The day begins like most Saturdays. You awake without the insistent blaaat...blaaat...blaaat of the alarm clock. You enjoy a simple breakfast, read the morning paper and plan your day's activities. Midway through the paper you hear the letter carrier deposit today's assortment of letters and magazines in your box. It's a happy sound--much more welcome than the screech of the telephone ring. If it's bad news, you figure people will telephone it; if it's good news, they write it. Without finishing the newspaper you check the mailbox to find a disappointing pile of bills, advertising flyers, and Publishing Clearing House Sweepstakes application blanks. But wait, there's a large square envelope of high grade paper that indicates somebody's graduating or getting married.
Tearing open the first envelope, then the second, you find the engraved message:
Of course you have never gotten that kind of invitation, at least not in the mail. But it is not wholly imaginary. There is an equivalent invitation addressed to you in Revelation 19:7-9. "Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to Him (the Lord our God), for the marriage of the Lamb has come and his Bride has made herself ready.... Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."
Two questions: an easy one and a hard one. First, who is this "Lamb" who is getting married? That's easy. John the Baptist first used the term to refer to Jesus (John 1:29). Later the writer of Revelation employed it to describe the sacrificial qualities of our Savior.
But now the hard question: how do you suppose you got on the guest list? Well it started a long time ago. God's wedding plans began in the Old Testament where his love for his people was like the love of a husband for his wife. "Israel, I will make you my wife; I will be true and faithful; I will show you constant love and mercy and make you mine forever" (Hosea 2:19). Beautiful words, these! But the sordid record shows that Israel was unfaithful to her husband. Her persistent idolatry was spiritual adultery. Her prophets used ugly words to describe her behavior. They called it "whoring after other gods" (Exodus 34:14-16; Hosea 4:11-19). Her marital infidelity threatened the marriage covenant, but God continued to love her and would not give up.
The New Testament carries this metaphor a step further: the church is the bride of Christ, the Incarnate Son of God. The church is subject to him who gave his life for her (Ephesians 5:21-33). By the way, it is important that you do not confuse sex with gender. Just as both men and women are sons of God (Romans 8:14; Galatians 4:5,6), so both men and women are the bride of Christ. These terms do not indicate sexual identity but personal relationship of love and obedience to God.
Taking the metaphor a final step further, Paul asserts that we are Christ's body as well as his bride (Ephesians 5:30). His ground for this astounding claim is that in marriage "the two become one" (Ephesians 5:31-32). Christians--not individually, but corporately in the church--are the incarnation of Christ in the world between his ascension and his second coming. Christ is so much a part of them that he considers anything done for them as done for himself (Matthew 25:40, 45). When Saul persecuted the church he discovered that he was actually persecuting Christ. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me," Jesus asked. "Who are you, Lord?" Paul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you persecute" (Acts 9:4).
Saul could have said, "You've got it all wrong, Lord. You have been dead two years. I've never even laid eyes on you, much less laid hands on you!" As a matter of fact, Christ's body was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven. But he has another body, the church. And every time Saul laid hands on a Christian, laid hands on Christ. "The two became one flesh."
Baptismal vows are like wedding vows. They are a lifetime pledge of love and loyalty to Jesus Christ. They publicly mark the beginning of a permanent unity between the believer and the Savior. Like wedding vows, baptismal vows can be broken. Although breaking them doesn't invalidate the wedding and dissolve the marriage, it does cause tension between the bride and the groom.
It's a wonder that Christ hasn't given up on his unfaithful bride. We have certainly given him reason to divorce us long ago. No husband has ever been more patient, pardoning and persistent than Jesus. Paul says, "Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. He did this to dedicate the church to God by his word, after making it clean by washing it in water, in order to present the church to himself in all its beauty--pure and faultless, without spot or wrinkle or any other imperfection" (Ephesians 5:25-27). Praise God he's not finished with us yet!
The writer of Revelation looks ahead to the time of the great marriage supper in heaven when all creation celebrates the union of Christ and his bride, the church. "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready" (Revelation 19:6b-7). The wedding has already occurred. Now the proclamation resounds like thunder through the courts of heaven announcing the great marriage supper. And you're invited! In two different ways!
First, you are invited as the bride. "And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints" (Revelation 19:7). That you are the bride affirms your corporate unity with Christ in the church. We are and shall ever be one with him.
Second, you are also the invited guests. "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9). That you are the guests affirms your individual responsibility for Christ in the world. Not only do you enjoy unity with Christ in the church, you serve him individually in your homes, jobs, schools and neighborhoods. In both ways there is a place reserved for you at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Notice that it is a marriage supper. There are few happier occasions in life than marriage suppers. Eating good food with good friends is about as good as life ever gets for me. How about you? Remember God's invitation is not to dull druggery, but to joyous celebration. The beatitudes, you know, tell us how to be happy, not just how to be good. They are not legalistic commandments, but statements of fact concerning how to find true happiness.
We are such poor proclaimers of wedding joy that we often give the impression we come from a sheriff's sale where our sins were auctioned off, instead of from the wedding banquet of the Lord of Glory. "Happy are those who have been invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9 TEV).
God's invitation is not to give up something, but to accept something. We turn loose of worldly things only in order to free our hands to grasp heavenly things. We say "No" to lower values in order to say "Yes" to higher values (II Corinthians 1:17-20).
Here I would like to indulge in a bit of personal speculation. Like the Apostle Paul I have to declare, "This I say, not the Lord" (I Corinthians 7:12) But I think I too have the Spirit of God in this matter (I Corinthians 7:40). I think the marriage supper of the Lamb is going to be "pot luck." Before you groan, "Oh No!" think about it. Every saint since Adam will bring his or her very best to share with all the hosts of heaven. The same Lord who multiplied the boy's loaves and fish to feed five thousand (John 6:10-13) will multiply your gifts to serve all heaven's inhabitants. Isn't that the way God usually works. He often "prepares a table before me" and causes my cup to run over, but he rarely does it directly. Instead he works though others to provide his bounty. For that reason I give thanks to them and praise to God. That's the way God usually works on earth. Will it be any different in heaven?
Everyone is invited, but only those who accept the invitation are blessed. Though the rejection of the invitation is not suggested in this Biblical passage, it is in several other scriptures.
That's true to life. The joy of weddings is sometimes turned to sadness when close friends and family refuse the invitation. In the parable of the Great Feast the guests politely declined. "I pray thee have me excused," they said (Luke 14:15-24). In the parable of the Marriage Feast Jesus said the invited guests not only declined the invitation, they killed the messengers who bore it (Matthew 22:1-14).
Well, friend, how about you? You have the invitation from God. What will you do about it? Ignore it? Insult and assault the messengers? Will you accept it with gratitude? Remember God's invitation is signed RSVP, "please reply."
Allan Trout of Frankfort tells about the time Eugene Field was entertained at a rich home in Kansas City. The dessert was strawberry shortcake. The penniless poet looked at it longingly, then pushed it away. "Don't you like strawberry shortcake?" his hostess asked.
"'Deed I do!" he replied. "But if I should eat it, I fear it would spoil my taste for prunes!"
"O taste and see that the Lord is good!" (Psalm 34:8 KJV).