How often have we listened to the story of the Child born in a manger? How many times have we pored over the texts of Matthew and Luke to catch every conceivable detail of a narrative that dumbfounded angels and amazed generations of readers who opened Scripture so that they, too, could see the Lamb of God?
In this issue of Adventist Review we have attempted something new: we wanted to see the birth story of Jesus, the Messiah, through the eyes of those who were part of the cast in that drama. How did Joseph or Mary respond to the many strange happenings in their lives? What did shepherds and Wise Men see and hear as they came to worship a newborn King who looked so different from other royal babies? How did the angelic cast of the story respond to the unthinkable of God becoming part of humanity through the Incarnation? Add to this a more general introduction to the cultural, religious, and political landscape of first century A.D. Palestine, and you gain a better understanding of the story.
We asked four pastors and a Bible scholar to help us catch a glimpse of the story as we may have never seen before. Like all of us, they come to the biblical text with their own experiences. You will hear different tones in their voices and notice unique understandings. Consider once again the amazing story of a God willing to become part of a fallen creation because He wants to offer us a way home to find grace, forgiveness, hope, and eternity with Him.
The appearance of the first volume of the new Seventh-day Adventist International Bible Commentary (SDAIBC) series represents an important moment in Adventist biblical scholarship, and, following soon after the publication of the two-volume Andrews Bible Commentary (2020, 2022), highlights the significant contribution of dozens of Adventist Bible scholars hailing from all corners of the world and representing a global church community.
Many years in the making and nearly 70 years after the publication of the original Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (1953-1957), the SDAIBC fills an important need for a growing church engaged in the serious and faith-based study of the biblical text. It takes into account new archaeological, historical, textual, cultural, and chronological insights and discoveries that help illuminate and enrich our reading of Scripture. Furthermore, while the original Adventist Bible Commentary set featured an overwhelming majority of North American Bible scholars, the SDAIBC reflects more closely a vibrant and growing international faith community sensitive to cultural differences, yet united in its high view of Scripture. Contributors for volume 6 hailed from Germany, Serbia, Australia, France, and the United States.
The fact that the first full volume published after the appearance of the initial single commentary on Genesis (in 2016) focuses on Israel’s hymns and wisdom literature may be accidental, yet it’s also a welcome reminder that personal piety and practical Christianity are key elements of God’s Word.
The volume contains a short foreword of the editors (pp. vii, viii) describing the twofold audiences the new series seeks to engage, namely pastors, seminary students, and theologians and Bible teachers, as well as nonspecialists seeking a deeper understanding of the biblical text. This is followed by a brief “How to Read the SDAIBC” section (pp. ix, x), a useful glossary of technical terminology (pp. xi-xix), a list of Hebrew grammar terms (p. xx), a list of abbreviations (pp. xxi-xxvii), and a table showing the utilized transliteration scheme for Hebrew and Greek letters (pp. xxviii, xxix).
The commentary for each biblical book follows general introductory categories (e.g., author, time, place, situation, genre, literary structure, theology, and intertextual use in later biblical books), and concludes with a selected bibliography annotated by the author of the particular commentary.
Half of this volume of the SDAIBC (c. 700 pages) is dedicated to the commentary on the Psalms, authored by two scholars (Martin Klingbeil [Pss. 1-75] and Dragoslava Santrac [Pss. 76-150]).* As noted by the two authors, this division is based, not on an internal structure in the book of Psalms, but the length of Israel’s hymnal and the often-limited ability of scholars to carve out enough time for research and writing. The commentary for each psalm (or chapter in the case of the other books that form part of volume 6) includes a concise summary statement highlighting the most important ideas, structural devices, and theological themes, followed by two parallel versions of the biblical text (NKJV and ESV) organized in clearly demarcated sections. Next come relevant and more specific exegetical discussions.
The SDAIBC contains a number of images and excursuses, as, for example, a seal impression found in 2009 in Jerusalem (though only correctly identified in 2015) that bears the name of King Hezekiah (p. 294) and has significance in the scholarly debate about the winged sun disk visible on the seal impression and its relationship to the use of sun metaphors in Scripture. Important excursuses include a discussion of form criticism (pp. 15-17), a review of the distinct metaphors of God used in the Psalms (p. 21), a discussion of the messianic perspective of Proverbs 8 (pp. 774, 775), and a long and helpful excursus reviewing the flora of the Song of Songs (pp. 1180-1195), to mention just a few.
Many commentary pages include one or more footnotes, offering references or more technical explanations of linguistic details, and engaging in the important task of entering into a conversation with other scholars and opinions. These conversations are not evenly spread out in the volume— possibly a reflection of how different authors perceived the assignments given to them. More evenness in this aspect may have been a good idea and may be considered for future volumes.
The first complete volume of the SDAIBC offers both specialists and nonspecialists copious material for reflections and further research. It represents the best of Adventist biblical scholarship engaging faithfully with the text and world of Scripture and reminds the attentive reader of the fact that there is always more to discover when we dig deeply into God’s Word. Scholars will sorely miss a number of relevant indices (such as biblical and extrabiblical text references, modern authors cited, etc.)—which may, perhaps, appear in the final volume of the set, even though that may not be the best location. Others will quibble with an interpretation of a particular detail or would wish for more in-depth discussion of a particular text or chapter (as I did for the commentary on Psalm 119). All will be grateful to the individual authors and the editorial team led by Jacques Doukhan for a significant tool that invites us back to look and relook at Scripture and that challenges us to keep reading and listening to the Word to finally connect to the living Word offering us the peace of God that truly transcends all understanding (cf. Phil. 4:7).
* Full disclosure: Psalm specialist Martin Klingbeil is my brother.
Every year around November we suddenly all remember thankfulness. Advertisers make sure that we can’t forget. Thanksgiving, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in the month of November in the United States, and the second Monday in Canada, is a major public holiday offering a yearly opportunity to remember and celebrate community and “give thanks.”
