Ever notice that we can get so used to one nuance of a Bible topic that another side sounds like heresy? We are so used to stressing baptism (every sermon ends with a call to baptism, right) that we become suspicious when somebody suggests that we are saved “by grace through faith.” What do they mean by that? Are they denying the place baptism? No, actually they are just quoting Paul! We are so used to hearing one side of a truth that the other sounds like heresy.
We are used to the church being compared to the body of Christ, the kingdom of God, the bride of Christ and the family of God. So sounds like heresy to suggest that the church is also to be a party. In fact, one of the most used metaphors in scripture for the kingdom of God is the party. Jesus often describes, explains and invites us to God’s kingdom by using the example of a feast, a banquet or wedding reception—a party!
- Matthew 8:11-12. Jesus uses the setting of a big party to illustrate that Gentiles were to be included into the kingdom of God.
- Matthew 22:1-12. God’s kingdom is described as a wedding feast where those invited to come don't, and the master sends his servants to find other guests.
- Matthew 25:1-13. The necessity of watching for the Lord's return is explained in terms of a wedding party.
- Luke 15:22-24. The father celebrates the return of the Prodigal Son by throwing a huge party, complete with music and… well, choreography.
- Revelation 19:9. The celebration to which all are invited and by which all who come are blessed is the wedding feast—party—of the Lamb.
The festive celebration of a party is used over and over to represent the kingdom of God. Remember, God’s people in the Old Testament were a partying bunch. The major religious days—Passover and Pentecost and Tabernacles—were festive parties. Only the Day of Atonement was solemn ritual. Even the sacrifices themselves, those symbols of sin and forgiveness, were often cause for celebration as the priest and the worshiper ate the meat of the sacrifice together.
What's the point? If our experience of relationship with God is primarily one of dourly keeping the rules, humorlessly following patterns and always being so decent-and-in-order that our face would break it we cracked a smile, then we’ve missed something of the kingdom. God is our loving Father and we are to live in his love and reflect that love to others. Life might not to a bed of roses all the time, but we’d better be smelling the roses some of the time. God calls us to a joyful and abundant life, not a slavish, joyless existence. People should be drawn to us because “the joy of the Lord is out strength.” (Neh 8:10).
Yes, the way of the cross is one of denying self (Luke 9:23), but even that becomes a path to joy (see Heb 12:2). Maybe people would take Christianity more seriously if Christians didn’t take the things that really don’t matter so seriously. Paul tells us. “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” (Phil 4:4, NLT).