Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the [marriage] of the [Lamb] has come,
and his [Bride] has made herself ready…
I met my wife at a wedding. She was the maid of honor. I a lowly usher. We sat together at the rehearsal dinner and talked about art, music, theology and – anything else I could think of to keep her talking to me. We danced and she gave me her phone number. Now, she lived in St Louis and I was going to Seminary in Dallas so over the next several months we talked on the phone and I would fly down once a month to visit her. Being a struggling Seminary student I decided to take 2 extra jobs so that I could afford to make those visits. I don’t know how I did it. I mean I was a full time student in Graduate school, I waited tables at night, I worked 20 hours a week at a church, and I remodeled a lake house on the weekends. And on top of all of that – I still managed to get a way once a month to fly, or take a greyhound, to visit my girlfriend.
Well, 9 months later I popped the question. Now I want to tell you that this was something I had been planning most of my adult life. Probably since high school. I knew exactly how I was going to propose to Kelly. And here is how I did it. On New Year’s Eve she came to Dallas to visit me. I took her to a little french bakery for breakfast where I strategically slipped in what I had been learning in my Hebrew class about the meaning behind the term ‘help-mate’. Then after some deep theological discussion and coffee, we drove out to a ranch for some horse back riding. It was just Kelly and I and our tour guide – and the horses. As we rode we approached a picnic that was already spread out under a big tree. The picnic was set up with everything pink and green (which are Kelly’s favorite colors) – so I commented that it must be there for us. So we got off our horses to eat a snack. Kelly said she new something was up because I wasn’t eating anything. At that I got up to grab my guitar, which was hidden in some bushes, and I began to sing her a song about the mystery of marriage and Jesus. I couldn’t get through it. I just kept crying. After 10 years of barely shedding a single tear – I can’t stop crying to save my life – or at least to get through this song. Finally, I gave up on that song. I pulled out a ring and asked her to be my help-mate. She said yes and kissed me. We are fortunate to have photos of this event because, I had a really kind friend, decked out in full camo, hiding in the bushes, snapping photos of us with a zoom lens. Kelly had no idea.
I love to tell that story. Thank you for letting me. I bet you have a story too. Lets take a few minutes to share your story at your tables.
Tonight our text comes from the book of Revelation. The very last book of the Bible. We’re gonna look at one of the last events recorded in Scripture. And what we’re going to see is a wedding. When we began this series I mentioned the Bible opens with a wedding and closes with a wedding and then all throughout the Bible in the middle of our story – or the grand narrative – God the father and Christ the son use the image of marriage and weddings as illustrations for the Gospel. Tonight we’re going to look at that last wedding – the wedding that the whole Bible ends with. Let me just read the passage from Revelation chapter 19.
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, 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. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
As we look at this verse I want to focus on three words. First – the word marriage, second – the word lamb, and third – the word bride. I want to examine what this marriage at the end of the Bible is all about. Then I want to ask the question , “Why are we being married to the lamb and not the king?” And then finally, I want to explore why this bride is said to make herself ready. So we’re gonna talk about the marriage, the lamb, and the bride.
Lets talk about this marriage. Now we need to understand the difference between an Eastern wedding ceremony and that of our own all too familiar customs. When the Bible talks about weddings – those ceremonies are almost the exact opposite of what we’re used to here in America. For instance, in the West, the groom stands at the front of the church with his best man and some of his groomsmen. He is pictured as one waiting for his beautiful bride to come to him. As she begins to come there’s an orchestrated show of fanfare. First, the ushers roll out the carpet for the bride’s enterouge. Next, there is a processional (a parade if you will) of the maids of honor. And they all look beautiful and their all dressed the same. Then, a flower girl comes and spreads rose petals on the path for the bride. Then, after a dramatic pause and some trumpet music, all the guests rise to their feet and turn to the back of the room to see this bride. Finally, the bride is reveled. She is wearing a beautiful white dress. She approaches slowly. The audience gasps, ooo’s and awes, and claps, and snaps photos. And the groom burst into tears. It is clear that this entire day is all about her. In a western wedding ceremony the bride is the center of the universe for the day.
