2013 North American Division Year-End Meetings Sermon
Each year, the North American Division and the other 12 divisions of the global Seventh-day Adventist Church convenes a “Year-End” meeting of its Executive Committee to review policies, highlight new initiatives, and inspire leaders for continued outreach.
This year’s NAD Year-End meeting gathered at the NAD headquarters from October 30-November 5 to articulate specific plans for the division’s six strategic plan “building blocks,” and hear reports on evangelism, education, nurture, and finances.
Pastor Dan Jackson, NAD president, preached a Sabbath morning message to a capacity audience in the headquarters auditorium. We share it here in both print and video versions as a service to our readers.
2013 North American Division Year-End Meetings Sermon
November 2, 2013
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
It is not an apocalyptic passage, but it is prophetic in its intent. Wrapped up in this one statement is an ideal that God sets before His people in the days immediately preceding the return of our Lord Jesus. It is my belief that if we fail to grasp the depth of this passage more fully and implement its clear message—by His grace and through the Holy Spirit—our plans, schemes and dreams, are destined to mediocrity and failure. This passage presents a clairon call to a last-day people.
A. TEMPLES AS WE KNOW THEM
Temples and cathedrals have always fascinated me, whether they be Jewish, Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, or Christian. Look at this fascinating array of temples, sanctuaries, dagobas, mosques, and churches.
The thought, the effort, and the financial resources invested are quite amazing when you think about it. It is a testimony to the fact that God reaches out to man, and that man reaches back—seeking, listening, and reaching with an insatiable thirst for God.
I have had the privilege of visiting many temples and holy places around the world. A couple of them come to mind:
- Two summers ago I stood in the huge Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) Cathedral in the center of Istanbul, Turkey—and I was impressed. Its frescos and architecture are significant and impressive. Originally Christian, then Islamic, and then secularized by the Turkish government, it stands as a monument to the vision of the founders.
- I have always enjoyed visiting the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. I have spent many hours in that place. Originally envisioned by President Theodore Roosevelt, it took decades to build. The first time I visited there it was still under construction. Some time later Donna and I spent an entire Sabbath there reading our Bibles and praying together. That Sabbath ended with an evensong presented by a visiting British boys choir. We sat right up in the choir section with them and listened.
The ancient sanctuary was central to Jewish life and practice as God’s people made their way through the wilderness toward the “Promised Land.” God Himself had directed the people to build the sanctuary.
“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).
He was very intentional about interacting with His people. It was there in the sanctuary that the Shekinah glory was seen. Magnificient! That a Holy, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Immutable, and eternal God would deign to enter into the human experience is beyond all comprehension!
Listen to Ellen White’s description:
“No language can describe the glory of the scene presented within the sanctuary—the gold plated walls reflecting the light from the golden candlestick, the brilliant hues of the richly embroidered curtains with their shining angels, the table, and the altar of incense, glittering with gold; beyond the second veil the sacred ark, with its mystic cherubim, and above it the holy Shekinah, the visible manifestation of Jehovah’s presence; all but a dim reflection of the glories of the temple of God in heaven, the great center of the work for man’s redemption” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 349).
Even after God’s people had settled in Canaan and built their temples—even after the glory had departed—their belief was that the temple was the “symbolic” footstool of God’s presence with the Jewish community, and in a more extended sense, God’s presence with the world.
Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple in Matthew 24:2 when He said:
“Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matthew 24).
. . . and His prophecy was fulfilled.
We reverence our sacred places. We protect and preserve them. There is a general sense of awe for our places of worship.
Now, within the context of Adventism, this practice is the same. We call our churches “God’s house,” His dwelling place. We invest significant emotional attachment to our churches—especially the sanctuary.
This was brought to my mind in a very vivid way during the renovation of a church that I pastored a number of years ago. All was ready for the installation of the new carpet. The night before the installation was to begin, I had to go to the church for some purpose. When I got there I heard noise in the sanctuary. I went to check it out, and to my amazement I found the head deacon washing the plywood floor. I was surprised to say the least. The floor had been vacuumed and swept, and that should have been enough. When I asked the brother why he was doing the washing, he looked at me in amazement and responded by saying, “Pastor, this is God’s house, and we will not have dirt in it. This is God’s house, and He expects only the very best.”
However, let us understand it clearly:
The significance of all of these places is not in the architecture or in the beautiful way in which we decorate them. It is:
- here where we make our commitments to Him and to one another.
- here that we expect to meet God and God expects to meet us in a holy confrontation.
In the story recorded in Acts 5, Ananias and Saphira brought their deceptive commitments before the gathering of the believers and paid—big time! As they gave their offerings and made their pledges before the brethren, their lies cost them their lives. Why? Because they were in the presence of God! Listen to these words:
“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3, 4).
