Love is the one Debt That Will Never be Paid off Completely

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Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Love Your Neighbor Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. Romans 137-8 NKJV

When we think of debt I know I usually think about money, however I have come to realize there are things we owe besides money. It is staggering to think that over half of Americans have less than a thousand dollars in the bank. But it is also staggering to realize that over half the American population feels lonely and unloved. When it comes to money the poor feel like they are being oppressed by the rich. Instead of being oppressed by the rich the poor want the rich to pay higher taxes and share more. After all, don’t the rich already have enough? Why can’t they give more?

Should we ask the same questions when it comes to love? Shouldn’t those who feel loved share more of their love and time with the lonely? Years ago, in the first district I worked in as a Bible worker, a man I was studying with brought his 14 year old step-daughter to church for the first time. I went to the women in the church who had teenage daughters and asked them to encourage their daughters to befriend our teenage visitor. Do you know what  one of the mother’s told me? She shrugged her shoulders and said, “our daughters already have friends.” Thirty some odd years later I have never been able to forget that. They left a 14 year old girl, starving, not for food or money but for love! I actually met the stepfather years late at another Adventist church, where he got baptized. I never saw or heard from the stepdaughter again. She never came back to the church that snubbed her, and the sad thing is the church does not care that she never returned. Their own emotional needs were being met and that is simply all that mattered to them. 

Isaiah 58:1-14 talks about a people who love to go to church and debate theology with their best friends but forget to care for those who are left out. Isaiah goes on to say that they are breaking the Sabbath by debating theology in Sabbath School class with their best friends. Yes, they are in Sabbath School talking theology on the Sabbath but they are still breaking the Sabbath by doing their own pleasures. In this case their own pleasure is not going to a football game or shopping mall on the Sabbath-its going to church! They are breaking the Sabbath because they are not reaching out to those who are unloved. 

The poor don’t like it when the rich are stingy with their money, but can the poor be just as stingy with their time, love, forgiveness and mercy?  While the poor feel oppressed financially do we oppress even the rich by not giving them mercy and forgiveness? God has been so rich and generous with us by showering us with grace and mercy. Do we share this grace and mercy with others or do we hold grudges and oppress them emotionally by not being gracious and forgiving toward them?  

There is such a thing as debtors prison, but there are other prisons as well. We put people in prison when we hold a grudge and when we refuse to let them into our circle. We oppress people when we withhold our love and friendship. 

Money debts are more tangible and so maybe that’s why they stick out in our mind more than other debts. But are there other debts we need to pay back that may not be monetary? Do you owe someone a thank you? A compliment? A hug? A pardon? How about your time? Is there someone who just needs you to lend them your ear for a while? You may have paid off all your bill collector’s but are you really debt free? Is there someone you still owe love to? Can you begin paying them back today? And tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that…….

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

Expressing our Love for Christ

Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

Soviet Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, the author of Tortured for Christ, suffered terribly for the Lord. Yet he said that even while in prison, he saw fellow Soviet believers practice generous giving. “When we were given one slice of bread a week and dirty soap every day, we decided we would faithfully ‘tithe’ even that. Every tenth week we took the slice of bread and gave it to the weaker brethren as our ‘tithe’ to the Master.”

I tend to think that God did not demand that these prisoners tithe their bread and soap. Yet they felt compelled to, in order to express their love for God. After understanding the awesome sacrifice Christ had made in expressing His love for them on the cross, they wanted a way to express their love for Christ. They wanted to give all of themselves to Christ since He had given all of Himself for them.

It is the same case with the woman in Mark 14:3-9, who broke open a bottle of ointment costing a year’s wages, so she could anoint the feet of Jesus. She was simply giving all she had because Jesus was giving all He had for her. Like the Soviet prisoners she needed a way to express her love.

God did not give us the tithe and offering system because he needed our money, but because He knew we too would need a way to express our love. God nor the church needs our money. Both were getting along just fine before we came along and both will do just fine after we are gone.

I have a plaque with a picture of the cross and written on it are the words,

“ I asked Jesus how much do you love me?”

“This much” He said, ’Then He spread out His arms and died.”

God will finish the work with or without our money. Yet He has given us the tithe and offering system so that when He asks us, “How much do you love me?” We will have a way to answer.

You may study this week’s lesson here.

