Behold, A Host Arrayed in White

Saints Triumphant + November 16 & 19, 2017 + Pr. Dale Reckzin

Text: Revelation 19:1-9

Hymn: Behold a Host, Arrayed in White (CW 550)

When couples send out wedding invitations, sometimes, they only invite a few close friends and relatives.  Sometimes they invite every friend, relative, co-worker, and neighbor they can think of.  But I have never heard of a bride or groom inviting each other to their wedding.  Why would they?  Isn’t it obvious that both the bride and the groom will be there?

Well, in the heavenly wedding feast of eternal life, the bride is actually invited to her own wedding. Our text says, "Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb." (Rev 19:9) Of course, the Lamb is Jesus, the Lamb of God, who carried upon himself the sin of the world. 

So who is Jesus, the Lamb, married to?  Saint Paul answers that question in Ephesians 5: "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." Now, Saint Paul wrote this part of Ephesians to Christian husbands, using Christ as the ultimate role model on how to love your wife. Christ is the Husband.  The Church is the Bride of Christ. 

And our text from Revelation shows us how the Church is "a radiant [bride], without…blemish, but holy and blameless." (Eph. 5:27) It says, "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.” (Rev. 19:8) The Bride of Christ is pure, holy, blameless, and beautiful.  Her wedding dress is made of "fine linen, bright and clean." (Rev 19:8) But that linen is not clean because the Church is naturally pure and holy.  No, the Bride did not make this dress or even choose this dress. Instead, our text says that the fine linen was given her to wear."  

Now, there’s a slight but important translation issue in that last phrase. When it says "the righteous acts of the saints," it might make you think that the saints did enough righteous acts to earn their way into heaven. But the real sense of the phrase is this: Fine linen stands for the righteous acts that belong to the saints. And we know how the saints got those righteous acts. They were a gift from her Groom, Jesus Christ, who "loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, … to present her to himself as a radiant church, without… blemish, but holy and blameless." (Eph 5:27)

So heaven is the marriage feast to celebrate the everlasting marriage of Jesus to his Bride, the Church.  But to be the Bride of Christ and to attend your own wedding feast in heaven, Jesus has to invite you. Our text says, "Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb." (Rev. 19:9)  Those invitees are also the saints, the Church, those who have faith in Christ. Yes, odd as that may sound, the Bride of Christ is invited to her own wedding. And you have been invited, too. You're invited because Christ has washed away all your inborn impurity in the waters of baptism.  Christ has strengthened his marriage to you by serving you his Word and Sacrament. Christ has shown his faithful love to you by forgiving all your sins with his holy, precious blood.

But you aren’t the only one who has this privilege. Today is the festival of Saints Triumphant. On this day, we remember and give thanks for all our fellow believers who died in the Christian faith. We remember grandma and grandpa, mom and dad. We remember our husband or wife. We remember our children. We remember our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, relatives, friends, and Christian role models. We remember them and give thanks to God for blessing them with faith in Jesus and for inviting them to the wedding supper of the Lamb. We remember our Christian loved ones and rejoice with them because they have escaped all the evil of this world and they are now free from sin, suffering and sorrow.  The saints in heaven are enjoying peace, strength, and a perfectly glorified body and soul. The saints in heaven are united with Christ and will be his true bride forever.  So, as we consider the Saints Triumphant in heaven, we say what that hymn title says: Behold A Host Arrayed in White.

On her wedding day, wearing her white dress, a bride exchanges vows with her groom. In a typical ceremony, both bride and groom promise to be faithful to each other. They promise to forsake all others and remain loyal and pure only to each other. The first verses of our text warn us about a real and dangerous threat to the purity and loyalty in the marriage of Christ and his Church.  It says, "I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.'" (Rev. 19:1-2)

A prostitute dresses up to be alluring and enticing.  But beneath her appealing façade, she offers no love, no purity, and no loyalty. You could say that a prostitute is a false wife, the false wife of Christ on earth. That is, she is the false church on earth:

the church that does not concern herself with faith, hope, and charity but with political influence and worldly wealth; the church that gives lip-service to God’s Word but does whatever she pleases to increase her popularity with the movers and shakers of this world; the church that says all sorts of nice things about Jesus but thinks she can commit spiritual adultery behind his back by self-gratification, spiritual manipulation of the innocent and the naïve, and even the persecution of true believers. Of course, the false church cannot fool Jesus. Jesus will have nothing to do with that church, except to punish her for her spiritual adultery. As our text says, "Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries." (Rev. 19:1-2)

Now, the Church in heaven has already witnessed God’s destruction of the false church.  The Church in heaven is free from her attacks and her temptations.  That’s why we call the believers in heaven The Church Triumphant.  By Christ’s power, the saints in heaven have triumphed over sin, Satan, death, and the false church. However, you and I are the Church Militant. Since we are still in this sinful world, we still have to fight against the false church.  We still have to avoid her temptations to make the true Church look and sound and act like the bride of this sinful world instead of the Bride of Christ. We still have to guard against the allure of compromising Bible truth in the name of making the faith appeal to more people.  We have to resist the false church’s enticement to think that success involves numbers, money, and following the latest trends. Yes, the false church is still a danger.  That’s why Jesus calls to the true Church in Revelation 18, "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues."

But until that day, when Jesus takes us to heaven, we will keep on fighting to remain faithful and pure to our heavenly Groom.  But we are confident and filled with hope.  Jesus has won the victory.  He has overthrown the false church.  He has invited you and me to the wedding supper of the Lamb.  Yes, on that day, we will be with Jesus forever in heaven.  On that day, we will join our loved ones in heaven. On that day, we will be part of that heavenly host arrayed in white. Until then, we will always pray, "Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.  AMEN."