WHAT A CHURCH WANTS — JESUS TO PREVAIL IN IT
by Pastor Mike Fortune
March 10, 2007
[Chris Tiegreen is editor of Indeed Magazine at Walk Thru the Bible and author of The One Year at His Feet Devotional (Tyndale 2006) and Violent Prayer (Multnomah 2006). He wrote the following in On Mission Magazine “The Bride of Christ” Winter 2007.] The young man’s hand shook as he set the cup in front of her. The moment of decision had come. He’d been waiting his whole life for this day, and all his dreams and desires were wrapped up in it. It had taken all of his resources and all of his courage to arrange for this crucial moment. He had help, of course. His father had counseled him, dutifully walking to the nearby town in order to get to know her parents, and talking with them about the merits of this match. The parents discussed the details of where the son would live, of how he would provide for their daughter, and, of course, the price they would require. But only the bride herself could pick up this cup and drink it. Only she could agree to become his wife.
Seconds after he placed the cup on the table—though it seemed to him like hours—she reached out, smiled nervously, lifted it to her mouth and drank. Her gesture meant “Yes!” And her actions more clearly confirmed what anyone else could not have shouted louder from a mountaintop. Yes, she would marry him. Yes, she wanted to be engaged to him. The young man’s anxiety melted away and unbridled joy took its place. This was a done deal. As binding as the marriage ceremony itself. Whenever that would occur. All that was left for him to do was to go home with his parents and prepare a room in their house, a place where he and the delight of his heart could live together and enjoy each other’s company for ever.
As the families celebrated and chattered excitedly about a future full of hope and promise, she leaned toward him discreetly and whispered. “When can we have the wedding?” He whispered back to her. “I don’t know. It’s up to my father. Whenever he tells me the house is ready for you to live in, I’ll come for you.” Soon, he hoped. In the meantime, he would work hard to prepare a place as quickly as he could. Then he and his groomsmen would come back to her town blowing happily on a shofar, a ram’s horn, a trumpet, to alert her of his arrival. And when she heard the blast of that trumpet, whatever the time of day, she knew it would be time for the wedding.
But until that day, she would wear a veil to let the whole world know that someone had chosen her. And that she had accepted his proposal. She in turn, with her heart full of joy, would spend her days beautifying her appearance and purifying her heart. With an overwhelming current of anticipation pulsing through her veins, she’d hardly sleep at night. Keeping a lamp by her bed, just in case he returned during the night. Her bridesmaids would all do the same. Because everybody knows, that no degree of darkness can keep away an eager bridegroom for too long.
This friends, was a typical engagement in ancient Israel. And surprisingly to me, much of it comes from the symbolism of the Exodus. I was amazed how many similarities there are between Matthew 24–25 and Exodus 12–20. For example, we know the deliverance and the exodus of the church when Jesus comes again was literally bought with a price at the cross. But the deliverance and the exodus of Israel was too. Exodus 12:13 describes how a lamb without blemish was sacrificed and its blood was spread on the doorpost of the homes of those in Egypt who were dedicated to following God—even into the unknown future. Which is why Exodus 19:4 [NIV] says, “4You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Exodus 20:2 [NIV] adds these words, “2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
While these words may not sound to us much like a wedding, I was surprised to learn that Jewish believers and 1 st century Christians applied them to what the bridegroom would do for his bride. Promising to make generous provision for her just like God made generous provision for the children of Israel. But the similarities between the Exodus and the Advent don’t end there. Exodus 19-20 and Matthew 24-25 not only refer to a blood price for the bride, prior to deliverance and departure, it also refers to a prolonged engagement. Where joyful covenant partners are sincerely preparing for the anticipated but unknown day of arrival. Not just washing their clothes, but also preparing their hearts and minds. Rabbis point to Exodus 19:10–11 [NIV] which states, “10And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.”
I think its also interesting that both thunder and lightning are described in the Exodus and Advent. Both include trumpet blasts. Both involve God descending or coming down. Both involved God choosing a people. A bride. Which is why even today, Jews drink a cup of wine at Passover to accept again God’s proposal.
The Advent wedding
We know the marriage customs of early Israel carried through into Jesus’ day too because it’s clear that Jesus identified with them. On Thursday evening, in the upper room, Jesus set a cup before his disciples and asked them to drink it. Symbolically, He was proposing marriage to them. On Good Friday, He shed His own blood on the cross paying the price for His bride—not grudgingly, but according to Hebrews 12:2 “for the joy set before him.” And on Sunday, but before he left his disciples, he told Mary who was still clinging to him the same thing he told the disciples the Thursday evening before. That He was going away to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house, but that He would surely return and receive them to himself [John 14:1-3]. Other New Testament writers picked up on this prevailing engagement and wedding proposal theme. Paul told the Corinthians that he had betrothed them to Jesus and wanted them to be pure for the wedding. 2 Corinthians 11:2 [NIV] says, “2I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” Revelation 19:7–8 concludes, “7Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” Jesus says in the wedding parable of Matthew 22 that this linen is also given to everybody invited to the wedding not just the bride. So the saints are saints only because they’re wearing the wedding garments given by the groom! Wouldn’t that be cool to see sometime? You go to your next wedding and every lady there is wearing the same wedding gown and every guy there is wearing the same tux. Even all the guests! Wouldn’t that be fun?
