On June 14, 1921, Winston Churchill warned the British House of Commons about a looming threat that took a little over 80 years to see come to fruition in a graphic way: “The Wahabis profess a life of exceeding austerity, and what they practise themselves they rigorously enforce on others. They hold it as an article of duty, as well as faith, to kill all who do not share their opinions and to make slaves of their wives and children” (Churchill, “Never Give In,” p. 83). These ones he called “bloodthirsty” were ancestors of many of today’s radical Islamic fundamentalists.
It is eerie to see how accurate Churchill’s concern was and how timeless his warning. He warned of a threat that few saw as looming in the days immediately following World War I. If politicians and military strategists had given deeper consideration to his warnings, lives would have been saved. Often, though, warnings are more dutifully considered in the rearview mirror.
In the last chapter of the Bible, John relays a heavenly warning and an invitation. The warning is against tampering with the word of God (18-19). It will bring about spiritually fatal results, whether one adds to what God says (cf. Prov. 30:6) or takes away from what God says (Deut. 4:2). Adding to divine truth adds torment to the soul; taking away from divine truth results in one having taken away from him the promises and hope of heaven. In both testaments, God warns man not to change His word.
Yet with this warning is also an invitation (17). It is an invitation to share in a gift undeserved and yet unreservedly given. It is for all who are willing and who come. Those who hear this invitation and properly respond need not worry about the warning. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” will be with them (Rev. 22:21). We are wise to consider the validity of the warning and prepare our lives convicted of its power and reality. In turning from iniquity, though, let us turn toward the one who invites and live.
On more than one occasion, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast. I’d like to focus on the parable contained in Matthew chapter 22 specifically. Jesus 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 calf 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 his 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.” (Matthew 22:2-14).
Looking back on this parable with the benefit of hindsight, knowing the centuries of the Church’s history, it’s easy to understand most of what Jesus is saying. The king had an initial group of people that were invited to wedding, but refused the invitation. In the same way, the invitation of the gospel was initially given to Jews only. However, especially among the religious establishment—Pharisees and Sadducees—there was widespread rejection of that invitation. So, the king opens up the invitation to everyone in the highways, both bad and good, just as the invitation of the gospel was extended to Gentiles and Jews alike—everyone is invited.
However, there’s the strange detail near the end that can confuse us in our modern times, living so far detached from the culture that Jesus gave the parable to. We see a man at the wedding who doesn’t have wedding clothes on, and he gets kicked out of the wedding because of it! In our culture, we might wonder about this man, perhaps even feel sorry for him. Perhaps he didn’t have good clothes for a wedding because he was poor and couldn’t afford them. But the way we do weddings is different from the way they did weddings in Jesus’ time and culture. Back in that day, the master of the wedding feast would provide garments for all of the wedding guests. In fact, it would be a great insult for someone to refuse to wear wedding garments at the feast. That’s why the man is speechless when the king asks him how he got in there without wedding garments.
What does that represent? Baptism. As many of us as are baptized into Christ have put on Christ (paraphrase Galatians 3:27). Just as the master of the feast provides wedding clothes for the guests, God provided baptism for us. And just as the man without wedding garments was thrown out, none of us should expect to attend the wedding feast if we aren’t wearing the garments God provided at His own cost.
It was our largest crowd since before the Pandemic. It was a targeted effort to fill the building. The building was full! I asked several how many non-members were present and the most conservative answer was dozens, perhaps fifty. While we know that filling the pews is only one factor in encouraging people to follow Jesus (discipleship), it is a pretty fundamental and important one. Let me share a few exciting things I saw.
I saw the power of an invitation. The elders laid out a challenge to us to invite every non-member we could think of, coworkers, family members, friends, classmates, acquaintances, etc. That’s not revolutionary. Perhaps it was the sheer volume of invitations so many members issued. Such seeds were spread far and wide, and Sunday was an indication that some will come if asked. I am confident that many who were invited will come in the future, if we continue to ask. Philip invited Nathanael to “come and see” (John 1:46), and it changed Nathanael’s life! Andrew told his brother, Peter, “We have found the Christ” (John 1:41)! It changed not just Peter’s life, but the thousands of lives Peter eventually touched. Who knows the eternal impact made by all the invitations issued this weekend, but it shows that there’s still power in a simple invitation!
I saw the strength of teamwork. That was on display in so many ways. There was a huge team of people greeting those who entered our doors. Anticipating a lot of visitors, this was organized beyond the ordinary measure. It was exciting to see so many doing this, and it seemed to be infectious. Others joined in. It was evident in the efforts of multiple deacons and vision groups coordinating various works. It extended to members in the auditorium warmly welcoming unfamiliar faces and making our visitors feel at home. It continued on to the potluck after Bible class with the scores of people bringing an abundance of food, serving, assisting, and cleaning up. We were a finely-tuned machine of coordination. I could not help but think of Paul’s words, to Philippi (“make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose,” 2:2) and Colosse (“beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity,” 3:14). Sure, he had more in mind that one event on one day, but this is a key way such overall unity is built.
