Here Comes the Groom

This weekend Connie and I are in Grand Lake, in northeastern Oklahoma. I have the honor of officiating for the wedding of friends of ours. Connie and I have been meeting with them for several weeks in premarital counseling. They are excited and so are we! We are especially pleased that they affirm their desire to have a Christ-centered marriage.

There are aspects of any marriage ceremony that are universal: the involvement of the community, the atmosphere of celebration and happiness, the solemnity of vows, promises of love and faithfulness, and the invocation of divine blessing. In the case of Christian marriage, there is the added symbolism of human marriage as a picture of the relationship of Jesus Christ to his church.

The New Testament repeats this bride and bridegroom theme in many places. One of the most prominent is Ephesians chapter five where Paul writes of the love the Bridegroom (Jesus) has for his bride (the church). Paul calls this relationship “a profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:32). This illustrates the present and future of the church, those who are “in Christ” through faith.

To understand this better let’s think about the elements in a wedding as it was practiced in Bible times. A wedding in the ancient near east involved three main elements: a betrothal, a presentation, and a marriage feast. The Bible says the church is made up of all who have put their faith in Christ. It is said to be betrothed to Christ. Paul wrote, “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 Corinthians 11:2). 

Betrothal was part of a carefully observed tradition that developed over hundreds of years in the ancient near east. The groom would bring to the father of the woman he wanted to marry a sum of money or a letter of intent indicating how he would support her as his wife. If the father agreed they would formalize the engagement in a binding agreement called betrothal. It might last for as little as a month or as long as a year before the wedding.

When the time came for the wedding ceremony, the next tradition was the presentation. The bridegroom would come at the appointed hour with an elaborate procession of friends and family dressed in their finest apparel. The bride would be waiting for him in her father’s house dressed in wedding attire accented by jewelry, flowers, a veil, and a crown. Her attendants were nearby, expecting the arrival of the bridegroom. There was excitement in the air.

The groom would make his way through the town with singing and dancing. It was a big celebration involving the entire village. The groom and his party would arrive at the home of the bride’s parents and escort her and her family and friends to his own home, weaving their way back through the village.

In Revelation 21:9 we read, “One of the angels said to me, ‘Come and I will show you the bride of the Lamb.'” The bride is the church. The Lamb is Jesus. He will come for his bride. Revelation 19:7 says, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory for the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready.” Behind this picture are the wedding customs as practiced in Bible times. It is our Lord’s intention to “present her (his bride) to himself as a radiant church” (Ephesians 5:27).

Next was the wedding feast. When the wedding procession reached the house of the groom there would be a great feast prepared for all the attendants, friends, and neighbors. The festivities would go on and on, perhaps for a week. When the Lord Jesus famously changed water to wine at a wedding in the town of Cana in Galilee, it was at just such a feast.

Then came the official conclusion of the ceremony. A town or synagogue official would stand and ask the bride and groom if they were ready to assume the responsibilities of marriage There would be ceremonial vows spoken before the entire community. Sometimes this was solemnized by a written contract which would be presented to the bride’s family.

The bride and groom would be standing under a tent-like canopy or shelter. It symbolized the tents in which Abraham and the other fathers of Israel lived. It also pictured the protection of God over his people and the blessing of God on this marriage.

With beautiful simplicity and clarity, the word of God is telling us that Jesus loves his church. He gave his life to redeem the church. The church is so precious to him that he calls us his bride. The church is betrothed to him.

We want to represent him well as we live in this world. Revelation 19:7-8 says that “His bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean was given to her to wear. Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.” The apostle Peter put it this way: “Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). He had the second coming in mind. Jesus’ bride should be getting ready to meet him when he comes. We do that by the way we live now.

Like the wedding party waiting for the groom, the church is told to wait expectantly for the coming of the Lord. Jesus promised that he would come again and take his people to be with him in his Father’s house, just like the groom in the biblical wedding. He prayed in John 17:24, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory, the glory you have given me.”

