The themes and teachings that are echoed from one end of scripture to the other are teachings that should be looked at carefully since the Holy Spirit repeats ideas that are important. Invitation and a God-ward journey are two of these often repeated themes.
From Abraham to Revelation, scripture is full of invitations. Since we can refuse or accept either, the words call and invitation are much the same thing. I will use the two words interchangeably here.
It begins with Genesis 12. It is God who approaches Abram and says, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you”—loosely paraphrased, “come with me.” At this time, the flood waters bringing judgement to the world had receded and Noah had come out of the ark. Again, sin flourished with no apparent congregation who called on the Lord’s name. Abram himself and his father worshiped other gods. God could have quietly withdrawn from the affairs of mankind to let us fend for ourselves spiritually, saying “If you forget me, I will forget you.” It would have been a dreary, almost hellish, existence. But God didn’t withdraw. Instead He started an interaction with mankind that goes through Sinai, Babylon, Bethlehem, Golgotha, us, and onward.
And scripture ends with an invitation: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ He who hears, let him say, ‘Come!’ He who is thirsty, let him come. He who desires, let him take the water of life freely.”
Revelation is a book full of trials. Certainly, one would not want to be around to endure all of what is shown in these pages. There is rebuke to the seven churches of Asia. Trials abound, saints plead from heaven, bowls of wrath are poured out on the earth, plagues and the horsemen of the apocalypse move across the face of the earth. People are seen to resist God even as they suffer. The earth itself is stricken. One would think that the final message in this book would be to the believers: to live right, be faithful, and hold out to the end. But no, the next to last message in this book is to outsiders: the thirsty—the spiritually thirsty to drink the same water of life as the saints gathered around the altar in heaven have already drunk.
This pattern is repeated often between Abraham and Revelation. Jacob the schemer while living with his uncle Laban seems to drift away from God, trusting his schemes more than God until God confronts him in a wrestling match. The call of Moses can be thought of as a dramatic invitation to come to God. Moses the shepherd was not said to be particularly close to God. But God called, and Moses became so close to God he wore a veil while in the Israelite camp.
Certainly, the many times Israel fell away and was rescued by a God-empowered prophet-leader in the time of Judges can be considered call or invitation to come back to Him. This continues in the writings of the major and minor prophets. The general form of the prophetic writings was a complaint about the behavior of Israel or Judea followed by a call to repentance, leading to restoration and a promised better future. In these passages God goes from complaining about Israel’s behavior to pleading for his people to return. Pleading is an emotional invitation.
Jesus preached the good news that the Kingdom of God was at hand from first to last. The disciples were all invited and then sent out to invite more. The Apostle Paul was invited in a very powerful way and went on to return the favor of the invitation. Jesus taught so people could come to him. It is implicit in everything He did, even to the cross, so much so that this plea in Matthew 11:28 does not seem out of place: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The letters echo this teaching.
To be sure his people are to return on God’s terms, that is the repentance. I have heard it said on this that God asks us to come as we are but not to stay as we are. I don’t know who coined this proverb but they ought to be famous. Now if you go back to all of the invitations, you can see that the proverb is right. Abram the idolater became Abraham the man who pleaded with God for Sodom. Jacob the supplanter became Israel, the man who struggled with God. Moses, the man who took the law in his own hands by killing an Egyptian and did not know enough to circumcise his own son, became the conduit for God’s rescue and later His laws, even to the point of pleading for the life of Israel after the golden calf incident.
In Judges, invitation was followed by repentance was followed by rescue of both the prophet and the people of Israel. In the prophets, invitation was paired with repentance, and repentance during exile brought restoration. This repentance was for all, men and women, priests, rulers, landowners, crafts people laborers. The disciples, with one exception, grew in the years they walked with Jesus and in the years afterward. The Apostle Paul went from being a persecutor of the young church to a very active builder and leader of the church. He and Moses are among the most changed people in scripture.
The people I just named are the heroes of scripture, the out-of-the-ordinary people. Let’s go back to Jesus’ plea which is for everybody: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” You see “all,” “learn,” and “my yoke.” There was to be a change and to the better.
Jesus expected his listeners to forsake evil and turn their hearts, minds, and souls to loving God. He preached to people who knew the rules and obeyed them. Teaching people, us among them, to not to lust in their/our hearts and love their/our enemies brings them and us to a whole new level.
Certainly, following Paul’s teaching about the fruits of the flesh and spirit in Galatians moves us from what we were and would be without Jesus’ redemption and the guidance of the Holy spirit to become something better. In Revelation, drinking the water of life is to live in a way that forsakes the deadly spirits and embraces the life-giving teachings of Jesus
So, the great commission is part of the fabric of the Bible: “Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Making disciples requires both an invitation and a change from the old ways into ways that lead to life. It is not just some command tacked onto the end of Jesus’ walk on this earth. God had been doing this with the one nation of Israel since Abram. The only thing new are the words “all nations.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” The bride of Christ is part of this call. We don’t use this image often. The bride is all of Christ’s church, which is to say us along with many others. So, inviting people to fellowship in Jesus we become a bit like God and fulfill our destiny as the bride. Share the invitation.
~~ Ron Myers, Certified Lay Servant and Zion UMC Lay Leader