On planes I always take a window seat if I can. I stack my bags, buckle up, and focus on the land- and cloudscapes unfolding around our jet. Local cotton plains blend into burnt red canyons, and bright shafts of sunlight crisscross powder-blue skies. England’s yellow rapeseed fields become green dales; Jamaica’s grey-blue mountains tower into mist; and America’s cobalt waters wash into white-sand coasts.
I’m awed every time. Earth is a beautiful planet. And yet the prophets Isaiah and John tell us of a new earth that surpasses this beauty (see Isa. 35; 65; Rev. 21).
As we descend from 30,000 feet and land on tarmac, however, I see more. The beauty that entranced me from the air doesn’t fade, but I also see some shadows with it—evidence of conflict, inequity, and abuse; against people, creatures, and land.
In view of these shadows, the Bible’s new earth teachings can comfort and challenge us. Through them we learn that God will perform a full-service renewal right here on our planet. The prophets’ visions don’t burst with meaning just because they show perfection. They are also meaningful to us because they show us the beauty that we once had, will have again, and with which we are called in Christ to align our hearts today.
Sky Pies and Daily Bread
Jesus sets this challenge in the Sermon on the Mount (Math. 5–7). Between the Beatitudes and the house built on rock, He asks us to move from worry-driven daydreaming to trusting, spirited action; from pie-in-the-sky to daily loaves of bread. This attitude shift is not a suggestion. Jesus instructed us to pray for our “daily bread,” and to walk in love with others each day as a testament to our relationship with the Father (Matt. 5:38-48; 6:11).
So each time I read Christ’s teachings, I pull myself from the future into the present. As Jesus teaches us about the coming transformation, what does He challenge about our lives now? Which aspects of the new earth are currently “under construction”? By shifting our approach to today, how can we line up with some of God’s building plans?
The prophets’ visions suggest two aspects of our lives that will be transformed in the new earth: how we understand time and space, and how we relate to nature and each other. Careful attention to these two elements can help us deepen our relationship with God—the timeless Creator and Savior of all (Rev. 21:3, 4). By reconsidering how we treat time, space, nature, and other people on this earth, we can show our commitment to the coming reconstruction.
Time and space have governed our lives since God established rhythms, times, and seasons to regulate earthly activity (Gen. 1; 2). He “set the bounds of our habitation,” and then prompted us to populate the whole land (Acts 17:26; Gen. 1:28; Isa. 45:18). Through our lifework, we learned to honor finite patterns: day and night, summer and winter, activity and rest. Herders worked with mating and milking cycles, gardeners respect planting and reaping times, and our societies formalized timekeeping through clocks and festivals.
We remain bound by time and space today. In industry and recreation we save or stretch the time we have. Our flushed and sprawling metros force us to be conscious of space as well, and even our worship services have become structured around these two measures. Our time- and space-dependence reminds us that we are finite. And this may be why eternity and infinity fascinate us: we hope for what we lack. The Preacher said that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men” (Eccl. 3:11, NIV). John also saw that “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,” along with sun and moon; there was no more dividing sea, and there was joy and gladness forever (Rev. 21:1, 23-25; cf. Isa. 65:17, 18).
How can we understand these images in a world of transience and limits?
The Greek word kairos, “the opportune moment,” is one way to approach the new earth’s eternity and openness. Theologians and rhetoricians contrast kairos with chronos, or finite clock-time. For us, kairos describes any situation in which we sense God acting among us purposefully and in appropriate measure. A kairos-sensitive mind-set stamps our time-space with God’s signature, and underscores His purposeful authority over time, order, and place.
Throughout our lives, this sense stretches us beyond our own finiteness and connects us with the eternal, infinite God who has drawn us close. We become able to see God working in our world at all times for us and with us. As a result, all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). He is with us “always”; we are His people and He is our God (Matt. 28:20; Rev. 21:3).
On the new earth, in which righteousness dwells, God will provide an eternal home for the redeemed and a perfect environment for everlasting life, love, joy, and learning in His presence. For here God Himself will dwell with His people, and suffering and death will have passed away. The great controversy will be ended, and sin will be no more. All things, animate and inanimate, will declare that God is love; and He shall reign forever. Amen. (2 Peter 3:13; Isa. 35; 65:17-25; Matt. 5:5; Rev. 21:1-7; 22:1-5; 11:15.)But visions of the new earth shouldn’t only suggest a different approach to time and space. They should also suggest a different approach to nature and other people. The Bible tells us that nature groans under the current order and “waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (Rom. 8:19, NIV). Thus the prophets describe creation restored to its original glory, balance, and peace: “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox…. ‘They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord” (Isa. 65:25, NIV; cf. 35:1, 2).
According to Genesis, that harmonious peace among all of earth’s systems existed from the very beginning. Genesis 1 and 2 describe humankind as in charge of creation and as part of it. God built us from the “dust of the ground” and then tasked us to till that ground, designing us to work with nature and in its context (Gen. 2:15). All parts of creation worked in cooperative harmony, because human dominion was not limitless. Nature has cooperated with its human stewards as much as we’ve respected the living networks that comprise it. As we’ve learned since the garden, when we do not respect the order and connections of creation, all of nature suffers—including us.
This same interrelation and responsibility apply to our human networks. The new earth family’s loving productivity and thriving relationships reprove by contrast all destructive human relating (Isa. 65:19-24; Matt. 5:21-48). Jesus unambiguously taught that in loving God we must also love one another. This means we cannot disrespect our siblings without disrespecting our Father (1 John 3:11-18; 4:7-21). In the new earth there is “no more sea”: no more separation between us and God, and none between one human and another. An intimate knowing between God and His people replaces double standards and division of all kinds because all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-29; Rom. 12; Eph. 4).
A world of beauty without shadows—that’s the world you and I plan to live in. It’s the world that, in Christ, we have committed to building and occupying. He asks us to let our lives serve as bricks for the building. And we can build confidently because His foundation is firm.
Keisha McKenzie is a technical communicator. She wrote this piece while living in West Texas, United States.
After completing a degree at Christ’s College, Cambridge, preparing to become a minister, Charles Darwin sailed in 1831 as a passenger aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, setting off on a path that was destined to impact the world.
His five-year voyage took him to the western coast of South America, where he observed various kinds of exotic and formerly unknown animals. One set of creatures in particular, the Galapagos finches, caught Darwin’s attention. He studied the birds, collected samples, and observed that they had various beak sizes and shapes. It was his observations of these variations that inspired the development of his theory of origins.
Darwin returned to England in 1836, and in 1842 he began drafting his book, On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (often referred to simply as Origin of Species), eventually published in 1859.
Shortly after the book’s publication, Darwin carried on a long correspondence with his friend and colleague Asa Gray, sharing his doubts and his sense of confusion about the end and ultimate directions of evolution. “I am conscious that I am in an utterly hopeless muddle,” he confessed. “I cannot think that the world, as we see it, is the result of chance; and yet I cannot look at eachseparate thing as the result of design.” (www.darwinproject.ac.uk/darwinletters/calendar/entry-2998.html) "I cannot think that the world, as we see it, is the result of chance." —CHARLES DARWIN
The confusion Darwin expressed came as he tried to connect all the wonders of the natural world that he observed with all the harsh things he saw existing alongside that beauty. Because of all the destructive forces he witnessed, he chose to reject God rather than seek a biblical interpretation of those distortions within the created world.