This one day of thanksgiving, however, seldom translates into an attitude of gratitude. When Black Friday sales in the U.S. hit us with deals and bargains we tend to forget our true needs and try to fill the hole in our soul with more things and notions of more, bigger, better, faster, or more beautiful.
So how can we discipline our hearts to live a life of thanksgiving instead of celebrating only a single day? How can an attitude of gratitude take root in the desert of selfishness, distraction, pain, and thirst for more?
Gratitude and thankfulness are important values in Scripture, for they have an impact how we relate to our world, our neighbors, and—most important—to the One who spoke this world into existence. Let’s look at this topic through the lens of both the Old and the New Testaments to catch a glimpse of the big picture. Since space is always an issue in a magazine, we will limit ourselves to look only at examples from the Psalms, the hymnal of the Old Testament, and from some of the letters written by the apostle Paul offering pastoral care to faraway congregations.
People in the ancient Near East worshipped deities that required careful attention and care. Gods needed to be fed, and received offerings and gifts, which, in turn, at least in the mind of the worshipper, would cause the deity to bless the petitioner accordingly. More gifts meant more blessings. Choicer meats meant greater victories.
Scripture offers us different, diametrically opposed, values. God is not to be bought, not even by sacrifices or offerings (see Isa. 1:11-15; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-27), or manipulated. His gifts are given freely because He is good and is driven by love for a fallen world (cf. John 3:16; Rom. 5:8). Consequently, thanksgiving in the Psalms is not contractual, namely, “you do something for me, and I will then give you thanks.” Rather, giving thanks is relational. We give thanks because we trust the Lord to hear us, save us, bless us, comfort us, or even vindicate us because we know Him and recognize and remember His goodness in our lives.
Psalm 7 concludes a “group of prayers (Pss. 3-7) that are connected to existential needs (protection; health; vindication; deliverance; and so on) with an appeal to the divine judge based on the psalmist’s innocence,” writes Psalms scholar Martin Klingbeil.1 After appealing for deliverance and vindication, the author of Psalm 7 concludes in verse 17: “I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High” (ESV). A quick comparison of the translation of Psalm 7:17 in the NKJV helps us understand a unique characteristic of Hebrew terminology related to thankfulness. The verbal root yadah, translated with “give thanks” in the ESV, can also be translated as “praise” or “confess” (as seen in the NKJV). Giving thanks is intricately connected to praise. We “thank” (or “praise” or “confess”) Him because we recognize who He is and how He is. His righteousness and goodness are plainly visible in how He deals with His people and this world—past, present, and future.
Psalm 100’s superscript designates the text as a “psalm of thanksgiving.” The noun todah, “thanksgiving” (also based on the verbal root yadah), is used to describe thank offerings (e.g., Lev. 7:12; 2 Chron. 29:31; Amos 4:5)—often in the context of a worshipping community. In Psalm 100 the thanksgiving goes beyond an offering or sacrifice and is accompanied by joyous singing (Ps. 100:1, 2). Verse 3 emphasizes why we give thanks, for we know God to be our Creator and our Sustainer. Verse 4 connects thanksgiving again to the blessing we receive because we recognize the Lord’s goodness, mercy, and truth.
Other psalms, such as Psalm 105, catalog God’s saving deeds on behalf of Israel, His people, beginning with Abraham and Jacob (verses 5-7) and during the Exodus and the conquest (verses 23-45). “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” (ESV) exclaims the author in verse 1. God’s past deeds (or actions) inspire gratitude for the present—and anticipate God’s action on behalf of His world for the future. Writes biblical scholar Amy Ekeh: “The tone of the gratitude expressed in these psalm-prayers is not transactional. . . . Neither are the prayers simply a recitation of Israel’s recollections, a walk down the memory lane of salvation history. Rather, psalms and other biblical declarations of God’s past deeds create a resonant experience in the present—the one speaking, praying, and singing about these deeds experiences them afresh.”2
Thanksgiving also plays a significant role in the writings of the apostle Paul. The New Testament’s most radical and creative missionary often communicated with the members of the house churches he had established in major cities around the Roman Empire. Giving thanks for the recipient of a letter was a component part of first-century Greek letter writing styles,3 but Paul went beyond conventions when he wrote: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). The final exhortations and greetings found in this first epistle to the Thessalonians include a number of verbal forms with similar-sounding endings in the Greek. This repetitive effect helped the reader and hearer of the letter to memorize truth in nugget form. “In sharing these maxims, Paul provided the people of God with revealed, general truths that he expected them to memorize, constantly meditate on, and use as guiding principles, thus allowing God to shape their lives in holiness,” notes New Testament scholar Cedric Vine.4 Thankfulness “in everything” was right at the center of these exhortations, for they represent an important Christian value.
Paul’s epistles are full of expression of thanks— for individual co-workers like Priscilla and Aquila and their sacrificial service (Rom. 16:4); for victory over death through Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:57); for being a tool to spread the gospel (2 Cor. 2:14); for coworkers like Titus who God was using to care for churches (2 Cor. 8:16); for Jesus, God’s indescribable gift (2 Cor. 9:15); for God to enable the apostle and his readers to become partakers of the inheritance of the saints (Col. 1:12); and many more reasons.
Thankfulness in Paul’s writings seems to be disconnected from present reality. In his epistle to the Philippians Paul references his chains in Rome and his reality as a Roman prisoner (Phil. 1:12, 17). In Philippians 2:17 he uses the metaphor of a drink offering for his ministry being “poured out” on the sacrifice and faith of the Philippians, yet in spite of persecution, imprisonment, and even conflict within the church, Paul urges his readers: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God” (Phil. 4:6).
This particular text seems to suggest a lifestyle of gratefulness that affects how we relate to God, how we plead before God, and how we anticipate God’s engagement in our lives. Every prayer, every plea, every request, needs to be bathed in thanksgiving. Rightfully understood, thanksgiving is a lifestyle and an attitude—something that needs to be separate from how we feel in a particular moment or how we relate to a specific challenge.
