By AT News Team, July 12, 2015: “We must go forward, not backward, because we are almost home! I am more convinced than ever that Jesus’ return is near, even at the door,” Pastor Ted Wilson declared in his Sabbath sermon (July 11) at the close of the denomination’s General Conference (GC) Session. More than 60,000 Adventists gathered in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, to hear Wilson’s theme-setting sermon after being voted a second five-year term as the denomination’s president.
The focus of the sermon was moving forward to cross the Jordan River into the promised land. Wilson retold the story of Moses and Joshua during this pivotal transition in the history of God’s people in the Old Testament, drawing a parallel with the Adventist movement today. He urged Adventists around the world to unite in the mission of Christ.
A video of Wilson speaking in Israel appeared to be filmed at the same time as footage used in a presentation earlier in the week. In the video clip used in the sermon, Wilson stood on Mount Nebo, speaking about the significance of the mountain for Moses. Clearly, he anticipated being re-elected since the final sermon of the session is reserved for the newly elected president.
Wilson asked why Adventists, who have believed fervently in the soon return of Jesus for 160 years are still here. “For some time, Jesus has longed to come back. We have no more time prophecies. Those ended in 1844 with the beginning of the investigative judgment. At this very moment, Christ is ministering for us in the most holy place of a real sanctuary in heaven. He wants to pour out the latter rain of the Holy Spirit upon His people to finish His work on this earth. He longs for us to humble ourselves before Him and lean completely upon His everlasting arms. He wants us to share His good news of salvation that we are saved by grace,” he said.
Mirroring the passing of the torch from Moses to Joshua in the Bible story, Wilson shared how his own father and grandfather—both leaders in the Adventist denomination—had influenced and encouraged him. To honor them, Wilson had their Bibles on the podium along with his own Bible. His grandfather served as president of the North American Division (NAD) and the Southern Asia Division, and his father as president of the Columbia Union Conference, the NAD and the GC.
Wilson stressed the importance of reading the Bible and the writings of Ellen White, often referred to as “the Spirit of Prophecy,” and emphasized interpreting the “plain reading” or “plain language” of Scripture. “If you haven’t read much from either one for a while, pick up the Bible and read it. Pick up Steps to Christ, The Desire of Ages, The Ministry of Healing, The Great Controversy, Patriarchs and Prophets, the Testimonies or any other Spirit of Prophecy book and read it. See what God will do for your heart and life.” He continued, “As Seventh-day Adventists, we fully accept the Bible as God’s inspired Word. We understand the Spirit of Prophecy to be the lesser light, inspired by that same heavenly inspiration that leads to the greater light, the Bible.”
Continuing to highlight the importance of the Bible, Wilson declared, “God’s Word is sure and foundational.” Echoing a topic delegates had debated earlier in the week—the doctrine of creation—Wilson stated, “Yes, God actually created this world recently in six, literal, consecutive days and rested on the seventh-day Sabbath and asks us to do the same as an eternal sign of our allegiance to Him.” He went on to list other stories from the Bible, stressing that “God’s Word is accurate and true and can be understood just as it reads.”
Repeatedly, Wilson exhorted listeners to not retreat but to press on. For courage to move ahead toward the “Jordan River and the promised land,” he said Christians need to remember how God has led in the past.
Wilson listed dangers that he hopes Adventists will not move to—legalism, mysticism, superficiality, meaningless emotionalism, worldly or unbiblical contemporary ideas about theology, carelessness in Christian living, skepticism, higher criticism, fanaticism, and formalism. The audience enthusiastically applauded this warning.
Instead, Adventists should focus on positive efforts, Wilson said, not only the mechanics of the church—the focus of the GC Session—but private and public witness. “Become involved in the greatest evangelistic and mission outreach possible—take time to read and pray about the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist strategic plan, Reach the World.” He continued, “I appeal to all our administrators, pastors and lay people everywhere, become involved in personal and especially public evangelism even if you think it won’t work where you live. Adapt your methods, but reach out. Evangelism is not dead! It is more alive than ever before!”
In addition to a verbal witness, Wilson also highlighted efforts to show practical compassion for people in need. “Thank God for the work of ADRA,” he declared. He also encouraged Adventists to “always show interest in groups with special needs. Take time for those in special situations with whom you can share Christ.” Furthermore, Wilson instructed the audience to use “comprehensive health ministry in reaching people in … cities and in the rural areas.”
In summary, Wilson stressed that in order to reach the world with the message of Christ’s return, Adventists should read both the Bible and Ellen White, and participate in personal and public outreach which includes providing health care and community development. Wilson concluded his remarks with the exhortation, “Reach the world with the extraordinary good news of ultimate victory through the blood and grace of our Creator, Redeemer, High Priest, Coming King and Best Friend, Jesus Christ! Arise! Shine! Jesus is coming.”
It was a quite traditional Adventist sermon which warmed the hearts of many from around the world. Adventist ministers have been preaching that the Second Coming of Jesus is “at the door” from the very beginning of the denomination. Ellen White believed and wrote many times that “the end is near.” Seven generations of Adventists have been born, lived, and died. Ellen White passed to her rest 100 years ago this summer.
Adventist preachers are in good company in their proclamation of a “soon return.” They are simply concurring with the views of New Testament writers who believed Jesus would soon return—at least within their lifetimes. More than 2,000 years have and gone since those writers lived, and the “end” is still in the future. This reality is the basis of much of the anxiety and spiritual dissonance felt by Adventist believers.
Almost no one, particularly the president of the denomination, wants to look squarely at the problem of the delay, although it permeates the feelings of second and subsequent generations of Adventists. Perhaps it is too much to ask Wilson to rethink what “soon” means to 21st-century Adventist Christians. The question is not an easy one to ask, and it is even more difficult to conceive of good answers. So, the easy thing to do is to cling to the past. Which leads to the conflicts that were so clearly expressed all week during this 60th GC Session.
The sermon can be read in its entirety here – https://news.adventist.org/all-news/news/go/2015-07-11/full-text-cross-the-jordandont-retreat/