In the East it is the exact opposite. In an Eastern wedding ceremony the groom is the center of the universe. So let me tell you little bit about eastern customs. We’re looking at arranged marriages for the most part. The family of a young man will have their eyes open for a suitable wife for their son. The mother and father may even be thinking strategically about another family that they would like to unite with. Once a young girl is chosen the boy’s father will go to the girl’s father and make an offer. He might say, “My son is a good man. I’ve raised him in the ways of God. We are carpenters by trade and my son is an excellent carpenter. We are very wealthy and my son would like to marry your daughter. Name your price. The two Father’s would then agree on a price and sign a binding contract. This contract would include responsibilities for both fathers. The father of the groom would promise to keep his son pure while the son builds a home and saves his money to prepare for his bride. The father of the bride promised to protect his daughter’s purity and to hide her from other suitors. Typically the bride would be kept from the groom as well. Finally, the two fathers would agree on a specific day for the groom to come for his bride. That period of waiting, when he prepares a house and she prepares herself, could be anything from a couple of months to seven years.
Now, in most cases the bride would have never met and would not see the groom until the big day. So her father would say things to encourage her throughout that waiting period. He might say something like, “Your husband’s a good man. I know his father well. He’s a hard worker. He honors his parents. He is well respected in the community. He comes from a very wealthy family. He’s tall, dark and handsome. You are going to be so happy when you meet him.” As you can imagine this creates a lot of anticipation and longing for the big day.
Can you imagine that anticipation? Both the bride and the groom would be overwhelmed with anticipation. He’s been building a house for this girl that is never even talked to. She’s been sewing a beautiful dress and making herself ready. She is waiting and longing for the first chance to see his face and to know who he is.
Well, the date of the wedding celebration would be known to everyone. But, only the groom would know when he was going to arrive. This created great anticipation. The bride would get up early that morning and begin to prepare herself and make herself ready. She would have a group of bridesmaids or virgins around her that would help her. Some of the virgins would stand outside of the house – watching over the horizon and waiting for the groom and his entourage to approach. At the first sight of the groom these virgins would announce, “The bridegroom is here!”
The groom would enter with great fan fare. Everyone was excited to see who this fellow is. Who is this tall, dark, and handsome man who is stealing the heart of this young virgin? The wedding would be followed be a seven day feast and celebration.
Do you see the difference between the eastern and western customs? In the West the bride is the center of attention and the groom waits for her rival. In eastern the bride is waiting for his arrival and he is the one on whom all the attention is focused. We have a one-hour ceremony followed by a reception. But in an eastern wedding it is a whole day affair of waiting for the groom to arrive to consummate the marriage and that is followed by a seven day celebration. These are major differences.
So that’s why it’s important for us to understand the eastern customs as we read this passage about the great marriage of the lamb and the bride which is the church. You see it’s the bride who’s waiting for the arrival of the groom not the other way around. There is much anticipation on the bride’s part. Who is this tall, dark, handsome fellow who has purchased my hand and who as been mysteriously preparing a home for me?
Can you see the parallels to Christ and the church? The Bible, on several occasions, tells us that Jesus has purchased our very souls. That he has signed a contract or made a covenant which guarantees that we will indeed be his bride. Nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus (eph). Jesus told his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for us. So, while we are waiting for his return to receive us as his bride he is even now preparing a great mansion for us with many many rooms. Jesus said if it were not true I would not have told you so.
So, if you are a Christian then you are a member of his church, which is called the Bride. And — as the bride of Christ we should be anticipating and longing and dreaming and hoping for his quick arrival. What an exciting day it will be when Jesus returns and receives us as his bride. That is why this scene in Revelation begins with the word made famous by Leonard Cohen, “Hallelujah”. Which is ‘hallal’ and ‘yah’. Hallal is an exhortation given to large group of people – to praise, and yah is for yehweh, or jehovah. So, hallelujah means praise ye (or y’all) the Lord. Praise y’all the Lord! It’s a term used for the exuberant celebration. Praise the Lord, give him glory, give it up, for the marriage of the Lamb has finally come. The big day is here. It’s going to be a big day.