What do we see when we look in the mirror in the morning after a sleepless night worrying about a child or a friend? What do we feel when we anticipate serious challenges ahead of us? How do we cope with the pain in the life of a friend or a family member when we recognize our helplessness?
There are no easy answers to these questions. In the face of pain, disappointment, or loss, thankfulness isn’t the first attitude that comes to mind. Yet Scripture encourages us to live in an attitude of thanksgiving—regardless of our circumstances. This attitude is not based on facts and feelings, but represents a conscious decision to see God at work in our lives, in our families, and in our work—even when darkness seems to prevail.
Listen, for just a moment, to a section of a sermon preached by Ellen White on August 1, 1903, at the Helena Sanitarium Chapel: “I love the Lord. Last evening, as we met together in our sitting room for worship, it seemed to me as if the Lord Jesus were in our midst, and my heart went out in love to Him. I love Him because He first loved me. He gave His life for me. Last night I felt as if I wanted everything that hath breath to praise the Lord. It seemed to me that we should have praise seasons, and that constantly our hearts should be filled so full with thankfulness to God, that they would overflow in words of praise and deeds of love. We should cultivate a spirit of thankfulness.”5
Let’s extend the attitude of gratitude beyond an annual day of thanksgiving this year. This grateful stance will take some cultivating, but holds the key to living life to the full despite the storms that will gather on our individual and collective future.
1 Martin G. Klingbeil, “Psalms 1-75,” in Seventh-day Adventist International Bible Commentary, Volume 6: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn. and Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2022), p. 64.
2 Amy Ekeh, “Giving Thanks in All Circumstances,” The Bible Today, Jan. 1, 2021, p. 372.
3 Michael Patella, “In Gratitude With Paul,” The Bible Today, Jan. 1, 2021, pp. 363, 364.
4 Cedric Vine, “1 Thessalonians,” in Andrews Bible Commentary, ed. Ángel Manuel Rodríguez et al. (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2022), pp. 1773, 1774.
5 Ellen G. White manuscript 80, 1903, in Sermons and Talks (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1994), vol. 2, p. 234.
Allow me to get it off my chest right from the beginning: Living With the Mind of Jesus is a volume that should be required reading for young adults, college students, and yes, also more experienced members of our faith community who have seen it all. Its cover design doesn’t shout that to the casual observer—at least not for me—but its content is worth a careful read.
The concept of worldview and worldview transformation is bread-and-butter material for missiologists and those serving in cross-cultural contexts. But we often forget that worldview affects everyone—even those who have never stepped beyond the borders of their state, region, or country. The authors remind us that Scripture offers us a worldview that in many ways stands in direct opposition to current worldviews that we absorb by just being part of the world we live in.
The volume is divided into four important parts. Part I helps the reader to understand the concept of worldview and answers “why we think and behave the way we do.” It contains four helpful chapters, from which I would highlight chapters 3 (“Worldview and the Role of Caregivers, Peers, Education, and Media”) and 4 (“Worldview and the Role of Religion, the Bible, and Culture”). Chapter 3 focuses on the influences that shape our worldview, while chapter 4 helps the reader appreciate the influence that religion, Scripture, and culture have on our worldview. I found the table on page 53 offering worldview comparisons of major religions particularly helpful. Perusing this table will help you better understand (and reach) your Hindu or Buddhist neighbor or the atheist living next door.
Part II connects worldview with the Adventist concept of the great controversy and contains five chapters focusing on Creation, the Fall, sin, the character of God, redemption, and re-creation. Part III is one of the most crucial sections of the volume, in which the authors address the process of worldview change. As with other parts of the book, Kidder and Campbell Weakley use stories from Scripture to highlight steps to worldview change and also make copious use of Ellen White counsels.
The final part, IV, considers the important role that parents (and educators) play in the shaping of a child’s worldview. The authors invite their readers to be intentional in this process as well as informed regarding the developmental stages of their children and their ability to affect change.
The language of the book is accessible and user-friendly, while also documenting many of the key ideas in abundant chapter endnotes. Living With the Mind of Jesus offers a rich tapestry of important ideas presented in an understandable manner. It’s a worthwhile read, tackling a topic affecting all of us.
We all have experienced crunch times in our lives. Moments when we are utterly focused on just one thing. It may have been the week before final exams at college or the weeks and months leading up to a transcontinental move. Some of us have prepared for major licensing exams or boards—or readied ourselves to submit and defend a doctoral dissertation.
We all have experienced crunch times in our lives. Moments when we are utterly focused on just one thing. It may have been the week before final exams at college or the weeks and months leading up to a transcontinental move. Some of us have prepared for major licensing exams or boards—or readied ourselves to submit and defend a doctoral dissertation.
Crunch time is focused time and doesn’t respond well to distractions. Crunch time is also endgame time. We can see the finish line. We sense that D-day is around the corner. We can usually count the days (or hours) before we reach the target date.
Most of us are pretty good at entering a tunnel and focusing on just one (or two) things if need be. We cannot, however, always live in crunch-time mode— even though some of us have tried that and have learned the hard way that it’s destructive to our health and well-being. Crunch time is time in brackets that requires a special measure of divine grace and Spirit-filled endurance. I am very proud of my hardworking wife to have completed her dissertation—but I know that she (and I) wouldn’t be able to sustain a life that is permanently in crunch-time mode.
God hasn’t made us like this. We need rhythm and reflection and renewal. Every Sabbath is one of those divinely designed breakers that interrupt our constant busyness and our misguided attempts to live permanently in crunch-time mode. Sabbath rest is God’s invitation to step outside the treadmill—even when we are busy doing God’s work.