How to Find Your Increase for Tithes and Offerings

Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. Deuteronomy 14:22 KJV

Tithing on your “increase” is different than tithing on your “gross” or “net” as an employee. This affects people who are self-employed and/or invest in their business. An illustration I use when giving a Bible study on tithing is that, if you get paid $50.00 for mowing your neighbor’s lawn and you paid $5.00 for the gas, then you actually made $45.00. $45.00 is your increase or profit. You would tithe on the $45.00 since that is what you actually made. By the way, the $45.00 is what you would also pay taxes on, so both God and “Caesar” realize you made $45.00, and not $50.00.

Of course there could be other expenses too, like the cost of the lawn mower, but I think you get the gist of the illustration. Of course the cost of the lemonade you bought from the stand across the street would not count as a business expense because even though it quenched your thirst, it was not a direct business expense.

I’ll give several other examples, as I see them, and I encourage our readers to contribute their examples.

Now “Caesar” realizes if you work in an office or campus, that driving to work and back is not a direct investment to your business. You do not write off travel expenses to work and back. However, you do write off driving expenses while working. For example if I’m a courier doing deliveries, I would deduct travel expenses from what I am paid to find my actual profit, and then tithe and pay taxes on the actual profit. By the way, your gross income would be considered your actual profit. Let’s say I pick up a kayak in Sydney and drive 170 kilometers to deliver the kayak in Newcastle, for $525. To find my profit I would subtract 66 cents a km, which would be $112, leaving me with a profit of $413. I would tithe on the $413, which would be $42 (rounded up). Of course I can round that up to $45.00 or even $50.00!

Now, if I drove 10 kilometers to make the pickup in Sydney I would not count that against my profit because that was just getting to work. It was not an expense of the actual work itself. The way I see it, only things that you invested directly to making your profit would be deducted from your profit. Now if I traveled from my home to a courier training workshop in Melbourne, that would be a travel expense relating directly to my business and profit. Everyone needs to decide between themselves and God if something is a direct business expense.

Again, your profit is counted as your gross income which you would be taxed on and would tithe on. Sometimes when I am giving this study, people will ask me if they can deduct their home electric bill from their gross income and then tithe after that. The answer is “no.” Your home electric bill is not a part of your business or an investment in your profit. “Caesar” does not let you write off your home electric bill as it has nothing to do with your profit if you are not working at home.

You need to follow your own conscience and Bible principles on determining what your increase is, but as a general rule, if “Caesar’ sees an item as a business expense then it is reasonable to count it as a business expense regarding your increase (profit) and tithe. Remember we do not pay tithe. We return tithe. We are returning to God what is already His with thanksgiving for all the many ways He cares for us. We also want to give a generous offering in addition to our tithe, with a cheerful heart knowing we can never outgive or out love God. 

I hope this conversation has been helpful, and we can discuss it further in the comment section.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

What Does Tithing on Your Increase Mean?

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Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. Deuteronomy 14:22 KJV

Tithing on your “increase” is different than tithing on your “gross” or “net” as an employee. This affects people who are self-employed and/or invest in their business. An illustration I use when giving a Bible study on tithing is, that if you get paid $50.00 for mowing your neighbors lawn, and you paid $5.00 for the gas, then you actually made $45.00. $45.00 is your increase or profit. You would tithe on the $45.00 since that is what you actually made. By the way the $45.00 is what you would also pay taxes on, so both God and “Caesar” realize you made $45.00, and not $50.00.

Of course there could be other expenses too, like the cost of the lawn mower, but I think you get the gist of the illustration. Of course the cost of the lemonade you bought from the stand across the street would not count as a business expense because even though it quenched your thirst, it was not a direct business expense.

I’ll give several other examples, as I see them, and I encourage our readers to contribute their examples.

Now “Caesar” realizes if you work in an office or campus, that driving to work and back is not a direct investment to your business. You do not write off travel expenses to work and back. However you do write off driving expenses while working. For example if I’m a courier doing deliveries, I would deduct travel expenses from what I am paid to find my actual profit, and then tithe and pay taxes on the actual profit. By the way your gross income would be considered your actual profit. Let’s say I pick up a kayak in Sydney and drive 170 kilometers to deliver the kayak in Newcastle, for $525. To find my profit I would subtract 66 cents a km, which would be $112, leaving me with a profit of $413. I would tithe on the $413, which would be $42 (rounded up). Of course I can round that up to $45.00 or even $50.00!