The same dilemma faces every one of us as we struggle to understand origins. We cannot help asking questions such as: “Where did I come from?” “How did I get here?” and, “How do I ascribe meaning to my existence?”
Darwin ultimately adopted an atheistic theory of origins. In other words, he left God out of the picture altogether. Theism, on the other hand, offers an explanation of origins that takes God into consideration. Because none of us were actually there to personally witness how everything began, we have to examine the available evidence and make up our own minds.
Assumptions of Evolution Evolution is based on certain assumptions, outlined as follows by the late G. A. Kerkut of the University of Southampton in England (Implications of Evolution [Pergamon, 1960]):
Nonliving things gave rise to living material.
This spontaneous generation occurred only once.
Viruses, bacteria, plants, and animals are all interrelated.
The one-celled organisms gave rise to many-celled organisms.
All the organisms without vertebrae are interrelated.
Those organisms without vertebrae gave rise to ones with vertebrae.
Fish gave rise to amphibia, then reptiles, then birds, and finally mammals.
I leave readers to make their own conclusions about the probability of these assumptions actually occurring. The Bible, however, gives us compelling evidence to help us draw other conclusions concerning our origins.
The apostle Paul rightly says that all human beings know something about God through nature, even when they have no knowledge of Scripture†: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
We may not know everything about God from studying nature, Paul says, but there are two things we can know about His invisible qualities. The first is that He is eternally powerful and the other is that He is divine. Darwin may not have chosen to align the power governing his “natural selection” with the God of the Bible, but he still describes it as eternal and in terms equivalent, in essence, to divinity. His deity was, in some sense, unknown.
The Bible declares the real nature of that “unknown” God without apology: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth…. He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth…. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ … For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:24-31).
Creative Power in Jesus The question of origins is decided by whether or not we accept the resurrection of Jesus and His claims to be the Creator of everything that exists and, as such, our Lord (see John 1:13, 14).When in the Gospel of John, Jesus is called the “Word” who has never had a beginning, the One who is just as much God as the Father, and who made everything that existed, we have to decide whether that is authentic or a delusion.
God is Creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the authentic account of His creative activity. In six days the Lord made “the heaven and the earth” and all living things upon the earth, and rested on the seventh day of that first week. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work. The first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was “very good,” declaring the glory of God. (Gen. 1; 2; Ex. 20:8-11; Ps. 19:1-6; 33:6, 9; 104; Heb. 11:3.)The Genesis story of Creation describes the Word speaking things into existence—in the oft-repeated statement: “And God said….” And it claims that that which did not previously exist suddenly came into existence.
There is an intangible quality in the nature of Christ’s spoken words that intrinsically brought life. In the presence of a man who’d been dead for four days and whose body was decomposing, Jesus called in a loud voice, “‘Lazarus, come out!’ [and] the dead man came out” full of life again (John 11:43, 44). Someone said that if Jesus hadn’t limited that command to Lazarus alone, every dead person in the grave would have come forth at His words.
What Darwin Saw Wasn’t Always So Even a casual reading of the Genesis account of Creation reveals the heart of God for His creatures and His creation: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).There was nothing in all of creation that reflected the destruction that confused Darwin. Every animal, every plant, every aspect of that freshly created planet reflected the glory of God and His benevolent purpose for His creatures. It is not until humanity rejected that life-giving word of Jesus, their Creator, that the earth brought forth thistles and everything else was cursed (see Gen. 3:1-16).
This understanding helps us make sense of the current state of the earth and everything in it. But the same creative Lord who originally spoke the world into being says, “I will create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17).
Until then, writes the apostle Paul, the creation “waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” The whole creation groans, he says, “as in the pains of childbirth,” waiting “eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:19-23).
And Jesus is as good as His word.
*This article is a shortened (and slightly edited) version of a piece that appeared in Signs of the Times (Australia), September 2005. Used by permission.
†All scriptural passages are from the NIV.
Graeme Loftus is a retired Seventh-day Adventist pastor who lives in Charlestown, New South Wales, Australia
NUMBER 10 What Is It Really Like to Be a Christian
The answer has everything to do with our sense of assurance in Jesus.
By Robert K. McIver
What is it like to be a Christian?
The question is important, and many people give up on Christianity because they have not understood what it’s supposed to feel like. I care a great deal about this, because some of these people have been my friends.
First of all, we need to go back to the process of how we became Christians, and examine what that is like.
Becoming a Christian Usually a combination of experience and knowledge brings us to Christianity. Our experience as a non-Christian is a gloomy one. As we examine our life apart from God, we find that there’s much about it that we dislike. We could probably accept a certain amount of laziness and carelessness as part of our human condition, but the problem is worse than that. At times we act in a way that can be described only as evil. We do things that we know are wrong and injurious to ourselves and other people.
But even worse, when we try to improve, we find that we cannot even change our actions, let alone our motives. We want to be different, but no matter how hard we try, we always fall short. And to our horror we discover that the biblical description of our condition is right. We are all sinners (Rom. 3:9-18).
This is our experience. The truth we learn from the Bible (our knowledge) both makes things worse and gives us hope at the same time. It makes things worse because the Bible tells us that God is righteous and that it is death for any sin to appear before Him. Not only that, we learn that God will come back to give everyone the kind of reward their deeds deserve—both those who are alive at the time and those who have previously died (Rev. 19:11, 12). So the consequences of our evil will meet us beyond the grave!
Yet the Bible gives us hope. That hope is found in Jesus who, though He was God, became human (Phil. 2:5-11); who, though He was sinless, accepted our punishment when He died on the cross for our sins (Gal. 1:3, 4; Col. 2:14; 1 John 2:2; 2 Cor. 5:21). The Bible also tells us that we can be saved from our sins if we believe in Jesus and accept Him as our Savior and Lord (Rom. 10:9, 10; Acts 16:31). In other words, I become a Christian when I recognize my need and accept the salvation Jesus offers. I pray the prayer God always hears: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13, NIV).
What is it like to become a Christian? Once a person accepts the forgiveness offered by Jesus, there is a sense of release, joy, and peace (Rom. 5:1; 14:17). We are no longer condemned to live under the slavery of sin (Rom. 6:17, 19), but can live lives of freedom in Christ.
All this is true, yet we find that there are some things we didn’t expect. We find that while new impulses come into our lives, old ones remain—which creates an apparent contradiction. For after all, we became Christians precisely to escape the power of sin!
So does becoming a Christian really give us overcoming power—power over sin? Or is Christianity based on a lie? No, it’s not based on a lie; but such questions are important because the discouragement that comes from recognizing the depth of our sin problem can cause many beginning Christians to give up.
So how does a mature Christian relate to sin in their life? I want to approach this question from two angles: one theological, the other practical.
Sin in My Life?—a Theological Answer The theological answer to this question is tied up with the way Christians understand the end of time. They look forward to a time when Jesus will return to this earth to make a final end of sin. The dead will be raised, the wicked destroyed, and all things will be remade so that God’s will will be perfectly reflected in the world. At that time death and sin will be no more (Rev. 21:4).
