Off the Street, Into the Feast

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“Hold your peace at the presence of the Lord God: for the day of the Lord is at hand: for the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, he has bid his guests.”  (Zephaniah 1:7)

This isn’t really a pretty picture.  Zephaniah is warning of impending doom for Israel.  I think if we all took Zephaniah’s advice at the beginning of this verse, it might make a difference in all our lives.  “Hold your peace at the presence of the Lord God…”  My unromantic way of putting this is , “Shut up before the face of God!”  But maybe a better literal translation is “‘Hush,’ in awe ‘from the face of God.’”   I mean, who can stand in the presence of God?  Job’s response before You was, “I am vile, what shall I answer You?  I will lay my hand upon my mouth.” (Job 40:4)  Later he declares, “I have heard of You by the hearing of my ear: but now my eye sees You.  Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5,6)  David prayed, “And enter not into judgment with Your servant: for in Your sight shall no man living be justified.” (Psalm 143:2)  And what of Isaiah’s reaction before You?  I mean, come on, if anyone was a righteous man, wasn’t he?  And yet standing in Your presence before Your face he cries out, “Woe is me!  for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”  (Isaiah 6:5)  Doom is coming for a reason.  People have lost their focus and purpose in life.  But there is something that can be done.  The question is, are we willing to do it?

Doom is coming.  Why?  Because people invited it.  There were doors in life meant to be opened that lead to life.  And there were doors of life not meant to be opened because they lead to death.  We were warned.  We’ve been continually warned from the beginning.  But that tree of knowledge is just so tempting.  It doesn’t matter that it leads to death, does it?  Maybe we think we’re smarter than that and we can cheat the tree.  But reality doesn’t happen that way.  If you go through a door, you enter what’s inside that door.  What’s inside that door is what you get.  We get what we ask for which isn’t always what we really wanted.

This is hard stuff.  You tell Israel, Your child, You’re going to utterly consume them and the land, both man and beast, birds, fish, the stumbling blocks along with the wicked.  Why?  All these things became stumbling blocks to relationship with You.  Your children turned to other gods like Baal, your priests worshipped idols, the people worshiped the host of heaven, some swore by the Lord and by Malcham,  some just turned back from You, and some never sought You in the first place.  And how easy it is to fall back there today.  How easy it is to choose our own way and to meet our own needs our own way and to open so many forbidden, dangerous doors because we turn our backs to You.

And it’s so sad, because it’s like choosing to make oneself an unworthy sacrifice.  And if God is going to take that unworthy sacrifice and make it holy, He’ll have to burn it by fire.  Isn’t that what You warned so that people could repent and change their ways and come back to You?  Didn’t You say there was a day coming where You would require Your sacrifice, and if that sacrifice wasn’t what was required and acceptable before You, You would punish those “clothed in strange apparel”?  Didn’t You show that before when You destroyed those who presented “strange fire” before You?  I mean, is it true that holiness is only holy when it’s according to Your standards?  We don’t get to make that up ourselves?

It’s so easy for us to get “settled on our lees.”  What does that mean.  It’s an expression from winemaking.  The dregs left over, the matter that falls to the bottom in the vat during fermentation, is what’s called lees.  If you left the wine on the lees it made it stronger.  But if you left the wine on the lees too long, it was ruined.  Apply that to us as you will.  We can get caught up and settling on our lees and instead of being a savor of life to those around us, well…”[b]ad wine left on the lees becomes harsh and bitter.”

Jesus similarly warned Israel, and us.  “The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity…” (Matthew 13:41)  And later, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken…”  (Matthew 24:29)  So the Day of the Lord is something to keep in mind, not only for the people of Israel, but for all mankind.  There have been Days of the Lord, and there will be Days of Lord, but there is coming a great Day of the Lord.  Are we ready to face God?

Remember the analogy of the doors?  Think about it.  God established everything, owns it all, it’s His.  Now Jesus shared about this kingdom of heaven and this certain king, which planned this marriage for His son.  Realize, this King owns everything.  He more than owns it; He created it!  It wouldn’t exist without Him.  He knows the perfect purpose of everything and everyone He created.  In His love for all and everyone He created, He plans this perfect unity in marriage to His Son.  So he sends out His servants to call those He is inviting to the wedding.  What a privilege to be invited into the King’s wedding.  He doesn’t have to invite anyone because He can do whatever He wants.  But He desires for those under Him to be a part of His celebration and joy.  He invites them in.  But what is their response?  They could care less.  They are busy sitting on their lees.  They’re taking care of things their own way.  They have their own joy and don’t care about His. 

