April 27, 2003

A FABULOUS FEAST

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples. Isaiah 25:6

Diet plans are big business. A lot of people want to lose weight. They spend big money on diet books, diet videos, and specially ordered diet foods.    Many people diet for their looks, but others diet for their health. They have medical problems or a family history of heart disease or diabetes. Their doctors tell them to be careful what they eat and to avoid certain foods.

Some diets aren’t very appetizing. Food that is supposed to be “good for you” doesn’t always taste so good. You get a feast fit for a rodent. You eat oat bran, broccoli and other stuff that might appeal to mice, rats, and rabbits, but which most humans have a hard time swallowing. It’s been said that eating health food doesn’t make you live longer; it just makes it seem longer!

Okay, just kidding. I don’t want to discourage you if you’re trying to improve your eating habits, especially if your health requires it. After all, the Bible speaks of the body as a temple for God’s Holy Spirit, so we should take good care of our bodies.     But let’s remember that food is a blessing, not an enemy. For most people throughout most of history, the big challenge has been finding food, not finding the right diet plan. They’ve worried more about starving than about weighing too much. If your problem is having too much food around, count your blessings!

Dieting has become such big business that I can’t help wondering if people have worry too much about looks and health. Is the main goal of human existence to be as thin as possible and to live as many years as possible? There are more important things than looking like a model in a magazine (especially if the model is a chain-smoking, self-starving anorexic, as some are.) There are also more important things than trying to add a few more years to your life.

If staying healthy becomes an obsession, it becomes downright unhealthy. You can be so busy trying to not to die that you never really live. An obsession with living longer can spoil the time you do have. Even worse, you may get into the rut of acting like this life is all there is. You’re so busy trying to make your life last longer that you ignore the fact that death is unavoidable, and you ignore what comes after death.

That reminds me of two cartoons. One shows a man walking along, thinking to himself: “No smoking, no drinking, low fat, low sugar, low salt, high fiber, plenty of exercise.” He’s got a smug look on his face, thinking how healthy he is and how long he’s going to live. Meanwhile, a huge piano is falling through the air above his head, and he’s about to be crushed.

Another cartoon shows a husband and wife standing up in the clouds somewhere, in the cartoonist’s version of heaven. The wife is saying to the husband, “This place is fantastic, don’t you think?” The husband growls, “Yeah–and we would have been here a lot sooner if you hadn’t made us eat all that lousy health food.”

Again, don’t get me wrong. It’s good to take reasonable care of yourself. But don’t focus so much on your looks that you neglect your soul. Don’t focus so much on staying healthy for this life that you forget about the life to come. It may be okay to think about dieting, but it’s much more important to think about feasting. I mean that. The Bible says a lot more about feasting than about dieting.

The Bible often speaks of a future feast, a marvelous meal prepared by God himself. In Isaiah 25:6 the prophet writes, “The Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich foods for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine–the best of meats and the finest of wines.” Jesus often compares the kingdom of God to a banquet, and the book of Revelation says, “Blessed are those who invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb” (19:9).

There’s a great feast in the making, a wedding supper, a banquet you and I won’t want to miss. Instead of acting like our destiny depends on dieting, we can look forward to an eternity of feasting. Instead of being obsessed with living a little longer, we can relax and rejoice that we will live forever, enjoying a fabulous feast in God’s eternal city, the New Jerusalem.

What’s it going to be like living forever in God’s New Jerusalem? The Bible often speaks of eternal life as a feast. When I think of a feast, I immediately think of two things: food and fellowship. There’s the sheer pleasure of savoring a mouth-watering dinner, and there’s also the delight of enjoying the company of those you love. Pleasure and fellowship: those two things are part of any good party, and they will be part of the fabulous feast in God’s kingdom.

Pleasure

God says that his banquet will offer the richest of foods and the finest of wines. For some people, I suppose, that sounds like heaven indeed: the chance to eat all you want without getting fat or increasing your cholesterol, the chance to drink all you want without getting drunk or nauseous.

We might ask whether this talk about food and drink is literal, or whether it’s God’s way of pointing to pleasures far beyond eating and drinking, pleasures beyond anything we’ve experienced or imagined. But whether the feasting is literal or points to something even better, it means perfect enjoyment. As Psalm 16:11 puts it, “you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Have you ever thought of heaven as a party? Well, if you haven’t, you’d better start, because it’s going to be the best party ever. You see, God himself is the host, and God is the inventor of pleasure. Think about it: When God decided how our bodies would be nourished, did he create tasteless nutrition tablets? No, he made all sorts of delicious foods, and he gave us taste buds to enjoy them. When he decided how babies would be conceived, was it by mail order catalog or the stork? No, God created sex. Contrary to popular opinion, God isn’t against pleasure. He invented it! He’s against the misuse of pleasure. We’ve certainly managed to misuse sex and food and other pleasures God invented, but the fact remains that he did invent them, and he’s preparing even greater pleasures for the new creation, pleasures that we won’t mess up.

