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The Key of the Gospel

David Shin
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David Shin

Pastor, Hillside O'Malley Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Anchorage, AK

Conference

Recorded

  • January 3, 2015
    10:30 AM

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In 1940, Mortimer Adler wrote a book he called a “classic guide to intelligent reading.” Dr. Alder served as chair of board of editors for Encyclopedia Britannica and was widely considered to be a prominent American philosopher and educator of his time. He had a burning desire to have everyone to become a skilled reader.

In his book, Dr. Alder contends that one of the first things you should do when you pick up a book not begin by reading chapter 1. He said we should do an inspectional reading. You open it to the table of contents to get the outline of the book.

And then he says we should always read “the introduction.”

When I first read this, I thought of all the times I would skip the introduction because I assumed that the introduction was extraneous fluff—unimportant.

Dr. Adler says that we should never skip the introduction because in the introduction the author or editor usually writes the reason why the book was written. When we skip the introduction, we miss the purpose of the book. In order to understand something, we must know its purpose. We must know the why before we can know the what.

Introductions should not be skipped; they should be studied. And the introduction of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist is of no exception—for in John’s introduction is found the purpose of the Messiah.

Open your Bibles with me to John 1:29, to what is the most important introduction in human history.

The entire life and ministry of John was for this reason. He was to introduce Christ to the world.

Here it is, the words of John the Baptist introducing the Messiah. John 1:29: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

This statement is pregnant with meaning.

If the Jews would have just meditated this sentence and perhaps done their doctoral dissertation just on these 13 words, history could have been different.

In John’s introduction is he is giving the purpose of the Messiah—the reason for why Christ had come. And even though the Jews heard the statement, they failed to recognize the value and meaning of John’s introduction. And as a consequence, they missed the Messiah.

Examining John’s introduction to Jesus

It would do us well to look more closely at John’s introduction.

John introduced Jesus as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”

Here we have the role and function that Jesus was to fulfill.

The role is the “Lamb.”

The function is to “take away” sin.

Notice that John didn’t use the word “delete” or expunge or eradicate sin —which would not necessarily have been incorrect. But the term “take away” has a particular nuance.

John specifically said that the function of the Lamb would be to “take” away sin.

When you take something, you are taking possession of that thing. The word “take” implies a transfer of possession. It has been transferred from one entity to another entity. If I take your debt, the debt has to be transferred from you to me.

The plan of salvation is predicated on the notion that sin can be transferred.

The function of the Lamb was to have sin transferred to Him. This was how He was to take away sin.

To the 1st-century Jew, the concept of the Lamb taking on sin was not foreign. This was not strange and unfamiliar territory. Yes, John’s statement needed to be decoded. But the key for unlocking John’s introduction was sitting right under their noses. The Jews missed the Messiah because they failed to use key that had been at their fingertips for over 1,500 years.

Turn with me in your Bibles to Leviticus 4:32-34: “If he brings a lamb as his sin offering, he shall bring a female without blemish. Then he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering, and kill it as a sin offering at the place where they kill the burnt offering. The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and pour all the remaining blood at the base of the altar.”

This was the sin offering. The sinner would come into the sanctuary with a lamb. He would place his hands on the head of the lamb confessing his sins. Then with his own hands, the sinner would slit the animal’s throat from ear to ear. The priest would then catch the blood in a bowl and place the record of blood on the horns of the altar.

And three parties needed to play their role in order for the transference to take place. The sinner. The Lamb. And the priest. The sinner needed to accept that the Lamb be his substitute. The Lamb had to die. And then the priest had to apply the benefits of the blood of the Lamb on your behalf.

There was a path for the transference of sin: The sin must be transferred from the sinner to the lamb to the blood to the sanctuary. This is how the Lamb was to take away sin through the transfer of sin.

The only way to understand how the Lamb takes away sin was through the sanctuary. The only way for the Jews to decode John’s introduction was if the Jews used the sanctuary as their interpretative key. They had to use the sanctuary as their lens for understanding Christ.

