Saturday, May 28, 2016

Dressed for the Wedding

"So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding [hall] was filled with guests. "But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. "So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. "Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast [him] into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'       Matthew 22:10-13 NKJV
 Weddings are one of the things that just about anyone can relate to, whether they have had their own, participated in another, or just attended as a guest. It also is one of those rare events which is universally considered to be a joyful, celebratory occasion where everyone has a good time. I also can't help but remember that Jesus' first miracle was at a wedding, where He (in my opinion) bailed out the father of the bride who came up a little short during the reception.
 I couldn't help but begin to think of the wedding we all are really looking forward to, and the one which many believe is about to occur. I'm speaking, of course, about the rapture of the church which is described by God as a wedding between His Son and all who have chosen to believe. As I began to think about it, with all the attention given to what people were wearing to the royal wedding, it was hard not to remember this parable by Jesus which deals coincidentally, with someone who tried to attend a wedding dressed “inappropriately”. The fact that this was a concern for Jesus made me want to look a little closer at this parable and see exactly what we are being told, and whether or not we should look at it as a warning about our future wedding.
In this parable, Jesus is explaining the situation that existed at that time concerning His appearing, and the rejection of the Jews to His message that He was their Messiah. As a result, His death and resurrection resulted in the creation of His church, consisting of all who would choose to believe in the salvation offered to us by His sacrifice. The invitation to the wedding is given to all, and all who choose to accept may attend. Yet in this story, Jesus tells us that someone tries to attend dressed “inappropriately”, and suffers the consequences. My question is, exactly what does this mean and how does it apply to us?
 In Eastern cultures at that time, when you were invited to attend a wedding you didn't have to worry about going shopping for new clothes to wear because appropriate garments were provided for the guests by the one who gave the marriage feast. So all you needed to do was show up and put on the garment you were given, and your participation was guaranteed. In this account by Jesus, however, we find someone attending who apparently refused to accept the garment provided.
A close examination of the passage in the original Greek makes it clear that this was a deliberate act on the part of the guest to refuse the garment offered him. The reasons are unclear, but I think it is safe to assume he felt that his own garments were good enough so that he could refuse to wear what was provided. Obviously that was a very big mistake on his part, for when the King arrives and sees him, he is immediately put to the question. 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' Well, although he was “speechless”, the answer was pretty clear; he came in without one because he refused it at the door. The result is that he is bound hand and foot and tossed out into “outer darkness”.
 The interpretation of this parable is not that difficult to understand. The wedding feast we are all invited to takes place in heaven before the throne of God. The garments provided for us are a symbol of His righteousness, which He has chosen to give us freely because our own righteousness is as “filthy rags”. The only question put to us here is are we willing to accept what is provided for us, or are we going to be stubborn and insist we are good enough to refuse?
"I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks [himself] with ornaments, And as a bride adorns [herself] with her jewels."    Isaiah 61:10 NKJV
"But we are all like an unclean [thing], And all our righteousnesses [are] like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away."   Isaiah 64:6 NKJV
It makes no difference how “much” we do, how “good” a life we live, God makes it plain our righteousness will never pay the price of admission. It is only by accepting the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, that we obtain the garments that will allow us entrance to the wedding feast. Unfortunately one of Satan's greatest deceptions is that you can be saved by your own efforts. Just live by the principals you find in the Bible, do the very best you can, and you will be saved. The point Jesus was trying to make in this parable is that if you listen to that lie, your end will be the same as those who chose to totally reject the sacrifice of God in giving His Son to die for our sins.
My question to you today is are you dressed appropriately for the wedding? Have you personally told God that you accept the sacrifice He made for you, confess your sinfulness, and accept the invitation to the wedding that is to come? God has given the invitation to us all, and all we have to do in order to receive the appropriate garment to wear is to accept Jesus into our hearts, and begin to live for Him according to His Word. If you have never done this, I encourage you to do it now. Simply tell Him that you are sorry for trying to live your life on your own terms, and invite Him to come into your heart and to show you how to live life on His. By doing this, you will receive the “garment of salvation” that will allow you to attend the wedding. Which, by the way, could begin at any time.
Keep Watching

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Come Away

"For lo, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone.The flowers appear on the earth; The time of singing has come, And the voice of the turtledove Is heard in our land.The fig tree puts forth her green figs, And the vines with the tender grapes Give a good smell. Rise up, my love, my fair one, And come away!"  Song of Solomon 2:11-13  NKJV
Did you look forward to your wedding?  Did you possibly get a little more impatient the closer you got to the actual date?  I think most of us have either paticipated in our own, or observed someone else in this position and understand the impatience and anticipation someone approaching their wedding day experiences.  This though, raises a question in my mind which I would like you to consider as well.  Since the Church is described as the bride of Christ, and the Word also tells us He is coming to take His bride home at a future date, do you think Jesus is experiencing those same feelings of anticipation and impatience that we do?

