Sermon delivered July 18, 1998

by Elder Larry Evans, Pres. Georgia-Cumberland Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Quotation from the bible are from the New International Version except where noted.

Free at Last

It was a year ago that I became the president of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference. I will always remember the first time I heard that Elder Beitz had accepted the invitation to go to Southern Adventist University. I blurted out loud to several people around me, "That will be interesting to see who they will get to take his place. I think the Lord has a real sense of humor. He certainly is a God of surprises. I had never thought I'd be here, and since I have been here, it's been a good experience. I don't know that I've ever worked any harder in my life: it's a very complicated Conference with four hospital boards, all the schools that we have and everything, but it is a very rewarding Conference. This is a conference with a lot of dedication, a lot of individuals who have dedicated their lives to see God's truth for this hour go forward.

It was also a year ago at this time that my wife, Cary, and I were on our way to Southeast Asia. Before I took even one day in the office I was asked to join the other presidents of this Union for a special tour of the ADRA projects that were going on in Southeast Asia. That particular Union is a sister Union to this Union and so it was certainly appropriate for us to begin to see how we were doing that.

There were so many experiences. Some of you may have heard that we were caught in a war when we got there and had to be evacuated through Red Cross efforts. It was quite an experience and I would love to talk about that, but for our purposes today I want to talk about another experience that was very heart-wrenching to me.

I grew up in college years during the Viet-Nam war and I developed a lot of feelings and a lot prejudices about the people over there. I did not realize my prejudice until this trip. As we were flying in, we were on our way to fly into North Viet-Nam. We were flying in to Hanoi. Those of you who can remember back that far look forward to those times in the history books. Hanoi was certainly not a friend of the United States. And as we were flying in I looked down, and what a beautiful country Viet-Nam is! I had never been there, had never seen that. As I looked down there I saw all these lakes. Perfectly round-shaped lakes. Only to discover later that the reason they were round was because they were bomb craters. They were places where we, the United States and our allies dropped bombs on the North Viet-Namese. And that was a sobering thought to me. We continued on and landed in Hanoi and began taking our tour through North Viet-Nam. And as we were going through we came past multiple cemeteries, and every cemetery there was this huge monument. When I asked what that was, they informed that this was their Viet-Nam War Memorial.

How many here have seen the Viet-Nam War Memorial in Washington D.C.? Oh my! Several. I remember our first trip from out west. I'm really from the northwest. Well, where are we from? I think the Lord has given us a broad perspective of the States. I have served or lived in just about every section of the United States. It's been a real learning experience. This rounds it out. I can retire here now. I don't have to go any place else.

I still remember going from Oregon to the Seminary (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan), and while at the Seminary a group of us took a trip to Washington, D.C. We had to see the nation's capitol, probably our last chance, I thought, never knowing that I would serve as Conference Secretary of Potomac Conference, of which Washington D.C. was part of the Conference. But we went there and looked at the Viet-Nam War Memorial. It's a very sobering thing. A long black granite wall with thousands of names on there. Anyone here with a friend or a relative whose name is on that black wall? Ah, several. I have a cousin whose name is on there, plus several classmates from Walla Walla College. It's a sad thing.

I have a question for you. Why in the world would a nation ever erect a monument that would be in honor or at least in remembrance of a dreadful war in which thousands of people were killed and that we lost? Why would we ever do that? I think the reason we do it is not only an honor of those who gave their lives, but also for those of us who continue to live that we might not forget the terrible cost. It becomes a memorial. It becomes a lesson. I becomes a lesson in history that we might always remember a lesson.

You know, God has memorials, too. The reason that He gives us memorials is that we might remember something from the past that would help us live in the future.

Several years ago I attended a class at a non-Adventist school. I was the only Seventh-day Adventist there. Let me say for those who may be here who may not be a Seventh-day Adventist; Let me just share a little bit of that, because the story I am going to share with you I don't want to be misunderstood. I grew up in a home in which my father was not an Adventist and my mother was. But before that is where the real story begins. Both of my grandparents on both sides were Baptists. Now I understand that in the South there are a few Baptists around here once in a while. Okay, I thought that was the case. As both sides were Baptists, one side of my grandparents, the maternal side, became Seventh-Day Adventists. And that's an interesting story in itself. But I share this with you because you need to know my perspective.