That is Jesus’ prayer for his bride, the church. No prayer of Jesus will fail to be answered. He is coming. Are you ready to meet him?

Pastor Randy Faulkner

He Was a Good Man

As Fathers’ Day approaches I am thinking about my dad. I write to honor him.

It is striking how infrequently the word “good” is used in the Bible in reference to men and women. We use it all the time to call people “good.” The Bible does not. For example, Jesus was approached by a man who addressed him as “good teacher.” Our Lord stopped him in mid-conversation with a question. “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone” (Mark 10:18).

Jesus was not disavowing his own divine nature. But he knew the man was thinking of him the way ordinary people think of other people. So he deflected the man’s attention from fallen human nature, which is not good, to God, who alone is good. Only occasionally do we find the word “good” used of a man in the New Testament. One of those occasions is Acts 11:24 where it is used of Barnabus: “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”

J.R. Faulkner would not want the word “good” to be used about himself. He often quoted John 3:30, which was a favorite text: “He (Jesus) must increase but I must decrease,” or as it reads in the New International Version, “He must become greater; I must become less.” But for me, it is hard to resist comparing Dad to Barnabus, who was called, “Son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36).

My father was reared in Charlotte, N.C. where, as a young adult he was an entertainer and dance instructor. He also worked in advertising sales in the motion picture industry. His life was radically changed in 1937 when he became a Christian through the influence of professional associates. He was encouraged in his faith by Christian businessmen in Charlotte.

He studied for the ministry at Bob Jones College where he met the young woman who was to become his wife, Magdalene Amstutz. After their marriage in 1943, she joined him in local church ministry, evangelistic work, and Youth for Christ. They joined the faculty of Tennessee Temple College in 1946, where she taught music and he served in administration and teaching pastoral leadership. He remained on the staff and faculty of Tennessee Temple in different capacities until his retirement as president in 1985.

He was called to join the Rev. Lee Roberson as his associate pastor in the Highland Park Baptist Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1949. These two men served as partners in ministry for over forty years. My father’s service alongside Dr. Roberson was characterized by loyalty, humility, optimism, hard work, and enthusiasm.

He assisted Dr. Roberson in the development and leadership of the college, the downtown Union Gospel Mission, a large branch church ministry, a bus ministry outreach, a church-owned summer camp for children, a daily radio broadcast, the support of scores of foreign missionaries, and a Christian elementary and high school. My dad was often invited to speak for conferences and churches on the subjects of Christian leadership and Sunday School work.

Since the word “good” is used so sparingly of people in the Bible, it prompts us to ask why it is used at all. One reason the word describes Barnabus is because he was an encourager (Acts 4:36-37). He was always looking for opportunities to lift and help others (Acts 9:27). That was J.R. Faulkner. All of my life I have met former students and church members who have told stories of how my father encouraged them by his counsel, kindness, and prayers.

He demonstrated love for people and his greatest joy in life was in seeing God work in their lives. He was a joyful Christian witness; he shared the gospel freely and frequently. In all my life I never heard him utter a single word of destructive criticism of another person. He never gossiped or indulged in the slander of others.

Barnabus was a Christian leader, a man of vision, who was ready for the great new things God would do in expanding the reach of the gospel (Acts 11:21-26). That was J.R. Faulkner, who was able to see the potential in people and opportunities. As a leader, he was a lifelong learner. He set a good example to me as a servant-leader who never cared about receiving the credit, but that tasks were accomplished and done well.

His calling was to serve in a subordinate role to another strong leader. Like Barnabus, who assisted Paul, my father understood the importance of loyalty and servanthood. He gladly served as Lee Roberson’s assistant for over forty years. Their relationship was unique, involving mutual respect and a willingness to “die to self,” a phrase I heard my dad use many times.

Barnabus was also known for his generosity (Acts 4:36-37). I have known a number of wealthy and generous persons in my time, but none more proportionately generous than my dad. He was never wealthy, but he was the most generous person I have ever known. More than once I accompanied him as he delivered groceries to an invalid woman whose husband was an alcoholic.

Many times I saw him slip some cash to a work scholarship student. Perhaps he did this because he remembered how it felt to work his way through college with very little walking around money in his pocket. He and my mother were exceedingly generous in their financial support of missionaries and Christian organizations. They taught their five sons to be faithful in tithing as a regular part of their Christian worship.

Barnabus was said to be a man of faith, full of the Holy Spirit. This is why he was called a good man. My dad’s faith was on public display before thousands of people. I am in a position to testify that there was no discrepancy or inconsistency between his faith as a public figure and his private faith as a father and husband.

I know something of his human limitations and weaknesses. He would be quick to acknowledge them. But his faith in Jesus was real and precious to him and he relied upon God’s grace and forgiveness. He endeavored to teach his sons to do the same. This example of integrity is one of the reasons I am a Christian and a pastor.

What he would want is for his faith in Jesus Christ to be his greatest legacy. Because of that, I believe it is safe to say that, like Barnabus, “he was a good man.”

Reposted from June 2019.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner 

Trading Doubt for Assurance

There are people who lack the confident assurance that they possess eternal life. Some  lack assurance of salvation because they flatly deny that it is a possibility. It is arrogant, they say, to presume to know what will happen after death.

Others have doubts because of religious confusion. They question the validity of their religious experience or the teachings of a preacher. Have I done the right things? have I prayed the right prayers? Have I joined the right church?

Some people cannot recall a specific time when they received salvation, so they doubt its reality. Though believing happens at a specific time in a person’s life, some people may not know when that time was for them.

Some people lose assurance when certain sins come into their lives. They imagine that if they really had salvation, they would not have committed such sins. The normal Christian experience never includes perfection. “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). But sin may lead to doubt and uncertainty.

John is the apostle of certainty. He uses the word “know” scores of times in his writings, and 39 times in the little book of 1 John alone. He wrote with certainty about his own experience because he had been with Jesus in person (1 John 1:1-3). He was an eyewitness of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord. He wants his readers to have the same certainty even though they had not known Jesus in person.

This certainty is based upon the reliability of John’s eyewitness testimony about Jesus. John wants us to know that it is possible to have assurance of eternal life. Inspired by the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:6), he said, “I write these things to you  who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

So, it is not presumptuous to say that you know you have eternal life if you believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. It is a matter of trust, trust in the written word of one who was sent by Jesus to offer salvation to us in the name of God.

The salvation he wrote about is a gift of God himself. John said, “We accept human testimony, but the testimony of God is greater because it is the testimony of God which he has given about his Son. . . . And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:9-12).

John appeals to our common sense. We rely on the testimony of other people all the time. We put our faith in neighbors, doctors, pharmacists, airline pilots, restaurant owners, and bankers. John says if we trust people with our lives and possessions, it certainly makes sense to trust the promises of God.

He says that eternal life is what “God has given” to those who put their faith in his Son. It is a gift to us. It was purchased by the death of Christ at Calvary. God loves to be gracious. He loves to give freely. He loves his Son so much that he welcomes all those who come to him through their relationship to his Son.

When my youngest son was in high school sometimes his buddies would end up at our house for the evening, sometimes all night, sleeping on the beds, on the floor, on the living room couch. When Connie and I got up early there would be times when we never knew who would be there. I can recall stepping over sleeping, snoring football players in the darkness before dawn.

Here’s the thing. My sweet wife never failed to make those young men feel like family. She joyfully welcomed them to our table with heaping mounds of blueberry pancakes and bacon. They always knew they were accepted in our home because of their relationship to our son.

John is telling us we can be sure of our acceptance with God if we have a relationship to his Son. Assurance of salvation is possible because eternal life is in Jesus Christ alone. “This life is in his Son.” Entrust yourself to Jesus the Savior. Trade your doubts for assurance of eternal life in him. “Whoever has the Son has life.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Try the Uplook!

D. B. Eastep was the godly pastor of Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky, from 1927 until his death in 1962. Through the difficult years of the Great Depression and the Second World War, he led and fed the people by teaching the Bible. He was known for his emphasis on the second coming of Jesus Christ. His ministry of the Word brought comfort and hope to many in distressing times.

He published a little magazine called “The Uplook,” which had a wide circulation. (“When the outlook is bleak, try the uplook!”)

I was honored to be one of his successors as pastor at Calvary Baptist from 1980 to 1989. It was my privilege to know many in the church who had trusted In Christ and had grown in their faith under Dr. Eastep’s ministry.

The return of Christ is called a “blessed hope” because it brings blessing and certainty in uncertain times. The letter from James is a reminder of this fact. “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the  autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:7-8).

(“Near” does not necessarily mean “soon.” It means “imminent.” The Lord’s coming could be at any time, and it is wise to be ready.) James is telling us that no matter the outlook, we need to maintain our uplook! He is telling us how to do it.

With patience 

James uses two different Greek words to help us as we wait for the coming of the Lord. The first means “endurance” or “staying power.” The people to whom James was writing had been going through some hard times at the hands of unjust, selfish, rich oppressors (vv. 1-6). Their expectation of the Lord’s return would contribute to their mature perseverance under trials.

The second word tells us not to try to get even or to retaliate. As humans we are tempted to over-react. James says to hold passion in check for the sake of your Christian witness. I read about a young private in the army who was a Christian believer. His fellow soldiers, including his sergeant, mocked his faith and did all they could to make his existence miserable.

One night, as he was praying before he slipped into his bunk, someone threw a boot and hit him in the head. He did not retaliate. The next morning his tormenter found his boots beautifully polished and neatly stowed beside his bed. That was the Christian private’s reply to persecution. His fellow soldier said later that that unselfish act broke his heart and led him to take steps of faith which resulted in his becoming a Christian.

That young soldier took a long view of his circumstances. He was looking beyond his present hardship and living for his coming Lord, with patient endurance.

With hope

James makes use of the illustration of a farmer who waits with anticipation for the seasonal rains and for the harvest. Our anticipation of the Lord’s coming should be like that. Biblical hope is not wishful thinking. It is confident expectation.

That expectation is justified. There are perhaps fifteen concrete Old Testament prophesies which predict in detail different aspects of the first coming of Jesus. The prophets of Israel foretold his coming for hundreds of years.

In the same way there are even more explicit prophesies about the coming of Jesus Christ which have not yet been fulfilled. At his second coming they will be fulfilled in exact detail just as the prophesies of his first coming were fulfilled. No one knows when that will be. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29). So until he comes, we wait with expectation, maintaining an uplook!

With conviction

James said to “stand firm.” This means to hold firmly to your beliefs with unshakable conviction. Many churches are getting away from teaching healthy doctrine. Charles Ryrie wrote that this is tragic because practical teaching of the Bible must be based on  correct doctrine and all Bible doctrine should result in proper practice. We must not have one without the other.

That is why the teaching of the second coming of our Lord is important. It teaches us to live holy lives in anticipation of his imminent appearing. It teaches us to take a proper assessment of this present world in which we live. It is an incentive to evangelism and Christian mission. It regulates Christian worship. Every time we observe communion we are reminded that Jesus has promised to return.

Robert Murray McCheyne, the famous Scottish preacher, once asked some friends, “Do you think Christ will come tonight?” One after another they replied, “I think not.” When all had given their answers, he solemnly repeated Jesus’ words, “The Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not.” Or as it reads in the New International Version, “The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44).

When the outlook is bleak, try the uplook. Jesus could come at any time. We can be as certain of his second coming as we are of his first coming. Are you ready to meet him? “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Pastor Randy Faulkner