Bonita Joyner Shields, Assistant Editor

Adventist Review

This sermon is an abridged version of Pastor Shield’s farewell message given at Spencerville SDA Church on January 26, 2002.

Summary: The lesson of Cradle Roll is the foundation of the gospel. If we do not understand it, it doesn’t matter what else we do. We will be ?stuck? in our Christian development. If the lesson goes unlearned, nothing we do or believe will have eternal significance. What is this lesson? It is simply yet eloquently expressed in the song, ?Jesus Loves Me.?

Introduction. In life there are lessons we learn along the way. Psychologists tell us that if these lessons are not learned at a particular developmental stage, we will remain ?stuck? and must emotionally revisit that stage of life before we can resolve the issue and move on.

I invite you to do some revisiting with me this morning. Think way back in time, past elementary school, past kindergarten, all the way to Cradle Roll. Cradle Roll is exciting! When Kyle was two years old, he would stop and give me a big hug during the week. But on Sabbath, he would rush through the foyer and run right past me without so much as a nod—because he was going to Cradle Roll! What is it about Cradle Roll that is so attractive? I don’t see adults rushing through the foyer to get to class!

There is a lesson in Cradle Roll that draws young and old like a magnet. This lesson is described by noted twentieth century theologian, Karl Barth, as the most profound theological truth he knew. The lesson of Cradle Roll is the foundation of the gospel. Yet, it is this very lesson that I believe many of us have not learned.

What is this lesson?

Jesus loves me, this I know,

For the Bible tells me so,

Little ones to Him belong,

They are weak, but He is strong.

As Adventists we have been quite successful with indoctrination. And doctrines are important. When properly understood, they give us a full and accurate understanding of God’s character. But if we do not understand the lesson of Cradle Roll, it doesn’t matter what else we do. We will be ?stuck? in our Christian development. If this lesson goes unlearned, nothing we do or believe will have eternal significance.

Let’s return to Cradle Roll together and review this well-learned little ?ditty? we sing to our children. It is packed with the gospel, so let’s unpack it together.

Jesus loves me . . . Ah, what a familiar phrase. As infants, we hear it while we are rocked to sleep ? as children we sing it in Sabbath School ? as adults we sing it to our children.

Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us about this love: ?You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us? (Ro 5:6-8).

This passage tells us that God loved us so much, He willingly offered His only Son—a part of Himself—to come to Earth, live among us, and die by the hands of ungrateful, unholy people. Why? So those same people would have a chance to live the abundant life here and in eternity.

It would be difficult to send your child to a far-off land to people who were eager to know God. But, would you send your only child—a part of yourself— to save a bunch of ingrates? To people who had no desire to learn about God, who would humiliate and kill your child?

That’s why God is God. He loves perfectly. When we mess up and fall flat on our faces, He still loves us. When we shake our fist at God and yell, ?I hate you!? He still loves us. When we ?run away from home,? certain that there is a better way to live than His way, He still loves us.

I have heard it said to children, ?Jesus will only love you if you’re good.? What an abomination to the love of God! While we were still sinners—ungrateful, unloving, Jesus died for us. Have you ever been loved like that? Do you believe it is even possible? As wonderful as this love is, it won’t make much difference in our lives without this next element.

. . . This I know. Most of you have heard that Jesus loves you, but, do you know it? Do you really believe that He loves you? Or are you like my friend? She has grown up in the church, attended Adventist schools, worked for an Adventist institution, and yet asks me, ?Bonita, why would Jesus love me? I’m not good enough to be loved.?

You may not have stated it as she did, but is that the heart cry of your soul? Do you know that God knows you fully and really loves you as He says he does?

We are limited in our understanding of what it means, ?to know.? We understand it cognitively: ?Yes, I know, I understand that Jesus loves me.? And, yes, the content of our faith is important and must be based on truth.

We may even go to the next level and give intellectual assent. ?I accept the rationale. I am convinced that this is truth.? We understand Jesus died for us because He loves us, and we say this is true. Yet James says: ?You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that, and shudder? (Jm 2:19, emphasis supplied).

Our knowledge must go beyond intellectual assent. We must embrace fiducia—we must learn to trust. Our belief must reach the depth of our being and take anchor in the soul.

Knowledge of the fundamentals of Adventism is important. But what happens when your spouse leaves you? Or when your child dies? What happens when the hopes and dreams of a lifetime shatter into a million pieces and flow effortlessly through your fingers like sand? What will carry you through? A knowledge based solely on cognitive understanding, or a knowledge that shows a trusting relationship with a God who has promised to never leave you or forsake you? What will carry you through? An intellectual assent to a belief system or a soul anchored to a God who loves you with a love so powerful that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it?

