How did this “middle age” phenomenon happen to me so soon? Some of us jokingly say our arms get shorter as we age and we can’t hold our reading materials out far enough. Actually, for me at least, that part of middle age came at the ripe old age of 19, when I was diagnosed as having hyperopia, or farsightedness, and fitted with reading glasses. You can imagine my chagrin! NINETEEN, and needing reading glasses! I couldn’t see what was right under my nose! While nineteen has long since passed, the reading glasses are sitting on my face as I write, and they sure make a difference. These days, I can’t seem to back up far enough to focus anymore, and I have to have my lenses.
As I think about these glasses a real spiritual lesson is beginning to form in my mind. We are sort of hyperopic in a spiritual sense. We get so busy with “all things Adventisty”, that I’m afraid we miss the bigger picture of what it really means to be a Seventh-day Adventist Christian—and it’s right under our noses. What IS a Seventh-day Adventist? Who are we? Why are we here? What makes us different? Or are we just one among many denominations?
One of the springboards for these thoughts was a question someone asked me about a year ago: “Hasn’t there always been sin in the church?” I stood for a minute in total dismay as I stared at my questioner. We had been discussing the topic of overcoming sin and living a life of victory. (Many mistakenly call the belief in a life of victory “perfectionism”, though the correct descriptive is “perfection of moral character.” What is the difference? Perfectionism is a belief that, outside of Christ, one can live a life of purity and no longer sins and therefore no longer needs a Savior. This is a self-centered and legalistic philosophy not found in the Bible, but rather springs from Greek philosophy. Perfection of moral character, on the other hand, means that the individual not only surrenders entirely to Jesus, but maintains that surrender. Therefore Jesus lives in the heart and guides the thoughts, the words, and the actions—choice by choice, moment by moment— victorious over sin.)
Why was I in dismay as I looked at my questioner? Not only because it was a leader in the Seventh-day Adventist church who was asking, but because at that moment I realized just how dangerous that question really is. The answer is right under our noses, and THAT is why the Seventh-day Adventist church exists! WE hold the answer to that question, that problem, of sin in the church!! I want to back up together for a few minutes, put on the lenses of sacred history and prophecy, and FOCUS.
There are some unique things about us as a people. We go to church on Saturday, the Sabbath of the Bible (Hebrews 4:4, Eccl 12:13, etc.). We don’t believe that the soul is immortal. (Ps 115:17, 146:4; Ecccl. 9:5, Gen. 2:7, etc.). We believe in healthful living. (Eccl 10:17, 1 Cor 10:31, etc.). And while there is more, there are other faiths who believe these things as well. But what did we bring to the theological table that makes us different? The Sanctuary Message: Daniel 8:14. “And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” Most of us can, sketchily at least, rehearse the history of the “Great Disappointment.” Maybe we are embarrassed by the “cornfield Cleopas” vision of Hiram Edson regarding the true position of Jesus after 1844? Our brethren were trying to focus too near. Jesus was moving in heaven, not coming to earth. They needed to back up and focus! I believe we do too.
Psalm 77:13 tells us that God’s “…way is in the sanctuary.” God’s way of dealing with sin, of saving mankind, of maintaining the authority of His law; God’s way is in the sanctuary. Therefore, we must look up from our “Adventisty” ways, and refocus on what really makes us Seventh-day Adventists. We need to have our eyes lifted to where Jesus is now; to what Jesus is doing now. Daniel 8:14 tells us not only WHAT will happen in the sanctuary, but WHEN it will happen.
Consider this: “The subject of the sanctuary was the key which unlocked the mystery of the disappointment of 1844. It opened to view a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious, showing that God’s hand had directed the great Advent movement, and revealing present duty as it brought to light the position and work of his people. As the disciples of Jesus, after the terrible night of their anguish and disappointment, were “glad when they saw the Lord,” so did those now rejoice who had looked in faith for his second coming. They had expected Him to appear in glory to give reward to his servants. As their hopes were disappointed, they had lost sight of Jesus, and with Mary at the sepulcher they cried, “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” Now in the holy of holies they again beheld Him, their compassionate high priest, soon to appear as their king and deliverer. Light from the sanctuary illumed the past, the present, and the future. They knew that God had led them by his unerring providence.” Great Controversy, 1888, page 423.
My purpose here is not to give a thoroughgoing description of all of the prophecies and steps that brought the Seventh-day Adventist church into existence. Instead, my purpose is to help spur us to back up, look at the big picture of why we exist, and see, as the above passages says, what our “present duty” is in the light of the big picture—in the light of the sanctuary. What are we supposed to be doing? Where are we supposed to focus now, today? The passage above tells us: “in the holy of holies…” We need to have our eyes fixed there, in the holy of holies, where Jesus is now, for I am afraid in many ways we too have lost sight of Jesus!
In the typical services, when the high priest entered the most holy place on the Day of Atonement, what was the duty of the people? “And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you: For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.” Leviticus 16:29-30 (See also Acts 3:19).
Backing up a little further, we will briefly review the steps of the sanctuary: the guilty sinner brought his sacrifice (which represents Jesus) to the outer court, the sin was confessed upon the sacrifice, the victim was slain in place of the guilty. Next, the priest (also representing Jesus) presented the offering on the altar, ministered the blood in behalf of the guilty, and carried it into the holy place, where the sin was covered, kept until the yearly atonement. In this process, the sinner was released from his guilt, received a probationary life (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Romans 6), and returned to his home.
On the great Day of Atonement, the people were to gather around the sanctuary, fulfilling the passage above from Leviticus. The confessed and forsaken sin—and do note that the sin was forsaken!—was then blotted out from the Most Holy Place. It was transferred to the scapegoat, and the camp was clean. All of this represented in symbol the work of Jesus in reality (Hebrews 8&9).
I do realize that my description above is very brief, and it is that way for a reason. When you back up and focus you can see the bigger picture. And that’s exactly what I believe we need to see today. We need to see the bigger picture of why there is sin in the church, and what a shameful fact it is that there is still sin in the life and thereby in the church. We need to see the bigger picture of what our responsibility is in the light of this fact. We need to back up and focus on God’s solution to the problem of sin.
The sanctuary provides a clear picture of the plan of salvation. Jesus is our High Priest. We – and I’m speaking “Adventistese” here—are living in the antitypical Day of Atonement. Jesus is in the Most Holy Place. The purpose of the work of the high priest in the most holy place is to get sin—our sin—out of the sanctuary. How can that happen if WE keep sending sin into the sanctuary? Shameful question!
Backing up even further, it was Satan, while still in heaven, who declared that the law of God could not be kept. And if this were true, then all the present suffering in the world is God’s fault, and the devil and all of his followers really do need to be allowed into heaven!! And Jesus has to just keep forgiving and atoning ad infinitum. With Paul, I say, “GOD FORBID!”
Yes, there has always been sin in the church. And that is precisely why we exist as a people, and God is also counting on us to say with Paul, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Romans 6:2. We need to back up and focus! And until we do, the stupendous, time-ending truths with which we have been entrusted will remain blurry right under our noses! We need to put on our prophetic glasses, back up, and focus. And when we do, “By giving the gospel to the world it is in our power to hasten our Lord’s return.”–The Desire of Ages, p. 633
“It is the privilege of every Christian, not only to look for, but to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Were all who profess His name bearing fruit to His glory, how quickly the whole world would be sown with the seed of the gospel. Quickly the last harvest would be ripened, and Christ would come to gather the precious grain.”–Testimonies, vol. 8, pp. 22, 23