The Marriage Supper
Let’s turn to Revelation 19. And as you’re turning there (it’s right near the end of the Bible), I want to mention an opportunity. If you need an outline, raise your hand. This summer, we will have another immersion summer internship which is for college-age students, (whether you’re in college or not) college-age students who would like an opportunity to be immersed in ministry for a summer. It’s ten weeks. There will be StrengthsFinder training, leadership development, Bible study, how to study the Bible, worship times, a lot of fun, ministry here in the church. You’ll each have an area of focus. For about 15-20 hours per week, it’s a paid summer internship this summer. If you want to know more, if you are a college-age student or if you know one, the application process is open for the next four or so weeks. So, be sure to get online. Check it out. Apply. We are limited to twelve. So, the sooner you do it the better.
Yesterday we gathered for Herman Van Slooten’s homegoing service. Herman was ninety-four years old when he went to be with the Lord. And this was this Monday, which would’ve been his 66th wedding anniversary was Monday. Elly, his precious wife, went to be with the Lord just this past September. And the thought of Herman and Elly praising Jesus together is just breathtaking. Because, you know they’re not just limited to English. So, there’s a lot of worship going on in Indonesian and Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and all the other languages they now know. Herman and Elly modeled imperfectly, of course, but beautifully for us youngins what Christian marriage is. So, I want to take a few minutes for those of you who did not have the privilege to know Herman to give a little background, because we have lost something big in Herman and Elly. I just kept picturing yesterday and this week just the baton being passed on to us.
Herman, as a young teenager, was part of the Dutch resistance in World War II. He carried messages to try to undermine Nazi occupation of Holland. He was caught. He was put in a concentration camp. But because he was young and strong, he was put on work duty. One day he saw he had a chance to escape, and he ran down this alley with guards shooting and made it free. Years later, on a ship coming from Indonesia, he met Elly. The two of them fell in love, got married, moved to Brazil (that’s why they know Portuguese). And it was a it was a rough time, as Herman has told me personally. He turned to alcohol and became an alcoholic. But they thought if they could only move to America, their problems would be solved. Yeah, that always works. They were able to come to America and move to a place some of you are familiar with, Greenville, South Carolina. And it’s here in Greenville that they heard the gospel, and Jesus changed them, saved them, set Herman free. Not only individually, but God changed their marriage. And we have had the privilege for the last 20 years to have Herman and Elly as a part of our church. And I could tell you so many stories of how God has used them. I’ll just try to keep it brief.
When our greater works prayer meeting began, we were studying the Book of John, and God moved in our hearts to start a prayer meeting to specifically pray for these services on Sunday. We would gather on Saturday night, and Herman and Elie were here every single week. And we first met in here and would pray over these seats, imagining who might be here, who would hear his Word, and that God would use his Word to transform lives. Just being able to be with them, crying out to God for all of us and for our missionaries all around the world and for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. It was an incredible privilege.
Let me just tell you one other example. I forget how I learned it, but I found out that Herman and Elly were taking Spanish classes in their 80s. They had a neighbor whom they wanted to share the gospel with. They spoke Portuguese and many other languages, but not Spanish. They wanted to be able to share Christ with them personally. So, in their 80s, they’re learning Spanish. I can hardly remember English. That tells you a couple things — their desire to continually learn and their passion to share Christ. And they used every opportunity they could. They would play tennis in the morning and then they would visit the old people while they were in their 80s to pray and sing. It was beautiful.
As Elly weakened, Herman had one primary prayer. He prayed about many things all around the world, but his main prayer was that he would stay alive long enough to care for Elly. And the Lord heard that prayer and he day and night cared for his precious wife until she went to be with Jesus. And then, just to give you a glimpse of his heart, I think it was December. A couple of months ago I went by his house on a Saturday to drop a meal by, and he was crying. And he showed me a book he had just finished called “My Dearest Dietrich.” It’s the story of the relationship between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his fiance, Maria von Wedemeyer. They were looking forward to getting married but never were able to be married because Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a part of the resistance against Hitler within Germany, was arrested and executed right before the end of the war. But we have the letters that they wrote between them during his imprisonment. So, this is a novel. And Hermann explained there were two reasons why he was crying. One, reading that novel brought home to him like he had never thought about before, how close he was to dying when he escaped the concentration camp. And then when he read about what happened to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he realized Hitler, when he realized he was losing, did not empty the prisons and the concentration camps, he executed the prisoners. If he had not escaped, Herman just was gripped with, for the first time, the fact how close he was to being executed. But even more so, he said he was crying because he missed Elly so much, and he was ready to go to be with Jesus. And he looked forward to seeing her again.