Now if I drove 10 kilometers to make the pickup in Sydney I would not count that against my profit because that was just getting to work. It was not an expense of the actual work itself. The way I see it, only things that you invested directly to making your profit would be deducted from your profit. Now if I traveled from my home to a courier training workshop in Melbourne, that would be a travel expense relating directly to my business and profit. Everyone needs to decide between themselves and God if something is a direct business expense.

Again, your profit is counted as your gross income which you would be taxed on and would tithe on. Sometimes when I am giving this study, people will ask me if they can deduct their home electric bill from their gross income and then tithe after that. The answer is “no.” Your home electric bill is not a part of your business or an investment in your profit. “Caesar” does not let you write off your home electric bill as it has nothing to do with your profit if you are not working at home.

You need to follow your own conscience and Bible principles on determining what your increase is, but as a general rule, if “Caesar’ sees an item as a business expense then it is reasonable to count it as a business expense regarding your increase (profit) and tithe.

I hope this conversation has been helpful, and we can discuss it further in the comment section.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School Lesson here.

2: God’s Covenants With us-Sabbath School Lesson Teaching Plan

Prepared by William Earnhardt, For Sabbath School Class January 14, 2023.

Main Theme: Our responses to God’s promises determines if they are fulfilled for us.

Read in Class: 1 John 5:13, Matthew 10:22 and 2 Peter 1:10-11. Define the common thread in these passages.

Study: How do these passages say we receive the gift of salvation?

Apply: Though salvation is an unmerited gift, what’s the difference between those who accept the gift and those who don’t? What does accepting this gift require that we do?

Share: Your friend tells you she believes on once saved always saved. She believes there is no way a saved person can lose salvation. Using Scripture, what do you tell your friend?

Read in Class: Deuteronomy 28:1-14. Define the main idea of this passage.

Study: What great blessings are promised the people? But what must they do to receive them?

Apply: What does it mean for us, today, to “hearken diligently” to what God tells us to do?

Share: Your friend tells you the book of Deuteronomy is in the Old Testament. We don’t have to obey, only believe. What do you tell your friend?

Read in Class: Proverbs 3:9-10 and Malachi 3:10-11. Define the common thread of these passages.

Study: What are the promises and the obligations found in these verses?

Apply: What does your tithing (or lack thereof) say about your own spirituality and relationship to God?

Share: Your friend says there is no way he can tithe and feed his family. He says God understands He can’t afford to tithe. What do you tell your friend? How could 1 Kings 17:8-16 help, Especially verse 13?

Read in Class: 2 Chronicles 7:14. Define the main idea of this passage.

Study: What are the “ifs” and “thens” of God’s proposal here?

Apply: What does it mean to “heal their land?” In what ways do we need healing today?

Share: Can you think of a friend or family member who is struggling with making a full commitment to Christ? Besides praying for them, is there any way you could speak a word of encouragement to them this week?

How to Fill out the Tithe Envelope

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Understandably, there are many who are unaware of the difference between tithes and offerings. Many, even seasoned members are surprised to learn there is a difference.

Tithe is not used for general use, like church maintenance, Sabbath School supplies and so on. The offerings cover those needs, while the tithe goes to pay the salaries of conference employed gospel workers. This is according to the direction of Scripture.

Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting. Numbers 18:21 NKJV

Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 NKJV

The tithe goes straight to the ministry, while offerings are in addition to the tithe. Occasionally local church treasures will receive a tithe envelope that looks something like this,

Tithe: $200.00

Combined Budget: $100.00

Conference Evangelism: $100.00

Total: $200.00

The problem is the total should be $400.00. The person filling out the tithe envelope was thinking that he was to divvy up the tithe between the other categories on the envelope, but tithe is its own category. IF one is only returning their tithe, it should look like this,

Tithe: $200.00

Combined Budget:

Conference Evangelism:

Total: $200.00

If you are returning tithe and offering, it would look like this,

Tithe: $200.00

Combined Budget: $100.00

Conference Evangelism: $100.00

Total: $400.00

Scripture makes a distinction between tithes and offerings.

“Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. Malachi 3:8 NKJV 

So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 NKJV

Malachi shows us tithe is in addition to the offering. 2 Corinthians 9:7 tells us while the tithe that goes to the ministry is 10% of our profit, the additional offering is what we purpose in our hearts.

