Personal Application: Was there ever a time when you didn’t help someone in need? What reasons did you give for not helping? Looking back, would you have done anything differently? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : One of your friends states, “There are a lot of people in this world that aren’t SDA or even Christians that seem to have a heart of gold when it come to helping other people. What do you make of that?” How would you respond to your friend?
Have a volunteer read Acts 1:7,8 .
Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. How effective is your witness to those around you? To those of other races, countries, or cultures?
c. Personal Application: How can you help people in the uttermost parts of the world? Share your thoughts and be practical.
d. Case Study : Think of one person who needs to hear a message from this week’s lesson. Tell the class what you plan to do this week to share with them.
(Note : “Truth that is not lived, that is not imparted, loses its life-giving power, its healing virtue. Its blessings can be retained only as it is shared.” MH p. 149.
Discipling the Nations
Commentary for the March 8, 2014 Sabbath School Lesson
“Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’” John 12:20-21, NIV
At times there have been perhaps as many gods as there were nations. There was Dagon, a god of the Philistines[i], Moloch a god of the Ammonites,[ii] who were descended from Lot, and Chemosh, god of the Moabites,[iii] who were also descended from Lot.[iv] Ashtoreth, goddess of the Sidonians, was worshipped by several nations under different names. The Babylonians called her Ishtar. To the Greeks she was Aphrodite, and to the Romans she was Venus. While their total numbers were far greater, there are perhaps a dozen or more national deities that the Bible acknowledges had an influence on the Jewish practice of religion.
In ancient times, some felt that gods were such a localized phenomenon that when one left their city or nation, it was obligatory to do so under the auspices of the god of the territory being visited, since one’s own god lacked jurisdiction in the new location. We can see some of this in the trip Jacob made to Haran in order to flee the wrath of his brother, Esau.[v] When Jacob had an unusual dream, he felt it was a sign from God. As a response to that dream, he stated that if God would continue to care for him in the new land he was traveling to, he would serve the Lord faithfully and exclusively.[vi]
Even long after the time of the patriarchs and the judges of the Old Testament, many continued to see religion as a regional matter with the various gods having dominions limited by geographical features.[vii] It may not have been until the period of the Neo-Babylonian captivity and Jewish exposure to the dualistic religion of the Zoroastrians of Persia that the Jews began to grasp the concept of an ongoing conflict between darkness and light, evil and good.[viii] Perhaps this explains the transition from a God who is responsible for everything, as in Samuel, where God is said to cause David to number Israel,[ix] to a God who is actively opposed by an evil entity as in Chronicles where Satan is the perpetrator of the numbering.[x]
Whatever the forces that affected the progress of theological understanding God somehow became diminished in the minds of His people from all powerful Creator ruling not only over the Earth He had created but over the entirety of His creation, which included even the sun, moon and stars,[xi] to a localized deity who might prove impotent in the face of other deities in other realms. After all, hadn’t the Philistines overcome His might and stolen His holy ark?[xii] Hadn’t He failed to protect His temple and allowed Jerusalem, His holy city, to be sacked twice by the Babylonians?[xiii]
The revelation that there could possibly be a greater, universal controversy may in fact have been a revival of original theological perspective going back to the events portrayed in the first few chapters of Genesis, but it also created a minefield of theodicy. When God was simply a small regional deity, his impotence in the face of evil could be explained away as simply being a matter of lack of jurisdiction. However, when a god is omnipotent, he suddenly becomes responsible for the problem of evil and its effects as well. To this day, many struggle with the problem that if God is both good and omnipotent, why is evil allowed to continue?
Some Christians, backed up by the Book of Revelation, believe that the problem will be solved at some future moment when a vengeful God returns to settle accounts by destroying everyone not on His “friends list.” Then the surviving friends will live with God and get all the perks that provides. Of course those who promote this idea naturally consider that they will be the ones that will be “in” and not “out” at the Parousia.
While that sounds great for those who are so favored, it still raises paradoxical questions. For instance, once evil is gone and we are assured that it will not rise up again,[xiv] is it possible to still have freedom of choice, or will we simply be robots prevented from ever doing anything that might allow evil a resurrection? It would seem that perhaps God recognized that without choice there could be no free will when He placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. Yet in the restored Eden of Revelation, there is no mention of such a tree, only the Tree of Life. Is there then more of Calvin than Arminius in heaven?
But in spite of these issues, historically, religion has moved from the realm of regional deities to a search for understandings that are universal. Therefore, when in times past, one could leave his or her religion back home without problems and thereby avoid a certain amount of religious controversy, instead now one lives, eats, and breathes in the name of their universal god no matter where they go or what they are doing. If there were one religion, perhaps this would be no problem. However, because there are several competing paradigms for universal understanding of truth and religion, we have conflict unconstrained by jurisdictional boundaries.
In the United States, we have attempted to ameliorate that problem by giving all competing religions equal status without endorsing one “true” religion over any other. In practice, this hasn’t eliminated conflict, but does restrain the state from using its power to advance one religion over another. Other countries from the time of Constantine to the present have chosen one religion as a state religion and sought to eliminate conflict by eliminating choice. Both approaches have their flaws.
In the first case, even if your religion actually does have the truth and the others do not, government is prohibited from recognizing that. For advocates of Christian Dominionism or Muslims who want to re-establish the Caliphate with its Sharia system of laws, lack of government support may be difficult to accept. Such beliefs are predicated on an inseparable union between the state and “true” religion.