The things we enjoy right now aren’t meant to satisfy us or take our attention away from heaven. They’re designed only to whet our appetites. The main feast is still to come! Here on earth, when we enjoy something, we’re just nibbling at an appetizer, and what’s more, it’s an appetizer that’s been dropped in the dirt. We’ve dirtied the pleasures God made. We’ve soiled them by our sin.

Now, if the earthly pleasures God created can still be so enjoyable even in a sinful world, if an appetizer with dirt on it still tastes good to us, what will it be like to feast on the main course, fresh and clean, at the table of the greatest chef in the universe? What will it be like to drink from the very fountain of joy, to feast on perfect pleasure? “The Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich foods for all peoples,” says Isaiah, “the best of meats and the finest of wines.” What a promise!

Fellowship

A feast gives pleasure, and that’s not all. A feast is also a time of reunion and fellowship. Think of a wedding celebration. It brings together relatives and old friends from far and wide. You get to see people you haven’t seen in years and enjoy their company once again. That’s going to be one of the great joys of the wedding supper in heaven: the reunion with loved ones you’ve been separated from.

If you’ve ever stood at the grave of a dear one, you know how much it hurts to say goodbye. Even today, when you think about your loss, a lump rises in your throat, tears fill your eyes, an aching emptiness gnaws at your heart. A husband or wife, a son or daughter, a dear friend–oh, how you miss them. If only you could embrace each other and talk together again! The good news of the gospel is that if you and your loved one have both accepted the invitation to the wedding feast of Christ, you will see each other again.

Have you ever dreamed that someone you love is killed? You feel terrible, you’re full of grief–and then you wake up to find they’re alive and well. What a relief! But maybe you haven’t been dreaming; you really have lost someone you love. You may even have pinched yourself, hoping it was a bad dream, but it’s all too real. Well, the time is coming, says the Bible, when even this tragedy will be something from which we awaken. Everybody will wake from the sleep of death, and all our grief will vanish like a bad dream. All who belong to Jesus will have a joyful reunion, never to be separated again.

Isaiah 25 says the Lord will prepare a feast of rich food, and then what does it say? “He will destroy the [death] shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces” (v. 7-8). What a day that will be! Death will no longer separate God’s people from each other. The divine power that raised Jesus will also raise all who belong to Jesus, and reunite them in his presence.

Someone once asked a pastor, “Are we going to know each other when we get to heaven?” The pastor wisely replied, “We won’t know each other until we get to heaven.” Isn’t it true that right now, all of us wear some sort of a mask? We try to keep many things about ourselves a secret.

We tend to hide the ugliest, most sinful things about ourselves if we possibly can, because we’re ashamed of them. But we also have a tendency to hide some of the most beautiful things. We feel a strong love for a spouse or a child or a friend–we feel that love, but we don’t openly say “I love you” or show what we feel inside. We find it awkward to express our feelings, and we hide what is most precious to us. We may have deep spiritual longings, tender yearnings for God, but we’re afraid to talk about them, even to those closest to us. We keep them to ourselves because we don’t want to be vulnerable to mockery, or we don’t want to “wear our religion on our sleeve.” And so our masks remain firmly in place. You don’t know what’s going on inside me, and I don’t know what’s going on inside you. We don’t really know each other.

In heaven, all that will change. We won’t merely recognize each other; we’ll truly know each other. We won’t hide the shameful things, because we won’t have anything shameful to hide. We’ll be totally sinless. And we won’t hide the noble things, either, because we’ll no longer feel shy or vulnerable about the holy and splendid realities that Christ has placed within us. So I not only look forward to seeing my dead loved ones again, but I anticipate knowing them better than I ever knew them before.

But what about people we’d rather not know? I remember someone telling me that recognizing each other in heaven might not be so good if there are people there whom we don’t like. Well, when you get to heaven, I suspect you’ll be so delighted God let you in that you won’t have time to complain about who else he let in. Besides, all of our petty dislikes will be drowned in the ocean of God’s love. Everything in others and in us that deserves to be disliked–every sin–will be removed. We’ll know each other and love each other, even those we didn’t get along with here on earth. And you know what that means? You might as well start loving every person you know, because you just might find yourself spending all of eternity in the same banquet hall!