My father was a church treasure for over 50 years, and would occasionally receive tithe envelopes filled out by those who thought the tithe was divided into the other categories on the offering envelope. Other treasures have mentioned it to me as well, though of course never mentioning names. Understanding how this can be confusing to some, when I give personal Bible studies on stewardship, I always make sure I carefully explain how the tithe is sacred to Gospel workers, and that the offerings are in addition to the tithe. I hope this explanation will be helpful to some.

By the way you can also contribute online to your local Adventist Church here.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

The Fires of Hell in Light of the Cross

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To me, the biggest lie out of the Dark Ages is not that Sabbath was changed to Sunday, or that when you die you go straight to heaven. To me, no lie distorts the character of my loving heavenly father like the lie that sinners will be tormented throughout the endless ages of eternity. Fact is:

It is no arbitrary decree on the part of God that excludes the wicked from heaven; they are shut out by their own unfitness for its companionship. The glory of God would be to them a consuming fire. They would welcome destruction, that they might be hidden from the face of Him who died to redeem them. –Ellen White, Steps to Christ, page 17

Did you ever notice that Jesus did not tell the demons He could not be around them? The demons told Jesus they could not around Him! (For example, see Matthew 8:29.) So to the unconverted heart, the glory of God is hell, while to the converted heart God’s glory is paradise!

When the fire in Revelation 20:9 comes down out of heaven and consumes the wicked, that fire is the actual presence of God. God’s presence will be hell to those who hate Him, while it will be paradise to those who love Him. I believe this is why the Bible refers to an eternal fire. God is the eternal fire. But God’s love is not going to torture the wicked throughout eternity. God’s love will burn for eternity, but it will put sinners out of their misery instead of torturing them for eternity.

A skewed understanding of hell skews our understanding of God’s love and character, which is exactly what Satan wants. To properly understand the punishment of the wicked, like all other Bible teachings, we must look at it in the light of the cross. Please allow me to share a lesson from my series of In Light of the Cross Bible Study Guides:

The Punishment of the Wicked Overview:

The wicked will be destroyed by fire. The punishment will be everlasting, but the punishing will not. The wicked will die instead of being tormented for all eternity. See John 3:16Romans 6:23Obadiah 1:16Matthew 10:28Ezekiel 18:420.

Importance of knowing the truth about the punishment of the wicked:

The teaching of people being tortured throughout all eternity is the most satanic false doctrine of all! It totally misrepresents the love and character of God, making it impossible to love and know Him the way He loves and knows us.

The Importance of Understanding the Punishment of the Wicked in Light of the Cross:

Many churches use hell and fear as a motivation for doing good because they do not properly understand the love motivation. They do not understand the depths of Christ’s sacrifice in dying the second death. They seem to understand the cross to be a mere pain endurance marathon instead of seeing a Savior who was actually willing to say good-bye to life and heaven forever in order to save the world.

When the early church saw the depths of Jesus’ love and sacrifice it turned the whole world upside down! It changed everything. God’s love constrained, empowered and motivated the believers. And this love is the only motivation that will actually succeed today in transforming people. In Galatians 6, Paul writes of a faith that works by love, not a fear of punishment. In John 14, Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments,” not “if you don’t want to go to hell you better keep my commandments.” Followers of Jesus must uplift the cross and the truth about the cross at all times.

I have a friend who is involved in a prison ministry that visits a juvenile detention center. He told me that they had recently shared the truth about hell with the young men there and that the chaplain at the jail got very upset with him for letting the young men know that the punishment of the wicked is not an eternity spent in hell but rather death just like the Bible says in John 3:16 and Romans 6:23. The chaplain did not want the offenders to know the truth about the punishment of the wicked because he wanted the fear of being tormented for all eternity to motivate them to behave.

Young men in juvenile centers and people everywhere else need to know that there is a God who did way more than suffer for six hours on a cross. He faced the second death for them. He loved them more than He loved his own life. He loved them so much that when tempted to come down from the cross and go back to heaven He chose to die instead. Jesus stayed on that cross for the young men in the juvenile detention center because the thought of heaven without them was hell to Jesus!

