The Appearance of Defeat

Many believers around the world are struggling to know how to relate to the apparent shrinking numbers of faithful Seventh-day Adventists. This is a difficult question, but to discover the answers we can look at the example that Christ left for us. For, there was a time in Christ’s ministry, when, to almost everyone, it looked like His work was a failure.

Ellen White speaks of how Christ’s work appeared just three days before the crucifixion.

“At this time Christ’s work bore the appearance of cruel defeat. He had been victor in the controversy with the priests and Pharisees, but it was evident that they would never receive Him as the Messiah. The final separation had come. To His disciples the case seemed hopeless.” The Desire of Ages, 621.

Have you ever been in a situation that seemed hopeless? The last week of Jesus’ life, His cause seemed hopeless. At that time, Christ’s followers, His church, consisted of just eleven men and a few women. It appeared as though the movement Christ had begun was about to fall apart. Yet, at this very time, the work of God was just hours away from its greatest victory. Christ was approaching the consummation of His work. The great event, which concerned not only the Jewish nation but also the whole world, was about to take place.

Why did God allow His work to sink to such a low ebb, especially when the hour of victory was so near at hand? When thinking about this, we may rightly wonder how defeated God’s work may appear before His second coming. Will we, if we are faithful, have to go through a time when to all outward appearances the case seems hopeless?

To answer this we need to go back to the Wednesday before the crucifixion. Christ had faithfully borne the final and last rebuke to Israel’s leaders. He had exposed them in front of the multitude. The disciples, with keen discernment, saw that their last opportunity to make peace with the church leaders was forever gone. All looked hopeless!

Jesus knew that in a few hours His disciples would see Him in a position they had never before dreamed of. They had trusted that no matter how disheartening things might look, Jesus would eventually proclaim Himself king. But to be placed on a cross instead? Would it be more than they could bear?

Jesus had carefully told them, in the kindest way, what was to happen to Him, but they would not listen. Consequently their minds never comprehended it. They never dreamed they would see Jesus hanging on a cross, for they believed Him to be the Messiah.

This Man who came to earth was actually the King of the universe. He looked like a man among men, but He was infinitely more than that. He was God, clothed in the garb of humanity. Yet He came here, and walked among men, living the life of the ones He had created.

When sin first entered the world, Christ made a pledge with His Father that He would redeem man at all costs to Himself. And before He came to this earth, while He was still on the throne in heaven, He watched the events of this world. As He looked at the course of sin for four thousand years, in counsel with His Father, He planned how He was to come into this world and how He was to act while He was here.

Why then, with all the carefully laid plans, were things looking so unpromising? The disciples wondered if He had made a mistake. Why was this Man, who they knew to be altogether lovely, being rejected by the leaders and the people? It did not make any sense to them. To human thinking it is incomprehensible. The God of the universe, looking into the hearts of men, chose to redeem us in a way that is beyond our comprehension. He, who owned everything, chose to come here, not in wealth, but in poverty. Instead of being born into the palace of a king, He was born into the home of a common laborer. Instead of studying the great wisdom of the world, the God of heaven chose for Him to be taught by His own mother out of the Scriptures.

The Jews were looking for a Messiah to come with great outward show, with the pomp of a king, the wisdom of Solomon and the strength of Samson. They were looking for one who, with all power, would change the current of men’s thoughts and force men everywhere to believe in Him. (See The Desire of Ages, 700.) This idea was so implanted in their minds that it seemed that the way Jesus planned to come was predestined to fail. And so it seemed to the disciples on that eventful day, the Wednesday before the crucifixion, when things were at their lowest ebb. It looked like there was no hope because they knew how it had to be—and it was not turning out that way.

No Beauty That We Should Desire Him

Had Jesus been willing to establish a temporal dominion He would have gladly been received by all. (See The Desire of Ages, 509.) Why did He not do it? Isaiah 53 tells us how He chose to come. This prophecy, given hundreds of years before Christ came, described how He must come. It says, in verse two, “When we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.”

When Jesus was baptized, John the Baptist said to the crowd, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29. The crowd looked all around to see who John was talking about, but they did not see anyone who looked different than themselves. They did not see a man of great stature that was far more beautiful and noble than all the rest. Every face that they searched in the crowd appeared to them as just a common man.

He came like you and me. It was planned to be this way. In Luke 17, Jesus spoke straight to this topic because the Pharisees had such a preconceived idea of how He would come. “And when He (Jesus) was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, He answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with outward show.” Luke 17:20.

The kingdom of God was in their midst but they did not discern it. It was powerful and they saw the power, but it was not the power they wanted. They had their minds fixed on how they thought it had to be and so they came to Jesus and demanded of Him when the kingdom of God would come—not realizing that the way to the kingdom of God was in front of them. Jesus said, trying to correct their faulty thinking, “The kingdom of God comes not with outward show.”

The kingdom of God never comes with outward show. Oh, yes, it will be something great when Jesus comes in the clouds of heaven. We will be able to see it, but the only ones who will be rejoicing are those who have been changed inside. As Jesus said, “Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:21. The kingdom of God always starts on the inside.

The Cardinal and the Sparrow

How quick we are to look at the outward appearance, as the disciples did. I recently had an experience that brought this lesson home to me in a tangible way. On our back porch we have a bird feeder and we enjoy watching the birds come and go. We have had little juncos, sparrows, cardinals, finches, blue birds, a blue jay and a mocking bird that came to visit our feeder. Early last spring, when it was still cool, there were three kinds of birds that came quite frequently; juncos, sparrows and cardinals. The cardinals came even when it snowed. The white snow made the red of their coats seem iridescent. The red was accented with the sharp black around their beak and the white snow. It was beautiful. I noticed that when the cardinals came, every one stopped to look. People tiptoed around the window because they did not want to frighten them away. Sometimes my children ran back in the bedroom and whispered, “Mother, the cardinals are here.” And everyone stopped for a few moments to enjoy the loveliness of the scene.

