A strong case can be made that there are two centuries which were turning points in human history, as times which moved our world giant steps closer to the fulfillment of God’s plan in the great controversy.
The first is the sixth century B.C. During that century Confucius founded Confucianism. Gautama Buddha founded Buddhism. Lao-Tze founded Taoism. Mahavira founded Jainism. Zoroaster founded Zoroastrianism. All lived and taught at the same time. These men founded major religions that not only exist today, but have millions of followers, and all these men lived at the same time! Is this just a coincidence?
Who else lived then? Well, in the sixth century B.C. lived the prophet Daniel. He wrote the prophecy of the 2300 days, predicting the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. Part of this great overarching prophecy was the prophecy of the 70 weeks, pinpointing exactly the time of Christ’s first advent. Was this another coincidence? No! Satan knew that God was planning something big with Daniel, and he set major forces in motion to muddy the water and take the focus off of God’s plans to defeat him. History declares that Satan was all too successful in this.
The second focal moment in time is the first half of the nineteenth century A.D. In the first half of the nineteenth century the school of Tubingen emerged. It was the first revisionist theological school. Theologians started evaluating the validity of the New Testament and many denied the miracles of Jesus and the apostles. In 1844 Joseph Smith died, after having founded the Mormon Church. That year Bab Ali Mahomed gathered eighteen prophets, thus founding the Bahha’i religion. In 1848 the Fox sisters started communicating with the spirit world, giving birth to modern spiritualism. Mary Baker Eddy founded Christian Science. Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto in 1848. In 1844 Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation was published, a comprehensive view of the history of the universe, of life, and of human beings without any God in the picture. In 1844 Charles Darwin published his manuscript On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
The time around 1844 is full of activity in the religious and philosophical realms. Is this another huge coincidence? Or could it be that these two time frames in history have such overwhelming significance that someone was very busy in trying to obscure their true importance? As Daniel prophesied,the heavenly sanctuary must be cleansed. Remember the 2300 days? In 1844 Jesus started cleansing the sanctuary in heaven. This cleansing is much more than an investigative judgment. It is the cleansing of God’s name and government from the attacks made by Satan against Him. This is done partly by the investigative judgment, but more importantly, by preparing a final generation of human beings who will prove that Satan is lying when he claims that no sinful human beings can obey God’s law. Do you see why Satan brought so many false movements into existence at the same time?
Tolerance or Freedom?
We are now a century and a half later, and many are wondering if 1844 was really that important. Just remember, Satan thought it was very important, and every passing year provides more evidence that Daniel was right.
For example, the First Amendment Center defines religious liberty as "full freedom of conscience for people of all faiths or no faith...a natural or inalienable right that must always be beyond the power of the state to confer or remove...the right to freely practice any religion or no religion without government coercion or control."
Of recent concern is the use by the president of the terms "religious tolerance" and "freedom of worship," instead of the long-familiar "religious freedom" and "freedom of conscience." The latter freedoms are guaranteed by the First Amendment; the new terms suggest a restriction or limitation of those long-held rights. By assuming that the state has the authority to determine which religions should be "tolerated" and which not, it overrides the divine principle of free will, places the state above God, and ultimately gives the state final authority over conscience. It is a far cry from a legislated acknowledgement of each individual’s right to believe as his conscience leads.
This may well be announcing to the perceptive reader that the United States is preparing to take a major step in fulfilling its role as the second beast of Revelation 13 in the final stages of earth’s history. "Freedom of worship" specifically excludes the right to raise your children in your faith, the right to have religious literature, and the right to evangelize. Sharing your faith with a hope to win others to it can be seen as an effort to denigrate other faith systems, as daring to think one’s own faith to be superior, instead of all faiths being equally effective for salvation. To obey when "tolerance" is the mass mindset is to attract enmity and persecution to oneself. It is interesting that those who preach "tolerance" are tolerant only while religious "freedom" is restricted. Tolerance and religious liberty cannot coexist together. In 1529 the German princes assembled at the Diet of Spires and made their famous pronouncement, "In matters of conscience the majority has no power."
Christ’s Soon Return
One issue is still very foggy in the minds of many Adventists. What determines the time of Christ’s return? In his book The Delay, Marvin Moore writes, "Paul said that ‘when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son.’ We can be sure that when the time has fully come again, God will send Jesus back to take us home."
