LECTURE 6 FROM THE SERIES “THE TRUTH THAT IS IN CHRIST”
Written by Slawomir Gromadzki
God has loved us—with everlasting, never-ending love. Through the prophet Jeremiah, He speaks to every person, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend my grace to you” (Jeremiah 31:3).
However, there is someone who is very interested in making us believe that God is a stern Being who constantly points out our faults and wants to punish us for them. On the contrary, the Bible provides a completely different view of who God truly is: “Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love (AGAPE)… And we have come to know and believe in the love that God has for us. God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).
This is the most accurate definition of God found in the Wort of God, especially when we consider the characteristics of this love, as described by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. He wrote that this love (Gr. “agape”), unlike human love, “never ends.”
Since God is an endless love, and everything He does originates from that love, any biblical teaching we examine—whether it pertains to the gospel, God’s wrath, the final judgment, the eternal death of unrepentant sinners, or God’s Law—must be studied and taught in the context of the statement “God is love.” If this condition is not fulfilled, we will never properly understand these incredibly important subjects.
The revealed love of God in the plan of salvation has always been the most frequently discussed topic among Christian writers. For example, the excellent five-volume Conflict of the Ages series (Patriarchs and Prophets, Prophets and Kings, The Desire of Ages, The Acts of the Apostles, and The Great Controversy) by Ellen White, which presents the entire plan of salvation, begins and ends with the statement, “God is love.” The first of these five volumes, titled “The Patriarchs and Prophets,” begins with the words: “God is love. His nature and law are love. It has ever been and ever will be. Every manifestation of creative power is an expression of infinite love.” Likewise, the final book in this series, “The Great Controversy,” ends with the same statement: “The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more… From the least atom to the greatest body in the universe, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare, ‘God is love’.”
This entire five-volume set begins and ends with the phrase “God is love,” and between these two statements lies the plan of salvation, presenting the Son of God engaged in the great controversy in defence of God’s love.
When the same author wrote the book “Steps to Christ,” originally the first chapter dealt with the need for salvation. However, God instructed her to start this book with a description of His love. So she took up her pen and began to write: “God gave Jesus to the world not only to take away the sin of the fallen race and die for us on the cross. He gave Him to us. Christ, who was one with the Father, has linked Himself with the children of humanity by a tie of love that can never be broken. This truth, the incarnation of God, is the most profound study that mortals can ever engage in. As we contemplate the love of God for us, it has a transforming power on the soul and enables the heart to yield to the will of God.”
TYPES OF LOVE
God wants us to know how much He loves us and how different His love is from ours. The greatest obstacle in perceiving this difference is that we tend to view God’s love from the perspective of human love, thereby reducing this greatest of God’s virtues to the level of imperfect human sentiment. This is partly due to the fact that our language, unlike the language in which the New Testament was written, is very limited in this regard and uses only one word to express love. Therefore, when we read in the English Bible that “God is love”, we confuse it with mere human love which is completely different.
At the time when the books of the New Testament were written, the Greek language had at least four words to express different types of love:
STORGE: Love between family members.
PHILIA: Love between friends.
EROS: Intimate love between man and woman.
AGAPE: Selfless, perfect, unconditional, and eternal love of God.
When the early Christians read the 13th Chapter of the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, which states that love (agape) never ends, they all knew that Paul was referring exclusively to God’s love.
However, before the New Testament was written, the most significant of these four words was the Greek noun “eros“. Using it, the Greeks expressed the deepest and most sublime feelings that could affect a person to the extent that they would be willing to give even their own life, but only for a good or loved person. Plato gave it a very profound meaning, calling it “heavenly eros,” and later it was also called “platonic love“.
Nevertheless, it is very interesting that the inspired authors of the New Testament never used the word “eros”. It was so because the Holy Spirit, under whose inspiration these books were written, did not want to use a word that represented imperfect, tainted by sin, human love to express God’s and Christian love.
To express God’s love, the authors of the New Testament used a little-known at the time Greek word “agape”, and based on the holy history of the life and death of the Son of God, they gave it an extraordinary and unique meaning.
BASIC DIFFERENCES BETWEEN GOD’S AND HUMAN LOVE
There is a fundamental difference between God’s love and human love, stemming from the fact that God is perfect and holy, while humans are by nature sinful and self-centered.
An unconverted person can only love those who reciprocate their feelings or at least are friendly toward them. God, on the other hand, is capable of loving everyone, both those who love Him and those who are hostile toward Him.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life…” (Romans 5:8, 10).
In order to love, human nature requires certain conditions to be fulfilled. Agape, however, “does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5), which means that it is selfless and unconditional love. God loves spontaneously because He is love. That is why Jesus Christ commands all His followers to love even their enemies. We are to love selflessly all people, even those who are hostile toward us. We are to love even those who criticize us and gossip about us.
LOVE AND TRUTH
However, does this mean that by loving someone who sins against us, we should avoid telling them the truth inspired by God? Of course, we should speak the truth, but it must be always combined with love! And vice versa, true love should never be separated from truth. Love and truth are like sodium and chloride that combined together make the salt (sodium chloride) we use to make food more palatable. Love without truth, just like sodium without chloride, tends to bond with everything it encounters on its path. Without truth, love is careless, blind, and naive. It tends to cling to any idea or doctrine, even if it is not true. On the other hand, truth without love is like chloride without sodium. Deprived of love it can irritate, destroy, and even kill. Truth proclaimed without love can cause people to turn away from the gospel and lose salvation. However, if in our Christian experience, truth and love always constitute the inseparable elements of our Christian life, then we become the light of the world, a blessing, and what Christ called the “salt of the earth.”
Unfortunately, the sad truth is that the vast majority of contemporary evangelical Christians have forgotten this extremely important principle of combining love with truth. They claim that in the New Covenant, only love matters, and the truth associated with the Ten Commandments no longer applies to us. They make a cardinal mistake by focusing solely on love and grace while neglecting the whole truth of God. And this is not just my opinion, but one of the greatest theologians and authorities in the Protestant Church, John Stott, expressed this view in his article “Grace and Law”:
“In our times, it is particularly important to emphasize God’s calling to moral obedience (that is, to keep God’s commandments) because at least two groups of people oppose it. The first group consists of advocates of the so-called New Morality developed in the 1960s. They claim that the only and absolute commandment of God is the commandment of love, and all other laws have been abolished, and that love itself is a sufficient guide for a Christian. However, they forget that love needs guidelines, and such guidelines are provided by God’s Commandments. Love does not abolish the law; it fulfils it (Romans 13:8-10).
