A Call to Repentance
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
Isaiah 60:1-3 ESV
Did the gospel exist in the Old Testament? Was Jesus truly a lamb slain from the foundation of the world? While the Jews viewed Abraham and Moses as the forerunners of legal religion, Paul begged to differ. The New Testament builds its case for Righteousness by faith from the story of Abraham. The father of the faithful was the one who “Believed” and it was counted to him as righteousness. Abraham’s true heritage are the children of promise who rest entirely in the righteousness of Christ.
There is a clear progression to the way God seeks to bring us into the knowledge of himself. He does not always operate among us in the same way. When Jesus defended and forgave the woman caught committing adultery he was not contradicting himself.The law has ever been a guardian restraining evil and a tutor leading men and women to acknowledge their helplessness to produce their own righteousness. God works with us based upon the hardness or softness of our hearts to receive the good news of salvation. In the fullness of time Christ came and lived out the promise God had made to man from the foundation of the world. The woman cast at Jesus feet was not a determined rebel but a broken, abused, and confused daughter longing for the very deliverance Jesus extended to her.
While Christ may have come two thousand years ago, for the hungry willing soul the truth about God has been shining from the beginning of time. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His heart has never changed toward us nor have the means through which he is working to reconcile us to himself. Grace shows up on the scene at the very inception of human history. As creations born of love, Adam and Eve were gifted life, a world, and each other, by grace alone. They woke up to the reality of their Creator’s affections as the only explanation for their existence. To accentuate this point God rested on the seventh-day setting it apart as a holy memorial of his unconditional, unmerited love for the human race.
Fast-forward a few thousand years to the time of the Exodus and the same God is still trying to communicate his love in the exact same way. The only difference is now God is reaching out to a people deeply deformed by sin’s curse.
The Hebrews were delivered from Egypt by no effort of their own. They were spared by the blood of the lamb as the angel of death passed over and they watched the power of their taskmasters broken before their eyes without them having to lift a finger. Just as creation was placed in the lap of our first parents so deliverance was gifted to the Hebrews based on God’s love alone, free of human effort.
Their wilderness journey demonstrates that while they had been set free they were unable to receive the promise because of their refusal to believe in the unconditional love of God. Their suspicions about God coupled with their desire to share in his glory shut them out from the rest God longed to bestow upon them. The offense of the cross was felt in the wilderness just as acutely as it was in Jerusalem centuries later. They convinced themselves that there just had to be a catch. What was this all-powerful being really up to? The thought that unconditional love drove God’s actions toward them as a people proved as difficult for the Hebrews to accept as it is for us to accept today.
The failure of the Hebrews to understand the plan of redemption was not due to a lack of effort on God’s behalf. The righteousness of God as manifest through his complete relational faithfulness was inscribed upon stone at Mount Sinai. He had placed in their midst a most concrete revelation of his heart, as well as the plan of salvation, through the Sanctuary. He once again invited them to believe in the perfect and complete work which he accomplished on their behalf through extending to them Sabbath rest. He established among them a body of instructions intended to protect and preserve life. God was literally their shield by day and warmth by night. Manna daily fell from Heaven and the people lacked no good thing, yet still they would not believe that God’s love truly had no strings attached. At every sign of trouble they were suspicious of the God that held absolutely nothing back in his efforts to secure their temporal and eternal happiness.
As long as they held God at arms length the Hebrews were forced to suffer under the condemnation of the law. Going through the motions of offering a lamb did nothing to clear their guilt or transform their hearts. Their mistrust of God blinded them to what that sacred illustration was intended to teach. As a parent working with rebellious children, God in his mercy placed firm boundaries around his people. The mosaic laws were a means of holding off their self destruction long enough for them to open their eyes to his true character. God’s ultimate design was to do away with the need for a written code, he longed to animate their hearts with the same unselfishness which beat in his own chest.
Even after the Israelites finally entered the promise land they took the knowledge Heaven had bestowed upon them and used it to erect walls. Fortifying themselves in their castle of truth they despised the nations around them. Christ’s ministry was spent building bridges of love from his father into the lives of all men, gentiles included. This was his greatest offense in the eyes of his people. Jesus dared to place gentiles on level ground. The first assassination attempt upon our savior’s life came at the hands of his countrymen when he pointed out that in Elisha’s day favor was shown to faithful gentiles over the unbelieving Jews.
Some striking correlations can be drawn between the Israelites and the history of the Seventh-day Adventist church. God has entrusted the very same oracles to us in an attempt to make himself known. Our church was literally born through the discovery of the heavenly sanctuary, the reality of which the earthly sanctuary bore witness to.
