THE BRIDEGROOM (Cana – Part 3)

You yourselves know how plainly I told you, “I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.” It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. [John 3:28-29 (NLT)]

wedding - 1939That Jesus chose Cana for His first public miracle and turned water into wine may not be as random as it first seems. By providing wine for the wedding, Jesus took on the bridegroom’s role which foreshadowed things to come.

John the Baptist described Jesus as a bridegroom and himself as the groom’s friend, much like today’s “best man.” In Jesus’ day, the groom’s best friend might have served as master of the banquet. The master of the banquet, however, knew he wasn’t the one hosting the party and the celebration wasn’t about him. By calling Jesus the bridegroom, John accepted his secondary role.

The bridegroom imagery continued when Jesus explained why his disciples didn’t fast. Fasting was for a time of mourning but weddings were a time to rejoice and Jesus compared his relationship with the disciples to that of a bridegroom and his guests. It would be inappropriate for the groom’s guests to fast during the celebration while the groom still was present. The time for fasting would be when He no longer was with them.

At another time, Jesus likened His followers to bridesmaids who were waiting with lamps for the groom to come and collect his bride. Some weren’t prepared with enough oil and, since the groom was a long time coming, their lamps went out. Without the light, they couldn’t accompany the wedding party back to the groom’s house for the celebration. This parable warned Jesus’ followers to be prepared for His return.

We find a bridegroom again when Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast given by a king for his son. Two invitations were sent to such a celebration: the first asking them to attend and the second telling them it was ready. When the guests who initially accepted the king’s invitation refused to come, he sent out a third invitation but the people refused and his messenger was killed. With his invitation rejected, the king extended his invitation to everyone.

In Ephesians, we find Paul continuing the metaphor when he says the way a man and his wife are united is “an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.”[5:31-32] It comes full circle in Revelation when Jesus, the Lamb of God, is called the bridegroom and His church the bride.

Let us not be like the guests who reject the King’s invitation or the foolish bridesmaids who weren’t ready for the bridegroom’s arrival. We want to join in the celebration. We are, after all, the bride of Christ!

Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself. … And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.” [Revelation 19:7,9 (NLT)]

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WEDDING WINE (Cana – Part 1)

“A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!” This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him. [John 2:10-11 (NLT)]

kaui weddingWhen the catering manager pulled me aside and said we had a problem, my mind rushed through various scenarios that could turn our daughter’s wedding into a fiasco. When he admitted not having the wine I’d ordered weeks earlier, I got nervous but, when he offered to substitute a better wine at a lower price, I heaved a sigh of relief and recalled another wedding when the guests unexpectedly got better wine! This happened 18 years ago but I still remember it whenever I read about Jesus’ miracle at Cana. The guests at our daughter’s wedding had no idea why they enjoyed such good wine and neither did the guests at that wedding 2,000 years ago.

Our daughter had a small destination wedding but weddings in Jesus’ day were a community celebration and the host typically invited as many as he could. The Jewish culture was one of hospitality and the festivities often lasted as long as a week. Not having the right wine was a minor glitch for us but running out of wine at that wedding was a disastrous breach of etiquette for the groom whose responsibility was to provide enough food and drink.

Perhaps Mary knew of the shortage because she was one of the women serving food. In any case, she knew that her son could fix a bad situation and instructed the servants to do whatever He said. Jesus told them to fill six stone jugs with water and then take some to the master of the banquet (whose duty was to oversee the entertainment and supervise the distribution of food and drink) for sampling. Upon tasting the wine, he expressed his surprise that the groom had reserved the best wine for the end when the guests’ palates had dulled.

Jesus’ first miracle tells us a great deal about our Lord. Prior to this, during His 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, He’d refused Satan’s temptation to use His power to satisfy His hunger. In Cana, Jesus used His power to serve others rather than Himself. Out of compassion, He prevented the disgrace of insufficient wine from haunting the newlyweds for the rest of their lives. The vessels Jesus had the servants fill were special stone jars set aside for sacred purposes and reserved for ceremonial washing. The Jews were meticulous about their rituals and these vessels would never have been used for wine. Nevertheless, as Jesus later demonstrated by healing on the Sabbath, touching the unclean, and eating with sinners, compassion and love were the new way to fulfill God’s law.

The servants were told to fill the jugs all the way to the brim. Rather than adding something to the water, Jesus changed it! He doesn’t just improve lives; He transforms them and turns sinners into saints! Because of Jesus, rather than the best wine being served first, it was served last. It was a sign of new and better things to come: a new covenant of grace that was better than the old one of the law. We see Jesus’ humility in a miracle done so quietly that only the servants and His disciples knew what had happened. It was the bridegroom, not Jesus, who got the credit for the superb vintage. We also see the richness of life that Jesus offers. Those six jugs would have provided enough wine, not just for the wedding feast, but for the entire village for several weeks.

Jesus came out of love so it is fitting that His first recorded miracle occurred at a wedding feast—a joyful celebration of love. From the outset of His ministry, it was clear that Jesus’ message was not one of asceticism and severity but one of love, joy, and abundance. Like the better wine served at our daughter’s wedding, there’s no extra cost to us; God’s grace is free. It was Jesus who paid the price for our salvation.

