For those of you who are not familiar with the allegory “Pilgrims Progress” written by John Bunyan you need to do two things; first of all, repent and secondly read it! For it never ceases to amaze me at how many times I will find myself in a circumstance that takes me back to a circumstance Christian finds himself in along the way, while he journeys, to the celestial city. Such a moment happened yesterday as a brother and I went out to the local “Christmas Market” to proclaim the reason we celebrate Christmas! Namely, that Christ has come into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). For, it would only seem reasonable that at an event based upon the season of Christmas, that one seeking to talk about and share what the foundations of such a holiday are, one would be at least tolerated! Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. It quickly became clear that what people want to celebrate is not Christmas at all, but rather Vanity Fair.
What is Vanity Fair? In Pilgrims story it is a city that is created by the evil prince along the path of the King that leads to the celestial city. At first glance the city of Vanity Fair seems nice, lots of things to buy, people are happy and having a great time, lots of laughing and prosperity all around. However, as Christian and Faithful continue to walk through the city, clearly seeking to pass through on their way to another place of much greater glory, the people become increasingly annoyed with Christian and his companion. Here is an insert from Bunyan’s book, that you might here how he describe this place.
Then I saw in my dream, that when they were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is “Vanity”; and at the town there is a fair kept, called “Vanity Fair”; it is kept all the year long. It bears the name of Vanity Fair, because the town where ’tis kept is lighter than vanity; and also because all that is there sold, or that comes thither is vanity. As is the saying of the wise, “All that comes is vanity.”
“All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.” Isaiah 40:17
“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 1:2
“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Ecclesiastes 1:14
“Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2:11
“Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Ecclesiastes 2:17
“But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 11:8
This fair is no new erected business; but a thing of ancient standing. I will show you the original of it.
Almost five thousand years agone, there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two honest persons are; and BEELZEBUB, APOLLYON, and LEGION, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the City lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair; a fair wherein should be sold of all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the year long. Therefore at this fair are all such merchandise sold: as houses, lands, trades, places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms; lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts – as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.
And moreover, at this fair there is at all times to be deceivers, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues and that of every kind.
Here are to be seen, too – and that for nothing – thefts, murders, adulteries, false-swearers, and that of a blood red colour.
So how did we get ourselves kicked out of the local farmer’s market? We simply set up a small table outside with a stack of bibles and tracts to give away, and then I proceed to read the first stanza of the popular Christmas hymn, “The First Nowell”. It reads,
The first Nowell, the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a Cold winter’s night that was so deep:
Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
Born is the King of Israel.
And so, after reading the line of this loved Christmas song, I began to explain why this night was called the first Nowell, or first Christmas and why it is important to understand the significance of Jesus coming. Sadly, after us being there a whole 5 minutes, the manager and a few booth owners came out to tell us that we were being far too offensive, that we were not welcome there and that we needed to leave or else security and the police would be called to remove us! Reluctantly we did stop, mostly because we were not sure if her claim to having rented the space and therefore having the legal right to remove us was true or not. For in Canada we do still have the right to free speech and we have talked to the RCMP and the BYLAW officers and they both affirm that we are protected under the law to stand in a public place and proclaim the gospel. This is not to say people will like it, but it is a right I am grateful for.
I fully expect some level of opposition, as the world has always hated the message of the gospel, but to be confronted after only one stanza of “The First Nowell” was still shocking. Not to mention the instant accusations that were hurled at us where hard to believe! In the matter of a few moments we were told that we were offending people, we were potentially chasing away customers from the market, and one woman informed us that I was guilty of blasphemy for daring to say that all mankind is born in sin, including Mary! Apparently, she felt, that Mary was also spotless and without sin, but when asked to explain Romans 3:23 “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, she attempted to quote some heretical Catholic creed regarding the person of Mary. For many years I was under the impression that Canada had gotten past being offended by Jesus, after all who would be offended by a hippy dressed in a woman’s night gown carrying sheep and patting children on the head? For, that is often the only Jesus the world hears about. But that is not Jesus, that is a fictional character created by our own imaginations. I now realize that when presented with the Jesus of the bible, Canada by and large is not as “peaceful” as we would like the world to think. Especially when some religious radicals threaten their “Christmas market” and actually attempt to assert that there is absolute truth in the world and that we do have an absolute monarch who was a Jewish Carpenter from Nazareth!
