Posted on October 17th, 2010
The text is Matthew 22.1-14. I’m trying my hand at some expository preaching. They always end up being long; no one is going to like the length of this except Paul McCain. Of course, I ruin it by ending with an invitation to the Eucharist, but as Mick Jagger said, You can’t always get what you want.
And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables - To understand the words of Jesus, or anything in the Bible, we must know the context. To whom is Jesus speaking? He is speaking to the Pharisees, who have already begun plotting how they can destroy Jesus. So Jesus tells them a parable—a story that has a spiritual meaning—that reveals to them what will be the consequences of their rejection of Him.
and said: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, - Many of Jesus’ parables begin, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”. From these parables, we learn the nature of salvation, i.e., how one comes into the kingdom of heaven. The Bible begins and ends with marriages: in the beginning, the marriage of our first parents; and as Revelation comes to a close, the marriage of Christ and the Church. In this parable, the king is God the Father, and the son is the Lord Jesus. Now remember the context: Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who are rejecting their Messiah, their Savior.
3 and [the king] sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. - The invitations have been going out since the beginning of the world, since God first said to the serpent in the presence of our first parents that a son of the woman would crush his head. The servants who go out with the invitations are the prophets, the preachers of God’s Word who have been in every generation. But “they were not willing.” Friends, our wills are by nature set against what is good, what is just, what can save us. And this is true even if—perhaps especially if—we are living a good life. One thing that’s surprised me about being a pastor is that more people tell me how good they are than come and confess their sins. We don’t live in first-century Judea or sixteenth-century Germany, but people still very much try to justify themselves, people still very much want to be regarded as “good people” and presume that their good deeds and especially their good intentions will result in a good spiritual outcome for them. So when the invitation comes to the Lord’s wedding feast, i.e., when the Lord offers a way of repentance, a means of forgiveness, many are not willing to come, because they do not want forgiveness, they want affirmation. This is why I said a minute ago that even when we are doing good things it can be spiritually bad. The late theologian Gerhard Forde put it this way: “A human work, no matter how good, is deadly sin because it in actual fact entices us away from ‘naked trust in the mercy of God’ to a trust in self.” He goes on to say, “Deadly sin lurks in the most pious places” (On Being a Theologian of the Cross). The king, the Lord, God, is not inviting those Jews of old, and He is not inviting you, to perform some work, to do some deed, to straighten out your life enough to become worthy of His banquet. His invitation is an invitation to forgiveness, and thereby an invitation to resurrection and life in His kingdom. The invitation is accepted, if you will, when we repent, when we hear the Word of God and say, “Yes, I am a sinner, I need God’s mercy, my heart it corrupt, my desires are distorted and disordered, and the only thing I can do is stand before God and say, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God.’” But “they were not willing.” So:
4 Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.” ’ 5 But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. - Do you see the king’s grace, the Lord’s kindness? When the invitation is refused, He sends out still more servants, He gives still more opportunities to repent. How many times, how many days, how many years have you heard the Word of the Lord telling you to repent, to turn from your sins, and yet you make light of it, you make farm and business, house and home, wife and children, money and cars, Twins and Yankees, Vikings and Redskins, sex and booze, pride and a good reputation the objects of your desire? Those hearing this parable would be the ones to literally seize Jesus the Lord’s servant, treat Him spitefully, and kill Him. But you and I also treat Him spitefully when we would rather watch Law and Order than say our prayers, when we would rather honk at our fellow traveller than forgive him, and on and on. Again and again the call comes to us to repent and bear fruits worthy of repentance. But what happens when we persist in unrepentance?
7 But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. - This refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. A monument to this event still stands in the city of Rome, the arch of Titus just west of the Coliseum, built by Jewish slaves captured in the war that culminated in the burning of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. This should put us in mind also of the final judgment, when on the Last Day the Lord will send out His armies of angels and burn up this city of man, this paradise that we have turned into a sewer, this garden that has become a graveyard.
8 Then [the king] said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ 10 So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. - The original meaning of this is the mission to the Gentiles. When the people of Jerusalem rejected Jesus, even after His resurrection, the Apostles were sent out on the highways to preach to every city, to invite them to the wedding, to call them to the Lord’s forgiveness found in Jesus the Crucified and Risen One. And this has been going on now for nearly 2000 years, and still there is room; the wedding hall is not yet filled with guests. To you, today, comes the invitation from God Himself: “Come to the wedding of My Son, come and receive forgiveness, come in repentance, turn from your sins that are leading you to death, and I will give you life.”
