Did the Repentant Thief get off Easy?

Fort Desoto Love Letters 030

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Many Christians squirm and struggle with the story of the repentant thief being saved without “putting in his time” or “earning” it. This story alone makes salvation look too easy. My response is, where in Scripture does it say salvation is supposed to be hard? How hard did Adam and Eve work to be placed in paradise to begin with? How hard did the angels work to be created in heaven?

Sure Jesus said,

“Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.” Matthew 7:14

But does narrow and strait have to be hard?

Against popular belief, the Bible actually says,

The way of the transgressors is hard. Proverbs 13:15

Why? Because God’s love has made it hard for sinners to destroy themselves.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. Lamentations 3:22

At the beginning of my ministry I was working with a pastor who was very popular for his sound Adventist theology. He taught the importance of the law and obedience. He preached that Jesus saves us from sin not in sin. One night providence had us both at the bedside of a dying saint. An elderly woman who spent her entire life giving Bible studies, and baking pies to feed the needy. She was true to Bible doctrine. That night I watched while the pastor held this dear lady’s hand, and asked, “Do you love Jesus?” She would open her eyes long enough to smile and then quickly appear to fall asleep again. the pastor told her over and over, “Just rest in Jesus. He died for you and loves you.” What amazed me that night is what the pastor of righteous living did not say. He did not mention her avid Sabbath keeping, or Bible studies given, or how she fed the needy. I watched this lady die as the pastor encouraged her to cling to one thing, and one thing only-the cross!

Friends that  is how we are all saved, from the repentant thief to Methuselah with his 969 years of service, we are all saved by grace alone!

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Nicodemus was equivalent to a General Conference official today. In John 3 Jesus never flattered Nicodemus with his position, titles or accomplishments. In John 3:14-17 He pointed him straight to the cross, as his only hope. The same hope given to the thief on the cross. So General Conference presidents are saved the same way the repentant thief on the cross was saved. This explains why Ellen White, wife of early GC president James White, asked him over and over on his death bed, “Do you love Jesus? Is Jesus precious to you?” She never mentioned his positions, titles or accomplishments. She knew those were worth garbage. She presented to her dying husband what Jesus presented to Nicodemus- the cross and the cross alone!

Sure it is important to point out that the repentant thief showed his repentance, not by saying he was sorry. He actually never said he was sorry. He did something drastically more important. He changed his attitude! He addressed Jesus not only as Savior but as Lord of his life. He made a confession that was backed up by the way he behaved in front of an unbelieving multitude.  That is exactly how we all are saved.

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

This is exactly what the repentant thief did on the cross. And we all have the promise,

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:13

It is worth pointing out that the thief was not playing games. He was not thinking to live as he pleased and then just repent at the last second. That of course is not genuine repentance. Because his repentance was sincere, he was saved the exact same way every repentant sinner is saved.

The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day; And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away: Wash all my sins away, Wash all my sins away; And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away. -There is a Fountain, William Cowper 1772.

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

What is the Gospel

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of conducting my “In Light of the Cross” gospel seminar in New England. While there, a kind and gracious member of the Adventist Church I was speaking in, gave me a tour of the region and several old New England churches. Being a history buff, and realizing that the religious awakening, which spawned the Advent movement began in New England, created in my heart a deep appreciation for these old churches, some built in the early 1700′s or before.

New England Churches 100

I walked into one sanctuary, built in 1732,and sat on a pew deep in thought, contemplating the hundreds of people who had sat in that sanctuary over the last 280 years! I admired the pulpit from where the gospel was preached to weary sinners for centuries. Yes, I realize these churches were not Adventist churches, but they still preached the cross to sinners, and I imagine over the centuries many a sin weary pilgrim has laid his burden down on the altar and taken up the cross of Jesus. For that I am very thankful for these churches of various denominations. Each of these churches of various denominations were fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus that,

  ..this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, in [into] witnessing to all folks; and then the end shall come.Matthew 24:14 WYC (In my previous posts I often used the NLT Bible translation. However, writing about old churches and the religious awakening has me in a Wycliffe version frame of mind.)