The Jews misinterpreted what took place at the cross because they did not use the sanctuary as their lens for understanding Christ.

The sanctuary was the interpretative key for understanding Christ on the cross. The sanctuary was their road map. It was to be their lens for doing theology. It was to be the framework and ultimate reference point for understanding the purpose of the Messiah. The sanctuary as the interpretative key was not a new concept. For over 1,500 years the entire Jewish economy had centered on the sanctuary service. The key interpretative key for understanding Christ was right there—it was the sanctuary.

The Jews were saying, “We don’t understand Jesus,” when they had been sitting on the key for understanding Jesus for over 1,500 years.

Are we repeating the Jews’ mistake?

Could it be that history is being repeated? Could we like the Jews are in danger of making the same mistake? But you say, “Come on, I believe in the sanctuary. What faithful Adventist doesn’t believe in the doctrine of the sanctuary? It’s one of our 28 fundamental beliefs.”

Did the Jews believe in the sanctuary during the time of Christ? Of course! If you were to ask any Jew during the time of Christ, “Do you believe in the doctrine of the sanctuary?” they would have almost have been offended that you would even ask. They believed in the sanctuary. They cherished the sanctuary and its services.

The issue was: The Jews believed in the sanctuary as a doctrine, but they weren’t using it as their interpretative key.

The Jews believed in the sanctuary, but they weren’t using it as their theological road map. Even though they believed in the sanctuary as a structure, they failed to use the sanctuary as their theological framework for understanding the Messiah. The sanctuary wasn’t just to be believed, it was to be applied as a hermeneutical key to unlock the purpose and work of Christ.

There’s a difference between believing in the sanctuary as a distinctive doctrine and using it as an interpretative key for theology. The sanctuary was not just to be a doctrine, but it was to be the reference point for interpreting all doctrine. A doctrine is a proposition that believed. An interpretive key is the lens for understanding what you believe.

I fear that we are danger of making the same mistake that the Jews made over 2,000 years ago. I fear that we are in danger of relegating the sanctuary to solely a distinctive doctrine—and not using it as our interpretive lens for understanding the doctrine.

The Jews replaced the interpretative key of the sanctuary with liberation theology. Rather than looking for the Messiah to deliver them from sin, the Jews were looking for deliverance from Rome.

They believed in the sanctuary. But they weren’t using the sanctuary as the ultimate framework for theological understanding because they were using a different hermeneutical key. This fateful choice fundamentally altered their understanding of God.

In 1994, an Adventist author published a book comparing 4 different versions of the gospel by four different Adventist thought leaders. The title of his introduction is “It’s So Confusing.”

The author goes on to write that in Adventism today there is mass confusion about something as fundamental as the gospel. He states that there at least five different versions of the gospel in the church today.

Whether we are talking about forensic justification, the moral influence theory, or another idea, it is evident that there is a lack of consensus in our church about something as rudimentary as “salvation.”

What is the root of the confusion in the church? How did we get here?

Interpreting the gospel through tradition

Dr. Fernando Canale, professor emeritus of theology and philosophy at Andrews theological seminary, in an article in Perspective Digest, makes the analysis there was a marked theological turn in Adventism in which we began to interpret the gospel through the lens of evangelical tradition rather than the sanctuary.

He wrote: “The subtle redefinition of the sanctuary doctrine’s role from ‘hermeneutical key’ to ‘distinctive doctrine’ had far-reaching consequences in theological method. … The gospel as understood by the evangelical theological tradition became the hermeneutical key to interpret all doctrines. … Adventists should be concerned about this because it is transforming the very essence and identity of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its mission.”

We are in danger of making the same mistake the Jews made. The Jew believed in the sanctuary as a doctrine. However, they replace the sanctuary as their interpretive key. And this shift had far reaching consequences.

