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Theme: Benefits of Christ”s Atoning Sacrifice

Leading Question: If Jesus died on the cross for our sins, what is the best piece of news that springs from that momentous event?

The death and resurrection of Christ will affect believers in a wide variety of ways.  This lesson explores the benefits of Christ”s sacrifice on our behalf.  The lesson focuses on five benefits:

1. Resurrection and Ascension (1 Cor 15). In Paul”s famous chapter on the resurrection, he argues that if it weren”t for the resurrection hope, we would be of all people “most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). Would life really that the Christian life would be that bleak without the resurrection hope?  Are the many people in our day who live without a hope in Jesus in some sense happy and contented?  Those who believe in evolution, for example, are contentedly willing to die and simply become part of the food chain.  Or are they really contented?  What would it take to spark an interest in on-going life?

A related question is whether Christians would live a good moral life apart from the future hope. Would we kick over the traces and live a selfish and hedonistic life if it weren”t for our Christian faith and hope?

2.  Mediation of Christ and Atonement (Heb 7:25). The standard lesson guide emphasizes the on-going mediation of Christ on our behalf.  That is a wonderful encouragement for those who realize that they fall far short of God”s ideal. But a significant number of Adventists expect to stand in the “sight of a holy God without a mediator,” to use the words of Ellen White in The Great Controversy (p. 425).  The tension between those two perspectives periodically explodes in the church.  Is a bridge between them possible so that we can live together?

In that connection, I (the study guide author, Alden Thompson) will take the unusual step of repeating a section already included in lesson 7.  I also want to speak briefly here in the first person since it is a matter of deep personal concern to me. Frankly, I am not at all sure that very many Adventists actually “expect” to stand “in the sight of a holy God without a mediator.”  Many Adventists believe we must do so, but are terrified at the prospect because we know our own weaknesses and sinfulness.

In my own thinking, I have become convinced that the “fearful” statement can be transformed from a threat into a promise. But that is not a conclusion that comes easily to those who have been haunted by fear. In an attempt to point a way through the difficulty, I will now repeat the comments that were included as part of the study guide for Lesson 7:

From one Mediator to none.  One of the more haunting statements from the pen of Ellen White is her strong statement that God”s people must stand in God”s presence without a mediator.  Here is the famous quote:

“Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God”s people upon earth. – GC 425.1

Note: This “fearful” quote can be transformed from a threat into a promise in the light of John 16:26-27.  There Jesus simply says that the day will come when we will ask in Jesus” name but that he will not pray the Father for us. Why? Because we see the  Father”s love so clearly that we won”t need an intercessor. We will be at peace in his presence. We have a mediator as long as we need one.  But Jesus has promised that one day perfect love will make a mediator unnecessary. Isaiah 33:14-15 is also suggestive in that connection. Isaiah tells us that those who are right with God will live at the very heart of God”s holy fire:

“Who among us can live with the devouring fire?
Who among us can live with everlasting flames?”
Those who walk righteously and speak uprightly.

For those who have struggled with discouragement or with other experiential difficulties in connection with the “investigative judgment,” Ellen White”s most helpful commentary on the subject is found in Prophets and Kings, in the chapter, “Joshua and the Angel” (pp. 582-92).  In that chapter, a striking quotation moderates the claim that God”s last generation must stand before him with a perfect character:

But while the followers of Christ have sinned, they have not given themselves up to be controlled by the satanic agencies. They have repented of their sins and have sought the Lord in humility and contrition, and the divine Advocate pleads in their behalf. He who has been most abused by their ingratitude, who knows their sin and also their penitence, declares: “The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan. I gave My life for these souls. They are graven upon the palms of My hands. They may have imperfections of character; they may have failed in their endeavors; but they have repented, and I have forgiven and accepted them.”  {PK 589.1}

3. Preservation of Natural Life (Col. 1:15-20). For the believer, all good things come from God, even when there is no direct causal connection. Is there a link between the cross and God”s on-going preservation of creation? Or are all these good things simply gifts of a good God who is what he is?

4. Mediation and the Work of the Spirit (John 16:7-11; Rom. 8:26-27).  Jesus promised his disciples that the Spirit would come to carry on the work which Jesus began.  Because the “Spirit” seems to have no personality (apart the personality of those in whom the Spirit works), it may be  difficult for us to really appreciate the work of the Spirit.  But in Romans 8:26-27 Paul argues that the Spirit is a great aid to us in our time of need.  Can we find ways of taking advantage of that powerful insight?

5. Deliverance from salvation by our own works (Gen 22 and Hosea 6:6-8).  The sacrifice of Christ delivers all of us from the threat and/or the temptation of salvation by works. Some fear that we really do have to work our way to the kingdom and they know it is impossible. For those, Christ”s sacrifice is a great and wonderful gift.  But there are also those for whom salvation by works is a threat because they think they really can storm the gates of heaven by their own good works. The death of Christ puts all that false and foolish optimism to rest.  God taught Abraham in Genesis 22 that God provides the sacrifice; it is not something we can do.  Similarly, Hosea 6:6-7 describes the psychology of those who think they must do something in order come before God. At the top of the list is child sacrifice.  Micah 6:8 follows, a rightly famous verse, indicating what our responsibilities are: “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  The ideal is before us and must be taken seriously. But fulfilling our responsibilities can never be a means of earning God”s favor. It must always flow from gratitude for God”s goodness, not pride in our own.  The cross of Christ seals that great truth.  So for both those who imagine that they can earn God”s favor and those who know they can”t, Paul speaks a powerful and essential truth in his letter to the Ephesians:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast” – Eph 2:8-9, NRSV

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