How does that belief fit with these statements? "I know that if the people of God had preserved a living connection with Him, if they had obeyed His Word, they would today be in the heavenly Canaan." (Ev 694) "Had the purpose of God been carried out by His people...Christ would, ere this, have come." (6T 450) The reality is that we are still here because of disobedience. The delay will end when we become fully obedient, as the following statement makes very clear. "Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own." (COL 69) The last set time was 1844. Now the time is up to us.
But the truth is, we might not welcome the idea of Christ’s soon return, because of the time of trouble that precedes it. One pastor writes, "I sometimes wished that Jesus would not come in my generation so I would not have to face the time of trouble." Often we compare our little inch of faith against the miles of difficulty that await us.
But we have some special promises. "We are not to have the courage and fortitude of martyrs of old until brought into the position they were in....Should there be a return of persecution there would be grace given to arouse every energy of the soul to show a true heroism." (OHC 125) There will be "a special bestowal of spiritual grace...promised to prepare the church for the coming of the Son of man." (GAG 220) The "latter rain...revives and strengthens [God’s people] to pass through the time of trouble." (LDE 201) Filled with the Holy Spirit, we shall be able to face now dreaded agonies. In human impossibility lies God’s opportunity to perform miracles.
"I saw that our bread and water will be sure at that time, and that we shall not lack or suffer hunger; for God is able to spread a table for us in the wilderness." (EW 56) "Angels will come to [God’s children] in lonely cells, bringing light and peace from heaven. The prison will be as a palace;...and the gloomy walls will be lighted up with heavenly light as when Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises at midnight in the Philippian dungeon." (GC 627) Wonderful assurance is given that once all human destinies have been defined, none of those who have sided with Him will die, whether from illness, or from accident while escaping, or from murder, whether they are in prisons, or in caves, or elsewhere, as promised in GC 629.
As Seventh-day Adventists we look forward to the day when Jesus returns. We think about it. We dream of it. We picture ourselves standing there, ready to be taken to where we really belong. We yearn to be there, in the spotlight, as the eyewitnesses of one of the greatest events in human history. Be that as it may, there is something more important today for us than being alive to see Jesus return. Our greatest risk is that we pass through this life without committing to anything worthwhile, contenting ourselves with just making it to the next morning. Our greatest risk is in being dead while alive.
Our Personal Great Controversy
I want to focus our minds on what is happening today, right now, in our spiritual lives. This, not Sunday laws or persecution, will determine if we will greet Jesus with joy or despair. To this end, I want to go back to near the beginning of the whole sorry mess of sin that we must live in every day of our lives.
It was a day like no other. Satan appeared before the throne of God. With a mocking smile on his face and a look full of contempt for the rest of God’s angels, he approached slowly, as if every one of his steps was a challenge to God’s authority. Instead of resembling the fugitive who had been expelled from heaven, he had the look of a prince who still retained his royal bearing. Finally, he stood before God, and spoke with a triumphant air, "You keep requiring everyone to give You worship." "What are you doing here?" asked God. "I just arrived from going to and fro on Earth, where I am ruler and lord," answered Satan. "Everyone gives me honor down there." God responded, "But have you considered my servant Job? I am positive he has never given you credit as the ruler." Satan retorted, "You do nothing but make him prosper in all his endeavors. Take Your blessings away, and You will see how he turns his back on You. Did You think for a moment they love You for nothing?" God answered, "OK, Satan, I will let you intervene in his affairs, but you are not to touch his physical life." A malicious smile showed on Satan’s face as he left the heavenly courts in a haste to get his demon gang working.
Overnight Job lost his sons and daughters, his possessions, and his social standing. Puzzled, dazed, and with no explanation to account for such a turn of events, Job nevertheless kept silent. Before making hasty judgments, he uttered, "Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21)
Clearly annoyed, Satan walks up once more to the presence of God. "I am back," he says haughtily. "This is not over yet. It’s all give and take. A person is willing to do without anything, as long as he saves his skin." God replies, "OK, Satan, you may touch his body with disease, but you will not kill him." "You will see," shouts Satan triumphantly. "Disease will make him disown Your name."
