Topical Sermon for Adventist Heritage Sabbath
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 10/24/2020
©2020 by Maylan Schurch
(To watch or listen to the YouTube version of our worship service, click the link just below. The sermon starts at the 1:13:00 mark.)
Please open your Bibles to Genesis chapter 3.
One of my favorite books in my library at home is Mead’s Handbook of Denominations in the United States. In fact, over the last two or three years, I read it through from front to back, a bit at a time. Even though I don’t have a lot of background on why each individual group separated from a larger mainline church, there are a lot of them that did.
What seems to have happened in the large majority of cases was that a small group within a larger group discovered a Bible teaching they didn’t think a larger group was focusing on, and when the larger group’s leadership resisted their suggestions, they split off into a smaller group so they could follow what they thought was God’s will as shown in the Bible.
As we mentioned earlier, this Sabbath is “Adventist Heritage Sabbath.” This gives us a chance to look back to the history of our own church. And sure enough, we are listed in Mead’s Handbook, very favorably.
And I think we need to remind ourselves every once in a while we exist. After all, down the street south a few blocks is a little Baptist church. They believe in Jesus as Savior, they believe in baptism by immersion. Why don’t we get together with them, pool our resources, and all worship God in the same building?
Or we could do the same thing with the Neighborhood Church eight blocks north of here. They’re a Pentecostal church. They believe in Jesus as their Savior. Why don’t we gather with them and worship God together?
And we could do the same thing with the Mormons, six blocks east here on Main. They have a slightly different view of Jesus than we do, but they believe in Him. They’re good people.
And right next door to the Mormons is the property on which the Islamic church is going to rebuild after a fire destroyed their mosque a few years back. They also have a different belief about Jesus than we do, but they believe He is a prophet. Why don’t we remove all our pews and allow them to use this as their prayer hall?
(Actually, after their fire, the Mormons allowed them to use a room for prayer for six days out of the week, and on Sunday when the Mormon church was being used for their services, we allowed them to use our fellowship hall. The Muslim folks were here for two or three months, and were deeply grateful to us.)
So why don’t we all get together in a big happy family, and cancel out our differences, and just worship God together?
I’m being facetious, of course. But why should the Seventh-day Adventist church be worshiping on this corner, and other churches worshiping on their corners? In other words, why do we believe the Seventh-day Adventist church is important?
I believe it’s because of seven crucial questions we need to ask, and answer. And I believe the Adventist church has answers to those questions. In fact, the title of today’s sermon is, “Seven Crucial Questions – and Adventism’s Answers.”
And I believe these seven questions, which span the history of faith, are truly important. So let’s ask them, and find out the Bible answers, just as Adventists and other Christians have had to do all along. And as long as we answer them all correctly, we are in line with God’s Word.
Even though it’s not specifically stated, we find the first question in Genesis chapter 3.
Genesis 3:1 – 5 [NKJV]: Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
This is the devil’s first appearance in the Bible, and the very first words out of his mouth accuse God of lying.
So I believe the first of the seven crucial questions we need to find the answers for is this one. You could call this Sermon Point One.
Can God and what He says be trusted?
Why is this such a crucial question? Because if God created us with a hunger for learning, and a longing for solid truth, and after all that, He is nothing but a fable-maker, then we are lost.
After all, God spent the first two chapters of Genesis telling us our origin story. And people throughout the rest of the Bible who refer to it show that they took it literally.
Jesus, who claimed to be directly descended – like all of the rest of us – from Adam and Eve, believed it. And He calls Satan a liar, and even worse. In John 8:44, speaking to a group of corrupt and hypocritical religious leaders, He said to them, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44)
So – can God and what He says be trusted? Satan says no. Jesus says yes. Who are we going to believe?
I mentioned that Adventism has an answer to each of these questions. Adventists – along with every other believer in God and His Scriptures – say, “Yes. God and His words can be trusted.”
And another reason this is important is that Jesus insisted that God’s words must be our main source of nourishment. In Matthew 4:4, Jesus flung the following Old Testament quote in the devil’s very teeth: “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
So the Creation story, and the rest of the Bible’s teachings, are what help us thrive and grow. So, yes, God can be trusted.