When we think of the gospel we think of “good news.” Paul defines the gospel more specifically as the good news of the cross. The gospel is the cross.

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel; not in wisdom of word, that the cross of Christ be not voided away. 1 Corinthians 1:17 WYC

Protestant churches rose out of the dark ages with the light of the gospel. John Wycliffe is remembered as “the morning star of the reformation.” If the sun rose up all at once it would blind us. God first sends the morning star to pierce the darkness so we become accustomed to a little light, and the sun gradually rises until noonday when the  darkness is gone and

the earth was lightened of his glory. Revelation 18:1 WYC

So while many think there are many different church denominations because everyone interprets the Bible differently, truth is, each Protestant church has discovered different points of light about the gospel, leading us gradually out of the Dark Ages. It is not so much about interpreting things differently as  it is about progressing as we have more light, with each ray of light leading us farther and farther out of darkness into the full light of the cross.

God has always had a people in every church, and the Protestant reformers were a light in the their time, leading to the Protestant Reformation, which brought us to the religious awakening and Advent Movement.

So the question is, what new light has the Advent Movement shined on the gospel of the cross?

1. The Gospel saves us from death instead of eternal torment.

 For the wages of sin is death.. Romans 6:23 WYC

The wages of sin is death and not eternal torment. As we study the doctrine ofthe punishment of the wicked, in the light of the cross, we get new light not only on doctrine but more importantly on the character of God. God is not a psychopath wanting to torture people because they did not love Him, and make them wish they had. He is a God of love. The purpose of hell is not to torment sinners (Though there will be torment and weeping and gnashing of teeth for a time) but rather to put sinners out of their misery.

For God loved so the world [Forsooth God so loved the world], that he gave his one begotten Son, that each man that believeth in him perish not, but have everlasting life. John 3:16 WYC

The most popular verse of the Gospel tells us Jesus saves us from perishing and not eternal torment in hell.

2. Jesus really died for us.

The Biblical teaching of the state of the dead changes how we view the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. If we believe in the immortality of the soul, and that one does not really die, then Jesus never died and we are still without a Savior. However, the Bible teaches us that Jesus did not only truly die, but He died the second death for us. He faced not only death but the death of the wicked, which meant He loved us so much He was willing to go into total oblivion and be totally separated from God. He did not save us from the death of the righteous. He experienced and saved us from the death of the wicked – being totally separated from God, which has the effect of eternal oblivion.

..all the heathen shall busily drink, and they shall drink, and they shall swallow it all down; and then they shall be as if they had never been. Obadiah 1:16 WYC

3. Jesus saves us from our sin, not in our sin.

I once heard a Protestant preacher on the radio say, “In order for you to be able to call Jesus your Savior He has to actually save you from something.” The preacher went on to talk about how Jesus saves us from sinful addictions. Seventh-day Adventists understand that on the cross Jesus freed us from both the penalty of sin and the power of sin.

God the Father made him sin for us, which knew not sin, that we should be made [the] rightwiseness of God in him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 WYC

And he himself bare our sins in his body on a tree [Which he himself suffered, or bare, our sins in his body on the tree], that we be dead to sins, and live to rightwiseness, by whose wan wound ye be healed. 1 peter 2:24 WYC

Okay I think that last one needs a little help from the NLT!

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

The gospel that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is taking into all the world not only gives us a clearer vision of the cross, but an even clearer vision of the the character of God.

God is a loving God who is not going to torment the wicked for all eternity because they did not love Him. He is a God of love who does not wish for us to perish. By understanding the Bible truth about death we understand the depths of Christ’s sacrifice and what great depths he was willing to go to in order to save us. We understand that He saves us from the penalty of sin, and from the power of sin, so that we don’t have to be slaves to the sinful addictions that hurt us over and over.

This is the gospel that pierced the dark ages until it will one day be preached all over the world and then the world will be lightened with His glory. May we engage in the work of spreading this Good News!

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

Glimpses of the Cross Day 17; The First Great Disappointment

 

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

 

But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Luke 24;21 NKJV

Some people scoff at Seventh-day Adventists for their great disappointment  in 1844, when they thought Jesus was going to come. What many fail to realize, or just plain ignore, is that there were not Seventh-day Adventists in 1844! There would be no Seventh-day Adventists for another 16 years. Advent believers from several different churches and denominations  were bitterly disappointed when Jesus did not return like they thought He would in 1844.