When the love motivation receives its proper emphasis, it will accomplish so much more than fear motivation. Some people quote John 3:16 while preaching of an eternal torment of sinners, but that verse clearly says those who do not believe will perish instead of being tortured throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity.

Further study on the punishment of the wicked:

What is the opposite of eternal life?

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NLT

Those who don’t believe perish. They are not tortured for all eternity.

God did not kick Eve out of paradise just because she took a piece of fruit she was told not to. The serpent told lies about God’s love and interest in Eve’s welfare, that Eve and all mankind bought into. When Eve stopped believing in God’s love she stopped believing in her only Source of life. At the cross Jesus died for our sin of unbelief, and when we believe again in His love, we gain back the life we lost when stopped believing in His love. This is the message of john 3:16.

What is the wages of sin?

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 NLT

Note that the wages of sin is not eternal torment in hell.

What becomes of the soul or person that sins?

For all people are mine to judge—both parents and children alike. And this is my rule: The person who sins is the one who will die. Ezekiel 18:4 NLT

KJV says soul, NLT says person. Both the KJV and NLT make it clear that the entire soul or person dies in hell and will not be tormented throughout eternity.

How long does the devil have?

Therefore, rejoice, O heavens!
And you who live in the heavens, rejoice!
But terror will come on the earth and the sea,
for the devil has come down to you in great anger,
knowing that he has little time.” Revelation 12:12 NLT

The devil does not have eternity in hell or anywhere else. He has but a little time left to exist.

What will happen to the devil or Satan?

You defiled your sanctuaries with your many sins and your dishonest trade. So I brought fire out from within you, and it consumed you. I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All who knew you are appalled at your fate. You have come to a terrible end, and you will exist no more.” Ezekiel 28:18-19 NLT

Satan, like all sinners, will be annihilated and exist no more.

What happens to both body and soul in hell?

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 NLT

Neither soul nor body are tortured throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity. Both are destroyed.

What is the final end of the wicked?

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all. But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Malachi 4:1-3 NLT

There will be nothing left of the wicked – nothing but ashes.

What does the lake of fire stand for?

Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. Revelation 20:14 NLT

What is God’s promise?

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:3- 4 NLT

Sinners cannot be eternally tormented in light of the promise that there will be no more pain. The promise is unconditional.

Can we trust that promise?

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:5 NLT

You may watch a video presentation of this topic by Pastor Earnhardt here. 

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

Why Heaven Needed Reconciliation

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20 NLT

Why did God need to make peace with heaven? This verse right here may help us understand just how real the war in heaven was. Even after Lucifer was cast out, those who remained may have still had their doubts. Did God really love them, or did Lucifer have some good points about God just being a tyrant? On earth Eve was convinced God did not care for her and she needed to eat the fruit and disobey, if she really wanted to be happy. While all this was going on, is it possible some of the remaining angels in heaven still had some questions? Have you ever been loyal to a boss not because you thought he was fair, but because you did not see any way out? So out of fear you remained loyal to him, still wishing you weren’t in that situation? If so, what did it take for you to reconcile the situation so you could have peace at work and not just conformity?

When the Son of God died on the cross He was not just atoning for Eve taking a piece of fruit she was told not to. Eve’s disobedience was a symptom of her doubts. The Cross of Christ did not just take care of the symptoms of sin. The Cross took care of sin itself! The Cross removed all doubt about God’s love. All questions in heaven and earth are answered at the cross! There can be conformity while rebellion is still in the heart. The cross goes way beyond bringing us into conformity and outward obedience. The cross replaces our thoughts of rebellion with peaceful thoughts towards God.

That which alone can effectually restrain from sin in this world of darkness, will prevent sin in heaven. The significance of the death of Christ will be seen by saints and angels. Fallen men could not have a home in the paradise of God without the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Shall we not then exalt the cross of Christ? The angels ascribe honor and glory to Christ, for even they are not secure except by looking to the sufferings of the Son of God. It is through the efficacy of the cross that the angels of heaven are guarded from apostasy. Without the cross they would be no more secure against evil than were the angels before the fall of Satan. Angelic perfection failed in heaven. Human perfection failed in Eden, the paradise of bliss. All who wish for security in earth or heaven must look to the Lamb of God.-Ellen White, Signs of the Times, December 30, 1889