And the story of Sapphira follows.
- What was their mistake?
- Where did they go wrong?
- Were they the only ones in history to lie about a pledge?
They brought their deceptive scheme into the very presence of God.
The temple, or the church, was never intended to be some kind of shrine where we would celebrate ourselves, our accomplishments, or our talents; but rather, a place where we bring true honor and praise to the One who is its essence, its Originator: God, the King and Creator of the universe.
This is why we protect it. This is why we uphold the value of reverence and praise as we enter into our places of worship: Because God promises that He will show up. Jesus said:
“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
AND THE PROMISE IS REAL!!! We have all experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in music, and giving, and testimony, and teaching, and preaching! God does not break His promises!
I introduced the Garden of Prayer that day by saying that many felt battered and abused and needed to come to God. They were strange words for me, but they came freely to me and out of my mouth. She came forward. She had been badly beaten that week by her boyfriend. She eventually became an Adventist.
- However, we DO NOT have some kind of static guarantee that God will stay with us even when we demonstrate values and virtues that are not “Heaven governed.” He does not live in places of meanness and dissension. He cannot bless hatred, jealousy, competition, and animosity. The temple, or the church, is to be the place where God meets man.
B. JESUS: THE TEMPLE OF GOD
Jesus came to earth as the living temple of God! He was the physical expression of what God is like and what man could experience through connection with Him. Jesus, of whom the Bible says:
“For in Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).
Jesus, who said:
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Jesus, who 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” (John 12:49).
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:38-40).
And in the most dramatic fashion, He made the outlandish claim that shocked and puzzled those who heard it:
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it” (John 2:19).
Those listening could not understand what He was saying, because they never fully understood the meaning behind the symbolism and rituals of the temple.
- They thought that it was preposterous that anyone would make the audacious claim that the temple structure could be rebuilt in just a matter of three days.
- They had concluded that adherence to ritual and tradition was synonymous with holiness, rather than understanding that the prescriptions of the temple were designed to connect them with the One behind the ritual.
- Jesus even chastised them for their idolization and misunderstanding of the Holy Scriptures themselves. He told them: “You search the Scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life, but they are they which testify of Me.”
BUT JESUS WAS THE LIVING GOD ON DISPLAY IN HUMAN FORM. WHEN PEOPLE CAME INTO HIS PRESENCE, THEY SAW ALL OF THE VIRTUES AND VALUES OF A GOD WHO SAID OF HIMSELF:
“The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6, 7).
He made good on His “three day” promise: When the veil in the temple was torn in two by a mysterious hand at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, the fact is that a whole new way into the presence of God was initiated. God found a whole new way to reveal Himself.
Listen to this fantastic statement:
“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest, forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19, 20).
Jesus’ entire mission on Planet Earth was a magnificent and magnanimous attempt on God’s part to make Himself known to the world. Now, through His death, He paved the way for you and me to enter into the very presence of God.
And as He looked back over the life of Jesus, the apostle Paul described the attributes of a gracious God when he said:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant; and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place” (Philippians 2:5-8).
He painted a picture of what God is like:
- Here in the Philippians passage we discover three prominent features of the character of God: HUMILITY, IDENTITY WITH HUMANITY, and SELF-SACRIFICE.
- The Exodus statement includes at least seven more character traits: MERCY, GRACE, PATIENCE, ABUNDANT GOODNESS, TRANSPARENCY, FORGIVENESS, AND ACCOUNTABILITY.
That is what God is like—that is what Jesus is like. This is what He has been attempting to tell us about Himself.
Now, from a tangential perspective, I want to stir up your pure minds:
Let us settle it once and for all, friends. Only Jesus’ witness is full and complete in itself. Put away the notion that somehow you and I can do something to add to His witness.
Our acts of submission to God and the resultant behaviors are only a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and even these things are to God’s credit—not ours.
Let us not pride ourselves on the thought that somehow we are the causative factors in bringing honor and glory to God, because this just isn’t so. In me there is nothing good to commend myself to God. Without Christ in my life, I am a lousy witness to the world.
Behavioral benchmarks won’t help us either. They do not commend us to God; instead, they actually place us in the position of usurping God’s authority and His ability to cover, change, and empower us.
Now in saying this, I am not suggesting that we diminish the value of witness or of submission to God. I am saying that unless we get over the idea of giving significance to our contribution once and for all, we just delude ourselves!
Having said that, I want to make sure that we do not just compartmentalize our lives as we in the West have a tendency to do.
C. YOU AND ME: TEMPLES OF GOD?
So we cannot escape the biblical conclusion or exclude the biblical statement that tells us that when we accept God into our lives through Jesus Christ, we become part of the equation whereby God presents Himself to the human family. As we are brought into relationship with God, we are called upon to be channels—human Facebook accounts telegraphing the news of His goodness to the world around us. We are to be God’s “tweets.”
