I remember Paul Faulkner telling about working in the garden on a Saturday covered with dirt, manure and sweat and getting a call, “Where are you?” (Never a good start to a telephone call.) “The wedding starts in fifteen minutes.” He was supposed to officiate at the wedding, but he had forgotten about it. He ran into the house, showered, put on a suit and sped to the church building across town, thirty minutes late where everyone was waiting for him to show up.
I’ve performed a lot of wedding ceremonies over the years. I’ve never forgotten to show up (probably because of his story). Almost all of those weddings were ones that brought joy to everyone. There were a few…
Have you ever been to a wedding you really didn’t want to attend? Or given one of those flimsy excuses to get out of going to a wedding you didn’t want to go to? There is one wedding you won’t want to miss. This wedding will take place in heaven:
Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!” Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. 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. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Rev. 19:5-9)
One of the images that is used to describe heaven over and over in the Bible is a wedding. I think that’s because a wedding translates across time and culture. When you compare heaven with a wedding celebration you immediately connect with people because few things are as joyous as a wedding.
And when the Bible talks about heaven as a wedding celebration, we learn a lot about heaven in its descriptions.
We learn that this wedding is a sure thing. Every now and then weddings get postponed or outright cancelled. Not this one – not for any reason.
Jesus tells a story about a wedding in Matthew 22:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. 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 butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Mt 22:1-14)
There are several things going on in this parable, but the main point is that God has planned a wedding banquet for his son and he will not be deterred. The Jews spurned God’s invitation, so God sent messengers out to invite others to the banquet (and ultimately, that’s how we got on the guest list!) God wants it to be a big party, so he continues to send out the invitation. And one of the big surprises will be who shows up on the guest list. It won’t be who you think. It won’t be the rich and famous, it won’t be the high and mighty, it won’t necessarily be those sitting on the pew across the aisle from you on Sunday morning.
I heard a story of a young couple who planned a big, beautiful, expensive wedding, and then a few days before the event, the groom got cold feet and backed out of the engagement. You can imagine the young bride-to-be was crushed, but then came the humiliating task of calling all of the vendors – the cake, the flowers, the venue and cancelling. When she called the Boston Hyatt, where the $13,000 wedding banquet was scheduled, they apologized but said, this close to the event, we can’t give you all your money back. Our policy is that we can only refund 10% of the cost. You can do one of two things – you can cancel and absorb the cost or you can have the banquet. She thought about it and decided to throw a party. Only instead of inviting all the people who would have come to the wedding, she went up and down the streets to the rescue missions and to the homeless and the prostitutes and the addicts and invited anybody who would come. That night, instead of settling for scraps of pizza out of a dumpster, they dined on hors d’oeuvres and chicken and drank champagne and ate chocolate cake. And for one night, those that were considered the scum of the earth were the guests of honor.
And it’s going to happen again. All of the people who you would assume would be there won’t be, and all the people you wouldn’t expect to see there will be. Everyone who accepts the invitation will be there – not because they are deserving but because they are invited and accept the invitation.
Let me tell you about who you’re going to see at the wedding:
At modern weddings, who is the focus of the attention? The bride. I mentioned last week looking at the magazine rack at the grocery store. If you did that, you probably also noticed several magazines devoted to brides, but I’ll bet you didn’t see a single magazine for grooms. Grooms just basically show up in a tux and say “I do,” (and whatever else his bride tells him to do!)
This wedding will be different. It will be the groom who is the center of attention. When he enters, everyone will look at him and exclaim, “Doesn’t he look glorious?” I think that’s one thing that will surprise us. We have a picture in our mind of what Jesus might have looked like – usually a common looking person you might pass on the street – Isaiah’s picture of the suffering servant – “ He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isa. 53:2) But this will be the resurrected Jesus.
When Jesus came to earth, he gave up some of his divine prerogatives – yes, he was still fully God, but what he gave up was his glory. The OT describes this glory of God as the Shekinah glory – that brilliant, dazzling glory of God. We saw a glimpse of it on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus appeared to Peter, James and John with a brilliant, blinding light. It just wasn’t something he could bring to earth with him in human form. It would have deterred him from his purpose, it would have made it impossible to walk among the people and interact as a servant.
But on the eve his crucifixion, Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples, for you and me – and he prayed one thing for himself: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn 17:5)
There are two post-resurrection, post-ascension appearances in the NT: In Acts 9, when Paul is confronted by the risen Jesus, how was he described – a blinding light from heaven; in Revelation 1, John sees Jesus, and how does he describe him? “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace… his face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance…”
At the wedding banquet, Jesus will appear in all of his glory. He will be stunning. All of our focus will be on him.