Heaven means fellowship, and this goes far beyond renewing old acquaintances. Jesus says that “many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). Can you imagine it? We’ll have the chance to talk with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with Sarah and Rebekah and Rachel. We’ll have all eternity to get acquainted with Hannah and Samuel, with King David and Queen Esther, with Mary the mother of Jesus, with Peter and John and Paul. You could talk with your favorite Bible character for a year straight, if you wanted, and still have plenty of time to visit with everyone else, because time will not longer be a problem when we have all of eternity. On top of all this, the fellowship of heaven will include countless wonderful people we’ve never before met, all unique and precious in God’s eyes, and we’ll all be part of one great circle of friendship that just keeps getting better and better in the eternal communion of the saints.

The Bridegroom

Infinite pleasure and perfect fellowship–those are marvelous aspects of the feast to look forward to. But there’s one thing still more wonderful. If you’re the bride at a wedding banquet, you’re happy if the food is good, and you’re glad if your friends and family can be there with you. But if you’re the bride at a wedding banquet, won’t you be at least a little interested in … the groom?

According to the Bible, the church is the bride of Christ. At the wedding supper in heaven, we’ll relish the pleasures of feasting, we’ll enjoy the reunion and fellowship with others, but all that will seem almost unimportant compared to the joy of being with the bridegroom himself, our Lord Jesus Christ. The greatest joy of heaven will be delighting in him and having him delight in us. The Bible says, “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). Nothing could possibly be better than to have God celebrating over us and loving us the way a bridegroom delights in his bride.

When that happens, we’ll be able to say with the biblical writer, “He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.” That’s the ultimate joy of the feast. We’ll spend eternity in enjoying the God who has loved us with an everlasting love. We will look on the hands and feet that bled for our salvation. We will gaze on the divine glory that no one can see and live–and we will see it and live forever. We will be united to the living God in a way that goes beyond all description and imagination, and the Lord will be our all in all.

Many of us have already begun to know God somewhat. We read his love letters in the Bible, we enjoy many gifts from him, we taste of his generosity in many different ways, we know what his Son went through to demonstrate his love and win us back to himself, we sense his Spirit working in our lives, and all of this is glorious. But it’s all leading up to the supreme glory, that marvelous moment when we see Jesus face to face.

The Invitation

God’s feast will feature eternal pleasures, joyful fellowship with other people and angels, and face-to-face friendship with the Lord himself. It will be a fabulous feast indeed. Now the big question: How can you and I be sure of a place at the table? The Word of God tells us about this banquet, not just for our information, but as an invitation. It’s an astonishing privilege to be invited, but it’s also an invitation we can’t afford to ignore.

In Matthew 22, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come.” But what happened? “They refused to come.” So the king sent more messengers, informing the people that a delicious dinner was waiting, and saying, “Everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.”

“But,” says Jesus, “they paid no attention and went off–one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”

You see, it’s not enough to be invited to a fabulous feast. You need to accept the invitation. You can be so busy with your field or your business, you can be so wrapped up in your job or your plans for next weekend, you can be so bogged down in the here and now, that you pay no attention to the kingdom of God. Heaven is the last thing on your mind.

Well, if you’re too busy to accept God’s invitation, or if you actually insult and attack the Christians who keep inviting you (the way people ignored or even mistreated the king’s messengers in Jesus’ parable), Jesus shows what will happen. Just as the king in Jesus’ parable “was enraged” and “sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city,” so the Lord is enraged when people refuse his loving invitation, and he will send his angels to destroy those who reject him. If you have no interest in heaven, you’ll eventually find yourself in hell.

Jesus continues the parable, and he shows how God’s invitation goes out far and wide, to people of every sort.

“[The king] said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 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.

Isn’t it marvelous that God invites people from every street corner all over the world, whether they’re good or bad, and calls them to his banquet hall? You don’t have to be qualified; you just have to accept the invitation and come as you are. Even if you’re a beggar in filthy clothing, God invites you to his royal feast, and he offers to provide you fresh, clean clothes. By faith in Christ, you can lay aside the filthy rags of sin and put on the pure white linen of Jesus’ holiness. When you’re clothed in the righteousness of Christ, when he forgives your sins and you begin a new life in obedience to him, then you’re guaranteed a place at God’s table.

But beware of just saying, “Well, heaven sounds mighty good, and I plan on being there.” You must have the proper clothing. In the last part of his parable in Matthew 22, Jesus makes this very plain. “The wedding hall was filled with guests,” says Jesus.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”

According to Jesus, there’s no place in God’s kingdom for you if you think your own clothing, your own qualifications, are good enough. You must accept the special clothing God provides, the clothing of righteousness in Christ. Otherwise, no matter how good heaven sounds to you, you won’t have a permanent place there. You’ll be cast out forever. If you want to be in on God’s eternal feast, repent of your sin, and take off your old self. Accept God’s pardon, and put on the new life in Jesus. Then you can be sure of a lasting place at the feast.

If you trust Jesus as your Savior and you’re determined to live for him, then you can look forward what is promised in Isaiah 25:6-9.

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich foods for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine–the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.