There are four watershed moments in the Bible where the divine and humanity interact directly: Creation, Mt. Sinai, Jesus’ life on earth, and the second coming. There are some other moments which come close, but these four stand apart as unique moments in the scope of our history and future. Of interest to Adventists is our unique emphasis on these four moments. Most denominations believe three of these happened. A few accept all four events as literal events, but perhaps don’t emphasize one or the other as all that significant to us. Adventists though? Our emphasis on creation as an actual event, the importance of God’s eternal law given at Sinai, the arrival of Jesus as a human, and return as divine ruler over earth are unique among Christianity.
After the introduction of sin, direct contact with God became dangerous. At Sinai the people trembled and begged Moses to speak to God for them so they didn’t have to hear Him. Moses wanted to see God, but was told the closest He could do was to look at God’s back after He has walked by. Others like Uzzah didn’t fare as well. The second coming promises the earth will be split into two camps: those who will rejoice, and those who will tremble in fear. The difference between those two groups will depend on how they respond to the greatest example of divine interaction with humanity—the life of Jesus.
Jesus was God personified in the flesh. Which meant love in human form. Incredible, uncompromising love which divided an entire nation into passionate following, or absolute hatred. What happened then is sure to happen again. God’s presence isn’t dangerous because He delights in destruction, but because our sinfulness can’t coexist alongside His pure love.
When we as Adventists emphasize the second coming, what kind of picture do we paint?
Do we tell people to get in line behind Jesus to be saved from God’s wrath, or do we paint a picture of a God so loving we can’t hold onto both Him and our sin?
When we emphasize the law given at Sinai do we tell of a God who demands strict obedience to a list of exacting rules, or do we paint a picture of a God who has shown us how to best act in love towards Him and others?
When we emphasize creation do we tell of a God who made a world which deprived us of knowledge and experience, or do we paint a picture of a God so loving He gave us choice in what kind of world we wanted to live in?
Our answer to these foundational doctrinal questions rests in how we respond to the first advent. Like those in Jesus’ time, and those at the second coming we react to Jesus in one of two ways. One of the defining challenges for our denomination is what kind of Christ we portray in our lives. The Adventist experience is anything but consistent from place to place. Sure the doctrinal emphasis is built around the same topics, but they are flavored in remarkably different ways. If we want to evangelize around our unique interpretations of these four moments of God on earth, we have to ask tough questions about what it meant when Jesus appeared as a baby boy in the flesh all those years ago. We have to as a denomination answer the question Pontius Pilate asked all those years ago:
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
If we don’t get it right, we come across as legalistic, fear mongering anti-intellectuals. But if we do? We are the people who present the kind of love for the ages which caused Mary to sing this beautiful song:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”