The extended scepter
Esther 5: He was pleased to see her, the king extended the gold scepter in his hand.
The first great hurdle for Esther is getting an audience with King Xerxes. It sounds crazy to us, but in that kingdom Xerxes is treated like a god. Even his own queen can come into his presence only when summoned. If she or anyone else breaks that rule they can be put to death. However, the king, himself, can grant a sort of “instant reprieve” if he wants to simply by extending his scepter to the uninvited person. Xerxes is just a man, and, apparently, a rather insecure one at that, but that’s how it is in his kingdom. Esther tells Mordecai that she hasn’t been summoned by the king for more than a month, and, in light of what happened to the previous queen when she didn’t come when summoned, Esther is taking a real risk here. However, it’s a necessary one. If Xerxes is unworthy of such deference, there is a King who is King of kings who is worthy of all that and more. However, his relationship to me is so much better than that of Xerxes to his subjects. In fact, I have a standing invitation to come into his Presence any time. This King extended the scepter to me and everyone else long ago, declaring his throne room open for all who will come.
Take Away: We have a standing invitation to enter the throne room, let’s take advantage of it.
Step into the fire
Deuteronomy 5: You were afraid, remember, of the fire and wouldn’t climb the mountain.
It was over 40 years earlier but Moses remembers it like it was yesterday. God called him up to the mountain and in that place he had a powerful encounter with the Almighty. The people of Israel, however, didn’t want that experience. They saw the billowing smoke and the fire of God and were afraid. Because of that, they preferred that Moses be their representative while they stayed safely in the valley. I wonder how many blessings I miss because it is easier to stay where I am than it is to have a raw, fire-filled encounter with the Lord. To be fair, there’s more going on in my heart that just my wanting to stay comfortably unchanged. After all, it’s frightening to come face to face with God. To get that close to God is to step into the fire. Intellectually I know it’s a good thing to meet God at that level. In fact, I hunger for him in my spirit. Still, I find myself hesitating to abandon myself to the fire of the Almighty. But I must. Otherwise, I condemn myself to a life that’s a shadow of what it could be.
Take Away: When the Lord invites you to step into the fire accept that invitation.
Sign me up
Numbers 10: If you come with us, we’ll make sure that you share in all the good things God will do for us.
What a sight it is! Banners are flying, the Ark of the Covenant is leading the way, and the Pillar of Cloud is overhead. It’s time for the Israelites break camp. Hundreds of thousands of people with all their possessions move forward with precision and purpose. In just a few months this nation of slaves has been transformed into an organized, decisive people of God. During the organizational process, Hobab, the brother-in-law of Moses has kept company with the Israelites. Now, as they prepare to break camp he tells Moses that he’s going to leave for home. He’s not an Israelite and his family and neighbors are elsewhere. Moses, though, encourages him to cast his lot with God’s people. For one thing Hobab is an outdoorsman, familiar with this territory to the east of Egypt. His expertise will come in handy in the days to come. For another, he’s welcome to share in the blessing of these descendants of Abraham. If he stays, Moses promises, he’ll get a part of the blessing God has for them. Today, I’m drawn to this good man who, before we ever hear of the righteous Cornelius of the book of Acts, or follow Paul and Silas on that first missionary journey, connects himself to the people of God. That’s what I’ve done too. I don’t deserve it and should, instead, be forever an outsider. Instead, as Moses did long ago, God’s Son Jesus invites me to tag along. When I agree, he connects me to himself, making me a citizen of a country that will forever be blessed by the Lord.
Take Away: How wonderful it is to be invited to join God’s people on their journey!
As the curtain falls
Revelation 22: “Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
The final scene is that of a river flowing with the Water of Life and a tree called “the Tree of Life.” There’s the Throne of God surrounded by his worshipers. Righteousness reigns…holiness everywhere. John is told to publish his vision, making it available to all who will read. Then, Jesus, the star of this whole story speaks, in effect, putting his signature on the entire vision. Now, we hear a word that’s both an invitation to all and a mission for the Church. There’s the invitation to “come and drink…freely of the Water of Life.” There’s also a commission for the Church, the Bride of Christ, to join the Spirit in echoing the invitation to the entire human race, offering this Water of Life to all who will come. What we receive we offer to others. Now, as the curtain is falling, Jesus speaks again, assuring us of his return. From the audience John answers for all of us: “Yes, Come, Master Jesus!”
Take Away: Jesus is coming back. This is our hope. Proclaiming this truth is our mission.
The undressed guest
Matthew 22: How dare you come in here looking like that!
I pretty much get the story of the wedding feast. Those who are invited but make excuses are the “insiders” to the Kingdom, in the case of the parable, it’s the religious leaders and the Jewish people in general who are the intended guests. They turn away, each more interested in doing their own thing than coming to the banquet prepared by the Lord. Upon their refusal to come the invitation list is broadened to what might be thought of as a “second tier.” Then, when even these don’t come, the king opens the doors for all who will come. That’s good news for the “outsiders” like me. The one part I’ve never grasped is the part about the “undressed guest.” That part of the story feels like an afterthought and I’ve generally breezed on past it to the next event. Now, though, I’ve done a bit of reading and I think I have a better handle on the “clothes problem.” A king, like the one in the story, would be well aware that people off the street wouldn’t have the customary white robes to wear to a formal feast like this one. Common people of that day likely had only one set of clothing and even if they did have something more fancy whatever it was would come up far short of the dress code for big formal wedding feast at the palace. However, the king had a large supply of white robes for just such an occasion. As each guest arrived the servants would dress them for the feast. When the king looks at the crowd and spots one man who sticks out like a sore thumb it means that he refused to wear the robe that was supplied to him. With this in mind, I realize that the “undressed guest” part of the story is crucial to the parable. Not only has the Lord, in Jesus, invited outsiders to come, he also makes us worthy to come. Here I see that the Lord’s invitation to me really is “Just as I am” but that when I do respond, he doesn’t leave me as he finds me. Instantly, he goes to work remaking me into the person he calls me to be. If I refuse his work in my life, I’m like the “undressed guest” who gets “uninvited” to the wedding feast.
Take Away: The Lord not only forgives sins; he also transforms sinners.
The sweetest invitation
Matthew 11: Come to me.
There’s no sweeter invitation than what we hear from the Lord: “Come to me.” This invitation is directed to people who are weary and beaten down by life. It’s for people who’ve tried to find satisfaction in sometimes self-destructive ways and, in the end, realize that all they have is a handful of sand. Specifically, this invitation is for people who’ve tried religion and been hurt, maybe even abused, there. To all who are hurting, disappointed, tired, and empty Jesus says, “Come to me.” It’s not about church rituals and rules; although such things have been found by many to be helpful. It’s not about turning over a new leaf, making a New Year’s resolution, or simply trying harder; although there’s room here for self-improvement. Beyond all that, though, is Jesus. I respond to his sweet invitation by giving up my own claims to righteousness and reordering all other relationships to something less than number one. In response to this invitation to “come” I turn my attention to Jesus and lay all else, including myself, at his feet. From that point on, I walk with him and learn from him, how to really live.
Take Away: Jesus is the only one who can truly make this offer, and he does make it to all who will come.