They Heard a Voice

By Sam Leonor

Jesus in Adventist History

This article is adapted from one of seven presentations at The One Project in Atlanta, February 7, 8—Editors

The earliest record of Adventist history is in Genesis 1. The supremacy and authority of Jesus is evident in the Creation story. He spoke, “Let there be light,” and the result was immediate—there was light. The Creation story begins and ends with His voice. “Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth’” (Genesis 1:28, NKJV).  And here we are.

That’s the earliest record of our Adventist history, and I think we should always begin there.

Later, the beloved disciple, John, described the coming of God to the world by saying, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, NKJV). This same Word, through and by whom we were made, became one of us. And then this Word, Jesus with us, began to call us. His voice began to call us—ordinary men and women. He said to them, “Come,” and He says to us, “Come, follow Me.”

He didn’t then, and He doesn’t now, call people to follow a religion, a denomination, a congregation, a preacher, a cause, or a movement. He calls them to Himself.
Matthew 4:19-22 (NIV) reads, “‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people’ At once” (See, this is what’s so cool. “At once!” It’s like an instinctive reaction. It’s like they knew, they recognized, they obeyed. They knew that Voice. At once!) “they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately” (There it is again—and immediately!) “they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

Before they behaved right, before they believed right, they recognized a Voice and they knew: this Man, I will follow. I will belong to Him. All they had was Jesus. They left everything behind. They didn’t know where they were going or what they were being called to. They weren’t sure who He was, but they were attracted to this Person. They recognized something in Him.
When Paul was called, it went something like this (see Acts 9): “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Saul asked, “Who are you?”
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
His transformation was so incredible that Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2, NIV).
And then, from prison, his body broken from years of beatings, stonings, and lashings, Paul writes to the Philippians as he is about to die, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, NIV). We have all we need!

This past summer there was an exhibit of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s work at the J. Paul Getty Museum. I took my kids, and we were walking around looking at this art. Suddenly, we came around a corner and there it was: “The Christian Martyr’s Last Prayer.” I fell apart at the Getty, weeping. It’s so painful. I looked into the faces of the people, the Christians who are about to die, and there’s a girl about my daughter’s age. I kept thinking, “What were they hearing at that moment?  What could they see?” I believe they heard a Voice, and it was the voice of Jesus saying, “You have all you need. You have Me.”

The Reformers heard a Voice. So many of them were burned at the stake and died horrible deaths. One example is Jan Hus, who led the Reformation movement in what is now the Czech Republic, where the Reformation actually failed. During his trial, Jan was about to be burned at the stake and was offered a way out: “Do it our way and things will turn out OK.”

During his rebuttal, Jan quoted Paul: “God will meet all my needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”
“When the body of Huss had been wholly consumed, his ashes, with the soil upon which they rested, were gathered up and cast into the Rhine, and thus borne onward to the ocean. His persecutors vainly imagined that they had rooted out the truths he preached. Little did they dream that the ashes that day borne away to the sea were to be as seed scattered in all the countries of the earth; that in lands yet unknown it would yield abundant fruit in witnesses for the truth” (Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 110). You cannot bury the truth!

William Miller heard a Voice. He recognized the Voice and he followed it. While studying the Bible, he concluded, “I was constrained to admit that the Scriptures must be a revelation from God. They became my delight; and in Jesus I found a Friend” (The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, pp. 203-204). Of Jesus he said, “God opened my eyes and what a Savior I discovered Jesus to be. My sins fell from my soul. The Bible spoke of Jesus. He was on every page.”