Experience of Salvation
In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God. Led by the Holy Spirit we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our transgressions, and exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Substitute and Example. This faith, which receives salvation, comes through the divine power of the Word and is the gift of God’s grace. Through Christ we are justified, adopted as God’s sons and daughters, and delivered from the lordship of sin. Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our minds, writes God’s law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life. Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature and have the assurance of salvation now and in the judgment. (2 Cor. 5:17-21; John 3:16; Gal. 1:4; 4:4-7; Titus 3:3-7; John 16:8; Gal. 3:13, 14; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; Rom. 10:17; Luke 17:5; Mark 9:23, 24; Eph. 2:5-10; Rom. 3:21-26; Col. 1:13, 14; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26; John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23; Rom. 12:2; Heb. 8:7-12; Eze. 36:25-27; 2 Peter 1:3, 4; Rom. 8:1-4; 5:6-10.)
Yet with the (first) coming of Jesus the blessings of this new age have arrived. If we believe in Him, we have passed from death to life (John 5:24); we, in fact, can have eternal life now (John 3:16-18). Resurrection and eternal life belong to the blessings of heaven, yet the Christian can enjoy them now.
This enjoyment, however, is but an anticipation of the future blessings. When Paul explains why a Christian would no longer wish to sin, he does so by pointing to baptism. When we were baptized we joined Jesus in His death (Rom. 6:4, 5). Then he says that we are to consider ourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to Jesus (Rom. 6:11).
For Paul this is the secret of being a Christian. We are still in this age, and our sinful natures are still with us. But we are to live according to the new realities that Jesus has made available to us. In other words, we still live in this age and becoming a Christian does not change that. We remain children of Adam. But as Christians we now have a new reality that dominates our lives. We can live in the blessings of the age to come right now, as we consider ourselves dead to sin but alive to Jesus. Christians are children of hope; they are in Christ.
Sin in My Life?—a Practical Answer If Christianity did not bring a change to the life of believers, then it would be based on a falsehood that few could accept. Indeed, for every Christian that is a hypocrite, we can think of two or three who grow more and more like their Lord every year—loving, kind, considerate, and free from guile.
Yet the issue of sin in the life of a Christian remains, even in the lives of the best Christians. I think the answer lies in the viewpoint of the observer. Observed from outside, it can be seen that Jesus has brought dramatic changes to the lives of people; and that while they’re still human, the general tenor of their lives is to become more and more like Jesus. But if you were to ask those very people what their experience of coming closer to their Lord is like, they likely would reply that they’re seeing more and more clearly how sinful they really are, and how much more they need to depend on Jesus. In other words, their growth as Christians is in their increasing dependence on Jesus.
I don’t know what your experience as a Christian has been like, but mine has been a continuous process of relearning that apart from Jesus I cannot help sinning. Indeed, as I have understood more about myself, I realize how much more I need Jesus.
So what is it really like to be a Christian? It’s built on the insights that first brought us to Christianity: that without Jesus we are lost. As we grow as Christians, we grow in our dependence on Christ. As we make real in our own lives the reality of the new life that Jesus has brought, we will experience the blessings of the age to come right here and now: we will have peace, acceptance, and joy.
Robert K. McIver is senior lecturer in biblical studies at Avondale College, New South Wales, Australia.
One of the memories from my upbringing happened in the mission field. One day my parents suggested that to measure our growth rate we mark our height on one of the doorposts of our home. Being the oldest, I was the tallest of the four children. My siblings became a bit jealous of that fact, and determined to increase their food intake so they might grow faster and reach and surpass their older brother in stature. An interesting contest started.
I would like to suggest that we all set up the goal of growing in Christ, becoming like Him. I am not saying to grow in the commandments. Or grow in the doctrines. Or grow in the church. Without reducing the importance of those areas, our biggest need is to grow in our oldest Brother, Jesus Christ.
We Can’t Be Static
If Christ reigns within (Rom. 8:9), then we live in a process of change. “Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day” (2 Cor. 4:16, RSV).* “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). Christ, our supreme example, sets the tone for us. The Bible says that He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
Almost everything in nature changes. Everything that is alive grows. If there is no growth, certain death is the outcome. Physically, when we are born we are supposed to grow. If there is no growth, we die. The same happens in the Christian experience. When we are born again, we are supposed to grow. It involves constant change. There is no neutral ground. If there is no growth, spiritual death is certain.
To be without Christ cuts us off from the source of life and change, and makes our ultimate destruction inevitable. Salvation is not a one-time experience, something that happens only by accepting Christ. It is not something that occurs once and is done. It involves, rather, a process, a growing in Christ (Heb. 5:11-14). It is a process that includes justification and also sanctification, a purification that ends in redemption.
Rachel was an attractive young member of one of my churches, the daughter of one of the church elders. She was a real problem in the church, among other things, dressing in an extremely provocative way—short skirts, low neck lines. Her parents, members, pastors—all talked with her to no avail. Her situation was brought before the church board.
I approached her, using all my persuasion skills as a young pastor fresh from theological training. Nothing happened.
Suddenly we all noticed that her way of dressing and other external details changed. Surprised as everyone else I talked with her one day expecting to hear that it was one of my “powerful” sermons that did it. But her answer was very simple. She had fallen in love with a young member of a very strict religious group. She loved him so much, and knowing that he could not approve of the way she looked, she started to dress and arrange herself differently. He had never brought up the matter with her. Her love for him produced the transformation that all the talks and sermons could not do.
Miracles of transformation occur when we really fall in love with Jesus. We start growing in Him. The sanctification process begins in full—a dynamic, progressive experience. Eventually we become fully developed, full-grown Christians.
“Two thousand years ago an aged preacher penned in three words one of the most sublime truths of the ages. Those three words sum up … [what Christian life is all about]. The preacher was the apostle Paul; his message—as truly for us today as for the church at Colosse—declares, ‘Christ is all’ (Col. 3:11)…. If you and I ever walk the streets of gold … , it will be because we have found the one way in this life—the Jesus way—and followed it…. ‘Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12, KJV)” (Robert Pierson, We Still Believe, pp. 49, 50). This is the touchstone of the great Christ-centered Advent message, salvation in Christ.
As a theology student in 1967, and as part of my practicum, I was assisting one of our church’s great preachers in an evangelistic series. Aside from the visiting and giving Bible studies, I was assigned in the evenings to be at the main entrance of the huge theater to welcome the visitors.
Growing in Christ
By His death on the cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil. He who subjugated the demonic spirits during His earthly ministry has broken their power and made certain their ultimate doom. Jesus’ victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us, as we walk with Him in peace, joy, and assurance of His love. Now the Holy Spirit dwells within us and empowers us. Continually committed to Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we are set free from the burden of our past deeds. No longer do we live in the darkness, fear of evil powers, ignorance, and meaninglessness of our former way of life. In this new freedom in Jesus, we are called to grow into the likeness of His character, communing with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His Word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the church. As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience. (Ps. 1:1, 2; 23:4; 77:11, 12; Col. 1:13, 14; 2:6, 14, 15; Luke 10:17-20; Eph. 5:19, 20; 6:12-18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:18; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18; Phil. 3:7-14; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Matt. 20:25-28; John 20:21; Gal. 5:22-25; Rom. 8:38, 39; 1 John 4:4; Heb. 10:25.)One evening a young woman entered and handed me a piece of paper, saying that she needed to talk with the person whose name was on it. When I told her I was the person whose name was on the paper, she started to cry and cry. After a while, embarrassed because people were coming in and wondering what was going on, I took her to the nearby palm-lined boulevard with seats in the center. Her crying continued, her eyes like waterfalls, her tears flowing like a torrent. I watched that beautiful young face distorted by anguish.
