Listening to the Groom’s Voice

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John 3:29 punches to the heart of this identity issue:

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.

This is John the Baptist talking to his disciples about Jesus, and he strikes a chord that signals a clear understanding of his identity.

The Self-Glorifying Groom

Most of us have been involved in wedding planning. If you’ve ever been a bridesmaid or a groomsman, you know there is a mountain of work that goes into the preparation for the Big Day. Just think of setting the tables for the reception: All the name cards need to be set out, the tablecloths squared just right, every flower and centerpiece exactly arranged, the silverware and glasses perfectly in order – the list goes on!

Yet if you’ve ever been a bridesmaid or a groomsman, you are fully aware that none of your preparation matters if the bride and groom don’t show up. You know you aren’t the point of all that hard work; they are. You know that all your effort is put into making their experience awesome, not in getting kudos yourself.

John knew this — he knew it was all about Jesus. Nothing matters except Jesus being united with his Bride. And ultimately, if one table doesn’t get set right the marriage is still going to take place. Period. While every small detail is important in order to make the whole experience more glorifying for the Bride and Groom, messing up the silverware isn’t going to derail the marriage. The self-glorifying Groom will still be glorified.

Yet — yet we are invited in to help prepare the room for the Groom’s arrival, to fill the space with sweet aroma of worship, and to gather many (near and far) to come see the Bide and Groom joined.

Not only does God invite us into the work of the celebration, but he also invites us into the Wedding Party – not as center-stage, but as an active member in the ceremony. We get to stand next to him and just let our faces light up when we see him lay eyes on his Bride. We get to be in the thick of that exciting moment, still knowing the moment isn’t about us. It’s about him.

Everything leads to this

And still John doesn’t stop there; we are carried further in: John makes it clear that his joy is made complete in hearing the Groom’s voice speak over his Bride. Let me get graphic for a moment: what John is actually describing doesn’t happen in today’s weddings (at least in the United States). Near the end of the multi-day celebration that was Jewish weddings in those days, the bride and groom would go into a small room and consummate the marriage. Once husband and wife were united in deepest intimacy, the groom would give a shout. The only person allowed close enough to hear the groom’s shout was the attendant of the groom (as John describes himself here). Then, the attendant turns and spreads the good news to everyone else: the two have become one!

It is a great moment of celebration – all the events were leading to this moment. Not only are we invited to be in the Wedding Party, but we are told we are the Bride – not individually, but collectively, as the Church – we are the Bride of Christ. Individually, we are invited to listen in to the intimacy between Christ and his beloved Bride; corporately, we are the ones with whom Christ desires intimacy.

Notice John’s role: to listen in to the proclamation of the Groom’s love over his Bride, and to joyously proclaim that good news to everyone around him. Likewise, our role is not to take up picket signs or use all caps-lock on Facebook; it is to listen in closely to Christ speaking over his Bride, and to reverberate his spoken Words of Life to those lost and broken around us.

The pre-existing reigning King

See, Christ is victorious, and we’re welcomed to his banqueting table. But it isn’t even a banquet flaunting his strength over the enemy; it’s a banquet relishing the intimacy of a husband united with his beloved.

The celebration is not that Satan has been defeated, but that you and I have been reunited with God.

God is so secure in his victory that it isn’t even the main thing he wants to celebrate. The main thing is that he has Rescued, Reconciled, and Restored his Bride and is now one with Her (us, the Church). Like today’s husbands, His unity with the Bride brings Him glory.

Does this send seismic waves through your understanding of evangelism and mission? We are called to celebrate more than we are called to do battle.* From John 3:29, we aren’t even called to celebrate victory over sin, Satan, and death (even though that’s amazing and it’s great to celebrate it!); we are called to listen in to, shout out about, and celebrate Jesus’ intimate interaction with and nurture of the Church.

What makes our joy complete? Is our understanding of joy inextricably tied to listening in to and telling others about Christ’s intimacy with His Beloved? Can we experience complete joy without telling others about Jesus?

For John, listening in to the intimacy between Christ and His Church is what made his joy complete. And it is from this place of intimacy & joy that proclamation & mission flows.

As I come to understand my identity, my interaction with the Gospel, and the relevance of that Gospel to the culture and world around me, it has become central to see Jesus as a securely victorious King who is eagerly yearning for intimacy with his Bride – so much so, that he’d rather have us celebrate his intimacy than his victory.

 

 

* The battle is real; the way we fight it looks different than I think we’re used to hearing about. That is for a later discussion.

 

K Livingston
K Livingston
I believe in dreaming big, working hard, cheering loud, standing tall, bowing deep. All of it because I believe Jesus = life.
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