“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” – 1 John 3:1 (NIV)
“Pastor, this was the most powerful and meaningful communion service I have ever experienced!” one person said. “The best and most beautiful service I have ever been to!” said another with tears in her eyes. Like this and similar were the comments I got while visiting with church members as they were leaving on a communion Sabbath not too long ago. And I couldn’t agree more. During the service I had moments where I had to pause from preaching for a second, just to control my emotions and not to start crying out loud. Which, in hindsight and given the content of the message, would not have been a problematic thing to do. But alas, I am still very European in that regard.
Being from Austria it is not typical for us to show a lot of emotion in public. Especially not in church or worship settings. I believe this is why many European Christians are fascinated with guest speakers from the U.S. American preachers move around on the platform, they use their voice dynamically and express emotions so much more than their European counterparts, which makes the message they present much more real compared to the dryer style of preaching one is usually exposed to in the Old World.
I had presented this communion sermon two times before already in other churches I pastored. The reactions were always the same: members in tears, using superlatives in expressing how moved they were by the service. And every time I myself was surprised how powerful this message is. Especially because it was purposefully not preached in a very dynamic, “American” way.
I did not want any fluff or human method to enhance a message that needs no enhancing. I wanted the content through the work of the Holy Spirit to speak for itself with as little human distraction as possible.
So what was the message about?
First off, I did not write a single word of that sermon myself.
Communion is a ritual and so it can easily become a “following-the-motions” thing. In order to focus the attention on the deeper meaning of what we were remembering and celebrating, I chose to simply curate inspired words and read them out loud to the congregation who followed along every word on the screen.
The sermon was simply a reading of selected Bible passages and Spirit of Prophecy quotes chronologically arranged to tell the narrative of the last hours and moments of Jesus’ life. From Gethsemane to Calvary, with a special focus on Christ’s personal experience as the sins of the world were put on Him and how they killed our lovely Jesus in the anguish of the second death.
No illustration stories, no fancy introductions, not even moving around on stage or extravagant use of intonation. Just a reading of the most remarkable moments in history.
Have you ever wondered what this often-quoted statement of Ellen White would practically looks like?:
“It would be well to spend a thoughtful hour each day reviewing the life of Christ from the manger to Calvary. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination vividly grasp each scene, especially the closing ones of his earthly life.” – Gospel Workers pp. 92, 246
One time I heard how Roger Morneau, a former demon-worshiper turned Seventh-day Adventist, talked about how blessed he was as he daily contemplated upon a memorized passage from Matthew 27, which tells the story of Christ’s death.
As Christians the cross and the events that surround it are very familiar to us. Sometimes they seem too familiar and so Ellen White’s appeal to contemplate upon it daily is more or less ignored. I am the first to admit it. Because, … what is there more to know? The sins of the world were laid upon Jesus, He suffered, He died, He was resurrected, now we can be saved. Done.
For the longest time I was satisfied with this simple five point summary. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t necessarily treat God’s incredible sacrifice of love lightly, but I simply did not realize how life-changing beholding the cross truly can be, and what depth of God’s love there is to experience in the study of the science of salvation!
In order to grow personally we need to remain in an intentional mindset, never settling for what we have or what is comfortable and familiar. While habits and rituals are not always intrinsically bad, they can easily prohibit us from growth.
This is particularly true when it comes to seeing, understanding, feeling, and experiencing the transformative love of God.
For me, continually and intentionally beholding and studying the cross has changed my life and Christian walk.
When I see what my sin has done to Jesus – how every single one of my failings pierce His heart with the darkness of the second death;
when I behold the Perfect, Holy and Pure Lawgiver and King of the Universe selflessly giving up His life for broken, filthy, unworthy me, separated from the Father because of my sin;
when I hear Him being mocked by bystanders and then my own voice chime in;
when I realize that here justice and mercy kiss, God’s character is vindicated, and the grandest and most marvelous expression of divine love is revealed in the most shameful yet most glorious moment of all universal history, … I can not but fall on my knees in shame, joy, thanksgiving, praise, humility, awe, wonder, and self-surrender, and join in with the hymn writers in exclaiming:
“Amazing love! how can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
“What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?”
Even as I am writing this I am having a hard time not breaking down crying.
At the cross, in the light of the matchless charms of Jesus – the most powerful and wonderful manifestation of God’s love – all sin and temptation is stripped of its sugar coating and appeal. Here divine love penetrates my sin-cursed and darkened heart, breaking through with rays of light and love, which awakens a supernatural love where before only pride and selfishness was to be found.
Beholding, studying, and believing this reality of God’s ultimate love will transform your life! It daily wakes me up to the realization of how there is nothing righteous in me, and how much I need my lovely Jesus day-by-day and moment-by-moment. When tempted to sin, one closer look at the cross is enough for sin to lose its appeal.
God’s love as revealed in the uplifted Jesus truly draws me to Him, motivates and empowers me to overcome. For it is in looking at the cross that I am realizing the joy of and my need to surrender all.
Then, self is lost in the ocean of God’s love and the Holy Spirit can enter and work out victory in me. He establishes a great circuit of love, He binds my heart to God’s heart and transforms me into Christ-likeness. This is the great mystery and miracle of salvation!
When you experience God’s divine love, your life will never be the same! His love as seen on the cross needs no fluff, no human methods to make it look or sound more appealing. It speaks for itself. And it comes with divine power.
Behold the cross daily, read the inspired words, believe and apply them, let the Holy Spirit illuminate your heart and mind with the reality of the highest and grandest love of the universe. Let the intentional exposure to God’s love – Christ’s life and death for you – awaken a supernatural love in you for God and others. Let it lead you to complete self-surrender, an abhorrence of sin, and a firm reliance on Christ’s righteousness alone to accomplish the work of salvation for and in you.
“By thus contemplating his teachings and sufferings, and the infinite sacrifice made by him for the redemption of the race, we may strengthen our faith, quicken our love, and become more deeply imbued with the spirit which sustained our Savior. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and faith at the foot of the cross…. Everything noble and generous in man will respond to the contemplation of Christ upon the cross.” – Gospel Workers pp. 92, 246
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” – Isaiah 54:10 (NIV)
Generation. Youth. Christ.
Vice President of Missions