I am a Seventh-day Adventist by choice. I studied under some significant opposition, but I came to the conclusion that the Bible for me made it clear that certain teachings were best encompassed in a group called the Seventh-day Adventists. Having said that, I need to tell you, too, that I have served as president of different ministerial associations, I attended different seminars with other Christian ministers. I am not a Seventh-day Adventist because of other people around me. That's not why I am a Seventh-day Adventist. I am a Seventh-day Adventist because I chose through my study a lifestyle that is certainly compatible with the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Having said it that way, what I'm saying is these friends in other churches are friends. If you build your identity on your disagreement, then it's hard to make friends. But for me, these are friends. And if you happen to belong to a different church you are still a friend and you are always welcome in a Seventh-day Adventist Church. Anywhere in Georgia or Tennessee or any place else in the United States, I'll give you that permission, too.

But in this particular class in California, I was the only Seventh-day Adventist. There were about fifteen of us from different parts of the United States. We were denominational leaders, and we were there to learn how to be a church consultant. How do you help churches go through particular crises or particular growth plateaus. How do you help them? As I sat there, it was a wonderful experience, a spiritual experience, because this happens to me over and over again.

There was a man in this class whose name was Jesse. Jesse was a Baptist missions director. Actually from Gentry, Arkansas. I had just gotten a call to go to this Conference while I was attending this class, so we had this common point to discuss. I chose not to go to Gentry, but we had this conversation, this identity.

Jesse was a big man. He might not have been quite as tall as I am, he was big, if you know what I mean. With that size came this strong, booming voice. Something else you need to know about Jesse is that when he was fourteen years old, he lied about his age and entered into the Marine Corps. At the age of fourteen! At that age he picked up all the bad habits and ended up living a pretty wicked life. I think God touched his heart, and he gave his heart to Jesus, and he became a Baptist missions director.

In this particular class they served refreshments at the beginning of the class and at the end. I always liked the doughnuts they brought, and I'm not talking about the holes. But sometimes they'd bring little sandwiches, little hors d'oeuvre, and this particular day Jesse was standing back in the back of the room, the sandwiches came in, and he looked at them, and he looked at me, and I was standing in the front of the room, and I looked back and I saw there was some kind of commotion going on back there. In his great big Baptist voice Jesse says, "Hey Larry, I have some ham sandwiches for you back here." I smiled and I said, "Oh yeah, sure you do."

Later that afternoon as we were walking back to our class I had my Presbyterian roommate on one side and my Baptist friend, Jesse, on the other side. And Jesse turned to me and asked me an important question. And this is an important question today for you. Whether you know it or not there has been a significant importance placed on this message today that I had never planned. Some of you who use the internet know that the Pope has recently issued a decree asking for increased observance of Sunday observance and really to require it as much as possible. I read last night a major document that he has presented and I read Dr. Bacchiocchi's response to it this morning. The Pope in making the, what would appear, a sincere request to respond to the lack of church attendance and the lack of spirituality has asked for increased emphasis on Sunday observance and to make it more strict. He even refers to some legislation that could be enacted that might help increase that.

To some of us who have studied Bible prophecy this comes as no real surprise, but when you read it it does make you sit up and look. I hope that all of us see it as a wake-up call. I don't want us to be fanatical or weird or reactionary, but I don't want us to avoid or neglect what has always been very important to this church. And so as I'm walking down with a Christian friend on each side of me, as we are walking down the sidewalk, Jesse turns to me and asks me an important question. "Larry, tell me. How are Seventh-day Adventists saved?"

I don't know what you would say, and I always pray, "Lord give me wisdom that I might be able to say the right thing." In this particular situation, I just turned to him and I said, "Well, Jesse, Seventh-day Adventists are saved just like Baptists. I mean, isn't that true? Does God save Baptists differently than He does Adventists? or Catholics? or Mormons, or anybody else? There is only one way that God saves."

He had this puzzled look come over his face, and he said, "Well no, come on Larry. How are Seventh-day Adventists saved?" "Seventh-day Adventists are saved by grace and by grace alone." He was still puzzled. Then I said, "Now, Jesse, I think you are struggling because you think that Seventh-day Adventists believe that we are saved by law, or grace plus law. Seventh- day Adventists don't believe that. Seventh-day Adventists believe that we are saved by grace." By this time we came up to the intersection and all the other pastors swarmed around us to wait for the traffic to clear so we could cross and our conversation ended. We all decided to go off and eat at a mall. When we arrived there, we formed a line at a Chinese smorgasbord. We were at the end of the line, Jesse and I. As we were going through the line, Jesse said, "Ah! Ah! You're going to need some help. You can't eat this and you can't eat that..." And he went through the whole litany of things that I can't eat. Finally he came down to this point., and he says, "Aha! You can eat this! and this and this and this."

It's amazing what people think vegetarians can eat. I would die of I had to eat the way they think I have to eat. But it was an interesting thing, because by the time we finished we looked for a place to sit down and there was no place except a table completely apart from all the other pastors and by itself. This kind of thing has happened to me so much that I knew was a providential leading and that God put us together.