And that’s how it’s gonna be when our Advent wedding day arrives. When our bridegroom descends amidst thunder and lightning, as far from the east as it is to the west, and the trumpets sound—like any bride or bridesmaid living in Jesus’ day—we will know beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the engagement is finally over. That the wedding day has arrived. And that the very next thing on the agenda is a party. As Adventist Christians, engaged to Jesus, joyfully serving Him as sincerely as we can, living in these days of anticipation, we have this prevailing hope. That Jesus is coming again. Do you believe that?
Wayne Hooper did. Surely by now some of you have heard of Wayne Hooper—the Legendary Adventist composer and King’s Heralds Quartet Baritone who died Wednesday evening, February 28 at 8:45 at his home in Newbury Park, California. He was 86 years old. Many years before that though, he was asked to serve on a special committee appointed to prepare music for the quadrennial session of the General Conference of Seventh–day Adventists to be held in San Francisco in 1962. Which he did. Ultimately composing the song we’ll sing as our closing song today “We Have This Hope.” Used for 3 other General Conference sessions, most recently in 1995 at Utrecht, Netherlands, this song and the lyrics he penned capture the sense of joy and anticipation any bride or bridesmaid likely feels during her engagement. The lyrics go like this. I’m going to say them not sing them. “We have this hope that burns within our hearts. Hope in the coming of the Lord. We have this faith that Christ alone imparts. Faith in the promise of His Word. We believe the time is here, when the nations far and near, shall awake and shout and sing ‘Hallelujah! Christ is King!’ We have this hope that burns within our hearts. Hope in the coming of the Lord.”
I try to remind my children as often as I can that that’s why we bother going to church on Saturdays. We gather to give God glory because though Christ is King of the universe, He would’ve died for just me. Which makes Him worthy of my praise. And once a week, we need to be reminded of that. Because it’s not just the nations far and near that need a wake up call. Some of us bridesmaids need one too. Probably for a bunch of different reasons. But there’s only one that I want to leave you with today. Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 25:1–12.
We must be engaged with Jesus to be engaged to Jesus
Today we’re concluding our series on what a church wants. And I don’t think it could be more appropriate to highlight in closing this series that what a church should want most of all is for Jesus to prevail in it. I think this simple parable of the Advent, rooted in the Exodus, reminds us more clearly than any other why we must be engaged with Jesus to be engaged to Jesus. That’s my main point today. To have this hope, for Jesus to prevail in the church, we must be engaged with Jesus to be engaged to Jesus. Because knowing Jesus is the basis for eternal life.
Matthew 25:1–12 [NIV] says, “1At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 6At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ ‘9No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ 12But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don't know you.’”
Now, if any of you men out there, are anything like me, this entire talk so far about engagement and bridesmaids and weddings is making you feel a little uncomfortable. Because number one, we’re guys. We’re not supposed to be brides. We’re supposed to be bridegrooms. And even then we have issues. We hate those plastic tux shoes they rent you at the mall and have no idea how to tie a bow tie or attach that cummerbund. We don’t have a clue about crinolines and make up and veils. On my wedding day I went to Subway for a sandwich 40 minutes before the ceremony started in case my dad, who was the pastor performing the ceremony, took as long as I thought he would. Which he did. Which made me glad I ate. Meanwhile, Jackie was walled up inside the church since sunrise doing who knows what with all her bridesmaids the day we got married refusing to let me anywhere near her. I couldn’t even smuggle a sandwich in to her. So I ate hers as well.
So if it’s any consolation to you guys, I bet the disciples in the upper room felt the same way you’re feeling right now. They’re thinking: No way! Jesus just put a cup down in front of us. He just asked us to marry Him! We already said we’d follow Him. Isn’t that what we’ve been doing the last 3 years? So what’s this cup thing all about? Why is He proposing to us again? I think the disciples were at that moment beginning to realize that we must stay engaged with Jesus to be engaged to Jesus.
Which is something the bride in our parable already knew. How do we know? Because she’s not even mentioned in this story! Have you noticed that? She had already accepted the bridegroom’s proposal. Had set the cup down on the table months before. Sometimes years earlier. She had stayed engaged with her bridegroom. Focusing on him. Anticipating His arrival. Joyfully preparing her heart and mind. So that when the bridegroom in this story really did arrive, she was already ready. She's not in the story because she and the bridegroom were already at the party! This whole soap opera is all about her girlfriends. The bridesmaids. Who ironically enough were supposed to be helping her prepare to meet the bridegroom.