The consequence for us, according Dr. Canale, is that replacing the sanctuary key with evangelical tradition is transforming the essence, identity, and mission of the Adventist Church.

Friends, we cannot afford to replace the sanctuary with evangelical tradition as our framework for understanding.

Some of you may be thinking, “David, I hear what you are saying. The sanctuary should be used as the hermeneutical key to interpret the Lamb and the cross. But after the cross, aren’t we supposed to use a different hermeneutical lens of interpretation?”

Should the sanctuary still be the interpretative key for understanding the gospel after the cross? What is the case for using the sanctuary as the interpretative key after the cross?

Turn in your Bibles to Hebrews 8:1, 4, 5: “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: ‘We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.’ … For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the figure and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’”

This is after the cross, after 31 AD. Paul uses the sanctuary as the framework for understanding Christ’s role in the heavenly sanctuary after the cross. Jesus was the Lamb in 31 AD. After AD, when Jesus went to heaven into the heavenly sanctuary, Jesus became our high priest. In order to understand the work of Jesus in heaven, we have to use the sanctuary as our interpretative key.

Sanctuary is key to understanding the gospel

Paul establishes that the sanctuary is still to be used as the interpretative key for the gospel after the cross. It is not just to be used to interpret what Jesus did at the cross, but also to understand what Jesus is doing right now as our High Priest.

Hebrews 9:11, 12: “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the tabernacle, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.”

Some may say, “We don’t need the sanctuary as our interpretative key any more.” Many use the sanctuary to unlock what Jesus did at the cross and then they switch interpretative keys. But Paul establishes that the sanctuary is still to be the interpretive key to understand the work of Christ after the cross. The sanctuary is to be our reference point for understanding the work of Jesus on our behalf.

The sanctuary is the interpretive key for understanding the gospel.

This is what makes us Seventh-day Adventists. The sanctuary is more that just a distinctive doctrine. The sanctuary is the framework for interpreting all doctrine. It is our reference point, the lens through which we interpret our theology. It is the hermeneutical framework for understanding the gospel.

  • John used the sanctuary as the key for understanding Christ role as the Lamb.
  • Paul uses the sanctuary as the key for understanding Christ as our High Priest after 31 AD.
  • Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White uses the sanctuary the key for understanding Christ as our High Priest in the investigative judgment after 1844.

Ellen White writes in The Great Controversy, p. 423: “The subject of the sanctuary was the key which unlocked the mystery of the disappointment of 1844. It opened to view a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious, showing that God's hand had directed the great advent movement and revealing present duty as it brought to light the position and work of His people.”

Hermeneutical nightmare in Kyoto

Last year I was at a speaking appointment in Tokyo, Japan. It was my first time there, so after the conference my wife and I took some vacation time and traveled by bullet train to Kyoto.

We checked into our hotel and then went back to the train station to take a local subway to do some sightseeing in Kyoto. It was then that our vacation turned into a nightmare. We got lost in the train station. We walked aimlessly in that mammoth train station with seven-story escalators. Everything was in Japanese. No one spoke English. Every time we tried to ask someone if they spoke English, they would go like this [gestured helplessly]. We were tired. Hungry. Frustrated. We got on a train and then get off it, thinking that it was the wrong train, and took the train back. After three hours of this nonsense, we had a hermeneutical breakthrough. We found a map in English.

Using that map, we were able to unlock the mystery and confusion of Kyoto.

It became the key, the framework, the road map for navigating Kyoto.

The map gave us understanding and thus changed our entire experience.

The sanctuary is our road map to understanding the gospel. It’s the interpretative key that unlocks the gospel. It’s gives us the framework for understanding.

We cannot afford to replace the sanctuary map with evangelical tradition. If we do so, it is at the risk of changing the very fabric of our Adventist identity and mission.

How to unlock the sanctuary

We believe in the sanctuary as a distinctive doctrine, but are we using it as the interpretative key for understanding the gospel.