Heaven will be about Jesus. That’s one thing that Hollywood doesn’t ever get right. All the movies that have heaven, don’t have Jesus – there’s no Jesus in any of them. But in heaven it’s all about Jesus. Heaven is not about a where or a what but a who – it is that who that we are interested in. When Paul thought about heaven he wrote in Phil. 1:23 -“I desire to depart and be with Jesus.”
I don’t know what your picture is of what Jesus will be like in heaven – maybe a celebrity that you see from afar, and maybe someday if you’re lucky, you’ll get close enough to get his autograph. That’s not the picture the Bible paints of Jesus at all. We will get to be with him, to talk with him, to spend time with him.
Yes, we will certainly be taken with Jesus.
The other one I want you to notice at the wedding will be the bride. Just because she is not the center of attention, don’t think that she isn’t beautiful. Paul describes the bride of Christ: “… radiant, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless...”
The bride will be the redeemed of all the ages. All of those who have obeyed Jesus as their Lord and master – those who have pledged their loyalty to him – those who have accepted his invitation to be his followers.
It is the ultimate Cinderella story. The girl that everyone despised, the one no one thought could capture the prince’s attention – she is the very one the prince chooses to be his bride. That’s the story of Jesus and his bride. All of those whom the world rejects and despises – those who are poor in spirit, meek, powerless – those who have nothing to offer but themselves – those are the very ones Jesus invites to be his bride.
One thing I don’t want you to misunderstand. This isn’t someone else’s story, this is your story. When you arrive at the banquet, it won’t be as a guest, but as the guest of honor. If you are a follower of Jesus, if you are in his church – you will be his bride. The church is the bride of Christ. All of heaven will gather round and exclaim, “How beautiful is the bride of Christ!”
Let me take a quick sidebar here. And it’s not too far off point because it’s the point that Paul drives home in Ephesians 5 when he writes about the love between Christ and the church – Christ’s adoring, self-sacrificing love for his bride; the church’s adoring, admiration and obedience for her groom. And Paul says, husbands and wives – that’s how you should treat your spouse.
So let me ask you, if you’re married: how do you look at and treat your husband or wife? Husbands, do you look at your wife with adoration, do you treat her as a beautiful and precious gift, do you sacrifice to care for her the way Christ did for the church? Wives, do you treat your husband with respect and admiration, do you show him the kind of honor that the church should give to Christ? Paul says that’s exactly the point we’re supposed to take away from his description of this love story of Christ and his church.
One final note on that story Jesus told about the banquet in Matthew 22: There will be no admittance without proper attire. Now understand that in Jesus’ day, when a rich person held a wedding banquet for his son, along with the invitations, he had special robes made for the guests, so that when you came to the wedding, you were wearing the robe that showed you had been invited. You can’t crash this party – you will only be there if you have been invited and are wearing the appropriate attire. And what is this attire?
We see it in Revelation 7: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands… Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know. And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9,13-14)
If you can get in to the wedding without clothes that have been washed in the blood of Christ, then the cross was meaningless. You will be there because Christ paid the price for your invitation. Your admittance is because you have trusted in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.
You might be struggling with feeling adequate for the role. Who are you to be the bride of Christ? The answer is you’re a nobody, you aren’t deserving, you couldn’t ever be good enough. And thank God that isn’t the cost of admission. Paul describes it in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 - May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
When William Montague Dyke was ten years old, he was blinded in an accident. Despite his disability, William graduated from a university inEnglandwith high honors. While he was in school, he fell in love with the daughter of an Admiral in the British navy, and they became engaged.
Not long before the wedding, William had eye surgery in the hope that the operation would restore his sight. William insisted on keeping the bandages on his face until his wedding day. If the surgery was successful, he wanted the first person he saw to be his new bride.
The wedding day arrived. The many guests—including royalty, cabinet members, and distinguished men and women of society—assembled together to witness the exchange of vows. William's father, Sir William Hart Dyke, stood next to the groom, whose eyes were still covered with bandages. The organ trumpeted the wedding march, and the bride slowly walked down the aisle to the front of the church. As she came down the aisle, William’s father unwound the bandages, not knowing if the operation was successful. When the last layer came off and he stood face-to-face with his bride-to-be, William’s words echoed throughout the cathedral, "You are more beautiful than I ever imagined!"
When we look upon Jesus for the first time, I’m pretty sure that will be our reaction, too.
(I want to acknowledge my dependence on two resources for some of the content in this sermon: Rick Atchley’s, Amazing Place, and N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope - both excellent studies on heaven.)