Picture of Pastor Carlson

Sermon delivered January 24, 2004 by Pastor Paul Carlson

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New King James Version, NKJV, unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

The Greatest Tragedy in the Universe

What do you consider to be the greatest tragedy in the universe? How would you answer that? Do you know what most people consider to be the tragedy of the universe? It's their own tragedy or misfortune. "I'm unhappy." "Something bad happened to me." But that's only the result because everything that is happening to you is just the result of a far greater tragedy.

I would like to suggest for you six very important statements about our belief in the doctrine we call the Great Controversy. You can find these statements included in the bulletin insert (included at the end of the sermon). As you listen to this message you will hear the missing words so you can fill in the blanks.

I'm very grateful for a Bible teacher (Dick Winn at Weimar College) for introducing me as a new Christian to these Biblical principles. They have given me a wonderful foundation for my own Christian experience. Here is the first statement.

The greatest tragedy in the universe is the maligning of God's character and government.

This is how the Great Controversy began, when Satan tried to damage the reputation of our God. Revelation 12:7-9 And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. Genesis 3:4-5 " Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

Now what does this have to say to us in our day and age? Have any of you become acquainted with someone and your first impulse was negative and then later as you got to know that person better you began to find him or her to be a really fine individual after all? What made the difference? It was knowledge of the person.

That's a very simple illustration but this stands at the very root of the whole issue of the Great Controversy. The only way Satan could succeed in turning people away from friendship and loyalty and loving admiration to our God was to confuse their minds about who He is. Now some might say that's too elementary. But let me remind you that this being, Satan, Lucifer, was so clever, so persuasive, so thoughtful in what he did that he was able to deceive more than a third of those wise, intelligent beings that live in God's very presence. That puts it on a very sophisticated level, doesn't it? He deceived those angels in spite of God personally showing them the other point of view.

It doesn't take long to realize that Satan continues to be immensely successful. And I dare say that everyone of us, to a large degree, have operated at one time or another on Satan's misinformation about God. Every result of sin and of rebellion came as a result of this first original tragedy. And it far outweighs anything that can be happening in our lives because this is what caused what is happening in our lives.

But now, let's carry this to the next step. If the greatest tragedy in the universe was the attack upon God's government and character and if that was itself the cause of every other tragedy, what does that mean for our daily lives? Here's the second principle.

Satan has power over a person only by deceiving him about the character and plan of God.

The book of John carries the theme of light versus darkness all the way through it's an exciting theme. The next time you sit down to read the book of John, try to just look at the issue of light and darkness and see how John sees this. What you find is that darkness can symbolize confusion or misunderstanding about God and light equals truth or accurate insights into the character of God. Then watch the light verses darkness theme struggle through the book of John. And you come down to John where Jesus says to the Pharisees, "You are children of your father and your father is Satan." The didn't like that. But the He said a very interesting thing about Satan. In my own paraphrase, "Satan is the father of lies and when Satan tell a lie, he's expressing his own nature, because That's just the way he operates."

Well, then, anybody who has been duped by Satan's deceptions about God are children of darkness. Let's see if we can give a practical illustration. Why do most people feel negative or hostile about the "law of God"? In many circles you can just mention the word "law" and people just rankle. "Oh, I've been liberated from the law." Even good Adventists who know that they're not liberated from the law, can be asked, "Is the law still binding?" and they'll say, in a certain intonation, "Yes, it's very binding." Have you ever noticed that we'd rather find another word or concept to express the word 'law'? Many have misunderstood the whole meaning and purpose and nature of law. People who are "down" on the Sabbath don't know what the Sabbath is really all about. And right down the line, you take God's beautiful truth and principles of living and distort them and people will turn negative. Ellen White says that tens of thousands of infidels have been the result of the teaching of most of modern Christianity about an ever-burning hell. Well, that doctrine came from a group of people who professed to be teaching in the name of God and what do they do? They turn people away from God.

How many Adventist youth have left the church and left Christianity because a parent said, "Listen, we are the Christian representatives in this home," and then proceeded to act in an unchristlike way? What have they done? They've given a negative picture of God and the kids say way down inside, "If that's the kind of person God is, I don't want anything to do with him."