Later, they found Jesus had not let them down. His own prophesies and the Scriptures were clear as to what was to happen to the Messiah. They had misunderstood the Scriptures.  They thought the cleansing of the sanctuary meant that Jesus would come and cleanse the world with fire. Instead the cleansing of the sanctuary meant something exciting was happening in the heavenly sanctuary.

Just because they made a mistake or did not perfectly understand Scripture does not mean they were not God’s people. The Holy Spirit continued leading them through Scripture to a more perfect understanding of what was going on.

When Jesus was crucified, His people, the disciples were greatly disappointed too. They, like the Christians in 1844, misunderstood Scripture and just outright did not hear a few things Jesus had tried to tell them over and over. Still, Jesus did not disown them.

Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?”  And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Luke 24:25-27

Jesus did not turn His back on the early disciples for not understanding that Jesus was suppose to die on the cross. He continued to lead them through Scripture. He comforted them in their sorrow (See Luke 24:17) even though their sorrow was caused by their own misunderstanding of Scripture. Most importantly they were still His people who He would continue to guide to greater light.

In 1844, God’s people were still God’s people, even though they too misunderstood Scripture. God comforted them in their great disappointment and continued guiding them through the Scriptures on to greater light.

If we surrender our lives to His service, we can never be placed in a position for which God has not made provision. Whatever may be our situation, we have a Guide to direct our way; whatever our perplexities, we have a sure Counselor; whatever our sorrow, bereavement, or loneliness, we have a sympathizing Friend. If in our ignorance we make missteps, Christ does not leave us. His voice, clear and distinct, is heard saying, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” John 14:6. “He shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper.” Psalm 72:12. –Christ Object Lessons, Page 173.

Glimpses of the Cross Day 16; Laying My Trophies Down

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Several years ago, when I first became a literature evangelist, I was attending an awards banquet for the best sales persons in the Southwest. I was awe struck by the nice shiny plaques and trophies the winners were receiving for leading the region in sales, hours worked, and other categories. I was so impressed that I decided right then and there that I was going to be Number One next year so that I could receive such a reward at the next awards banquet.

The next year I went out and worked from early morning until as late at night as I could. After all, if I couldn’t lead the region in sales, I could at least lead in hours worked by just working all the time. Sure enough by the end of the year I had led my region in hours worked and in sales! I could not wait to receive that award I had been fantasizing about all year! Only one problem: Due to finances there was no awards banquet that year. Nothing for me! No recognition! I was angry and upset. I had been slighted. I felt insulted by my leaders.

Soon after that, I was on my way to an appointment to show the Christian books to a family in Grove Oklahoma. As I was driving down an old dirt road, I ran across an old historic church and a very old cemetery next to it. Being the history buff that I am, I decided to take a few minutes and look around. It was interesting! Many of the people had died in the 1800′s. I saw many graves for children and little babies. One family had lost four babies over the course of a few years, and I was amazed at the faith of this family as they had a Scripture promise engraved on each grave marker.

As I was contemplating the suffering this family must have endured, it dawned on me that many of these people had died at ages a lot younger than I was. Soon I was contemplating the fact that I had outlived many of these people and, of course, was the only one alive right now. Soon a voice inside my mind started asking me the questions, “Why have you outlived these people, and why are you alive right now?” As I pondered the suffering and heartache of the families represented in the cemetery and in the world today, it hit me like a bolt of lightning! I am not alive today to win trophies and awards. Those trophies cannot heal broken hearts, they cannot forgive sins and they cannot give people hope for tomorrow. Suddenly I realized how selfish and silly I had been. I decided to minister to save people’s souls and give them hope and not to win awards. I then realized the meaning of the words in an old classic hymn, “When my trophies at last I lay down, I will cling to the old rugged cross.” I realized my trophies were my works, what I had earned. Of course nothing that I had earned, could ever heal a broken heart, forgive a single sin, or save my soul, let alone someone else’s!