The next thing I want to talk about is the word ‘Lamb’. Why does John, the author of Revelation, choose to use this word for Jesus? I mean, in the last half of the New Testament we seem to move away from talking about Jesus in terms like ‘lamb’ to talking about Jesus in terms like ‘Lord’ and ‘King’. Even in the book of Revelation we see Jesus as Lord and King sitting on his throne in glory. So why is it that when talking about the marriage John uses ‘the Lamb’? This is actually a very strange illustration – when you think about it. It is truly peculiar to imagine a wedding ceremony between a lamb and a group of people called the church. What kind of illustration is this? What does it mean?
Why do you think John intentionally uses the illustration of the lamb when he speaks of our union to Christ in marriage?
One possible reason why John might use this image when speaking of the marriage is because it is how Jesus wants us to remember him. Charles Spurgeon says:
“What do I infer from this? I gather, in a word, just this, that Christ anywhere, even in His highest Glory, still wishes us to regard Him as the Sacrifice for sin. He desires to be viewed by us in His Character as the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. This is a Character which He never lays aside and it is as the Lamb that He will manifest Himself in the consummation of all things when His Church is perfected!” Charles Spurgeon
Another words – it is not simply John’s choice to present to us the Lamb for the marriage – it is Jesus’ choice. Jesus is Lamb. Jesus was the Lamb that was sacrificed in the tabernacle for Israel sins in the old covenant. It was Jesus that was sacrificed for the Passover lamb in Egypt. And Jesus was the Lamb of God who died upon the cross at Calvary to take away the sins of the world. Jesus has always been the Lamb. And that is how Jesus wants to be remembered and thought of on the big day.
On my wedding day I wanted to do something to publicly express my love for Kelly. And so I sang that song that I couldn’t get out when I proposed to her. Kelly had been trying to talk me into doing it for months but I was too nervous. If I couldn’t finish this song when I was proposing to her – then how in the world was I going to be able to get through it in front of hundreds of people on the most emotional day of my life. So, I kept telling her no. But what she didn’t know was that all along I had been working to surprise her by doing just that. On our wedding day the pastor allowed a moment for me to step away from the altar, put a guitar over my tuxedo and sing. With God’s help I actually got through it.
Now I know that’s not a big deal but for me it was. In my mind I was placing myself in the most vulnerable place willing to crash and burn or choke in front of all of those people on the most important day of my life. I did it to show my wife how much I truly love her. In the same way I believe that Jesus wants to present himself as the lamb on our big day to show us just how much he truly loves us. By this image Jesus is telling us, “This is how much I love you! I purchased you, not with a dowery but with my own life. It was my pleasure to die so that we might be together forever.” Jesus – as the lamb – is the greatest display of his love. It seems most appropriate for him to appear in this form on the big day.
Do you know how much he loves you? Did you know that Jesus loves you so much that he gave his life for you and even now he’s away preparing a place for you eagerly longing with hopeful expectation for that big day when you will meet face-to-face and be together forever? If you are here tonight and you’re not a Christian then you’re not a member of his church and you’re not the bride. At that point it will be too late. You will be like the five other virgins who missed the wedding. Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” This is why John goes on to say in the next verse.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Revelation 19:9
God says, “This is important! John, I want you to write this down. I want people to read this. I want people to know that those who are present on the big day are blessed. You want to be there on that big day. Don’t miss your wedding day when you will be married to Jesus. He loves you and he wants you to be a part of that big day. Listen to this parable Jesus told:
But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luke 14:16-24, ESV)
There’s one thing I want us to notice about this wedding parable that Jesus tells. Do you see how much God loves sinners? He invites everyone including those at the hedges and the highways. It does not matter what dark alley you’ve crawled out of. It doesn’t matter what hole you’re currently finding yourself in. There is no place that he would not go and bid you to come to the wedding feast. Please notice this. It is not God’s desire that anyone should be excluded. “Absence at the table of the Lord will be because the invitation was rejected and the invitees refused to come.” (Bock) Notice how many times Jesus says, “Come. Come. Come.” And how the invited ones said, “We cannot come. I bought a new cow. I cannot come. I just got married. I cannot come.” Jesus is calling you now to “come”. If you refused to come – it is not because he rejects you but because you reject him.