I'm going to have to rush on through the rest of this, but you can look through the texts I give later on by yourself.

In my conversation with Jesse, I asked Jesse if he would mind if I shared with him how Seventh-day Adventists are saved. He said, "Please. I'd love to hear it."

"Remember how God's people got to Egypt? Joseph was taken by his brothers and sold and Joseph ended up there in Egypt. You remember how Egypt in scripture is really parallel with sin in many ways? Revelation 8 reminds us of this parallel, this symbolism where Egypt was very similar to sin. If we could just discover how God gets His people out of Egypt we would learn some basic principles of how God saves His people."

He said, "Absolutely." Jesse was totally comfortable with that line of reasoning. I said that, You remember what happened with Joseph? Joseph ended up in court, in Pharaoh's hierarchy, and pretty soon he was next to Pharaoh. And Pharaoh turned over to Joseph much of the care of the kingdom and pretty soon he saw God's people, Joseph's family come. They multiplied and generation after generation we begin to see the multitudes increasing and pretty soon when Joseph and Pharaoh was off the scene the new Pharaoh noticed what was happening and he said, "We've got to do something about this." He made it much more restrictive. Slavery, basically took over and the people began to cry out. 'God, have you forgotten that we are here?'

At which time they had lost much of their faith in God. What they did not know at the very time that they were in doubt God was preparing another man. A man for the hour. And who was that man? "Moses." Moses had a lot of things to learn and unlearn. While the people were not patient, God was. God developed a man who was the right man for the right hour. And Moses came on the scene.

After learning what he needed to learn and unlearn, God said, "Moses, I want you to go and speak to Pharaoh." "Pharaoh, God has told me to tell you to let my people go. Pharaoh said, "Moses, you really are crazy. That little stint you spent out in the desert must have really done something to you. Get out of here." And Moses left and came nine more times. Moses came back and there were ten plagues. There will be seven last plagues, but ten in Egypt. I'd like to suggest, but we won't take time now, that there is no way the seven last plagues if we do not understand the first ten plagues. There is a parallel there. It's a very important thing for you to study through. We will talk about that some other time.

As we got down to the ninth plague, Moses went to Pharaoh, just before the tenth plague, and said to Pharaoh, "Listen, let my people go. If you don't, here's what's going to happen. The death angel is going to fly over and where there is not blood (representing the blood of Christ. That even back in the Old Testament the only way to be saved was through the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.) on the doorpost. If you don't let my people go, Pharaoh, there's going to be a great deal of agony in the land. Your first-born will be slain. Please don't let that happen."

Now I'd like to suggest that there was more anguish and tears in heaven than there were in Egypt that night. It's a strange act of God. But it happened.

The people were down the road in just no time. I visualize how they were around the Red Sea and the mountains on one side and the Sea was here, and here they were having their own form of celebration. They were excited. They were jubilant until they looked back and they saw the dust clouds. They knew those dust clouds were Pharaoh's army. They became terribly frightened as they knew that Pharaoh was coming after them.

In doubt, what do you do? When you're angry and distraught, what do you do? Well, they did it, too. They blamed their Conference president. The said, "Moses, what did you do? You bring us out here like this?" And they took him to the Red Sea. Of course the Red Sea opened up and they walked across on dry land. Another sign of a miracle. When they got to the other side, Pharaoh followed them into the Red Sea and the waters came crashing down on him and his army.

I turned to Jesse and I said, "Jesse, God's people were ...." What would you say to a Baptist minister? I would quote Exodus 14:30 which says that God's people were "saved." They were saved. He said, "Hallelujah." I said, "Amen!" God's people were saved... weren't they? Isn't this how we are saved? Doesn't God lead us through the blood of Jesus Christ? Aren't we walked through following God's counsel, God's word, God's commandments, that we follow, but isn't it the blood of Jesus Christ? Amen! Hallelujah! Jesus is the One Who saves.

But I have another question for you. Where did God take them after they had been saved? "What do you mean." Where did God take them now that they were saved? Where did He take them? "Well, I don't know." God took them next to Mount Sinai. "Mount Sinai!" Why would God take His people to Mount Sinai? That's where He gave them the law! They were already saved. Why would God take them back now? They're saved. He said, "I don't know." The key is in Deuteronomy 5:6. You'll notice that this is the beginning of the Ten Commandments. It was part of our scripture reading today. It says, "I am the Lord you God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." What we find here is that at the very beginning, before God gives the Commandments, God reminds them that He is the one who has saved them. And now He gives them the Ten Commandments.