Adventist history is full of examples—mostly sad examples—of individuals who sought to live in crunch-time mode all the time, and who died too early. James White comes to mind, and many others whose names are less familiar. Ellen White’s balanced counsel may help us step out of crunch-time mode: “You can do the very best home missionary work by taking care of God’s temple, not defiling it by gross indulgence of human passions, not imperiling it by neglect, by undue wear and overwork. Do not presume to overtax this wonderful machinery, lest some part give way, and bring your work to a standstill.”*
I am grateful for God’s weekly reminder that we cannot live in crunch-time mode all the time. His resting on the seventh day at the climax of a perfect Creation points me to my need to rest in Him and surrender my most cherished goals and ambitions.
* Ellen G. White, “Wholesome Advice to Young Students,” Missionary Worker, Mar. 25
The recent months have shaken us out of complacent routines, shallow security, and mindless consumerism. After two years of a global pandemic, we are now confronted with war in Europe 77 years after the end of World War II. What has happened to peace? The hope for peace has driven many political initiatives and consultations. We seem to believe that if people are talking to each other, they will be less prone to hurting each other—both physically and emotionally.
Yet today, and also historically, all the consultations and conversations and conferences and crisis summits have not resulted in resolving our constant conflicts and struggles. Peace appears to be as elusive as ever.
Shalom, the Hebrew word for “peace” and “well-be-ing,” is often used to describe something that goes far beyond the absence of conflict. Bible scholar Willard Swartley reminds us that the term has also a moral dimension, “standing against oppression, deceit, fraud, and injurious actions.”1 Shalom is the opposite of deceit (Ps. 34:14; 37:37; Jer. 9:8), denotes innocence from moral wrongdoing (Gen. 44:17; 1 Kings 5:12), and is often paired with justice (Isa. 59:8; Zech. 8:16-19) and righteousness (Ps. 72:7; Isa. 60:17). People in biblical times greeted each other with “Shalom,” wishing health and well-being to a neighbor or stranger. Shalom was a way of life and closely associated with the Creator.
Peace was also an ever-present aspiration in the world of the first century A.D. The well-known Latin phrase pax Romana (“Roman peace”) is used to describe Roman political rule in the Mediterranean world beginning with the reign of Caesar Augustus and lasting for the next two and half centuries.2 Augustus’ ideal of the pax Romana focused on security, stability, material prosperity, and administrative efficiency. A strong central Roman power would guarantee its citizens and all the conquered people living in the Roman Empire peace and security and all the material blessings associated with that. That, at least, was the idea behind pax Romana.
Reality looked distinctly different. The Roman author Tacitus (c. A.D. 56-120) recognized that many non-Roman people groups experienced the pax Romana as brute force and spoke instead of vis Romana (“Roman power” [Tacitus, Annals 3.60]). Overwhelming military power focused on Rome as the Empire’s center and was designed to guarantee a fear-induced peace, governed by Rome-appointed prefects or client kings—such as Herod Antipas, who ruled with Rome’s permission over Galilee and Perea (cf. Matt. 14:1-12). Peace was the result of the application of power and control. Good prefects and client kings offered their subjects a more acceptable experience of the pax Romana, while abusive governors often enjoyed unchecked control and benefited themselves more than their subjects.
Jesus actively engaged this world and mindset when He began to preach in Galilee. “ ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news’ ” (Mark 1:15, NIV). His kingdom language sounds like a declaration of war challenging the ruler of this world, Satan, and his political and religious henchmen found in all cultures and places. It was Jesus’ opening salvo in an ever more furious battle for the hearts of human beings that we often call the great controversy.
Many followers of Jesus—including His disciples—anticipated that Jesus would finally break the hated pax Romana and that Israel, God’s chosen people, would, once again, be a powerful and respected nation on the world stage whose temple services would draw the nations.
Jesus’ mission, however, didn’t aim to undo the pax Romana—or any human pax designed to solve the world’s problems. His message about the kingdom of God focused on physical, mental, and emotional healing. Destruction was not His currency. Shalom was.
When Isaiah’s long-anticipated “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), poised on a mountain, shared with His followers the principles of His kingdom (Matt. 5-7), many began to wonder about these teachings. They understood about loving their neighbor, but loving their enemies (cf. Matt. 5:43-48)? Radical love, as demonstrated by Jesus’ coming and illustrated by His healings and caring concern and embrace of the downtrodden, the outsider, the powerless, or those mourning, just felt too radical.
Jesus’ promise of shalom had nothing to do with empire peace or political control. In fact, as we listen to His message in the Gospels, we may wonder what He really meant. In Matthew 10:34 Jesus exclaims, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (NIV). Luke’s parallel retelling offers a helpful direction as to how we should understand this challenging statement, for Luke speaks of “division” instead of a “sword.” Jesus’ message inherently brings conflict and tension—and can even divide families, societies’ most basic nucleus. His kingdom message challenges us to make a decision: do we give the Prince of Peace full control of our lives, or do we retain the power to veto His priorities and His values when they come into conflict with ours? God’s shalom was associated with God’s kingdom working its way from our hearts to our heads and hands—and then transforming families and communities. This message ultimately determines where we stand in God’s final judgment: either on His side—together with other members of God’s family—or on the side of God’s opponent, proffering his global version of the pax Romana working through manipulation, extortion, and power politics.
Jesus knew about the human need to find shalom in a world dominated by unrest, fear, pain, discontent, conflict, and war. John records some of Jesus’ most tender promises to His disciples, given just days before His crucifixion. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27, NIV). While some have interpreted this mainly as a farewell greeting, it “is the peace which garrisons our hearts and minds against the invasion of anxiety (Phil. 4:7), and rules or arbitrates in the hearts of God’s people to maintain harmony amongst them (Col. 3:15).”3
Jesus reminds His followers that His peace has a different quality and texture from the kind of peace most people dreamed about. We can hear an echo of the Aaronic priestly blessing (Num. 6:26) to Israel. The God who lets His face shine upon His people will not leave His followers peaceless. He is always ready, willing, and able to help our hearts to find the rest and peace we need.