In the very next chapter, Genesis 4, we find the very next crucial question. Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel, are bringing their offerings to God. Before their sons were born, Adam and Eve had watched in shock as God Himself had sacrificed animals – probably lambs – to provide clothing for them. And we are assuming that once they became parents, Adam and Eve carefully taught their sons about the kind of offering to bring to God as a sacrifice for their sins. But watch what happens.
Genesis 4:3 – 5: And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
In the next couple of verses, the Lord gives Cain what my mother used to call “a little talking-to.” God warns him that sin wants to master him, but he should resist it.
But Cain doesn’t listen. Instead, here’s what happened.
Verse 8: Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
In doing what he did, Cain raised this morning’s second crucial question:
The first question is:
Can God and what He says be trusted?
Eve decided God couldn’t be trusted – and Satan was delighted.
The second crucial question is:
Can God be ignored?
Cain decided, yes, it’s okay to ignore God. And again, Satan was delighted.
So what is the Adventist response to this question? Along with other faithful believers down through the centuries, the Adventist believers say that while it’s possible to ignore God, it’s something we shouldn’t do. Earlier this morning we heard some thrilling personal stories about our members who followed truth no matter where it led them.
And once Cain ignored God, he quite literally gave birth to a whole lot of other people who ignored God. One of the Bible’s most horrifying verses is found in Genesis 6. It talks about the people who lived just before the flood.
Genesis 6:5, 6: Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
So that’s what happens when you decide to ignore God. If you don’t allow God’s Holy Spirit into your heart, and if you don’t allow God’s words to correct you and guide you, sin will get a grip on you the way it got a grip on Cain.
And ignoring God leads directly to another crucial question. You see, even though people may choose to ignore God, people can’t get away from the fact that they were created to worship. That’s wired into our circuitry. So if we ignore God, we then subconsciously and compulsively decide on other objects of worship to take His place. This happened in Exodus chapter 32.
What’s been happening is that Moses is up on top of Mount Sinai talking with God and receiving God’s personally engraved edition of the 10 Commandments from Him. But down below on the desert floor, the people get impatient.
Exodus 32:1 – 6: Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
This golden calf, of course, was not a good idea. But it shows what happens when we get in the habit of ignoring God. And this brings up a third crucial question we need to make sure we answer correctly.
Question 1 asks “Can God and what He says be trusted?” If you answer no, you give Satan great joy. But if you answer yes, you agree with Jesus.
Question 2 asks “Can God be ignored?” If you get in the habit of ignoring God, Satan does cartwheels of happiness. But if you keep your attention on God and how He wants you to live, Jesus is grateful. Because after all, this is how Jesus Himself lived. In John 12:49, He said, “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.”
But if we lose this connection with God, we come face-to-face with Crucial Question Three:
Can God be whoever or whatever I want?
The golden-calf worshipers thought so. What is always so mind-jolting as I read this scene is that it’s only been a few days since they actually heard the literal voice of God reverberating from the top of Mount Sinai. And the first two Commandments their Creator repeated had to do with not worshiping other gods or making images of them. This is a classic case of blissfully ignoring God.
Why is this so crucial? Because if we ignore God, and if we choose someone or something else to take His place, we who were created in the image of God are actually creating God in our own image. We are compressing and deforming deity to suit ourselves.
And if you know anything about the history of ancient Israel, you know that for centuries they had severe problems with idolatry. They wanted a God they could see, and make a statue to, and grovel in front of, like the nations around them. And this was dangerous.
So is this happening today? Sure. Anybody who ignores the true God will automatically attract or create false gods. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus flatly stated that none of us can worship both God and “mammon,” which is the Aramaic word for riches.
And chillingly, it’s possible to worship human beings as gods. In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas are in the town of Lystra, in the center part of modern Turkey, and with the power of God Paul and Barnabas heal a lame man. Immediately all the people assume that Barnabas is the god Zeus, and that Paul is the god Hermes, or Mercury. These two men had to desperately restrain the people from sacrificing to them.
And I would imagine that today it’s possible to wishfully fantasize that human beings can have godlike qualities. Think of the immense popularity of Marvel’s Avenger series of comic books and movies. Think of the superhero costumes which will prowl through the streets on Halloween night. Think of the many religious leaders who have allowed their followers to elevate them to almost godlike status.
