…So the handsome prince married his beloved bride and they all lived happily ever after. Do you believe in fairytales? I say “fairytales” – it’s a bit deeper than that isn’t it? It runs in our cultural bloodstream, it courses through our literature, our music, our films, our deepest values in life. We have this belief that when the guy and the girl get together – that is it. That’s the ultimate. That’s our happily ever after. Do you believe in fairytales?
Graham and Elizabeth don’t believe in fairytales. They believe in something better. They believe in a true story that is sweeter, richer and happier than any fairytale ever told.
They do believe in a happily ever after. They do believe that, in the end, the handsome Prince does get His beloved bride and all things will be well. But that happy ending is not today. Today is a beginning. And today is a foretaste. Today we get a glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven is like.
Our reading, which Graham and Elizabeth chose, is from a parable that Jesus told. Jesus says (and He ought to know), “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.” God is the King, Jesus is His Son. And heaven is a wedding feast. It is a joyful celebration thrown by the Father for His Son. Here is the meaning of life according to the bible: The Father loves His Son Jesus and invites the world in to enjoy Jesus Christ with Him.
This is the life of heaven and we’re all invited.
There’s another much lesser wedding this year, I don’t know if you’ve got your invitation yet? William and Kate have invited 40 kings and queens, 50 members of the royal family (Not Fergie), 60 governors general and Commonwealth prime-ministers, 200 members of the government, Parliament and diplomatic corps. But also Kate Middleton’s grocer, butcher and postman. Her pub landlord and 300 other friends of the couple.
My invitation’s obviously lost in the mail. But everyone who has been invited says how thrilled they are to be invited to the royal wedding and how they’ve been madly hunting down the right clothes for the occasion.
Apparently gentlemen are required to wear uniform, morning coat or lounge suit. Ladies are required to wear a hat for the wedding service.
Now I dare say if you received a gilded, royal invitation with the Queen’s own stamp you’d RSVP quick smart and you’d go and get the right clothes.
Well it was even simpler at royal weddings in the bible. In bible times, servants would come and take your RSVP personally. And if you wanted to go, the right clothes were provided on the day by the host. And so there really was no excuse for not showing up and not being dressed for the occasion.
But the shock of our story is how people respond to the King’s invitation.
The first round of invitations meets with complete indifference. The royal servants are shocked, they go again – “The feast has been prepared, the King and His Prince are personally inviting you, it’s the event of the millennium, the finest of foods, the best of wines, incredible company, joy and feasting, won’t you come?” No they won’t come. And they are so angry about it, they wound and kill the servants.
You have to be a pretty staunch anti-royalist to ignore an invitation like this. You have to hate the King and His Son very much to kill the inviters don’t you? It’s high treason.
But that is Jesus’ retelling of the Old Testament story. Prophet after prophet invite the people: “Come into the Kingdom, it’s the ultimate royal wedding.” But the invitation is torn up and those who invite are beaten up or killed.
And eventually the people are given over to what they want. If they don’t want the King and His Son, that’s their decision. If they don’t want the feast, they don’t get the feast, and judgement falls.
But that’s not going to spoil the wedding. There is an irrepressible joy of this Father and this Son. And so the story goes on to describe another round of invitations.
The Father says:
`The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' 10 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.
Heaven is for everyone. Absolutely everyone. Good and bad. Diplomats and Butchers, Princes and prostitutes, Celebrities and criminals. The Father will celebrate His Son and will celebrate with everyone who wants to join in. It will be an eternity of feasting and joy. It will be the happily ever after we all long for. It’s what Graham and Elizabeth’s wedding is pointing to.
But the story ends with one guest, not wearing the appropriate clothes. He’s refused to put on what’s been provided. He’s refused to acknowledge the occasion. It is a snub to the Father and the Son and he is cast out of the feast.
Heaven is a party. But it’s not any old party. It’s God the Father’s celebration of His Son. If we don’t want to acknowledge Jesus, then what place do we have at the party?
But then why wouldn’t we acknowledge Jesus? Because here are the lengths He’s gone to, to invite us. In the story he sends servants. In reality, He came in Person – you can read about it in the bible. He is God’s personal invitation to heaven. And everything He does is beckoning us in. He has come down into our situation and has stretched out His arms to every human being. And here’s how much He wants us at the feast: on that cross Jesus voluntarily took our judgement for heavenly high treason. The Heavenly Bridegroom got bound hand and foot and dragged outside the city. The Royal Son of the Father was cast into outer darkness with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Jesus suffered hell to bring us heaven. He was cast out so that we could be brought in. He really wants you at the feast. He wants everyone there, good and bad, just come.
Don’t you want to celebrate this Son… who would do this, for you??
It’s Graham and Elizabeth’s prayer that everyone at this wedding would celebrate with them. Not just today. But to celebrate the ultimate Bridegroom, the ultimate happily ever after.
What's life all about?
You know life does not fizzle out after a couple of good parties and then we rot. There is a happy ending and you’re invited. Look at Christ. He is the Invite and He’s beckoning you in.
Graham and Elizabeth, Mr and Mrs Harter, you know what marriage is all about. As our reading says “The kingdom of heaven is LIKE marriage.” You know that marriage points to the ultimate union between Jesus and His people.
Heaven is LIKE marriage. Marriage isn’t our heaven. It’s a pointer to heaven.
Which means today is very very happy. But it isn’t the happily ever after. Today is the beginning of an adventure with many highs and many lows. But thankfully you are saved from putting the expectations of heaven onto your marriage.
A man I know has counseled hundreds of couples going through difficult times. Sometimes he’d describe the couple as a “tick on a dog” relationship. One partner is sucking the life out of the other. But mostly, he says, there’s two ticks and no dog. When two people make their marriage their heaven they are heading for disaster.
Graham, Elizabeth will make a wonderful wife, but a terrible god. Elizabeth, Graham will make a wonderful husband, but he’s a lousy god. Seek your fullness and spiritual buoyancy from Jesus. He is worth celebrating, He is the centre of heavenly celebrations, He is the ultimate Spouse. Seek Him and you’ll have all the resources you need to love and serve the other. Then your marriage will really sing, and the world will be pointed to Christ.
So enjoy today everyone. And allow today to direct us to a deeper, even happier truth.