You got any friends like that? Good folks. Not hypocrites. Not fair weather friends. You don’t volunteer to stay up all night every night waiting for your friend’s bridegroom, not even your own, but your friend’s bridegroom if you aren’t already a pretty good person. Someone with a heart. Who cares a little. Right? But notice, none of that prevented all these good people from falling asleep. But not the bride! She had to have been wide awake!
I think this is an important point because too often when I hear preachers preach about this story, all we ever do is send the five foolish bridesmaids on a guilt trip. Saying how silly and foolish and sleepy they are. Neglecting to mention that the other five wise bridesmaids were sound asleep too! Yeah, the wise ones brought more oil, and they were ready to go in, but whether you’re supposedly a good person with good friends is not the point. Why? Because knowing them isn’t eternally significant! Knowing Jesus is! THAT’s the main point.
Have you noticed how the Bible never spells out in any detail how long we should read it each day? It just says we should. It doesn’t say how long you should pray either. It just says we should. It doesn’t say how often we should share or witness. It just says if you don’t, God will reach people another way. You see, none of these so called spiritual disciplines are done for His sake. Or anyone else’s for that matter. God doesn’t need us near as much as we need Him. Yes, the Bible contains plenty of good advice and wisdom. Yes, God wants the best for us and has given us some ways to experience a better life worth living. Yes, the Bible is a light unto our path. But Jesus is the light of the world. And it is knowing Him that is eternally significant. Matthew 25:10–11 [NIV] says, “10But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ 12But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don't know you.’”
Read the Bible for a relationship, not research
We must be engaged with Jesus to be engaged to Jesus. We must learn to read the Bible for a relationship not for research. Jesus said in John 5:39 [NIV] “39You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me.” If you’re reading your Bible for research, primarily to fill in the blanks on your Sabbath School lesson or to prove the rapture wrong or if you’re a pretty good person and even a faithful friend willing to stay up late and hang out with your friends at church, you may have a lamp and some oil, but you could still sleep through the wedding! Because entry doesn’t depend on reading your Bible. It depends on knowing the author of it. Even the devils believe. We are all in need of a wake up call.
One of my deans in college always called his wife bride. And they’d been married for many years. Twenty five, thirty years perhaps. It was obvious he was in a deep and caring and prevailing relationship with his wife even on the football field and basketball court because whenever she showed up, still cheering him on, with a big smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, he proudly introduced his wife to all of us as his bride. He did this so often that hearing him talk about her that way ceased to sound weird to me. And that’s how Jesus feels about us. All of us. Not just the bride who lived her life in joy and anticipation of her bridegroom. Not just the wise bridesmaids. But even the foolish ones too.
We are His bride
He is the bridegroom. And we are his bride. We who have this hope have already drunk the cup he has set before us. We’re already committed to the wedding. While we wait to hear his trumpets blow, we must set our hearts and minds on knowing Him. And that is something we can all do. We can read His word to sustain a relationship instead of research. We can learn to pray with both hands. Giving God the glory and praise He deserves on the one and learning to ask Him for specific things with the other. Which we’ll talk about next Wednesday at 6 pm. We can choose to care more about pleasing Him than any of our friends. Whether they’re supposedly good for us or bad. And if we do, I’m certain that we won’t have to worry about growing, owning, building, or protecting our church. Because Jesus will be prevailing in it. We will be joyfully and sincerely knowing and growing closer to Jesus and the world all around us will be transformed. Jesus said I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Christ does not bid His followers strive to shine. He says, ‘Let your light shine.’ If you have received the grace of God, that light is already in you. Isaiah 60:1 [NIV] says, “1Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.” Chapter 25:9 [KJV] adds, “9And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Living things grow. Growing things automatically reproduce. The harvest is already ready. But there are some things that only come about by prayer. So let’s pray. So we can learn to give Him the glory. Let’s read. So we can learn to recognize His still small voice. And let’s share what we get out of those 2 things with someone else. Not primarily to save their souls. But our own. Because we must stay engaged with Jesus if we want to be His bride. For Jesus is coming again. And knowing Him is life eternal.
Our Father in Heaven, these past few weeks, as we’ve been looking at your church, your bride, we’ve been reminded of your overwhelming kindness and compassion. You sent Jesus into this world to save it not condemn it because you love everyone like crazy. And would rather die than spend eternity without any of us. Thank you for promising to mobile home with us. And grow us. And protect us. And prevail in us. We confess to you this morning that sometimes we get sleepy and focus on other things. Many of them good in their own right. But Father when we do, would you please come down, and through your Holy Spirit, gently remind us it’s not about even the good things we know or do? Teach us again to hear your small voice. Install in us an appetite for your word. And help us to sing a new song. Full of hope. In what you can do. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.