The Last Piece of the Puzzle

THE LAST PIECE OF THE PUZZLE

Dennis Priebe

Do you know what life is really like for those who eliminate God from their worldview, and then stop to think about their future? A philosopher at Oxford, who had been a member of Parliament, was a well known author. By his own admission, his life had been great. One slight problem, however. "In the middle of it all I was overwhelmed, almost literally so, by a sense of mortality. The realization hit me like a demolition crane that I was inevitably going to die...Death, my death, the literal destruction of me, was totally inevitable, and had been from the very instant of my conception. Nothing that I could ever do, now or at any other time, could make any difference to that, nor could it ever have done so at any moment of my life...In the eye of eternity a human life span is barely a flicker. Death will be upon us before we know where we are; and once we are dead it will be forever. What can anything I do mean or matter to me when I have gone down into complete nothingness for the rest of eternity? What can it matter to anyone else, either, when they too are eternally nothing? If the void is the permanent destination of all of us, all value and all significance are merely pretended for the purpose of carrying on our little human game, like children dressing up."

He wrote eloquently about his struggle with meaninglessness, the realization that no matter what he did or all the success he had, whether he wrote great books or became foreign secretary, whether he married or not, or whether he failed at everything he did, "none of it would make the slightest difference to me or to anyone else when all of us were nothing, as everyone was going to be, including everyone not yet born; that it could therefore make no difference when I died, and would have made no difference if I had never been born; that I was in any event going to be for all eternity what I would have been if I had never been born; that there was no meaning in any of it, no point in any of it; and that in the end everything was nothing." In his book, Confessions of a Philosopher, he wrote that after all these years of seeking, "I am as baffled now by the larger metaphysical questions of my existence as I was when I was a child—indeed more so, because my understanding of the depths and difficulties of the questions themselves is now so much greater."

Most people try to ignore this reality by not thinking about it, but without God, this is the only reality there is. Unless you can answer the problem of death, you have no answer to the problem of life. Death ruins everything. It is the great neutralizer, the great destroyer.

Cliff Goldstein relates a personal illustration of this dilemma. "Last year, in front of students at a secular college in California, I spoke about the existence of God. I said, 'You know, when I was about the age of most of you, and not believing in God, when something convicted me every now and then, that maybe God did exist, I always pushed the notion out of my mind. Why? Because something told me that if, indeed, God did exist, then—considering how I was living—I was in deep trouble.' The mood shifted instantly. Dozens of consciences, in sync, started grinding against themselves. It was almost as if the temperature in the room rose from the friction behind all these suddenly uncomfortable faces." Every now and then conscience comes alive, and we are forced to think for just a moment.

An atheist wrote, "I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that." What an amazingly honest admission. You see, God automatically comes with moral implications. If God exists, there's a transcendent moral power whom you will have to answer to, which is a frightening prospect for those who, even without a knowledge of God's law, nevertheless sense that they are not living right. This is the real reason that evolution is so popular, because it offers a temporary escape from a nagging conscience.

Paul wrote about such people. "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." (Romans 1:20-22)

Are you thankful that you don't have to write or speak what we have just read? Are you thankful that we have a reasonable and logical solution to the horrible thought that life is meaningless? "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:1,2) I am covered by the righteousness of Jesus, the only righteousness good enough to take away my guilt. We know a guilty conscience when it simmers inside us. That guilt should drive us to Him, to the foot of the cross, when we can fall before our crucified God and claim His grace as our only hope.

So let us spend a little time reflecting on the One who gives us hope when things seem hopeless, who provides the way out from meaninglessness.