. . . For the Bible tells me so. When we begin to trust God, we take Him at His word. We may not feel lovable,
but we trust that He loves us beyond what we can understand.

I have a pet peeve when it comes to our use of the Bible. For many it is merely a book of proof texts, used to prove a theological argument. While one of its purposes is correction and teaching righteousness (2T 3:16), it is much more. It is the story of the relationship of God to us—how we severed that relationship, and how God sent Jesus to restore us to Him. It is the story of Jesus’ work of salvation in the lives of humanity, and we are the continuation of that story!

Several years ago, a woman whom I will call Laura shared how she had stood on the precipice of an affair. She confessed, ?I finally got past my blindness and saw that I had to turn around because, if for no other reason, God said so, and I knew He loved me more than anyone else.? ?But,? she continued, ?It was one of the most difficult and painful things I’ve ever done, because it seemed so right.?

Sin is deceitful and blinding. It makes wrong seem right and right seem wrong. It is only by God’s Word that we can determine truth. We need a standard of truth, of righteousness outside of ourselves. And Jesus, the Living Word, is that perfect standard.

The question we must ask ourselves is: Will we continue in broken relationships, or learn from the Salvation Story and trust His word to restore our relationships—even when it hurts? Do we trust that everything God says in His Word is for our own happiness? Will we allow it to rule in our lives?

. . . Little ones to Him belong. Who doesn’t desire to belong? Whether to a club or an organization, a family or a person—most of us have this God-given desire within. In a society where broken relationships and broken lives abound, this desire is intensified. Many people, searching for a place to belong, sadly compromise themselves just to experience belonging. Fanatical religious groups capitalize on this human need.

In the midst of our craving for belonging, Jesus challenges us: ?Anyone who loves his father or mother ? son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it? (Mt 10:37-39).

Jesus loves us more than anyone ever can or ever will. Careers, cars, homes, money—even family—all good in and of themselves, cannot take the place of belonging to Him. When we truly believe this and determine that we want to do nothing but obey His Word, we will find that that ?hole in our souls? begins to fill. But as Jesus has told us in scripture, looking to Him to satisfy our need to belong does not come easily. Belonging to Jesus requires making some difficult choices.

?Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it? (Ibid). When we take up our cross and lose our life, we die to our own self-centered ambitions. Dying is scary. It’s painful. Dying is the ultimate letting go. Yet, I have discovered that when I allow myself to die, I have never felt so much alive!

. . . They are weak, but He is strong. When we belong to Jesus and allow Him to work in our lives, the ?down side? is that we become aware of our weaknesses more than ever before. We begin to see how sin has hold of our lives, in our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. Then we truly begin to realize our helplessness to live a godly life without the power of Christ.

It’s not pleasant to be confronted with the sin in our own heart. And there aren’t many of us who like to admit our weakness. From the clothes we wear, to the car we drive, to the people we associate with—we spend so much energy trying to convince everyone that we have it all together—that we are strong! The absurdity of it, is we think we’ve even convinced God.

The apostle Paul shares with us: ?But He [Christ] said to me, ?My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me ? for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses ? in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong? (2 Cor 12:9, 20).

Some of the strongest people I know readily admit their weaknesses. When we are willing to be vulnerable and share our weaknesses with each other, we become what Henri Nouwen calls ?Wounded Healers,? agents of healing by giving encouragement and comfort to others through the sharing of our own wounds. The cross is the ultimate witness to the power of vulnerability.

?Jesus loves me, this I know,

For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong;

They are weak, but He is strong!?

Do you know Jesus loves you? Do you trust that all He tells you is for your happiness? Have you experienced the love, joy, and peace that belonging to Him offers? Do you realize your powerlessness over the sin in your life?

It’s not too late. In the Chinese language, the word ?change? is comprised of two symbols: the symbol for death and the symbol for opportunity. With change, something must die. In this season of change, is there something in your life that needs to die so that God can move you farther along the road to becoming more like Him? Whatever it is, along with that death will come an incredible opportunity to allow a time of self-discovery, growth, and intentional living.

We all have difficult choices to make. Jesus wants to help us make those choices. He never promised us an easy journey, but He has promised us that if we will walk with Him, we will know love, joy, and peace as we have never known it before. The world never has been able to give it, and it never will.

Have you embraced the gospel according to Cradle Roll? It’s not too late. Revisit your childhood. Revisit Cradle Roll. Sing the song. Learn the lesson that will make all that you do and believe have eternal significance. Just don’t run into Kyle as you tear through the foyer!