It is interesting to note the political structure of Canada at this point. We are a “Constitutional Monarchy” also known as a “Limited monarchy”. What does this mean? Basically it means that we like the historical idea of having a king, but we refuse to take orders from that king! We will have a king/queen but only as a symbol, it will be the people who tell that monarch when and how high to jump! Interesting indeed. Is it possible that such a mindset also dominates much of Canadian thinking in regards to the King of kings? All the women who confronted our “offensive evangelism” mentioned that they also “had faith” and “didn’t have a problem with the gospel”, and yet they could not see that they where making such a statement while chasing those who came to proclaim the gospel away! Sound like limited monarchy to me. Clearly, limited monarchy is a ridiculous statement to start with, you either have king or you don’t. Maybe a better title for this system would be “indecisive fence sitters who don’t want to rock the boat!”
Jesus would clearly respond to such a mindset, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Matthew 12:30. The truth is, Jesus rejects those who think they can simply appeal to a “limited monarch”, either Christ is King or he is your enemy. There is no neutral, no fence sitting Canadians in the Kingdom and we must wake up and test ourselves lest we too think we can keep Jesus as our “icon” and yet live our lives content in Vanity Fair. Perhaps even more shocking, is that Jesus is not simply King of His church, but He indeed is the King over all! Therefore, we will bow in adoration and worship unto the King, or we will bow in defeat and judgment on that great and final day when He returns and all humanity will stand before Him. Paul writes, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom;” 2 Tim. 4:1
To some, this may sound like the very this the world is fighting against, namely ISIS and their claim to bring the world in subjection the Allah and under Sharia Law. No doubt a lot of their teaching has some basis in the scripture of Christianity, but it is distorted and twisted by the false prophet Mohamad. For Jesus is King, and He does have a right to our worship and praise, but he is not going to establish His Kingdom by force, brutality and fear. For when we were resisted when trying to proclaim the gospel, our response was not to then pull out an assault rifle and take out as many “rebels” as we can before being shot down. No, with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts we submit with gentleness and respect. We tried to reason with the people from the scriptures as long as they would allow and then we brushed the snow (ya it’s a bit different in Canada!), off our feet and left. Because Jesus is the kind of King that does not reign in terror and violence, but rather the kind of King who humbled himself to the point of becoming the lowliest of low and then fulfills the very law he placed on his people and then he lays down his life as the very payment he demands for our freedom and release! Truly, Christ is unlike any other god, or king.
However, Jesus was not defeated for we do not simply preach a dead Saviour. But because Jesus pleased the Father and fulfilled all righteousness, the Father raised Jesus from the dead on the third day in victory and power, defeating sin, death and our rebellious hearts. For Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (Jn. 3:17). John would go on to write, “but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Therefore, we have been given a commission by Christ, because all authority is his (Mt. 28:18), to go and proclaim the good news of his completed rescue mission and his glorious resurrection from the dead that all who believe upon Him might be saved. Jesus lives and he is coming soon, let us not take this time of grace for granted, but rather seek the Lord and flee from the wrath to come.
Returning to the story of Pilgrims progress, you might wonder how things turned out for Christian and His companion. I guess you will have to read the story for yourself, but I pray that we can walk as good pilgrims before the King as they did. Yes, people will be offended when we refuse to celebrate their fair with them, and yes we will trip and fall flat on our face time after time. But we continue to stand and fix our gaze upon our King. We continue to plead with men and women to repent and turn from their vain things that cannot satisfy or save them from the wrath to come. We continue to repent of our own love of this world and pray that God gives us an appetite for His Kingdom and the very things that delight Him.
I pray I am not misunderstood to say that it is sinful to walk through a market (lets just leave Christmas out of it!), and buy a few things and enjoy the tasty fudge. But I am saying that it is wrong to make such things an end in themselves. It is wrong to use Christ and his coming as a means to an end, such as money, and all the while remove anything that would remind us of Him. It is wrong for people to use godliness as a means to gain (1 Tim. 6:4). I pray that as Christians we abandon this notion of a “Limited Monarch” and we worship Christ as our only true Sovereign. For it is not burdensome to be a subject of this King, but rather it is where we find the joy and love and purpose we were created to have. It is in this King that we not only find our Sovereign, but our friend and reunion with our heavenly Father.