The Son of Man Forever

We can only marvel at what we know about our faith. The Creator, the One greater than the universe, became the lowest of the low and died the sinner's death in order that no sinners would have to face that death themselves. The One who is equal with God, the One who is God, the One who is the highest and most exalted in all creation, becomes at the cross the lowest, even a curse for us, in order that we would never have to face that curse ourselves. Paul wrote about Christ "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Philippians 2:6-8)

Ellen White promises that "in Christ we become more closely united to God than if we had never fallen. In taking our nature, the Savior has bound Himself to humanity by a tie that is never to be broken. Through the eternal ages He is linked with us...God has adopted human nature in the person of His Son, and has carried the same into the highest heaven. It is the 'Son of man' who shares the throne of the universe." (DA 25) Not only did the Lord take upon Himself humanity, but He will retain that humanity forever; humanity, in the person of Christ, will share the throne of the universe for eternity.

Numerous times while here in the flesh, Jesus referred to Himself as the "Son of man," a clear reference to His humanity and His ties to the human family. He had to become human in order to be our substitute and example. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted." (Hebrews 2:14-18)

Not only did Jesus take upon Himself human nature, He needs that nature to be a "merciful and faithful high priest" in heaven. The humanity of Christ is the bond through which He has linked Himself with us, a link that He kept long after His work on earth had finished, a link that's crucial to the work He's doing for us in heaven as our high priest. "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 2:5) The man Christ Jesus, though still divine, retains the humanity that He first took upon Himself when He was born into this world. This humanity will never leave Him. The Bible gives us powerful reasons to believe that Christ is "forever to retain His human nature," the nature that He took with Him to heaven after His work on earth was done.

Ellen White writes about the end of sin, "One reminder alone remains: Our Redeemer will ever bear the marks of His crucifixion. Upon His wounded head, upon His side, His hands and feet, are the only traces of the cruel work that sin has wrought...And the tokens of His humiliation are His highest honor; through the eternal ages the wounds of Calvary will show forth His praise and declare His power." (GC 674)

Now let us look back to the time of His incarnation. What does His humanity mean for us?

How Much Like Us?

We struggle with our emotions, our failures, with discouragement, and the strong pulls to our lower nature. But Jesus—does He really understand? How much was He like me?

On one occasion Jesus found a man in a synagogue with a withered hand, and the Jews watched Him closely, knowing that He was likely going to break their Sabbath laws. "And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him." This is not an outburst of temper, but legitimate anger at their hypocrisy in upholding their traditions while plotting to kill Him.

Notice also His grief for their willful blindness and their murderous hatred.

When Jesus went with three of His disciples deeper into Gethsemane, He "began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me." (Matthew 26:37,38) None of us have any idea of the discouragement that regularly pressed upon the mind of Jesus, and especially so at this time of crisis. "They (the disciples) had frequently seen Him depressed." (3 SP 94) Given the solitary life and mission of Jesus, this humanness of Jesus is easily understood.

When Jesus gathered with His disciples at their last supper "he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me." (John 13:21) This is the same emotion that the disciples felt when they saw Jesus walking on the water. Herod felt this emotion when the wise man asked about the newborn king. The word means anxiety or uncertainty or fear. We need to remember that Jesus did not know what the future had in store for Him, except as some details about the future were revealed to Him by the Father. Jesus felt the same anxiety and uncertainty that we feel when things are not working out as we had hoped.

The following statements are revealing and very amazing as they show us how very human Jesus really was,and how closely His struggles mirrored our struggles. I will simply list the statements without comment.

"He had all the strength of passion of humanity." (IHP 155)

"He blessed children that were possessed of passions like His own." (ST April 9, 1896)

"The Son of God...wrestled with the very same fierce, apparently overwhelming temptations that assail
men." (1 SM 95)

"He knows how strong are the inclinations of the natural heart." (5 T 177)

"He knows by experience what are the weaknesses of humanity,...and where lies the strength of our
temptations." (MH 71)

In a letter to her eighteen-year-old nephew, "Jesus once stood in age just where you now stand....He is acquainted with your temptations....His mind, like yours, could be harassed and perplexed....You have not a difficulty that did not press with equal weight upon Him....His feelings could be hurt with neglect, with indifference of professed friends, as easily as yours." (OHC 57-59)

Do we fully realize how fully human Jesus was and how well He knows our struggles and temptations? "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:15,16) We can come boldly to God's throne because Jesus is there and he really understands our struggles.