That’s an insult to the King, isn’t it?  But He doesn’t take it as an insult.  He is patient and sends more servants to them to let them know of all they will enjoy at the wedding.  “Come into the King’s house and share in His blessing!”  But they didn’t even regard the joy of the King.  They didn’t even regard that all they had already was because of the King and His provision and His protection over them and His joy for them.  They wouldn’t come because they were busy in their own affairs, their farms, their merchandise.  Some even went so far as to be spiteful against the servants unto the point of killing them. 

Now, this King who had come in love and joy, became angry.  And I don’t think He was angry because His pride or honor was hurt.  I think He was angry because His dear ones were hurt on His account.  His faithful ones received what they did not deserve at those whose hands did not deserve to meet out judgment.  So He sent out His armies and destroyed the murderers and their cities.  How sad.  The loss of life is so sad.  But the loss of life that didn’t have to be lost is even sadder because they didn’t have to choose death.  But they did.  I mean, who defies a King like that without knowing the risk you take?  I’m sorry, but we know the risk, but we just ignore it because we want what we want more than we want a relationship with our Creator.

So now the King goes out to those on the highways and invites even the poor and the traveller to the celebration.  He invites the bad and the good.  And in those days, the King provided the wedding clothes for His guests.  And of course, the King of Kings would clothe each guest, you know, those good ones and bad ones alike, in His righteousness.  But there is this one guest who enters, who has refused the wedding garment offered.  And the King asks him about it.  But he was speechless.  Was that because he was in the presence of the Lord God and all he could do was hold his speech, be silent in His presence, because He knew he had no excuse?  I mean, what kind of excuse is, “I didn’t want to,” before God Almighty?  How foolish to find out the foolishness of that thinking the day we stand before the Lord.

Here’s the thing.  God approached this man with this in His heart toward him, “Friend, how did you get in this way?”  Friend.  What kind of friend doesn’t care about the joy of his friend, even if it’s a new friend?  Friend.  God just invited him in but it didn’t change the devotion that God was showing him.  His new friend would receive as much devotion and care as an old faithful friend.  And what does the King receive in return?  Apathy.  How sad.  “For many are called, but few are chosen.”  (Matthew 22:14)

The truth is that no one, not a single person, not a single soul, ever has had to choose outer darkness, and weeping and gnashing of teeth.  No one was called to that.  No one HAD to choose it.  They were all invited into the door, into the house of the King.  But they chose to remain outside.  I mean, the friendship, the love, the joy, the safety, the relationship was all offered.  How could anything be better?  Why would we decide it’s better to be a dead sacrifice than a living sacrifice.  Why would I want to pay my own price, when the King has already provided a sacrifice for me?  What right do we have to get angry at a God who gives us every chance to come to Him, to return to Him, to draw into relationship with Him, to come under His protection, His provision, His eternal plan.  Who am I to be mad at the One who created me?  Who am I to think that I know better than the One who infinitely knows more than me?  Who am I to deny the evidence You have layed before us? 

Lord, I want to stop making my own plans and doing things my own way, even if it’s only in part.  I want to shut my mouth before You and listen to You and just enjoy and be overwhelmed by Your presence.  I want to accept Your garment of righteousness over me.  I want to be Your guest by my choice, a guest that enters into the joy of Your presence; not a guest that enters into judgment as an unholy sacrifice.  I want to live in the joy of the sacrifice that You provided for those who are called and respond to the gift of Your Christ, in Jesus.  I want to be one of the chosen who enters the door and experiences You on the other side all the days of my life.  I want to be a true friend because You have already shown Yourself more than a true Friend through Jesus.  May I always model my friendship after Yours and have such a heart for the lost, of whom I once was, but You invited me off the street into Your feast.  I am eternally grateful.  So let me invite others off the street that they, too, may be eternally grateful.

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