Two Banquets: Feast or be the Feast
by Jack Wald | December 17th, 2000

Revelation 19:6-21

When I set out an outline for the four sermons of advent, I thought I had a pretty good series. The first sermon would focus on waiting for Jesus. What are we to do while waiting? The second sermon would talk about how Jesus came in the first advent, the third on how Jesus will come in the second advent and then finally, is the coming of Jesus good news or bad news.

In the abstract, it seemed like a good series, but when I came to the text for today, it made me wish I’d picked a different topic. Preaching on the Second Advent of Jesus is not bad when the focus is on Christians rising up to meet Jesus in the clouds and going to heaven. But the text in Revelation read this morning is gruesome, right out of a Steven King novel. It hardly fits with Christmas and baby Jesus in the manger with shepherds and wise men worshiping him. I even had second and third thoughts about reading this Scripture in church with children present. This is not a pretty text.

The adult Sunday School class has been reviewing the text to be preached the week before it is preached and after Revelations 19 was read last Sunday, there was silence. I think the class was shocked that this text would be preached on any Sunday, let alone two Sundays before Christmas.

I have always been offended by preachers who manipulate their congregations with fear and intimidation in order to get people to give their lives to Christ. You know what I mean? “Turn or burn!” Work on the emotions of the congregation and get them all stirred up and then give an altar call to get people to come to Jesus because they are terrified of the alternative.

We will have an altar call this morning, an opportunity for you to come forward if you feel led to do so, to give your life to Christ. But I promise not to be manipulative. I promise not to use theatrics this morning. I will not work you up to a frenzy and then get you to make a decision for Christ in the heat of the moment. For one, I don’t think I could do that if I tried and two, I don’t believe that is ethical preaching. This morning, I will try simply to lay out what it is that this Scripture says and the implications of that text.

The text this morning features two banquets and begins with a wedding feast.

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.
7 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.
8 Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
9 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.”

The New Testament is full of this imagery of Christ the bridegroom and his church, the bride. . When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, the parables he told used the image of a wedding banquet. In the parable of the wedding banquet, the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the great banquet, a wedding banquet is the key event.

John the Baptist spoke of Jesus as the bridegroom.
“A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.  28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’  29 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.  30 He must become greater; I must become less.

And Jesus described himself that way.

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

Why do you think this image is so often used to describe the relationship between Christ and the church? Why do you think this image was so much at the front of Jesus’ mind when he taught? I think the reason for this is because the relationship of bridegroom and bride so aptly describes the relationship between Jesus and his church. In fact, marriage is such a good analogy for the relationship of Christ and the church that it makes you wonder if marriage was not instituted just to help explain how it is that Jesus and the church relate.

In a Jewish wedding there were three stages: First the two families would agree to the union and negotiate a betrothal. Next they would make a public announcement. At this point the couple would be “pledged”, a position somewhat like engagement in today’s marriages. The difference being that this second stage in a Jewish wedding was a lot more binding than engagement in today’s culture.

At this point, even though the couple was not officially married, the betrothal could be broken only by death or divorce. Betrothal was a stage of commitment, not just intention. This second step in a Jewish wedding lasted a year, during which the bride and bridegroom lived separately. This was a period that demonstrated the purity of the bride.

And, incidentally, this is the stage that Joseph and Mary were in when Gabriel visited her to announce she would bear a child who would be named Jesus. So you can see how problematic it was for Mary to be pregnant in the year in which her purity was being demonstrated.

After that year of waiting, the actual marriage took place with a wedding banquet and great celebration.

Jesus as the bridegroom and the church as his bride are in the second stage of the Jewish marriage process. Jesus and the church are pledged toward one another. Jesus is committed to the church and the church is committed to Jesus. Jesus and the church are betrothed, awaiting the consummation of the wedding. Jesus is separated from the church for this “year” of waiting and the purity of the church is to be demonstrated in this period of separation.

This is a wonderful image of the relationship between Christ and the church.

Revelation 19 paints the picture of the celebration of the actual wedding feast when the bride and bridegroom are brought together, no longer separated from one another.

This will be a time of great celebration. It is an event that we can look to with great anticipation. As the angel said to John, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”

“Hallelujah!
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
7 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.
8 Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
9 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.”

This banquet should fill us with hope for a couple reasons:

First and foremost, there will come a time for Christians when we will be united with Christ. This waiting period we are in, this period of separation, will not last forever. As a bride looks forward to the day of her wedding, so do we, the church, look forward to the day when we will be brought into the presence of Christ for eternity.

At the end of time, we have an eternity that is worth waiting for.

But secondly, look at this reminder of how we have been brought to this day. The text says the bride was given fine linen, bright and clean. In John’s day, linen was expensive. Only the very wealthy wore linen garments. John writes that these expensive garments are given to the bride. The bride did not earn them. She did not save her hard-earned centimes and buy them. They are a gift.

John adds that these fine linen cloths stand for the righteous acts of the saints and as is clear in the rest of Scripture, these righteous acts are only righteous because of God’s work in us.
Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

It is the gift of the bridegroom that enables his bride, the church,  to stand pure before him.