Secondly, there are evangelical Christians who believe that Paul’s statement, ‘Christ is the end of the law’ (Romans 10:4) and ‘you are not under the law’ (Romans 6:14), means that Christians are no longer obligated to obey God’s moral law. They argue that the attempt to observe it is “legalism” and that it denies the freedom given to us in Christ. However, they misunderstand Paul. The ‘legalism’ that Paul condemns is not keeping the moral law as a standard of Christian living but the attempt to gain God’s favour and forgiveness through obeying the law. Paul himself wrote that it is not possible because ‘by the works of the law no one will be justified before God (Romans 3:20). Being justified only by the grace of God, we are still obliged to keep this law, and we desire to do so. Therefore, our Christian freedom is the freedom leading to obedience, not disobedience.”
This statement, written not by an Adventist scholar but by one of the most eminent Protestant theologians, proves that evangelical Churches have made a cardinal mistake by separating God’s love from His truth. The Catholic Church has neglected both these divine values. We, Adventists, on the other hand, are at risk of focusing exclusively on the truth while neglecting love and grace.
AGAPE NEVER ENDS
One of the most meaningful characteristics that distinguishes agape from human love, is found in 1 Corinthians 13. This chapter is a glorious description of God’s love and should be the subject of our contemplation as often as possible: “The Lord desires me to call His people’s attention to the thirteenth chapter of First Epistle to the Corinthians. Read this chapter every day” (RH July 21, 1904).
God’s agape love, unlike human love, “never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). Unfortunately, this cannot be said of human love. The rapidly increasing divorce rate is the best evidence of that. Someone once said that before marriage many young couples cannot live without each other, and after marriage, they cannot live with each other.
God, on the other hand, never stops loving because agape is an immortal, or eternal love that embraces all beings created by God, including sinful humans. God cannot stop loving a sinful person because His love “never fails.” This does not mean that those who willingly and persistently reject the gift of salvation will also be saved because the Word of God clearly states that they will die forever: “They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
In the beginning, when God created Adam, his heart was filled with the fullness of perfectly selfless divine agape love. Unfortunately, when Adam decided to eat the forbidden fruit and share Eve’s fate, he did so because at that time he still loved Eve with that everlasting love. He loved her more than himself.
Despite knowing perfectly well that the consequence of this act would be death, he chose to share the fate of his beloved. But when he did it and committed sin, at that very moment, he lost agape, and it was replaced by selfish love:
PP, 2nd edition, p. 37:
“As a result of sin… the love that Adam and Eve had previously experienced disappeared irretrievably.”
When Adam still possessed agape, he was able to sacrifice even his own life for Eve, but when he sinned and lost that selfless love, he justified his sin before God by shifting the blame onto Eve, saying:
“The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12).
When God asked Eve the same question later, she also did not want to admit guilt but shifted it onto the serpent.
In this way, both Adam and Eve, as a result of sin, lost the right to possess AGAPE, and all their descendants, including us, come into the world devoid of this greatest value.
LOVE OF PETER
It was precisely the lack of agape love that was the main reason Peter denied Christ.
During the Last Supper, the Savior told his disciples that they would all deny Him that night. However, Peter suggested that while the other disciples might actually turn away from Jesus during the trial, his love for the Master was so strong and enduring that he would never deny Him, even if it meant dying for it.
Unfortunately, Peter did not know himself and did not understand that he did not yet possess that never-ending AGAPE love.
Shortly thereafter, according to the prophecy, Peter denied the Son of God three times. And because in the Jewish community, denying God was synonymous with an unforgivable sin, Peter believed that this sin would not be forgiven.
For this reason, Christ, wanting to lift Peter’s spirits, instructed the angel to tell the women who had come to the empty tomb:
“Go, tell His disciples and Peter…” (Mark 16:7)
With these words, the Savior wanted to tell Peter: “If you think that because you denied me, I stopped loving you, I don’t want to know you anymore, and you can no longer be my disciple, you are mistaken because my love for you is eternal. I will never stop loving you, and if you desire it, you can still be my disciple.”
Although Jesus forgave Peter for this sin, before His ascension, He had to have a sincere conversation with him to more emphatically point out what the greatest need of every sinful human being is.
After His resurrection, the Savior appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias and asked Peter three incredibly important questions, which He also poses today to anyone who claims to be a Christian: “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (agapas) Me more than these?'” (John 21:15)
By asking this question, Christ used the Greek verb “agapao” so that Peter had no doubts about the type of love being referred to.
Thus, Jesus asked him whether he still believed that he possessed AGAPE love, which never ceases, and whether he still thought that his feelings toward his Master were more enduring and stronger than those of the other disciples.
Here is how Peter responded to this question: “He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love (philo) You.'” (John 21:15)
It appears that Peter stubbornly claimed to still possess unwavering love, but when we carefully read the same passage in the Greek language, it turns out that when Peter said “love,” he did not use the verb “agapao” that Christ used, but “phileo,” which was not used to express God’s love but rather imperfect human affection relating to friendship.
Therefore, Peter, in responding to Jesus’ question, humbly confessed, “Yes, Lord! You are right, and you know that I do not yet possess agape, but I have only this human love (philia) for You, and that is why I denied You.”
When Peter expressed this, showing that he now understood his greatest need, the Savior said to him, “Feed My lambs.” Since you now know that God’s AGAPE love is not yet within you, you can now ask for it, and when you receive it, you will be ready to care for those who believe in Me.
Then, for the second time, Christ asked Peter the same question, and he received the exact same answer. But when He repeated the question for the third time, He made a certain change:
“When He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (phileis) Me?'” (John 21:17)
This time, for some reason, Christ did not use the verb “agapao” but “phileo,” which means that now He asked Peter whether he loved Him with that imperfect, friendship-oriented human love. Then, a saddened Peter sincerely replied that he indeed loved Christ with that kind of love:
“Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love (phileis) Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (philo) You.'” (John 21:17)
Peter was grieved, not because Christ asked the question for the third time, but because this time He asked Peter if he truly had that kind of love for Him.