After what seemed like an eternity, she composed herself and started to share her story. Alice (not her real name) had grown up in an abusive home. As a teenager she fell deeply in love. Soon the young man started to ask her for what he called “proof of love,” and they had sexual relations. But he was just using her to satisfy his passions, and soon discarded her.
After that she met another boy. Vulnerable as she was, again things ended up in sex, and after a while that boy also left her. A third person then entered into her life. She felt that this love was pure and sincere. But the story repeated itself and this time, to make matters worse, she discovered she was pregnant.
The third boyfriend, hearing about it, disappeared, leaving her on her own. Fearing her dad and following bad counsel she had an abortion.
So at the tender age of 17, here she was with me that May evening, seated on that boulevard, feeling rejected by everyone; guilty—because she believed she had killed an incipient life, her own baby. She felt abandoned by her parents and boyfriends, alone, desperate, not knowing what to do.
How God Works
It was a neighbor of hers, to whom I’d been giving Bible studies, who, after noticing she’d become suicidal, wrote my name on that piece of paper that evening, hoping we could help her. As she cried, I was asking the Lord how to help her.
Suddenly she stood up and started to shout, “I am lost! I am lost! There is no hope for me! I will throw myself in the way of the first bus that comes. I am lost!”
When, finally, she calmed down, I read to her the story of the adulterous woman and how Jesus forgave her and said: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:1-11). Slowly peace came to that heart. We prayed together, and I gave her a copy of Steps to Christ by Ellen G. White, recommending especially the chapter on forgiveness.
Years later I returned to that same big city and went to visit the modern building purchased as an evangelistic center after the successful evangelistic effort had ended. And who was there as the receptionist of the center? Alice! An intensely spiritual, clearly happy woman, totally at peace with herself.
She surely had grown in Christ! And that growth experience should be yours and mine, as well.
*Bible texts credited to RSV are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1946, 1952, 1971, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Victor A. Schulz is an international evangelist residing in Alberta, Canada.
I have come to know Him personally… and so can you.
By Clinton Wahlen
What image comes to mind when you think of God the Father? All-powerful and all-knowing, but distant and mostly busy running the universe? Or maybe your idea of the Father is somewhat vague, as mine was, until I realized just how frequently the Bible speaks about Him. How we view our heavenly Father is really important, because it also affects how we see Jesus and salvation, and how we read the rest of what the Bible has to say.
But most of us already have an idea of what “father” means, which may or may not be helpful in seeking to know our heavenly Father.
The mental image of my father has changed over the years. I don’t know what kind of father you had—stern and strong, weak and immature, kind and tender, or perhaps a blend of these. I have known people whose fathers seem to be everything a son or daughter could want. I have also known people whose fathers are nothing less than scary.
My eartly father did what seemed best to him (most of the time!), but my heavenly Father knows what's best for me (all the time!). One thing I do know: No father is perfect. Mine is not, as he will freely admit. And I am far from being a perfect father for my children. But I know Someone who is perfect, because He has been there for me when no one else has.
Our ideal of what a father should be is distorted by our own experience, or limited by our imperfect understanding. That is why God speaks to us as a Father, to help us understand; and, more important, to be for us more than any human father could be.
What is our heavenly Father like? He is Someone who disciplines us because He loves us and knows better than our human fathers what it is that we really need.
There is one particular passage in the New Testament that I especially appreciate, because it contrasts human fathers with our heavenly Father. It says that human fathers discipline us “as seemed best to them, but He [our heavenly Father] for our profit” (Heb. 12:10). In other words, our fathers, as hard as they might try and as godly as they may be, can never really fulfill the role that God fills in our life.
My earthly father did what seemed best to him (most of the time!), but my heavenly Father knows what’s best for me (all the time!). Not only because He knows me better than I know myself, but also because He knows how everything will turn out, and, most important, He knows what I need so that I will turn out the way He intended. And He will fulfill the plan He has for my life. That’s why, when we approach God in prayer, we can do so with confidence, because our heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask him (Matt. 6:8).
God is small enough to really care about our little worries (and not just pretend, like I do with my children sometimes). Jesus said that the Father knows the number of hairs on our heads (Matt. 10:29-31). We can trust Him to care about everything that concerns us. At the same time, the Father is big enough to rule the universe and to have thought out the solution to the sin problem long before it ever arose (1 Peter 1:20; Rev. 13:8).
Like Jesus, Like Father
My heavenly Father is a rock of strength (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 46:1). “He is my strength when I am weak. He is the treasure that I seek. He is my all in all.”1 We sometimes prove unfaithful, but He is always faithful because He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). He has adopted us into His family, giving us the Spirit as the seal of our connection to Him and of our belonging within His family. Likewise, the Spirit gives us courage to “come boldly” to His throne of grace and to cry out to Him in the most intimate (and respectful) way possible: “Abba, Father!” (2 Cor. 1:21, 22; Rom. 8:14, 15).
Because God is our Father, He is more deserving of honor than any earthly parent, and He calls us to love Him above even our closest family ties here (Deut. 33:9; cf. Mal. 2:10; 1:6; Matt. 10:37).
God the eternal Father is the Creator, Source, Sustainer, and Sovereign of all creation. He is just and holy, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. The qualities and powers exhibited in the Son and the Holy Spirit are also revelations of the Father. (Gen. 1:1; Rev. 4:11; 1 Cor. 15:28; John 3:16; 1 John 4:8; 1 Tim. 1:17; Ex. 34:6, 7; John 14:9.)But the most amazing fact about our heavenly Father is that He is in character just exactly what Jesus is. As Jesus reminded Philip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” He says the Father “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (John 14:9; Matt. 5:44, 45).
Sometimes our heavenly Father, in response to our pleas, settles for giving us only “the good.” But He is determined and constantly at work to give us Hisbest (Matt. 7:11; see also Luke 11:13; Matt. 16:17; 18:19), though we often fail to see it. And the best gift of all is illustrated by the parable of Jesus that says more about the Father than any other: the parable of the prodigal son. This parable teaches us that as deluded, ungrateful, and prodigal as we may have been, the Father longs for us to return. At the first glimpse of our change of heart, He runs to us, embraces and kisses us, and lavishes us with tokens of His acceptance and undying love (see Luke 15:11-32).
The Father so loved the world that He gave His only Son. The Father is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,” forgiving but also One who “will by no means clear the guilty” (John 3:16; Ex. 34:6, 7). He forgives sin, but He cannot tolerate it forever. The day will come when, in what Scripture calls “His strange act” (Isa. 28:21, KJV), the Father will do what He has never done before. He will forever destroy that part of His creation that cannot be redeemed—more accurately, those who have refused to be redeemed—swallowing up sin and sinners in cleansing flames like no other.
That fiery destruction will give way to a new creation, and for one final time the Father will bring a blessing out of a curse, making all things new, enabling the earth to grow more beautiful and the people who inhabit it more loving.
I’ve learned that fathers sometimes say “Yes” when they actually mean “No,” and sometimes say “No” when, as children, we want only to hear “Yes.” But with our heavenly Father, “Yes” always means “Yes” and “No” always means “No.” And when the answer to our prayers is “No,” it always at the same time means “Yes” to something better. But usually it takes time to see it, and we must trust and believe that “all things work together for good.” Sometimes we may not see it at all in this life, but we have the assurance that someday, because He’s the wonderful Father that He is, God will wipe away all tears from our eyes and make all things new (Rom. 8:28; Rev. 21:4, 5). How could we wish for a better God than that?