Finally, the regional director felt sorry for me and sent me a very nice plaque. Several years after that, I was asked to have a vespers service for a church youth group camp-out. I asked them to have a bonfire going as I gave my talk. I showed the kids my nice shiny plaque and let them admire it as I talked about how hard I had worked for it. Then I told them how that plaque could do nothing to save me or anyone else. I then took the trophy and threw it into the fire. As the trophy melted in the fire and the kids looked at me with shocked expressions, I told them that “My trophies I lay down, and now cling to the old rugged cross.” I don’t need the trophy, I need the cross, for it can accomplish so much more for a hurting, dying world! Now, instead of being motivated by awards and trophies to save souls, I am motivated by the cross of Christ. “The love of Christ constrains me.”

I told you about my trophy. Now what about yours? Are you holding onto a trophy in your life today? Ask yourself if that trophy can heal a broken heart, or forgive sins, or give people hope. I encourage you to lay down your trophy and join me, as we all cling to the old rugged cross. Never again do I want to live to draw people’s attention to my trophies. I am alive today for one reason and one reason only—to draw people’s attention to the Cross of Christ.

Why are you alive today?

Glimpses of the Cross Day 15; Why Only Jesus Could Save us

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. John 1:1-3 NKJV

We all know the sacrifice had to be spotless and perfect. Still, I believe there is a greater reason why only Jesus could atone for our sins. I believe the reason is found in John 1:1-3. Jesus, the Son of God was our Creator.  When Adam and Eve sinned and ate of the forbidden fruit, they did more than eat a piece of fruit they were told not to. They stopped believing in God’s love to make them happy and decided to trust the serpent instead.

In order to solve the sin problem God had to do more than just provide an atonement for eating a piece of fruit someone was told not to. In order to solve the sin problem God must win back our faith in His love. On the cross God had to convince us that He loves us, so we would believe in His love again, and to heal us from the sin of not believing in His love.  Sending an angel to die would not convince us that He loved us. It would have only convinced us that God did not care about the angels either. The only way God could convince us that He loved us, is if He, our Creator died for us Himself.

Why was it the Son of God who had to die? Because it was the Son of God who created us, and on the cross He wants to win back our love and loyalty. He knew that sending someone else to die would not accomplish that purpose. He died for us Himself, to prove once and for all that the serpent’s accusation was false. God was not withholding anything back from us that would make us happy. Contrary to the serpent’s accusation God would give anything to make us happy-even His own life!

Glimpses of the Cross Day 13; The Messiah Prophesied in Scripture

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Several years ago, I was showing a set of Christian books to a lady. There were several hardbound books in the set, which also included beautiful art work. The lady loved the books, and asked how much they were. I told her, “Four-twenty-nine.” She was delighted, and exclaimed, “Is that all!” I said, “Yes.” I  went on to explain the payment plans, of cash, credit card, or down payment of 15% and then 12 monthly payments. She looked confused, and then disappointed when she realized, that by four-twenty-nine I meant $429.00 and not $4.29.

The lady was like most all of us. We hear what we expect to hear. We read the Old Testament Prophecies that depict Jesus’ sacrifice, like Isaiah 53, and wonder why the Jews did not understand that the Messiah was coming to die for our sin and not set up an earthly kingdom.

The Jews were looking for a Savior from Roman tyranny because they read  prophecies, such as Isaiah 52:13, “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.” And also Isaiah 9:7, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.” They thought Jesus would come and set up an earthly kingdom. Would we have thought differently?

There was nothing wrong with the prophecies. The prophets were right on. The Jews, the disciples, the lady I was trying to sell  books to were all just like us. We hear what we expect to hear.Even the disciples misunderstood and heard only what they expected to hear. Jesus told them in Matthew 16 amongst other places, that He would be crucified, but Peter and the others simply refused to hear of it. The weekend of the crucifixion they were devastated. It was a great disappointment.

Some scoff at them for not knowing better, but are we any better than they are? Do we not make similar mistakes?

Jeremiah 23:6 promises to save the kingdom of Judah.