Jesus’ promise did not only address the fears and uncertainties of His disciples. The promise of His peace has continued to encourage and comfort countless people living in the post-resurrection reality over the past two millennia. Divine peace is wrought by the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whose presence Jesus promised in the same chapter (cf. John 14:16-18, 26). The peace that God’s Spirit works in our hearts is Jesus’ peace, transcending all human understanding (cf. Phil. 4:7) and imagination.
God’s peace—and God’s love (John 14:21; 15:9, 10; 17:26)—are hallmarks of God’s church on this earth. Jesus knew that both peace and love will attract others seeking to find forgiveness, grace, and deeper connections. The story of the early Christian church shows us that Jesus’ peace is not always the equivalent of tranquility and safety. Amid severe persecution, devastating storms, or even internal conflict God’s people are assured of the kind of peace that results only from knowing Jesus and having accepted His grace. Throughout history thousands of Christian martyrs testified to the existence of this peace in the midst of pain and intimidation and death. Their testimony became the seed that grew in others also yearning for something bigger than pax Romana, a “final solution,” or the terror of persecution by powers bent on the destruction of God’s people.
I resonate with the way Ellen White connects our rest in Jesus to the peace that passes all understanding: “Let us turn aside from the dusty, heated thoroughfares of life to rest in the shadow of Christ’s love, and learn from Him the lesson of quiet trust. Not a pause for a moment in His presence, but personal contact with Christ, to sit down in companionship with Him—this is our need. Many, even in their seasons of devotion, fail of receiving the blessing of real communion with God. They are in too great haste. . . . Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him. He will be to you as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. He will give you rest that the world can neither give nor take away. Come unto Me, He says, and your heart will be filled with the peace that passes all understanding.”4
Jesus, our Peacemaker? We can be sure of that!
1 Willard M. Swartley, “Peace,” in Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, ed. Joel B. Green et al. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), p. 583.
2 The following is based on James E. Bowley, “Pax Romana,” in Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000), pp. 771-775.
3 D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 506.
4 Ellen G. White, “The Abiding Rest,” Signs of the Times, July 6, 1904.
Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as associate editor of Adventist Review Ministries.
Adventist World is a relative newcomer to Adventists around the globe. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s easily missed. Now in its eighteenth year, the world-church-funded magazine has a monthly print run of more than 1.5 million copies printed in seven languages.1 Addi- tionally, four more languages offer a digital version of the entire magazine.2 Add to that another 170,000 copies of Adventist World Digest are printed every quarter in an additional 25 languages that serve smaller language groups. Adventist World, together with its older sibling, Adventist Review, is one of the few Adventist publi- cations that reaches a large number of members—every month.
Readers in North America find Adventist World packaged with Adventist Journey, the magazine of the North American Division. In other parts of the world, it appears together with other division or union papers. Research suggests that every magazine gets touched by eight to 10 people— especially in regions where literature is not as plentiful as in North America.
Right from the beginning, Adventist World aimed to consider a global church family. We recruit authors who can write from different cultural and geographical vantage points. They represent the reality of the family of Adventists all around the world. Articles in Adventist World seek to inform, inspire, engage, and connect readers to God’s world and one another. We’re consciously working to find authors whose age bracket reflects the median age of Adventists around the world—a number trending younger and lower than in most Western countries.
Each issue focuses on one main topic, beyond the more general sections highlighting devotional material, helping readers recognize the rich his- tory of the Adventist Church (particularly also beyond North America), or seeing God at work in the world—and in His church. The magazine also includes much-loved columns about theological questions or issues related to health and wellness, as well as a section entitled Growing Faith, which engages younger Adventists.
Coming from an academic background, I joined our editorial team nearly 13 years ago because I’m passionate about the world of Adventism. I’ve lived and worked in five continents and have seen the wideness of Adventism. Adventist World is ideally situated to cover both the length and the breadth of this movement.
I am particularly proud of our team continuing to publish the magazine under difficult circum- stances during a pandemic, lasting two years now.
Here are two issues that particularly encouraged our readers in these challenging times.
1 The languages include English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Korean, Bahasa, and French.
2 The digital magazine can be read in Russian, Chinese, Kiswahili, and Papiamento.
Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as associate editor of Adventist Review Ministries with a special responsibility for Adventist World.
Seeking Balance (December 2021) helped readers to stay balanced in a world that seems to be out of control. (www.adventistworld.org/ december-2021)
Finding God in Many Places (September 2021) invited readers to look over the shoulder of a medical doctor, an artist, and a scientist—and, with them, find God in their own lives. (www.adventistworld.org/ september-2021)
Have you ever tried not to think about something? Try it. For the next minute, try not to think about your favorite food, what the weather is like—anything—but about a large hairy pink elephant. After reading this, try not to think about the large hairy pink elephant at all. Difficult? In psychology, this phenomenon is known as the ironic process theory.1 As soon as you try not to focus on something, it becomes impossible not to.
Humility is a strange animal. It doesn’t boast; it seldom shouts; it naturally avoids the spotlight; it never self-promotes—yet most of us feel mysteriously drawn to a humble person. But as soon as we try to focus on humility it seems to disappear.
Pride sits on the opposite end of the spectrum—and Scripture has nothing good to say about it. God hates pride (Prov. 8:13), for it lies at the heart of the rebellion that transformed a perfect universe into the battle zone of a cosmic controversy.
The Bible tells us that ambition and pride were the underlying motives leading to Lucifer’s fall, aptly described in Isaiah’s oracle depicting the fall of the king of Babylon (Isa. 14). The highly evocative language of the passage suggests that Isaiah’s prophetic vision went beyond historical events to metaphysical realities, pointing back to the fall of a created celestial being that coveted God’s authority and wanted to be like God.2 “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13, 14, NKJV).3 Pride and self-exaltation caused Lucifer, the son of the morning, to rebel against His Creator.
