Every verse is a potential feast.
You finally made it into that recommended high-end restaurant. You open the menu, and it is remarkably plain—text on a blank background. There are only eight menu items listed, beginning with Mahi-Mahi…28. This style of menu design impresses some of us, as in, Wow, this place is pretty exclusive! The rest of us though, aren’t inspired. Mahi-Mahi…28 looks like a dish we don’t know with a PO Box number next to it.
If you’re anything like me, I need more of a description. When I sit down in a fancy Italian place, and see on the menu, “Grande Romano,” I want to know that the Grande Romano is, “A bubbling taste sensation of seven imported Italian cheeses, crowded with crisp bacon, pepperoni, and fresh pineapple tidbits cut into one-eighth inch slivers, etc., etc.” When I see such an exacting description, I’m going to want it.
But let’s say I told the waiter, “I’ll have the Grande Romano,” and he said, “Sorry, that’s not available.” I would reply, “Well, it’s on the menu,” and he would say, “I know, but the owner of the restaurant has a degree in creative writing, and he likes to inspire people with his prose. This is a fictitious dish, not really available to anybody.”
I’ve never had such an odd conversation in my life, because when an establishment goes out of its way to load up a menu description with adjectives and metaphors, that dish will be available. In fact, the restaurant is enticing me to order it. The description functions as an invitation for me to partake of it.
Sometimes Bible readers combing through the scriptures, think at the back of their minds, Wow, this is wonderful, but it’s not available to me, or anybody else. But when God was putting scripture together through the centuries, He pulled out all the linguistic stops. He employed just about every device of language known—teaching, prophecy, poetry, metaphor, simile—knowing that you would read it and want it.
The Scriptures invite.
Last week we saw that the Scriptures describe God in a substantially detailed way. Description, though, is not merely for the sake of showing off. Description exists to invite you into something. For example, take a look at what’s going on in the Old Testament, where, in Exodus 34:5, Moses stands on Mount Sinai.
“The Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.”
“Proclaimed” is a loaded term. It calls to mind Jesus, in John chapter 17, when He was praying to the Father, and said, “I have manifested your name to those whom you have given me out of the world.” Later in the chapter, He says, “I have made known your name.” The whole idea of manifesting, expressing, proclaiming, is all bundled together here. Here in Exodus, it will become an incredible snapshot of God’s glory, in essence, what God would say about himself if He only had a few phrases to do it.
“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, [in Hebrew it simply translates, Yahweh, Yahweh] merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”
This is the proclamation of the Lord’s name—His self description. First of all, He is merciful. Mercy means God doesn’t give you what you deserve. He is also gracious. Grace means God gives you what you don’t deserve. Furthermore, He is loving towards thousands, showing that He has such emotional intelligence, the number of people He can love is unlimited. Even if He loved a billion people, His love for the individual is not diminished. And He is faithful, meaning we can rely upon Him to be this way, today, tomorrow, and forever. Finally, He forgives the sins of the repentant, but warns that upon the unrepentant He shows awful, penetrating, far reaching judgment.
As a result of this description, this proclamation, in verse 8, “Moses quickly bowed his head toward the Earth, and worshiped.” He responded, and in a certain way, entered something in the moment of that worship. The divine proclamation had invited him into the enjoyment of God.
This event was a direct, first-person experience between Moses and God. However, it has been recorded, and is now embedded in Scripture right there in Exodus chapter 34. That passage still functions to invite us today.
The principle of description unto invitation continues into the New Testament. Second Thessalonians chapter 2, verse 14, speaks of Paul writing to the Thessalonian believers, reminding them of how they came to salvation:
God “called you through our gospel.” The gospel proclaims something. It portrays, describes, the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ. It doesn’t show us how to get rich, or promote our self-esteem, or cause us to believe in ourselves. It lifts up Christ, and proclaims all He has done. But there is a reason for this proclamation. It is “so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God called through that gospel, and when these ancient people responded, they found the invitation loaded with glory. It was good for them, but it’s also good for us, because the gospel they heard from Paul is now embedded in scripture. It’s available to us. There’s a detailed description of the dying love Of Christ, of the glory of resurrection, of the power of His ascension, and the position of His enthronement. Through these descriptive details, even today God calls, and invites.
