Preparing for Change
“Righteousness will go before Him, and shall make His footsteps our pathway" (Psalm 85:13, NKJV).
We spent last quarter delving into the book of Revelation: reviewing the history of God's people over the past two thousand years, examining prophecies that were fulfilled in the past, and studying things yet to come. Revelation contains the heartbeat of the Seventh-day Adventist message. The three angels' messages of Revelation 14 followed by the final fourth angel's message of Revelation 18 direct us to our unique call as Adventists, to proclaim the everlasting gospel to those who dwell on the earth, and to embrace the final "Loud Cry" message of Revelation 18, which will culminate in the complete overthrow of Babylon, the earthly apostate church system which epitomizes Satan's self-exalting character. These are thrilling themes!
This quarter our lessons have seemingly pivoted 180 degrees. Instead of studying the great prophecies of Daniel or Revelation, we are now contemplating the seasons of life. What a contrast! In rapid succession our lesson this week, titled "Preparing for Change," guides us through the major life changes. A scant page is devoted to each theme. Sunday's lesson discusses changes brought about by our own actions. Monday's lesson covers preparation for marriage; Tuesday, preparation for parenting; Wednesday, preparation for old age; and Friday, preparation for death. We could certainly add other life experiences to the list (as was alluded to on Sunday): preparation for starting school, moving to a new community, selling a home, etc. But there's another item that could've been given a page in the lesson this week: Preparing for translation! And it is that topic to which I would like to turn for the remainder of this Sabbath School Insights.
If you search "translation" on the EGW app, you will find a consistent theme. The early Adventists were focused on preparing for translation. For example: "God is leading out a people who are peculiar. He will purify them, He will cleanse them, and fit them for translation" (RH, Jan. 19, 1864).
"While the eyes of the righteous are fixed upon the heavenly, priceless treasure, they will be more and more like Christ, and will be transformed, and fitted for translation" (RH May 20, 1882).
The Seventh-day Adventist movement was started by a group of young people who believed fervently, with all their hearts, that Jesus was coming soon, within their lifetime. Some put off decisions to marry or have children, believing time was short. They expected to be translated. Who among them imagined growing old? But after 40 years of believing in the soon coming of Jesus, the faith of some had grown faint; heads had turned gray; not a few, including James White, were laid to rest.
Spiritually, this beloved movement had become as lifeless as the bones in Ezekiel's vision, "as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain" (RH, March 11, 1890).
This past winter I had opportunity to visit Adventist Historic Village in Battle Creek, Michigan. We toured the homes and meeting places of the advent pioneers on a cold, rainy Sabbath afternoon. Seated on wooden plank pews, we sang early advent hymns accompanied by an old pump organ. That experience, along with docents dressed in period clothing, helped to create a nostalgic sense of being back in time. To our modern minds, distracted by emails, texts, calls, and worries, it seems those were the good old days.
But history tells another story. "Had Adventists, after the great disappointment of 1844, held fast their faith and followed on unitedly in the opening providence of God, receiving the message of the third angel and in the power of the Holy Spirit proclaiming it to the world, they would have seen the salvation of God, the Lord would have wrought mightily with their efforts, the work would have been completed, and Christ would have come ere this to receive His people to their reward. But in the period of doubt and uncertainty that followed the disappointment, many of the advent believers yielded their faith. . . . Thus the work was hindered, and the world was left in darkness. Had the whole Adventist body united upon the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, how widely different would have been our history!
"It was not the will of God that the coming of Christ should be thus delayed. God did not design that His people, Israel, should wander forty years in the wilderness. He promised to lead them directly to the land of Canaan, and establish them there a holy, healthy, happy people. But those to whom it was first preached, went not in 'because of unbelief.' Their hearts were filled with murmuring, rebellion, and hatred, and He could not fulfill His covenant with them.
"For forty years did unbelief, murmuring, and rebellion shut out ancient Israel from the land of Canaan. The same sins have delayed the entrance of modern Israel into the heavenly Canaan. In neither case were the promises of God at fault. It is the unbelief, the worldliness, unconsecration, and strife among the Lord's professed people that have kept us in this world of sin and sorrow so many years" (Ev. pp. 695-696, originally written Manuscript 4, 1883).
Generation after generation has gone to the grave. We now have a whole quarter of lessons devoted to the seasons of life. Don't get me wrong. We need to be cognizant of these life stages. The decades pass all too quickly. All too soon, we are preparing for old age.
We are beyond disappointed.
Slowly, imperceptibly, but surely, Adventism has apparently lost sight of the goal of translation. With so many generations of advent believers now resting in their graves, what are the prospects for us? Like the Israelites of old, we have become accustomed to our wilderness wanderings. Dying before we reach our heavenly Canaan home has come to be the expected order of the day. We are saving for retirement. Then what? For some, agonizing months or years of struggling with terminal disease, debility and senility precedes our final steps to the grave. And somehow, we've come to accept this as our new normal.
I don't know about you, but I would like to see the cycle stopped. My parents are old. Their remaining days on earth are few. They will pass, then it's my turn.
We are familiar with the commission: "This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14, ESV).
We have been doing evangelism for many years. But 130 years ago, we find that the Lord "in His mercy" sent a most precious message of Jesus Christ and His righteousness to enliven our church with the love of Jesus. Without Jesus, we had succumbed to formalism and a rigid adherence to lifeless doctrines. The green tree turned brown. The bones dried up. The grass withered. We needed that most precious message which the Lord "in His mercy" sent through Brothers Jones and Waggoner to replant the gospel seed of Jesus and His love in our hearts. While the hearts of some were warmed, others resisted.
"An unwillingness to yield up preconceived opinions, and to accept this truth [of Christ and His righteousness], lay at the foundation of a large share of the opposition manifested at Minneapolis against the Lord's message through Brethren Waggoner and Jones. By exciting that opposition, Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longed to impart to them. The enemy prevented them from obtaining that efficiency which might have been theirs in carrying the truth to the world, as the apostles proclaimed it after the day of Pentecost. The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world (Ellen White to Uriah Smith, Letter 96, June 5, 1896, 1888 Materials, p. 1575).
Let's take stock of our situation in light of what has gone before. The message of Christ our righteousness which God sent to our church through His messengers was for the purpose of preparing us for translation. There is no other message that will do this, for the message of His righteousness strips us bare of our own filthy garments. We can't go through the final time of trouble depending partly on God and partly on ourselves.
A colloquial definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way, over and over, and expecting a different result.
If we want Jesus to come, we need to do something different. We need to go back to our history and discover the most precious message God sent to prepare a people for translation. Not any gospel, but a particular gospel is needed. When "this gospel of the kingdom" is preached in all the world, Jesus will come. The earth will be lightened with the glory of the fourth angel. Jesus will come because this message has done its work. We don't just need it intellectually; we need it to settle in our hearts and give us a passion for souls. The love of Christ will drive out the selfishness in our hearts if we permit it. It will infuse us with a desire to share the last message of love and mercy with our dying world so Jesus can come, and the seasons of life can transition to the earth made new where there will be no more sickness, pain, tears, disease, and death.
Please join me in praying for that day and making the study of this most precious message a priority in our lives.