Move 1: Introduction
Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving. This is the day where we contemplate how good God has been to us. During this time, my soul looked back on the goodness of God. I remember my mother, father, and brothers who I talk to sometimes daily. I thank the Lord for them. I thank the Lord for a good wife who loves me. I remember how that love is concretely expressed daily when I think about our times together. I can thank God because I remember these things. I am sure that you had your time of thanksgiving as well. Someone might say that they remember that God took care of their necessities when they didn’t know how it would be done. All of this thanksgiving comes from our remembering what God has done.
But what happens if you forget what God has done? What happens to your thankfulness? What if you forgot what God has done for you? Being forgetful would remove our ability to be grateful. Perhaps this is one reason why God told Israel to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8). Perhaps this is why God told Israel to remember the Exodus (see Deut 24:9).
Years before I knew her a member of my church had the unpleasant experience of being diagnosed with a brain tumor. At first she experienced headaches. As the disease progressed she lost her memories. She forgot her children. She forgot her husband. She continued to descend into this pit of forgetfulness until she experienced the most painful loss of all. She forgot who she was. There are few things worse than forgetting who you are. You cannot recall where you belong. You don’t know where you are going. You don’t know your past and you do not know your future.
As I think about this woman’s story of forgetfulness, I see correlations to the position our church is in at this time. Sure we thank God for what God has done for us individually, but many of us have forgotten what God has done for this people called Seventh-day Adventist. Today many of us just don’t know who we are and thus can not be thankful for who we are. One might ask a church member: “Why are you a Seventh-day Adventist?” In response, you may hear an answer that a Christian from any denomination could give like “I believe Jesus saves me from my sins.” That is good to remember. Jesus does bring forgiveness to us, but if we stop there we end up with a lack of thanksgiving for being particularly a Seventh-day Adventist.
Perhaps you would hear another member answer that question by saying, “I believe the seventh day is the Sabbath.” But is that enough? I remember one sister asking a church leader, “What is the difference between a Seventh Day Baptist and a Seventh-day Adventist?” Here the member was asking if the Sabbath was the full extent of our independent identity. She wanted to know what it was that distinguishes the Seventh-day Adventist church from God’s people in other denominational bodies. It is good to talk about what we have in common with others, but we cannot forget what makes us unique, distinctive, and peculiar. We must hold what we have in common with the other bodies in tension with our unique teachings. If we do not, we will find ourselves just like that woman from the little church not knowing who we are and not able to provide thanksgiving for our full identity.
What is needed is a reminder of who we are. A reminder will allow us to be thankful for what God has done in and though this movement. In our scripture today God reminds us what makes us Adventist at the same time God reminds us of that which makes us Christian. Our Scripture is taken from the book of Hebrews 8:1-2:
Hebrews 8 Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tenta that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up.
Move 1: Such a High Priest
Our scripture begins by stating that we have finally reached the main point of all that was said before. The book of Hebrews has covered a lot of ground to this point. Hebrews begins teaching us that Jesus began as equal with God. In fact, the Father uses the term God to refer to the Son in 1:8. Hebrews continues by stating that the son became human. Hebrews 2:11 declares that this Son and humanity are of the same flesh. In fact Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters. Hebrews 2:17 says that it was necessary for the Son to become human so that he might be a faithful high priest. So the main point of Hebrews has something to do with one who is equal to the great God of heaven becoming human. Then Hebrews continues stating that the Son was greater than Moses (Hebrews 3), greater than Joshua (Hebrews 4:8), and is a King-Priest like Melchizedek (see Hebrews 5:6, 6:20, 7:1).
All of that was to remind us that we have a Human-Divine priest. We have such a high priest, one that walks with us like Joshua and Moses and yet is separate from us like Melchizedek. If we are truly to have the remembrance that brings thanksgiving we must emphasize both of these aspects of Jesus’ nature. If we do not then we could easily fall into a trap of emphasizing one to the detriment of the other.
Historically, the Christian world has argued over whether Jesus Christ had a beginning. The Arians stated that Jesus was human and not divine. And even in our own Seventh-day Adventist church we have some who are teaching that in heaven Jesus had a beginning point. The other day I received some material by a group of Adventists who think that our church has apostatized because it teaches that Christ had no beginning. They argue that we have obtained this belief from the Roman Catholic Church. But we cannot give up anything just because someone else holds the belief. If we see it in the Bible we cannot set it aside because someone else held it first. If so then we would have to set aside Righteousness by Faith which we have learned from the Reformers like Luther. If we set things aside because others believe it we would have to give up Baptism by Immersion because we learned this from our Baptist friends. We would have to give up a special work of character cleansing because we learned that from our Methodist and Holiness brothers and sisters. If we set aside beliefs because other Christians hold it we would even have to set aside the Sabbath because we learned that doctrine from a Seventh-day Baptist lady named Rachel Oakes. While we disagree with the Roman Church on many issues, we cannot give up something just because they hold a belief, truth is truth whoever states it and Hebrews reminds us that we need a high priest who is God.