The Second Death Experience

After thirty-three years of experiencing our human reality, Jesus comes to the most difficult moment of His entire eternal existence. "And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." ( Matthew 26:39) What is the meaning of this prayer that He prayed three times? What cup is He deathly afraid of?

"Some have limited views of the atonement. They think that Christ suffered only a small portion of the penalty of the law of God; they suppose that, while the wrath of God was felt by His dear Son, He had, through all His painful sufferings, the evidence of His Father's love and acceptance; that the portals of the tomb before Him were illuminated with bright hope, and that He had the abiding evidence of His future glory. Here is a great mistake." (2 T 214)

The ultimate fate of the lost is the second death. The horror arises from the all-consuming realization that they are about to cease to exist. Their suffering includes agonizing, unrelenting thoughts of how their sins have brought them to this place. They are consumed with intolerable feelings of unrelenting desolation,
knowing they are lost forever and can do nothing to stop their destruction. There is no one who can come to their aid or stop the carrying out of the sentence. They know they are going to die alone and cease to exist, forever. This unimaginable experience was the price paid for our salvation.

"The Savior could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father's acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish that the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father's wrath upon Him as the sinner's substitute that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God....The withdrawal of the Father's countenance from the Savior in this hour of supreme anguish pierced His heart with a sorrow that can never be fully understood by man. So great was this agony that His physical pain was hardly felt." (DA 753)

It was this separation struggle that forced this cry from the dying Savior, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) We read that "doubts rent His soul in regard to His oneness with His Father." (ST August 14, 1879) This is the Son of God/Son of man questioning if He will ever see His Father again. His anxiety, His uncertainty is real because He is going through the experience of the second death. He is dying the quality of the second death in which all hope is gone.

Our Savior chose death, even eternal death, over life without us. Christ loved us enough to die forever if that was necessary. This is the cup that Christ was afraid to drink.

Where Was the Father?

Another aspect that is not fully appreciated is the question, Where was the Father during this experience?

"In the darkest hour, when Christ was enduring the greatest suffering that Satan could bring to torture His humanity, His Father hid from Him His face of love, comfort, and pity. In this trial His heart broke." (12 MR 407) During those dark afternoon hours, the Father was at His Son's side, but because of the covenant they had made together in eternity past, the Father must hide His presence during Jesus' suffering. He must not reach out to Jesus, for the salvation of the human race was dependent on His control at that moment. He must exert infinite, Godly restraint, to control His infinite, Godly desire, to help His frightened, suffering and dying Son, with whom He has shared eternity past. Jesus must have no awareness of the Father's presence, nor the eternal bond of love that had always been between them, because Jesus was dying the death of the sinner, with no hope or help.

The divine love of the Father for you and me restrained the overwhelming impulse to reach out and hold Jesus in His arms and assure Jesus that He was with His Son at that time, Jesus' greatest hour of need. God couldn't, He wouldn't, for if He did we all would have been lost. Oh, what pain the infinite heart of the Father must have endured, watching His innocent, beloved Son fear that He had been abandoned and left alone. How the Father withheld His divine embrace will be the study of the redeemed for endless ages of eternity.

We sometimes forget that the atonement is the suffering of the Godhead. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were purchasing our redemption. There was only one time in all eternity that there was a "sundering" of the Godhead. Only once was the everlasting bond among them severed. Only once was one of the eternal Trio forced to experience the total abandonment and separation from the others—a separation that literally broke the heart of the Son of God.

"It was necessary for the awful darkness to gather about His soul because of the withdrawal of the Father's love and favor; for He was standing in the sinner's place, and this darkness every sinner must experience...The heart of God yearned with greatest sorrow when His Son, the guiltless, was suffering the penalty of sin. This sundering of the divine powers will never again occur throughout the eternal ages." (Ms. 93, 1899)

Remember, throughout this experience, Jesus had choices to make. He did not save Himself, even when He feared that He was lost forever. He knew He could call out, "Enough; let the sinful race perish," and every angel in heaven would come to His rescue. But if Jesus would have come down from the cross to save Himself, the human race would be lost. As He hung on the cross, Satan continued to tempt Him, hurling at Him discouraging thoughts, such as: there are so few who will take advantage of your sacrifice; it's not worth all the suffering; no one cares; you are wasting your life for people who don't love you; they are an unthankful race of evil people; let them perish; come down from the cross and save yourself.