This article, however, is not about pride, but humility, even though both opposite attitudes sharpen each other’s contours. English author C. S. Lewis describes this “crossover” in his Screwtape Letters, the imaginary and eloquent advice given by a supervising devil, called Screwtape, to his nephew Wormwood, guiding him in his destructive work with a human upon whom young Wormwood focuses his devilish attention: “Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, . . . ‘I’m being humble,’ and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear.”4
Few events in the life of Jesus speak so eloquently to the character of our Savior as the moment when He stooped down, picked up a basin and a towel, and washed His disciples’ feet. This demeaning task was usually done by slaves. It wasn’t a symbolic wetting or a gentle rub. Following a day of walking on dusty and dirty roads, the disciples’ feet needed a proper washing. The rabbis tell us that touching feet was regarded as menial slave work and was usually assigned to Gentile slaves or women.5
Intriguingly, John’s is the only Gospel that includes this story in his account of the Passion narrative (John 13:1-17). Did John see something that escaped the attention of the other disciples? Did the enormity of Jesus’ action impress his youthful mind, leaving an inerasable mark?
Let’s try, for just a moment, to travel back about 2,000 years and join Jesus and His disciples as they shared a last supper prior to His arrest. Jesus had preached and healed and taught for more than three years. He knew (see verse 3) what awaited Him and had told His disciples repeatedly that His death and resurrection were part of the divine plan.
Now, however, He takes off His outer garments, picks up a towel, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash the feet of His disciples. Slaves washing feet could be ignored. Jesus washing feet cannot be ignored.
Simon Peter’s reaction seems to be exemplary for the larger group: “Lord, are You washing my feet?” This question requires translation, for we struggle to hear the tone in the written Word. Peter is really saying, How can You, my Rabbi, my Master, my Hero, my Messiah, kneel before me and wash my filthy feet (verse 6)? Peter is confused. Jesus, kneeling before him and scrubbing his feet, doesn’t make sense.
Jesus’ gentle answer recognizes the incongruency of the situation. In spite of His best efforts, there were many things the disciples hadn’t yet understood. But, like prophecy, they would better understand them when they saw them in the rearview mirror.
Peter still did not understand. His answer, “You shall never wash my feet” (verse 8), only considered the arguably important categories of honor and shame. Jesus changes the tone. He is now in executive mode. “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (verse 8, NKJV). It’s either all or nothing.
Following a familiar pattern, Peter finally appears to get it, for he wants to be scrubbed all over. “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head,” he says enthusiastically (verse 9, NKJV). But that’s not what Jesus means. His focus is not on cleanliness. Jesus’ response aims at changing mindsets. He knows about the one who had already sold the Master to the highest bidder (verse 11). He knows what awaits His disciples in the near future. He knows that atonement requires a sacrifice.
“Do you know what I have done to you?” asks Jesus once He has finished washing the feet of His disciples (verse 12, NKJV).
That’s a good question. Do we know, as we participate in the service of humility? Have we made space for humility in our hearts? Are we willing to kneel, metaphorically and in real life, before the people in our lives and wash their feet—even when there is tension and strife and conflict?
Here are four possible implications for the mindset of Jesus to become more visible in our families and faith communities.
1The basin and the towel challenge us to recognize that we are part of a community of equals. Jesus (and later Paul, cf. Gal. 3:28) never made distinctions based on gender, race, educational level, or the size of our offering. Paul invites us in Philippians 2:5-8 to imitate the mindset of Jesus. He chose to serve. He chose to become one without a shining reputation. He chose to become one with us. Humble Jesus challenges us to humble our hearts and serve one another unreservedly.
2True leadership is not a matter of power. It’s also not a question of strategy or careful calculation. Biblical leadership calls us to serve—not to determine or direct. Like Jesus, we are called to lead humbly and tread carefully. Too many leaders invest themselves completely into their task. That sounds like a wonderful idea. It smells and tastes like sacrifice and commitment. While God wants clear commitment, He wants even more: full surrender. Less of me and more of Jesus reduces the potential for conflict, for hurt egos, and competing personalities. As a leader in God’s church, am I willing to trust God to get it right—even without my giving Him a helping hand by pulling strings in the background?
3What do the basin and the towel tell us about the structure and processes of our faith community? Is humility relevant when we consider administrative structures, leadership elections, or policy decisions? How can we incorporate the value of humility practically into our councils and committees? How can we go beyond words and practice the mindset of Jesus in contexts in which we may not all share the same opinion? These questions challenge all leaders to their core. Structure is seldom neutral; structure has often grown organically, and growth can be painful. Humility in our reflection about structure helps us to overcome the sometimes limiting shape of tradition.
4Finally, how do humility and the example modeled by Jesus inform our thinking about mission? Too often we consider mission as “our task”—and it surely is. Jesus’ command to “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19 is directed to His church. He challenges His followers to leave their comfort zones and engage with a world whose values are often (though not always!) diametrically opposed to God’s values.
A biblical understanding of mission, however, begins with the realization that our mission is, first and foremost, God’s mission. A wise and seasoned administrator of an Adventist institution told me some years ago that “institutions have no memory.” He wanted to tell me that while we are committed to give our best to join in God’s mission, we need to recognize that we are not the lynchpin of His mission. God doesn’t need me to make a difference in the 10/40 window, but He invites me to join Him in this effort. A sense of our “humble mission” will, in fact, offer us some new breathing space and freedom.
Rather than trying our best not to think about large hairy pink elephants, we will need to get busy with something else that will move the focus of our thoughts. Will we ever know that we are truly humble? Probably not, for we will be too busy carrying basins and towels with Jesus as we serve side by side.
Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as an associate editor of Adventist Review.
As a father of a teenager and two young adults I’m concerned about the increasing number of young adults leaving our congregations. As a faith community, we’ve struggled with this issue for many decades. Data suggest that nearly half of Seventh-day Adventist teenagers in North America leave the church by their mid-20s.1 The 2012-2013 Twenty-first Century Adventist Connection Study Report engaged with 1,153 young adults who graduated between 2001 and 2012 from three major Adventist universities.2 A large majority of these graduates had gone fully or partially through the Adventist educational system. Some of the findings of this important research are encouraging; others are troubling and disturbing.