I said, "Jesse, if this is the case, why in the world would God do it? Why would He give them the Ten Commandments? Do you remember. I did when I was a kid that almost all the Ten Commandments start with 'Thou shalt... It was that 'not' that i kept remembering. Don't do this and don't do that. What is happening here. Is God just giving a list of rules. If we fail to read verse 6 then we put the whole thing in confusion. 'I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of slavery.' Why? What is happening here? God is speaking to a group of people who are saved. Why give the Ten Commandments now? Why, 'Thou shalt not?' The 'Thou shalt not' is given because He is speaking to a people who have been saved and He does not want them to go back into slavery. Isn't that true?"

The Ten Commandments do not save us. They are a sign, given from God that we might not go back into sin. You see, what happens is that when we lie, steal, commit adultery, take the name of the Lord in vain, when we do that God says we're on the road back to Egypt. And you know what Egypt was like. You are no longer free. You are a slave. And then the problem comes because we don't remember. We forget.

You know, that memorial of Viet-Nam helps us to remember the slavery that war brings to a nation and to the world. And God says that Egypt must not be for gotten, we must remember. Then we go to Deuteronomy 5:15. Verses 12 to 15 is the Sabbath commandment. It's talking about the seventh day as a sign. But what is it here? Why? In verse 15 it says, "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord you God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day."

What is the purpose of keeping the Sabbath day according to Deuteronomy 5? It is that we might not forget how God saves. The seventh-day Sabbath becomes a sign of liberty. It is a sign of freedom. It is not a sign of legalism. It is a sign of grace.

If we take it back to Egypt, we saw how they were taken out of Egypt. We saw that there was blood on the doorpost. The seventh-day Sabbath is a sign Gods' saving grace. We do not earn our way, nor could we ever earn our way by keeping any of the Commandments. But because of our rush in this century and every century that has ever been, we tend to forget what God has done. The seventh-day Sabbath is that reminder.

In Exodus 20:2, we find at the beginning of the Ten Commandments again the idea that God is the one that saved them. In Exodus 20:8-11 we are reminded that the Sabbath is a sign, but in Exodus 20 there is ... What? Creation. God is the One who made... Now one of the things the Pope has done, and I say this respectfully, I have no desire to bad-mouth anyone, but there is an unscriptural point of view here that we must not forget. There is a strong emphasis that the reason why we must keep Sunday because it is a sign of the Lord's resurrection. According to Romans 6:3,4 the way we celebrate the resurrection is by baptism by immersion, not through another day of worship.

What is very key here is that the new argument that is being made is not really new. It goes back to the fourth century. What we really find here is that the Sunday is a sign of Christ's resurrection, and we celebrate that. Seventh-day Adventists absolutely believe in celebrating the resurrection. Never say we don't. Because we celebrate it when we're baptized. We celebrate it with the giving of our life. We celebrate it by recognizing the resurrection power in our life to overcome sin. That is the way we celebrate it.

And it is very important that we as a people never, ever talk down the power, the joy, the glory of the resurrection. That is important. But when it comes to worship, God clearly identifies that the seventh-day Sabbath is His day because it talks about us resting as God rested. God rested on the seventh-day Sabbath before there was ever a Jew. There was never a Jew until Abraham and God had created the world long before Abraham. It's very important that we remember that the seventh-day Sabbath is a sign of grace, not a sign of legalism.

As we were leaving our trip we were in Burma, Myamar, southeast Asia. As we were there, we were outside a Buddhist pagoda and there was a man right outside our bus who had a cage full of birds. His daughter began knocking on the window of the bus, and she was telling us, "Sir (speaking to me and my wife), for one dollar her father would be willing to set a bird free. I mean, that's a good humanitarian. Desire. I mean, I want to set those birds free. I want those birds to live free. But what was happening? What was happening was that that man was the one who caught those birds. The same man who caught them and imprisoned them supposedly said that was going to set them free. Only to turn around and catch them again.

I would like to suggest that the message of the seventh-day Sabbath is a message of true freedom because it points us to the man, the person, the God who gave us freedom originally, who always wanted us to stay free, and who found us in captivity and who gave His own life that we might be free. Anything else is a substitute. Anything else only puts us free until we are captured again. God doesn't work that way.

The burden, the man who wanted to take advantage of the American dollar only so that he could get his birds back again is not a parallel to the freedom that God wants.

In Matthew 11:28-30 is the passage that has meant so much to all of us as Christians. The true liberator says this: "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." That is the message of the Sabbath. That is the message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The message we share is not a message of days: it's a message of the Creator. And total obedience to Him and not to the pressures of society. Jesus says, "Come to me and you will be free."

Opening Song: #321, My Jesus I Love Thee
Scripture: Deuteronomy 5:6, 12-15
Closing Song: #338, Redeemed!

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