We know that this has to be true, that the purity of the bride comes as a gift from God. Because even a cursory glance through church history reveals that the church is less than pure. We know ourselves and know that we are not pure. This waiting period in a Jewish wedding during which the bride demonstrates her purity has been a disaster in the life of the church.

As my church history professor once said, “The church, as the bride of Christ, on her honeymoon had a tragic accident and has been in intensive care ever since.” The church has been anything but pure. But the purity of the bride comes, not from the bride, but from the garments given her by the bridegroom. It is the righteousness of Christ that has covered the church and will continue to cover the church until the day when we celebrate together the wedding feast.

You can look at this feast from any angle you want and there is nothing but good news here.

Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!

That cannot be said for the second feast in the text this morning.

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.  12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.  13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.  15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.  16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God,  18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.”

You can look at this anyway you want and the only way in which this is good news is that the wedding banquet comes first and those who feast at that banquet will not be the feast at this second  banquet.

As disturbing as it may be to some, the rider of the white horse who is called faithful and true and on whose robe and thigh is written King of Kings and Lord of Lords, is none other than Jesus Christ. Jesus who, in his first advent said,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

and who said

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

This same Jesus in his second advent will return as a fearsome warrior judge. Out of his mouth will come a sword used to strike down the nations. The word used here is not the word for a dagger but a four to five foot, meter and a half sword used by cavalry to cut down their enemy in a battle. This is a terrible image of destruction and the worst imaginable fate is given those who are the enemy of Christ on that day. They will be denied a decent burial and the birds of the air will feast on their flesh.

On that day, grace and mercy, on which our hope rests, will no longer be present. At that time, at the end of time, all will be called into account. The evil will be punished, along with the indifferent, self-centered, proud and all those who refused for whatever reason to accept the offer of grace and mercy extended to them by Christ.

This is the plain, hard truth. There are only two banquets at the end of the road for each one of us. Everyone of us is going to one of those two banquets. There are no other alternatives. There are no extenuating circumstances, no exceptions.

Which puts Christmas in a whole new light.

Christmas is transformed from a warm remembrance of baking cookies and manger scenes and singing familiar Christmas carols into an emergency heart transplant without which I will die.

The Scriptures could not be more clear on this point.

What was the message of John the Baptist when he preached in the wilderness?

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea  2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Well yes, you may say, but that is John the Baptist and he was a bit over the edge. A diet of locusts and honey does something to your mind.

OK, how about the words of Jesus himself?

Luke 13
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

In Peter’s second letter he writes this:

2 Peter 3
9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance

Christmas is not just about a baby born in a manger and angels announcing his arrival. Christmas is about the best offer you or I will ever receive. Christmas is about the offer of life to a people destined for death.

In Deuteronomy 30, at the end of his life, Moses spoke to Israel. As the nation of Israel was about to set off toward the Promised Land, he set before them a choice to be made.

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them,  18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live  20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

That was a moment in time when a life or death choice was given. This morning is another one of those moments. You have before you a life or death choice.

Titling this sermon: Two Banquets: Feast or be the Feast, is not very subtle. But that is precisely the point. There is a choice to be made, one or the other and to coat the choice with nuance or soften it with vague hopes does a disservice. This is not something that can be explained away.

There can be a lot of reactions to this message. I may be accused of doing what I promised at the beginning of the sermon I would not do. But this is not an emotional harangue. This is simply stating the Biblical case.

Why is it that someone in danger would refuse help? If I am on a boat and someone tells me that a waterfall that will destroy me is around the bend and I refuse to take hold of the rope that will pull me to safety, what is there that makes me refuse the help?

Perhaps I may think I can take care of myself. I don’t need someone else to bail me out of trouble. If that is your position this morning, don’t let your pride prevent you from accepting the only help that will rescue you from certain destruction.

Perhaps I may think that there is really not a waterfall around the bend. Why do I need help when there is no danger? If that is your thought this morning, I pray that God will open your heart and mind to see the situation as it really is.

Perhaps I may think that I don’t like the idea of there being only one rope. Why not wait for something else to grab hold of. I warn you that the rope being offered you by Jesus is the only thing that will save you. To pass up on what Jesus offers is, to use an intentional pun, the mistake of your life.

Someone may be sitting and thinking, “Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard this before.” I can only say that I am speaking the truth to you as clearly as I can. If you don’t hear life in this message, then there is nothing more I can do for you.

If you are indifferent to what God has done for you, know that it is clear that God has a preference for what you choose. God speaks through Ezekiel and says:
For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

If God’s preference for you to choose life was not the case, then why do you think he humbled himself and was born a man. Why do you think he allowed himself to suffer at the hands of his creation? Why do you think he has patiently been at work throughout the history of the church to prepare his bride for the wedding feast?

Choose this day to accept life.

God was born in the flesh just about 2000 years ago and Jesus has promised us he will return. When Jesus returns, make that an event for you that is good news. Celebrate with Jesus at the wedding banquet.

Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!

You have been invited. Have you accepted the invitation? If not, will you this morning accept the invitation?