Tonight God is inviting you to the wedding. Do you feel him tugging on your heart? He wants you to know that he loves you so much that he gave his life for you that he might purchase you and be married to you for eternity. Will you be one of the guests who Jesus went to the furthest outskirts of town to find. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He went to the raggediest most sinful people and invited them to the wedding. Will you be one of them, or will you continue to be the guy or gal who says, “I’m too busy. I’m too important. I want nothing to do with this wedding?” I hope tonight, if you’re not Christian, that you will call upon the Lord and be saved. Do not reject his invitation.
Now to the church, the bride, we have one last thing to learn. We must take some time to consider ourselves or to imagine ourselves as the bride of Christ. Can you picture that? Can you picture the church with a capital ‘C’, the ekklesia, the body of Christ that dwells on this entire earth – past, present, and future – Chinese, African, English – all of us collectively make up the bride – the wife – of Christ. Try to imagine that. There she is waiting for her groom to arrive.
I can hardly believe this. Think about it. God has chosen the most intimate and passionate illustration available to us. There is no relationship more intimate than that of a husband and his wife. And God wants us to know through this illustration, that this is how intimate and passionate his love for us is. God is essentially saying this is how much I love you. I love you more than a husband loves his wife on his wedding day. This is intense! I believe it’s a real event that we will experience with Jesus at the end of the age.
So the first thing I want us to hear tonight as the bride – as the church – is to never forget that this is how much God loves us. This is how much Jesus loves us. So… You should be honored, be happy, be joyful – because God loves you so much that he is espoused to marry you. It doesn’t get any better than that.
But the second thing I want us to see is the posture of the bride. It seems consistent throughout Scripture – so we should probably learn something from how the bride makes herself ready.
…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. Rev 19:7
The question we must wrestle with tonight, as we close out this series, is what does the bride do in order to make herself ready? I guess there are a few things that are easy to draw from the illustration. First the bride must keep herself pure. This is true for a human marriage just as much as it is for the spiritual marriage. And secondly, she is said to be ready because she’s eagerly awaiting his arrival. She’s ready and waiting.
Are you ready? Are you waiting? Are you eagerly hopeful and expecting the return of your Groom? I wonder. I wonder if the church is yet to make herself ready. Here’s a question. Specifically how are you doing in keeping yourself pure and waiting with hopeful expectation for the groom? You see, I get the sense that we have not kept ourselves pure and I am confident that we are not really anticipating the big day.
I need us to see this. The first thing I want us to hear and understand tonight is that you are the bride of Christ – and this is an amazing privilege. Jesus loves us so much that he is espouse to be our husband. It is beautiful. But – at the same time – we need to check our hearts to see if we are in love with him? Are we ready and waiting for him? I cannot help but think of the second chapter of Revelation where John is being told to write to the church in Ephesus. The same Ephesus to whom Paul wrote Ephesians and Ephesians chapter 5 where we’ve been studying during this whole series. Jesus says to Ephesus, “I have this against you, that you have forgotten your first love.” Ephesus was good at being a pillar of the truth. They hated the ways of the evildoers and the false prophets but they had forgotten their first love.
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. (Revelation 2:4-5, ESV)
Have you forgotten your first love. Jesus says remember from where you have fallen and do the work you did it first. Do you remember what it was like to first believe in Jesus? Didn’t want to tell everyone about Jesus? You wanted to bid everyone to come to the wedding feast. At the end of Revelation it says the Spirit and the bride say come we know that when people are drawn to God it is the Spirit that draws them but it is also the Bride, the church, who bids people to come. If we truly love Jesus then our first love would be to bid people to come – Jesus wants people to come. We need to ask ourselves, “Are we in love with Jesus?”
If not – what do you need to change about your life in order to be the kind of wife that you would want to marry? You wouldn’t want to marry a wife who just shows up to the wedding when its convenient for her. You wouldn’t want to marry a wife who says she’ll start being pure once she gets married. You wouldn’t want to marry a wife who treated your wedding day as something she could wait until the last minute to begin preparing for. You wouldn’t want to marry a wife who showed up carelessly wearing a run-of-the-mill dress. Instead you want to marry a wife who spent a lot of time and energy and labor preparing a dress that would be unforgettably beautiful. You want to marry a wife who is eager and ready and waiting for the big day.