We are blessed in our church to have hundreds of couples like Herman and Elly who imperfectly, but beautifully picture Christ’s love for his church. And as I was meditating on this, I just saw this stark contrast between this kind of love, this kind of covenantal love, and the fickle, passing, sexualized, emotional love of today.
I was reading an article this past week by Geoffrey Miller, a psychology professor at the University of New Mexico, entitled “Polyamory is growing — and we need to get serious about it.” Polyamory. “Poly” is the Greek word many, “amory” is from the word “amor,” Latin for love — many love. And Miller claims that
“More people than ever are pursuing polyamorous, open, or swinging relationships.”
He argues that “4-5% of all adults are currently in open or poly relationships.”
Poly, he would define as all kinds of consensual or non-monogamous relationships. So, it’s basically adultery with approval. And the assumption that Miller makes is that everybody’s going to be immoral, so let’s just be honest about it. He argues that
“about 28% of adults say it is not natural for human beings to be faithful to only one person,”
and he would even argue more than not natural, it’s not healthy.
“About 29% of adults under 30 consider open relationships to be morally acceptable — compared to only 6% of adults over 65.”
It shows the radical disintegration of marriage, the view of marriage in our culture. Miller believes that these kinds of relationships are far more common than being gay or lesbian. And he actually spins the whole thing to make it (does some major moral somersaults) to make it actually something of moral integrity. You’re being sexually sovereign. You’re being radically honest. You’re not being possessive because love would never be possessive. And what a striking contrast that kind of infidelity is to pure, covenantal marriage.
It was interesting. I was also reading the “Letters and Papers from Prison,” which is not the novel I was referring to, but they are the other letters Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison. And there’s a letter in there written May 1943, Bonhoeffer writing to a couple who were about to get married. Now imagine he’s single, hoping to be married. He’s been a theologian for many years. He’s in prison, and he writes this.
“There is something wrong with a world in which the woman’s ambition is to be like a man [this is 1943], and in which the man regards the woman as the toy of his lust for power and freedom, it is a sign of social disintegration when a woman’s service is thought to be degrading, and when the man who is faithful to his wife is looked upon as a weakling or a fool.”
There’s tons of irony in this. The first statement he makes in the whole thing, “there’s something wrong with the world.” Really? This is in the middle of World War II, people are dying by the millions in many different continents, and Bonhoeffer says there’s something wrong with the world that minimizes and misuses marriage, pervert’s God’s call on a man and a woman.
This is exactly what Revelation 17-19 is arguing, that there’s something wrong with a world that characterizes relationships as sexual exploitation, which is Revelation 17 and 18. Revelation 17 and 18 begins with this sexual and spiritual exploitation. Revelation 19 focuses on pure covenantal love. It is the tale of two cities, two different cities. Babylon on the one hand, Jerusalem. Depicted as a prostitute — spiritual and sexual unfaithfulness. Depicted as a bride and a wife — faithfulness. One (Babylon) is living in luxury, built on taking advantage of people. Jerusalem is characterized by purity, integrity, dressed in fine linen, bright and pure. Babylon is characterized by deception rather than preparation. What do we mean preparation? That is self-denying, sacrificial, transforming love. Corruption versus celebration. Destruction versus restoration — all things new. And so, we are called, as we’ve seen the last three weeks, “Come out of her, my people!” Come out of her. Don’t get sucked into these lies. They are intoxicating. “Blessed are those who are invited.” Come to the marriage feast of the Lamb. Chapter 17 starts with moral chaos in a cesspool of sin. Chapter 19 has a wedding. What is highlighted in this wedding that makes it so different? There are many, many answers to that question. I’ll focus in on four.
One, this is all about God. This is all about God. Look at verse 6. This is where we pick up from last week.