So, Miller gathered his followers on October 22, 1844. On that day they did not have the Sabbath truth. They did not have the Trinity. We were heretics for years! We didn’t have the State of the Dead. We didn’t have rules about pork, coffee, gluten, soy, cheese, chicken, beef. We didn’t have Blue Zones. We didn’t have conferences or unions or divisions or the General Conference. Before Ellen White had her first vision, we were about one thing: We had an all-consuming, irrepressible, irresistible, overpowering, radical desire to be with Jesus.
Miller wrote, “Although I have been twice disappointed, I am not yet cast down or discouraged.… I have fixed my mind upon another time and here I mean to stand until God gives me more light,—and that is Today, TODAY, and TODAY, until He comes, and I see Him for whom my soul yearns.”[1] He did not speak about streets of gold, friendly lions, mansions, and crowns. His soul yearned for Jesus—for the One. 
 What does our soul yearn for? As a people, as Adventists, what do we yearn for?
We can argue all we want about 1888, but I think two guys, Ellet J. Waggoner and Alonzo T. Jones, heard a Voice, and they were right about one thing. They were right about Jesus while we were still confused about the nature of Jesus, while we were still Arianists. Ellen White called it “a most precious message.… This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Savior, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ” (Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 91-92).
Ellen heard the Voice! She’d been hearing it, but here things got serious for her and she recognized it. Over the next couple of years, she began to point out that the Church was more focused on herself than on Jesus. The brethren didn’t like this. For that and other reasons, she was sent down under to Australia to encourage the work there. She was already in her 60s, and the average life expectancy for a woman in the 1890s was mid-60s. They exiled her. They tried to silence her, but you cannot silence truth. She was ill. She had a hard time adjusting to the culture. She was homesick.
William Warren Prescott visited her. Prescott showed up at a camp meeting in Melbourne, Australia, and something happened to her while he preached. William explained that a change had come to him like a personal revelation—like a person speaking to him. He no longer believed that the thing to do was to prove the doctrines, to simply demonstrate their truthfulness. Doctrines needed to be presented as the gospel rightly understood. They should grow out of a belief in Jesus Christ as the living Savior. Adventists, he believed, needed a total re-orientation of their belief structure. Christ must be the center of everything.
They used to publish sermons from camp meetings. The brethren refused to publish this one. They felt it was too controversial. But this sermon series so affected Ellen White that, with Marian Davis and Prescott at her side, she began to compile work she had been putting together from the 1850s, sensing it was time for The Desire of Ages.
In 1895, the General Conference was practically begging her to come back. She said no. The main reason given was that she was in financial problems. But I think it’s because now she had all she needed. She had Jesus. It took Stephen N. Haskell to convince her to come home to help with some pressing issues.
The book The Desire of Ages had such an effect on us. For one thing, this line on page 530—“In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived”—finally settled the Arianist question. Carlyle B. Haynes preached at the 1926 General Conference Session: “The inmost central glory of the gospel, therefore, is not a great truth, nor a great message, nor a great movement, but a great Person. It is Jesus Christ Himself. Without Him there could be no gospel. He came, not so much as to proclaim a message, but rather that there might be a message to proclaim. He Himself was, and is, the Message. Not His teachings, but Himself, constituted Christianity.”[2] That’s us! You can’t bury the truth!

Blanca Pol is 101 years old. She loves Jesus so much. She didn’t finish high school. Never read Barth, Moltmann, Schaeffer, Lucado. She loves Jesus so much that she heard His Voice, and in 1934, she went to Antonio and Josefa Rivera’s house. Antonio was a poor carpenter and, while listening to Blanca, he and his wife heard the Voice too, and they followed. They were my grandparents.

 In 1972, my parents—crazy people—went to Nicaragua to work in developing healthcare missions. After I learned about history, I told my dad, “You were nuts! In 1972, Central America was in the middle of a war. There were people dying on our campus. There were bullets flying around. What were you thinking?” And every time I ask him this question, he simply says, “We heard a Voice. We were called.” They heard a Voice, and they had to respond.
 I was hanging on a cross at Nosoca Pines Ranch one day—a cross made from cheap planks, catsup on me for blood, fire ants crawling all over me, the cross leaning over—when I heard a Voice. It’s hard to explain what it felt like. Chris Blake’s book, Searching for a God to Love, says it so beautifully, and hanging on the cross that day, playing the part of Jesus, I realized this: “Our love affair with God isn’t an arranged marriage to a demanding partner.… It’s more a rollicking adventure; like otters in the ocean, we swim in the assurance of deep, safe love.”[3] 
 Do you hear it? Shhhh. Jesus calls us. He calls us. He calls our Church. You can’t bury this Voice. You can’t bury truth.
Last January, a student was brought to me. She was in a wheelchair because she had contracted something that had begun to deteriorate her nervous system. She couldn’t walk, and over a period of two years she lost her sight almost completely. They brought her into my office because she wanted to talk about what her future was going to be like. For four or five months, every week, we talked and prayed together. We prayed for healing, and eventually I began to say to her, “Do you have Jesus? If you have Jesus, Paul says that’s all you need.”
 At the end of the school year, she came by my office and dropped off a card written in Braille. She had my secretary write a sticky note that read, “I have all I need. I have Jesus.” The card written in Braille read, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
 The following September, when school began again, my office was loud and busy. And then suddenly, the room fell completely quiet. You could sense someone looking. Everyone turned to the doorway where there was a girl weeping. She pointed at me and said, “You are Pastor Sam. I’ve known your voice. I can see you now!”
During the summer, her medical team had figured out her problem, and they began treatment that eventually cured her. Now she could see!
I believe there is a day coming when we will all stand in the Presence. We will hear the Voice, and we will say, “It’s you! I have known your Voice. I can see you now!”

Sam Leonor was pastor for the La Sierra University campus in Riverside, California, when this presentation was given.
   [1] William Miller, The Midnight Cry, Dec. 5, 1877, pp. 179-180.
   [2] Norval F. Pease, By Faith Alone (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1962), pp. 193-194.
   [3] Chris Blake, Searching for a God to Love: The One You Always Wanted Is Really There (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2008), p. 224.