And yet, one thing we will learn as the years of eternity come and go is that He is infinitely better than that, and that it will require no less than an eternity to see this as fully as our human limitations permit us. And we will love Him more and more … forever! Said Ellen G. White, “As knowledge is progressive, so will love, reverence, and happiness increase. The more men learn of God, the greater will be their admiration of His character.”2
1 Adapted from lyrics by Dennis Jernigan, Shepherd’s Heart Music, 2002.
2The Great Controversy, p. 678.
Clinton Wahlen is an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
That’s what God’s people can be, gifted by the Spirit.
By Ivan L. Warden
Seventh-day Adventists have 28 fundamental beliefs; and the seventeenth, entitled “Spiritual Gifts and Ministries,” is of utmost importance. The apostle Paul offers a biblical and theological rationale for spiritual gifts in several places, most prominently in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4:1-13.
Now, allow your mind to play out the following three imaginary dialog vignettes:
Darkness: “I was here first, and I am older.”
Light: “So what? You are no more important than I.”
As you revisit the Creation story of Genesis 1, you will note that there was no disagreement between darkness and light; no negative tension between them. Each functioned according to God’s purpose for them. Title designates function, not importance.
Seraphim: “I have six wings. I am an elite angel. God loves me more—after all, He created me with six wings.”
Cherubim: “God loves me more than those angels with two wings. I may not have six wings, but four wings make me more valuable than the angels with just two wings. I am pretty special to God too!”
A study of angels in the Old Testament (Isa. 6:2; Eze. 1:6, 11; 10:8, 21) will reveal that seraphim and cherubim, of course, did not argue. Feelings of superiority, anger, resentment, and inferiority did not exist between them. Each functioned within God’s purposes for their creation and in accordance with God’s saving plan for humanity.
Brain: “I am on strike today. The heart did not give me any credit in the television program yesterday on the Health Channel.”
Eyes: “I simply refuse to use the gift of sight to guide the body in its movement. The mouth gave me no credit in that article in the Medical Association journal.”
Feet: “I am not going to help you stand or walk, because the rest of the body ignored my plea for relief.”
These vignettes capture the essence of Paul’s illustration of the human body in 1 Corinthians 12:13-17.
No One Superior or Inferior
A war does not rage among the body parts. No maliciousness or animosity is present. Every organ is vital to the entire makeup of the body. Similarly, gifts are given to the church to function effectively in doing God’s mission. In God’s plan each gift functions for the joy and happiness of humankind.
Kingdom-building is people-building. The kingdom of God is built by building up people. People have been and continue to be of most importance to Jesus. Before returning to heaven Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). But before going, the disciples needed to have a stronger integration of theory and practice, of word and deed, of fact and faith. They needed to wait.
Spiritual Gifts and Ministries
God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts which each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity. Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained functions. According to the Scriptures, these gifts include such ministries as faith, healing, prophecy, proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation, compassion, and self-sacrificing service and charity for the help and encouragement of people. Some members are called of God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by the church in pastoral, evangelistic, apostolic, and teaching ministries particularly needed to equip the members for service, to build up the church to spiritual maturity, and to foster unity of the faith and knowledge of God. When members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of God’s varied grace, the church is protected from the destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with a growth that is from God, and is built up in faith and love. (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:9-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)Wait for what? Their intensive course had an extended curriculum beyond the death of Jesus. Luke tells us in Acts 1:4, 8 that they were to “wait” for the reality of the Father’s promise. “But you shall receive power,” Jesus said, “when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
They needed special empowerment from the Holy Spirit. And once they were equipped with the Spirit, they were able to preach, teach, and model kingdom values throughout Jerusalem. Moving beyond that, they “gossiped” the gospel also in Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:4, 8). The principles of the kingdom were carried to Caesar’s palace, to the jails, to every layer of their society, and to every language group of their time. And kingdom-builders—from the time of Jesus to the third century—preached on street corners, in deserts, by rivers, in the mountains, and anywhere else they had opportunity.
To equip these kingdom-builders, God gave special gifts (see 1 Cor. 12 and Eph. 4). In this connection, two foundational concepts undergird successful congregational ministry. And without an understanding and implementation of these two concepts, the gifts cannot fully function. Without them, the congregation becomes part of the walking dead. Breath and a pulse may be evident, but there’d be no vigor, no vitality, no energy.
The two concepts are unity and love. Without them, both clergy and congregants deteriorate into a petty, suspicious, stagnated and decaying organism—half living and half dead, for these concepts affect behavior.
With a correct understanding of these concepts or principles, however—and with their eager implementation—we will see results that transcend those seen by the early disciples. When Holy Spirit-filled, our lives become God’s agents on earth for building the kingdom. The gifts are given to people, not to buildings or institutions. People make up the church, not the other way around. In the New Testament the church (ekklesia) refers to the people, not a building or structure. It refers to the gathering of people.
The word ekklesia appears more than 100 times, and each time it refers to a gathering of people. This helps us understand that God values humankind. His Son died to save us. What a gift, and what a sacrifice! It is people to whom the gifts are given. In the Jerusalem upper room, the disciples “did not wait in idleness.”1 They “[put] away all differences, all desire for the supremacy, they came close together in Christian fellowship.”2 When they disagreed, they agreed to disagree agreeably. Unity does not eliminate varying points of view. Instead, it enables the process to reach agreement by consensus. Using this method, churches become more spiritually alive, more alert, more energetic.
In the Jerusalem upper room, love was experienced. And “love has power to give in a moment what toil can scarcely reach in an age.”—Goethe.
Ellen White said it well: “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.”3
Imagine what could happen if churches today had a Jerusalem-upper-room experience. It would change our understanding of spiritual gifts and ministries. Correctly understood and gladly implemented, the principles of spiritual gifts and ministries (with the love and unity that they will bring to the church) would transform society as nothing else.
I believe in spiritual gifts and ministries. I have seen their fruits.
1 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 35
2Ibid., p. 37.
3Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 189.
Ivan L. Warden is an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.
I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to decide between Sunday or Sabbath.
By Jeffrey O. Brown
I was 17. It was the cup final. I was the team captain. The game was on Saturday. What would I do? Rewind …
I grew up attending the Baptist church and the Boys’ Brigade. I became sergeant of the Brigade, and captain of our company’s football (soccer) team, the district football team, and the city football team. My Seventh-day Adventist grandmother would regularly take us to her church. I would go to the Baptist Christmas party on Saturday and the Adventist Christmas party on Sunday. Life was good.
One day Granny said to me, “Jeff, you need to make a choice.”
Success on the football field had paralleled conviction about the true Sabbath. I knew I would have to have “the talk” with Skip, our Boys’ Brigade leader. And I dreaded it.
But the incredible happened. After listening to my struggles, Skip relieved all my pressure. “Jeff,” he said at Sunday morning Bible Study, “always follow your convictions.”
I didn’t play that Saturday. Instead, I went to church. Don’t ask me the name of the preacher or the topic of the sermon. All I could think about was: how is my team getting on?