But let's not stop with that! Satan deceived angels; he deceived Adam and Eve. And if he can, he'll deceive us. I'd like to talk about one particular way he has deceived most people, even Christians. It has to do with a mis-belief that I'm sure you have come across at least at one time in your life that God's opinion of man needs to be changed. Here's the third statement.

It's man's opinion of God, not God's opinion of man that needs to be changed.

This is one major deception that Satan would like us to believe so he can have power over us. Just about every false religion, including many forms of Christianity, have been twisted because of man's attempts to change God's opinion of man. Why do some in the Eastern religions crawl on their hands and knees for miles and miles? Why did Martin Luther beat himself on the back with chains and ropes and lay down on a cold stone floor? All of this was an attempt to say, "God, won't you think better of me because of what I'm doing?" "Won't you like me now?"

How pervasive is this in your own experience? How often do you find yourself saying, "Oh, I don't want to do anything that would displease God." Well, I'm not encouraging you to do anything that would displease God, but what's the assumption behind that? "God will not like you if you do this. But if you do certain things, He'll like you better." And that's the whole essence of religion, isn't it? To get God to like us? No, absolutely not. That's not it. God already loves us. John 16:25-27 "These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you. My paraphrase of what Jesus is telling us is "I'm not even going to heaven and pray to the Father for you. I won't do it. If I did you'd get the wrong idea. No, I won't pray to the Father for you for the Father already loves you."

The Father's attitude toward us, the Son's attitude toward us has always been and always will be one of constant redemptive activity, constantly reaching out, taking the initiative to embrace us. And this is exactly what the apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. I like the way that the Good News Bible translates these verses. This is what it says for verse 19. Our message is that God was making all mankind his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends. Now, which way is this going? Is the world trying to get God to be reconciled to the world? No, God is already reconciled to you, He's trying to get you to be reconciled back to Him.

What is the legalist? The legalist is the one who says, "When I succeed in performing this and this and this, then God will think well of me and I will have achieved." The problem with the legalist is not that he wants to obey. The problem is that he doesn't understand God.

But then you can swing the pendulum the other way, too. And the person says, "I will get God to think well of me by entering into some legal arrangement or agreement with God whereby I will acknowledge and claim the death of Jesus on my behalf. And God will think well of me because I'm in Christ. But is that the issue? No. The issue is, What does that person think of God? Is that person drawn into unshakable loyalty and trust in God? Now, let's go even further. If Satan is the father of lies, the author of deception, what do we need to be safe? How do we avoid believing Satan's lies? Here's the next statement.

The basis, the condition, the very meaning of salvation is to know and accept God as he really is.

John 17:3 "And this is eternal life, that they might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." Now, where it says, "know the only true God" that can also read idiomatically "to know God as He truly is."

And then to say, "I accept Him, I embrace Him, I reach out to Him and I say, Yes, I trust and admire Him. I now gratefully submit to Him because of who He is."

Isn't that all that God really wants anyway? Understanding and trust and friendship? Isn't that what's behind all those Bible texts that describe God being pleased with sacrifices? For example, Exodus 29:18, "It is a burnt offering to the Lord; it is a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the Lord.". Was the odor of burning sacrifice that was sweet to God or was it really the act of trust and faith behind that sacrifice? David recognized this when he wrote in Psalm 51:16 and onwards, "You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it: You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart these, O God, You will not despise." Psalm 51:19 goes on to add, Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness. So it's really the faith and trust that is behind the sacrifices that God was pleased with. And so to know God and to accept Him as He really is that is faith and that is the very meaning of salvation.

If that is what it means to be saved, I should also ask: What then does it mean to be lost? Well, how did Adam and Eve get lost to begin with? They believed Satan's deceptions about God. Satan came to them in the garden and he strung them a line of several major attacks on the character of God:

And they fell for it. They disbelieved God. And that's how they were lost.

But there's even more that we need to realize. If we accept that we have to know God as He really is and we don't have to change God's opinion of us that God already loves us why does a Christian live for God? Here's the fifth statement.