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory.’”
Today weddings are often quite creative. People are getting married skydiving, rappelling, rock climbing, roller skating. People are getting married in air balloons, under the water, on the mountains, at Dollywood, and get this, in churches. Some are even getting married in churches. Now, I am not anti-creativity, although my wife pointed out that I’ve had this shirt for about fifteen years. So, she said, “When you come home, next time, this will be gone.” Okay. But I still, I like creativity. I just want to get a lot of mileage out of it. But more important than venue, more important than photographer, flowers, food, guests and a thousand other things, the little snacks you get to pass out, whatever it is. More important than any of those things, the one thing you have to plan when you plan a wedding is (verse 7) to make sure God gets all the glory.
Can you imagine the travesty if people walk away from your wedding just talking about how beautiful the flowers were, how cool it was when you fell from the sky and said, “I do,” how amazing the pictures are, how tasteful the food? I mean, all those things are fine, they’re beautiful, they’re great. But they all need to point to the one person who invented the thing you’re actually doing. Right? Marriage is not our invention. It’s not something we made up. It’s not an American thing. It’s not a European thing. Yes, some of the cultural customs are localized. But the concept of marriage is from God, through God, to God. So, however I plan to get married, I need to make sure I’m not plagiarizing, that all the glory is being pointed back to God, who is the source of our love, the means of our covenant, and the goal of our union. And see, anything less is taking God’s good gift and using it in a way it was never intended. And then what’s tragic is when we do that, no matter how much money we spend on the wedding, no matter how much people are amazed by how beautiful it was, years later when we’re in the midst of the tests and trials and struggles and changes and new seasons of life, if my covenant is based on my creativity, my ingenuity, as if it’s from me or through me or to me, then it is no wonder so many couples are falling out of love.
How do you fall out of love as a believer? Are we saying, “You know, I went to God to get more love and he’s all out? He doesn’t have any more love and therefore, I’m out of love. We’re done.” No! If my love is self-generated, it totally makes sense. But that’s not what Christian marriage is. And God, by the way, has not run low on love. He has more love being poured out right now than we can even imagine. So, yes, if my marriage is based on my own feelings, my own intentions, yeah, they run low. But that’s not what we’re talking about. This is all about God. Marriage is all about God.
And by the way, let me say to those of you who are single, who at times, especially on Valentine’s Day weekend, come to hear a sermon on marriage, might feel like, “Am I second class? Is this about someone else?” Please remember, whether you’re single or married, one pictures (what we’re going to talk about in a moment), one pictures, one points to, but we’re both doing the same thing. The calling of singleness and the calling of marriage are different callings but are pointing and picturing the same reality of Christ’s relationship with the church, the marriage feast of the Lamb. And so, both are high callings, both are vital for the church. We live out our callings differently, and I’m focusing in on marriage today, but both are crucial. This is all about God.
And if we had a couple hours, we could start at the beginning of Genesis, where you have a marriage in the garden and the end of Revelation now where you have a marriage in the city and trace this theme all the way through the Bible as the bridegroom pursues his bride. And it is the dominant theme in the Bible. It’s all about God.
Number 2, this is bursting with joy. You’ll see in verse 7,
“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory.”
To rejoice is to be glad, to delight in. To exult is to rejoice exuberantly, to rejoice uninhibitedly. Yeah, you can get lost in that word. It’s like a corn maze, that word. Uninhibitedly, without limits, to rejoice without limits, enthusiastically. Picture the couple who has waited on God, seeking first the kingdom of God, trusting him, seeking wise counsel, honoring parents, seeking premarital counsel and wisdom from others who have gone before them, putting boundaries on their physical relationship, refusing to be intimate before marriage, planning all the details of the wedding, praying that God would be glorified, and then seeing all of that converge and exploding with joy. That’s the picture here.