Through this same revelation the eternal righteousness of the law as a transcript of God’s character was established. Eyes were drawn to this law which demonstrated a righteousness infinitely out of man’s reach. A law which convicts us of sin and leaves us in need of a Savior to satisfy its demands with a righteousness all his own.
God sought to reestablish a symbol among us of the truly unconditional nature of his love as recorded from the very moment of man’s creation. The Sabbath as our most prominent feature was intended to constantly bring before our minds that we were created and are sustained by grace alone. It was intended to remind us that our only hope is through resting by faith in the arms of perfect love. The arms of a God who created us for love’s sake and redeemed us by grace lest any man should boast.
Even beyond these core doctrinal pillars, God has given to us, as he did to the Hebrews, a body of instructions intended to preserve and protect life. Our health message bears a striking resemblance, albeit in a different context, to the insights God gave to the Hebrews.
The parallels are no coincidence: the insights into the sanctuary, the immutability of the law as a transcript of God’s character, Sabbath rest as a memorial of love’s purpose in creation and redemption, and even the volume of instruction intended to protect and preserve life. The painful question we must ask is, what have we done with the precious promises of God?
While God has uniquely equipped us to reveal the good news of righteousness by faith, the heart of the gospel, this we have largely left undone. We like the Jews have used the very oracles of God to build a fortress of isolation. The things which were intended to herald the freedom we have in Christ have not been rightly understood and instead have been employed to undermine the essence of the Christian faith.
For some such statements are undoubtedly offensive and may appear to be unsustainable. Jesus acknowledged that the Jews possessed the oracles of God, yet their emphasis on the works of men revealed their spiritual blindness.
The Sanctuary, the Law, the Sabbath, and health reform have each become points of confusion for our people and those we are attempting to reach.
It is dawning on many that the message of the Sanctuary, rightly understood, is a reason for rejoicing rather than anxiety and trembling. But for most this pivotal aspect of our heritage is simply not discussed and recent generations know little to nothing of it because the previous generations are still recovering from the fear and confusion evoked by a twisted understanding of this intended symbol of righteousness by faith.
Where did we get the idea that our righteousness was being measured in this judgement, or that it was even about us in the first place? Zachariah chapter 3 reveals the essence of this judgement. The key features are the triumph of Christ’s sacrifice to reveal God’s goodness, redeem man, and bring a permanent end to the work of the accuser. It has always been only good news. How did something as precious as the message of Salvation’s plan become a particular point of anxiety and unbelief for so many poor souls throughout much of our history?
What about the revelation we received regarding the law, a law which declares love to be the very foundation of God’s government? God intended for us to perceive the holy nature of the law but never did he ask us to keep it as an attempt to merit salvation.
The righteousness of the law explains the necessity of the cross, for no other way could be found to satisfy its demands. Without the shedding of Christ’s blood there could be no remission of sin. So the good news of the gospel is not that the law has been done away with but that Christ has paid the full penalty the law required for sin. Humanity’s debt has been paid, that is the good news!
When we accept this good news a genuine faith born of love can thrive in our hearts and transform the way we relate to God and each other. But too often we rob people of this beautiful experience of resting in God’s perfect and complete work on their behalf. The covenant promises God has made to us we attempt to accomplish ourselves as evidence of our worthiness or sincerity. Such an approach places an impossible cart before the horse. The evidence of this is the imbalanced focus we have placed upon human effort for so long. When will we understand that it is through focusing on God’s goodness alone that we will be transformed.
Our obsession with discovering the secret to overcoming sin grows from a gross misunderstanding of salvation. We have believed that at the end of the day God is most interested in our obedience as if Calvary was all about curbing our behavior. Until we realize that Jesus is more interested in loving us than controlling us we will never experience the faith born of love which allows God to transform our hearts. We will never obey from our hearts until we realize that salvation’s only condition is the freedom of our choice to believe in it.
God has entrusted to us precious truths, but just as those who have come before us, we have mixed up the order in which redemption works. Salvation is not a gift which follows our surrender, it is the reality which makes surrender possible! The battle we now fight is one of faith to hold onto this most precious promise that scripture proclaims. We have nothing to bring to the table but the freedom love demands, the freedom to believe that God has done, and will do, all he has promised.
What about the Sabbath, have we understood and communicated it correctly? While Sabbath by many is beginning to be reinterpreted, it is still largely more of a burden to our people than a blessing. Most haven’t quite figured out that Sabbath was made for man rather than man for the Sabbath. As in Christ’s day it tends to be a day to measure up rather than a special day to rest in a righteousness not our own.
Dietary insights which were intended to only bless have for nearly a century been utilized as a tool to confuse and dishearten hungry souls looking for the truth.