Here are some insights straight from the executive summary of the report.
The study showed that there is a large group of connected and active young adults in the Adventist Church. I’m glad to know that. There’s also a clear correlation between one’s devotional life and one’s acceptance of Adventist doctrines and lifestyle. Adventist young adults also prefer to attend medium- to large-sized churches.3
The next insight is more troubling. The authors of the study reported that a number of key Adventist doctrines (including a literal six-day creation, the heavenly sanctuary, the pre-Advent judgment, the remnant identity, and the inspiration of Ellen White) lacked strong support in this age group.
The study’s insights are helpful. But we need to remember that it did not represent the reality and perceptions of a growing majority of Adventist teenagers and young adults who never attend an Adventist secondary or tertiary educational institution. How would they respond to the questions asked in the research? Whether we like it or not, the graying of Adventism in North America (and increasingly in other parts of the world) represents a major challenge.
I grew up in an Adventist family in Germany. In fact, both of my grandfathers were Adventist pastors, and prior to a health challenge, my dad also served for nearly a decade as a pastor.
I spent my formative teenage years in a small town in southern Germany. The nearest Adventist church of our four-church district was located about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from home. These were small churches, ranging from 25 to 120 members—on the books. Sabbath afternoons we met as district youth in the largest church.
In the entire country of Germanythere was one Adventist boarding academy, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from home, but my parents didn’t want to send their two sons to a boarding academy at such an early age. Besides, finances were tight. Consequently, I went through the public school system. I had great teachers, but always knew that I was different, for I didn’t go to school on Sabbath on the two out of four Sabbaths when public high schools scheduled classes.
When I think back, I realize that I was a prime candidate for leaving the church during my late teen and early young adult years. Right at that crucial period, my parents separated (and later divorced). That experience shook my world, and I wondered about the God of my parents. What made me stay? What kept me coming back week after week? Here are four key elements that stand out as I look back.
First, my church cared. Two pastors served our four-church district. One was considered the “youth pastor.” I remember his weekly visits to our home and his ability to help me work through topics that challenged my faith. These were not just typical Bible studies in which we read a number of Bible texts and reached a firm theological conclusion. We talked about evolution and worldviews, world religions and ethics. We read apologetics. We prayed together. He took time and became a mentor.
But there was more. Our youth group leadership was very active. Church members knew my name and greeted me on Sabbath morning. A caring church goes a long way to help keep young adults in our congregations. And just in case you think that we had the perfect church—we didn’t. I remember sitting through boring sermons, and occasionally a member would weaponize Ellen White. But my church experience wasn’t reduced to these more negative experiences.
Second, I was a member of a small Bible study group in our home. Early in my teenage years my mother started a small-group Bible study at our home that helped me navigate the storms and tempests of those years. Intriguingly, many of its members were not Adventists, but classmates from school, mixed together with older church members who lived nearby. I played guitar or piano when we sang together, and our weekly deep dive into God’s Word offered a viable balance to other influences in my life. This was a truly priesthood-of-all-believers affair. Every member was able to contribute. I was introduced to prayer journaling during this time—and have continued that practice until today.
Third, I was engaged—and stayed engaged—in mission. Mission helped me stay connected with Jesus, especially considering the strong secular influences in my life. As a family, we were involved in a weekly café-like outreach, inviting people to sample dozens of healthy herbal tea options and enjoy an evening of conversations, music, art, or focused discussions.
Later my brother and I, together with some friends, began a music ministry geared toward the nonchurched that lasted for nearly 10 years. We wrote our own songs, created advertising packages, and spent 15 to 20 weekends each year touring and doing concerts. The German Voice of Prophecy offered us sponsorship, and we were able to record several albums (first in vinyl and cassette, later moving into the brave new world of digital media and CDs). Engagement with mission kept me in the church.
Finally, I was blessed with a number of important mentors who offered support, wisdom, at times critique, but always lots of love. These mentors continue to enrich and bless my life—even today. Mentors are real-life influencers whose commitment and concern offer a window into God’s love for us.
I am grateful for the creative, engaged, and God-fearing young adults who have found a home in our congregations. But my heart bleeds for the many who have left for one reason or another—and for their parents and families who daily plead for God’s Spirit to do the seemingly impossible.
I stayed because I was blessed with a local congregation that cared about me—warts and all—and for a mother who fed many hungry teenagers during our weekly Bible study, offering a way to connect personally and deeply with God’s Word. I also stayed because I was needed and was allowed to participate creatively in God’s mission. I was blessed with mentors who influenced me in ways my parents or family could not.
Looking back, I have one wish: I want to be part of the reason that helped someone to stay.
Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as an associate editor of Adventist Review.
I clearly remember the overpowering sense of relief and release I felt when I heard the words that meant everything in that moment: I forgive you; hey, you’re my buddy! I had messed up big-time in a relationship with a close friend. We all do sometimes. I had wished that I could, miraculously, take back my hurtful words. But words cannot be unspoken—at least not by this mortal being. I had longed for a restored relationship—and I had been given something even better.
Our friendship grew deeper than before. A new dimension had been added. Mysteriously, forgiveness helps us all to grow and reach new heights. That’s why we often struggle to grasp (and trust) the breadth, width, height, and depth of God’s grace. His compassion is beyond human imagination and calculation.
We know Jonah’s story. He is a household name in at least three monotheistic faiths. The runaway prophet, saved by a big fish, is a mainstay of illustrators and children’s book authors. As a bona fide prophet, he had spoken on God’s behalf in the past (see 2 Kings 14:25). Jonah wasn’t one of the many false prophets hanging around the royal court in Samaria. He was the real deal.
When God spoke to him this time, however, he started to run in the opposite direction. A month-long dangerous maritime journey to Tarshish on the other side of the Mediterranean sounded more attractive than God’s impossible mission to Nineveh.
We get it now. Right from the beginning Jonah’s problem was theological.