When is the last time you heard a sermon taught on the Songs of Solomon?  To be completely truthful, I don't recall personally ever having heard one.  Which truthfully seems to be a shame because if you believe that all scripture is inspired by God, and all scripture is profitable for instruction, you are then left with the question as to why was this book included in the scripture and what is it's message?  As Solomon wrote this song to a Shulamite woman who he had fallen in love with, it is in essence his love song to her as he is courting her with the intent of making her his bride.  You don't need to read very far at all to understand the depth of his love for her, and the anticipation he has for the day she will become his own.

Seen in this light, it appears to me that this song can easily be considered to be what Jesus is feeling as He looks forward to His wedding to His bride, the Church?  Although the Jews have always looked at this book as signifying God's love for the nation of Israel, and it easily could be, I can also certainly see Jesus' love for the Church and His anticipation for the coming wedding in it as well.  One of the many interesting things I found while reading this book was this description of his intended which Solomon gives us in chapter 4.

"You are all fair, my love, And there is no spot in you."  Song of Solomon 4:7  NKJV

The fact that he sees no spot in her immediately brought to mind the description of the Church Paul gives us in the book of Ephesians.

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish."   Ephesians 5:25-27  NKJV

For many reasons, I can read this book and picture Jesus writing these words in anticipation of His future wedding with the Church.  Yet as long as we are going to talk about a future wedding, it would also seem appropriate to consider the possible timing of it, and see if Solomon gives us any clue as to when that might take place.  Notice his description in the passage from the second chapter, and everything that he says there.  It is obvious that Solomon is talking about the season of Spring, and all of the things that occur in Israel during that particular time.

"For lo, the winter is past,The rain is over and gone."

Solomon tells us that the winter is past, as well as the early rains which normally fall in March and April.  It is these early rains which help start the growing season in Israel.

"The flowers appear on the earth;"

One of the things I, and many others appreciate most about spring is watching all of the flowers reappear after hiding under the snow for the winter.

"the voice of the turtledove Is heard in our land"

Did you know that the turtledove is a migratory bird?  It normally leaves in the fall and returns to Israel in the spring.  

"The fig tree puts forth her green figs"

The fig tree normally produces it's first crop in the spring, usually harvested in early June. 

"And the vines with the tender grapes Give a good smell"

The grapes are on the vine ripening in preparation for the coming harvest which normally occurs in July. 

The late Ray Stedman had this to say about this passage from Song of Solomon;

There is the springtime of life. But it doesn't lie in the past. It lies in the future. One day this whole world will experience a springtime like that. The Lord Jesus Christ, returning at last to claim his waiting bride, will greet her in words very much like those. The springtime will come, the time of singing, the time when earth shall blossom again and the curse will be lifted and the flowers will appear on the earth. This is a picture of what can take place in the heart of one who falls in love with Jesus Christ and enters into springtime. The cold winter of loneliness, misery, and selfishness is past and the time of singing has come. 

All things considered, I think it is safe to say that Solomon was anticipating a June wedding just like many others have.  Spring has certainly proven over time to be the season of choice when it comes to weddings, and the wedding stories in the Bible are no exception.  Many believe the Church is rapidly approaching it's own wedding in Heaven, and a close look at the state of this world certainly seems to support that belief.  One day, very soon it would appear, the Church will hear the groom call out for it to "come away" just as Solomon wrote in this passage.  It is my prayer that you have made the decision to accept the gift of eternal life offered by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for your sin, and that you are part of the body, the bride of Christ which will live with Him forever in the place He is preparing for us.