Undoubtedly, even then Peter had such sympathy for Christ and genuinely desired to suffer for Him and even give his life, but self-love was still stronger than the affection he had for the Savior.
However, in His mercy, Jesus comforted Peter, assuring him that there would come a time when he could rectify his mistake and would not deny his Savior again, as he would then possess not only PHILIA but AGAPE.
THE SECOND DEATH AS A NECESSARY CONDITION OF HUMAN SALVATION
The death that our Savior died was not an ordinary martyr’s death. In order to obtain the right to save a person condemned to eternal death, the Son of God Himself had to taste the same death, for the Word of God clearly states that the wages of sin is the second death, which means eternal destruction:
“…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)
If the punishment for sin is eternal death, then by what right could the Son of God save us from that death if He Himself did not taste it?
In Romans 3:26, we read that God sent His Son “to demonstrate His justice in the present time so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
This means that in justifying sinful man, God had to act justly, in accordance with the requirements of His unchanging Law.
Since this Law demands eternal death from everyone who transgresses it, the representative of fallen humanity, Christ, had to experience the same death.
In the letter to Hebrews 2:9, the Apostle Paul wrote that Christ “tasted death for everyone.”
But what kind of death did the apostle mean here?
There is no doubt that Christ could not have tasted the first death in order to save us from it, because over the centuries there have been many believers in Him who, despite this, had to die this first death.
If this kind of death was the payment for sin, and if the Lord Jesus saved them from it, then they would not have to die that death. This means that the Apostle Paul, when he wrote that “Christ tasted death for everyone,” could only have meant the second, eternal death, as it is the ultimate punishment for sin.
This is also confirmed by the Apostle John, who wrote in the book of Revelation that not the first, but only the second death (eternal) has no power over believers:
“Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these, the second death has no power…”.
Why did the inspired Apostle John write that those who believed in Christ will not die the second death?
The answer to this question can only be one: no sincere Christian will have to die forever because there is Someone who has already died that death on their behalf.
The first death cannot be a punishment for sin at all because this death is only a period of unconsciousness preceding the resurrection of all people, both the righteous and the wicked.
If only this death constituted the punishment for sin, then it would mean that sin does not actually incur any punishment, because every unrepentant sinner, after experiencing the first death, would be resurrected and live forever, continuing their wicked and selfish life, further poisoning the universe with the poison of sin and selfishness.
In order to save us, the Son of God had to go through the experience of the second death.
There are many biblical arguments confirming the truth of this statement. One of them can be the experience that Jesus went through on the night preceding His martyr’s death.
The Savior’s behaviour in the garden of Gethsemane indicates that He was very afraid of something:
“And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee and began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.’ And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me…'”
“And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.”
Considering the physiology of the human body, only an extremely strong stress could have caused such a symptom.
The One before whom demons trembled was now mortally distressed because of the “cup” He had to drink as the representative of fallen humanity.
The bravest Being in the entire universe was now so afraid that bloody sweat was pouring from His forehead.
To understand the reason for this terrible anguish that the Lord Jesus experienced in Gethsemane, we must explain, based on the Bible, what the”cup” symbolizes, the drinking of which the Savior feared so much:
“…If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone…”
“This is what the Almighty Lord says: You will drink from the deep and wide cup of your sister, for it will hold much – you will be a laughingstock and a mockery. It will be full of intoxication and torment, a cup of horror and destruction.”
“A cup will come to you from the Lord’s right hand, and you will be filled with disgrace instead of glory.”
Based on these excerpts, it can be concluded that the “cup” symbolizes in the Holy Scripture the wrath of God that will be poured out on unrepentant sinners. This wrath, as indicated in the above texts, is synonymous with destruction, horror, separation from God, and eternal death in fire.
Now we understand why Christ was so afraid to drink this “cup.” We begin to comprehend why bloody sweat flowed from His brow.
This was so because He knew that the payment for sin – not His sin, but ours – is death and the second death, the separation from life forever.
Since the word “cup” carries such a meaning, it is no wonder that the human nature of the Son of God recoiled at its consumption.
When we compare the impression that the vision of approaching death had on Christ and the attitude towards death demonstrated by Paul, we could conclude that Paul was braver than the Son of God:
“And as we stayed many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, “This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”‘ When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, ‘Let the will of the Lord be done.'”
Unlike Christ, the apostle Paul was not afraid because he was not going to meet death, which is the payment for sin. He knew that Someone else had already paid that penalty on his behalf.
Paul knew that the death awaiting him was merely an unconscious, short-lived sleep that would end in awakening to a new, wonderful life.
For this reason, in his letter to the Philippians, without showing any fear of death, he confessed:
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21
However, the death that Jesus Christ was going to meet was not a sleep but a separation from God and an experience of His wrath, the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13), and the payment for the sin of fallen humanity.
SYMBOLISM OF THE CROWN OF THORNS
Have we ever wondered why a crown of thorns was placed on the Savior’s head? Surely, among other things, it was done to mock Him, but perhaps it had a deeper meaning.
What do thorns symbolize in the Bible?
And to Adam, He said, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain, you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.”
Hebrews 6:7-8 (ESV):
For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake they are cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
Therefore, the crown of thorns, like the cup, can symbolize a curse in the Bible.
CROSS AND ITS SYMBOLISM
Many Christians fail to realize that the Savior tasted eternal death for us because they only see the cross through the eyes of Roman soldiers who saw there only a physically suffering man.
However, when we look at Jesus dying on the cross from the perspective of the Jews, we can perceive something there that, once understood, made the disciples of Jesus never the same again.
What did the crucifixion mean to the Israelites?
This method of punishment was the most shameful form of death for them, and they despised this method of execution.
Stoning was the commonly used method of capital punishment by the Jews.
So why did the Jews insist so much on Pilate to have Jesus crucified when they themselves did not recognize this cruel method of execution?
The Jews compelled Pilate to agree to crucify Jesus because, in reality, they wanted something much worse for Him than death.
When they called out to Pilate to crucify Jesus, they had in mind what Moses had written regarding the punishment for sinners deserving death:
“If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”
Any convicted criminal sentenced to death by the Mosaic law was usually stoned and then hung on a stake or tree, which meant that he was irreversibly rejected by God.
