Editor’s Note: This article is based on Jeffrey Rosario’s sermon, given at the December 2006 General Youth Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. At our request, Rosario has modified it for print.
OMETIMES IT REALLY pays to revisit things you think you know well. Recently, while rereading the introduction to The Great Controversy, I discovered this amazing statement: “During the first twenty-five hundred years of human history, there was no written revelation. Those who had been taught of God communicated their knowledge to others, and it was handed down from father to son, through successive generations. The preparation of the written Word began in the time of Moses. Inspired revelations were then embodied in an inspired book. This work continued during the long period of sixteen hundred years—from Moses . . . to John” (The Great Controversy, p. v).
Amazing! Not many things can render me speechless, but this declaration does. Ellen White is reminding us that for almost half of human history there was no written Word of God! God’s mighty works and His dealings with man were preserved only by what was passed down from generation to generation. That was the Word of God, a precious treasure conveyed from one generation to the next throughout history. In essence, God was saying to each era of believers, “What is your experience? Pass it down!”
Throughout the Bible we find passages in which God is telling people to tell their experiences to succeeding generations. One powerful example can be found in Psalm 78:
“I will utter dark sayings of old,
Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done” (Psalm 78:2-4, NKJV).*
The story of the past was their treasure. It was never to be forgotten. It was to be shared—and continued. The Bible is a narrative, a chronicle, a story—an ongoing story. It’s the story of God’s interaction with humanity. The “chapters” are the life experiences of God’s people throughout history. We can read these chapters and apply their experience with God to our interaction with Him.
I’ll admit to wondering at times why God would be so determined that the next generation receive the legacies of the past. Then the answer struck me: His purpose was for the next generation to pick up where the previous one had left off. God didn’t want the story to be started over again. He wanted His people to keep it going, keep it moving. God’s message to Israel is entirely instructive: “Let them know that I split the Red Sea. Tell them about the pillar of fire by night, about the cloud by day. Tell them about how their ancestors had their food float down from the clouds. Tell them how the people drank from a rock!”
By having His people share these experiences with future followers, God was saying to the next generation, “I’ve already covered that point: don’t make me repeat Myself. Haven’t you heard what I’m capable of and what I expect from you? Think bigger. Learn from what has already happened. Take the story to the next level. Write the next chapter!”
God was—and is—adding chapters to the story. He wants to do bigger things through us. He expects us to expect more of Him and to take it to the next level. God is calling us to write the next chapter of the story.
Jesus Sends a Letter
In today’s skeptical society the Bible is looked upon with suspicion. More than ever before it’s demanded that we who believe in the power of God’s Word demonstrate that power in our daily experience. God has always intended that His Word shape real-life experience. And while the experiences of our spiritual predecessors are recorded in it, the Bible truly is the story of God’s experience with His people.
Consider the message of 2 Corinthians 3:2 (NKJV). The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthian church, saying, “You are our epistle”—our letter—“written in our hearts, known and read by all men.” Paul is writing to a group of Christians, to a group of followers of Jesus, and he says, in effect, “You believers are like a letter, and everybody reads your letter.” In verse 3 he continues: “Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, not written with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”
God’s Word, the story of His marvelous interaction with human beings, has never been absent from Planet Earth. The fact that for nearly half of human history there was no written text doesn’t mean that there was no Word of God. It just means that there wasn’t a book that you could carry to church. The Word of God has always been here. But it’s been here as manifested through the experience of God’s followers. We are the letter.
Ellen White makes this same point: “In every one of His children, Jesus sends a letter to the world. If you are Christ’s follower, He sends in you a letter to the family, the village, the street where you live. Jesus, dwelling in you, desires to speak to the hearts of those who are not acquainted with Him” (Steps to Christ, p. 115).
It’s interesting to me that the prophet doesn’t say that Jesus writes a letter to the world. She says instead that Jesus sends a letter to the world. And I’m submitting to you that the people who write the letter, those who write the chapters, are you and I. The way that you and I write these “chapters” is by our encounter with God. Some people will never read what lies between these covers [the Bible]. Think about it: We are the only Bible some people will ever read.