Keep watching.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Seven Sabbaths

'And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave [loaves] of two-tenths [of an ephah]. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. [They are] the firstfruits to the LORD.    Leviticus 23:15-17 NKJV

Fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits comes Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks.  We know it as Pentecost, which is derived from the Greek word “penta” meaning fifty.  It also has other names such as the Festival of Weeks, the Festival of Reaping or Ingathering, and the Day of Firstfruits.  It occurs at the end of the wheat harvest in Israel, which is why it is associated with the theme of harvesting and the bringing of a sacrifice of grain to the Lord.  Yet it is also a time of celebrating the harvest of the land, which includes all seven of the fruits of the land listed by God in the book of Deuteronomy.

“For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; “a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey;     Deuteronomy 8:7-8  NKJV

Something I personally found interesting when I first began to study this feast was the tradition in Israel of reading the book of Ruth during this time.  Considered to be one of the greatest love stories to be found in the Bible, it is a story of how a Gentile, (non-Jew), was "redeemed", or bought with a price, by a "kinsman" or relative (who was a Jew) according to Jewish law, and then becomes the bride of her redeemer. This story is situated in Bethlehem with the events transpiring during the fifty days between the barley and wheat harvest.  The redeemer (Boaz) takes his bride at the end of that time or at the Feast of Pentecost. 

Because this story demonstrates how a Gentile could become a Jew, we can also see a perfect example of how Jesus Christ can redeem all who choose to accept His sacrifice, thus becoming His bride, the body of Christ.  We find this was illustrated by the events which occurred on the Feast of Pentecost that followed fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus.

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? “And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, “Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, “Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”    Acts 2:1-11  NKJV

Because the Feast of Pentecost was one of the three feasts in Israel that were compulsory to attend, Jerusalem was full of Jews from different lands.  It was for this reason that the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the ability to speak in different languages, allowing the Gospel to be shared with everyone who was there.  This is the day that many consider to be the birthday of the Church as not only did God send the Holy Spirit to indwell all who believe, but also arranged for the good news to be spread to other countries by virtue of these Jewish pilgrims returning home with the message of Jesus Christ.

The sixth of Sivan is a day which certainly has many different events associated with it, yet curiously, only one central theme which is redemption.  Enoch was raptured, Ruth who was a Gentile was redeemed, and the Church was born and given the gift of the Holy Spirit to indwell.  As the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit, is this a day that the Church might look to as a possible day of redemption, or even possibly a wedding?

For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.     Romans 8:22-23  NKJV

As we have seen, there are more than a few references to a "rapture" type event associated with the Feast of Pentecost. Will the Church be raptured on its birthday? Of course, no one knows and I certainly can't say for sure but I hope I'm not the only one who finds it more than curious that there seem to be so many events common to this particular day of the year. Jesus commanded us to watch for His return, and I for one think it very important to take Him at His word. I'm watching every day, and I hope the words I share with you in these pages encourage you to watch as well.

There is one more thing, however.  I can never talk about this day without sharing something we are told by the Jewish historian Josephus in his work “Wars of the Jews”.  This is of course, non-biblical, but it is also something I have found fascinating and consider believable in light of the proven historical accuracy of the works of Josephus.

"Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call PENTECOST, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, THEY FELT A QUAKING, AND HEARD A GREAT NOISE, AND AFTER THAT THEY HEARD A SOUND AS OF A GREAT MULTITUDE, SAYING, "LET US REMOVE HENCE." (end quote)    Josephus, "Wars of the Jews" VI. V. 3

Wouldn’t we all love to hear the trumpet sound and the call to come home in light of what we see the world becoming all around us right now?  Will it be on this day?  I have no idea, but I do know we are called to share the same Gospel that the disciples did on that Pentecost so many years ago.  Make it a point to tell others of the gift of redemption which is available to all who choose to believe in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins.

If you have never accepted the gift of eternal life offered to us by the sacrifice of Jesus, simply pray a prayer like this; Jesus I know that I am a sinner, and have sinned against you.  I believe you loved me enough to send your Son Jesus to die for my sins, and that He rose from the dead so that I can live.  Forgive me of my sins and come into my life and help me to live for you.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Keep watching.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Season to Watch

Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son."  Genesis 18:14 RSV

Do you have a favorite season?  I somehow manage to enjoy all of them for one reason or another, but if I had to pick one for my favorite, it would be the spring.  Just now, I can see a little bit of snow left on the mountain tops, my tulips blooming, and quail, songbirds, robins and doves eating out of my feeder. I like to call spring the time of new beginnings, because so much happens in so short of a time. I can watch buds appearing on my apple tree, the robins have returned from wherever it is they go in the winter, the ground is turning green, and of course, it’s about time to start mowing the lawn again.