The Christian lives righteously not so that God will think well of him, but so that the world will think well of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. If it's not a case where we are trying to win God's approval, then why are we trying to live right? Of course, we want to live right because it is right. But when you get your mind around this principle, it will change the whole way you live. After all, what really was the essence of Moses' sin in the wilderness? Do you remember that? Remember the angry words of Moses, in Numbers 20:10- 11, And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock and he said to them, "Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?' Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly ? Later on the Lord spoke to them and said "Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, you shall not lead this assembly into the land that I have given them. One translation says, "Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, . . . ." Moses and Aaron's real sin was that they didn't represent God correctly. They didn't act for the glory of God. For us today, that's got to be the finest reason to be victorious, so that no one will find in our lives reason to think poorly of our wonderful God. Here's the sixth statement.

The object of God's redemptive work is to rebuild a friendship, not just to modify one's legal status.

Romans 5:8-11 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 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. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

It's all about reconciliation. But many people seem to be obsessively concerned with, Am I innocent or am I guilty? Am I justified or am I condemned? In reading passages like this in Paul's writings, though, you get the distinct impression that the issue is not really a legal one, it's a friendship one. It's a relationship problem.

Let me illustrate it. Let's say that a husband and wife have been having some strains in their marriage, even to the point that they've filed for divorce. And as the process is going on, and the divorce papers are materializing and they're going through the waiting period, they begin to wonder whether for the sake of the kids and the estate and a few other things they should not get a divorce after all. They don't feel any different toward each other, but they finally call up their lawyers and they say, "Stop the proceeding; we don't want a divorce." They both live in separate apartments. And the attorney tears up the divorce papers.

You might say, "They're still legally married, but who would want a marriage like that?" Translate that, if you can, to the issues in the Great Controversy? Would you want to live in that kind of marriage? Where there is a slip of paper somewhere, or there's a record down at the courthouse that says so and so and so and so are husband and wife as of such and such a date? "Oh yeah, we're married." Would you want that? Does God want that?

Is the sin problem a legal one where God says, "Well now we can erase the record of sins in the books and we can enter a record that says Forgiven." Is that good news? That's part of the good news. I'm glad they're still married, to use the previous example. At least there's a basis for working on the relationship.

I'm glad that God says we're forgiven when we're in Christ. But let's not stop there by any means. The issue is a relationship one. The problem got started when Satan got in there and wrenched that relationship apart by telling personal lies about God. And the solution comes when the darkness and dust of all that deception gets pushed away and the light shines in and we say: "That's who He is, I love Him, He's marvelous, He deserves my fullest confidence and the more I learn about Him the more excited about Him I become. And it's just rooted out of my heart all of the rebellion, the hostility, the suspicion, the desire to remain distant it's all gone." That's the solution to the sin problem, isn't it?

The great controversy sees the problem as a relationship issue, as a friendship issue, hearts that beat, and arms that can embrace and loyalties that can be thoughtfully given or rebelliously withdrawn.

What is the greatest tragedy in the universe? It's believing Satan's lies about God. As Adventists, our unique contribution to the world is to understand the whole business through this theme. And the question for you and I today is: Will we be part of the greatest tragedy in the universe? Will we believe Satan's lies? Or . . .will we be part of God's solution to the tragedy? Will we keep our eyes on what God is really like, so that we won't believe Satan's lies? And will we show the picture of a loving, kind, unfailing God to those around us?


Questions in bulletin (see first page):

The Greatest Tragedy in the Universe
Six statements about the Great Controversy

  1. The greatest tragedy in the universe is the ____________________ of God's character and government.
  2. Satan has power over a person only by deceiving him about _________________ and __________________ of God
  3. It's man's opinion of God, not God's opinion of man that needs to be _____________________ .
  4. The basis, the condition, the very meaning of _____________________ is to know and accept God as He really is.
  5. The Christian lives _________________ not so God will think well of him, but so that he __________________ will think well of God.
  6. The object of God's redemptive work is to rebuild a _________________ , not just to modify one's legal status.

Hymn of Praise: #88, I Sing the Mighty Power of God
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:18, 19
Hymn of Response: #12, Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee

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