In “The Marriage Feast Between Christ and his Church”—a published sermon series by Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) in his Works, 2:437-518—the puritan preacher linked a promised feast in Isaiah 25:6-8 to the ultimate wedding feast of the Lamb promised in Revelation 19:9.
Sibbes points to the main feature of this feast, the end of death: “the LORD” swallows death in order to give life to “his people.” Here’s the verse itself.
“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.”
Sibbes’ surprising takeaway from this promised feast is the unity it offers churches: “The excellency of Christ’s feast consists in the communion of saints; for whoever takes part of it, their spirits must agree one with another. Love is the best and greatest dish of this feast. The more we partake of the sweetness of Christ, the more we love one another.” [2:448]
Here Sibbes’ affective—heart-based—theology is on full display! He was an irenic peace-making preacher who lived in a day when Christians were divided. These were the years when many believers were fleeing from England to seek peace in the primitive settings of American New England.
Sibbes knew the neighborhood of English churches—including all the tensions—but he refused to be drawn into fights. Instead he pointed his audience to the basis for all sound ministries: to Christ’s love. Jesus invites people to know and enjoy his love.
It was Christ’s Spirit, then, who brings life by capturing hearts. “Christ by his Spirit so works in the hearts of the children of men, that, bring a thousand together of a thousand several nations, and within a little while you shall have them all acquainted one with another.”
So those gathered at this biblical feast were not united by creeds, intelligence, color, social standing, or national origin but by Christ’s work in their hearts. Jesus, alone, changes hearts from falsity to truth; from disharmony to harmony. Human efforts to “be good” were useless. Sibbes pressed the point: “If they be good, there is agreement of the spirit and sympathy between them. There is a kindred in Christ.”
Sibbes offered more. There is a list of Christ’s benefits that come with this feast. Yet one stands out that remains as applicable today as in Sibbes’ 17th century setting.
He understood the disruptions of sin. It confuses souls, stirs contentions, and grieves the sinner’s conscience. Yet these were the disruptions Jesus swallowed on the cross. “The death of Christ and the blood of Christ is the ground of all union and joy and comfort whatsoever. The blood of Christ sprinkled upon the conscience will procure that peace of conscience that shall be a continual feast unto the soul.”
Sibbes’ biblical insight was that real social and relational healing must start with God’s character. And, more to the point, with God’s own inherent communion. The God of love is the true basis for love and sound relationships among his people, “for we do not feast with those that are like ourselves, but we feast with God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, sent by Christ, procured by the death of Christ.” This focus of love is what transforms those who come to this great table.
So in this Christmas season we get to come to God the Father, Son, and Spirit with the promise of his ultimate Christmas feast in view. The Son paid for the feast with his shed blood. This was the price of our admission to God’s eternal fellowship, and the joy of being seated at his table is the best of all celebrations.
Let me conclude by repeating Sibbes wonderful insight: “Love is the best and greatest dish of this feast.” Amen!