As I have studied over the years, I have found that God ordained many events to occur in the spring as well. It is especially interesting to see how many of those events could be identified with the idea of a new beginning. In the passage above, God has visited Abraham and Sarah and told them that Sarah was to have a son. He also tells them that He will return to see them when that happens, and even tells them that it will be in the spring! If you look closely at the Hebrew you will find that in this particular case, the RSV translates it best, because if you take the two words mowed and chay together in the same phrase, you understand spring is identified as the season this event will occur.

mow`ed : 1) appointed place, appointed time, meeting

chay : 1) living, alive, a) green (of vegetation), b) flowing, fresh (of water), c) lively, active (of man), d) reviving (of the springtime)

Since Abraham is told he would become the father of the nation of Israel, the birth of Isaac began the fulfillment of that prophecy and as we see, it began in the spring.

We also find in the book of Exodus that the deliverance of the nation of Israel from bondage in Egypt occurred in the spring. The first three feasts of Israel, Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits all occur in the first month on the Jewish calendar which normally begins around the end of March or the beginning of April on our calendar, and is called Nisan or Abib.

And Moses said to the people: "Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten. "On this day you are going out, in the month Abib.   Exodus 13:3,4 NKJV

Of course, of greater interest to us as believers is the fact that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ occurred at the time of these three feasts as well. If you recall, Jesus celebrated Passover with His disciples, was then arrested, crucified and  rose again on the third day which was the Feast of Firstfruits.

Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished all these sayings, that He said to His disciples, "You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified."   Matthew 26:1,2 NKJV

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it.   Matthew 28:1,2 NKJV

Now you talk about the idea of spring being a time of new beginnings, how important could the fact be that our deliverance occurred in the spring? Do you really think so many events happening in the spring are just coincidence? If you still think it may be, why not look at another event that is certainly significant to all believers. Just fifty days after the resurrection, on the Feast of Pentecost, something else rather important happened as well; the birth of the Church.

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  Acts 2:1,2 NKJV

Do you begin to see what I mean about the spring being the most interesting season? The Bible is full of “new beginning” type events which occur in the spring. Is it possible then that the rapture of the church could occur in the spring season? If it did, it would certainly fit in with the idea of a new beginning type event happening the same time as so many others have.  

Why bring up the subject of the rapture of the Church?  Let’s return to the story of the Exodus for a moment. The thought occurred to me that we are told of deliverance along with a new beginning in the story of the children of Israel and their escape from Egypt. Not only were they delivered out of bondage in the spring, notice if you will when they entered the promised land.

And it came to pass, when the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD had come from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet touched the dry land, that the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks as before. Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho.   Joshua 4:18,19 NKJV

Here we are again! Back to the first month, the spring, the time of new beginnings. God delivered the children of Israel into the Promised Land on the tenth day of the first month. Is it possible this is also a picture of when the church will enter her “promised land”? Could spring be the season of the rapture?  Although I believe our deliverance could occur at any time, considering the fact that so many events have happened in the spring certainly makes me wonder if we as believers should be especially watchful in the spring.  Which brings us to this next passage which might be the most compelling argument of all.

Woe is me!  For I am like those who gather summer fruits, Like those who glean vintage grapes; There is no cluster to eat Of the first-ripe fruit which my soul desires. The faithful man has perished from the earth, And there is no one upright among men. They all lie in wait for blood; Every man hunts his brother with a net.           Micah 7:1-2  NKJV

This passage from the prophet Micah describes the period of time we call the tribulation.  Notice he tells us that all the faithful have disappeared from the earth, every man is against each other, and looking for upright faithful people is like looking for the first grapes of the harvest and finding none.  So when does the grape harvest begin in Israel?  The first ripe fruit is gathered at the beginning of summer.  My thought is that if all the faithful are gone at the beginning of summer, they must have disappeared in the spring.

Today we find ourselves in the spring season, and many are looking at the condition of the world around us and asking the question why are we still here? My question to you today is this.  Just how close do you believe the rapture of the Church is on God’s calendar?  If you believe like many others, it could be right around the corner. That nearness, however, also prompts me to ask you this question. If you have come to this point in your life and not made a decision to accept the free gift of salvation offered to you by our Savior Jesus Christ, don't you think it would be a good idea to do it now?

Keep watching.