There is an efficient little checklist you can use when you think about who or what you worship. Who or what do you give non-essential money to? Who or what do you spend a lot of time with? Who or what could take the place of your worship time with God? Who or what do you obsess about? These are all indications that you might be elevating that person or that thing to be your God.
If the idea that someone or something could be a god who is replacing the true God in your life is a startling or frightening one, I think this next question is at least as frightening. Turn to Mark chapter 7.
As Mark 7 begins, we see the Pharisees criticizing Jesus’ disciples because they aren’t ceremonially washing their hands in the proper Jewish way. Let’s pick up the story in verse five.
Mark 7:5 – 7: Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
Jesus then goes on to give an ugly little example of how, following certain rules of the rabbis, it was perfectly legal for a son to get out of the responsibility of caring for his aging parents.
Do you see what’s happening here? The Pharisees and rabbis claimed to speak for God. And if their rules were really the words of God, that means that God is okay with a son defrauding his parents of their rights.
Jesus often healed people on the Sabbath. But if the rules of the Pharisees and rabbis were the voice of God, then God did not like people being healed on the Sabbath.
So what does this make God? I think we can put it in a form so that it could be our next crucial question.
Can God and what He says be trusted? Can God be ignored? Can God be whoever or whatever I want?
And, can God be alien?
This may be the idea that causes God the most grief. All around Israel, other nations worshiped gods who often required their worshipers to do grotesque things, such as sacrifice their children in flames to appease them.
And this didn’t stop with the Israelite nation. The rabbis and Pharisees often twisted God’s character and personality into a cranky and legalistic one.
This problem continued into the middle ages, where legends and fables were introduced into Christianity which pictured an appalling and illogical God. The idea that the soul is conscious after death, and that when you die you either go to heaven or to an ever-burning hell – what human being would be so cruel?
Some people sturdily say, “Well, I myself don’t understand how God could be this cruel, but I am not God. God is wiser than I am. God can do whatever he wants, and whatever He does is right, even though I can’t understand it right now.”
Well, then, can God be an alien? Can a God who made His human family to be able to love and cherish others, and be kind to them, can He be a bloodthirsty tyrant?
And can a God, who on Day seven of creation week created a Sabbath day to give rest even to our strong and vigorous first parents, can that God not feel grieved as His holy Sabbath is trampled on?
This is an important question, about whether God can be an alien. Fortunately, it has many reassuring Bible answers. Jesus answered it in the four Gospels, where He refers to God about 200 times as “Father.” Not “alien,” not Supreme Ruler, not heartless artificial-intelligence robot, but Father.
And Jesus goes even further to make sure we know who God is. In John 14:9, Jesus tells His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” In verse 10 He says, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.”
So no, God is not an alien. Each of the brutal and ludicrous beliefs humans have developed about Him were most likely generated in the mind of Satan, to add to his slander in Eden that can’t be trusted.
Unfortunately, the idea that God could be an unfeeling alien was followed centuries later by another idea. Here’s question number five.
Can God be imaginary?
This idea arose partly from philosophers who began to use logic to try to prove that God doesn’t exist, but that He is a result of an evolved mind’s wishful thinking.
But again, this wasn’t a new idea. In Romans 1:28, Paul describes some very evil people, and then makes the chilling comment, “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge.”
In other words, they were acting as though God was imaginary. They were probably hoping He was. Or maybe they were hoping that He was a God in their own image, a God who didn’t really didn’t give a care about the evil that they were doing.
It’s hard for me to imagine how people can believe that there is no God and that we gradually evolved into what we are. I’m almost through reading Shelley a book out loud, a book on listening. It’s an excellent book, one of the most practical books I’ve ever read. I recommend that everybody read it.
But sadly, the author takes it for granted that we evolved from lower life forms. This doesn’t affect her reasoning or the good content of her book, but every once in a while she will talk about how the inner ear, with all its little cilia of various sizes, evolved. She won’t make a big deal of it, but you can tell her mindset is macro-evolutionary.
My heart goes out to such people. And I pray that when their minds finally turn to spiritual things, these will be truthful teachings and not erroneous ones.