The same Jesus Who turned water into wine can transform your home, your life, your family, and your future. He is still in the miracle-working business, and His business is the business of transformation. [Adrian Rogers]

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:10 (NLT)]

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CLOSED DOORS

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! [Psalm 141:2 (ESV)]

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. [Hosea 6:6 (ESV)]

chapel of the transfiguration - Grand TetonsOne of the countless questions we have about this pandemic is how God could allow church doors to close throughout the world. 2020 is not the first time the doors to His house have been shut. In 586 BC, the Temple doors closed for the Jews when Judah fell to Babylon; Jerusalem was laid to waste and the Temple destroyed. Its doors didn’t open again until the exiles returned and completed the second Temple in 515 BC. Destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, all that remains of that Temple is a small portion of an external supporting wall on the Temple Mount.

Although the focal point of Jewish worship was the Temple, we know that synagogues existed in Jesus’ day. They may have evolved as a substitute for the first Temple during the Babylonian exile. Rather than houses of worship, however, they were places for study, communal meals, the local court, and from which to distribute charity. Until 70 AD, the Temple remained fundamental to Jewish worship and, every year, Jews from all over the world returned to Jerusalem to worship there for the festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

After the Romans destroyed it, the Jews wondered how they could continue to worship and offer the required sacrifices without a Temple. Looking to the Bible and tradition for answers, they found scripture that connected prayer with sacrifice. Prayer became a satisfactory substitute for ritual sacrifice and the synagogue became a place of worship and prayer (as well as study).

Nowadays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur draw Jews to the synagogue the way Christmas and Easter draw Christians to a church. COVID changed that this year and, when the High Holy Days were celebrated last month, even the doors to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue were shut. When asked how they could observe the holiest days of the year without going to synagogue, Cantor Benny Rogosnitzky replied, “You’re going to make your home into a mini-synagogue.” He then made reference to a quote by Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, a 19th century Hasidic rabbi who, at the age of five, is said to have asked his father, “Where is God?” When his father answered, “God is everywhere!” the future rabbi responded, “No, I think God is only where you let Him in.”

God needs somewhere to live but that place isn’t a church or synagogue; that place is us! When we ask, “Where is God?” let us remember He doesn’t live in a building. God is wherever we allow Him in! He is in the simple everyday miracles of life and His Holy Spirit dwells within us. Since God has allowed our church doors to close, He must have His reasons. Perhaps it’s simply a reminder that being a Christian isn’t going to church; it is being the church! We can do that anywhere! Let our homes become mini-churches and may our lives reflect His presence.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” [John 14:23 (ESV)]

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? [1 Corinthians 3:16 (ESV)]

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NO PITY PARTIES (Elijah – Part 3)

But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” [1 Kings 19:9b-10 (NLT)]

paper kite butterflyWhen God asked Elijah what he was doing, the prophet’s answer should have been, “I’m having a pity party!” Having experienced the high point of life on Mt. Carmel, the prophet now found himself at an all-time low. Feeling abandoned, Elijah was bitter that, after serving God so zealously, he’d been rejected by Ahab and was running for his life.

Elijah was underestimating the power of God and over-estimating the power of his enemy; as long as God had work for him to accomplish, the prophet was invulnerable to Jezebel’s attacks. Moreover, when Elijah complained that he was the only faithful person remaining, he wasn’t. In his self-pity, he’d forgotten about meeting Obadiah, the man who’d hidden and protected 100 of God’s faithful and God told him that 7,000 others in Israel had not bowed to Baal.

Deep valleys of testing often follow our mountaintop experiences as they did with Elijah.  When life throws a curve ball like a pandemic or when it hits us directly with a bean ball like stage-4 cancer or paralysis, our first response often is a pity party like Elijah’s. He seemed to think the world revolved around him and that he was the only one encountering difficulty; we tend to do the same thing. Elijah wasn’t alone and neither are we.

Like Elijah, we don’t think we deserve our troubles, but we’re no more deserving or undeserving than the next guy. Difficulty, disappointment, adversity and disaster are inevitable in our fallen world. Despair, pessimism, gloom, and complaint, however, are not; they are a choice.

Elijah’s faith in and service to God did not protect him from hardship nor will ours. Living for Jesus will have both peaks and valleys. Let us remember: everything that touches us, whether we’re having a mountain top experience or trudging through a dark valley, has passed through God’s hands first and has a purpose. It’s only when we stop wallowing in self-pity, however, that we’ll find His purpose.

God told Elijah to get up and get to work. He was to anoint Hazael to be the next king of Aram, Jehu to be the next king of Israel, and Elisha to be his successor. Elijah had a purpose and so do we. When God asks us what we’re doing, as He did with Elijah, our response should not be one of complaint and self-pity. It should one of acceptance and joy that we are serving God and doing His work!