Once more, heaven is immersed in great uncertainty, as every angel waits to see whether human beings are able to trust God even in the midst of sickness and direct hits to their bodies. Alone, bankrupt, childless, and sick, he is subjected to the cold gossip of people around him. When it seems the situation can get no worse, his wife explodes in a bitter complaint, "Are you still trying to be perfect? Curse God and die!" The conclusion of these attacks is quite moving. "What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips." (Job 2:10)
The angels of God’s court who looked on at the drama between their Lord and His archenemy during Job’s trial are also looking on at the drama as it continues among us. They recall, with awe and admiration, Job’s willingness to die faithful. They look on with anxiety as we waver before the prospect of illness, social dislocation, or financial loss. But we do not have to understand to be faithful. Whether or not we understand, we may know that our heavenly Father is in control of our most excruciating experiences, and that despite all the fiery darts of the enemy, our life is hid with Christ in God. The hand that took the nails at the cross for us is surely a hand we can trust, and a hand to which we can be faithful. If He bore all He did for us, what is it then if we bear a little for Him?
But let us go back even farther. What inspired Adam and Eve to prefer allergies, skinned knees, and family fights, or any of the other miseries of the present world, over hanging out in Jesus’ company in an unfading garden? When the smart voice of Genesis 3 proposed to Eve a new way of relating to the reality around her, it seemed not unreasonable to test it. Trees weren’t really what she thought they were, and fruit wasn’t really what she thought it was. God wasn’t really who she thought He was. And she wasn’t really seeing all there was to see. Nature began to look different to the woman. She could test now, for he was eating before her eyes and coming up with remarkable findings. He could assure her that she, "by partaking of this tree,...would attain to a more exalted sphere of existence and enter a broader field of knowledge. He himself...had acquired the power of speech" by partaking. (PP 54) She found it credible. She believed him. She shared his findings, now hers as well, with her husband. He followed her lead. As simply as that, they had become losers. And just as everything before had been paradise, now everything was hell.
This is perplexing proof that you can violate reality just by thinking wrong. All the devil did to bring us to this mess was to share some ideas. Nothing is wrong with thinking about things. We think we can think whatever we want. Nobody sues me for thinking I’d like to have somebody else’s yard, or car, or daughter, or husband. We wonder, what did I do wrong when I thought my thought? The answer is, you listened to the father of losers. And he got your mind, as he got Eve’s. She became a loser by giving credibility to the loser. He told her she could think some other way than God’s way. "You’re making progress," he lied to Eve. "You’re getting more. You’ll end up with divinity. Don’t you want to be like me?" Yes, thought Eve, I want to be like you. And so she became a loser too.
The loser says, "Get this fruit and you’ll be fine. Get the thing you don’t have, and you’ll be OK. Get the scholarship. Get the degree. Get the job. Get the man or the woman. Get the property. Get the promotions, the fame, the prestige, the lakeside cottage, the cruise, and the retirement parachute, and finally, the grand funeral." "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36)
Sin, it turns out, is not just our bad actions against God’s holy standards. Sin is, in its simplest form, humans acting on their own, according to their own judgment, establishing their own standards. It is not just an opposition to the things of God, but even worse, a functioning through all matters of life with no concern for God. God wants us to break the "fast food" habit we have developed in our decisions concerning Him and His leadership in our lives. Rather than grab and go, He wants us to take the time to address Him and wait for His response. The devil is deeply opposed to that journey. He is bent on destroying the privilege and joy of it. He will do it by asking us, "What did God actually say?" The woman ate the fruit because she really did think it would make her like God, thus making their relationship even closer. The tragedy is that it is possible to worship in God’s very presence without even recognizing how far I am off the road of His will. Are all my decisions led by God and God alone?
Few people feel so miserable as to describe themselves as a wretch. Perhaps the most famous use of this noun is by John Newton in his classic hymn "Amazing Grace." Reflecting on his participation in the slave trade, after his conversion to Christianity, Newton penned the words, "Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!" Another use of wretch is in Romans 7. "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death." "I am carnal, sold under sin." "...bringing me into captivity to the law of sin." (vss. 24, 14, 23) The man of Romans 7 is under the dominion of sin and under its condemnation. He represents those who know the law, have a keen awareness of their guilt, and desire to conform to the law, but are depending on their own knowledge and efforts and willpower.
Understanding sinfulness for what it is is more than just relating to Christ and then stopping. It’s learning of Him, about God, and ourselves. Conversion isn’t turning from the law to Christ, for they are not opposed to each other, but turning from oneself to Christ. Sin, at is most basic, is depending on self—our knowledge, our desires, our abilities, and our efforts for salvation.