But on to the next question. When the philosophers decided that there was no God, there was pushback. God’s faithful people championed the Bible. The great Bible societies, the British and later American Bible societies were formed to print as many copies of God’s word as possible, and send them all over the world.
And people did study their Bibles, and there were great religious awakenings in the late 1700s and early 1800s. And among these faithful people was a Baptist farmer and lay preacher named William Miller.
When Miller took up serious Bible study, he decided that he would use only the Bible and a concordance, no other books besides that. And as Miller read, he discovered that yes, God can be trusted. No, we should not ignore God. No, God cannot be whatever or whoever I want Him to be. No, God is not an alien, but a loving Father. No, God is not imaginary – he is real.
And suddenly, Farmer Miller discovered that another idea was very possible. Here’s crucial-question six.
Can God be returning?
The more Miller studied, the more his spine began to tingle with the dawning conviction that Jesus was returning soon! Because of a prophecy in Daniel 8:14, he and others who believe decided Christ’s arrival would happen in 1843, and when that didn’t happen, in 1844, on October 22. It’s estimated that 100,000 people, in the United States and elsewhere, firmly believed that Jesus would return at that point.
But then, of course, came the Great Disappointment. According to all the rules of Bible prophecy, something was supposed to happen in 1844, but it turned out not to be the physical return of Jesus to this planet.
As you can imagine, faithful believers in God were mercilessly ridiculed by the congregations and denominations they had left because they believed this truth. A lot of these people crept meekly back to their old congregations and endured the ribbing.
But others said, “No, we know too much. Those lines of Bible time prophecy aren’t fantasy. The end is near. The signs tell that Jesus is coming soon.”
So they studied their Bibles, and studied their Bibles. They kept themselves open to new truth, and when they heard that truth, they checked it out in their Bibles, and if it matched what the Bible said, they believed it.
When a Seventh-day Baptist lady by the name of Rachel Oakes challenged an advent-believing pastor named Frederick Wheeler about the seventh-day Sabbath, he didn’t scoff at her. Instead, he checked it out in his Bible, and found that there was no Bible reason to keep any other day but Saturday as the day of worship. And the next Sunday, he introduced the seventh-day Sabbath to his congregation.
Wheeler and other careful Bible students like him let the Bible lead them into new truth. And that is the answer to the 7th crucial question:
Can God be understood by me?
Somewhere between those faithful Bible students in Berea, who earned Paul’s admiration because they didn’t accept his ideas without checking them out in their Bible first – somewhere between those Berea Christians and these faithful 19th-century Bible students, the idea had arisen that only the clergy can properly understand the Bible.
In fact, in the Middle Ages, not a lot of people knew how to read, and the clergy decided it was best that way. Their idea was that if partially-educated people started burrowing into the Bible, they would be likely to head off in all sorts of heretical directions. So the clergy itself would’ve answered, “No, the Bible can’t be understood by the ordinary person. It takes a professional.”
But many Bible verses say exactly the opposite. It tells all of us—not just pastors–to search the Scriptures, meditate on the Scriptures, learn the Scriptures, teach them to your children, sing about them in the Psalms.
And this may be one of the hallmarks of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Most other faithful Christians at that time sincerely believed that the Bible should be our only rule of faith and practice. But Adventists have fearlessly taken this idea further than most others.
If you’re an Adventist, you are descended from a line of people who were resolutely willing to change their lifestyle, and change their health practices, and even change their day of worship, to match with the Bible. Adventists have been willing to let the Bible change their traditional beliefs about the immortality of the soul, in favor of God’s far more humane dreamless sleep until the resurrection. And this is because they read and studied their Bibles, which they were certain could be understood.
Because what this all leads back to, in the end, is question number one:
Can God be trusted?
And that is the nub of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Jesus proves to us that God is good, that God is love, and that God can take care of you in a truly Fatherly way throughout eternity.
And Jesus Himself was the one who made our happy eternity possible, one Friday afternoon on a Roman cross. And whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.
Would you like to renew your belief in your Savior this morning, or maybe do this for the first time? Would you like to take your Bible daily and read it, and ask God to open your eyes to what you should change about your life, as those early Adventist did?