Paul provides us with a very clear insight into this:
“For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness, made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory shining in the face of Jesus. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God, and NOT from us” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7).
The gospel of Jesus is full of illustrations and statements about how our connection with Jesus Himself is to bring us to the place where we recognize that our role is to reflect Him in all that we do. WE ARE TO LIVE LIKE HIM, AND BE LIKE HIM!
A visit from my father. He drove past the house because he had lost the address, but he saw my son and said: “This is where Danny lives, because there is his boy.” The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. He looks like me.
Jesus was very clear in His teaching, that we must be dependent upon Him in order to represent Him. We reveal Him as a result of that dependency.
“I AM the Vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
When Jesus died He gave everything to the human family, including the privilege of being the representatives of the Father.
Jesus’ great prayer in John 17 is very clear on this point. As He had demonstrated what the Father is really like during His life on earth, so He speaks about the unity of purpose of the Father with the Son, and the Son with His people.
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in you; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me; that they may be perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (John 17:20-22).
It is the apostle Paul who picks up the progression of this whole idea and places it in clear language:
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
- This is not a statement of conjecture or potential; it is a statement of fact. Paul makes this statement without any sense of wavering or doubt in his mind.
- The passage has far more depth to it than meets the eye.
- Paul is using what the scholars tell us is “sanctuary language” in this passage. He is speaking not just about the pots and pans of the sanctuary or about its external parts; but rather, about the heart of the sanctuary: THE MOST HOLY PLACE.
- That part of the sanctuary was the place where God showed up. It was the only place where the presence of God was immediate and imminent.
- AND PAUL LIKENS YOU AND ME—THE CHURCH—TO THAT PLACE. IT IS MIND-BOGGLING.
- All around the world people like YOU AND ME are called upon to form congregations in our part of the earth in which the imminent presence of God is to be witnessed and experienced.
- This places a weighty responsibility on God’s people, one that most of us feel quite uncomfortable with.
And there is more:
“Just as a body, though one has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the on Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Listen to these amazing statements from Ellen White on this very topic:
“From the beginning it has been God’s plan that through His church shall be reflected to the world His fullness and His sufficiency” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 9).
“The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ: and through the church will eventually be made manifest, even to ‘the principalities and powers in heavenly places,’ the final and full display of the love of God” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 9).
You and I have been invited to represent God:
- In the way we walk and talk and live.
- In the way we work with each other.
- In the way we speak about the church and church leadership.
- In the way church leadership speaks to itself.
- In the way we treat sinners. “I wish there were a ministry for sinners.”
- In the way we talk and think about those who disagree with our opinions. (We have little problem with those whom we love and who agree with us.)
Our people are watching us. Our young people are observing us, waiting for the signal that the church is a safe and dynamic place where they can safely engage.
- What does my temple look like to you?
- What kind of temple are you building for God?
- Is our temple the kind of place where men and women can find the unmistakable and undeniable presence of God?
Author Jim Rayburn made the following observation:
“Christ is the strongest, grandest, most attractive personality ever to grace the earth. But a careless messenger with the wrong approach can reduce all this magnificence to the level of boredom.”
The poet Edgar Guest put it this way:
I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I'd rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye is a better pupil, more willing than the ear;
Fine counsel is confusing, but example is always clear,
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
This is how God is acting and revealing Himself today—every day!
“Christ will never abandon the soul for whom He has died. The soul may be overwhelmed with temptation, but Christ can never turn from whom He has paid the ransom of His own life.”
Could our spiritual vision be quickened, we should see souls bowed under oppression and burdened with grief, pressed as a cart beneath sheaves and ready to die in discouragement. We should see angels flying swiftly to aid these tempted ones, who are standing as on the brink of a precipice. The angels from heaven force back the forces of evil that encompass these souls, and guide them to plant their feet on the sure foundation. The battles waging between the two armies are as real as those found by the armies of this world, and on the issue of the spiritual conflict eternal destines depend” (Steps to Christ, pp. 118, 119). Does my temple look like that?
- Is that what my local congregation acts like?
- Will I do this for those around me in need?
- Does my personal temple demonstrate humility, identity with the needs of humanity, self-sacrifice, mercy, grace, patience, abundant goodness, transparency, forgiveness, and accountability?
Because this is how God reveals Himself. These are the traits of character that Jesus came to reveal. This is how He acts.
The fact is that we all live in the space up top. We all know how weak we are and how we cannot accomplish the duplication of the character of God by means or methods of self-discipline or processes, etc. However, listen to these two promises:
“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13).
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
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