All right, so the sanctuary is supposed to be the interpretative key for understanding. But what does it look like? What are the implications? What does that mean?

I want to make a simple elementary observation. The sanctuary is divided into three different compartments:

  • Courtyard
  • Holy Place
  • Most Holy Place

Adam and Eve in Edenic perfection before sin were right here in the Most Holy Place experience. They held open, face-to-face communion with God. Because of sin, this is no longer possible. We ended up out here—outside of the sanctuary. The sanctuary illustrates God’s plan to bring us back to that open, face-to-face communion with God. The sanctuary illustrates how God deals with the sin problem so that He can bring us back.

God does this in three phases illustrated by the three compartments.

  • In the Courtyard, God deals with the penalty of sin: justification
  • In the Holy Place, God deals with the power of sin: sanctification
  • In the Most Holy Place, God deals with the presence of sin: glorification

The central theme of the sanctuary is restoration. It is to bring us back to where Adam and Eve were before the fall. Eden was lost. The sanctuary illustrates how Eden will be restored.

Ellen White writes in Education, p. 15, 16: “To restore in man the image of his Maker, to bring him back to the perfection in which he was created, to promote the development of body, mind, and soul, that the divine purpose in his creation might be realized--this was to be the work of redemption.”

No structure illustrates the process of restoration better than the sanctuary.

The sanctuary illustrates the plan of salvation in how God will bring us back to that face-to-face communion with God. The sanctuary illustrates how God deals with the problem of sin. It’s shows us that the goal of the redemption plan is to bring us back.

God does this by giving us pardon for sin in the courtyard. He gives us power over sin in the Holy Place. And seals our characters with His character in the Most Holy Place. This is how God brings us back. This is the process of restoration.

Balancing our understanding of Scripture

When we use the sanctuary was our interpretative key, it brings balance to our understanding of the gospel.

The reason for the confusion regarding the gospel is because we are not using the whole sanctuary for theology.

Evangelicals camp out in the Courtyard. I call it Courtyard theology. It’s an emphasis on justification to the negation of the rest of the sanctuary. It’s a reduction of the gospel to justification by faith.

Catholics camp out in the Holy Place. They believe in salvation through sanctification by works, through the seven sacraments.

John Wesley came along and did a synthesis. He said we need both the Courtyard and the Holy Place. We need both justification and sanctification and they are both by faith.

Adventists came along and affirmed the Courtyard, justification by faith. We affirmed the Holy Place, sanctification by faith. And we affirmed the Most Holy Place experience, the antitypical day of Atonement, the reality of the investigative judgment.

The revolution of Adventism was that we had the audacity to use the entire sanctuary to do theology.

But some in our ranks are going backward and not forward. Some of our beloved Adventist brothers and sisters are doing courtyard theology to the negation of the rest of the sanctuary, a reduction of the gospel to the courtyard experience. It’s an Adventist version of evangelicalism.

Some of our beloved Adventist brothers and sisters are doing Holy Place theology to the negation of the Courtyard and trying to work their way to heaven through an Adventist version of the sacraments. These have not experienced the joy of the Courtyard and the peace of justification by faith. It’s an Adventist version of Catholicism.

When we do theology through the whole sanctuary, it gives us the litmus test to cut through the confusion and false dichotomies. The sanctuary keeps us safe from false dichotomies such as faith or works; law or grace; justification or sanctification; is it what God does in you or for you. These are all false dichotomies that can be avoided if we use the sanctuary as our theological framework for understanding.

This way we can affirm the Courtyard—justification—and affirm the Holy Place—sanctification. We can affirm what God did for you in the Courtyard while at the same time affirming what God does in you in the Holy Place. It’s not either the Courtyard or the Holy Place or the Most Holy Place. We need to do theology from the broad framework of the whole sanctuary.

When any gospel is presented, ask yourself, “How does this fit into the sanctuary?” Any gospel that does not fit into the sanctuary is a false gospel.

When a gospel message is presented, we need to watch what is said and what is not said. Any gospel that emphasizes a portion of the sanctuary to the negation of the rest of the sanctuary is an incomplete gospel. The sanctuary is Christ-centered. It’s all about Jesus. The sanctuary is the most Christ-centered framework that we can use.

Jesus is the Lamb in the sanctuary (John 1:29).

He’s our High Priest in the sanctuary (Hebrews).

Jesus is the Door in the sanctuary (John 10:9).

With the sanctuary as our interpretative key, we are able to understand the work of Christ in the Courtyard—at the cross. We are able to understand the work of Christ as our High Priest after 31 AD in the Holy Place. And we are able to understand the work of Christ as our High Priest in the Most Holy Place since 1844 in the investigative judgment.

The sanctuary is Christ-centered because it answers the questions “Where is Jesus now?” and “What is Jesus doing now?” No other denomination has a better understanding than Seventh-day Adventists of what Christ is doing right now in the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary.

This is not triumphalism. We ought to be humble and tremble that we have be given this stewardship of truth. Thus we can approach our Catholic and evangelical friends with humility and love and say, “I know you love Jesus. Could I share with you from Scripture what He is doing right now? The answer is in the sanctuary.”

Ellen White writes in The Great Controversy, p. 409 of the chapter, “What Is the Sanctuary?”: “The scripture which above all others had been both the foundation and the central pillar of the advent faith was the declaration: ‘Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed’ Daniel 8:14).”

Sanctuary is the pillar of Adventism

The sanctuary is the central pillar of the Adventist faith. Ellen White uses the metaphor of a pillar to describe the sanctuary message of the investigative judgment. She describes it as the central pillar—which implies if you remove this pillar the whole edifice of the sanctuary crumbles.

This is no surprise when you see that every 40 years the sanctuary has been attacked.

Just before retiring in 1978, General Conference president Robert H. Pierson gave his final address to the church leadership attending the GC Annual Council. There were winds of doctrine blowing within the church. Listen as he makes his final appeal:

“Brethren and sisters, there are subtle forces that are beginning to stir. Regrettably there are those in the church who belittle the inspiration of the total Bible, who scorn the first 11 chapters of Genesis, who question the Spirit of Prophecy's short chronology of the age of the Earth, and who subtly and not so subtly attack the Spirit of Prophecy. There are some who point to the reformers and contemporary theologians as a source and the norm for Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. There are those who allegedly are tired of the hackneyed phrases of Adventism. There are those who wish to forget the standards of the church we love. There are those who covet and would court the favor of the evangelicals; those who would throw off the mantle of a peculiar people; and those who would go the way of the secular, materialistic world.

“Fellow leaders, beloved brethren and sisters-don't let it happen! I appeal to you as earnestly as I know how this morning-don't let it happen!”

This was General Conference president Robert Pierson speaking in 1978, asking us to be faithful stewards of the truth that we have been entrusted with. Here we are in 2015, and we cannot afford to wander in the wilderness another 40 years. It’s time to go home.

In a time when Protestant leaders are going back to Rome, God is calling for a generation of young people to go back to the Bible.

God is calling for a generation of young people who will use the sanctuary as the interpretative key complete what the Reformation began.

Is it your desire to answer that call?

Is it your desire to say: ”Lord use me. Mold me. Make me a vessel for building up of your church on Earth. Use me to complete what the reformation began. I want to be a vessel for God to use to be a faithful steward of truth that God has entrusted us with”? If that is your desire, stand with me.

God is calling for a generation of young people who will be faithful to Scripture.

God is calling for a generation of young people who will have the character of Christ and His love reflected in their lives.

God is calling for a generation of young people who will read, understand and live out the principles outlined in the in Spirit of Prophecy.

God is calling for a generation of young people who will have the audacity to use the sanctuary as the hermeneutical key for all theological understanding and ethical practice.

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