I must learn that the purpose of my life belongs to God, not me. God is using me from His great personal perspective, and all He asks of me is that I trust Him…. Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it I cannot be used by God for His purpose in the world. [Oswald Chambers]

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. [Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)]

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ATTENDING TO THE PRESENT

dawnYet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. [Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT

Jesus once said that Satan was a thief. Satan does not steal money, for he knows that money has no eternal value. He steals only what has eternal value – primarily the souls of men. [Zac Poonen]

C.S. Lewis’ religious satire The Screwtape Letters consists of 31 letters written by the senior demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a novice demon in charge of acquiring the soul of a young man. Screwtape’s suggestions of ways to cause the fellow’s damnation could be described as a self-help book in reverse. As the diabolical demon advises Wormwood in methods of temptation, the reader learns Satan’s assorted strategies and ruses and what not to let happen. While walking the other morning, I thought of Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood regarding the young man’s focus of attention.

To beat the heat of Southwest Florida, I start my walk while it still is dark. When crossing one of our bridges, the previous night’s full moon was on my left and the coming day’s sunrise on the right. Caught between the day that was and the day yet to come, I thought of Screwtape’s words that God prefers man to be concerned with either the present or eternity rather than yesterday or tomorrow. When in the moment, he is “obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, [or] giving thanks for the present pleasure.”  When considering eternity, he is meditating on God. Wanting neither of those things, Screwtape advises Wormwood to get the young man to live in the frozen past or the unknown future.

Of the two methods, Screwtape prefers getting him to live in the future: either in perpetual anticipation of the rainbow’s end or in constant fear of the horrors tomorrow may bring. Clarifying his point about the future, Screwtape explains that God expects man to make plans but planning for tomorrow’s work actually is today’s duty. God, however, doesn’t want man to place his expectations in the future. Naïve optimism and unrealistic expectations inevitably end in disappointment while anxiety and distress rob the present of joy. Unlike God, the demons want man to be “hagridden by the future” and so obsessed by images of either a surefire windfall or a pending catastrophe that he will be willing to do anything to attain his pipe dream or prevent the disaster. If there ever were a time we’re tempted to live in a pre-pandemic yesterday, ignore reality and view tomorrow with rose-colored glasses, or be so fearful of the future we can’t face it, that time is now. When we focus on yesterday or tomorrow, we’re playing right into our enemy’s hands.

Standing on the bridge, I knew God wanted me to attend to the present—to leave yesterday behind and accept with faith what tomorrow brings. As I walked forward, however, I remembered that He also wants me to attend to eternity—to look beyond time to Him: the Eternal One who holds yesterday, today, tomorrow, and eternity in His loving hands.

God has set Eternity in our heart, and man’s infinite capacity cannot be filled or satisfied with the things of time and sense. [F.B. Meyer]

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:31-34 (NLT)]

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SON OF DAVID (Part 1 – Mark 10:46-52)

When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” [Mark 10:47 (NLT)]

columbine

Jesus and his followers were among the crowd of pilgrims passing through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and the city was teeming with people. Picture the scene as pilgrims, donkeys, carts, and even sheep slated for sacrifice moved along the road. With people talking, animals bleating and braying, children running back and forth, and beggars calling out for alms, it was difficult for those following Jesus to hear Him speak.

Sitting by the road, in the midst of this confusion, was the blind beggar Bartimaeus. When he heard that Jesus was in the crowd, Bartimaeus stopped begging for alms and pled for mercy, crying out, “Son of David! Jesus! Take pity on me!” When people tried to quiet him, the beggar just shouted louder. Over the din of the crowd, this man’s desperate cry was enough to make Jesus stop. Of course, Jesus made it a practice to stop for the lost, outcast, and hurting. Just as He halted for the bleeding woman desperate for his healing touch and the tax man desperate enough to climb a tree, Jesus stopped for Bartimaeus and called the beggar to Him.

Throwing his cloak aside, the blind man stumbled his way through the crowd to find Jesus. When Jesus inquired what he wanted, Bartimaeus immediately asked for his sight. It was restored instantly and Mark’s gospel tells us the once blind beggar followed Jesus down the road toward Jerusalem.

One thousand years earlier, God had promised David that one of his descendants would be the Messiah: the one who would reign forever as the head of God’s kingdom. By Jesus’ day, the term “Son of David” was a title for the Messiah. Other Messianic prophecies promised that the Messiah would heal the sick, bring hearing to the deaf, make the lame walk, and give sight to the blind. Bartimaeus may have been blind but he recognized Jesus as the Messiah when he called Him “Son of David” and without hesitation asked for his sight. Acknowledging the man’s blind faith, Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.” Indeed, had he not called out in faith, he would have remained a blind beggar until his dying day.

The blind man who received sight contrasts with the sighted religious leaders Jesus would soon meet in Jerusalem and call “blind guides” and “blind fools.” It’s ironic that a blind beggar, sitting in the dirt by the road, understood the prophecies and recognized the Messiah when the sighted couldn’t even see who was right in front of them!

The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him [Jesus]. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” [Luke 4:17-21 (NLT)]

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