This person was cursed not because he was hanged, but because he was suspended on a tree, which symbolically testified that he deserved to be cursed and rejected both by God and men.
It is no wonder, then, that when Christ was crucified, His disciples had doubts about whether He truly was the Son of God since He was hanging on a tree, which, for them as Jews, was synonymous with God’s curse and rejection.
The well-known “Matthew Henry’s Commentary” provides the following comment regarding this passage: “Those who saw a man hanging between heaven and earth at that time knew that he was cursed and unworthy not only of heaven but even of the earth.”
The enemies of Christ hated Him so much that they desired His crucifixion because they believed that if He were to hang on a tree (cross) between heaven and earth, then, according to the words spoken by God through Moses, He would become cursed by God. Thus, the Jews wanted Jesus to perish forever.
Remarkably, and even shockingly for many, the Holy Scripture states that indeed the Son of God became such a curse, but He became it for us.
Galatians 3:13: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’).”
Here is how Ellen White comments on this passage:
The Desire of Ages, p. 755
“Jesus, who represents humanity, was to suffer beyond the borders of Jerusalem. He died in a place outside the city, where criminals and murderers were executed. The words hold profound meaning: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).
What did the apostle Paul intend to convey in Galatians 3:13 when he wrote that in order to redeem us from the curse of the law, Christ Himself had to become such a curse?
We can find the proper answer to this question only when we understand what the author meant by the “curse of the law.”
The explanation of this “curse of the law” is found a few verses earlier:
“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; as it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.'”
From the above statement, it follows that all those who believe that they deserve eternity through their good deeds are cursed. However, for any human being to attain immortality through the works of the law, as implied by the text, they would have to “abide” in fulfilling the commands of the law perfectly, both in action and thought, never transgressing it.
Since no sinful human being is capable of fulfilling this condition, anyone who does not rely on Christ for salvation but relies on the law is cursed or, in other words, deserving of eternal death.
Therefore, keeping in mind that according to Galatians 3:10, the curse of the law is the second death, let us read again what Paul wrote three verses later in Galatians 3:13:
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'”
Paraphrasing this passage, we can interpret it as follows:
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law (that is, from the second death) by becoming a curse for us (by participating in the second death on our behalf)—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'”
Thus, the fact that Christ “was hanged on a tree” and became a curse for us must mean that as the representative of all sinful humanity, He Himself underwent the experience of that second, eternal death, which is the curse of the law.
Therefore, the “tree,” which refers to the cross, also signifies the “curse.”
That is why Paul wrote in Galatians 6:14:
“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
There is such a beautiful story about three tall, majestic, and beautiful trees that once grew in the forest. The first tree prayed to be turned into the most magnificent structure, in which the greatest kings and rulers of the world could live, after being cut down.
However, instead, the boards from that tree were used to build a simple stable, where animals lived, and the tree considered it an insult to its noble origin.
But one day, in that humble stable, a little Boy was born, who was the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
The second tree prayed to be turned into the most beautiful ship, on which the greatest rulers of the world could sail, after being cut down. But that tree was used to build a simple fishing boat.
However, one day, the Son of God Himself entered that ordinary fishing boat and from it, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, delivered the most beautiful sermons that people had ever heard.
As for the third tree, it fervently prayed to God, asking never to be cut down by a cruel axe and to forever be able to point to the sky with its tall, beautiful crown.
Unfortunately, even this time came the sad day when woodcutters arrived and placed a sharp axe against the trunk of that tree. In despair, it cried out to God, “Why?! Why?!”
However, one day, two beams were carved from the trunk of that tree and made into a cross, a cross that would forever draw the attention of the entire universe to heaven—the source of incomprehensible love.
The fact that Christ died hanging on the cross was initially the greatest obstacle for the Jews to recognize Him as the Messiah.
Their attitude towards Jesus changed only when they realized that the curse that fell upon Him was meant for them and that He did not die because of His own sins, as He had none, but “became a curse for us.”
The fact that the Son of God became a curse for us means that at some point while hanging on the cross (tree), He felt like a sinner dying forever and rejected by God.
That’s why, going through unimaginable suffering, He cried out in despair to the Father (Matthew 27:46), saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The answer to this question is found in the well-known passage from the Gospel of John (3:16), “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.”
Although indeed God was very close to His Son at that time and suffered no less than He did, He could not make His presence felt because Jesus had to drink the cup of God’s wrath to the end and feel like a sinner dying forever.
In the universe, God has countless children whom He loves, but He had only one Son, who was with Him from eternity. And although He loved Him more than anyone in the entire universe, He allowed Him to experience unimaginable sufferings because of us. That is perhaps the best proof of how extraordinary His love for us is.
The Holy Scriptures do not say anything about how God the Father Himself felt at the moment when His Beloved Son asked Him why the One whose love had accompanied Him from eternity had now forsaken Him. We can only imagine that it was as terrible and painful an experience for God the Father as it was for His Son. God the Father undoubtedly suffered together with Christ out of love for us and to save us from eternal damnation. It was so because they are a perfect unity. Sister White understood this issue in the same way, as evidenced by what she wrote in the commentary on Matthew 27:45-46:
“Angels suffered with Christ. God Himself was crucified with Him because Christ was one with the Father.”
“My transgressions have overtaken me so that I cannot see.”
A certain pastor, working as a missionary in Africa, once asked an interesting question to a group of converted natives:
“How many people, in your opinion, have died in the world so far?” he said.
“Oh, Pastor,” replied the Africans, “millions and millions, so many that no one can count them!”
“You are mistaken,” said the missionary. “So far, only one person has truly died – Jesus Christ and everyone else has merely fallen asleep.”
Thus far, out of all humans, only the Son of God has tasted eternal death.
However, someone might ask, “How is it possible that Christ thought He was dying a second death when He had previously predicted His resurrection?”
The answer to this question can be found in Psalm 40, which expresses the sufferings and thoughts of Christ dying on the cross:
“Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do your will, O my God…’
Psalm 40:13, 16 (ESV)
“For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see…
May those be put to shame and disappointed altogether who seek to snatch away my life.”
Expressing the thoughts of the dying Savior, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the psalmist wrote:
“My transgressions have overtaken me so that I cannot see” (Psalm 40:13).
The overwhelming weight of our sins caused Jesus, at one point, to be unable to “see,” meaning He was unable to envision His resurrection.