In a recent college week of prayer, the speaker said, "We’re going to pray right now. And some of you are on laptops or reading books. Close them, or walk out the door—but don’t dis[respect] my God. Lots of you say you’re Christians, but really, you’re just a fan of Christianity. If you want to follow God, you need to be a bondservant of Christ."
If we truly want to be a bondservants of Christ, we can learn from the experience of John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress. He gained a reputation as being the most blasphemous and unholy of all the youth in his city. Not until a loose woman of the street blasted him strongly on his terrible corrupting influence on the youth around him did he begin to review his life of crime and unholy living with some sense of shame. Bunyan began attending church and then experienced a most decisive episode. Bunyan heard a mysterious voice say to him, "Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell?" Bunyan became convicted about living a righteous life and attempted, through strict obedience to church form and ceremony, to change. He made a complete turnabout in his life, but, not knowing Christ personally and having no real remorse for sin, he became proud of his accomplishments.
One day he happened upon four poor street women. They were talking to one another about the new birth, the work of God on the human heart, and their own state of sinfulness. They also shared how the love of God, through Jesus Christ, refreshed their souls and how Bible promises protected them against the sinful temptations of the devil. Bunyan was convicted that these poor ladies had something for which he had been longing. He had never considered the ideas of new birth, regeneration, and living the inward life of grace. After several months of despondency, he asked these poor women for help. They sent the Puritan pastor Gifford to visit him. In church one day, Bunyan heard the statement, "My grace is sufficient for thee." With great power these words broke upon him. It brought peace to Bunyan’s heart as Gifford aided him in finding a living relationship with his Savior. Much of Pilgrim’s Progress parallels Bunyan’s own intense search for spiritual things and a meaningful relationship with God.
Prayer and Providence
If we are serious about having a meaningful relationship with God, one thing is essential. We must believe in the power of prayer, and know that God hears every appeal for help, and that He answers our appeals. Divine strength comes from prayer. "I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live....Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful." (Ps. 116:1,2,5)
I recently came across a story that seems improbable, but then the Bible does say that with God all things are possible.
"Dad had been a lumberjack. Four days after his sixty-seventh birthday, he had a heart attack. He was lucky; he survived. But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. He obstinately refused to follow doctor’s orders. I asked Dad to come live with us on our small farm. We hoped the fresh air and rustic atmosphere would help him adjust. Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation. It seemed nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did.
"I sat down with the phone book and methodically called each of the mental health clinics listed in the Yellow Pages. Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, ‘I just read something that might help you. Let me go get the article.’ I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes had improved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.
"I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon. As I neared the last pen a dog in the shadows of the far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front of the run and sat down. It was a pointer. Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hipbones jutted out in lopsided triangles. But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly. The officer said, ‘He’s a funny one. He appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of the gate. We brought him in, figuring that someone would be right down to claim him. That was two weeks ago and we’ve heard nothing. His time is up tomorrow.’ ‘I’ll take him,’ I said.
"‘Look what I got for you, Dad!’ I said excitedly. Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust. ‘I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Keep it! I don’t want it.’ We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when suddenly the pointer pulled free from my grasp. He wobbled toward my dad and sat down in front of him. Then slowly, carefully, he raised his paw. Confusion replaced the anger in Dad’s eyes. The pointer waited patiently. Then Dad was on his knees hugging the animal. It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. Dad named the pointer Cheyenne.
"Together he and Cheyenne spent long hours walking down dusty lanes. They even started to attend Sabbath services together, Dad sitting in a pew and Cheyenne lying quietly at his feet. Dad and Cheyenne were inseparable throughout the next three years. Dad’s bitterness faded. Then late one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne’s cold nose burrowing through our bedcovers. He had never before come into our bedroom at night. I ran into my father’s room. Dad had quietly gone to sleep in Jesus. Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered Cheyenne lying dead beside Dad’s bed. I silently thanked the dog for the help he had given me in restoring Dad’s peace of mind.
"The past dropped into place, completing a puzzle that I had not seen before: the sympathetic voice that had just read the right article; Cheyenne’s unexpected appearance at the animal shelter; his calm acceptance and complete devotion to my father; and the proximity of their deaths. And suddenly I understood. I knew that God had answered my prayers after all."
Does God care about our needs? Can we trust His love? Satan and sin are the ultimate lies. Let us make a promise to trust God no matter what, to never doubt His love, and to never question His wisdom. God will take us through to victory if we keep our confidence strong to the very end.