In fact, He takes it personally when He invites. Jesus spoke about how serious the invitation is to God in a parable:
Luke 14:16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant[c] to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
The scriptures are an invitation to many. There are those who will answer, and those who won’t. God has feelings concerning both.
I remember the first time in my life that I answered God’s invitation. It was to believe in Jesus Christ. In the thirty-six years since that moment, the scriptures have invited me thousands of times to come forward into new places. Just last week I was scheduled to read in the Book of Psalms. I peeked ahead to see what the content would be like, and realized I would be heading into Psalms of lament and desperation. I wasn’t in the mood for wintry sentiments, so I almost elected to simply fly through them, without much spiritual engagement. At the last minute though, I changed my mind, and dove in. Looking back on it, if I hadn’t done it, I don’t know how I would have managed to get through that week.
On another occasion, I was heading into the prophets, namely, Jeremiah, but I felt it was too full of rebukes and discipline to meet my felt needs. I was hoping to invite scripture to fit into my life, rather than the other way around. When you’re stubborn, and opinionated, you end up resisting invitations from scripture.
God seemed to say to me, Could it not be about you for just five minutes? Could you stand with me and pray for what I’m doing globally with my people? That’s the effect prophetic books have—creating a sense of something bigger than yourself and your personal concerns. I answered the invitation and took a plunge into the deep end of the pool.
Let me say a couple of practical things about answering an invitation into Scripture. First of all, what it’s not. When we enter the content of Scripture, It does not mean we literally try to duplicate the circumstances and situations we see there. For instance, the gospel of Matthew tells us Peter got out of a boat and walked on water with Jesus. This does not mean we’re supposed to take a boat out on the lake and try to do the same.
There was a time in Second Kings when Elijah the prophet was hungry, and so God commanded ravens to bring him food. This doesn’t mean we’re supposed to quit our jobs, sit on the back patio, and wait for birds to bring us groceries. You might think this should go without saying, and that it’s common sense, but we believers, bless our hearts, tend to be sincere, simple people.
In Acts chapter 5, crowds of the sick and lame tried to lay by the road, where the Apostle Peter’s shadow might at least touch them. Based on this verse, probably some well-meaning Christian out there has decided that he wants to start a shadow ministry. When the scriptures invite us into something, though, they’re actually inviting us into a core principle. The examples I just brought up about Peter and Elijah call us into core principles of faith, and assurance about apostolic testimony, not efforts to artificially duplicate narrative details.
Consider one more popular example. As you’re reading through Acts chapter 2, and Romans 16, you’ll notice first century believers met in their homes. What are we to enter and learn based upon this kind of description? Here are a few possibilities:
- Remember to have a church life of close community, not as individual spectators that gather once a week, in a sterile, neutral environment.
- Decentralize ministry so we’re all doing the work of the New Testament.
- Practice church life as a family, and not as department store, or stage play.
- Be willing to learn “wineskin” flexibility. We use whatever facilities the Lord provides for our meetings, our homes included.
Yet, I’m afraid that the take-away for a lot of us reading verses that describe home meetings comes down to “Thou shalt only meet in homes” (and if you meet anywhere else, you’ve sold out to commercialized Christianity).
When we discern possible core principles of the scriptures, we’ll understand what they might be inviting us into. Yes, the Scriptures also prescribe, that is, command obedience in certain specifics, even without the lingo of “shalt” and “shalt not.” But many passages stop short of modeling right or wrong, and do not seek to impose any sort of practices. They act as invitation points for enhanced blessing, growth, and larger vision.
The supreme invitation (with the prescriptive element strongly involved), lies right there within the gospel of Jesus Christ. You’ve been invited to enter it, and obtain a glory that will outlast the ages.
If you’ve already answered, don’t stop! Sixty-six books full of invitations still await you.