Going to the Party
The Golden Calf1
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your own wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet2
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
It is not one of those parties that you remember walking in the door and waking up the next morning, and nothing in between. It is not a party where everyone stands around dressed up, bragging about their accomplishments in life. The Bible describes it as a wedding party although it is probably not going to be like any wedding party you have ever been to. We could spend weeks and months digging deeper into what exactly is meant by this wedding, probably chasing down quite a few rabbit-trails on the way… but this much we can take as a foundation: This party is about starting a new life together with God.
How to get there? That is probably the most commonly asked question. From Nicodemus to Billy Graham, and beyond to the great seekers , apologists , and even atheists – everyone wants to know how to get there. So how do we get there?
It’s not about finding a map or going through a series of motions. Traditional weddings were thrown by the groom’s family (the bride brings a dowry to share from her family) and were probably held at the groom’s family home. The groom would build on additional housing on the family land to be the new home for his wife and himself. So, how do we get there? Just like Rebekah in the book of Genesis, we follow our groom back to his home. That’s how we get there.
What will we go through to get there?
The first thing we have to do to get to this wedding party is to leave home. I’m a bit biased, having left home a number of years ago myself and relocating to another state, but it strikes me that the first of many excuses many people give for not following Christ’s call on their life is that they were raised in a good home, in a good family, and don’t want or need to leave that. Sometimes it sounds like (and I know this is not the case) they are claiming they were born Christians and born in heaven already… and for many of them, they expect heaven to just be an extension of their own personal family they had growing up. They are going there to see mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa again.
I contrast that notion with the fact that nearly every follower of God in the Old Testament and follower of Jesus in the New Testament were asked to pack their bags and move out of obedience to God at some point or another. It is rare that I have met a Christian leader who was not called to change jobs or move away from family at one time or another. Our first step toward the wedding party is leaving home.
Along the way, we learn to trust in God’s provision for us. Without the comforts and control of our home environment, we can find ourselves lost, scared, running out of provisions, not knowing where we are going and not knowing how to get back. Every time my wife and I head out the door, we say “It’s always an adventure.” in the spirit of Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings. It’s not easy and it is not nearly as comfortable as just sitting at home… but the rewards for that adventure are so much better.
Relationships are forged in the fire, and our trust in God – our faith, is made real when it is put to the test. We may try to test God’s faithfulness all we want, but it will gain us nothing. When God tests our faith though, we find out what it really means to have a relationship with Him. Going through the adventure of life together helps us discover and form new ways of life with Jesus. We begin to practice here on earth the way we will live forever in heaven and in the New Creation. In our relationship with Him we truly become a new creation ourselves. How we get there and what we go through do not matter near as much as how we are changed and prepared for eternal life.
We get into trouble when we get ahead of ourselves. Like Aaron and the Hebrew people who pressured him in Moses’ absence, we are sometimes guilty of starting too early. We are impatient and want to skip to the end. We don’t just want to know the end of the story, we want to be there, missing all the stuff that happens in the middle, especially if we think that there are parts of the journey we won’t like.
Yet we know we cannot really skip to the end. So instead, we end up throwing our own party, instead of following Jesus to His party. That’s the devil’s real deal: –
It’s a trap! We cannot throw a party that brings us any real joy and hope because we are not sources of life… we are just the recipients of it. Even if we gave everything we had away, including our very life, the whole lot would run out before everyone made it to the party. Compared to the riches of Christ, we are all just beggars.
Sometimes we are not trying to replace God, we are just refusing to go further. Enough is enough, and we are tired, sick, sore, and have had our fill of suffering through this journey. As in marriages, there are points throughout the journey where the individuals question whether it is worth it to go forward at all. Some days it just seems easier to quit, to stop where we are, to sit down, and refuse to go another step. Perhaps this is why God commanded us to take breaks in our journey and remember how far He has taken us.
These attitudes and attempts to hijack God’s own celebration are wrong. They fall short, not because several details are off here and there, but because these kinds of parties or decisions are all about me. Jesus summed up the Law as loving God and other, and our attempts at trying to bring the focus of the world around us upon ourselves is not just missing the mark, it is working against God and causing others to stumble.
The great wedding celebration we are going to, on the other hand, is all about God. Well, almost entirely. We have a very important role in it. We are getting adopted (or married, depending on your perspective) into a new family. It is just that we are not the host. We are honored guests. Our role is simply to receive with gratitude as we observe the manners of our new home.
If we are meant to receive, what will we get? Our materialistic world is bent on owning things. We have all forgotten the real power of relationships. In loving relationships, mi casa es su casa… what’s mine is yours. We actually gain more through being present in relationships than we could ever acquire by buying, winning, earning, or stealing on our own. This is the lesson the prodigal son learned that his older brother could not grasp. What we get is a relationship with God, an invitation into His family, and because we get that, we get everything.
Something else happens as well. We change. The journey from where we are now, to where God is taking us, changes us and makes us into the kind of people who fit in God’s kingdom. We cannot find our own way to fit, but God can make us fit. That is the ultimate gift we receive. New life. New life that doesn’t break down and quit because it is faulty. New life that only grows brighter with each day we spend with our God. Now that is something to celebrate!
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