Wednesday, 19 July 2017

THE WEDDING FEAST

Are we prepared for the greatest wedding feast of all?

                                                                       
                                                   Photo by Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash

Metaphors and imagery are being used in the Bible to portray man’s relationship with God. For example, we are like sheep to the Chief Shepherd and like children to our Heavenly Father.

The church is also seen as the bride of Christ. Paul wrote: “For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2).

Thus, it is no surprise that Jesus took up the wedding theme to teach us what the kingdom of heaven is like. In one of His parables, the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22: 1-14), the King (God) hosted a banquet for His son (Christ) and many people were invited to this celebration.

Israel was invited first. However, many in God’s favoured nation refused to come to this feast. Moreover, the king’s servants (prophets) who delivered the invitation were mistreated and even killed. So the invitation was thrown open to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).

During the feast, the king noticed a man who was not wearing appropriate wedding clothes (Matthew 22:11). When asked why he failed to wear proper attire, he was speechless. Thus, he was promptly excluded from the feast and sent to the outer darkness (hell), the place where men weep and gnash their teeth (Matthew 22:12-13).

What does the wedding attire signify? It symbolises the garments of salvation and robe of righteousness, which only God can provide.


Only Christ’s blood can wash away our sins so that we get draped in pure white robes to join the wedding feast. Christ is the only way by which man can be reconciled to God. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

How can man please a holy God? If we try to do good works, which are like filthy rags in God’s eyes (Isaiah 64:6), it will not meet with His approval. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, not by works (Ephesians 2: 8-9, Philippians 3:9).

At the end of the parable, Jesus remarked: “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22: 14). Though many have been given the opportunity to be saved, few actually take up God’s offer of salvation. How sad!

A similar scenario is presented in the last book of the Bible. One day, faithful believers will get invited to a wedding feast (Marriage Supper of the Lamb).

Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”
(Revelation 19: 7-9)


Here, the church is seen once again as a pure Bride, devoted to one husband, Christ. 

But notice the contrast. In the earlier Parable of the Wedding Feast, the wedding attire is the robe of righteousness that God provides for believers—imputed righteousness. But in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the wedding attire is the righteous acts of the saints.

Do these two accounts in Matthew 22 and Revelation 19 contradict each other? No.

Faith is a word with broad ramifications. If a person claims he believes in Jesus but fails to make Him Lord in his life—and continues to willfully live in sin—his belief is fake, spurious and questionable. Without repentance and obedience, belief alone is empty. Genuine faith has to be evidenced by good works. Faith, by itself, without works, is dead (James 2:17, James 2:26).

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works” (James 2:21-22).

Note the other references in Revelation that emphasise the significance of wearing proper wedding attire—the righteous acts of the saints:

Church at Sardis told that if they are righteous and are able to overcome, they will be clad in white.
“You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”
(Revelation 3:4-5).

Saints, who are dressed in white, washed in the Lamb’s blood, have overcome the Great Tribulation.
“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
(Revelation 7: 14)

Eternal reward is reserved to those whose lives are characterised by good works.
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.
(Revelation 22:12)

If we have any doubt as to whether works, obedience and fruit-bearing are necessary for believers, this is quickly dispelled when we consider the final judgment when the faithful sheep are separated from the fruitless goats (Matthew 25: 31-46). The sheep are those who are kind and benevolent to those in need; their good works for other people are deemed as service to Christ.

Though we are not saved by doing good works, nevertheless good works are not redundant in the life of believers. Works prove that our faith is genuine.

Finally, to complete the wedding theme, we look into the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), where watchful waiting is contrasted with careless complacency.

The wise virgins, a picture of faithful believers, were watchful and waiting for the bridegroom, Christ, to return. They made sure they had sufficient oil (symbol of the Holy Spirit) in their lamps. When Christ suddenly arrived, they were allowed to attend the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

On the other hand, the foolish virgins, who represent careless and complacent believers, did not have sufficient oil in their lamps. They were not eagerly expecting the bridegroom’s return. As a result, when Christ returned, the door was shut in their faces. They were excluded from the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. 

Is watchful preparation for Christ’s return something passive? No. It is active. Being watchful implies that we will faithfully do good works.

The two stories just before and after the Parable of the Ten Virgins speak volumes for active faith:
  • Faithful servants are supposed to mind the Master’s household well (Matthew 24: 45-51)  

  • Good stewards must utilise well the talents God entrusts to them (Matthew 25:14-30).

The following passage tells us that godly living will follow if we are watchful, waiting expectantly for Christ’s return:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).

To reiterate, here are the three main points related to the wedding feast:
  • In Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22: 1-14), the wedding attire is the robe of righteousness that God provides for believers—imputed righteousness. Whoever does not have this robe is excluded from the celebration—as one man discovered to his regret and consternation.

  • In the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19: 7-9), the wedding attire is the righteous acts of the saints (good works).

  • In the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), the conditions for entry to the wedding feast are spelled out. Only the wise virgins, who were watchful and waiting, with sufficient oil in their lamps, could rejoice with the bridegroom.


In summary, entrance to God’s kingdom is by grace—the righteousness that God provides through the cleansing blood of Christ—not by our good works.

But, lest we forget, having placed our trust in Christ, we have to prove that our faith is genuine by good works.


Let’s strive to enter by the narrow door (Luke 13: 24) and walk along the narrow and difficult path (Matthew 7:13-14) that leads to the kingdom of life.

“For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22: 14).