A similar statement can be found in the book “The Desire of Ages” (page 598, 4th edition):
“The fierce temptation brought upon Christ agony that can never be fully understood by man. The awful moment had come—that moment which was to decide the destiny of the world. The fate of humanity trembled in the balance. Christ could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter and broke the heart of the Son of God.”
These extraordinary words testify that although the Savior had previously foretold His resurrection, at this moment, the depression was so strong that He “could not see through the portals of the tomb,” He “had no hope” that resurrection would occur, and He believed that because He had become sin and curse for us, the consequences of this sacrifice would last forever!
However, when Jesus made the decision to sacrifice His life for humanity’s eternal offering, the sense of hope for resurrection returned, and the Savior could say:
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit…”
“The Desire of Ages,” page 600, 7th edition:
“Amid the awful darkness, apparently forsaken of God, Christ had drained the last dregs in the cup of human woe. In those dreadful hours, He had relied upon the evidence of His Father’s acceptance heretofore given Him. He was acquainted with the character of His Father; He understood His justice, His mercy, and His love. By faith, Christ was victorious.”
Our admiration for the beloved Savior, for His humility, unimaginable sacrifice, and selfless love, increases even more when we read Psalm 22, written many hundreds of years before His death:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the LORD,” they say,
“let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”
Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce g my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
But you, LORD, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
DEATH OR LIFE
Burdened with our humanity and our sins, just and sinless, the Son of God, representing fallen humanity, became a “curse” (Gal. 3:13) and a “sin” (2 Cor. 5:21) for us.
The fulfilment of this condition required of us the unchanging Law of God, condemning us to death for its transgression.
Because the Savior knew what the punishment for breaking the Law was and how repugnant and abominable sin was to God, at some point, feelings began to suggest to Him that if He did not descend from the cross, He would become the eternal guarantee of humanity’s salvation.
And in this dramatic moment, the Son of God had to make a decision: to save humanity and perish, or to save Himself, thus condemning us to certain death and depriving us of all hope of rescue.
There is no doubt that even while hanging on the cross, the Son of God could easily have saved His own life.
On what basis can we suppose that He could descend from the cross?
It was possible because although He was human, He was still God, and no one could take away His right to decide His own fate. It was also because even as a human, He never sinned, maintaining perfect righteousness and holiness.
The fact that Christ could descend from the cross is also evidenced by the tempter urging Him to do so three times.
The devil will never tempt me to turn stones into bread because he knows it would be impossible for me, but when he urged Christ to do it, he knew that He could accomplish it. Therefore, if he tried to persuade the Savior to save Himself, it means it was possible:
“If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Matthew 4:3,6)
During the temptation in the wilderness, Satan also declared to Jesus:
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.”
“Life of Jesus,” edition VII, page 593:
“Now Satan, with his evil angels, was present in human form under the cross.”
“And the people stood looking on. And the rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!'”
One of the criminals hanging beside Him also insulted Him, saying, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
Could the Son of God save “Himself and us” simultaneously?
It was impossible because He truly represented the entire sinful humanity for which an irrevocable death sentence had been issued.
It was not the sinless Son of God who deserved death, but us. Therefore, we also had to be punished.
That is why Jesus, by assuming our humanity, became our representative, became us, and when He died, each one of us was simultaneously punished with death in Him:
“We know that our old self was crucified with him…; For one who has died has been set free from sin.”
“I am crucified with Christ; therefore, I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
2 Corinthians 5:14
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died.”
Our death in Christ was the only method of salvation that allowed the righteous requirements of the Law to be fulfilled in us, so that we, while bearing the penalty of death, could still live.
If the Son of God had come down from the cross, then we would not have been punished (in Him), and the Law would still demand death from us as payment for sin.
If the Savior had not chosen to remain on the cross and die in our place, it would have meant the end of our hope for salvation, and the apostle John’s response to the angel’s question about who was worthy to open the book of life of mankind would have ended with these words:
“And I wept much because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.” Revelation 5:4
Fortunately, although the Son of God had to choose between Himself and us, He chose eternal life for us and eternal death for Himself in the presence of the entire universe.
Only through this incredible sacrifice could one of the elders joyfully say to a distressed John and to anyone who believes:
“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Revelation 5:5
And immediately after hearing these comforting, miraculous words, John was shown to whom humanity owes its salvation:
“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.”
The Lamb, that is Christ, was “as though it had been slain” because His representation of fallen humanity indeed died an eternal death, but on the third day, a new, transformed, perfect, and glorified humanity arose.
Furthermore, we must remember that Christ was always God, and His divine nature could not experience a second death:
SDA Bible Commentary, E. White Comments, vol. V, p. 1113
“When Christ was crucified, His human nature died. His divinity did not die; that would have been impossible.”
Since Christ’s human nature died a second death on the cross, we must answer the question: what kind of nature was it, sinful or sinless?
On the cross, it was not the human nature of Adam before the fall that died because that nature was perfect and holy and could not die, especially since the second death is exclusively the penalty for sin.
Only the fallen human nature could die forever on the cross, and indeed it did!
We do not know what happened to Christ’s divine nature after His death; it may have been hidden in God, or it may have “slept” for three days.
None of us knows, and surely it will remain a mystery in this life.
However, what is most important for us is that our representative human nature, condemned to death, which Christ took upon Himself to represent us in the struggle against sin and death, hung on the cross (tree) with Him.
Thanks to this, and by believing in it, we can say along with Paul:
“Our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with.”
This means that our sinful, old, condemned, and death-bound life was crucified with Christ so that the “BODY RULED BY SIN” could be done away with, which is our fallen nature.
“Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”
This true story took place in Taiwan. In this country, there was an old Chinese tradition in which parents chose a girl as a wife for their son.
One day, a devout and experienced couple said to their son, “We have finally found a suitable girl for you, and your wedding will take place in three weeks!”
The young man eagerly awaited the day when he could meet his wife.
Finally, the wedding day arrived. A beautifully dressed bride was introduced. According to tradition, her face was covered. Her name was Golden Flower.
When the wedding ceremony was over and they were alone together, he could finally unveil her face. However, to his surprise, he noticed that his wife’s face was ugly. In a fit of anger, he threw the veil to the ground and stormed out of the house. For a long time, his parents tried to convince him that although the girl wasn’t the prettiest, she was a wonderful Christian with a good character, hardworking, intelligent, and they couldn’t find a better wife for him.