“In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

This led the people to dream of a kingdom prosperous and above all others. However the text also promised righteousness for the people.  It seems the people were not so interested in the righteousness as they were in the prosperity. That is just like us today. InMatthew 6:33 Jesus says,

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Many today are seeking the kingdom and all those other things that will be added to us, but how many of us are seeking His righteousness? How many of us today are taking up our cross daily and following Him? How many of us just want the prosperity? Even if we are seeking a heavenly kingdom above an earthly kingdom, we may still be materialistic, unless we are really seeking His righteousness.

Could we today be like the children of Abraham, dreaming only of prosperity, and forgetting that God once asked father Abraham to sacrifice his son and future prosperity?

When Paul was reasoning with the Jews, showing them that Jesus was the Messiah, he had his work cut out for him. Below is a study on the Messiah, showing the prophecies predicted in the Old Testament, and their fulfillment in the New Testament. Paul probably used some of these Scriptures when he taught the Jews about the Messiah.

At the crucifixion the disciples were devastated and hurting. Jesus  looked past the mistakes of His disciples and saw the pain. On the road to Emmaus, he took pains to demonstrate to them from the Scriptures that His life had fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. He probably used some of these Scriptures as well.

Event Prophecy Fulfilled
The place of His birth Micah 5:2 Luke 2:4-7
His virgin birth Isaiah 7:14 Luke 1:26-31
The slaughter of the children Jeremiah 31:15 Matthew 2:16-18
His flight into Egypt Hosea 11:1 Matthew 2:14,15
The time of His baptism Daniel 9:24,25 Luke 3:1,21,22
His rejection by the people Isaiah 53:3 John 1:11
His entrance into Jerusalem Zech 9:9 Luke 19:29-38
His betrayal by a friend Psalm 41:9 Luke 22:4748
The price of His betrayal Zech 11:12 Matthew 26:15
Spat upon and beaten Isaiah 50:6 Matthew 26:67
Crucified between two thieves Isaiah 53:12 Mark 15:27,28
The wounds in His body Zech 12:10 John 19:3420:27
Given vinegar and gall to drink Psalm 69:21 Matthew 27:34
Gambling for His clothes Psalm 22:17,18 Matt 27:35,36
None of His bones were to be broken Psalm 34:20 John 19:32,33
To be buried with the rich Isaiah 53:9 Matt 27:57-60
His resurrection Psalm 16:10 Luke 24:1-7

Seeing how Jesus met all the Old Testament predictions affirms our faith that He is indeed the Messiah. It also affirms our faith in the Bible.

Greater yet, it affirms our faith that He will come the second time, just as the Bible promised He would come the first time. There are actually twice as many Bible promises about His second coming than there are about His first coming.

Glimpses of the Cross Day 10; Jesus Cares For His Mother

 
I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

“Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.” John 19:25-27 NLT 

 

As the eyes of Jesus wandered over the multitude about Him, one figure arrested His attention. At the foot of the cross stood His mother, supported by the disciple John. She could not endure to remain away from her Son; and John, knowing that the end was near, had brought her again to the cross. In His dying hour, Christ remembered His mother. Looking into her grief-stricken face and then upon John, He said to her, “Woman, behold thy son!” then to John, “Behold thy mother!” John understood Christ’s words, and accepted the trust. He at once took Mary to his home, and from that hour cared for her tenderly. O pitiful, loving Saviour; amid all His physical pain and mental anguish, He had a thoughtful care for His mother! He had no money with which to provide for her comfort; but He was enshrined in the heart of John, and He gave His mother to him as a precious legacy. Thus He provided for her that which she most needed,–the tender sympathy of one who loved her because she loved Jesus. And in receiving her as a sacred trust, John was receiving a great blessing. She was a constant reminder of his beloved Master.
The perfect example of Christ’s filial love shines forth with undimmed luster from the mist of ages. For nearly thirty years Jesus by His daily toil had helped bear the burdens of the home. And now, even in His last agony, He remembers to provide for His sorrowing, widowed mother. The same spirit will be seen in every disciple of our Lord. Those who follow Christ will feel that it is a part of their religion to respect and provide for their parents. From the heart where His love is cherished, father and mother will never fail of receiving thoughtful care and tender sympathy. –Desire of Ages, Page 752