But you may say, “That is not really meant for me. I am too bad a sinner, I have gone on in persistent and besetting sin too long.” You say, “But I have done shameful things, I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most, I have been cruel to my spouse and cannot repair it, I am addicted to porn, drink too much, I have gossiped again and again and told lies, I have every day done what I should not have, and failed to do what I should have done.”
But did the king’s servants go out and look for good people, respectable people, nice people to bring into the wedding hall? No! They went out and brought in “all whom they found, both bad and good.” For in truth, some seem to be good, some are good in a civil way, paying their taxes and causing no trouble – but there is no one good, not even one. We could rephrase it, “They brought in all whom they found, both the obviously bad and the ones who had fooled others and themselves into thinking they were good.” It does not matter who you are or what you have been. You don’t need to forge an invitation or crash the White House to get into this party. The invitation is for you, for “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
So now we are in the wedding hall, the Church if you will, those assembled for the wedding of the Son, the Lord Jesus. And we came into this wedding hall all by grace, all by God’s gift, whether we were known to be bad or had become good at faking it.
11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. - Now the wedding garment would be given out at the door, like if you go to a fancy restaurant that requires a jacket and they have blue blazers for you to wear if you’re not dressed appropriately. This is the key point: the man doesn’t have on the wedding garment not because he’s poor, or forgot to wear it; he has rejected it. He wants to come and stand in the assembly on his own terms, on his own merits. From the beginning of the world, the man and the woman were naked and without shame. But when they fell into sin, they knew they were naked and sought to cover themselves. Their own covering was no good, their own merits and virtues were corrupt and spoiled. So the first thing the Lord does when He calls them to repentance is makes for them a covering, a garment of animal skin. This required a sacrifice. When the Old Testament priests would minister in the Temple, they were required to wear special garments, special vestments. There is a kind of connection to the traditional clothing of a pastor today, but far more significant is this Bible passage: “Everyone who has been baptized into Christ has put on Christ.” Christ is the garment, Christ is your righteousness, which has covered you in your baptism. The wedding is Christ’s, and at the same time He is your garment, your covering. So who then is the man without the wedding garment? He is the man who turns away from His baptism, who rejects the righteousness in Christ and instead presents himself with his own righteousness, saying, “I am a good person, I have good intentions, I have tried to reform my life.” Do not fall prey to such thinking! You will never be good enough, for the Law demands that you be perfect, absolutely without flaw, and no man has or can do that—no man save the God-man, Jesus Christ the righteous one, whose perfect life is the only righteousness that can cover us, whose sacrificial death is the only wedding garment that allows us to stand in the wedding hall. So the king addresses this man without the wedding garment:
12 … ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. - Isn’t it fascinating that the king calls him “Friend”? Either it means that the king is still acting friendly to him, offering him opportunity to repent, or it is ironic because he knows the man is really no friend. I think this is an allusion to Judas, because Judas is the only man in Matthew’s gospel whom Jesus addresses as “Friend”; but as my sainted professor Kurt Marquart once said to me, “Christopher, you must remember that there is a little Judas in all of us.” Indeed there is! And when we recognize the Judas within, the traitorous, rebellious, money-loving, despairing, suicidal Judas in us, the only thing to do is run to the wedding garment, run to the font, to say, “Yes, I am a poor wretched sinner, far worse than anyone could even imagine, but I AM BAPTIZED, I am clothed with an alien righteousness, the righteousness of Christ, a righteousness I could never earn or obtain. And by that and only that, I can stand in the Lord’s wedding hall, all by His grace.” And if the Lord addresses us as “Friend,” then we must say, “Dear Lord, I have not lived as your friend, but I have been worse than an enemy, I have been indifferent to you, and I do not deserve anything from you. But you promise me still your forgiveness, you promise still to be my friend, my father, my brother, my king, my shepherd, my rescuer. I have one thing to plead with before you: the blood of Jesus which cleanses me from all sin.”
Now like the story of Judas, this parable ends in tragedy:
13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ - That is the warning to us, that is what will happen to those who stand on their own righteousness and despise the wedding garment of their baptism into Christ.
So come, dear friends, there is still room at the wedding table, even for bad people like you and me. “Cast me not, dear Lord, into the outer darkness, but receive me by your grace through Your Son Jesus. He is my only hope.”