I saw the example of leadership. This began with the eldership. They not only challenged us to invite, they led the way. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that the four of them invited hundreds of people by text, phone, and face-to-face. They invited friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers! True leadership shows the way! This included those who led in worship. There was forethought, effort, and coordination from the greeting to the announcements and every act of worship in between them. This involved the membership who enthusiastically engaged in the worship. It also takes in every one that helped people find bathrooms and classrooms. Leadership always breeds more leadership. The writer of Hebrews says, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (13:7).
I saw the hope of tomorrow. The effects of the last 18-plus months have been deflating and demoralizing. We have lost members to Covid, physically and spiritually. It has derailed plans. It has distracted us. But Sunday showed that by faith in God and by following His plan, the best is yet to be! As we were reminded at the end of the day yesterday afternoon, we have worship every Sunday so let’s keep inviting. How many Bible studies will result from inviting others to church? How many future preachers, elders, deacons, soul-winners, and Bible class teachers are represented in those who walked through our doors yesterday, some for the first time ever? To some degree, we’ve got to be like Paul and say, “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13b-14).
There’s more to do! There’s more inviting to do. There’s more follow up to do. But I see more than a special event in what occurred on Sunday! I see a culture change and a purposed people. Think what God can do with that!
Some of the most powerful messages are often delivered through song. If you want to really show someone how much you love them, you write a song. If you want to tell others about yourself or your family, you write a song. Songs are a great way to get across a message in a powerful way. In the church we sing songs for several reasons.
Paul tells us in Col. 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
We sing to help the word of God dwell in our hearts. We sing to teach each other. We sing admonish and correct. We sing out of thankfulness for God. Since there are so many different reasons we sing, each song has a different message. Some are encouraging, some are reminders, and some are a plea to the sinner. We call some of these “invitation songs. ” And usually these are sung after a lesson as a way to encourage lost souls to respond and return.
“Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet” identifies a major problem that has plagued man since the Garden of Eden, our sin. The choices we make, the way we live, has stained us. This song calls to our attention the sin problem of man. This song is based on Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
This invitation song shows us the blessing that Christ has given. Though we’ve been stained by sin, they shall become like snow. Pure, holy, undefiled. If you’ve ever spilled grape juice on a white T-shirt, that’s the imagery.
Sin has ruined our hearts, but Christ is the perfect stain remover. He is able to remove every spot and blemish. Rom. 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Do we really think that we could live up to the glory of God himself? Could we have fixed this sin problem on our own? No. And we sing this song to remind us of WHO our solution is.
Through the gift of Christ they will be removed. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.
On an old rugged crossJesus paid it all, and all to him I owe. I come just as I am, but I surrender all. Will you cherish the old rugged cross? Do you recognize the blessing and the blood that has washed us whiter than snow?
It was such a beautiful moment yesterday morning. A brother in Christ from our area who has been attending with us for a few months responded to the invitation. As Kevin and I took his confession, he spoke of sins in his past that fill him with regret. Though he was raised in the church, he has been away from the Lord for a long time. Among the things he expressed from his tender heart, he confessed, “Ive been toying with God all my life.” His point was simple. He felt doubt about God’s existence and concern for him, and it led him to make regrettable choices. But, recently, his study of God’s word and fellowship with God’s people led him to see how real God is and how much he needs Him in his life.
I wonder how many of us could confess that, at times and in ways, we’ve toyed with God in some way. Perhaps we appealed to Him only when we were in trouble that we couldn’t solve ourselves. Maybe we promised Him we’d be faithful if only He’d give us something we specifically prayed for or thought we needed, and when we got it we broke our promise. It might have been a time or season when we “played church” and acted the role of Christian in the building but acted like the world when around them.
This is not a tendency that started in our current generation. It is a human tendency. Bible writers exposed such thinking. God tells Ezekiel, “But as for you, son of man, your fellow citizens who talk about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, speak to one another, each to his brother, saying, ‘Come now and hear what the message is which comes forth from the Lord.’ They come to you as people come, and sit before you as My people and hear your words, but they do not do them, for they do the lustful desires expressed by their mouth, and their heart goes after their gain. Behold, you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words but they do not practice them” (Ezek. 33:30-32). This is similar to what Isaiah wrote (29:13) and Matthew (15:8-9) and Mark (7:6,7) quote. It’s playing with God to speak as though we desire His Word and even listen to it but be driven by desires and a heart that practice something different (cf. Jas. 1:21-25).