Some have the idea that once we get to heaven, God will flip a little switch in the back of our heads that makes us stop sinning. After all, we will be in heaven and so we automatically won’t sin right? Wait. Where did sin begin? Heaven! The reason why humans and angels will not sin, is the same reason why God reconciled both heaven and earth to Himself. The cross of Jesus. The cross cures the root cause of sin which is doubting God’s love. The reason there will be no sin in heaven is not due to a mechanical correction that the flip of a switch will fix. The reason there will be no sin in heaven will be because the cross will cure humans and angels alike from ever doubting God’s love, and thinking we need anything God has not given us. There will be no reason to rebel. Rules without relationship causes rebellion. The love of Christ on the cross removes our fear of God, so we are not afraid to have an intimate relationship with Him. With our relationship cured we will have no reason to rebel. We won’t be conformists. We will be free thinking moral agents who are at peace with God because God is love.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

1: Rebellion in a Perfect Universe-Sabbath School Lesson Teaching Plan

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Prepared by William Earnhardt, for Sabbath School class, October 1, 2022.

Read in Class: 1 John 4:7-16. Discuss the main thought of this passage.

Study: What can the certainty that “God is love” tell us about the nature of His creative activities? What does this passage tell us about free will as a condition to cultivating love?

Apply: Free will, a gift from God, is sacred, but comes heavy laden with powerful consequences, not only for yourself but for others, as well. What important decisions are you, using this gift, about to make, and what will be the consequences of whatever choices you make?

Share: Your friend asks you why didn’t God only create people who would choose to serve Him? Wouldn’t that still be giving free choice to all his creation? Why would that be or not be free choice? Another friend claims that if we die for not choosing Jesus then Jesus is not really giving us free choice. He is intimidating and manipulating us. Is there a difference between free choices and consequences?

Read in Class: Ezekiel 28:12-19. Discuss the theme of this passage.

Study: What can we learn from this passage about the mysterious origin of sin?

Apply: Does pride make us not sense our need of a Savior? Does pride cause us to not be thankful for what Jesus and others have done for us?

Share: Your friend says, God didn’t create the devil, He created Lucifer. Is your friend right? How so?

Read in Class: Isaiah 14:12-15. Discuss the key thought in this passage.

Study: What far-reaching consequences did Lucifer’s pride while in heaven bring to the universe and to this world?

Apply: Why is it so easy to become proud and boastful of either our positions or achievements, or both? How does keeping the cross before us prevent us from falling into such a trap?

Share: Your friend says that competing in sports to be number one is like Lucifer wanting to be number one in heaven,. How is it the same? How is it different?

Read in Class: Revelation 12. Discuss the main point of this passage.

Study: What does this chapter teach about the spread of the rebellion in heaven to the earth?

Apply: What are ways in which we can see the reality of this battle being played out on earth? What is our only hope to overcome our enemy in this battle?

Share: For further discussion see “Why God Needed to Make Peace With Heaven?

Agape in the Crucible

Critics of Christianity will often argue that Jesus knew beforehand that, though He would die, He would be resurrected to life. Thus, they ask, what was the big deal about His death when He knew it would be only temporary? As we take a deeper look at the cross we see the agape of Christ in His crucible.

My mother knew that flying in an airplane is safer than traveling by car. She knew the sad statistics that people are killed every day on the highways, while a rare jet crash makes headlines around the world. Knowing all this, when my mother got on an airplane she sure did not feel that it was safer! There is a difference between knowing and feeling. Jesus died as a man, not as God.

As a man, this is what Jesus experienced;

“In that thick darkness God’s presence was hidden. He makes darkness His pavilion, and conceals His glory from human eyes. God and His holy angels were beside the cross. The Father was with His Son. Yet His presence was not revealed. Had His glory flashed forth from the cloud, every human beholder would have been destroyed. And in that dreadful hour Christ was not to be comforted with the Father’s presence. He trod the wine press alone, and of the people there was none with Him.”-Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 753, 754.

“The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God.” –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p. 753.

Foxe’s book of Martyrs tells us John Huss was singing songs of praise as he burned at the stake for his faith. We wonder if John Huss, a mere mortal man, could be singing songs of praise as He died at the stake, why couldn’t Jesus sing songs of praise instead of crying out “My God My God why have You forsaken me?”