Finally, after six months of absence, he yielded to his parents’ persuasion and returned home. Although he agreed to live with his wife, he never took her outside or brought any friends home. He was so ashamed of her that he even wished she would die.
After some time, they had a daughter. When the girl turned twelve, the man’s vision suddenly started deteriorating in one eye, and soon the other eye became increasingly weak. Worried about his health, he visited a doctor who, after conducting detailed examinations, said, “You have a very rare eye disease. There is only one way to save your sight, and that is through a corneal transplant. Unfortunately, the surgery costs over five hundred dollars, and besides, there is a long waiting list for corneas. I’m sorry to inform you that you will likely lose your vision…”
When his wife learned about this misfortune, she said to him, “For a long time, I’ve been making baskets at night and saved five hundred dollars. Please take this money for the operation.”
“The surgery is not enough,” he replied. “Corneas are needed, and many people are waiting in line for them. Forget about it…”
A few days later, he received a call from the hospital and was told, “We have corneas for you! Please come to the hospital immediately for the operation!”
After the operation, when he regained consciousness and the bandages were removed, the doctor asked, “Can you see anything?”
“Yes,” he replied, “but faintly, some light…”
“That’s wonderful!” said the pleased doctor. “You can see the light from the lamp. It worked! In three weeks, you can go home. You will regain your sight.”
The next day, his daughter came to visit him at the hospital.
“Dad, we’re so happy that the operation was successful. Can Mom come to the hospital to see you?”
“No,” he quickly replied. “I don’t want to see her here. Just come by yourself in three weeks. You can take me home by taxi.”
Three weeks later, his daughter came to take him home. On the way back, he said, “I heard that a man had an accident and, before his death, agreed to donate his corneas to me. I have to go to the cemetery to honour that man.”
When they returned home and entered the house, they saw his wife carrying a tray from the kitchen. Somewhat embarrassed, he said, “I want to thank you for the five hundred dollars you gave me for the operation…”
Upon hearing this, his wife started crying, and he realized that it was the first time he had thanked her for something.
Suddenly, my daughter began to cry loudly, her tears flowing uncontrollably.
“Mom, you have to tell him! Tell him the truth! He doesn’t know that you gave him your corneas!”
Upon hearing this, he immediately approached his wife, turned her around, and looked into her eyes; there were no corneas there…
“Why did you do this?!” he asked, astonished by what he saw. “Why did you give me your sight?”
“I did it because you are my husband,” she replied softly, bowing her head on his shoulder.
At that moment, he said:
He pronounced her name for the first time and then knelt at her feet.
To save us from eternal damnation, the Son of God decided to sacrifice everything for us.
He endured suffering beyond human comprehension, becoming a sin and a curse for us. In order to open the gates of paradise for us, He chose to make the highest possible sacrifice.
Realizing how much the Savior risked for us and how much He gave up, we desire to surrender our lives to Him and express heartfelt gratitude by kneeling at His feet and worshipfully saying, “Golden Flower.”
BLOOD AND WATER
Have we ever wondered why Jesus died much earlier than others who were crucified?
Death by crucifixion usually occurred after three to seven days, approximately 70 to 180 hours. However, Christ died after only six hours.
That’s why when Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body, Pilate was surprised by the unusually quick death. He called the centurion to confirm if it was true:
“Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.”
The fact that the death of the Savior occurred unnaturally quickly, considering the method of execution, indicates that it was not a result of being nailed to the cross.
We can learn about the true cause of Christ’s death based on John 19:32-35:
“So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.
And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.”
Why does John make such an effort to assure us that what he wrote is true?
It is evident that blood flowed from Christ’s side, but where did the water come from?
Can the explanation of this phenomenon be found in modern medical textbooks?
I did some research in books and found several interesting explanations:
The heart muscle is located in the pericardial sac, which is filled with a small amount of pericardial fluid that resembles water in appearance.
However, experts state that as a result of inflammation of the heart muscle or extreme circulatory failure, there may be an accumulation of pericardial fluid in the pericardial sac.
HEALTH ENCYCLOPEDIA: “However, due to extremely weak blood circulation, there may be an accumulation of non-inflammatory (transudate) fluid in the pericardial sac, which is a consequence of, among other things, circulatory failure” (Mała Encyklopedia Zdrowia, 8th edition, volume II, p. 847).
Such extreme circulatory weakness certainly occurred as a result of the crucifixion of Christ. Circulatory failure caused a significant accumulation of pericardial fluid (water) in Christ’s pericardial sac, and when the immense stress resulting from unimaginable sorrow and depression caused the Savior’s heart to rupture, blood mixed with a large amount of pericardial fluid resembling water came out of the pericardial sac.
When one of the soldiers then pierced the side of the Savior with a spear, blood and water immediately flowed out, which proves that the death of the Son of God occurred due to a heart rupture.
“The Life of Jesus,” p. 612, 7th edition.
“It was not the spear thrust and crucifixion that caused Jesus’ death. The cry uttered ‘with a loud voice’ (Matt. 27:50; Luke 23:46) at the moment of death, as well as the stream of blood and water that flowed from the pierced side, testify that death occurred as a result of heart rupture. This heart ruptured due to spiritual agony, as it was struck by the sins of the world.”
Why did the Heart of Christ rupture?
It ruptured because it was struck by my sins!
If I know this and yet Jesus is not the most important Person in my life, it can only be commented on with one word:
And this is how E. White expressed it in the book “Steps to Christ”:
“Do you feel that giving everything to Christ is too great a sacrifice? Ask yourself, ‘What has Christ given for me?’ The Son of God gave everything—His life, His love, and His suffering. Is it possible for us, unworthy of such great love, to withhold our hearts from Him?
When we surrender all, what are we actually surrendering? We give Jesus our hearts, stained with sin, that He may cleanse them with His own blood and save us with His infinite love! And yet, people still think it is difficult to give everything. I am ashamed when I hear this, ashamed even to write about it.”
“THAT THE LOVE WHEREWITH THOU HAST LOVED ME MAY BE IN THEM”
At first, the disciples of Jesus, seeing their Master hanging on the cross between heaven and earth, representing a curse, had doubts whether He was truly the Messiah since God allowed Him to be treated in such a dishonourable way.