In the second case, what if the religion the state chooses to endorse and promote is not actually the “true” faith? This quandary resulted in the Puritans and the Quakers coming to the United States to practice freely a “truth” that they felt the State was suppressing. Later even within the religiously diverse United States, the Mormons felt they needed to seek freedom for their “truth” outside the boundaries of the then existing states when they fled to the shores of Salt Lake in what is now the state of Utah.
It was perhaps Israel’s practice of one state recognized and supported faith that caused things to become so rigid and immobile that the new wine of Christianity burst the seams of Jewish society during the first century. The full force of the government was brought to bear to support the established “truth,” even to the extent of crucifying for rebellion and sedition the One responsible for the new paradigm challenging the governmental monopoly on faith.
Interestingly, Jesus did not advocate for either the first or the second type of governmental relation to religion. Instead, He appeared to provide a new way. In that way, government was irrelevant to religion. Religion instead became a populist social contract to seek the well-being of others. Theoretically, if that is practiced universally then the well-being of all would be assured. Perhaps it is this attitude of good will toward all that drew others to Jesus and filled the early church with converts.
Possibly some have diverged from that path by defining ourselves in terms of things we own rather than relationships we nurture. While busily accumulating things to safeguard our well-being, we too often know very little about others or care about their need for well-being. However, we perhaps fail to see that happiness does not come from chasing the carrot, for there is no end of shiny things to grasp at.
Every day, whether we are on the internet, listening to music on the radio or a media player, reading magazines or simply driving, walking or bicycling around, we are immersed in a sea of advertising telling us over and over again that we are missing something that we need to be truly happy, and to our good fortune there is someone who is selling it.
Perhaps that is why some find it difficult to respond to God. Maybe they feel it is just another sales job that will leave them disappointed and in debt after we commit to buying what Jesus is selling. But what He offers is free.[xv] In a world where we skeptically say, “You get what you pay for,” we find it hard to believe that anything beneficial would be free. But that very “free-dom” may be exactly what the nations need to hear about and perhaps it will draw them that they also might say, “We would like to see Jesus.”
[i] Judges 16:23
[ii] 1 Kings 11:7
[iv] Genesis 19:30-38
[v] Genesis 27:41-45
[vi] Genesis 28:10-22
[vii] 1 Kings 20:23-25
[viii] Eric M Meyers, “Exile and Return,” Ancient Israel from Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, 3rd Edition, Edited by Hershel Shanks (Biblical Archeology Society, Washington, D.C., 2011) pg. 217.
[ix] 2 Samuel 24:1
[x] 1 Chronicles 21:1
[xi] Genesis 1:14-18
[xii] 1 Samuel 4
[xiii] 2 Kings 24-25
[xiv] Nahum 1:9
[xv] Isaiah 55:1-2
"Discipling the Nations"
March 8, 2014
Texts: Isaiah 56:6-8; Matthew 11:20-24; John 12:20-32; Romans 15:12; Acts 1:7, 8
Many eyes have turned to the political conflict in the Ukraine in recent weeks. The Crimean crisis continues to unfold as Russia sends military to intervene in the Euromaidan movement and in opposition to the Yatsenyuk government. The Wall Street Journal describes the recent developments:
"President Vladimir Putin is turning to an old playbook on how to keep Russia's neighbors in check, moving quickly to destabilize Ukraine's newly formed government before it gets on its feet and edges any closer to the West."
"To Mr. Putin, Ukraine falls firmly within what Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev once called Russia's 'zone of privileged interests'-a phrase he coined after Russian troops in 2008 invaded Georgia, whose government at the time was pushing to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, thus pulling itself entirely out of Russia's orbit."1
There is turmoil among many nations in the world today. Ongoing armed conflicts in which 1,000 or more people die each year range from the war in Afghanistan, the Islamist insurgency in Nigeria, and the war in North-West Pakistan, to the Mexican Drug War, the Syrian Civil War, and the Iraqi insurgency since the U.S. withdrew from this country.
There is also the Central African Republic conflict and the South Sudanese fighting that have killed 2,000 and 10,000 people respectively each year.2
Despite the instabilities in the Ukraine, Adventist Christians continue to witness for Christ and conduct health work, Christian music concerts, and public evangelistic series. Thousands of people show interest in health and hundreds have enrolled for Bible studies. The president of the Adventist Church in the Ukraine, Viktor Alekseenko, encourages his 52,000 members in 900 congregations to "pray for their country and avoid provoking hostility-on the streets and on social media, where he urged church members not to leave inflammatory comments." 3
In this week's Sabbath school lesson, our focus is on "Discipling the Nations." To use Putin's terminology, the entire world for Christians is a "zone of privileged interest." Sometimes followers of Jesus become so focused on their own spheres of existence that they forget what many of their friends in unstable countries might be experiencing.
As we look to the faith of those who live amid violence and war, we are reminded that it is not only God's will that the gospel go to our entire planet, but it is only by the Lord's power and protection that we can grow disciples in all the nations of the world.
1. Â wsj.com
Some points of discussion connected with Discipling the Nations and urban ministry:
1) Given the fact that immigrant peoples are much easier to win then those already settled in the city, how can the church balance winning the new people (who tend to be poor but spiritually hungry) without losing its witness to the majority (who tend to be more well off and less spiritually needy).
2) Do you think the various ethnic groups in the city should have their own churches or integrate into the existing churches?
3) Have you ever personally had an experience with more than one ethnic or cultural group meeting on the same church property? What opportunities and blessings resulted from such a relationship and did the experiment end in a positive or negative way?
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