Youth in History
Throughout history God has used young men and women to write additional chapters to the story. Their examples of commitment challenge the youth of this generation to take it to the next level. I’m inspired, for example, by the legacy of the Waldensian youth, those pre-Reformation believers who stood up for truth at great personal cost. At a time when copies of the Bible were rare, these young people would commit its precious words to memory. Many were able to repeat large portions of both the Old and New Testaments by memory. They would conceal the manuscripts of Scripture in their clothes and take them into the schools where many people were in darkness.
Converts to the faith were won in these institutions of learning, and the Word of God dispelled the darkness.
Early in the sixteenth century, what we now call the Protestant Reformation began when a former monk named Martin Luther penned and posted the famous “95 Theses,” a long list of Bible-based challenges to the teachings of the dominant Catholic Church. The circulation of his questions launched a theological debate, resulting in the Reformation. To aid Martin Luther in his work, God used a young man: “God’s providence sent Melanchthon to Wittenberg. . . . Their union in the work added strength to the Reformation” (The Great Controversy, p. 134). God was calling young people to the scene of action then, just as He does today. Our Adventist heritage bears this out.
The legacies of Joshua V. Himes, Annie Smith, and John Nevins Andrews inspire me and challenge our generation today.
A Generation in Need
What about today? What about this generation? Are we doing our part? Are we continuing where our predecessors left off?I believe we are looking at a crisis in the church today. I’m afraid that many of the young people of this generation haven’t caught the vision of their role in God’s great plan. For many, religion seems to have become a cultural relic. Many have inherited Adventism, but they haven’t experienced it to the point where it is a personal concern. Many of us as young adults view the church as an organization beset with issues, but we haven’t taken ownership of the problems. We see the problems, but we have severed connections with these matters so that they won’t affect our personal lives.
I’m convicted that our church should have the very best there is to offer. I believe we should have the best preachers, teachers, writers, and media professionals. I also believe that we should have the very best music in the world. Many young people believe that the church doesn’t measure up in this regard. But what are we doing about it? If we don’t take ownership, we have nothing to complain about.
There are people who say, “The church is irrelevant. It has nothing to offer me.” I dare to point out that it’s not about what the church has to offer you—it’s about what you have to offer the church! Some people say that Adventist youth are leaving the church. I disagree. The real problem is that many Adventist youth were never really in the church to begin with! How many of us are in tune with our calling?
This generation is blessed with so many opportunities that we don’t know what to do with them. Our forefathers were not nearly so privileged. We need to come to terms with the fact that we are more accountable to God for what we make of these opportunities than our parents were. God wants us to take it to the next level.
Think of all the Adventist young adults in universities right now. Ponder all of their potential. Now imagine all the possibilities! God is calling for mission-minded people. The world has enough ordinary professionals. We need undercover doctors, lawyers, computer programmers, mechanics, pilots, and agents in all professions. Our generation needs to carry its share of the burden with the conviction that we have been called to finish the story.
The Last Chapter Is Always the Best
This church is filled with young people who will be mighty instruments for God: they just don’t know it yet. I read somewhere that the greatest sermons are yet to be preached. The greatest of all revivals is yet to be witnessed.
I hear God calling this generation of Adventist young people. He calls us to “write the next chapter.” But chapters are written one verse at a time, and the last chapter is the most important chapter in a book. The chapter we’re writing is the end of the story. After ours, there are no more chapters. Jesus is coming again to take His faithful ones to heaven!
I’ve often wondered what I would do on my first day in heaven. I always thought that after speaking to Jesus, I would run to Moses, Paul, Luther, John Wesley, and Ellen White—eager to hear their stories. I used to picture myself standing in long lines to speak to these people. Recently, however, I’ve been thinking that, in fact, the tables will be turned: there will be long lines of people waiting to speak to us. I can hear them saying, “Tell us! Tell us! How did it end? How did the story end? What was it like?” And as is the case with any good old story, everyone will want to hear “The Last Chapter.”
God’s calling you, young Adventist, to write—to conclude the story by the way you live your life and the way you share your experience. Are you ready?
*Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Jeffrey Rosario is an evangelist with Radiant Living in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.