But when the Savior rose from the dead, and when the disciples understood that He had to undergo those unimaginable sufferings and endure that great humiliation for their sake, that unfathomable love deeply moved their hearts, and they were never the same again.
All of them died a martyr’s death out of love for the Lord, except for John, who, according to Christ’s promise, died a natural death despite being tortured and unsuccessfully attempting to be killed by boiling in oil.
Even Peter, who had denied the Lord three times before, was transformed to such an extent by what he witnessed at Golgotha that when the Romans wanted to crucify him, he said he was unworthy to die like the Savior and asked his executioners to crucify him upside down.
What was the reason that the disciples of Christ changed so much that they became humble, loving towards one another, and sacrificial to an unlimited degree? What was the reason they followed the Lamb wherever He went (Rev. 14:4), even unto death?
The reason for this remarkable change was that in the Son of God hanging on the “tree,” they saw a love that “surpasses knowledge,” and they were captivated by this selfless and eternal love.
Through the testimony of the apostles and the teachings based on many revelations that Paul proclaimed, the early Christians also understood the depth of God’s love hidden in the cross. It had such a profound impact on their lives that they became the “light of the world,” and the Gospel was preached with great power, and the church of Christ grew rapidly.
Unfortunately, over time, the devil managed to make Christians lose this wonderful teaching about the cross, and for many centuries, the church did not know the truth that Christ tasted eternal death for us.
Because the prince of darkness knows that understanding what actually happened at Golgotha can draw sinners to God and awaken love for Him, he does everything to prevent people from understanding what the words mean: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).
Even today, among many Christian communities, I personally know only one church that officially teaches this invaluable truth that in order to save us, the Son of God had to experience the second death.
The following quote is from the book “Seventh-day Adventists Believe,” which is a collection of 27 fundamental doctrines of this church:
“The death that Christ tasted for all was eternal death—the full curse of death.”
This astonishing truth, grounded in the Bible, should be presented to every person because it provides the best motivation to reciprocate God’s love and can be a turning point in many people’s lives.
Initially, God created man as a perfect being who possessed AGAPE love. Unfortunately, sin caused that love to disappear, and excessive self-love took its place.
Therefore, we all come into this world devoid of this greatest value, and none of us is capable of possessing such love on our own.
Agape can only become our portion when we invite Jesus Christ into our hearts through prayer.
Shortly before His death, Jesus Himself prayed to dwell in us along with His love:
“I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).
Every day, we should ask our Savior to dwell in our hearts and reveal His love to the world once again, this time through His presence in us.
If we dedicate time every day to contemplate the revealed love of the Son of God in our lives, by reading, meditating, and talking about Him, then the wonderful promise will be fulfilled in our lives:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
By reading about Christ in the Holy Scriptures, conversing, meditating, singing, and listening about Him, we provide the Holy Spirit with a foundation to pour more of God’s love into our hearts and transform our characters to reflect the perfect character of Jesus.
The best testimony of how a naturally selfish person can reflect the love of Christ can be seen in the life story of the apostle John:
“Even John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, who was the closest reflection of his Master, did not possess a good character from birth. He was not only greedy and desirous of honour but also impulsive and vengeful when offended. However, when the divine character of Christ was revealed to him, he recognized his shortcomings and humbled himself. His soul was filled with admiration and love for what he witnessed in the daily life of the Son of God (Jesus’ strength and patience, majesty and humility, power and tenderness). Day by day, his heart drew closer to Christ until John, in love for his Master, completely lost a sense of self-love, and his offensive and ambitious character submitted to the transformative power of Christ. The regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit renewed his heart. The power of Christ’s love transformed his character. Such is the certain effect of being united with Christ. When Christ dwells in the heart, the whole nature is transformed. Under the influence of the Spirit of Christ and His love, the heart softens, and the soul is uplifted. Thoughts and desires are born, aspiring toward God and heaven.” (Steps to Christ, 11th ed., pp. 68-69)
The Holy Scriptures provide numerous examples of people who, although sinful by nature, through their faith in the Son of God and their communion with God, obtained the greatest gift of all—God’s love.
One such example is Moses, who pleaded with God to blot him out of the Book of life in exchange for forgiving the sin of Israel:
“Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, ‘Alas, these people have sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of the book that you have written.’ And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.'” Exodus 32:31-33
In the times of the New Testament, the apostle Paul desired to make a similar sacrifice:
“For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Romans 9:3
Undoubtedly, the love of God was also present in Stephen when, through AGAPE, he was able to love his enemies and persecutors and pray for them, even as they took his life:
“Now when they heard these things, they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:54-60
Today, anyone who desires it can also experience the invaluable and greatest of God’s gifts—selfless and unceasing AGAPE love, which is the highest value one can attain.
A deceased preacher once personally shared with me a story about how he once stood on a platform with his young son, waiting for a train. At a certain moment, to his horror, he noticed that the boy fell from the platform onto the train tracks just as a train was rapidly approaching. It was too late to save the child, so the preacher could only cry out, “Lord, save him!”
And in that very instant, to his amazement, he saw a mysterious force lift the boy up and place him back on the platform, saving his life.
That child, saved in a miraculous way by God, grew up to become, just like his father, a devoted pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
I remember attending his ordination, deeply moved as I listened to him, tears in his eyes, read from the Word of God about what should be the greatest value in everyone’s life:
“For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14,16-19
Therefore, I bow my knees before the Father,… so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
The greatest value we can obtain in this earthly life is not wealth, fame, or even knowledge, but the love of Christ that “surpasses knowledge.”
Therefore, every day we should read the Word of God, focusing on better understanding the character of Christ and His love, and asking God for this love to become part of us. If we do so, then together with the apostle Paul, we will be able to say:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Does the place that Jesus holds in my life matter so much?
It does! Either He will be the most important or He won’t be there at all. Either He will be first in my life, or He won’t be there at all. Either first or last.
A seasoned professor was invited to give a lecture to a group of twelve directors from the largest American corporations. The training was about wise planning and time management.
The professor had only one short lecture to present this topic. He decided to explain it in a vivid way.
For this purpose, he took out a fairly large pitcher from under the desk and placed it on the table. Then he placed several quite big rocks, the size of tennis balls, into it. When the pitcher was full and not a single rock could be added, the professor asked the directors if the pitcher was full.
