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With the Rich and Famous


"With the Rich and Famous"

February 22, 2014


This week’s Sabbath School lesson focuses on money.  It examines how men and woman have related to money and wealth down through the ages.  The lesson points out, quite accurately, that money in itself is not described as a problem in the Bible.  But problems arise with many because they lose their focus on Christ and relate to their wealth in spiritually disastrous ways.  “The love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).  This need not be the case and the Bible provides several examples of individuals who succeeded in “keeping their heads” and maintaining a proper devotion to God, while possessing great monetary wealth.  They never allow wealth to become an idol.

Nicodemus was a wealthy man with some degree of influence because of his position as a teacher in Israel.  But Nicodemus had some very significant spiritual weaknesses.  Evidently, seeking to protect his influence, he sought an audience with Christ by night.  He wanted to learn of Christ without risking personal embarrassment and loss of standing in the minds of his fellow Pharisees in Israel.

Jesus understood what Nicodemus was seeking and He understood what Nicodemus needed.  So He cut to the chase, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Surely Nicodemus understood what Jesus meant.  The analogy of being “born again” of the Spirit was not unknown to the Jews.  But Nicodemus was offended and “instinctively . . . rebelled against any suggestion that knowledgeable Israelites like himself should require conversion” (SS Bible Study Guide, Discipleship, p. 66).

Although Nicodemus may have understood Christ’s words in using this metaphor, one wonders whether he understood the true meaning behind what Christ was saying.   What does it mean to be “born of the Spirit”?  The subject of the Holy Spirit is surrounded by controversy within Adventism today.  There are some who deny that the Holy Spirit is a person.  Yet, even some of those who acknowledge the full personhood of the Spirit are at a loss as to what it means to be “born of the Spirit.”

Jesus said, “That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:6-7).  Therefore, we must be spirit before we can successfully walk in the Spirit.  So we want to understand how does one who is born of “flesh” become “spirit”?  What do these metaphors really mean?  What does it mean to be “born again”?

Before one can be born again one must die.  The life that is flesh must die before a new spiritual life can begin.  Paul describes how this happens.  “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).  In order for our old self to die, we must “see” something that many have never seen before.  We must “see” the cross of Christ and understand what happened there.

It is not too late to see it.  Christ was crucified more than two thousand years ago, yet we can see that event today.  We must see it, not with the eye of flesh, but with the eye of faith.  And we must not only “see” the cross, we must see Christ crucified for us.  When our spiritual eyes are opened to the reality of the Christ crucified, and we by faith accept our position “in Christ,” we are then experiencing what Paul described.  We are crucified with Christ.

To see the cross is to understand something of the horror of great darkness that overtook Christ in the garden of Gethsemane.  It is to sense His dread of the coming conflict with the powers of darkness.  It is to understand His fear as He contemplated the weakness of His humanity and the risk of defeat at the hand of Satan.  To “see” the cross is to begin to understand the consternation which filled the soul of the Son of God when on Calvary in His hour of “supreme anguish,” His Father “forsook” Him.  To “see” the cross is to understand what “consternation” is.

Consternation is not a word that we use often in today’s world.  The servant of the Lord uses it when describing the cross of Christ.

“Upon Christ as our substitute and surety was laid the iniquity of us all. He was counted a transgressor, that He might redeem us from the condemnation of the law. The guilt of every descendant of Adam was pressing upon His heart. The wrath of God against sin, the terrible manifestation of His displeasure because of iniquity, filled the soul of His Son with consternation.  . . . The withdrawal of the divine countenance from the Saviour in this hour of supreme anguish pierced His heart with a sorrow that can never be fully understood by man” (Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 754).

What does that term “consternation” mean?  One must go back to the 1913 edition of Webster’s dictionary to find a definition which says:

Amazement or horror that confounds the faculties, and incapacitates for reflection; terror, combined with amazement; dismay.

But “dismay” is not a term used very often today either.  It means:

To disable with alarm or apprehensions; to depress the spirits or courage of; to deprive of firmness and energy through fear; to daunt; to appall; to terrify.

Understanding these terms in connection with the experience of Christ at Calvary, we begin to “see” the cross.  We begin to sense its grand dimensions.  And as we identify with Christ there, we are born of the Spirit.

Being born thus, nothing else matters.  Our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations, all shrink in significance in the light that shines from the cross of Christ.  Our reputations, our egos, our sinful self, all become of no consequence, when we accept our death with Christ at his cross.  Then we understand the words of the apostle Paul when he said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

We must be born again.  With the new birth we find joy, and hope, and peace, perhaps for the first time in our lives.  This is what Christ was inviting Nicodemus to, that night so long ago.  Nicodemus eventually responded to the call.  He used his wealth to sustain the infant church, after the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.  What is your response to Christ’s invitation today?

-K. Mark Duncan