The emotional pain the Son of God endured from the sense of His Father's frown, from the filthiness and shame of the sins of the world having been laid on His shoulders, from the anguish of a soul in the absence of mercy and unable to sense His Father's presence—all these broke the heart of the Son of God. Simply, He chose death over life without us. He didn't want to be God if we couldn't be with Him. God chose not to exist forever if that is what it would take so we could live forever. Do you see why the trial of the cross was the greatest victory the universe has ever witnessed, or ever will? Jesus' death was the victory of faith. Through the darkest hours of the cross, Jesus had to rely on His previous knowledge of the Father. It was this that sustained Him as He endured the sense of God's disapproval and separation.

"Amid the awful darkness, apparently forsaken of God, Christ had drained the last dregs in the cup of human woe. In those dreadful hours, He had relied upon the evidence of His Father's acceptance heretofore given Him. He was acquainted with the character of His Father; He understood His justice, His mercy, and His great love. By faith He rested in Him whom it had ever been His joy to obey. And as in submission He committed Himself to God, the sense of the loss of His Father's favor was withdrawn. By faith, Christ was victor." (DA 756)

The Song of Moses and the Lamb

One more aspect needs to be considered. "And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb." (Revelation 15:2,3) What is this song?

After their terrible sin of the golden calf, God threatened to destroy Israel, and start over with Moses. "Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation." (Exodus 32:10) But Moses pled with God not to give the heathen nations an excuse to misrepresent God's character of love and mercy. "And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written." (Exodus 32:31,32) Moses actually asked for eternal death if God's character would be discredited and His plan ruined.

Moses and Christ share one thing in common—eternal death was preferable to the failure of God's plan of redemption. The song of Moses and the Lamb means that for the last generation, the remnant, what is important is not their eternal life, their hope of heaven, but the vindication of God's name and the success of the plan of redemption.

Do you see how this changes everything in our religious experience? No longer is our focus on being forgiven so we can have the assurance of personal salvation. Our reason for existence, for being Seventh-day Adventists, is to complete God's plan of redemption, to vindicate His name and character by disproving Satan's last accusation against God's plan. Satan says that sinners with fallen natures cannot obey God 100% of the time, that the gospel does not have that power.

Our motivation for resisting temptation and overcoming sin is not our hope for heaven or our fear of hell. We are not making daily decisions and asking questions about what is right or wrong because of our desire to be saved. Our motivation for being the remnant and keeping God's commandments is to be the last piece in the picture puzzle of God's plan of redemption, to be the final argument in the courtroom drama which has been going on for 6,000 years, proving that Satan is lying and his way doesn't work.

Our decisions about what is right and what is wrong, both individually and corporately, as a church, will not be based on what is allowable because of God's mercy and our hardness of heart, but on what will prove God right and Satan wrong. No longer will we ask what we can do and still be saved. Our only desire will be to vindicate God's name. We will abandon forever looking for the minimum necessary to be saved. We now want to know and do whatever will honor God.

After the close of probation, we will have fear and anxiety, not about our own salvation, but we will fear that we are misrepresenting God in some way. When we come to the point that we would rather be blotted out of the book of life and go into eternal nonexistence than to tarnish the name of God in any way, then we will be learning the song of Moses and the Lamb, a song which no other generation of God's people have ever or will ever learn, the song of the 144,000 who follow the Lamb exclusively, with no more forays into Satan's land, either knowingly or unknowingly.

My only fervent hope and wish is that this generation, here and now, will learn that song and complete God's salvation puzzle, with no more loose ends or pieces that don't fit.