I need to have the good heart our dear brother expressed on Sunday morning. One who wants others to see and know how much He believes in God, loves Him, and intends to serve Him. May we all keep our hearts tender to God’s Word and let its power do its surgical work in removing what doesn’t belong and moving us to act on what does belong.
There are a couple of examples of public responses to the gospel message in the Bible, both in Acts. One is positive and the other is negative. As Peter was preaching that God has made Jesus Lord, the Pentecost crowd interrupted him with the question, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). As Stephen was delivering a similar message, his audience stopped listening and they cried out with a loud voice before putting the preacher to death (Acts 7:54ff). Mention is made of a one another response that could apply to the corporate assembly, confessing sins (Jas. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9). How public the setting was when Peter called for Simon to repent we do not know for certain (Acts 8:18-24). So, why do we end our sermons with a call to publicly respond? Is this simply borrowed from the denominations or is it just a rote tradition devoid of deeper purpose?
Often, we have explained the invitation as being an “expedient,” which I think it is. When we speak of an “expedient,” we refer to a practice that is thought convenient, practical, suitable or appropriate but neutral (neither right nor wrong) and a-biblical (not found in the Bible but not unbiblical). It is a sensible activity. Hopefully, the sermon contains a call to change and is persuasive in nature. Maybe, the person comes in the door that day convicted of his or her need to become a Christian or repent of public sin. Affording a moment that makes it easy for one needing to obey Christ in one of these ways to do so is appropriate.
I have been in assemblies in this country and overseas that do not have such a time set aside or that do so at other times during the gathering—some do so at the beginning of the service so that a person can worship without being alienated from God (cf. Mat. 5:24), some invite anyone who needs to publicly respond to remain standing after the lesson and a song, some encourage people who need to respond to write their need on a card or piece of paper and hand it to an usher, the preacher, the elders, or someone designated to collect such communication.
While I think it is good for us to consider that there is more than one way to do this and that we are not mandated to do it at all in the assembly, I believe our current arrangement is a fine way to try and help people who need to make spiritual changes and improvements. Yet, someone who feels the need to make such a response often hesitates or decides against it. Certainly, the problem on such an occasion might be fear or delay, but is it ever due to some misunderstanding such a one has? Here are a few of the biggest misunderstandings people have about responding to the invitation:
Nobody but me is struggling with sin in their lives. Truth: Romans 3:23.
It is a sign of weakness to respond publicly. Truth: Luke 15:10, 17
Everybody will look down on me, judge me, or gossip about me if I respond. Truth: Luke 15:28-32
People will distance themselves from me if I respond. Truth: 1 Corinthians 12:26-27.
Maybe you are thinking this or something similar. May I assure you that every righteous person on earth and all the inhabitants of heaven would like nothing better than to help you be right with God. Death and the Judgment loom, and we cannot let anything keep us from making proper preparation for them. So, if you need to respond today or any day, won’t you come?
I witnessed something beautiful last night. A young man responded to the invitation and I was amazed by an outpouring of love and support shown by so many of his spiritual family. At least a dozen people, young men and young women as well as older men and women, came forward, too. They were not responding to the invitation to confess sin, but responding to this young man’s response. But there was room for about five on that short pew. The rest of them either stood nearby or sat on adjoining pews. They just wanted to be there for their friend and brother.
I could not help but think about what a beautiful display of family that was! This young man was hurting and struggling. It takes a lot of courage to admit wrong, to ask for help, and to do so publicly. It is obvious that this congregation has concluded that no one should ever have to do that alone.
It is not the only way to do this, but it is definitely one way to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), encourage and build up one another (1 Th. 5:11), provide edification according to the need of the moment (cf. Eph. 4:29), to bear the weaknesses of those without strength (Rom. 15:1), and to strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble (Heb. 12:12). Think about what occurs with such an overwhelming outpouring of comfort! It tells the one who has come forward that they are special, important, and that they matter. It treats their problem(s) as most serious. It makes a statement about how they are seen, as a vital member of the body.
What would happen if every time anyone—a middle-aged man, an elderly widow, a struggling divorcee, a new member, a deacon, elder, or preacher, a teen, or any other sub-classification—publicly responded, they were met with such encouragement and consolation? Wouldn’t we be reflecting the heart of the Prodigal Son’s father in Luke 15, who ran to meet the boy who’d come home? Please consider this the next time someone publicly responds. Don’t worry what others may think of you. The one who responded didn’t worry about it. Don’t stop to ask what it might look like. That broken man, woman, boy, or girl didn’t. If we’re going to err, let’s err on the side of charity and not severity! The church should ever seek ways to create a culture of compassion!
Remember the words of Paul: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:12-13).