MAIN PASSAGES

PARABLE OF THE WEDDING FEAST (Matthew 22:1-14)

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to 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.’
For many are called, but few are chosen.”

MARRIAGE SUPPER OF THE LAMB (Revelation 19: 7-9)

Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”

POSTSCRIPT

Salvation by faith; good news and bad news

Though it is not clearly stated in the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22: 1-14) that the wedding attire is that which God graciously provides (imputed righteousness based on faith in Christ), it is implied. This parable is about the Good News (Gospel), how man can gain entrance into God’s kingdom. Many have been invited to embrace it but many refused. After the Jews rejected Christ and His redemptive work on the cross, the invitation was thrown open to the Gentiles.

Since all have sinned and fall short of God’s standard (Romans 3:23), and since no one could possibly keep God’s law (Galatians 3:11), there was only one way, by which man could be reconciled to God and be saved from His wrath—by grace through faith.

Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would make the Gentiles right in his sight because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.
(Galatians 3:6, 8-9)

But the Good News also comes with a warning. Those who refuse to accept its terms (faith in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross) will have to face God’s judgment and wrath.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

(John 3: 16-18)

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Friday, 16 June 2017

FINISHING STRONG, ENDING WELL

The Christian life can be seen as a race of endurance. The apostle Paul was fearful that he might be disqualified from the race. Why? 

                                                             
The apostle Paul likened the Christian life to a race of endurance. In order to win, athletes (believers) must exercise self-control and discipline.

Just as contenders in the Olympics need to be watchful about diet, rest, training and abide by the rules (no illegal drugs such as anabolic steroids), believers too have to learn how to control our fleshly desires and passions. We have to subdue our carnal inclinations so that we can finish the race well.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27).


                                                                      
Let’s delve into the meaning of this verse, 1 Corinthians 9:27: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” What does it really mean and what is its relevance to us?

Paul compared himself to a contender (runner) and a herald (preacher) of the race. Though he was perhaps the most faithful apostle in Christendom, past or present, he was afraid that he might not finish well. 

The Greek word from which ‘disqualified’ is derived is ‘adokimos’, which can also mean the following: failing to pass the test, unapproved, castaway, rejected, reprobate. It is a very serious term that cannot be trifled with. Apparently, ‘adokimos’ refers to bad metals which fail to pass the test; thus they are rejected or cast away.

Put simply, Paul was afraid that he might be disapproved, rejected, cast away, deemed unfit to enter heaven. If he had allowed himself to be overcome by his inherently corrupt nature, he would not finish well and might even lose his salvation.

Two questions logically follow when we consider this verse, 1 Corinthians 9:27.  

Firstly, is Paul’s fear positive or negative? It is definitely positive for it keeps him from making the greatest mistake in life—to be lost and damned for all eternity.  

Secondly, if super apostle Paul feared that he might not make the grade in eternity, how much more ordinary heaven-bound citizens should live their days on earth with godly fear!

Come to think of it, if Paul entertained the thought he could possibly be disqualified from heaven, how much more “spiritual plebeians” like us should be cautious that we might not reach our intended final destination if we fail to fulfil certain conditions (Matthew 7:13,14, Luke 13:24).

Not everyone will agree with this interpretation of 1 Corinthians 9:27, but let me explain why this verse is not just a red herring. Using a single verse to build a doctrine or premise is not a sound principle. So other references that reinforce this particular verse are listed below.

Any believer who continues to willfully live in sin will miss out on heaven if he fails to repent. God is impartial. He is no respecter of persons.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God”(1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Past faithfulness cannot nullify present sinfulness.
“When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live”(Ezekiel 18: 26, 32).

If a believer fails to endure, he or she may lose the chance of entering heaven.
“Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called Today, so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” (Hebrews 3: 12-14).

“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls”(Hebrews 10:36,39).

                                                                        
The moral failure of God’s people serves as a warning to us.
After leaving Egypt and miraculously crossing the Red Sea, they failed to enter the Promised Land because they committed sexual immorality and worshiped idols, not holding fast to their faith till the end (1 Corinthians 10:7-9).

The apostle Paul teaches that the failure of the exodus generation is meant to be a lesson to us. We need to keep ourselves in the love of God if we want to inherit eternal life. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10: 11).

Even Paul, for all the ministry success to his credit, was afraid that he might eventually be disqualified and cast away. So nothing is predetermined or “automatic” in the Christian life. Whether one is a great minister or an ordinary believer, one has to be faithful and endure to the end in order to inherit eternal life.

That’s why Paul was jubilant when he finished strong and ended the race well: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4: 7-8).

However, we do not strive by our own strength to keep ourselves in God’s love. By seeking God and through the Holy Spirit's empowerment, we are able to walk the straight, narrow and difficult way amid trials and temptations.

As the passage in Philippians 2:12-13 puts it, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

                                                                
Though fearful that he might be disqualified from the race, Paul finished strong and ended well. He fought the good fight of faith and obtained the prize of unsurpassed worth—eternal life.

KEY TEXTS

Run the race with discipline and godly fear in order to finish well

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27).

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4: 7-8).

FAITH: ACTIVE, NOT PASSIVE

“It would not be difficult to point out at least twenty-five or thirty distinct passages in the Epistles where believers are plainly taught to use active personal exertion, and are addressed as responsible for doing energetically what Christ would have them do, and are not told to “yield themselves” up as passive agents and sit still, but to arise and work. A holy violence, a conflict, a warfare, a fight, a soldier’s life, a wrestling, are spoken of as characteristic of the true Christian.”

― Dr Michael L. Brown

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