In addition, according to Hebrews that great God became human. Once again the Christian world has argued over this doctrine. Many wanted to say that Jesus really didn’t become human. The Gnostics said that Jesus only looked human but was not human. And in our own church we are arguing today over this issue. But Hebrews reminds us that if Jesus didn’t assume humanity then Jesus couldn’t be a priest at all for the Bible says that it was necessary that he became human to be a priest ( Hebrews 2:17). Further, if Jesus wasn’t human then he wouldn’t be able to help me for Hebrews declares that he can help us in our temptation because he was tempted (Hebrews 2:18). Yes it is important to remember that our high priest was human if we are going to have the remembrance that brings thanksgiving.
When I am battling a temptation I like when I have friends who I can talk to, and it is good to take my burdens to the great God of heaven, but I want a bridge to heaven. Jesus is the bridge for he has one foot in heaven (his divinity) and one on the earth (his humanity). That is the kind of high priest we have. We have such a high priest so that when I am tempted he knows not just by omniscience, but by experience just how much grace is needed to overcome the temptation. We have such a high priest.
Move 2: Seated on the right hand of the throne in the heavens
The text continues by implying that this high priest has completed something. The Bible says that he is seated. But what does this mean? A few years ago I signed up for a ten mile walk-a-thon. I began the trip jogging. I then slowed to a power walk. As the fatigue began to rise I slowed to a slow walk. Finally I ended up walking in a kind of stop and go pace. The 10 miles were long and hard. But just about when I was about to give up, I saw the end of the road. I was at the finish line. After completing the walk I only wanted two things: a drink of water and a chair to sit in. I wanted to sit down because I was finished. Sitting down was a visual representation of the completion of the task. Sitting down demonstrated that the walk was completed.
In our text, Jesus had just had a long trip. He had begun the trip in glory. He walked on into a stable in Bethlehem. He went on to walk as we have to walk in our flesh. He walked on into Gethsemane and Calvary. Finally he arose and walked on into heaven and now after getting there, he sits down. Jesus had completed the mission to which he was called to do on earth. We can be thankful for that. This is important to remember. We can shout like any other Christian that Christ finished the objective on earth, we can shout like any other Christian that Christ arose on the third day and went to sit down in glory.
Move 3: Minister of the true sanctuary
But the text does not stop there. And because the text does not stop there, neither can we stop there. The Bible says that Jesus is a minister in the true sanctuary. We see a tension here. Jesus sits down signifying completion and yet he still ministers signifying continuing work. Jesus is done, but he isn’t done. You see Adventists have recognized that even though Jesus is done with his work down here, he still has a work up there. And this work is an important component of salvation. That work is in the true sanctuary that the Lord pitched and not humanity (Hebrews 8:2). Yes Jesus is done down here, but Jesus is working up there.
And here is the basis of our mission, identity, and destiny. Most Christians believe that Christ is the high priest, but many emphasize the completed work of the cross and neglect the work after the cross. Many have ignored the present work of Jesus Christ and relegated it to a footnote. However, God began this movement with a look at the heavenly ministry of Jesus Christ. Our very identity is tied up with Christ’s present special work of cleansing that has been identified as an antitypical Day of Atonement. Just as there was an earthly temple, there is a heavenly one (Hebrews 8:5). Just as the earthly temple was purified during the Day of Atonement ministry the heavenly things also have to be purified(Hebrews 9:23) Jesus’ heavenly ministry was split up into two components just as the historical earthly temple ministry was split up into two components (daily and yearly) There was a time of intercession. Then there was the special time of repentance called Feast of Trumpets that ended in the Day of Atonement where cleansing was accomplished. There is still work for humanity to do during the Day of Atonement. There is still a work for Jesus to do during the Day of Atonement. Yes Jesus has completed his work on the earth, but there is a work today. Jesus is doing something right now. We cannot forget this if we are to hold on to who we are. We cannot forget this if we are to have the thankfulness that comes from remembrance.
Move 4: Conclusion
You might be wondering about the woman with the brain tumor. The doctors skillfully removed the tumor from her brain. Slowly she started to remember experiences. Slowly she started remembering her friends and family. Slowly she started remembering who she was. And that remembrance brought excitement. That remembrance brought thanksgiving. And now she tells her testimony all the time. Today she remembers and now she can be thankful because of that remembrance.
Praise God for remembrance. I am thankful today because I remember that God became human in Jesus Christ. I am thankful today because I remember that God lived a life on earth. I am thankful today because I remember that Christ died and arose to show the power of God over death. I am thankful today because I remember that Christ went to heaven and sat down because he was finished. And I am thankful I am an Adventist, because I remember that Christ is working in heaven right now. I am thankful today because I remember that Christ is cleansing me today. I am thankful because I remember that “Christ walks with me and talks with me and he tells me I am his own.” Finally, I am thankful because I remember that Christ is coming again. Don’t forget! Remembering will let you know why you are Adventist. Remembering will let you know why you are Christian. Remembering will bring thanksgiving for who you are!
God bless you