The church, we, waiting, longing, suffering. And this is a really big important point. Have you have you heard of over realized eschatology? Over realized eschatology is when we, as God’s people, want to sleep with our fiance. That’s a physical illustration of a spiritual reality. The wedding hasn’t happened yet. When you feel, “God, you still seem far away. Christ, when am I going to be with you? When are we going to experience the full reality of what it means to be with Christ?” And this, here in Revelation 19, is communicating that reality. We are not home yet. There is a now. Yes, we experience unbelievable promises and provision, but we are not there yet. We don’t sleep with our fiance. In other words, try to over realize eschatology. In other words, have it all now. There is a joy coming — like Jesus on the cross — there’s a joy set before us. And then, we live in that joy now. It is exploding then.
Number 3, this is the result of preparation. This is all about God. It’s bursting with joy, and it’s the result of a lot of preparation. Look at the second half of verse 7.
“And his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure, for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”
Now notice the tension between “made herself ready” and “it was granted.” Is she making herself ready, or is God giving her something? Yeah. We are because he is. We are, we prepare, because God provides. We prepare ourselves because God gives us everything we need. Christians are never passive about preparation.
Jesus told a story about ten virgins, five who prepared (this is in Matthew 25), five who prepared, five who did not prepare. And when the bridegroom arrived, five were caught completely off guard. He was warning us: do not be passive about preparation. 1 John 2:28,
“When he appears, we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”
What does that preparation look like? This passage seems to be referring back to Isaiah 61:10. Look at this. Isaiah 61:10,
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
What kind of clothing are we talking about? Colossians 3 illustrates this well. At the beginning of the chapter, we are told that our lives are hidden with Christ. Who you really are is not something that is external. But the real you is who you are in Jesus. But that manifests itself in an unfolding, transforming way. He goes on in (that’s Colossians 3:1-4), Colossians 3:10, before we get to 12. Colossians 3:10 says that we have put off our old self and we are putting on our new self, who we really are in the image of God through Christ. And because of that, what God has clothed us with, who we really are in Jesus, this is granted to us. Because of that (verse 12),
“Put on then [this is the language of dressing, dress yourselves] as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, [God has dressed you in Christ as chosen, holy, and loved. In light of that put on … ] compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
You say, how do I get that? Well, it all comes from who you are. You’re God’s chosen one. You’re declared holy. You’re loved on. He’s pouring his love in you. You say, “I’ve fallen out of love.” No, he has love for you, and he fills your heart with love by his Spirit. And now he says, put it on. Live it out.
“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; [with what resource do you do that?] as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these [If you go out in the morning without this garment] put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
We prepare because he provides. Another way to say the same thing. Ephesians 2:8,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” [We’re not into self-glory. Remember that in Revelation 18:10] “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Now, walk in them. God has prepared so we can. Verse 8 back in Revelation 19, “For the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”
Now let me say a word to some of you who feel like, “What’s the use, I’ve blown it.” That is a lie. That is a lie from the enemy of your souls. His grace is greater. Do not let what has been done to you or what you have done to define you when Jesus is saying, “Your life is hidden in me. You, all who have put your faith in Jesus, you are holy and beloved because of who you are in me.” Stop letting past failure define future progress. Put on, live out who I have made you. Do not despair. God is so kind. This is all about God. This is bursting with joy. This is the result of preparation. This isn’t just a one night stand, shotgun wedding here. God has, from all eternity past, prepared us for this.
And number 4, this comes with a blessing. Look at verse 9.
“And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’”
This is a very interesting shift because up to this point, verse 7, we have been collectively been described as his Bride. Does that make some of us guys kind of freak out? I don’t know what to do with the bride thing. But don’t miss the fact that you’re not the Bride of Christ. We are the Bride of Christ. It’s not an individual thing, it’s the Church. We are the bride of Christ, verse 7. Verse 9, we as individuals are now being described as guests. And what’s striking about this, the blessing is the fact that you haven’t earned your spot. You are an unexpected guest. Nobody is going to be at this feast saying, “Yeah, I bought this. I earned this. I don’t know why you’re here, but I know why I’m here.” No, we’re going to all be like, “Why are any of us here?”
Jesus told a story about this in Luke 14:12.