The next day I found out. The faces were long. The looks were accusing. The silence was deafening. My team had lost the cup final.
Skip approached me following the disaster. “Jeff, how could you let your team down like that?” he asked incredulously.
This was the same person who seven days before had said, “Jeff, always follow your convictions.” Now he was singing a different tune: “Jeff, next week’s game will decide the championship. What will you do? Your team needs you to play next week.” Next week meant next Sabbath. With Skip looking at me pleadingly, and with the team looking at me imploringly, what would I do? What should I do? What did I do?
But did we win? No, we didn’t. We lost the game and I lost the peace of mind that comes with doing what God says is right. I heard Jesus’ words, “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9). I knew what I had to do. Though I loved my Baptist church family, I got baptized and joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
More and more Christians across the world have come to realize that the Sabbath is a beautiful benefit, not a baneful burden. Max Lucado, best-selling Christian author, writes:
The beneficent Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom. The Sabbath is God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God’s creative and redemptive acts. (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; Luke 4:16; Isa. 56:5, 6; 58:13, 14; Matt. 12:1-12; Ex. 31:13-17; Eze. 20:12, 20; Deut. 5:12-15; Heb. 4:1-11; Lev. 23:32; Mark 1:32.)“Of the ten declarations carved in the tablets, which one occupies the most space? Murder? Adultery? Stealing? You’d think so. Certainly each is worthy of ample coverage. But curiously, these commands are tributes to brevity. God needed only five English words to condemn adultery and four to denounce thievery and murder. But when he came to the topic of rest, one sentence would not suffice.”1
Lucado is correct. The commandment says: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex. 20:8-11).
Lucado continues: “God says one day of the week you will say no to work and yes to worship. You will slow down and sit down and lie down and rest. Still we object. ‘But … but … but … who is going to run the store?’ ‘What about my grades?’ ‘I’ve got my sales quota.’ We offer up one reason after another, but God silences them all with a poignant reminder: ‘In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.’ God’s message is plain: ‘If creation didn’t crash when I rested, it won’t crash when you do.’”2
It doesn’t always require great theology to convince people. To borrow the words of the Bible: “a little child shall lead them.”
The Boy’s Story Did It
“Aloni Muhindwa, from Uganda, was educated in Britain and became a priest in the Church of England. From his early youth he had questions about the Sabbath. Pastors, seminary professors, and bishops refused to discuss the matter. It was late in life that a story was told to him by a boy as he sipped a soft drink in a shop on his way to his coffee plantation.
“The boy said, ‘Once upon a time there was a great king who had ten sons. Before leaving for a long journey he called his prime minister and his ten sons before him and said farewell. He charged the prime minister to take good care of his sons. As soon as he had gone, the prime minister called the ten sons together again, removed the fourth son who didn’t seem to him regal enough, and replaced him with his own son that he judged to be a finer specimen of royalty.
“By and by the king returned and called for his sons. He greeted them one by one until he came to the fourth son. ‘Who is this imposter? This is not my son. What happened to my son, Mr. Prime Minister?’ The prime minister explained, ‘Your fourth son did not look like a royal son to me, so I put my [own] son in his place.’ As the story goes, the king banished the prime minister from the realm and restored his son. Aloni now asked the little boy what was the meaning of the story. He said, ‘The king is God; the ten sons are the ten commandments. The prime minister is the church, but the church changed God’s fourth commandment and put in a commandment of her own. But the King is coming back one day, sir, and He will ask what has happened to His commandment.’
“‘Where did you learn this, son?’ ‘Up at the Kereka Mission on top of the hill, sir.’ So the old priest was led by the little boy up to the Sabbathkeeping mission where he spent several days in intensive Bible study. The next Sunday he stood before his congregation and said, ‘This is my last Sunday as your priest. From now on I am a Sabbathkeeper.’”3
A. J. Jacobs, the secular journalist who spent one year keeping the more than 700 rules he had discovered in the Bible, was asked: “What, if any, rules are you still following?” He replied, “I love the Sabbath. There’s something I really like about a ‘forced’ day of rest.”4
A day made by Jesus to fellowship with His family, contemplate His creation, and rest in His redemption.5 That’s something I really like, too.
1 Max Lucado, Traveling Light: Releasing the burdens you were never intended to bear (Nashville: W. Publishing Group, 2001), pp. 41, 42.
3 Jeffrey and Pattiejean Brown, A Guide to Parenting: On the winning team with your children (Grantham: Stanborough Press, 2003), pp. 169-171.
4 Jennie Yabroff, “Biblical Living: Following Every Rule for One Year,” Newsweek, September 21, 2007.
According to the Gospels, Jesus Himself repeatedly indicated that He would die a violent death, and He even said that it “must” be so (Matt. 16:21; John 3:14). “The Son of Man must suffer many things … and be killed” (Mark 8:31; cf. Luke 9:22; 17:25; 24:7). Jesus saw this as the fulfillment of ancient biblical prophecies (Luke 18:31; 22:37; 24:25 ff., 44 ff.) and considered His whole life to be the realization of a divine plan (Luke 2:49; 4:43; 13:33; 19:5, 10; John 9:4; 10:16). As He hung on the cross, He cried out: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Task completed, mission accomplished.
But just what was the mission that He had fulfilled?
What His Death Means for Us
The meaning of Jesus’ death has intrigued Christian thinkers of all ages, even worried them. Countless books have been written about it, and many shelves filled with works have tried to explain the deeper significance of the death of Jesus. They all attempt to interpret the passages in the New Testament that shed light on how Jesus understood Himself and how the disciples in turn understood Him. The biblical statements are summarized in the Adventist Fundamental Beliefs statement No. 9 (see sidebar).
However you may try to describe the biblical teaching on salvation through Christ, you cannot ignore certain terms such as atonement, reconciliation, righteousness, sin, and forgiveness. They belong to the essential vocabulary of the Bible and are linked to the core of Christian faith.
Based on the sacrificial ministry of the Old Covenant, the early Christians understood the death of Christ on the cross as God’s “means of propitiation,” by which God Himself had taken away our guilt (Rom. 3:25). The sacrifice on Calvary—the total commitment of His life—was necessary, in order “to make propitiation for the sins of the people [of Israel]” (Heb. 2:17), and not only for them, “but also for the [sins of the] whole world” (1 John 2:2).
The real mission of Jesus was therefore “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; 1 Tim. 2:5 f.; 1 Peter 1:18 f.). His perfect obedience and substitutionary sacrifice liberate us from our guilt; we receive forgiveness and a new life (Eph. 1:7; 5:2; 1 Peter 2:21 ff.; Heb. 9, 10). The prophet Isaiah had already prophesied that the “servant of God” would give His life as a sacrifice for our guilt. “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5; cf. Dan. 9:24).
But that doesn’t mean that Jesus was trying to placate an angry God and move Him to be benevolent toward us. After all, it was the Father Himself who sent His Son into the world “that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9 ff.). It was not necessary to win God over for us; He already was on our side. God does not love us because Jesus died for us; Jesus died because God loves us. God’s love is the reason and source, not the result or effect of the atonement.
Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ
In Christ’s life of perfect obedience to God’s will, His suffering, death, and resurrection, God provided the only means of atonement for human sin, so that those who by faith accept this atonement may have eternal life, and the whole creation may better understand the infinite and holy love of the Creator. This perfect atonement vindicates the righteousness of God’s law and the graciousness of His character; for it both condemns our sin and provides for our forgiveness. The death of Christ is substitutionary and expiatory, reconciling and transforming. The resurrection of Christ proclaims God’s triumph over the forces of evil, and for those who accept the atonement assures their final victory over sin and death. It declares the Lordship of Jesus Christ, before whom every knee in heaven and on earth will bow. (John 3:16; Isa. 53; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4, 20-22; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15, 19-21; Rom. 1:4; 3:25; 4:25; 8:3, 4; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Col. 2:15; Phil. 2:6,11.)But what was it then that made atonement and satisfaction—and therefore the death of Jesus—necessary? Is it the profound disgust that God, the Perfect and Holy One, feels for all injustice? Is it the disregard for His just and holy law (Rom. 7:12)—the reflection of His character—that must be punished? Do we feel something of the same indignation—indeed, the “righteous anger”—that God feels in the face of the million-fold presence of sin and appalling injustice (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18 ff.; 1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 6:16 f.)?
As Jesus died on the cross, His opponents rejoiced. To be crucified meant to be cursed of God (Gal. 3:13). Therefore, in the eyes of the public, Jesus was history. No one would ever again dare to claim He was the Messiah. Had not He Himself, shortly before His death, admitted that God had abandoned Him? This was without question the bitterest moment in His life and presumably the reason for His quick death (Mark 15:34, 37, 44).
But what gave His enemies cause to rub their hands in satisfaction actually turned out to be a crushing blow for themselves. When a short time later He broke the shackles of the grave and revealed Himself to His disciples as the living and glorified Christ, it became clear that He had left the scene of these terrible events not as the loser, but as the winner:Christ is triumphant!
As difficult as it may be to scientifically prove His resurrection, the testimony of the many witnesses who saw Him with their own eyes is still remarkable (Matt. 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20–21; 1 Cor. 15:1 ff.). And the empty grave can also hardly be explained any other way except that something very unusual happened (Matt. 27:62 to 28:15). Even the doubters among His disciples finally became convinced (Matt. 28:17; Mark 16:11 ff.; Luke 24:11, 41; John 20:24 ff.).
The physical resurrection of Christ is the sign that His sacrifice was not in vain, but had fulfilled its purpose (Rom 4:25; 5:10; 1 Cor. 15:17). Through it, Jesus the condemned criminal was “vindicated” by God Himself (Acts 2:22 ff.). Beyond that, it is also the basis for the Christian hope in the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12 ff). If the power of death is broken, then it is broken forever and for everyone. In this respect, the resurrection of Jesus is “an event that happened in the past, but not a happening that has passed” (B. Klappert). Therefore it takes its rightful place at the core of the Christian message.
John, an eyewitness, interpreted the events like this: “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8, NRSV).* Another New Testament writer commented this way: Christ became human, “that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14 ff.). What believers already know today will one day be confessed by all: Christ is triumphant! (see Phil. 2:5 ff.).
The hour of His greatest defeat has become the moment of His greatest triumph. The victory over sin, death, and the devil has been won.
The atonement for our guilt also brought the reconciliation of humankind with God. God was always on our side, but we had separated ourselves from Him, turned our backs on our Lord and Savior, and rebelliously rejected Him. In Christ God has overcome the separation, restored peace, and won our trust. We are reconciled with God! Men and women who hear and understand this gospel cannot remain impassive (see Rom. 5:10 ff.; 2 Cor. 5:18 ff.).
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31).
Since kindergarten, where I was given colored paper and scissors and told to make a picture, mosaics have represented for me the challenge of creating beauty out of diverse and dissimilar parts. Unlike my paper creations, which often began falling apart on the way home from school, many mosaics are made of precious stones and have endured for centuries. Some months ago I was with a group visiting Masada, the mountaintop retreat of King Herod the Great. Overlooking the Dead Sea and surrounding desert, the ruins of Masada are a haunting reminder of the suffering and the determination of the Jewish people. As we wandered through the excavated palaces and bathhouses, storage buildings and plazas, we saw numerous mosaics. Still beautiful, made of thousands of bits of stone of many shapes, sizes, and colors, they have survived the ravages of war, vandalism, and time. They are astonishing for their diversity, creativity, and sheer endurance.
God’s Masterpiece The church—indeed, all of creation—reminds me of a mosaic: abundantly diverse, remarkably creative, and blessedly enduring. Think of the food we enjoy every day—so varied in flavor and color and texture. Consider the marvelous creativity and amazing variety in the animal kingdom—lions and anteaters, elephants and orangutans, warthogs and giraffes, and on and on. God’s remarkable creativity is also revealed in the way He made people so diverse—tall and short, all shapes and sizes, brown eyes, black eyes, blue eyes, straight hair, curly hair, wavy hair, and no hair at all. Some of God’s amazing creative ability He has shared with His human children, enabling them to create an astonishing variety of cultures. There are so many different ways of eating and dressing, of living, thinking, and working. The Bible tells us that this creation diversity will endure to the heavenly kingdom. The lion and the lamb will be there, and all the nations of the earth, recognizably distinct as they gather around the throne (Isa. 11:6; Rev. 7:9).
The Hagia Sophia was the greatest church of Christendom for nearly 1,000 years. When the Muslim conquerors of Constantinople turned it into a mosque, the many mosaics that adorned it were plastered over. With the birth of the modern nation of Turkey, the Hagia Sophia became a museum, and the plaster was painstakingly removed from the mosaics. A partially restored mosaic head of Christ in one of the upper galleries is stunningly beautiful. With gold and silver, lapis lazuli, and other diverse and precious materials the artist created a work of enduring beauty that was hidden for centuries behind plaster. How often we too want to plaster over differences, to deny people creativity, to forget the enduring nature of human diversity.
Diversity and Unity Unity in the Body of Christ
The church is one body with many members, called from every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. In Christ we are a new creation; distinctions of race, culture, learning, and nationality, and differences between high and low, rich and poor, male and female, must not be divisive among us. We are all equal in Christ, who by one Spirit has bonded us into one fellowship with Him and with one another; we are to serve and be served without partiality or reservation. Through the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures we share the same faith and hope, and reach out in one witness to all. This unity has its source in the oneness of the triune God, who has adopted us as His children. (Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:12-14; Matt. 28:19, 20; Ps. 133:1; 2 Cor. 5:16, 17; Acts 17:26, 27; Gal. 3:27, 29; Col. 3:10-15; Eph. 4:14-16; 4:1-6; John 17:20-23.)While we easily rejoice in God’s diversity and creativity in nature, variations in people and cultures challenge the unity of the church. Too often this divides us. Human diversity was a challenge in the early church as well. Yet the good news of the gospel, Paul says in Galatians 3:28, is that in Christ these differences are no longer important—“there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female.” Paul challenges the church to cross every cultural barrier—religions, society, gender—to become one in Christ. The metaphor of the body in 1 Corinthians 12 illustrates what he means by this oneness. Just as the body needs its diverse parts (“if the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing?”),2 just as suffering in one part causes suffering to all (verse 26), just as the weaker parts of the body are indispensable (verse 22), so, Paul tells us, we need to value differences in the church and use every part for the good of all. We need people who look different and think differently. We need creativity and diversity in worship and witness. We need apostles and prophets, teachers, healers, all the varied gifts (verses 27-31). Most of all, he says, we need the greatest gift—the gift of love for all people everywhere (1 Cor. 13).