Jonah knew about the Assyrians. They were a cruel and merciless bunch. Historical and archaeological records document the brutality of the Neo-Assyrian overlords who dominated the ancient Near East during the eighth century B.C., the time that Jonah ministered in Israel. Why would God send me to Nineveh? Why would He have a special message for these brutes? I imagine Jonah asking himself.
Jonah started running and kept going until he finally rested in the belly of a ship bound for Tarshish. Did he say goodbye to friends and family? Sea journeys were extremely dangerous in his time. Would he ever see them again? Did he pack an adequate supply of clothing and food for such a journey? The biblical text is silent about such mundane questions and just communicates the staccato of running feet, desperately trying to get away from God.
A mighty storm disrupts Jonah’s plans. After the lot cast by the ship’s crew has fallen on the silent passenger, questions hit him like the rain and winds that mercilessly pelt the ship. “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” (Jonah 1:8).
What an opportunity to share about the Creator God who controls wind and weather, and tell of His concern for people, cities, and even animals. Jonah’s reply, however, sounds rather memorized and monotonous: “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (verse 9). Jonah got his theological facts right, but had the facts really penetrated his heart?
Jonah’s problem wasn’t fear. Following the sailors’ question “What have you done?” (verse 10), he offers a radical solution: Just throw me overboard if you want to survive (see verse 12).
The sailors hesitate; they try harder; they pray; then they throw Jonah into a roaring caldron of foaming water. Suddenly, everything becomes quiet. Exhausted men, water dripping from their ragged clothing, fall on their knees and pray.
God intervenes miraculously and uses a great fish to save Jonah, who finds himself in a forced three-day rest in the stomach of the big fish. His heartfelt prayer documents his recognition that “salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).
Jonah gets it, it seems. Jonah has finally experienced God’s grace. When he hears God’s word again, he is ready to get up and travel to Nineveh. We know nothing about the journey—weeks filled with searching for appropriate sermon illustrations and fitting ways to make relevant calls. We are in for a bit of a surprise, though, as we listen to his proclamation while he crosses the city: “Forty more days, and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). No illustrations, no stories to tug on the heartstrings of his audience—instead, an unambiguous judgment message. God is on the move, he is saying, and I am looking forward to watching Him do His thing.
Nineveh, that evil city full of abusers, murderers, and idol worshippers, surprises even Jonah. The message falls on receptive ears, and the people of Nineveh, collectively, believe Jonah’s message of impending destruction. In typical Near Eastern style, a decree is issued by Nineveh’s king to demonstrate a change of heart. Communal fasting and mourning and a king stepping down from his throne and sitting in the dust of the ground all speak a clear language. “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (verse 9 9).
God does—and Jonah’s unhappiness is palpable and offensively loud. This is wrong. This is not right. This is too much. “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That’s what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish,” Jonah prays. “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2).
As readers, we suddenly witness a window opening in the storyline that we haven’t yet seen. I told you so! is Jonah’s way of dealing with God’s compassion and grace. He partially prays back to God Exodus 34:6, 7—describing one of the key moments of God’s self-revelation to humanity when Moses hid in the cleft of the rock and God passed before him.
We get it now. Right from the beginning Jonah’s problem was theological. He had not been afraid of the Ninevites or scared for his life. Jonah had been worried that God would show—again—too much grace and that His compassion would win the day.
Jonah’s complaint has been echoed through the ages. Today we meet people who feel the need to highlight God’s wrath and judgment over against His compassion. They speak of “cheap grace”—and we wonder if there ever was a time in history where God’s grace was really cheap? They struggle, as we often do too, in finding the balance between God’s compassion and grace and His righteousness and holiness. Theologians have wrestled with this issue for centuries.
Jonah’s story may offer some help as we struggle to answer our question: “How much compassion is too much?”
First, God takes Jonah’s concern seriously and engages His prophet in a frank conversation. Instead of a well-argued presentation rooted in the Torah, however, God begins by asking questions. “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4). Questions open the way for more conversation even when we begin to talk past each other.
Second, God offers an object lesson to His struggling prophet. By now we understand that Nineveh has long stopped being the focus of the conversation. A shade-giving plant grows overnight and enhances Jonah’s well-being as he waits for God to punish Nineveh. Jonah is delighted. Then God commands a worm to damage the plant, which withers away in hours. A hot east wind (also organized by God) does the rest. Jonah is ready (for the third time in this short book) to die (verse 8). God follows up with another question. “Is it right for you to be angr
y about the plant?” (verse 9).
Then He begins to unpack His view of reality leading us to our third point. God has compassion on Nineveh—and this world—because He is the Creator God. All human beings, and animals, are His by creation. He knows them intimately, and, like a Father or Mother, He loves them uncompromisingly. That’s why He’s pursuing not only the Ninevites in Jonah’s narrative, but more so His own prophet. And because all humanity is His by creation, He’s committed to also make them His by salvation (see John 3:16).
God saved Jonah as he was sinking into the depth of the ocean. He’s now saving Nineveh in response to their turning toward Him. What He really wants, however, is to save Jonah from his misconceptions and warped concepts about God’s character.
Understanding the balance between God’s compassion and grace and His justice and holiness can be difficult: the Fall has made us all unbalanced. Bible readers have long understood that the book of Jonah needs to be read with the later book of Nahum, which describes Nineveh’s ultimate fall more than a century later. The reach of God’s compassion and grace is ultimately limited by human choice. When we accept His compassionate grace, we become part of His kingdom and begin to live according to His values. When we reject His compassionate grace, we join the ranks of the accuser and emulate his pride and selfishness.
God’s final appeal to Jonah is not expressed in a summary statement or an authoritative pronouncement. The final question, left unanswered, must have lingered long in Jonah’s mind and ultimately reached his heart, for he left us a book describing his foolishness and impertinence as he sought to flee from the presence of the living God: “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:9, 10).
Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as an associate editor of Adventist Review.