Upon receiving an affirmative answer, he took out a container with smaller stones from under the desk and poured them into the pitcher, filling the spaces between the larger rocks. Then he asked again if the pitcher was full.
This time, no one provided an affirmative answer, and as expected, he poured sand into the pitcher and then filled everything with water.
When the pitcher was truly full and nothing more could be added, the professor asked what lesson could be learned from this experience. What can we learn from this pitcher experiment?
When no one could find the correct answer to this question, the professor said:
The great truth revealed by this experience tells us that if we don’t put the big rocks into the pitcher first, it will no longer be possible later on!
In the room, a deep silence fell, and as each participant in this training admired the simplicity and wisdom of this statement, the professor asked again:
“What are the big stones in your life?
Is it your health, family, work, and career, or perhaps some hobbies or sports?
Every day you must pose this question to yourselves and strive to find the right answer.
If you do so and find the correct answer to this essential question, and if every day you place these big stones first in the jars of your hearts, then your time will never run out.
We too should ask ourselves this immensely important question: Is Jesus Christ the big stones in my life?
Is He the greatest value to me?
Could I sincerely say today, together with the Apostle Paul (Philippians 1:21):
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Would I be able to say with a clear conscience (Philippians 3:8):
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
However, if I honestly admit that, unfortunately, these words find no resonance in my life, although it is very sad, we don’t need to despair just yet. Not everything is lost!
It is not too late to change. Jesus has not yet left the temple; the time of grace has not ended!
EXPERIENCES AND VISIONS, p. 19:
“I saw four angels who had work to do on earth and were about to perform it. Jesus was clothed in His priestly robes. With pity and compassion, He looked at the remaining people and, raising His hand, called out with the deepest voice of mercy: My blood, Father, my blood, my blood, my blood, my blood!
Afterwards, I saw a bright light coming from God, seated on a high, white throne, spreading over Jesus. Then I saw an angel flying swiftly with Jesus’ command to the four angels who were to perform the work on earth. The flying angel held something in his hand and moved it back and forth, calling out in a loud voice: Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Until the servants of God are sealed on their foreheads.”
As long as Jesus is still in the temple and interceding for us, it is not too late to repent. However, I must make that decision not tomorrow but today!
Now I must make a firm decision that from today onward, Christ will become the central figure in my life, and every day I will find time for prayer and the study of God’s Word.
There will surely be effects; only patience and perseverance are needed.
I once spoke with an elderly woman who, due to likely fungal infection or some other cause, experienced the complete loss of her toenail on her big toe. I recommended to her the regular application of propolis ointment to the affected area. However, initially, even though she used the ointment for a week or two, there were no visible improvements. But this elderly lady did not give up on the treatment because she believed it would help her. And after a month, an entirely new toenail grew back! Many other people in her place would have given up when they didn’t see any improvement right from the beginning of the treatment, but she patiently and persistently applied the remedy until she was healed.
The same goes for prayer and reading the Bible.
Firm decision and perseverance in this resolution will surely bring results. Let us pray, then, that the Lord helps us fulfill this plan, and that the Holy Spirit increasingly reflects the love of Jesus Christ within us. Then we will finally become the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth,” as the world will see in us the “love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge,” and the time of the return of our Lord and Savior will come, for the prophecy of Revelation 18:1 will be fulfilled:
“Then I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his glory.”
Dear Father, we are very grateful to You that even though we all became sinful and condemned to eternal damnation through no fault of Your own in Adam, You decided, along with Your Son, to undergo unspeakable sufferings and endure the harshest possible punishment for us in order to save us. And it is true because Your Word says that Your Son became a “curse” for us, and if He did, then You and the Holy Spirit as well, for You are “one.”
We thank You for this wonderful gospel message—for the truth that is in Christ, for it reveals the depth of Your incredible love.
However, You yourself know best, dear Father, how much Your adversary hates this truth and how he strives to prevent us from knowing it and realizing its immense and invaluable worth to us. That is why there are so many different theories and claims through which the devil seeks to distance us from the Minneapolis message. That is why even among us there are those who, despite numerous biblical evidences and the utterances of the Spirit of Prophecy, dare to deny this truth, claiming, for example, that we did not die in Christ. Forgive us, Lord, forgive us for still being slow in accepting this most important truth, just as we were over 100 years ago. However, we ask not only for forgiveness but also for You to remove all obstacles so that this wonderful message may finally be properly appreciated and accepted by us, and as a result, the expected outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the return of Your Son and our Savior will take place.
We ask that we exalt Jesus Christ not only as a church but also as the greatest value in each of our personal lives. Because the enemy of the gospel does everything to deprive us of time for Christ…
And often he succeeds. That is why we are ashamed of it. We are ashamed because we know how much we owe Him… We know what the cup He agreed to drink symbolizes. We know what the crown of thorns placed on His holy divine-human head symbolizes. We know why His heart was broken. We know what the “tree” symbolized—the cross on which He hung. The meaning of all three symbols—the cup, the crown of thorns, and the cross—can be summed up in one word, the word “curse.” But we also know that, as Adam Mickiewicz wrote, “the sign of the Golgotha cross will not save a man if he does not place the cross on his heart himself.” Therefore, we earnestly desire for Jesus to always be the most important to us, to always be those big stones that every day take the first place in the jars of our hearts.
Help us also remember that You cannot save us in sin but from sin, and understand the drama that is happening in heaven right now, that it is because of our sins and indifference that Jesus cannot complete the work of saving humanity and return for His people and that every sin we commit, even if forgiven, leaves a wound in His heart and Your heart.
Therefore, we now open our hearts to our Savior and commit to doing so every day, asking only for Your help, so that we may persevere in this decision. We also ask that we do not confine ourselves to preaching the Gospel in a typical Protestant manner, for although it is a wonderful message, it does not contain the full truth and differs in the matter of Christ’s humanity. But we ask that we finally unite in accepting and proclaiming with the power of the Holy Spirit, the message that was given to us over 100 years ago, which allows for an even deeper understanding of this marvellous truth. Therefore, we ask that this truth, which is in Christ, the true and complete gospel, be finally received by us and proven to be Your power in our lives and the lives of those to whom we will proclaim it. We ask for all of this in the name and through the merits of our Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ.