The God Who Wants to Celebrate

He is always preparing, and calling for us to join in the preparation of this great party he wants to give.

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Luke 15:22-24 

“William Tyndale, the man who translated the Bible into English in the 16th century, said: 

Evangelion (what we call ‘the gospel’) is a Greek word, signifying good, merry, glad and joyful news, that makes a man’s heart glad and makes him sing, dance and leap for joy. 

A church without the gospel fails to be a church. It’s something else—a social club or political action committee or a rallying point for pet projects or hobby horse hermeneutics. Those are man-centered organizations. And they can’t last. They make us sad. Maybe not immediately, but ultimately. Every man-made institution ends in tears. But the gospel ends with a party. It’s good news of great joy.” — Adam McClendon, The Gospel is Big Enough for Your Church (blogged recently by Dr. Peter Cockrell https://pjcockrell.wordpress.com/2020/10/06/the-gospel-is-big-enough-for-your-church/ ) 

Henry J.M. Nouwen also writes that God’s irrepressible love is the “love that always welcomes home and always wants to celebrate … ‘Rejoice with me,’ the shepherd says, ‘I have found my sheep that was lost.’ ‘Rejoice with me,’ the woman says, ‘I have found the drachma I lost.’ ‘Rejoice with me,’ the father says, ‘this son of mine was lost and is found.’” i  

I love that God’s love always wants to celebrate, that his good news ends with a party. He is always calling out to us, “rejoice with me!” He is always preparing, and calling for us to join in the preparation of this great party he wants to give. 

Timothy Keller notes that “in his first public exercise of divine power, Jesus turned several large containers of water into wine. Amazingly, John the gospel writer calls this miracle a ‘sign,’ a signifier of what Jesus’s’ ministry was all about. Why would Jesus, to convey what he had come to do, choose to turn 150 gallons of water into superb wine in order to keep a party going? The answer is that Jesus came to bring festival joy … Jesus’s salvation is a feast …” ii 

It is not surprising that the first miracle done by Jesus in this great story of the gospel celebration was at a marriage. Even though Jesus told Mary that it was not really his time yet, I don’t think he could resist a celebration – especially one of a marriage. Because that is how, finally, the gospel story will end: 

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. Revelation 19:7 

 “… his bride has made herself ready.” The word translated “ready” is hetoimazo, which means to prepare, to make the necessary preparations, get everything ready. We take part in the preparation by getting ourselves ready – working out our salvation, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us, dying to self, becoming holy. But we also help prepare by going out and inviting others to the party and helping them prepare. 

The father in the parable of the two sons calls for the preparation of a great celebration. Mark recounts the beginning of the gospel – the joyful celebration – also as a preparation.  

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way — a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” Mark 1:1-2 

Jesus told another parable, that is called the Parable of the Great Banquet. Again, it includes an invitation to a party that has been prepared. 

Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ Matthew 22:4 

If we are his servants, let us go out and proclaim the joyful news: There is a great party that has been prepared for you if you will come. Return! Come rejoice with the Father! Come in! You are invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb! 

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15:32 

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:7 

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come. Revelation 22:17 

Photo by stainedglassartist, Cana detail jars, https://flic.kr/p/7bUyuv  

Friends

This completely turned upside down my thinking about John 21. I don’t think Jesus is settling for a lesser form of love from Peter. I don’t think this is another failure for Peter.

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love (phileo) Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (phileo) You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” John 21:15-17 (NIV)

Much has been written about this passage of scripture. Many have thought that it was Jesus’ way of reinstating Peter after his three denials on the night Jesus was arrested – the three declarations of love wiping out the three denials – and I believe that was part of it. And many have pointed out the two forms of the word “love” used in these verses and wondered about the possible meaning. Jesus uses the word agapao in his first two questions, but phileo in his last question to Peter. Peter replies, “yes,” but uses phileo in all three of his answers.

Agapao simply means to love in a social or moral sense. E. Stauffer[i] writes that agapao, or love, of God means total commitment and total trust. So, when Jesus asks Peter, “do you agapao me?” He may have been asking also, “are you totally committed now, do you trust me?”

Peter replies, “yes,” but then goes on, not answering with agapao, but with the Greek word phileo. Phileo means to be a friend to, to be fond of an individual or an object, to have affection for, to kiss, to love. It would appear at first glance that this is a lesser form of love. And some have thought that Jesus was prodding Peter to the higher form of love, but Peter, after his devasting failure in the denial episode, could only promise the lesser form of love – to be a friend. They have concluded, “that Jesus finally concedes defeat and accepts only the lower form of love which is all that Peter is capable of offering.”[ii] But, when I looked further into the meaning of this word, phileo, I was amazed.

Phileo is the verb form of the noun philos, which means friend, dear friend, associate, neighbor. But, it also means this: “one of the bridegroom’s friends who on his behalf asked the hand of the bride and rendered him various services in closing the marriage and celebrating the nuptials.” This friend is acting as the best man. This friend carries a huge trust and responsibility. He asks for the hand of the Bride on behalf of the Bridegroom! This is the word for friend that John the Baptist used in this verse.

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. John 3:29 (NIV)

Jesus said, “You are my friends (philos) if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends (philos), for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:14-15 NIV). This sounds like a greater call, a greater trust, a greater service to our Lord than to be a mere servant who is not privy to what his master is about. He’s calling us to be the friend, the best man, of the Bridegroom! To go out and ask for the hand of the Bride on His behalf. Isn’t that what evangelism is all about? What a precious thing this Bride! What an amazing responsibility and calling is given to us!

This completely turned upside down my thinking about John 21. I don’t think Jesus is settling for a lesser form of love from Peter. I don’t think this is another failure for Peter. I think Peter is saying, “Yes Lord, I love (agapao) you! I fully trust and am committed to you. But even more, I accept the calling and responsibility to go out and bring back to you your Bride.” That’s why Jesus can ask, in a way, the third time, Are you prepared to be my Best Man? Go find and take care my Bride.

Am I prepared? Are you? Can we say, Yes Lord, you know I phileo you!

The people I love (phileo, I am a friend to), I call to account–prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God! Revelation 3:19 (MSG) 

 

[i] E. Stauffer in Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

[ii] NetBible.org. Translator’s Notes.

Photograph of the bride with the best man and groomsmen by Caitlyn Brouwer. All rights reserved by Jessica Bair.