The Seventh-day Adventist Church reflects the enduring creativity of the world’s diversity. Within our fellowship are people of many languages, cultures, and ethnicities. There are people of distinctive gifts, varied backgrounds, and different ways of thinking. Just as the stones of a mosaic can be individually distinguished yet the picture seen only when all the stones are viewed together, so it is only as we come together in love, accepting the enduring value—indeed, the necessity—of our differences, that we can be one in Christ. Only as we creatively use every part of the body and all the different gifts that God has given His church can we share the good news with “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6) and complete the mosaic of His kingdom.
“At the Concert of the Age,” gospel artists Phillips, Craig, and Dean sing, “the great I AM takes center stage.” A parade of nations will walk by in saris and suits, dashikis and kaffiyehs, and “the kings of the earth bring their glory” (Rev. 21:24). At the Concert of the Age Indians will play their tablas, Pacific Islanders their guitars, and Africans their finger pianos. Americans will be there with their marching bands, Mexicans with mariachi bands, and Filipinos with anklong bands. Chinese will play bamboo pipes, Brazilians will come with accordions, and, no doubt, the Scots will be there with bagpipes wailing.
That is why Seventh-day Adventists remain a world church and why creativity and diversity is so important to our unity. That is why we study and worship, witness and serve in many different ways. We want all people everywhere to be part of that “great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9), praising God on that heavenly Sabbath day. Then together we will be God’s most glorious, diverse, creative, and enduring heavenly mosaic.
1 Small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials arranged to form a picture. 2 1 Cor. 12:17.
Cheryl Doss, Ph.D., is a seasoned missionary and director of theInstitute of World Mission of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. She resides with her husband, Gorden, in Berrien Springs, Michigan, U.S.A.
The Son, a member of the triune God, came to this sinful world as a heaven-sent missionary to “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).1 The everlasting God became a man to be humanity’s Savior! The Incarnation became a reality by the willingness of the Son and through the work of the Holy Spirit. In this magnificent event all three members of the Godhead worked together as a team from the foundation of the world. Thus, Jesus was born—the Savior of the world.
Christ’s Perfect Sinless Life
Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18-21) and lived a Spirit-led life. He was perfect. He lived a perfect life. “Not only did He commit no act of sin, He had no sin in His being.”2
He was “without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). Jesus was able to lead a sinless life because He depended on God and did everything according to His Father’s will. Even while suffering extreme agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus cried out to God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39).
Jesus, through His perfect sinless life, gives humanity hope that we too can observe the law of God by relying on Him. It is thus that He destroyed Satan’s agelong insistence that the standard and the requirement of God’s law is higher than any creature can attain.
Jesus is an example to all His followers. “As one of us He was to give an example of obedience.”3That is why He took upon Himself human nature and went through our experiences. He diligently worked every day among the people. He was truly a man among us. Yet, at the same time He was fully divine. He accomplished much on behalf of others through the power of God. Not once did He use His divine power to benefit Himself. He was tempted in all points as we are, yet was without sin (cf. Heb. 4:15). He was the only sinless person who ever lived in this sinful world. It was His mission to demonstrate to us and the whole universe that we can obey God’s precepts through the power of the Holy Spirit. But that was not all.
Christ’s Death for Our New Life
Jesus came to this world not only to live a perfect sinless life as our example, but also to die for sinful human beings as humanity’s substitute. The death of Jesus endured for humankind, for you and me, was God’s design to save humanity from sin. The character of sin is so terrible that the only way to eradicate it for eternity and thereby liberate all under its yoke came through offering Himself as a sacrifice.
At the cross the innocent Man was condemned for you and me—for all humanity. He bore the sins of the world (John 1:29). He took upon Himself our sins and received the punishment that we deserved (Isa. 53:5). He died for all sinners, regardless of race, culture, and nationality. Just as He gave life to human beings at the time of Creation, Jesus gave new life to sinners at the cross. Anybody, anywhere, enjoys salvation as they accept His sacrifice on their behalf and make Him their personal Redeemer. Jesus died for all!
As soon as Christ died on the cross our new life began. When He pronounced on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), He accomplished His earthly mission and died the second death that all sinners were supposed to face. Since Jesus already died the second death in our place, we, the redeemed, do not need to worry about it. Now humanity can enjoy eternal life in Christ.
Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ
In Christ’s life of perfect obedience to God’s will, His suffering, death, and resurrection, God provided the only means of atonement for human sin, so that those who by faith accept this atonement may have eternal life, and the whole creation may better understand the infinite and holy love of the Creator. This perfect atonement vindicates the righteousness of God’s law and the graciousness of His character; for it both condemns our sin and provides for our forgiveness. The death of Christ is substitutionary and expiatory, reconciling and transforming. The resurrection of Christ proclaims God’s triumph over the forces of evil, and for those who accept the atonement assures their final victory over sin and death. It declares the Lordship of Jesus Christ, before whom every knee in heaven and on earth will bow. (John 3:16; Isa. 53; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4, 20-22; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15, 19-21; Rom. 1:4; 3:25; 4:25; 8:3, 4; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Col. 2:15; Phil. 2:6-11.)By dying on the cross Christ has made a provision of forgiveness of sin for fallen humanity. “The whole mind, the whole soul, the whole heart, and the whole strength are purchased by the blood of the Son of God.”4 Therefore, in Christ, through His blood, we become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
Consummation of Christ’s Victory Over Sin
At the cross Jesus won a great victory over sin. He then rested in the tomb as He had rested on the Sabbath after creating the world. But what if Jesus had never woken up from His death? His victory over sin that He had achieved on the cross would have been nullified, and the plan of salvation would have ended in failure. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:14).
But Jesus did rise again, and the resurrection of Christ was the consummation of His victory over sin, sealing the work of human salvation. Jesus has conquered death forever by His death and resurrection. His resurrection revived eternal hope in the hearts of the disciples who had been greatly discouraged at the crucifixion of their Master. Now seeing the risen Lord, however, they were more convinced than ever before that He was the Christ, the Son of man and Savior of the world. With this conviction they went out and preached “the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33) to the people.
Christ’s resurrection is the assurance of the resurrection of the saints. He is our life and resurrection. Therefore, anyone who believes in Christ will live, even though they die (John 11:25). When we believe in Jesus, we become partakers of the victory He has won. As He was raised, all saints also will be raised. And as He lives forever, we also will enjoy everlasting life.
Christ Is the Gospel to Be Proclaimed
Jesus came to this world as a missionary. In fact, He was the greatest missionary that this world has ever had. As a missionary He preached the gospel message to the people and gave them everything He had, including His energy, time, love, and compassion; forgiveness; and, ultimately, His own life. He Himself was the good news.
The confidence in God’s saving grace revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is what motivates His followers to tell the world about the good news of God’s infinite love toward fallen humanity. The Savior tells all His followers to be His “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), and to proclaim the soon coming of Jesus Christ. Now this is a solid foundation for our mission.
1 Bible texts in this article are from the New International Version (NIV).
2 Norman R. Gulley, Christ Our Substitute (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Assn., 1982), p. 36.
3 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 2005), p. 24.
4 Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 1962), p. 130.
Jairyong Lee is president of the Northern Asia-Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists and lives in Ilsan-gu, Goyang City, Republic of Korea.