“He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, [Which is so interesting. Jesus is telling him how does he make his guest list.] He says don’t invite the people who can] … invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’”
So, what he’s talking about here is, when we in our day extend the kind of love that is not calculated, it’s not, “I’m going to do something nice for you, you better reciprocate.” No, genuine love, self-giving, sacrificial love. When we exhibit that kind of love, we are picturing this final feast where all the guests are unexpected guests in the sense that we haven’t earned our spot. We are blessed. We have been invited to this feast based on who Christ is. Verse 15,
“When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’”
The point of the eating bread here is not that all you with gluten intolerance are not going to be there. Whew! Or you’re suddenly going to be able to eat bread. That’s not the point. The bread there symbolizes satisfaction — eating, receiving. And it’s in direct contrast to 18:14 we saw two weeks ago where “‘The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you … never to be found again!’” This is why Jesus in John 6 said,
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life.”
These things are so spectacular. Look at verse 9,
“The angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who were invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God.’ [And John, either stunned by that assurance or perhaps by the angelic presence] … fell down at his feet to worship him, [the angel] but he said to me, ‘You must not do that!’”
This is the second time John’s been rebuked for angel worshiping. And this is John the Apostle. So, there’s something about this scene that is so spectacular, so dizzying that even John was disoriented. The angel explains,
“‘I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold the testimony of Jesus. [and then those beautiful two words, where we started is where we end] Worship God.’ [Give him the glory.] For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
So, Spirit-inspired prophecy, what all of us are called to do, testifies of Jesus. It’s from him, it’s through him, it’s to him. Right where we began.
Ray Ortlund wrote this:
“If the Bible is telling us the truth about reality, then the universe we live in was created primarily with marital romance in mind.”
This is quite radically different from a meaningless, purposeless universe that leads to meaningless, purposeless relationships. He is saying the opposite.
“The heavens and the earth were created for the marriage of Adam and Eve. The new heavens and new earth will be created for the marriage of Christ and his Bride. The whole of cosmic reality exists as the venue for the eternal honeymoon of the perfect husband with this perfect bride [Jesus with the church] in marital bliss for ever and ever. This is the breathtaking claim of the Bible.” Let’s pray.
Father, you call all of us to honor marriage whether we’re single, whether we’re in a really difficult marriage, whether we’re in a dreamy marriage, whether we are divorced and have been hurt deeply by marriage. You say in Hebrews 13:4 that marriage is to be held in honor among all, even those who aren’t married. So, Lord, the only way we can make sense of this is the fact that marriage is picturing something that is so precious, marriage is imperfectly picturing something that is so perfect, we must all be able to see it. Because so many of our longings as singles, as married, young and old, so many of our longings that we try to place on so many things that will never satisfy point toward this relationship, this ultimate union.
So, Father, we pray for young people today who are so easily tempted by our own cravings, (which are very strong) in a myriad of different directions, our own perversions, our own deceptions, lies we believe about ourselves and others and about you, cultural pressures to fit in. God, please give us young people who, out of their love for you, out of your love for them, fix their eyes on Jesus and refuse to be swept along in the cesspool of this culture. Help us, Lord. Thank you for the hundreds of singles you’ve given us in our church whose eyes are fixed on you, who love you and live every day pointing to you, bringing all their desires to you.
Lord, teach us as a church to live as your family, loving and supporting one another in this journey. I pray for those specifically who are in marriages that are hanging by a thread or people who would rather not be married — so much hurt, so much hopelessness. Lord, so many feel like, “she’s never going to change. He’s never going to change.” God, may we run to you with those desires. I pray that based on the word you’ve given us today, we would experience an infusion of confidence in you, that we would realize this isn’t about us. I vividly remember when my marriage had fallen apart, the way you shifted my focus away from myself to you, the way you changed my heart, poured love in where there was none, and then did that in my wife. God, we believe you can do what our world says is impossible.
We have seen many examples like Herman and Elly who have loved each other through some of the most difficult things of life. So, Lord, thank you. Rekindle our vision of Jesus so that it would fill us with an awareness of your power. Let us receive that baton from those who have run before us, to run the race with our eyes fixed on the prize, the high calling, in Christ Jesus. Now give us time to respond now as we cry out to you, as we fall before you, as we lift our hearts and our voices. And Lord, keep transforming us. Bring people out of the shadows to a place of help and hope. We pray this all for the glory of your beautiful name, in Jesus’ name, amen.