It is because John Huss died a totally different death than Jesus died. John knew he would be resurrected. He knew he was at peace with the Father. But on the cross Jesus was being treated the way we deserve to be treated so we can be treated the way He deserves to be treated. Think about this, Jesus always called God His Father.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions.”
“I always do those things that please my Father.”
“I and my Father are one.”

But when Jesus was on the cross being treated the way we deserve to be treated He could not call God His Father! He did not know that He would be resurrected. Instead He cried out, “My God! Why have you forsaken me?” This fulfilled the prophecy of Psalms 22 of Jesus dying the second death.

Jesus was not crying out, “Why have you forsaken me till Sunday morning?” You don’t forsake someone when you leave them for the weekend. When I tell my Sabbath School class I will be preaching at another church next Sabbath, none of them ask me why I have forsaken them. They know I will be back the following week. When Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” He felt abandoned forever. He felt what the wicked will feel.

Photograph by William Earnhardt

Obadiah 1:16 says the wicked will be as though they had never been. Jesus was not facing a mere six-hour pain endurance marathon. A lot of cancer patients would gladly trade their years of battling cancer for six hours on a cross. The physical pain is not what made it the supreme sacrifice. What Jesus was facing was going into total oblivion and being as though He had never existed! While Satan was willing to sacrifice anyone who got in his way of being number 1, Jesus was willing to go into total oblivion if He could just save even one of us.

Hebrews 2:9 tells us Jesus tasted death for everyone. Jesus and Paul both refer to the first death as sleep. Jesus did not save us from that death, as we plainly experience that death ourselves. Paul did not say Jesus tasted sleep for every man. No, He tasted death, the death of the wicked. Yes, He prophesied of His own resurrection, but that was while He still felt the presence of His Father. When Jesus felt the Father turn His back on Him, He felt, as a man, that the promise of the resurrection had left with the Father. Jesus became the God-forsaken God.

Some say, how could Jesus have tasted the second death while He never lost faith in His Father? Remember Jesus had no sense of self-preservation. The sense of self-preservation belongs to Satan. Jesus had faith, but His faith was not that He would be saved but that you and I would be saved!

Some have a hard time wrapping their minds around this awesome love. Some refuse to believe that Jesus would be willing to die forever to save us. In that case they have made Moses more loving than Jesus. In Exodus 32:32 Moses is willing to be wiped out of eternity in order to save the children of Israel. Do you think Moses loved them more than Jesus loves sinners? Of course not! Only when Moses experienced the self-sacrificing love of God could he express such love. If you don’t believe that Jesus was willing to say good-bye to life forever in order to save us, then you believe that Moses demonstrated more love than Jesus.

Since the Jews were accusing Jesus of blasphemy they could have just stoned Him to death. According to Leviticus 24:16, blasphemers were to be stoned and not crucified. Yet Jesus was crucified. Why? Because Deuteronomy 21:22-23 tells us those who are hung are cursed by God. Someone could plead for mercy and have the hope of salvation, just like John Huss had, even though they were stoned to death. However, being hung was a sign you were cursed by God. Joshua 10 tells the story of five kings who refused to accept Israel’s God and were hung from five trees, telling the world they had rejected God and so there was no salvation for them. It was good-bye to life forever.

Friend, does this help you understand how much Jesus loves you? He could have come down from the cross and returned to heaven where He could wear His kingly Crown instead of the crown of thorns. He could have left the road to Calvary and walked on streets of gold. He could have left the mocking mob and returned to hear angels sing His praise. He could have returned to His mansion. Why didn’t He do just that? Because the thought of going back to heaven without you did not appeal to Jesus. Heaven would not be paradise without you, as far as Jesus is concerned.

There is nothing I would rather be preaching than this message here. It is the everlasting gospel in the three angels’ messages. This kind of love changes everything. It changes how we look at the cross and how we look at sin. Most of all it changes our hearts. The disciples were just a bunch of self-ambitious men until they saw this love displayed on the cross. After they saw this love they were willing to give everything – even their own lives. Revelation 15 tells us there will be a multitude singing the song of Moses and the Lamb. They will be filled with this self-sacrificing love just like Moses and Jesus. They will hate sin more than they hate death and they will love God more than they will love their own lives or self preservation.

In the the crucible of Christ we see true agape. Jesus’ love for you goes deeper than the nail scars. He loves you more than He loves life itself. He was willing to go into total oblivion and be as though He had never existed if that is what it took to save you!

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.