he story is told of a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, with a peculiar name. It’s called The Church of God Grill. It didn’t start as a restaurant but rather as a church with the mission of reaching the city of Atlanta with the gospel.
Then one Sunday after church the members sold chicken dinners to address a financial crisis. It proved to be a good way to score some quick cash. Soon customers liked the chicken so much that the church leaders had to trim back the worship service in order to accommodate the swelling crowds at the restaurant. In time the church service just got in the way of the booming chicken business, so they dropped the “God” part in order to focus on the grill. Sometimes it’s possible to forget what business you are in. Mission gets murky. Distractions pollute purpose. Urgency trumps what is important.
Now consider our church. What business are we in?
Certainly at the heart of our business is the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19, 20, right? Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
But couldn’t every Christian church claim that as their business? I hope that our journey together this week has helped to sharpen our understanding of the unique calling we share as Seventh-day Adventist Christians. Of course, we are called to make disciples of all nations, but how are we to accomplish this?
The prophetic calling of Revelation 14 identifies our unique voice at a critical time in earth’s history.
Consider once again the sobering words of the message we are called to herald:
“A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath’” (Rev. 14:9, 10; cf. verses 11, 12).
Clearly our mission of hope will expose God’s true character; central to His character we find both justice and mercy. But are they incongruous? Where is the good news amid our message of fury and torment? How can we fulfill our mission of proclaiming a message that at first glance appears to extol contradictory virtues? Using the third angel’s message as our template, let’s explore these two attributes of God that we are commissioned to proclaim.
Proclaiming the Justice of God
The good news of Revelation 14 is that God is a God of justice. He will not allow sin to go unpunished. And aren’t you thankful? After all, the demand for justice is hardwired into our human DNA. If you doubt that, consider this story shared by Pastor Bill Hybels of an 8-year-old girl from Salem, Massachusetts, who has been undergoing intensive psychological therapy in a desperate attempt to put her shattered life back together again. The trauma dates back to the night she spent at a friend’s house. Somewhere in the predawn hours, her friend’s father entered the bedroom she was sleeping in and abused her. If that wasn’t bad enough, a few hours later he assaulted her again.
Fortunately, this girl had the courage to tell her parents what happened. Unfortunately, when her case came to court and her perpetrator was found guilty of the crime, the judge suspended the sentence and released the man because in his opinion the child abuser didn’t fit the profile of a chronic offender. Meanwhile, this 8-year-old girl is terrorized by knowing that this man who violated her is on the loose and suffered no punishment for his crime.
Does that true story make you sick to your stomach? Probably so. Why? Because deep within every human spirit is this longing for justice. We agree that wrongdoing should not go unpunished, don’t we? So it is that judgment is good news. In the words of Cornel West: “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
As Adventists we can preach with assurance in these last days that evil will not have the last word. Our loving God will not ignore sin. The day of accounting will come for all those who choose the mark of the beast, and they “will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.”
The apostle Paul put it this way: “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thess. 1:6-9).
I hope you didn’t skim over the line about punishment coming to those who “do not know God.” At the end of time, the difference between life and death, heaven and hell, is our relationship with Jesus. The key question at the time of accounting will be this: Do you know God? If the answer is yes, then on the day of judgment you will find mercy.
Proclaiming the Mercy of God
The good news of God’s mercy, then, is the second part of our dual message. Remember how the three angels’ messages end: “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). Be patient, my brothers and sisters. Anyone who obeys God’s commandments and remains faithful to Jesus has nothing to fear. Instead, we can look forward to the end of time because we know that on that day we will receive only mercy from our loving God. Frederick Buechner reminds us that “the one who judges us most finally will be the one who loves us most fully.”*
Judgment is an act of love. Forget the popular notions about hell that would suggest that God is an angry taskmaster who revels in torturing His children for a fiery eternity. The eternal death of the wicked is an expression of God’s love in that He reluctantly grants them what they had chosen. He did all He could to avoid that situation when Jesus went to a bloody cross to secure for His beloved children a place forever with Him.
John records: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’” (Rev. 21:3).
Herein is the essence of heaven—we will be with God! Only then will our hearts and our hungers be fully satisfied.
The psalmist writes: “But as for me, my contentment is not in wealth but in seeing you and knowing all is well between us. And when I awake in heaven, I will be fully satisfied, for I will see you face to face” (Ps. 17:15, TLB).†
Soon we will be in the presence of our merciful God forever. This is heaven. So never give up hope. Stay on mission. Someday soon we will see our God! Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.
*Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC (Harper Collins, 1993), p. 58.
†Verses marked TLB are taken from The Living Bible, copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill. Used by permission.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND SHARING
1. What is the business of the church?
2. How can we avoid being sidetracked from this business?
3. Explain how God’s justice and mercy work together.