We have built our high castle just as the Jews did. We have shared the good news on paper but in practice we have invited people into an elite club if they will but culturally adapt themselves to our definition of righteousness. Jesus is standing at the walls of our castle and he is seeking an entrance. He is not disgusted with us, but he longs to deliver us and again entrust us with the good news of the everlasting gospel. The Holy Spirit desires to build bridges from the very doctrines we have used to erected walls.
May we allow God to do among us what he desired to do through the Jews. If we will but humble ourselves Jesus will be lifted up as never before. The Jews refused their Lord entrance and instead eventually cried out for the guilt of his blood to be upon them and their children. May we wake up and allow his robe of righteousness to cover our bloody hands.
Like Israel we imagined God would be glorified through our greatness, but will we still be his instruments if he chooses to be glorified through our weakness? Can we swallow the pill of acknowledging where we have failed, or will we seek to silence the voice of the Holy Spirit and only work to reinforce the walls we have erected?
Adventism is not alone in missing the mark. We may be particularly responsible for how we have twisted the light we have been given, but Christendom has stalled in its call to shine brighter and brighter until that perfect day with beams from the sun of righteousness.
Christianity at large, and Adventism in particular are experiencing an identity crisis. The irrelevance of works based righteousness is unconsciously dawning on millions and they are throwing off the drudgery of the church only to be tangled in the confusion of the world, but this need not be. Never before in our lifetime has their been a hungrier more eager audience then the one which now exists.
Is it too late for us to recover the intended purpose of the insights God has entrusted to us? Have the concepts of the law, the Sabbath, and the Sanctuary been maligned beyond repair? God has not given up on us or the eternal truths in his word. If we will step into the light regarding our personal and corporate condition his spirit will make a way where there seems to be no way.
For those who are no longer content to play church, God is ready to do something profound and wonderful. No amount of prayer or Bible study can open eyes that are searching to preserve their own ideas and their own righteousness, but if we will turn, and in spite of our fear, ask God to reveal to us the true condition of our hearts he will do it. God wants to give us fresh eyes with which to discover him and more compassion toward those beyond our walls.
The hearts of men are starving for the genuine article, and we are uniquely equipped to give it, not because of our sterling track record but because of its absence. If any people have the right to declare the evil’s of works based righteousness, we do because we have suffered acutely under its reign.
What if the Jews in their day had repented as a people? What if they had acknowledged to the world their gross misinterpretation of the oracles which had been entrusted to them? They in humility and repentance could have given glory to God in a way no other people on the face of the earth were situated to do so. What if the Jews had sought the forgiveness of the gentile nations which they had spent centuries looking down on in self-righteous judgement. The power of the gospel is so incredible that in spite of their rejection a handful of believers turned the world upside down with the good news, but imagine if the entire nation had humbled themselves and pursued the salvation of the gentiles.
The opportunity before us is unprecedented and our God is faithful. The Lord longs to send the latter rain upon the earth in full strength. The third angel’s message of righteousness by faith is largely being shared by sheep not of our fold, though voices among us are crying out as well. We have something precious to bring to the table, something of prophetic proportions. While God longs for us to share in the harvest, he does not need us. Darkness has covered our land long enough. May we not miss the day of our visitation.
So, what do we do? What concrete steps can we take to better sing the praises of him who called us out of darkness and into his glorious light? How can we shift the focus from our “goodness” to God’s? If you really want to know the answer to that question God is ready to give it. Next Sabbath we are going to begin talking about what revival could possibly look like for us and those in our sphere of influence. The first step we must take, however, is to get an honest reading on the condition of our hearts as individuals and as a church.
This step is the first and most difficult. Nothing is more unsettling and scary than acknowledging that what we have known best and what feels most familiar could be wrong. The idea that we have hitherto rested in self-righteousness is both offensive and disturbing. Something infinitely better lies just around the corner, if we will but trust God to do for us what we have never been capable of doing for ourselves. We naturally love darkness because it hides us from ourselves, but the light of God does not expose our nakedness it covers it. Will we step into the light of his love and exchange our rags for his perfect righteousness? The moment we do this the fear of humiliation is consumed by peace, acceptance, and joy.
How much longer can we maintain our charade? Our Heavenly Father desires to give us rest! The good shepherd longs to scoop up every broken and bleeding lamb tangled in the thorns of self-righteousness struggling on the precipice of eternity. One simple honest cry for help is all it takes. Perhaps the emptiness inside has not grown deafening yet, my prayer is that it does. If you are learning to rest in him then everything you have read here is a reason for rejoicing. If your faith in self has not begun crumbling then you are either unsettled at this point or you stopped reading a long time ago. Wherever you are, if you refuse to stop seeking, you will find rest.