I noticed, though, that when the sparrows came, they did not get quite the same attention. People did not run to the window. No one stopped what they were doing; everything went on as usual. We enjoyed the sparrows but it was not the same as the cardinals. What made the difference? We are drawn to the beautiful. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. (See 1 Samuel 16:7.)

Typically we judge the heart by the appearance. Jesus knew this, and that is why He did not come in the garb of the cardinal, beautiful above other birds. He came like the sparrow. He chose to come with the appearance of the common man. He knew that if He came with the pomp of royalty, that His beauty would stun men, and He did not want that.

Inside His heart He had something that was far more beautiful, powerful, wise, and worth more> than anything this world could give. It was the beauty of His character. He did not want us to be attracted by outward beauty, so He chose not to come that way. Rather He came with the glory, beauty and the wealth of heaven in His heart. He came with love. He came with kindness for all and salvation to the poorest of humanity as well as to the rich. No one was excluded.

Someday we will see His great beauty when He comes in the clouds of heaven, but by that time everyone will have made a decision one way or the other. When He comes in the glory of His Father and the angels, there will be many that will say, “If only You had come with the pomp of the world, we would have accepted You.”

A System Based on Outward Show

In the last two thousand years, God has let a system develop that is built on outward show, to help us see what the result of Christ’s mission would have been had He come that way. And the results, that following this type of system always bring, can be seen in the history of the Papal system. Following a system based on outward show always leads to breaking God’s Law.

This will be seen most clearly in the final days of this earth’s history. At that time, Paul prophesied that Satan, through his agents, would work “with all power, signs and lying wonders.” 2 Thessalonians 2:9.

Men have the desire for something outward that they can look at and fasten their faith on without changing what is on the inside. Men say today, as the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Show us a sign.” And that is why this method will be so deceptive in the last days. Revelation says about this same power: “And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast;” Revelation 13:13, 14. “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” 2 Thessalonians 2:10.

If you base your religious decisions on appearance, you will be fooled when this happens. We must learn to be led, not by outward signs, but by the inward guidance of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit working upon our hearts. That is our only safety against deception.

Sometimes we are struck with the outward appearance of men of greatness, men that know how to carry themselves with great poise and nobility. Jesus talked about people like that. He said: “And ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” John 5:43, 44.

If you long for the honor of men and the show of this world, then you will be attracted to people who also have that goal and they will deceive you. The only way to be kept from deception is by having a change of heart. That is why Paul said, “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” 2 Thessalonians 2:10, 11.

If you have not received the love of the truth in your heart, you are looking for show, and you will find it. The whole world will be deceived by it. Satan has set up his counterfeit knowing that human beings are looking for show. They are looking for something great that they can see. He knows how the human heart works, and he has planned a deception that is a perfect fit.

You might say, “Oh, the Sunday law would never trick me.” But a man who is seeking glory for himself might trick you. The only ones who will withstand his deceptions are those who have had a change of heart, who are not seeking for great things for themselves, those who live for one purpose —the glory of God.

The Victorious Ones

This great power of evil organized in Babylon will be overcome and exposed. “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with Him an hundred forty and four thousand, having His Father’s name written in their foreheads.” Revelation 14:1.

The 144,000 will overcome the power of the Papacy. And they do it by following the Lamb. They have learned that their Leader is so powerful that when everything around them has the appearance of defeat, they can trust in Him for victory.

There is a report of a vision Ellen White was given on the train platform in Loma Linda. She never wrote it down, but she related it to those who were there and they wrote it for our benefit.

In this vision, Sister White saw the world. She said that as she looked over the world she could not see any Seventh-day Adventists. The angel standing by her side said, “Look again” and one by one God’s true and faithful stood up and their lights were burning. They chose leaders among themselves and they carried forward the work of the Loud Cry that was given to this world.

Is your faith strong enough so when you cannot see any true and faithful, and everywhere you look you see the inroads of sin, you can stand up against it? Often before God does His most signal work for human beings, He allows things to appear hopeless that our faith and vision may be directed to Him.

Pharisaism—The Common Problem of Mankind

There is another problem with men’s attraction to appearance that we have not considered yet. Jesus talked about it in Matthew 23, when he rebuked the Pharisees. He said: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter that the outside of them may be clean also.” Matthew 23:25, 26.

It is not a big problem to clean up the outside, the big challenge is to clean up the inside and Jesus said, “Do that first.” Before we can be delivered from Satan’s power on the outside, we must first be delivered from his power on the inside. (See Christ’s Object Lessons, 174.) Then Jesus said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so, ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” Matthew 23:27, 28.

I earnestly plead with you, ask the Lord to clean the inside of your heart. That is your only hope. Only He has the power to do it. However righteous you appear to men is of no account. It will not make any difference in the Day of Judgment the front you have worn. What makes the difference is what is on the inside of the heart.

Men are so awestruck with strength and riches, and because God knew our tendencies, He left us this warning. “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23, 24.

What are you looking for? What are you glorying in? Jesus said in John 7:24, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” When Jesus said that, how His heart must have been breaking. Here was the One that was altogether lovely. Who the angels of heaven recognized as beautiful beyond any other being in the universe. He is the fairest of ten thousand and He came to this world and all He brought was blessings, but He was rejected. That is why Jesus said and He says to us now, “Do not judge by the outward appearance. I have come among you. I am not beautiful above anyone else, but if you could see what I have brought, you would know that I have the pearl of great price. I have the hidden riches that I can give you. They are infinitely more than anything you have ever had before. Just come to Me that you might have life.”